It is common knowledge now that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, or a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This topic has become front and center for a number of weeks, and many people have questions about Romney’s financial donations to the Church. What are these donations and what is Humanitarian Service in the Church?
All faithful Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) are asked to pay tithing. This means 10 percent of their annual income. On top of the tithing, each month, members are asked to fast (go without food or drink for two consecutive meals) and donate at least the cost of the meals they have foregone to their congregation. These donations are called fast offerings. The bishop of the congregation uses these funds to help members of the congregation who are having financial difficulties. If the fast offering funds exceed the needs of the local congregation, the bishop sends the excess funds to Church headquarters, where those funds are used for the same purpose, but on a larger level.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also encouraged to donate to the Humanitarian Aid fund. This fund is used by the Church to help victims of war and natural disasters around the world. One hundred percent of the funds donated to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid fund are used to help other people. The Church absorbs its own overhead costs.
When Mitt Romney released his tax records, a great deal of speculation was given to the amount of money donated to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All donations to the Church are confidential, however, so we cannot say how much Romney donated to each fund. If he is a faithful tithe payer, it is safe to assume he paid 10 percent of his income in tithing. The rest could have been donated to various organizations in the Church.
The Humanitarian Aid program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the largest and best-organized of its kind in the world. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are frequently some of the first responders to natural disasters with food, clothing, and other essential emergency items. They are also present in the rebuilding efforts. The main principle of the Humanitarian Aid program, as well as the Church’s Welfare program is to help people help themselves. Self-sufficiency is a guiding principle. The main goal is to meet people’s immediate needs and then help them to get back on their feet as soon as possible.
Since the program’s inception in 1985, 185 countries have continually benefited from the Church’s humanitarian aid. Aid is given without respect to nationality or religious affiliation. Mormon doctrine teaches that all people are God’s children and should be treated with love and respect. While many humanitarian services are in response to emergencies (e.g. earthquakes, floods, war, and famine), other projects are long term and are aimed towards meeting deep-rooted needs such as providing clean water or alleviating disease.
Mormon Humanitarian Aid Projects
Anyone can donate to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints humanitarian fund, though it is largely Church members who do donate. Five ongoing global projects include neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations.
While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has donated millions of dollars’ worth of aid and supplies each year to countries around the world, they hesitate proclaiming their efforts, because that is not why the aid is given. The New Testament tells us that when help is given to be recognized of men, the reward is given in the recognition:
“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” (Matthew 6:2–4).
In 2007, journalists from Haiti visited Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. While there, they asked the Church to better publicize the efforts they had made in Haiti, because this would raise awareness of the present need and encourage others to donate. Taking into account the admonition above, the Church has tried to counter it with another admonition found in Matthew to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The Church’s behavior remained as it always had been, to allow the recognition that came to be a natural byproduct of the media noticing the good works, rather than performing service to draw attention.