Source: The Salt Lake Tribune
The optics tell a stunning story of Mormon decline — or so many observers insist.
Photos of Mormons gathering en masse in a Salt Lake City park to quit their church officially and openly — accompanied by video images spinning around the globe — suggest the LDS Church is enduring an enormous, even unprecedented exodus.
The trouble with those visuals, according to church calculations, is that they distort the real picture. While the departures certainly loom large for the individuals involved, their overall numbers remain relatively small in the scope of one of the world’s fastest-growing religions.
Signs of Mormon out-migration began mounting after the Utah-based faith adopted a policy in November 2015 labeling same-sex couples “apostates” and denying their children religious rituals of baby blessings and baptisms until they turn 18. Outrage ensued, in news reports, online denouncements and letters to local LDS bishops.
Attorney Mark Naugle, a former Mormon in South Jordan, says he has personally submitted about 12,500 letters to the LDS Church in the past year from members asking to have their names removed from the faith’s membership rolls. He has received requests from most states, Naugle says, as well as from Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, France, Germany, Great Britain and South Africa, to name a few.
“And there are plenty more,” he says, “who tell me my services are not necessary” — that they know how to excise their memberships without his help.
The LDS Church acknowledges “periodic increases or decreases in [such] requests,” explains spokesman Eric Hawkins, but “the number of people asking to have their names removed from the records of the church has been less than one-tenth of 1 percent (less than 1 in 1,000) for more than 20 consecutive years, including in 2015 and the first eight months of 2016.”
That means of the 15,634,199 members reported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April, fewer than 15,634 have or will resign this year.
That figure pales in comparison to, say, the 257,402 converts who joined the church in 2015.
Hawkins says other “important statistics” demonstrate the continuing “activity [rate] of individual adult members, such as endowed members with a current temple recommend and full tithe payers.”
In all areas, he writes in an email, “the upward growth has continued [during that same period].”