The CNN headline reads In Chinese town, quake shakes faith in school construction, 200 children were crushed to death in the collapse of a three story school. MSNBC.com reports that the U.S. Envoy to Myanmar is working to persuade them to allow aid in while fears are rising that thousands could starve to death. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the U.S. is On Track Toward Record Spring Tornadoes.
With all of these disasters around the world, I thought I would tackle the question of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and welfare, or as I like to call it "Caring for the hungry, thirsty, and naked." For a few years I lived in Clearfield and served as the Elders Quorum President (basically that is the individual concerned with the welfare both of material and spiritual needs for everyone in the local congregation between the ages of 18 to 50). The Bishop heard President Gordon B. Hinckley speak about living within your means and the Bishop felt inspired that living within our means included the congregations donations to fast offerings (money used by Bishops to help local members of the congregation during times of need).
In preparation of announcing this message to the congregation I was asked to prepare a lesson about welfare and fast offerings. I provide all of my scriptural references and a brief discussion about the scriptures quoted.
Abstract: Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel the need to follow the example of Jesus Christ by caring for the sick and needy and believe there are eternal blessings for those that give of their abundance for such noble purposes.
Jesus teaches caring for the needy and sick
We begin with the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew Chapter 25 versus 35 to 40. Christ has just talked about separating the goats from the sheep, it can be inferred that the sheep did what the King states:
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, an dye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer him saying, Lord when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Mormon scripture explains why we care for others
Mormons believe these words of the Savior and follow his words by offering fast offerings once a month. Mormons believe in helping those and have recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 104 versus 15 to 18 the following reason for caring.
“And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
“Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
I thought those were some tough words. But upon further reflection I realized that as an American I have been amply blessed with more than many others around the world. The good Bishop in Clearfield felt the same desire, he mentioned something to the effect that we lived in one of the wealthiest nations of the earth and he no longer wanted to take all of the welfare money, but his desire was to give welfare money to the worldwide Church to use in other countries. I feel I have been blessed and knowing what ten dollars a month will do in a third world country is amazing. Perhaps that is why in the afterlife an individual that doesn’t give to the poor and needy will be in torment, because of all the good that could have been done with their money while on earth.
Mormons understand giving up things for the good of others
Giving to the poor and needy is a law of the gospel. For Mormons the ideas of caring for the needy as spoken of by Jesus Christ are further identified in Doctrine and Covenants Section 42 versus 29-34 and versus 39-55. This is a long quote, but I will include it all and just highlight some of the important words of Jesus Christ.
“If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments. And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken. And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.
“And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family. And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who had need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.
“Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council.
“For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel. And again, thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands; And let all things be done in cleanliness before me.
“Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer. And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy. And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for and lay their hands upon them in my name; and if they die they shall die unto me, and if they live they shall live unto me.
“Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection. And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them; And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter. And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed. He who hath faith to see shall see. He who hath faith to hear shall hear. The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap. And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities.
“Thou shalt stand in the place of thy stewardship. Thou shalt not take thy brother’s garment; thou shalt pay for that which thou shalt receive of thy brother. And if thou obtainest more than that which would be for they support, thou shalt give it into my storehouse, that all things may be done according to that which I have said.
Just two quick notes: I love the statements being idle and not wearing the garments of the laborer – Mormons believe people should be working. I also love the statement about that sick being nourished with all tenderness and not by the hand of an enemy.
Mormons donate time and money today
Currently Mormons do not give all of their property to the Church; members usually donate time or money. I’ve often thought I don’t have enough to give and I often think of a parable Jesus Christ taught, I use the words of Mark in chapter 12 versus 41 to 44.
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
“And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Mormons understand that giving must be done in wisdom
The question that comes to mind after reading this is: “What can you and I give?” Mormons understand that you don’t have to give everything, but of our abundance we can certainly spare a little. Don’t eat out one month and donate it as a fast offering. The words written in Mosiah chapter 4 versus 26 to 28 apply here.
“And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you – that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God – I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
“And I would that ye should remember, that whosever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree, or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also.
Sign of the true church of God – Caring for the poor
I like the idea that retaining a remission of your sins day to day that we should impart of our substance to the poor. There is something about gratitude when we take care of others. This service to the poor is a sign of the true church of God. In Matthew chapter 11 versus 2 to 6 we can read:
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and she John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me.
Who deserves care more than those at the bottom? I can’t think of anyone more deserving of care than those mentioned by Jesus. I also like that last comment blessed is he that is not offended. I think about this because sometimes people have difficulty receiving help. I have come to believe that there are certain seasons of life. Sometimes we are in the position to contribute to the communal stew and other times we are in the position to accept the stew "in all tenderness... and not at the hand of an enemy". I don’t think people need feel guilty or bad about accepting help.
Mormons believe work is central to the creation of humankind
I am not sure how I feel about idlers, but I think most members of the church recognize there are some that take advantage, and it is up to the bishops of the church to determine the correct course of action for each person requesting assistance. As Mormons, we believe that hard work is a central part of this life. In Genesis chapter 3 versus 17 to 19 we read:
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for they sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Commandment to rich and poor – Be Humble
Working for our own sustenance is a good thing. And caring for the poor and needy is a great thing. We can see the commandment to both the rich and the poor in Doctrine and Covenants section 56 versus 16 to 19. How strange that both those giving and those receiving need a commandment to be humble, to share, and to work.
“Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!
“Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
“But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs. For behold, the Lord shall come and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice;
I love the end statement here “the Lord shall come and his recompense shall be with him”.
Mormons believe joy is promised to those that share
In the end, while some of the scriptures have strong language about hell and not being saved. The majority of Mormons are motivated by more than fear of some future punishment. Instead, most Mormons are motivated today by a hope of joy. In Doctrine and Covenants section 11 versus 6 to 14 describe a view common to many Mormons.
“Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion. Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich. Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be done unto you; and, if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
“Say nothing but repentance unto this generation. Keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed. Behold, thou hast a gift, or thou shalt have a gift if thou wilt desire of me in faith, with an honest heart, believing in the power of Jesus Christ, or in my power which speaketh unto thee; For, behold, it is I that speak; behold, I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee. And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good – yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.
In conclusion, the welfare of those in China, Myanmar, tornado alley and other locations around the world are receiving assistance from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For Mormons caring for the needy is part of their religious beliefs. For that reason, Mormons take care of their own and others.