The most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History actually arrived a little while back, but I’ve been slow to post this. Since the next will be here soon, I’d better get this out! I’ll be more prompt next time!
First, the JMH has published Philip Jenkins’ 2008 Tanner Lecture entitled “Letting Go: Understanding Mormon Growth in Africa.” Jenkins observes of Christian (Catholic, Protestant, etc.) growth in Africa, “Missions in Africa are rather like gardening in Florida: Plant some seeds and stand back quickly.” Jenkins identifies a number of characteristics, megatrends, associated with Christian growth in Africa. 1) Christianity has become part of the African cultural landscape. In other words, it can be expected that those being preached to have been previously exposed to Christianity. 2) White leaders have been replaced by native Africans. 3) All churches have absorbed African customs and worship styles. 4) An upsurge of spontaneous, indigenous Christian culture-hymns and music and visual arts in the vernacular of a given area. 5) A vast “buyer’s market” has arisen of religion. 6) Therefore, American styles of advertizing have been used to attract worshipers. 7) Pentacostalization of religion (the most successful are charismatic) 8 ) The presence of Islam as a competitor. 9) Islam undermines denominational loyalties. 10) Persistence of poverty. 11) Weakness of states. 12) Churches as recipients and catalysts of radical social change. Jenkins discusses how these characteristics make Mormonism look very mainstream in Africa and asks, then, Why is Mormonism not sweeping the continent? After reviewing the spontaneous growth of the 60s and 70s and accelerated by the priesthood revelation of 1978, observing that the relative youth of the population means that the priesthood restriction would only be a part of the institutional memory of grandparents of prospective converts. Jenkins concludes that the Church’s relatively late start in Africa means that many white faces still pervade the ranks of leadership. Also, the LDS Church, he writes, seems very resistant to native acculturation which he hypothesizes has contributed to lower growth rates than other denominations have had. He ends by raising the idea that Mormonism will need to consider carefully its relationship with other Christian denominations as it continues to grow. We discussed a rumored counterpoint to this paper a while back. Now having read the paper, I’m not sure that the aforementioned rumor diffuses the points Jenkins made. Certainly food for further thought.
Next is an article by Emeritus Seventy Elder John K. Carmack, an earlier form of which was presented at the 2008 MHA Conference entitled “California Provided the Answer.” Carmack observes that “The Church as a formal living organization was largely dormant in California during most of the latter half of the nineteenth century. ” He goes on to recount the growth of the Church in California and argues that California answered the question that “Church leaders” had about whether the Church could survive and thrive in urban, largely non-Mormon areas. I was pretty underwhelmed by this article for a lot of reasons. For all the growth that California has experienced, there was really no analysis about why such growth has occurred aside from the cessation in emphasis by the Church on migration to Utah around the early parts of the 20th century. He mentions that WWI made California play a larger role in the nation…and actually, I’m not sure if it even says that. Either way, there is no explanation of how WWI might have done this or how it relates to LDS Church growth. WWII, which Gerald Nash credits at length with the transformation and growth of California (and other Western states) receives as scant a reference: “World War II stalled the process of building a temple but accelerated the process of growth in California.” Again, no mention of how or why. What stand out as driving forces in the article are the visions of Church leaders for California, but even these are not well articulated. Carmack refers to this question of whether establishing the Church in an urban environment could work. It is very plausible that such a discussion occurred in the Church’s hierarchy, but there is no evidence actually articulated in the article that such was actually a pressing question before Church leaders, influenced policy, or that these leaders actually saw the answer to the question in California. He goes on to say that migrants to California changed the racial and cultural makeup of California stakes, and thus answered a “corollary question” (again, who was asking?): “As the white population moved to the suburbs and drained center stakes of leadership, could those stakes take the gospel to the polyglot of international members that moved into the vacuum?” A question that is both surprising and not surprising in its assumptions.
Next is Ron Romig’s paper on “The RLDS Church on the Pacific Slope.” This was given to complement Elder Carmack’s paper at the 2008 MHA conference. Romig chronicles RLDS converts from the LDS Church that came from the Mormon Battalion, the Brooklyn, and other parts of LDS California, inviting us to consider that “both LDS and RLDS members played a role in the grand pageant of the California Gold Rush.” He shows of how Alexander Hale Smith, David Hyrum Smith and Louis C. Bidaman as well as others traveled to California on missions or business, and helped establish the RLDS Church in the Pacific Slope. He concludes by observing that “Particularly since the 1980s, socio-economic and cultural forces began to negatively impact the growth of the RLDS Church in the state.”
To be continued…