Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Church As An Inclusive Institution

While serving as a missionary in Santiago del Estero, part of the Argentina Cordoba Mission, during the Dirty War, my companion and I were approached by a young woman maybe a little older than us.  She asked why we were proselytizing rather than helping those trying to change the Argentine government.  This by chance meeting haunted me even before I learned that young people like her simply disappeared, hidden victims of a silent war.  She was sincere and scared.  We asked for an opportunity to teach her but she declined stating that we would not be safe associating with her.  

I did have an immediate answer for her.  By converting people through the Spirit, their lives and behavior change; they will have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).   Recent work by Acemoglu and Robinson summarized in Why Nations Fail provides a second answer that is secular.  They divide man-made political institutions into two types, extractive and inclusive.  Extractive political institutions grant power to a narrow elite and place few constraints on their application of power.  Extractive economic institutions are created by the political elite to marshal the resources for the political and economic benefit of the elite. Argentina was dominated by extractive institutions then and is little better today.  Inclusive political institutions broadly disperse political power within a state sufficiently centralized to police its borders.  Inclusive economic institutions allow a broad segment of society to freely participate in and benefit from economic activities.  Property rights are well defined, secure and easily enforced, and support the entry of new businesses into an industry.  

The Church is an inclusive organization.  Wards (congregations) are organized geographically and, in my experience, come close to maximizing the heterogeneity of the membership that speaks a common language.  All members, regardless of income level and social position, are expected to conform to a common socially healthy set of beliefs and life style.  Members are expected to help one another including support for their poor.  This help includes not only traditional goods and services but investments in human capital as well.  

My original answer did not satisfy this young woman and the second may have been rejected too but I believe Ezra Taft Benson’s description of missionary work in a war weary world.

We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world.  That is the cause that must unite us today.  Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction.  Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family

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