Why Mormons Make Good Neighbors
Why Mormons Make Good Neighbors, by Larry Y. Wilson
The faith and lifestyle of Latter-day Saints provides a unique resource that helps to meet life’s challenges. In turn, these Church members are well equipped to lend a hand in the communities where they live.
In the midst of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt came across a newspaper clipping about the ancestry of England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his wife, Clementine. The newspaper article noted the couple’s common heritage with Mormons in Utah. As Roosevelt and Churchill had become friends by this time, the president sent the clipping to the prime minister, accompanied by a lighthearted letter.
“Hitherto I had not observed any outstanding Mormon characteristics in either of you,” he wrote. “But I shall be looking for them from now on.” He further added, “I have a very high opinion of the Mormons . . . they are excellent citizens.”
More recently, one Orthodox Christian commentator observed that the faith produces “exemplary people” who in turn “make good neighbors.” Today there is a growing body of independent research suggesting that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes nicknamed “Mormons,” do indeed make good neighbors and citizens. Recent studies reveal that practicing Latter-day Saints tend to be healthier, happier, better educated, and more committed to family values. They are also more likely to be socially connected and engaged in volunteerism and charitable giving. This link between what faithful Latter-day Saints believe and what they feel impelled to do with that belief is an incredibly powerful force within the faith. This is not to say that Church members do not experience difficult struggles and serious problems – I know firsthand that they do. Rather, it simply implies that the faith and lifestyle of church-attending Latter-day Saints provides a unique resource that helps to meet life’s challenges. In turn, these Church members are well equipped to lend a hand in the communities where they live.
The Latter-day Saint health code is one of the faith’s most distinguishing features. Given by revelation to the Church’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, the code encourages eating grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, but strongly discourages using tobacco and consuming alcohol, tea, and coffee. In addition, practicing Latter-day Saints forgo food for 24 hours once a month as a fast. Subsequently, they donate what they don’t spend on meals to the poor as “fast offerings” or alms. This religiously influenced diet has a profound effect on the lifelong physical health of adherents.
To better understand this effect, Dr. James Enstrom at the UCLA School of Public Health looked at populations that have been practicing the faith for an
extended period of time. Enstrom’s 25-year longitudinal study focused on members of the Church in California and concluded that these individuals – particularly those who were married, had never smoked, attended church weekly, and had at least twelve years of education had total death rates that were among the lowest ever reported for a well-defined group followed for 25 years. They also had “among the longest life expectancies yet reported.” The average life expectancy of Latter-day Saint women was 86.1 yearsfive and a half years longer than comparable females in the United States. Latter-day Saint males had a life expectancy of 84.1 years – nearly ten years longer than that of comparable males. The authors of this study have been publishing results periodically, and the most recent update, completed in 2007, made the following comment: “The low death rates . . . observed during the first 8 years [of this study] have persisted for 25 years.” It is impressive that these results have been sustained for so long. A separate research effort identified the heart health benefits associated with fasting. Researchers at Intermountain Health Care found that people who fasted once a month, as do Latter-day Saints, were about 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with clogged arteries than those who did not regularly fast. Medical professionals had thought for decades that tobacco use probably accounted for essentially all of the
difference in heart disease rates between Latter-day Saints and others. But after controlling for smoking, researchers still saw a lower rate of heart disease among Church members. They designed a study to figure out why.
They focused on other Latter-day Saint practices: monthly fasting; avoiding tea, coffee, and alcohol; taking a weekly day of rest; going to church; and donating time and money to charity. Only fasting made a significant difference. Surprisingly, the difference persisted even when researchers took into account weight, age, and conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. It is clear that the practices associated with being a faithful Church member, including fasting, lead to greater health and longevity.
While better health also contributes to personal happiness, many other factors enter into the high levels of life satisfaction reported by Latter-day Saints. In their landmark book American Grace, authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell survey extensive research suggesting a positive relationship between religion
and life satisfactionput simply, they say, “many researchers have found that religious people are happier.” Mormons, of course, are no exception. In 2009, both Gallup and Forbes identified Utah, the state with the highest concentration of Mormons, as having citizens with the greatest levels of “wellbeing” or “quality of life.”
Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious Life released a broad study titled Mormons in America. This comprehensive look at Latter-day Saints showed that “the overwhelming majority [of Church members] are satisfied in their own lives and content with their communities.” Nearly nine out of ten reported being satisfied with their lives. That is higher than the U.S. public generally (75%). Among younger Latter-day Saints, Pew says, the numbers are even greater: “Fully 92% of Mormons under age 50 are satisfied with their lives.” Within the Mormon community, those with the highest levels of religious commitment are more satisfied than those with lower levels of religious commitment (91% to 78%).
In their book, Putnam and Campbell note that “the correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction is powerful and robust.” Accordingly, by the Pew Center’s scale faithful Latter-day Saints rank higher in religiosity than any other group. Nearly seven in ten Mormons (69%) exhibit strong religious commitmentmore than any other religious group surveyed and substantially more than the U.S. public generally (30%). Gallup polling research confirms that the religiously devout lead “noticeably happier, more fulfilled lives”; practicing Latter-day Saints appear to be a paradigmatic example of this phenomenon.
Studies have shown a sturdy correlation between religious inclination and family-centered values, which put the needs of the spouse, children, and others first.
Participation in such values, including family life, contributes to increased personal happiness. Statistics show heavy participation in family life among Latter-day Saints. The U.S. Census Bureau reveals that Utah has the greatest percentage of households headed by married couples in the country, and the highest percentage of homes with children. Furthermore, according to the Pew Center survey, two-thirds (67%) of Mormon adults report being married; a full 15 percent higher than the national average. It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of Americans equate pro-family values with Latter-day Saints. According to a 2008 survey, nearly nine out of ten Americans (87%) identified Mormons as having strong family values.
For Latter-day Saints the family is theologically paramount. We believe that families can live together forever. An official Church declaration, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” states that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” These teachings influence the most intimate aspirations of faithful Latter-day Saints. Four of five Mormons (81%) say “being a good parent is one of their most important goals in life,” while just 50
percent of the general public says the same. Furthermore, nearly three out of four Mormons (73%) believe that, “having a successful marriage is one of
the most important things in life,” compared with 34 percent of the general public.
One prominent scholar recently called Joseph Smith’s “insistence upon education” the faith’s greatest inheritance. And indeed research confirms that “active, participating Mormons are unusual in their level of educational attainment.” This appears to hold true in places outside of the United States. In fact, in areas such as Mexico, where the comparison standard is post-primary rather than college experience, Church members exceed the national rate by a factor of two.
Latter-day Saint holy writ declares that the “glory of God is intelligence” and teaches that “if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience . . . he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” These doctrines have a profound impact. While many today perceive educational attainment as something that diminishes faith, various studies confirm that the more education a Latter-day Saint obtains, the more likely she or he will be actively involved in the Church. The Pew Center’s survey indicated that this phenomenon is unique to Latter-day Saints. The study noted that “Mormons who have graduated from college display the highest levels of religious commitment (84%) followed by those with some college education (75%).” Church members with a high school education or less exhibited substantially lower levels of religious commitment (50%) on this scale.
In addition to encouraging participation in normal educational channels, the Church provides a multifaceted program of religious education that begins in the home and is bolstered through programs that support the individual’s and family’s learning.
Along with weekly Sunday School for all ages, our young people attend something we call early-morning seminary. Before regular school begins, many Mormon teens attend an hour-long class where they study the Holy Bible and other scriptures and Church history. Similarly, university-level students attend religious institute classes that complement post-secondary education. These and other personal studies have a cumulative effect. For example, in one recent survey, Mormons were the most knowledgeable about Christianity and the Bible and were third only to atheists and Jewish participants in knowledge about other world religions. While many know that the Church owns and operates four accredited not-for-profit colleges and universities, including Brigham Young University, few know about the smaller grade schools that the Church operates in places ranging from Mexico to New Zealand. The Church also sponsors literacy initiatives around the globe, and has undertaken an ingenious program called the Perpetual Education Fund. Many youth in the Church who serve two-year missions come from countries and backgrounds of significant poverty. Too often they return home only to once again face impoverished circumstances in their country with no means to rise out of their situations. The Perpetual Education Fund provides these young adults with the support and resources necessary to gain vocational training and higher education. After they have finished their education they pay back what they received. To date, this program has benefited more than 50,000 persons in fifty-one countries. On average, these students complete their education in 2.6 years and experience three to four times greater income after graduation than before.
Church members belong to a highly participatory faith and generally have close relationships with fellow members of their local congregations. Because there is no paid ministry, almost every churchgoer has a responsibility. That might be to teach, to counsel, to organize, to keep records or to perform one or more of dozens of other duties. Thus, relationships are forged as Latter-day Saints both serve each other and serve together. In this way, the Latter-day Saint community functions like an extended family. As American Grace indicates, “no religious group in America feels warmer toward their own group than Mormons.” These social connections show up markedly in the lives of Mormon teenagers.
Based on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion, professor Kenda Creasy Dean observed that “belonging to a [Latter-day Saint] family simultaneously means belonging to the Church,” and therefore, “the number of adults teenagers can turn to for help and support increases proportionately with teenagers’ religious devotion.” She also said that, due to the highly participative nature of the faith, “Mormon youth assume that their contributions matter.”
As a consequence, “Mormon teenagers showed the highest levels of religious understanding, vitality, and congruence between religious belief and practiced faith; they were the least likely to engage in high-risk behavior and consistently were the most positive, healthy, hopeful and self-aware teenagers in the interviews.”
Practicing adults encounter these same dimensions of community and social cohesion. As mentioned, this is seen in the hours that members give in church and community service. People work side by side as leaders and teachers; even when moving to a new location, Latter-day Saints are immediately plugged into a network of friends within the Church. Members of all ages have a built-in infrastructure that facilitates deep and extensive social connections.
Following Christ’s teaching to love one another, Latter-day Saints do not just look inward to give service, but they increasingly branch outward. In a recent address, Church President Thomas S. Monson taught, “As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward.” In Pew’s survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) said that working to help the poor and needy was “essential to being a good Mormon.”
Research has continually shown that Latter-day Saints rank very high among those who are giving not just of their time but also of their means. Aside from fast offerings or alms to the poor, members reach out through established welfare, community, and humanitarian aid programs.
Due in part to extensive participation in these efforts, a 2012 University of Pennsylvania report concluded that active Mormons “are even more generous in time and
money than the upper quin-tile of religious people in America.” According to these results, a typical church-attending Latter-day Saint spends approximately 430 hours per year (36 hours per month) volunteeringnearly nine times more than the average American. Of those 430 hours, 56 percent of them are spent teaching and serving in one’s own church congregation; 23 percent are spent in congregational social care efforts (for example, “compassionate service,” cooking meals for those in need or leading a church-affiliated Boy Scout troop); 13 percent are spent serving in community social care sponsored by the Church (for example, participating in community clean-up projects and humanitarian efforts or working at a local food bank); and finally 8 percent goes toward other non-Church affiliated charitable causes. The study added that even if this last category “were the only volunteer activity of Latter-day Saints, it would equal the national average of
volunteering of all Americans.”
The pattern of volunteerism is repeated in charitable giving. According to the University of Pennsylvania study, even if one excludes the 10 percent biblical tithe that members donate to the Church, their charitable giving still exceeds the national average. Corroborating this study, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University released a report showing Mormons atop all groups for the percentage of annual charitable givingboth for the amount donated and for the percentage of their income given (see table below). Source: Patrick Rooney,”Dispelling Beliefs about Giving to Religious Institutions in the UnitedStates,” in Religious Giving: For Loveof God (IndianaUniversity Press, 2010).
According to this study, nearly 94 percent of all Mormon households gave an average of $4,016 annually, representing 6.24 percent of their yearly incomethe highest of all the groups surveyed and five times the amount of those with no religious affiliation.
Much of this charitable giving goes toward supporting the Church’s extensive welfare and humanitarian aid programs. Church welfare represents a source of
help primarily for Latter-day Saints. Writing in the Wall Street Journal about this welfare program, Naomi Schaefer Riley observed that it provides “the kind of safety net that government can never hope to create.”
She further noted that the Church’s system “lets almost no one fall through the cracks while at the same time ensuring that its beneficiaries don’t become lifelong dependents.” Latter-day Saints who require assistance to meet the basic needs of life go to their bishop and ask for aid. The bishop assesses their needs and then provides food and clothing, as well as cash for housing and other necessities. The bishop seeks to help these individuals work for what they receive and to find ways of getting them back on their feet. That may include coaching from the Church’s employment centers or counseling from its social services centers. Typically, people depend on the food assistance for an average of three to six months before they are back to being self-sufficient.
While the welfare program helps members who are struggling to meet their needs, the Church’s humanitarian aid program focuses mostly on people who are not
Mormons. Over the years it has relieved the suffering, hunger, thirst, and poverty of millions of people around the world to the tune of one and a half billion dollars. The Church has joined in more than 200 major disaster assistance efforts, including the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the
2010 Chile earthquake, the 2010 Pakistan flooding, the 2009 Samoa tsunami, the 2009 Philippines typhoon, the 2009 Indonesia earthquake, the 2008 Ethiopia
famine, and many others. Naturally, the Church undertakes these projects without regard to the nationality or religion of the recipients.
All of these efforts are made possible by the generous donations of Latter-day Saints and many other charitable individuals. One hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s Humanitarian Services go directly to those in need; the Church absorbs all of its own overhead and administrative costs.
Within hours of a disaster, Latter-day Saints work with local government officials to determine what supplies and food are needed. Materials are then immediately shipped. After urgent needs are met, the Church looks for additional ways to aid in long-term efforts. Our approach is always to help people become self-reliant by teaching skills and providing resources for a self-sustained life.
While the Church’s emergency response draws more media attention, Latter-day Saints engage in many other less visible initiatives. In addition to the Church’s education programs, it sponsors ongoing global efforts including neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations. The Church also sponsors the Mormon Helping Hands program, which brings together members of the Church and their neighbors to provide community service all around the world. In recognizable yellow shirts, these volunteers help people whose lives have been affected by disasters or other emergencies. Volunteers also partner with government and nonprofit organizations to support and improve the communities where they live; they clean parks, restore public structures, and perform various other community services. Mormon Helping Hands reflects the desire of Latter-day Saints to follow the example set by Jesus Christ to serve one another. Originally started in South America, the program has since spread to nearly every corner of the earth. Today, Latter-day Saints and other volunteers of this program have donated millions of hours of service to their communities.
Latter-day Saints also spread good will and the good news of Christ’s gospel as volunteer missionaries. A significant percentage of young adults, as well as an
increasing number of senior Church members, serve proselytizing, humanitarian, and service missions around the globe. Within the Church, missions are
considered more of an obligation for young men, whereas young women serve if they wish. Almost always the mission experience becomes a time of great
learning. The young people leave behind the accoutrements of adolescent life and seek to help others. Many swap scholarships for suits; romantic relationships for two years without dating; and educational and employment opportunities for the chance to learn from foreign cultures and serve for no monetary reward and are
expected to pay their own way. Often missionaries become fluent in a new language. Some leave an area of affluence and serve in a place of poverty,
while others have the opposite experience. All face a demanding schedule of study and work. The mission typically lasts two years.
While studying at Harvard as a young man, I approached the dean of freshman students, Dean F. Skiddy von Stade, to discuss the possibility of leaving the
university for two years to serve a Mormon mission. He told me that he knew other students who had left to serve missions for the Church. In every case, he said, they became better students and better members of the university community. In fact, he continued, “They had a better sense for who they were and what they wanted in life; we wish everyone would do something like that during their college years.” I went on to serve a mission in Brazil, and it was a life-changing experience.
Most others who serve missions feel similarly. The Pew Center’s survey reported that 80 percent of those who served missions said it was very valuable in preparing them for job or career success, and 92 percent said it helped them grow in their own faith. Though many missionaries develop strong religious convictions, they are not closed minded; fully 98 percent of members surveyed said that a good person not of their faith can go to heaven. According to the authors of American Grace, this was the highest percentage of any religious group surveyed.
Conclusion: The Mormon Next Door
Approaching 15 million members with some 28,660 congregations in 185 nations, countries and territories, the Church is steadily growing. In fact, from
2000 to 2010 the Church’s membership grew 18 percent in the United States alone. Furthermore, our internal statistics show that there are more actively
practicing Latter-day Saints at church services today than ever before in our history. Considering the rigorous demands of the Mormon faith amidst our
culture of increasingly easy salvation, this growth is impressive. Of course, with growth come many new challenges. For example, aside from language and
cultural challenges, there is the need to train and supply local leaders in countries where we have an emerging presence; the Church also needs to provide
adequate worship facilities and materials such as Bibles, hymnals, and copies of the Book of Mormon.
Additionally, like other faiths, we have people who for one reason or another become indifferent or even hostile. We can do a better job of fostering mutual understanding with these people, no matter their beliefs. Naturally, the Church and its members experience real struggles and difficulties; nonetheless, we continually seek to be better and more Christlike.
Though Latter-day Saints strive for a high standard, we’re obviously not perfect. But, as Roosevelt suggested, we do indeed make good citizens and good neighbors. Newsweek in 2005 described us as a “21st century covenant of caring.” We hope so. We want to contribute as followers of Christ to our communities and nations, wherever we may live. As fellow neighbors come to understand us, and vice versa, misconceptions and prejudices invariably diminish. In turn, meaningful bonds of community will solidify, helping make each of us better friends, citizens, neighbors and, most assuredly, better children of God.
 Franklin D. Roosevelt, F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945 (1950), 1480.
 Rod Dreher, “We Have a Lot to Learn from Mormons,” Realclearreligion.org, posted Oct. 12, 2011 (accessed Apr. 23, 2012).
 Survey results continually suggest that many Americans remain unfamiliar with what Latter-day Saints believe. Most fundamentally, we worship Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world and the Son of our loving Heavenly Father. We accept His grace and mercy and seek to follow His example by being baptized
(see Matthew 3:13-17), praying in His holy name (see Matthew 6:9-13), partaking of the sacrament (communion) (see Luke 22:19-20), doing good to others (see
Acts 10:38), and bearing witness of Him through both word and deed (see James 2:26). By following Christ’s teachings, we believe that all mankind may be
saved through Christ’s grace. Because Christ loves us, we believe that He has restored His original Church as described in the New Testament with modern-day
prophets, apostles, miracles, and continuing revelation. These teachings under-gird and inspire what Newsweek has called “a 21st century covenant of
caring.” To learn more about the doctrinal tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, visit Mormon.org or Mormonnewsroom.org/article/
 James E. Enstrom and Lester Breslow, “Lifestyle and Reduced Mortality among Active California Mormons, 1980-2004,” Preventive Medicine 46 (2008), 135.
 See Benjamin D. Horne, et al. “Usefulness of Routine Periodic Fasting to Lower Risk of Coronary Artery Disease in Patients Undergoing Coronary Angiography,” American Journal of Cardiology 102 (2008): 814-19; Benjamin D. Horne, et al., “Relation of Routine, Periodic Fasting to Risk of Diabetes Mellitus, and Coronary Artery Disease in Patients Undergoing Coronary Angiography,” American Journal of Cardiology, 2012, in press.
 Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010), 490.
 See Elizabeth Mendes, “Well-being Rankings Reveal State Strengths and Weaknesses Utah, Hawaii, Montana take top three spots in national well-being
rankings,” Gallup.com, posted Mar. 12, 2009 (accessed Apr. 23 2012); See also Rebecca Ruiz, “America’s Best States To Live: Residents of these areas have a higher quality of life than others in the U.S.,” Forbes.com, posted Mar. 11, 2009.
 Pew Research Center, Mormons in America: Certain in Their Beliefs but Uncertain of Their Place in Society, Jan. 12, 2012.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 32.
 Op. Cit., Putnam and Campbell, 2010, 491.
 Op. Cit., Pew Research Center, 2012, 37.
 George H. Gallup and Timothy K. Jones, The Saints among Us: How the Spiritually Committed Are Changing Our World (1991) 23.
 See Walter J. Goltz and Lyle E. Larson, “Religiosity, Marital Commitment, and Individualism,” Family Perspective 25:3 (1991): 201-19.
 Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially (2000).
 Lee Davidson, “Utah Tops Nation in Traditional Family Categories,” Salt Lake Tribune, Apr. 25, 2012.
 Op. Cit., Pew Research Center 2012, 16.
 Gary C. Lawrence, How Americans View Mormonism (2008), 34.
 See “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2010,
 Op. Cit., Pew Research Center 2012, 51.
 Quoted in Hal Boyd, “Patriarchs among the Poets: Harold Bloom’s Case for the Bible as High Literature,” Deseret News, Sept. 23, 2011. Elsewhere Bloom has written that “Mormonism’s best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education.”
 Tim B. Heaton, Stephen J. Bahr, and Cardell K. Jacobson, A Statistical Profile of Mormons: Health Wealth, and Social Life (2004), 44.
 Tim B. Heaton, “Vital Statistics” in Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members, (1998), 127.
 Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.
 Doctrine and Covenants 130:19.
 Op. Cit., Pew Research Center 2012, 38.
 Ibid, 37.
 Pew Research Center, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, Sept. 28, 2010, 7.
 Rebekah Atkin, “The Key to Opportunity: Celebrating 10 Years of the Perpetual Education Fund,” Ensign, Dec. 2011.
 Op. Cit., Putnam and Campbell, 2010, 503.
 Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (2010) 55.
 Ibid., 56.
 See Ram Cnaan, Van Evans, and Daniel W. Curtis, “Called to Serve: The Prosocial Behavior of Active Latter-day Saints,” University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice
(2012). See also Op. Cit., Putnam and Campbell, 2010, 444-54.
 Thomas S. Monson, “The Joy of Service, New Era, Oct. 2009.
 Op. Cit., Pew Research Center 2012, 43.
 See Patrick Rooney, “Dispelling Beliefs about Giving to Religious Institutions in the United
States,” in David H. Smith, Religious Giving: For Love of God (2010).
 Op. Cit., Cnaan et.al. 2012, 17.
 Op Cit., Rooney, 2010, 7.
 Naomi Schaefer Riley, “What the Mormons Know about Welfare,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18, 2012, A11.
 “Welfare Services Fact Sheet-2011,” 2012. The calculation of total humanitarian aid given does not include overhead or administrative costs, nor does it encompass volunteer hours donated.
 Op. Cit., Pew Research Center 2012, 40.
 Op. Cit., Putnam and Campbell, 2010, 535-536.
 Deseret News 2012 Church News Almanac (2012), 5.
 2010 U.S. Religion Census released by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies as cited in “LDS Church Reports 18 Percent Growth in
2000s,” Deseret News, May 3, 2012.
 Internal statistics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
 Elise Soukup, “The Mormon Odyssey,” Newsweek, Oct. 16, 2005.
Elder Larry Y. Wilson currently serves as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is a graduate of both Harvard and Stanford Universities. For the most part, the statistics cited in this article are based on independent research about practicing Latter-day Saints.
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