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