Author: Wilfried Decoo

I am a native of Belgium - the Flemish side. Born in 1946, I grew up in Antwerp. I obtained my B.A. from the Antwerp Jesuit University, my M.A. from Ghent University - both degrees in Romance languages. As a teacher of French and history I worked a few years in Central Africa for the Belgian Cooperation. Next I went to BYU where I finished a PhD in comparative literature. From 1974 on I spent most of my academic career at the University of Antwerp, as professor of applied linguistics and language education. In 1999 the department of French and Italian at BYU asked me to join their ranks, but I also retained an affiliation with Antwerp. I retired from BYU in 2011 and remain an "active emeritus' in Antwerp. I am a convert to the Church and have a strong testimony of the Restoration. My wife, Carine Decoo-Vanwelkenhuysen passed away in 2018, at age 58. We have one daughter, Ellen, born in 1988, who became a sociologist.

Learn English: The Anglicization of the Church

At the Europe Area Conference in Munich, Germany, in August 1973, President Harold B. Lee, confronted with a variety of languages and the challenges for translators, said: “How helpful it would be if everyone now speaking your own native tongue would learn to speak English. Then you would be able to talk with us more clearly and we could understand you better than we have done.”[1] In response, thousands of members started to learn English, even worldwide. In Korea a program “English for Latter-day Saints” was started. Next the Church Educational System asked BYU-Hawaii to develop this program for any country. For several years, curricula and lesson materials were developed.[2] Then the momentum fizzled. Church leaders, however, introduced a more efficient system as part of the missionary duties in Preach My Gospel. Somewhat paradoxically in the Chapter “How Can I Better Learn My Mission Language?” the third injunction is (p. 128): Learn English If you do not speak English, you should study it as a missionary. This will bless you during your mission and throughout your life. Learning English will enable you to help build the Lord’s kingdom in additional ways and will be a blessing for you and your family. Many of the suggestions found in this chapter will help you. Focus particularly on the following: Set a goal to speak English with your companion. If your companion already knows English and is trying to learn your language, you…

Mid-1990’s projections for 2020 revisited

Last week the church reported 16,565,036 members. What did some foresee a quarter of a century ago for 2020? Back to the past’s future. In the Ensign of August 1993 an analysis of church growth concluded: “If growth rates for the past decade remain constant, membership will increase to 12 million by the year 2000, to 35 million by 2020, and to 157 million by the mid-twenty-first century.” (p. 75). Same projection by Bennion and Young in 1996,[1] based on various variables but with plenty of reservations, leading to a cautious: “The First Presidency in 2020 will preside over no more than about 35 million members.” (p. 29). However, their most positive projections, based on regional dynamics, “generate forecasts which cumulatively project much higher growth rates than those based on the combined population. Thus the cumulative membership size for the Series 1 projections [based on regional growth rates between 1980 and 1990]  in 2020 comes to 121 million” (p. 20). Bennion and Young also made these tentative predictions for 2020: “By 2020 a majority of all church members will reside in Latin America with less than one-fourth in North America, a near reversal of the 1995 pattern in just twenty-five years.“ “We expect to see from three to six new apostles, with at least one from either Latin America (maybe Mexico), Europe (United Kingdom or Germany), or Asia (Japan or Korea).” “Latin America will loom ever larger than now, with…

Martha’s Sacrament Revisited

In these challenging times, an experience I posted fourteen years ago on Times and Seasons comes back to mind. How would I draw a conclusion now? This was the experience: *** Martha was one of the older sisters in our branch. We counted a scant dozen of them, singles and widows, making more than half of the congregation and being its very backbone. When I got to know her, Martha was in her sixties. Huge by nature and strong from her lifelong labors as a market woman, she lived in a modest but sunny apartment, four flights high. Rent and utilities took most of her tiny pension, but she managed. Every Sunday the happy woman rode to church on her big black bicycle, rain or shine. She entered our old rowhouse as if it were a palace, beaming faith and friendship. In the living room, meaning our chapel, she gave talks and testimonies with a stentorian voice, developed during her years on the market place, praising Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon like she had exalted her Jonagolds and luscious tomatoes grown in the summer sun. Each time, at the end of her tribute, emotion would fracture her fluency to a choking whisper and tears would flow. Ah, Martha, what a force you were in our Primitive church! Then came the stroke, one night. Only hours later a neighbor heard her moaning. Hospital. Next Martha had no choice. Paralyzed…

Ethics and Mormon missionary work: what memoirs tell us

They are still teenagers, 18 or 19, and are sent out to change the lives of adults. The boys dress up like CIA-agents, the girls like old-school women. They typically have no clue about the national, regional, social, cultural, religious, or familial identities of the people they try to interest in their alien sect. They pretend they are only adding to the truth people already have but have no idea which truths these people have. They work within a compelling frame of rules, goals, figures, and reports. Therefore they would do anything to drag a non-member to church on Sunday, even a drunk on the bus or a weirdo met on the way to church. If need be, they break up families to reach their goal, flippantly calling it getting wet, getting white, dunking, plunging, splashing, or putting on the Elvis suit—even if they know in their heart the candidate is not ready. They call their targets “investigators”—often loners or messed up people who let the missionaries in and who loosely acquiesce to lessons they vaguely understand. These targets are precious souls, ailing, but no patients for inexperienced teenagers. When genuine seekers or religious enquirers are eager to chat with the missionaries, the dissonance is awkward. The teenagers use testimony to dodge reasonable questions and objections. They repel the more thoughtful investigators by prematurely requiring commitments to baptism. They see Satan in the critic. It’s “us versus them.” They have…

Interesting times for linguists

These are interesting times for linguists. Church leaders and administrators are working to change names in order to emphasize the correct name of the Church of Jesus Christ, as asked by the First Presidency. A main question is semantic: to what extent will the overuse of Jesus Christ lead to a devaluation of its meaning and sanctity? For example, what will be the effect of the perception of Jesus Christ as it is now included as jesuschrist in churchofjesuschrist.org as domain name for tens of thousands of mundane email addresses and web pages? Compare with how Muslims handle the name of Deity in their exchanges. Linguists know how the contingent nature of meaning is bound up with the context of use and therefore subject to upgrading or degrading modification. In the lexical field a known challenge is the lack of a proper adjective to identify the church. For other religious bodies we have official single identifiers such as Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim or Islamic. What Mormon church leaders and authors have been using for a long time, in order to circumvent Mormon or to simply alternate, is the compound adjective Latter-day, since it is part of the official church name, as attributive to Saints. For over a century it has been used in church literature to modify other names. The Journal of Discourses contains noun phrases such as Latter-day elders, Latter-day glory, Latter-day Kingdom, Latter-day laborers, Latter-day prophets and Latter-day…

“Latter-day”: time to reconsider some translations?

The requirement to use the official name of the Church is meeting with much willingness to comply. One of the challenges is the length of the words, in particular for online references. If that is the case in English, it is all the more so in many non-English languages. What about the translation of latter-day? I recognize that this topic has certainly been discussed at length in the Translation Department and I assume the option taken has been to leave well-established translations, even if inaccurate, unchanged. However, as names of websites and twitter accounts and the like are now being reconsidered, and given the challenge of the length of words, perhaps this is a good time to also adjust and standardize the translation of latter-day in some languages? The five syllables in “of Latter-day Saints” are rendered in many other languages by much longer expressions such as van de Heiligen der Laatste Dagen (Dutch), des Saints des Derniers Jours (French), a Sfintilor din Zilele din Urma (Romanian), de los Santos de los Últimos Días (Spanish), and more. All these mean literally of the Saints of the Last Days or of the Saints of the Ultimate Days. Each forms a group of consecutive prepositional phrases, also adding definite articles, while in English of latter-day Saints is just one short prepositional phrase with one adjective and one noun. What does latter-day mean? The OED — Oxford English Dictionary —, which is the most…

Missionaries and European privacy laws

The Court of Justice of the EU just ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses must obtain consent from people before they take down their personal details during door-to-door preaching in order to comply with EU data privacy rules. See here the Reuters press note and here the more detailed European Court’s press release. It will obviously also apply to Mormon missionaries. The implementation as such seems simple: whenever missionaries make a promising contact, and want to record name, address and other data, they should ask permission. But how to record that permission since proof may be needed at a later date? On a written form with proper ID and signature? To what extent would this complication affect Mormon missionary work, since it may be assumed that the Church will obey the law, but also that many people would not want their name and address to be recorded in the data of a “sect”? The latter is precisely what triggered the lawsuit and the European Court’s decision. As a missionary, what were your experiences in tracting practices to keep track of (potential) investigators? How were such data kept and passed on to new missionaries? Would it still work under the new regulations? The new European privacy laws no doubt raise other issues with Church membership records.Under what form should they be kept? What about access and availability of all information to each person concerned? What about records of members who don’t consider themselves members anymore and the obligation to inform…

Welcome to guest blogger Hans Noot

We’re happy to welcome another “international” blogger, Hans Noot from the Netherlands. During the past 36 years Johannus D. T. (Hans) Noot coordinated Religious Education in Belgium and the Netherlands for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also supervised this work in Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Balkans and Italy. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in organizational behavior from Brigham Young University and is currently working on a Ph.D. in organizational anthropology at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. He is an organizational consultant and entrepreneur. His passion, too, lies in Religious Freedom: he presides the Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief and consults as a member of the Board of Directors of Human Rights Without Frontiers in Brussels, Belgium, and the International Advisory Board of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU. Welkom, Hans! We luisteren!

Consolidation of Church units: some reflections

Last month more than half of the Church units in Flanders were closed (Flanders is the Dutch-speaking, northern part of Belgium, with a population of 6.5 million). We shrank from 9 wards and branches to just 4. Historic cities like Bruges and Louvain lost their Mormon meeting place. It’s part of the major “contraction” of the Church in Europe, rumored to dismantle 800 of the some 1200 units. If what happened in Flanders is symptomatic for the rest, the proportion is confirmed. These original 9 units in Flanders are part of a stake, the Antwerp Belgium Stake, that also covers a southern area of the Netherlands, with 5 units, of which only one was closed. For the whole stake, it means that of its 14 original units (9 in Flanders and 5 in the Netherlands), 8 remain (4 in Flanders and 4 in the Netherlands). This post is not going to argue about the appropriateness of decisions made at the top. However, the historic dimension of this change deserves some reflections. Is it consolidation or contraction? What about the why and the how? What are implications and consequences? And at the end: What is painfully missing in the whole process of consolidation?   Consolidation or contraction? The term consolidation is very Mormonspeak to express firming up what was scattered, and also bringing together under central control. It defined the centralization of Welfare projects in the 1950s. It characterized the correlation…

For Dutch-speaking readers

I apologize for not having contributed much to Times and Seasons lately, but since last year I have chosen to concentrate on our Dutch-speaking members and friends. So much is available in English, so little in many other languages. Our site Mormoneninfo.be is geared to information that can enrich the understanding of Mormonism. This year the site is mainly devoted to the Book of Mormon curriculum. Wherever possible it integrates intellectual, cultural and artistic contributions from the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Flanders).Even if you don’t read Dutch, you’re welcome to browse through one of the lessons under “Evangelieleer 2016”, like this one with 16th and 17th century paintings of old men (to celebrate patriarchal record keepers) or this one on language and Bible history.Enjoy the art and like us on Facebook if you feel so! But in particular: thanks for passing this information to Dutch-speaking people, including former missionaries from Holland and from Dutch-speaking Belgium.

International? Peripheries? Global? In search of a name

What is an adequate label for the areas outside of the so-called “Church’s center”? If it pertains to non-US countries, “international” is commonly used, but semantically it is flawed because the United States itself belongs to the circle of all nations. “Foreign” and “alien” sound non-inclusive for a church that emphasizes worldwide unity and belonging among its members. As a neutral geographical term, “abroad” fails if one wants to include in the discussion ethnic minorities within the United States. Those have become particularly noteworthy as the Church again allows Mormon wards with a foreign ethnic or lingual identity on American soil, such as Cambodian, Korean, or Russian.[1] Within the United States, thousands of immigrant Mormons, or converted after immigration, represent various cultures, languages, and countries. For decades the Church has been struggling to find optimal ways to accommodate their needs. Recognized American racial and ethnic groups, such as American Indian and African American, form similar groups for specific study. Even the interaction with Native Americans is, ironically, part of a negotiated process with an “outside” group. The same can be said of Hawaiians.[2] It shows the ambiguity and complexity of our boundaries. Also, the terms “international” (meant as outside the United States), “foreign,” “alien,” and “abroad” proceed from Americentrism. This US-centered vantage point to look at “others” is understandable since church headquarters and the “Mormon cultural region” are in the American West. All Mormon activity in the rest of the…

Internationalizing Mormon Leadership: The Normal Pace

In the Salt Lake Tribune of October 5, Jana Riess regrets that the top leadership of the Mormon church is all-white and overwhelmingly American, and that the recent apostolic callings missed the chance to reflect the church’s international diversity. Others have expressed the same disappointment. I can appreciate their concern, but I wonder how many non-American Mormons would agree. Are we certain that an apostle from Brazil or Kenya would be preferred by most Mormons in 130 other countries above a seasoned leader from Utah? Or did some of those disappointed Americans perhaps react from a “white guilt / white savior complex” by coming to the rescue of the allegedly discriminated-against international membership? Besides, do we know how many non-Americans may have been considered to fill the vacant apostle positions, but none was found adequate yet at this time? Perhaps the one closest to being called was finally considered too rigid? Then many would probably be grateful that Elder Rasband or Elder Renlund were selected instead. Perhaps apostles are also chosen because they have, from deep-rooted experiences in the heart of Mormonism, a maturing perspective of church doctrine and history and are able to address its questions properly? No doubt the internationalization of the higher leadership is very much on the mind of the top. But I can understand their caution and I trust their thorough acquaintance with potential nominees, also from abroad. It took the Catholic Church 1500 years…

The Perversity of Orthodoxy

I could have called this post “Same-sex marriage: The Belgian perspective,” but it includes more. “The perversity of orthodoxy” – that’s how one of the members in our Belgian ward identified the broader issues which triggered this post. He called me on Sunday afternoon, upset by a Sacrament meeting talk that same morning and in need to vent frustration. Perhaps “perversity” was too strong a word. Maybe “perfidy”? Probably too weighty a word, too. At least “the insensitivity of some who defend orthodoxy” or “the indelicacy of some church statements in the US in relation to the international church”? Difficult choice. I just wanted to convey the intensity of his reaction, hence the title of this post. There had been two talks that morning, and the contrast was telling. Sarah Sarah, around thirty, had given the first talk. A little nervous, soft-spoken, she had her talk all written out, the result of days, perhaps weeks, of toiling on it. Her topic was “How to find God.” It was her personal reflection on fifteen years of searching for God, not as an investigator, but as a member who had grown up in the church amidst people with certainties, people who can say that they just pray, get answers from God, and feel God’s daily presence in their lives. Since her teenage years, Sarah had wondered why she did not see, feel, and hear what others in the church claimed to experience.…

Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries

We sometimes hear stories about Mormon missionaries who are confronted with angry people. We praise the missionaries for suffering for Christ like the apostles of old. We condemn the iniquity of those who loathe the messengers of the Lord. I am going to take up some perspectives of those angry people—because of my mother and others I’ve known over the years. And thousands I do not know. In other churches, missiology experts have been studying at length this topic of tensions, conflicts, and social damage resulting from Western missionizing, including the ethical issue of intra-Christian proselytism. We Mormons seem to ignore it or do not want to be confronted with it. But with the surge in our missionary numbers and the insistence to “hasten the work”, the topic is acute. But first, my mother. A former cloister novice who ultimately chose marriage and motherhood, she raised me, her only son, with a deep love for education, languages, and Catholic-faith commitment. Our region, Flanders, has been intrinsically Catholic for more than a thousand years. My mother guided the ritual and communal steps, inherited from her parents and forebears, in a family sphere imbued with the tokens of tradition—the sign of the cross before meals, Pater Nosters and Ave Marias, a crucifix in nearly each room, the telling of Bible stories with images from Flanders’ rich Christian art patrimony, the missals taken to Sunday mass with readings from the Gospels and the…

Martha’s Sacrament

Times & Seasons used to post, from time to time, something “From the archives”. So is this one. *** Martha was one of the older sisters in our branch. We counted a scant dozen of them, singles and widows, making more than half of the congregation and being its very backbone. When I got to know her, Martha was in her sixties. Huge by nature and strong from her lifelong labors as a market woman, she lived in a modest but sunny apartment, four flights high. Rent and utilities took most of her tiny pension, but she managed. Every Sunday the happy woman rode to church on her big black bicycle, rain or shine. She entered our old rowhouse as if it were a palace, beaming faith and friendship. In the living room, meaning our chapel, she gave talks and testimonies with a stentorian voice, developed during her years on the market place, praising Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon like she had exalted her Jonagolds and luscious tomatoes grown in the summer sun. Each time, at the end of her tribute, emotion would fracture her fluency to a choking whisper and tears would flow. Ah, Martha, what a force you were in our Primitive church! Then came the stroke, one night. Only hours later a neighbor heard her moanings. Hospital. Next Martha had no choice. Paralyzed from the waist down, incontinent, with neither family nor savings, she was consigned…

Utah same-sex marriage and the international church

Media around the world have been reporting the developments in Utah in relation to same-sex marriage. Nearly always the articles and broadcasts also mention the Mormon Church as the conservative force that tries to prevent same-sex marriage. What could be the effect of such reporting on the image of the Mormon Church worldwide? As far as can be known, what do church members around the world think about same-sex marriage? How will the Church deal with same-sex couples who are legally married in a growing number of countries? This (long) post tries to suggest answers to these three questions. But first, the broader context. The broader context: media and religion The news about Utah runs parallel with similar news about other countries and states. Various countries are currently considering the legalization of same-sex marriage. Meanwhile same-sex marriage has already been approved in a fair number of countries, most of which belong to developed nations, such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South-Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The list even includes major Catholic countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, and Spain. The trend to legalize same-sex marriage is spreading to other “gay-supporting” countries as well. At the other end of the spectrum are countries with an overall reproving public attitude toward homosexuality. At present, most Islamic nations and dozens of African countries have laws penalizing homosexual behavior with fines, incarceration, hard labor, whippings, or death by public stoning.…

International Day of the Girl

Today is the International Day of the Girl.  Yesterday, the Deseret News devoted an article to it but 24 hours later, no one had yet commented. Another article appeared today, but as of now, no comments yet. Perhaps there is no need to voice support for something everyone agrees on? Still, worldwide, tens of thousands of children have been conducting activities to support education for girls, following the lead of Malala Yousafzai. Anything to report from Utah? Other themes of the Day deal with forced girl marriages and teen pregnancies due to poverty and lack of sexual education.  In my home country, Belgium, teen pregnancy is very rare. So, for the campaign a short film was made about a 14-year old pregnant girl who comes to a Belgian school. I thought it would be interesting to share it on this International Day of the Girl.

The Mormon moment abroad: thank you, Jim Dabakis.

Michael Otterson advised the press: to understand Mormonism, go to the source and allow Mormons to define themselves. But what if these Mormons are survivalist Joel Skousen, Tea Party painter Jon McNaughton, or Tammy, an anti-government gun-toting rodeo queen from Overton, Nevada? All three were lengthily interviewed on French national radio.

The blood of Israel in Europe

At a multi-stake conference in Berlin in 2010, Area President Erich W. Kopischke quoted Joseph Smith as having declared that “England, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium have a considerable amount of the blood of Israel among the people which must be gathered out.”

Primitive church

Times & Seasons used to post, from time to time, something “From the archives”. I revisited a post I published eight years ago, updated a few items, and thought it would still be worthwhile to read. My question to you: what are your memories of the “Primitive church”, if you ever had the privilege of experiencing it?