Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

The Public Faces Of Mormonism
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Influenced by their social gospel of hard work and self-reliance, individual Mormons privately organize programs when they see the need. These programs run parallel to Church needs but are not officially sponsored, in the Philippines, for instance, where unemployment is between 20 and 50 percent. In 1989, Milo F. Smith, a former mission president, teamed up with Warner P. Woodworth, a BYU professor of organizational behavior, to foster an entrepreneurial spirit. They organized graduate students to teach business skills and accumulated funds to make small business loans. Besides working in the Philippines, their foundation, Enterprise Mentors International, also raises and lends out money in Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador. In the first ten years, EMI held about 10,000 training seminars for 80,000 people, made 11,000 loans, and in 2000, served more than 6,000 families. Loan repayment runs at a success rate of about 95 percent. This program helps people, not all of them Church members, to get ahead.

In the Philippines, 69 percent of the almost 500,000 Church members live in poverty. Some cannot afford bus fare to meetings. Stephen W. Gibson, another entrepreneur, founded the Academy for Creating Enterprise to encourage self-employment. The Gibsons admit twenty-five students for an eight-week course to study business cases. Graduates might buy a stock of goods to sell or run a pre-school. Cipriano Bruce, of Cebu, worked from a home shop in a car upholstery and body repair business. He was assisted by his wife and two employees and averaged sixteen clients a month, grossing $1,350. To improve his business, he borrowed $1,500 to open a shop closer to the highway. In 2000, he increased his work force by two men and his gross sales by 59 percent. In Mindanao, Narciso Magno earned $75 a month selling oranges and fish. He applied to the Academy, noting that his little Church branch had 137 jobless members. He was soon earning $220 a month. He works five days, teaches business on Saturday, and does Church work on Sunday. "My dream is not to die in poverty, but to have poverty die in me."

These sustainable programs help the poor help themselves. Warner Woodworth, at the heart of many programs, says Mormons cannot just pay tithing and expect the Church to take care of everyone. The bureaucracy moves slowly. Members must "take the initiative and engage in personal acts of righteousness." He organized Unitus, a non-profit umbrella group over many small operations. The group, with no official LDS connection, links donors and volunteers. Unitus encourages businessmen to open branches in third world countries and hire and train local workers. Woodworth says, "Like our ancestors, we are on a rescue mission. . . . The Saints around the world are suffering and we must help them." Twenty percent of the Philippine Mormons are land squatters; 60 percent have no running water. Ninety percent of Ugandan LDS members are unemployed. Forty percent of the LDS missionaries from Brazil cannot read the Scriptures.

Mormon tithing and donations put Utah on top of the states for charitable contributions. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute, Utahns donate 15 percent of their discretionary income to religious and non-profit causes, 4.9 percent of adjusted gross income. In Texas where 85 percent claim some religion, the citizens on average donate 1.9 percent of their income.

Education is another sector where the Church shines brightly most of the time. Believing in learning and getting ahead, the Church sponsors Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, an hour south of Salt Lake City, as well as branches in Idaho and Hawaii. The Provo institution, with more than 29,000 students, is the largest privately owned religious university in the United States. The young people of the Church look to "the Y" for religion, a good and inexpensive education, and a potential spouse.

Students sign rigorous honor and dress codes. For five straight years, Brigham Young University has been named the nation's top "stone-cold sober" school by The Princeton Review. The school also ranked first in the "most religious" and "lowest alcohol usage" categories. Student body president Rob Foster noted proudly, "We all came to BYU to live these standards." Despite the codes, competition for admission has created such an academically able student body that many young Mormons cannot meet the requirements. To meet the need, the nearby Utah Valley State College, a public institution, has grown from a junior to a four-year college, providing a Provo-LDS educational experience with the same dense population of Mormon young people and well-organized student wards. Although Brigham Young University, cupped in a small town in a mountain valley, might seem distant from the real world, 72 percent of the school's students speak a second language and the university teaches sixty languages, whereas Yale, which comes next, teaches twenty-five. Nowhere else are advanced courses offered in such languages as Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Bulgarian. A quarter of the BYU student body takes language courses each semester compared to a national average of 8 percent. More than half the students have lived outside the United States, mostly on missions, and more study abroad than from any other university, almost 2,000 in 2001. BYU students' language capability has attracted grants to teach Chinese and Arabic.

Critics maintain that despite the beautiful campus, bright students, and well-trained faculty, academic freedom is in short supply. About a dozen faculty members were disciplined in the 1990s for researching topics potentially damaging to the Church, for feminist stands, and for speaking out on topics deemed heretical. In extreme cases, discipline takes the form of unrenewed contracts. Faculty may be interviewed and cautioned by their bishops, suggesting the blurred line between academic research and ecclesiastical obedience.

Academic freedom became a rallying cry in the 1990s. D. Michael Quinn, whose research on sensitive issues ranged widely, calls this an honesty issue, saying that those who "conceal or avoid presenting . . . evidence that contradicts the preferred view of the writer," commit fraud. The school has purged from the faculty most of those who caused the tensions. Meanwhile, a large majority of the faculty (85 percent) is happy at Brigham Young University. The Mormons have gone a long distance toward creating a modern research university but they aim to teach LDS truth, not to undermine it. Defenders of the university point out that most schools have prevailing orthodoxies; and crossing the line of the acceptable results in difficulties anywhere.