Mark W. Cannon
A religion with high demands for members to live the teachings of Christ, has clear attractions to people who aspire to live good high-quality lives. Such people join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in part because of the fruits of Mormonism that are exhibited in the lives of members. As shown by many studies throughout this website, these fruits of Mormonism include pursuit of education, planning for the future, industriousness, service and accomplishments beneficial to others, loving and productive family relations, remarkably good health and longevity, optimism, energy, happiness and the peace that comes from harmony between the divine and good ways to deal with the practical challenges of life. As Jesus taught “by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20).
The continuing comparatively high growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. during the decade 2000 to 2010 was 18%, 4,224,026 to 5,208,827 (See Deseret News May 13, 2012, p. 4.) This is despite the decline of membership in many churches due to secularity driving people away from joining churches. The worldwide growth of the LDS Church, particularly in Latin America and Africa, is even higher than in the U.S.
Some people wonder how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can grow so solidly when the demands it calls on members to make appear to be so challenging. The reason is that the commitments asked of members produce the fruits of Mormonism that attract so many new members. This will be shown in the following examples:
(1.) Practicing Mormons follow the Biblical law of paying tithing to the Church and giving time and resources to charities and endeavors based on love for one’s “neighbors”. Just as one example, Mitt Romney’s tax returns for the past two years revealed that he contributed $7 million or 16% of his income to charity. Of that, $4.2 million went to the LDS Church. This practice is unlike some politicians who give away very little of their own money.
In America: The National Catholic Weekly, John J. Dilulio Jr. reports in “Mormons and Charity” (April 9, 2012) on the Pew Forum Studies: 73% of Mormons believe that “working to help the poor” is “essential to being a good Mormon.” Led by Israeli-born scholar Ram A. Cnaan, the study concludes that churchgoing Mormons “are the most pro-social members of American society.” On average, Mormons dedicate nine times as many hours per month to volunteer activities as other Americans do. In addition to tithing, on average Mormons also give about $1,200 per year “to social causes outside the church.”
Arthur Brooks, former Syracuse Economics Professor, now President of American Enterprise Institute, calculated that Utah, with its majority Mormon population, is the most charitable state; and people give twice as much as in the second highest state. (Speech on “Why Giving Matters” at BYU, February 24, 2009.)
An example of a poverty-busting Mormon program operated by voluntary contributions, beyond tithing, is the Perpetual Education Fund for developing countries. The Church started this low interest loan program in 2001 to pay tuition for job producing training programs for typically underemployed members from 18 to 30 years old, generally returned missionaries, with a slight majority female.
In one unusual case in Kenya, Tyson was an orphan who had survived polio. He learned about the Church from a member, took the missionary lessons and was baptized. He was unable to walk but with donated crutches he learned to use them to move ahead by swinging his body forward. Through the Perpetual Education Fund he was enabled to enter Augustana College to study information technology. He became the top student in his class and was so admired that he was also elected student body president.
The PEF program has already helped over 53,000 participants in 53 developing countries, plus five more approved. The average training program is about 2½ years with a reasonably high graduation rate around two thirds. Some participants leave early because they obtain decent jobs. Graduates typically gain jobs with at least twice their previous income. African countries typically have the highest loan repayment rate. Several non-Mormons have been so impressed with the program’s operational success and that every dollar contributed goes to students and none to administration or promotion that they contributed. In one case, the donation was $5 million.
In the Bible, Malachi (3:10) wrote the divine commandment: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” The Pew Forum survey of self identified Mormons found that 80% say they pay tithing. Yet, though it is counter-intuitive, you would have to search to find Mormons who tithe, but who complain about it. They are blessed as promised by the Lord, and they tithe willingly and privately since no collection plates are passed around in Church. It appears that God knew all along that giving generates more happiness, well-being and self-esteem than receiving.
(2.) LDS are committed to the Biblical law restricting sexual relations to marriage. This prevents the travesties of multitudes of children without fathers, many virtually consigned to minimal education, impoverishment, uninspiring lives, emerging children destroyed before they have a chance, and widespread illnesses some of which are incurable. Limiting sex to marriage enables many husbands and wives to trust each other when they are apart. It eliminates a major cause of family breakup and strengthens marriages and families.
Illustrative of how seriously this commitment is taken, because of a violation of the honor code requirement of chastity for unmarried students, Brigham Young University suspended for the rest of the season their third highest basketball scorer a year ago. This weakened a team that had ranked number 3 nationally just before entering the playoffs with national player of the year Jimmer Fredette. Fellow team members showed their love and encouraged the suspended player to repent and work his way back to the team this past season - which he did.
(3.) Because the Church follows the biblical practice of an unpaid clergy, all members are expected to volunteer time and effort to achieve the highly organized spiritual vitality of the Church. All worthy young men are ordained to the Priesthood at age 12 where they learn to conduct meetings, speak to adult groups, organize service projects, and do home teaching with an adult partner. They typically take four years of in-depth daily seminary classes in the scriptures in high school, often early in the morning. The young men typically go on two year missions after they turn 19 -- often to Latin America, Asia or Africa where they teach the Gospel and engage in service projects. Young women have the same type of leadership training in their organizations. There are currently over 55,000 fulltime missionaries and over 22,000 specialized fulltime service missionaries, often retirees who volunteer their talents, training and experience, for varying periods of time, without compensation to help those who are frequently in serious need.
The positions of women, including in the Mormon Relief Society (the oldest women’s organization in America), are apparently fulfilling, and the Pew Forum found that Mormon women are more satisfied with their role in their Church than are the women in any other religious group.
Three fruits of Mormonism come from functioning as a volunteer Church -- as the original Christians did.
• An objective Pew Forum factual questionnaire concluded that Mormons know the Bible and Christianity better than members of any other religious group (with white evangelicals being second.)
• Another derivative fruit of Mormonism is the conclusion from a $4 million study of American youth and religion at the University of North Carolina that “Mormon Teens Cope Best: A study finds they top peers at handling adolescence.” (newsobserver.com March 13, 2005) This article summarizes the conclusion that “Mormons fared best at avoiding risky behaviors, doing well in school and having a positive attitude about the future. Conservative Protestants came in second.”
“’Across almost every category we looked at, there was a clear pattern: Mormons were first,’ said Steve Vaisey, one of the researchers involved in the study and the person who interviewed most of the Mormon youths.”
Given the enormous pressures on today’s youth to succumb to drugs, alcoholism, licentiousness, cheating, deceiving, stealing and avoidance of planning, study, work and responsibility, Mormon youth demonstrate the goals and strength of character to eschew these dangerous temptations. Many parents would give a lot to raise children with these characteristics. There is a Church with programs that can help them accomplish that.
• Another fruit of Mormonism, through emphasis on self-reliance and training in leadership responsibilities, is the disproportionate share of Mormons who became upper level executives in business and other institutions.
The link between challenging missionary experience and future executive leadership was highlighted in the May 7, 2012 Christian Science Monitor article: “How Mormons Cultivate Business Savvy”, and has been featured in articles in Financial Times, Businessweek, Forbes, Business Insider, The Economist (most recently May 12, 2012) and the Christian Post. These articles have many such facts as that 2011 summer hires at Goldman Sachs included 31 from BYU, the same number as from the prestigious Wharton School. Mormons have been CEO’s at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (world’s largest personal services corporation), Dell Computer, Madison Square Garden, Boston Celtics, JetBlue Airlines, Marriott, etc. Such people are featured in Jeff Benedict’s book: The Mormon Way of Doing Business, which now has a new chapter on Mitt Romney.
Similar attainments exist in other areas such as academic management. Universities that have appointed a Mormon President include Ohio State, Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Colorado, Arizona State and California; and Harvard has appointed Mormons to be Dean of the Harvard Business School and as Vice President of the University -- as well as their 300th Anniversary University Professor (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.) A Fall 2011 Pew Forum survey of self identified Mormons found that 80% of Mormon returned missionaries say their missionary experiences have been very valuable in preparing them for a career. This is a fortunate asset when so few jobs are available for youth.
To take a different type of example, in decades past some people urged top young Mormon athletes not to go on missions or they would lose skills and not be able to perform well in universities nor play professionally. Yet BYU has become a regular top 25 football team with swarms of returned missionaries. They have an ESPN contract to televize most games nationally. Sports Illustrated (June 2012) cover photo and story features Jabal Parker “the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.” Major basketballuniversities are vieing to attract him. However, his Mormon faith is more important than basketball, and he is thinking about going on a mission. In conjunction with the SI story, the Deseret News (5/16/2012) identified 65 returned Mormon missionaries who had gone on to play with professional teams.
(4.) Mormons are committed to giving children the opportunities of wholesome life, typically having larger families than average, and devoting the time and attention to overcome the obstacles to and challenges of raising them to be exemplary children of God and citizens of their country. This commitment is regardless of whether one or both parents are earning incomes.
These fruits of Mormonism, or the enriching blessings that come to those who obey Christ’s commandments as urged by the LDS Church are typically identified in objective studies by non-Mormons many of which are delineated in this website. These positive outcomes are possible because of many parents’ realization of the enormous, eternal importance to children of a strong educational base at home both in matters of the spirit such as faith, gratitude to God, and personal character and in major fields of human knowledge and endeavor.
In contrast to Mormonism’s U.S. growth of 18% in the past decade, Catholic churches reported a 5% decline of membership and mainline Christian denominations reported a 12.8% decline. Evangelical Christian churches grew by 1.7%.
Another way of looking at the growth of Mormonism is looking at the past Century. In 1900 there were 283,765 Mormons mostly in Utah and Idaho. By 1950, there were 1,111,314. By 2011, the global population was 14,441,346 most of whom live outside of Utah and Idaho.
Historic development of effective new Mormon social programs is described in my Innovative Heritage of Mormonism in this website. Long observation of such successful programs caused organization and management guru, Peter Drucker, to conclude that “The Mormons are the only Utopia that ever worked.” This is elaborated elsewhere in this website.
Nevertheless, with the powerful growth of secularism’s drive to eliminate the role of religion in our educational system, government and politics, society, and in people’s minds and behavior, all churches are challenged by the reduction of activity of some members. The LDS Church and others are looking for the best programs and techniques to minimize members becoming inactive and to increase reactivation. We are in a new era where churches are joining their efforts in matters of common concern, such as to protect religious freedom both in the United States and abroad. A major example of this is the Ethics and Public Policy Center that has created the American Religious Liberty Program that works with multiple religious groups.
While there are numerous documented remarkable fruits of Mormonism, faithful people in other churches who obey divine commandments also receive blessings. A recent book is probably the most empirical book in print about contemporary religion in America -- including extensive national survey research that was repeated to the same people five years later to detect trends and their dynamics. The book is American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us (2010) by Harvard Professor David Putnam and Notre Dame Professor David Campbell (a Mormon). Their empirical studies find religious belief and practice are beneficial to people and society. This is shown by the emphatic statement in the review by the Wall Street Journal:
Perhaps the best and most interesting chapter in this respect is "Religion and Good Neighborliness," which convincingly argues that, contrary to the stock depiction in popular culture, religious Americans make better neighbors by almost every index. They are more generous, with both their time and money; more civically active, in community organizations and political reform; more trusting; more trustworthy; and even measurably happier."
A particularly cogent study of the positive impact of religion found that Blacks who attend Church weekly live 14 years longer, on average, than Blacks who rarely attend Church. Similarly, whites who attend church weekly live longer than those who rarely attend. However, the difference is not as great.
See the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Mormons in America, January 12, 2012.