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LDS welfare system is 'a model that works'

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012 2:58 p.m. MDT

Christina Spencer gives a tour to philanthropy donors and officials at the LDS Humanitarian Center. In an effort to educate donors about efficient approaches to welfare, the Washington D.C. based nonprofit Philanthropy Roundtable is taking them on a nationwide tour of various different organizations that promote economic self reliance with their welfare programs.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Through its extensive welfare and humanitarian efforts, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “showing the world one model for building a large, effective and private social welfare system.”

And according to Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing in the fall 2012 issue of Philanthropy magazine, it’s “a model that works.”

“Americans of faith tend to give more to charity than their secular counterparts,” Riley writes. “The more observant they are, the more generous they tend to be. But as Robert Putnam and David Campbell point out in their book, 'American Grace,' ‘Mormons are strikingly more active in giving and volunteering of all sorts, even taking into account their high levels of religious observance.’ ”

Unlike other recent attempts to explore the LDS Church’s financial structure in Bloomberg's Businessweek and by the Reuters news service, Riley’s story goes into great detail about the underpinnings of Mormon benevolence, with meticulous explanations of LDS tithing, fast offerings and humanitarian aid, citing the scriptural background, policies and practical impacts of each.

“Both the tithe and the fast offering have the feel of a flat tax,” Riley writes. “No matter what your income, you pay a proportional amount. Steve Peterson, the managing director of welfare service for the church, says that members see tithing and the fast offering not only as a ‘scriptural responsibility,’ but as an ‘opportunity for us to build God’s kingdom.’

“‘Most members,’ he says, ‘will tell you that they can’t afford not to pay.’ ”

Riley uses much of her story to write about the LDS Church welfare system and how it works. She also touches on the church’s efforts in ESL instruction, job placement, and personal and family counseling.

Latter-day Saints, Riley says, grow up giving. As a result, the young adult Mormons to whom she spoke told her “without exception that tithing has not been a struggle for them at all.

“They have tithed since childhood — income from their allowances, from summer jobs, from internship stipends, from birthday gifts,” she continued. “By the time they get their first real jobs, they are already in the habit of giving to charity. These habits, bred early and practiced widely, are what make possible this beehive of generosity.”

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