Is a new form of Mormon social activism emerging?
It’s obvious that Mormonism is powerful missionary force around much of the world, adding members daily through an extensive proselytizing movement. In an address to the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Warner Woodworth of Brigham Young University sees new forms of social action emerging among Mormons that go beyond the traditional welfare programs targeted mainly to fellow members. In the past few years, wards (Mormon parishes) and relief societies have been mobilized by local church leaders to volunteer in soup kitchens, supervise homeless shelters and other similar programs.
More significant has been the creation of a new service missionary program. Although still in its infancy, the program serves as a counterpart to “proselytizing missionaries,” as members spend 12 to 18 months of labor in addressing people’s physical, economic and technical needs. Woodworth says that the other major new effort started in 1996 is the incorporation of a Mormon-based non-governmental organization called Latter-day Saint Charities (LDSC).
As a non-profit group separate from the LDS church, the LDSC will “give church aid programs new legal status as humanitarian enterprises, allowing for relief efforts, development work and other activities to occur independent of ecclesiastical aims,” Woodworth adds. He also forecasts that the growing international focus and social conscience of Mormon business people and the activism of college students will further spur on Mormon social action in the future.