Mormon Helping Hands: A Christian Program in Action?

Mormon Helping Hands: A Christian Program in Action?

Religions are great ways to organize people in coming together to help one another out as well as to provide aid and assistance to the needy in the world. One remarkable aspect of Christianity is that Christ actually taught that why and how you go about doing this service is just as important as what you do:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:1-4, lds.org)

Christ clearly teaches that if your motivation in doing good is so that the world can see and appreciate the good that you do, then this offering has its origin and completion in the realm of men.  What you have done is simply to purchase the goodwill and glory of the people who see your offering of good works. God has nothing to do with it. The Christian way of doing service is unassuming, and has as its goal the simple act of service itself – not the purpose of the recognition or glory of men.

Scientology to the Rescue!

It is with this background that several years ago I was first exposed to  the disaster relief volunteers of the Church of Scientology.

The Scientologists have created an organization of Volunteer Ministers  which is purported to be devoted to providing relief around the world in areas of disaster.

“Volunteer Ministers are a global force of people from all cultures and walks of life who are committed, courageous and trained to help others. In the worst of times and places—whether natural disasters or everyday crises—Volunteer Ministers are there with their skills, providing relief and succor to those in need.” (volunteerministers.org)

Under the hopeful motto of “Something can be done about it!” you can easily identify the ministers as well as the aid and facilities they provide because they are all emblazoned in a striking shade of bold safety yellow which cannot be missed.

They have had some bumpy starts, but not a tragedy or disaster goes by now that you wont see those remarkably visible and recognizable yellow T-Shirts in the news coverage. Before this program of clearly and deliberately branded service, I had no idea that the Church of Scientology did any form of charity work at all.

Despite one’s opinions about L Ron Hubbard, this program provides visibility to charity work that the men and women in that faith are committed to provide.

This was a brilliant PR move for the Church of Scientology. Now when that organization’s name is mentioned, the imagery invoked is not just of uber-wealthy and eccentric celebrities, or a pay-to-play system of religious teaching, or aggressive and litigious attacks on dissenters, but also of people reaching out to help their fellow men. This program has, without a doubt, improved the reputation and standing of the Church of Scientology in the world.

A Mormon’s View of Scientology’s “service”

Now from the perspective of a Mormon, this program is just so blatantly a PR stunt that it is comical. Mormons know that Mormons have the true religion and so while they have some respect for other Christian denominations for at least getting close – the laughable antics of the Church of Scientology are blatant evidence of it’s status as a “Cult”. When I first saw these people clad in yellow I knew immediately that they wore those shirts to make darn well sure the cameras and media knew that it was Scientologists who were doing the service. I chuckled to myself about how un-Christian such an attitude towards service was. I knew Christ’s admonitions about giving your alms “to be seen of men”. I took pride in the fact that Mormon’s didn’t need to flout the good works that they do. They just did them for the sake of the service.

“Being Good for Nothing” was the motto a friend of mine frequently stated. You did good without expecting anything in return – be it recognition, glory, payment, or favors. You were simply Good. For nothing. That was the Christian way. It was the Mormon way.

In the late 1990′s there was a terrible tornado that hit some communities in Oklahoma. Myself and several other Mormon men, young and old, went in caravan up to the site and just started helping anyone who had anything that needed to be done. We didn’t have a uniform. We didn’t preach to the people – we just worked. It felt good. The senior priesthood leaders made a point to mention to the homeowners that we were from the LDS church, but that was it. That was the type of service Mormons did.

In 2007 I started seeing pictures like these published by the Church of Scientology about their acts of service and charity:

Volunteer Ministers in Haiti – you can’t miss the yellow. Service to be seen of men… Personified by a parade being led in the middle of a disaster zone.

These VM’s are trying to be good, but they are falling into the very problem that Christ warned against. I would cut them a little slack, however, since they don’t profess to follow Christ.

More Yellow Shirts. Those Scientologists really want you to know who it is that is doing all that good.

Here we see the clean and golden adorned do-gooders mingling with the needy. This contrast really brings home what great people they are for doing this great service. If they didn’t have those yellow shirts, then we might not know to give honor to the Organization which brought them there and made sure that they were seen by the media and had a chance to spread their message to people in their most dire time of need.

Wait – is that a cross?

Here we see that for some reason the Scientologists have added the image of a cross to their bright yellow tee-shirts. Maybe this was to present the locals with a quasi-religious symbol that they were familiar with in order to build trust. They probably hadn’t seen enough Tom Cruise or John Travolta movies to be inoculated from the crazy that Scientology actually is. With a cross on the shirt, the locals would probably assume that the volunteers were just another zealous Christian group and be more willing to let them help and listen to their message.

More people in yellow shirts doing service to be seen of men…

Here we have more Scientologists doing service with their bright yellow shirts so that everyone will know what great people they are for helping people out. It is really remarkable how different their approach to service is from that meek and unassuming service that the is true Christian call on our lives. What’s that? That doesn’t look like a scientology logo…. um lets get a good look at one of those tee-shirts:

This is the Mormon face of “service”? More like a walking marketing campaign – it even has the website address.

On close inspection it turns out that the Mormon church has adopted the exact same strategy of performing service in such a way as to maximize the potential of being seen of men. The program is called “Mormon Helping Hands” and you can read about it on the church website. The easily recognizable logo of the church is front and center, and there is even a web address to go to if you want to know more about these awesome people who are just so righteous and good for doing service. This is a slick marketing PR campaign – not Christian service. Plus it is a blatant, johnny-come-lately, rip-off of the Scientologist’s Volunteer Ministers program.

If it has the church logo and there is a smiling minority – you can be sure that its official church PR media.

The logo with the two hands is actually an embarrassing irony since Christ specifically states that when giving service or offerings you should “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”. The hands in the logo clearly know what each other doeth, and you will know exactly what and who doeth the service of people wearing this yellow atrocity, because any media coverage of the service you do will have all these people in yellow shirts boldly demonstrating that you are Mormon here to do good! Aren’t you awesome because you’re Mormon?

When I went out years ago to help in the aftermath of the tornado – you wouldn’t have a clue who was doing the service by just looking. We were working along side Baptists, Catholics, atheists and unspecified neighbors, I think. You see, people didn’t make a big deal about what organization they came from, because the point was not to be an advertisement for the organization. The point was to help people that needed it, simply because they needed it. They would probably help me if I needed it.

How can I tell who to give glory to if none of them wear a bright yellow shirt with the name of their organization on it? It’s almost like they don’t care if people know what religion they are - all that good PR going to waste!

This new “Helping Hands” initiative by the Mormon church just seemed so foreign to me – even as a believing Mormon. I was embarrassed by it.

The true purpose of the Programs

Scientologists may claim that their intentions are simply to assist those in need and help improve the image of the church, but a leaked video from a conference in 2004 reveals the true aim of the program – to introduce new people to their teachings and to build up their organizations in new places around the world:

In this video, the presenter brags about how many thousands of people have been introduced to Scientology principles because of the Volunteer Ministers. It also shows how their disaster relief program serves to bring in new converts and build up new centers at every location. This is the true purpose of the supposed “charity” work of the Volunteer Ministers.

As a correlate, consider the acknowledged goal of the Mormon Helping Hands program, as stated on LDS.org:

Enhance the Reputation of the Church

Mormon Helping Hands helps bring the Church out of obscurity and can greatly improve its reputation. Local media interest in these projects helps spread the knowledge of the Church to many who would not otherwise hear of it.”(“Helping Hands” lds.org)

Okay the church is being completely honest – one of the key goals of the programs is to be seen of the world so that the world will celebrate the good works that the church does as the church improves its reputation. If the volunteers don’t wear a branded yellow vest – then the local media interests will only think that there are people independently doing good for goods sake. Without the vests, the media won’t know that they can credit The Church with having done the good service, and give glory where it is due. Does this sound like a program that an organization purporting to follow Christ’s teachings and example would have?

Another objective of the program is stated as the following:

Build Relationships with Opinion Leaders

Church Public Affairs exists to “build strategic relationships with opinion leaders who affect the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.” Service is a powerful tool for influencing the beliefs and opinions of prominent individuals. Mormon Helping Hands is especially effective in developing beneficial relationships between Church leaders and government officials or other opinion leaders.” (“Helping Hands” lds.org)

Was Christ deeply concerned that he and his followers would be praised by the big wigs and important opinion leaders of his time? This program is unabashed in stating that one of its objectives is to influence the opinions of “prominent individuals”. How Un-Christian can a program of service be? They actually print on their website that they are specifically doing service to receive the praise of prominent men – exactly what Christ taught against. This is not service for the sake of service – this is service for the sake of looking good and righteous to others.

The program has further objectives as well:

Share the Gospel Indirectly

Through Mormon Helping Hands, Church members have opportunities to portray the fruits of their faith and dispel unfounded criticism and prejudice toward the Church. While this program is not to be used for proselyting, these activities can help create conditions that are favorable for gospel conversations and may on occasion provide the opportunity to engage missionaries in teaching those who want to know more.” (“Helping Hands” lds.org)

This is where Scientology and Mormons share a true goal in their programs of service. The doublespeak in this paragraph should be obvious to even the most ardent believer. First it says that the program is not to be used for proselyting – then it immediately says in the next sentence that the program creates conditions that are great for talking about the Gospel and having missionaries engage people. You know what that is called? Proselyting. The program is not even bashful about the fact that one of its main objectives is to use service as a pretext for gaining new converts. Like Obamacare learned from Romneycare – the Mormons Helping Hands have learned well from the Scientologist Volunteer Ministers.

There are other objectives listed for the Helping Hands program – “Help the Needy and Improve Communities” and “Strengthen Church Members” Each of those objectives is tinged with the ulterior motives of putting on a display for the community and reactivating less active members. Read them for yourself to see.

The church continues to issue press releases about the service that it does under this program (see MormonNewsroom.org) to make sure that the world can see the good work that they are doing. Now, as a Mormon, you can share these events on social media and get some of that glory and recognition vicariously – for and on behalf of those who are actually doing the service. This will increase the respect that your non-member peers have for you as a Mormon when they see the good works that those people in other parts of the world do who are Mormon too.

Teachings of Christ

The Mormon Helping Hands program was also deployed to assist in the Hurricane Sandy disaster in the Northeast US. Here is a slick video montage of those efforts put together by an independent LDS filmmaker who was there:

 

At timestamp 5:32  Kevin E. Calderwood, the Northeast US Mission President, is heard to describe What he considered to be the main drive for them being there:

“This is really church. You know when the teachings of Jesus Christ sink down into your soul deep enough you want to help your fellow man and when the ox is in the mire (and that’s an understatement here) it’s time for us to put all of our energy and effort to try to help them out.”
(Northeast United States Mission President Kevin E. Calderwood – quickclip)

President Calderwood certainly knows Christ’s teachings about the importance of service and helping out your fellowman. He appears to have a blindspot on Christ’s teachings about how you are supposed to go about doing that. The concept of performing service, fasting, and praying in a private and unassuming attitude was important enough to be a significant theme in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a core aspect of Christ’s teachings. He draws a line – if you do these things to be seen of men – then you have your reward. Jesus even berated the Pharisees for this very thing, saying “But all their works they do for to be seen of men” (Matt 23:5, lds.org).

Doesn’t being a Mission President at least require a passing knowledge of rudimentary Christian principles?

Perhaps the Inspired Version of the text of the New Testament should read as follows:

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another and by wearing branded yellow vests and issuing press releases and inviting media coverage anytime you do something to show that love.” (John 13:35)

Increasing the impact

If you really want to make a big impact in your PR campaign to increase the visibility of the good work that you are doing, then you need to be innovative. During the Hurricane Sandy cleanup Mission President Calderwood demonstrates that he can think outside the box. At timestamp 6:08 he states:

“Yesterday we had about 40 volunteers from the Islamic charities, we had about 50 or so from the Catholic charities. And in addition to that neighbors and people from other neighborhoods that weren’t affected as bad are coming up. We’re giving them these yellow Mormon Hands, uh, Helping Hands tee-shirts and they’re jumping in and helping with us”
(Northeast United States Mission President Kevin E. Calderwood – quickclip)

By adorning people of other faiths or anyone else who wants to help out in your surplus yellow Mormon Hands tee-shirts you can artificially inflate the media portrayal of the good work that you do. Now in the video or photo documentation no one can tell how many of the yellow shirts are actually Mormons versus Catholics, Muslims, or just helpful neighbors. In fact there are no disclaimers that some of them might not be Mormon – the only reason we know they aren’t all Mormon is because President Calderwood gave an unofficial interview and let that detail slip. Most people simply assume that every single yellow shirt represents a Mormon helping out.

Which of these are Muslim, Catholic, atheist, Jewish or Pastafarian? There is no way to tell. Let’s just assume they are all Mormon. If those other churches were true they would have had the insight to make branded vests.

These people of other faiths who didn’t have the foresight to create a marketing campaign around their service activities are bolstering the image and status of the Mormon church – thereby working to build up the “Kingdom of God” on the earth.  That is a service in and of itself.

Helping Hands at the local level

It appears that the program to have these “Mormon Helping Hands” vests and tee-shirts boldly display the good works of the Church and its people in major disaster relief was a success. So much so that it is now being implemented in local communities at the ward and stake level.

In Flower Mound, an affluent suburb of Dallas Texas, The LDS church held a “Day of Service” that was branded and plastered with the bright yellow vests.

Remember when wards would do nice things and no one knew who to praise?

The program worked – it even got a writeup and photographs in the local edition of the Dallas Morning News. When was the last time a ward service activity did that? Those Scientologists were really onto something.

It’s a good thing that there are inspired men at the head of the LDS Church, to know which programs other religions have that they can copy and betray longstanding Christian principles for!

It’s possible that this whole bright yellow vest outfit is simply a safety requirement for insurance purposes… But wait – no. Insurance reasons or safety is not even mentioned on the Church web page for the program. Plus there are examples of service projects that carry no significant insurance or safety risk in which the members continue to be adorned in the loud outfits.

A ward in Florida had a service project where they provided food to the homeless. That is an awesome idea, but what if the homeless people didn’t know who provided them with that food? What if the local community media and important opinion leaders didn’t know who to praise for the efforts? Then all that service would have gone to waste! The Kingdom of God can’t be built up by feeding the homeless in the dark.  Big Bright yellow vests and “Mormon Helping Hands” fix all those problems.

Vests for local ward service?

A ward in florida feeds the homeless - I bet those homeless know who fed them! Now you do too!

If a homeless man gets fed and no one knows about it – did it really happen?

The Principle Applied

To be clear – this is a program of branding and advertising the very acts of service and charity which are supposed to be offered from a converted Christian heart without fanfare or proclaim. Fine. If this is how Mormon service is to be rendered – then so be it. How would other types of service appear when marked by such pageantry?

Blessings are service in the home. Should they not also receive the recognition that only a bright yellow vest bearing the address of the Churches website can bestow?

Blessings are service in the home. Should they not also receive the recognition that only a bright yellow vest bearing the url of the Churches website can bestow?

Blessings are a service are they not?

The Bishop is surely sacrificing and performing service to those in his congregation. The deep circles under his eyes, and his deteriorating health are not easy to see from the stand; and so the vest will remind the congregation of the the countless hours he spends away from his family. That way they can be in greater awe of the sacrifices he makes to perform his service, and better remember to give him praise for it.

The vest reminds people of the great sacrifice the service of the Bishop represents.

While we are at it, since the LDS church is the one true church led by Christ himself we can only assume that the Brethren are following the divine pattern for how service is to be performed. As such there is an important addition that should be added to all of the imagery of Christ:

If Mormon's follow the example of Christ, then this makes sense. Christ's sacrifice was, after all, the ultimate act of service.

If Mormon’s follow the example of Christ, then this makes sense. Christ’s sacrifice was, after all, the ultimate act of service. People need to know that Christ was Mormon - it would help the reputation of the church.

Conclusion

Scientology has employed a slick marketing campaign to display to the world their efforts in disaster relief and service. Their Volunteer Ministers follow a program that is designed for maximum visibility and media coverage, that is specifically targeted to gain media attention and garner the respect and praise of men. The fact that their real stated objectives are to gain converts and spread their organization reveals that their program of service is not an act of charity – but rather an orchestrated marketing campaign.

If you read and accept the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Christ, then you have a blueprint for how service is to be rendered from a converted Christian heart. It is not to be done for worldly recognition, to impress important members of the community, or to be used as a political tool to increase missionary engagements. If you are in the LDS church and you hold to the teachings of Christ, then you must acknowledge that the official “Mormon Helping Hands” program of service and charity which has now moved to the local level is the Church’s model for service. It is more in line with the programs of Scientology than it is with the teachings of Christ.

What does this say about the leaders who have implemented it? Do they understand what it means to be Christian? If they are not following Christ – who are they following? What could have led them down a path that is so clearly in contradiction with the teachings of the Savior?

If you have the privilege of serving your fellowmen as a member of the Mormon church – then do that with all the energy and enthusiasm you can muster. When they pass the box of bright yellow tee-shirts or vests around, I would encourage you to use them as washrags and emergency toilet paper. Don’t let the church use your Christian heart to bolster its own standing in the community or impress important opinion leaders. In so doing it denies you the very blessings that God has promised the unassuming giver. Let your service be a pure expression of the love in your heart and nothing more.

As my dear friend taught:

Allow yourself to be good – for nothing.

Update 1

Several people have scoffed at the idea that the Mormons have copied anything from the Scientologists. Check out these comparisons between the “I’m a Mormon” campaign and an eerily similar Scientology campaign that preceded it by several years.

Now ask yourself whether it is possible that the Mormons may have adopted marketing strategies that they see work for others, such as Scientology. The answer is a resounding yes!

  • Andrea

    We were told by the stake pres we had to wear the vests for insurance purposes.

  • Monica

    The Scientology cross is not a Christian cross and has been around since the mid-1950s and prominently displayed since 1969, so this isn’t something new they thought up just for their t-shirts. It has 8 points, supposedly representing Scientology’s “8 Dynamics”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology_cross

    That said, I sometimes wonder if the Scientologists and Mormons are working with the same PR people, their tactics are so similar. They also ran an “I am a Scientologist” campaign which I believe predated the “I am a Mormon” campaign.

  • LEROY JENKIIIIIIIINS

    The image of Christ with a Helping Hands vest is excellent. It is the ultimate representation of the irony of the church’s PR service stunt. Great article!

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  • Ron Oldstein

    Mormon Helping Hands and the yellow vests began in Brazil in the early ’90s and has since been adopted by the LDS church worldwide. The colors are Brazil’s

    You have no idea how much flack the LDS church takes for ‘being rich’ and well-funded by its members yet no one has (had) any idea the scale of the church’s service and relief programs. No one knew how much time, money and and resources they were actually giving all around the world. The scale is immense The only other organizations that come close are the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Intl. Red Cross. All the public (and the press) saw was the church’s big, beautiful temples. This used to be most visible symbol of the faith.
    The LDS Church is consistently unfairly skewered in the press for having deep pockets and received a lot of negative press, especially during the presidential campaigns over the past 2 presidential elections. It’s sad that they have had to respond in such an outward way but now the blind can see and the deaf can hear.
    Kudos to both churches for helping others when they need it most.

  • Ian

    One time in California our ward was going to do a service project. There were multiple opportunities to do some real service but we ended up just cleaning up some gutters on the busiest street in town. Of course, gutters need to be cleaned, I mean all those pesky sticks and occasional plastic bottles. But what about helping actual people? Why did they choose to clean the gutters? Because that project provided the greatest visibility so everyone driving by would see those yellow vests. I was embarrassed.

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