About those International Conversion Rates
Church spokesman Michael Otterson wrote recently about just how white the Church is not. Although,
naturally, Utah will always be associated with the church … today there are more Mormons outside the U.S. than in it. Today, Mormons are Bolivians, Ghanaians, Koreans and Russians, all an integral part of the church family.
He gives us numbers to combat the “myth” that the Church is a white church. If there were 100 people in it, in 1980, 73 of them would have been from the US and Canada (presumably mostly all white), whereas in 2010, this number drops to 48. So, the Church is not only not white, but it’s also not American. It’s a multiracial, multinational Church.
Of course there are a couple caveats that Otterson fails to mention.
The first is that of correlation, and how the Church never syncretizes with host cultures, but instead sits adjacent to them. This tapers both growth and the activity rates of overseas baptized members. So, as Jan Shipps has said, “It’s not just a question of numbers.”
The second caveat is thatbecause Joseph Smith was a prophet and the first president of the Church (and all presidents after him have been prophets, as well), the faiths organizational structure reproduces itself in a top-down fashion. Converting people for the sake of diversity keeps things fresh and has the appeal of truthiness (white Mormons are ever-so-pleased to hear a person of color testify of Smith’s prophet status). But actually giving top-tier leadership roles to those with different cultural backgrounds is a recipe for discord, which the Lord wouldn’t want (who apparently only recently became a fan of interracial marriages). Let’s take a look at the General Authorities roster to see just how many non-American and/or non-white GAs there are (answer: few). Yes, as time goes on, this number may come to better reflect the actual membership, but let’s not forget how people of color can benefit from their possessive investment in vicarious whiteness (George Lipsitz as quoted in Smith, Darron, 2004, Black and Mormon, p159). There’s little sign of this whiteness abating.
Consider the following account from Keith Hamilton, a black Mormon from North Carolina who has served as a bishop and was part of a 2003 Sunstone panel regarding the worldview differences between black LDS Americans and black LDS Africans and Caribbeans.
Hamilton is married to a woman from Haiti, whom he met at Salt Lake Citys Temple Square. He argues that African and Caribbean peoples have been ruled by those of their own color, so their perspectives on race are different. In Puerto Rico, where Hamilton served his mission, there is “no black/white church issue” and he feels that black leaders in America promote a “historical chasm” that does a disservice to their constituencies. He is thankful that “the Lord allowed [him] to overcome racial issues with the priesthood and history quickly” and adds that “different peoples of the world tend to move forward a lot quickerlike those from Cambodiaor Vietnam[who] can tap into economic fortune, even though they went through a horrendous period [with regard to American intervention in their countries].” This moving forward “doesnt only work in the economic sense, but it tends to work in the gospel sense, [too].”
Hamilton is intent to take race out of the equation when it comes to the movement of the truth of the Gospel in a global perspective. But his account only illustrates the multiple ways that race is written into the discourses of American nationalism, neoliberalism, colonialism (including, for example, the stereotype of the Asian as a “model minority”). So long as everyone has a forward outlook without looking back, everything will be okay, right? Or perhaps nothing will change.
 Keith Hamilton, Renee Olson, Natalie Palmer Sheppard, Ted Whiters. LDS BLACK EXPERIENCE PANEL I: a foreign message?: Why do black Americans react Differently to the Church than do Black Africans? 2003 Salt Lake Symposium, August 15. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/audio/SL03232.mp3