This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons). This is one of the world’s fastest-growing religions, with 12 million adherents all told.
From 1990-2004, the Mormons have increased their ranks by 31 percent in the United States; by more than 100 percent in some South American countries; and by a whopping 300 percent in parts of Africa. Very impressive.
Provo, Utah, and the Brigham Young University Missionary Training Center are, essentially, proselytizing production plants churning out missionaries for every demographic. The MTC can accommodate 4,000 students at a time, and there are currently 60,000 members of the Church of Latter Day Saints serving as full-time missionaries at one of 334 missions in 120 countries around the globe. Every Wednesday, several hundred students enter the facility for a 10-week training session. They are taught the basic tenets of their faith and are immersed in the language and culture of their target market.
Missionaries in Madrid, Seoul and Kampala learn not only how to converse in Spanish, Korean and Swahili but have also learned about local history, lore, dress and customs.
This has been very effective, judging by the numbers above, and why not? Successful companies have known and used this strategy for years. McDonald’s did not become what it is today by trying to entice Hindus in India with their “all-beef patties.” Chatpatey Potato Wedges are all the rage at McDonald’s in New Delhi, as is Fan Kao, a baked rice dish, at franchises in Taiwan. The Samurai Pork Burger with soy sauce is the favorite under the Golden Arches in Thailand.
Notwithstanding those successful ploys, international corporations should take a look at the Mormon marketing paradigm. It is not a multimedia advertising campaign with a billion-dollar budget, but a soft-sell based on word-of-mouth. For the curious, here is what they believe and preach:
The Book of Mormon is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. The book was written by various prophets through revelation and was transcribed onto gold plates by a prophet named Mormon. It tells of two lost tribes of Israel that came to the New World in 600 B.C. and who are the ancestors of our Native Americans. Their descendants were visited by Jesus Christ after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. In 1823, Mormon’s son, Moroni, then a glorified and resurrected being, delivered the gold plates to Joseph Smith and gave him the ability to translate them into their destined language: English. Subsequent visits by other resurrected prophets and apostles, said Smith, conferred on him the authority to reestablish Christ’s church on earth. Among other things, he asserted that the Garden of Eden was near Jackson County, Mo., and that God commanded him to take multiple wives, thus starting years of polygamy amongst his followers.
Now, despite the evidence DNA studies have provided documenting that the indigenous American peoples were descended from Asians and not Israelites, the idea that the forebears of our Native American tribes were Jews resounds true for those of us who grew up watching “F Troop” on television and wondering why the Indian Chief on the show spoke with a Yiddish accent.
That being said, this story is much the same as those of all the other mainstream religions. Just not as hoary. It is the story of a man in a position of power, or aspiring to such a position, asserting that God has spoken to him directly and that he alone has been apprised of God’s plan for the rest of humanity. Why is it that so many of the faithful of the world’s other religions (those who would scoff at the story above) cannot see the parallels between this tale and the history of their own sacred texts? Is it because of the age of the testimony in question? Does adding 5,000 years to the record make it more believable? Why are the stories of Abraham, the Apostle John and Mohammed more accepted than Joseph Smith’s, or for that matter, L. Ron Hubbard’s or the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s? And finally, why should they be?
John Carbone is a devout and, increasingly more, evangelical atheist. He is a former instructor of political science and currently resides in Louisville. Contact him at [email protected]