A Proconsular Apostle in Chile

April 3, 2006 | 44 comments
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Peggy Fletcher Stack’s recent Salt Lake Tribune article on the Church in Chile is definitely worth a read. In particular, I found the statements by Elder Holland very interesting. Ever since Elder Holland and Elder Oaks were sent to Chile and the Phillipines respectively, I have been curious about the results of their tours. I’ve been reading Plutarch lately, so I can’t help but thinking about them as proconsuls, sent out by the Mormon Senate to set the provinces in order. According to Stack, Elder Holland was given two assignments by President Hinckley. “To build strength into the church’s local leadership, which then might improve membership retention, and to experience the church in an international setting.” It is interesting that the flow of information was supposed to be two ways, with Elder Holland helping local leadership, but with the Apostle also getting first-hand information on how the Church runs in Chile.

The article provided an interesting snap-shot in numbers about the the Church in Chile. There are 535,000 Chilean members of record, 200,000 names in the “Lost Addresses” file for Chile, 120,000 people who identified themselves as Mormons on the 2002 Chilean census, and 57,000 average attendance at sacrament meeting, nationwide. Given the often less-than-inspiring results of baptism-numbers only missionary work, I’m not really all that surprised about the disparity between church attendence and membership roles. I am bit surprised, however, at the number of people who self-identified as Mormons on the Chilean census. It looks like about half of the self-identified Mormons show up for Church.

I am still a bit curious, however, about what concrete changes Elder Holland made in Chile (or Elder Oaks in the Phillipines). Stack mentions the consolidation of Chilean stakes from 100 to 74. In addition, he raised the requirements for baptism to include three consecutive weeks of church attendence, emphasized tithing, and formally supported a Chilean law to liberalize divorce. Does anyone know what support beyond endorsement the Church offered or whether it made any difference? Does anyone know what else was done in Chile as a result of Elder Holland’s time there? Stack’s article ended on an upbeat note, saying:

His efforts seem to have made a big difference.

The stakes are running more smoothly, with an increasing number of lay leaders to fill the positions. More Chileans are serving missions.

The church’s two job training centers place about 250 people a month, while its Perpetual Education Fund has helped about 2,500 Chilean returned missionaries get an education. It is adding four more “bishop’s storehouses” to feed the poor; with that addition, it will have most storehouses in Latin America.

Someday soon there may be more families like the Del Pino/Calatayuds. They joined the LDS Church in 1967, becoming ”pioneers” and now are raising the fourth generation devoted to the faith.

On March 11, they joined the more than 45,000 Chilean Mormons packed into a stadium outside Santiago to hear Hinckley speak, and even more filled the 74 stake centers the next day to watch their prophet rededicate the temple.

Just as the temple was remodeled, it was time to remodel their lives, said Francisco Ve as, the church’s area president. “It is a new era in Chile.”

I wonder if we will see future proconsular Apostles sent to other areas of the world. I’m curious about reader reactions to the article, particularlly from members in Chile or those who have served missions there.

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44 Responses to A Proconsular Apostle in Chile

  1. Julie M. Smith on April 3, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    My favorite part of the article:

    “In the summer of 2002, Hinckley began talking with the apostles about sending one of them to live abroad, either in Chile or the Philippines. One day Hinckley called Holland into his office and said, simply, ”You’ll love Chile. Pack your bags.”

  2. Ronan on April 3, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Of course, the Apostles were always intended to be “proconsuls” of a sort.

  3. Nate Oman on April 3, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    Ronan: Exactly. Indeed, we seem to have reversed Roman constitutional history. They began with the Senate, and only later did Senators become proconsuls. We began with proconsuls who only later became a Senate.

  4. A Nonny Mouse on April 3, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Elder Perry got sent to Europe when they came back. I think we’ll see this program continue as long as President Hinckley’s tenure continues. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

  5. Mark IV on April 3, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    Nate,

    I can verify the part about the two way flow of information. A friend attended a meeting of Chilean MPs and SPs, and he said that elder Holland really was anxious to hear from the local leaders about the challenges they have.

  6. Capt Jack on April 3, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    A couple of things:

    The number of Chileans who self-identified as LDS wasn’t 120K but rather 103,735.

    The closing of stakes began in April 2002, several months before Elder Holland arrived. He continued it as I understand, but certainly didn’t begin it. The consolidation continues; my in-laws stake in Conchali, the area that had the greatest numbers of self-identified LDS members per capita in the census, recently closed at least one ward.

    Missionaries, at least in their ward, continue to baptize young children without their parents, teenage girls, and those who frankly don’t have the mental capacity to make serious decisions like baptism. When I go back for visits I recognize nearly everyone in the chapel–they’re the same people who were there in 1988. Few of the recent converts sticks around. This was the case before, during, and after Elder Holland’s stay there. They have a serious problem keeping leaders–their ward has had 5 bishops in the last decade, 4 of them have gone inactive after their release.

    The church didn’t make any public statements supporting the divorce law, at least none that I’m aware of. I’ll ask my in-laws again to see if there was some sort of grass-roots campaign, but I don’t think there was.

    The only thing I’ve noticed that changed subsequent to Elder Holland’s stay is that there were a number of Chileans called to serve as missionaries in the US. Surprisingly most were called to serve in Utah and Idaho.

  7. Costanza on April 3, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    My favorite quote comes from the companion article about Chile, published on the same day: “[Roberrt] Wells, Latin American representative for First National Bank,[and LDS General Authority] said of Pinochet: “If he had to shoot anyone, the great majority deserved it since they were terrorists.” I bet you liked that one too Capt Jack

  8. Cyril on April 3, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    As Capt Jacks says, the problems with retention in Chile are not your typical retention problems, or at least not on the same level. They are greatly multiplied. Imagine if all of the laminites Ammon baptized went inactive. That is what we are dealing with, an almost 100% chance that new converts will go inactive and a very high baptism rate. That is a lot of souls “lost.” I don’t have first-hand experience in the Philippines, but I imagine the same problems exist there. Very high baptisms and very low retention.

    I recall as a missionary in Chile in the mid 90′s visiting the thousands of inactives on the records in the areas in which I served. I also recall companionships that baptized 50-100 people each month. Yes, each month. I recall our mission-wide goal (200 missionaries) for monthly baptisms being 1000, and I recall our achieving that goal (or close to it) every month.

    It bothered me then and it bothers me now. We did not have the resources or the guidance to deal with 1000 baptisms a month. Something had to be done, and I think sending Elder Holland there was a good start.

  9. ed on April 3, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    This is pretty interesting. I was always disappointed that we didn’t here more about what Holland and Oaks did in their time abroad.

    I believe the number of stakes an the high point in Chile was quite a bit more than 100, more like 120. I don’t have the data handy, but cumorah.com says there were 116 stakes in 2000. That shows just how radical the consolidation of stakes was. The reduction of stakes in the Philippines around the same time was much smaller.

    I was happy to see that statistics at the end of the article, since I’m always hoping some real statistics about these kind of things will leak out of the COB. But I see the source is Ted Lyon at BYU, so I wonder if these are accurate numbers or just educated guesses. It’s funny, too, how the self-identification number seems to have been in error. So I wonder about the accuracy of all the numbers in the piece.

  10. Dave on April 3, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Nice article, thanks for the link. I’m sure having an apostle-in-residence is a real confidence boost to beleaguered local leaders.

    Initially one might be surprised that a “worldwide church” would need to send an apostle overseas just to get an undistorted account of what the Church is really like in Chile (or in the Phillipines). But the positive “can do” attitude of LDS middle-management leaders, generally a positive thing, is also likely to give any transmitted information a positive spin and filter out any straightforward account of local problems. So maybe sending an apostle to live there for a couple of years will actually provide some new and possibly eye-opening information to the departments of the COB. One thing’s for sure: Apostles have unquestionable credibility when addressing higher councils, whereas anyone else’s report of difficulties is always liable to be dismissed as simply a lack of faith or worse.

  11. Capt Jack on April 3, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Ed said:
    But I see the source is Ted Lyon at BYU, so I wonder if these are accurate numbers or just educated guesses

    Capt Jack:
    I’d bet Bro Lyon’s educated guesses are at least as accurate as anything you’d get out of the COB. In addition to being a former mission president in Chile and head of Chile’s MTC, he is also the former head of the Spanish and Portugese department at BYU and has nearly unequalled experience in the region. He is also famous for being a straight shooter.

    As far as Elder Wells, the less said the better. He passed himself off as a Latin Americanist for years, and the church in South America, IMO, is worse off for it. When I look at his vision of Latin America, as evidenced by things like the Pinochet quote, and compare it to that of some of his contemporaries like LaMond Tullis I become very depressed.

    Hope all is well with you costanza

  12. Hellmut Lotz on April 3, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    We were really excited when they came up with area presidencies in the eighties. The enthusiasm did not last long. Joseph Wirthlin was not intererested in the concerns of Germans or any other Europeans.

    A worldwide Church does not need Americans that continue to care about Salt Lake only. The Pentecostals show us how to do it. Centralize doctrinal control, devolve management.

    Unless we begin to train and empower nationals, we will have a hard time consolidating the Church oversees.

  13. Costanza on April 3, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    Captain Jack, nuestras esperanzas son iguales.

  14. Mike on April 4, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Those numbers from Chile seem about the same if not BETTER than what I see in my ward here in Georgia. When do we start consolidating our wards so the youth programs are big enough that they might stand a chance of actually functioning? When do we get our apostle? (Do we even want or need one?)

    In this church every good thing is shouted from the house tops. And every thing not immediately positive from a PR point of view is ignored or swept under the rug. We hear almost nothing from the long apostolic visits to Chile, Philipines, and Europe. What does that tell you?

    From Dave #10 above:
    But the positive “can do� attitude of LDS middle-management leaders, generally a positive thing, is also likely to give any transmitted information a positive spin and filter out any straightforward account of local problems. So maybe sending an apostle to live there for a couple of years will actually provide some new and possibly eye-opening information to the departments of the COB.

    I have found the first sentence to be the case. Whenever a leader as high or higher than the Stake Presidency shows up, the lying for the Lord kicks into high gear. One time I began my report to a church leader with responsibility over a larger area with: I don’t know about the rest of the ward, I scarcely recognize it from way it was last week. But as for my Elder’s Quorum, it is going to hell in a hand cart.” The Stake President immediately cut me off with the comment: “This is what we like so much about Bro Mike H. He is so honest and colorful, but the time is far spent and we must be closing up this meeting…” I was soon released and the lying continues to this day.

    As for the second half of the comment from Dave #10, I don’t see how it would help actually living there if everyone changes their behavior every time the mighty apostle walks into a room. He is still going to be insulated fom the problems and perhaps even more delusional because he has the sense that he was there and knows what is going on, when in fact he was kept in the dark or rather in an artifical light. We do our leaders a great disservice when we treat them like gods and then with flattery effectively lie to them. We make it impossible for them to do their job. As J. Golden Kimball once prophecied:”You can’t build a church on bullshit. I’ve tried it and it don’t work.”

    What would be more informative, because of the sorry state of the church when it comes to honesty with leaders, would be for one of the apostles (I nominate Dallin Oaks) to wear a big long blond wig with sun glasses and a orange and green plad suit from the 70′s and visit the wards posing as a sort of far out church intellectual with a bunch of old sunstone magazines under his arm. And to sit out in the foyer during meetings and talk to those people. That would be a way to get closer to the harsh truth of why the church doesn’t function like it should. But if he blew his cover, can you imagine what the SL trib would do with a picture of him dressed like that?

  15. Last Lemming on April 4, 2006 at 11:28 am

    I don’t see how it would help actually living there if everyone changes their behavior every time the mighty apostle walks into a room.

    If the apostle walks into an empty chapel, it doesn’t matter how many people change their behavior, the chapel is still empty. Some things can’t be hidden.

    The culture of BS that you describe (and I certainly recognize it from my mission) is just one form of dysfuntionality. At least as common is the form I have observed in less affluent areas I have lived in where people don’t understand church culture well enough to fake it. On-site apostles could make a difference there.

  16. Kent Huff on April 4, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    This is a very interesting thread. My biggest question is why the guy mentioned first in the news article lost his business after joining the church. Was there any causal connection?

    My reaction is that maybe we have it backwards. As it is, we think people should love the gospel first and then we can maybe help them a little bit. Maybe the Salvation Army (or Catholic mission schools) is a better model. We help them first, and maybe then they can eventually understand and love the gospel. If we insist on assuming they are just like us in Utah (same education, same values, same economics, same marriage laws and values) and treat them that way, then perhaps we will continue to be surprised at how poorly the program works.

    Or, we may find that the few we get and keep really ARE just like us, and those are the only ones we can ever get with current methods. So the “baptize everybody and see who stays” sifting process may be the best we can do until we change the program concept to something with a more understandable and predictable outcome.

    On the middle management issue, we can be pretty sure that if truly left to their own devices, local leaders would come up with some interesting ideas. Some might be completely crazy, but some would work in surprising ways. But they need the slack to try.

    At least in Chile it sounds like the government has been willing to let the church have some welfare and educational programs. That is unusual, and ought to be pressed as far as practical.

    Why do we need to make a country’s marriage laws and the member’s past marriage behavior fit together with US law and practice? Is it a public embarrassment if we do not? I don’t think we have to be bound by US law there. OR, maybe we should bring them to Las Vegas, get their divorce and marriage and temple status fixed up and send them back. :-)

    The temple sealing ordinances need have nothing to do with the local law. Here we can legally marry people (civil law powers granted to churches), but why do we need to do that in Chile? (As another departure from the norm, I believe there are places today where, to be legal, LDS couples must first be married in a civil ceremony and then be whisked (separately) to a temple to be “really� married.)

    I believe there have been times that people were sealed in a temple as man and wife without ever being actually legally married by the law of the land in this life. (Dare I cite some polygamous marriages?)

    Perhaps we need to find a way to get over some of our legal hangups. During the 1800s there were long stretches when the church could not legally hold property or marry, and even members could not hold property legally, but that didn’t slow them down much.

  17. Dave on April 4, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Mike, Dallin Oaks doesn’t have to go undercover to get more candid information from Church members about what it is “really like.” He could just read blogs, for example …

  18. drex davis on April 4, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Having served a mission in South America in the mid-1990s, I can relate to many of the comments on this board. However, I wasn’t as disturbed by the inactivity. The fact was, most of the people we were teaching (and most of the people in the country) were “inactive” in every organization they had ever participated in. They didn’t attend much school, most of them. They didn’t hold down regular jobs or changed jobs frequently (as employment ran very high, the currently frequently lost its value, and there was little labor-market stability).

    And I’m not talking about the “poor” class. I’m talking about the middle class. Chile and the Philippines experience many of the same problems.

    The problem isn’t with the church. The church actually “retains” people much better than other institutions in those countries. I think we expect both too much from the church and too much from the people in those countries. The fact that some of them manage to keep a commitment for several years, or even their whole lives, is a small miracle in and of itself.

    Now, I can’t speak for the US or Europe, etc., but having lived straddling the 2nd and 3rd world and serving a mission, the church has to overcome generations of institutional apathy, indifference to religious duty, and instability in countries’ social and economic fabric.

    Sure, there’s people who paint a rosy pictures (or even dress up BS), but that wasn’t my experience. The Area Presidency over my mission seemed acutely aware of the problems, their causes, and the fact that there was no universal panacea to remedy such issues.

    The problem is that the behavioural and cultural DNA of many peoples don’t lend themselves to _any_ long-lived and commitment-based institutional organization. That is overcome only through many generations of painful, laborious transformation. My grandfather said to me once, “The church is built on the dead bodies of the first and second generations. The first generation is pretty much hopeless institutionally, but their kids, and really their grand kids just might get it if they stick around long enough.”

  19. Hellmut Lotz on April 4, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    Drex, I have to disagree with you. Granted there are big cultural differences across various nations. However, when Capt’n Jack talks about Chile I recognize similar patterns in Germany and College Park.

    It is true that there is no panacea. That’s why the Church needs to adapt better to local conditions at the ward, stake, and area level. That cannot be brought about without decentralization.

    It is, of course, correct that the quality of local leaders varies. The way to deal with that is not with mandates but with education and supervision.

    Right now, the incentives are off. Area and mission presidents answer to Salt Lake. They depend on Salt Lake for their resources and their rewards. Therefore they work for Salt Lake and do what’s good for Salt Lake. That’s why the quality of the institution does not improve. It’s not a priority for the decision makers.

  20. john f. on April 4, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    HL, I think you make some good points, but overall, I think that drex is more persuasive on this one. It will be hard work to build institutional strength where apathy or hostility to institutions and stability — and even sustained non-existential duty — dominate cultural attitudes. It will surely take generations. The people must carry the day and they will over the long term. At least I hope so.

  21. Ben H on April 4, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    I think it is obvious that there is improvement to be made both on the institutional side and on the side of people’s established dispositions. Drex and Helmut each bring in a key piece of the current puzzle. It is not realistic to expect exactly the same dynamics of activity in two completely different societies. But this is part of why the institution must adjust to local conditions if it is to prosper.

    Perhaps many people in the “developing” world are less committed to well-oiled institutions, and to becoming cogs in them, than people in the U.S. and Europe. But that is no excuse for missionaries’ baptizing people who have not been decently prepared. Nor does it really make sense for us to just surrender our expectations, saying, “That’s just not how these people operate”. Sometimes it does. Sometimes our expectations are just our culturally contingent and quirky expectations. But some of “our” expectations are God’s expectations. Christ says wavering is not acceptable in his disciples. So whatever it is that leads people to waver in their commitment to his church would seem to be a condition the gospel calls us to do what we can to change. If people in Latin America are institutionally flakey in part because their economy, and all the other institutions they know are flakey, then maybe we need to look into ways of cultivating economic stability in their societies! I take the PEF to be a small but important step in that direction: boosting their chances of economic stability, at least in their individual lives, so that they will be able to more consistently invest in the things of the spirit.

  22. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 4, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    He is still going to be insulated fom the problems and perhaps even more delusional because he has the sense that he was there and knows what is going on, when in fact he was kept in the dark or rather in an artifical light.

    I think some comments, like this one, ignore the fact that these leaders might actually be able to discern a lot more than we think. Besides, there’s only so much you can hide through lying or whatever (and I think it’s mistaken to assume that every local unit lies to its leaders). Even if there is dishonesty, I’m not by any means convinced that at least some (if not all) of the higher-up leaders can’t see through that. Besides, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to visit a unit, look at Church rolls, and then consider attendance and other stats and say, “Hmmmm….all is not well in Zion.”

    While there is probably still progress to be made with cultural/societal differences, I think it’s important to remember that there is an awful lot of our Church that isn’t just about Salt Lake. We need to remember Who is in charge, as Ben H. said. Decentralization doesn’t ever seem possible with that concept at the heart. But, also, I think we need to be patient because the Lord sure is. He has clearly given the Church room to do trial and error and to learn and grow — at an institutional level and also at a personal level. But I’m sure that He will continue to give direction as needed. I think we just need to be patient as the Church continues to grow and adapt to its international reach.

    BTW, I know someone in So. America (not in Chile) and they run into similar problems. As someone pointed out, it often takes generations for the Church to really take hold in people’s lives and in the countries. But you know what? For the people who really are converted, cultural, institutional or other concerns just don’t matter. In a sense, that is the case everywhere, isn’t it? I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about things that can be improved, but we also can’t blame the Church and its leaders for everything that doesn’t go the way we think it should.

  23. Brian G on April 5, 2006 at 2:53 am

    I served in the Chile Osorno Mission from ’91-’93 and I read the Tribune article as soon as it was posted on the side bar. I think that every comment here has been fascinating and full of valid points.

    Yet in my way of thinking all the comments so far ignore that there’s no way to view the growth of the church in Chile as anything but an amazing success. In saying this, I am not saying that the retention problems are not severe and not worthy of great attention and concern, nor am I saying that the well-documented abuses that have taken place in the name of huge baptismal statistics in Chile are not shameful. I am only saying that the labors of many missionaries both American and Chilean that have toiled hard in Chile have been fruitful and it’s important that we recognize how miraculous and wonderful the rapid growth of the church there is.

    The first convert baptism in Chile didn’t even occur until 1956. The first stake was organized by Gordon B. Hinckley, when he was an apostle, in 1972, not that long ago at all. (By the way, in 1970 Gordon B. Hinckley traveled to Chile to form a stake, but didn’t do so because there were not a sufficient number of Melchizedek priesthood holders). My mission wasn’t even formed until 1977, so now less than 30 years later, we have over 100,000 people self-identifying as Mormons in that country (the census by the way did not include members under 15). Even more telling, 45,000 members, nearly half of the population which self-identifies as Mormon, packed a stadium in sweltering heat and stood there for hours when President Hinckley recently traveled there to rededicate the Santiago Temple and say good-bye for the last time to people he loves and that love him. Also interesting is the fact that in 1999, 57,000 members greeted President Hinckley in the same stadium.

    To me, this is all beautiful. I have no reason to doubt that Elder Holland also loved the Chilean people and that his reforms were steps in the right direction.

    Of course, the statistics are sobering, but how would they stack up if compared to the first 30 years of the church in the U.S.? What were the retention rates from 1830 to 1860? How do they compare to current retention rates here in the U.S.?

    I believe I was fortunate because in Southern Chile where I served it is a lot more rural and the population is a lot more decentralized. As a result, we traditionally baptized well under the number of people that the Santiago or Vina del Mar missions did. I think I was spared much of the pressure and ethical dilemmas missionaries in those missions faced. I may not be able to fully understand the spiritual damage done by witnessing or participating in some of the abuses that occurred in many of the missions to the North, but my heart sincerely goes out to missionaries that had to deal with that, and it is not something that should be forgotten, ignored, or in any way swept under the rug.

    I can only speak from my experience.

    Every time I taught someone during my mission I feared their future inactivity and did what I could to help them get fellowshipped to the best of my ability. I think most of the sisters and elders I served with did what they could to do the same.

    I found myself in a country that was phenomenally tailor-made for teaching the gospel–a place where knocking on doors was a surprisingly effective finding method. I was blessed to serve in such a field so ready to harvest. I believe it would have been wrong for me not to do all I could to teach and baptize as many people as I could when I was there. I do not regret my role in the baptism of a single person I taught.

    My mission president was Chilean and the president that followed him was from Argentina. My former mission president, Presidente Barrios, was recently released at this last conference as an Area Authority Seventy. This leads me to believe the Church is doing what it can to train local leaders and give them leadership opportunities at high levels.

    On his recent visit President Hinckley said where we now have thousands we’ll have tens of thousands. I think there’s no question the Church will continue to grow in Chile and issues of retention will continue to need to be addressed. The way missionary work is done will still need to be carefully monitored, but from my experience in Chile the faithful and devout members there are well on their way to merging their Mormon identities with their Chilean identities in a healthy and beautiful way.

    I apologize for the length of this comment, but I feel strongly that a balanced view of the missionary effort in Chile has to recognize both the disturbing failures and the thrilling successes.

  24. Hellmut Lotz on April 5, 2006 at 8:31 am

    Here is a question: Can anyone report real growth in any part of the world during the last decade? What’s going on in Africa, Anglo America, Latin America, East Asia, Eastern and Western Europe?

  25. bbell on April 5, 2006 at 9:11 am

    Hellmut,

    Yes,

    Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. When I was a missionary in 1995 there were 3 districts and perhaps 50 baptisms a year in the area. It was really pathetic at that time.

    Now per a distant relative who served there in the early 2000′s there are two stakes and perhaps a thousand baptisms a year. Real sustained growth with native RM’s coming home and marrying local members. I have checked and seen that his story is accurate by finding the announcement of the formation of the two stakes online

    My part of Texas is experiencing tremendous growth. A combination of move-ins, High high birthrate (not kidding about this my ward had 25 births in 2003 average family when done has 4-7 kids. It helps when real estate is $60 a sqft it attracts people who want to follow the SAHM large family LDS model) and decent numbers of converts WHO HAVE REMAINED ACTIVE FOR THE MOST PART.

  26. Equality on April 5, 2006 at 11:31 am

    Brian G:

    Thanks for your perspective on the Chilean situation. I am wondering how you account for fewer folks showing up to see Pres. Hinckley seven years after his last visit? Isn’t that emblematic of the retention problems? You characterize the growth of the church in Chile as miraculous, wonderful, and rapid. I wonder how it compares to the growth of, say, Seventh-day Adventists, Penetecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses? Does anyone have any statisitics on their growth rates in Chile? If they are higher than the LDS, and the LDS growth is miraculous, what would that tell us about those other churches?

  27. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 5, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    #26
    Wouldn’t those stats be a little different because those churches have probably been around longer? Or are they fairly new down in Chile?

  28. DavidH on April 5, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Cumorah.com reports Jehovah Witness and Seventh Day Adventist growth in Chile as 5% and 4% respectively. http://www.cumorah.com/cgi-bin/db.cgi?view_records=View%2BRecords&Country=Chile

  29. Hellmut Lotz on April 5, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    Of course, its better to have native leaders. As long as they operate on the Packer model and do not have budget autonomy, their influence will remain limited.

  30. Mike on April 5, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    My cousin served a mission in Russia. They have about 15,000 baptisms since the doors swang open about 15 years ago and about 5,000 who come out to church. My friend at work is a Jehovah’s Witness. She showed me in one of their annual reports where about 100,000 go out witnessing in Russia as they are all supposed to and over 150,000 attend their meetings. Maybe they lie about their statistics too. We have better connections in Washington DC and we got behind the iron curtain as soon as anyone did. The JW’s missionarying has been halted in Russia because their success is perceived as a threat. Is anyone talking seriously about Mormon missionaries getting kicked out of Russia any time soon? I think not. My guess is that things are similar in Chile.

    I am interested in how events in far away places mirror what is going on in North America, since that is where I happen to be at. Missionaries have been in Georgia since about 1856, not 1956. Southern folks are more like Utahns than not and have strong institutional loyality. Other churches are thriving here, while we dwindle. Seems like things are going to pot for the LDS church in a lot of places. Plenty of excuses for Chile, but they don’t apply here. Plenty of people at the ward level doing their best and it doesn’t seem to be enough.

    We Mormons have one of the more complex organizations. We should be able to tolerate an extreme degree of local control and experimentation while the numerous higher level leaders correct the inevitable problems as they arise. But it seems that rather than giving local leaders too much freedom and being unwilling to rein in the excesses, we opt exclusively for low-risk high-control preventive measures that minimize the work/risk for the upper levels and make it difficult to do much at the ward level.They don’t do what is good for Salt Lake. They do what is easy for Salt Lake.

    Is there a connection between the local church leaders lying to those in authority over them and the institutional white washing (lying really) about the controversial aspects our history? Have we created a modern Mormon culture of pretending that goes both up and down and also back and forth and every which way?

    If the leaders have the spirit of discernment and see through most of these little lies and dysfunctionality, then why do they make statements like the one President Hinckley said last conference along the lines of this church has never been stronger? Maybe he is such an optimist and actually believes it. In my experience the strength of the church has decreased in all of the last three decades of my adult life in all of the three areas in the U.S. far away from Utah where I have lived. Maybe I just need to move to Texas or South Africa.

  31. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 5, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    I think it’s possible that the prophet may consider the Church’s strength in different terms than you do, Mike. What criteria do you use to determine “strength.” Do you know what Pres. Hinckley’s criteria are? Do you think he’s just a blind optimist, or is it possible, as the president of the Church, as someone who has been in Church leadership longer than basically anyone, and who has traveled to every continent and seen, from a big picture point of view, the growth of the Church, and missionary work, and temple work, and family history work (and who-knows-what-else), that he possibly sees things that you don’t see or know? As discouraging as your experience has been, I’m hard pressed to think that it even comes close to the experience Pres. Hinckley has had in the course of his long and very Church-involved life.

    I’m also always a little bugged when people get all upset about how we don’t expose every tidbit of our history. IT DOESN’T MATTER. If the Church is true, and Joseph was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is true, why should we care so much about the ins and outs of the history (which we can never fully understand because history is, to a great degree, a product of the eyes of those reporting or even recording it)? The Church does not need to play that game of “but what about?….” The work of the Church is the salvation of souls. Leave apologetics to the scholars who get a kick out of analyzing old bones. But please leave the leaders alone and let them do the work of salvation — the work that MATTERS. In the end, of course there are weaknessed in the Church because we are mortal. But that doesn’t change the fundamental truths upon which it is based. Individual error is not the Church. The Church is our doctrine and truth from God. I wish people would separate the two more often.

  32. bbell on April 5, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Mike,

    I have also lived in a Stake in the US that was drying up in Cook County Illinois (Wilmette). The surrounding stakes were growing by leaps and bounds.

    Here is why.

    1. Housing prices drove young families out into the other stakes and frankly other states
    2. Poor public schools (I am talking the culture of the schools) drove young LDS couples out to other areas
    3. Companies were packing up and leaving the area for the surrounding suburbs and other states for reason number 1.

    I suspect that you live in a really affluent area like the area described above that young families are just not interested in.

  33. John Dehlin on April 5, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Hey!

    Just a couple of small points. I’m a former student of Dr. Lyon at BYU (from the honors colloquium days–early 1990′s….Aaron Brown was a member of my cohort). Sometime after I left BYU (post-1993) Dr. Lyon was called as a mission president to Chile, and then returned soon thereafter to run the Chilean MTC during Elder Holland’s tour of duty in Chile. Dr. Lyon served as Elder Holland’s official interpreter while there, and was a personal friend/confidant of Elder Holland for several years. Some of you may know that Dr. Ted Lyon is actually the son of T. Edgar Lyon, who with Lowell Bennion, ran the U of U Institute for a few decades pre-1950s & 60s).

    I had lunch w/ Dr. Lyon late last year after he returned home. I won’t betray any of his confidences, but overall his experiences in Chile, and w/ Elder Holland, were discouraging at times, but overall very uplifting for him.

    Dr. Lyon was quite a liberal Mormon (Sunstone-type) when I met him in 1990 after returning home from my mission. Before and during my mission…I was a hard-core, conservative TBM. When I experienced the “soccer baptisms” of which I’ve written and podcasted while in Guatemala, Dr. Lyon was the first person I told these experiences to upon returning. When I reached the point where I felt tempted to leave the church over what I learned were practices not uncommon to other parts of the church worldwide (baseball baptisms in England, beach baptisms in Chile, etc.), Dr. Lyon talked me off the ledge, and helped me write this letter to Elder Oaks (http://www.mormonstories.org/OaksLetter.html) , which resulted in Elder Oaks calling me personally to apologize for what I experienced on my mission in Guatemala.

    During my time in Guatemala, we were the 2nd highest baptising mission in the world…behind the Chile, Vina del Mar mission. After speaking with missionaries from that mission, I knew that Chile’s numerical growth was based heavily on these types of high-pressure, kiddie-type baptisms (where discussions were never given…parents never informed)….and that our claim as a church of over 12M members was likely much overinflated (in terms of real converts). I do believe strongly that numbers-driven baptism tactics are responsible for a great deal of the inactivity in the Church worldwide…and are more a result of Mormon missionary culture than local culture (as some have conjectured above).

    One final very interesting note (to me at least). Even though Dr. Lyon was a very liberal Mormon when I met him (he introduced me to Sunstone, actually…where I sit as a board member today)….he has since become much, much more conservative in his religious beliefs (and I mean this in a good way). Last year he bore witness to me that his time in Chile, and as a mission president, and especially his time w/ Elder Holland–have served to deeply strengthen his convictions as to the truthfulness of the Church. I was surprised to have him witness to me in this way (being the guy who introduced me to topics like evolution, feminism, historical stuff, etc)….but I was very much impressed by his transformation. It gives me hope for myself, and others…that peace can be found.

  34. john f. on April 5, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    I had Ted Lyon for a Latin American history class in the Spanish department at BYU. Great teacher, in my opinion.

    And I am lucky because I also had his brother, Jamie Lyon, as a professor for classes in the German department, most notably his seminar on Bertolt Brecht. (I have much more experience and exposure to Jamie than Ted, but enjoyed both of them.)

    John, you might be interested in the biography Ted Lyon has written about his father: A Teacher in Zion. (One funny detail about that link — FAIR apparently thinks it’s a good deal when the retail price is $10.95 and “your price is only $18.95″ — go figure.)

  35. John Dehlin on April 5, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Hey John!

    Thanks for the tip! I loved A Teacher in Zion, actually…..a definite must-read to understand the Church, CES, and BYU dynamics between 1910 and 1970 or so…..

  36. Razorfish on April 5, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    The challenges the Church faces in Chile could be a harbinger of more macro challenges the Church will find on a world-wide basis. Yes growth over the past 20 years for the Church has been great, but more recently growth has slowed to about 2% annually. Retention of members continues to plague the Church. I believe “retention” activities will become a higher focus for the Church than “conversion activities” in the not too distant future.

    Without the proper leadership, organizational structure, and backbone from a core of active and faithful saints in a given area, the wards and stakes will sag like a willow tree under its own weight.

    I don’t find it valuable to baptize 100 people prematurely to see only a handful remain active. We let too many members fall by the way-side into inactivity. As members I think we should have a greater focus on sheperding the lost sheep than on missionary work. Yes we are responsible for missionary work, but we should be more accountable for making sure we strengthen our brothers and sisters already in the faith. Most wards I’ve been in are all focused and geared on missionary work with hardly any discussion of retention or reactivation efforts.

    With that focus, should we be surprised with the retention results?

  37. Soyde River on April 5, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Do you know that of the people who were called to the Quorum of the Twelve in the first 100 years of the Church’s existence, 29% apostatized? Think of what it must have been for the general membership. And of those who have been called to the Twelve since 1930, not one has apostatized?

    Those who are so critical of the Church in third world countries are apparently unaware of the history of the Church in the US. The reality is that there has always been a high fallout rate among new members–the Lord Himself referred to it in the parable of the sower and the seed.

    Of course, some missionaries have done stupid things, and probably some mission presidents too. But when Elder Perry came back from Europe he said something positive about the baseball baptisms (which were a huge problem at the time). He said that many of the leaders today were those who came into the Church through baseball baptisms.

    The Church is not having a great deal of success among people who are college educated, disciplined, know how to keep committments, and are materialistic. It is having a great deal of success among people who do not have a college education, and are not very disciplined or practiced at making and keeping committments. It is not very surprising that the fallout rate is high, nor is it surprising that among them are those who rise to the highest level of commitment to covenant and testimony.

    Give them time.

  38. Brian G on April 5, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    Equality,

    President Hinckley’s 1999 visit occured in June. Chile is in the Southern hemisphere. June is early winter there. I think it’s logical and possible that cooler weather could have accounted for the difference in attendance at an outdoor stadium.

    But who knows? Maybe Colo-colo had a soccer match on the day of the prophet’s visit in 2006. Regardless, I don’t think that difference in attendance is emblematic of much. However, I can entertain the idea that it is emblematic of retention problems for the sake of discussion, and yes, that thought bothers me. As I made clear in my post the retention issues in Chile trouble me.

    The rest of your comment brings back fond memories of knocking doors on opposite sides of the street with Los Testigos de Jehovah. I remember thinking they come out every weekend. Wow. I just serve two years and its over. I have respect for them.

    What do I make of their annual growth rate and the growth rate of other faiths in Chile? I attribute it to dedicated and well-trained missionaries and the beautiful faith and openness of the Chilean people. The same factors that contribute to the growth of the Mormon church there. And I consider the growth of those faiths miraculous, rapid, and wonderful too.

    Conversion to any faith has a miraculous element to it. I don’t think it should shock anybody that because I’m Mormon I think our growth is slightly more miraculous, rapid and wonderful.

    Plus, it seems logical to me that when your total numbers are smaller, which is the case with both the Witnesses and Adventists, it’s easier to maintain a high growth rate.

  39. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 6, 2006 at 12:32 am

    Most wards I’ve been in are all focused and geared on missionary work with hardly any discussion of retention or reactivation efforts.

    With that focus, should we be surprised with the retention results?

    But don’t you remember that this is one of Pres. Hinckley’s main focuses? From Elder Holland, in the GC talk when he “reported” on his work in Chile:

    “For the Church at large, we have so many things to associate in our minds with the visionary ministry of President Gordon B. Hinckley, including (perhaps especially) the vast expansion of temples and temple building. But I dare say for those of us on this rostrum, it is likely that we will remember him at least as emphatically for his determination to retain in permanent activity the converts who join this Church. No modern prophet has addressed this issue more directly nor expected more from us in seeing that it happen. With a twinkle in his eye and a hand smacking the table in front of him, he said to the Twelve recently, ‘Brethren, when my life is finished and the final services are concluding, I am going to rise up as I go by, look each of you in the eye, and say, “How are we doing on retention?â€?’

    “This subject brings us full circle, linking the kind of true, deep conversion the missionaries are striving to bring with the greater commitment and devotion being seen in wonderful members all over the Church.”

    (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Abide in Me,� Ensign, May 2004, 30)

    I think we should not underestimate the fact that the days of the baseball baptisms are in the past, or at least not nearly at the same level as before. The whole missionary program has been revamped with a more spiritual focus and more attention to the investigators’ progress. IMO, we should not be surprised that there is a slowing in the numbers because that always should be expected when changes are made — and between the “raise the bar” thing and the change in missionary discussions, a change in numbers should not be surprising. And, obviously, given Elder Ballard’s comments in GC, we as members may be as much to blame as anything!!! But perhaps once things get into sync, we may see some more progress in the future. But things take time — and the Lord allows us to make progress slowly as a Church. He could step in, but He lets us learn and grow along the way.

  40. Bookslinger on April 6, 2006 at 12:37 am

    Wonderful thread that that covers many things that I’ve pondered.

    I was in Ecuador in ’84-’86, and the numbers-driven baptism-machine was a problem there too. But I also witnessed how the 2nd generation really took off. The miracles really started happening in Ecuador after the born-in-church or at least raised-in-church RMs came home, started families, and took leadership positoins.

    The raising-the-bar and the new Preach My Gospel teaching methods are addressing many of the problems raised here. I believe that both raising-the-bar and Preach-My-Gospel methods contribute to a lower baptism rate, but a higher retention rate, which is giving, and will give, the church a greater real growth in terms of retained converts.

    About one point of whether Apostles get the real skinny when they visit overseas. The local middle-level leadership may be glossing over things, but Mormons in general are big gossips. The Apostles have people sending them letters all the time telling them what is going on out in the trenches. The Apostles were all generally excellent businessmen, leaders, CEOs, or at least high level administrators before their call as Apostles. They are the kinds of men who know how to find people to talk to in order to get the various viewpoints in order to paint a complete overall picture.

    In the military, the good generals don’t just talk to the colonels, they call in the non-coms (sargeants) for interviews too.

  41. Capt Jack on April 6, 2006 at 7:39 am

    Bookslinger: “The raising-the-bar and the new Preach My Gospel teaching methods are addressing many of the problems raised here.”

    Capt Jack:
    I’m not sure that is happening in all parts of South America. As I said before, the feedback I am getting from my active friends and relatives in Chile and Argentina is that the “beat goes on” as far as kids being baptized without any other family members involved in the church. Teenage girls make up a huge part of those joining, as they probably have since time immemorial. Others join in search of jobs–a friend in Argentina told me about a coworker of his who joined in the hopes of being part of a construction crew that was going to renovate a chapel.

    These aren’t the people who are going to grow and strengthen the church in Latin America. On the contrary, the end result of this will be the exodus of long-time members whose committment to the church has been placed under tremendous strain.

    As far as local leaders misleading Salt Lake, I don’t think it happens much. Most locals have complained for years about the indiscriminate baptismal practices and about the dangers involved in splitting wards and stakes. It is they, after all, who end up picking up the pieces when these things don’t work out.

    I have to object to the characterization of Latin Americans, poor and middle class alike, as people who are not very disciplined and who aren’t practiced and making and keeping committments. That has not been my experience at all–the fact that so many missionaries seem to have that impression probably says more about where and with whom they spent their time than it does about the culture at large.

  42. Bookslinger on April 6, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    Capt Jack:

    We’re like blind men feeling different parts of the elephant. Hopefully the Brethren see the overall picture, or at least stitch together the vignettes given them by local members.

    Perhaps your experiences are more the exception than the rule. Or, perhaps the Bloggernacle tends to draw out those RMs who are more disquieted than average. As the Bloggernacle is a self-selected group, our collective experiences and opinions are not necessarily representative of real life.

    I remember a few GAs and a couple regional reps visiting our mission in Ecuador. I was working in the office when a few visited. That was 1985. I remember at least one of them asking, as if they had no idea to the answer, why the retention rate was so low, and why people vanished as soon as they were baptized. I was too intimidated, or maybe just plain too chicken to give bad news, to tell the GAs what I actually saw going on out in the trenches. I admire John Dehlin for writing Elder Oaks and reporting what he saw. But John felt similar reluctance, and didn’t write until he was urged to by the BYU prof. John must have written effectively to merit a phone call response.

    Missionaries using high-pressure techniques to get people baptized was not directly taught by our mission president, but the use of those techniques seemed to me to be in direct response to the “baptize! baptize! baptize!” spiel that we heard every conference.

    It’s one thing to make it “too easy” to get baptized. And there is likely no sin in that. In the recent Heber J. Grant “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church” lesson manual, HJG, who was then an Apostle, says on page 150: “If the devil applies for baptism and claims that he has repented, I will baptize him.” The key there is _applying for_ baptism, IE requesting it, and stating a positive claim. Being eager for it, not being dragged, intimidated, bullied, or cajoled into it.

    If someone _claims_ repentence, _requests_ baptism, states a belief in God, Christ’s atonement, and the restoration, and agrees to sustain the president of the church as a real prophet, and _verbally commits_ to keeping the commandments, they are essentially elligible for baptism. (The exceptions are mostly technicalities that can be worked out like co-habitation, legal problems, etc.)

    What I saw, and what I think others in this thread are describing, were situations where people, most of whom were gentle, humble, and often timid, were eager to please the nice gringos, and merely acquiesced to the pressure tactics used on them. And I’d go so far as to say bully tactics in some instances. I never saw so many bully personalities in one place as I did during my mission experience, but then I probably led a sheltered life.

    I’m glad to have read the comments in thread. The viewpoints expressed in this thread have helped me resolve a lot of conflict that I’ve felt over the years, and have softened my opinions towards others in the church.

    I’m comforted that others here saw the same problems I saw. And I’m grateful for those here who have helped me see the bigger picture, and who have given me information and new viewpoints with which to resolve my concerns.

    And, both the “Preach My Gospel” system, and the raising-the-bar, both address things that have bugged me over the years, and help me put those bugaboos to bed.

  43. Razorfish on April 6, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    M&M,

    Thanks for sharing the quotation from Jeffrey R. Holland, “Abide in Me,� Ensign, May 2004. That was refreshing to read.

    I’m glad that our leaders are realigning the focus on retention. I just wish this would trickle down more into our local wards and respective leadership. As a former EQP, I was tired of reviewing a list of 50 prospective elders or 50 elders that nobody had seen, heard, knew (or cared) of. We put a tremendous burden or strain on local leaders (eg Bishop, etc) when new members aren’t properly assimilated, nurtured, and integrated into the ward. Yes we can lean on the crutch and say “that’s the parable of the sower”, but that’s a cop out to me. The Church isn’t build on a Darwinian notion of “survivial of the fittest” but rather the model shared in Mosiah 18:8-10. Balancing the somewhat competing forces of “retention” and missionary work is a healthy tension that should be revisited often.

  44. Mike on April 12, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Every member is a missionary.

    If you baptize 1000 people and 900 go inactive, you have created 900 negative witnesses in that community. They all have friends and most have family. Some may not be openly hostile but they are not going to be as positive either. Their actions shout that they think the LDS church isn’t worth it.