Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be found at every level of society, in business and agriculture, education and the sciences, political parties and government, the entertainment industry and news media. Describing the character of Latter-day Saints, Newsweek magazine wrote: "No matter where Mormons live, they find themselves part of a network of mutual concern; in Mormon theology everyone is a minister of a kind, everyone is empowered in some way to do good to others, and to have good done unto them: it is a 21st century covenant of caring." This caring is not limited to Church members alone, but extends far beyond. Thus, in the words of Church President Thomas S. Monson: "As a church we reach out not only to our own people but also to those people of goodwill throughout the world in that spirit of brotherhood which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Church represents a worldwide community of believers, bound by strong faith and deep commitment. More than 13 million people now constitute its membership, a majority of whom live outside the United States. And within the United States, it has the fourth-largest membership of any church. Since its humble founding in 1830 with a mere six people in a log cabin in upstate New York, the Church has continued to grow in membership and influence.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of New Testament Christianity as taught by Jesus and His apostles. It is not Protestant, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox. Nevertheless, the basic values of morality, civility and family espoused by the Church are similar to those of other faiths. Church members find refuge from the uncertainties of the world in the gospel message of hope and happiness. The reality that life has divine purpose, that God cares for each individual, and that everyone has the capacity for improvement through correct choices is the center of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Church and its doctrines not only enlighten Church members spiritually but also improve every aspect of their lives. Thus, Latter-day Saints do more than just attend Sunday services. They find meaning in the challenges and joys of everyday life "” raising families, pursuing professional careers, serving neighbors and fulfilling personal aspirations. Concerning the Church's influence, Utah Senator Robert F. Bennett said: "I have seen the Church make things better for people wherever it has gone. I have watched people have better marriages, become better parents and better neighbors, gain confidence in themselves and achieve success, and find comfort in adversity and faith in their questioning, all as a result of their affiliation with and service in the Church."
One of the highest values of the Church is education. It is considered a spiritual imperative as much as a secular one. Thus, according to the late President Gordon B. Hinckley, "the Lord has laid a mandate upon the people of this Church that they should learn by study and by faith, that they should seek not only after spiritual knowledge, which is most important, but that they should seek after secular knowledge." The Church owns and operates Brigham Young University, the largest church-sponsored university in America, with campuses in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii. Outside formal studies, the Church offers the youth ample educational opportunities: seminary is a four-year program that prepares high school students for the spiritual challenges of life, not a preaching career; institutes of religion provide general religious instruction and a social atmosphere for college-age adults. Over 700,000 students are enrolled in these programs, which are established in 132 countries.
In addition, the Church has created the Perpetual Education Fund to provide young men and women of the Church in developing nations with the means to gain education and training. This fund, which comes largely from the contributions of Church members, offers loans to students, enabling them to attend school and find employment opportunities in their own countries and communities. As they complete their education and qualify for employment, they repay the loan with a small amount of interest, which is then returned to the fund for future loans. Since its beginning in 2001, the Perpetual Education Fund has assisted more than 8,000 students, helping them increase their incomes an average of four and a half times. Concerning the importance of this program for young people in need, President Monson emphasized that "it has lifted them out of poverty to a life comparable with others who otherwise had the chance and the money to provide an education. It's a miracle "” that's all there is to it."
On any given Sunday, Latter-day Saints gather for worship services in more than 27,000 congregations in 177 countries, nations and territories around the world. These local congregations are geographically designated so as to bring neighbors and communities closer together and give them greater opportunities to serve each other. As an illustration of what a typical service looks like, men, women and teenagers speak from the pulpit; sing hymns; offer extemporaneous, not recited, prayers; participate in the sacrament (similar to communion); attend scripture classes and engage in discussion; and share personal faith stories, or "testimonies." The Church also provides Sunday school for children where they learn the gospel of Jesus Christ and how to live its principles. Adapting to the local needs of the various congregations around the world, these worship services are held in more than 180 languages and are open to visitors. The worldwide growth of the Church is partly due to the service of more than 50,000 full-time, volunteer missionaries, who teach the gospel wherever they can "” in the streets and in the home. But this tells only half the story. The openness and caring of the lay members toward their friends and acquaintances is the real catalyst for growth. The search for truth and human connection brings this community together. In ancient and modern scriptures, as well as in the words and ministries of inspired leaders, Latter-day Saints find answers to life's toughest questions. And nowhere are these answers more needed than in the family.
President Monson recently declared: "Our homes are to be more than sanctuaries; they should also be places where God's Spirit can dwell, where the storm stops at the door, where love reigns and peace dwells. The world can at times be a frightening place in which to live. The moral fabric of society seems to be unraveling at an alarming speed." But, he continued, this is a struggle that families and individuals "can and will win." Thus, in an increasingly fractional society, the importance of strengthening the family is paramount. The values essential to the prosperity of any civilization are first instilled in the family "” the fundamental unit of society "” where a husband and wife work together for the betterment of the whole. The Church's teachings and programs are designed to fortify the family. The time-honored values of charity, sacrifice, patience and forgiveness are the elements that allow society to move forward. They are most effectively learned at home.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized the same way that Christ organized His church in New Testament times. It is led by a prophet who serves as president of the Church. He has two counselors, and these three leaders constitute the First Presidency. The First Presidency is assisted by twelve apostles, who are special witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world. Leaders called seventies assist the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and serve in various areas throughout the world. Local congregations are led by bishops. The main organization for women in the Church is the Relief Society, which was founded in 1842. Today this organization includes more than 5.5 million women ages 18 and older in over 170 countries.
The local leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is composed of qualified lay members, not a paid clergy. Chosen through prayer and inspiration, these leaders do not aspire to Church positions but respond to callings in a spirit of service. Individual members in turn are called by their leaders to serve in various positions in their congregation. This cooperative enterprise means that lay members alternately preach sermons and listen to sermons, lead music and sing music, give advice and receive advice. Their service blesses others and leads to personal growth. In addition to strengthening the family, this organizational structure fosters a profound sense of community within the congregation and satisfies the human desire for connection through mutual responsibility to each other.
The Church's humanitarian efforts, which have reached 163 countries across the globe, play a significant role in that culture of service. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that people should bear one another's burdens. Throughout the world, when communities suffer major disasters and face difficulties beyond their ability to meet, the Church is prepared to help. The aid assists people in need, without regard to religious affiliation, ethnicity or nationality. Based on principles of self-reliance, the Church's humanitarian efforts are supported through the donations and volunteerism of its members.
The Church is actively involved in the civic affairs of the communities where its members live. It has an obligation to take stands on moral issues facing society. In the arena of partisan politics, however, the Church enforces a strict policy of neutrality. The Church's mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. It does not endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates, or platforms, recognizing that its values can reside in each of them. Nevertheless, the Church does encourage its members to be responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections. Further, it expects its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
In that same spirit of civility and respect, President Monson recently made a plea to the members of the Church for more religious understanding and tolerance: "I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours." Thus, Latter-day Saints accept all sincere believers as equals in the pursuit of faith and in the great work of serving humanity.
In his inaugural press conference held on 4 February 2008, President Monson emphasized the importance of cooperation in civic endeavors: "We have a responsibility to be active in the communities where we live, all Latter-day Saints, and to work cooperatively with other churches and organizations. My objective there is I think it's important that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together." The worldwide charitable efforts of the Church are often carried out in partnership with other faiths and organizations of goodwill. For example, the Church has joined forces with Catholic Relief Services in a collaboration of caring that aids victims of famine and natural disaster. Furthermore, the Church worked with Islamic Relief Worldwide and the Islamic Society of Great Salt Lake to provide immediate humanitarian assistance in December 2004 to the tsunami-hit areas of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
In the year 2007 alone, according to a humanitarian report given in the latest general conference, a semiannual worldwide meeting, the Church responded to major earthquakes in 5 countries, massive fires in 6 countries, hunger and famine in 18 countries, and flooding and severe storms in 34 countries. In total the Church and its members responded to 170 major events "” nearly one every two days for the entire year. The motivation behind this vast global work centers on the simple charge given by Jesus so many years ago to "love thy neighbor as thyself."