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    • As an active LDS member who is learning Chinese (and now Japanese), I was excited to hear the news of an LDS temple coming to Shanghai (上海)during the last session of this weekend’s General Conference. Multiple people who know I’m learning Chinese messaged me with excitement that a temple is coming to Shanghai, China. I couldn’t believe it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (耶稣基督后期圣徒教会) is building a temple in Shanghai, China? The People’s Republic of China? We don’t even have missionaries there outside of Hong Kong and last I checked (earlier this year), that country was not very welcoming to religion. I was really excited (我很激动了).

      Upon actually listening to what President Russell M. Nelson said in the announcement, it made more sense what was actually happening. The Hong Kong China Temple (中国香港聖殿) is undergoing construction and the church has reached an agreement with the People’s Republic of China for a building to be used and dedicated in Shanghai for the members to use while the Hong Kong temple gets renovated. Below are President Nelson’s words: 

      “Context for the plan for Shanghai is very important. For more than two decades, temple worthy members in the People’s Republic of China have attended the Hong Kong China Temple. But in July 2019 that temple was closed for a long-planned and much-needed renovation. In Shanghai, a modest multi-purpose meeting place will provide a way for Chinese members to continue to participate in ordinances of the temple in the People’s Republic of China for them and their ancestors. 

      “In every country, this church teaches its members to honor, obey, and sustain the law. We teach the importance of the family; of being good parents and exemplary citizens. Because we respect the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, the church does not send proselyting missionaries there. Nor will we do so now. Expatriate and Chinese congregations will continue to meet separately. The church’s legal station status there remains unchanged. In an initial phase of facility use, entry will be by appointment only. The Shanghai Temple will not be a temple for tourists from other countries.” 

      The Shanghai Temple won’t be a regular temple. It will be more like the Endowment House that was built on Temple Square as a temporary temple until the Salt Lake Temple could be built. It will serve as a dedicated building that only Mainland Chinese (大陆人)members will be able to use while the Hong Kong Temple is under renovation. It’s also unclear if the Shanghai Temple will remain open after the Hong Kong Temple completes its renovation. 

      As President Nelson said, context is super important here. This does not mean that the People’s Republic of China is about to allow proselyting missionaries or that freedom of religion is expanding. I’m sure that the PRC will monitor activity in the building closely and that the building itself will not look like anything out of the ordinary. Just to emphasize this: This does not mean that the LDS church is getting a regular temple in Shanghai in the near future. 

      A lot of members who heard this news have indicated to me that this is a sign that missionaries are soon to come to Mainland China. As if the Shanghai Temple will be a regular temple and that Mainland China has flipped the switch on freedom of religion. They need to bear in mind the context that President Nelson outlined. 

      That all said, this is still exciting news for the LDS church. The reason why is because it shows that the church has as good of a relationship with the People’s Republic of China as any other church. If not better. To even get this makeshift temple agreement in and of itself is a big deal. Sometimes you take the wins where you can get them, and this is a win that the church should be very happy about. 

      As an extension of that, while it doesn’t mean missionaries are coming to Mainland China in the near future, it’s still a sign of progress for the reasons I mentioned above. If the PRC didn’t trust the church at all, they wouldn’t have allowed this. Clearly, there is a mutual level of trust and respect between the PRC and the church that is allowing this to happen. That’s very good. It should also be noted that the church does have missionaries in Hong Kong, which is technically a part of the PRC. The fact that missionaries have been allowed to stay in Hong Kong despite the transfer of power from the UK to the PRC is really good news for the church and the future of missionary work in Mainland China. 

      Does an LDS temple coming to Shanghai mean missionaries are soon to follow? The answer is no, but it does give hope that they will come to China sometime in the future. When that will be is anyone’s guess.  

      Note: The photo I used for this article is the new logo for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, unveiled during this weekend’s General Conference.

    • First, the disclaimer, I am not nor have I ever been a member of the LDS Church. My interest has been academic - I have presented on LDS History at history conferences in the past.

      My "hmmh" moment in this was with Dubai, and that the Church was invited. Is this as more and more LDS members are working in that part of the world - it has become a kind of playground of the rich?

      And akin to your questions about missionaries in China .... missionaries in Dubai?

    • Yeah, Dubai is a super interesting one as well. Really cool city. I don’t think we have missionaries there and on my mission in Minnesota we weren’t allowed to teach Somalis because they were Muslim. It was for their own safety because of how dangerous it can be to leave Islam. I guess Dubai is becoming a diverse enough place and city that a temple is warranted. I’m glad you brought Dubai into the discussion. Lots to unpack there I’m sure.

    • because of how dangerous it can be to leave Islam

      I don't know how universal that is because I haven't studied it at all. But just like with everything else, you only hear about the things that are newsworthy. However, the same can be said of the Mormon church as well. The kind of violence you hear about such as honor killings and the like definitely isn't the norm here, but many people get shut out when they leave the Mormon church. People battle with anxiety or depression because they know the church isn't right for them, but they'll lose all their friends and even their family if they let them know they don't believe anymore. Then they're left without any kind of support group at a time when they're trying to figure out how to live their lives. I'm sure that's not the norm, either - especially outside of the major Mormon areas like Utah. But it does happen. I have heard there are a lot of similarities in the experiences of ex-mormons, ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, and ex-muslims.

      What was the reasoning behind the new logo?

    • I think the reasoning is just to emphasize the fact that the LDS church is in fact a Christian church. We get labeled too often as not being Christian. Also, to underscore the fact that we like to focus on the living Christ. The one who conquered death. We don't like to focus on the cross because we believe he beat death and now lives.

      As for support for those who leave the church, I certainly think leaving the LDS church or any faith shouldn't result in one getting shunned or left in the cold.

    • This is the old logo. The new logo builds on the old logo with Christ standing on top of it. It is to symbolize that Christ is the chief cornerstone of his church. The Christus that was chosen has long been a featured statue in many visitor centers that accompany LDS temples.

    • I get a lot of questions about the LDS Church at work as people know I have studied the Church -- some questions are nice, some curious, some aggressive. The one I get most often? If Mormons are actually Christian.

      So while a change in logo won't fix that -- changing it does make sense.

    • I was a devout Mormon for many years and have to say a large majority are the best kind of Christians — charitable, devoted, faithful. The New and Old Testaments are central to their teachings.

      The leadership can be a aggressive when it comes to pushing back on certain progressive efforts, at least in the U.S., like the Equal Rights Amendment, interracial marriage, and same sex marriage. But I guess that’s true of evangelicals and sometimes Catholics too. I’m sure they would tread lightly in China.

      They do build gorgeous structures and maintain them immaculately.

    • So while a change in logo won't fix that -- changing it does make sense.

      Yeah, we'll see how that works out for them. They've been trying unsuccessfully to get people to use the full name of the church for like 20 years for the same reason.

    • No offense, what keeps you all together is what's most important. And you can call that whatever you want. I was born and raised in a Warsaw pact country, therefore religion was strongly discouraged. To me, association with human beings based on creed has been scarce and usually imposed due to ceremonies, if at all, throughout my life. I still wonder, should I feel incomplete as human?

    • Oh, I know it is. I said it a million times in Japan and it's just as cumbersome in Japanese as it is in English. I think most members realize that the full name crusade is ridiculous. Especially after the I'm A Mormon campaign not long ago.

    • I wonder if the church is starting to distance itself from the Book of Mormon, as Joseph Smith seems to have done in his lifetime. The evidence against it being inspired is just too overwhelming and is only getting more so.

      On the other hand, the church has a wonderfully strong core of great people, it has money, and when it focuses on charitable causes it gets a lot of admiration. The volunteer ministry really seems to work.

      I admire the Seventh Day Adventists who faced the same issue a few decades ago. It became clear that Ellen White’s writings were not inspired so there became an internal struggle and eventually the progressives won and the church began to focus more on Jesus and less on Ellen. Now they’re past it and thriving.

      So far the orthodox leaders in the LDS church like Oaks have retained control and kept more progressive leaders like Uchdorf at bay.

    • I don't know. I hadn't heard any evidence of distancing from the Book of Mormon, but I don't keep up much anymore. If they do, I think it's going to be very difficult for them. You're right, there is so much evidence against it being inspired. And additional evidence against Joseph Smith. So it would make sense to minimize all that and focus more on simply living wholesome lives as good people. But they have spent so long (since the beginning) saying that the whole thing lives or dies with Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon. So it's kind of a damning situation either way. But they've been successful in gas-lighting members recently, so who knows...

      The church does indeed have money. So much money. And so little of it goes to charitable causes, so I don't think they deserve much praise there. There can be benefits to the general members, I suppose, but the volunteer ministry works quite well to aid the huge stipends the higher leadership earn while overworking the lay man without compensation. You also end up with bishoprics and stake presidencies counseling people in areas they aren't qualified for because there's no training.

      If they can find a way to catch up with the rest of society without self-destructing they'll be much better off, but I personally wouldn't be surprised if they eventually end up like Oneida - a very financially successful organization that used to be a church.

    • I haven’t seen any evidence of the church distancing itself from the Book of Mormon as this most recent conference centered around the first vision that Joseph Smith had. We believe it to be inspired scripture and it is the key stone of our religion. I’m yet to come across definitive evidence that would make me doubt its veracity. Though I’m certainly open to hearing criticisms or concerns that people have. Members should not be afraid to have their faith challenged or questioned. Always good to have such discussions, I think.

    • I do think the church is trying to better emphasize that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, though. Hence the logo change. I also don’t feel Uchtdorf is being kept at bay. He’s more warm and personable than Oaks. No doubt about that, but I don’t feel Oaks is holding him back in any way. That’s my read anyways.

    • You’re a good sport for letting us express our views and a good defender of the faith, Ben.

      It’s an odd and fascinating thing with the church, how fervently faithful its members are and yet how fervent are the people who oppose it. It rises to the level of national headlines sometimes.

      For me, I wish we didn’t teach Native Americans, Mayans, and the others that they descended from the Middle East. They have a proud and fascinating history that’s unfolding with each skeleton we find whose DNA we can sequence. We had a great thread about that at one time. The church did modify the intro to the Book of Mormon to ease the claim, which I applauded.

    • The SDS may claim that they have downgraded White's writings but their usage of doctrines which are not believed by anyone except followers of White and other Millerite religions remains the Cornerstone of SDS teaching. There is a radio station near where I live that broadcasts SDS doctrine. They focus almost exclusively on the books of Daniel and of Revelation but the things that they say about those two books are being filtered through the things that White and Miller believed.

      Similarly, although the group which now calls itself "The Community of Christ" has tried to rebrand itself, its doctrine continues to be based on writings which religious groups that do not view Smith's teachings as being valid reject. That group also continues to produce what they and they only call inspired teachings and add them to their "Doctrines and Covenants." Their current Prophet-President has added at least two such teachings.

      In my own religious environment, which does not have any organizational structure outside of the local assembly, no parachurch organizations, no synods or associations, no creedbooks or cathechisms, our attitude could be summarized as "The Bible and Nothing but the Bible."

    • That’s interesting to hear about Ellen White. Thanks. I’m actually fascinated with her. She was an unbelievably prolific writer, started a couple of respected universities, innumerable schools and orphanages in developing countries, and some of her writings about such things as vegetarianism and raising children have done admirably standing the test of time.

      Smithsonian magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential Americans of all time. She has been accused of plagiarism and I don’t know what to make of that. Authors in her day did quote other authors without attribution, I guess, as she said she sometimes did, but I really don’t know.

      One thing I do know: they are hands-down the best in the world at getting their community healthy and continuing scientific studies to improve on White’s teachings about health. I think Adventist Health teaming up with Blue Zones is awesome and sorely needed:

    • Ellen G. White did not start Adventism nor are all Adventists followers of Ellen G. White. Adventism began with a man named William Miller. Miller believed that the end of the world had begun, unlike most classic pre-millenialists who believed that the beginning of the end was future.

      In 1818, Miller became convinced that the end of the world would arrive in or near 1843. In 1822, he published his beliefs and in 1831 he began lecturing on this subject. When 1843 arrived, Miller wasn't sure what date the end would come or even if it would be for sure that year. But the next year, 1844, one of his followers convinced Miller and the rest of Miller's followers that October 22, 1844 would be the day.

      That day came to be known as "The Great Disappointment" but Miller's teachings became the foundation for many other religious groups including White's group.

      Wikipedia provides this chart to illustrate the offshoots of Miller's followers:

      If you look on the right side of the chart, just below the bright blue line you will see in gray the words "Russell Bible Students." This refers to Charles Taze Russell. After Russell died, his successors became known as "Jehovah's Witnesses."

    • Those numbers are encouraging, aren't they? Sure, growth is growth. But I don't take anything they publish at face value anymore. Those numbers include everyone on their records, so they don't account for inactive members unless they went to the trouble of actually resigning. The church doesn't publish inactivity rates, so it isn't possible to find absolute answers about that. But some polls have been done which give an idea. This article was interesting:

      The article focuses on Millennials, but the Pew Research Foundation found a retention rate of about 64% in 2014 and 62% for Millennials. However, other data mentioned suggest the numbers for Millennials are probably closer to 45%. Not great, that. If the data for Millennials are inflated, what's the general membership actually like? I don't know, so let's just assume the 64% is correct. In any case, the trend is that the younger a person is, the less likely they will stay in the church. Based on the 16,565,036 members they reported, if only 64% are active that drops by about 6 million. The actual increase reported is 313,101, nearly 100,000 being births. If 64% stay in the church, only about 200,000 of those will stay. What happens when the older generations leave the church through death? I don't think the church releases demographics, but I'd be interested in seeing age distributions. And Millennials are also having fewer children than older generations. So I would expect to see the growth rate decrease over time.

      What is it that makes you say the church would have petered out already if it was going to? They have lost a lot of support from younger people due to their stance on various social issues and refusal to keep up with the times. They have been really good at hiding the more unsavory parts of Mormon history, but the prevalence of the internet has changed that and lots of people are leaving because of facts that the church had been trying to suppress.