The Mormon Church Only Helps Its Own Members

 

“Mormon Helping Hands” clearing downed trees in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005; no distinction is made between Mormons and non-Mormons in such efforts

 

Just yesterday, for perhaps the 13,764th time, somebody confidently — and somewhat angrily — assured me that, while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does an okay job of helping its own members, it never gives anything to anybody outside its own membership.

 

This is, of course, flatly false.

 

I still recall fondly the Florida newspaper story a few years ago reporting that two churches had especially distinguished themselves by their organized and effective relief efforts in the wake of a devastating hurricane:  The Mormon Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

I’ve visited Indonesia, where the Church gave very large amounts of aid — and continues to do so — in the Indonesian province of Aceh following the catastrophic 2004 tsunami.  BYU Arabic students on our most recent intensive study program in Jordan devoted some of their time in the area to helping the local service missionaries unload and distribute Church aid to refugees from the Syrian civil war.  Medically-trained friends of mine have participated in Church-sponsored delegations to train local physicians and nurses in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East in effective methods of neonatal resuscitation.  Members of my ward with the requisite background (e.g., in engineering) have been and continue to be involved, by assignment, in fresh-water and vaccination projects worldwide, on behalf of the Church.  I know people who were directly involved with Church relief efforts in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami there, and they gave wonderful accounts of the work that was done.  A friend with supervisory responsibilities in Manila and the Philippines says that, if members of the Church were aware of the full extent of Church help during recent natural disasters in the Philippines, they would be extremely proud — as I was, some time ago, watching private video footage of the distribution of wheelchairs by the Church to indigent people in the Third World who, heretofore, had been restricted to their homes or able to get around only by sliding on a piece of cardboard.  As some of my critics insist on pointing out, I have a heart of stone and a passion for callous, hateful cruelty, but that video brought tears even to my unpracticed eyes.

 

And so on and so forth.

 

Anyhow, the proximate reason for this blog entry is something that arrived in my email just this morning:

 

http://feedingamerica.org/press-room/press-releases/church-jesus-christ-latter-day-saints-donates-food-feeding-america.aspx

 

It will, I know, be met with jeers in some quarters.  Too little!  Done only for advertising purposes!  I’m content, though, to reflect that, while those who who enjoy sneering continue to sneer, the Church and its members continue to do good worldwide.  If there’s going to be a division of labor on this matter — and I rather suspect that there is one — I much prefer to be on the side of the divide with my fellow Latter-day Saints.

 

Mormon aid bound for Pakistan (which, if certain critics are to be taken seriously, must be largely if not entirely populated by Latter-day Saints)

 

P.S.  I’ve encountered weird, wholly counterfactual claims even on the matter of the Church’s generally-acknowledged programs to “take care of its own.”  My favorite such encounter came in the hallway at an academic conference in Binghamton, New York, quite a few years ago.  A professor from an eastern university told me that she admired our in-house welfare program, but that she didn’t like our policy regarding bankruptcies.  Curious, I asked her what she meant.  “You know what I mean,” she bristled.  “Your church will fund business start-ups through a couple of bankruptcies.  But, if the business goes bankrupt a third time, the person who gets assistance from the Church is obliged to commit suicide.”  I thought, at first, that she was joking.  However, when I realized that she wasn’t, I pointed out that (a) the Church doesn’t fund private, individual business startups.  Doing so would be a direct violation of Church policy.  Then, more importantly, I observed to her that (b) the notion that the Church advocates suicide in any case, for any reason at all, is completely false.  She was adamant, though, and she advised me, rather huffily, to go home and learn more about my church.

 

“Three strikes an’ yer OUT!” This local ward activities committee is underway to help somebody whose corner hot dog stand has gone bankrupt for a third time do the right thing. (The Mormon welfare system as seen through the eyes of at least one possibly deranged east coast academic.)

 

 

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  • Lucy Mcgee

    Doing a bit of number crunching, the following is offered. Denmark, a clearly secular nation, gave $46 per capita in official humanitarian aid in 2010. By comparison, the U.S. gave $15.8 per capita in official humanitarian aid in 2010.
    http://www.globalhumanitarianassistance.org/countryprofile/denmark

    While the LDS Church offers limited data, a 2009 publication indicated that since 1985, $328M in humanitarian cash donations plus $885M in “value” of humanitarian donations had been given. If one assumes an LDS Church membership of 10M per year average over that 24 years, that would indicate a contribution by each LDS Church member of approximately $5 in world humanitarian aid contributions per year.

    Obviously this figure does not offer a complete picture of the LDS Church humanitarian aid given worldwide, but the data used are all that I could find. If anyone has a more accurate data set, I’d be interested in those numbers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kgbudge Kent G. Budge

      I’m sure we could do better if, like the government, we could compel donations to our humanitarian fund. Alas, we have to make do with what people donate entirely of their own free will.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Peterson/634891356 Daniel Peterson

      Your comparison of “official humanitarian aid” from Denmark and the United States is misleading, and offers only part of the relevant picture. There is very little, and in some places virtually no, private philanthropy in Europe. But “official humanitarian aid” represents only a small portion of the money and other aid going out from the United States.

      Moreover, I would be inclined, personally, to reduce the American government’s foreign aid budget even further. I believe that such aid does relatively little good in non-catastrophe situations, and, in fact, that it does a very great amount of long-term, systemic harm.

      Finally, I think you need better LDS figures in order to draw any meaningful conclusions. Do the figures you use include the value of contributed labor, for example? And are you taking into account the welfare system and fast offerings? (Those are just two relevant questions.)

      • Lucy Mcgee

        I have no access to better numbers regarding LDS Church philanthropy other than what was published in 2009/2010. I was assuming that the “value” number, included such things as labor, etc., but since nothing definitive is shown, I made that assumption. Again, if anyone has more accurate information, that would be interesting to examine.

        Regarding European philanthropy, there is a large private component which the report I referenced did not include. However, after a bit of searching, I’d offer this: http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publication_details&id=8841

        Pages 16 and 17 and especially figure 7 clearly shows that, as a percentage of gross national income, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark rank ahead of the United States in total humanitarian assistance.

        However, if one compares Bill Gates, and his foundation, or Warren Buffett and his commitment to humanitarian aid to Ingvar Kamprad of IKEA or Gina Rinehart of Australian mining fame, each of the latter would be considered miserly in their giving. Even Ted Turner gave $1B to the United Nations during a time when his net worth was considerably larger (before the Time Warner fiasco).

        • DanielPeterson

          I suggest that you read Arthur Brooks’s book “Who Really Cares?” if you haven’t already.

  • Collin Simonsen

    Dan, when my 3rd business failed, my bishop handed me a small, japanese sword and said, “you know what to do.” :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/tyler.stimson Tyler Stimson

      I must have a morbid sense of humor… I thought this was hilarious.

      • Collin Simonsen

        Thanks. Somehow I miraculously survived.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I continue to marvel that we use the term “African American” to describe people of color. Don’t people understand that Africa does not contain a population of only people of dark skin? I mean, someone could be a most racist member of a South African group and still call themselves “African American”, or perhaps live in northern Africa where skin color is lighter, etc.

    • danpeterson

      I understand it perfectly well.

      But it’s very difficult to know what label to use for The Ethnic Group in Question.

      Over the course of my now ridiculously long lifetime, various terms have come and gone. And, when they’ve gone, they often haven’t gone merely out of fashion but have become radioactive.

      Negroes and colored people were acceptable terms when I was young. African-American has come and, now, apparently gone. And it’s somewhat inexact, as you rightly point out. Black is still acceptable (I think), but it, too, is a bit imprecise: Some people from the Indian subcontinent, and some Fijians, are at least as “black” as many Africans, and often much more so, yet they aren’t typically called “black.” And many American “blacks” are almost “white.” And, anyway, most “blacks” are actually brown, and no non-albino “whites” are actually white. They’re more pink or tan. Or something like that.

      It’s confusing, and it’s also a potentially lethal minefield of political correctness. And there are lots and lots of people out there who are eager to take, or to feign, offense.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Peterson/634891356 Daniel Peterson

      I understand it perfectly well.

      But it’s very difficult to know what label to use for The Ethnic Group in Question.

      Over the course of my now ridiculously long lifetime, various terms have come and gone. And, when they’ve gone, they often haven’t gone merely out of fashion but have become radioactive.

      “Negroes” and “colored people” were acceptable terms when I was young. “African-American” has come and, now, apparently gone. And it’s somewhat inexact, as you rightly point out. “Black” is still acceptable (I think), but it, too, is a bit imprecise: Some people from the Indian subcontinent, and some Fijians, are at least as “black” as many Africans, and often much more so, yet they aren’t typically called “black.” And many American “blacks” are almost “white.” And, anyway, most “blacks” are actually brown, and no non-albino “whites” are actually white. They’re more pink or tan. Or something like that.

      It’s confusing, and it’s also a potentially lethal minefield of political correctness. And there are lots and lots of people out there who are eager to take, or to feign, offense.

      And yes, the photo is horrid. Lynching is horrid. And so was the professor’s accusation.

      • Rodney Ross

        But we can ask them what their preference is. It will not offend and will give us an idea of how the people in question view themselves.

        • DanielPeterson

          Of course. But the terms have shifted over the years, and these be treacherous waters.

          Moreover, as Lucy McGee points out, the terms don’t always make complete sense. A person of Tunisian, Moroccan, Libyan, Algergian, or Egyptian origin could well be, strictly speaking, “African-American,” as could an Afrikaner, without being even remotely “black.”

  • lindasdf

    I just LOVE it when these people try to tell us that we don’t know what we believe.

    :O ???

    Really?

    As one LDS scholar/apologist once said: “I am the world’s foremost authority on what I believe!”

    I ask them: How many LDS worship services and Sunday School classes have you attended? How many Mormons do you know? How many times have you read the Book of Mormon? How many conferences have you attended, or how many conference talks have you read? BTW, just who IS the current prophet of our church?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Raymond-Swenson/100000312491451 Raymond Swenson

    Last year, during the Romney presidential campaign, a professor who left the LDS Church, but left that out of the story, claimed that Mormon humanitarian efforts were puny compared to those of the United Methodist Church, as a percentage of the two churches’ revenues. I looked at the actual data and found that the per member contribution of funds of both Mormons and United Methodists in the US were comparable, and did not count the volunteer labor donated by members, both skilled and unskilled. The percentage ignored the fact that LDS finances are totally centralized, while the central finances of the United Methodists do not include the expenses of congregations, including the parsonages and pay and benefits for pastors.

    Research by a team from University of Pennsylvania reported last year that Mormons donate the most income and time of members in all major denominations. That was true even when subtracting donations to the Church and service to other members. The researchers reported a remarkable level of members looking after each other even outside of formal programs.

    The former chief auditor at my company was LDS, and I was talking to my boss, an active Sephardic Jew, about the likelihood that the auditor would volunteer to serve a Church mission after he retired. He observed, “If somebody from my congregation were asking people to give twelve months of their time to service for the synagogue, they would ask ‘What’s in it for me?’”

    • DanielPeterson

      Excellent post, as usual.

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