I feel a desire to move beyond the provincial, local view of my LDS experience and step up to a larger worldview. This is going to be hard for me because except for the two years I spent in Central America as a missionary (1976-1978), I have not traveled much beyond Southern California and Utah. My career just has not required much travel of me. I like that just fine.
Now I know some of you are world travelers and according to Google Analytics, some of my readers are in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, South Korea, Finland, Philippines, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, Japan, Norway, Brazil and the list goes on and on. I have had visitors from 95 countries in the last six months, the latest just today from Belgium.
Take a look at Miguel Lomelino’s blog. He was my visitor from Belgium today. I think he has got a great world view already. He is reaching out to LDS members in the United States and has a lot of material that is from all over the world. I’m impressed. He speaks four languages and served as a missionary from 1987-1989. He has been married 14 years and has 3 children.
Baptisms in the U.S. are down
I suspect that I am not alone in my US-centric view that, frankly, can be offensive to some who do not live here in the land of the nativity of the LDS church. We can get so wrapped up in our local issues, like Proposition 8 in California, or even the Presidential elections that it is easy to forget that there is a whole world of interesting people living their religion all over the world.
I know this is a concern to the Brethren. You probably know that baptisms in the United States have been flat or down over the past decade. If you really press me, I’ll go digging for the source of those stats, but I’ve seen it in multiple places, from Stake Leadership meetings to Dr. B’s blog. If you dig enough, you may be able to find some details on the Cumorah project website.
I don’t think this is any surprise to any of us living in the United States. We have seen it in our stake and ward leadership meetings. People simply aren’t flocking to the LDS Church here in the U.S. like they used to. Each year, our ward baptismal goals decrease and we fail to meet them. But if you look at the chart, you’ll see that church growth is up worldwide. Why is that?
America is wealthy
In a word: pride. America is rich. We are prosperous. You wouldn’t know that by reading the national dialog, but it sure bears out where I live in Camarillo California. Sure, the average price of homes has come down from $700,000 to $500,000 in the past two years, but we still seem to have more Hummers in our little neck of the woods than seems appropriate for a non-war zone.
Don’t get me wrong. I think we are a blessed nation. We have worked hard and have improved our standard of living tremendously. Unfortunately, we have also increased our indebtedness at the same time. So many homes and cars purchased on credit surely can’t be a good thing. How does your personal financial health stack up – could you weather a long season of no income?
I am convinced that Boyd K. Packer was right – it is about time the Lord taught us a lesson. Oops – we can’t use that talk. It wasn’t official. Never mind. Strike that. My point is that too many in America live paycheck to paycheck with assets obtained on high interest credit. It has been that way for many years. Thus, we are consumed with work and paying on those debts.
Non-existent financial security
Now I know that not everybody in America lives as I have described. There are plenty of people who have no debt and with savings that will last them for years. But those people are few and far between. Besides, how safe are investments in the Stock Market these days? Our little 401k has lost 20% of its value over the past year and I’m just your average middle-income American.
There are also plenty of people who have no savings at all – no 401k and no hope for retirement income other than Social Security. They mostly live in big cities on both coasts and not in the suburbs where it is typically more expensive. They also live paycheck to paycheck but don’t have as many assets accumulated because their education or income levels are just not as high.
I’m sure I’ve offended a few people because I am making generalities and assumptions, but let’s face it. For the most part, every citizen of the United States is rich beyond belief when compared to the places where most of the convert baptisms are coming from. I’m talking about Brazil and Chile and the Philippines and Mexico and Central America – places where most people are poor.
Humility brings conversion
When I served in Central America as a missionary, we had phenomenal baptism rates that are unheard of here in the United States except in the Spanish branches of the stakes I have been in. My first month out we had 13 baptisms. I ended the mission with 68 baptisms overall. I think that the retention rate was abysmally low, but what caused these people to join the church?
Hope. These people were looking for hope and a change. Many of them found that hope and were able to make permanent changes in their lives that raised their standard of living because they sought and obtained a higher education. I’m not saying that worked in all cases, but I saw enough examples myself to see that the gospel of Jesus Christ also improved standards of living.
These people were poor and they were humble. They also trusted in God and had a lot of faith. When we taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ, they responded by doing as we asked – reading the Book of Mormon and praying. God fulfills his promises and sent the spirit to bear witness to them that what they were learning was true. Many of them responded by joining the church.
Summary and conclusion
So am I saying that the church only does well among the poor people in poor countries? You decide that for yourself. I’m just pointing out that the United States is a wealthy country and that baptisms are down in the United States. Are baptism and conversion rates directly related to poverty? No. They are directly related to humility. There’s a big difference. Think about it.
Humble people are teachable. Humble people are looking for help and for hope. Humble people realize their dependence upon the Lord. They may be poorly educated and poorly trained but they are sensitive to the power of the spirit of the Lord when it is carried into their homes by humble Elders and sisters who heed the call of a prophet to spread the gospel to all the world.
Truly humble people, while they seek change, are not seeking a handout. They want to work and they want to improve their lives, including their standard of living. Once they have hope, they do not expect to stay in miserable circumstances all their lives. They will work to move ahead. That’s why baptisms are down in the United States. There just aren’t many humble people left.