Volunteering and Civic Life in America: State Rankings



A grain silo at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City


More evidence that Mormon-dominated Utah is indeed, as some critics insist, hell on earth:




Incidentally, my wife and I had an assignment to help clean our church building today.


I’ve read comments from some ex-Mormon critics who’ve really seemed steamed up about what they regard as the Church’s exploitation of its members — as if the Church  somehow exists apart from its members, as if the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were some kind of professional clerical class entirely distinct from Mormon laity.  These complaints have always puzzled me.


Our assignment this morning took about ninety minutes.  There were a number of others there; most of them finished their assignments thirty minutes earlier than we did.  We don’t have to do this very often.  The whole active membership of the congregation does its part, and, as today, when a solid group turns out, the labor isn’t very burdensome.  In fact, it’s rather fun.  We visit with people, laugh, strengthen ties, develop a stronger sense of ownership of the building.  And it’s a good thing to have — as we’ve sometimes had — very wealthy people working side by side with, say, poor young students.  It’s spiritually good, and it’s socially beneficial.  There should be no caste system in the Church.


I still recall reading a journalist’s account of going out on the Church welfare farm near Washington DC, and seeing George Romney (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, former CEO of American Motors, and father of Mitt) down in the dirt with J. Willard Marriott and David Kennedy (either Secretary of the Treasury or ambassador to NATO at the time, and formerly a prominent banker in Chicago) trying to repair a chicken coop.  He asked them whether they didn’t regard this as a waste of their valuable time, and they replied that it was very good for their souls.


Another favorite story comes out of the nineteenth century, when a very successful Utah businessman was called to serve a mission for the Church.  He was anticipating an assignment to proselytize in Europe, but, instead, he was called to collect rags in order to help set up paper-making in Utah so that the Church could print its scriptures and other materials.  At first, he was deflated, even insulted.  But then he realized that his call was to serve, and that all service was valuable in building the Kingdom.


On the other hand, I still remember a lawyer friend in another state, many years ago, who objected to being asked to work in a Church welfare cannery, on the grounds that his time was worth lots of money.  He could, he said, easily hire three or four lower-paid people to do such work for him.  I thought that this was all the more reason that he himself needed to go work at the cannery.  I saw a satirical bumper sticker, somewhere quite a while back, that expressed a willingness to serve, but “preferably in an executive capacity.”  That isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the spirit of Christian service.



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  • RaymondSwenson

    My guess is that the vast majority of the people who voted against Romney last November had no understanding that he has lived a lifestyle of humble personal service, including using his financial resources to help people in need. The key thrust of the anti-Romney ads was to portray him as a rich man with no understanding of the lives of the poor or middle class, feeding into stereotypes and prejudices against the wealthy.

    I might not be as bothered by the busy attorney declining a church farm assignment if he was giving his valuable time to help poor people with legal problems pro bono, something that the church is not set up to do but that can be just as valuable to the poor as.food and direct financial aid.

  • DanielPeterson

    I’m not quite sure what definition of “volunteer” the statistics use. But I’m curious about your certainty that volunteer service as a temple worker shouldn’t count.

    I would imagine that volunteering as a museum docent typically counts, as does volunteer service as a Little League coach, Cub Scout den mother, “candy striper” at a hospital, guide at a local historical site, poll worker, small town fireman, cook at a girls’ camp, and parking director at an Evangelical megachurch. Being a greeter and/or a “chalice lighter” at a Unitarian Church is listed as “volunteer service.” So why would service in a Latter-day Saint temple be specifically excluded?

  • DanielPeterson

    I have absolutely no reason to believe that temple attendance was counted in the statistics, any more than sacrament meeting attendance (or mass attendance or Billy-Graham-rally attendance) likely was.

  • DanielPeterson

    It’s never occurred to me to consider temple attendance “charitable service,” and I’ve never heard anybody — in my life — equate it with, say, volunteering for the Red Cross or serving in a soup kitchen. But (who knows!) you may perhaps be right.

    Moreover, I suspect that the “subjectivity” to which you point probably applies to non-Mormons as well as to Mormons, so I’m inclined to think that that may wash out as a differentiating factor.

    You seem rather determined to talk Utah down, though, and to devalue religious service, and that’s your privilege.