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For week ended November 21, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001

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Mormons make inroads in Deep South

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 converts.

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 competition."

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.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information