Latino/a and Mormon

America, as they say, is browning. Latino/as recently surpassed African Americans as the largest minority group in the United States, and the Church is experiencing that browning along with the rest of the nation. “According to Church statisticians, the future of the Church does not lie in Europe, Canada, or the United States but rather in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and among the ethnic groups in this country.”[1] Given this fact, it is surprising that so little is known about the history and experiences of those that identify themselves as both Latino/a and Mormon. There is only one thin book on the subject, written by BYU historian Jessie L. Embry that is based on oral histories of BYU students and handful of Latina/o Mormons from Southern California. “In His Own Language”: Mormon Congregations in the United States is a start, but according to Ignacio M. Garcia, Lemuel Hardison Redd Chair of Western History at BYU, we need to know much more about Latina/o Mormons themselves.

The fact that we learn so little [in Embry’s book] about the Latino members themselves may unconsciously reflect the view held by some in the Church that the international membership is only a complement to the core membership in the United States, especially in Utah. In this view, international growth results in preaching the “truth” and from the “sacrifices” of those that received it first, but it does not signal a new stage in the life of the Church with profound implications for its future. Yet the work among the Latino population is extremely significant. With the Church membership predicted to be predominantly Latino (including all of Latin America) by 2025, the change will be great. Surely one implication is that more Latino Americans will be called to leadership positions on all levels because they know both languages, have been trained closer to the core, and can relate to the majority of the membership. It will also mean, as President Kimball told the publisher of Hispanic Business in the late 1970s, that the language of the Church will be (unofficially) Spanish sometime in the twenty-first century.[2]

The story of Latino/a Latter-day Saints is largely a twentieth-century one, since large-scale conversions did not begin until the last century. This fact becomes significant when it is remembered that much of what historians do is based on archival sources, and those kind of sources for Latina/o Mormons are largely non-existent. Historians, sociologists, and other scholars interested in the lives of those that define themselves as both Mormon and Hispanic are largely dependent on oral interviews and memoirs. Embry’s book relied on fewer than 100 interviews housed at the Redd Center at BYU and I believe that the staff at the Church Archives has one individual assigned to gather interviews and other records from members in all of Latin America. I am not aware of any published memoirs of Latino/a Mormons.

Ignacio Garcia is currently writing his own memoirs and hopes to have them published in the near future. In them, he explores the tensions of growing up Mormon in the Texas barrio. “In the Mexican community there are two ways to look at being non-Catholic: with deep appreciation or disdain.”[3] According to sociologist Pablo Vila, to be Mexican is closely connected to being Catholic. “Because Catholicism and Mexicanness are intertwined, the process of identity construction among Mexican Protestants is, to say the least, complicated. Not only must they construct their Mexicanness without the usual help of the Catholic markers of identity that most Mexicans use, but they also have to prove to the Catholic ‘other’ that they still deserve to be called Mexican.”[4] Garcia suspects that Mormonism is popular among poor Latino/as because the Church gives them an identity. “People who are poor, dispossessed and abused want something ‘moralistic’ that will make them special, require them to be better, and offer a reward not only in heaven but here at home. Becoming ‘special’ within a small but all-encompassing community makes people feel like their lives are worth living.”

To complicate the issue, Garcia also felt growing up that “the fact that we were Mexican Mormons in a lake of white Mormons made it even more imperative that we remain Mexicans.” He relates his struggles with interacting fully with white Mormons. Efforts to integrate the youth “usually failed because at the time of dividing into groups we went with our own, concious that not many on the other side seemed enthused about having us. There were, as in all religious environments, some who made the effort to be friendly and inclusive. But they were few.” Garcia shares examples of specific contacts and interactions he had across the color line, some that were positive and others that were not so much. He recalls an Anglo friend that admired the athletic abilities of the Latinos. Garcia relates an experience at a youth dance where an Anglo girl that came from an affluent home asked him to dance, giving him hope “that we struck a blow for racial unity, that it was possible for a poor Mexican boy to enamorar a beautiful rich white girl. Culture, race, geographic difference, class, and every other obstacle could and would be that night broken. Unfortunately, that little fantasy came quickly tumbling down.” The two would-be lovers found that their dancing styles did not mesh, leading to “two of the slowest and most excruciating minutes of our lives, [as] we literally went in circles.” Garcia continues:

Before we ended, all the barriers that we both knew existed arose defiantly, to remind us that we were different culturally, economically, racially, and even musically. Oh, we tried to battle against the current. We changed leads, smiled a lot, shrugged our shoulders to lesson the impact, but in the end we succumbed to embarrassment. We parted after the dance with defeated stares, she going back to her side of the dance hall, and I sheepishly dragging myself to where the other mexicanos–especially the girls–approvingly accepted the outcome. I had ventured away from them, even believed that I would transcend the cultural barrier, making me somehow better than them. But I had failed as many others had in that San Antonio of the 1960s. I would never again try to dance or much less date another white girl again. The experience would mesh with others to re-affirm the wide divide that separated the races of my youth. Interestingly, the experience did not sour my relations with those few Anglo acquaintances that I made in the Church. And it did not make me lose confidence in the Anglo leaders who came to speak at our barrio church. In my rather naive mind, I came to understand that people were different and that mingling did not always occur, but this did not mean that conflict was the appropriate opposite. Nor did I come to believe that interracial dating was wrong. Only that I–along with many others–did not have what it took to make it work.

Lack of success on the dance floor was made up on the sporting field. Garcia notes the satisfaction felt by his fellow Latino/a Mormons when victory was had against Anglo members. “We did not acknowledge it publicly and we did it without malice, but for a religious community that confronted subtle discrimination, it was the only way to respond.”

Listening to the voices of our Latino/a hermanas and hermanos will become increasingly important in the decades to come as we learn what it means to be a universal church. “Religious people talk much about unity and try hard to imply that issues of class, race, gender, and ethnicity do not matter in a community of believers. But they do. Even religious people struggle with differences.” The rapid increase of those that identify themselves as both Hispanic and Mormon is subtlely expanding what it means to be a Latter-day Saint in the twenty-first century and we would do well to understand more fully those things that, mostly by accident of birth, construct difference.


[1] Ignacio M. Garcia, review of Jesse L. Embry, “In His Own Tongue”: Mormon Spanish Speaking Congregations in the United States in Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 221.

[2] Garcia, review, 219.

[3] Ignacio M. Garcia, unpublished memoirs, in my possession. All unidentified quotations come from the memoirs. Prof. Garcia has given permission to quote them here.

[4] Pablo Vila, Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender, and Class on the U.S.-Mexico Border (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), 7-8.

77 comments for “Latino/a and Mormon

  1. Stephen, I don’t know what things are like in Latin America, but in the USA last year, 49.9% of births to Hispanic women were to unmarried women. That’s almost twice the rate for “non-Hispanic whites.” So I worry about the future of those Hispanic “good family ties.”

    (See table 1 here.)

  2. Another “native” (to distinguish it from “missionary” or “headquarters”) history is Fernando Gomez, De la Oscuridad a la Luz: La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de Los Ultimos Dias y las Convenciones Lamanitas. ([S.l.]: El Museo de Historia del Mormonismo en Mexico, 2004). Dual language (Spanish/English) edition. This is a history of the Mexican Church in the 20th century, rather than a personal memoir, and draws on diaries and Church records kept by local — Mexican — members. Bro. Gomez operates the Museo in Mexico City, and has been participating in Mormon History Association gatherings for several years. He widely advertises his email address, so I think it is not out of place to publish it here — museo2 at aoldotcom — for those who might want a copy of his book or have questions or contributions for his ongoing Mormonism in Mexico projects.

    Because it can be a touchy issue and easily misunderstood, I want to emphasize that

    The fact that we learn so little [in Embry’s book] about the Latino members themselves may unconsciously reflect the view held by some in the Church that the international membership is only a complement to the core membership in the United States, especially in Utah.

    is as true for Church history in England and Denmark and among white members of what once was the Southern States Mission, and in no way should be construed as racist in the case of Latino Church history. Early records were kept by missionaries, who recorded the history of the missionaries, not the history of the local members. That is frustratingly universal — the only exception I have come across in my own research is the early Turkish (Syrian) mission, whose records were kept by local Armenian members in Armenian and have yet to be translated into English (any Armenian readers need a unique project where you can make a very personal contribution to Church history?)

    We very much need Church members in every region and language and community to gather, preserve, and write the local history of the Church. We’re starting to benefit from American scholars who are focusing on regional interests, and Mormon scholars in international areas are increasingly discovering their local history, but we’re really only tickling the surface so far.

  3. Thank you for this post, David. These are elements I’m also very interested in. In a previous post I talked about views of American members towards the international membership and drew attention to the phenomenon of folklorization of “the other” and its unintended negative consequences. This certainly applies also to the Utah-view of some towards Latinos. Your post also raises a related question, namely the relation between Latinos and “Lamanites” (moreover affected by the recent change in the Book of Mormon title page) and the way that relation is folkloristically depicted, e.g. at BYU. In my post I wrote: “As problematic are therefore the Living Legends (“traditional song and dance from the Latin American, Native American and Polynesian cultures”). Their show not only reduces “cultures” to folkloristic acts, but it also imposes a simplistic thematic framework in order to give the show a semblance of coherence. The result is a brilliantly artificial spectacular, but suffering from colonialization and primitivization. The most disturbing part may be it’s mixing of the genuine, sacred elements of living cultures with purely Latin American entertainment. The public only sees folklore.”

  4. When Elder Oaks reorganized our stake presidency, he called as SP a man who is anglo but was born in Mexico and speaks Spanish fluently. He obviously has a strong comfort level with our Latino people, and as a result, there is now substantial representation of our Latino people on the High Counsel and among top stake and ward leadership positions. I view our stake as in the forefront of what the Church is going to look like in the future, and I think it’s wonderful.

  5. One of the consequences of correlation is greater ethnocentrism. Every Mormon has to become half an American. At some level, that’s unavoidable but our management choices are exaggerating these tendencies.

  6. Ardis: Thanks for the reminder about Fernando Gomez’s work. I attended his session at the last MHA and recongize that he is doing good work to recover Mexican voices. Greg Kofford has also been advertising a forthcoming series by Nestor Curbelo on the history of the Church in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, but I don’t know anything beyond Kofford’s webpage about the books.

    Also, thank you for the insight into the lack of histories in other regions of the world as well. Aside from the good things that you suggest, I also think that historians of Mormonism have a lot of work to do in terms of analyzing the narratives we use to tell our story and look for ways to include more voices in them.

    Wilfried: Thanks for the link. I think I need to go read several of your past posts.

    Kevin: Thank you for sharing the model that your stake is using. It seems like there are some very positive things happening there. I suspect that we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of knowing the best ways to meet the needs of the members in multi-ethnic areas. I served my mission in Los Angeles, where there are five fully staffed Latino stakes. That seemed just fine to me at the time, and it wasn’t until I returned home to Houston that I began to hear arguments against ethnic units. I recall hearing my hometeacher, a man that I greatly respect, fervently contend that having separate units was modern-day segregation. I would see his point if the segregation were based solely on race but instead it’s based on language incompatibility. It is a conundrum, since having separate units does, imo, meet the needs of those that feel more comfortable hearing the Gospel in their own tongue, even if they do understand English. But on the other hand, they have little contact with other members of the Church. At this point I’m far more comfortable delaying unity in order to better care for minority members.

  7. Tss, tss, I feel I need to come to the defense of Hellmut. To make it provocative, I’ll say he is wrong: Every Mormon abroad has to become at least 60% American. And more, many Mormon converts abroad like it.

    David, you might be interested in my discussion of ethnic units — assimilation or separation — in this post.

  8. #6 – That is wonderful to read. The fastest growing population in our stake is Spanish-speaking. We now have a fairly large branch and another small group – and the choice in the near future of making the branch a ward or splitting it into two branches. The new Branch President is native Spanish-speaking, and the growth since his calling is remarkable. It’s exciting to see.

  9. That’s certainly true, Wifried. Being American has been a major attraction of Mormonism abroad. Of course, those people who like it, are interested in modernization and individual opportunity. More often than not, they tend to be liberals if not radicals.

    Consequently, the people that embrace Mormonism as a breath of fresh air tend to make energetic leaders that used to operate much more effectively beyond the reach of correlation.

  10. Wilfried, if we define it so broadly as to include aspects of theological and ideological belief (and social practices) that seem “American”, it might be valid. That, however, is stretching a definition almost to the breaking point. I believe that much of what “appears” to be American is, in reality, “Mormon” – and conflating the two is not wise, imo. (I know Mormonism has been called and is a uniquely American religion, but for discussions like this I think the distinction is vital.)

    Granted the following is not an example of Latinos, but Hellmut didn’t narrow it to that group. I served my mission in Japan, and the members there were every bit as “Japanese” as the other native citizens. Many of them still retained the ancestral shrines in their homes and observed the Buddhist and Shinto holidays.

  11. Interesting post, David. Thanks. Do you have further information on what sort of publisher Dr. Garcia is considering for his memoirs? They sound like a fasinating and significant contribution. My wife (whose grandparents were among the first converts to the Church in rural El Salvador) and I have begun to collect memoirs and conduct oral history interviews with some of the early Church members in that area, with the long-term goal of co-authoring a full-length book on the history of the Church in ES. My wife has had an interesting experience negotiating three identities throughout her life–Mormon (by religion), Latina (by ethnicity/race), and essentially white by her upbringing (in an interracial household by a white father in an upscale, significantly white community on the East Coast). Her three younger brothers (each half-white, half-Latino) all identify themselves as white Mormons with a Hispanic mother, but don’t consider themselves Latin at all (their ages are 11, 8, and 6).

    The ward my in-laws attend has a relatively large (and continually growing via converts) percentage (10-15%) of Latino/a members that operates within the ward as a “Spanish group.” They attend sacrament meeting with the entire ward (sitting in the back and using headsets to hear a translation provided by either my father-in-law or another bilingual speaker of the congregation), but meet separately for SS and P/RS. I was encouraged by the fact that today in Priesthood opening excercises (which the Latino brethren sit in on despite only understanding a fraction of the announcements/discussion), the Bishop called on a Peruvian man to offer the opening prayer, which he did confidently and beautifully in his native tongue.

    Lastly, I think it’s important not to lump “Latino” culture into one big whole. The Christmas party that my parents-in-law hosted last week for the Ward “Spanish group” included native Mexicans, Costa Ricans, El Salvadorans, Argentinians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, and Puerto Ricans. The holiday traditions that all present participated in (including native food, song, and presents) were quite varied among each nationality represented. It was a rather eye-opening experience for a gringo like me.

  12. Thank you for reactions, Hellmut and Ray.

    Well, I would not want to derail the discussion on the question of “how much Mormons are American”. It’s a complex matter. Let me just quote John Sorenson: “The literature of the social sciences seems to suggest that when Mormons are viewed in terms of their overt behavior, as the sociologists (e.g. O’Dea, Mauss, Nelson) tend to view them, they appear quite thoroughly American. Anthropologists on the other hand (e.g. Vogt, Kluckhohn, Leone, Sorenson), who look more at symbols than behavior, see a much greater difference prevailing” (Dialogue, Summer 1973, pp. 17-29).

    As to Japan and aspects of integration between Japanese culture and Mormonism, Chieko N. Okazaki uses as outlook that principles of the gospel can exist in other cultures, therefore they can be respected in the form of those cultures. As examples she mentions how the principle of prayer allows her to pray with her mother at the Buddhist household shrine, or how the principle of family unity allows her and her husband to participate in fun Sunday afternoon activities with her extended non-Mormon family. (in: Disciples, 1998, pp. 146-149).

  13. Is not this the fulfillment of Nephi’s Prophecy?

    That the Lamanite people will blossom as the rose and become the core of the church to bring salvation to the rest of the world?

  14. It might help to consider some numbers. According to recent reports by the Pew Hispanic Center and the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 44.3 million Hispanics in this country, 300,000 of whom are LDS. That means nearly 7 percent of U.S. Latinos are members of the Church. By contrast, a little less than 3 percent of Anglos in the United States (about 5.5 million out of 195 million) are members of the Church. If these percentages stay the same, and the estimates from the Census Bureau are accurate, there will be about 7 million LDS Latinos and about 6 million LDS Anglos in the United States by 2050. I wonder what Mormonism in this country will look like once white people are the minority.

  15. 7. Every Mormon has to become half an American.
    8. Baloney
    I disagree because, IMHO, Mormons, anywhere, need what’s outlined in D&C 20:37, what would pass a temple-recommend interview, etc. I don’t see that Mormons need to adopt any worldly culture — and this from a SoCal native who’s resisted Utah-ification.

  16. I think there’s a lot to what Hellmut and Wilfried are saying.

    In Guatemala, where I served my mission, they built chapels. Okay, so far, so good — nothing American or ethnocentric about that.

    And those chapels had . . . basketball courts. (Outdoor ones, usually — a cement court, and hard metal backboards).

    Every other church in the city had a soccer field. Every other group of religious youth — and a lot of the Mormon kids — played soccer. Soccer is the national sport in Guatemala.

    But the LDS churches that I saw didn’t put in soccer fields (despite the fact that the basketball courts they put in were usually _outside_, and that it would have been _really easy_ to have put a soccer field in those spots). They did basketball courts, and the American misisonaries tended to encourage the LDS youth to play basketball with them. Sometimes we played soccer with the youth, too, at various soccer fields. And the youth sometimes played soccer on the concrete, too, with little improvised goals — though that’s kinda hazardous, and really limits your ability to do something like a slide tackle or a diving save.

    I never saw any good, non-ethnocentric reason why the chapels in Guatemala didn’t install soccer fields. I still don’t.

    I don’t think it was an intentional act, someone saying “let’s Americanize these kids.” I think it was unconscious ethnocentrism — just someone designing chapels the way they had always liked them in the states, with basketball hoops. But the practical effect was to Americanize, to export American church-sports culture (basketball) rather than embracing local culture (soccer).

  17. Sterling:

    I’m looking at the latest Pew Hispanic Center report on religion that shows .7% of Latinos are Mormon, not 7%. By comparison, 1.9% of US Latinos are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    I think all this talk of the “browning of the church” is very premature. While there have been announcements celebrating, for example, one million members in Mexico, census data showed only 24% of those the church claims self-identify as Mormons. Similar figures are true in Brazil and Chile, the only other countries in Latin America to include religion in the census. Activity rates are even lower still, as Ted Lyon admitted in a recent Mormon Stories videocast. Using Chile as an example, he pointed out that of the 520K members on the books, there are only about 50K in church on any given Sunday; he went on to say figures from elsewhere in Latin America were similar.

    Look at an organizational chart of area presidencies and you’ll see that in the region that is being celebrated as the future of the church, leaders tend to be from North America. The trend carries over to temple presidencies and mission presidencies as well. Spanish-speaking units in the US are staffed to a large degree by Anglos.

    I also have to wonder about the Prof Garcia’s belief that US Latinos would be the ideal bridge builders between Anglo-Mormons and members outside the US. I simply don’t see it. The language skills of many second and third-generation “Latinos” are sadly deficient. Complicating things is the fact that Latin Americans don’t “hyphenate” ethnic groups. For example, the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, isn’t seen as an Irish-Mexican, but only as Mexican; Argentina’s former president Nestor Kirchner isn’t seen as German-Argentine, but rather Argentine. Similarly, should Prof Garcia or his children venture to Chile, they wouldn’t be seen as Mexican-Americans but rather as Americans.

  18. Nestor Curbelo’s book on the history of the church in Argentina has been available, at least in Spanish, for several years now. While interesting, it doesn’t go into very great detail. He is currently trying to set up a web site on church history in various Latin American countries which can be found at

    Another site that shows the potential of this type of history Hugo Olaiz’s history of the church in La Plata, Argentina found at

    My favorite history book on Mormon history in Mexico is Agricol Lozano’s Historia del Mormonismo en Mexico.

  19. Last week I found myself making a remark that really was racist. We were talking about a Latina teen arriving late for a party, and I said, “Of course she was late; she’s [nationality].”

    When we lived in South America, it drove us crazy how starting times for things were so flexible. And we’d be at an event 20 minutes after the scheduled start, ask when it would really begin, and they would reply with the scheduled time.

    I don’t blame them for being late. Many of them had to walk miles to church, etc.

    But that isn’t true among Hispanics here, and yet they still have this loose attitude about start times, etc.

    (I joined the church in Germany, and everything started at the appointed hour.)

  20. My “baloney” remarks have nothing to do with claims of Americanization of international Mormons, much less debating any percent of Americanization.

    Claiming that “correlation” is responsible for Americanization displays shockingly complete ignorance of the meaning of correlation and the history of the Church. Asserting such cause-and-effect without offering the slightest shred of evidence is baloney. Or worse.

  21. 22 Yes, Roland and Manaen, but to what extent are Latinos Lamanites?

    Wilfried, if not in the Latinos/”Native Americans”, in what other group would we see this prophecy (Jac 3:5-6) fulfilled? I don’t know how much they’re Lamanite, but I suppose that almost all the remaining Lamanite lineage is in this group.

    (FYI, I put “Native American” in quotes because, being a native Californian and California being part of America, I believe I am a native American. The U.S. gov’t, however, says that they have sanctions to impose on me for claiming to be so in Census and employment records)

  22. Wilfried (#11): Another potent post that I feel chastised for not having read yet. And the comments are very informative as well on the issue. I’m glad that most commenters favored separation where the resources and numbers were available.

    Christopher (#16): No, I’m not sure what publishers Prof. Garcia has presented the manuscript to. I’ve sent him the link to the post, so perhaps he’ll leave a comment addressing that. Thank you for the personal post and the update on the history you’re writing with your wife. Prof. Garcia suspects that it will be mixed marriages like your own and your wife’s parents that will eventually break down some of the ethnic barriers in the Church. Also, thanks for pointing out my blatant goofa of not using gender-inclusive language and for bringing up the point about the diversity of cultures that we group under the terms “Latino/a” or “Hispana/o.” That’s an important point but one that deserves its own post, imo.

    Wilfried (#22): Excellent point. I’ve been reading through Parley P. Pratt’s writings lately which are poignant reminders that early Mormons believed that all the native inhabitants of North and South America were Lamanites. It was just a given for them. Now it’s just a mess and very unclear.

  23. That makes sense, Ardis. I’m really not sure whether the basketball chapels were built during correlation era, or after, or a mix. It did seem like a clear case of exporting American culture (probably unintentionally).

    To what extent does correlation affect church _culture_?

    It seems possible that under some scenarios, correlation could relate (correlate?) to Americanization. To use a stylized example, if all church culture were subject to rigid correlation, and all decisions about how to build chapels with basketball courts were all being made by a technocrat in Salt Lake — well then, one could rightly say, “correlation has been a contributing cause to this Americanization.”

    But I don’t think that all decisions are made that way. I very much doubt that a central technocrat somewhere said “let’s build all chapels like this in Guatemala.” The chapels that I saw varied widely in design and structure, and seemed to have been mostly or entirely built on an ad hoc basis.

    I think some correlation-made decisions can have the effect of exporting some American culture. If the correlation department putting together the David O McKay manual includes a whole lot of stories about playing baseball — and if the correlation move demanded that that manual with its baseball stories replace other local manuals, then that would be a contribution to an Americanized culture, caused by correlation.

    But I think any contributions are likely to be much more subtle than that. Some manual content is going to have the effect of exporting American culture — but how much of that would we have anyway, even without correlation? It’s hard to say.

  24. Kendall, thanks for catching that error. What a difference a single zero can make. I have heard stats (on public television in New Mexico) on how few U.S. Latinos retain their Spanish by the second or third generation. You are right about the trends. I live in Rio Rancho, which is on the west side suburb of Albuquerque. One fourth of the population here is Latino. But the first thing I noticed when I attended church here was that the bishop was Latino, one of his counselors was Latino, and several families were Latino, but not one of them spoke with an accent. There is even a stake in Rio Rancho, since this past summer, but it has no Spanish unit, unlike every other stake in Albuquerque. The Mormon Church seems to have done a good job of assimilating these Latinos in the suburbs so that they seem almost white. I wonder how widespread this process is in other regions of the country where large numbers of LDS Latinos live. Prof. Garcia is one of the few LDS Latinos I have met who has intentionally stayed in Spanish units his whole life, even when his English was good enough to function in an English-speaking ward. I guess I wonder whether he is atypical or whether the Church has a lot of Latinos who want to become fully bilingual and to retain their Spanish units.

  25. kendall smith (#25): Thank you for the brieview of the Curbelo book. I neglected to mention that Kofford is advertising the translation of Curbelo’s books. Also, thanks for the links and the heads up on Agricol Lozano’s Historia del Mormonismo en Mexico.

  26. Naismith,

    In my family the joke is “of course she’s late, she’s Mormon.” We tend towards a “if you aren’t there 30 minutes ahead of time, you’re late” viewpoint (with more than a hint of “if you’re not early, you shouldn’t even go”) and the ability of members of all geographic and ethnic origins to turn “6:30pm” into “sometime around 7pm, and we’ll probably actually start closer to 7:30pm just in case someone turns up really/i> late” has always bothered us. A lot.

    Re: the original post,
    I think English will remain the language of the Church precisely because it’s international, and we missed the boat on the whole Latin craze of the middle ages. Seriously, everything will be published in Spanish too, and there’ll probably be more along the lines of Elder So-and-So giving his General Conference address in Spanish (except that they’ll still feed the Spanish audio to the alternate audio channel, and the English version will be a) not pasted over the Spanish with the Spanish still audible and b) done by a native English speaker who has a prepared version of the text — possibly even a pre-recorded version of Elder-So-and-So giving his own talk, in English.) We’ll also see the same in most of the other languages of the Church, as we try to become more International. Making Spanish the de facto language of the Church would be keeping it American, at the end of the day: I think it’s a lot more likely that we’ll have Spanish alone on an equal footing with English from the federal government than from the Church, because the demographics of the continental United States matter a lot more to the federal government than they do to the Church. ^_^

    Meanwhile, yay for local histories, which are often sorely lacking (at least in English translation) across all kinds of disciplines. When was the last time any of you read a local history about some Russian community’s political goings-on, written in Russian, but published in the United States in English? And if you say “why, just yesterday,” please give me the author/ISBN/something, as that’s the kind of thing that belongs in my personal library.

  27. Somebody should do a study of how these issues played themselves out at BYU. BYU had traditionally favored Indians over other descendants of Lehi. This started changing in the 1970s. The Lamanite ward on campus was split into three, with one for Indians, one for Hispanics, and one for Polynesians. In 1975, the president of the Chicano club, rather graciously, approached Tribe of Many Feathers (the Indian club) about participation Indian Week. As an article in the Indian student newspaper put it, “Mr. Ramos pointed out that even though his club members were not Indians, they were nevertheless Lamanites, and have a personal interest in Lamanite affairs.” Faced with an equally valid claim on Lamanite identity, TMF had no choice but to unanimously consent to the Chicanos’ participation. It would be interesting to know how many Latino/as in the U.S. still self-identify as Lamanites.

  28. Sterling:

    My wife, a native Chilean, and I went to a Spanish-speaking ward in Provo when I was at BYU; later, while living in Las Vegas, we were “advisers” to the first Spanish-speaking unit they were setting up in North Las Vegas. Our experience was that the children of the original immigrants really preferred to speak English, in some cases asking for lessons to be taught in English. They could understand Spanish just fine, but sometimes they had trouble speaking and had very serious diffficulties writing. My own two daughters are good examples, as they both spoke Spanish before they spoke English and then one day simply stopped speaking to my wife and me in Spanish.

    I re-read Prof Garcia’s words, and he never used the words “bridge-builders”, so I apologize to him for possibly misconstruing what he wrote.

  29. Hmm.

    Claiming that “correlation” is responsible for Americanization displays shockingly complete ignorance of the meaning of correlation and the history of the Church.

    Ardis, I could talk a great deal, and fairly accurately I would like to I think, about the “meaning of correlation” without breathing a word about the place of drama, roadshows, and dance recitals in the church, but that doesn’t mean that correlation, as it has actually been implemented and responded to by local leaders and subdordinate decisionmakers, with all its attendant consequences for building plans, ward budgets, meeting schedules, youth programs and so forth, has been utterly uninvolved in the ultimate fate of those same practices. Stuff happens, leadership styles change, and habits and practices–including dances and drama–adapt. Correlation is as plausiable a factor–just one among many, to be sure, but a significant one just the same–in trying to understand all the stuff that has happened to Mormonism as any other single top-down directive that has permeated the church over the past half-century. This is not a crritque of correlation–sure, you could make it into one, but as Hellmut himself admitted, “at some level, [the tendency of Americanization] is inevitable.” His only point, as I read his comment, is that “our management choices are exaggerating these tendencies.” Kind of the way the systemization of the building program, which I understand it went hand-in-hand with the implementation of a standardized cirriculum, resulted in some well-intentioned bureaucrat deciding that the buildings in Guatemala should have basketball courts instead of soccer fields. So, where’s the baloney in that?

  30. David:

    I hope someone republishes Lozano’s book someday, as the price on is $125. Luckily I got mine at a used book store for $10, but it’s in sad shape.

    One link I forgot was the Association for Spanish and Portugese Mormon studies found here

    They seem to have had a slow start, but hopefully the word will get out.

  31. I agree, Kaimi (23, 30) and Russell (36). Church buildings, and correlation with all its direct and indirect facets, the whole movement since the 1960s, has had a profound influence on worldwide standardization in the Church (a standardization I “generally” find a good thing for the sake of unity in our still young historical phase). A significant part of that standardization is “American” inasmuch as Mormonism has adopted a lot of the American way of life, behavioral patterns and practical elements.

    Jan Shipps points out that in the 1960s the decision to have standard building plans for all new chapels worldwide allowed to spread the “sense of place”, which had long been tied to the “Mormon culture region”, to other regions. Converts, she says, “needed a special place where the mormonizing process could go forward. No matter what their physical location, the neat utilitarian multifunctional structures that the local Saints built according to the Church’s standard plan were distinctively Mormon places. The very fact that these clearly identifiable LDS structures could be found in town after town and suburb after suburb cultivated among the Saints what might be called a Zionic sense, making the very LDS meetinghouses themselves agents of assimilation” (in Historical Atlas of Mormonism, 1994, p. 152).

  32. Wilfried (#39): That looks like a preview of her forthcoming book on being Mormon since 1950. I see little snippits here and there in her articles over the last 15 years of so that seem to come from the book, but I’d like to know when the book itself is going to see the light of day.

  33. David (#40): I thought James B. Allen was writing a history of Mormonism since WWII. Does anyone know if they are working independently on the same topic?

  34. Sterling (#41): I’ve spoken with Jim about his history and my sense is that they are working separately. I think that his will be a more traditional history, looking at the institution, internationalization, etc. Shipps’ book however will be more sociologically inclined, examining how ordinary Mormons have constructed identity as Latter-day Saints in the modern world.

  35. Thanks, Russell and Kaimi.

    Ardis, imagine Toyota running its Japanese ads in the United States or France. For obvious reasons, that would not only be bizarre but counterproductive because Japanese, French, and American audiences have different ideas about cars and subscribe to somewhat different value systems. Therefore a Japanese car ad is less likely to promote Toyota sales in the United States than a custom tailored American TV spot.

    Correlation means that we use the same American messages in every culture.

    Undoubtedly, Chieko Okazaki is pointing in the right direction but that’s not LDS policy. Correlation is.

    With respect to the building program, my impression is that Jan Shipps is listing corporate identity goals but she is not documenting if those goals have actually been met. I have lived in three wards (Mainz-Wiesbaden, Cologne, and Saarbrücken) that built new chapels and was excited each time. The problem is that every time we lost members, usually due to transportation problems. I am not sure if corporate identity advantages that Shipps invokes outweigh the loss in attendance.

    The building program, by the way, is much more culturally sensitive than LDS publications. While German, Swiss, Austrian, and French chapels continue to share the major design features of the standard chapel, the interior design has evolved quite differently. Water fountains or collapsible metal chairs, for example, have been removed from German congregations for more than twenty years. Instead of the indestructible blue and orange carpets that continue to adorn many American structures, German chapels tend to use more tiles.

    Having said that, these PR problems due to correlation will not have much of an impact in a lively ward. A ward that runs good programs and is receptive of newcomers will have little problems attracting and retaining quality converts. The PR in the ward is much more important than the PR on the street.

    However, cultural incompetence of the LDS Church, which may come across as disrespect and ethnocentrism, can be professionally embarrassing to local members. I would imagine that the consequences might be a tad more serious in cultures were formality and status play a greater role such as France, Austria, and Poland.

  36. Kendall (24), I’m not sure what the U.S.A.’s activity stats are like, but if you take a rough guess at the activity of members worldwide as compared to total membership, you’re number is going to be somewhere between 25 and 35 percent, and I imagine the self-identify number is right around there, too.

    How do I get there? The church reports on the number of wards and stakes each year. As of Dec 26, 2006 the Church reported 12,868,606 members and 27,475 wards/branches. Based on older Church statistics, I estimate about two-thirds are wards and one-third are branches. Based on what I know about wards and branches, I estimated 150 active members per ward and 50 active members per branch (and in some cases that’s very generous). I ended up with a guesstimate of 3,214,575 active members, or almost exactly 25 percent. (You could also estimate 1,500 active members per stake and district [3,375 total], which I think is again quite generous overall, and you’d end up with 39 percent, but I think that’s pushing it.)

    Of course actual activity rates are going to vary in each region, but I think 30 percent, based on number of units, is probably a safe guess.

  37. Naismith (26), it drives my wife crazy how laid back I sometimes am when she’s frantically trying to get out the door. I’m from Minnesota, and wouldn’t you know it, she’s from Germany. In our ward here the chapel is virtually empty at 5 minutes before start time. In her home ward, the chapel is virtually full and prelude music is being played (often by youth on various instruments) — and listened to — at 10 minutes before the start. I like her version better.


  38. Jonovitch: I don’t think you can equate the number of LDS who are active in the U.S. with the number who self-identify as Mormon, even if these numbers seem to line up in other countries. The Pew Center seems to consistently find (when it surveys 20,000 people by telephone) that 2.0% of U.S. residents self-identify as Mormon. If the population of the U.S. is 300 million, that works out to 6 million people self-identifying as Mormons. See here and here for examples:

    In 2001, the American Religious Identification Survey talked to 50,000 adults in the U.S. It followed up on a survey in 1990 that found 1.4% of U.S. adults self-identified as Mormon. In 2001, they found that 1.3% of U.S. adults self-identified as Mormons. Once again, with a population of 300 million in the U.S., this works out to 3.9 to 4.2 million U.S. who likely self-identify as Mormon. You can view the 2001 survey results here.

    So if only 25 to 30 percent of Mormons in the U.S. are active, I would argue that at least two-thirds of all baptized Mormons in the U.S. still self-identify as LDS.

  39. My home teaching companion is a 15-year-old Mexican immigrant who was baptized last year (his family is Catholic) and is one of our best young men — he is already talking about wanting to go on a mission. (We also have one other American-born “Mexican” young man, a few Liberian refugee young men, a black American young man who was adopted by a Jewish convert to the Church, and some other mixed white young men.)

    Anyway, my 15-year-old HT companion says he doesn’t like Latinas, or black girls, or white girls. But he really likes the Asian girls. He even decided last summer he wanted to go to the Hmong Academy across town…for the girls. No joke. (The kid is great, but it’s still all about the girls.) He even arranged to have the academy’s school bus pick him up from the church building right after seminary every morning. Oh, and we share our building with two other wards, one of which is a Hmong ward. He recently found a couple of cuties to hang out with on Wednesdays. It’s really funny to watch him work.

    Talk about inter-racial relationships.


  40. But the practical effect was to Americanize, to export American church-sports culture (basketball) rather than embracing local culture (soccer).

    FWIW, soccer as a world-wide phenomenon is a by-product of colonialism.

    This is just to point out the complexity with which “enculturation” is also a process of meaning-manipulation.

    On a practical note, I completely agree with how ridiculous it is to include basketball courts in those places where soccer is much more popular.

  41. Sterling (46), you’re probably right. My post (44) was more about activity rates (and worldwide numbers at that, rather than U.S. or Latin countries). My guess about the numbers of people who self-identify was just that — no basis for the assumption that the two would be similar, just pulled it out of the air. I stand by my analysis of the other numbers though. :)


  42. Sterling (46), in reviewing your numbers again, I agree with your conclusion of roughly two-thirds self-identifying in the USA, but I think the 6 million number (from the 2.0 percent) is high. The Church only has about 6.3 million members in the country, which would mean almost every one of them self-identifies as Mormons. I really doubt that is the case, and I have a long home-teaching list full of people who haven’t been to church in years that could back me up.

    (Maybe Pew polled more people in the West? Or just got lucky? I wonder what their margin of error is — I couldn’t find it, and even though I know 20,000 is a large “n”, only 417 of those are “Mormon.” Do stats get funny with such small numbers when you extrapolate to something much larger, even if the “n” is 20,000? Six million Mormon self-identifiers just seems way too high when the total population is just barely more than that. I’m reminded of a quotation attributed to Mark Twain and recited on the first day of every Stats 101 class.)

    The CUNY data seems to be more accurate — as you stated it works out to around 4 million, or roughly two-thirds of U.S. Mormons, identifying themselves as such, which is a much more digestible number in my book. It might be a leap and a broad generalization, but it seems that the activity rate in any given country is about half that of the self-identifying rate. At any rate, I think we’ve thoroughly threadjacked this discussion, so to get back on topic, please see my comment No. 47. Good night!


  43. When I was on my mission in Peru (1999-2001) all of the churches had soccer courts. Most Peruvian youths play soccer on pavement because of the lack of grass. Even the MTC in Peru had combination basketball/soccer courts. Unfortunately, at the MTC most of the American elders played basketball and the Latino elders played soccer, yet by the end of their missions most American Elders had come to enjoy playing soccer and most Peruvian Elders enjoyed basketball. My experience in Peru was that many members loved the novelty of the Americanized aspects of Mormonism–at least at first. I don’t know how standard my experience was, but I know that very little basketball was played at Peruvian churches.

  44. The only way to get activity rates above 20% in Latin America is to count attendance once a quarter as full activity. In a church that operates based on volunteers, a person who comes 4 times a year is more of a burden than an asset. Ask former missionaries to Latin America how many people are in church on a typical Sunday; you’ll find, with a few exceptions, that the number is well under 150.

    My own guess on activity rates in Latin America is that between 7 and 13% of claimed members attend church regularly enough to hold callings and contribute to moving the work forward. Of those, a disproportionate number are women and thus unable to hold leadership positions outside of RS and Primary. Using Chile as an example, the church says there are 543,628 members attending 612 congregations, giving us an average of 888 members/congregation. At a 10% activity rate, that works out to 88 members on average in each congregation. Doing similar math for Peru but using the 13% rate, we end up with an average of 77 members in attendance in each congregation.

    Sites with info related to this discussion:

    Country profiles from

    Chilean census:

    Mexican census (click ver cuadro):

    Brazilian census:

    A personal blog by an Argentine member relating how in 1997 he was asked to come to church 4 times a year in order to “up the numbers” and cause a district to be made into a stake. While he didn’t participate, others did; the district became a stake, the branches became a wards, and the “regulars”, all 30-50 of them per ward, were the only ones still making the church run. The man has serious issues with the church besides this, so take what he says with a grain of salt, but I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before.

  45. When I was living abroad (various locations), I collected and translated personal histories of various converts, mostly Russians, and donated them to the Church Archives. I was surprised to discover that the oral histories of conversion (I was vaguely modeling my collection on Hartman Rector’s very touching but very white collections) were “restricted access” because the people were alive, even though the LDS converts had given permission for me to publish them.

    Ardis (and others), what’s the status at Archives of current oral histories? I felt sad that the material had become restricted.

    Nice essay, David. I’m even more interested to see what types of cultural syncretism arise, not just how we learn to get along (which is also exciting to me).

  46. “Correlation means that we use the same American messages in every culture.”

    Baloney, Hellmut.

    This is the point Ardis keeps coming back to: you do not understand what “correlation” means. You keep using it as a synonym for worldwide hierarchically imposed conformity. In fact, the Public Affairs department does more than ensure that proper postage has been affixed to missives out of Salt Lake.

  47. Jonathan (and Ardis), if correlation does not include “worldwide hierarchically imposed conformity” (which indeed sounds negative), what is correlation than exactly, where does it begin and where does it stop? Can you provide a Church-sanctioned definition of correlation? My question is really neutral. It’s something I would like to see clarified.

  48. I am willing to admit, Jonathan, that I am wrong if you or someone else identifies outreach material that is custom tailored to non-Anglo cultures.

    The fact of the matter is that we continue to use the same brochures, images and magazines worldwide. Apart from stereotyping natives in Lederhosen or ponchos and occasional personal interest stories, the images are uniformly American.

    Marketing Mormonism to Germans, Japanese, or Chileans with translated American materials is bizarre. It’s wasteful and ineffective because it disrespects the audience.

    Anyways, whether or not we are using American materials worldwide is an empirical question. If you think that claim is wrong then it should be easy for you to demonstrate the contrary. If you can show an LDS communication effort that’s custom tailored to a single non-Anglo country, I will admit that I am wrong.

    In the meanwhile, I would appreciate it if you would remain civil. You have every right to disagree with me but your language, rich on insults and poor on reasons, reflects poorly on your upbringing.

  49. Ten years ago, I was a member of a very old ward in Los Angeles. Old in both ways; it had been created in 1928, and the congregants were mostly old people. We shared the building with a Spanish-speaking ward. Some of our small band of youth complained that the larger group of youth in the Spanish-speaking ward all spoke English, so why couldn’t they be with us building up our ward? In the Elders’ Quorum, the idea of closing our ward and becoming language-impaired members of the Spanish-speaking ward had a bit of appeal.

    Don’t forget the 500 lb gorilla of our uniform worship pattern, the 3-hour block. Is their anything especially American about it that I’m missing? It wasn’t invented for the sake of saints with an LDS building within a couple miles in any direction, yet they made the shift as well. Uniformity in the Church isn’t all something propagated from a dominant core to be imposed on minorities. The decimation of drama and dance that Russell Arben Fox mentioned in his comment #36 is another case showing this.

  50. Hellmut, where do you get this idea that the regional headquarters of Public Affairs act as nothing but mechanical translators? It’s a two-way process. Who do you think pushed the idea of getting Dieter Uchtdorf interviewed by the German media? That was regional PR pushing him into the media, and not the other way around.

    You are dealing in sweeping generalizations and comic-book stereotypes of what correlation and public affairs consist of. If “baloney” as a response to that offends you, you might want to consider sampling the genteeler mores of campaign-season political blogging.

  51. Hellmut: As a historical matter, I think that correlation has tended to make the message of the church less American. For example, I remember looking at very old pre-correlation materials in Korea on my mission, and I thought that they felt rather more American than the correlation-era materials, which tended to focus more on scriptural content and core gospel concepts. I do think, however, that we are reaching a point where there are real diminishing returns to the centralize and simplify model of correlation. On the other hand, there is evidence — the most striking thing that I can think about is the revamping of the missionary program in Preach My Gospel — that the church is moving slowly toward a more flexible model.

  52. smb: That is an interesting story about the closing of oral histories. I wonder if something like this dynamic going on:

    1. The historical department wants to collect oral histories, but people are reluctant to do so if the contents are immediately available.
    2. The historical department promises to keep the collections closed for some period of time.
    3. The historical department lacks the resources to sort through the oral histories to see which ones should be made available and which ones should not be made public.

  53. Sterling, #31

    The Mormon Church seems to have done a good job of assimilating these Latinos in the suburbs so that they seem almost white.

    Please define “white.”

  54. I don’t know anything about Mormonism in Korea, Nate.

    I think that it is plausible to assume that correlation also led to a greater degree of professionalism regarding authors and illustrators. I am curious though, did you actually have other study guides for Korean than for American investigators?

    We never got anything but American designed and authored material that was translated in Germany.

    Jonathan, marketing a German LDS official to the German media is better than nothing but not much. It certainly isn’t evidence that demonstrates that we are effectively adapting to non-Anglo cultures.

    Tell me, how would you assess Toyota’s marketing efforts if they ran exclusively Japanese car commercials with English dubbing?

  55. I am still waiting, with great curiosity, to see how those criticizing Hellmut and perhaps Wilfried will define correlation. So far they have assumed that the definition is self-evident and that those who don’t see it are overly critical or sensitive. It’s all too easy when you are part of a dominant culture to assume it is the norm, instead of a culturally influenced thing itself. Such as the virtue seen in “being on time.” This was a common point of tension between Irish-American and Mexican-American Catholics during the mid-twentieth century. The former thought they were going out of their way to integrate the latter (and in fact they tried harder than most churches did), but the latter thought the unbending emphasis on being on time was a reflection of a culture that did not put people first, but programs. I’m just using that as one example. The point is not that one culture is wrong and one right, but that both are cultural and both should be respected and ways found to reconcile them. It’s too easy to assume that the prescribed way of doing things is neutral, not cultural, and the trick is to find the bits that everyone can agree on, or even forge new syntheses we can agree on.

  56. Nate:

    One example of “correlation”–whatever that term’s definition ultimately comes out to be–Americanizing publications would be the centralization of Church publications. At one time, most Spanish-speaking missions in South and Central America had their own newsletters/newspapers. These were replaced by the “Liahona”, which at the time was written only for Spanish-speaking Saints. While most of the content consisted of translations of English Ensign articles, the magazine did have specific content written by and exclusively for Spanish saints.

    Sometime in the last 10 years, this Liahona was subsumed into another Liahona produced in Salt Lake for all international members of the church. The content is now almost exclusively translated articles, with little or no original content whatsoever. The graphics are straight from the Ensign.

    You can compare the Spanish Liahona to the English Liahona by looking at the following:


  57. It sounds like both sides here could be right, to some degree.

    Correlation has made the American publications less distinctively American, and thus translations of those publications are also less distinctively American. This has the biggest impact in places where little locally produced content was available (Korea?).

    On the other hand, correlation has sometimes removed or reduced the volume of locally produced materials, replacing them with translated American materials. This has the biggest impact in places where there was formerly lots of locally produced materials.

    Is it true that correlation has reduced the volume of locally produced materials in general?

  58. I hope David doesn’t mind the threadjack on correlation, but I presume it ties in with the discussion on the place of Latino’s as Mormons.

    Ref. my comment 57 in which I asked Jonathan and Ardis to define correlation, that is of course a somewhat rhetorical question. I think we have a fairly good idea (which is less than a precise definition) of what correlation is, in its narrow and in its broadest senses (which explains its relative polysemy). My understanding comes from sources such as:

    – James B. Allen & Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, chapter 20
    – Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life, chapters 33 and 42
    – Clyde J. Williams, ed., Teachings of Harold B. Lee, chapter 23 (a good overview of facets)
    – L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet And Seer, chapter 21
    – Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century, chapter 17

    All these chapters draw the history and the content & consequences of correlation (all can be read on Gospelink). Perhaps Ardis can indicate some other / better ones.

    It seems correlation (in a number of facets) both has a de-americanizing and an americanizing effect. Very simplified: de-americanizing by taking out or diminishing typical exterior and evident American features (as Nate remarked in comment 62), americanizing by taking out or diminishing what would be comfortable to one specific culture (e.g. the “own” national or regional magazine) and by so doing leaving an impression of an a-cultural void which people abroad interpret (correctly or incorrectly) as American. That repartition could apply to many facets of Church life (but not to others that are by definition accepted as universal, like the Scriptures or priesthood organization as found in D&C).

    (I see ed johnson, ref. 68, meanwhile posted in a similar vein)

  59. Notice that some of the Ensign articles probably were written in other languages and translated into English. They also include a much more diverse cast of characters. I think this makes a good case that LDS publications are actually becoming less Anglocentric under today’s version of correlation (which I define as the any church effort to create standardized materials and policies). Also think of all the international general authorities that have recently spoken in General Conference. I’m not sure that I really like the result which sometimes appears that we are including token international representatives, but standard materials definitely have less of a Utah-centric flavor than in the past. Most versions of the Liahona also include a regional news section created by the church media establishment in whatever area they serve. I am of the opinion that much of the standardization that has emerged under correlation is about money. The church desperately tries to provide a somewhat similar level of programs internationally, while at the same time dealing with the fact that most of the tithing comes out of the first world.

  60. MAC, I am not sure how I would define white, since it is often seen as a neutral or unmarked category. But some of things I noticed at BYU suggest the process is taking place. The Chicano club of the 1970s has vanished. I can only think of two classes at BYU that deal with U.S. Latina/os at least in part. Another measure might be the rate at which LDS Hispanics in the U.S. are marrying non-Hispanics.

  61. I have mixed feelings as I read some of the comments. In our stake, we have a spanish language ward. It reports 62% attendance at sacrament meeting and since my ward meets right after them, I see the families leaving church and don’t doubt their report. There are seven other wards in our stake with lower attendance rates. That being said, the stake that I live in is probably an anomaly in the U.S. with an average attendance of 61% in a semi-rural area of Arizona.

    I find the discussion of correlation interesting because as I remember the issue in the early 1970’s when it seemed that the big push for correlation started was to ensure that the message, curriculum, and worship experience was essentially the same, except for the language being spoken, througout the church. In the software industry we call this standardization of the user experience and we avidly seek after that goal. What that amounts to is an attempt to produce a church experience that transcends all cultures and allows members to have a familiar place to worship anywhere in the world.

    While some have commented that they feel that this has americanized the church experience in other nations, it has also had an impact on the church experience of members in the United States. The correlation program, the Unit Budget Plan, and the ‘reduce and simplify’ emphasis have systematically removed most of the social community aspects of the LDS experience for members in the U.S. and Canada. This has created what seems to many as a fairly sterile church experience. I can remember my mother telling me about how the ward and the meeting house were the center of social life for the members in her town in Idaho. Now, I look at my ward and don’t have anyone there who I would consider more than a casual acquaintence. While a 90 minute one way commute to my job has an impact on that, the relentless elimination of the community building social infrastructure within the church is also a big factor. We do not associate enough in causal situations to build the relationships that create a community because there is no framework of community (ward) social activities to facilitate those interactions. This makes it difficult to build any kind of quorum identity in the elders and high priests quorums or the equivalent sense of community in the Relief Societies.

    Someone else commented that the habit of members in the U.S. to rapidly leave buildings instead of visiting was chilling to latin members. All I can say to that is twenty or thirty years of being told to clear out of the building after meetings to make room for the next ward will get one in the habit of moving directly to the exits and going home. Again when social interaction is discouraged, it eventually stops.

  62. James, I think I can relate to what are feeling. I spent all 19 of the years before my mission in the same ward. Since I was home schooled for most of that time, the ward was really the center of my social life. The same thing was true when I attended BYU. Since getting married and embarking on graduate school, I have moved a lot and become so busy with school and family that there seems little time to spend getting to know the other members of my wards. Prof. Garcia tells me it has been just the opposite in a lot of the Spanish units in the Church. The members of those wards and branches have traditionally stayed after church to visit, held frequent potlucks, and spent most nights of the week at the church, attending one or another activity. Their sense of community puts to shame what I have found in most Anglo wards. Maybe our lives are too busy these days to recapture what was once there in our wards, but I suspect our Latina/o brethren and sisters in the gospel could teach us a lesson or two.

  63. Three comments:
    James and Sterling, I really enjoyed your insights. In attempting to “de-Americanize’ the Church through simplifying, I think that we have paid a huge social cost. What is probably needed is more culturally specific types of interaction, not less. But that interaction would have to be generated locally, rather than looking to Church Headquarters to provide the exact pattern.

    Second, there has been much focus on verbal language in this thread. But there are visual languages as well as verbal ones. I think that the massive translantion department of the Church does a pretty good job with words. But different visual languages are not always on our radar screen. Church publications do a pretty good job of publishing photographic images of members from around the world. These photos are often sprinkled through lesson manuals, etc. to give them a little international flavor. But the illustrations and art that we use tend to be much more geographically and culturally specific. And it is in the art that we tend to get deeper visual feeling for the soul of a people and culture. We sometimes make verbal references to “cultural neutrality” while inadvertantly sending out images that actually quite culturally specific from a standpoint of style. The last animal to discover water is usually a fish.

    Third, the Museum of Church History and Art has a growing collection of LDS art from around the world that is vastly underused by Latter-day Saints. I think that the issue is often one of unfamiliar (culturally specific) styles. The irony is that even some of our best LDS scholars are often oblivious to visual cross cultural communication. Hellmut make an excellent point when he writes about how auto adds are culturally specific. Advertising is highly visual. The Lord tells us that everyone will hear the Gospel in their own language. It might be useful to use more pluralism in the visual languages that we use as we have done so well with verbal languages.

    How does this relate to Latino’as? Latin America, and Mexico in particular, is one of the most visually rich areas on the planet. While they may not such heavy concentrations of LDS writers, they have lots of visual artists.

  64. Nice list of sources on Correlation, Wilfried (#70). The most recent summary is in Givens’ People of Paradox, pages 230-32. He first quotes from the Prince and Wright biography of David O. McKay that “curricular reform paled in significance to [LDS Apostle Harold B.] Lee’s other goals of reining in the auxiliary organizations and placing day-to-day control of the church in the hands of the Twelve.” Givens then comments:

    Unquestionably, correlation has produced a more efficient church organization, and a church that is virtually inoculated against doctrinal innovation or fragmentation. At the same time, many deplore the program, believing that the auxiliaries’ loss of control over their own budgets, publications, and curricula portends and parallels a decline in spiritual and intellectual independence.

    If auxiliaries have lost their independence (in some cases, even their identity), it’s only a small step to argue that any attempt by LDS communities in foreign countries to assert any formal “cultural independence” from the Utah Mormons who staff Correlation will not be permitted. It can happen informally (regular potlucks after Sunday meetings) but it can never make it into the curriculum. In the eyes of a Correlation staffer or volunteer, material tailored to a foreign (i.e., non-Utah) culture would appear to be “doctrinal innovation or fragmentation,” not cultural flexibility, and it is Correlation’s job to eliminate that sort of thing.

    To put the problem more bluntly, Correlation thinks it is correlating doctrine when it is often, in fact, correlating cultural practices and expression. Now given the way the world is going, an argument can be made that “cultural correlation,” the creation of our own unique Utah/American/Global/Mormon culture built on the substrate of the institutional Church, is the only way to maintain a righteous community in the 21st century. Anywhere. But I have never heard that argument made because I have never heard anyone admit that what Correlation is doing is correlating culture. In fact, I suspect any serious discussion about what Correlation does would not make it through Correlation. I don’t doubt that, whatever they are doing, they are doing with zeal. I just wish they actually knew what they were doing.

  65. We never got anything but American designed and authored material that was translated in Germany.

    A striking exception must be the German hymnbook, which has always contained, and continues to contain, numerous hymns unique to Germany.

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