Moving Notice

[Ed. note: mmiles continues to grace us with her guest presence]

A few months ago my friend called. Over the phone she said her husband had gone to the bishop to ask if he was still worthy, ready to surrender his temple recommend. The sole reason for his query? They were filing for bankruptcy.

*************

“Are your parents here?”

“No.”

“Well, don’t take these papers down.” And with two pounds of the staple gun, he was gone.

NOTICE OF FORECLOSURE

The papers glared at me as I moved closer to read the small print, documents in a bundle my sixteen-year-old education couldn’t understand. A few hours later my mother’s cheeks were wet as she removed them. Breaking this law seemed small compared to the moral failing of filing for bankruptcy.

My father watched as the Elders Quorum President drove round the corner. He waved,” my father hollered hopefully into the house, “maybe someone would come now. Did they forget?” It would take the whole day to move his wife and twelve children from Bountiful, the land of plenty, to West Jordan, Utah.

The silver and red U-Haul backed up across the spring lawn to the front door could not be missed. Hours went by. No one. Brother Hansen from across the street stopped by and helped for an hour and 1/2 as my father loaded (with the help of a few of us capable teen daughters) the massive truck. His eyes grew bluer and clearer as they filled with tears. My mother sobbed as she did the final cleaning amidst caring for her 3-month-old-infant. There came no Relief that day.

“Why was it any of their business?” my mother had lamented in the evenings leading to this day as we hurriedly prepared to move into a house my grandparents had purchased and put into a trust for our large family. There were rumors, rumors that had gotten back to us. Good members of the church didn’t want to assist us in doing the irresponsible, in filing for bankruptcy, in denying the basic tenets of gospel principle. They didn’t want to enable us in our lack of self-sufficiency. They, of course as they do in Davis County, were doing God’s will.

I don’t blame them. I grew up surrounded by a loving and generous ward, but cultural mores sometimes became a stumbling block, preventing good people from realizing larger and greater capacities to care. Sometimes wedding receptions went unattended, and baby showers were left bereft of well-wishers, when an unholy bride became pregnant before the wedding bed.

The shame of home foreclosure is fading now. The angst my friend experienced over his own worthiness was assuaged by a good bishop. Still sometimes I hear members a little less kind. Sometimes I see people I judge to be less than ethical in this housing mess. Amidst the multitude of moral dilemmas of a fallen housing market, I’m not sure what is right in each situation. I’m only certain that it’s critical that we act compassionately, strengthening feeble knees, and lifting up the hands that hang low.

——————

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Comments

  1. call me completely ignorant…I had no idea filing for bankruptcy was considered to be against the gospel.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks mmiles. This is a good post, and a good reminder.

    When it comes to judging people who are having financial problems, it’s good to keep in mind that both Joseph and Hyrum Smith took refuge in the bankruptcy laws.

  3. Very good post. I’m so glad attitudes of compassion and charity seem to be shifting.

  4. I’m not sure why, but this story reminded me of Elder Holland’s response to Cain’s question:

    “No, we aren’t required to be our brother’s keeper. But we are required to be our brother’s brother.”

  5. My folks had to declare bankruptcy after an extended period of unemployment/uneremployment for my father, and I remember there was a lot of guilt on their part. So much so, that they really didn’t talk much about it with me. I was a junior in high school at the time, and they hid the realities from me until our home was sold, and we moved from the suburbs of Ogden to duplex in the city. I also remember that they eventually repaid all of the debts they owed, but it took them years, and they never owned a home again after that, which was also difficult for them. This was in the late 1960′s, and they certainly viewed this as a moral failure.

    I suspect that in the church we are only seeing the first wave of a flood of bankruptcy filings and foreclosures. Thanks for the reminder that we need to be compassionate, first of all. I have a good friend who likes to remind folks in Gospel Doctrine of the myth of “self-sufficiency”.

  6. Stephanie says:

    This story is painful to read. I wish the rumors were false. I wish it was all a misunderstanding. It’s really just too unChristlike and uncharitable to believe it’s true. But, I remember what it was like to be a teen whose father walked out on us. Some people were very kind (like the family who made me a graduation lei so I wouldn’t feel left out of traditions) and others let us know that we were “unworthy” because we were a divorced family.

    I, too, hope things have changed a lot since then. I can’t imagine this story happening in my ward. I hope it never would.

  7. This post really makes me sad. I have seen a lot of bad stuff happen to fellow ward members. Normally people are there to serve each other.

    Every once in a while people cast stones. These people are usually in the minority thankfully

  8. We had a sort of painful moment in our Relief Society this week when the question of people who “abuse the system” by receiving too much moving assistance or too many casseroles after surgery came up. If nothing else, it shows an appalling lack of imagination–do people *really* think nothing like this could ever happen to them?

  9. Kristine…that reminds me of an RSP telling my sister (as compassionate service leader) to be careful that she not serve too much…or what my sister said, I might become like Christ?

  10. :) although I do think that’s a job where you might easily get burned out trying to do things yourself instead of delegating. Fortunately, I’m very obviously mean, so no one will ever give me that calling!

  11. HA! me too Kristine!

  12. Natalie K. says:

    Eviction sucks. When I was 12, we got kicked out of a home, and my parents used the last of their funds to get us all into a Hometown Buffet. We kids went crazy at the dessert bar, as we sat in the restaurant for 5 hours, while my parents tried to contact someone that would let us stay with them.

    And as we were pulling out of the parking lot, these words came on the radio: “Landlord kicked you out of your bed? You got no place to rest your head? Don’t worry. Be happy.” Inspired, I tell you.

  13. StillConfused says:

    Interesting. I figured the people didn’t show because they just didn’t feel like it. That has always been my experience.

  14. While I believe in self-sufficiency — it is so important to remember that there are just some things that can’t be prevented, hence why bankruptcy laws exist. How quick we are to judge and forget that we may be just a few choices/events away from the moment ourselves (i.e. if I lost my job, etc.)

    Life is fragile

  15. Its interesting to note that bankruptcy laws are largely framed around biblical notions of debt forgiveness in Hebrew Law, if I’m not mistaken.

  16. Shockingly sad. So sorry to hear this.

  17. My parents moved into a new ward in the SLC Valley in 1989. Several months later, my Dad lay in a coma, after heart surgery went bad. For almost a month, he lay in a coma. I flew out for a couple weeks to help my Mom and several siblings with the struggle. During that entire month, not a single member visited nor checked up on my Mom. Their former bishop in Sandy came by several times to see what he could do to help.
    I visited my Mom’s ward once during that time. I won’t go into details, but by the time I left 3 hours later, I felt I had less Spirit than when I’d entered, and I knew it was just a matter of time before a tornado swept the ward away.

    Two weeks after my Dad passed away, my Mom moved across the street into another ward.

    When we are too busy to care, we are too busy for God.

  18. #17,

    The story of your father is too familiar. Shortly before the members drove us out of town, my wife had surgery with complications that turned what was normally an outpatient procedure into a several week ordeal. Not only did nobody from our branch come, but I learned later that the Branch President went so far as to tell people not to come.

    Less than a year after they drove us out, the district and branch were dissolved and absorbed into a stake headquartered over an hour away. Not the same as a tornado, but that district and branch received the fruits of their labors. Why do some people make it so hard?

  19. Recently, I co-hosted a baby shower for an unwed mother. I was asked not to pass out invitations at church, not before or after either. In fact, we had to cancel the first date that was before the baby’s birth because so many of the potential guests did not want to encourage her to keep the baby. Ultimately, there was a huge showing for this mother and her baby. (Thank you, email and facebook) Still those who couldn’t make it before the baby’s birth didn’t make it after either. They simply didn’t want their presence to say that out-of-wedlock birth was OK. I think it would have simply said we love you.

    I’ve never seen the same kind of behavior for bankruptcy or divorce. I have seen similar disapproval over taking government aid.

  20. that’s a sad tale to be sure. the good news is that for most of the church, the damage of seeing your ‘brethren and sisters’ wave at you and look the other way in your hour of distress and need just isn’t that much of a possibility due to the geographic realities of church life outside of utah.

  21. Rameumptom… on the other end of the spectrum. My in laws ward was amazing! Shortly after they moved there Dad was paralyzed from teh neck down. The ward was so helpful. For a year and a half two men came every night to help mom get dad to bed. It was only 10 minutes, but it was such a lifesaver! They helped build the ramp for the house. There were so many little things done. Mom had help in the morning, and my dh came when he could. They kept in contact with my husband as well to correlate aid and talk about how best to help mom. …that ward also has checked up on her ALL The time now that dad is gone, shoveled her walk, come to help in little ways (get her christmas lights up etc).

    Truely amazing…

  22. Mark Brown says:

    Here is something else I find interesting. Whenever the topic of fast offering expenditures arises, the conversation almost always focuses on making sure that recipients get only what they need, that they are worthy of assistance (whatever that means) and that they work for what they get. We never talk about being sure we’re not neglecting somebody. I think it will be an indication of progress when we are as offended at the thought of someone who needs assistance but isn’t getting it as we are at the thought that somebody might be getting too many potatoes from the storehouse.

  23. #22 – My (limited) experience has been different. I’ve heard a stake president advise bishops to actively seek those needing fast offering assistance, and I’ve heard multiple bishops and elders quorum presidents say that home teachers need to be alert to the financial needs of their families.

  24. I was 16 years old, my family was on welfare since my parents divorced. My dad didn’t pay child support, my mom was struggling to make a little income sewing out of the home to provide a little for her 8 kids. The youngest 3 under the age of 5. We had a wonderful Bishop and Hometeachers who helped us immensely. Unfortunately not everybody who helped was so nice. I remember driving alone to the Bishop’s Storehouse to pick up our monthly food order. As I was walking out with several cases of milk, I was stopped by one of the workers there who demanded to see my food order. He then saw my count was correct on the form and then berated me for taking so much and then told me my Bishop should know better than to approve it. I told him to take it up with my Bishop then and continued out the door. He was gratefully elsewhere as I continued to pack the car.

  25. What a sad story. But being a life time member of the church as I’m sure lots of you are, don’t you realize that the more tithing you pay the more righteous you are? At least that is the impression I was always under.

  26. For some of the inattention being described – a branch or ward being dissolved or absorbed back into a stake in some way seems like a very low level consequence. In fact, it seems like a punishment to other units that then have to absorb some very thoughtless people.

  27. Here is something else I find interesting. Whenever the topic of fast offering expenditures arises, the conversation almost always focuses on making sure that recipients get only what they need, that they are worthy of assistance (whatever that means) and that they work for what they get. We never talk about being sure we’re not neglecting somebody. I think it will be an indication of progress when we are as offended at the thought of someone who needs assistance but isn’t getting it as we are at the thought that somebody might be getting too many potatoes from the storehouse.

    #22 – My (limited) experience has been different.

    Mark Brown & Brian-A,
    My experiences (I’m just a young kid, but still…) include more experiences like Brian-A in #23, by probably a ratio of 10 or 20 to one.

  28. Molly Bennion says:

    Anyone else think such cruel judgmentalism happens more in wards with few welfare needs than in those with many?
    Not to slam all well off wards. Every Christmas one in Seattle’s suburbs donates very generously to the needy in our inner city ward.

  29. Adding to Natalie’s comment in 14:
    I don’t have a reference handy, but I’ve read in the past that, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people who file for bankruptcy have experienced one of the 3 following problems: severe health problems, divorce, or losing one’s job. All the more reason for us to respond with empathy and compassion, and to avoid judging.

  30. I was in an inner city branch for awhile and was so impressed by how well the branch members stood by each other-whether it was throwing a baby shower for an unwed teenage mother or cheering when one woman announced her commitment to finally quit smoking from the pulpit. How telling that a few years later that unwed mother came back to visit the branch after moving away–still active in the church and engaged to be married. I wonder if that would have happened if the branch hadn’t been so supportive of her. I also wonder if the spirit in that branch had a lot to do with the fact that most members were converts and at the lower end of the economic spectrum. There was definitely a spirit of “we’re all in this together” that I miss.

  31. All,
    Thanks for your generous comments.
    I don’t think cultural mores trumping Christian mores is at all unique to Mormon communities.
    It has been my experience in serving in the church that leadership most often does look for those in need. However it has also been my experience that after those in need are found, there often tends to be an attitude of needing to teach people lessons (as if Hesper Prinn wore the scarlet letter long enough, she’d ‘get it).
    This was a sad time for our family, but I think it’s even sadder when people themselves feel unworthy of worship because of traditions that have been passed on. It’s a little too close to the dross being cast out and unable to worship in Alma.

  32. Two comments:

    I agree that when a need arises the time for teaching ‘self-reliance’ has probably past. There we should be quick to help and then build networks of help around people who have received such help.

    Secondly, I was recently in a meeting with some Stake leaders where the question was raised about whether someone who had been brankrupt could hold a TR or be a Bishop. Thankfully any idea that this was accurate was quickly debunked and we had a quick conversation about JS’s bankruptcy.

    Thanks for this post.

  33. Rico, that is a good point. I’ve always heard that people called into positions like Bishop or Ward Financial Clerk where they handle ward money need to be currently financially stable to reduce the temptation to embezzle. Is that true?

  34. IME, I have heard that people that SP’s are asked about whether people are in severedebt, and that this might have an influence upon someone’s call. However I am unaware of a hard-and-fast rule. Yet, I can imagine that those with severe debts would rarely be called to be Bishops. I have not heard it discussed in relation to Ward Clerks.

  35. Leaders can’t possibly know how in debt someone is.

  36. Unless they have already asked for assistance. In all honesty, I wonder if this is where part of the idea that being in debt or severe financial hardship is “less righteous” comes from. Or why someone would feel bad about it. I’m not saying it is warranted – just thinking there might be a connection. DH is in the Bishopric. If he lost his job (very real possibility – we talk about it every day) and we couldn’t pay the mortgage and he was released from the Bishopric, I imagine (knowing him) that he would feel it was a reflection of his righteousness. Again, I’m not saying he would be right – just that I can see it happening.

  37. #32-#34, in regards to reducing temptation to embezzle. The current requirements for handling funds and the twice annual audits that go on severely reduce even the possibility that a bishop or ward clerk could get away with the funds. And if a bishop is in need of welfare assistance (either fast offering funds or orders from the bishop’s storehouse) the stake president’s signature is required. It would take a pretty serious conspiracy involving three or four people to pull something like this off. I can’t say it doesn’t happen, but it’s a lot different than when wards and stakes had much more in the way of cash sitting in checking accounts, such as in the old building fund days of the 1950-1970 period.

    Bishops do get unemployed, have severe health crises, and other bad things happen to them that sometimes require that they are the recipients of church assistance.

  38. Stephanie,
    The thing is you can be seriously in debt and not be asking the church for assistance. You can also have no debt and ask the church for assistance.

  39. I’ve heard people who should know better, including an Institute instructor, make the claim “Bankruptcy is simply a result of failure to pay a full tithe.” He even had the unmitigated gall to close in the name of Christ.

    That being said, bishops do get to hear it all. I’ve got an uncle who was serving as a bishop once upon a time. A family bought a rather expensive home, moved into the ward, and then went to the bishop to explain that they couldn’t pay the mortgage and needed Church assistance. My uncle told them that the solution was simple – sell the house, move into something cheaper. They didn’t move, but he never saw them in church again.

    It’s too bad people don’t get more basic financial training. The most house you can afford is roughly 2.5 times annual income. Not 4 times income, not 10 times income (I’ve seen both). Too many times, I’ve seen young couples buy just as much as they can possibly afford. But, people should also know that it’s OK to buy less house, that there’s no shame in getting something that’s perhaps 1.5 to 2 times income. Makes it a lot easier to take care of the $20 expenses if you start out with fewer $1000 expenses.

  40. stephanie, I know a bishop who lost his job for over a year (while one child was in college, one was on a mission and now after he recently got a job another is getting married-and in college). (the children at home are working and greatly contributing to their own pursuits-but the parents were helping a little in each case) No vacations, no dramatic spending, no craziness…life happening at a fast and furious pace to a ward that couldn’t pick up the pieces for him…

    he is contemplating bankruptcy

    On the other hand a family in my sisters ward wants to declare bankruptcy and was asking how thorough the process is…they are hoping no one will notice their ever current disney passes, last year’s cruise or vacation…and they plan on somehow keeping the house (possibly temporarily putting it in someone else’s name to do so)

  41. I think the discussion is clearly suggesting that while we need to use tithing and fast offering funds with wisdom, we should be dedicated towards blessing others. Wasn’t it King Benjamin that warned us to help the poor and needy without judging them?
    As for Self-Reliant, I wish the Church would go to a different term: Inter-Reliant or Interdependent. Regardless of who we are, we are all dependent upon others for certain things. We need to learn to do our part, but then graciously accept the assistance we still need.

    Over the years, I’ve known a few priesthood holders who would rather see their family starve than accept assistance from the Bishop. Why? Because we are now commanded to be self-reliant, and they feel that if they are not, then they somehow must be sinning. It becomes a self-worth issue for the individual.

    I would prefer we help them to do their part, and then have ward units step up to bless them/us where we fall short. I mean, I gladly help members of my ward with computer problems. I hope that if I ever needed my car fixed and couldn’t afford it, other members would step up and take care of me.

  42. As members of this church the call by our leaders has been constant to be wise stewards of our resources. Every one of the living prophets have counseled us to get out of debt and stay out of debt. Yet the members do not heed this counsel.

    My personal experience with assistance came at a time when I went through a period of unemployment, and subsequent bout with depression. At the time I did not feel any “social spurn” by members of my ward. I continued to serve, in my callings and felt buoyed up by members from my ward.

    Subsequently I found my niche, in a business that I love, have supported a missionary, paid for my children’s weddings, paid off all my debts and have a substantial savings set aside, and a 2 year supply of freeze dried food set aside for an emergency food supply.

    Having been called to Home Teach a family who moved to our ward from the west coast and had not internalized this provident living counsel has been a “Teaching Moment” for me.

    This family had debt that was unsustainable. Two mortgages on the home, credit cards to the tune of 1/2 of annual income, Auto loans on two cars. The father then lost his job. Marital problems ensue, requests for church assistance etc… As the Home Teacher I felt obligated to help and I had enough relationship with this family that they welcomed the help.

    I helped by teaching them the basics of consumer finance. Introduce them to the “Dave Ramsey” radio talk show. They subsequently internalized the concepts and made moves to get out of debt and stay out and committed to not get back in. Subsequently they have moved back to the west coast because he found employment there. They thanked me for teaching them these principles. I also assisted them with the move back to the west coast and purchased some items from them so they had the ability to put deposits down on utilities etc.. I also helped load the Truck as they were getting ready to move.

    It was a good experience for me and a learning one for them. I just hope more members will heed the counsel to live providently. The scriptures teach that the borrower is a slave to the lender. Let’s not be enslaved to lenders. This family and any family can brave any economic storm easier if we will live as we have been taught to live.

  43. Layne,
    Congratulations.

  44. mmiles, thank you for sharing this story. I am so sorry for the lack of support offered to your family during what was clearly a very difficult time.

    There were a few comments that really struck a chord with me:

    “I think the discussion is clearly suggesting that while we need to use tithing and fast offering funds with wisdom, we should be dedicated towards blessing others. Wasn’t it King Benjamin that warned us to help the poor and needy without judging them?”

    “We had a sort of painful moment in our Relief Society this week when the question of people who “abuse the system” by receiving too much moving assistance or too many casseroles after surgery came up.”

    I absolutely agree with these comments, and I feel that sometimes the real difficulty lies at the feet of the ward leadership. While it is not our job to pass judgement on others, it is still ultimately falls to the bishop or RS president to determine if the assistance requested is actually helping the individuals in question, or enabling them to continue to make choices that will prevent them from becoming self-reliant in the long run.

    As a RS president, I had a few instances where I found myself in the awkward position of needing to explain to people that they were asking for inappropriate aid from the church. It can be especially difficult to explain to a woman 15 years older than yourself that when she has a previously scheduled surgery, the Relief Society will not be bringing meals to her family of 5 (the youngest of whom is 17) every day for 6 weeks. I felt prompted to explain that we were very willing to bring her X number of meals, and asked her which days would be most helpful to have those meals delivered, and then counseled her to spend a little time in the next few weeks before her procedure getting some frozen food that would be convenient for her family, and preparing her adult children who lived at home to take on a little more responsibility around the house.

    This situation, and other similar ones, however, were not discussed amongst the RS or the ward at large. They were prayerfully and privately dealt with between the bishop, myself, and the families involved. We included HTers and VTers as needed. And we never left our ward members without some form of assistance. It may not have been exactly what they asked for or wanted, but it was what we felt prompted to do by the Spirit. We tried not to judge others’ situations and choices, but to use discernment in order to help them find the best path for their family.

  45. I once served as a counselor in a small Native American branch. Since there were only two active Melchezidek Priesthood holders, our stake provided the leadership–Branch Presidency, Relief Society President, and Primary President. The BP and his wife, the PP, also did all the youth programs. The branch was too remote to any Storehouse, so the BP bought all the food orders himself. He told me one day that when he shopped, he always kept in mind that the Savior would give the best quality He could, and so he always bought the best cuts of meat, and the best quality of other products. To me, that man remains the Gold Standard for attitude towards the flock he served.

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