Multicultural Mormons

Embracing cultural diversity and nurturing unity

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a vibrant, growing, worldwide faith community of 15 million people in over 160 countries.  Mormons represent diverse cultures, speak many different languages, and come from unique personal backgrounds. 

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the Church’s First Presidency and who is also German, recently called this diversity “a strength of this church,” and told Latter-day Saints the world over, “we need your unique talents and perspectives.”

One of the Church’s greatest challenges is embracing this multicultural and multilingual diversity among its membership while at the same time fostering unity.  This is nothing new. The apostle Paul wrote to Church members in the ancient city of Ephesus 2,000 years ago:  “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19). Throughout the centuries any religion seeking to build a truly universal movement, not merely a tribal or regional faith, has had to figure out a way to balance the love of the particular with the good of the whole.

Early Christianity is perhaps the first and best case study in this undertaking.  The Mormon Newsroom commentary, 'The Mormon Ethic of Community,' makes the point that "In many respects Mormon community life aspires to the model of early Christianity. That community of Saints compared their joint enterprise to 'the body of Christ.' As the diverse parts of the body work together compatibly, so each individual contributes to the whole. And so it is with the Latter-day Saints."

Global Outreach and Community Building

Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in rural North America in 1830, its adherents have reached out globally with a desire to build strong and cohesive faith communities.  Today, Mormons can be found around the world. In each country, Latter-day Saints embrace and treasure their own cultures, but also identify as one through the unifying gospel of Jesus Christ.

Two scriptural passages set the tone for this approach:  “And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 15:18).  Reading this alongside Paul’s invitation to the Ephesians informs the Mormon approach to global outreach and communal gathering.

Providing Church Services and Resources, and Inviting Participation

How then does the Church deliver its teachings and services to such a culturally and linguistically diverse membership?  How does it engage its members in participatory worship and discipleship in increasingly multicultural congregations?  And how does it achieve the communal oneness that is evident in multi-cultural and multi-linguistic Mormon congregations from Hong Kong to London, and Accra to Sydney?

It begins by constantly reviewing the needs of its congregations and individual members.  There is a desire on the part of Church leaders, globally and locally, to deliver the gospel message to all those who wish to receive it, and also to invite and then facilitate gospel-grounded participation on the part of each individual member.

The Church does a remarkable job at addressing this enormous challenge of teaching the gospel and engaging its members in Christ-centred worship and other activities in scores of cultural contexts and in over a hundred languages.  One way is by providing church materials in languages other than English, which is what the faith’s translation department has been doing since 1946. 

Currently the Church publishes materials in over 100 languages.  During the faith's semi-annual general conferences, real-time interpretation in 96 languages is provided for attendees.  Around 800 interpreters and volunteers are needed to provide this service.  Translations of conference proceedings are then provided online, in the Church’s magazines, The Ensign and The Liahona, on DVD and in other formats.  A French speaker in New Caledonia can then read, watch or listen to these meetings in her first language. As can Kenyans, Mongolians, Peruvians and millions of others who speak dozens of other languages.  The Liahona magazine is translated into 47 languages each month. It contains messages from the leaders of the Church as well as other articles aimed to strengthen individuals, families and communities.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Church’s worldwide missionary program is the highly effective language learning system employed at the Church’s missionary training centers.  Some 50 languages are taught to new missionaries at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.  Those who meet missionaries are often amazed at their fluency in the local language.

Creating a Single Gospel Culture

At congregational and personal levels, local Church leaders are constantly reviewing the needs of Latter-day-Saints within their care.  What they strive to do is create a single culture of gospel unity to exist as a gentle umbrella over the many other rich cultures and traditions shared by the Mormon people. These aims do not compete against each other. This form of pastoral care focuses on spiritual needs as well as temporal or physical needs.  As our cultures and languages are so much of who we are, cultural and linguistic factors are vital to consider. Embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ does not require us to give up the things that make us who we are if they are not in conflict with the principles Christ taught.

Ultimately, it is a matter of balance and sensitivity.  Each member of the Church — whether elderly, middle-aged or young — has unique experiences and needs.  Some elderly Samoans in Brisbane, for example, need language assistance when they attend church services, as English is not their mother tongue.  But these elderly members are also very mindful of the needs of their children and grandchildren with respect to English competency. They recognize that English proficiency is vital for their children as they pursue their education and careers in a predominantly English-speaking country. In addition, many Samoans see the great value in preserving a love for and competency in Samoan language and culture, among youth and children. In addressing this issue of balance, there is an ever-present need for good judgment, sensitivity, patience and kindness.

There is also a need for flexibility.  For example, if a Tongan person joins a congregation where worship services are delivered in English, and if her English competency is limited, ways will be found to help her worship alongside her fellow Church members.  Interpretation may be offered. A Tongan Sunday School class might be organized if there are others who would also benefit from this. If she speaks from the pulpit, or offers a prayer in a service, she may be more comfortable speaking or praying in Tongan.  In some locations, where there is a strong local need, special language congregations are organized.  Regardless of the customized approach, the intent is always to bless individuals, families and communities.

The message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is for all people.  It is a universal message of God's love for all of His children, of restored New Testament Christianity, of revelation, and of additional scripture testifying of Jesus Christ. Mormonism is a rich tapestry of millions of individuals, from diverse cultures and speaking the many languages of the world.   Overlaying the diversity of Mormon congregations, is an overarching theme and desire to become one with God, with our fellow Latter-day Saints, and with our neighbours and friends of other faiths.

Watch a video about the Church's approach to embracing cultural and linguistic diversity, and nurturing unity. Watch a similar video, in the Samoan language.

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