Mor­mon num­bers de­cline in Utah

Only 60.7 per­cent of state’s pop­u­la­tion be­long to Church of Later-day Saints

The Covington News - - RELIGION -

SALT LAKE CITY — Res­i­dents of Utah who be­long to the Mor­mon church make up 60.7 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion, the low­est share ever.

The per­cent­age has de­clined ev­ery year for nearly two decades, ac­cord­ing to mem­ber­ship num­bers sup­plied by The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter- day Saints.

The num­bers, along with sta­tis­tics from school dis­tricts, the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and other sources, helped state of­fi­cials last week when they es­ti­mated Utah’s pop­u­la­tion at 2.69 mil­lion, as of July.

If the trend holds, Mor­mons will make up less than half of Utah’s pop­u­la­tion by 2030.

The state gained more than 84,000 res­i­dents be­tween the sum­mers of 2006 and 2007, about half of them trans­plants.

Utah “ will al­ways be a dom­i­nant cen­ter for that re­li­gion. That is not go­ing to change,” said Pam Per­lich, a de­mog­ra­pher at the Univer­sity of Utah. “ But a slow, steady de­cline of the Mor­mon share will con­tinue as long as the state grows.”

The Mor­mon church, head­quar­tered in Salt Lake City, de­clined to com­ment on the trend.

Kelly Pat­ter­son, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Brigham Young Univer­sity, said Mor­mons vote at higher rates than nonMor­mons, which will give them a larger in­flu­ence.

But he ex­pects the slow rise of the Demo­cratic Party, and the grow­ing non- Mor­mon pop­u­la­tion in Salt Lake County, will re­sult in more po­lit­i­cal clashes.

Vat­i­can says ties with Is­rael wors­en­ing

VAT­I­CAN CITY — A se­nior Vat­i­can diplo­mat who served as pa­pal en­voy to Is­rael has de­scribed Vat­i­canIs­raeli re­la­tions as wors­en­ing, blam­ing the Jewish state for fail­ing to keep prom­ises re­lated to church land, taxes and travel re­stric­tions on Arab clergy.

Arch­bishop Pi­etro Sambi lashed out at Is­rael in an in­ter­view posted Nov. 16 on Ter­ras­anta. net, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion about the Holy Land.

“ If I must be frank, the re­la­tions be­tween the Catholic Church and the state of Is­rael were bet­ter when there were no diplo­matic ties” which were es­tab­lished in the early 1990s, said Sambi, who was in­ter­viewed in Wash­ing­ton, where he now serves as Pope Bene­dict XVI’s en­voy to the United States.

Among the is­sues are the sta­tus of ex­pro­pri­ated church prop­erty, ser­vices that Ro­man Catholic groups per­form for Is­rael’s Jewish and Arab pop­u­la­tion, tax ex­emp­tions for the church, and per­mits for Arab Chris­tian clergy trav­el­ing to and around the West Bank.

Is­rael has re­scinded some travel priv­i­leges for those clergy, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns. Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries are home to a small Chris­tian mi­nor­ity.

Sambi blamed the sit­u­a­tion on Is­rael’s “ ab­sence of po­lit­i­cal will.”

“ Ev­ery­one can see what kind of trust you can give to Is­rael’s prom­ises,” Sambi said.

Is­raeli For­eign Min­istry spokesman Mark Regev replied: “ Is­rael is in­ter­ested in good re­la­tions with the Vat­i­can, and Is­raeli and Vat­i­can of­fi­cials are work­ing to over­come gaps that ex­ist.”

Vat­i­can spokesman the Rev. Fed­erico Lom­bardi said the in­ter­view with Sambi “ re­flects his think­ing and his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence” dur­ing the diplo­mat’s for­mer post­ing in Is­rael.

Nor­way’s Luther­ans ease ban on gay clergy

OSLO, Nor­way — Nor­way’s state Lutheran church lifted an out­right ban on clergy in same- sex re­la­tion­ships but will al­low each bishop to de­cide whether to em­ploy them.

Af­ter an an­guished week of de­bate at its an­nual meet­ing, the church’s 86- mem­ber gov­ern­ing synod voted 50- 34 to make the change. Two mem­bers ab­stained. The meet­ing, which ended Nov. 16, was held in the town of Lille­ham­mer.

Six of Nor­way’s 11 bishops are ex­pected to open their lo­cal pul­pits to non­celi­bate gay and les­bian clergy.

“ This will cre­ate peace in the church, and se­cu­rity for ho­mo­sex­ual clergy,” Marit Tin­gel­stad, head of the Bishop’s Coun­cil for south­east­ern Nor­way’s Ha­mar dis­trict, said on state ra­dio net­work NRK.

But Bishop Ole D. Hage­saeter, of the Bjo­ergvin dis­trict, said, “ This is a sad day for the church. It will be a split­ting fac­tor and lead to many feel­ing home­less in the church.”

The synod’s vote was a com­pro­mise re­vi­sion of a 1997 res­o­lu­tion by the high­est body in Nor­way’s state Protes­tant church that barred all gay clergy with samegen­der part­ners from hold­ing con­se­crated jobs.

Un­der Nor­we­gian law, gay cou­ples have rights com­pa­ra­ble to those of mar­ried het­ero­sex­u­als, apart from church wed­dings and adop­tion.

The church counts nearly 85 per­cent of Nor­way’s 4.7 mil­lion peo­ple as mem­bers.

Athe­ists protest plan for Na­tiv­ity scene

MENOM­I­NEE, Mich. — The na­tion’s largest group of athe­ists and ag­nos­tics has filed a let­ter of protest with the city for de­cid­ing to put a Na­tiv­ity scene in its band­shell.

Mem­bers of the parks and re­cre­ation com­mit­tee ap­proved the dis­play ear­lier this month with the pro­vi­sion that non- Chris­tians be al­lowed to add their sym­bols.

The co- pres­i­dent of the Madi­son, Wis.- based Free­dom From Re­li­gion Foun­da­tion said in a Nov. 15 let­ter that the dis­play would vi­o­late the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

“ It is un­law­ful for the city of Menom­i­nee to main­tain, erect or host a dis­play that con­sists solely of a Na­tiv­ity scene, thus sin­gling out, show­ing pref­er­ence for and en­dors­ing one re­li­gion, and com­mem­o­rat­ing its most holy day,” An­nie Lau­rie Gay­lor wrote to Menom­i­nee city man­ager Eric Strahl. “ Com­pound­ing this is the tax money spent on il­lu­mi­nat­ing this re­li­gious scene on pub­lic prop­erty.”

City at­tor­ney Rob Jamo warned the parks com­mit­tee dur­ing its meet­ing that the dis­play was close to vi­o­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state es­tab­lished in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Judge re­jects Rasta­far­ian plea in mar­i­juana case

NEW LON­DON, Conn. — A Nor­wich man’s re­li­gious be­lief was not enough to con­vince a judge to re­duce his jail time for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.

Ver­non Smith, 43, is a Rasta­far­ian who be­lieves his use of pot is a God-given right. He had pleaded guilty to two counts of pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana with in­tent to sell af­ter po­lice found him with more than 20 pounds of the drug in July.

In New Lon­don Su­pe­rior Court on Nov. 15, Smith’s lawyer ar­gued un­suc­cess­fully for a re­duced sen­tence. Prose­cu­tors suc­cess­fully sought a term of 2½ years in prison and three years pro­ba­tion.

Smith, who ap­peared be­fore Judge Susan B. Handy in a white robe and head­wrap, said he tries to set a good ex­am­ple and that he fol­lows the Ten Com­mand­ments. He does not con­sider him­self a crim­i­nal, he said.

“I know that the law is such in this coun­try, but I feel one day the law will change, es­pe­cially with peo­ple who in­dulge in mar­i­juana and are not vi­o­lent,” Smith said. He knows many peo­ple who use mar­i­juana to re­lax and med­i­tate, he said.

Rasta­far­i­ans wor­ship as a liv­ing god Ethiopia’s last em­peror, Haile Se­lassie, who died in 1975. They preach unity with na­ture and smoke mar­i­juana as a sacra­ment.

Smith, who is from St. Croix, Vir­gin Is­lands, and is a stay-at-home fa­ther of seven chil­dren while his wife works, sup­ple­ments his in­come by sell­ing mar­i­juana, said his lawyer, Ron­ald Stevens. He does not sell to chil­dren, Stevens said.

“Mr. Smith firmly be­lieves in his heart of hearts and in his re­li­gious and cul­tural con­vic­tions that mar­i­juana is part of his hu­man rights,” Stevens said. “He wants to fight the good fight for the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana.”

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