An International Church in an Isolationist Age

The most paranoid fantasies your persecution complex can dream up will probably come true eventually, although not where you live, but somewhere else in the world. It’s an unavoidable risk of establishing local branches of the church in places that can go from welcoming to hostile within a few years or decades.

There have already been conflicts with local authorities in Russia and Turkey, and someday, somewhere, it will involve something worse than arresting and expelling American missionaries. One day we will have a new martyrology populated not just with prophets and pioneers, but with contemporaries. It can’t be avoided, so we ought to think about how to deal with it responsibly, to honor personal sacrifice without encouraging foolhardy risk.

Even if we set aside the most outlandish of the fever dreams, the challenges facing the church are substantial. It is not only authoritarians and nationalists who pose obstacles to international outreach: It was after all the Swiss who first started limiting the entrance of American missionaries into the country after more than 150 years of free access.

America’s own isolationism poses an especially severe threat and is one of the reasons the Trump administration is a disaster for the church. The long drawdown of America’s international influence does not lead, as its proponents argue, to the nations of the world engaging with each other as equals, but instead only creates opportunities for other powers to step into the gap left by American isolationism, and none of them have anything to gain from easing access for church leaders or missionaries. It is much easier for the church to emerge from obscurity in a world that is moving toward liberal democracy, strengthening international norms and institutions, and reaching consensus on the exercise of human rights, than in a world flirting with totalitarianism, tribalism, and hard borders. An isolationist America means other countries have little reason to avoid angering a handful of American senators from small western states, or to seek their favor through favorable terms for missionary visas.

What will be the best response when missionaries of any type or designation are no longer welcome? Technology can work miracles, but telecommunication is subject to virtual walls. How should the church respond when no amount of good-faith cooperation with an authoritarian government will allow existing church branches to meet openly? And how much and what kind of cooperation is appropriate in any case? History and the experience of expatriate branches in Asia and the Middle East may offer useful lessons. Will we need a home-based liturgy to match a home-centered curriculum in such places? The blessings of the temple have been brought closer to church members all over the world in the last few decades; eventually, one of those temples will be confiscated. Is there a graceful way to respond to expropriation? One day, a small local congregation of Latter-day Saints will wind up in the cross hairs of a radical and bloodthirsty form of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, secularism, or Christianity. What is the correct response when the penalty for not renouncing church membership is legal censure, expulsion, or worse?

To be clear, there is no good answer to most of these questions, just as there was no good response to the dictators of the twentieth century, only a palette of bad and worse options. There will be criticism no matter what the church chooses. Remaining true to its mission seems like the least bad option to me.

We shouldn’t forget the status quo. If the weather is sunny today, the most likely outcome is that it will be sunny tomorrow as well. It’s unwise to bet on fair weather indefinitely, however. If we try to sketch out what the future might look like if the international order of liberal democracy doesn’t make a comeback (while keeping the fever dreams on a tight leash), we can imagine a range of possibilities.

The Gathering 2.0. In a future where the United States population is declining and aging, immigrants may be more welcome than today, as they were in the mid-19th century. When Latter-day Saints in other parts of the world face unbearable persecution, the church will ask members in the U.S. to sponsor their immigration and ensure their integration. Perhaps the Perpetual Emigration Fund will truly be worthy of the name. Members who choose to remain in their native lands despite the risk of persecution will be largely lost to the church, much as the American saints who remained outside Utah were in the 19th century.

The Gathering 2.1. Under similar circumstances, the places of gathering may not be central but regional, with emigration to various places of stability: out of Oceania to New Zealand or Samoa, for example, or from the former Soviet states to Poland. An unfriendly geography might see the church all but disappear from large sections of the globe, while true regional centers would emerge.

The Splintering. Another possibility is that the church would continue in various places but without communication or direction from the central leadership. A government hostile to outsiders might permit the church to continue under local direction or with government-approved leaders, with local programs and doctrinal innovation eventually distancing the local members from the direction of Salt Lake City. Unable to overcome the barriers of an isolationist age, the international church would become a global church at last.

Bowing to nationalism. Partisan polarization finally seizes hold in the church in the U.S. Progressives make a performative exit, and conservatives surrender to the nativist and nationalist politics that have long since taken over the Republican party. They find in various interpretations of modern and ancient scripture and in church history material from which to fashion a nationalist and nativist theology. As the country turns inward, the church turns toward the past, decouples from its global commitments, and the stone rolls back uphill.

34 comments for “An International Church in an Isolationist Age

  1. Clark Goble
    May 7, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Great post. One thing that I think is forgotten is that except for a very brief time in the naughts and a bit in the 90’s there hasn’t been an open world. I remember how big a deal it was when East Germany got a temple in the 80s was. Of course after the wall came down a decade later it was no big deal.

    It seems like the last ten years governments have become autocratic and limiting religious freedom. Russia and Turkey are the best known but even China has become far more limited under Xi.

    Will the Church ever have a gathering again? I don’t know. However perhaps making sure the potential for a gathering under immigration law is a good thing.

  2. The Other Clark
    May 7, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel.” I firmly believe that a physical gathering of saints will occur, but I have no idea what form that would take. Right now we give lip service to “gathering to the stakes,” but I don’t know of anyone in a mission district that’s encouraged to relocate after baptism. Maybe in the future, it will be. Maybe it will be more dramatic and all will move within one hour’s travel of a temple.

    Scripturally, the scenario calls for global civil unrest, and “those that will not take up the sword will flee to Zion” (baptized or not) D&C 45:68. I predict this Zion will be somewhere besides Utah, but time will tell.

  3. Nate GT
    May 7, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    While the LDS church is an international church, it is most certainly not a world religion (such as Catholicism and Islam) and it is really only in a few countries where there is any significant presence. Countries that have over 50,000 active members (I’m looking at the official stats and taking 25% of that number to calculate the possible number of actives) are quite few: Philippines, Nigeria, the UK, Canada, the US, Mexico, and most Latin American countries with populations over 10 million. Countries with over 100,000 active members are even fewer. In many European countries, it is doubtful that the LDS church will even have a presence there by the next generation. I simply cannot imagine the LDS church continuing to maintain the temples in Sweden, Switzerland, and in some other European countries. The temple in Rome seemed like a bad investment idea. I can’t imagine that there will be much return on their investment there. If the LDS church shut down in Russia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and other countries, I think it would be barely noticed.

    Where the church really matters is in the US and more specifically the Mormon belt. It is the only place where you have high concentrations of Mormons and people who can and will donate significant time and effort to keeping the church built up, not just in the US, but worldwide. The church seems to be thriving in parts of Latin American as well, although it lacks any concentrated areas, and spreading secularism appears to be causing the rise of the nones there almost as much as is the case in the US.

    As for isolationism, already the church in some areas is becoming increasingly isolated. Take Africa, for instance. The church’s livelihood there is mostly a product of local efforts. Missionaries in African countries are mostly Africans. Few Americans are assigned to Africa (for political and social reasons, and because living in sub-Saharan Africa is not particularly easy). Even though Africa is very religious and a place where Mormonism can spread and is spreading relatively quickly, it is still quite isolated, and so few Americans even know that much about Africa, that if the church dwindled there, it would be barely noticed. They could shut down a temple there, and it would be met with shoulder shrugs by Americans.

  4. Old Guy
    May 7, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    The first thing I’m getting from this article is that there is yet one more thing that’s Trump’s fault, and it hasn’t even happened yet. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, as they are both equally foolish, but even for me everything being Trump’s and the Republican’s fault has become a broken record that needs to be taken off the turntable.

    Meanwhile, one very good answer to the situation discussed in this article goes all the way back to President Kimball’s administration. In 1974 he addressed a conference of Regional Representatives with his vision of missionary work. It consisted of the population of Saints in one country being built up to the point that they were supplying the bulk of the missionary force in their country, sending the excess to start the missionary work in the next country. For example: Japan and Korea reaching the point that “outside” missionaries were not needed — those “outside” missionaries AND the excess of Japanese and Korean missionaries would then be free to go to other places in Asia such as Mongolia and the Southeast Asia countries. (Those countries didn’t have missionaries in them at the time of this address.) His vision reached out to the point that North American missionaries would remain in North America because all other countries were supplying their own missionaries. Yes, it was a very long-sighted vision.

    This vision was how President Kimball saw the church sending missionaries into Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain would some day come down. It’s how he saw the Church getting Asian-born missionaries into China when the Bamboo Curtain is removed — It wouldn’t be North American missionaries going into China; it would be Japanese and Korean and other Asian Saints. American politics would not be part of the equation.

    At the time President Kimball gave this address, Saints outside of North America “for the most part” didn’t think they had a responsibility towards full-time missionary work; it was something North American Saints were required to do. (There were of course exceptions, as we all know.) This address acted as a serious wake-up call in many countries — it certainly was where I was serving! Where I was at the time, the number of young men applying for missionary service skyrocketed.

    If the Saints in all countries caught the vision and scope of this vision, imagine how missionary work could be carried out without the “belief” that it was an “American church” carrying out an agenda. A loss of missionary access would no longer be Trump’s and the Republican’s fault.

    https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1974/10/when-the-world-will-be-converted?lang=eng

  5. Old Guy
    May 7, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    NATE GT — a perfect example for what you’re saying about the church in Africa is that one of the temples in Africa was in fact shut down for over a year due to political unrest — that, and a bullet made it through the front door. There was a very small article in the Church News when it closed, and an equally small article when it reopened. Most Saints never heard about it.

  6. Nate GT
    May 7, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    Old Guy, I had never even heard that story about the temple in Africa. I looked it up and indeed in 2009, the Aba Nigeria temple was closed due to political unrest.

    To your point about Pres. Kimball, I think that his vision is now coming to fruition. I served in Brazil in the 1990s when missions consisted of about 50% Americans and 50% Brazilians. Recently I spoke with an area authority over Brazil who said that missions are about 80% Brazilian. I have also noticed more and more that Americans in my ward are being called to American missions. Fewer seem to be going foreign. I think that the leadership wants to get rid of the perception that this is an American church (this was really felt in Africa where folks are hypersensitive about colonialism and its legacy). I also think that they want to place strong focus on the church in the US and the Mormon belt. They used to take large membership for granted in its center. Now they have grown concerned that it is growing weaker in the center.

  7. John Taber
    May 7, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Old Guy – I know of at least one member growing up in the eastern states in the 1970s who didn’t know he was allowed to serve a mission until he went to BYU. President Kimball’s vision wasn’t just for the Saints outside North America.

    Nate GT – when I was serving my mission in Italy (I got home 25 years ago next month) there were two stakes. There are now ten. Media coverage has become much more favorable. The Rome temple was definitely not a wasted investment. And yes, the Saonts will be able to be married there.

  8. John Mansfield
    May 7, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    My wife’s parents were missionaries assigned to the Washington DC temple visitors’ center, a place to which the church tries to send missionaries from many other countries, somewhat like Temple Square in Salt Lake City but on a smaller scale. My mother-in-law had responsibility two years in a row for a musical program that the sister missionaries performed on Christmas Eve, and I attended both of those years. The second year there were noticeably fewer missionaries from other countries in the program, and I asked my mother-in-law about that. She said that the missionaries were having difficulties getting visas to the United States that they hadn’t experienced previously. That was 2011, seven years ago, well into President Obama’s first term. Obstacles can come from all sorts of directions, obvious and otherwise.

  9. Conflict
    May 7, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    Some interesting points. Political views should be framed with spirituality first in mind, and we should explore what we can do to spread the gospel to restricted nations. But I have some thoughts on globalism versus nationalism. First, I think you are overestimating politic’s influence over church matters. The Moscow temple was announced just as tensions between Russia and America reached the worst point in decades. I reject the idea that the church is restricted by governmental foreign policy, short of a cold war. I don’t see China suddenly allowing missionaries for any reason unless we adopt their system of government or unless China changes. The most obvious solution to China is to undermine their communist ideals so that hopefully they change. Secondly, many were screaming about World War 3 when President Trump talked tough on North Korea, but the result ended up being arguably the best relationship we have had probably since the war. I wouldn’t cast judgement quickly. Perhaps countries like China are more likely to respect an “American” religion when the American government demands respect. Thirdly, globalism is a problem in and of itself. Why would a world government allow freedom of religion?

  10. Old Guy
    May 7, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    CONFLICT: I appreciate your comment “we should explore what we can do to spread the gospel to restricted nations”. The biggest thing we can do is to simply allow people to know who we are; to not hide our religion. I was in Israel twice for joint military maneuvers, which was a great experience. The Israelis love to learn about you, and I about them. They taught me the Law of Moses and I taught them the Restored Gospel WITHOUT making it a missionary moment; they were asking questions and I was answering them — it’s perfectly legal to answer questions. (They were quite the dinner conversations! They were shocked to have a Christian on their hands who already knew The Law as well as I did.) My first trip was barely a month after the Tabernacle Choir had been to Israel, and the BYU Center was very well known, so the stage was set for them to listen to me explain why and how we were different from all the other Christian churches. I even had the opportunity to meet the chief of the Air Force and the chief of the Army within the united Israeli Defense Force, and I assure you they DO know who Latter-day Saints are and what we believe. Those two men knew what the church teaches about the future of the House of Israel better than most members do today. The chief of the Air Force came up behind me one day while I was reading my Book of Mormon, and the first I knew he was there was when a finger came down on the top of the page where it said “2 NEPHI 24:14-32”. The man smiled widely and whispered: “Your Nephi is the best commentator of Isaiah I’ve ever read.”

    The second time I was in Israel we were living in a place where I could catch a bus into one of the big cities and play tourist. An ancient old man with a beard past his beltline addressed me in English on the bus one day and asked if I was a tourist. As soon as he found out I was a “Mormon” the questions came. We spent an hour talking about Jesus, Joseph Smith, and the House of Israel. Again, answering questions is legal. He told me: “We Jews need a prophet,” and I told him that “the Tribe of Ephraim’s willing to share; you just have to make it legal.”

    If ever the church gets into countries like Israel or China or some of the Arab/Muslim countries, it’s going to be because they have seen individual members and how they live and how they respect their commandments and covenants. So don’t hide who you are and be ready to answer questions.

  11. Clark Goble
    May 7, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Nate, that’s a really interesting point. European temples have to be expensive to maintain. In twenty years, will they be worth maintaining? While there’s certainly history for temples being taken over I’m not sure the history of Kirtland or Nauvoo give us a pattern for how to deal with Europe.

    I wish there were more written on the rise of the Nones in Latin America. I’ve not seen any good articles on it even though it seems undeniably to be happening in Mexico as parts reach a certain degree of wealth and services.

    The question is whether the Nones is an intrinsic move away from Christianity rather than just a temporary backlash to organized religion with an emphasis on organized. I think in early American history you had some similar trends that then ended with the second great awakening. Is the United States going to go full secular like Europe or have a new great awakening? Is Latin America more like the United States or more like Europe? I don’t think we know yet.

  12. May 7, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    I do believe that it’s important to think about what will become of Mormonism in a less globalized, less America-dominated world. I think that we are, right now, living at the tail end of the European race’s era of dominance; that era is going to end soon, and I don’t think there will be a new hegemon or a dominant culture after that. Other countries, along with their complement of Mormons, will probably go of in ways that we here in the US wouldn’t approve of.

    It is interesting to think about what happened to the Catholic church after the reformation, when it suffered its own deglobalization, or at least a European variety of it – in 1500, every European kingdom (save a few Slavs) recognized the Pope’s authority; by 1600, the continent was all fractured. Catholics living in England, for instance, had a difficult choice to make. All the Church property in that country was expropriated by the Church of England, and they were under a lot of pressure from the government to recognize the King or Queen as head of the church in that country. Most of them did. A few didn’t, and they faced intense persecution.

    If, for instance, a Catholic wanted to receive the sacrament of penance, he needed access to a priest hole – basically, a hidden compartment in the walls of the homes of wealthy Catholics where a priest was concealed form the authorities. Might there be a future day when Mormons, whose country’s church as been broken off from Salt Lake under political pressure, must take similar pains to receive what they believe are the only valid ordinances?

    But that raises the question of whether the mother church would even be willing to offer ordinances under such circumstances. At the present time, the policy is a pretty straightforward “we ought to obey men rather than God” – basically, the opposite of the original Apostles’ policy in Acts 5:29. If the government tells you not to practice your religion, you don’t practice your religion. So far, that has only affected small amounts of Mormons, because few people join the church in the first place when in hostile countries like China and Israel.

    But if a country like the Philippines, with about 750,000 Mormons, had a falling out with the United States and decided that its Mormons must no longer follow the American leadership, you would have an interesting situation. Ordinances performed under the new, breakaway leadership would be invalid, under our current ecclesiology, but performing ordinances without their sanction would be forbidden. And since we’re talking about 750,000 people, it isn’t just going away like the church did in, for instance, Vietnam when they abandoned it after the War. You’re probably going to end up with a big schismatic group.

    The historians in the year 2100 will have a fascinating job to do.

  13. A Comment
    May 7, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    Remember the importance of Western European temples in serving other populations. Serving members from the countries where the temples are located hasn’t always been their bread and butter. And for the person who mentioned Moscow, the announcement doesn’t mean much until land is purchased and building permits have been issued. Well, or until the building is actually up and running and people are actually allowed to go there. I sincerely hope miracles will occur to allow that to happen, but I’m not holding my breath. I would think it more likely if we were dealing with the USSR.

  14. GEOFF -AUS
    May 8, 2019 at 2:10 am

    From a different direction, a lot depends on whether the church changes its teachings to remove discrimination against gays and women.
    In Australia there was a vote on gay marriage in 2017. The church did not get involved, but many members were vocal, and have since been recruited by right wing parties, and the right of our main conservative party.
    We are voting in a federal election on May 18th, and Pres Nelson is visiting on 20th.
    The members recruited are to stack party branches, so when they are selecting candidates to stand for election they get someone more conservative. A number of those standing have had to resign, because they have homophobic comments on social media, by their conservative party. Most mormons could not stand for parliament because of past homophobic comments.
    The main conservative party (which polls say will loose) is also getting stick because they have less than 20% women in parliament, and some of these women have resigned citing bullying. There are news articles about how the conservative party, if it looses, will have to purge its ranks of extremists, Omany of them mormons) if it is to be electable again.
    The opposition party has 50% women, and is pro gay marriage, with the expected new Minister for foreign affairs bein a married lesbian woman of asian background.

  15. Wilfried
    May 8, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Thank you, Jonathan, for an interesting post.

    Persecution may, in quite a few cases, also be triggered by the religious adherents themselves: they isolate themselves, preach against the world around them, consider themselves the elect, keep their children away from others, devote all their time and energy to their only true cause, and irritate by their conversion efforts. Does not the history of our own church in the 1830s and 1840s teach us something on some of these aspects? True, persecutors will be eager to persecute beyond reason and populists will inflame others, but the history of persecution often tells of causes on both sides, with the “cult” having been the first to trigger irritation.

    If our church members, in various countries, are to be safe it will help if they better integrate themselves in the host society, which may include some indulgence on aspects that have little to do with the core of the Gospel. But as of now, at least from my experience, it seems the more moderate tend to leave the church, while the remaining stiffen their attitudes.

  16. Harold hecuba
    May 8, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Geoff Aus
    Why don’t you get it? Gay marriage is not compatible with the gospel. If you encourage people to go down this road that only means that you are putting at risk your own exaltation.

  17. May 8, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Thanks to all for the comments. Just a few responses:

    Clark, it’s true the openness of the 90s and 00s was recent (and maybe just a brief moment), but the later 19th and early 20th centuries were also a period of international openness. So relative freedom of movement shouldn’t have to depend on a unique moment in history.

    Old Guy, it’s certainly true that the Obama administration messed up several things quite badly. But for a number of things that affect the church’s international standing and access to foreign countries, the current administration is a catastrophe. Angering the French government and offending French people, for example, can cause real harm to the church’s efforts in France, while warming up to North Korea does exactly nothing for the church. Obama was like the inept cashier who keeps messing up customers’ orders; Trump is like the arsonist who burns down the store. They’re problems of a different kind.

    Wilfried, blaming the victims for their own persecution does not seem like a productive path to go down. Was the problem in Christchurch a lack of integration? Was the failure of European Jews to assimilate the root cause of anti-Semitism? Being out of step with the rest of society is precisely what being a religious minority means. I support integration as far as possible, and the church has encouraged its members to be active participants in society wherever they are, but any religious minority will always have some irreducible point of theological or behavioral friction with the surrounding society. Democracies have learned to protect and even welcome those differences, while totalitarian regimes of various types don’t – which is why I think a less democratic, more totalitarian world is a perilous development for the church.

  18. JR
    May 8, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Jonathan, I doubt that “blaming the victims” was what Wilfried intended. I read his comment as a reminder that the victims of persecution can sometimes do things/avoid doing things that fan the flames, even though that is not a complete cure for the problem. E.g., Sidney Rigdon could have avoided his inflammatory rhetoric on exterminating non-Mormon Missourians — rhetoric uttered and published by Mormons prior to Governor Boggs order. But maybe I misread.

  19. Clark Goble
    May 8, 2019 at 10:30 am

    Jonathan I think the end of that openness in the early 20th century is rather interesting and informative. It came as that first generation of college graduates and intellectuals came back to Utah having adopted in many ways the tenets of liberal Protestantism and its intellectual foundations. That led to obvious conflicts but also led to a backlash that unfortunately embraced many elements of the similar backlash in Protestantism. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith being obvious examples of this — although some would say the entire so called neo-orthodox movement really are part of this.

    But I think the greater driver wasn’t just this backlash to liberal Protestantism within early 20th century Mormonism but the needs of the fast growing international Church. That is it was the need for centralization and correlation in rapid growth outside of a single cultural unit of Utah/Idaho that led to this and the lack of openness.

    The question then becomes what is going on now? In certain ways we are experiencing rapid grow in Africa that parallels growth in the 60’s and 70’s. It just doesn’t seem like that because of the size of the Church everywhere else. The Church is becoming much more open, but primarily due to social forces in the US and Europe, not the places of rapid growth. So I see this as pulling the Church in two different directions simultaneously. You have the rise of secularism and liberal theological thinking in the rich west (primarily Europe, Canada, Australia, and the US and to a lesser extent in the wealthier latin America regions). Simultaneously you have this rapid growth in Africa (and one would hope eventually Asia if the Church can figure that region out). That suggests that there will be strong forces to become less open due to backlash towards liberal theological elements and maintaining growth but some pressure to be more open due to other western social trends.

    Movement as you note isn’t necessarily tied to particular historic moments. Yet these incentives will be driving things.

  20. Wilfried
    May 8, 2019 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for confirming the obvious, JR: indeed, no question of blaming the victim. Jonathan’s referral to Christchurch and European Jews seemed like an unfair way to treat my comment. I clearly spoke of a certain type of religious adherents and tried to formulate my concerns in nuanced terms.

  21. May 8, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Wilfried, I think I agree with you that subgroups can trigger persecution although it’s a difficult topic to discuss simply because we wish to apply moral categories. We might well say that a group ought be able to be different without persecution. The analogy is the often heated debate about how people dress and assault. People want to avoid talking about dress incentivizing assault simply because we strongly feel it’s immoral to assign blame. It makes many topics fraught simply because one can never easily bracket such moral reasoning in the discussion. I’d argue that discussions of say Jewish integration into European culture is as fraught as questions of dress in bad neighborhoods.

    Getting back to the OP, I personally would love to see Church growth continue via immigration. Obviously many immigrants in Utah County come because of the Church and have that integration. That doesn’t remove stresses of course due to racism or current anti-immigration tensions. If the Church maintains its percentage of the US population (1.4 – 1.6% self identifying depending upon whether one is quoting Pew or ARIS) I wonder how much of that is due to immigration.

  22. May 8, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Wilfried, I’m certainly in favor of behaving prudently. But look at the example you list of things that regrettably but understandably lead to persecution: “preach against the world around them, consider themselves the elect, […], and irritate by their conversion efforts.” And thus Nero found himself compelled to raise the lion budget by 55%. Are you really trying to suggest that, for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses caused their own persecution in Nazi Germany by knocking on too many doors? What church worthy of the name doesn’t preach against the world in some way?

    Any difference between a minority group and the surrounding culture can be turned into a marker of identification or a thorn of offense. The problem with adiaphora is that they stop being adiaphora when they get turned into markers of group (dis)loyalty. A cup of coffee doesn’t matter (very much) until it becomes a way to signal that you are an enlightened cosmopolitan unbound by the silly traditions of the rubes in the pews, or a symbol of renounced membership. Then it matters quite a bit.

    Thus my suggestion is that sticking to one’s mission may be the least bad option. If for example you think that attending Sunday meetings is important, then you unapologetically teach church members to show up on Sunday and let them figure out the best way to implement that.

  23. May 8, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    The OP reeks of a persecution complex and paranoid delusions. But the author admits that upfront. Some comments seem obsessed with the Last Days. Wrap this up in political nonsense and you have a mix that’s difficult to comment on. First, the US president is currently taking the US in an isolationist mode. But that doesn’t mean it’s a long-term trend. The next president, whether Democrat or Republican–may very well reverse directions. It’s true that no country or culture is dominant forever, it doesn’t mean the US’s influence will wane anytime soon.

    The countries of the world will evolve and the Church leadership needs to be prepared for various possibilities; but to fret about the future is futile. To predict the gathering of Israel is certainly premature. But Church growth is stagnating in the European-based cultures, but is growing rapidly in developing countries, particularly Africa. This has an important impact on things like tithing.

    Nate GT: “Where the church really matters is in the US and more specifically the Mormon belt.” That is nonsense. The Church matters everywhere. It you believe that there is benefit from Mormonism, then the areas in the most need certainly matter. And that means in the developing world. This comments sounds almost racist.

    Harold: “Gay marriage is not compatible with the gospel. If you encourage people to go down this road that only means that you are putting at risk your own exaltation.” That’s nonsense. Members used to say that about the black-priesthood ban. There is nothing incompatible about the gospel of Christ and gay marriage.

    “globalism is a problem in and of itself. Why would a world government allow freedom of religion?” Who’s talking about a world government? Quit listening to Glenn Beck and reading Cleon Skousen. Spewing more paranoia.

    I think the issue of the makeup of the missionaries in various parts of the world is interesting. There are certainly a higher percentage of Africans serving in Africa. That is in part, I suspect, to deal with the issue of unemployment. But it is important that Americans serve also in developing countries. The US missionaries need to understand the conditions in other parts of the world, and appreciate their culture. And bond with members and nonmembers there.

    One of the best ways to improve the Church’s image aboard is to make missions more service oriented. This might lessen the chances for a need like the OP describes.

  24. Clark Goble
    May 8, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Roger both of the last two Presidents have been far more isolationist than any President in the post-war era. In both cases other pressures from their party has tempered that drive somewhat. (So for instance Trump’s plan to pull troops out of Syria never happened) The fact that both candidates have done this and that (thus far at least) we’ve only seen the Liberal Interationalist position from Clinton in past years suggests a deeper more widespread isolationist trend. Add into that damages to international relations under Trump and I think Jonathan’s worry has some merit. Of course politics being politics things may well change rapidly.

    I don’t want to derail things in your other points. I’d just say that there are much deeper theological issues in the topics of current political controversy than there were in the 70’s.

  25. May 8, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Or, to try another response to Wilfried: You’re correct to refer to the difference between the core message and various appendages, and the international context, and even moments of friction in an international context, can be useful opportunities for the church to think carefully about what things belong in each category. We’ve even seen recent examples of useful innovations on the periphery reintroduced to the core.

    As should be clear, I disagree with several of your examples of what you see as needless provocations. The church claims to be the one true church of Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less. You can compromise on some things, but you can’t compromise on that; otherwise the institution has no reason to exist. It’s its identity and self-definition. So I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask members of the true church of Jesus Christ not to act or talk as if they were members of the true church of Jesus Christ. This may not be the optimal strategy for minimize persecution under some circumstances, unfortunately.

  26. GEOFF -AUS
    May 9, 2019 at 12:03 am

    The post seems to say the world may become a problem for the spread of the church. Two of the members from outside the US are suggesting the church needs to adjust if it is to be acceptable in the modern world.
    If the church were still teaching racism, it would be unacceptable, homophobia, and sexism are very close to being equally unacceptable.

  27. Jonathan M (Aus)
    May 9, 2019 at 2:00 am

    A little off-topic, but we would do well to remember the more liberal denominations appear to struggle to retain their members in the developed world . Just look at the Community of Christ, for example . But for me, that is a price worth paying in the quest for authenticity. We cannot ignore evidence-based, demonstrable truths forever, and I earnestly hope and think the Brethren are beginning to recognise that now.

    BTW, I think Nate’s estimate of 50,000 active members in the UK is too generous. Contrastingly, the 2016 Australian Census indicated 61,000 members

  28. Clark Goble
    May 9, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Jonathan, one argument about liberal denominations is that they had their birthrates crater first when birth control was first introduced. More conservative movements didn’t have this happen until much later and thus only started ceasing growth very recently. I think that effect can be overplayed, but it definitely is a big component. I think the other bigger issue is nominal members – that is people who’d self-identify as belonging but who actually are not socially engaged with the movement much. Starting in the mid 90’s through the naughts the nominal members simply no longer have the sociological need to identify with these groups. This hits liberal Protestant sects first. The last decade it’s been hitting more conservative movements. It’s not yet hit more “ethnic” religious movements simply because of the complexities of identity there due to the large number of immigrants and difference with society not to mention encountering bigotry. I’d expect though in an other decade to see the same effects with Hinduism, Buddhism and so forth.

    There are of course counter-trends. One I reposted on twitter today that I found fascinating is the rather large difference in Jewish populations in Canada versus the US. By and large American Jews – particularly more liberal (non-Orthodox) ones – lose that identity. In Canada that’s not true even among more liberal Jewish movements. Canada is always fascinating for these demographic trends since in many ways it’s halfway between the US and Europe but in other ways is very unique. So for instance the rise of the Nones happened a decade earlier in Canada (undermining common claims that it was an internet driven phenomena). Canada simply undermines a lot of arguments regarding religion in the US IMO.

    A lot of analysis assumes that the United States is simply finally following the European model that everyone expected to happen in the 60’s and 70’s but didn’t. I just don’t think that’s the case.

  29. Nate GT
    May 10, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    rogerdhansen,

    “‘Where the church really matters is in the US and more specifically the Mormon belt.’ That is nonsense. The Church matters everywhere. It you believe that there is benefit from Mormonism, then the areas in the most need certainly matter. And that means in the developing world. This comments sounds almost racist.”

    Sigh…. read the context. Vitality at the center is infinitely more important than vitality in the periphery. If the church fell apart or was banned by the government in Russia, would it have harm on the church as a whole? No. Now if that happened in Utah, would it have harm? Yes.

    And the fact that you call my comment “almost racist” makes you look like a very unserious troll. But I’ll indulge this time and assume that you simply did not take the time to actually read my comment.

  30. Nate GT
    May 10, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    “I have some thoughts on globalism versus nationalism”

    Such a binary exists only in the discourse of Trumpists, the alt-right, and far-right conspiracy theorists. There is no “globalism vs. nationalism.” The mere invocation of such a binary more often than not tends to be a sort of crypto-racism used to justify harsh measures against immigrants to the US and codespeak for “Making America White Again.”

    “Why would a world government allow freedom of religion?”

    And yet, freedom of religion has flourished with the increase of global trade networks. Historically nationalism has squashed freedom of religion far more than systems that allow a freer flow of information, people, and goods. The only nationalism that invokers of “globalism vs. nationalism” tend to care about is white Christian nationalism, and tends to be strongly anti-Muslim and to some extent even anti-Semitic. Man, this blog attracts some real paranoid loons.

  31. Dsc
    May 12, 2019 at 9:46 am

    Nate,

    A lot of stereotyping and unsupported conjecture going on in your comments.

    Wilfried,

    Your comments seem to reflect a growing trend among Europeans and American liberals that I think is a huge threat to religious freedom. In contrast with the threat from religious conservatives and radical Islamism, which tends to encourage or force people to believe a certain way (or elevate some beliefs above others), this type of threat to religious freedom is tolerant of belief, but intolerant of practice. In other words, you’re free to believe whatever you want, as long as you don’t share those beliefs or live them in a way that would even cause another to be remotely uncomfortable.

  32. May 12, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Dsc, Wilfried’s comments should be taken seriously (and I’m not saying that you don’t) because they reflect the context of the most secular country in Europe today, and as such may indicate what we can expect in our future. I enjoy living in a town where all the churches have youth activities on Wednesdays, so coaches know to end practice early and scheduling conflicts with Mutual are minimized and no one sees mid-week church attendance as strange. But we could end up in a place where twice-weekly church visits that interfere with children’s sporting and cultural activities seem as suspicious and potentially harmful to children as raising children in a walled compound or refusing vaccinations seem to us now, where right-minded people start looking for ways to prevent parents from inflicting such harm on their children.

  33. Nate GT
    May 14, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Dsc, I find it odd that criticize me for stereotyping and then proceed to lump Europeans, an incredibly diverse group of people in terms of ethnicity, culture, politics, and religion, into the same category as if they are all like American liberals.

  34. Michael 2
    May 17, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    GEOFF -AUS writes “church needs to adjust if it is to be acceptable in the modern world.”

    Missing from your excellent comment is “to whom?” In other words, “acceptable” is not a property of a thing, it is a conclusion by a judge (each person for himself). I presume that you are that judge and you will decide upon the adjustments to be made. I might even agree with you on a few adjustments..

    Jonathan Green writes “no one sees mid-week church attendance as strange.”

    Seems fairly common in many religions.

    Jonathan M (Aus) writes “We cannot ignore evidence-based, demonstrable truths forever.”

    I can. You’d be amazed at how long I have ignored the vast majority of evidence-based demonstrable truths. I did as a teenager try to read the Encyclopedia Britannica and I learned pretty quick that the realm of evidence-based demonstrable truths is vast!

    Not only that, the most important thing to know, God, is neither evidence-based nor demonstrably true.

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