A Japanese former ambassador to China recently offered some provocative thoughts on the global promise of America, suggesting that the American melting pot is a kind of pilot project for world peace. Could the same be true of the LDS Church?
Here is the quotation that caught my attention:
I have always considered America — a smaller version of our world — as a grand “testing ground” for the entire human population on earth. It is a testing ground where diverse peoples coexist, cooperate and create innovation. If this experiment succeeds in America, there is hope that mankind may succeed on a global scale. If it fails, mankind can expect no bright future. America exemplifies the future of mankind.
While there is a lot more to the phenomenon of America than this, I think Mr. Miyamoto is right that, (the United States of) America,* with its immigrants from everywhere, is a kind of crucible in which people from all over the world will either find constructive ways of living and working together, or not. It represents in microcosm the challenges of the world as a whole.
One limitation of America, of course, is that it is far from clear how well solutions achieved there can be brought back out into the wider world scene. Those who live in America are changed by the experience, and so what comes to work for them may not work for their relatives and countrymen back home. Equally, institutions, conditions, and habits that enable and support harmony in the U.S. may not be very portable. The very success of the American experiment to a great extend depends on and also encourages people coming and staying. To the extent that American immigrants function as representatives of their societies of origin, it is a real limitation if they tend not to go back. Hence if, as Mr. Miyamoto says, ‘what we are seeking to create is a “global civilization” for the entire world,’ then we will need some other strategies.
One such strategy may be an institution like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an institution that functions at a global level, including members from all over the world, which builds ties among them even while they continue to live in the lands and societies of their birth. One of the most effective tools uniting this multicultural church is the missionary program, which takes young men and women from around the world and sends them to live in places far from home for 1.5 to 2 years, often learning another language to do so.
There is perhaps no better way to build bonds of affection than to serve, and missionaries return expressing a love for the people they lived among that may run deeper than their love of their home community. Equally importantly, the missionary program creates a cadre of members, future leaders, who between them have intimate knowledge of loyalty to a great range of cultures and societies. Thus even while at the highest levels the church continues for now to be led predominantly by Americans (for reasons of history, economics, or whatever), these are Americans who with each passing year are more familiar with and tied to their brothers and sisters around the world. It is, of course, important also to see more and more leaders of international origin, many of whom have served international missions themselves. While missionaries go abroad to spread their faith, if we want to build a world in which we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, the knowledge and affection they bring home will be equally vital.
America is a place that provokes people to work for unity, independent of religion. A global religion provokes people to work for unity, independent of place. It will take a lot more than these two phenomena to create Mr. Miyamoto’s “bright future”, but it’s a start.
*Having grown up outside the U.S., I am very aware that the word America refers to two whole continents, including much more than the U.S.A. Since I am using Mr. Miyamoto’s article as a jumping-off point, however, I will defer to his usage for the moment and use “America” as shorthand for the United States thereof.