LDS Growth Encyclopedia on Missionary Work and Church Growth (Missiology)

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Author: Matt Martinich

Posted: March 14th, 2014

Corruption has created significant challenges in most areas of the world such as curbing economic growth, depriving individuals from enjoying basic human rights, and deterring LDS Church growth. Transparency International defines corruption as, "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain."[1]

The Church generally experiences slow growth in the least corrupt countries such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway. This finding does not appear rooted in the impact of corruption on the receptivity of populations to the LDS Church. Rather, slow growth in these least corrupt countries is attributed to the predominance of irreligiousness and secularism. Coincidentally, rapid growth in the most corrupt countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, and Papua New Guinea is not attributed to the influence of corruption on society but low levels of economic development, religious pluralism, cultural characteristics that value active participation in organized religion, and little influence of Western secularism on societal moral views.

The perception of pervasive corruption appears to have dissuaded mission and area leaders from opening some cities or countries to missionary work. For example, in Colombia the Church did not open Buenaventura to missionary work until 2012 notwithstanding over 300,000 inhabitants and the city ranking among the 20 most populous cities in the country. Buenaventura's status as one of the most corrupt cities in Colombia is evidenced by approximately 40% of the country's illicit cocaine exports exiting through the port in Buenaventura and the prominence of armed guerrilla groups and gangs.[2] Of the 20 countries that ranked at the bottom of Transparency International 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), 11 had at least one LDS congregation (Angola, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Laos, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Haiti, Venezuela, Iraq, Burma, and Afghanistan) and seven had proselytizing missionaries assigned (Angola, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Haiti, and Venezuela) whereas all 20 countries that ranked at the top of the Transparency International 2012 CPI had LDS congregations and proselytizing missionaries assigned. Only one of the 50 countries with the least corruption does not have an LDS presence (Bhutan) whereas 17 of the 50 countries with the most corruption do not have an LDS presence.

Corruption has negatively impacted LDS missionary activity in a variety of ways and often overlaps with government and societal restrictions on religious freedom. Organized crime has interfered with missionary activity in some countries such as Mexico. Corruption has hampered efforts to expand missionary work into countries where local or regional government authorities refuse to grant registration to the Church notwithstanding no legal grounds for these actions. In Russia, corruption and restrictions and abuses of religious freedom have been closely intertwined such as local government authorities interfering with constructing meetinghouses and missionary proselytism.[3] Corruption has limited employment opportunities for many members in the Philippines and other countries resulting in emigration to other countries where better employment opportunities can be secured. Corruption has also been financially taxing on the Church. Organized crime has required the Church to pay fees to avoid the damage or destruction to church property in some locations. Senior missionaries serving in several different Sub-Saharan African countries report that they have to pay bribes to law enforcement and government personnel in order to cross international boundaries or if they are stopped while traveling from city to city. The Church has been unable to obtain needed government permissions to station foreign missionaries in some locations due to corruption in local, regional, and national government as no legal restrictions prevent the Church from assigning missionaries to these locations.

There have been instances of corruption infiltrating local LDS leadership in some countries. Returned missionaries have reported that local and district leadership have been accused or have been discovered to steal monetary donations from church members. Many of these instances have resulted in serious setbacks for the Church as church leaders have been released from their callings and excommunicated, resulting in temporary shortages of qualified local leaders. Returned missionaries have reported on a few instances when local leadership misconduct has been associated with the discontinuation of stakes. 

Corruption will remain a serious challenge for the Church for the foreseeable future in many areas of the world as it has reduced employment and education opportunities for members, interferes with outreach expansion efforts, and limits religious freedom. 

[1]  "What is the Corruption Perceptions Index?," Transparency International, retrieved 7 January 2013.

[2]  "Colombia: losing the Pacific," Colombia Reports, 29 November 2010.

[3]  "Russia," International Religious Freedom Report 2008, retrieved 22 March 2011.