Curiosity about Mormons, or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), has been increasing in Connecticut, not only because of Mitt Romney’s U.S. Presidential run or the Broadway musical, but also because an LDS temple is about to be built right in the center of our state in Farmington. Recently one local six-year-old Mormon was one of the victims in Newtown last month and many individuals noted the remarkable interviews given right after the tragedy by her father, who in his grief expressed empathy not just for the families of the other victims but also for the perpetrator’s family.
As Connecticut’s citizens ask questions about who we are, local members of the Church have been offering a purely informational forum for finding out about the “Mormons Next Door,” an open question-and-answer session preceded by a short power-point introduction. Around the general Hartford area these forums have been presented at Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and Jewish venues. In New Haven, the forum was held adjacent to the Yale University campus. We are happy to offer the forum for any group interested in finding out about their Mormon neighbors in Connecticut.
The presentation speaks to the various ways Mormons try to keep Jesus Christ in their lives. He is the central figure of our Church, the link between what we Latter-day Saints say we believe and what we feel compelled, as followers of Him, to do. These beliefs inform behavior: charity of time and materials, of spirit and substance; healthy living; both secular and religious education; and the importance of family life.
Charitable giving is a high priority for Mormons, most of whom routinely donate 10 percent of their income as tithing, usually starting at age 8 (perhaps on gifts or allowance). LDS members also donate funds for welfare relief and humanitarian aid, which go to Church members and nonmembers alike. Salt Lake City, Utah, the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ranked first as the most generous city in the nation (Pew, U of Indiana, Wall St. Journal).
In addition, volunteerism is a strong tradition among the Latter-day Saints. The average church-attending Mormon volunteers about 430 hours per year, according to a University of Pennsylvania study (School of Social Policy). You may have seen the “Mormon Helping Hands” T-shirts as they have performed service throughout our state. In the month after Hurricane Sandy hit our area, more than 15,000 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers (neighbors and missionaries) spent over 140,000 hours assisting neighborhoods clean up.
Over 30 percent of young Mormon men will serve a two-year mission for the Church at their own expense when they turn 18 years old, postponing educations, careers and dating relationships. A good percentage of young women choose to serve as missionaries, as well.
Members give many hours of volunteer service each week in fulfilling assignments within their local congregations, including our lay ministers and men and women who lead various organizations, teach Sunday School, guide youth groups, and so on.
In giving of their time and money, in short, Mormons try to do as the Savior taught and follow Paul’s counsel that charity/love is a key virtue. In fact, the motto of the Relief Society, the Latter-day Saints women's organization (the largest women’s organization in the world), is “Charity Never Faileth.” From within local neighborhoods to regional and national welfare centers to worldwide humanitarian efforts, the connection between our belief in Christ and practicing what He taught — we strive to become more like Him.
Another vehicle for charitable giving comes around every month for most Mormons: fasting. On the first Sunday of each month, Latter-day Saints go without food for about 24 hours and donate the money saved from the skipped meals and snacks (or extra, if able) to a special fund to assist local poor. This one monthly event is emblematic of LDS doctrine in general, which holds that it is nearly impossible to separate the physical (in this case, health benefits) from the spiritual (gratitude for basics granted to us, inspiration) and the charitable (money saved for those in need).
In addition to fasting monthly, the Mormon faith promotes eating fruits and vegetables, grains, and limited amounts of meat while prohibiting tobacco, alcohol, harmful drugs, tea and coffee. As a result of this health code, essentially unchanged since the 1830s, Mormons tend to be healthier than their American counterparts, as concluded by much independent research, such as James Enstrom’s studies at UCLA and researchers at Intermountain Health Care.
Education is another tremendous goal and, interestingly, the more college education a Mormon has, the more likely she or he has to be actively involved in the Church (Pew Center survey). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers its worldwide Perpetual Education Fund to advance loans at zero interest for those in poverty to get an education, so far benefitting more than 50,000 young men and women in 51 countries. Members fund the program.
Education also includes doctrinal study, at church and at home and, for high-school teens, something we call early-morning seminary. Before regular school begins, many young Mormons attend an hour-long class where they study the Bible and other scriptures. Every day. And it works. The teens learn a lot. Mormons rank as the most knowledgeable about Christianity and the Bible.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that families can be sealed in temples for eternity, not just till death parts us. It changes how we treat each other and infuses every choice we make with what we call “an eternal perspective.” Different studies by the Pew Foundation (one example is the large 2012 “Mormons in America”) find Mormons rating high in overall happiness, life satisfaction, love of family, religious commitment, and the blending of individualism with community. In so many ways, values and behavior correlate.
Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our nation’s fourth largest denomination, only 15,000 of the more than 14 million worldwide LDS members live in Connecticut. We may not be right next door to you, but we are your neighbors. You may not have known that we believe in Jesus Christ. His suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross and His subsequent resurrection to redeem mankind are central to Mormon doctrine. We try to honor His Atonement by how we live.
Again, we are happy to offer the “Mormons Next Door” forum for any group interested in learning more about their LDS neighbors in Connecticut. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.