Mormons, Mormons Everywhere? (December 2000)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown tenfold since World War II, making it one of the fastest growing U.S. sects. Although it only has a worldwide membership of 11 million–more than half outside the United States–Mormons outrank Presbyterians and Episcopalians combined in North America.

According to a cover story (“The Mormon Way: How a Utah-based church became the world’s fastest-growing religion,” U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 13), unnamed “experts say Latter-day Saints could number 265 million worldwide by 2080, second only to Roman Catholics among Christian bodies.”

Journalists Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling in their 1999 Mormon America: The Power and the Promise estimate the church’s assets at $25-$30 billion, with annual revenue approaching $6 billion. The required tithing of 10 percent of followers’ incomes accounts for about $6 billion a year. Its real estate holdings, including more than 12,000 churches and opulent temples, are valued in the billions.

In his book The American Religion (1992), Harold Bloom wrote that “Mormon financial and political power is exerted in Washington to a degree far beyond what one would expect from one voter in 50.” That political influence includes killing chances to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the past, and vociferous antigay and antiabortion lobbying today.

In Salt Lake City, the church finagled the acquisition of a public plaza next to its headquarters, which the ACLU is challenging, saying Mormon repression there is “a little bit of Beijing.” Through complicated corporate takeovers, the church is trying to kill off the independent Salt Lake Tribune, a competitor with its poorly-faring afternoon daily.

“The nation will not always be only 2 percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us, have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on a grand scale, both here and abroad. . . . Their future is immense,” prophesies Bloom.

If this sounds grim, just remember: there are, at the moment, more nonreligious in the world than Mormons.
Priest and AIDS Update

In a follow-up to its January report on Catholic priests dying of AIDS, the Kansas City Star in November reported that the AIDS-related death rate among priests “exceeds earlier estimates.”

In its three-part January series, the Star had reported that “hundreds of priests had died of AIDS-related illnesses and that hundreds more were living with the virus that causes the disease.” The Star reported that follow-up research based on family interviews and death certificates found an additional 300 AIDS-related priest deaths.

The newspaper was stymied in its research by the fact that nearly two-thirds of states do not disclose death records. In the 14 states allowing the Star access, the newspaper found the rate of AIDS-related deaths by priests was “more than double” the rate among adult males in those states, and six times the rate among the general population.

“There is no longer any question that hundreds of priests have died of AIDS and that many bishops were aware of their plights,” the newspaper concluded.

The Church of England revealed this year that at least 25% of its priests had died of AIDS-related illnesses, mandating in September that all Anglican bishops in southern Africa undergo HIV testing.

Freedom From Religion Foundation