I have been thinking about the international church lately. This is a field that has practically been ignored by LDS and non-LDS observers alike. This is pretty sad since we are growing so much more quickly internationally than domestically. There is a marked increase in attention paid to such areas by church leadership, but since we have really only begun this process of introspection, we have a long way to go. I have two thoughts on the international church right now:
1. The English speaking church is much more mature than the international church. This is manifest in a couple of areas. There are very few important political/business/entertainment people who are LDS outside of the US and Canada. I found that the intelligent/upwardly mobile young people that I baptized or saw join the church either left the church after a few years or came to BYU and stayed in the US. A related issue is the lack of materials translated in other languages. An anecdote I recently heard (maybe on T&S??) is that a stake president in Belgium recently asked the visiting Seventy to push to have more materials translated into other languages. The Seventy replied that the only thing they need are the Standard Works and the manuals. Meanwhile, his wife was reading a Hugh Nibley book and his son was reading Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites! It seems that such intellectual and cultural products of Mormonism (in person or in print) have a way of creating a stronger sense of identity, and thus retention, for English speaking saints. Can we replicate or encourage this in other locales?
2. At the end of Douglas Davies’ marvelous book The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Davies is one of my favorites!), he talks about the future of LDS international growth and asks a sociological question about whether the church will be a global church or a world church. The distinction he makes is that currently the LDS church is a global church. It has members all over the world, but where these are, they remain largely in the image of the Utah church. A world church, on the other hand, will develop independent local customs. It will emphasize different aspects of the religion that are more suited to the local culture, like the difference between Indonesian and Moroccan Islam. He is not optimistic about the church developing into a world religion because of the strict control of SLC, which he sees as a major weakness to its viability. Visitors in testimony meetings frequently express gratitude that the church is the same everywhere, but is this really an asset? Is the church not better served by decentralization and localization, or does this run the risk of fracturing our cohesiveness?