This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
When I read Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk “What Will the Church Do For You, a Man?” in the April 1972 Saturday afternoon session, I thought of the following:
About a year ago, Nathaniel wrote a piece at Times & Seasons on what we could call “family privilege” and how those that benefit from a stable, intact family often don’t even realize it. This is true in the case of race, gender, socioeconomic background, etc. When it comes to the Church, I find it very easy to point out flaws or shortcomings. But as economist Thomas Sowell put it, “Nothing is easier than to prove that something human has imperfections. I’m amazed how many people devote themselves to that task.”1 What I often forget are the privileges that come from growing up in the Church. Hinckley lays out a few:
- First, it will bring you into the greatest fraternity in the world.
2. Second, active membership in the Church will motivate a man to clean up his life, if that is necessary.
Hinckley proclaims, “There are in the aggregate experiences of this church thousands upon thousands of cases of men who, under the uplifting impulses of the gospel of Jesus Christ and under the inspiration of association with good men, have received the strength to lay aside habits that held them in bondage for many years.” Social pressures and expectations as well as positive role models and influences help to curb bad habits or snuff them out before they even begin.
3. Third, activity in the Church will afford you growth through responsibility.
“It is an axiom as true as life itself that we grow as we serve,” says Hinckley. Responsibilities are placed on Mormon children at a young age, beginning with public talks and prayers. Children as young as 12 are put into leadership positions over their peers. Sacred rituals are prepared and performed by young men ages 12-18. Boys and girls barely able to vote go on mission trips lasting 1.5-2 years. The callings and duties only increase with age.
4. Fourth, membership in the Church and active participation therein will give a new dimension to your life, a spiritual dimension that will become as a rock of faith, with an endowment of authority to speak in the name of God.
The Church, according to Hinckley, “will verily add a spiritual dimension to your life with which to bless your family, your associates, and yourself.” Church leaders consistently implore us to read our scriptures, attend church, say family and personal prayers, seek inspiration and revelation, and (in the case of priesthood holders) exercise authority to bless the lives of others through blessings, ordinances, etc. All of these things attempt to connect us to the divine and thus open up an entire world to us.
5. Fifth, it will assist you in the governance of your home.
Hinckley declares, “How much stronger the nation would be—any nation—if there were presiding in each home a man who looked upon his wife as an eternal companion, engaged with him in a partnership with God in bringing to pass divine, eternal purposes, and who looked upon his children as children of our Heavenly Father, who has given to earthly parents a stewardship for those children.” This returns to the theme of Nathaniel’s post mentioned above. I strongly recommend giving it a read. In essence, family is central to the doctrines of Mormonism. When the highest form of existence in Mormonism (“exaltation“) is defined in terms of family, the desire and need to better govern one’s family here on earth is likely to increase. See below.
6. Finally, the Church makes it possible for you, a man, to bind to you for eternity those you love most.
“No other relationship in life,” says Hinckley, “is so sacred, so satisfying, so important in its consequences as the family relationship.” This was the driving force behind one convert I taught on my mission up in Carson City, NV. He still struggled with the Joseph Smith story, but the doctrine of eternal families resonated with him. He chose to go through with his baptism despite his questions, explaining that he had faith that God would quiet his concerns. Ultimately, it felt right and he wanted to do whatever was necessary to be with his family forever.
So, whenever I get in the mode of asking “What has the Church ever done for us?”, I should respond with: a social network and identity, clean living, a sense of responsibility and solid work ethic, high spirituality, and a family-centered life. Of course, this is generally speaking,3 but these benefits cannot be overstated. As I continue through my adult Mormon life, I would do well to remember the privileges bestowed upon me by my Mormon childhood.