I came across a news item (here and here) this morning that gives background on the 25 members of the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and it made me wonder a little about LDS participation in this kind of group. Shouldn’t there be a Mormon on this council?
Perhaps not. Using our own numbers, LDS Church members make up just 2% of the US population (less if you exclude those inactive members who no longer consider themselves LDS), and a group of 25 might imply that you need say 4% of the population to justify inclusion. But somehow I don’t think our gross numbers is the issue. More likely, IMO, no one knows which Mormon to choose for such a council.
Mormons are, in general, quite uncomfortable with most ecumenical efforts. We do participate from time to time, but the sense that I have is that such efforts either aren’t a priority, or to the extent that they happen, aren’t something to publicize much among Church members. When was the last time you heard about an official LDS representative attending an ecumenical event of any kind?
Part of this may simply come from the nature and history of Mormonism. We started in conflict with other Churches, specifically preaching that they were unauthorized and illegitimate (if you have any doubt about this, read Parley P. Pratt’s A Voice of Warning as well as a host of other LDS missionary literature). Our mission has always been to win converts from error to the truth, and ecumenical efforts have been seen as conflicting with that mission. I do know that since the 1970s the Church has participated in various ecumenical efforts, but its not very often that I hear much about those efforts.
The LDS Church also has a tradition of putting most effort through official Church organizations, rather than forming a host of independent groups to handle aspects of our culture. It has only been since the 1960s that many independent groups have arisen, and to my knowledge, all of these groups are inwardly-focused. There is no Mormon equivalent of the Anti-defamation league, or the US Catholic Council of Bishops. So when outside groups take the unusual step of thinking about inviting an LDS participant, they approach the Church itself, which puts ecumenical efforts on an official level immediately, instead of on a less formal level.
Other Christian Churches are often much more oriented toward the congregation, instead of to the Church as a whole, and a congregation can, as a group, choose to switch alliances or even denominations, and those denominations are many times just a confederation of congregations. As a result, congregations are used to ecumenical organizing where LDS Church members are not. To accomplish a particular goal, the local priest or leader of a congregation in other Christian Churches thinks nothing of trying to put together a coalition of congregations, while an LDS Bishop’s first move is to ask his Stake President, and move up the hierarchy from there to accomplish a goal not spelled out in the handbook.
Part of the issue may also be that we are a busy people. Our religion demands a lot of our time, and as a result, the ecumenical often doesn’t make the list of necessary tasks.
And, I can’t fail to mention that a part of the issue lies with the discomfort many outside of the Church feel with inviting LDS participation. Groups that we as Church members assume would be pleased to have our support, reject us. For example, as I understand it, the American Bible Society doesn’t consider LDS participation because we accept additional scripture in addition to the Bible.
I don’t want to say that we as Mormons aren’t willing to join ecumenical efforts. I’m certain that we do a lot more than most Church members realize, and undoubtedly more than I know about. I have seen local efforts both here in New York City (where I live) and elsewhere. I know that ecumenical efforts in Harlem have been very successful.
But, it doesn’t feel like we are doing very much. We do have relief efforts and make charitable contributions around the world, and get a certain about of publicity for that. But beyond that, if ecumenical efforts are happening, we don’t hear about it.