Affirmative Action in Zion?

Patrick Mason is one of ourDialogue guests. He may or may not be related to one of our permabloggers.

In March 1961 President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925. It dictated that any contractor doing business with the federal government “will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” This was the first time the phrase “affirmative action” was used by the federal government (although it built on previous laws and policies reaching back to the Fourteenth Amendment), and it was gradually built upon by Presidents Johnson and (the most unlikely advocate) Nixon before beginning to be dismantled somewhat under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II.

The confusing thing about Kennedy’s order was that on the one hand the government was telling employers they needed to hire minorities (especially African Americans), but on the other hand they were saying that hiring had to be done without special preference or treatment or quotas (“without regard…”).

In the Church, it’s no real surprise that we have something of a race problem. The most egregious and structural element of this problem was solved in one fell swoop twenty-nine years ago (thank God for revelation), but it is abundantly clear that the issue remains with us. The Church does not track membership by race, and so it is unclear how many African Americans have joined since 1978, but it is certainly disproportionately low for a church that idealizes its universal appeal. (We seem to do better with Hispanics, and I have no idea about Native Americans, always the forgotten minority in America.)

It seems to me that the Church suffers from the same paradox as affirmative action programs have from the beginning. If the ultimate goal is to eliminate distinctions and privilege based on race, is the best strategy to emphasize race in the short-term so as to tailor programs and policies that will aid the traditionally underprivileged and underrepresented, or do you ignore race completely in the hopes that it will simply go away on its own accord? There are good arguments–and significant problems–for each approach. Race will always be an issue so long as you talk about it, and when you give special advantages to one group it is inevitable that other groups (particularly the majority) will become resentful to some degree and will see any accomplishments by the minority group as a result of a handout rather than actual ability. But ignoring the problem does not solve it, and only reinforces the status quo that is defined by an inequality in power and representation.

My question is whether affirmative action has any place in Zion? Our collective goal, if I read my scriptures right, is for the members of God’s Church to be “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18), for if “[we] are not one, [we] are not [God’s]” (D&C 38:27). Furthermore, our best example of Zion, the post-Resurrection church in the Americas, was notably classless and raceless: “neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1:17).

Currently, the Church seems to both acknowledge and downplay race. They still do not track race, and President Hinckley’s answers to journalists’ questions on the issue are characteristically forward-looking and upbeat (his recent castigation of priesthood holders for any lingering racism was a welcome call to repentance and thus admission of the problem, but also insinuated that there shouldn’t be any problem since 1978). More proactively, the Church created and still supports the Genesis Group to minister to African Americans, and has recently gotten heavily involved in genealogy work for African Americans.

I’m not of the inclination or in a position to critique Church policies, and generally find them praiseworthy. Instead, I’m more interested in a question of how we as a collective membership helps move Zion toward the vision put forward in 4 Nephi. Do we accentuate race or ignore it?


  1. I would love to see a black apostle.

  2. we ignore and needed and notice as needed as inspired.

    Is that a bland answer?

  3. I think it depends on the goals of the institution. The goals of the federal government with regard to AA are to have under-represented minorities more represented with the intended purpose of leveling society on an socio-economic scale. Whether or not AA as currently instituted will meet that goals is obviously up for debate, but I think the destination is valuable and should be sought after.

    So what would the purpose of AA be in the Church?

  4. Patrick Mason says:

    Good question, Adam — I should have made it clearer in my post. It seems to me that the potential purposes of affirmative action in the Church, if we were to think of it that way, would be threefold (although perhaps others can think of more):

    First, to correct over a century of racist myths and practices by specifically addressing the issue of race (as BCC is doing this week) rather than just pretending it is a non-issue.

    Second, to design programs and policies that would have as their goals to draw more African Americans into the Church and to keep them here. This would require acknowledging that African Americans (and other ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic groups) have different needs, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

    Third, to enhance the profile of African Americans, both men and women, in church leadership positions, on the ward, stake, and general level.

  5. Second, to design programs and policies that would have as their goals to draw more African Americans into the Church and to keep them here. This would require acknowledging that African Americans (and other ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic groups) have different needs, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

    If this means incorporating gospel/soul music into Sunday services, then I am all for this.

  6. Patrick Mason says:

    I can’t tell if Loyd’s suggestion is tongue-in-cheek or not, but this may be precisely the kind of direction that LDS “affirmative action” might take — specifically tailoring its worship services more to the wants and needs of particular groups. This raises the question of assimilation and expectations for converts: should “they” become more like “us,” or do we let “them” keep what makes “them” distinctive (and comfortable)? If there is an “us” and “them,” however, does that undermine the ultimate goal of unity-in-Christ?

  7. Patrick, this is an interesting and important issue. Of your 3 points listed in comment #4, I think that the first two are no-brainers. I think the age of the centralized uber-correlated universal program of Church administration has reached its zenith. I believe that we will see more and more regional and local flavor in meeting the needs of the Saints going forward. This is especially important outside of the states, but I think will ultimately effect the US Church. It may be decades, and I may be wrong, but that is my perception.

    Your third point is the most interesting to me. Mormons believe that their leaders are called by God, so affirmative action would seem to constrain God’s will. However, there is a definite precedent. During the 19th century, Church leadership was often associated with familial relationship (or royal lineage) and with polygamy. After the 1890 and second (and third) manifestos and with the Smoot testimonies, the Church had a mad dash to promote monogamous men in the Leadership of the Church. There is was a huge transition, one that was painful to many (e.g., see the excerpt in this post), that changed the face of the governing quorums. Folks like Anthon Lund and David O. McKay are the fruits of that effort. In retrospect I think God’s hand is easily recognized in the administrations of people like these two leaders, but it took a concerted effort to promote them.

  8. As a latino mormon who grew up in “happy” valley let me tell you my experience then, as it still is in church even outside of the MCR best summed up thusly: It’s like being a chocolate chip in a mayonaisse jar.

    Sure there are large numbers of latino members but, for better or worse, most of them go to latino branches. Which having put up with some of the crap in non-latino branches (IE: Sunday School/Priesthood comments about not mixing races, Cain and Ham, tons of ethnocentricity, and the whole “white delightsome people” stuff). I can certainly understand why latinos wouldn’t want to be part of that.

    Seems to me that much of the church membership does a very good job of forgetting that most of the world is not white. I’ve already bemoaned here the lack of a latino in the 12, I remember telling my wife when she asked me who I thought would take the two open spots and I remember replying, “It’s just like a supreme court nominee under republican rule, I don’t know who it’s going to be, but you can be sure it’ll be an old white guy.”

    I don’t think that the church membership has done the best job of learning how to deal with the new influx of different races. There are spatterings of racism here and there still and still quite a bit of ignorance. Too often I find that latino families instantly become, “special projects” for someone just because they’re latino. I remember hearing the RS president once talking about going to a latino branch and saying, “It was so cute they had their own little bishop and everything! I was almost like a real ward!”

    It’s the membership the really has the problems, not so much the leadership. Like I said I bemoan the lack of color in the leadership of the church, to which I’m sure that I’ll get the whole, “But we called x number of non-white people.” Reply, to which I’d reply it’s still not enough.

  9. StillConfused says:

    The sooner we drop the whole race issue the better. Tracking race within the Church only matters if you care about race. Don’t track; don’t care; let it go; move on.

  10. I think there has been a concerted effort to show more racial diversity in the church magazines. Look at the photos in May’s conference mag, and look at this year’s New Era covers. There seems to be a concerted effort to say, ‘This is the face of the church.’

    It is also interesting to compare Ensign covers and Liahona covers this year.

  11. I don’t think that race should be a criteria for calling church leaders. I think that that should be left as it is now, to revelation. If God feels that affirmative action is a good idea in his church, I’m confident that he’ll reveal his desire to call leaders from racial minorities, without us having to steady the ark.

    My ward back home in Massachusetts is one of the most racially diverse communities I have ever seen in my life. We get along very well, and race never really comes up at all.

  12. I’m not sure how I feel about race tracking but I definitely think ward and stake leaders should actively look for more racially diverse groups to serve in leadership roles. Even if the learning curve is perceived to be slow. The more preparation they have on lower levels, the more likely it would be on the general levels.

  13. Oh, also the area authorities are an important step in the leadership issue. To have visiting GAs coming from Austria and Norway feels different than just coming from Utah / Frankfurt.

  14. think there has been a concerted effort to show more racial diversity in the church magazines. Look at the photos in May’s conference mag, and look at this year’s New Era covers. There seems to be a concerted effort to say, ‘This is the face of the church.’

    But it isn’t the face of the church. If you look at the conference photos you might think it’s a pretty diverse audience, but if you’re actually there you realize those photos are of the only non-white visitors attending. The crowd at conference is absolutely not diverse.

  15. Actually that seems a little creepy to me. Specifically shooting more photos of black, asian or hispanic conference-goers to make it looks like something it isn’t.

  16. Here is my ward in TX 80-90% activity give or take. This is a very conservative ward with high levels of HT 50-65% and high percentage of Tithe payers

    I just pulled the ward list and counted.

    11 mixed race couples with 35 Kids I would speculate that most of these couples are not done having kids as most are in their prime childbearing age
    3 African kids. (live on my block) probably based on age not done either with childbearing
    3 additional mixed race kids being raised by grandparents.

    I would say that these non-white kids represent about a 3rd of the primary

    This ward is not your grandparents ward. Eventually over a couple of generations in the future the GA ranks will look more like my current ward. The current GA’s were born and raised ina generation in the US that was far less diverse then today.

  17. Well, the practice of promoting as international/multiracial as can possibly be achieved through church publications is hardly the only example. Look, for instance, at the sisters who get called to serve as Temple Square missionaries, or indeed at any of the church tourist sights. (I know whereof I speak; my sister served as one, and she understood the system.) They really do, as much as possible within the pool of available sisters, strive for diversity…which arguably is a kind of “affirmative action” right there.

  18. Oops; that was supposed to be “as international/multiracial a look as can possibly be achieved…”

  19. But it isn’t the face of the church. If you look at the conference photos you might think it’s a pretty diverse audience, but if you’re actually there you realize those photos are of the only non-white visitors attending. The crowd at conference is absolutely not diverse.

    The crowd in the conference center is perhaps not diverse, but the audience of conference and the readership of the magazine is . . . so you select the photos to make a suggestion of this is how the church looks, not this is how SLC looks. Which is my point..

    Add to that the photos of people watching in stake centers and at home around the world.

  20. The sooner we drop the whole race issue the better. Tracking race within the Church only matters if you care about race. Don’t track; don’t care; let it go; move on.

    Unfortunately we aren’t color blind. Pretending race doesn’t exist only allows racial problems to persist.

  21. Whoops. I keep bolding instead of blockquoting. I can only handle so many B’s at a time.

    Oh, and Justin… I really do want to see gospel music in Church. The scene in ‘The Mormons’ with a gospel choir singing made me quite jealous. I served my mission in Hawaii where Sunday services (in the right wards) took on a strong Polynesian flavor. When I returned to the mainland, church services suddenly seemed stale and white.

  22. I want to flesh out my GA comments.

    Lets say the average GA is 55 years old when called. Most GA’s are also raised in the church therefor limiting even further the pool that GA’s are drawn from.

    That puts us at 1952. What did the composition of the church look like in 1952? The corridor mostly. I recently looked at my dad’s HS yearbook from 1969 in Rexburg. I remember 1 non-white kid

    Fast forward to 2050. Do the same calculation. I predict a far more diverse GA ranks based on the raised in the church population that is more diverse drawn from children born in 1995-2005.

    Diversification of the GA ranks could speed up rapidly if more and more of them are converts. I have no idea if this will occur or not.

  23. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Norbert, good point. I’m suspicious of church pictures that disproportionately depict minority members, it smacks of the same falseness found in college promotional materials. (Pick us, we have people that look like you…three of them!) But when one expands to think of the church beyond the US, it makes more sense. Perhaps I would feel less unsettled if more of the pictures portrayed international members, rather than most of the settings looking so American.

    Then again, I appreciate the church’s efforts to make minority members more comfortable. I guess I’m just conflicted on this.

  24. I think the kinds of things that have been mentioned here (sister missionaries at Temple Square, cover photos of Ensign, etc) is probably one effective step being taken. We have more diversity here in the Puget Sound than in my old ward in Kaysville, UT, where having brown eyes and a non-scandinavian last name made you a minority. It’s not a lot, though. As I look around our stake, we have a mix of Polynesion, Latino, and some African-American members. We do have a bishop in our stake, whose ward is the most diverse with a heavy dose of Spanish speaking members, is a six or seven year convert from Ethiopia, African, not African-American. He’s the kind of guy that could easily progress up through the ranks. We also have quite a few Asian groups represented, including a Cambodian young man, who is serving as Elders Quorum President in our singles ward, that mark my words, will be a GA someday. I’ve known him since he was 14, and wish my own kids had that kind of testimony.

    Ditto the gospel choir in the Mormons. I was insanely jealous.

  25. I don’t care if the Conference pictures make it look like less than 99% of the attendants are white. It helps establish that normal members are not all white people. I don’t want the nonwhite people to be shown in obviously outside-America contexts. I think there are more stupid interactions between saints in the same stake than there are between saints in different countries.

    Before I had patient nonwhite friends willing to teach me to question my assumptions about race and not to behave like a jerk, at least I had pictures in Church Magazines to show me there are saints in America who aren’t white.

  26. teach me not to behave like a jerk, of course.

  27. Non issue, IMO, from a long-term standpoint. The Church leadership is aware of it; most local leaders are aware of it – at least outside of Utah wards and stakes that have

  28. John T. says:

    Are there any non-US apostles? [Sorry for not knowing; I’m a gentile BCC reader].

  29. Thomas Parkin says:

    John T – we have one German Apostle – Dieter Uchtdorf. There are a numerous and growing number of Hispanics in the Seventy and among Area Authorities. Since this is one of the areas from which Apostles are selected, it makes sense that we will someday, in the not too distant future, see Hispanic Apostles.

    Really, these guys live a long time. It’s a low turnover situation (though we may see some serious turnover in the coming years, as a number of Apostles are aging quickyl.) If you look at when the current Apostles were called as General Authorities, you’re generally looking at 35 years and more. (Are there more exceptions that Oaks, Bednar and Holland, who all came from the universitites?) So, maybe you have to project that kind of time frame before the Q of 12 start to reflect that population of the church at large.

    Otoh, I can think of more than one reason why the Lord would want an Hispanic Apostle right now – and I would, in fact, be surprised if we didn’t see one in the next ten years.


  30. Nowadays, an Apostle is not just a spiritual leader; he also is a Church administrator in a very real sense. Therefore, almost by definition and certainly by precedent, he needs to have served in some other “executive administration” position at a lower level in order to be considered as an Apostle. This alone would argue that it will be a few years before there is an obviously Black Apostle, although there might be some South American members of the Q70 who have both Latino and African ancestry.

    It will happen – perhaps more slowly than many of us would like, perhaps not. I hope not, but I am fine if it does take a while.

  31. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Johnna, it’s true that it needs to be established that the average member of the church need not be white. But to use pictures that imply that there are more minority members in the US church than there are is misleading. Were I investigating the church all over again and had I flipped through church magazines before joining, I would feel the same sense of being tricked that I did when I went away to a university with colorful brochures and wondered where all the other Latino kids were.

    I say let’s just be honest in reflecting who we are. If the majority of Latino members are outside the US, let’s show those congregations. That’s not to cut out showing the Latino congregation in South Texas, but to add to it in a more proportional depiction of what and where our members are.

  32. The face of the church is more likely than not to not be white nowadays, at least if we believe that there are more members outside the USA than in (and that the majority of those are in Mexico, South America, and the Philippines). So, striving for diversity in the Enisgn isn’t so appalling to me. Even if Utah is Wonder Bread central, we need reminders that there is a wider church out there.

  33. Fleshing out GA comments.

    1. Most GA’s are called in their 50’s
    2. Most GA’s are not converts (changing)

    So a GA called today would have been born in the 1950’s and raised in the church.

    Where does that leave us?

    It leaves us with mostly babyboomer GA’s have been born and raised in the Corridor with a few from CA or other Western states. A quick look thru my fathers Rexburg HS yearbook from 1969 reveals the ethnicity of the corridor quite well during the babyboomers youth.

    in 35 or 40 years the GA’s will be drawn from a more diverse generation both in the US and outside the US.

  34. Patrick Mason says:

    So the general consensus so far seems to be that the race issue will simply work itself out over time — that changing demographics will lead to changing the face of leadership in a generation or two.

    There’s a certain logic and wisdom to this, but whenever my students say that things simply get better with the passage of time, I remind them of this quote from Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

    “Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively…. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men [and women] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

    But even if it’s true that more non-white members now will lead to more non-white GAs in 20-40 years, what do we do about the fact that we’re attracting a disproportionately low number of African Americans, and retaining a very low number of Hispanics and others in the international Church (somewhere in the 20-30% range according to the most recent research)?

    I have often heard of mission presidents (sometimes directed from above, sometimes on their own accord) initiating “affirmative action” programs on behalf of middle-class men and families, so as to bring more “solid” and “leadership” type people into the Church. Couldn’t we think about ways to more specifically target minorities — not as a kind of PC move or just to feel good about ourselves, but because we have a responsibility for their souls that we are currently not living up to?

  35. To be fair however Patrick, it must be said that the church has a dismal retention rate all around. I don’t think it’s that we stink at it with certain races, the studies I’ve seen just point to the fact that we stink at it period.

  36. Funny how your “affirmative action” ideas of promoting diversity, etc., only extend to Americans that claim a different ethnicity or have different skin tones. With a worldwide church (more than half the membership outside the U.S.) it would seem to me that the more imperative diversification would be to have more non-U.S. leadership to lend their viewpoints, which would be of real cultural value (as opposed to, in my opinion, most of African-American offerings). For instance, would a black American think to mention to a fellow General Authority that any anecdotes/analogies involving baseball or American football will be entirely lost on more than half of the Church’s membership?

  37. The continued use of the term “African Americans” in this blog reminds me of a few years ago when a sportscaster commenting on a black german runner – kept calling him an “African American”, even though he was a GERMAN citizen. I don’t know if it was the sportscaster personally or the station policy, but apparently she wouldn’t use the term black.

    Since we don’t have any numbers it’s immpossible to know if there are more American blacks or non-american blacks in the church, but I have a feeling that non-american blacks might be offended to be labelled “African Americans”.

  38. Patrick Mason says:

    Yes, American blacks are only a small subset of blacks worldwide. And there is evidence that the Church is actually doing pretty well in West Africa, with better-than-average retention rates. That said, we’re doing pretty abysmally among African Americans (who do count, even if not for everything). But I will concede that the post, and the notion of affirmative action as I’m talking about it, is fairly Ameri-centric, although some of the same principles can be applied to genuinely extending our ministry to all people beyond white middle-class Americans.

  39. “(as opposed to, in my opinion, most of African-American offerings)”

    John, that’s an opinion you ought to keep to yourself until you repent of it. In any case, the next time you air it here, it will be deleted.

  40. John, I could list MANY contributions, but one in particular stands out. African-Americans in my ward and stake have contributed greatly to the general membership’s understanding of righteous and humble praise – which, IMO, is an important aspect of communal worship lacking in the lily-white, buttoned-down, Utah-raised membership that established the cultural norms for the Church. They also are shining examples of perseverance in the face of both blatant and subtle racism. I know, having been intimately involved in Black neighborhoods and having helped raise Black youth, Elder Bednar was far from my heart when I first read your comment.

  41. Patrick, it’s my impression that church leadership arises in specific social networks. This is the topic that has vexed Mike Quinn since his PhD dissertation. Explicit attention to broadening church leadership must confront this fact. I get the sense watching from the sidelines that when members of ethnic minorities become charismatic, committed members of the church they rapidly develop needed social contacts and in some cases tour various church units as speakers. They make the transition into the social networks.

    At some level, your question is about whether church leadership should move beyond social networks or whether the social networks need to accommodate broader memberships. Creating these new social networks can be much harder than simply featuring Amazing Grace in sacrament meetings or being more attuned to matters of significance to non-white participants in church meetings. It speaks to hard issues of racially segregated neighborhoods (based on $$ in many cases, making the segregation more difficult to counter in our free market), cultural interpretations of religiously constrained behaviors, and arguments about the financing and supervision of education for youth.

    It is not my impression that the church will move beyond social network-based governance strategies, and perhaps they do not need to (that is the topic for another post). Is it possible to make substantial strides in broadening our social networks? So many of them relevant to the church are based in business and civic networks that have traditionally played into visions of WASPish power structures.

  42. John Williams says:

    For the record, I am not the “John” who made comment #36.

  43. Stephanie says:

    I kind of think that this is the sort of issue that will resolve itself as attitudes among the society in general improve.

    From my experience, people in the church are not any more or less intolerant than people in the general population. This is disappointing, because obviously we should be an extremely accepting and respectful people.

    There is a family in my ward from Argentina, and I find myself cringing every time someone mentions their name because almost everyone in the ward consistently mispronounces it (including a bishopric member who served a mission in South American, a fact that continues to boggle my mind). In my opinion, this is both disrespectful and ignorant. I have also heard people complaining that they cannot understand the Argentinian accent. How can people say things like that and not be embarrassed?

  44. 22–Good point. Thanks.

    35–Hold on a second. The church has a “dismal retention rate” relative to what? The studies I’ve seen show that we have a better retention rate than any other church, and that in particular, our retention rates among teenagers are particularly strong (see my latest blog post). So what are you using to base your judgment? Certainly it’s sad even if we lose one person, but your comment smells suspiciously of another drive by potshot at church growth statistics.

  45. Patrick Mason says:

    41 – Excellent points, Sam.

    43 – Stephanie, there is actually quantifiable evidence that in terms of attitudes toward other races Mormons in the second half of the 20th century were either on par with or slightly more tolerant than other Americans. Armand Mauss goes over the statistics in his essay in the recent compilation, Black and Mormon. I agree with you that we should be at the top of the list, though. I’m always more critical of my own tradition than I am of others, which actually may be prejudicial on my own part and which I need to reconcile (my attitude may at times devolve into dismissing the “great unwashed” as inherently less moral than my own community).

    44 – At the MHA a couple weeks ago, a guy named David Stewart (I think) gave a stunning presentation on church retention around the world, comparing it with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists. To put it simply, they blow us away. The stats are available in his book, The Law of the Harvest, which he was giving away for free (and which I don’t have with me). We’ve been living too long with the myth that we excel all others in growth and retention, and it has led to a general complacency and smugness. In fact, all the numbers, and much anecdotal evidence, show that we’re falling behind the curve (if we were ever ahead of it to begin with).

  46. onelower,
    It’s not just folklore.

    “LDS activity rate of approximately 35%, or approximately 4 million of the 11.35 million members “on paper.” For comparison, Adventist News Network reported in 2001 that worldwide Seventh-day Adventist member retention rates had fallen from 81% in previous years at 78% at present.”

  47. Two questions, then:

    What did President Hinckley use as his sources when he said, in conference a couple of years back, “it’s true that we lose some, far too many, but we retain more members than any other organization that I know,” and why are those sources wrong?

    It’s not that I want to be smug about our numbers, or that I connect numbers in any way to the truthfulness of the church. All is not well in zion and I’d stick with the restored gospel even if I were the last practicing member. It’s just that I’ve gotten into discussions with trolls and doomsayers on this topic far too often for my tastes.

    On the old FAIR boards, for example, I got into a discussion with this one guy who claimed that the church was being blatantly dishonest and knowingly reporting numbers two and three times as high as they actually were. When I asked for his source of information, he gave me this hobby site run by Mormon enthusiasts. The site had some maps and figures, but hadn’t been updated in a while. When I checked their maps for the branch in Irbid, Jordan, where my sister had been living for the last year, the site didn’t have any information on her branch. When I confronted the critic with this information, and showed him that his source was not reliable, he ignored me and didn’t recant what he had said!

    So, that’s why I get a little pissy when I feel that people are trolling on this issue. No offense. And I don’t claim to be an expert on church numbers. However, I’m still really skeptical when people tell me that our numbers are “dismal” and that other churches are “blowing us away.” I’d have to see the data and make a judgment for myself.

  48. Patrick Mason says:

    I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, but I do think we need a corrective for what have turned out to be somewhat overblown statements based largely on projections by Rodney Stark from the 1980s and early 1990s. Obviously I don’t think Pres Hinckely is lying to us, and he was basing it on whatever numbers were fed to him. We are still growing at a rate faster than many others, but we’re definitely not #1 anymore in either growth or retention, if we ever were. But it’s very telling that Elders Holland and Oaks were sent to Chile and the Phillipines, two of the areas with chronically high baptisms and low retention. It seems obvious the Church knows there’s a problem and is trying to address it, although in typically incremental and non-radical steps.

    I’d definitely recommend you look at David Stewart’s book The Law of the Harvest. You can access it online, in what I think is full text, here. I was impressed with Stewart at MHA, and he’s clearly trying to build Zion, not thwart or mock it.

  49. “What did President Hinckley use as his sources…?”

    Good question. If anyone finds out, let us know.

  50. I do not even consider evangelical membership and retention claims, since their very definition involves only a verbal commitment to accept Jesus. I believe the retention rates of the Adventists and JW’s are based on their focus on fellowship – getting people to attend meetings with them. In the case of the Jw’s, I know of people who have attended worship services for years without “joining” the group officially. That is what works best in our stake – for both baptisms and retention. Too often we have tried to separate conversion to the restored Gospel from conversion to the restored Church – which I believe must occur simultaneously to increase true “conversion” rates (a baptism followed by life-long activity). In a nutshell, we often baptize too early and fracture a process that was meant to be seamless.

  51. Allow me to clarify briefly… I’ve lived in many different places in this country and worked with all kinds of people. My general opinion is that the only difference between a dark-skinned American and a light-skinned American is just that: skin color. Otherwise, my experience has been that we go to the same schools, attend the same churches, hold the same jobs, play the same sports, watch the same television programs, speak the same language, etc. All I meant was that I don’t think that American+American (regardless of skin color) adds up to a good deal of diversity.

  52. Also, let me apologize that English is not my primary language and sometimes my meaning is not very clear.

  53. Onelower,
    If you want to take look for yourself you can here.

    Very informative. And Ray it also defines what “activity” is.

  54. 48 and 53–Thanks. I’ll check it out when I get the chance.

  55. I wonder if the saga of George P. Lee is an example of affirmative action in the church gone awry? Was he really prepared to become part of the upper church hierarchy at such a young age? Was he moved into it regardless of preparation because he was seen as a symbol and role model for Native Americans?

  56. Ronito, I read the link before I posted. It says, in essence, that activity equates with church attendance and “missionary work”. I hinted at the fact that the retention rates within the Adventist and JW congregations are higher specifically because they do what we are told to do but don’t – namely, participate in missionary work actively and invite people to attend services with them. If we lived what we are taught as well as they live what they are taught, I believe our retention rate would be in the same range as theirs. I know that is what we see in our stake.

  57. so your point is that if we were more active. We’d have higher rates of..uhh…being active?

  58. Sterling says:

    Patrick et al.,

    Great discussion. Here are some thoughts. The church does somtimes collect racial/ethnic info on converts. On my mission we were instructed to write this in at the top of the baptism form, even though there was no blank for it. The Pew Center recently released data that showed we have 300,000 LDS Hispanics in this country. I have seen estimates that say about 50,000 Native Americans went through the placement program. The church genealogists are also smart enough to know that they can run surname seachers through the membership rolls and identify 90 percent of the Hispanics and a large share of certain Native tribes.

    The church has a history of being ambivalent about ethnic wards. We have had Spanish wards, Lamanite wards, etc. These seem to come and go over time. I really think it has depended on what we think about other’s identity. Do we expect minorities to become like the majority of Mormons? Or do we allow for some sort of difference to remain? William E. Cross’ theory of Nigrescence has been helpful for me in thinking about this. I think America is so obsessed with race that ethnic wards will not go away anytime soon. At the same time, I wonder what the test is for us in this life as we learn to deal with differences, as we learn how to not overlook otherness, as we find the good in each other’s cultures, etc.

  59. Yes, ronito, in a way, but it goes much deeper than that. If we were more active in MISSIONARY work, we would retain more of the people whom we bring to church with us and are baptized as a result.

    I think too many members still see the conversion process as a linear progression: missionaries find someone; they teach someone; they invite them to church; they baptize them; we fellowship them once they are baptized – or at least, once they are close enough to baptism to have the PEC start discussing a HT assignment.

    I’m saying if we viewed the conversion process the way that Preach My Gospel describes it, we would be approaching it the same way that the Adventists and JWs do – WE find someone; WE invite them to church; the missionaries teach them whenever they are ready AFTER they start attending church with us; no matter how long that takes, WE baptize our friends and help them prepare for the temple. We should be the central part of the process, but too many members still view their role as secondary and supportive of the missionaries. It should be the other way around – just like the ideal that has been preached for quite a while, which the Adventists and JWs follow better than we do.

  60. Sterling, the main emphasis I have seen is trying to help people hear and understand the Gospel in their own language. To me, it’s not so much a matter of ethnicity or race, but rather one of ability to understand what is being taught and, just as importantly, to participate in the active discussion and witnessing not hindered by linguistic constraints.

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