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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What makes Mormons different?

Mormons are often thought of as different. We're a different kind of Christian than mainstream Protestantism, for example. We believe in Jesus Christ, but we also believe that His Church is organized under the same priesthood and same order that He organized when He was on earth Himself.
Worldwide, one of the things that sets Mormons apart the most is service participation. Young adults serve as missionaries. At any given time, there are more than 50,000 full-time missionaries serving throughout the world and teaching the gospel. Men serve for 24 months, women for 18 months. LDS church members serve in their communities. Helping Hands has become a widely recognized organization for disaster relief, and it pops up with local church groups immediately following any natural disaster. Older couples may serve as missionaries too.
The LDS Church Newsroom highlighted this voluteerism in a recent article.
Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, the team of researchers analyzed survey data from 2,664 church-attending Latter-day Saints living throughout the country. Based on their findings, the authors concluded that active Latter-day Saints “volunteer and donate significantly more than the average American and are even more generous in time and money than the upper quintile of religious people in America.”
According to the data, while the average American volunteers some 48 hours per year (4 hours per month) to charitable causes, an active Latter-day Saint volunteers 427.9 hours annually (35.6 hours per month) — a contribution worth an estimated $9,140 annually.
Of course, much of Latter-day Saint volunteerism is religious in nature; for example, congregants volunteer time to teach youth scripture classes or help prepare the chapel for Sunday worship, among other things. Yet, as the study points out, active Church members also dedicate 151.9 hours annually to serving in the Church’s social and community initiatives, such as Boy Scouts of America or the Church’s worldwide welfare and humanitarian aid programs. Aside from these efforts, the study found that individual members give an additional 34 hours annually to other social causes unrelated to the Church.
I find this impressive. But what does volunteering really mean? What does service bring the participant and those served that makes it transformative? Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote about the qualities Mormons learn while serving on missions or those who volunteer in other ways on his Huffington Post blog recently:
A year of service is something that all American youth need to learn.
What plagues America more than anything else is a sense of entitlement on the part of our population in which citizenship is seen as something that entails receiving without giving, obtaining government gifts without concomatant civic obligations, indulging in the blessings of America without consecrating our lives as a blessing to our great Republic.
In 2008 we came within a whisker of collapsing the world's richest economy because whatever it gave us was still not enough. And let's be honest. Greed has not only infected Wall Street. It has also trickled down to Main Street. American culture often resembles one giant reality show where we fixate on the lives of the rich and famous hoping to be struck with the same good fortune as our envied heroes.
Fair enough. Wealth is a great blessing. May it happen to each and every one of us. But money without sacrifice, wealth without obligations, breeds woefully inadequate character.
 He's right. The entitlement mentality (as preached by liberals) is undermining our very natures. We are becoming more selfish and less other-minded. He talked about military service as teaching the same principles as well, which is another great way to build character.
Of course, the greatest example of the inculcation of this selfless is the Israeli insistence that all its young men and women give two to three years of their young lives to their country in the form of military service. And while this is a necessity due to the endless collection of enemies arrayed agianast the Jewish state who seek its total destruction, its immediate by-product is the creation of a populace which, though tiny, is electrifying the world with its industriousness, creativity, and entrepreneurship.  
Our media and advertising constantly preach that you deserve it and do whatever makes you happy but these ideas do not bring lasting joy or happiness. For that, we must look outside ourselves, as is taught in the scriptures by Jesus Christ and many prophets. The LDS prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson, teaches the same principle. He said in the aforementioned LDS Newsroom article:
 “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy. We do not live alone — in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor's wretchedness. 'Love thy neighbor' is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection.”
These are truths that I hope the people of the United States will reconnect with and make part of themselves. Only in that way can we become the great nation we have been in the past. Great, because of the selfless patriots who found causes more important than themselves.

This weekend is a General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members the entire world over - 14 million strong and growing - will listen to the words of the living prophet and the apostles, and other Church leaders. It will be broadcast live on Saturday and Sunday through lds.org as well as played on byutv. The session times are 12-2pm and 4-6pm ET both days. I invite you to listen to General Conference and see for yourself what Mormons are all about.

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