Mormonism is a new religious tradition. -Jan Shipps
In 2005, the Church celebrated Joseph Smith's 200th birthday on December 23, 1805, and the 175th anniversary of the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830. As the juxtaposition of the anniversaries makes clear, Smith was just twenty-five years old when he organized the Church. Nothing known of him or the circumstances gave reason to expect much from the fledgling movement, yet at the April 2005 General Conference speakers noted the Church had grown over the past decade by three million members to more than twelve million. Five hundred new stakes (dioceses) and 4,000 new wards and branches (congregations) had been organized. The number of operating temples had grown from forty-seven in 1995 to 119 in 2005 with three more to be dedicated during the year. The membership of student-age young people enrolled in the Church Education System had doubled to about 400,000. The Perpetual Education Fund, which had begun with "nothing but hope and faith," had assisted nearly 18,000 young people in twentyseven countries, helping them to prepare for better employment. The Book of Mormon, printed in eighty-seven languages in 1995, was available in 106 languages in 2005, and fifty-one million copies had been distributed in that decade. Thousands of new chapels had risen as well as the immense Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Sermons preached during the conference were broadcast to nearly 5,800 venues in eighty nations and translated into seventy-five languages. An estimated $641 million had been distributed worldwide through "humanitarian efforts," often in collaboration with other religious groups.
A new general presidency of the Primary, the organization for teaching children, was installed. The new president, Cheryl C. Lant, the mother of nine children, had studied early childhood development at Brigham Young University and was the co-founder and co-owner, with her husband, of a private school for children and the developer of a phonics-based beginning reading program. She was therefore a working mother who had extended her mothering reach beyond her own children both in her school and in her congregation.
Eight new men were called to the First Quorum of the Seventy to serve until age seventy when they would be retired as emeriti. Six were from Utah and Idaho, the other two from Brazil and Mexico. Of the four new General Authorities called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy for a shorter period, two were from Utah and one each from Korea and Germany. Thirty-seven Area Seventies, leaders who continued their realworld jobs while administering the affairs of multiple stakes locally, were released from their duties while another thirty-eight were called to fill the ranks. The new group had greater international representation with seven from the United States, six from Mexico, three from the Philippines, two each from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru, and a good sprinkling from other countries: Nicaragua, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras from Spanish-speaking countries, Germany, England, the Netherlands, Latvia, and Norway from Europe, and Australia and New Zealand from the southern hemisphere.
From this position of strength, Church members prepared to celebrate Joseph Smith's bicentennial with a year of conferences, books, exhibitions, films, and local events. During the thirty-eight and a half years of his life, Smith established the Church's guiding principles and practices, built cities and temples, launched a massive missionary program, and produced over 800 pages of scripture. Church members have long held that Smith, considered by many a fraud or a religious fanatic, is not properly appreciated. Mormons hope that talking about him will win respect for his considerable achievements. As one historian said, "We live in an unbelieving age. But Joseph Smith comes along and renews the belief that God will intervene and speak to people. . . . That gives us a basis for believing and hoping that God is actually intervening in the church as a whole, but even more so in our own lives."
2005 marked the tenth anniversary of the First Presidency of the Church with Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust in office. Hinckley has been hailed as a builder of temples and chapels, of innovative charitable programs, and of steering a steady course through the problems of modern life. In his decade-long administration, leaders stressed emphasis on the family; the number of operating temples, which will total 130 when those announced are completed; technical improvements allowing widespread travel and broadcasting via satellite; emphasis on Jesus Christ; technical improvements on FamilySearch, the Internet genealogy program that provides online access to more than a billion names; good media attention; wide distribution of the Book of Mormon in many languages; the Perpetual Education Fund; gifts of food, clothing, and supplies around the world; the growth of the Church outside the United States; the building of the Conference Center; and the restoration of historic sites.
There were also problems faced by the Church in this triumphant decade. Many of the achievements have their opposite side: the weakening of the family, seen specifically in figures on divorce and abuse and urgent warnings against gambling and pornography; the problems of exponential growth, and the problems of poverty and lack of education. In 2005, three important indicators were down: the number of children, the baptismal rate, and the number of missionaries, all reflecting shrinking rates of growth. The total number of missionaries was down when it had been 51,000 in 2004 and 61,000 the year before. These figures represented a combination of higher qualifications for potential missionaries and for the people they would like to baptize, as well as a demographic reduction in the number of available young men and women. New children of record-the number of members added by births-were down 587 to 98,870, reflecting a lower birthrate among Mormons. Convert baptisms, which have hovered at 300,000 annually for some years, were down 1,684 from the year before to 241,239. The speedily growing Church is slowing down.