Saturday, January 26, 2013

A One-sided Alma Moment

2  …therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

I was thumbing through the 1999-2000 Church Almanac looking for data when I found the three stakes and their first presidents, all friends from my mission.

Stake Name Organized First President
Tucuman Argentina 21 Jan 1980 Ronaldo Juan Walker
Buenos Aires Argentina Moreno 20 Mar 1983 Carlos Domingo Marapodi
Jan Juan Argentina Chimbas 18 Feb 1996 Ruben Dario Romeu

I met Carlos Marapodi while serving in my first area, Santiago del Estero.  He was my third Zone Leader.  I found him inspired, dynamic, optimistic, and charismatic.  Ronaldo Walker became the Branch President of the Rawson Branch in the San Juan District shortly after I began my service in that area.  His personality was much like my former Zone Leader, although he was more serious, perhaps a function of a little more age and responsibility.  The Branch he led was divided and had shallow leadership.  He solved the problem by pressing the Aaronic Priesthood into duty.  He made sixteen year-old Ruben Dario Romeu his Executive Secretary and his fourteen year-old brother the Sunday School.  Guillermo Gonzalez, the Deacons Quorum President, ready the building for meetings every Sunday.  Ruben was intelligent, kind and had a strong testimony.  At sixteen, he was a respected leader of the Branch.  Eighteen years latter, he was made Stake President. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

War and the Missionary Force

17 And it came to pass that they did preach with great power, insomuch that they did confound many of those dissenters who had gone over from the Nephites, insomuch that they came forth and did confess their sins and were baptized unto repentance, and immediately returned to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done.

18 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did preach unto the Lamanites with such great power and authority, for they had power and authority given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them—

19 Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them, insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers. (Helaman 5:119)

War and Missionaries ServingWar and Missionaries

According to numbers published in various Deseret Church Almanacs, a decline in the Church missionary force began in 2002 and that initial decline will not be overcome until this year.  Opponents of the Church ranging from honest scholars to religious competitors to disaffected members pointed to the decline as further evidence of the Church crumbling.  As an aside, since I have been old enough to take notice, I have witnessed opponents of the Church take many premature victory laps over some event.  This is not new.

Friends of the Church have listed several plausible explanations for the decline including higher missionary standards and changing demographics most notably smaller family size (Smith, Jimmy.  “Number of Mormon Missionaries, ” Mormon Missionary Prep), (Martinich, Matt. “Raising the Bar and Increasing the Number of Members Serving Missions,” Cumorah).  In addition to these causes, Martinich also lists increasing secularism in the United States. 

Let me propose another possible explanation, war. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Government: a Substitute or a Complement to the Church?

"1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

3 We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. (Doctrine and Covenants 134:1-3)

These three verses give a broad portrait of the role of government according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Laws should be for the good and safety of society, guarding freedom of religion, private property and protecting life.  The scriptural declaration is a good starting point for good government.  Like the church itself, these verses describe an inclusive government, one operated for the good of society and not for an elite class.  As much as these verses say, more is left unsaid than said.  There is not a hint of how the government should protect citizens from madmen with guns, controlling immigration, or determining tax structure.  Demand theory provides a framework for evaluating some programs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More from YouTube

He (Christ) inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come  unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile .II Nephi 26:33)

With the goal of preaching the gospel to the world, Church President Thomas Monson’s announced at the October General Conference that young men can serve missions at 18 and young women at 19.  In a new conference after the announcement, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the change would “hasten” the Work but did not know what the impact on the number of missionaries would be although he suggested growth would occur.  He said that the impact would be better understood by the fall of 2013. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Distance from Salt Lake City


In “Church Growth by State,” I suggested that membership as a percent of a state’s population (density) is a function of, among other things, distance from Utah based on visual examination of the above graph.  Often, the eye can deceive when examining data statistical techniques must be employed to verify observations. Without getting too technical, my simple model which I will describe in a little more detail below, had statistical validity, explaining about 47.7% of the difference between the density of LDS population in a state.  Not bad for one variable, but what explains the remaining difference in density?

I suspect that it is relative economic growth.  Some states have grown faster economically.  The change in density caused by economic growth depends on the beginning density.  If a state like Idaho in which 26% of the residents are Mormons experiences rapid growth, those moving into the state are likely to reflect the nation as a whole in which only 2% of the residents are Mormons.  The influx of new residents will lower the density.  In a state like Georgia, in which .81% of the residents are Mormons experiences rapid growth, those moving into the state are likely to again reflect the nation as a whole in which 2% of the residents are Mormons.  The influx of new residents will raise the density.  As an aside, I tried using population growth for one year as a proxy for economic growth because I had that data but it was not statistically significant. 

For those interested in the stats, the model I used was

Density = b0 + b1*ln(distance) +e

Where density is the percent of a state’s population that is LDS, distance is the number of miles from a state’s largest city to Salt Lake City, b0 and b1 are coefficients, and e is the error term.

The F statistic for the equation was 41.03, R2 was 47.7 and the t-statistics for the variables were 6.74 and –6.41. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Religious Freedom in Switzerland

I am accustomed to thinking of Western Europe as a bastion of freedom, but religious freedoms may take a back seat to labor laws, at least in Switzerland.  The story I am quoting was published December 13, 2010 (“American Mormon missionaries to be phased out of Switzerland”) so there is a chance that the law was not implemented.  It is an example of a political institution, not a custom, that negatively affects missionary work. 
In Switzerland, foreign missionaries enter under a worker’s visa.  A bi-lateral agreement with the EU, favors workers entering from the EU over workers from other countries.  According to the article, missionaries from the United States were limited to 80 in 2010, 50 in 2011, and zero in 2012. 
The restriction does not seem severe.  Missionaries could be redirected from other EU countries to Switzerland.  The law is less than optimal.  Optimal is an assigned church leader,  guided by the Spirit, issuing calls.  If you were wondering, the Swiss did not contact me when negotiating with the EU. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

YouTube as a Data Source

Like all other LDS fathers with 18 and 17 year old sons, I wonder how President Monson’s announcement changing age requirements for missionaries will affect the number of missionaries serving and the location of their calls.  I thought of several ways to measure changes in numbers but all were impossible to implement until last night.  I decided to use YouTube as a data source.  I searched “LDS mission calls December 2012” on YouTube and compared the results to the same search for December 2011.  My sample size is very small, approximately .5% of calls received in December, 2011. The sample may also contain biases. For example, perhaps more people post to YouTube now than a year ago. My conclusions are tenuous but better than nothing. Here is what I learned.