Mormons Challenged by Growth

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HOWARD HUNTER, expected to be named the next president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could find himself facing some modern-day issues, but the most challenging may be the growth of the church itself.

Mr. Hunter would succeed Ezra Taft Benson, who died Monday. The church's Council of the Twelve will formally select the next president of the Mormon Church sometime after Benson's funeral on Saturday.

As the church elder, Hunter heads the council. Traditionally the most senior member of the council is elected president of the whole church.

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Under Benson's 8-1/2 year tenure, the church grew from 5.9 million members to 8.9 million, according to a church spokesman.

``It is one of the fastest growing religions,'' says Jan Shipps, professor of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. Dr. Shipps, a Methodist, wrote ``Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition'' in 1985.

``In 1945 the Mormon Church was centered in the intermountain west. But now it is spread all over the face of the earth,'' Shipps says.

Many of the recent converts are young families who are attracted by the Mormon belief that families stay together through eternity, Shipps says.

But while the church may be eager to count up its new members, growth poses serious challenges for a religion steeped in tradition and strict rules, Shipps says.

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