Providing In The Lord’s Way, Part 1

“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age…” [1]

This post and the one which will follow are an attempt to think along with Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his sermon in the priesthood meeting at the recent general conference.

He begins by expressing his profound gratitude for the Deseret brand canned peaches and clothing which were donated by latter-day saints in the United States and which blessed his boyhood home in Germany in the aftermath of World War II.  He then goes to our canon of scripture and grounds his sermon in three texts:

“If thou lovest me … thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support” (D&C 52:40)

“Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple” (D&C 104:18)

“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.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Two things impressed me about this sermon.  First, the scripture citations admonish us to remember the poor, to think about them and not forget them.  And second, Elder Uchtdorf emphasizes that our spiritual salvation is directly connected to the way we seek after and care for the temporal needs of the poor.  In an important way, the future progress of the church depends on our willingness and ability to care for the needy.  In Neal Kramer’s review of the new Parley P. Pratt biography we see an especially good example of this principle: “[Pratt] organized the first shiploads of poor saints to leave Liverpool, sail to the United States, and come to Nauvoo. Reading the book’s account of these events, it was easy for me to see an important and inspiring aspect of the restoration emerge. The poor needed the Church and the Church needed the poor…..For all this to happen, someone needed to have the vision and the empathy to put a migration program to work. It reveals the Lord at work through Parley P. Pratt and other apostles to save the poor and through them to save the Church. The pattern continues to be crucial to the building up of Zion.”

Yet another illustration of this principle is seen in D&C section 136, where Brigham Young reveals “the word and will of The Lord to the camp of Israel”.  Young has a well-earned reputation as a leader and organizer, but despite his planning, we were overtaken by events and the evacuation of Nauvoo was a disaster.  People were strung out on the trail all across Iowa, from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs.  More importantly, the neediest of the saints were unable to proceed past the western bank of the Mississippi.  They stayed there in the poor camps, with several dying each day. [2]  Young arranged for their rescue. and a few months later, as they were planning to leave Winter Quarters, he was determined not to repeat the mistakes.  “Let the companies be organized with captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, and captains of tens….Let each company bear an equal proportion, according to the dividend of their property, in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people.”  (emphasis mine)  It was at this point that Brigham Young began to grow into the leader we recognize.

I am proud of our LDS system of providing for the poor, but I think I am mistaken to think that it is anywhere near adequate for the needs at hand.  The Liahona Children’s Foundation [3]  estimates that about 1,000 LDS children starve to death, every year, and thousands of other suffer malnutrition, which leads to severely negative outcomes.  The fact that this disgraceful condition exists among us should temper the self-congratulation about our church welfare plan.  Indeed, I sometimes marvel at how little we do, given our capacity.

Next time:  The way forward.

——————————————————————————————–

1.  Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, 4:609

2.  For the definitive treatment of the rescue of the Nauvoo Poor Camps, see Dialogue, V. 19 N.4, p.101

3.  You can help here:  http://www.liahonachildren.org/#!donate

Comments

  1. This past weekend I heard Amy Antonelli, former Director of Rising Star Outreach, speak not only about her time in India working in the leper colonies, but of principles of service that apply wherever we are. Listening to her I was struck with how easily my heart leaps at the thought of traveling to another part of the world and delving into such a project, yet how apathetic I am about relieving suffering around me. Sure, there are kindnesses extended to the people I know, but I rarely think (or follow through on those thoughts) how I might offer relief to those in my community at large.

    I came away realizing that a true disciple seeks to relieve suffering wherever they are. Truly, I do not do enough, given my capacity.

  2. Sunny, thanks for your comment which expresses thoughts I was having a hard time putting into words.

    I have a son who went through a period of sustained and serious hunger. He walked miles to get food from a food pantry when it was available. He is now allowing us to help him more than he did at that time. But when he prays (he is religious, but not longer self-identifies as a church member), he always remembers the poor and those who are without food and shelter.

    His prayers have moved me to consider what more I can do in my own area to relieve more suffering.

  3. Thank you for the post, Mark Brown. I look forward to additional installments in this series.

    To add my two cents, I feel that real movement toward the economic aspect of a Zion society could start if we stopped using the term “self-reliance” and replaced it with greater emphasis on the term “stewardship.” I don’t mean that the principles surrounding self-reliance are wrong, but I do think the term is open to abuse by some members seeking to excuse their excesses. Self-reliance can easily transform into selfishness. But stewardship recognizes that all things ultimately belong to the Lord and should therefore be used according to His directions. (I cannot understand how some members can have a full-size basketball court inside their house and think that this is how the Lord would have them dispose of the His blessings.) And the Lord made clear that His way isn’t only about eliminating hunger. His way is that “the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low”(D&C 104:16). His way is that there are no “rich and poor” among His people (4 Nephi 1:3 among many other scriptures).

  4. For the 5th Sunday lesson last month, our bishop challenged the ward to be more generous in our fast offerings during November and December so we could better meet the needs of ward members during the holiday season. I’m glad that this year I can do that, when three years ago, we needed help.

  5. Great series, I look forward to the remaining posts.

    One thing that seems to limit our charity is the division between church member and non-member. Because of the counsel that we look after our own first (this is the counsel to bishops isn’t it?) we seem to think it applies to us as individuals and families as well. When resources are limited we do have a need to make those kinds of delineations, but not always. With church membership sprinkled throughout the world we can spread the good news of the gospel in more ways than Books of Mormon.

    We were foster parents for a brief time and I was surprised at how many members thought that we were putting ourselves at peril and going overboard, as well as stepping into the unknowns of working with a “worldly” agency.

  6. I am absolutely floored that children in the Church are dying of malnutrition (or even suffering severe ongoing malnutrition). I hope that this has simply fallen under the Church radar or that the data are somehow off?? I hope I have not mistakenly believed that we at least took care of our own poor? I was also struck by Andrew’s point about the problem with the term “self-reliance” (a term I have always loved, imagining my comfort some future day when the rest of the foolish world would be in turmoil; something akin to sitting by the fire during a blizzard). Even those who realize that indoor home basketball courts clearly fall in the category of ungodly extravagance can feel quite sure that the term “self-reliance” justifies an enormous savings account and endless costly hedges against personal disaster and a gun with which to defend the food storage. “Stewardship” requires both financial wisdom and a willingness to trust that deep personal sacrifice and tolerance for some personal risk will win us the sustaining hand of God. Of course drawing all these lines requires personal revelation, but most of us (myself included) are consistently erring on the side of self-preservation, often in the name of “self-reliance” or “self-sufficiency.” So much to think about. And act upon. Ouch.

  7. Ron Madson says:

    Marie and all,
    Here is a link to a previous By Common Consent post from Brad Walker who founded the Liahona Children Foundation for more detailed information: http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/01/27/approaching-zion-solving-the-problem-of-malnutrition/
    They also can in some locations provide a fireside with graphics/slides, etc.

  8. Mark, did you get the sense from Elder Uchtdorf’s talk that he was asking Ward’s to be more creative and self-sufficient so that they did not have to rely upon Church welfare in the same way that we had in the past?

  9. Andrew–I love your thought of using “stewardship” instead of “self-relilance” in addressing how we care for the poor.

    Too many Mormons credit themselves for their own good fortune and condemn those in unfavorable circumstances. Maybe we all need to read Mosiah 4 more carefully.

  10. Chris Gordon says:

    @Andrew, I agree with the sentiment that self-reliance can be a self-damning term. It opens the door for too much judgment of self one is struggling, to say nothing of the implication that others see that you “clearly can’t provide for yourself.”

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    jendoop, yes, it was interesting for me to realize that I think of needy LDS people differently than I think of needy people in general.

    Marie, yes, it is tough to face up to the reality that we are failing, to some extent. Ron, thanks for providing that link.

    Aaron R., Yes, I do. In fact, I think Elder U. was giving us a big, flashing, neon green light to think creatively and act without needing to be told every jot and tittle by SLC. It was a remarkable talk in several ways.

  12. Mark, I have a friend here in my ward who has on several occasions referred to the “myth of self reliance”, and feels we are not doing enough for those around us who are suffering. He likes to use this scripture from Haggai Chappter 1:

    6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.

    7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.

    We’ve seen a definite effort in our Puget Sound area to be more involved with the greater community in service projects, including a recent month long food drive with one of the local food banks. We enjoyed participating, and being directly involved with the non-members that live in our own neighborhoods. I fear that we will always fall short of the needs that we see, so an admonition to do more is counsel well deserved.

  13. Wow, what a scripture, kevinf. That would make a great theme for PH/RS next year: “Consider your ways.”

  14. There have been wonderful comments here so far.

    ..our bishop challenged the ward to be more generous in our fast offerings during November and December so we could better meet the needs of ward members during the holiday season.

    Too bad that some LDS members only think of the poor at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. To only think of them at those times makes a mockery of such Holidays, to me.

    “Self-reliance” can get misused as a term. It makes it sounds like everyone can solve ALL of their own problems & needs. I know the a former Bishop told me that I didn’t need any counseling for depression, because “you can’t be tempted above what you can endure”. Yet, when this Bishop’s son had appendicitis, no talk of “self-reliance” thinking, they took the son to the Hospital. In Pioneer times, it would have been either get a healing miracle, or die.

    I also get concerned that the Church built Temples in Nauvoo & Winter’s Quarter, yet there was not enough LDS members in the region to reasonably support building these Temples. Or, the Church invests in a shopping Mall in SLC. But, financially struggling members are sometimes told the Church has better things to do with it’s finances. To hear of LDS children suffering from malnutrition makes this last one even more of a concern, no matter where they live.

    Our family helped a homeless family a couple of decades ago. Our Bishop at that time did use Fast Offerings to reimburse us for some of the money we used to help them. The father worked a few days at the LDS Welfare Ranch nearby. I was pleased to find during this that the Episcopalian Church in the City we lived then in also gave help to the homeless.

    Our Stake has teamed up a few times with other churches to help feed the homeless at Shelters other churches have ran.

  15. Thank you for this, Mark Brown!

    The idea of LDS children, or indeed any children, starving to death is horrific. Yet it’s now always easy to know how to help or what to do. As many of you know, I prayed about this and received a prompting to fast one day a week and give the money saved to programs which alleviate hunger. I vow to do this until there are no more hungry people in this world.

    We know that there’s enough abundance to feed everyone on earth. We know that it’s not resources that are the problem, but rather the lack of political will. I want us to shout it out loud that it’s our will that there be no hunger. So I started fasting and I started a facebook page for those who want to join me, or just cheer us on. https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Friday-Fast-to-Feed-the-Hungry/238040732907793 Please like our page.

    I also started an associated fundraising page for Partners in Health, for any who want to donate to that wonderful organization in solidarity with our Friday Fast to Feed the Hungry. http://act.pih.org/page/outreach/view/personal/Tatiana So far, we’ve reached about 12% of our goal of $5000. Please donate to PIH or any other worthy organization which works to end hunger.

    If we aren’t one, we aren’t his. Weekly fasting is just one small way we can show our desire to be one with our brothers and sisters who aren’t getting enough to eat. Thanks to all who work to end hunger. Thanks from the bottom of my heart!

  16. now = not … sorry, it’s late!

  17. I visit teach a woman. She has 5 children and a boyfriend. Her housing is paid for by ye goode olde tax payer. She is on food stamps. She asks for assistance fairly regularly but for what? We’ve done food, but once she saw what was available(food you had to cook or that required effort-even pasta and pouring the spaghetti sauce into the pan is too much effort) she wasn’t interested.

    Her children are hungry. They are also wonderful. They always make sure each person has enough and save some for the youngest-a 3yo. The 3yo doesn’t go to primary because she is emotionally not ready AND so she can eat. She spends an hour eating every sunday-putting off play to eat. The older children eat two meals a day, so we know they are at least eating then. When we have brought food over mom always throws away the left overs because she doesn’t want to deal with them. Even when the children put them away and take care of them anyway. She uses food stamps to eat out and frequently eats her big meal while the children are at school, then is not hungry later and frustrated that the children are. She keeps almost no food in the home. literally. The refrigerator has only ever been full of condiments and a few take aways. I’ve never even seen milk there.

    I’ve been in her home probably 20 times in the last 6 months. I’ve brought food with me and fed them when I come. What do you do in this situation? The boyfriend is the father of none of these children. He doesn’t have a job and is living off of her benefits. They can’t get married or a large portion of her benefits will disappear.

    We’ve also tried cleaning her house and it magically reappears dirty within days. And this is ‘how clean is your house dirty”. This is not clutter, this is filth and things are growing there.

    She lost a baby recently-at 20 weeks. Partially due to ignorance on her part. I don’t know how you remain ignorant on some things after having given birth 5 times but she managed. She is smart at times, and at other times frighteningly naive. She didn’t know what a placenta was or how to explain it to her children. baby was not boyfriend’s either.

    This is a mental poverty I’m not even sure how to approach.

    I do like the comments about self reliance vs stewardship. I’ve had self reliance thrown in my face (if your parents think you can handle twins on your own so do we-my parents left on their mission the day after I had twins). I really did try. I had frozen 60 meals after being told the RS pres’ philosophy on self reliance. It wasn’t nearly enough.

  18. lessonNumberOne, I can’t speak for your visit teachee in particular, but in general part of the scourge of poverty is the ignorance, poor brain development from bad nutrition during childhood, and unfavorable family traditions or habits that come from all the generations in the past who also suffered from poor education, depression, substance abuse, poor nutrition, poor medical care, and inadequate community support, and other forms of structural violence. All that can’t necessarily be fixed right away.

    By doing our best to support our brothers and sisters, as you’re doing, and by reaching out to do our best for the children, to help them achieve better nutrition, better education, a more enriched home life, and to show them examples of stronger community networks, we can help the next generation to overcome the problems that this generation may not be able to conquer entirely. God can work miracles, but the problems of poverty are many and severe, and we have to have determination and patience to keep chipping away at the roots of the problem for as long as it takes. Our efforts will be rewarded over time, but not necessarily as quickly as we hope. It may take generations in some cases. What’s not helpful is for us to give up because the people we’re trying to help aren’t able to benefit from our help as much as we had hoped.

    But I totally understand how discouraging it can be when setbacks occur and when people seem very slow to change in response to our help. I think that there’s always a bit of naive optimism at the start that changes are going to be quick and comprehensive. What’s not easy, what takes a lot of prayer and tears, in my case, is to maintain the determination to stick with the program however long it takes, and see it through to those good changes that come over decades instead of weeks or months. A long winded way to try and give you encouragement! I hope it helps! Good luck and kudos to you for your efforts!

  19. I have a friend who highly recommends the book, “Bridges out of Poverty”, for understanding the culture of poverty. I haven’t yet read it myself, but the things that she has shared with me from it have really opened my eyes to some of the things that those that have lived in a culture of poverty their whole lives face. For example, the story of the man who couldn’t keep a job…turns out, he had never, ever, in his entire life, known or seen anyone use an alarm clock. The concept of using an alarm clock (and thus, get to work on time, and keep the job) was so completely foreign to him, it was never even an option for him.

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