Values and Commitments

Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;

 

Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.

 

 

Moral Issues

Mormons are generally known for adhering to high moral standards. In general non-Mormons tend to think of these standards as rules requiring either great discipline or great servility; Mormons tend to think of them as sound and true principles and are fond of quoting Joseph Smith who, when asked how he governed so many people, responded, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves”.

Procreation is a sacred power relating to godhood in eternity. It is a blessing, joy, privilege, and obligation for heterosexual couples to have children. Following these principles, the LDS Church teaches that elective abortion for the purpose of birth control is contrary to God’s commandments. Abortion is only allowed in cases of rape or incest, the health of the mother is in serious jeopardy as determined by a physician, or when severe defects mean that the baby will not survive beyond birth. Other forms of contraception are totally a matter for a married couple to decide and take responsibility. The Church strongly discourages vasectomies as a form of birth control. Individual agency is important in family planning, couples must decide for themselves, bearing in mind the physical and mental health of the father and mother and their ability to provide for the child. The Church discourages IVF using eggs or sperm from anyone except the husband and wife involved, however, it leaves final responsibility for the decision to each couple. Surrogacy is strongly discouraged by the Church.

Euthanasia is not permitted by the Church; this violates the commandments of God; performing such an operation is viewed as assisting suicide. However, when dying becomes inevitable it should be seen as a blessing and there should not be an attempt to extend life beyond its natural course by using unreasonable means.

Extramarital sexual relations and homosexual activity are condemned by the LDS Church as contrary to the purposes of human sexuality and successful family life. Church teaching is that sexual activity outside marriage, including homosexual behaviour, may be forgiven through sincere repentance, and that those experiencing same-sex attraction should take the same vows of chastity as other non-married persons. The Church does emphasize that same-sex attraction in itself is not sinful. It teaches that pornography is demeaning to the human spirit and also contrary to God’s desires for humanity.

Ethical Guidelines

The human body is seen as the Temple of God. The Word of Wisdom, a health code, was received in 1833, and adherence to key parts of it became required for Temple admission in the 1920s. It mandates moderation in diet and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee; sparing consumption of meat; use of grains as the basis of the diet; eating fruits and herbs that are in season. Further to this, the Church does not allow the use of recreational illegal drugs. Caffeine is a grey area. It is generally agreed by Mormons that the prohibition against tea or coffee through the revelation to Joseph Smith are specific signs of the Mormon covenant. This is extrapolated by some to mean complete abstinence from caffeine, but the official Church position is that other caffeinated drinks are not forbidden, although they are not good for you. Other guidance within the health code is generally to eat everything in moderation, meat only sparingly, and try to keep a healthy diet. The Church also teaches principles of modesty, encouraging members in day-to-day dress to cover their shoulders to their knees with clothing. Swearing would be discouraged and members are taught to avoid vulgar music and films and violent video games. There are variations in orthodoxy in the interpretations of these teachings.

Individual Responsibility

The LDS Church emphasises self-reliance, especially economically. Agency is seen as given by God. Individuals are responsible for their own choices. God has a plan but the onus is on individuals to follow it; they have the choice not to. There are repeated affirmations of promises made to God (called covenants) by individuals in baptism and then in Temple endowments. If individuals break their covenant by, for example committing a serious sin, they can be stripped of their priesthood authority (if they have it). The individual is given every opportunity to choose to repent of their sins.

Community Support

The Church supports its community of believers, and the believers support the Church. Members are committed to their tithing 10 per cent of their income to the Church, a requirement for attending the Temple. For those in need, there are many forms of welfare programmes to help them. Church welfare programmes began during the Great Depression, and it now has a system of welfare farms, production facilities, distribution centres, and bishop’s storehouses that both produce and store resources for members. From the 1930s, the Church wanted to replace handouts and idleness with self-reliance and industry, and so they not only distributed aid to the needy but they also created the means to provide jobs for those who needed them. Welfare Square in Salt Lake City is the centre of the Church’s welfare operation. The LDS Church corporation owns approximately 172,000 acres of farmland, 199 agricultural production projects, 51 canneries, 63 grain storage facilities, and 113 central, regional, branch storehouses. Local bishops have funds for people in their ward to support life, e.g. basic needs, but not lifestyle. These are for immediate need only, and they teach budgeting at the same time. The aim is to develop long-term self-reliance and try to avoid future handouts.

The Environment

The Church teaches that God created the Earth and gave it to us as a gift. This is the stewardship idea of humanity’s relationship to nature. This means that humans are responsible for it. Some Mormons interpret that as meaning they can do as they want with it, while others focus on environmentalism and conservation as ways to honour God’s creation. The Church teaches that the Earth’s resources should not be wasted, and that they should use them to help the poor and needy.

Global Vision

Missionary work is integral to the LDS Church. It has missions all over the world. As already mentioned, the Church encourages young men to go on a mission, and while young women may also serve missions they are not expected to do so. Retired couples are strongly encouraged to serve missions if they are able. All prospective missionaries who choose to serve make application through their local area president and bishop, who consult with the General Authorities who then assign the applicant to a mission. In 2018 there were more than 70,000 Mormon missionaries in over 100 countries. Young missionaries are mostly focused on teaching and preaching LDS doctrine but they also engage in humanitarian work. Senior couples engage in a wider variety of humanitarian, educational, and leadership missions. LDS Missions respond to local need; for example they helped in Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Irma. This extends the welfare ethic of the Church. There are over 2,400 humanitarian missionaries in Welfare Services worldwide, with 150 countries reached, and disaster assistance provided in North Korea, Africa, Europe, South America, and Afghanistan. The aim is to solve poverty at its source with the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF), established in 2001. This helps to fund the higher education aspirations of needy Mormons, and is inspired by the 19th-century Perpetual Emigration Fund that funded immigration and resettlement of converts to Utah. The contemporary PEF provides low-cost educational loans aimed at returned missionaries in underdeveloped nations. The first two years saw 6,000 beneficiaries receiving 100 million US dollars. The overall vision of missionary work is to spread the Gospel to everyone, which is seen as the truth that embodies love of God and humanity, and which they are called to witness to everyone. This emphasis on proselytising, alongside the high birth rate, has made the LDS Church one of the fastest growing religions in America, and its fifth largest Christian denomination. It is also growing rapidly in Latin America and Africa. Since 2000, there are more LDS members speaking Spanish than English. According to its official website, in 2018 the Church counted 15.8 million baptised members worldwide.

Websites

Church Websites

The main websites of Church of the Latter-day Saints: https://www.mormon.org/

LDS Church news: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/

A young Mormon woman’s blog about her missionary work in Barbados and Guadeloupe: https://sisterholtonamission.com/

Information on recent membership numbers and growth rate as recorded by the Church: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/2016-statistical-report-2017-april-conference

Articles of Faith: https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith

For the Strength of Youth: https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth?lang=eng information for young people on diet, lifestyle, entertainment, modesty, etc.

Mormon music: https://www.mormonchannel.org/radio/music-247 and https://www.lds.org/youth/music?lang=eng

Mormon Tabernacle Choir: https://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/

Encyclopedia of Mormonism: http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Encyclopedia_of_Mormonism

Other Websites

BBC Religion Mormonism page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/mormon/

Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormons

A site by and for former members of LDS: http://www.exmormon.org/

World Religions and Spirituality page: https://wrldrels.org/2016/10/08/lds/

Pew Research Center: http://www.pewforum.org/2012/01/12/mormons-in-america-executive-summary/

Bibliography

Abanes, Richard. 2002. One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.

Givens, Terry L. 2006. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, Vol. 2, edited by Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcroft. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 19-37.

Shields, Steven L. 1995. “The Latter-Day Saints Churches” in America’s Alternative Religions, edited by Timothy Miller. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 47-60.

Shields, Steven L. 1991. “The Latter Day Saint Movement: A Study in Survival” in When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate of New Religious Movements, edited by Timothy Miller. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 59-78.

Further Reading

Davies, Douglas J. 2003. An Introduction to Mormonism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mauss, Armand L. 2011. “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Quest for Respectability.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44:1-42.

Shepherd, Gordon and Gary Shepherd. 1984. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Shipps, Jan. 1985. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Stark, Rodney. 2005. The Rise of Mormonism. New York: Columbia University Press (edited by Reid L. Neilson).