Did Mormon Influence Increase over the Decade?

Mormon Heretic Culture, general, international, LDS, media, Mormon, mormon, Mormons 78 Comments

My wife brought this to my attention while reading the front page of the Deseret News:  2000s: The First Decade-Mormon Church Influence Soars.  Without providing any sources, it says,

President Thomas S. Monson has been named the most influential 80-year-old in America and Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are listed among the most important 100 Americans in history

Other noteworthy items from the article include from the past decade:

  • After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, President Hinckley was one of the first guests Larry King interviewed on his nationally televised program.
  • President Hinckley attended a special summit at the White House to counsel President George W. Bush.
  • Winter Olympics in SLC with many Mormon Interpreters
  • PBS documentary
  • Prop 8 vote in California
  • Humanitarian efforts in various earthquakes, wildfires, famine, war, hurricanes and floods around the world.
  • Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ran for president,
  • Sen. Harry Reid became Senate Majority leader, and
  • pundit Glenn Beck offered a play-by-play account of the battle lines that separated their political parties.
  • David Archuleta sang himself into the hearts of Middle America on “American Idol,”
  • Stephenie Meyer wrote of high-minded vampires, selling millions of novels that primed a series of movies.
  • City Creek Center will literally remake downtown Salt Lake City.
  • The number of temples built or planned reached 151 during the decade.

Do, what do you think?  Vote and comment.

[poll id=”92″]

Comments

comments

Comments 78

  1. Although Mormonism was thrown in the spotlight throughout the decade, it wasn’t always for positive reasons.

    With the successful Olympics, humanitarian aid, and positive press relations that started off the decade, positive influence was the name of the game. It was the last few years that have changed many things.

    Even though the FLDS church is a separate denomination, many people considered the polygamist sect in Texas to be “Mormon”. Prop 8 also hurt any positive results of the church to try and build bridges with other communities that differ theologically. And despite the success of Mormons in reality TV, the wholesome family-friendly pictures portrayed by Archuleta and others were negated as people watched the “Gay Mormon” on Survivor or the conservative Mormon mom on FX’s 30 Days.

    It is possibly that the church has developed a more household name during the decade, but the controversial views probably made any influence Mormonism has had minimal at best.

  2. MH,

    As a show of my repentance from a long stint of absenteeism from this and other blogs, allow me to be one of the first on yours.

    While the church certainly has achieved some notoriety in the last decade, some of it was not at all flattering. On balance do more people feel better or worse about Mormons? My opinion is that the general feeling about the church has declined in America.

    Usually any exposure, whether positive or negative, is good for business. However, I’m not sure that idiom from Barnum and Bailey applies to religion.

    Just a few thoughts,

    1. Mitt Romney most likely lost his bid for president because the people were afraid of the influence of the church.
    2. Prop 8… I don’t think we need to debate that one again.
    3. PBS Documentary tied us in with the fundamentalist making Mormonism a strange cult for most of America despite the church’s efforts to separate us from them.
    4. Sen. Reid will probably not make it through the next election and his comments about the church’s role in Prop 8 didn’t endear him to the LDS leadership.
    5. The 3 Billion dollar mall sends the wrong message about our faith to most non-members. (Just my opinion.)
    6. The Olympics were definitely a positive as well as the humanitarian efforts.

    I don’t think people care whether David or Stephanie are Mormons as their contributions have no religious ties. The success or failure of religion seems to be much more about perception then name recognition. In the final tally, has the missionary work seen an increase in conversions or a decrease during the last decade?

  3. It would be interesting to see comparative polling about people’s positive negative views of the church from 10 years ago to now. My theory is that the increased exposure has probably helped more than hurt, but it would be interesting to see.

  4. My own limited observations have been that it’s positive influence has decreased among liberals and increased among conservatives. I have run into a few conservatives (non-Mormon) who question how Harry Reid has not been excommunicated by now from the Church.

  5. Doug,

    #3: Did we watch the same documentary?

    #5: How many people do you think have even heard about the mall? Among those few who do hear of it, how many do you think will regard it either indifferently (How does a mall in Salt Lake that they’ve never heard of funded by a church they don’t care about affect them? Probably not at all) or or as a positive investment in the community by a good institutional citizen?

  6. I think there has been more exposure – whether good or bad, I don’t know. I think the overall perception of the LDS Church has overall probably been net negative recently – with Big Love, Prop 8, the “big business” aspect of the Church probably outweighing positive things. While there have been Mormons who have done things in popular culture (ie. Twilight, etc.), I don’t know that these necessarily reflect positively on the Church (ie. I don’t have a higher impression of Scientology because I liked a Tom Cruise film).

    Perhaps the biggest indicator as to how we are “doing” in the world’s perception is conversion rate. In the late 1990’s, the number of new converts was approximately 3% of the number of members. Over the past 10 years, the number of new converts as a percentage of the membership total has dropped to around 2%, or a drop of nearly 50%. Seen this way, I don’t know that the exposure has been a good thing.

  7. #5: Regarding the mall, I think it sends the wrong message. If the mall represented a small percentage of what the Church does in the world, then I think people might look at it as an “investment” in the community. However, when the mall is projected to cost $2-3 BILLION, it makes us look like the business conglomerate we are accused of being.

    Putting it in perspective, from the Church’s own website ( http://www.providentliving.org/welfare/pdf/WelfareFactSheet.pdf ), we spent around $250 MILLION in actual cash over a 23 year period. And even if you include the larger number for “Value of Material Assistance”, we are still spending nearly 3 times as much on a mall as we did in nearly a quarter century of humanitarian aid.

  8. As one politician said – “as long as they spell your name right, any press is good press.”

    Even being seen as a negative force in society still means that people see you as an entity that has to be accounted for and dealt with if things are to be accomplished.

    Those who hold grudges in politics are fools. The person or group that just violently shot down your last pet cause may be the key vote tomorrow in getting your next bill passed. The best and most influential senators on Capitol Hill understand this. Which is why you would often see polarizing figures like Ted Kennedy or Orrin Hatch co-sponsoring bills with people who you’d think they hated with a passion. These men understand that in politics, power is what matters. And even if you hated Ted Kennedy’s guts, there were few guys there you’d rather have going to bat for your bill.

    If the gay movement has any brains, they’ll realize this, and start trying to lobby the LDS Church in effective ways, rather than making scenes at the Church Office Building. If the gay movement plays its cards right, it may even be able to enlist the LDS Church in supporting other non-marriage-related initiatives. But if they take things personally, they should expect the political machine to crush them mercilessly.

    Taking it personally is almost always a sign of weakness in terms of social influence and political capital.

  9. Doug and Mike, I agree with Left Field.

    The mall is only an issue on the extreme fringe – like exmormon.org and places that get some of its overflow – like the bloggernacle or the DAMU.

    Just about everyone else is going to see it as a case of good citizenship, or aren’t going to care about it at all.

  10. #9: You’re probably right. Even though magazines like Time Magazine had a cover labeled “Mormons, Inc.”, they’re probably on the “extreme fringe”. No one else cared about tue business of Mormonism.

  11. I don’t think much has cared.

    No one cares about a Mormon mall. NO ONE. People might have liked David Archuleta or the Twilight series, but this has little or no bearing on Mormonism.

    If anything, Prop 8 IMPROVED mormonism’s standing, not hurt it. Unfortunately, our country on the whole is NOT for gay marriage. It exposes our liberal bias to think that Prop 8 was a disaster for the church. AT WORST, prop 8 didn’t do anything to make people think about Mormons differently in a *theological* way. In other words, while evangelicals were probably happy to have LDS firepower…but this didn’t make them think that Mormons are Christians.

    A lot of the suggested items are blown way out of proportion though…they all had a very very slight effect, if any. Larry King interviewing President Hinckley? I didn’t remember that…and I don’t think I’m the only one.

  12. We should all be shocked and amazed, of course, that the LDS church-owned Deseret News is trumpeting the alleged “soaring” public influence of its parent corporation.

    I find it noteworthy that the DesNews refrained from citing the “influential octegenarians” source, which was the very liberal Slate online magazine. Perhaps this is because Slate’s website tells the reason why each octegenarian was considered “influential.” Monson’s write-up there was not flattering; if anything, he was being noted as a bad influence in the world. The DesNews should ignore Slate, rather than trying to pretend Slate paid tribute to Mr. Monson.

    Attributing Stephanie Meyer’s novels to “soaring” LDS influence is misguided, at least in my narrow experience. I’ve yet to meet a single fan of her novels who knows she’s LDS, unless that fan is also LDS. In fact, I’ve personally mentioned Meyers’ LDS affiliation to fellow shoppers who were browsing her works in the local Barnes & Noble. Not only was each shopper surprised, but several immediately put the book down, and indicated that they were unwilling to support her based on that fact.

  13. I think each person will answer in the way that fits their own feelings for the Church. For example, take Dougs’ #2 and state each point from a “believer’s” POV:

    1. Mitt Romney most likely lost his bid for president because the people were afraid of the influence of the church – (**but the percent of people who said they would never vote for a Mormon candidate went WAY down**).
    2. Prop 8… I don’t think we need to debate that one again – (**since MANY people who still don’t think about converting right now but didn’t like us in the past [like Catholics, especially, who are the largest denomination in the US] appreciate what we did and like us now**).
    3. PBS Documentary tied us in with the fundamentalist making Mormonism a strange cult for most of America despite the church’s efforts to separate us from them – (**while LOTS of others understood the difference and lost much of the weirdness vibe for us**).
    4. Sen. Reid will probably not make it through the next election and his comments about the church’s role in Prop 8 didn’t endear him to the LDS leadership – (**although many people now realize that an active, believing Mormon can be a liberal Democrat**).
    5. The 3 Billion dollar mall sends the wrong message about our faith to most non-members – (**except those who are used to their churches spending money on urban development and other construction-related endeavors – which is the vast majority of Catholics and moderate-conservative Protestants**).
    6. The Olympics were definitely a positive as well as the humanitarian efforts – (**and the humanitarian efforts will be increased almost surely with the new fourth mission of the Church**).
    “I don’t think people care whether David or Stephanie are Mormons as their contributions have no religious ties – (**except that people who respect / love even one Mormon are FAR more likely to listen to discussions about Mormonism without the biases of those who don’t know and respect any Mormons**).”

    “In the final tally, has the missionary work seen an increase in conversions or a decrease during the last decade?” (**absolutely – number of baptisms per year and retention rates both have increased over the last 3-4 years**)

    Overall, I personally would say that the increased exposure has been a net benefit to the LDS Church, even with things I would like to see change or continue to change. I’m not at either end represented by my illustration of Doug’s quotes, but I lean more toward the parenthetical answers than Doug’s original ones. Of course, that fits my first statement in this comment.

  14. #13: Ray

    I like your restating from a believer’s point-of-view. I think how someone interprets something perhaps says more about the person than the “fact” they are interpreting.

    Really, all that is anything close to objective is your last point, missionary work numbers. I’m having a problem understanding that one.
    Actual numbers for the past 3 years for number of convert baptisms:
    2006: 272,845
    2007: 279,218
    2008: 265,593
    So the numbers have NOT “absolutely” increased, even when seen on a raw basis. Since the numbers have been basically flat, yet the membership has increased, the percentage has decreased. And going back a decade, the numbers for the end of the 1990s:
    1997: 317,798
    1998: 299,134
    1999: 306,171
    This is all with a denominator of around 10 million members as opposed to the 13 million we have now.

    So, I am interested in how you come up with the statement that “absolutely – number of baptisms per year… have increased”

  15. Thanks for pointing out my sloppiness, Mike. I meant to say “number of baptisms per missionary” – not per year. I knew what my brain wanted to type; my fingers botched it badly.

    The raw numbers in all categories dropped significantly over the late 90’s and into the early 00’s. Within a couple of years of announcing the “raising the bar” standard, the overall increase figures stabilized, the retention rate began to climb and the baptisms per missionary rose quite dramtaically. My overall point, if going from a believer’s standpoint, would be that the increased retention rate shows that the emphasis now is on keeping members rather than just on baptizing them. That can be seen as a positive – not a negative. (Iow, “Sure we’re baptizing fewer, but a higher percentage of them are staying – so it’s a net gain in the end.”)

    Again, I’m not at that end of the spectrum in my own view, but it’s not a difficult case to make.

    Having said that, I haven’t seen the 2008 figures, and the 2009 figures aren’t availble, I assume. 2008 might have been an anomaly, and it might have been the end of the stabilization. I have no idea, and neither would surprise me.

  16. #15: Ray

    FYI:
    2008 Numbers
    Members 13,508,509 (increase of 314,510 over 2007)
    Converts 265,593
    Children 123,502
    Leaving 74,585 (Converts + Children = 389,095, membership increase 314,510, hence 74,585 left/died)

    Also, regarding “baptisms per missionary rising quite dramatically”
    In 1997-1999, there were around 33,000 missionaries called per year. Approximating to 66,000 missionaries out (inexact, but ballpark). Given around 300,000 converts, this gives “converts per missionary” in the range of 4.56-4.89 for those years.
    After “raising the bar”, from 2006-2008, there have been about 30,000 missionaries called per year (after stabilization). Given around 265,000-279,000 converts and around 60,000 missionaries, this is between 4.04-4.57 “converts per missionary”.

    Granted, my assumption of merely doubling the number of missionaries called in a year is sloppy (doesn’t account for sisters & couples), but it is consistent. Given this, at least this first approximation shows the “converts per missionary” actually LOWER after “raising the bar”. In any event, it is not increased dramatically.

    For whatever it’s worth…
    After the “raising the bar”, from 2006-2008,

  17. 10 And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
    11 And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.
    12 And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.
    13 But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.
    14 And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down, saith the Father.
    15 But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel.

    (Book of Mormon | 3 Nephi 16:10 – 15)

  18. 38 votes so far, and 71% say a positive influence. I’m a bit surprised. I actually voted “Stayed the Same.” I agree with Nick that the Deseret News did feel a little bit like a cheerleader for the church, though I admit that at this time of the year there are hundreds of “Best of the Decade” type stories, so it was nice to have someone look at the LDS church’s involvement over the past decade. I did think the Larry King interview was a bit of a stretch as a big story, but I thought Pres Hinckley did a good job there.

    I agree that one’s view of the church affects whether one thinks the church increased/decreased influence. I agree with Andrew S that Prop 8 was a good thing for the church in working with other religious groups. Gay rights proponents aren’t going to like the church’s position, but currently, it seems to me that Americans are less in favor of gay marriage, so the church is with the majority there.

    I was surprised that the mall was put in by the Des News. I agree that it is a non-issue, except with critics of the church. Few people talk about the mall project, though I admit the construction is annoying. It will be nice to drive downtown after the project is completed.

    Doug, welcome back. I’ve missed our back and forth, though others have taken up your torch.

    Nick, thanks for letting me know it was Slate who named Pres Monson #1. While I agree that Slate is generally on the liberal side, I don’t agree with your assessment that “Monson’s write-up there was not flattering; if anything, he was being noted as a bad influence in the world.” Here’s exactly what Slate wrote:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2232918/

    Oct 20, 2009

    80 Over 80
    Slate’s 2009 list of the most powerful octogenarians in America

    #1 Thomas S. Monson
    82 years old

    Bio:
    President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to that, the printing executive served as a counselor in the First Presidency for 23 years and as an apostle in the Quorum of Twelve for 22 years.

    What have you done for me post-80?
    * As president, is regarded by the world’s more than 13 million Mormons as a prophet of God “in the same way they view Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and the apostles in the day of Jesus Christ.”
    * Was at the center of the controversy surrounding the church’s support of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage.
    * Since becoming president, has dedicated six new temples and announced nine more.

    While you’re free to disagree with Pres Monson on Prop 8 (and I’m sure you do), I don’t see anything here that “was not flattering” or “a bad influence”. I think you’re letting your perceptions on Prop 8 color what you read. FWIW, Here’s the Top 5:

    #2 John Paul Stevens, supreme court justice
    #3 Daniel Inouye, senator from HI
    #4 Barbara Walters
    #5 Noam Chomsky, MIT professor

    other notables in the top 20
    #10 Sen. Robert Byrd, WV
    #11 Henry Kissinger
    #19 Hugh Hefner
    #20 Jimmy Carter

    and #80 was Alan Greenspan. I’d say that is a pretty impressive list to lead.

  19. Cudos to Jared for posting 3 Nephi 16:10-15! Since Jared didn’t take time to expound on the passage, however, I’ll be happy to explain it’s relevance to this discussion.

    The “gentiles” spoken of are understood to apply directly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While their patriarchal blessings are believed to reveal or bestow Israelite lineage, they nonetheless are clearly those already described by Nephi as the “gentiles,” to whom would one day be given the “fulness” of Jesus’ gospel. Nephi describes a time when those members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would reject the “fulness” which was once revealed to them–after all, since LDS members believe that only they hold the “fulness of the gospel,” they are the only ones capable of “sinning against” it. (Of note, early Mormon prophets repeatedly taught that the “fulness of the gospel” included such things as plural marriage.) In fact, Nephi’s prophecy turns out to be quite accurate, as there are indeed “all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and secret abominations,” even among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So what does Nephi indicate will happen, as a consequence of this iniquity within the LDS church? Deity will remove the fulness of the gospel from them, and take it to those whom Nephi understood to be the “House of Israel,” primarily the Jewish nation. At that point, those members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who do not repent will be “trodden” upon and destroyed by those of the ancient covenant House of Israel.

    Now, why would Jared post this passage, as part of this discussion? Clearly, Jared is pointing out that the vices described by Nephi are rife within the LDS church, and the above-described decline in missionary statistics is just the beginning of the “fulness of the gospel” being withdrawn from them. Like “salt that hath lost its savor,” the LDS membership has ceased to lend a purifying influence upon society. In the ancient Jerusalem Temple, salt was sprinkled upon offerings in order to ritually purify them, but once that salt was contaminated it could only be used for one thing—to be scattered on the large ramp leading up to the altar of sacrifice for traction purposes, i.e. to be “trodden under foot.” It’s quite remarkable that one so defensive of the LDS church would post this passage from Nephi, which so brutally condemns the LDS people. That’s very brave of you, Jared!

  20. #18:
    While you’re free to disagree with Pres Monson on Prop 8 (and I’m sure you do), I don’t see anything here that “was not flattering” or “a bad influence”. I think you’re letting your perceptions on Prop 8 color what you read.

    I can see why you might think that, MH, but it’s really not the case. Certainly the editors of Slate weren’t acknowledging Mr. Monson as a “prophet of god,” but they put that in as an indicator (albeit an exagerrated one, as if all LDS members were active and believing) of his immediate sphere of influence. Note also that they didn’t use the warm, smiling “official” photos of Monson to illustrate him. Rather, they chose a decidedly unflattering photo, which frankly looks a bit sinister. Further, Slate’s coverage of Proposition 8 has generally been quite negative in tone. Their articles relating to LDS involvement with Proposition 8 have been coldly clinical at best, and certainly in no way laudatory. Absent bringing the editors of Slate directly into our discussion to speak for themselves, I feel quite safe concluding that they weren’t complementing Monson. It was more akin to Time Magazine naming certain controversial (or even outright evil, such as Adolph Hitler) as “person of the year.”

  21. Just to show I’m not alone in my interpretation of Slate’s description, check out the original Deseret News article which celebrated Monson being named #1 on the list of “influential octogenarians”:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/user/comments/705338392/President-Monson-top-octogenarian.html

    In particular, look at the reader comments. Notice how many of the LDS commenters actually castigated the Deseret News for publishing the article, because they saw Slate’s move as a clear “mockery” or “insult” to Monson and the LDS church.

  22. Sorry—one more comment on this Slate article: Notice the text of the article itself, which states:

    “The top spot this year goes to 82-year-old Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only person on the list to rule over millions of people as a prophet of God. Enjoy it while you can, Monson—you’re only old once.”

    Do you really think that’s a writeup intended to praise Monson?

  23. I read Slate quite rarely. I don’t see Monson’s photograph as unflattering. Perhaps people like you with a more political persuasion understand this “insider slam” from Slate. I don’t see it, or get it. If that was a slam, only insiders get it. Casual readers (including the Deseret News apparently) don’t get it.

  24. 1. I’m sure Hinckley was scheduled to be on LK before 9/11 happened…

    2. SLC does not = mormons

    3. Was Brigham Young important (for good or bad) in the early days of this part of the united states? Sure… Influential? Maybe to a mormon, not me.

  25. Did Mormon influence increase over the decade. Based on the short list of examples given, I’m inclined to say yes. Even so, I think this requires some clarification as, I am not sure what Mormon influence is exactly. I would not go so far as to say that the Church has gained much influence, but rather there seems to have been a national surge of Mormon influentials.

  26. Sure Mike. Time Magazine used the word “Inc.”

    Therefore is automatically logically follows that the mall is a negative issue.

    Well, at least maybe in your world it logically follows…

  27. MH,

    Thanks for the welcome back! Its comments like this from Left Field that makes me wonder why I try here.

    “How many people do you think have even heard about the mall? Among those few who do hear of it, how many do you think will regard it either indifferently (How does a mall in Salt Lake that they’ve never heard of funded by a church they don’t care about affect them? Probably not at all) or or as a positive investment in the community by a good institutional citizen?”

    You see I actually read the article in the Deseret News and simply commented on the mall because they brought it up. You put it in your list as well, but I get taken to task for stating my opinion about it. Wow, that’s fair…

    Also, the PBS Documentary “THE MORMONS” spent over an hour at the end of part 1 on POLGAMY. You really don’t think that reflects on Mormonism Ray? Really? I completely disagree with your comment about America seeing the difference… I don’t think they do. (They may believe different groups of Mormons are still doing it and others are not, but to the outsider we’re all still Mormons.)

    I think Mike S covered the missionary work well, so I’ll let that go…

    As for the Prop 8 deal, I wouldn’t confuse the issues by believing that the majority of America is against gay marriage and therefore a positive impression for the church. While you may be right about the majority (although I’m not sure that’s actually true) I believe the vast majority of people were disturbed by the huge amount of money and resources members of the church, at the direction of the leaders, put into making prop 8 pass. When any religious organization gets involved in the political process and deprives a minority of a civil right, people wonder if one of their rights will be next. Again, I don’t think the majority of America was comfortable with what went on in California whether or not they personally support gay rights. (Just my opinion)

    Having said all that, I actually agree with your thoughts about perspective Ray. From the believers view point, all the things brought up in the article will seem like positives for the church. For the non-believer, many of those issues are an embarrassment. That’s why I brought up the conversion rate as the one statistic that should show whether all this public awareness is positive or negative.

  28. re 27:

    I’m just going to comment on the Prop 8 thing. You’re looking at it in a way I WISH I could look at it, but I just don’t think that’s the way it works.

    I don’t think the vast majority of people were disturbed by the huge amount of money and resources members of the church put into making prop 8. remember…the people who oppose gay marriage would be *pleased* — not disturbed — by such an event. But of course, everyone isn’t so vitally opposed to gay marriage as to have some kind of schadenfreude to see it so proactively banned…however, don’t be deceived that this is a sign of support for a minority right.

    What does this matter? Because your next sentence, for it to work, REQUIRES people to believe that a minority *was* deprived of a civil right. But if people don’t see gay marriage as a right, then it can’t be a right that was deprived. And if there was no right deprived (at least, in the eyes of a significant part of the population), then there will be no wondering about if their rights will be next. They’ll say: “that’s different. My rights are *real*. California judges made an illegitimate move to reject the will of the California people so I’m glad California’s people righted the wrong.”

    I WANT to believe you. I WANT to believe that the majority of America is deeply uncomfortable. Instead, I think most people DON’T CARE (prop 8 doesn’t even REGISTER in many people’s minds) or even ADMIRE the Mormons for standing up for traditional, conservative values.

  29. I don’t really see Mormon influence increasing from this list of examples. You could highlight any recent decade and find Mormon influence. Technology has allowed Mormons to be more influential but it has also allowed many other programs to provide influence too, so really it’s all relative.

    So really I see Mormon influence as staying the Same.

  30. I would say the disturbing thing about Prop 8 was the amount of influence church leaders had over the voting habits and political involvement of church members. The issues was less that church members gave a lot of money and time to support Prop 8, but that they did it because the Prophet told them they should. It’s that kind of influence by church authority that people are afraid of when it comes to voting for a Mormon for president.

    Now, I’ll admit I don’t know if many people outside the church care or how aware of it they are. The documents that were reported on regarding the church hierarchy’s role in the Hawaii gay marriage issue suggest that at least some outside the church are concerned about it.

  31. “I’m just going to comment on the Prop 8 thing. You’re looking at it in a way I WISH I could look at it, but I just don’t think that’s the way it works.”

    You know me Andrew, always the optimist! 🙂

    Unfortunately, you may be right as neither I nor anyone else here has the actual pulse of America. Judging on the current political climate though, I’m not sure this is a conservative nation anymore and religion is becoming less and less of an influence regardless of your particular faith.

  32. The mall is only an issue on the extreme fringe – like exmormon.org and places that get some of its overflow – like the bloggernacle or the DAMU.

    Just about everyone else is going to see it as a case of good citizenship, or aren’t going to care about it at all.

    I half agree with that. Nobody who lives outside of Utah or who doesn’t have some particular interest in Mormonism will actually care about the mall, but the casual reaction from most people who happen to hear of it will more likely be something like “A church is investing billions of dollars in a mall? WTF?”

  33. I agree with Andrew that, for now, opposition to gay rights is a net positive for the church. But I think there is a good chance that this will change over time and become a negative, much the way the church’s racial policies did. I hope so.

  34. There must be some actual data out there somewhere on public perceptions of the church over the past 10 years. Anyone? It seems to me that all we’ve got here is wishful thinking (DesNews likes to think one thing, people who are angry over prop 8 want to think the church is suffering as a result of it’s involvement, jettboy wants to think his political allies love the church but liberals hate it) but no data. I would be interested in data.

  35. kuri: “the casual reaction from most people who happen to hear of it will more likely be something like “A church is investing billions of dollars in a mall? WTF?” Doubtful. Have you been to the Vatican? The LDS church is a lightweight at the opulence game. And the Catholics are not the only ones with a lot of assets. I simply disagree that most adherents of other religions would see this as much to raise an eyebrow at.

    I agree with those who said that there’s no such thing as bad press. The church is becoming more mainstream and familiar outside of Utah. You didn’t mention the popularity of the show Big Love, but that has also contributed to Mormonism being more familiar, even though it is about fundies and leads to a lot of misconception about Mormons. To those outside of Utah, Mormons are often still viewed as polygamists or one step removed from polygs.

  36. Have you been to the Vatican? The LDS church is a lightweight at the opulence game.

    There’s a multi-billion-dollar shopping mall in the Vatican?

  37. “Doubtful. Have you been to the Vatican? The LDS church is a lightweight at the opulence game. And the Catholics are not the only ones with a lot of assets.”

    Mall vs. Vatican? I would agree with this statement if the the billion dollars of expense were for “noble” religious causes such as temple/facility construction, or historic religious site rennovation or restoration. Instead it’s just a mall for good old commercial enterprise. I think most people who are aware of this are probably slightly turned off, though I agree that I’m not sure how commonly this project is understood. I have a hard time picturing Jesus in the board room focusing his energies both in terms of financial resources and time, to the construction of a mall. While this example my be a bit extreme, I would imagine that it has a similar taste to what people experience when Jesus’s alleged Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, appear to invest their time in this way.

  38. Mike, the LDS Church hasn’t had 60,000 full-time preaching missionaries (not those on service or administrative missions) for quite a few years. The numbers dropped dramatically in 2002-2003. The last numbers I have seen are from 2007 – around 53,000-54,000, if memory serves. That puts the baptisms per missionary at over 5 for the last few years prior to 2008 – which is an increase over the last few years prior to 2002-2003.

    Please understand something:

    I’m not hung up on the numbers, since I agree that stats can say pretty much whatever someone wants them to say. I’m not trying to convince anyone of any particular point other than there is a reasonable argument that can be made by believing members that missionary work is more successful now than it was in the past – if that person focuses on “effectiveness” (baptisms per missionary and retention) rather than gross baptism numbers. The leadership is saying forcefully (and has said for some time) that retention is more important than gross baptisms, so it’s easy for believing members to say that the current “results” are “better” than the previous ones. That’s all I’m saying for the purposes of this post.

    Finally, if I’m trying to be totally objective about the question of the post, I have to say that Prop 8 was a net plus for the Church. The people who were most upset by the actions weren’t likely to accept or join the LDS Church anyway, and those on the other extreme who think we are headed to Hell no matter what also aren’t likely to accept or join. However, there is a HUGE portion of the people in the US and, even more obviously, throughout the world who don’t equate gay marriage with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (even in countries that allow and accept civil unions). These people are both left AND right of center, but they essentially are centrists – and they are the people who are most likely to accept and/or join the LDS Church in the future.

    I have no idea how this will play out over the long haul, but, in the here and now, I think Prop 8 was a net benefit for the Church.

  39. Mall? What mall?

    Oh yeah, this must be going on in UT or probably specifically SLC.
    I suppose one day I’ll get tired of noticing that UT != Mormonism, and things that happen in UT really don’t register much at all with Mormons elsewhere.

  40. Mall vs. Vatican? I would agree with this statement if the the billion dollars of expense were for “noble” religious causes such as temple/facility construction, or historic religious site rennovation or restoration. Instead it’s just a mall for good old commercial enterprise. I think most people who are aware of this are probably slightly turned off, though I agree that I’m not sure how commonly this project is understood.

    Exactly. I think the idea of a church investing ginormous resources in a commercial real estate development project will generally draw a reaction of “Huh. That’s weird.” Not “Huh. That’s weird. Mormons are evil! EVIL!” Just “Huh. That’s weird.” Not that many people will ever hear about it, but I think that will easily be the most common reaction of those that do. I mean, it’s a pretty common reaction for Mormons too, IME.

  41. #38: Ray

    I agree with you. The numbers are inexact. The only numbers I had were the number of missionaries called in a single year. I merely doubled that (terrible proxy for reasons I gave above) to get a denominator. In that case, the 66,000 number was probably also high.

    In any event, as you nicely pointed out, the question as to whether a particular event was positive or negative is extremely subjective. Personally, I’d probably point out both positives and negatives to all of the events. I was merely trying to get at least a bit closer to anything even remotely objective. The gross number of converts is down. The number of converts as a percentage of members is quite a bit down. My numbers are merely what I could gleen from published numbers, but the number of converts per missionary is about the same, and certainly not INCREASED.

    As to retention rates, I don’t have any good data to go on there but would love to see something. Baring that, I think any comments there are as subjective as to whether stories about vampires are helpful or hurtful to the Church. Anecdotally, many countries in Europe have as many members as 20 years ago. Rates of 20-30% retention outside the US are quoted. Have these gone up or down? I don’t know.

    And all this begs the question, is the number of converts even a good proxy for the Church’s “influence”? I don’t know. It just seems that our core message has unfortunately not been as successfully been conveyed to the world over the past decades.

    My own personal opinion has nothing to do with the events above, but with the rise of the internet. In the past, our message was very carefully controlled. We presented the positive. The negative was hard to find unless one specifically looked for anti-Mormon literature. With the internet, all of our warts are out there for the world to see. This presents FUD. I think this is a bigger issue than a Larry King interview, etc.

  42. “Oh yeah, this must be going on in UT or probably specifically SLC.
    I suppose one day I’ll get tired of noticing that UT != Mormonism, and things that happen in UT really don’t register much at all with Mormons elsewhere.”

    You should bear in mind that this is not a matter of Utah Mormons, and I’m talking about the lay folk in Utah, believing that the world of Mormonism revolves around us. Instead it is a matter of the International Church that we all belong to taking a rather questionable and expensive interest in Utah commerce. That should give anybody pause, as I will find it rather difficult to understand how such a costly and irreligious endeavor has any bearing on the supposed mission of the Church. This is also why I expect people to do a double take when they hear about it, because it doesn’t exactly seem consistent that a Church, which is traditionally thought to be above the world and filthy lucre, would be so involved. There are old metaphors about prostitutes at Church, which are seem to parallel this inconsistency.

  43. #28:
    I don’t think the vast majority of people were disturbed by the huge amount of money and resources members of the church put into making prop 8. remember…the people who oppose gay marriage would be *pleased* — not disturbed — by such an event.

    Opposition to marriage equality doesn’t automatically make someone pleased to see a church take large-scale political action, Andrew. Further, if LDS involvement in Prop 8 was such a “public relations success,” don’t you think Monson and Co. would have issued a similar shakedown call for LDS to contribute to subsequent anti-gay political campaigns, such as in Maine?

  44. #34:
    It seems to me that all we’ve got here is wishful thinking (DesNews likes to think one thing, people who are angry over prop 8 want to think the church is suffering as a result of it’s involvement, jettboy wants to think his political allies love the church but liberals hate it) but no data. I would be interested in data.

    Gary Lawrence, the LDS pollster (and father of a gay son) who was tasked with (and paid over $200,000 dollars for) spearheading LDS involvement in the anti-gay campaign to pass Proposition 8, stated publicly in May of 2009 that public ” favorability ratings declined for Mormons over the last year, from 42 percent to 37.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803573_pf.html

  45. #35:
    …or one step removed from polygs.

    My understanding, Hawkgrrrl, is that most Mormon Fundamentalists consider “polygs” to be a very offensive slur, on par with racial epithets.

  46. #42:
    Instead it is a matter of the International Church that we all belong to taking a rather questionable and expensive interest in Utah commerce.

    Don’t worry, it’s not just Utah commerce. Not long ago, facing dismal sales within a huge “planned community” real estate development which an LDS church-owned subsidiary is building in Missouri, Mr. Monson suddenly received a revelation to announce a temple site in the middle of it. That “Kansas City Area” temple is slated to be built within the Shoal Creek development, presenting a nice incentive for LDS to start buying up property there—much like what happened when Joseph Smith had properties to sell near the temple site in Nauvoo.

  47. #45 Nick – I was not aware of that. I thought it was just shorthanding their name. Good to know. My exposure to polygamists is limited in that I don’t know any, and I was unaware that there were still people practicing polygamy until I was in college and first lived in Utah.

    There’s a distinction between the church being potentially influential and whether people view that influence as positive or negative. As I’ve said, my opinion is the church’s influence has increased. On the whole I think that’s a positive, but not every step has been in a positive direction, and many of the events putting the church in the public eye have had a negative spin. But all press increases familiarity. The church coming out of an obscure Utah-centric existence is good, though, even if there are missteps along the way. As the church becomes more familiar to non-church members, so will the world outside Utah become more familiar to the church.

  48. Here are the numbers for baptisms/missionary per lds.org

    Year Members Converts Number of Baptisms
    at end of yr missionaries per missionary

    2008 13,508,509 265,593 52,494 5.1
    2007 13,193,999 279,218 52,686 5.3
    2006 12,868,606 272,845 53,164 5.1
    2005 12,560,869 243,108 52,060 4.7
    2004 12,275,822 241,239 51,067 4.7
    2003 11,985,254 242,923 56,237 4.3
    2002 11,721,548 283,138 61,638 4.6
    2001 11,394,522 292,612 60,850 4.8
    2000 11,068,861 273,973 60,784 4.5
    1999 10,752,986 306,171 58,593 5.2
    1998 10,354,241 299,134 57,853 5.2
    1997 10,070,524 317,798 56,531 5.6
    1996 9,694,549 321,385 52,938 6.1

    I’ve been at home, sick for 5 days. What can I say?

  49. Thanks, Holden.

    Nick, I agree that using “polygs” is not appropriate, but neither is “Monson and Co.” – for the exact same reason. We all know you use it as the exact same type of pejorative as “polys” often is used – and that you used it intentionally as an insult in your comment.

    I support you 100% in asking that “polygs” not be used. Will you support me in not using “Monson and Co.”?

  50. #50 ,

    And they claim that these ‘raise the bar’ missionaries today are better than we were back in the day. That per missionary baptism rate tells another story.

    Now did mormon influence increase? Prop 8 is more than enough proof to answer that question.

  51. While the majority (?) of Americans may possibly oppose gay marriage, the generational trends are very encouraging (or discouraging, if you will). Youth are much more likely to support it, and I think the Church may have taken a big hit with the younger crowd, all while receiving a boost with the older crowd.

  52. I am going to respond briefly from a UK perspective. It stayed the same, at very little influence. The Church is still so hidden from public view that Mormon missionaries are the only contact most people have with the Church.

  53. #54: Vin

    I agree with this perspective. In the first century+ of the Church, the priesthood ban was in line with much of the racist attitudes prevalent in the country. As society evolved, the Church either had to change its policy or else become increasingly seen as out-of-touch. It also took some of the older generation dying away.

    I predict the same thing with Prop 8 issues. Attitudes towards this are also very much on generational lines. The overall net change in “influence” may be somewhat neutral on the issue, but amongst the future of the Church (young people) they may be losing influence. I don’t think it’s just gay marriage, however. Things as irrelevant to our eternal salvation as tattoos or the number of earrings someone has have been elevated to touchstones, as issues to see how well someone is “following the prophet”. I think this is a similar thing – to the older generation, they nodded their heads in assent at those “terrible” looking things. Among the younger generation, where tattoos or multiple earrings are extremely common, etc., it’s just one more unneeded barrier between youth and what really matters – one’s personal relationship with Christ.

    When the Church looks at the inactivity rate among young adults, and the possible lack of influence in that area, instead of yet another program or something, they should instead look at policies peripheral to the gospel. Perhaps there needs to be a “youth representative” in the highest councils of the Church.

    Who knows?

  54. #19 Nick–Been busy, but wanted to add the following:

    My understanding of the verses of scripture I used in #17 is that some members of the church, as well as the majority of America will reject the gospel.

    I think it is wonderful that the church has as much respect and influence as they do. We are led by prophets. But in the long run it doesn’t appear that the Gentiles will embrace the restored gospel.

    28 And when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel;
    29 But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men.
    30 And in that generation shall the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
    31 And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.
    32 But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 45:28 – 32)

  55. Mike and Vin,

    I know there are many people who compare gay marriage to the priesthood ban. Perhaps it is a valid comparison, perhaps it is not. I think it is interesting to look at the ERA amendment. The church played a pivotal role in it’s defeat, and some 30 year later, there doesn’t seem to be any momentum to revive it. I wonder if gay marriage will go the way of the ERA amendment. Time will give us the answer. Proponents of ERA thought it was just a matter of time for it’s passage, but those people were apparently wrong.

    Jared, how come you never commented on my Christmas posts or Priesthood lesson? I thought you would enjoy those kind of posts, since they deal much more with the scriptures, yet you always seem to stay away. I would expect scripture quoting to be more appropriate there, not on a post which deals more with current events and perception of the church. You’ve said in the past that you think the scriptures aren’t brought up here enough–yet when I bring them up, you stay away. You didn’t comment on Jeff’s Old Testament posts either.

  56. Jared, I totally agree with you about the numbers game of membership. My reading of scripture is the same. The Gospel will have an early spurt of growth, but in the end only the Second Coming will save it from the danger of disappearing. That is why my worry is more about the faith of the membership and less about how many remain in the Church.

  57. one things for sure… the FLDS are never gonna have much influence, … unless…. 1980’s womens hairstyles and 1880’s womens fashion make a comeback…

  58. #59: Jettboy and Jared:

    How do you reconcile the “danger of disappearing” with all of the “stone of Daniel” comments we heard not too long ago when the Church was predicted to have 270+ million members by 2050 or 2070?

  59. Mike S., the fact that Christ is the Stone (Rock) and not The Church. He will be the one that will stamp out the governments of the Earth and take his rightful place as King of Kings.

  60. #58 MH–

    I’ve been very busy during the holidays so I haven’t been spending as much time in the bloggernacle as usual. This will continue into the new year. I have several business interest that need more of my attention. This economy is something else.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more your post.

  61. #59 Jettboy–

    I agree!!

    #61 Mike S

    Good question. I’m trying to better understand the various aspects your questions brings up. I’m not sure if we’re near the end of vigorous church growth or just at the beginning of remarkable growth in the church. In the short run I think we’ve got problems, in the long run the possibility exist for the church to explode in growth in countries like China.

    I worry about the Gentile nations, especially America.

    I talked with a missionary on Sunday and he said that Elder Holland was in Europe and told them that the work in that part of the world is just getting started.

    On thing I do know—it wonderful having the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

  62. I remember talking to another Elder in my mission, and he said that Elder Holland “dusted his feet” on a dry cleaner for displaying Mormon Temple garments in the front window. He later said that the dry cleaner burned to the ground less than a week later.

  63. Post
    Author

    funny thing about the dry cleaner burning to the ground-I heard a similar story on my mission 20 years ago, but it wasn’t Elder Holland who dusted his feet- it was just a couple of missionaries. I think this is another mormon myth.

  64. MH:

    Brief threadjack warning:

    The night before I was supposed to depart for the MTC, one of my best friends called me from his mission in the eastern states. We talked for about two hours, during the course of which he related this common “dry-cleaners” story to me. When I arrived in the mission field, mid-western states, an Elder related the same story to me with slight variation, namely that the alleged event took place in our mission. A short while later it was Christmas and I was making my routine Christmas calls, so I called my Cousin who was serving in New York. He and I talked for a while, and I decided to tell him how my friend related a story that seemed unbelievable to me, which was then respun with a mid-western twist by the Elders in my mission. I then qualified the story as a Mormon folktale. His response to me was icing on the cake. He said, “yeah I know missionaries like to tell stupid and unbelievable stories, but you should be aware that this story is actually true, because it happened in my mission”. I get the impression that this one has been making the rounds for a long time.

  65. I guess there was a story like that about Alice Cooper being a mormon or something lots of different variations…..

  66. Doug, I’m afraid you’ve left me completely baffled by this comment:

    “You see I actually read the article in the Deseret News and simply commented on the mall because they brought it up. You put it in your list as well, but I get taken to task for stating my opinion about it. Wow, that’s fair…”

    Help me out here. “My list?” You mean my list of two of your points that I chose to respond to? Yeah, I put it in my “list” of things I responded to because it was one of the two things I chose to uh.. respond to. I took you “to task for stating [your] opinion”? Huh? I thought I just responded to your opinion by expressing my own. You made some interesting points; I chose to respond to a couple of those points for which I have a different opinion, and thought I might have something to add. Just like you responded to the original post and the DN article because you thought you might have something to add. Isn’t that generally the manner in which humans have a conversion? What might I have said that could be construed as unfair?

  67. Mr. Left Field,

    I believe I’m guilty of jumping to a conclusion based on seeing your name and then reading between the lines in your comment. Please accept my apology for prejudging your intent.

    The Deseret News obviously sees the mall as a positive for the church. I don’t, but that’s just me…

    I don’t disagree with your comment about the world outside of Utah caring if the church builds a mall or not. I’m sure “they” don’t. If someone were investigating the church though, and discovered this large expenditure, would they feel like they were considering joining a church or a large commercial enterprise that fronts as a church?

    After visiting Europe, I was amazed at the amount of money the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches had spent on churches, cathedrals, living quarters for monks and nuns, and so on. The difference of course is that all this is still in the name of God and for Him. (At least they seem to believe that.)

    The City Creek Mall illustrates the difference between us and many Christen churches. The Lutheran church near me pays their clergy, takes care of the utilities, rents the hall, buys the coffee and donuts for meetings, and at the end of the year (if they have a surplus) finds a worthy charity to donate any leftover funds to. They start the next year and every year on faith that God will provide.

    When I balance this simple faith with a corporation that prides itself on its financial freedom and its ability to invest huge sums of money in commercial enterprises, I think it sends the wrong message.

    Of course I don’t believe the Mormon or the Lutheran church is “God’s on and only true church” so perhaps my comparison is mute…

  68. In response to #71, the Alice Cooper rumor has an element of truth to it. (See my post for more info.)

    Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Ella Mae and Ether Moroni Furnier. His grandfather, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ based in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Vincent Furnier’s father was an Elder in The Church of Jesus Christ.

    Now, you can see some Book of Mormon sounding names and priesthood offices. This Church of Jesus Christ is a “relative” of our church. Sidney Rigdon broke away following the death of Joseph Smith and started his own Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion near Pittsburgh, PA. The church floundered after about 10 years. William Bickerton started a new church, and was an ardent follower of Rigdon, and this church is referred to as the Bickertonites, or the Church of Jesus Christ. It is still in existence today. The first 3 prophets of the Bickertonite church are Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and William Bickerton.

    Alice Cooper claims no religious affiliation, though he is probably quite familiar with the Book of Mormon. He was never “Mormon”, but definitely grew up and understood the Book of Mormon, and probably grew up in in a pretty religious Restoration branch family.

  69. interesting… the more I hear about this Brigham Young guy the less I like him… Seems like his charisma ended up being the deciding factor between him and this Sydney Rigdon guy…

  70. Regarding the “mall” etc – a few comments:

    – When people make comparisons with the area around the Vatican in order to justify the area of downtown SLC, they are completely off-base. The Vatican was essentially a world capital at one point. Many of the buildings are vestiges from that time. The whole idea of that type of build-up has also been denounced by many LDS leaders over the years as well, as a harlot, with fine things, etc. Yet we’re doing the same.

    – Regardless of semantics as to “commercial” money or “tithing” money, it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. The budget in our ward for many programs was cut 80% for 2010. For our monthly combined activity, we have $25. For a youth conference, we have just over $1000. And this is for over 100 kids. We can’t even buy the kids a drink each month without breaking our budget. Yet somehow the Church can find $2 billion for a mall. For tens of millions to buy some parking lots from Mr. Holding.

    – Anyone can play with semantics, like what the definition of “is” is. Anyone can try to split hairs, etc. I just know that if the Church is trying to get away from the image that people try to portray of them being a corporation first and foremost, they are doing a terrible job in my mind, and this is from someone speaking as an active member.

  71. I really don’t think so. I’d say 95-01 was good, but it began a steady decline from there. I suppose, though, if you mean negative attention, then prop 8 would qualify.

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