Q: What has the LDS Church’s relationship with Native Americans and Central/South Americans been?

Q: Much has been written about Mormons’ attitudes toward African Americans, but I’m wondering what the LDS Church’s relationship with Native Americans and Central/South Americans has been. These people are generally considered to be Book of Mormon peoples–does that belief affect members’ perceptions of them and indigenous American Mormons’ perception of themselves? I find this to be an important question, as these peoples are becoming a greater share of the LDS membership.

A: Below are the responses from various members of the MSSA.  I think you’ll find them very helpful:

Armand Mauss rightly noted that he has, quite literally, written THE book on this:

In all immodesty, I would say that anyone interested in this topic would do well to start with Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of my All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (U. of Illinois Press, 2003). From there, one could check out the citations in those chapters to the various relevant articles in the bibliography of the book. These chapters are all about changing LDS perceptions and policies toward Lamanites, both in North America and in Latin America. Beyond that, there are books from both FARMS and Signature (on opposite sides ideologically) that get into this issue, and even some Dialogue articles.

Jan Shipps recommended that you speak with Quincy Newell in Religious Studies at the University of Wyoming, who responded as well and said that the best place to start would be with Armand Mauss’s book – so three experts believe All Abraham’s Children is the best place for you to start your investigations.

Another expert on this question, David Knowlton, offered the following suggestions:

On the native American issue I recommend Thomas Murphy’s dissertation at the University of Washington, anthropology. Jordan Haug presented on this topic at the SSSR in Louisville. He Has excellent material on this topic. On Latin America, Josue Sanchez has an excellent critical essay on the trope of Lamanites among Latin American Mormons. He is reachable through the ASPMS list. Eduardo Pagan has similarly written on the issue I believe. Orlando Rivera is another good source.

Now on what I see–btw I am in Bolivia at the moment immersed in this reality.  The idea that Bolivians are BofM peoples has a strong impact among members of the Church here, who take the notion literally. A local leader (archeologist) has written a popular book among Mormons building a relationship between the Bof M narrative and Bolivia’s archeology. His name is Hans Ralf Caspary. Just day before yesterday I was talking with a local leader about Cusco and he said that the water basins near Cusco were baptismal fonts, i.e. people locate their ideology in local archeological features. I find the politics and class basis of this kind of thinking intriguing at a time when the country has just implemented a new constitution which celebrates its indigenous past and contemporary reality. For me, much of the point of the BofM “indigenous” reality is that it gives people a claim on indigenous history and reality, while not having to carry any of the specific history or details of organic indian identities and ideologies.

The questioner, however, should contact Mexican Mormon scholars and ask them the question. I can provide addresses and names should they be interested.

Jessie Embry described some current research on this:

I am working on a manuscript I call Mormons and Navajos but I have a chapter on the Church’s relationship with Native Americans in general and a little on Central and South America. There is a belief among some scholars–myself included–that in many ways George P. Lee was right. The Church shifted its focus from the Native Americans as more people from Central and South America joined the Church and far extended the number of Native Americans joining the Church. A limited example is the shift from the Lamanite Generation at BYU which was Native American to start with to the Living Legends which includes not only Native Americans and Central and South America but also the South Pacific. That is just one example.

The oral histories that the Redd Center at BYU has done with Native Americans do see the belief that they are the Lamanites affects their perceptions of themselves. While we have interviewed Latino/a Americans, the Center (basically me) has not looked at views of Lamanites. Oops.

Scott Bosworth offered the following suggestions:

Here are some bibliographic entries on the Indian student placement program:

  • Allen, James B. “The Rise and Decline of the LDS Indian Student Placement Program, 1947-1996,” Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, ed. Davis Bitton (Provo: FARMS, 1998), 85-119.
  • Chadwick, Bruce A. Stan L. Albrecht and Howard M. Bahr, “Evaluation of an Indian Student Placement Program,” Social Casework 67/9 (1986): 515-24.
  • Chadwick, Bruce A. and Stan L. Albrecht, “Mormons and Indians: Beliefs, Policies, Programs and Practices,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives, ed. Tim B. Heaton and Lawrence A. Young (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 287-309.
  • Hangen, Tona. “A Place to Call Home: Studying the Indian Placement Program,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30/1 (Spring 1997): 53-69.
  • Morgan, Brandon. “Educating the Lamanites: A Brief History of the LDS Indian Student Placement Program.” Journal of Mormon History. 35/5 (Fall 2009):191-217.

Benjamin Pykles offered some references as well:

A quick look through a bibliography I put together many years ago came up with the following items that may or may not be relevant to the question. These are approaching the question of Mormon-Native American relationships primarily from a historical perspective, not a contemporary one, but I thought I would share them nonetheless.

  • James, Rhett S. “150 Years of Mormon-Indian Relations,” Sidney B. Sperry Symposium 1980: 162-192.
  • Stucki, Larry R.  “Mormonism: the restorer or destroyer of the ‘true’ heritage of the American Indian?,” (paper presented at the 78th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, 30 November 1979, Cincinnati, Ohio).
  • Whittaker, David J.  “Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Bibliographical Introduction,” Dialogue 1985 18(4): 33-64.

Gayle Lasater had another book recommendation:

While I am not an expert, the following book may be of some help if Mr. Adams has not already encountered it:

  • Farmer, Jared (2008). On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape. Harvard University Press.

Melvyn Hammarberg offered this recommendation:

One of my students did an article in the distant past: Beverly P. Smaby, “The Mormons and the Indians: Conflicting Ecological Systems in the Great Basin,” American Studies 16 (Spring 1975), 35-48, which might be one place to start.

Q: Best sources on Mormon myth and sacred narrative?

Q: I will begin a PhD program soon on the subject of Mormon myth and sacred narrative. I wonder if I could be pointed toward any research which might have been done previously on the place of myth as stories with culturally formative power that might be categorized broadly under headings like Restoration, Revelation, Missionary Stories, and stories of healing and encouragement. These would include stories on the Pre-Existence/Pre-Mortal Life, the First Vision, the Westward Trek/Pioneer Narrative, The Plan of Salvation/Personal missionary narratives, etc. Any thoughts on previous studies that have touched on myth, story, narrative, or folklore in these areas would be appreciated.

A: We have two responses to this question. The first comes from Steven Olsen:

“My Masters paper at the University of Chicago (Anthropology, 1978) adapted a Levi-Straussian ‘structuralist’ approach to understand the cultural logic of the sacred Mormon narrative we call “The Joseph Smith Story.” A readable version of that study appears in a Dialogue article from the 1980s with the pretentious title, “Joseph Smith and the Structure of Mormon Identity.” This study will be of value to the extent that John is concerned about theory and method in his own study; it illustrates a conception and approach to the study of sacred narrative that, I believe, bears some fruit. There are certainly other possible approaches, including those used by Bert Wilson, Eric Eliason, Meg Brady, and others in their study of Mormon narrative, oral and written. From the perspective of what Clifford Geertz might call, if he were still alive, “History as a Cultural System,” there are a couple of obscure articles that may be helpful, “The Theology of Memory: Mormon Historical Consciousness” in a recent FARMS Review and “Historic Sites as Institutional Memory,” in the proceedings of a BYU symposium several years ago, both of which were written by me. Additionally, at an ASCH conference a few years ago, Stephen Stein delivered what I remember as a masterful set of preliminary reflections on the implications of Mormonism’s being a literate religion, i.e., one that is grounded in the authority of written documents, some of which record historical experience. I have never seen it in print, but he would advance our understanding of Mormonism considerably if he would do so.”

Armand Mauss also wrote a response:

“If you are in Utah, you are located right in the center of the best collections of Mormon myth and folklore in the world at the three major universities in Utah. He should start by consulting the massive bibliography compiled a decade ago by James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and David L. Whittaker (editors and compilers), STUDIES IN MORMON HISTORY, 1830 – 1997 (University of Illinois Press, 2000), which will be found in the reference section of any decent library, especially in Utah. In that bibliography will be found numerous sections devoted to myth and folklore, especially on pages 651-654, 799-800, and 1095-1096. The founder and earliest collector of Mormon myth and folklore was the late Austin Fife (often with his wife Alta), so John might begin by browsing through Fife’s work, which appears in a couple of books and numerous articles. Fife’s successor would be William A. (“Bert”) Wilson, still very much alive as English professor emeritus at BYU, and author of many great articles. An up-and-coming younger scholar specializing in Mormon myth and folklore is Eric Eliason, also in the BYU English Dept. Morehead would do well to seek out Wilson and Eliason for interviews. They would give him a lot of useful guidance, not only bibliographical but also methodological. But John should do considerable browsing through the work listed in the above-mentioned bibliography before seeking out Wilson or Eliason.”

Update: Mon, 2009-04-13 10:10 — Shawn Bennion

I would also suggest contacting Eric Eliason, who has an interest in Mormon Folklore. I recall his comment that the category of “3 Nephite” Stories is among the largest in all of the study of folklore. The L. Tom Perry Special Collections at BYU has a large collection of Mormon folklore, often containing transcripts of interviews.

Q: funding sources for graduate school and research on Mormonism

Q: I wonder if you might have some thoughts on something. I’m beginning graduate school in religious studies and am looking at ways to raise funds for my research degree on Mormonism, Mormon sacred narratives, and their place in Mormon-evangelical dialogue. I am aware of the Fellowship Applications for visiting faculty through the Tanner Humanities Center, but do you have any suggestions as to possible funding, scholarship, or fellowship sources for a scholar looking to earn a PhD through research and a dissertation that adds something unique to Mormon studies and interreligious?

A: Here is Armand Mauss’s response:

“This is a tough one. The Tanner Humanities Center would be a likely source, perhaps next year if this year’s application deadline has passed. I don’t know how Tanner or other potential funding sources would feel about awarding fellowships for “long distance” degree programs, as contrasted with the normal residential expectations. For the Mormon-Evangelical relationship specifically, you should talk to Robert Millet (Religion, BYU), who is the most prominent Mormon scholar with an interest in that relationship. Millet (like Davies) is also a friend of Richard Mouw at the Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, and Mouw himself might well have some ideas about funding sources, given his interest in the Mormon-Evangelical dialogue.”

Q: Alcohol use among the FLDS?

Q: I know that the LDS Church proscribes against alcohol consumption and I would like to know more about use of alcohol among the FLDS.  Could you point me in the right direction, please?

A: Thanks to the MSSA network, we have access to several people who are qualified to answer this question.  Our first response comes from Janet Bennion, who has conducted extensive fieldwork among polygamists and the FLDS:

The FLDS has a history of relaxed rules on alcohol. For example, here’s one observation by Kevin Barney (May 2008):

On the third weekend of the month there would be a priesthood meeting in SLC. After the meeting, there was always a pizza party at the home of Leroy Jeffs, one of Rulon’s sons and the one most people at the time thought would succeed Rulon (as opposed to Warren). There was pizza, of course, and chicken and lots of junk food. But the big attraction was the alcohol. The women would arrive about 45 minutes before the men and gather in the living room, and really wouldn’t touch the food (the Jeffs had a strict rule against obesity among the women). But they would hit the beer; even the nursing mothers. After several bottles of beer they were laughing and preaching the gospel about keeping sweet and loving your sister wives. They quickly went from being nervous and irritable to having a gay old time.

I do know that the rules against alcohol are a bit stricter in the AUB/Allred group. I know of a few patriarchs who have a glass of wine after dinner, but these are not in good favor with the Brethren who often restrict its use publicly. Yet, on one occasion a beer or two might be tolerated to ease the tensions before sex or after work. I gathered this material during a priesthood meeting in Pinesdale. It is obvious that fundamentalists do not recognize as strict an interpretation as orthodox Mormons do.

Thus, the FLDS and other polygamist groups do have slightly more relaxed norms toward alcohol use.  Carrie Miles offers a suggestion for why this might be the case and offers some additional information:

Enforcing the Word of Wisdom was not a big deal in the church until the 1930s.  Think of it as a boundary maintenance device.  With increased exposure to the outside world, the growth of the church outside of Utah, and the loss of polygamy, the mainstream church needed a new way to force members to maintain their unique identity out in the world.  Nearly all of the fundamentalist groups branched off from the mainstream church before the 1930s (if they hadn’t, President Grant’s campaign against polygamy forced them out), so they do not enforce the WOW (i.e., the Word of Wisdom, which is the proscription against consuming alcohol; see D&C 89). In many ways, the fundamentalists look more like primitive Mormonism than the current church does.

Carrie’s suggestion that the fundamentalist Mormons look more like primitive Mormonism than does the LDS Church does reflect the much looser observation of the Word of Wisdom among Mormons prior to the 1900s.  Joseph Smith was known to have consumed alcohol on occasion and Brigham Young ran a prominent bar in SLC, though not because he was a regular imbiber but to control the flow of alcohol.  Thomas Alexander offers another explanation for the changing adherence of the Word of Wisdom among earlier Mormons:

Excommunications actually took place in the 19th century for an unwillingness to obey the Word of Wisdom. Brigham Young emphasized the Word of Wisdom, according to Leonard Arrington, for economic reasons.  He wanted to keep hard cash from flowing from the territory. The campaign for Prohibition, which eventually led to the reemphasis of the Word of Wisdom, began shortly after the turn of the Twentieth Century.  Some prominent Mormons, including Heber J. Grant, were embarrassed because Evangelical Protestants seemed to be leading the prohibition movement.  Prohibition gained acceptance in the Democratic Party, but it divided the Republicans.  Utah adopted Prohibition when the Democratic Party won the election in 1916. The church began emphasizing the Word of Wisdom under Joseph F. Smith in about 1902.  There are letters to Stake Presidents on the subject.  It was included in the questions for a temple recommend in 1921.  The Utah legislature adopted cigarette prohibition temporarily during the 1920s. I would argue that the prohibition movement probably had more to do with the reemphasis on the word of wisdom than did the attempt to find something as a measure for boundary maintenance.  This is because the Evangelical Protestants, who were arguably the most anti-Mormon of all religious groups, were involved in Prohibition long before the Mormons. It has clearly become a measure of boundary maintenance since then, but originally that was not the case.

Rick Phillips offers some additional information on this topic:

Brian Hales writes: “Joseph Musser, like other fundamentalist leaders even today, regarded the Word of Wisdom, which was a particular emphasis of Heber J. Grant, not as a commandment, but rather as advice that might be observed or ignored. (Hales, “Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism”, Greg Kofford Books, 2006, p. 252-253.) Of course, Musser is a predecessor of the Allreds, not the FLDS. On the evolution of the Word of Wisdom as identity marker see chapter 13 of Thomas Alexander’s “Mormonism in Transition” (U of IL Press). See also, Christie Davies, “Coffee, tea and the ultra-Protestant and Jewish Nature of the Boundaries of Mormonism” in “Mormon Identities in Transition” Douglas Davies ed., Cassell.

Q: Retention Rates and Future Missionaries

Q: I am researching the recent changes in missionary work and am trying to find out how to get a hold of retention rates for the church as a whole.  Do you have any idea how I might find this type of information?  I am also trying to figure out how to get numbers of potential missionaries, that is, the number of young men ages 19 that are the right age to serve missions so that I might be able to compare percentages before and after raising the bar on missionary standards.  Finally, I want to make sure I have not missed any recent works about this topic including dissertations, articles, etc.

A: This is an interesting question.  Unfortunately, it is also one that is a bit difficult to answer, primarily because the LDS Church does not release the data it collects on its members.  As a result, the best we can do as researchers is find alternative ways to estimate this information.  You may find the following estimates useful.

First, regarding retention rates…  As noted above, the LDS Church does not release this information.  But there are ways to estimate this and several researchers have done so, giving us our current best estimates.  For instance, Rick Phillips (2006), using census data for a variety of countries, compared the membership information supplied by the LDS Church in its annual almanac to the self-reported membership identifications of people in those countries and found that the LDS Church over-estimated its membership.  The actual number of Mormons in those countries ranged from 20%  to 70% of what the LDS Church claimed.  The major implication of this finding is that retention rates of Mormon converts are fairly low.

Rick, in response to your question, gave this example: If data from the Canadian census is representative, then the disparity between official membership totals and the number of self-identified Latter-day Saints is increasing. LDS demographer (and MSSA member) Tim Heaton observes: “In the 1981 Canadian census … 82,000 people stated Mormon as their religious preference, yet LDS records reported 85,006 members. The difference implies that 3-4 percent of members on the records [at the time did not] consider themselves Latter-day Saints.” By the next decennial census this disparity had widened. In 1991, about 94,000 Canadians identified themselves as Mormons, but the church claimed 130,000. Thus, in the space of 10 years the LDS church went from over-reporting its Canadian membership by 3-4 percent to over 28 percent. The latest data show that this trend continues. The 2001 Canadian census lists 101,805 self-identified Mormons, compared to the church’s claim of over 160,000. This means that over a third of the Canadians now listed on LDS church rolls do not profess to be Mormons. Outside traditional Mormon strongholds in Alberta, disparities are even wider. A similar pattern is observed for New Zealand, and other MSSA members can probably report on other nations as well.

Rick also notes that, with respect to the United States, two censuses of religious bodies, conducted in 1990 and 2000 by the Glenmary Research Center, found that Mormon membership in the U.S. increased 19 percent between the two enumerations. The Glenmary data relies on information furnished by participating denominations, and hence this conclusion is based on figures provided by the LDS church. By contrast, two large-scale surveys of self-reported religious identification, the National Survey of Religious Identification (NSRI) and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), conducted in 1990 and 2001 respectively, tell a different story. The 1990 NSRI estimates the adult LDS population at 2.5 million, while the 2001 ARIS estimates it at 2.7 million—an 8 percent increase. Differences between the Glenmary data and these self-report surveys imply that many of those who were baptized Mormon in this decade defected, but are still counted as members by the church. Kosmin, Mayer and Keysar write: “[Mormonism] appear[s] to attract a large number of converts (‘in-switchers’), but also nearly as large a number of apostates (‘out-switchers’)” This same finding is echoed in a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Rick Phillips has also pointed out that that retention rates are strongly negatively correlated with growth rates, and that those nations that have high growth rates have low rates of convert retention.  Rick discusses Mormon convert retention in two articles, one currently published (2006) and one coming out in the next issue of JSSR (see references below).  The bibliographies of these papers cite most of the research on this subject. If your library does not carry these journals, we can provide offprints.

Rick also suggested some other sources, depending on your definition of “retention.”  If you want to define “retention” as some level of church participation, then Tim Heaton’s “Vital Statistics” entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism is the best place to start. You may also find this discussion of retention by Elder Oaks instructive.

There are some other sources of information on retention in the LDS Church.  For instance, Henri Gooren (2008) found in his field research in Central America that half of all new members left the religion within a year; more leave after that.  That would indicate retention rates lower than 50%.  David Stewart, in his book on Missiology and Retention, claims various retention rates, but most center around 20% to 30% (see pages 257-280).  Stewart cites several mission presidents in his book who admit retention rates ranging from 8% to 18% (p. 278).  Unfortunately, many of the retention rate estimates in Stewart’s book are not referenced and it is unclear how he arrives at his numbers.

In sum, best estimates of retention rates for converts to Mormonism would probably put the number somewhere between 20% and 50%, depending on the country.

As regards your second question of potential missionaries… There are really two components here.  The first is the actual number of potential missionaries and the second would be their potential impact on growth of the religion.  Rick Phillips, in his response to your question, noted that the only sure way of finding out the number of 19 year olds would be to contact the Research Division of the LDS Church.  Whether they would release that information is not clear, but you could try.  However, there is a way to arrive at an estimate for the US.  The US Census Bureau generates population estimates by age and sex for each state every year.  The latest year of data available is 2007 (http://www.census.gov/popest/datasets.html).  Using that data, you can create population pyramids (a demographic technique) that illustrates the age/sex structure of a population.  Ryan Cragun used that data to generate four population pyramids (see Figures 1 through 4 attached below).  While it is true that Utah is decreasingly a good proxy for Mormons in the US, generally, careful scrutiny of the population pyramids does give an indication of the number of young men moving into mission ages.  What you see in Figure 4 (the Utah population pyramid from 2007) is a large difference in males in the 21-25 age range compared to the 16-20 range.  That large difference would suggest that the number of Mormon missionaries is going to drop substantially in the coming years (and probably helps explain the large recent drop in missionaries).  Considering the 11-15 and 6-10 year age ranges are closer to the 16-20 age range in size, the smaller number of missionaries (from Utah at least) is likely to continue for the next 15 years or so.  However, there is a possibility that the lower numbers in Utah (and the US, generally) may be slightly offset by growing numbers of missionaries outside the US as population pyramids outside the US in developing countries are much wider at the bottom (in younger age ranges) than at the top.  But all of this also depends on the percentages of 19 year olds who serve missions, a number that is also unknown except by the LDS Church.  Additionally, the reduction of missionaries may be due to the “raising the bar” efforts of the LDS Church in the early part of this decade, but the demographic shift seen in Figure 4 seems to suggest otherwise.

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 4

If you couple the declining 19 year old population with the lower returns from missionary efforts, the future of Mormon growth looks even more interesting.  Rick Phillips noted in his response to this question that the number of convert baptisms per missionary has fallen over the last 20 years. In 1986, there were 6.3 baptisms per missionary, in 1997 this fell to 5.6 converts per missionary, and the latest almanac shows 5.1 baptisms per missionary for 2007 (David Stewart estimates it as 4.5 converts/missionary from 2000 to 2004; see p. 23).  Thus, the smaller number of eligible young men to serve missions combined with the lower returns of their efforts (and other factors) indicate Mormon growth is probably going to continue to slow.

One last item you may find interesting is the attached Balance Sheet of Mormon growth in the US by MSSA member Richley Crapo (attached below).  It shows that LDS growth in the US is much lower than the actual conversion rate.

Hopefully this answers your questions.  If you have any other questions, please let us know.

Gooren, Henri. 2008. “The Mormons of the World: The Meaning of LDS Membership in Central America.” Pp. 362-388 in Revisiting Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Cardell K. Jacobson, John P. Hoffman, and Tim B. Heaton. University of Utah Press.
Phillips, Rick. (2006) “Rethinking the International Expansion of Mormonism.” Nova Religio: The Journal of New and Emergent Religions 10(1):52-68.
Phillips, Rick. (In press) “‘De facto Congregationalism’ and Mormon Missionary Outreach: An Ethnographic Case Study.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47(4):628-643.
Stewart, David G. 2007. The Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work. Henderson, NV: Cumorah Foundation.

Update 1: Fri, 2008-11-21 23:52 — Shawn Bennion

I would like to point out on Richley Crapo’s chart that the net gain in Mormon membership (E4) does not include children of record in the United States for 2007. Though I do not have a specific number, this would add to the net total, meaning that the church growth for the year would be higher than the U.S. general birth rate. While I understand that his intent was to show movement through agency, I feel that this is still an important factor in terms of growth trends of Mormonism.

Update 2: Sun, 2009-08-16 08:07 — David Stewart

Terminology needs to be clearly defined, as activity is officially defined as the number of members who have attended church at least once in the past three months, whereas activity rates are regarded colloquially (and by many sociologists) as the percentage of members attending church on a given week. The latter number is more meaningful, and more measurable, although it is not technically an “activity rate” according to the Church’s definition.

It is stated above that “David Stewart, in his book on Missiology and Retention, claims various retention rates, but most center around 20% to 30% (see pages 257-280)…Unfortunately, many of the retention rate estimates in Stewart’s book are not referenced and it is unclear how he arrives at his numbers.” This is because the wrong section in my book is cited above. Pages 257-280 principally comprise the chapter “Understanding the Conversion Process” which deals with theoretical issues and matters of practical implementation.

The references on LDS activity and convert retention rates are found primarily in the chapter “Trends in LDS Member Activity and Convert Retention,” pp. 36-50, online here. Every statistic there is referenced, and so there should be no confusion regarding how any number has been arrived at.

Additional data can be found in my “LDS Church Growth, Member Activity, and Convert Retention: Review and Analysis” which is online here. This review includes itemized data from relevant sources (national censuses, independent sociologic studies, statements of church leaders, and quasi-official sources like the Encyclopedia of Mormonism) divided by geographic region, with the pertinent supporting references, and a discussion of key considerations which are essential to the proper analysis and understanding of LDS growth and retention data (double affiliation, address unknown file, survey methodology, unknown denominator, outcome reporting bias, and so forth).

That individuals identify themselves as Latter-day Saints on national censuses in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, etc., does not necessarily imply that they attend church, but one can be fairly confident that those who do not identify themselves as members do not attend. Such data thereby define “ceilings” on possible participation, even if the lower limit is difficult to precisely define. However, there are relatively few believing but non-participating members outside of the U.S. (see articles by Van Beek, Decoo, Numano, and others in the Spring 1996 Dialogue). By aggregating membership participation, affiliation, and self-identification data by country or region, it is clear that the number of Latter-day Saints attending church worldwide on any given Sunday cannot exceed 35% of nominal membership. My best estimate is that the true figure is likely in the 28-33% range; the limitations of currently available data do not permit greater precision than this.

Q: Mormon Participation in the Civil War?

Q: I am studying Mormon participation in the Civil War. While an undergrad at BYU, I came across a private collection of eleven Mormon Civil War soldier journals. Curious about these soldiers’ motivations for fighting in a war for a country that, to that point in history, had grossly neglected their needs, I set about compiling information. To this point, my search for additional primary sources has been in vain!  Knowing of your past work on issues of identity and current work on the LDS, I was wondering if you have come across anything that might be beneficial. Any suggestions for new paths of inquiry would be most appreciated.

A: Several members of the MSSA made very helpful suggestions in addressing this question:

Armand Mauss:
There has already been quite a bit written on the Mormons and the Civil War, including some theses or dissertations. Go to http://mormonhistory.byu.edu/ and search on “civil war american 1861-65”.  Several dozen references (direct and indirect) on Utah and/or Mormon participation in the Civil War will show up.  Also see references to “American Civil War” on page 480 of the gigantic bibliography, Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997 (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2000). Most of these sources are secondary, rather than primary, but in their bibliographies you might find references to primary sources that would help you with the kind of project you envision.

Rick Phillips:
Another starting point would be: E.B. Long, The Saints and the Union: Utah Territory during the Civil War. University of Illinois Press, 1981.

Robert Freeman:
Additionally, there are several individuals whose research focuses on Mormon soldiers and Mormon participation in wars:

Damon Lewis:
Finally, one MSSA member suggested conducting some research at Fort Benning where there is a war museum with artifacts from every major war, including, obviously, the Civil War.  It is possible there are connections among those artifacts to Mormons.

Q: Do you know anyone who could give a lecture comparing Protestantism and Mormonism?

A: We have as members or know a number of people who are well-suited to give a lecture on comparative religions – specifically comparing the LDS to traditional Protestant Christians.

  • Jan Shipps, PhD; emeritus professor from Indiana-Purdue University at Indianapolis – One of the most obvious choices is Jan Shipps, who was both recommended by others and emailed me herself to let me know that she has prepared this exact lecture and given it before to both Methodists and Lutherans. She is also a life-long Methodist and has studied the LDS for “half a century.” She would be an ideal candidate for the lecture you are proposing.
  • Brian Birch, PhD; professor at Utah Valley State College – According to two members of the MSSA, Professor Birch was recently at Claremont Graduate University working on a book comparing LDS theology with that of traditional Christendom. He, too, would be an ideal candidate for such a lecture/presentation.
  • Robert L. Millet, PhD; professor at BYU – Armand Mauss suggested Robert L. Millet would be a good candidate for such a talk. He’s a professor of Ancient Scripture and has his PhD in Religious Studies.

Q: What are “children of record” and are they included in the total membership of the LDS?

Q: Does the officially reported membership number of the LDS religion include “children of record”?  In other words, as of 2007, the LDS religion reports 13,193,999 members.  Does that number include children of members younger than 8, or are they excluded from that number?

A: Several members of the MSSA who are in positions to know exactly how this works informed us that it is as follows: Children of members (a.k.a. “children of record”) are included in the total head count of LDS members up to the age of 9. They are supposed to be baptized after they turn 8, but those who get to 9 without baptism are dropped from membership.

Q: How do I find a long lost member of the LDS religion?

My wife, (in 1950), was a very close friend of an… LDS member, in high school… Her maiden name was XXXX & she & my wife went to school at XXXXX. Since we were married & I was in the Marine Corps, we lost contact with XXXXX. Please advise us how to locate her. Thanking you in advance, XXXXXXX.

Here’s the skinny. If you had tried finding XXXXXX about 2 years ago, there may have been an option for you. The LDS religion used to use its extensive membership database and contacts to help people find someone they once knew. But they have discontinued that service as of about a year and a half ago (as per a phone conversation with someone in membership services on 12/19/2007; 1-800-453-3860). So, that option is no longer available to you. Many of the members of our organization suggested this as some of them had been contacted via this route in the past. But, alas, it is no more. I also double-checked with the person at membership services as to whether a bishop in the LDS religion could find out this information for a member and he said that no one can do so at this point. So, even if you get a “powerful” member of the religion to ask for you, apparently it’s not going to happen anymore. (I’m not sure if the LDS religion was sued or what, but they said it was discontinued for legal reasons)

So, what are your options now? Well, the person I spoke with at member services suggested trying a variety of mission websites. If XXXX served a mission or was in a mission at the time, she may have joined one of the following websites:
So, you could try tracking her down there. That was the suggestion made by the person at member services. This option was seconded by a member of our organization (who was the only person who knew that the other service was no longer available).

If neither of those options work, you’re probably going to have to turn to other, non church-related resources. One member suggested ancestry.com. According to her, “It gives access to lots of public websites, and even has family tree information on people who have submitted data. There is also a place where you can connect with other people looking for the same person (or even the person themself).” Another member of our organization suggested a “people-finder services; most seem to charge about $25.”

The last suggestion I received was for you to contact XXXX’s high school, “Many high schools have 50-year reunions, and XXXX’s graduating class at XXXXXXXX would have had such a reunion in about the year XXXX depending on when XXXXX actually graduated. The principal’s office at that school might be able to put you in touch with someone on the organizing committee for that reunion, and that person(s), in turn, might know how to contact XXXXX, especially if she came to the reunion.” That may be an option for you.

If all else fails, you can try hiring a private detective, but I’m guessing that isn’t cheap and it probably depends on just how much you want to find her.

I’m sorry we couldn’t be of more help.

Q: I was wondering if you could point me to the right place to find out research done or being done on LDS singles who are over the age of 30.

Q: I was wondering if you could point me to the right place to find out research done or being done on LDS singles who are over the age of 30. I would like to specifically find out the following information:

  • How many LDS singles over 30 remain active
  • At what age most singles tend to become inactive
  • How many males remain active versus women over the age 30 (single versus married)

I would like to find out more information but these three questions are most pressing. I attempted to contact the church office building but they said the statistics where confidential so I am looking for studies in the public domain. They did tell me that “pretty much if your over 30, single and male your inactive.” One bishop at a singles conference I went to said that between the age of 30 and 34, 50% of singles become inactive, but I am not sure if I am allowed to quote him on that. I am still trying to contact him. If you have any ideas or can be of assistance please let me know.

A: You are right that the data the LDS Research Division has on singles over 30 is confidential.  However, I (Ryan T. Cragun) have it on good authority (I cannot reveal my sources) that it is not accurate to say, “pretty much if you are over 30, single, and male, you are inactive.”  My confidential source said that it would be more accurate to say it like this, “If you are over 30, single, and male you are less likely to be active than females in the same demographic.”

Rick Phillips, the current President of the MSSA, did a little searching of numbers in a large, publicly available data set (the General Social Survey or GSS), and found some information relevant to your question.

From the General Social Survey, it is clear that married LDS over 30 attend church much more frequently than those who are not married (i.e. divorced, never married, widow[er]). This is demonstrated in the first table. The unmarried are three times as likely to say they never attend church as the married. These results are not surprising and conform to a wealth of findings about activity in other Christian faiths.

Married Not Married
Less than 1/month18.9%22.7%
At least 1/month but lt 1/week15.1%22.7%
1/week or more59.7%37.1%

When broken down by gender, the positive effects of marriage remain, but married or not, women attend more than men.

Married Not Married
Less than 1/month23.5%12.8%
At least 1/month but lt 1/week15.0%28.2%
1/week or more53.6%30.8%
Less than 1/month14.5%26.9%
At least 1/month but lt 1/week15.2%20.7%
1/week or more65.5%39.8%

I also broke the data down by age category to try and answer the question of when single LDS fall away. These conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt because some cells had very few cases, but it appears that single 30-39 year old Saints are a little more likely to be weekly attenders than 40-49 or 50-59 year olds. They are also less likely to say they never attend.

Church attendance (frequency)



Less than 1/monthAt least 1/month but lt 1/week 1/week or more
30 – 3910.526.321.142.1
40 – 4922.74.540.931.8
50 – 5919.023.828.628.6

A couple more members of the MSSA offered some suggestions.  Armand Mauss said,

As far as I know, I would think that Tim Heaton and some of his colleagues at BYU would be able to provide a lot of the necessary information on this topic, either from their own research, or from references to the professional literature, or both.  As for quoting something reported by a bishop in a singles conference, I would assume that it’s public information, and I see no reason that the figure can’t be quoted (though not necessarily naming the bishop who reported it). The 50% figure, furthermore, accords well with everything I have ever seen on the subject, and certainly it fits with the situation in my own ward and stake.

David Knowlton also suggested that you contact a researcher working on this topic who is currently at UVSC,

Jason Singh has been researching the issue of LDS disaffiliation for his M Phil thesis in sociology at Oxford and probably has some data on this.  He is currently teaching here at UVSC and is contactable through the behavioral science department.