The sister denomination of the Mormons, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), is undergoing a serious decline and loss of identity that its leaders have yet to fully address, writes Roger Launius in the Mormon journal Dialogue (Spring).
The RLDS has recently been reported as moving away from its Mormon heritage toward a mainstream Christian identity, particularly stressing world peace and community. A closer look at RLDS figures show a steady if unacknowledged decline: North American baptism rates show a steady decline from over three percent in 1960 to just under one percent in 1995.
The membership decline, going from 173,000 in 1982 to about 156,000 today, may even be more serious, since officials tend not to remove inactive members from the rolls nor do “traditionalist” schismatic groups want to be dropped as they hope to influence the wider church. In the last few years, there have been a growing number of RLDS congregations closed or taken over by traditionalist groups.
The contributions and offerings given to the church show the extent of decline. Adjusting for inflation, the contributions have declined by almost 50 percent since 1978. Launius writes that the RLDS’ move away from its Mormon heritage and the liberalization of church doctrines and the failure to create another identity — aside from a mainline Protestant one — is leading to a “major crisis.”
For all the moves to become mainline, the RLDS’ remaining Mormon traditions–such as use of the Book of Mormon– will most likely never convince fellow Protestants that the church belongs to the Christian mainstream. Launius adds that the church can best flourish — as it did in the past — as a movement creating a unique middle ground between Mormonism and Protestantism.
(Dialogue, P.O. Box 658, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-0658)