First in a three-part series on the worldwide Church
Can a church be unified and diverse at the same time? In a global world like ours, where people exchange ideas and culture easier than ever, the better question may be “How can a church survive without unity and diversity?” Far from a contradiction, the two complement each other, like sides of a coin.
Diverse Faces of the Mormon People
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Ephesians 2:19
The face of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is changing. Once consisting mostly of people from northern Europe and concentrated in the state of Utah, the Church’s membership has grown across the world since the mid-1900s. Today that face reflects every race and culture and has more color, more diversity, than ever before.
The mosaic may surprise you. Latter-day Saints live in 190 countries, nations and territories, speak over 120 languages and worship in nearly 30,000 congregations around the world. Brazilians run the Church in Brazil. Japanese organize the work in Japan. Germans teach the gospel to members in Germany. And the Church occasionally creates congregations to address the needs of ethnic communities such as the Polish in Chicago, the Chinese in Salt Lake City and Cambodians in Massachusetts.
Missionaries from around the world serve in more than 400 missions. A young man from Italy might serve in a Mandarin-speaking mission in England; a young woman from Australia may serve in a Hmong-speaking mission in California; a retired couple from Idaho might serve a medical mission in India. These volunteers immerse themselves in foreign cultures and love the people they serve.
But statistics convey just a portion. Much of this story is told through cultural expression.
Experience a cultural celebration at any LDS temple dedication and you will see the vibrancy of the world’s peoples. Whether it be the artistry of Eastern European cultures at the Kyiv Ukraine Temple or the spirited folk performances in Buenos Aires Argentina, these celebrations display the dancing, music and costumes of Latter-day Saints in their home environments.
Every three years Mormon artists from around the world participate in the International Art Competition. Hosted by the Church, this event features paintings, drawings, illustrations, photography, sculptures and more. Gathered in one eclectic display, side by side, these works show the depths of religious reflection and the craftsmanship of spiritual imagination. The participants bear the personalities of their heritage and the sensibilities of their region. No single perspective overshadows another, and the colors of the gospel shine through.
In each country and locale, Latter-day Saints contribute to their own cultures. But whatever the ethnicity or outward appearance, they have a common identity as children of the same Heavenly Father. Race is an affirming part of human purpose. As much as these differences enrich, the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends them all.
As the Body of Christ
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12
Living the gospel does not require people to give up what makes them unique. The qualities that form identity and build character also contribute to the good of the Church. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul compared the church to the body of Christ. At that time branches of the church spread across diverse cultures and nationalities of the Mediterranean. He wrote: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). So it is today. The Church has members of virtually all races and nationalities, and each is a vital member of the whole.
For all their differences, Latter-day Saints find comfort in their commonality. Wherever they travel, whether it be Seoul, Sao Paulo or St. Petersburg, members of the Church feel the fellowship of their religious community. They share a common set of beliefs, a familiar vocabulary and a joint commitment to care for one another. Though they may disagree over politics or economics, they grow together as they address differences with understanding and sensitivity.
Stepping into a Mormon chapel and hearing the rhythms of a Mormon worship service can feel like coming home. Sunday services follow the same format, feature similar music and administer the same sacrament. Sermons use the same scriptures, and instructors teach from the same lessons. The same resources are translated and distributed to congregations throughout the Church. And yet each Latter-day Saint internalizes the experience differently. A united gospel culture exists alongside varying individual and societal environments.
In the end, there are no American Latter-day Saints, European Latter-day Saints, Latin Latter-day Saints, African Latter-day Saints or Asian Latter-day Saints. There are only Latter-day Saints, pure and simple.