Friday, March 5, 2010

Do You Know Where Your Heart Is?

I'd like to voice my congratulations to members of the LDS Church and my thanks to its leaders for a major recent change to the mission, or purpose, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you haven't heard, Church authorities announced a short while ago that they are changing what used to be a three fold mission of the church to a group of four purposes: 1. Preach the gospel, 2. Perfect the saints, 3. Redeem the dead, and now 4. Care for the poor and needy. This is a major shift, as previously the entire mission of the Church was inward focused--bringing others in to swell the ranks, caring for and improving those already in the Church, and bringing LDS sacraments to the ancestors of church members. The fourth purpose, presumably now understood as equal in significance, is outward-focused on allying with people outside of the Church to help people outside of the Church.

A lot of people are somewhat minimizing this shift by saying the LDS Church has already been involved in extensive humanitarian efforts, and while that may be true, the LDS Church has not made humanitarian efforts a significant portion of its means or time. For example, of the Church's more than 52,000 full time missionaries, some 80% preach the gospel full time. The remaining 20% are largely in administrative work and temple work, and a small percentage are humanitarian missionaries. Monetarily the church isn't much better. Members of the Church donate 10% of their income to the Church, but that money isn't set aside for charity. Members are encouraged to make separate donations to fast offerings and humanitarian work, both charities, but those contributions are encouraged at a significantly lesser degree. Tithing funds are set aside for the construction and maintenance of churches and temples, private education, production of church materials and resources, and major major investments (including land used for hunting, developing, etc.) so tithing is really about the original threefold mission of the Church, not charity.

Because the Church doesn't report the actual amount of money it receives or how that money is spent, it's difficult to know what percentage of its contributions go to charity. The recent PBS documentary about the Mormons estimated the Church was worth more than $80 billion, and since it's donating just under $50 million a year to charity, it's contributing less than 1% to charity by my calculations (I am by no means a statistician), which is low compared to other Churches of roughly the same size (in terms of American membership), like the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America which donates upwards of 10% annually to charity. (My friend Holly paints the picture more passionately)

I'm not trying to minimize the significant humanitarian work of the LDS Church and its members. The Church had some remarkable humanitarian work, like its timely aid to hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. And regardless of what percentage it comes out to, the fact is that the Church did give $282.3 million in cash and $833.6 million in commodities throughout 167 countries between 1985 and 2008--that's an average of $48 million a year, and that is a lot of money. I am very grateful for the humanitarian work of the Church, but looking back, I see room for improvement, and this drastic change in direction marks a significant improvement. To me it signals that the Church will make charitable donations as important as its work in the other three areas, where it has previously spent the bulk of its resources. I think this change will not only make life better for the beneficiaries of this new charity, but for the members of the Church who will be better people and who will be regarded more highly by their neighbors. So again, kudos to the Mormon Church!


Mister Curie said...

Unless, of course, caring for the poor and needy applies only to church members (like Home and Visiting teaching) or if it is only accomplished by guilting members to donate more money to the church. I withhold my judgment until I see how it is implemented.

Daniel said...

I'm optimistic because this doesn't seem like a policy change with specific methods of implementation, it seems like a change in principles and general goals. The mission of the Church is taught in lessons as doctrine, so I think the effects will be far reaching. Whether or nor any specific policies are changed immediately or not isn't as important because ultimately, the significance and importance of charity is changing as a guiding principle. It's something that can be applied by the members individually.

I see it as paralleling the shift in focus towards Christ during the 50's and 60's. It wasn't that LDS didn't believe in Christ before, it was just that it was being lost by other things, and when the leaders made a general announcement that the Church was emphasizing Christ, changes were made incrementally at all levels, not just top down. As a result, Mormon homes prominently display images of Christ, Testimony meetings refer to Jesus a lot more, and the Church has a new logo. All of these incidental changes happened because decades ago a change was made in general principle to emphasize Christ.

If this is the same, then we'll be seeing little incidental changes over the next few decades at all levels reflecting this new sense of purpose for charity. Long term I hope that as Latter-day Saints become more charity focused in general, they will be more inclusive instead of exclusive, and I think that bodes well for our community.

Good to be Free said...

Thanks for pointing this out. I hadn't heard of this and hope as you do that it signals a great shift.

"Long term I hope that as Latter-day Saints become more charity focused in general, they will be more inclusive instead of exclusive"

I really really hope this is true. Thanks for the post!

Jack Mormon said...

I know it's hip nowadays to talk about churches doing the humanitarian gig, and when confronted with disasters like Haiti, and Chile, that's when it becomes much more pertinent. I'm glad that the LDS Church is directing more emphasis in this direction.

But bear in mind that the primary purpose of a church is still to prepare people for the NEXT world. This means temples, chapels, and the distribution of multimedia instructional materials worldwide in over 100 different languages to ensure that the Gospel preached in Namibia is the same Gospel as that preached in North Dakota. Correlation is essential for horizontal doctrinal consistency.

Rest assured that the LDS Church does not spend any more than necessary to build temples and chapels. For example, a single chapel is normally used by as many as three of four different congregations, or wards. They stagger their three-hour meeting block times to avoid conflict.

Ministering to physical needs is important, but the job is only half done unless one also ministers to spiritual needs. Because the spiritual is metaphysical in nature, it is much more difficult to quantify and valuate than something of a sensible or physical nature. But it is no less real, nonetheless.

Grant Haws said...

I agree with Mister doesn't mean much if they stockpile their wealth and tell you to donate. I'll wait and see just how much their wallet means it.

Bravone said...

Wow, I hadn't heard that. It is a huge step in the right direction, and hopefully leads to more inclusion on many other important fronts.