By Kent Larsen
US News Puts LDS Church on Cover
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- National US News magazine U.S. News &World
Report has a major cover story on the LDS Church in its current
issue. Titled "The Mormon Way," the article looks at the growth of
the LDS Church and its expanding influence in the world. But author
Jeffery L. Sheler goes beyond growth and influence, also looking at
the LDS Church's finances, doctrine, missionary work and the
difficulty its international growth may bring.
The article cites University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark,
who has predicted LDS membership of 265 million by 2080, making
Mormonism the 2nd largest Christian religion. Stark says that
Mormonism "stands on the threshold of becoming the first major faith
to appear on Earth since the prophet Mohammed rode out of the
desert." LDS Church leaders credit the Church's doctrine and its
requirements on members for its growth. "We have a demanding
religion," says LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, "and that's
one of the things that attracts people to this church." Experts also
point to the Church's missionary program, finances and organizational
efficiency for its growth.
The LDS Church's finances, with estimated revenue of nearly $6
billion annually according to journalist Richard N. Ostling in his
book "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise," are cited as a
source of the LDS Church's influence. The article says that Church
real estate holdings are valued in the billions and the article
quotes author Harold Bloom, from his 1992 book, "The American
Religion," saying, "no one really knows what portion of the liquid
wealth in America's portfolios is held by the Latter-day Saints
Church." But he add that "Mormon financial and political power is
exerted in Washington to a degree far beyond what one would expect
from one voter in 50."
Missionaries make up a large portion of the LDS Church's growth.
While 306,000 converts joined the Church through missionaries last
year, sociologist Stark says that the larger impact of the missionary
program may be in what it does for missionaries. He says the program
may have "more impact on Latter-day Saint commitment than it does on
But those missionaries are converting a lot of people outside of the
LDS Church's Utah center. According to Jan Shipps, an Indiana
University and Perdue University-Indianapolis emeritus professor, who
studies the LDS Church, the Church installed more centralized
procedures and systems in the 1970s, avoiding the prospect of what
Shipps called, a "disintegration of Mormonism into a diversity of
Mormonisms." But, she adds, this centralization has meant less
tolerance for diversity and dissent.
The Church may also face difficulties because of its International
growth, according to the article. Some converts have had trouble
fitting into the Utah culture when they move there, and others have
trouble figuring out the LDS Church. Dennis Simmons, who headed the
LDS Church operations in southern and eastern Africa until recently,
says some groups in Mozambique, Malawi and Angola are practicing
without any official LDS organization or oversight. Experts also see
possible problems when African polygamists join the LDS Church and
ask why they can't practice polygamy now, as the LDS Church once did.
The problem of international growth is also difficult because of
basic assumptions made about individuals and families. Western
societies often favor individual rights over family decisions,
allowing individuals to join a different Church than their families.
Other societies don't see it that way. According to Simmons, "some
husbands tell us not to teach their wives. They say, 'Teach me, and
if I join, she'll join.' " He adds that some village chiefs have the
same attitude about their tribes. "They say, 'I'll decide if it's a
good idea.' But we tell them it's an individual decision and that we
have to teach everyone."
But, in spite of these problems, the LDS Church is growing, and
experts say the growth will continue along with the LDS Church's
influence in the US. Says Bloom in his book, "The nation will not
always be only 2 percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us,
have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on
a grand scale, both here and abroad. . . . Their future is immense."
The Mormon Way
U.S. News 13Nov00 N1
By Jeffery L. Sheler
The Church of Latter-day Saints grows by leaps and bounds