Numbers

I I had to bet on one thing showing up in general conference, Elisabeth, I’d bet on numbers. We Mormons love numbers, and they love us. The love affair is clear in stake, ward, or general conferences, where Mormons recite numbers in loving detail.

How many members are there exactly? As of 2004, there were 12,275,822 members, divided into 2,665 stakes, 646 districts, and 26,670 wards and branches. There were 98,870 new children born into the church that year, and 241,239 convert baptisms.

And we seem to think — perhaps correctly — that the Lord approves of our current love of numbers. If so, that would be a stark departure from prior scriptural attitudes. As we read in scriptures such as 2nd Samuel, the very act of numbering was once a grave sin:

And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.
For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.
And Joab said unto the king, Now the LORD thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?
Notwithstanding the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.

And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.
For when David was up in the morning, the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,
Go and say unto David, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.
So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.

In times past, numbering Israel brought on God’s wrath, and led to pestilence, famine, or war. How things have changed in just a few millennia.

71 comments for “Numbers

  1. Steve Evans
    September 20, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    “How many members are there exactly?”

    That’s an interesting question, Kaimi, and one not so easily answered, as shown in recent hubbubs in Dialogue and elsewhere. Our numbers don’t exactly jive with census data or other outside sources. This could be one reason why the Lord hates our love of numbers.

  2. manaen
    September 20, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    And even in this example, “… thee *three* things; choose thee *one* of them…Shall *seven* years… flee *three* months… there be *three* days’ pestilence” Maybe the problem wasn’t numbers, but misusing resources on the wrong numbers or misusing the numbers.

    I believe numbers are necessary but insufficient in the church. It’s true that Spiritless HT visits to 100% of the ward’s homes fails HT’s purpose. It’s also true that Spirit-filled HT visits, but only 10% of the wards homes being visited, fails the purpose.

    Like my complaint with many business reports (I’m in corporate finance) that are solely a pile of numbers and graphs, the numbers are the beginning, not the ending. What remains is to understand what valuable meanings are to be gleaned and to determine what to do with that understanding.

  3. Eric S.
    September 20, 2005 at 7:00 pm

    What about the book of Numbers?

  4. September 20, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    Whether or not God is interested in us counting our men so as to go to war, as in the above example, he surely is interested in the number of souls that get saved. D&C 18 covers this, even if common sense didn’t.

    We have a certain level of home teaching in our ward, and, guess what? I actually find it very informative to see who does their home teaching and who does not. I can garner additional information by talking to the families about those visits that are happening. But the tools work together to tell me a story about how priesthood holders are meeting needs.

    Statistics are no more or less useful, if we know how to use them, than words are. They can be used to reveal or obfuscate, just as other languages can. Perhaps the problem is that fewer people know how to use numbers than know how to use other languages. But that is not so much because of the evil of numbers as it is a comment on general numeric ignorance.

  5. El Jefe
    September 20, 2005 at 8:22 pm

    Well, what do you know? Way back during the Creation the Gods who (one must assume) did not offend themselves, must have offended Kaimi (lol).

    “And it came to pass they numbered the days.” Abraham 4:13.

    And, during the Exodus, the Lord spake unto Moses: “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls…” Numbers 1:3.

    “As the Lord commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.” Numbers 1:19.

  6. manaen
    September 20, 2005 at 9:02 pm

    Ummh, is the topic Numbers (counting) or Numb-ers (high-council speakers) ?

  7. September 21, 2005 at 12:12 am

    I agree with Frank. Numbers can provide useful indicators, however, the numbers themselves should not be the goal. I’d rather have 60% home teaching in my EQ knowing that the needs of families were being prayerfully met, rather than 100% “superficial” home teaching.

    This was an issue that constantly irritated me on my mission; the over-zealous zone leader who was interested in boosting numbers. On one occassion I had an AP call me to ask if I would encourage two prospective converts to move their baptismal date up by one week, so that we could meet our mission baptismal goal for the month. I politely told him that they had prayed about the date, and I was in no position to contradict their personal revelation.

    As far as conference goes, typically we only hear the official church-wide stats during the “business” session of April conference for the year ended on the preceeding December 31. I, for one, was proud when the 1993 convert baptism numbers were read, since I knew I was counted in the total.

  8. TJ
    September 21, 2005 at 1:27 am

    My mission president in Guatemala was a former statistician for the Air Force. So it was safe to say, he used a lot of numbers. However, he never pushed the numbers on us with a heavy hand, instead he used them to explain how effective we were being as missionaries. He always said, “The numbers don’t lie.” And he was right.

    In regards to Home Teaching, I hate the numbers. A few weeks ago our High Priest Group Leader stood up in opening exercises and stated that the quorum had missed the 80% mark by just a few percentage points. He then stated that 10 or so ACTIVE families had been missed and had they been visited, we would have reached the stake goal.

    About the discrepancies between church records and census data, not all countries have “Mormon” listed as a choice of religion on their survey. And if they do, I’m sure a lot of baseball baptisms, etc. of years ago (who DO have records in the church) would certainly not self-identify as Mormons and thus would not mark as such on a census survey.

  9. Jed
    September 21, 2005 at 9:47 am

    The “love” of numbers shown by mission presidents, missionaries, or members may have little to do with the numbers read by Michael Watson at General Conference.

    One way of reading the numbers at GC is a public accounting of the Church’s “progress.” Church members, as tithe payers, are investors, and their confidence is critical for the entire enterprise. They want to see a return on their investment. The numbers reassure them that the tithes are generating a return in the form of the rock made without hands moving forward to fill the earth.

    This view finds support in the fact that numbers have been published with the Conference Report (back to the early 1900s) long before mission presidents incorporated business models into their proselytizing.

  10. September 21, 2005 at 9:48 am

    TJ, was that President Williams? If so, who are you?

  11. Elisabeth
    September 21, 2005 at 9:59 am

    Yes, Kaimi, numbers are important. But what about eating disorders?

  12. September 21, 2005 at 10:04 am

    Is Kaimi’s original post to showcase a personal gripe about the current Church leadership, the administration of the Church, or what?

    Indeed Kaimi, what is the point of your post?

    On the issue of whether or not “numbering” is a sin or not, it actually all depends on what the Lord currently commands. In one era he tells us to preach without purse or scrip, and in another he tells us to bring money on missions.

  13. TJ
    September 21, 2005 at 10:21 am

    Rusty,

    It was President Williams. I’m the former Elder Jacob.

  14. annegb
    September 21, 2005 at 10:51 am

    That’s a safe bet, Kaimi.

    Wouldn’t we all [become agitated] if the prophet spoke out against blogging?

    I would promptly quit, but it wouldn’t be an easy decisionl.

  15. gst
    September 21, 2005 at 11:12 am

    annegb just rocketed to #1 on my list of favorite commentors.

  16. Steve Evans
    September 21, 2005 at 11:51 am

    did annegb’s comment get edited because of expletives? If so, please place “s-word” or “f-word” in there as applicable.

  17. Mike (tongue in cheek)
    September 21, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    Not all numbers are equal, in value.

    Some numbers are very useful, especially when they reflect the effects of only one or a small number of known factors. A diabetic checks their blood sugar and gets a number. A very useful and reproducible number. It is either high, normal or low. From a practical point of view only a few factors influence it; how much they ate, how much insulin they took, and how active they have been and possibly emotional state. And whether they performed the test correctly. With some training the diabetic can be taught to adjust their next insulin dose to cover the food they wil eat in light of further activity and achieve tight control of blood sugars much of the time and thus avoid the ravages of the disease. I think this is parallel to what our leaders are trying to do with all of these numbers.

    But the numbers we measure at church are the result of so many factors that it becomes increasingly difficult to atttach any meaning to them. Multivariable analysis is not intuitively understood by very many people and if the sample size is too small then few valid conclusions can be drawn even with sophisticated statistical tools. When was the last time the EQP announced that HT was down by 5% but that multivariable analysis comparing time of year and weather conditions and the price of gasoline and whether the BYU cougars were winning and 16 other variables shown by previous experience to be of influence indicated that this was not a statistically significant drop. So keep up the good work!

    I believe that most of the numbers that are available to a ward leader are strongly influenced by so many variables, many of them not obvious, that the numbers are nearly useless. HT/VT percentages are among them. They are influenced by too many variables that change from month to month to be of much use. Ward leaders have to focus on something, they can’t focus on everything. If they focus on numbers, which I have found is much easier to do than to focus on real people and their annoying problems, their vision will not be as clear, especially if the numbers are not reflective of what they think they are. And the tools a local leader has to influence those variables are limited, but the options available to help annoying people are great.

    Comment to #9. If you are paying tithing because you think of it as some kind of investment and you want to see some return on it in the way of new converts, that is way messed up. Most of the tithing is not even used on anything connected with missionry work. Not that I know how they use it, but the missionary department is spending no more than a few million and the tithing has to be in the billions range. This kind of thinking turns the gospel into some kind of spiritual Ponzi scheme. When you write that tithing check, you say bye-bye to that money and you are not ever going to see it again. If you don’t believe me try asking the Bishop for a refund on last years tithing.

    As far as general conference goes, a few years ago I wanted to calculate how many people were being excommunicated or requested to be dropped from the rolls of the church each year. I had a hypothesis, that it was a statistically invisible number a few decades ago but was growing to a significant number recently. I thought it would be an easy exercise in simple addition to get a gross aproximation of how many. One hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? I presumed there are only two ways to get onto the records of this church; children of record baptized at age 8 or else “convert baptisms.” Both numbers are reported yearly. Only two ways out, die or else get axed/dropped. Death rates although not reported in conference are fairly stable and known for most populations and can be accurately estimated. I realized that many members live in poor countries outside the US but they are also a younger population and I thought their death rates overall would not be that far off the US average.

    I went to the church’s website and looked up the statistical reports in the May Ensign for each year from about 1980 to present and put it into a simple data chart. As I began to do the addition with a pencil and paper, nothing elaborate, I was amazed at the enormous discrepancies I encountered. Those numbers often do not add up from year to year or make any sense at all. Some of these discrepancies could be explained by policy changes as to who was included in each catagory. But many others could not. I concluded that one year there must have been statistically near zero deaths along with over a hundred thousand resurrections for the total number of members to swell as much as it did beyond the convert baptisms and children of record reported.

    My guess from this futile exercise is that those numbers are not even within 10 or 20% of being correct and I have no idea how many people are leaving the church. Either that or I am just plain too stupid to count and add. My dad claims that the church hires people to work for them who are generally incapable of employment elsewhere and these church bean counters are doing the best they can, 20% off isn’t too bad for them, so cut them some slack. The one number that did make sense across the board and is probably correct to 5 significant figures is the number of missionaries serving. I bet they can tell you how many missionaries we have down to the very last one.

    I try and ignore numbers at church as much as possible. The only important number you need to know in my ward is 9. Nine o’clock is when meetings begin on Sunday morning.

  18. manaen
    September 21, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    17
    Mike, I also came up with negative deaths/removed from records in some years as I was charting growth rates, conversions per missionary, etc. from the GenCon statistical reports. Oh, well — my heart still is changed, my spirit still is healed, and each day brings new joys.

  19. Kevin Barney
    September 21, 2005 at 1:54 pm

    I think we should burn the absolutely huge “cannot find” list deep in the dungeons of the Church Office Building bureaucracy, slash the ward lists, and true up our membership from $12 million down to $4 million. (This opinon is why I will never be called as a bishop!)

    If people want their names removed, we should do it, and not make it such an obstacle course in hopes of keeping their names on the lists.

    There is a risk to equating rapid growth with a manifest destiny view that this is the Lord’s Church. What happens when the growth slows, as it has recently? Is that evidence of apostasy? Surely not.

  20. September 21, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    “I think we should burn the absolutely huge “cannot find” list deep in the dungeons of the Church Office Building bureaucracy, slash the ward lists, and true up our membership from $12 million down to $4 million. (This opinon is why I will never be called as a bishop!)”

    Are the Brethren purposely being deceitful? And if so, what would be the purpose of giving such a scandalous gift to the enemies of the Mormon faith?

    I don’t think we’re privy to all the data, and thus I think we should avoid merely assuming that the numbers are hogwash.

  21. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Towns (14) — my post is just an observation. I’ve always thought that it’s kind of weird that we have both scriptures that come out strongly against numbering, but also a strong impulse to number.

    There are any number of perfectly legitimate explanations. On the other hand, it is a funny juxtaposition.

    (And Jefe, #5, I’m certainly not “offended” by numbering. I do think that it’s worth noting prior scriptural attitudes).

  22. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 2:59 pm

    I was actually thinking that the comments to this post would focus more on numbering in ancient Israel versus today. But it looks like everyone is gravitating to the controversial aspects. Perhaps I’ll discuss those in a future post.

  23. September 21, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    “I’ve always thought that it’s kind of weird that we have both scriptures that come out strongly against numbering, but also a strong impulse to number.”

    I’m still trying to understand why you think it’s weird. After all, the church has always been consistent in that this is a “new dispensation” and that things were being done a certain way. Numbering has been a part of the church since day one, when “six members” organized the “Church of Christ”.

    I think the numbering is valid when the Lord tells you to number; when He tells you not to number, then you are condemned if you do so. It’s not weird or confusing in the least.

  24. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Michael,

    In the Old Testament, numbering is a severe sin. It leads to massive punishment — seven years of famine being one of the options. Today, it’s routine. (Also, it was apparently tolerated at other junctures in Old Testament times and prior to the new dispensation, such as numbering among the Nephites).

    I’m not saying that this can’t be explained. In fact, I explicitly said that there are any number of perfectly legitimate explanations.

    You’ve suggested one, and it may be right. (Or maybe not, I don’t know). But in any case, your ability to supply an answer doesn’t mean that the question isn’t worth thinking about in the first place.

    That’s all my post is: “Hmm, numbering was a severe sin in David’s time. Nowadays it’s commonplace. That’s curious. I wonder why that’s the case.” It’s _not_ saying that the two are irreconcilable; it _is_ saying that they’re evidence of very different attitudes, and that that difference is something to think about.

    Thus, it’s an invitation to ponder the possible explanations and ramifications of the two different pieces of evidence. If you think the answer is obvious, more power to you. I don’t think it’s quite so blindingly obvious, and I happen to think that pondering over scriptures is a positive thing.

  25. b bell
    September 21, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    Numbers are just neutral items. Its what they mean that matters. I am curious what people think of the almost 60% decline in the annual birth rate amongst LDS folks

    In 1970 there were say 3MM members with a total Child of Record of about 53,000. In 2004 there was 12.3 MM members with 98,000 children of record. From http://www.mormon-news.com (these are very rough numbers)

    Any thoughts?

  26. annegb
    September 21, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    I very seldom use the f-word. I have to be really mad, it’s not dignified at my age. However, I use other words without caring because they don’t seem like cuss words to me. Agitate is okay–I didn’t mean to change the subject.

    Kaimi, is your question why was it awful to number in the Old Testament and not now? Why is there a book of Numbers? There has to be something about numbers, isn’t there a way in Math to communicate universally? Carrying it further, numbers, ie math, seem to my increasingly limited intelligence to be similar to light in the universal nature of things. Things meaning everything in the known and unknown world.

    Also the fact that we have an impulse to number doesn’t make it right–or wrong. If that’s what you’re basing your question on.

    I think an even more interesting discussion is where do numbers, ie math, fit into what is really real to God, which we know very little of.

  27. Kierkegaard
    September 21, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    I think the decline in children follows naturally from the increase in subscription price to the Church magazines. It costs more than ever to keep a child plugged in to Friends around the world.

  28. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    Steve,

    Let’s just say that she used a term I haven’t seen in the ‘nacle since a certain (in)famous BoH comment by a mutual friend of ours.

  29. Visorstuff
    September 21, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    Even exmormons don’t totally agree on how incorrect the numbers are or are not. Look at the studies done by outsiders, not by amateur statisticians. I do think the numbers are more accurate than people give credit for. See discussion at this exmormon forum about just how correct the numbers could be: http://www.aimoo.com/forum/postview.cfm?
    id=418550&CategoryID=121363&startcat=1&ThreadID=2165734. (see section “Date Posted: 07/25/2005 11:53 AM” that discusses life-long religiosity cycles – people who leave and come back and when. Historically, only about ten percent leave the church, another 50 percent come and go multiple times during their lives as self-identifiying Mormons. (of course I’m over-generalizing a study by Stan Albrecht entitled, “The Consequential Dimension of Mormon Religiousity,” but is true enough)

    I’m of the opinion that the true measure of “growth” in the church is the additions of new temples. By the end of 2000, there was a temple everywhere that could justify one. As new temples are built, we know that there is strong active folks in that area that can operate a temple at a third of its capacity. No temple is built until the current temple in use is being utilized. New temples=church growth, less temples built, less growth.

  30. September 21, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    Kaimi,

    You could just as profitably note that people say things that get them in trouble and make God angry, inferring that God hates speech, but then they say other things and God is not angry and you are mystified at the difference. Of course, the mystification comes because you have created a broad category that includes both good and bad things.

    It is not the use of language or numbers, it is the content and purpose of the numbers or language.

  31. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    Frank,

    I’d like to think there’s more specificity than that here. Read over the story in Samuel or Kings — the act of numbering Israel was considered a sin. It doesn’t take a huge conceptual leap to note that the act of numbering Israel is no longer a sin.

  32. September 21, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    Ok then…..I’m glad the Church isn’t under condemnation for releasing membership numbers every six months…..

  33. Rosalynde
    September 21, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    “No temple is built until the current temple in use is being utilized.”

    This is not the case in Southern California, where the Newport Beach temple was just dedicated while the enormous LA temple remains woefully underattended. The new temple shows only that the density of LDS population in SoCal has shifted decisively toward Orange County, not that the LDS population in SoCal has grown decisively.

  34. September 21, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    Rosalynde:

    What is your source that the LA temple is underattended?

  35. b bell
    September 21, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    #33 and 34

    I am in agreement with Rosalynde about a shift in where the members live in CA. Who buys a home in LA anymore? Church growth in CA has stagnated in my understanding due to a variety of reasons. One of them is that young couples getting married have a difficult time financially in CA among other reasons.

  36. Visorstuff
    September 21, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    By my numbers, nearly every temple is at a third of total capacity. This holds true for the LA temple – slow during the week, but busy on the weekends. That said, the newport beach temple, still had to justify itself.

  37. September 21, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Thank goodness other factors besides attendance numbers go into “justifying” if and where a temple will be built. I can think of about a dozen temples that simply wouldn’t exist if such were the case.

  38. September 21, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Kaimi, I think you’re generaalizing.

    1)The parallel in 1 Chr. 21:1 has Satan inciting David to take a census,

    2)Other censuses are carried out without punishment (as in Numbers and Exodus).

    3) The census David orders is taken by the military commander, who reports in 2 Sa. 24:9 specifically on the number of men who can fight.

    These have led many commenters to the conclusion that David ordered this census out of pride and a desire to go to war and expand the kingdom, and that these motivations are what offended the Lord, not the census itself.

  39. Jack
    September 21, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    Kaimi,

    Didn’t King David get in trouble because he was numbering Israel to determine the strength of his armies? The Lord got angry because David was relying on the arm of the flesh rather than the Lord to fight Israel’s battles.

  40. Jack
    September 21, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    The building of temples represents a shift in religious praxis. Thank goodness!

    There are other more cynical voices who claim that the brethren don’t know what to do with our enormous budget and so they say, hey! Didn’t Brigham Young say something about temples dotting the earth? That seems like a good way to invest all of that excess.

    I don’t buy it.

  41. manaen
    September 21, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    34
    I’ve been in sessions in the LA temple with fewer than 15 people (oops, counting again). This could seem underattended in ordinance rooms with capacities of some multiple of the newer temples’.

    FWIW, the latest study by Glenmary Research Center (http://www.glenmary.org/grc/RCMS_2000/specific_groups.htm)showed that LDS population declined 6% in LA County, and 2% into in Orange County, from 1990 to 2000. However, the Church now is moving back into LA with new / revitalized branches that have leadership reflecting the current demographics.

  42. Julie in Austin
    September 21, 2005 at 5:30 pm

    I think the real problem with most temples is overcrowding on Saturdays and underuse during the week. How to get around that is a tricky issue.

  43. jimbob
    September 21, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    I think Jack’s comments are well taken (39), but are maybe overly facile. I agree with Ben (38) that it was pride, but disagree that the problem was not pride in wanting to got to war. It seems to me that if the Lord had had a problem with David numbering Israel for war, then He would have had a concommitant problem with David going to war, which is not indicated in the scriptures. Otherwise, the Lord is essentially blessing David in his war efforts, but not wanting him to know what his resources were–which would seem to run counter to what we know about the Lord from Gideon’s struggle against the Midianites? Moreover, the fact that it is (the much unfairly maligned) Joab, the cheif military commander, trying to dissuade him from doing the counting, leads one to believe that the numbering was not for war itself. Why would the head of the military not want to know how many men he had?

    I think the more plausible explanation is, prosaically, David’s intent. He had, through war, created the largest literal Israel ever, and temporarily consolidated (again) his powerful tribe with the rest of Israel, and I think David was trying to see just how many people he was now king over. That is, I think David’s fault here is pride; it wasn’t that he numbered Israel, it was that he did it to make himself feel good about his own accomplishments. I think Joab’s comment is therefore telling–he seems to be basically asking why it is that David would feel the need to do this, that there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it.

    But like everyone else, this is (and has to be) all speculation.

    I’ll refrain from drawing comparisons of today’s Israel taking pride in our numbers, as that has been done by better minds than mine above.

  44. jimbob
    September 21, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Also, I think maybe the bigger doctrinal anomaly is the fact that God lets David pick his own punishment in the scriptures quoted above. I can’t think where else in the scriptures that that happens. Or bigger still, how does the fact that lots of people died via plague for essentially the sin of one man comport with AoF2? Aren’t they being punished for his sin?

  45. Mike B
    September 21, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    I don’t mean to digress from deeper discussions, but I have been the HP group leader in our ward for nearly 2 years now. I have not once determined what our HT percentage was for any given month. I know we miss a few people here and there, but our HT percentage–whatever it is–is high. We’re more concerned about the people who get missed. Our EQ, however, has been under 20% for quite some time. That number is meaningful because is tells a lot about what’s going on in the EQ. Or rather, about what’s not going on there.

  46. ed
    September 21, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    I think it’s interesting that the church reports far fewer numberse in conference than it used to. For example, here’s the report from the April 1974 conference, which is much more extensive than the reports we get these days. Farther back the church even used to report on finances. (I’ve heard that this was stopped when the church got into some financial difficulties in the sixties, but I don’t know anything else about that.)

    I suppose Kaimi should be pleased with this trend.

  47. manaen
    September 21, 2005 at 6:39 pm

    44.
    jimbob, this may seem too removed from the sufferings of the people who died as a result of David’s sins —

    It comes together if we look at not-directly-deserved pains and anguish during this probation as tests and chastenings and say punishment is what happens after the judgment. We see in this life many instances of people dying because of the selfishness of someone as with the soviets starving under Stalin or a motorist’s carelessness, who don’t intend for them to die . Or from the mistakes of one person like the Willie handcart company or this month’s NOLA. Or not from any person like Indonesia’s recent tsunami. We don’t say that the innocent dead were being punished, but these horrific events are part of the trials that come.

  48. Mark B.
    September 21, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    The underuse of the Washington DC temple is the subtext in a story in a recent Church News story about the Suitland Maryland stake. The stake presidency decided to focus on pumping up attendance on one day, and so beat the bushes and got nearly 800 people in the temple on that one day.

    Of course it was a Saturday.

    I suspect that all temples outside the Wasatch Front suffer from severe underuse on weekdays. You need a large number of retirees and students to change that, and the demographics everywhere but the Wasatch Front won’t support a change. Yet.

  49. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    Ed,

    I’m not “pleased” about any particular development. As I’ve noted above, several times (but I won’t count them, that would be bad), I have no problem with counting. I’m curious about possible reasons for scriptural shift. That is all. There is no anti-counting crusade going on here. I’m not out to burn your math book and take away your calculator.

  50. manaen
    September 21, 2005 at 7:28 pm

    Sometimes counting can be fun. There’s a claim roaming through Anti publications that the BoM has 10k verses lifted from the Bible. They then ask whether all those inclusions, from what they say we consider to be an errant source, wouldn’t pollute the BoM. The earliest reference to this I’ve found is in “The Golden Bible*,” published in 1887 by a Baptist minister in SLC.

    The numbers don’t lie, and they are for the BoM:
    * 15 books comprised of
    * 239 chapters that contain
    * 6,604 verses.

    Of those 6,604 verses, the Antis claim 10,000 were copied from the Bible. Either the Antis double count a verse in the Book of Mormon that co-appears several times in the Bible or they’ve peeped into the sealed plates and found more biblical parallels.

  51. jimbob
    September 21, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    Maybe they have access to the Book of Lehi.

  52. Michael Towns
    September 21, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    “I’m curious about possible reasons for scriptural shift.”

    How fascinating. Kind of makes me wonder why God keeps the Lamb’s Book of Life if keeping a record of membership (“numbering”) is such a bad thing. http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/128/7#7

  53. El Jefe
    September 21, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    Quite apart from all the roiling about over numbering, I believe I can safely say that our membership records, however inaccurate they may be, are several orders of magnitude more accurate than any other Christian denomination of which I have knowledge. At the very least they reflect quite accurately the number of people who were baptized in the Church (probably better than 99%). Other Christian churches, as far as I know, tend to make estimates. That does not mean that there aren’t many who are baptized who leave the Church, for one reason or another, and no longer consider themselves members of the Church. But that is true about other Christian denominations, too.

    And we won’t even mention the fact that the Catholic Church tends to count most of the population of “Catholic” countries as Catholic, even though a significant number of those Catholics have never seen the inside of a church, as infants or adults.

  54. John Mansfield
    September 21, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    When I was in the Santa Monica Stake six years back, we were often told of underutilization of the LA temple, though Friday evening sessions were amply attended. Last Friday in the D.C. temple, the temple president told our stake that another four stakes had been removed from the temple district but the temple had been able to keep ordinance work up to previous levels. Once I attended a midweek afternoon session in the Provo temple that had only seven people, so that imbalance happens even in the heart of Mormondom.

    I’ve gotten tired of seeing temple districts being split off to serve new temples and then being blamed for the old temple being used less. The Sabbath was made for man and I suspect the temples were as well.

  55. Kaimi
    September 21, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    MT,

    You seem to be replying to my comment, but you’re continuing to attack an argument I’ve never made. You write:

    “How fascinating. Kind of makes me wonder why God keeps the Lamb’s Book of Life if keeping a record of membership (“numbering”) is such a bad thing.”

    I’ve never suggested that keeping a record of membership is a “bad thing.” I haven’t taken any substantive position at all on numbers, for or against. None. You’re attacking a straw man, because you’re attacking an argument that I’ve (1) never made, and (2) explicitly disavowed in several prior comments.

    You asked earlier “Is Kaimi’s original post to showcase a personal gripe about the current Church leadership, the administration of the Church, or what?”

    No. It’s not. I have no gripes about numbers. I don’t hold a grudge against mathemeticians. Heaven knows I’ve done a lot of numbering myself, in various church callings. I’m not making any critique of numbers, or any call to end numbering.

    Saying “it is interesting to reflect on the Lord’s statements about the propriety of human numbering over the years” is NOT the same as saying “numbering is bad.”

    Is that such a hard concept?

  56. Wilfried
    September 21, 2005 at 9:55 pm

    El Jefe: “And we won’t even mention the fact that the Catholic Church tends to count most of the population of “Catholic” countries as Catholic, even though a significant number of those Catholics have never seen the inside of a church, as infants or adults.”

    Let me confirm this for Belgium (population 10 million). Eight million are considered to be Catholics. In 1950 ca. 50% were still practising (regular attending of Mass), in 1993 it had dropped to 15%, in 2003 to 11,2 %. It continues to drop. Of the officially 8 million Catholics in Belgium only some 800,000 are practising. Nearly all Mormons and members of minority churches in Belgium are simply counted as Catholics. When the Catholic Church claims to have 1.086 billion baptised members around the world, it has to be interpreted… Their discrepancy between membership and activity is much much larger than when we claim our 12 million members.

  57. ed
    September 21, 2005 at 10:07 pm

    Kaimi,

    I realize you don’t have a problem with current practice, and my comment about you liking fewer numbers wasn’t entirely serious…I’m sorry so many people are misunderstanding you. Personally, I like statistics and wish we could get more of them.

    I, too, find the story in Samuel to be strange, but no stranger than some other things in the Old Testament (like, say, people being cursed for steadying the ark or for seeing their father’s nakedness).

  58. manaen
    September 21, 2005 at 11:01 pm

    56
    Wilfried, Thx for the interesting information.

    Does the Catholic Church have a process similar to LDS removing people names from records? Or once recorded, always counted?

    (Joseph Fielding Smith once seemed alarmed that one of his grandchildren had been baptized automatically upon birth in a Catholic hospital. Then he brightened and quipped that “it would take precious little water to wash it off.”)

  59. Wilfried
    September 21, 2005 at 11:36 pm

    Manaen: “Does the Catholic Church have a process similar to LDS removing people names from records? Or once recorded, always counted?”

    As far as I know, always counted. As a matter of fact, I think there are not even records in many cases, certainly not the way we have detailed membership records + our unique followup. The one billion Catholics are for a large part counted globally, i.e. so many people in this “Catholic country” = add so many Catholics. Removal from record would be formal excommunication, which the Catholic Church does not do but in extreme cases.

    I should probably request my formal de-recording as a Catholic, for I am still counted as one of their 1.086 billion baptised members. That would make one less.

  60. Michael Towns
    September 22, 2005 at 12:06 am

    “I’ve never suggested that keeping a record of membership is a “bad thing.” I haven’t taken any substantive position at all on numbers, for or against. None. You’re attacking a straw man, because you’re attacking an argument that I’ve (1) never made, and (2) explicitly disavowed in several prior comments.”

    Relax. I wasn’t attacking you. Asking questions is the only way I know to get to the bottom of things. I appreciate your willingness to make your position clear.

  61. Rosalynde
    September 22, 2005 at 12:48 am

    As Frank’s personal anecdote illustrates, numbers are most useful (and thus most empowering) for the people who have access to lots of them, and most frustrating for those who have access to few. In a hierarchical organization like the Church, where numbers are generated at the bottom and collected at the top, numbers will be more useful the higher up the chain of priesthood command; this is why it frequently seems like general authorities are obsessed with numbers, and why some rank-and-file members (but not Kaimi!) will resent it. When there is statistical transparency within the organization, numbers are accessible at all levels and thus work as a much more equalizing kind of knowledge—but of course the higher-ups have a lot to lose from this sort of transparency. This is why I doubt that the Church will ever become more transparent in its statistical methods: there’s just too much to lose, and almost nothing (from the leadership’s point of view) to gain.

  62. gst
    September 22, 2005 at 1:24 am

    Rosalynde (#62): I’m curious about who are these rank-and-file members who resent the grip that the hierarchy (patriarchy!) has on Church statistics. Are there really members who worry about The Man controlling Church statistics?

  63. Rosalynde
    September 22, 2005 at 1:30 am

    Uh, yep! (Although you’re the one who imported the feminist bit about patriarchy and The Man, not me.) I don’t count myself among them, but take a look at the comments on any of the several previous threads on this topic for examples. Feelings seem to run especially high around tithing funds transparency.

  64. Soyde River
    September 22, 2005 at 3:21 am

    Rosalynde, back on the Mother Eve thread you questioned my asumption that you were concerned about power.

    But here you go again!

  65. Greg Call
    September 22, 2005 at 3:43 am

    Re: # 58 and # 59: I know that in Switzerland, citizens on the rolls of the Catholic church pay a tax that goes to the church, and same with Protestants. As a result of this, in the last few decades more and more Swiss are removing their names from church rolls to avoid the tax. I don’t think this involves excommunication.

  66. annegb
    September 22, 2005 at 4:44 am

    I have become obsessive about accuracy in numbers since I became the visiting teaching superviser. I go over the records to the nth degree to determine where there is a discrepancy. Part of this is a simple desire to be correct, but a larger part is to make sure no one gets lost in the shuffle.

    I always know what our percentage is, give or take a few points. And then I go over it and make sure the Relief Society president is aware of particular needs. Numbers can indicate a trend, or simply Sister “A” is lonely and needs support.

    I have always wondered why, in the auditors report, they don’t specify how much they receive in tithing and what they do with it. I feel entitled, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, it doesn’t indicate a lack of trust on my part. I would just be curious to know. Don’t most entities impart this information to their members? Al-Anon does. I don’t understand the secrecy there. To say the outgo exceeds the income doesn’t work for me.

  67. Rosalynde Welch
    September 22, 2005 at 8:57 am

    Hi Soyde— I’m going to sound defensive here no matter how I answer, but I guess that’s better than sounding snotty by not answering you! I went back and looked at the Mother Eve thread, and, if I’m thinking of the right exchange between us, I didn’t disavow interest in the mechanisms of power (although elsewhere I clarified that that particular thread was more about authority than power) but wondered whether *you* were equally concerned with other people’s explorations of those mechanisms. (And unless I’m mistaken, you never answered! ;) ) For what it’s worth, I am interested in the forms and fluxes of power, in part because my training has given me some tools (here Nate and Frank let out a joint guffaw) for thinking about those questions. But I don’t think I’m obsessed with those questions to the exclusion of living the gospel, and, perhaps understandably, I get a bit defensive when people imply that I am.

  68. September 22, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Kaimi,

    I’ve only got a minute, but I think the problem is actually a lack of specificity. You find two cases of “numbering Israel” and treat them the same. But this lacks the specific details, already mentioned, showing that one was a military count. The Lord is consistently picky about how, when, where, and with how many people war is conducted. So, for example, one can look at the story of GIdeon or Zion’s camp. INcluding that detail makes it about as obvious as things ever are in the OT that this is a question dealing with war and the military and how that was to be conducted. I will be the first to admit that one has to fill in blanks in many OT stories to make sense of them. Thankfully we no longer have exclusively rely on the OT for our doctrine.

  69. September 22, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    “(here Nate and Frank let out a joint guffaw)”

    Guffaw!

    (always willing to do my part)

  70. Soyde River
    September 22, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    That’s fair enough, Rosalynde. I didn’t mean to badger you. It’s just that I see in American intellectual thinking (which spills over into members of the Church), an excessive amount of concern about who has the power. I agree that it is probably a legitimate area of interest, but all too often that spills over into some sort of critticism of the way the Church operates (of which you are in no way guilty).

  71. Harold Curtis
    September 25, 2005 at 1:16 am

    Kaimi

    I wouldnt bet on numbers……….the odds are against it.

    Perhaps the only problem God has with numbers is our gloating over them.

    Harold B. Curtis

Comments are closed.