Stephen Mansfield, a well-known author on religion, has written an unusual article for Huffington Post about the Mormonizing of America. In it, he traces the history of Mormon acceptance in American society and then examines what causes so many Mormons to become successful.
He notes that people who mistakenly refer to Mormons as a cult fail to notice that the values Mormons teach are merely the traditional values of the country, the ones that helped make it successful.
“Plant Mormonism in any country on earth and pretty much the same results will occur. If successful, it will produce deeply moral individuals who serve a religious vision centered upon achievement in this life. They will aggressively pursue the most advanced education possible, understand their lives in terms of overcoming obstacles, and eagerly serve the surrounding society. The family will be of supernatural importance to them, as will planning and investing for future generations. They will be devoted to community, store and save as a hedge against future hardship, and they will esteem work as a religious calling. They will submit to civil government and hope to take positions within it. They will have advantages in this. Their beliefs and their lives in all-encompassing community will condition them to thrive in administrative systems and hierarchies–a critical key to success in the modern world. Ever oriented to a corporate life and destiny, they will prize belonging and unity over individuality and conflict every time.”
Mormons—a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—believe that the most important place to change a nation or a world is in the home. Government, teachers, and youth group leaders—even churches—should only support parents in their primary responsibility of raising and shaping children. To that end, Mormon parents devote an amount of time to their families and that time has an impact. No matter how busy they are, they work to gather in the mornings for family prayer and scripture study. In the evenings, they will pray as a family again. Once a week, they close the doors of their homes to the outside world and hold family home evening. During the next few hours, usually on a Monday evening, they study their faith, make family plans, work out challenges, play games and enjoy singing together. It’s an old-fashioned idea that has enviable results. Mormon teens are less likely to leave their faith than other religious teens, and even to keep it as adults. They are more family-centered and less likely to use drugs, smoke, drink, or become pregnant outside of marriage. Because they know what their parents expect of them and have a close relationship with their parents, they are more likely to honor the standards of their parents.
In addition, they are told they must never just take another person’s word for the truthfulness of their faith. Only God can give them an answer they can’t question, and so they are taught, beginning as young children, to ask God. This gives them a personal testimony of their beliefs that transcends family tradition.
Mormons learn the value of hard work and develop leadership skills early on. Mormon teens lead their own youth programs under a gentle shadow leadership by adults. A unique system of callings, in which Mormons are asked to undertake volunteer positions in their church teach them to serve and broaden their skills. These callings are changed often and are assigned, rather than chosen, which means Mormons often find themselves outside their comfort zone. That, in turn, helps them learn new skills and to discover they can do and be more than they thought possible. Many take the skills learned at church and apply them in their employment or in government or community service. A culture of goal setting helps them become everything they can be. Children eight and older belong to activity groups in which they are taught to set goals and then formulate a plan for carrying those goals out. By the time they are teens, they are creating, planning, and leading ten-hour service projects each year.
Mormonism creates a unique culture because it begins with the teaching that we are children of God and therefore can be anything, do anything—we are special. God created us out of love and we have that love to strengthen us as we go through life. He created us to succeed—and Mormons don’t like to let God down, so they work hard to be the best of whatever they decide to be.
Read Mansfield’s article on the Mormonizing of America.