Summarized by Kent Larsen
Mormons make inroads in Deep South
Raleigh NC News & Observer (AP) 21Nov99 N1
By Amy Frazier
ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- In 1939, when Chloe Belle Hodge was baptized into
the LDS Church, many Church members in the southern U.S. went most of
their lives without going to the Temple. But with recent growth and
contruction, that has all changed. In the past 16 years, since the
Atlanta Georgia Temple was built, Temples have become much more
convenient for church members. And by the end of next year, seven
southern cities will have LDS Temples.
Hodge, 83, says that in 1939, "I couldn't even dream of a time when we
would have a church building." She says she didn't even know if she
would ever get to the Temple, "We were coming out of the Depression
years. A trip to Utah was not to be thought of." She eventually hitched
a ride with a woman traveling to a U.S. Army post in Utah so she could
go to the Temple.
Now, with temples so close, she thinks it will change her life, "The
blessing to have a temple right here at our elbows is almost beyond
comprehension. I plan to go once a week."
74-year-old Dexter R. Noble of Atlanta, faced similar struggles. His
family scrimped and saved until 1967 so that they could fly to Salt Lake
City to visit a temple. "I closed my shoe store for a week to go. That's
how important it was to me," he said.
The growth of the Church in the south is significant. Many southern
states have seen membership increases of 80 to 100 percent since 1980.
Emory University's Nancy Eiesland, a provessor at the Candler School of
Theology there, says that the growth comes from LDS Church members
moving into the area, and then working to bring in converts.
With the expansion of Temples worldwide, Eiesland says that the LDS
Church is reaching outside of Utah, "They do not want to not be seen as
a regional religion," she said. "They want to be seen first as a
national religion, and then as a global religion."
Elder Monte J. Brough, President of the Church's Southeast Area, says
that he believes the growth will continue because the family-oriented
values of the south are present in the Church, "I think the reason we do
so well is that we are very assertive in proclaiming family values."
He says the church is concerned with "not only family conduct and
individual values, but the law of chastity and the sacred nature of
marriage. ... Part of that is very attractive to a lot of Southerners."
"In some ways, the family orientation of Mormons makes them congenial to
much of the Southern sunbelt," says theology professor Eiesland. But she
cautions that this doesn't necessarily apply to interchurch relations,
since the LDS Church and evangelical sects are competing for the same
Both sects, "draw from the same group of people in terms of conversion -
basically, the unchurched," said BYU professor of sociology Marie
Cornwall. "Put together the incredible growth in the South with the
increasing anti-Mormonism rhetoric that comes out of the evangelical
movement and, in the marketplace of religion, these two groups are in
And Reverend Chris Graham of the Church of the Savior Baptist Church in
Roswell says this competition will break any alliance between the LDS
Church and evangelicals."Orthodox Christianity has some specific
doctrines that are important, and Mormon also has specific doctrines
that are important to its story. And I think they are potentially
conflictual," he said.