Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…


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The Restoration of the Gospel–what exactly has been restored?

This post can be considered a sort-of “part two” from my previous entry. As with that entry, the bulk of this text will be based on the words of Gordon B Hinckley, previous prophet and 15th President of the restored church of Jesus Christ.

Following the First Vision in modern times, many things began to occur, not the least of which was the fulfilling of prophecy. In addition to those previously quoted was another by an ancient prophet on this continent, regarding the circumstances surrounding the vision of Joseph Smith: “..and it shall come in a day when it shall be said that miracles are done away… Yea, it shall come in a day when the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and lifted up in the pride of their hearts” (Mormon 8:26, 28).

While many people in the 1800’s professed to believe in miracles, there was quite a dramatic change in attitude when Joseph began telling others a miracle had happened to him. He wrote about the persecution from friends as well as all of the local churches that began against him from that day forward.

Joseph goes on to confirm, however, “it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision…I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true… I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” He had found the testimony of James 1:4-5 to be true–that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided.

During this great vision, what did the Lord say to Joseph? He had gone to pray to ask which of the churches was right, and which he should join as so many taught contradictory doctrine. He was told to join none of them, for they were all wrong; that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight; that those professors were all corrupt. Then He quoted scripture (Isa 29:13, Ezek 33:31), saying “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” This was the beginning of the restoration of His true church to the earth. What doctrine was restored? Many things were restored that had been lost. I’ll briefly comment on each.

parson-first-vision_hrThe Godhead

Joseph could see God and hear Him. He was in form like a man, a being of substance, affirming that taught in Genesis 1:26-27: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Beside Him was the resurrected Lord, a separate being, whom He introduced and with whom Joseph also spoke. It’s possible that within the short time of that vision Joseph learned more about Deity than all of the scholars and clerics of the past, confirming the reality of Stephen’s vision in Acts 7:55-56: “Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man (Jesus) standing on the right hand of God.” This restoration of the knowledge of Deity was the first and great thing God revealed to His chosen servant.

jesus-blessing-the-nephite-childrenThe Book of Mormon as a companion witness with the Bible

The Christian world accepts the Bible as the word of God. Most, though, have no idea how it came to us. It’s apparent from reading many Biblical scholars that the various books of the Bible were brought together in a non-systematic fashion. In some cases, the writings were not produced until long after the events they describe. The verses of the Bible have been translated, re-translated, edited, etc by various men down through the centuries. One is led to ask, “Is the Bible true? Is it really the word of God?” I testify that it is, insofar as it is translated correctly.

Scripture declares that “in the mouth of two of three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Cor 13:1). The Book of Mormon has come forth by the gift and power of God, and is convincing evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet. It speaks as a voice from the dust in testimony of the Son of God. It speaks of His birth, of His ministry, of His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and His appearance to the righteous on the American continent; these are the “other sheep” Jesus speaks of in John 10:16. As the Bible is the testament of the Old World, the Book of Mormon is the testament of the New. This sacred book, which came forth as a revelation of the Almighty, is indeed another testament of the divinity of our Lord.

joseph-smith-receiving-melchizedek-priesthood_1214163_inlPriesthood authority and Church organization

Priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God. If the authority of the ancient Church of Christ was lost, how was it to be replaced?

Priesthood authority came from the only place it could come: from heaven. It was bestowed under the hands of those who held it when the Savior walked the earth, including John the Baptist and Peter, James and John. As we learn in revelation “and this…priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh” (D&C 84:19-20). Priesthood authority is what gives any ordinance (such as baptism) its validity, that it is acknowledged in heaven.

Even the name of the church was given by revelation. At the time these events were occurring there was not one church on the earth that was bore the name Jesus Christ. As the Lord says, “… how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Ne 27:8).

familyThe Family

Another great and singular revelation given was the plan for the eternal life of the family. The family is the creation of the Almighty, and is the fundamental organization of society. Through the revelations of God to His Prophet came the doctrine and authority under which families are sealed together not only for this life but for all eternity.

39-laughter-and-little-childrenThe innocence of little children

The innocence of little children is another revelation given of God through Joseph Smith. The general practice is the baptism of infants to take away the effects of what is described as the sin of Adam and Eve. Under the doctrine of the Restoration, however, baptism is for the remission of one’s individual and personal sins. It becomes a covenant between God and man. It is performed not at birth–for infants and little children cannot sin–but at the age of accountability, when people are old enough to recognize right from wrong. It is by immersion, in symbolism of the death and burial of Jesus Christ and His coming forth in the Resurrection.

salt-lake-mormon-temple71Salvation for the dead

We are told that God is no respecter of persons, but in no other church I’m aware of is provision made for those who have died to receive every blessing which is afforded the living. The great doctrine of salvation for the dead is unique to this Church… The dead are given the same opportunity as the living. This is what Paul refers to when he says “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor 15:29) There is much more doctrine here, but sufficeth to say all who have lived, and died, will be given the opportunity to hear and accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ and enter into saving ordinances such as baptism.

set-of-ready-to-print-clipart-images-of-the-plan-of-salvation-dh4i1p-clipartThe nature, purpose, and potential of God’s children

Some of the greatest doctrine ever revealed or restored is that we lived before we came here, to earth. We had personality. We were born into this life under a divine plan. We are here to test our worthiness, acting in the agency which God has given to us. When we die we shall go on living. Our eternal life is comprised of three phases: one, our premortal existence; two, our mortal existence; and three, our postmortal existence. In death we die to this world and step through the veil into the sphere we are worthy to enter. Only through the restoration of the fulness of the gospel can we make sense of Paul’s writings when he says “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (1 Cor 15:40-41). This is a unique, singular and precious doctrine of this Church which has come through revelation.

revelation-god-1Modern revelation

Speaking of revelation, an article of our faith states: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” The heavens are again open, revelation from the Lord Himself continues and is present in the only true and living Church on the earth today. Direct revelation from God is the only principle on which a Christian church should operate. A church based on the interpretations and direction of men alone will, sooner or later, go astray. The “rock” the Lord refers to in Matthew 16:17-18 is not merely a reference to Peter, but to revelation itself that He builds his church on. Make no mistake, the Church of Jesus Christ is not based on the Bible, or any private interpretation of it. It is based on what the Bible is based on, which is revelation.

I testify of the truthfulness of what I’ve written here. Anyone can know it is true also, more than it simply making sense; we too can receive revelation from God. We can ask Him directly if these things are true, the way is open. Feel free to ask me questions, visit mormon.org, or contact friends of yours that are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.


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On Protecting Our Children

Cute little guy isn't he?

Cute little guy isn’t he?

I’ve recently been impressed to write on this topic. The inspiration came from a recent talk given by Dallin H. Oaks; the bulk of my message today will come from him. If you’d like to see his talk feel free, it’s located here. The opinion stated on this page will be based on my own belief system, which is rooted in my Christianity. The content here is not intended to offend anyone, so if such is the case I do apologize for the offense, though not for my opinion. I will sprinkle links throughout this post that are being used as sources, please feel free to visit those sites and read the articles.

Children are very vulnerable. They have virtually no power to protect or provide or advocate for themselves. Children need others to speak for them, and those decision-makers will hopefully put their well-being above those of self-centered adult interests. Worldwide, I think it’ll come as no surprise, millions of children are victimized each year. In some countries children are abducted to serve as soldiers in armies, and a recent UNICEF report found that each year over 2 million children are victimized through prostitution and pornography. In Colombia, for example, girls as young as 12 are reported to have submitted sexually to armed groups in order to ensure their families’ safety. Another report estimates that there are over 1 million child prostitutes in India alone.

From a Christian point of view, one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth. Whoops, already stepping into controversy, aren’t I? The national birthrate in the US is the lowest in 25 years, and birthrates in many European and Asian countries have been below replacement levels for many years now. Some may think I’m raising this point purely as a religious issue, but it’s more than that. As rising generations diminish in numbers, cultures and even nations are hollowed out and eventually disappear.

One cause of the lowered birthrate is abortion. There are an estimated 40 million abortions each year. To me and to many Christians this is a great evil. Other abuses of children during pregnancy include fetal impairments that are the result of inadequate nutrition or drug use of the mother. This is tragically ironic when large numbers of couples are waiting and typically paying large amounts of money to adopt.

emotional abuseChildhood abuses or neglect occurring after birth are, of course, much more visible. Worldwide, almost 8 million children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from diseases that are treatable and preventable. The WHO reports that one in four children have stunted growth, mentally and physically, because of inadequate nutrition. Even in rich nations like the US children and youth are neglected. Kids growing up in poverty have inferior health care and inadequate educational opportunities. They are also exposed to dangerous environments in their physical and cultural surroundings and even from their parents. Let us remember our Lord’s teaching: “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

As a therapist, also of importance to me is the psychological and emotional abuse of children. Those who demean, bully or humiliate children or youth can inflict harm more permanent than physical injury. Making a child feel worthless, unloved, or unwanted can inflict serious and long-lasting injury on his or her emotional development. Young people struggling with any exceptional condition are particularly vulnerable and need loving understanding–not bullying and ostracism. Those who identify as having same-gender attraction are one of the largest targets for bullying. Let us pray, repent and change to be more loving and helpful to children; our own and those around us.

divorce-decreeOf utmost importance to the well-being of children is whether their parents were married, the nature and duration of the marriage, and more broadly, the culture and expectations of marriage and child care where they live. Two scholars have said, “Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for the procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to this children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have increasingly been pushed from center stage.” A previous church leader in my faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) has taught that looking “upon marriage as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure…and severed at the first difficulty…is an evil meriting severe condemnation,” especially where children are made to suffer. And this is often the case, as over half of the divorces in a recent year involved couples with minor children. The most powerful teaching of children is by the example of their parents. Divorcing parents inevitably teach a negative lesson.

As Elder Oaks teaches, “there are surely cases when a divorce is necessary for the good of the children, but those circumstances are exceptional. In most marital contests the contending parents should give much greater weight to the interests of the children. With the help of the Lord, they can do so. Children need the emotional and personal strength that come from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals.” For those who don’t know, Elder Oaks himself was raised by a widowed mother. He concludes that a two-parent home is “the ideal to be sought whenever possible.”

marriageChildren are also victimized by marriages that do not occur. According to a recent report, 41% of all births in the US were to women who were not married. This is extremely disturbing, perhaps all the more because the first reaction of some who read this article will be: “so what?” If so, please take a moment to read the linked pdf I’ve just given, and there are also 30 good reasons why it matters right here, from the same report. Unmarried mothers have massive challenges, and the evidence is clear that their children are at a significant disadvantage when compared with children raised by married parents. Approximately 58% of children born to unmarried mothers were born to couples who were cohabitating. Contrary to what the world at large is saying, living together in an unmarried state is not any kind of ideal arrangement, and not a good idea. Whatever I may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, though, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the stability of marriage does matter.

We would be well-advised to assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender. Certainly the literature is controversial today given how politically charged any issue surrounding the gay and lesbian population tends to be. Same gender parenting is also a relatively new thing, so longitudinal studies (following over a sustained period of time) are very few. The latest and most thorough study finds significant disadvantages reported by young adults with a parent who had same-sex relationships prior to the child’s turning 18, however.

Whether you agree or disagree with some of my examples, I’d hope we would all unite in increasing our concern for the welfare and future of our children, the rising generation. Those of the Christian faith will recall that our Lord taught that pure little children are our role models of humility and teachableness:  “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  A similar teaching is taught by Jesus in the Book of Mormon, that we must repent, be baptized “and become as a little child” or we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

So what are we to take from all this information? Perhaps it would be a good idea to see how you could apply it to your life. The topic I’ve attempted to cover here includes the dangerous world that children are born into and the need to help protect them. Do a little searching and find a good organization to get involved in. UNICEF is an example of an excellent organization, and here is a place to start. There are countless others, both at an international and at a regional or local level. Giving time and money is very helpful, and our behavior in the lives of the children around us can make a profound difference. If you are cohabiting with someone, I would invite you to consider either getting married, or perhaps moving on and finding someone who will. If you are in a marriage and divorce is an option being considered, try visiting with your local religious leader or with a professional marriage counselor. As a therapist myself I would go to someone who specialized in marital counseling rather than a general practitioner. If the religious leader or therapist isn’t a good fit for you, find one that is! If you are someone who is involved in pornography, particularly those that involve children, please believe me when I say you need help. There are some good books that can help, websites with good ideas, and also counselors who deal with addiction. You will like yourself more as a result. If you are pregnant and are considering abortion, please consider giving your child up for adoption. I know this is a sensitive subject, and in some few exceptional circumstances abortion may be an option, but for the majority of cases it is much preferable, not only for the fetus but for you. I’ve counseled more than one woman who still carried around guilt for a past abortion. There are a large number of ways to do this, here is a resource.

Take a look at that little guy at the beginning of my post, and this happy girl here at the end. Let’s focus on the importance of giving children a life free of so many of the preventable difficulties we encounter in the world today, by doing something in our own lives.

Happy_child_2


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The Mormons Next Door

I’ll be taking much of the context of this post from a friend, Bruce Heath. It’s originally from a presentation he gave that I’ve adapted and edited into an article which discusses lightly some of our doctrine and mostly focuses on our practices and the results of our lifestyle as published in one major and several ancillary independent studies. I thought it was really interesting and could shed some light on who we are as a people and the results of living our religion.

Most people refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “Mormons.” We answer to “Mormons” as a common name that has been used for more than a century and a half, and we aren’t offended by it, although the common name – unlike the full name – conveys little about who we are and what we believe.

Unfortunately, people often abbreviate more than just our name. Sometimes they represent our beliefs and practices in ways that leave important gaps in understanding. Whatever your past exposure to the church, we are here to fill in some of those gaps for you. Naturally I do so as a true believer, and I don’t expect you to agree with all I say. But I do hope you will accept this as a genuine effort to represent a faith that we can all agree is discussed and dissected more often than it is understood.

In 1863 Charles Dickens went on board the passenger ship Amazon, which was bound for New York. His purpose was to report on the Latter-day Saint converts who were emigrating to build up the Church in the American West. There had been thousands of converts who had already emigrated and much had been written, particularly in the British media, about them and their beliefs. Most of what was written was unfavorable. “I went on board their ship,” wrote Dickens, “to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment they did not deserve it.” After observing and mingling with the converts, Dickens was impressed with them and described these English converts, most of whom were laborers, as being “in their degree, the pick and flower of England.”

Later, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made passing reference to Mormons in his correspondence with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “I have a very high opinion of the Mormons,” he wrote. “They are excellent citizens.”

Now, I acknowledge at the outset that with approaching 15 million Mormons worldwide, not every Latter-day Saint is an excellent citizen. Like every other church, we have our mix of faithful and indifferent members. There is some risk in what I am going to present, because, first, I would never want to imply that we have solved all of our problems. Our congregations include people who have been materially successful in life. They also include the poor and needy, people who have addictions and even people who have been imprisoned. The ministry of Jesus Christ reached out to all people. Broken lives were His particular concern, and they should be ours, too. Yet, as Latter-day Saints emerge more and more into the public eye, Roosevelt’s assertion is worth examining more closely.

The link between what Latter-day Saints believe and what they feel impelled to do with that belief is an incredibly powerful force within our faith. As we will see, it is statistically measurable, and yet it is rarely discussed and even more rarely appreciated. Therefore, I want to begin by creating a simple two-minute framework of basic Latter-day Saint beliefs to help you understand what it is that triggers certain common, behavioral characteristics among our members.

With regard to doctrine, the core beliefs of church-attending Latter-day Saints are easily spelled out. We embrace the biblical account of the man known to the world as Jesus of Nazareth, and to Christians everywhere as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. He is the central figure of our Church and we worship God, the Father, through His name. Here is a summary of our beliefs regarding Jesus Christ.

The Bible records the fact that He established a church. We believe that after the death of Jesus and His apostles, unauthorized changes gradually took hold upon His church. The Christianity adopted by the formerly pagan Roman Empire as its new state religion near the end of the fourth century AD was very different from the faith taught by Jesus of Nazareth centuries earlier.

Such profound changes in doctrine and practice required not just a Reformation, but a full Restoration of what was lost, including its priestly authority. According to our history, that Restoration began in 1820 with a series of dramatic revelations and the literal appearance of God, the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, to a 14-year-old farmboy in frontier America. His name was Joseph Smith.

Those revelations would lead in 1830 to the formal organization of what we often refer to as the Restored Church, because we believe that what is usually regarded as a new faith was actually the ancient Church brought back, or restored. Joseph Smith was then only 24 years old. The formal name given in the revelations—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—simply distinguishes between the original and the modern church. The term “saint” simply means member.

In addition, the Restoration delivered new scripture in the form of the Book of Mormon, which is an account of the dealings of God with the people of ancient America. Together with the Bible, the Book of Mormon serves as a second witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Along with more revelations received since 1820, these new scriptures both clarify ancient teachings and add profoundly important dimensions to understanding such things as the nature of God, our purpose in life, and the eternal destiny of God’s children.

This, in simple and much abbreviated terms, is what Latter-day Saints believe. There are lots of commonalities with other Christian faiths, and lots of differences. It is not my place here to overstate or understate those differences, to persuade you of my viewpoint or to critique anyone else’s. To some our teachings are heretical. To others our doctrine is intriguing. To us it’s inseparably connected with how we interpret being followers of Jesus Christ – specifically with the way in which we live, with our sense of purpose in life, and our concept of service.

With that said, we readily welcome as fellow Christians anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior and the Redeemer of humankind. We acknowledge the devotion of countless Christian figures – and even holy men and women of other faiths – who through the ages have shed spiritual light on the world. God loves all of His children. While we seek truth, we certainly do not claim to have a monopoly on truth, and we are grateful for countless people of character, integrity and vision who have contributed to human understanding and advancement.

Now, I would like to discuss the effect that Mormonism’s set of beliefs has on those who embrace it. Do Latter-day Saints really make good citizens, and is a there a causal link between what they believe and how they behave?

What I will share with you is almost all from independent research, not initiated or conducted by the Church. First let’s look at the results of Latter-day Saint belief about health, which is one of our faith’s most distinguishing features. Given by revelation to Joseph Smith in 1833, long before modern medical advances, our health practices are part of our holy writ.

They encourage eating grains, fruits, vegetables and herbs, and limiting meat consumption. They prohibit tobacco, alcohol, harmful drugs, tea, and coffee. In addition to adherence to this lifestyle, practicing Latter-day Saints go without food and drink for roughly 24 hours once a month as a fast. Subsequently, they donate to the poor the money they don’t spend on meals.

Since these health practices have been followed since the 1800s, it should be possible to test the results when compared with the general population. And, indeed it is. As one might expect, this religiously influenced diet has a profoundly positive effect on the physical health of lifelong adherents.

Dr. James Enstrom at the UCLA School of Public Health studied Latter-day Saint populations that have been practicing the faith for an extended period. Enstrom’s 25-year study focused on members of the Church in California and concluded that these members—particularly those who were married, had never smoked, attended church weekly and had at least 12 years of education—had total death rates that are among the lowest ever reported for a group followed for 25 years. They also had among the longest life expectancies yet reported in a well-defined U.S. group.

Let’s look at the numbers. Mormon females had a life expectancy of just over 86 years – five and a half years longer than that of comparable U.S. females. Mormon males had a life expectancy of over 84 years — almost ten years longer than that of comparable U.S. males.

A separate research effort identified heart health benefits associated with the Latter-day Saint practice of fasting. Researchers at Intermountain Health Care found that people who fasted once a month were about 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with clogged arteries than those who did not regularly fast.

What about other indicators of life satisfaction, aside from health? In their landmark book American Grace, authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell review extensive research suggesting a positive relationship between religions generally and people’s happiness—put simply, they say, “many researchers have found that religious people are happier.” Good news for you if you happen to be religious. Early in 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious Life released a broad study entitled Mormons in America. This comprehensive look at Latter-day Saints showed that, “the overwhelming majority [of Mormons] are satisfied in their own lives and content with their communities.” Nearly nine out of ten Latter-day Saints reported satisfaction with their lives. That is well above the U.S. public generally, which is 75 percent. Among younger Latter-day Saints, Pew says the numbers are even higher. Fully 92 percent of Mormons in their forties or younger are satisfied with their lives.

Why would that be? According to a separate Pew Center study, Mormons also rank high in religiosity. By the Pew Center’s scale, nearly seven in ten of our Church members show high levels of religious commitment—higher than any other religious group surveyed and more than double the U.S. public generally.

Life satisfaction also correlates with family life. You may have heard or read that Latter-day Saints are big on families. That stems in part from our belief that families are eternal—that our family associations may continue on in heaven. Here is a proclamation by our faith summarizing our beliefs regarding families.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. Census Bureau says that Utah, with the highest concentration of Latter-day Saints in the United States, has the highest percentage of households headed by married couples in the country, and the highest percentage of homes with children.

Dig a little deeper and we find some interesting things. According to Pew, more than 80 percent of Mormons say, “being a good parent is one of their most important goals in life.” Just half of the general public says that. And nearly three out of four Latter-day Saints believe that “having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life,” compared with one-third of the general public.

Now, as secularism has gained influence and as attendance at many churches has begun to fall off, we sometimes hear the claim that academic inquiry and educational attainment diminishes faith. It may be unexpected, then, to learn that the religious faith of Latter-day Saints specifically promotes education, including higher education, and that this emphasis has consequences that can be measured not only in the United States but elsewhere.

Various studies have confirmed that the more education a Latter-day Saint has, the more likely she or he is to be actively involved in the Church. In most churches it is the opposite, but the Pew Center’s survey found that Latter-day Saints who have graduated from college attend church more often than those with less education. Eighty four percent of them are active churchgoers; in fact, this number drops off steadily as the education level decreases.

Part of this is explainable by the teaching of the Church that what we learn in this life is carried with us into the next. It’s assuredly true that we don’t take our wealth with us to heaven, but we believe that we do take our character, our life experiences and whatever wisdom we have accumulated – all parts of our education. The Church’s multifaceted program of religious education begins in the home and is bolstered through Church programs that support the learning of individuals and families.

In addition to weekly Sunday school for all ages, our young people experience “early-morning seminary.” Before regular school begins, many of our teens attend a class for about an hour where they study the Holy Bible, Book of Mormon and other scriptures and Church history. Similarly, university-level students attend religious institute classes that complement post-secondary education.

These and other personal and class studies have a cumulative effect, which is the ability to mix secular and religious knowledge fairly seamlessly. According to one recent survey, Latter-day Saints were the most knowledgeable about Christianity and the Bible and were third only to Jewish survey participants and, oddly, atheists in knowledge about various world religions. But additionally, Mormonism does not suffer from the acute battle between science and religion that is common, for instance, in some Christian thought. As mentioned earlier, Mormons welcome truth from whatever source, and take the view that where religion and science seem to clash, it is often because there is insufficient data to reconcile the two.

Before leaving education I should touch on what we call the Perpetual Education Fund. Our young missionaries are common sights on the streets of most major cities in the world. You would not know it from looking at them, but many of these young people have come from backgrounds of significant poverty. For two years they live and work alongside other young missionaries from different cultures and countries. Many of them may be paired with Americans and Europeans who have had far more of life’s material blessings than they have enjoyed in their impoverished backgrounds.

Can you imagine how devastating it is at the end of two years, when they return to their former circumstances of a life in poverty, where they are unable to break out of that cycle? Instead, they have to work in whatever poorly paid jobs they can get.

To address this, in 2001 the Church launched the Perpetual Education Fund which gives student loans at close to zero interest rates to allow these young people to get an education and/or vocational training. The interest rate is just enough to encourage them to repay the loans after graduation. To date, this program has benefited more than 50,000 young men and women in 51 countries. On average, they complete their education in two and a half years and earn three to four times as much income after graduation. Finally, the cycle of poverty is broken in these families. Twenty and thirty years from now, many of these young people will be among the leaders in their fields and their nations because of what education and a drive for self-improvement will bring them. The initial funding, by the way, is provided almost entirely from voluntary donations by Church members in more comfortable circumstances.

Now I’d like to take a moment to address comments that we hear from time to time that Latter-day Saints keep to themselves and don’t particularly enjoy mixing with the broader community. While I am certain that this is not an accurate perception overall, I do think I know where some of that may come from. Latter-day Saints belong to a highly participatory faith community and generally have close relationships with members of their local congregations. We are a close-knit people, feeling strong bonds with fellow Latter-day Saints across all national boundaries.

Almost every churchgoer has a Church responsibility. That might be to teach, lead, organize, or perform one or more of dozens of other functions. This is important to note because the Church has no paid local or regional ministry–all local church leaders are unpaid and are expected to work in their chosen career field. Close relationships are forged as Latter-day Saints serve together. In this way, the Mormon community functions like an extended family. American Grace indicated that “no religious group in America feels warmer toward their own group than Mormons.” And this includes teens.

As a consequence, of all the teenage groups in one recent study, “Mormon teenagers …were the least likely to engage in high-risk behavior and consistently were the most positive, healthy, hopeful and self-aware teenagers in the interviews.” I wish I could report universal success with our teens. In reality, there is statistical evidence that, like many other churches we are losing too many of our young people to the pull of the secular world. We are constantly looking for better ways to help young people transition to young adulthood and beyond while staying vitally involved with the Church, to live happy and fulfilling lives. Our Church leaders feel the loss of some of our young people more tenderly than perhaps any other challenge they face.

One of the most successful ways in which many of our young people do manage that transition is through responding to calls to serve 18-month to two-year missions for the Church.

It’s a remarkable thing that we ask them to do. Their mission is a time of great learning—a missionary becomes close to other people, may encounter other countries and cultures and learns much about himself or herself. Often he or she becomes fluent in a new language. As mentioned, some leave an area of affluence and serve in a place of poverty, while many others have the opposite experience. All face a demanding schedule of study and work.

Can you appreciate the advantage a missionary has when he or she returns at age 21 or 22 and resumes a college education? He may be fluent in another language. She has matured considerably through exposure to challenging situations. He has learned to talk to people, and especially to listen. She has likely learned important leadership skills. Today, such returned missionaries, as we call them, are found at every level of our society, but especially in business and industry, in academia, and yes, in politics. Several past and sitting U.S. senators and Congressmen have served such missions, as have two recent presidential candidates. Jon Huntsman learned Mandarin Chinese on a mission in Taiwan, and Mitt Romney learned French on a mission in France.

The Pew Center’s survey reported that 80 percent of those who served missions said it was very valuable in preparing them for job or career success, and 92 percent said it helped them grow in their own faith.

The authors of American Grace note that, in general, religious Americans are more generous in both volunteering their time as well as their philanthropic giving, and in a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of Latter-day Saint respondents said that working to help the poor and needy was “essential to being a good Mormon.”

A recent University of Pennsylvania study by the School of Social Policy and Practice concluded that the average church-attending Latter-day Saint spends approximately 430 hours per year volunteering—nearly nine times more than the average American.

The pattern is repeated for charitable giving. According to a study by the University of Indiana, the average annual rate of giving by practicing Latter-day Saints far exceeds that of other citizens; this holds true even if one does not count the biblical “tithe” of one tenth of their income that Latter-day Saints donate to support the Church.

Some of this charitable giving goes toward supporting the Church’s extensive welfare and humanitarian aid programs. And again we see the connection between belief and practice. The Church’s welfare program has one basic aim, and that is to take members from a condition of temporary dependency to a situation of permanent self-sufficiency. Writing in the Wall Street Journal about this program, Naomi Schaefer Riley observed that the Church welfare program provides “the kind of safety net that government can never hope to create.”

She noted that it “lets almost no [Church member] fall through the cracks while at the same time ensuring that its beneficiaries don’t become lifelong dependents.” That is a crucial point to understand. Members of the Church who need help in meeting the basic needs of life can go to their bishop and ask for aid. The bishop assesses their needs and may provide food and clothing, as well as pay for housing and other necessities. He also seeks to help them work for what they receive and to find ways of getting back on their feet. That may include receiving help from the Church’s worldwide system of employment centers or counseling from its social services centers. Typically families depend on the food assistance for an average of three to six months before they are back to being self-reliant.

While the welfare program helps Latter-day Saints who are struggling to meet their basic needs, the Church’s humanitarian aid program focuses mostly on people who are not members of our Church. Over the years it has helped to relieve the suffering, hunger, thirst and poverty of millions of people around the world to the extent of one and a half billion dollars. From hurricane relief in Louisiana to tsunami aid in Indonesia, we are pleased to work alongside and in partnership with other charitable agencies – including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim. One hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s Humanitarian Services go directly to these causes—the Church absorbs all of its own overhead and administrative costs.

In addition to disaster relief, the Humanitarian Services arm of the Church sponsors ongoing worldwide initiatives including training local doctors and nurses to resuscitate babies who fail to take their first breath, and to provide measles vaccinations, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and clean water.

These statistics I’ve shared with you say something significant. They are a glimpse of how Latter-day Saints make their faith a way of life. In the Christian doctrine we follow, we are saved by the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is significant because at the time Joseph Smith was alive the vast majority of churches taught that the Savior’s Atonement would not bring about the salvation of most of mankind. The common precept was that a few would be saved and the overwhelming majority would be doomed to endless tortures of the most awful and unspeakable intensity. The doctrine revealed to the Prophet Joseph unveiled a plan of salvation that is applicable to all mankind, including those who do not hear of Christ in this life, children who die before the age of accountability, and those who have no understanding. Our ultimate destiny is also dependent on our doing all we can to follow Christ’s teachings, however. An active Latter-day Saint sees his or her life as a probationary period, a test to see whether we can follow Christ’s teachings through a lifetime. A passive faith is therefore no part of being a Latter-day Saint.

Do we sometimes fall short of our ideals? Of course. No study or survey I’m aware of has ever claimed that we don’t have problems. That’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ is also a gospel of forgiveness, change and improvement. And like other churches, we have members who have for one reason or another become indifferent and in some instances even hostile to the faith. Jesus taught us in that memorable parable of the sower that some seeds fail to take root. Our constant challenge is to help the gospel seed flourish in the lives of each of those who accept the teachings of Christ.

Yet, perhaps one of our greatest struggles is being properly understood. With a membership approaching 15 million and nearly 30,000 congregations across the world, the visibility of the Church and its members is growing. But visibility does not always equate with understanding.

In this article I have given you the briefest of sketches of the church to which I belong. I have touched very lightly on our doctrine, and not at all on our history. Both are fascinating subjects in their own right, but I have focused more on the kind of people Latter-day Saints aspire to be.

Newsweek in 2005 described the Church as a “21st century covenant of caring.” We hope so. As people get to know the Latter-day Saints next door, and vice versa, prejudices and misperceptions will diminish, and individuals–like you and me–will grow in mutual respect, tolerance and understanding.