Toward A True International Church

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.

14 thoughts on “Toward A True International Church

  1. Interestingly, I’ve been listening to the 2005 Worlds of Joseph Smith Conference given at the Library of Congress. They were focused on whether the LDS Church is or will become a world religion versus a religion that has sprinklings throughout the world.
    In the last decade, we’ve seen the Church take major steps towards adapting to cultural differences, etc. The CHI shrunk, leaving more leeway to local leaders to use their own inspiration. Area Authorities are being used extensively to ensure a good foundation of doctrine that does not impede on local culture. The Women’s Conference showed cultural diversity by having the first prayer by an African sister, a Korean primary choir, and testimonies in many languages.

    That said, I do not believe we will become a “world religion” prior to the Second Coming. Nephi tells us that in the last days the congregations of the saints would be everywhere, but would be small.
    What will happen is the gospel will be preached in all nations, primarily through social media. Then the end will come.

    We have not had a new temple announced in a couple conferences. I wonder if perhaps there are other reasons for this, besides just focusing on completing the ones already in the pipeline. Perhaps there isn’t time to complete anymore prior to the great destructions to come? Isn’t speculation fun?

    I see terminology and actions that suggest we are nearing the wind up scene. I truly hope so, as I’m ready for Zion to be established and the 2nd Coming appear.

  2. Two points:

    1. We crossed the domestic/international membership threshold in the late 90s. Pres. Hinckley announced it in Conference. I believe it was 1998. We’ve been international for longer than we think.

    2. I don’t see any reason to make assumptions for the temporary announcement hiatus. We LDS love to read into things. Sometimes an announcement hiatus is simply an announcement hiatus. If you go to and look at the timelines, due to regulations and government restrictions, it can take many years just to get to the groundbreaking, particularly in Europe and Africa. It doesn’t make sense to keep announcing temples and then having to wait a decade for the completion.

  3. Rameumpton, I am also soooooo ready for the establishment of Zion and the second coming of Jesus, cannot wait to see his face and be in his presence. I’m one of those who yearns to have a better society to live in, full of saintly people, those who really have pure hearts and clean mind. The world we have right is very spiritually draining, with all the iniquity and the hardness of heart of people.

    The church is international, I don’t care whether its numbers are small, but we are almost everywhere around the globe. If that’s not international I don’t know what it is. People are always trying to conform things to the definitions they make up.

  4. Rame, I get the impression from you that you think the era of temple-building is drawing to a close. I’m not sure I have quite the same impression; but it’s probably worth noting that specific temples the Church has already built are now located in areas that are, or may shortly become war zones (Kiev Ukraine and Aba Nigeria being two that immediately come to mind). I think, as the Pax Americana draws to a close, that the Church is going to be a lot more careful about where it places these multi-million-dollar structures.

    I also suspect we’re going to see a more general pattern of financial retrenchment from Salt Lake as it prepares for the inevitable consequences of the rising “tax churches” movement.

  5. Our Stake Pres commented that the church is not really building much of anything right now because of the depressed world economy. I agree with that assessment.

    As for the languages … most of the comments I saw among my friends on social media were of disappointment that the broadcast on and BYUtv did not have subtitles, but a voice over. Seems like everyone wanted to read subtitles. Having once been a translator at the MTC, I was just fascinated by the translation process once again, and was rooting for the translator, that he’d be able to keep up with the speaker.

  6. Joyce–I don’t think the translation was truly simultaneous, at least for the Spanish and Portuguese. The English translator was finishing thoughts and sentences before the speaker had said them. My guess is that the talks in foreign languages were probably translated ahead of time so as to provide for the subtitles.

  7. I think that we are seeing a pause in temple announcements because the goal of getting a temple near the majority of the saints has been largely realized with what is in place and already announced. I think that future temples will be more for alleviating load due to (hopefully) high usage. This may also be done by renovating (enlarging) some of the smaller temples that were built in the recent past. Certainly the increased efforts in indexing and family history of late (and the simplifying of the submissions process) portend an expectation of more temple use and continued growth.

  8. My suspicion is that the church is waiting until zoning and land acquisition processes are further along before publicly announcing a new temple. In other words, I think decisions for which cities are to receive new temples have already come from the Lord through the prophet, and the prep work for several are in the pipeline, but just haven’t been publicly announced.

    I once ran some numbers, assuming 60 billion souls born on earth since Adam; then building three average temples/year from now through all the millennium will be enough temple capacity to get everyone their proxy ordinances.

    I remember that the Indianapolis temple was announced before the site received the needed zoning. The church already owned several other parcels of sufficient acreage, such that there were other options if re-zoning that parcel did not go in the church’s favor.

    So I think MT was right about not wanting to have members wait years after an announcement before construction begins. it could also have a side benefit of avoiding land speculation around a temple during the period of rezoning or civil-authority approval.

  9. The Church has a way of surprising you. Right when you think missionary efforts are lagging a bit — boom! — the Church lowers age requirements for missionaries and we get more missionaries than ever. Right when you think there may not be many more temples built — boom! — something new happens. We are looking forward to our second temple in Colorado opening in the next year or so. For us, the 1 and a half hour drive will become a 25 minute drive. This is simply a huge difference and will allow me to volunteer at the temple for the first time. I suspect the Church will surprise us in other ways in the years ahead.

  10. @GB, the 60 billion figure has been floating around for many years. Google “number of people since Adam and Eve”. The range of estimates had been between 30 billion and 100 billion. And nowadays, Judeo-Christian (ie, “believing”, but not necessarily LDS) historian/archeologists seem to be saying 60 to 100 billion.

    Since evidence of past civilizations gets buried or destroyed, there are a lot of backward extrapolations and interpolations that have to be done. But I think they are assuming Adam and Eve as the true sole progenitors who lived approximately 4000 BC.

    My own thinking here: Due to the multi-century life spans of the ante-diluvians, I think it very possible to reach 100 billion or more. ( Plus, think of the population the world could/will achieve in the Millennium with no war, disease or sickness.)

    Non-experts, and those who doubt a high previous population of the earth, also seem to project the lows (ie, famines, pestilences, wars, sickness, infant mortality, etc.) of recorded history back onto human pre-history or ante-diluvial times. And from known history-keeping regions to unknown non-history keeping areas of the same time frame. However, those are assumptions. In times or areas where history wasn’t kept, living conditions could have been _better_ than times/places where it was kept. High infant mortality and low average life span of the Greco-Roman times really tells us nothing of say, what was going on among the Jaredites, or in East Asia from Noah’s time through Isaiah’s time.

    Contemporary places like Pakistan and Nigeria (that have among the highest birth rates of the present day) prove to us that you can still have huge generational population increases in living conditions that are essentially primitive.

    I did a spreadsheet once that calculated population by generation using simple assumptions of starting with one couple, assuming X children per couple surviving to maturity and reproducing. Without major catastrophes (famines, wars, epidemics), you get to the billions quite quickly.

    So all-in-all, the 60 billion is probably at the low end.

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