It has been more than five years since the LDS Church counted more members outside of the United States than inside. For a Church that believes it will cover the whole earth, this is good news. That does not mean that it has reached “World Religion” status by a long shot. Although making the statement with a dismissive tone, Prof. Douglas J. Davis was right when he said calling Mormonism a World Religion at this point is dubious. Nor is it likely that it will be until the Millenium (but that is a topic for later). With 7 Billion people in the world and growing, 12 million doesn’t cut it as anything beyond a deeply humbling statistic. Missionary work has a long way to go.
Despite a long road ahead, the LDS Church is taking strides toward a true international church. Too many members are getting confused between the designation of “World Religion” with numbers, political power, and social influence and “International Church” where a sizeable membership lives in different countries. It is the latter designation that Mormonism has made progress with more promise.
A few have noted a diverse crop of international located leaders have been called in the lower ranks of general officers. It is a good sign that the future might be less U.S. centric. Leaders in lower positions can be called to the highest responsibility. South America is where the largest number of new leaders are emerging. Interesting enough, Cantonese turned out to be the first non-English language spoken in General Conference by Elder Chi Hong “Sam” Wong of Hong Kong. Hardly the most represented language of the LDS Church, although the Spanish spoken by Elder Eduardo Gavarret of Uruguay is for a large portion of members.
A few years ago former general authority Elder John K. Carmack predicted someday General Conference could be held outside Utah and even the United States:
“The international church may yet become stronger than in the United States,” said Elder John K. Carmack, an emeritus general authority of the LDS Church. “I’m not a prophet, seer or revelator, but I believe this will happen.
“I can envision general conference being held in Sao Paulo or Mexico City or Manila. . .”
Now, six years later, Carmack said, “We can see the dim outlines of the benefits that surely will come to the international church. Already, a not insignificant number of our leaders in areas with the program are coming from the ranks of PEF recipients.”
Carmack said the church’s area president for northern South America recently reported that more than 10 percent of the region’s stake presidents and bishops are PEF graduates.
Brazil is the clear hot spot for the fund, followed by Mexico, Chile and Peru.
The prediction General Conference will be held outside of Utah is not particularly feasible. Salt Lake City still remains where the central resources are situated. Technology has made logistical requirements for a traveling conference unnecessary. The LDS Church, however, will continue to have speakers give talks in their own languages. English and Spanish will be the two main languages over the pulpit, with others included as the leadership desires. Of course, that means that English speakers will have to get used to reading or listening to interpreters as a large portion of LDS membership outside the U.S. already does.
This is an exciting development. It is a tremendous opportunity. As Elder Carmack said, we are close to, “where it is time to trim the parts that are peculiar to the United States and not relevant to the international church.” That means asking what are the basics of the Church in a world of multicultural and political geography.