Sunday, July 24, 2005

The times they are a-changin'

The lead story in today's Salt Lake Tribune on this holiday weekend (for those of you who aren't from Utah, today is Pioneer Day, the day Brigham Young and his troops of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley with President Young proclaiming from a stretcher that "this is the place!") is that the LDS population in Utah, while growing is getting outpaced by non-LDS folks moving in/multiplying in state.
Within the next three years, the Mormon share of Utah's population is expected to hit its lowest level since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started keeping membership numbers. And if current trends continue, LDS residents no longer will constitute a majority by 2030.
To me, this story sounds strangly like those "Whites will be in the minority in California by 20XX" stories, with the same undertone that such an event is something to fear and not welcome.

I think having LDS folks in the minority in this state will only bring good things, and not because I dislike mormons, but because it will ease the stereotypes about the state and about the religion itself. Everytime someone meets me from out of state and I tell them I am from Utah, the first question they ask is: "Are you Mormon?" Maybe some day it will be "Do you ski like every weekend?" or something less centered about the dominant religious group of this state.
According to Church membership documents only 62.4% of the state's population is LDS. That is a lot lower than I have been telling friends from out of state (I thought it was 70%), but it doesn't mean Utah will become a cosmopolitan any-where USA state any time soon.
Professor Tim Heaton, who studies LDS demographics for church-owned Brigham Young University, says the county numbers probably come from church membership rolls, and that between half and one-third of those people are not active in the faith. If that's true, then, at most, 41.6 percent of Utahns are church-going Mormons.
This gradual change does mean that my children will grow up in a much different place than I did. And maybe Pioneer Day won't be big-to-do it is these days.

GOP Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (who is LDS) believes this will have political implications down the road as well-- believing that people of the LDS faith vote Republican and non-LDS vote Democratic. "We will become more balanced between Republicans and Democrats eventually," he said, which he later added was a good thing of which he has always been supportive. This is why Jon Jr. has one of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the nation right now. That and people in this state hold a great deal of respect/deference for authority.

This article is the shocker opening article to a series that the Trib will be doing through Tuesday. I think I will be reading them carefully. Very interesting stuff. Like how the fertility rate has nearly halved since the 1960s in this state-- 4.3 to 2.6 kids/woman makes me think many LDS women are either secretly using birth control, or they are gaining more say over the family than they did 40 years ago. Stay tuned.

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