Monday, September 30, 2013

Missionary Work in Brazil and the NSA

Whether good, bad or indifferent, some policies of the United States government affect missionary work in foreign countries.  The NSA, a U.S. spy agency has been accused of spying on President Pena Nieto of Mexico and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (“Report: NSA spied on Brazilian, Mexican presidents”) as well as Mexican and Brazilian companies.  Rousseff in particular has expressed anger over the program, cancelling an October state visit to the United States and accusing the United States of  violating human rights and breaking international law in her opening remarks at the United Nations (“At U.N., Brazil's Rousseff blasts U.S. spying as breach of law”).  The spy policy may harm missionaries directly and indirectly.

The Brazilian government could enact policies that make it more difficult for U.S. missionaries called to serve in Brazil more difficult to obtain.  Rousseff is a passionate politician who was imprisoned by the Brazilian military government for her participation in a Marxist group aiming to overthrow military rule.  Like Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, her mentor, the founder of the Workers’ Party to which she belongs, and the man she followed as president, her rhetoric is more leftist than her policies.  Hopefully her pragmatic approach to governance will outweigh indignation caused by the NSA.

The NSA spy program could make Brazilians more hostile to a church headquartered in the United States and its missionaries from the United States if Brazilians associate the Church with the NSA policies.  As a missionary in the Argentina Cordoba Mission (1976-78) I occasionally saw a “Yanqui go home” graffiti spray painted onto a wall and I was often asked about U.S. policy but few thought of missionaries as representatives of the government.  We were blessed.  I pray that Brazilians will conflate U.S. government policy with the gospel.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Church Growth in Venezuela

Venezuela Growth Comparisons

Tensions between Venezuela and the United States were high when on August 23, 2005 televangelist Pat Robertson suggested conditions under which the United States should consider assassinating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  Chavez did not shrug off the remark, striking at religions groups with ties to the United States; his actions were a shotgun blast rather than the careful incision of a surgeon.  On 12 October, he issued an expulsion order for the New Tribes Mission an evangelical American missionary group.  Visa application approvals for the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which were always slow in coming came to a full stop.  On October 24, the Church evacuated 220 non-native missionaries from Venezuela (“Non-native LDS missionaries pulled from Venezuela”).  The evacuation created a natural experiment on the institutional strength of the Church in Venezuela.  How would it cope with only local leaders and missionaries? 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Enrollment Rates in Seminary by State

Seminary Enrollment Rate 2012            Seminary Enrollment Rate 2008
Seminary Rate US 2012Seminary Rate US 2008
I originally wanted to use the Seminary enrollment rate as a proxy for activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; on a country by country basis, the seminary enrollment rate is close to activity rates estimated by other or reported by the Church.  For the United States, I believe they overestimate the actual enrollment rate.  To understand why, I must explain how I calculated the rates.
The seminary enrollment rate is equal to the number of students enrolled in Seminary divided by the seminary age youth in the Church.  I did not know the latter number, so I estimated it by calculating the ratio of seminary age youth in each state by the state’s population and multiplied this ratio by the membership in the state.  If the Church membership has the same age distribution as the state as a whole, my estimates will be unbiased.  Because the birthrate of Church members may be higher than the nation as a whole, the seminary enrollment rates may be biased upward. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

August Update of Callings Posted to YouTube

To date, I have viewed more than 1,700 future missionaries opening their calls on YouTube.  Some share the special moment with friends and family; others limit the moment to family.  Some cry and some scream, a few laugh.  Many cannot properly read their call as their eye jumps to where they will serve.  A large number do not know how to pronounce the name of their missions or the language in which they will preach the gospel.  They are a choice generation that has listened to the prophet’s voice and serve God and their fellow men.  They are excited to serve.
13 August sisters vs elders
The graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” runs from November 2011 until August 2013 and displays the number of Sisters and Elders posting their calls to YouTube.  The number of posts increased dramatically beginning in November after President Monson announced in the October Conference that the ages of service had been lowered from 21 to 19 for Sisters and 19 to 18 for Elders until the peak in the surge in May 2013 when 220 future missionaries posted their class.  The number has fallen rapidly since that time to 71 in August 2013 but that relatively modest announcement number is well ahead of the 18 calls posted to YouTube the previous year.  In August 34 men and 37 women posted their calls.  It was the second consecutive month in which the videos from women exceeded those of men. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Institute Activity Rates by Country? Help!

Institute Activity World Map
As I present numbers that may give insights into the progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope my love for the Church, its members and those who guide it is apparent.  That love poses problems for my work as a researcher; it is a bias. The problem is not unique as all researchers confront bias.  It is how that bias is confronted that matters.  I believe that my bias propels care in measurement to accurately portray the Church as it is. I hope to inform and inspire.
The performance ratio I present here, the institute activity rate for a country, is based on a similar calculation as the seminary activity rate for a country that I presented in “Seminary Activity Rates by Country” and is presented below the body of the text.  The critical assumption in both ratios is that the percentage of a country’s population of an age demographic, 14 to 17 for seminary students and approximately 21 to 24 for institute students mirrors the percentage of the Church population in the same demographic.  The assumption may be accurate for seminary activity ratio but obviously fails in a wide range of countries for the seminary activity ratio.  It is the failure that suggests the most interesting question: why did it fail?

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Comparison of Activity Rates

This morning I posted Seminary Activity rates by country for over 70 countries.  I was straining to find other estimates of activity rates.  After posting my article, I went to one of my favorite websites, “LDS Church Growth” and learned that they had published  the August news letter, in which they link to an article, “Census Data” by Matt Martinich.  The article reports data on religious affiliation according to the national censuses of nine countries and Martinich’s estimates of activity rates for those countries.  He divided the number of people who list LDS affiliation by membership for that country as an estimate of activity;  he does not describe how the estimates were made.  I produced seminary activity rates for eight of the nine countries and they seem to be in the ballpark.  Well, maybe Fiji is a foul ball but it didn’t leave the stands. 

A Comparison of Activity Rates by Country



Cumorah Estimated

Seminary Activity

Australia 2006 46% 25-30% 42.4%
Brazil 2000 26% 25% 24.5%
Chile 2002 20% 12% 18.6%
Fiji 1996 32% 20-30% 42.7%
Ireland 2006 46% 35% 40.0%
Mexico 2000 23% 20-25% 25.8%
New Zealand 2006 45% 35-45% 37.3%
Samoa 36.7% 35-40% 31.4%
Tonga 2006 38% 30-35% 40.4%

Martinich describes the weaknesses of reported census affiliation.

Although census data number among one of the most objective and reliable methods for ascertaining member activity rates, there are several limitations to these data.  First, individual countries vary in who they count as religious affiliates depending on age and family status.  Religious status is identified by the head of the household for the entire family in some censuses.  Children under a certain age are also not reported as religious adherents in some nations, such as children under five in the 2000 Mexican census, whereas children of member families are included in nominal and active membership statistics.  Consequently many active youth may not be counted as Latter-day Saints on the census.  Second, self-affiliation does not ensure active participation in church.  Some inactive or less-active members continue to identify as Latter-day Saints but do not live church teachings and participate in services.  Furthermore, not all active members are self affiliated on the census as is the case with many youth from part-member families.

One other reason for lapsed members not to affiliate with the Church might be added,  In much of Europe, the Church has only obtained the “lower tier” of legal recognition and members might be at a disadvantage in divorce, adoption and even employment.  (Armand L. Mauss, “Can There Be A “Second Harvest”? : Controlling the Costs of Latter-day Saint Membership in Europe”).  Similar de facto and de jure restrictions may exist in Latin and South America.  Unless you are an active member of the Church, there isn’t much of a reason to affiliate with it, driving down the affiliation rate towards the activity rate. 

Seminary Activity Rates by Country

Activity World Map
God really did create people equally.  There is no chosen people, at least in the sense that they are spiritually superior to others.  Differences in devotion are the product of political, economic and religious institutions of each country.  My purpose in estimating seminary activity rates by country is to enable a search for institutions that might impede Church growth and devise methods to overcome their influence so as to maximize the number of sons and daughters of God who win exaltation through the atonement of Christ Jesus.  Just as there is no superior people, the Lord does not play favorites for he “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 the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”