Sunday, April 28, 2019

Komkom Vase

A shattered royal drinking vessel discovered in 2015 at Baking Pot, Belize bears a long Mayan inscription that originally consisted of 202 glyph blocks, about 60% of which are extant after reconstruction.
Komkom Vase Dedicated AD 812 
Baking Pot is on the Belize River.
Baking Pot, Belize in Context
A critical text of this important inscription was recently published - Christophe Helmke, Julie A. Hoggarth, Jaime J. Awe, A Reading of the Komkom Vase Discovered at Baking Pot, Belize (San Francisco: Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, 2018) 144 pp. Helmke is at the University of Copenhagen, Hoggarth at Baylor, and Awe at Northern Arizona. The fact that they published a critical text only 3 years after the vase's discovery is a credit to the authors and a result of the remarkable worldwide collaboration among contemporary Mayanists.

The vessel was owned by the king of Komkom, an unidentified site probably on the Belize River and allied with the more powerful Naranjo to the west. Buenavista del Cayo is an increasingly likely candidate for Komkom. The text was copied from an earlier historical record, almost certainly painted on bark paper. The text on Naranjo Stela 12, dedicated AD 800, ultimately derives from that same earlier historical source. Naranjo Stela 12 and the Komkom vase describe the same military engagements with Yaxha and Tikal, but from the different perspectives of Naranjo and its junior partner, Komkom. The military action took place between February and September, AD 799.

The Komkom vase text has a number of interesting similarities with the much earlier Book of Mormon.
  • Komkom p. 22 The vase text has calendrical, historical narrative, and parentage components. The Book of Mormon establishes chronology, recites historical narrative, and declares lineage relationships Alma 63:15-17.
  • Komkom p. 30 cites our friend, Kerry Hull of the BYU religion faculty, because the vase text uses the elegant poetic form difrasismo or "diphrastic kenning" where dual extremes imply a larger whole. Hull has pointed out several examples of this poetic form in the Nephite record including 2 Nephi 10:16, 2 Nephi 26:33, and Alma 11:44. Komkom p. 39 says difrasismo has endured virtually unchanged as a poetic form in Mayan literature for two millenia.
  • Komkom p. 32 describes the title "five headdresses" applied to elite women. The phrase is known from inscriptions at half a dozen Maya sites.
This is Linda Schele's drawing of the Palace Tablet, Palenque.
K'inich K'an Joy Chitam Flanked by his Parents
All three figures wear elaborate headdresses. Lady Tz'akbu Ajaw to the right is wearing at least three headdresses. K'inich Janaab Pakal to the left is holding a headdress.

These are Linda Schele's drawings of various headdresses:
Headdresses from Palenque, Machaquila, Yaxchilan, and Piedras Negras
The Book of Mormon calls tall headdresses "high heads." 2 Nephi 28:14 talks about prideful people who wear stiff necks and high heads. Jacob 2:13 explicitly says prideful people wear stiff necks and high heads because they can afford costly apparel. Some Mesoamerican headdresses were so heavy and cumbersome the wearers used a back rack with a vertical pole or lattice to hold everything up. Back racks with vertical support may be the "stiff necks" Nephi and Jacob refer to.
  • Komkom p. 34 analyzes the linguistics of the title "eastern 28 chief" attested from the sites of Dos Pilas, Machaquila, Ixkun, Naranjo, and Caracol. All of these sites where the term has been found (now including Baking Pot) are in the central (Usumacinta) or eastern (Maya Mountains) sector of the Maya world. This is precisely where many Book of Mormon modelers place "the east wilderness" mentioned in Alma chapters 25 and 50 and "the east by the seashore" in Alma 22:29. The "eastern 28" part of the Maya title is likely a late Classic regional grouping of polities.
This  map shows sites where the title "eastern 28 chief" is found, the Maya Mountains in brown overlay, and plausible correlates for the Book of Mormon "east."
Sites where "East" is Attested with Possible Book of Mormon Correlates
The blockbuster discovery that the Book of Mormon "east sea" may now be corroborated in ancient Mayan inscriptions is discussed in the 2016 article "Smoking Gun." More information about the region the Maya considered "the east" is in the 2018 article "Maya Place Names." Alexandre Tokovinine, author of the very important 2013 monograph Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives and world's leading expert on Maya toponyms, really likes the new Helmke, Hoggarth, Awe, Komkom Vase book per his favorable Amazon review.
  • Komkom p. 36-37 The Mayan verb ch'ahb describes a devotional act such as fasting or doing penance. The meaning "let blood" originally proposed in Linda Schele's era is no longer considered viable. The Book of Mormon mentions fasting in a devotional context dozens of times, e.g. Alma 45:1, Helaman 3:35.
  • Komkom p. 41 describes a military campaign in AD 696 where enemy structures were set ablaze. The Book of Mormon describes a military campaign ca. AD 379 where villages and towns were burned with fire Mormon 5:5. Komkom p. 56 describes another burning of an opponent's home town in a martial context. Komkom pp. 70, 75 mention yet others. 
  • Komkom p. 42-43 cites Mayan texts that describe Motul de San Jose and Yaxha as being west of Naranjo and the Baking Pot area as east of it.
This map shows the four sites generally in a west-east alignment.
Motul & Yaxha West of Naranjo, Baking Pot East of It
The late Classic Maya used a system of solar-based directional cardinality similar to our own. Their meaning of "west" and "east" nearly matched our modern usage of those terms.

  • Komkom p. 50 says particular forests had names in the Maya world. The Book of Mormon has a named forest Mosiah 18:30.
  • Komkom p. 51 talks about a conquering army scattering the bones of an enemy king. The Book of Mormon mentions scattered bones Omni 1:22.
  • Komkom p. 52 mentions the construction of paved roads in AD 588. The Book of Mormon describes the construction of paved roads ca. AD 29 3 Nephi 6:8. Komkom p. 62 talks about "four-breadth roadways," a term found also at Naranjo and Caracol. Maya highway widths were classified by standard units of measure. The Book of Mormon implies different sized roadways when it mentions both "roads" and "highways" in 3 Nephi 6:8.
  • Komkom p. 52 cites the phrase "it is set in order" which recalls the wording of Alma 8:1 where Alma "established the order" of the church in Gideon.
  • Komkom p. 52 says the sociopolitical relationship between the site of Naranjo and some of its neighbors was stable for 220 years. The Book of Mormon describes similar periods of stability Jarom 1:5.
  • Komkom p. 53 describes kab which is the Mayan word for "bee." Ether 2:3 describes the Jaredite word for "honey bee."
  • KomKom p. 55 note 18 says the term "large waters" used throughout Mesoamerica refers to a river. This may have significant implications for Book of Mormon geography. The terms "waters of Sidon" and "river Sidon" are used interchangeably in the text Alma 43:40. Alma baptized in the waters of Sidon Alma 4:4 just like his father had baptized in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18. The waters of Mormon may be a river just like the waters of Sidon are a river. Ditto the waters of Sebus Alma 19:20-21 and the waters of Ripliancum which are explicitly called "large" Ether 15:8.
  • Komkom p. 58 says the sites of Yaxha (Yaxa'), Mopan (Monpaan), Motul (Mutu'l), and Laguna la Blanca (Sakha') carry names that have remained largely unchanged since late Classic times. It is well known in historical linguistic circles that toponyms are remarkably resistant to change. This gives us hope that more Book of Mormon toponyms (in addition to "east sea" and "the east" discussed above) may be found as Maya decipherment advances.
  • Komkom p. 62 describes a regal title translated as "he of nine lands." The most prominent political organization mentioned in the Nephite text is "land" and some rulers had dominion over multiple lands Alma 22:1.
  • Komkom p. 64 outlines a chiastic structure. The Book of Mormon contains dozens of chiastic structures such as Mosiah 5:10-12.
  • Komkom p. 65 discusses deity impersonation where a human donned regalia and acted like a particular god. The Mayan phrase for this behavior is rendered "it is his/her image in the state of being like a god." Alma alluded to this practice when he asked his followers in the city of Zarahemla if they had received the image of God engraved in their countenance Alma 5:14,19.
  • Komkom p. 66 talks about a captured king who was killed with a torch. In the Book of Mormon, King Noah suffered death by fire Mosiah 19:20.
  • Komkom p. 71 tells about a king who ascended a mountain to evade military pressure. The Book of Mormon tells a similar story about Lehonti atop Mount Antipas Alma 47:10. Komkom p. 86 discusses the idea of people fleeing and taking refuge in an elevated place. This is exactly what happened when Mosiah 1 led the Nephites from the land of Nephi down to the land of Zarahemla. The large group took temporary refuge en route on the hill north of Shilom Mosiah 11:13.
  • Komkom p. 73 describes the practice of giving a youth a different name after he matured and began to fulfill his adult role in society. Paranomasia (pun names) are one implementation that Matthew Bowen has found throughout the Book of Mormon. See his "Name as Key-Word, Collected Essays on Onomastic Wordplay."
  • Komkom p. 74 discusses the Mayan adverb uhtiiy which means "it happened." The Book of Mormon variant is the ubiquitous "It came to pass" e.g. Alma 47:2-3.
  • Komkom p. 76 says the ancient Maya measured distance by a day's walk. The Book of Mormon peoples measured distance by a day's journey Alma 8:6.
  • Komkom p. 82 says many localities mentioned in ancient Mayan texts cannot be identified on the modern map. It should not surprise us that many localities mentioned in the Book of Mormon have not yet been identified on the modern map.
  • Komkom p. 84 talks about historical annals, records kept year by year. Large parts of the Book of Mormon such as Helaman 11:21-24 are abridgments from historical annals.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Usumacinta Olmec

For years, people have talked about the Olmec "heartland" as a western Gulf Coast phenomenon anchored by the three major sites San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes, all of which took their turn as the capital city. Archaeologists referred to Olmec sites outside this relatively small area as the "hinterland."
Traditional Olmec Heartland in Orange
In 2006, V. Garth Norman and I visited Pomona in Tabasco on the western bank of the Usumacinta.
Pomona Relative to the Traditional Olmec Heartland
Pomona is generally considered a Classic Maya site, but we saw this monument on display in the INAH site museum.
Olmec Iconography on Display in Pomona
Photo by Kirk Magleby, September, 2006
This photo does not do the monument justice. It is Olmec, about as Olmec as you get. Seeing this carving started me on a quest to map known Olmec sites. Until today, my map looked like this.
148 Sites with Olmec Influence, 52 of which are in the Heartland
Olmec influence reached into every part of Mesoamerica, but the culture core was still in the heartland, or so we thought.

The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology just concluded in Albuquerque, NM. My friend, Richard Terry, presented two papers at the conference on the soil chemistry of sites in Belize and Utah. Richard sent me abstracts of two papers presented by the dynamic team of Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan, both from the University of Arizona. I wrote blog articles entitled "Takeshi Inomata" and "75 BC" describing some of their ground-breaking work at Ceibal and Aguateca. Inomata finished his Sabbatical year at Dumbarton Oaks (a research center in Washington, DC affiliated with Harvard University) and is now back in the field. What he and his team have found will re-write history and could have profound implications for the Book of Mormon.

Since 2017, Inomata and Triadan have been excavating a massive Olmec site they named Aguada Fénix at the great bend of the San Pedro river in Balancán Municipality, Tabasco. This is near the large Maya trading site, Moral Reforma.
Aguada Fénix on the San Pedro
What we know about this site after two seasons of work:
  • It is the largest of 15 newly-discovered middle Preclassic sites in the area.
  • These 15 sites are so standardized in their rectangular layout Inomata and Triadan have coined the name "Middle Formative Usumacinta" (MFU) pattern to describe the site plans.
  • Dates are coming in from 1,000 BC to 800 BC. Since Inomata is a master of precise dating, we can expect more clarity soon. 
  • It had an E Group, as did Ceibal in the middle Preclassic. It remains to be seen which predates the other. Prior to Aguada Fénix, the Ceibal E Group was the earliest known in Mesoamerica.
  • It is so large it may have been the Olmec capital after the collapse of San Lorenzo and before the rise of La Venta.
  • It had cultural ties with Ceibal, 185 air kilometers to the SE. 
Stay tuned. These 15 new sites headed by Aguada Fénix may force a re-evaluation of what constituted the Olmec heartland and may demonstrate a much closer connection between the Olmec and the early Maya than we have heretofore realized. They may also force us to re-think the proposed boundaries of the land northward during Jaredite times.

John Clark: "Aguada Fénix is the most important site found in Mesoamerica in my lifetime" is what Francisco Estrada-Belli tweeted referring to Clark's presentation at SAA 2019 in Albuquerque.

August 29, 2019. I spent quality time today with John Clark in the Mexico City airport. He does not believe Aguada Fénix is Olmec, but neither does he see it as Maya. He believes it may represent a new cultural tradition entirely. The artificially raised platform at Aguada Fénix is 2,250 meters long, 200 meters wide, and 3 meters high. This is a volume of 1.3 million cubic meters of dirt. I asked him if he was familiar with Caral on the Peruvian coast. He has not visited the site, but has read about it. See the blog article "Things Peruvian" for more information. To his way of thinking, Aguada Fénix is the Caral of Mesoamerica - huge scale architecture springing up in an out of the way place seemingly from nowhere.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Moral Relativism

There was a demonstration at BYU on Friday, April 13, 2019, protesting the uneven way honor code violations are enforced.
BYU Protest, Daily Herald Photo by Evan Cobb
While serving as Bishop of the BYU 172nd Married Student Ward, I conducted many ecclesiastical endorsement interviews that included discussions about the honor code. On a few occasions, I had to work directly with the BYU Honor Code Office, and once I attended the training they offered to Bishops. I do not envy the BYU staffers tasked with enforcing this basic set of behavioral rules. If all the allegations brought forward by BYU students last week are factual, then there have been serious lapses and policy violations on the part of the honor code enforcement team. On the other hand, according to the young people I work with at Book of Moron Central, there is a growing sentiment, even among BYU students, that there simply should be no rules at all in today's hyper-tolerant, non-judgmental culture. The Church's April 4, 2019 policy change relaxing some rules for members in gay marriages and children of LGBT couples emboldened the BYU students to agitate for changes in the honor code via public social action.

I entered BYU as a freshman in the fall of 1971. Men could not wear excessively long hair or beards, and women could wear dress pants but not jeans. By 1981 the no jeans rule for women was gone. BYU has tinkered with its dress and grooming standards over the years, but the honor code provisions about the Word of Wisdom, honesty, and chastity have been constants helping maintain the clean-cut, wholesome image the university is renowned for.
BYU Engineering Students
In 2019, do personal behavior standards still apply? Should they apply? President Nelson said yes in his worldwide training remarks to Church leaders on Thursday, April 4, 2019, two days before the start of the 189th Annual General Conference. The prophet said:
  • Members of the Church need "to become stronger in a spiritually darkened world."
  • "Our members are standing like a rock in a moving river."
  • "Fortify our people - the adversary is an incorrigible insomniac. He never sleeps."
  • The "Book of Mormon comes to our rescue" referencing Moroni 7:14-19:
    • Do not judge that which is evil to be of God.
    • Do not judge that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
    • It is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil.
    • The way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
    • The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.
    • Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent by the power and gift of Christ.
    • Ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
    • Whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.
    • After this manner doth the devil work.
    • He persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
    • Ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ.
    • See that ye do not judge wrongfully.
    • With that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
    • Search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil.
    • If ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
Good and evil exist and are as relevant today as they ever were. Some deeply-ingrained attitudes are cultural artifacts, not moral absolutes. The Book of Mormon offers clear and precise direction to distinguish eternal truths from passing fads. 2 Nephi 26:29-33 is unambiguous.
  • There shall be no priestcrafts.
  • Have charity, which charity is love, D&C 59:6.
  • Do not murder, 6th of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:6.
  • Do not lie, 9th of the 10 commandments.
  • Do not steal, 8th of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:6.
  • Do not take the name of the Lord God in vain, 3rd of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:5.
  • Do not envy, 10th of the 10 commandments.
  • Have no malice.
  • Do not contend one with another.
  • Do not commit whoredoms, 7th of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:6.
  • Black and white are equal (no racism).
  • Bond and free are equal (no elitism).
  • Male and female are equal (no sexism).
  • Heathen, Jew, and Gentile are equal (no religious discrimination).
Racism is a cultural artifact that thankfully is going away in contemporary society. In my youth, people talked about miscegenation in negative terms. You hardly hear that word anymore. In the course of my service in the Church, I have referred dozens of people to Edward Kimball's tremendous article about his father's revelation on priesthood.

Elitism is a cultural artifact whose influence is being mitigated by the Internet. BYU Pathway Worldwide, for instance, makes world-class education accessible to most humans on the planet.

Sexism is a diminishing cultural artifact. The first time I flew with a female co-pilot in the cockpit, Delta Airlines announced this paradigm-shifting advance over the intercom and we passengers erupted in the seat-belts-fastened equivalent of a standing ovation. This does not mean we should expect female Apostles. The Savior's precedent in the New Testament, 3 Nephi, and the Restoration has males holding priesthood keys.

Religious monopoly is a cultural artifact. Each March, the largest celebration of the Holi Festival in the Western Hemisphere is at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah where thousands of BYU and UVU students gather to throw colored powder at each other and eat Indian food.
Spanish Fork Holi Festival, Photo from
Most of these young people will be in Sacrament Meeting the following Sabbath.

So far, so good. The BYU students on the lawn between the Wilkinson Center and the Law School are pretty much in sync with the Book of Mormon on racism, elitism, sexism, and religious exclusivity. The modern cultural rejection of the law of chastity, though, is plainly contrary to eternal truth revealed in the Book of Mormon.

John W. (Jack) Welch is my primary source for the idea that the Book of Mormon is our handbook of instructions for living in the 21st Century.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Book of Mormon Central's Executive Director. Book of Mormon Central builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. We currently publish in English and Spanish.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Church Membership Growth

As part of the 189th Annual General Conference today, the Church released its statistical report for December 31, 2018. As of year end, total Church membership stood at 16,313,735 which is an increase of 195,566 over 2017 when membership was 16,118,169. This is a growth rate of 1.21%, the lowest since 1937 when the great depression was ravaging the global economy. Here is a chart showing Church growth since 1975 with significant developments in certain years noted and the fastest growing years highlighted in yellow.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Membership
Year     Membership   Increase    % Growth   Developments 
1975     3,572,202      162,215     4.76%         Microsoft
1976     3,742,749      170,547     4.77%         Apple
1977     3,969,220      226,471     6.05%
1978     4,166,854      197,634     4.98%         Revelation on the Priesthood
1979     4,404,121      237,267     5.69%         FARMS (1979 - 2002)                
1980     4,639,822      235,701     5.35% 
1981     4,920,449      280,627     6.05%          IBM PC
1982     5,162,619      242,170     4.92%          Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP)
1983     5,351,724      189,105     3.66%          AOL
1984     5,641,054      289,330     5.41%   
1985     5,919,483      278,429     4.94%   
1986     6,166,974      247,491     4.18%   
1987     6,394,314      227,340     3.69%   
1988     6,721,210      326,896     5.11%          Ezra Taft Benson “Flood theEarth”
1989     7,308,444      587,234     8.74%          Email
1990     7,761,179      452,735     6.19%          HTTP, HTML, WWW, Browser 
1991     8,089,848      328,669     4.23%   
1992     8,404,087      314,239     3.88%   
1993     8,689,168      285,081     3.39%   
1994     9,024,368      335,200     3.86%           Yahoo, Amazon
1995     9,338,859      314,491     3.48%           Proclamation on the Family, EBay
1996     9,692,441      353,582     3.79%   
1997     10,071,783    379,342     3.91%           Netflix, FAIRMormon    
1998     10,354,241    282,458     2.80%           Google, PayPal 
1999     10,752,986    398,745     3.85%   
2000     11,068,861    315,875     2.94%   
2001     11,394,522    325,661     2.94%            Wikipedia
2002     11,721,548    327,026     2.87%             LinkedIn, BYU acquired FARMS 
2003     11,985,254    263,706     2.25%
2004     12,275,822    290,568     2.42%            Facebook         
2005     12,560,869    285,047     2.32%            YouTube             
2006     12,868,606    307,737     2.45%            Twitter
2007     13,193,999    325,393     2.53%   
2008     13,508,509    314,510     2.38%   
2009     13,824,854    316,345     2.34%             WhatsApp
2010     14,131,467    306,613     2.22%             Pinterest, Instagram
2011     14,441,346    309,879     2.19%             The Book of Mormon Musical
2012     14,782,473    341,127     2.31%             Interpreter Foundation
2013     15,082,028    299,555     2.03%
2014     15,372,337    290,309     1.92%
2015     15,634,199    261,862     1.70%
2016     15,882,417    248,218     1.59%             Book of Mormon Central
2017     16,118,169    235,752     1.48%             BMC en Español
2018     16,313,735    195,566     1.21%

This is what the Church growth rate looks like as a graph. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Church Membership Growth Rates 1975 - 2018
Three things are immediately apparent from this graph:
  1. Something important happened in 1989 when the Church grew by 8.74%.
  2. The long-term trend is unsettling. All is not well in Zion.
  3. Growth has steadily slowed since 2000.
What happened in 1989? In October, 1988 General Conference, Pres. Ezra Taft Benson gave his memorable talk about flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon. The Saints responded. Missionaries had boxes of books to give investigators with our photographs and testimonies pasted inside the front cover. The Book of Mormon is what happened in 1989. It is the divine tool uniquely designed by God to gather Israel in the last days. In 1989, we as a Church helped the Book of Mormon accomplish its intended purpose.

What has happened since 2000? The Internet has come to dominate popular culture. This creates several challenges for the Church:
  1. The Internet is a network that empowers individuals and diminishes the influence of hierarchies. The Church, the Kingdom of God on earth, is the ultimate hierarchy. Our prophet, Pres. Russell Marion Nelson Sr., receives revelation directly from God. It doesn't get any more hierarchical than that.
  2. Transparency is the coin of the realm in the Internet age. The Church, a Kingdom that is partly divine and partly human, struggles with transparency as indeed it must. Some things are sacred and pearls should not be cast before swine.
  3. Trust in institutions is diminishing. How do people make buying decisions today? They look for five stars from a neighbor on Amazon rather than reading the manufacturer's slick and glossy brochure.
  4. You don't sell much stuff knocking on doors anymore. We need innovative new systems to keep our missionaries productive.
  5. Social media is hard to manage. In the old days, the Church could air Home Front spots on prime time TV or take out an ad in Reader's Digest and get our message out. Nowadays, each of the myriad content distribution channels has different protocols and audience expectations.
  6. Search engines only identify "relevance," not truth. Search results on many subjects are more likely to be faith-destroying than faith-affirming.
  7. Critics troll Church content online. The Church can post a terrific video on YouTube and haters within hours will post multiple low-budget videos contradicting the Church's position. After a member or investigator finishes watching the Church's polished production, YouTube's algorithm will suggest the attack videos.
  8. Authenticity can outperform professionalism. The Church generally projects a clean-cut, classy image. Crude, unkempt reality content often gets more views, likes, and shares.
  9. Humor rules. Most Church content is not very entertaining.
  10. Diversity and tolerance are considered ultimate virtues. Obedience to eternal truth is often spun as old-fashioned if not discriminatory.
  11. Twenty years ago, people required an average of 9 interactions with a product before they made a purchase decision. Today, 24 touch points are required on average before a prospect becomes a customer or an investigator a member, and that number is steadily rising.
Is the Church true? Yes. Is the Book of Mormon the most divine object most of us will ever hold in our mortal hands? Yes. Will the Savior return in glory and clean up this mess? Yes. Are we gathering Israel on both sides of the veil and preparing the world for the Second Coming? Yes. Will the Church figure out this online technology thing? Yes. "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine."

I took several members of the Book of Mormon Central staff to Google Headquarters in March, 2018. Visiting with a number of Latter-day Saint Googlers, we learned that two of the Apostles had been in Mountain View a few weeks before us. After learning that Google has eight products used by more than a billion customers (Search, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Android, Chrome, Play Store, Drive) Elder Bednar reportedly said that we in the Church need to raise our sights and increase our expectations.

Of the 16,313,735 baptized members of record on December 31, 2018, how many attend Church on a given Sunday? About 30% according to Matt Martinich who publishes the LDS Church Growth blog. That would be about 4.9 million people in the pews which is likely a reasonable proxy for the number who make the Book of Mormon an important part of their daily life. The United Nations estimates there are 7.7 billion humans on the planet in April, 2019. The Book of Mormon went on sale to the public on March 26, 1830 in Palmyra, NY. After 189 years, the Book of Mormon has achieved a market penetration rate of .000636, less than 1/15 of 1%, or about 6 people out of every 10,000.

The bad news is we probably could have done much better. The good news is we did pretty well in 1989 by following Pres. Benson's recipe given in his October, 1988 General Conference talk mentioned above. Pres. Benson asked us to produce:
  • videos
  • reading programs
  • translations into many languages
  • articles
  • broadcasts
  • lectures and symposiums
  • classes
  • talks
  • books
  • insights
  • electronic media capable of mass distribution
  • conversion stories
  • recordings
  • displays
  • film, drama, literature, music, and paintings
He  also asked us to:
  • read daily
  • make the Book of Mormon more central in our work
  • arouse mankind's interest
  • answer the great questions
  • abide by its precepts
FARMS was doing pretty much everything on the prophet's list in the 1988 - 1989 time frame. And, Book of Mormon Central is doing pretty much everything on the list today, albeit at a modest scale.

In order to learn how highly effective organizations scale in 2019, I took Zander Sturgill and Daniel Smith from Book of Mormon Central with me to Traffic & Conversion Summit 2019 in San Diego in February. The good news is some of the most talented digital marketers on earth are faithful Latter-day Saints who in their heart of hearts want to use their skills someday to help build the Kingdom. The additional good news is religious content has many characteristics compatible with modern distribution technologies.

The ideal mix for the Church in 2019 is to produce 50% of its own online content, with 30% coming from members (user-generated content) and the other 20% from trusted independent voices such as Book of Mormon Central (affiliates). The actual numbers right now are closer to 90% coming from the official Church, 8% from members, and 2% from trusted independent organizations. The ideal is achievable with increased donor support which will drive member awareness. The Church, its members, and those of us in supporting organizations are getting more adept at the modern media landscape every day.
Official Church Social Media Channels
Every one of the 15 living prophets, seers, and revelators has a Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter account and the Church just created a public Facebook Group (a gutsy move, frankly. I do not envy the moderators). The Church has many YouTube channels. Here is how the Church's primary YouTube channel compares with a handful of channels from other religious institutions and with Book of Mormon Central @ April 6, 2019:
Name                                                            Subscribers   Views
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints   855,293         310,717,388
The Bible Project (non-denominational)       1,285,111           96,637,678
Vatican News                                                   223,177           38,208,070
Life.Church (online ministry)                            146,684           13,109,264
United Methodist Videos                                      9,356              2,512,833
Seventh Day Adventist Church                           21,751             1,910,035
Lakewood (largest US Megachurch)                   60,624             1,491,423
Book of Mormon Central (channels 2, 3)             23,290             2,582,301

With Pres. Nelson's extraordinary leadership, can Church membership growth numbers come roaring back to the levels they achieved during Pres. Benson's era? Yes, if we help the Book of Mormon accomplish its intended purpose. As Elder Christofferson said in his April 7, 2019 General Conference address, publication of the Book of Mormon was the signal the gathering of Israel in the last days has begun, and the Book of Mormon is the instrument of that gathering and conversion. Pres. Nelson has repeatedly emphasized the gathering of Israel is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude. Nothing else compares in majesty.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which makes the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world in English and Spanish.