I’ve been listening to some podcasts (here is the iTunes link) from the Covenant Theological Seminary on Ancient and Medieval Church History. Apparently they offer a Master of Theology Degree, and most of the classwork can be done online. Of course, if you want a degree you have to pay tuition, which I’m not doing, so basically I’m auditing some of the classes for free.
Anyway, they basically break up Christianity into 500 year chunks, and talk about the major developments. One of the things that struck me was to hear that in the first 500 years of the church, there were 5 major centers of Christianity. I’m doing this from memory, so I’ll try to rank them in the order I remember. (I could be wrong on the rankings, but I feel pretty confident in these top 5.)
- Rome, Italy
- Byzantium (aka Constantinople and Instanbul), Turkey
- Antioch, Syria
- Alexandra, Egypt
- Jerusalem, Israel
In the class, they talked about all the rivalries between the cities over doctrine, and how there ended up being various breakoffs. Constantinople and Rome split over authority, while Alexandria still to this day has a group of Christians known as Monothocytes, who broke over the nature of the Trinity (I’ll choose that word for lack of a better word).
It is interesting to me how things are today, some 1500 years later. Rome is Catholic: Istanbul, Antioch, and Alexandria are Muslim, and Jerusalem is Jewish. In later centuries, Moscow, Russia takes over from Istanbul as the leading influence of the Orthodox Church, and still holds an important role in the Eastern Orthodox Church today.
So, it got me thinking about the LDS church. While we don’t have 2000 years of history, I thought I’d try to rank the first 15 years, and subsequent years. These rankings are not set in stone, and I’m willing to listen to others opinions who can present a good case. So, here goes.
The Joseph Smith period: 1830-1844
- Nauvoo, IL
- Independence, MO
- Kirtland, OH
- Palmyra, NY
- London, England
The Post-JS Era
This gets a little trickier. I think Salt Lake City is the unquestioned #1, but if we are to consider other movements, such as RLDS, then who is the real #2? I read Michael Quinn’s book “The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power”, and he told of LDS church population of nations by percent of total population. Here’s how the ranking by nations went as of 1994.
- Tonga – 37%
- Samoa – 25%
- Niue – 17%
- Kiribati – 6.5%
- Tahiti – 6.4%
- Cook Islands – 4.4%
- Marshall Islands – 4.2%
- Chile – 2.6%
- New Zealand – 2.3%
- Micronesia – 2.3%
- Alberta Province, Canada – 2.2%
- Palau – 2.2%
- Uraguay – 1.9%
- United States – 1.7%
That certainly presents a case that the LDS church is a more worldwide than we think. Should Tonga be considered as a #2? If we include RLDS cities in the Mormon movement, Independence, MO has a claim. Provo, with BYU, has a much higher percentage of Mormons and markedly different culture than Salt Lake City. Boise, Idaho has a strong presence. Mesa, Arizona does as well. Here’s a list of cities/nations that I think should be considered, in no particular order.
- Auckland, New Zealand – strong LDS pop. right near temple
- Boise, ID
- Mesa, AZ
- Independence, MO
- Provo, UT
- Nauvoo, IL
- Kirtland, OH
- London, England – long church history, and one of the largest LDS pop. in Europe
- Palmyra, NY
- Los Angeles, CA
So, who’s in your top 5, and why? If I’ve left some off that you think are worthy, please let me know. If the church leadership were forced to leave SLC for some reason, say due to natural disaster, or some strange event, where would they likely set up a new headquarters?
I think it’s pretty clear that WHEN church leadership leaves SLC (not if, but when) they will relocate to Jackson County, Mo.
I don’t think it’s fair to compare “Mormonism’s “second city” with the early Christian world, or even the early days of this dispensation. The Old World cities you list were truly “centers”, with their own doctrines, competing claims of authority, and basically separate churches. And in the early days of this dispensation, membership, official puplications, and the apostles were truly dispersed through a few cities.
If I had to pick, I’d say Provo/BYU is my choice, with many preferring the Hugh Nibley/Dan Ludlow/Stephen Robinson/FARMS sholarship over the “basic docrines” preached from the Conference Center.
But we simply don’t have a situation today like we did in, say 1850, with 80% of the church membership still in England, the prophet and a small number of saints in SLC, and authorities still directing from Winter Quarters as well. For the last 100 years (at least) EVERYTHING authoritative has been printed, preached, and mailed from one center: Salt Lake City.
I know the comparison isn’t perfect, as you illustrate, but I wanted to do it anyway. 🙂
If you want to talk about “centers”, then wouldn’t RLDS/CoC cities count as a center of Mormonism? After all, they do have “their own doctrines, competing claims of authority, and basically separate churches.”
I agree that Provo/BYU is probably the best #2 on the list.
I wonder where Las Vegas sits with 100K church members.
Yes, the situation of the CofChrist and LDS is more analogous to the situation of early Christianity. A case can certainly be made for London as a center as well in the 1850’s, since a significant portion of LDS scripture was first published in England.
As for current situations, I don’t think there are any centers except the homes of the two largest surviving Mormon denominations. Even in Independence, the city was predominantly Baptist last time I looked.
I guess if we want a strict definition, then the top 6 Mormon cities are:
2. Independence, MO (CoC)
3. Monongahela, Pennsylvania (Bickertonites)
4. Voree, WI (Strangites)
5. Kingston, UT
6. Eldorado, TX
If we limit the group to LDS cities, then I think the top cities should look like this (without trying to get too Utah-centric).
2. Provo, UT
3. St George, UT
4. Boise, ID