Thursday, May 3, 2012

Change In LDS Definition Of "Membership" Since 2000 Caused ASARB To Overstate LDS Growth Rate From 2000-2010

On May 3rd, 2012, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) overstated the growth rate of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the period 2000-2010. According to the ASARB's 2010 U.S. Religion Census, the LDS Church reported an increase from 4,224,026 U.S. members in 2000 to 6,144,582 members in 2010, a 45.5 percent jump.

However, the Tribune discovered that the LDS Church had reported a total U.S. membership of 5,208,827 for the year 2000 in the LDS Church Almanac. Had that figure been used, the growth rate during the past decade would have been closer to 18 percent, which still would have put the LDS Church at the top of the list among Christian faiths.

Official LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter explained the discrepancy; two different definitions of "membership" were used. The current definition of "membership", reflected in the 2010 total of 6,144,582, is derived from all those individuals who have been baptized or born into the Church. They don't drop off the membership rolls if they changed congregations. In contrast, back in 2000, the Church left out the numbers of members who, although baptized, were not currently associated with a specific congregation.

Dale Jones, a researcher on the Religion Census, was mildly annoyed with the change in definition, but said it's no big deal and acknowledged that any church has the right to define its membership standards. But the discrepancy is still embarrassing; already, some anti-Mormons are trying to mine propaganda value from it.

But it's not unheard of for an entity to change its foundational definitions. For example, in 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record for home runs in a season by hitting 61. However, while Ruth hit his 60 during a 154-game season, Maris hit his 61 during a 162-game season. So for years, Maris had an asterisk next to his name in the record books. But when Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds subsequently broke that record in 1998 and 2001 respectively, the season was still 162 games, so no asterisk was appended to their names, although baseball fans who are purists might be tempted to asterisk their names for a different reason.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has done the same thing. Although the FBI reported a 30 percent decrease in hate crimes during the period 2000-2010, the SPLC claims that the number of hate groups increased by 66.4 percent during the same period. One of the main reasons is because, during that period, they changed their definition of "hate group" from racist groups alone to include immigration restrictionist groups, militia groups, and even pro-family groups. Pro-family groups who oppose the promotion and statutory protection of homosexuality are now considered "hate groups" by the SPLC. Obviously, if you cast your net wider, you'll catch more fish. Some critics of the SPLC accuse them of doing this primarily to assure their self-perpetuation and to keep the donation spigot cranked wide open; they seek to scare more people into giving them money.

Of course, nobody on Recovery From Mormonism is criticizing the SPLC for engaging in these tactics. They only target the LDS Church.

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