With the Book of Mormon musical scoring a hit on Broadway and coming soon to the West End, Mormonism being the subject of TV drama in Big Love, with Mormon matters hardly out of the press and a Mormon running for the Whitehouse you might be forgiven for thinking that we really are experiencing what has come to be known as the Mormon moment. But lets find some context.
In Azusa Street, Los Angeles in April 1906 the Pentecostal Movement was said to have had its roots. The movement has grown in 106 years to represent almost one quarter of the world Christian population of 2.2 billion. Some 500 million believers worldwide who identify as Pentecostals.
Mormonism began over 75 years earlier in 1830 and after 180 years boasts a little over 14 million members, most of whom live in the Americas – see Mormon Demographics That Don’t Add Up
General Authority Marlin K. Jensen, the church's outgoing historian, has recently said that more members are falling away today than at any time in the church's 180 year history. Jensen has said that times have changed, and “attrition has accelerated in the last five or 10 years.” He said the church is attempting to reach out to the less active church members, update manuals on sensitive church doctrines, and improve the accurate information about the church on the internet.
They might well be worried about sensitive doctrines and so-called “misunderstandings.” Jensen relates how his own daughter said, “Dad, why didn't you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?” Of course, this isn't the result of misunderstandings, or incorrect information put out there by “enemies of the church.” Joseph Smith was a polygamist and the reason his daughter didn't know is because the Mormon Church is less than honest and forthright in telling its story. If there is misrepresentation it is coming from the Mormons not from their critics.
Jensen acknowledged that Google means everything is out there and, “The manuals used to teach the young church doctrine are severely out-dated.” (For “out-dated” read “inaccurate”) Mormon Church president, Thomas S Monson, has launched an initiative he has called “The Rescue” in an attempt to stem the flow. But why is Google not producing the same degree of attrition among Christian movements like Pentecostalism? Why is Pentecostalism growing in this technological age while Mormonism is in crisis because of it?
Reports say that only about one third of Mormonism's 14 million members are active. Its important to understand the context of recent developments and not be fooled by the usual Mormon hype. Mormonism is one of the more successful cults in the backwaters of American society.
There are 14 million Mormons in the world but, according to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.
There are some 180,000 Mormons in the UK, most of whom are inactive, but, according to the 2009 International Bulletin of Missionary Research it is estimate that approximately 176,000 Christians were martyred from mid-2008 to mid-2009. This, according to the authors, compares to 160,000 martyrs in mid-2000 and 34,400 at the beginning of the 20th century. If current trends continue, it is estimated that by 2025, an average of 210,000 Christians will be martyred annually.
There are 1 billion hungry people in the world today and the figure is growing.
The so-called Arab Spring is having a violent effect on Christians and Muslims and is threatening to become an Arab Winter. Iran is becoming a major nuclear threat to Israel and the region.
A Mormon President
Put in that context Mormonism is not the big deal many would have us believe. And if a Mormon gets into the Whitehouse will it make so great a difference? President Obama has been discovering that it is not enough to be president, that there is more to the governance of America than the office of the president.
So why do we get involved in this ministry at all? I have been involved for over twenty years and one of the things that has been a constant is that it is not about making great statements on movements and organisations, not about bringing down great religious corporations, but it is and always has been about the salvation of individuals. Our care is always for souls and Mormonism is our area of expertise in the battle for every soul we are privileged to know.
My greatest concern is not that Washington will be governed by Salt Lake City, but that a Mormon even running for the Whitehouse gives weight and credibility to Mormon claims and makes people more vulnerable on the doorstep to the Mormon message. It is going to become harder to credibly criticise Mormonism, not because it doesn’t deserve criticism but simply because it looks good. Many, in their simplistic understanding of the world will say that it must be alright “otherwise it wouldn't be allowed.” As we prepare for this new world It is well to bear in mind:
Its about individuals not organisations. We are talking to a person not an organisation, about the business of saving souls not shutting down corporations. If we bear that in mind we will treat people as people and not blank cyphers.
We could learn some lessons in social skills and diplomacy. It is going to get harder to wag fingers in faces and chide people which is no bad thing. Too many are still, more out of fear than anything, shouting at the cult member.
If we understand the big picture we might better deal with the person. You can't say Mormons are my are of expertise so I don't read anything else. Attitudes to our work are shaped by all sorts of influences and if we are to understand what we are dealing with and why things are changing we need a broader grasp of what is happening in the church and in the world. Keep up to date with changing attitudes and ideas inside and outside the church.
God is Sovereign however it looks to us. When things look beyond us they are not beyond him.
The world is changing the way it always has and we must be prepared to change the way we meet it without changing the message we bring.
Next: Defining “Cult”