A guest post by Mette Harrison
LipSense, dōTERRA, Nu Skin, Young Living, Nature’s Sunshine, Tahitian Noni/Morinda, Amway, Melaleuca, Neways, Thrive, Xango/Zija, Younique, Jamberry, Unicity.
If these names sound familiar to you, you probably live in Utah, the number one state in the union for multi-level marketing companies.
I admit, I have multiple issues with multi-level marketing. So many people in my ward are into one of the above companies that sometimes it feels like I have to turn someone down every day. I get invitations to “parties” every week, and just when I think one wave is over, a new wave of marketing starts up.
I was first introduced to MLMs when my aunt tried to sell my father on Amway. Then when I was a new mother, an older woman in our ward quickly tried to resolve any difficulty I had with a new baby by hawking a product from her company. And on it went, with wedding showers with an MLM on the side and visiting teaching companions peddling their wares on our visits.
I’m tired of my friendship being used as “downstream” for people who want to make a buck. I’m also tired of trying to explain science to friends who think that one personal experience with an oil or a supplement is sufficient for extolling the virtues of an unverifiable, unscientific claim for healing.
But I’m also very much aware of the reality that Mormon culture breeds these kinds of companies for a variety of reasons. Here are ten:
- Insularity. Mormons tend to be trusting, especially of other Mormons. We tend to want to believe that other Mormons are good, because surely if they know and believe in the gospel then they want the best for other people and aren’t trying to cheat people out of money.
- Money as a blessing. Mormons may not know what the phrase “prosperity gospel” means, but many believe in the principle that if someone has money then they must be blessed by God.
- An unusually high number of SAHMS. Mormons encourage women to stay at home, but these days that leaves many families to struggle for any extra income. It also means that Mormon stay-at-home moms use their time to try to make money for extra things.
- Easy mobilization. Mormons have a built-in network, complete with phone numbers, physical addresses, and emails. They may not think twice about using this information to send out invitations to their “parties” about a new product/brand that is also an MLM, even if using ward lists for business purposes is against the rules of the church.
- Door to door experience. Former Mormon missionaries are used to sales techniques. They’re not afraid of rejection and they are sometimes very aggressive.
- The personal touch. Mormons are used to hearing testimonials and connecting that to “deeper” truth. Some might argue this means Mormons are particularly vulnerable to anecdotal evidence.
- Big claims. Mormons often hear people scoffing at our religious ideas, our founder, and our scripture. Because we’ve grown accustomed to that, we may be more likely to shrug off criticisms even when we shouldn’t.
- Top-down structure. Mormons are comfortable with a hierarchical institution where people at the top know more than people at the bottom, and to paying money “up-stream.” I know this may sound like a crude way of describing tithing. But looking at it from the outside, there are certain similarities.
- Naivete. Mormons have a tendency to believe that they are “chosen” or “special,” and may be more easily led to believe that an opportunity has come to them from God rather than dismissing things that are “too good to be true.”
- Skimming the surface. Sadly, Mormon church meetings do not lead Mormons to ask hard questions. Instead, we may be more vulnerable to being led to ask the questions that people want us to ask. If a question/answer format is offered, we may not think more deeply.
It’s such a big problem that LDS apostle Dallin Oaks wrote a book about Mormons and Get-Rich-Quick Schemes in 1988, when he worried that members of the Church may be “specially susceptible to materialism.”
More recently, multiple news organizations have also written on the topic (see here and here). But as far as I can tell, there aren’t any significant changes happening.
My Mormon friends, this has to stop. If you are selling something, please don’t confuse that with our church. Don’t use our ward list to target people. Don’t sell your product over friendship with people. You might think it’s not a problem, but it is. I guarantee that you have friends who are pulling away because you are pushing this too hard on them and are having problems distinguishing the gospel from your MLM solutions.
I beg church leaders, bishops especially, to speak from the pulpit on this issue. Please ask ward members to keep MLMs out of church meetings and out of any church connections like home or visiting teaching.
And it would make me happy if you’d spend one of our fifth Sunday meetings on the dangers of MLMs. Bonus points if you can get an actual physician or trained medical professional to help church members learn to distinguish between scientific claims and fake claims. It would also make the ex-Mormons a little less gleeful when there’s another news story about Mormons getting cheated out of their retirement funds—like this one or that one or that one.