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Complementarity of Catholic Social Teaching and Mormon Self-Reliance Teachings

18 Sep, 2015

By Pablo Talavera

Empowerment-PlusThe Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has been licensed to create an interfaith version of the Self-Reliance Curriculum developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) in order to pilot the Empowerment+ initiative in London to counter extremist radicalization. The initiative will be carried out in collaboration with St. Mary’s University, the U.K.’s largest Catholic university.

In this short article, I briefly explore how the self-reliance concepts apply to Catholic Doctrine, Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Inter-religious Dialogue.

The LDS Church promotes the well-being of its members by elaborating on the principal of becoming self-reliant, that is: empowered, integrated, contributing, loving, serving and successful members of society. This revealed truth – in their terms – is manifested in temporal and spiritual forms. The LDS Church has created a toolkit (curriculum) composed of five manuals that help develop the important skills to reach self-reliance. (To explore manuals and videos click here.)

The five printed curriculum materials comprising the Self-Reliance Toolkit are: (1) My Path to Self-Reliance; (2) My Foundation: Principles, Skills, Habits; (3) Starting and Growing My Business; (4) My Job Search; and (5) Education for Better Work.

The first manuscript is a guideline to critically examine one’s life to determine what step he or she should take next, whether it is the path of education, finding another job, or starting a business, all with the goal of becoming self-reliant.

The second manuscript helps people put into practice principles of faith, education, hard work, and trust in the Lord to better enable people to receive the temporal blessings promised by the Lord. The 12 lessons are: (i) Exercise Faith in Jesus Christ; (ii) Use Time Wisely; (iii) Be Obedient; (iv) Manage Money; (v) Work: Take Responsibility; (vi) Solve Problems; (vii) Become One, Work Together; (viii) Communicate: Petition and Listen; (ix) Persevere; (x) Show Integrity; (xi) Seek Learning and Education; (xii) Stay on Task, Receive Ordinances (i.e., sacraments); (xii+) Final Activity: Go Forward and Serve.

The remaining three manuscripts are topical and serve as one of three tracks an individual would be directed toward based on the initial self-assessment.

The theological understanding of self-reliance comes from earlier teachings and revelations in the LDS Church and is grounded in temporal and spiritual truths. LDS President Thomas Monson has taught that self-reliance is ‘the ability, commitment and effort to provide the necessities for self and family’ and that ‘[it] is an essential part of temporal and spiritual well-being.’ The spiritual understanding of self-reliance lies in the ability to practice generosity or charity — ‘only when we are self-reliant can we truly emulate the Savior in serving and blessing others,’ said Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The spiritual understanding of self-reliance then, lies in love for others—a principle that comes across any religion, tradition or humanitarian practice. While the temporal component underlines the dignity of the human person and the ability to provide a clear way to bring about well-being in the holistic sense of the human person. As described by the official site of the LDS Church here, self-reliance embodies temporal well-being through: education, health, employment, family home production and storage, and family finances.

Having provided the above quick synopsis of the theological belief of Self-Reliance in the LDS Church, let us now explore how the Self-Reliance Toolkit corresponds to Catholic Teaching. First, four main theological principles are outlined throughout all manuscripts: (1) Love of God and Love of Neighbor; (2) Faith in God and His Providence; (3) The Divine Dignity of the Human Person; and (4) God’s will and Calling: Talents and Gifts. The theological understanding of self-reliance builds upon these four theological truths.

The LDS Church holds a firm belief that the teaching of self-reliance is ‘not an end in itself but a means to an end’ and the end should be the spiritual truth of Love of God and love of neighbor. By being self-reliant, one is able to help his or her neighbor in temporal means, in the same way, through non-temporal means; one is able to pass down spiritual understanding and revelation to his or her neighbor. Self-reliance is then the means through which we care and love our neighbor.

The self-reliance toolkit also expresses the firm belief of providence in God. While the theological understanding of self-reliance asks of you to be ‘independent’ in the means in which you direct your life, this does not oppose the theological belief that everything comes from God. In fact, the self-reliance toolkit expresses continuously that God provides, but one must ask, seek and knock.

The divine dignity of the human person is a principle that the LDS Church articulates through the Self-Reliance Toolkit as well, with the intention of underlining the primacy of well-being. The human person holds high self-respect and self-esteem as created in the image and likeness of God, and this self-evident truth is set forth by expressing the need to provide for temporal needs. These needs are education, health, employment and financial stability.

Finally, the theological understanding of God’s will and calling can be a vast one. However, the Self-Reliance toolkit narrows this down on the principle of what God has handed-down to you in gifts and talents. Because there is a heavy emphasis on service, the toolkit explores real questions, such as tasks people perform well and helping explore them. Another approach to this question is also through desire and zeal to partake in something—another way of saying God’s calling you to do something. The end again is to obtain fulfillment and at the same time to put the talents and gifts to service for your fellow neighbor, equipping him or her to also reach their own fulfillment and capacity—the Toolkit expresses that talents are to be put in used for the betterment of a community.

To see how these principles unfold through the use of LDS Church scripture and how they pertain to New Testament scripture as well, we have developed a draft document:

Interfaith Faith Principles Scripture Comparison (DRAFT)

This draft document quotes LDS scriptures found in the Self-Reliance Toolkit and it shows how the New Testament scriptures upholds these theological principles. The curriculum is intended to be inter-faith and will provide theological background for other religious traditions as well.

Outlining how the principle of self-reliance ties into these four theological truths — (1) Love of God and Love of Neighbor; (2) Faith in God and His Providence; (3) The Divine Dignity of the Human Person; and (4) God’s will and Calling: Talents and Gifts — the correlation to Catholic Teaching is evident and complementary – there is no contradiction between the Self-reliance principle and Catholic social teaching. In fact, Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Doctrine add to the understanding of these truths.

For the intent of summarizing Catholic Teaching, only few documents will be mentioned that aim and address these self-proclaims truths. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explicitly outlines all of these principles in full length. Chapter 3 outlines the human rights that each individual possess in virtue of ‘being of image and likeness of God.’ Chapter 6 gives insight on the dignity of work and rights of workers, Chapter 7 talks about the economy well-being highlighting that ‘wealth exists to be shared,’ declaring as well the right to private property and business initiative.

In addition, the LDS Self-Reliance Toolkit is a great asset for inter-faith work. The Empowerment Plus Initiative that seeks to counter radicalisation with this toolkit by the application of it across faiths and tradition, sets forth a great opportunity to build upon Second Vatican Council in The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue: Dialogue and Proclamation, specifically in the forms of dialogue as it is prescribed in this document, the dialogue of life, the dialogue of action, the dialogue of theological exchange and the dialogue of religious experience.