The appointment of Elder Steven E. Snow, a senior official and the historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is truly significant in a number of ways.
According to the White House’s official website, “The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships works to build bridges between the federal government and nonprofit organizations, both secular and faith-based, to better serve Americans in need”.
The significance of the LDS Church’s participation is noteworthy considering it’s the first such appointment for the nation’s fourth largest church to a council where several other religious bodies occupy more than one of the limited seats at this table.
The current council is made up of 25 members each of whom serves a one year term.
Of greater significance is the benefit that the council may receive by the participation of the Mormon Church. In other words, Representative Snow does not come to this council empty handed or lacking in resources or experience.
No individual or entity is expected to have the solutions to all of the challenges facing this council. Snow, as the church’s representative, is the access point to the accumulated experiences and wisdom of this very large and highly service oriented church.
An extensive study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about the Mormon Church was released in March of this year. Entitled “Mormons and Civic Life” the study found that the church and its members possess a culture of service that is unique in the nation.
The study addressed topics about Mormon culture such as; A Culture of Volunteering, A Culture of Donating, Mormons: Helping the Poor Essential, Emphasis on Self-sufficiency, Volunteering Levels Exceed Other Religions and Social Connections Drive Volunteering.
In summary the study states that Mormons are more giving of time and resources to helping their neighbor and the needy than other groups. Additionally, it finds that service is institutionalized within the church and serving is very important to Mormon Church members.
The structure of the church lends itself to marshalling resources to provide services on a larger scale. The Mormon Helping Hands program is a visible yet small portion of the overall service culture in this worldwide faith. This video shows a recent service project assisting residents devastated by fires in the western United States.
The church’s Relief Society organization was created in 1842. This 170 year old society is the largest and oldest women’s organization in the world with over 6,000,000 members. Its motto is “Charity Never Faileth” and the core of the Relief Society organization’s work is service.
Service is a significant component in youth recognition programs and even Mormon Missionaries have weekly time reserved for community service.
The Mormon Church operates a cannery in the Houston area that donates over 500,000 jars of first-run peanut butter to food banks each year.
The church’s expertise and work in disaster relief is legendary. In addition to manpower to help restore people’s lives, they donate food and materials to aid in recovery. Additionally the Church contributes heavily to relief efforts all over the world in cooperation with other agencies.
In short, the Mormon Church’s participation on the President’s Advisory Council is a good thing. Far more than merely ceremonial, they are in a position to make substantive contributions to the work of this council.