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John J. Dilulio, Jr.April 09, 2012

Whether Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination for the presidency or not, his serious-contender candidacy has sparked an explosion of empirical research on Mormons in the United States. In due course, this research should serve not only to enhance public respect for the Mormon minority, but also to give Catholics some clues about how to strengthen their own faith community.

In a report issued in January 2012, “Mormons in America: Certain of Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society,” a research team representing the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that most Mormons are regular churchgoers and that more Mormons (73 percent) believe that “working to help the poor” is “essential to being a good Mormon” than believe the same thing about “not drinking coffee and tea” (49 percent).

According to a new study previewed on March 15 by an expert panel convened at Pew’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practice what they preach about helping the needy. Led by Ram A. Cnaan, a renowned Israeli-born social-work scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, 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 (nearly 36 hours) to volunteer activities than other Americans do. The comparison stands up even after one subtracts from the Mormon totals the work of young, full-time Mormon missionaries.

Mormons reliably tithe to their churches and also give about $1,200 annually “to social causes outside the church.” Even Mormons who have relatively low household incomes both tithe fully and give more of their income to assist non-Mormons in need than other Americans do.

What is behind these differences? At the Pew panel, David E. Campbell, a University of Notre Dame political scientist who is a Mormon, quipped that while Mormons are even more “hierarchical” than Catholics, hierarchy is definitely not the answer. Nor, he said, does the fidelity of individual Mormons to particular Mormon religious tenets explain the differences.

Rather, research suggests the secret to filling church coffers and packing the pews while simultaneously stimulating robust ministries that benefit needy nonmembers is what a religion does to induce intrafaith friendships, transcend Sunday-only ties and foster widespread participation in faith-motivated, civic good works for people in need.

Cnaan’s surveys were administered to Mormon congregants in four different regions of the country after their usual three-hour worship services, which are typically followed by many members and their families intentionally socializing together.

Let’s face it, in too many Catholic parishes, the minority of self-identified Catholics who attend Sunday Mass regularly expect it to take not more than an hour, punctuated by a contrived communal “sign of peace” wave or handshake and followed by a post-Communion dash to the parking lot.

By contrast, last month I attended standing-room-only evening Purim services (complete with costumes, small children running in the aisles and raucous noise at every mention of Haman) at an Ortho-dox synagogue in New Orleans. I was joined by a small group of Catholic undergraduates who were on an interfaith, service-learning trip.

As one Catholic student put it, hearing the all-Hebrew singing-reading of the Book of Esther took well over an hour but was “a blast,” as was the communal after-party that included eating, drinking, card-playing—and collecting donations for the poor.

Catholic bishops should pay as much attention to how much time churchgoers spend together at or after Sunday Mass as they have recently paid to which words get used (consubstantial!) during nearly empty worship services. The bishops should continue to promote annual donations to wonderful Catholic nonprofit organizations like Catholic Charities, which also attract thousands of Catholic community-serving volunteers. They and all Catholics should also strive to make our churches places where ever more Catholics come to worship, socialize and serve neighbors in need.

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Kent Skor
11 years 2 months ago

I live in Atlanta and am an active member of my local parish. We have a good attendance on Sunday but that is the only time most parishioners visit the church.


I am also a member of the Health and Fitness Club at the local Baptist mega-church. Anyone can join. They have yoga and spin classes, workout rooms, indoor track and a pool. I seem to talk more to members of my parish at the club (many are members) than I do at church. On the way home from working out, I pass by my darkened parish (including the locked school gym and empty parking lot).


I mentioned this to our pastor at a Liturgy Committee meeting when we discussed how to “compete” with the mega-churches. He said that he was not in the business of "offering Stairmasters or coffee-bars" (they have one of these, too).  True, but he is in the business of creating a community – one feature that is sorely lacking.  (Plus, he doesn’t realize the revenue generated by the health club that the Baptists plow into their other programs.)

Mike Evans
11 years 2 months ago
First, Mormons are mostly engaged in charitable activities for their own membership, not in community at large activities although some exceptions are noted. But more importantly, the sense of community, fellowship and family that exists in the competing protestant churches, not just the mega-churches, should challenge Catholics. We tend to live in spiritual 'bubbles' and are mindful mostly of personal piety, not communal life. And we are grossly understaffed and undersupported in our parish life. Typically we have one over-burdened parish priest, a part-time secretary and mostly unpaid volunteers to help in every other ministry, liturgical and social. Contrast this with the numerous associate pastors in most Protestant churches who take responsibility for programs and outreach. And they really spend time and money on music, preparation and activities connected with each service.  You get what you pay for.
11 years 2 months ago

I think this article is right on point. One step further, I think we need to consider the families that attend or want to attend Sunday Mass. At our Parish, preschool classes are offered during the Mass. What an excellent idea that benifits not only the child but the parents as well. Rahter than sitting through a Liturgy and a Homily geared towards adults, my daughter attends a preschool class and is fully engaged in the daily lesson. It also allows my wife and I the opportunity to fully participate in the Eucharist celebration without having to watch over a fussy child during the Mass. I understand this may be offered at other churches but why not offer this service at all churches? Why not establish a national program that is well thought-out and administered. The future of our Church is with our children. Shouldn't we pay more attention to them?

This is just a small example. The key issue, as stated in the article, is to strive to make our churches places where even more Catholics (and those who want to become Catholic) come to worship. To create a Holy Catholic community. A community where families gather for both religious and non religious activities (i.e. sports leagues, teenage dances, etc.) all under the fellowship of the Church.

Bill Parks
11 years 2 months ago
C Walter Mattingly
11 years 2 months ago
A few comments.
These young interfaith students who found the singing in Hebrew of the Book of Esther "a blast," which surely they understood scarcely a word of. Might they not appreciate some of the old Latin hymns which they might understand a word or two of? If they can appreciate ancient Hebrew traditions, perhaps they might not be as opposed to ancient Church traditions as some here anticipate.
Also that community of dynamic activity sounds a lot like my pre-Vatican II parochial and high school days, when the churchyard/schoolyard was filled with CYO sports teams competing with one another, skinned knees, and hot dogs, popcorn, etc being hawked by the Dad's club. Still is like that in some parishes, but is by no means as common as it was in the late 50's/early 60's. How best to regain that sense of communal involvement, which existed widely in my city Fr just visited before but declined so rapidly after Vatican II (not necessarily causally related)? 
Graham Ambrose
11 years 2 months ago
When individuals, regaredless of formal ecclesiastical standing, are called and authorized to fulfill church positions, then a sense of community naturally follows. As you may know, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, lay members in a local church are called to serve by the Bishop or Branch President in a wide range of activities and organizations, including:

- Priesthood quorums (from 12 years of age on up)
- Relief Society (women's organization)
- Sunday School (adults, young men and young women)
- Primary (a Sunday School for children 11 and under)
- Scouting (Cubs, Scouts, Varsity and Explorer)
- Young Women (12 to 18)
- Young Men (12 to 18)
- Missionary service (for both young and old)
- Home Teaching (priesthood holders visiting members)
- Visiting Teaching (women visiting women members)
- Temple service

Since the Sabbath is when most members see each other as a group during a local church's three-hour block, most members can't help but stick around to talk to each other about various issues naturally arising out of their callings.
Richard Kingston
11 years 2 months ago
I was a Mormon for 30 years - technically I still am. This appears to me to be a very fair article regarding the Mormon church. We should never decry a religion for their acts of service even when we may have more fundamental issues with their belief system.

Service in the Mormon church is emphasised andencouraged at all levels and age groups. However, the emphasis is definitely on service within the Mormon church to other church members, or as a means to proselyting when directed to non-members. In this latter scenario it is a means of showing that the church is a community player and influential. The church is well organized and therefore this is a sign that it is divinely instigated. When performing service to non-members, a bright yellow vest with "Mormon Helping Hands" is often worn.

When a person who is not a member of the church moves in to your area, members ares encouraged to help them move in, take a casserole to them, invite them to church. The emphasis is on bringing the person or family "unto the LDS church", not primarily "unto Christ", though the two in a Mormon's mind are often the same.

I readily accept that my comments are sweeping generalities and that there are LDS members who do these acts of servide for the love of Christ - the LDS church is just the vehicle that they bring the people to Christ. Now, I am sure Catholics belive the same - that the Catholic Church brings people to Christ, but I would maintain that the presence and nearness of Christ in their actions is more pronounced.

When looking at what service the LDS prople do, do the statistics in the article include:

1. Teaching in church on: a Sunday; weekday seminary for the 12 to 18 year old children.
2. Home and Visiting Teaching: a visit a month to all families and women who are members.
3. Missionaries - 18 month or 2 years proselyting.
4. Temple work - service on behalf of the dead.
5. Cleaning the chapel.

All of the above are inward focused on the Mormon community or its proselyting effort on gaining new members. I agree that the greatest service is to bring people to Christ.

Otward focused actions may be less - though still praise worthy:

1. Mormon helping hands.
2. Disaster relief.
3. Prison ministry (though often only to LDS members).

So much to learn from the organization of the Mormon church. Does organization at this level cause problems with keeping the motive pure. I once saw a film on the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, where it protrayed Mother as rejecting the business approach to the work of the Sisters of Mercy. 

Just my Two Cents worth. Hopefully someone can pick up on the good parts and develop them


Bill Taylor
11 years 1 month ago

I come from a strong LDS (Mormon) background and have been around Mormons all of my life. Mormon churches are small, usually around 150 families, where everyone knows everyone. Generous Mormon giving is not really voluntary. The church asks its members to contribute up to 12% of its income before taxes, with a strong sanction directed at those who don't, with eternal consequences. A lot of this centers around a "recommend" allowing entrance into a temple, which will not be given if the member had not been paying tithing or contributing to other financial obligations in his "ward." Once a year, every faithful Mormon, down to the kid receiving an allowance, has to stand before his bishop and make a financial accounting.

A generation ago, Mormons did not help people outside their church, but this has changed. It is interesting to see that, when large disasters occur, Mormons have funneled their help through Catholic Charities, or at least this is what I have been told.

I read a lot of material meant only for Mormons and have concluded that this is a works-oriented church to the nth. degree. The members make up lists of things they have to do if they are going to "qualify" for the Celestial Kingdom, the highest of three heavens in the Mormon faith, which is a path toward godhood. Helping the poor is one of them, along with keeping a clean house.

Catholics would like to emulate the Mormons, but the Mormons believe in revelation given to the different members of their Melchizedek Priesthood: From the President of the church down to the father of a family. This belief in revelation gives Mormon authorities clout a Catholic bishop or priest can only dream of.

This means that a Mormon bishop can assign one of his ward members to a sensitive ministry. The man or woman cannot say no, because the assignment came by revelation. If the person does say no, the day of reckoning will come when it comes time to ask for a temple recommend. Whew. I can only ask for volunteers and most people look away.





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