X Close

Will Mormons take over Britain?

Last year's BBC's documentary 'The Mormons are Coming' covered the rise of the religious group in the UK. Credit: BBC

March 7, 2024 - 1:00pm

In 1829, there were six Mormons in the world. Today, there are 16 million global followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

This is what a growth plan, a bit of drive, and some golden tablets containing God’s final revelation can do for a fledgling religion. In 1989, Mormonism’s growth peaked at 9% a year. And even in shagged-out old England, Mormonism appears to be growing. Plans are now in for its third temple, in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands.

Temples are the deluxe end of Mormonism. To enter one, the devout need official permission from the bishops of the church. They are likely to be on high-level business: a wedding, or a baptism.

This third outpost will cover the West of England and Wales, servicing the nation’s estimated 186,000 Mormons. By comparison, there are a reported 132,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country while the Salvation Army lists its headcount at around 54,000. The Plymouth Brethren are 16,000-strong. In 2016, the Methodist Church — the religion of Margaret Thatcher and the early Labour Party, and the very backbone of a certain kind of Enlightenment England — reported that it had only 188,000 active members.

Curiously, by the 1860s there were 30,000 Mormons in Britain — more than in Utah itself (26,000). But most emigrated — in fact, at one point Brits comprised a third of Utah’s population — so that by the 1960s there were just 6,000 Latter-day Saints left on these isles.

There might be something unsettling about a religion explicitly based upon the notion that Jesus visited North American deepening its tendrils in England. But what it shows is that things change. The map of British faith is still contested — and not just by the endless importation of diverse peoples.

It shows that, as much as we might be becoming a more secular country (the “no religion” tribe being up 12%, to 37% of the total, between the 2011 and 2021 Censuses), we are also becoming a more religious one.

This is a paradox we’re only starting to reckon with. As secularism rises, so too is Mormonism and other religious offshoots. It has the big family thing, but it also has a gift for proselytising. That was how they won Britain. While Billy Graham was preaching his Crusades at Wembley, deep in the suburbs, a gentler kind of brimstone was being asserted. That of American men in neatly starched short-sleeved shirts, going from house to house, with colour booklets explaining a curious interplanetary dharma. Bolstered by a war chest of cash, yes, but undergirded by a dense social structure that meant belief came naturally.

They’re not interested in who mocks them. Instead, they’ve built from the inside out: first church, then family, community, and nation. This is a structure that bolsters itself. More than simply being an anomaly in a secular world, it’s a bulwark against a secular world. Some might say the same about the social structures, the Ummah, of Islam.

So while the Church of England signs up another raft of race doulas with funding from the bequests of another generation of maiden aunts, rapidly expanding Nigerian pentecostal churches in London are actively targeting white worshippers.

As Sheryl Sandberg would have it, Mormonism leans in. We laughed at the Church of Latter-day Saints when the Book of Mormon came out. But things change. In 30 years time, we might not be laughing so hard.


Gavin Haynes is a journalist and former editor-at-large at Vice.

@gavhaynes

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

36 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago

Is this worse than your other options?

Greg Morrison
Greg Morrison
4 months ago

Fairplay, the Mormons I’ve met are all lovely people with some remarkably odd beliefs. But they don’t murder people who leave their religion, or blaspheme against it, or people who criticise their prophets, or people who are Jews. Neither, to my understanding, do the Mormons run grooming gangs who gang rape female minors who do not follow their religion because they are somehow worth less.
In 30 years time I may or may not be laughing: but either way it won’t be because of anything the Mormons do.

Jake F.
Jake F.
4 months ago
Reply to  Greg Morrison

I’m a faithful member of the Church and even I think our beliefs are odd, occasionally. I imagine every religious person does if they look at their faith from an outside perspective. (We don’t believe that the Savior was American though – but can you really expect anything but bunk from a former Vice writer?)

That said, I’ve never understood how moderate Muslims can balance their faith against the radical aspects of their religion.

Arthur King
Arthur King
4 months ago
Reply to  Jake F.

I’ve wonder this as well. I like to study religions and as one gets deeper into their traditions they become more fascinating. Islam is the exception. As one studies the Koran, Sunnah, and authoritative Haddith, the more horrified one becomes at the brutal inhumanity expressed in its theology and history.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Yeah, you haven’t actually studied the Quran or Sunnah if that’s your takeaway. But no Christian can really talk about someone elses brutal history.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

There’s no shortage of brutality in the Quran. Let’s get real.

The difference between that particular book & the Christian scriptures is that the protagonist in the latter isn’t ordering murders and mass slaughters.

Arthur King
Arthur King
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Sure we Christians can crticize. We are very self critical of our own history. There are libraries of books about our failures. Numerous apologies too. Have you ever seen a book by Muslims about their failures? Have you ever heard a Mufti or school of Islam apologize? You obviously know F all about Christianity,

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
4 months ago
Reply to  Greg Morrison

But they don’t murder people who leave their religion, or blaspheme against it, or people who criticise their prophets, or people who are Jews. Neither, to my understanding, do the Mormons run grooming gangs who gang rape female minors who do not follow their religion because they are somehow worth less.
Well, not mainstream Mormons. The FLDS is another matter entirely.

John Murray
John Murray
4 months ago

Yes, very good book called Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer about that.
Regular Mormons have always been very nice when I’ve met. A big Mormon population in England wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
4 months ago
Reply to  Greg Morrison

They’re also about the only white people left breeding at above replacement rates.

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
4 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Not all Mormons are white.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Greg Morrison

Please stop this dishonest and illogical trope that adherents of only one particular religion doing bad things discredits that religion, but only that religion, as a whole. The Catholic church has been riddled by child abusing priests (not just ordinary members of its church). I don’t recall many of our right wing UnHerd commentators attacking Catholicism as a whole because of that.

I’m an atheist so have no axe to grind on the issue. It is beyond any serious historical doubt that both Christians and Muslims have perpetrated many atrocities.

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Catholic doctrine doesn’t condone child abuse. There are no church councils or papal bulls legitimizing it.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
4 months ago

Print this article out, and put it away for 30 years and see where things are.
I thought in the UK would be mostly mosques by then.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago

The key to the potency of a faith group in spreading is whether it keeps its children in the fold and whether they have children in their turn. LDS do seem very good at doing this, they have a low disaffiliation rate and an average of 2.8 kids per woman. They are also good at making converts.
Perhaps the future is destined to be LDS versus Muslims.

Arthur King
Arthur King
4 months ago

I have zero concerns the we will see Mormons terrorism or Mormons marching in the streets chanting death to anyone.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
4 months ago

Well ex-CofEs need a home. I left after general synod last year looked at Catholicism (sadly moving down the Dagenham path), Methodists (already reached Barking) and – upon James Orr’s valuable advice – ended up online with Alpha daily biblical readings. A community with 1 congregant clearly fails the test. I continue to look, and would say that our decision to leave the UK is to find a place where we feel we can belong in worship and other forms of communitarian activity (no jokes required but agree it’s an open goal !!! …..)

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I don’t mean to be rude, but it sounds as if you just want to believe in SOMETHING and like being part of a church group ratger than having a deeply held faith

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

Considering the other takeover option, the Mormons look like the better choice if one has to be made.

John Tyler
John Tyler
4 months ago

The answer is No!

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Why not? They have lots of children!

Rob N
Rob N
4 months ago

Personally I don’t feel Mormonism is for me but I have known quite a few and all been decent sensible people.

In fact I think I would be happy if a very large chunk of our country were Mormons. Certainly better than the likely alternatives!

David Simpson
David Simpson
4 months ago

They might be the new Benedictines (arguably Benedict in the 6th century AD saved western civilisation).

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
4 months ago

Unchurched does not necessarily imply secular. Just because a person has severed their connections with any formal church doesn’t mean they’ve become some arch-rationalist. Quite frequently it means the opposite: decoupled from the rigors of a structured belief system, they float in a miasma of vague and “spiritual” superstition, which is largely unconsidered and reflexive.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago

This. Without the common glue of Christianity, people will start forming their own cults and religions.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

And?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

For those who might be kidding themselves…there are cults within Christianity. When you reference its common glue, I wonder: What percentage of Britons/ Americans/Westerners do you think are raised in an active, let alone vibrant Christian faith?
How well is the glue holding?

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

A friend of mine lived in Salt Lake City for a while. He rented a six bedroom house. I asked him why, given that there was only his wife and one child living in it with him. He said “In Utah, there are only six bedroom houses”. Apparently there are one bedroom apartments for single people, but once you get married, you are expected to fill those six bedrooms with children.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

Do they have to be your children, or can they be anybody’s?

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

They want a man to produce the children with his (only) wife. In days gone by, he could of course have produced them with his various wives, but those days are long gone.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago

Calm down there Savile!

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
4 months ago

I have far more respect and liking for Mormons than for the ‘Christians in name only’, who try to turn God’s church into the new ‘woke’ thing.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
4 months ago

Where do the converts come from? Mormonism grew in soil already deeply tilled by orthodox Christianity and fertilised with its stories.
When the Mormons establish a temple in Saudi Arabia then the author will have something notable to say. To attempt that would be the real challenge. Christian missionaries working in Egypt and the Arabian peninsular in the 19th and early 20th centuries only ever made a handful of converts.

Howard S.
Howard S.
4 months ago

I’d be a lot more concerned about all of the mosques and madrassas going up all over Britain (and here in the States) than about Mormon temples, or Scientology “churches”, or Jehovas Witnesses Kingdom Halls or Chabad Houses popping up in our cities.

Howard S.
Howard S.
4 months ago

Every religion has its crazies. There’s only one “mainstream” religion that is run by its crazies.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago

The Mormons have built numerous businesses and an Empire in Utah. What’s wrong with that?