The Mormon Moment
The Church of Latter-day Saints grows by leaps and bounds
Even those who die outside the faith will get a second chance in the afterlife to hear and respond to the Gospel, according to Mormon doctrine, and will receive eternal rewards if they accept it. To pave the way for such postmortem redemption, Mormons believe they can undergo proxy baptism on behalf of ancestors who died as nonbelievers. Mormon temples are typically busy six days a week with the comings and goings of members taking part in the ritual. The church's world-famous genealogical library in Salt Lake City has hundreds of millions of microfilmed records, many of them available on the Internet, to help church members identify non-Mormon ancestors for proxy baptism.
A strong focus on traditional families is a central feature of Mormon teaching, one many converts find appealing. As in other faiths, marriage is sacred and couples are encouraged to bear children and build strong, stable homes. But Mormons also teach that families can be bound together "for time and eternity" by undergoing a special "sealing" ritual in the temple. In the here and now, families are expected to conduct once-a-week "family home evenings" during which parents and children play, pray, and study Scripture together. Most local congregations, or "wards," sponsor Scout troops, youth recreation programs, and other family activities.
For a devout family--like David and Mary Driggs and their four children, of Salt Lake City--church activities dominate the week, from worship, classes, and committee work on Sundays to youth activities, temple visits, and volunteering at church-sponsored charities during the rest of the week. "It's no burden," says Driggs, 38, a University of Utah fundraiser and fifth-generation Mormon. Because so many church activities involve the entire family, he says, "it means we're able to spend more time together, not less. And it gives my life and my family's life tremendous order and peace and blessings."
Faithful Mormons also are expected to adhere to a strict moral code that, among other things, emphasizes modest dress and rules out gambling, premarital and extramarital sex, and the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or caffeinated beverages. The church's heavy emphasis on a "wholesome lifestyle" is so pervasive, one academic observer wryly notes, that while many of their young peers get into trouble experimenting with sex, drugs, and alcohol, when Mormon teenagers rebel, "they sneak off and drink a Pepsi."
Despite a birthrate higher than the national average, church officials say more than two thirds of new members each year are converts, making the Mormon church one of the most aggressive and successful at proselytizing. Last year, the church dispatched 58,600 missionaries--about three fourths of them 19- or 20-year-old males--across the United States and to 119 other countries. Each spent from three to eight weeks in "boot camp" at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, or at one of 14 satellite centers in other countries, where they study foreign languages and polish their door-to-door skills. Then they set out in pairs, at their own expense, on two-year assignments of teaching and preaching. Last year Mormon missionaries won more than 306,000 converts.