The scriptures prophesy that the remnant of the “Lamanites” or the House of Israel (Jacob) will “blossom as the rose” (D&C 49:24). Who is this remnant, what is the blossoming and why is it important? Where will it take place and when will it occur? Some Book of Mormon geography enthusiasts consider the growth of Church membership in Mesoamerica to be the fulfillment of this prophecy thereby providing supporting evidence that Mesoamerica was the location of its history. Can DNA research and Church history help to identify the remnant of the House of Israel? Is the Church “blossoming” in Mesoamerica? Is it “blossoming” among the Native American populations of North America? Has the prophesied blossoming already occurred, or is it yet to be fulfilled?
When will the ‘blossoming’ occur?
From the passage above we learn that this blossoming will occur prior to the return of the Savior or his second coming. This then establishes the latest possible time for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Before it can be understood whether or not the prophesied blossoming has or has not yet occurred, we must examine additional scriptures pertaining to this prophecy. Passages in 3 Nephi 21:1-7 and D&C 3:19-20 indicate that this prophesied ‘blossoming’ of the Lamanites will not occur until after the gospel has already been restored and the Lamanite remnant learns “who they are” and that they are literal descendants of Israel, or the Jews (2 Nephi 9:53, 2 Nephi 30:4, 1 Nephi 15:14).
1 And verily I say unto you, I give unto you a sign , that ye may know the time when these things shall be about to take place —that I shall gather in, from their long dispersion, my people, O house of Israel, and shall establish again among them my Zion;
2 And behold, this is the thing which I will give unto you for a sign—for verily I say unto you that when these things which I declare unto you, and which I shall declare unto you hereafter of myself, and by the power of the Holy Ghost which shall be given unto you of the Father, shall be made known unto the Gentiles that they may know concerning this people who are a remnant of the house of Jacob , and concerning this my people who shall be scattered by them;
4 For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed , that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel;
6 For thus it behooveth the Father that it should come forth from the Gentiles , that he may show forth his power unto the Gentiles, for this cause that the Gentiles, if they will not harden their hearts, that they may repent and come unto me and be baptized in my name and know of the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel;
7 And when these things come to pass that thy seed shall begin to know these things—it shall be a sign unto them, that they may know that the work of the Father hath already commenced unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the people who are of the house of Israel. 3 Nephi 21:1-7
20 And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel [which will already have been established] and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved. Amen. D&C 3:19-20
Only after this knowledge is established will they ‘blossom as the rose.’ We are currently between the restoration of the gospel which established a beginning point, and the Lord’s second coming, therefore the blossoming, while it may be underway, could also be in the future. There is no scriptural evidence to suggest that this blossoming has occurred or is underway at this time. It could very well be a future event.
How great is the growth of the Church in the Mesoamerican nations?
Some have thought that the growth of the Church in Central and South America is evidence of the fulfillment of this prophecy. However, there is very important membership statistics that are not widely known. The growth of the Church in South America and northern Mexico is remarkable; however, the growth of the Church in Mesoamerica, where the Book of Mormon has been speculated to have occurred, and where the Maya descendants are today located, is surprisingly lackluster.
For example, in Guatemala, after initial success in convert baptisms, the growth of the Church over the past 10 years has been nearly stagnant, with membership hovering near 215,000 and a growth rate barely 2%. For 10 years there was not one single new stake formed, and conversions and retention have plummeted. In 1994 the Escuintla stake was discontinued. The Monte Maria stake in Guatemala City was dissolved in 2008 along with the Mazatenango stake. The Church has had to eliminate three stakes in 14 years. Retention of members in this country is dismal with nearly as many dropping out of activity as being baptized. 33 congregations have been eliminated, down from 451 in 2000 to 418 in 2008. When factoring in the dropout rate, the Church may actually have been in a negative growth mode for several years. Mexico conversely has seen excellent growth, but primarily in the northern portions of the country near Mexico City. The southern portion of Mexico making up part of the Yucatan peninsula, where the proposed Book of Mormon lands are thought to have been and where the Mayan descendants are generally located today, parallels Guatemala in its lack of growth in the Church. The Mayan descendants make up only a small part of the overall populations of Mesoamerica, so whatever the general population is achieving in terms of Church growth, the Mayan descendants are statistically only a very small percentage of that growth. If the “ Nephites were not the Maya ,” as is admitted by The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, (see http://maxwellinstitute.com/publications/books/?bookid=66&chapid=738 ), than exactly what population is it that is supposed to be “blossoming” in fulfillment of the prophecy in Mesoamerica?
The growth of the Church in Belize and Honduras is minimal or may actually be regressing according to the numbers. Honduras added only 5,300 members in 2009. Yes, there are wonderfully faithful members there, and everyone hopes they will continue to grow, but these figures are hardly the ‘blossoming as the rose’ type of Lamanite conversion surge Mesoamerican proponents pretend it is. Most members have no idea about the statistical facts. They only hear what is being promoted by some LDS Mesoamerican promotional organizations such as FAIR and BMAF. Missionaries who have served in Mesoamerica say that they baptize a lot of people, but their retention rate is dismal, something on the order of 15-20%. They have nearly an 80-85% drop out rate. That is why Mesoamerican promoters usually only talk of the number of baptisms, not the number of active members.
This is very sad information, as no one would want to see the growth of the Church decline, or even worse, reverse, but to give the impression that the ‘true’ Lamanites are Guatemalans/Mayans because of their proclaimed ‘coming into the Church is such great numbers’ is false and misleading. Yes, Mexico City has a high growth rate, but it is not considered Mesoamerica or the native lands of the Mayans. Even with all of Mexico, Mesoamerica does not compare in number to the baptisms consistently occurring within the United States of America.
What nation has the largest growth in membership and baptizes the most new members of the Church worldwide?
The answer is, and always has always been….The United States of America. Not Mexico, Not Guatemala or any other Mesoamerican or even South American location. 27% of all baptisms world-wide in 2009 were from the United States (84,000), while Brazil (13%) and Mexico (12%) combined added 82,000. If a nation is to be considered as fulfillment of Book of Mormon prophecy it is hard to justify Guatemala as the ‘nation above all other nations’ or the ‘mighty Gentile nation’ wherein these prophecies must come to pass because the prophecies are about the latter-day lands where the ancient Book of Mormon history took place.
“A stake in Guatemala City was recently dissolved. The Guatemala City Monte Maria Stake was dissolved sometime in the past month or two. This lowers the number of stakes in Guatemala City to 17. Only one other stake has been dissolved in Guatemala before, which was back in 1988. Conversions have dropped substantially over the years in Guatemala, yet the number of wards has held steady in the country. There are areas where growth is occurring more rapidly. For instance, the Rio Blanco District by Quetzaltenango has seen many conversions according to returned missionaries. Furthermore a second temple in the country was announced just 18 months ago. I imagine that the stake was dissolved for a variety of reasons, and I think that the two biggest ones were active members moving away and inactivity. Lastly, back in 2002 the Guatemala City Monte Maria Stake had only five wards in it (which is the usual bear minimum for there to be a stake entirely made of wards).” http://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/2008_07_01_archive.html accessed 4/19/2010
An article in The Salt Lake Tribune , 4/16/10 by Religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack titled Africa, Caribbean lead way in LDS growth lists growth of the Church in Mexico as third in the world for 2009, with Brazil edging Mexico by 2,781 new members for second place. However, the nation with the largest increase in both baptisms and growth rate was the United States of America with more than double in both measures than that of second place Mexico.
What about the Native American peoples of North America?
Some have pointed to the lack of significant growth of Native Americans in North America as an indication that North America cannot be considered as the Promised Land of the Book of Mormon and that these people are not the remnants of the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. That the prophecy concerning the ‘blossoming’ has not come to pass among these people is understood, however, this does not dismiss them as the true remnant, as Joseph Smith indicated by sending the first missionaries “unto the Lamanites” in New York, Ohio, and Missouri.
The scriptures indicate that the remnant of the Lamanites would not blossom until after they come to the understanding of who they are; that they are the literal descendants of Israel and that they are of the lineages of the Jews. How are they to come to this knowledge? Certainly, they can learn of the Book of Mormon, but how would they then know that the book is their history, that it applied directly to them and not some other people? The most powerful evidence of their ancestry would be through DNA evidence of their Jewish or Israelite ancestry. Could this be the method that finally helps them to realize who they are and that they are the covenant people of the Lord, resulting in the upcoming fulfillment of this prophecy? Should such evidence be found, wouldn’t it be important to share it with the remnant peoples? The scriptures tell us that it would be through the Gentiles that the remnant would come to a knowledge of these things, does it not? The Book of Mormon does not directly prophecy that this knowledge would come through the Church, it specifically states that this knowledge would come through “the Gentiles” after the Church was already established. This is significant because it would seem that the truth must be borne out by non-Mormon “Gentiles.”
In conclusion it should be clear that Mesoamerican countries cannot be conclusively understood to be the fulfillment of this prophecy; therefore there is no compelling reason that these lands must be considered to be Book of Mormon related as the fulfillment of such. It should also be clear that the North American Native peoples cannot be dismissed as being non-related to the Book of Mormon Lamanites simply because they have not yet blossomed in the gospel. Their time will come to pass, as will all prophecies from the Book of Mormon. It cannot be shown that Mesoamerican peoples embody the fulfillment of this prophesy, nor that North American Indians cannot fulfill the prophecies in the future.
http://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/2008/07/first-stake-dissolved-in-2008.html Guatemala stake dissolved
http://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/2008/12/another-new-stake-in-brazil-stake.html Guatemala challenges
http://ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com/2009/06/districts-dissolved-in-guatemala.html Guatemala districts dissolved
http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=main&wid=140 Mexico stats
http://www.rickross.com/reference/mormon/mormon689.html Salt Lake Tribune article
|Approx. Active Members||2,276,268||250,492||50,134||706||29,104|
|Percentage of Members Attending Church Weekly||40%||24%||25%||25%||25%|
|Average Members per congregation||446||548||468||217||541|
|Average Active members per congregation||178||131||117||54||135|
|LDS, as percent of population||1.8968%||0.9944%||1.4043%||1.7062%|
|Active LDS, as percent of population||0.7587%||0.2386%||0.351%||0.4265%|
|Current LDS Membership growth rate||1.67%||3.15%||2.12%||.66%||3.1%|
The following quotes are taken from www.cumorah.com
The percentage of adults in a temple marriage [is] less than 2 percent in Mexico and Central America. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, 1992, 4:1531) For all of South America, with 2.25 million members, less than 1.8% of the total adult membership has been married in the temple. (Source: Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, 1992, 4:1532)
Mexico Statistics & Information
People groups of Mexico
- Mexicans 94,924,000 90.44% of the population
- American Indian 10,390,0000 9.9%
- Mayan 950,000 0.91%
Mexican Convert Retention and Member Activity
At year-end 1999, the LDS Church Almanac reports 846,931 LDS members living in Mexico. This represents the most LDS members living in any country outside of the United States. While this appears numerically impressive, a sobering reality check was provided by the 2000 Mexican Census, as reported in the Arizona Republic:
‘The current Mexican Mormon Church was established in 1961 and claims just under 850,000 members, Pratt said. However, figures from the 2000 Mexican census, based on self-reported data, place active membership at 205,229. [24%]’ (Source:Arizona Republic, July 10, 2001, http://www.azcentral.com/news/0710mormons10.html).
Indeed, while nominally identifying oneself as a Latter-day Saint does not necessarily guarantee church activity, it would be difficult to claim that those who do not even identify themselves as Latter-day Saints are active or contributing members. The LDS activity rate derived from a comparison of the 2000 Mexican Census to official membership data — 24% — is comparable to that cited in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
‘Attendance at sacrament meeting varies substantially. Asia and Latin America have weekly attendance rates of about 25 percent…'(Source: Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, 1992, 4:1527.)
While there are some very dedicated LDS members in Mexico, these represent only a fraction of the total number of individuals ‘on the rolls.’ Much of this inactivity occurs soon after baptism, and many nominal members have never set foot in an LDS chapel more than once or twice. Adult male converts are especially prone to inactivity, creating serious challenges for local leadership. Lowell Bennion and Lawrence Young note: ‘For the U.S. as a whole, only 59% of baptized males ever receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. In the South Pacific, the figure drops to 35%; in Great Britain, 29%. In Mexico (with almost 850,000 members) the figure is 19%.’ (Source: Lowell C. Bennion and Lawrence Young, Dialogue, Spring 1996, p.19.)
The number of wards and branches in Mexico have not increased as rapidly as LDS membership, due in large part to rampant inactivity. While mission policies are highly heterogenous, much of the problem stems from quick-baptize missionary approaches, which race individuals who have demonstrated little commitment to baptism within 10-day or 14-day target periods. Most individuals have read very little in the Book of Mormon at the time of baptism and have been to church only once or twice. Post-baptismal fellowshipping is also inconsistent. In light of these factors, it can hardly be considered surprising that up to 80% of converts are lost within two months of baptism, and 30-40% of baptizees never return to church again after baptism. Groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists which focus on consistent fulfillment of basic pre-baptismal commitments like church attendance and scripture reading have experienced retention rates of 70-80% and above, in contrast to LDS retention rates below the one-quartile mark.
For a nation where Latter-day Saints have been proselyting for over 150 years, those trends are highly concerning. Pray for improved convert retention in Mexico, and pray that missionaries will have the gift of discernment to understand when individuals are truly converted as demonstrated by the ‘fruits of repentance.’
Mexican Missionary Service
While Mexico is providing an increasing fraction of its own missionaries, fewer than 10% of young men of mission age serve full-time missions, and the 18 LDS missions in Mexico still depend heavily on the United States for the bulk of their missionary force. The Church in Mexico is also heavily dependent on the U.S. membership for chapel construction, temple construction, and other expenses.
Guatemalan LDS Statistics from www.cumorah.com
Activity and Retention
Rapid numerical membership growth coupled with low member involvement in missionary work has resulted in low convert retention and member activity as manifested by the steady decrease in congregations over nearly the past decade. Missionaries heavily implemented quick-baptism practices in the 1980s and 1990s, and stopped teaching those who did not commit to baptism within two weeks of beginning the missionary discussions. Lessons were often highly abbreviated with so-called “doorstep discussions” sometimes being taught in as little as fifteen minutes, exacerbating difficulties of understanding in a nation with low literacy rates and little tradition of reading among indigenous peoples. Converts tended to be baptized rapidly, often with little doctrinal understanding, and without having established regular habits of church attendance and scripture reading. Many of these converts stopped attending meetings after missionaries were transferred to different areas. In the 2000s, missionaries appeared to have made little progress in improving convert retention rates.
Guatemala appears to have average to high member activity rates for Latin America, although these rates are low in an absolute sense. Less than five percent of members participate in seminary and institute annually in Guatemala, similar to other Central American nations. With the exception of Nicaragua, other Central American nations also experienced stagnant or declining numbers of congregations during the 2000s and a substantial drop in membership growth rates. Although Guatemala has the most nominal and active members in Central America and is the nation with the eighth largest number of LDS members worldwide, Guatemala experiences the most limited mission outreach in Central America because millions reside in remote rural areas.
Most Christian groups reported more rapid growth than the LDS Church during the past decade. The Seventh-day Adventists grew by 60,000 members between 2003 and 2009 with most remaining active whereas LDS membership increased by 28,000 during the same time period with few converts remaining active. The much higher convert retention and activity rates achieved by Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrate that low retention and member activity rates are not inevitable, nor do they result from cultural difficulties, but rather reflect policies and practices of the LDS missionary program which have traditionally focused on large numbers of quick baptisms with little attention to gospel habits, regular prebaptismal church attendance, and long-term convert retention. The consequences of such short-term LDS mission policies are now leading to declines even in nominal membership growth as substantial missionary resources have been diverted from proselytism to deal with increasingly serious challenges of rampant inactivity and difficulties staffing congregations with many nominal members but few active ones.
Despite adding 50,000 new members in the 2000s, the decline in total congregations over this period corresponds to poor convert retention and low member activity. . The average number of members per congregation increased during the 2000s from 397 in 2000 to 456 in 2004, 489 in 2007, and 531 in 2009. Some congregations have grown, whereas others have seen stagnation or even decline in the number of church attendees in spite of increases in nominal membership. In 2010, several congregations in the Quetzaltenango area had over 130 active members and one ward had over 200 active members. Activity rates appear to depend on location. Total active membership is estimated at around 40,000, or 20%.
In 1992, Elder Ted E. Brewerton [of BMAF] served as the Central America Area president and predicted that there would be many millions of LDS members throughout Central America. Predictions of future membership expansion into the millions are rendered moot by the fact that only a fraction of nominal members are active, and that the membership growth of the last decade has been inadequate to even sustain existing congregations. Very low convert retention and member activity rates suggest that a change in the primary focus of missions from achieving arbitrary baptismal quotas to a focus on growing the number of active, participating members expanding the number of self-sustaining, indigenously staffed congregations, will be necessary for sustainable future growth.
This “prediction” some 19 years ago by Elder Ted E. Brewerton, who serves on the Steering Committee of BMAF, is most interesting, given the facts known today. Was this his prediction of the ‘blossoming’ of the Lamanites in Central America?
Belize Activity and Retention
Poor retention of converts was noted by Belizean leadership in 1998 as home teaching and visiting teaching programs faced challenges in fellowshipping new members. At the time, additional branches appeared likely to be organized but poor retention and limited leadership prevented this from occurring. Most branches have between 50 and 100 active members. Active member’s likely number between 700 and 900, or 20-25% of total membership.
Low member activity rates have delayed the creation of a stake. Missionaries report that members have worked towards the creation of the first stake for many years, but these efforts have yet to come to fruition. Convert retention issues have also limited national outreach efforts as missionaries have had to focus on member reactivation efforts, and have held church callings or other ecclesiastical duties when native members are unable or indisposed. Poor convert retention appears partially due to poor pre-baptismal teaching and preparation and mission policies which have emphasized baptismal numbers but until recently have put little emphasis on convert retention or member activity. Distance from mission headquarters and frequent changes in mission boundaries over the past two decades have also likely exacerbated inactivity issues as Belize has received little attention from mission leadership due to more immediate needs within the countries missions have been based from.
Other Christian groups have developed more penetrating national outreach and have more adherents than the LDS Church. Most Christian churches operating in Belize were established decades prior to the LDS Church. Growth rates among many Christian groups are steady. Belize has one of the highest concentrations of Seventh Day Adventists in the world, which constitute approximately 10% of the population. Adventists have developed local church leadership and have capitalized on opportunities to construct hospitals and schools. Religious groups which make building these institutions on a local level a priority tend to develop long lasting and efficient church growth trends. Both Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have achieved much higher member activity and convert retention rates than the LDS Church while maintaining high member standards, although both of these groups generally require considerably longer preparation of prospective converts than LDS missions. This suggests suggesting that poor LDS convert retention rates are heavily influenced by quick-baptize mission policies rather than any insurmountable cultural obstacles.
Is THIS the ‘blossoming’ referenced as the evidence of the fulfillment of Book of Mormon prophecy in Mesoamerica?
Personally, I believe the day of the real Lamanite, the Native American tribes that Joseph Smith said were Lamanites BY REVELATION FROM GOD (see D&C 28, 30, 32, 54) is going to come to pass, and hopefully, rather shortly.
This should help in gaining a proper perspective of the false claims that the Lamanites in Mesoamerica are ‘blossoming as a rose.” Some Mesoamerican theorists attempt to mislead people into thinking that Mesoamerica is awash in the blossoming of the “Lamanites,” but such assertions are clearly not the truth. The facts from the Church’s own statistics demonstrate differently.
United States of America
Convert Retention and Member Activity
While LDS activity rates in the United States are among the highest of any country in the world, less than half of members on the rolls are active. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism reports: ‘Canada, the South Pacific, and the United States average between 40 percent and 50 percent [attendance at sacrament meeting].’ (Source: Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, 1992, 4:1527.)
Since there is no method in place for tracking Native Americans specifically, and since most Native Americans in North America do not attend special ‘Lamanite’ wards but rather attend regular LDS family wards, it must be said that we really don’t know how many Native American members of the Church there are, nor how active they may be. There could be a significant number more than people think.