People say lots of things about Mormonism. Unfortunately few of them come close to accurately describing what it’s all about. Mormonism at it’s core is about helping people. Not just Mormons…but everyone, from any congregation. Recently, I was able to observe the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at their best. While it was just a small gesture that took place, the implications of this experience could summarize the mission of the LDS church without the need for one word to be said.
Three weeks ago, someone in the stake got word that a local Jewish congregation was trying to build a Jewish community center and that they were short on funds. The suggestion was made among a few people in the stake to ask other members of the stake if they would be willing to donate. This had to be organized in less than three weeks from the time the suggestion was made.
The Sunday before the money needed to be raised, I sat in stake council with our stake president as he bore his testimony about his love for those from the Jewish faith and his own desire to reach out and help them after hearing about the opportunity. Word traveled fast and before we knew it, the bishops of the wards had made an announcement giving the members of their wards the opportunity to contribute. Keep in mind, this was not going to come out of a tithing fund, or any other kind of stake budgets. It was completely up to the members of the stake to raise the money. No coercion, no guilt trip. Just a member of the bishopric letting people know that there was an opportunity to help another congregation.
And that’s what makes this seemingly small situation so significant to me. No one can say that this was some sort of top down pressure play. No one can say that it was some kind of requirement for entering the temple. No one can say that all of these humble anonymous donors had some sort of ulterior motive. Because of the nature of this request, there was a unique opportunity to truly see what was in the hearts of these local Latter-day Saints. Would they build a bridge or a wall or simply do nothing at all? Were they the priest, the levite, or the Samaritan on the road to Jericho?
As I sat in a sacrament meeting that morning, the announcement was made. People listened and were subsequently dismissed to go to their classes. I sat there in the pew for a minute or so just taking some notes. As the aisles cleared, my eyes became fixed on an older African American lady who took out a donation slip, and started writing on it. She then pulled out cash to go into the envelope. This faithful lady sat there in majestic solitude as she set an example for this entire world to follow. There were no words. No trumpets. No recognition. No pat on the back. Just pure Christlike love glowing from her as she gave what money she had to strangers that she did not know and to a congregation to which she did not belong.
When I shared this experience with my mom at dinner later that Sunday night, she wept. The vision of this faithful lady stirred her soul in the same way it stirred mine as I turned my head to the left after that sacrament meeting.
The Sunday after the check had been turned over to the Rabbi, one of our high councilors came up to me and related another story. One of the bishops in our stake had been at the home of one of the families in his ward. One of the priest aged boys who had heard about the Jewish community center in priest quorum asked the bishop if the Jewish congregation would accept coins. The boy had been saving up coins for a number of years for another purpose but wanted to donate his coins to the Jewish center. So the boy went into his room, and came walking back out with a big bag of coins in his hand. The bishop counted the coins and mentioned later that the coins amounted to about 40% of the donations received from the entire ward up to that point. I don’t know this boy…but I know his bishop…and I just know his heart melted on the spot with love and admiration for this boy.
This is what Mormonism is all about. This lady. This boy. This stake president. And the hundreds of others in the stake who responded in the same manner and raised thousands of dollars from their own pockets for this Rabbi, his congregation, and the Jewish faith.
“If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?” the Savior taught. “If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others.”
I don’t know of another religion upon the face of this earth that goes this far, even to the building up of other congregations to exemplify the teachings of Christ as contained within the New Testament. I’m sure there are others out there that might do the same, but can you imagine sitting in another congregation wherein the pastor stands up and says, “Brothers and Sisters…the Mormons are trying to build a building in our city. Would you be willing to part with your hard earned money to help them build their building?”
Joseph Smith said in 1843 that he would “defend the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.” Joseph loved pastors, priests, and rabbi’s from other congregations. He used to invite them to use our buildings, have dinner with him, and even learn Hebrew from them.
That is what Mormonism is all about. People can hurl insults and obscenities at the church, it’s history, or it’s leadership but what I witness here is good, and true, and right. What I saw last week makes me proud to be a Mormon and happy to sit in the same congregation with such good people.