The primary objective of the LDS Church in running the ‘Helping Hands’ service projects was very clearly stated by the General Authorities when I was a bishop. It is to “bring the Church out of obscurity.”
Or in other words, it is a recruitment drive.
Whilst a TBM bishop I would not let my ward members wear the Church Helping Hands tabards when doing service projects.
I disagreed with the main objective of the Church Helping Hands programme being to “bring the Church out of obscurity”, & I was vociferous about my objections with the ward PEC & even with the Stake Presidency.
(Was I sowing seeds of personal Apostacy even then…?)
I believed that any service we performed should be as the Saviour outlined – anonymous.
I believe service given for the express purpose of advertising one’s good works taints the pure love of those involved.
I think it’s one’s personal motives which matter most when performing acts of kindness & service.
The problem we had in our ward with the Helping Hands programme was we were already doing lots of service projects, mainly with ShelterBox providing emergency shelter & provision for disasters worldwide.
The prominent local community & civic dignitaries knew & recognised our contributions in these worthwhile service efforts.
Our efforts were not boasted about, but done because we wanted to help those who were destitute. We didn’t do it for recognition or reward.
Yet the Church General Authorities came to the members asking for us to primarily do it to “raise the Church out of obscurity!”
I personally, along with my brother David, felt it would taint our pure service efforts & we would lose the respect of the town civic dignitaries. This was confirmed when one of the town councillors made a remark in that regard.
Contrary to what the Church authorities were telling us, the less public recognition we sought for, the more respect we actually got!
I understand completely what the motives of the Church are because as a bishop I was trained to implement the programme, but I objected to the suggestion that Mormons need to promote themselves as being kind and caring.
As a Bishop I was very much in favour of my Ward members being involved in service projects outside of the Church. Several of our members were individually occupied in voluntary service on a regular basis already, and had been for many years. But we organised large collective Ward projects on a frequent basis in local community service projects as well so that the whole Ward could be involved together as a unit. I have to admit that other Ward members, like the High Priests Group Leader, were far better at organising these service projects than I was, mainly because I was new to the area & had very few local contacts, & I was kept so busy setting up my new podiatry clinic whilst serving as a bishop with a young family of four young children.
As a Ward we were getting noticed by local community leaders and politicians for our service, and frankly, when they made favourable comments about us I was slightly embarrassed, because being noticed for doing good works felt more pure when we were doing it anonymously.
The Stake public relations officer wanted us to get our names and photograph in the newspapers so we obliged by begrudgingly having our photograph taken, but I felt it detracted from the pure act of doing service for service’s sake.
Then we were asked by the General Church Authorities to wear the ‘cheesy’ Helping Hands tabards with the Church name and logo emblazoned on them and for me and some other members it was just too much. I immediately said “No! Our Ward members will not wear them.” It felt so wrong to be making ourselves stand out from the crowd and be noticed for doing good works.
I even wrote to the Stake President about my concerns and discussed my feelings in personal priesthood interviews with him. He agreed with me that anonymous acts of service carried out by Church members was far superior to shouting about it and trying to get noticed. I firmly believed that Jesus had told us to avoid publicity for acts of kindness:
1. Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
So it seemed offensive to me to be trying to do the opposite of what Jesus taught. In my mind I believed that God would reward us, as a Church, for following His son’s instructions, if He thought we needed any blessings for our service. But actually, at the time we didn’t look for any recognition or reward. Our motives were purely altruistic in nature.
But the General Authorities specifically said that the primary purpose for the Helping Hands service projects was to “bring the Church out of obscurity.” Not ‘love others through service’.
Now I sincerely believe my Ward members sole purpose for doing anonymous service was out of a pure altruistic love for others who were worse-off than themselves. Their love was pure!
Making them wear cheesy promotional tabards to tell the world about our service was crass and unnecessary. As was proven when a local political leader said to us, “I really respect you Mormons for doing service without shouting about it for publicity.”
I was so pleased that I had not allowed our Ward members to wear those tabards.
Why would any organisation need recognition for their good works?
Surely any person or organisation which desires recognition for their acts of service has an insecurity complex and needs the attention and adulation of others to compensate for something lacking in their own self-perception.
If the ‘Helping Hands’ programme is not a recruitment drive then is it evidence of something worse?
Does the victim mentality or persecution complex still exist amongst Mormon leaders? Is there a need to feel recognised and praised to overcome a self-perception problem?
In my mind and many others, including community leaders, any effort to gain publicity for acts of service goes against the concept of altruistic love and kindness.
Unfortunately for the Church there is no other way to spin this.
On another point, as a bishop I found that the Church members who were doing the most community service were those on the fringe of activity in the Church who also had the weakest testimonies of the Church. Not because they loved others any less than those who had stronger testimonies or who were more committed members, but because they had more personal time to give to others.
In a twisted weird way the most committed Mormons had the least time to give to others outside of the Church. I myself as Bishop was busy 3-4 nights a week plus many Saturdays and every Sunday and had very little extra time to do other service projects. I didn’t even have much time for spending with my own family.
Tragically the whole Mormon Church lifestyle is very focused on serving the Church. Yes, people put lots of time and effort into service projects, but the vast majority are serving the Church itself as opposed to non-Church related projects.
It seems that the Mormon Church tries to replicate society in such a way that members do almost all their socialisation in Church. The Mormon lifestyle is very isolated from the rest of society. Set apart from, and, in its own words, “peculiar” to the rest of society. Introverted and very self-serving.
Having left Mormonism I now find I have so much more time on my hands to spend with family and friends, as well as serving the community at large in service projects. I’ve enjoyed becoming a part of the bigger community of people where I live. Where I’ve actually found people have more time for others, are often more authentic and natural in their social interactions, and have no ulterior motives like trying to get me to join their Church.
I’ve been amazed at the number of truly altruistic people there are outside of the Mormon Church, who have so much more understanding and empathy for others than I ever imagined as a True Believing Mormon.
The world outside of the Mormon Bubble is actually more bright, cheerful and caring than I was ever led to believe by the Church.
And all those wonderful people I now meet are not seen by me as prospective Mormons!
Previous blog post on this subject:
How the Church hijacks the normal human tendency for compassion