Lecture Explores Global Mormonism for Interfaith Audience
CIC Board member Ruth Ellen Homer reflects on the lecture Mormonism: A Global Religion, by Dr. Matthew Bowman at the Indiana Interchurch Center on July 15th.
Did Brigham Young lead all the Mormons west to the Salt Lake Valley? Americans often think of Latter‐day Saint history as wagon trains making their way across the Great Plains, starting in 1847. However, this image is far from complete. Filling in the story was the goal Dr. Matthew Bowman set as he presented Mormonism: A Global Religion at the Indiana Interchurch Center on July 15, 2014. The event was cosponsored by CIC and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints (the Mormons).
As a scholar of American religious history, Dr. Bowman invited everyone to consider the early and continuing international growth of the church from its 1830 founding in New York state. American History courses frequently cover the Mormon pioneer trek from Illinois to Utah without recognizing that most 19th century Mormons worldwide never made that journey. Early converts in the British Isles exceeded those in America who left Nauvoo, Illinois and traveled west under Brigham Young. There were Mormons in Tahiti before 1847, when Young first arrived in Utah.
Today the Mormon Church has 15 million members in 177 countries as the result of missionary efforts from 1830 to the present. Along the way the Latter‐day Saints have experienced rapid conversions in some areas and slow growth elsewhere due to cultural or other problems. In Africa both dynamics have occurred. In recent years West Africa has seen explosive growth. However, thousands of Nigerians had waited almost 20 years for Mormon baptism before a new priesthood policy in 1978 allowed missionaries to be sent. A current cultural issue is the difference between traditional African drum music and hymns from America and Western Europe. Only Western selections are included in the standard Mormon hymnbook. The church provides organs for African congregations, but the members are culturally unfamiliar with such music.
A pilot program in one African stake is now testing the use of drums in Mormon worship services. A stake is like a diocese, with several congregations. As Latter‐day Saint leaders in Salt Lake City consider making such adaptations in various nations, they experience what other Christian churches have faced. Dr. Bowman suggested that Mormons are learning what the Roman Catholic Church discovered centuries ago about strategic adaptability in the global south.
Catholic missionaries and leaders found that introducing a new religion is easier when messengers present it with sensitivity to the local culture. This can be done without oversimplifying core doctrines. Native Catholics in South America, Africa, and the Philippines retain their own cultures and experience Catholicism somewhat differently, but the religious rites and doctrines are the same.
In summary, after 184 years the Mormon faith now reaches across the globe but is not yet a world religion. The future of the church will be both predictable and complex. Standardized worship services and doctrinal instruction guard against schism, but church social activities can be flexible within local cultures. Growth will continue, members will eagerly serve as missionaries, and adaptability will preserve the church.
Following Dr. Bowman’s lecture, President David Kinard of the Indianapolis North Stake thanked him for coming. Pres. Kinard also expressed the church’s appreciation for the valuable work done by CIC. Jeanelle Adamak, Indiana Public Affairs Director for the church, presented Dr. Bowman with a book about Indianapolis in honor of his visit.
The event was well attended with about 70 people in the Krannert Room. Charlie Wiles and Ruth Ellen Homer hosted the evening as representatives of the CIC board. CIC thanks Dr. Bowman for traveling to Indiana for our benefit. He holds a doctorate in American religious history from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and teaches at Hampden‐Sydney College in Virginia. We also thank Cheri Rock and Carol Reynolds for serving as the Hospitality Committee and Garry and Kathy Hamlin for logistical help.