Return to About Mormons home

Interfaith Relationships - Other Faiths

by Soren F. Cox

In August 1852, while the Church was still struggling to establish itself in the western United States, President Brigham Young issued a bold call for missionaries to go to China, India, Siam (Thailand), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The seventeen missionaries who were sent formed some of the earliest contacts that LDS members had with non-Christians (see The Church in Asia). Because of civil wars, rejection, and language and cultural difficulties, the work in most countries lasted only months; however, work in India continued until 1856. Although some attempts were made in the early twentieth century, the Church did not undertake further significant efforts to establish itself in non-Christian nations, including Asia, until after World War II.

Stimulated by experiences of LDS servicemen in Asia during and after the war, the Church established missions in East Asia at the end of the 1940s. Since then, wards and stakes led by local members have been established in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines; temples have been built in all these places except Hong Kong.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Church expanded into such Southeast Asian nations as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and in the South Asian nations of India and Sri Lanka. Although small beginnings have been made in some Muslim countries, Church growth in such countries has been limited.

LDS health services programs in the Philippines and refugee assistance in Thailand have been favorably received. High-level contacts with government officials in many countries have elicited a positive response to the values of the Church and its members. Overall, the Church has made consistent efforts to remain sensitive to and abide by local laws and customs, including regulations based on religious sentiment.

Church growth in Africa has principally taken place in the last quarter of the twentieth century, particularly following the 1978 revelation allowing all worthy males to hold the priesthood (See The Church in Africa; Doctrine and Covenants: Official Declaration -- 2). Congregations have been established in several countries, and Church membership is growing rapidly. In recent years, the Church has joined various charitable organizations in sending famine relief to stricken nations on the African continent (see Economic Aid).

In an educational vein, Missionary Training Centers teach many foreign languages and courses on the religions and cultures of non-Western countries, and for educational purposes "culturegrams" have been developed that are now used by U.S. government agencies. In addition, courses on world religions are regularly taught in institutions of higher learning. Moreover, symposia on Islam and on the religions of Africa have been hosted at Brigham Young University, with a number of distinguished religious leaders and scholars participating.

In many countries, THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints is viewed as an American church. However, Church leaders have strongly emphasized that it is universal, a church for all people everywhere (see World Religions [Non-Christian] and Mormonism; The Worldwide Church home page). A powerful presentation by President Spencer W. Kimball in 1974 stressed the responsibility of the Church to share the gospel with all of God's children (Ensign 4 [Oct. 1974]:2-14). Consequently, in the last half of the twentieth century the Church has made its most significant efforts to establish itself throughout the world.

Generally the LDS outreach to non-Christians has had a positive, invigorating effect on members of the Church, has strengthened Church membership significantly, and has brought about increased awareness of cultural differences as well as a willingness to work within those differences.

(See Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relationships home page)

Bibliography

Palmer, Spencer J. The Expanding Church. Salt Lake City, 1978.

Palmer, Spencer J., ed. Mormons and Muslims. Provo, Utah, 1983.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Interfaith Relationships

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

All About Mormons