General Authority Disputes Newspaper's Membership Calculations

General Authority Disputes Newspaper's Membership Calculations

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has disputed a newspaper's calculation of the percentage of Utahns who are Mormon.

Merrill J. Bateman, a member of First Quorum of the Seventy, said Wednesday on KUER's RadioWest program that The Salt Lake Tribune used county-by-county membership data the church provides state government that did not include in-transit members.

The Tribune used the numbers to calculate that the Mormon share of the state's population had declined from 70.4 percent in 1989 to 62.4 percent in 2004, and if the trend continued Mormons would be a minority group in Utah by 2030.

The Tribune "was absolutely right in saying there is a declining majority," Bateman said. "We are aware of it."

But he said the figures did not include the estimated one in 10 Utah Mormons who were moving in 2003.

Using the higher numbers provided by the church, 70.5 percent of Utahns in 2003 were Mormons.

The church's figures are based on baptisms and include people who remain on the church rolls but may no longer consider themselves to be Mormon.

The American Religious Identification Survey for 2001, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, found that when asked what their religion was, 57 percent of the Utah residents surveyed said they were Mormon.

Bateman also responded to Tribune articles about the church's slowing international growth rate.

He agreed that conversions have slowed, but he tied it to changing nationwide demographics and the shrinking pool of missionary-age U.S. citizens.

As the number of missionary-age adults declined, the number of converts also started to decline. "This is the primary reason we have this dip in the growth rate," he said.

In a previous interview, church spokesman Dale Bills said the smaller pool of young adults was a factor. He also that when the church raised its qualification standards for missionaries in 2002, "the church anticipated some decline in the number of missionaries serving."

Bateman said raising standards has resulted in a slight decline in the number of missionaries, but it also has started to result in an increase in missionary productivity.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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