The Decade in American ChristianityEssays, Featured — By Jordan Green on December 31, 2009 at 12:35 am
The last decade has seen a continued growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons), especially in South America. In 2000, there were over 11-million members and nearly 61,000 missionaries, according to the LDS Church. In 2008, there were 13.5-million members in a decade where many Christian denominations saw flat growth or even decline. 1
While challenging to document, the LDS Church’s growth might be, in part, a result of the mainstreaming of the Mormon faith. In the past ten years, more Mormons have risen to public positions than ever before. This decade, Mormons have followed the Osmonds into the entertainment spotlight, appearing on nearly every reality television show in primetime, landing on best-selling author’s lists, and singing to the masses. Sixteen Mormons presently serve in the US Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada, and Orrin Hatch, who ran for the Republican nomination for the US Presidency in the 2000 election. Mitt Romney, one of a handful of Mormon Governors, also ran for the US Presidency, thrusting the LDS Church into the public eye even further. And, of course, let’s not forget conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.
In 2002, Salt Lake City, the international headquarters of the LDS Church, hosted the world during the Olympic Winter Games, resulting in added publicity, and front pages stories in Time Magazine and Newsweek. Before the coming cameras and attention, the Church adjusted its logo so “Jesus Christ” is larger and more prominently displayed. Mormons were discouraged from calling themselves Mormons, in favor of “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
The LDS Church also made concerted effort to associate itself with the term “Christian” without sharing much of the same theology as its Protestant, Catholic and non-denominational counterparts. The move was a marked departure from most of LDS history, when Mormons readily differentiated themselves from mainstream Christianity. Missionaries are now more more likely to include a copy of the King James Bible with the Book of Mormon, church discussions place greater focus on Jesus Christ (though many, including the late LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, argue that Mormons do not view Jesus the same way Evangelicals do.), and two of the three Evangelicals ever to speak in the Mormon Tabernacle did so in the latter half of the decade: Ravi Zacharias and Nic Vijucic were guests of Standing Together, a Christian organization attempting to bridge the divide by focusing on the similarities. Some Christian groups, such as Mormon Research Ministries are opposed to mainstreaming without discussions on the differences in theology.
Only time will tell if the mainstreaming efforts will favor the Mormons. The LDS Church had less full-time missionaries in the field in 2008 than in 2000, down to about 52,400. The new convert rate has remained flat over the past decade, around 265,000 per year, with the remaining growth coming from births. More recently, the LDS Church almost seemed surprised that many Evangelicals opposed Mitt Romney for the Presidency, and the backlash at the Mormon Church’s support of California’s Prop 8 is lingering with little sign of letting up.
- These statistics do not reflect the number of members who have gone inactive or left the Church without removing their names from the records. ↩