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.