A Unique People?

Elder Dallin Oaks, in the April 2009 Semi-annual LDS conference, spoke about “Unselfish Service”.  I had great hopes for this conference talk.  Elder Oaks is a highly respected jurist, educator, writer, and GA.  But his talk fell well short of my expectations.

He started out with a false premise:  “As a group, Latter-day Saints are unique in following that teaching (Christ’s example of and preaching on unselfish service) — unique in the extent of their unselfish service.”  This is an obvious overstatement and is unnecessarily condescending to other religions and humanitarian groups.  We could all readily think of organizations with similar (if not greater) commitments.

His examples of unselfish service are extremely limited:  missionaries, taking the sacrament, “Helping Hands”, parenting, the Proposition 8 campaign in California, etc.  The Prop 8 situation is particularly toublesome to me.  Involving members in political issues is not what I would personally consider unselfish service.

Elder Oaks then turns unnecessarily negative by extolling the sins of the world.  Mormons are wonderful people.  They need fewer lectures on the evils of society, less emphasis on attending unnecessarily repetitive meetings, and more coordinated efforts for helping the world’s poor.  The LDS Church has only scratched the surface of its potential for doing good.  And such efforts would do wonders for the missionary program.

Toward the end of his talk, he mentions the example of the late Mother Teresa, the nun who spent her life administering to India’s poor.  According to Elder Oaks:  “When this wonderful Catholic servant died, the First Presidency’s message of condolence declared, ‘Her life of unselfish service is an inspiration to all the world, and her acts of Christian goodness will stand as a memorial for generations to come.'”  He then states that “Each of us should apply that principle to our attitudes in attending church.”  That segue doesn’t work for me.  I suspect that Mother Teresa was more interested in her mission to the poor than she was with church attendance.

Elder Oaks, where are your examples of Mormon individuals doing good and helping the needy?  There must be Mormon examples almost as strong as that of Mother Teresa.  I’m not suggesting deleting the Mother Teresa reference, I’m suggesting a broader range of examples was in order.

Here was a wonderful chance to mention LDS members in developing countries, and to reflect on their plight.  (They will soon be the majority in the LDS Church.)  He could have mentioned the options of giving money to the Perpetual Education Fund or to LDS Humanitarian Services.  Instead, the speech dealt with the standard and tired rhetoric concerning the evils of the world.  Hopefully, in the future, my church will develop a broader vision.

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7 Responses to A Unique People?

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    In the August 2009 issue of the Ensign, there is an article abou the USN hospital ship COMFORT. “Dozens of LDS humanitarian volunteers rotated on and off the USN COMPFORT on a four-month humanitairan mission this summer.” The hospital ship is a converted oil tanker.

    “Church Humanitarian Services further contributed by sending 10 shipping containers of medical equipment and supplies, which were unloaded along the way at each country (visited).”

    “”Heavenly Father loves all of His children, said Melissa Elmer, a registered nurse from Highland, Utah, USA. “He will put people in our lives who will touch us, and He allows us to touch others.””

    I wonder if the Mormon Church might buy their own hospital ship?

  2. Roger Hansen says:

    While I have several criticisms of Elder Eric W. Kopischke (of the Seventy in the Sept 2009 Ensign Mag) titled: “This is Our Religion, to Save Souls,” it is certainly a step in the right direction. He writes: “As the Lord stated to the elders of the early restored Church: ‘Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not by disciple’ (D&C 52:40).” And: “King Benjamin’s reminder is still true: ‘When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.’ (Mosiah 2:17).”

    Kopishchke gives an example of Mormon church members making baby caps to send to the country of Jordan, and it does demonstrate the compassion that could potentially be released. But he needed to put an emphasis on the plight of members living in Developing Countries. And stress, in stronger terms, the need to do more.

    We need to remember that the percentage of Mormons in Developing Countries is high and growing. We have a responsibility to our Mormon neighbors living in foreign countries and in poverty (both physical and spiritual).

  3. Roger Hansen says:

    The following comment appeared in a letter to the editor (by Robert Morse) of the SLTrib on Sept 8, 2009:

    “If we could only broaden our concept of “neighbor” to a global scope there might be some home for humanity after all.”

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    The LDS Church is adding “to care for the poor and needy” to its longstanding “threefold mission,” which to (1) preach the LDS gospel, (2) purify members’ lives, and (3) provide saving ordinances such as baptism to those who have died.

    “This is a dramatic move and very important message,” said Jan Shipps, an Indiana-based American religion historian who has spent decades studying the LDS Church. “It’s not that Mormons haven’t already been caring for the poor and needy with its humanitarian program. It’s just that this moves it to the top of their priorities, along with proselytizing and temple work.”

    As reported in the SLTrib, Dec 10, 2009

  5. Roger Hansen says:

    According to the AP Dec 22, 2009 (as printed in the SLTrib):

    “Church officials say that as of December, a fund established to help increase access to education for young Mormons has helped more than 40,000 men and women across 42 countries.

    The Perpetual Education Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is for members between the ages of 18 and 30. Founded in 2001 by then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley, the fund provides low-interest loans to individuals seeking education or training and a viable job in their local community.

    Program director Elder John K. Carmack says that applications to the fund have increased by 50 percent over last year.

    The program is funded through donation from church members. It is modeled after a church fund from the late 1800s that assisted Mormon converts emigrating to the U.S.”

  6. Janis says:

    It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why there is a problem in the first place. But still great job and point of view.

  7. Roger Hansen says:

    Jeremiah Stetter in the SLTrib (Jan 2, 2010) wrote the following:

    ” . . . church leaders insist that it’s not because membership is a requirement for receiving humanitarian aid (Karen refugees). It isn’t. The church hands out resources with or without LDS baptism to an impoverished refugee population forced to flee its homeland of Burma, now known as Myanmar, to escape a government-back genocide.

    It has enlisted the help of five missionary couples and several volunteers with that Karen-speaking branch to ensure those Burmese families don’t go hungry, don’t lose their homes and don’t find themselves without proper clothing when temperatures plunge.

    The LDS Church’s humanitarian efforts have raised concerns outside the faith by those who wonder whether refugees — many of whom adhere to the Baptist faith because of the 18th century ministry of Adoniram Judson among the Karen — are converting to Mormonism because of the assistance.

    While the LDS Church does give priority to members when handing out work assignments and hours at its humanitarian center, . . . it provides assistance to members and nonmembers alike.”

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