There has never been a greater need for strong families and homes.
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LDS Church, Governments and Humanitarian Partners Aid Refugees in Europe
Apostle visits shelters in Germany and Greece
FRANKFURT, GERMANY —
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is continuing its long-standing partnership with international humanitarian organizations to tend to the dire needs of refugees entering Europe. Support is underway to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical supplies and other life-sustaining necessities.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest presiding body of the Church, just returned from visiting a refugee shelter in Berlin, Germany, and two sites on the Greek island of Lesbos. Elder Ballard was there to show his support and to gather firsthand impressions of the tremendous humanitarian effort for those who have lost everything fleeing civil conflict in their own countries.
“It’s overwhelming to see the magnitude of the size of this problem,” explained Elder Ballard. “I think what surprised me the most was the size of it. We saw a lot of pictures, we’ve heard a lot of reports, but it’s different when you come here on the ground and you walk through the camps and you see the faces.”
“The scale of this human tide has to be seen to be believed,” expressed Elder Ballard. “I have seen our people working alongside new friends of all faiths and nationalities to relieve the suffering of those who have been driven from their homes and countries. I am so grateful for the dedicated service of all involved to bring relief to those who need it most.”
The Church follows the admonition of Jesus Christ found in Matthew in the New Testament to take in the stranger and care for those in need (see Matthew 25:35–36). And there is much need.
“What we are seeing is the fulfilment of the Lord’s request to His teaching that we’re to reach out, touch and bless the lives of our Father’s children regardless of where they are, regardless what their circumstances are; we do what we can do,” said Elder Ballard.
Baroness Marie-Catherine Heereman leads a charitable group that oversees several “villages” like the one in Berlin. An exhibition center converted into living spaces at the beginning of October now houses some 1,000 people who have endured visible hardship on their journey for protection and shelter.
“When they come here they do not have any luggage at all; they have just what they are [wearing], which is frequently dirty and wet,” said the baroness.
“We’ve seen the great, wonderful open hearts of the German people,” exclaimed Elder Ballard. “I love that the first words they said to us were, ‘These are our guests.’ That’s a great message for the whole world.”
Mormon volunteers assembled hygiene kits at the shelter and passed out pallets of toys provided by the Church during Elder Ballard’s visit. “What a wonderful thing to see, … the children run in and have a toy,” said Elder Ballard. “They … would melt the heart of anyone.”
The Church is working with organizations such as UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Malteser Germany, the Crisis Management Center of the Republic of Macedonia, Catholic Relief Services, Medici per i Diritti Umani (MEDU) and the International Medical Corps.
“We are pleased to work with such compassionate and experienced partners,” said Church leader Elder Patrick Kearon, president of the Europe Area. “We have seen what they do and are confident that our joint efforts will make a difference in the lives of those fleeing from war and misery.”
“There’s so much more that people can do, so much more to be done,” added Elder Kearon after visiting a refugee shelter on the Greek island of Lesbos with Elder Ballard to learn more details and express their appreciation for the service rendered to those in need. “I see opportunities for us to continue with the partnerships that we’ve had and forge new ones too.”
With the help of the Church, UNHCR assists refugees by offering information about their rights and providing food, water, shelter and medical care. The project supported by the Church will focus on Greece and the Balkans. Elder Ballard and Elder Kearon visited a shelter on one of the Greek islands where refugees first arrive in Europe to learn more details and express their appreciation for the service rendered to those in need.
The Church is also supporting a project by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to grant help to 225,000 children from refugee families in Italy — 90,000 over the next six months. Children are receiving clothing, blankets and toys. Supplementary feeding kits will be available to younger children and their parents.
UNICEF creates child-friendly spaces in refugee shelters to help children experience an environment that will allow them to deal with trauma and distress. Refugee children on the transit area between Greece and Slovenia will be provided with winter caps to protect them from the cold.
The Church has funded a mobile medical unit for a MEDU (Physicians for Human Rights), a nonprofit organization based in Italy.
The International Medical Corps provides primary medical and psychological services to refugees arriving on various Greek islands, including Leros, Samos and Kos. With financial assistance from the Church, this humanitarian organization will administer medical and psychological care and refer those in need to local hospitals for higher-level care.
Catholic Relief Services has been a trusted partner of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for many years. In Serbia and Macedonia, both organizations will cooperate to provide food, emergency supplies and psychological counseling to refugees and their families. The Church also supports Caritas in Athens to aid refugees.
The Church has been providing aid to refugees in the Middle East for more than a decade, donating hundreds of thousands of blankets, clothes, emergency medical supplies, food and other resources to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria.
An announcement was made at the end of September stating that Mormons in Europe, supported by Church headquarters in the United States, will be stepping up their aid to refugees fleeing to Europe.
The Church made a commitment of $5 million to immediately help displaced families. In addition, members worldwide have been asked by the Church’s First Presidency to provide assistance to refugees by making contributions and participating in local relief projects.
This week, the World Congress of Families meets in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the ninth meeting of the Congress and the first to be held in the United States. It is appropriate that the milestone would take place in Utah, a state so firmly committed to the centrality of family.
In his opening remarks at the Congress, Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, noted that in today’s world “marriage and children are increasingly marginalized.”
Elder M Richard Ballard
That reality is ironic, perhaps tragic, when, more than ever, we know more and more about why marriage is central to a decent, humane and robust society.
Recently, writing in National Review Online, family scholar W. Bradford Wilcox noted: “It’s been a rough two weeks for the family-structure denialists, those progressive academics, journalists, and pundits who seek to minimize or deny the importance of marriage and family structure. That’s because three new pieces of scholarship — a journal, a report, and a study — were released this month that solidify the growing scientific consensus that marriage and family structure matter for children, families, and the nation as a whole.”
The journal he is referring to was a special issue of The Future of Children, published by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. It includes half a dozen scholarly articles about marriage and family.
In that issue, Dr. David Ribar of the University of Melbourne argues “the advantages of marriage for children’s wellbeing are likely to be hard to replicate through policy interventions other than those that bolster marriage itself.” In another important article, Dr. Wilcox and his colleagues describe how “growing individualism and the waning of a family-oriented ethos, the rise of a ‘capstone’ model of marriage, and the decline of civil society” have contributed to a “retreat from marriage and the growing class divide in marriage.”
Dr. Wilcox was also a co-author, with Robert I. Lerman of the Urban Institute and Joseph Price of Brigham Young University, of the recently released report “Strong families, prosperous states: Do healthy families affect the wealth of states?” published by the American Enterprise Institute. The report explains: “Higher levels of marriage, and especially higher levels of married-parent families, are strongly associated with more economic growth, more economic mobility, less child poverty, and higher median family income at the state level in the United States.”
In addition, “The share of parents in a state who are married is one of the top predictors of the economic outcomes studied in this report. In fact, this family factor is generally a stronger predictor of economic mobility, child poverty, and median family income in the American states than are the educational, racial, and age compositions of the states.”
Highlighting one particular result: “Violent crime is much less common in states with larger shares of families headed by married parents, even after controlling for a range of socio-demographic factors at the state level. … This is noteworthy because high crime rates lower the quality of life and real living standards and are associated with lower levels of economic growth and mobility.”
The study Dr. Wilcox referred to was conducted by MIT professor David Autor and his colleagues. Dr. Wilcox explains that the study showed:
… that less-advantaged boys are floundering in school and society — and more so than their less-advantaged female peers — in part because, compared with more-advantaged boys, they are less likely to grow up in a married home with their father. In particular, compared with their sisters, less-advantaged boys “have a higher incidence of truancy and behavioral problems throughout elementary and middle school, exhibit higher rates of behavioral and cognitive disability, perform worse on standardized tests, are less likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to commit serious crimes as juveniles.”
One big reason for this growing gender gap in educational, behavioral, and social outcomes between less-advantaged boys and girls is that boys are often hit harder by the absence of married parents and of a father than are girls, according to Autor’s new study.
With all of this, it is clear that marriage still matters, and strengthening marriage and family remain important social priorities.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.
This post is a transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made changes to its handbook for stake presidents, bishops and other local leaders that reaffirms its doctrine of marriage and offers clarification on issues that may arise from same-sex marriage.
“Church handbooks are policy and procedural guides for lay leaders who must administer the church in many varied circumstances throughout the world,” LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said. “The Church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages. While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”
The handbook now includes being in a same-sex marriage under the definition of apostasy and as a circumstance that requires the convening of a disciplinary council. The handbook also clarifies that the ordinance of naming and blessing a child may not be performed for children living with a parent in a same-gender relationship.
The new section of the handbook is listed under the heading “Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship.” It states that “a natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.”
Although children are not officially considered members of the LDS Church until they are baptized at age 8, the blessing of a child creates a membership record. Children are not considered accountable or mature enough to receive baptism until the age of 8.
The handbook addition also states that “a natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting,” can only be baptized, confirmed, ordained to the priesthood or serve a full-time mission with approval from the Office of the First Presidency. A mission or stake president may request approval and determine that: “the child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage”; and “the child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.”
The language of being in a same-gender marriage has been added to the definition of apostasy as it relates to helping leaders know when a church disciplinary council is mandatory.
Elder Christofferson Provides Context on Handbook Changes Affecting Same-Sex Marriages
“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.” 2 Nephi 2:13-14
In 1855, George Osmond married Mary Georgina Huckvale in St. Louis, Missouri, and they eventually settled in Idaho where they were the parents of ten children. In 1881, George Osmond married his second wife, Christena Amelia Jacobsen, and they eventually settled in Wyoming where they were the parents of seven children.
George Osmond Jr. served two two-year LDS missions in England–from 1834 to 1886 and 1890 to 1892. He was a successful farmer, rancher and businessman, a probate judge in Idaho, a state Senator in Wyoming, and a beloved LDS Stake President of Star Valley, Wyoming from 1892 until his death in 1913.
Today, a friend, Dale Tingey, shared this note with me this morning, it made me think about my Great Grandfather and others who have lived their lives well.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is truly how my Great Grandfather was known and loved by all. I share the following to give all hope that there is life after death, and we are being watched over by guardian angels, who are most likely our relatives that have passed on. We each came here as Spirit children with spirit bodies that entered a body of flesh and bones at birth. Because of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, all mankind will live again and the spirit and mortal bodies will be brought together to never again be parted.
“To escort President George Osmond into the spirit world may have been the reason for the return of George’s friend, John D. Wilkes, of Afton, Wyoming, as was seen by his wife, Lucella Child Wilkes. During the years following his death in 1905, Brother Wilkes, or “Johnny” as he was better known, returned to earth on several occasions, according to the account of his niece, Vern R. Morgan:
When the Star Valley Stake in Wyoming was organized in August 18992, Elder George Osmond was chosen as the first Stake President.
Aunt Luella and Uncle Johnny worked together on the Sunday School Stake Board and became very close and friendly with President Osmond. After her husband’s untimely death he often counseled and helped her with many problems. His spiritual and kindly advice gave her much consolation…
About 1907-1908, President Osmond became critically ill and for days it was feared he would die. He finally recovered and afterward he told my aunt that on a certain night Johnny had appeared at his bedside. President Osmond asked Johnny, ‘Am I to go with you?’ Johnny told him that they were ‘not ready for him yet– he was to finish his work here, and he would live to see it finished.’ He was dressed in white and his voice was as natural as ever, President Osmond said. The singular thing about this experience was as natural as ever, President Osmond said. The singular thing about this experience was that on that very same night Johnny had also appeared to my aunt in a dream and told her that ‘everything will be alright, do not worry.’
Aunt Luella also commented on Johnny’s voice. He had always had a beautiful resonant voice and that when he spoke to her this same night he appeared to President Osmond, he sounded so natural.It gave her great peace of mind as she had had many business worries and the visit of her husband gave her confidence that all things would work out alright.
At the age of 77 President Osmond died on the 25th of March, 1913. The night he died, Johnny again appeared to my aunt in a dream. He was walking down the street on which President Osmond lived. She saw him turn in at the gate at his house and go into his home. The next morning she was notified of President Osmond’s death.
I testify that as we live, we will die. And because of Jesus Christ, as we die, we will live again!
May we each live our lives with faith, hope, confidence and purpose; always striving to be the person we were sent to this world to become knowing we will remain here until our work is finished!
We are not alone. Every action and even our thoughts are being recorded for a wise purpose. We were not to remember the spirit world from whence we came while here on earth as we came here to be tested. If that knowledge were remembered, it would nullify the test. Yes, one day, all memory of our pre-existence before and existence now will be unlocked as we will face our maker and ‘return and report’ our mission and our time here on earth; to be judged and assigned a certain glory for our good works or not.
We are never too old or unworthy to change for the better. Yes, it takes work but it is worth it and the blessings ‘are out of this world’!!! Again,
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Happiness happens, and will follow our rewards in heaven and they will be worthy of our time spent away from our Heavenly Parents while here on earth.
“And he said unto him,
Son, thou art ever with me,
and all that I have is thine.” Luke 15:31
A family begins when a young man and woman are drawn to one another by an irresistible force of nature. They offer to one another that which distinguishes him as male and her as female, and they want, above all else, to find the one with whom they can completely express their love. They want to have children—to be a family.
These compelling forces of nature should not be resisted, only approached cautiously, protecting those life-generating powers until promises have been made to one another, covenants with the Lord, and a legal ceremony performed, witnessed, and recorded.
Then, and only then, as husband and wife, man and woman, may they join together in that expression of love through which life is created.
We, like Jacob, must teach “according to the strict commands of God,” “notwithstanding the greatness of the task.” Like Jacob, we also run the risk of enlarging “the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds.”7
When we speak plainly of divorce, abuse, gender identity, contraception, abortion, parental neglect, we are thought by some to be way out of touch or to be uncaring. Some ask if we know how many we hurt when we speak plainly. Do we know of marriages in trouble, of the many who remain single, of single-parent families, of couples unable to have children, of parents with wayward children, or of those confused about gender? Do we know? Do we care?
Those who ask have no idea how much we care; you know little of the sleepless nights, of the endless hours of work, of prayer, of study, of travel—all for the happiness and redemption of mankind.
Because we do know and because we do care, we must teach the rules of happiness without dilution, apology, or avoidance. That is our calling.
I would like to suggest 10 specific things to help you be successful in the plan the Lord would have you follow in your life.
First, establish a set of principles by which you will guide every aspect of your life—in your home, in your Church service, in your profession, in your community. Many people try to compartmentalize their life and have a standard for Church and another standard for what they do in business and in other aspects of their life. I very strongly counsel you not to do that. There really is only one set of standards that makes sense. Those are the teachings of Jesus Christ, which signal to us the importance of faith, service, obedience, and integrity.
Second, don’t make exceptions to your standards. Never compromise them. One of the ways the Lord protects us is to give us guidance in life. One of the ways Satan tries to destroy us is to subtly lead us away from what we know is centrally important in our life. I lived in Washington, D.C., for much of my life, and I recall on occasion men coming to that city who had been elected as representatives of the government and who were members of the Church. Some of them used the teachings of the Savior throughout their careers and became great servants. Others early in their careers began to reason, “If we were better friends with others and were better understood, we would receive positions that would put us in a place where we could serve better.” They began to make small exceptions to the standards by which they knew they should guide their lives. Few even remember them. They lost because they made exceptions to standards. Don’t make that mistake. Be loyal to the teachings you have received from your parents and Church leaders. They are the things of greatest worth. If you integrate your formal education with what you know about the teachings of the Lord and the examples of those worthy people who are role models to you, you will have a solid foundation. You will be productive and do things that are worthwhile for others.
Third, be loyal. Be loyal to your parents and your loved ones. Above all, be loyal to Jesus Christ, the Savior. Success comes when your actions are consistent with the teachings of the Lord. When you seek work, find something that challenges you, that raises you to higher levels of performance. It may be harder, but you will grow, develop better, and contribute more good. You really have no idea yet who you are and what you can accomplish in life. You have great potential far beyond what you can imagine today.
. Fourth, live so that the Lord can guide you to where He wants you to be and to serve. He can do that if you live His commandments worthily and strive in every way to be obedient to His teachings.
Fifth, serve others. Sharing what you know with others will bring you happiness and bless their lives.
Sixth, smile. I don’t mean that you need to be cracking jokes every day, but a good joke now and then is an escape valve. Life is not all that bad. You will soon learn that everybody has problems and nobody wants to hear about yours. Put those things aside and smile. Have a good sense of humor, as the prophets do. I wish I could tell you some of the things that we talk about. Not flippant things, not things that are inappropriate—just a good sense of humor. I will tell you a secret of how to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face no matter how you feel: go to bed with a coat hanger in your mouth. Remember, a good sense of humor helps you greatly.
Seventh, don’t complain. Life isn’t always fair. That’s a fact. But it’s always charged with marvelous opportunities if you know how to find them. I remember once when I was working as hard as I knew how. I happened to be working for a man who took all of the ideas and suggestions and work that I did and passed them on to his superior as though they were his own suggestions. For a while I was really upset about that. As I pondered it, a thought came to me, and I decided from then on I would write reports to him of everything that I was doing or trying to do, and I sent a copy to his boss. He didn’t like that, but it worked beautifully.
Eighth, always have a Church assignment. I don’t mean that you should ask for a particular calling, but wherever you go in the world, wherever the Lord takes you, always offer your service to the presiding authority. Leave it to that authority to decide where and how. Be connected with the things of God and the ways to serve Him. The last two are the most important.
Ninth, go to the temple. Carry a current temple recommend. There may be a few young adults who will want to wait to go to the temple for their endowment when they go with their companion to be sealed. But virtually everyone can obtain and keep a temple recommend. It will keep you spiritually in tune, will allow you to remember the most important things of life, and will encourage you to give great service to others.
Tenth, use the Savior Jesus Christ as your example for life. Use His teachings as your handbook for life. Never make exceptions to them. Will you prayerfully consider the things we have discussed? There are many willing to be led by your righteous example. Because you have been enlightened, you owe to those who follow you the best example you are capable of giving. Not only will they be blessed, but your life will be enriched as well.
Come to know of the great influence for good that flows from individual acts born of conscience and principle rooted in truth. Resolve that each moment of your life will reflect your determination to humbly be an example of righteousness, integrity, and conviction. With such a life you will surely succeed in the purpose for which you came to earth.
Do What Is Right!
I began this message indicating that I have validated in my personal life the truth of the principles shared. There have been times when my choice to stand for principle against strong forces implied that there would be significant personal loss by taking that action. But that did not deter me. I was determined to do what was right. The anticipated loss, however, never came. Somehow, doing what was right in time opened far greater and more meaningful opportunities.
I testify that you will never go wrong when you trust in the Lord and in His promises, no matter how severe the challenge.
A Christmas angel, a grumpy old man, and an unusual Christmas pageant remind us all that amid the shopping and commercialism, there is a way to keep Christ in Christmas; by giving the gifts He wants us to give.
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children,
how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give
good things to them that ask him?” Matthew 7:11
“For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
“. . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!“
“The Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, had appeared to Joseph Smith. The morning of the dispensation of the fulness of times had come, dispelling the darkness of the long generations of spiritual night. As in the creation, light was to replace darkness; day was to follow night.
“From then to now, truth has been and is available to us. Like the children of Israel in former times, endless days of wandering now can end with our entry to a personal promised land.”
New York Times best selling author Stephen Mansfield
There are nearly seven million Mormons in America . This is the number the Mormons themselves use. It’s not huge. Seven million is barely 2 percent of the country’s population. It is the number of people who subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. London boasts seven million people. So does San Francisco . It’s a million more people than live in the state of Washington ; a million less than in the state of Virginia . It’s so few, it’s the same number as were watching the January 24, 2012, Republican debate.
In fact, worldwide, there are only about fourteen million Mormons. That’s fourteen million among a global population just reaching seven billion. Fourteen million is the population of Cairo or Mali or Guatemala . It’s approximately the number of people who tune in for the latest hit show on network television every week. Fourteen million Americans ate Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant in 2011. That’s how few fourteen million is.
Yet in the first decade or so of the new millennium, some members of the American media discovered the Mormons and began covering them as though the Latter-day Saints had just landed from Mars. It was as though Utah was about to invade the rest of the country. It was all because of politics and pop culture, of course. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman were in pursuit of the White House. Glenn Beck was among the nation’s most controversial news commentators. Stephenie Meyer had written the astonishingly popular Twilight series about vampires. Matt Stone and Trey Parker had created the edgy South Park cartoon series–which included a much- discussed episode about Mormons–and then went on to create the blatantly blasphemous and Saint-bashing Broadway play The Book of Mormon. It has become one of the most successful productions in American theater history.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen Mormons sat in the US Congress, among them Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader. Mormons led JetBlue, American Express, Marriott, Novell, Deloitte and Touche, Diebold, and Eastman Kodak. Management guru Stephen Covey made millions telling them how to lead even better. There were Mormons commanding battalions of US troops and Mormons running major US universities. There were so many famous Mormons, in fact, that huge websites were launched just to keep up with it all. Notables ranged from movie stars like Katherine Heigl to professional athletes to country music stars like Gary Allan to reality television contestants and even to serial killers like Glenn Helzer, whose attorney argued that the Saints made him the monster he was. The media graciously reminded the public that Mormon criminals were nothing new, though: Butch Cassidy of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame was also a Mormon, they reported.
Most media coverage treated this “Mormon Moment” as though it was just that: the surprising and unrelated appearance of dozens of Mormons on the national stage–for a moment. More than a few commentators predicted it would all pass quickly.
What most commentators did not understand was that their “Mormon Moment” was more than a moment, more than an accident, and more than a matter of pop culture and fame alone. The reality was–and is–that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintshas reached critical mass. It is not simply that a startling number of Mormons have found their way onto America’s flat-screen TVs and so brought visibility to their religion. It is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints has reached sufficient numbers–and has so permeated every level of American society on the strength of its religious value–that prominent politicians, authors, athletes, actors, newscasters, and even murderers are the natural result, in some cases even the intended result. Visible, influential Mormons aren’t outliers or exceptions. They are fruit of the organic growth of their religion.
In 1950, there were just over a million Mormons in the world. Most of these were located in the Intermountain West of the United States, a region of almost lunar landscape between the Rocky Mountains to the East and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains to the West. The religion was still thought of as odd by most Americans. There had been famous Mormons like the occasional US Senator or war hero, but these were few and far between. There had even been a 1940 Hollywood movie entitled Brigham Young that told the story of the Saints’ mid-1800s trek from Illinois to the region of the Great Salt Lake. Its producers worked hard to strain out nearly every possible religious theme, a nod to the increasingly secular American public. Though it starred heavyweights like Vincent Price and Tyrone Power, the movie failed miserably, even in Utah. Especially in Utah.
Then, in 1951, a man named David O. McKay became the “First President” of the Latter-day Saints and inaugurated a new era. He was the Colonel Harlan Sanders of Mormonism. He often wore white suits, had an infectious laugh, and under- stood the need to appeal to the world outside the Church. It was refreshing. Most LDS presidents had either been polygamist oddballs or stodgy old men in the eyes of the American public. McKay was more savvy, more media aware. He became so popular that film legend Cecil B. DeMille asked him to consult on the now classic movie The Ten Commandments.
Empowered by his personal popularity and by his sense that an opportune moment had come, McKay began refashioning the Church’s image. He also began sharpening its focus. His famous challenge to his followers was, “Every Member a Missionary!” And the faithful got busy. It only helped that Ezra Taft Benson, a future Church president, was serving as the nation’s secretary of agriculture under President Eisehower. This brought respectability. It also helped that George Romney was the revered CEO of American Motors Corporation and that he would go on to be the governor of Michigan, a candidate for president of the United States, and finally a member of Richard Nixon’s cabinet. This hinted at increasing power. The 1950s were good for Mormons.
Then came the 1960s. Like most religions, the LDS took a beating from the counterculture movement, but by the 1970s they were again on the rise. There was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a symbol of Americana when Americana was under siege. There was Mormon Donny Osmond’s smile and Mormon Marie Osmond’s everything and the three-year run of network television’s Donny and Marie in the late 1970s that made words like family, clean, talented, patriotic, and even cute outshine some of the less-endearing labels laid upon the Saints through the years. New labels joined new symbols. A massive, otherworldly, 160,000-square-foot Temple just north of Washington, DC, was dedicated in the 1970s, a symbol of LDS power and permanence for the nation to behold. Always there was the “Every Member a Missionary!” vision beating in each Saintly heart.
By 1984, the dynamics of LDS growth were so fine-tuned that influential sociologist Rodney Stark made the mind- blowing prediction that the Latter-day Saints would have no fewer than 64 million members and perhaps as many as 267 million by 2080.3 It must have seemed possible in those days. In the following ten years, LDS membership exploded from 4.4 million to 11 million. This may be why in 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The Mormons–a misguided cult in the view of most traditional Christians, most Baptists in particular–had to be stopped.
They weren’t. Four years after the Baptists besieged Temple Square, the Winter Olympic Games came to Salt Lake City. This was in 2002 and it is hard to exaggerate what this meant to the Latter-day Saints. A gifted Mormon leader, Mitt Romney, rescued the games after a disastrous bidding scandal. A sparkling Mormon city hosted the games. Happy, handsome all-American Mormons attended each event, waving constantly to the cameras and appearing to be–in the word repeatedly used by the press at the time–“normal.”
The LDS Church capitalized on it all. It sent volunteers, missionaries, and publicists scurrying to every venue. It hosted grand events for the world press. It made sure that every visitor received a brochure offering an LDS guided tour of the city. Visitors from around the world read these words: “No other place in America has a story to tell like that of Salt Lake City–a sanctuary founded by religious refugees from within the United States’ own borders. And none can tell that story better than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Largely unchallenged, the Mormon narrative prevailed.
What followed was the decade of the new millennium we have already surveyed. Mormons seemed to be everywhere, seemed to be exceptional in nearly every arena, seemed to have moved beyond acceptance by American culture to domination of American culture. At least this was what some feared at the time.
But Mormons did not dominate the country. Far from it. Remember that they were not even 2 percent of the nation’s population as of 2012. True, they were visible and successful, well educated and well spoken, patriotic and ever willing to serve. Yet what they had achieved was not domination. It was not a conspiracy either, as some alleged. It was not anything approaching a takeover or even the hope for a takeover.
Few observers seemed to be able to explain how this new level of LDS prominence in American society came about. They reached for the usual answers trotted out to account for such occurrences: birth rates, Ronald Reagan’s deification of traditional values, the economic boom of the late twentieth century, a more liberal and broadminded society, even the dumbing down of America through television and failing schools. Each of these explanations was found wanting.
The Mormon Machine
The truth lay within Mormonism itself. What the Saints had achieved in the United States was what Mormonism, unfettered and well led, will nearly always produce. This was the real story behind the much-touted “Mormon Moment.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had risen to unexpected heights in American society because the Mormon religion creates what can benevolently be called a Mormon Machine– a system of individual empowerment, family investment, local church (ward and stake level) leadership, priesthood government, prophetic enduement, Temple sacraments, and sacrificial financial endowment of the holy Mormon cause.
Plant Mormonism in any country on earth and pretty much the same results will occur. If successful, it will produce deeply moral individuals who serve a religious vision centered upon achievement in this life. They will aggressively pursue the most advanced education possible, understand their lives in terms of overcoming obstacles, and eagerly serve the surrounding society. The family will be of supernatural importance to them, as will planning and investing for future generations. They will be devoted to community, store and save as a hedge against future hardship, and they will esteem work as a religious calling. They will submit to civil government and hope to take positions within it. They will have advantages in this. Their beliefs and their lives in all-encompassing community will condition them to thrive in administrative systems and hierarchies–a critical key to success in the modern world. Ever oriented to a corporate life and destiny, they will prize belonging and unity over individuality and conflict every time.
These hallmark values and behaviors–the habits that distinguish Mormons in the minds of millions of Americans– grow naturally from Mormon doctrine. They are also the values and behaviors of successful people. Observers who think of the religion as a cult–in the Jim Jones sense that a single, dynamic leader controls a larger body of devotees through fear, lies, and manipulation–usually fail to see this. Mormon doctrine is inviting, the community it produces enveloping and elevating, the lifestyle it encourages empowering in nearly every sense. Success, visibility, prosperity, and influence follow. This is the engine of the Mormon ascent. It is what has attracted so many millions, and it is the mechanism of the Latter-day Saints’ impact upon American society and the world.
Mormons make achievement through organizational management a religious virtue. It leads to prosperity, visibility, and power. It should come as no surprise, then, that an American can turn on the evening news after a day of work and find one report about two Mormon presidential candidates, another story about a Mormon finalist on American Idol, an examination of the controversial views of a leading Mormon news commentator, a sports story about what a Mormon lineman does with his “Temple garments” in the NFL, and a celebration of how Mormons respond to crises like Katrina and the BP oil spill, all by a “Where Are They Now?” segment about Gladys Knight, minus the Pips, who has become–of course–a Mormon.
Mormons rise in this life because it is what their religion calls for. Achieving. Progressing. Learning. Forward, upward motion. This is the lifeblood of earthly Mormonism. Management, leadership, and organizing are the essential skills of the faith. It is no wonder that Mormons have grown so rapidly and reached such stellar heights in American culture. And there is much more to come.
President Thomas S. Monson Prophet, Seer, and Revelator The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints