Are We Not All Beggars?

blind beggar“…look to the poor and needy and administer to their relief, that they shall not suffer.” Now note the imperative verb in that passage: “They SHALL not suffer.” That is language God uses when he means business.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey R. Holland stood at the podium delivered a gut-wrenching punch to all Latter-day Saints on what it means to actually live as a Christian. Being a follower of the Savior means acknowledging very real commandments, not mere suggestions, on what it means to dedicate our lives to following the Son of Man.

Elder Holland began talking about Jesus’ early earthly ministry in his home synagogue, recorded in the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus makes it abundantly clear his ministry would be about the disadvantaged and impoverished. There was no grey area in Jesus’ words. Elder Holland stated:

We don’t know all the details of his temporal life, but he once said, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” Apparently, the creator of heaven and earth, and “all things that in them are”, was, at least in in his adult life, homeless.

I felt the weight of those words settle over me. Jesus as a homeless man… It’s not a new idea, and has been entertained in popular culture and art in modern times. Yet I cannot recall an Apostle speaking so definitively, giving me a picture of what an impoverished Jesus really meant. It wasn’t more than a few years ago I was facing homelessness with my three children, and I know well the indignity and fear that seeps into your soul when the most basic human needs are in jeopardy. The lack of hope and fear are like a sweat that saturates your being, and from which escape seems impossible. I swallowed hard and focused again.

Elder Holland didn’t shy away from confronting this reality, quoting from Proverbs and Isaiah, stripping away the layer of insulation many modern Latter-day Saints feel when discussing poverty. Speaking of poverty among the very blessed is difficult, and acknowledging our own comfort is… uncomfortable. It’s easy to imagine poverty as someone else’s problem. It’s not. Poverty is more than just lack of money- and Elder Holland observes not only the physical toll taken by poverty, but the spiritual and emotional toll extracted as well.

Given the monumental challenge of addressing inequity in the world, what can one man or woman do? Well, the Master himself offered an answer. When prior to his betrayal and crucifixion, Mary anointed Jesus’ head with an expensive burial ointment, Judas Iscariot protested this extravagance, and murmured against her. Jesus said, “Why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work. She hath done what she could.” She hath done what she could; what a succinct formula.

This is a particularly lovely bible story to help modern Christians understand what is required of us: Everything we can. There is no caveat on those words—We are to do what we can.

It can feel overwhelming; living modern lives we have pressures on us from many directions and there are always other draws on our time and our resources. But the scriptures, again, are not grey in this area. Rich or poor, we are to do what we can when others are in need.

Elder Holland paused for just a moment to remind his audience—and I think it’s important to consider his audience for his choice of words here—“I reassure you that my reverence for principles of industry, thrift and ambition is as strong as that of any man or woman alive. We are always expected to help ourselves before we seek help from others.” This is a fundamental principle of Mormonism, something on which we tend to take pride, and the audience is, of course, overwhelmingly Mormon.

It’s powerful to note that Elder Holland immediately follows this statement with counsel that he cannot tell anyone how or where they should help, but that God knows, and will guide each of us if we are “wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment he has given us again and again. “ How might we do what we can?

Here Elder Holland delivers the meat of the life of every man or woman who wishes to be called a disciple of Christ, demolishing the lines of “us” and “them”:

“…cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery on themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?” Don’t we all cry out for help? And hope? And answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we’ve made and troubles we’ve caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses? That mercy will triumph over justice- at least in our case? Little wonder that King Benjamin says “We obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God who compassionately responds. But we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us.”

There I sat, miles both literally and figuratively from my days of facing homelessness and despair. I am comfortable in my home, laptop nestle on my knees, children playing blocks on the floor, husband dozing on the couch, cinnamon rolls rising on the warm stove. Stunned: “We obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God who compassionately responds. But we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us.”

But he wasn’t done.

He was speaking directly to me (and you and you and you…)

Now brothers and sisters, such a sermon demands that I openly acknowledge the unearned, undeserved, unending blessings of my life—both temporal and spiritual. Like you, I’ve had to worry about finances on occasion, but I’ve never been poor. Nor do I even know how the poor feel. Furthermore, I don’t know all the reasons why the circumstances of birth, health, education and economic opportunities vary so widely in mortality. But, when I see the want among so many, I do know, that there but for the grace of God go I. I also know, that though I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother— and because I have been given much, I too must give.

Boom. He is every one of us, and in that moment, he breaks the bubble of western prosperity being equated with righteousness, and acknowledges each and every child on earth is our brother and sister. By this point I was openly weeping along with him, and the story of President Monson shuffling through the airport in house slippers because he’d given his shoes away was just icing.

In closing, Elder Holland observed the prophet Joseph Smith has said the poor would one day see the kingdom of God coming to deliver them in power and great glory, and admonished each of us “to do what we can to deliver any we can from the poverty that holds them captive and destroys so many of their names.”

I sat quietly as he walked away from the podium. I have to admit, I don’t recall much of what Elder Perry said in the address that followed. My head was swimming.

If there ever was a clarion call to the Saints—and to anyone who wishes to be considered a Christian in more than just words, it was this sermon. These are not options for us. We do not get to pick and choose, and still call ourselves disciples. Now what are you going to do?

All that you can.

Comments

  1. This is perfect, Tracy. Thank you!

  2. Thank you.

  3. It was wonderful to see poverty acknowledged as a fundamental moral evil. This was an important sermon.

  4. BOOM indeed. Excellent work here, Tracy–and thanks for lending your personal touch to this discussion of Elder Holland’s sermon.

  5. Thanks Tracy. I think this was a vastly important sermon, and I think you’ve reported it perfectly.

  6. Definitely the best talk of this conference. Maybe the best in the last several conferences.

  7. I love this. Thank you for the summary! I would love to have a discussion about what people are actually and specifically doing to help the poor. I want to do better, but I need to get some ideas going on ways to do it.

  8. Michelle, here’s a very small first step that, I think, has the potential to instill in children (who are being raised in the middle class) early on a motivation to help by first helping them to “see” poverty and then to think about ways to address it:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/02/04/a-kiva-family-home-evening/

    My kids love it. My hope is that it helps reduce any sense of entitlement they have as they (thanks to the unfathomable grace of God) grow up in the middle class with food to eat, good shelter, and very bright chances for learning (3 Ne. 6:12).

  9. Thanks, Tracy. This was wonderful.

    Like Michelle, I’d love some specific ideas about how we can help people. My husband and I are having a really hard with visiting and home teaching because the families we visit need housing, food, and employment. Their needs cannot be fixed with our time or encouragement. We always try to show up with food, but giving someone a lesson about preparedness or how to be optimistic in the face of trials just doesn’t work. We pay fast offerings to our bishop but that hasn’t fixed anything for any of the families we know. We aren’t living in the US and don’t know about government services here (and I’m not sure there are any). I have no idea how to help.

  10. Amira, that is exactly why a baseline social safety net as provided by the government is appropriate. Ad hoc attempts at charity are wonderful but inefficient in truly combatting the moral evil of poverty. Government is at its best when it provides a centralized solution (at the most local level possible) to the most basic needs because such assistance becomes reliable and more efficient (when done at the most local level possible) than an ad hoc charity effort in the absence of any reliable social safety net.

  11. I listened to the talk four times over the weekend. I’ve never heard a GC sermon like it delivered in my lifetime–we really do struggle with the prosperity gospel in lived Mormonism. I hope it becomes the talk everyone quotes incessantly, like Benson’s pride talk was when I was growing up. It is hard to hear, even for those of us who have criticized LDS culture for being too wealth-obsessed. We are all the rich, righteous young ruler, and what is asked of us next is hard and scary, even if we know it’s right.

    One small thing: I’m pretty sure he says “destroys so many of their dreams.” I could be wrong, but that’s how I heard it all four times I listened to it.

  12. In the context of the Christian mission to help the poor in my own country, some specific things being championed by the churches are: church-owned credit unions as competition for the evil of ultra high interest pay-day lending; and the adoption of the so-called “living wage” (versus the lower minimum wage).

  13. truly wonderful moral leadership Ronan — thanks for bringing those examples into the thread

    Other efforts are afoot in the UK and are constantly being discussed and debated through the St Paul’s Institute: http://www.stpaulsinstitute.org.uk/

  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and impressions about this beautiful sermon. This is the true message of the gospel. Christ himself said that the poor will never cease to be among us. That is our test. How we care for those in need is the true test of charity in this life. I have been doing some, but I need to find ways to do more.

  15. flowlykeariver says:

    Tearing down the perfectly functional and underutilized Ogden temple to be replaced with the second most expensive temple building ever built because the saints surveyed and polled did not like the look of the original temple design, $500K a year to pay for landscaping in one temple district? Fine expensive Temple furninture hauled out and destroyed so no poor will sit on it after the piece resided in the Temple of our GOD. Refrigerators from ward buildings replaced and the surplus taken to the dump so the saints won’t lay claim to Church property causing contention among the “poor” on and on and on and on….Sorry Brother Holland not sure I buy the hypocricy and guile.

  16. No doubt that the corporate rigidity of our beloved facilities management people can get in the way of helping the poor, as in your example, but I don’t put the Ogden temple in this category personally.

    My preference would have been to keep the Ogden temple’s original aesthetic intact, especially because it gained recognition as being symbolic of the pillar of fire by night and cloud of smoke by day that led the Israelites in Biblical times. But that is just my preference (though aside from the imputed meaning of the aesthetic, it was not to my personal taste). I am fine with the Church expending funds to redevelop properties it owns and manages. I do not find that to deviate from the objectively moral obligation to help the poor.

    I think Elder Holland gave an important sermon on addressing the moral evil of poverty and exercised much needed moral authority in doing so.

  17. My fav talk of General Conference. I’m interested to read the comments. Just last week I was asked by my Missionary son, (who is serving in an economically challenged country) to help out financially in a certain situation with an investigator. I mentioned it to a couple of friends and they advised me not to do it. But as I drive around in my nice car, to my nice house and spend $$$ on nice table decorations for a church activity, how can I justify NOT helping???

  18. Alpineglow says:

    These folks do an excellent job evaluating the effectiveness of development programs: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/. So many people want to give, but want to give in a way that actually helps people, rather than simply assuaging their guilt. We are just now beginning to learn how to give well.

  19. Beautiful. Thank you for this.

  20. Daniel Smith says:

    This was a very good talk marred by a sad concession to purveyors of the prosperity gospel. I hope it gets edited out in the conference report because I have a hard time believing that Elder Holland literally meant that he believes in self-reliance and hard work as much as anyone else. Really? Even the guy upset there is no Book of Rand in the scriptures who remedies the situation by carrying Atlas Shrugged with the works of real prophets? I can already hear people in my own ward latching on to that one line and ignoring the entirety of his message.

  21. The most poignant and powerful talk of the entire conference. And many thanks to Tracy for her insightful comments. I echo every one. Holland’s talk will always be remembered and quoted. I hope we will respond, not from a sense of guilt, but for the love we are to show all mankind.

  22. Superb talk, great summary.

  23. In what is usually a two-day rehashing of familiar platitudes, this conference stands out for Elder Holland speaking as Jesus Christ would speak. It was tremendous. It was powerful. It was Christlike. We’re not here to get rich; we’re here to learn to become like Jesus Christ. Thank you, Tracy.

  24. jsmcclellan1 says:

    May I suggest looking at Liahonachildren.org. While not sponsored by the church their mission is to provide essential nutrients to developing children who are members of the church in underdeveloped countries. Their overhead is extremely small. An article from the wall street journal linked on their website states that childrens nutrition would provide the largest benefit for every dollar donated ($59 benefit per dollar donated) than any other aid project. It’s worth looking into.

  25. Mr. Tracy M. says:

    With due respect to flowlykeariver, you missed the entire point of Elder Holland’s talk. His remarks were addressed to the individual. Chastising the Church for organizational decisions has nothing to do with the individual mandate contained in King Benjamin’s address.

    Personally, I laid on my couch and listened to this address and asked myself the same question Elder Uctdorf mentioned in a prior session – “Lord, is it I?” I didn’t really like the answer.

  26. Personally, I laid on my couch and listened to this address and asked myself the same question Elder Uctdorf mentioned in a prior session – “Lord, is it I?” I didn’t really like the answer.

    Profound.

  27. Could not help but think on the recent Gospel Doctrine lesson covering Amos when reflecting on this talk. Strong parallels.

  28. I second the recommendation of The Liahona Children’s Foundation. They are doing amazing work.

  29. I was pierced by Elder Holland’s utterance, “the spoil of the needy is in your houses.” (Isaiah 3:14) I thought of my wasting things, my lack of thrift, and how being wasteful can be morally wrong even when/if I think I can afford to be.

    Re: “the poverty that holds them captive and destroys so many of their names.” I, like Marie (9:35 am), heard “dreams” very clearly (not “names”). “…the poverty that destroys so many of their dreams.” What a terrible toll.

    Thank you Tracy M. Elder Holland’s sermon and your write-up here will be remembered by me for a long, long time.

  30. Anarene Holt Yim says:

    Coursera has a MOOC that started just today called Giving 2.0. It’s free, and you can do as much or as little of the course as you like. It’s about how to learn how you personally can best help the world and make the most impact with whatever you have to offer (money, time, skills, etc.).

  31. jsmcclellan1 says:

    Actually Jen K, that scripture is a warning to those who oppress the poor. The “spoils” of war are those to which the victors are entitled. This is by divine law. In these verses Isaiah and the Lord are warning that those who oppress the poor are in judgement and what they possess at some time will be given to the poor as their spoils. It’s pretty ominous in my opinion.

  32. @ johnf. My feelings exactly. “Is it I?” Sure glad others were there to hear Elder Holland’s talk . . . I’m sure they needed it.

  33. jsmcclellan1 – Interesting! Thank you for the clarification.

  34. jsmcclellan1: I don’t read Hebrew so I don’t know what is the most likely correct interpretation of that verse, but a number of non-KJV Bible translations clearly state that the spoils spoken of are things that have been taken from the poor (“things stolen from the poor” and “plunder from the poor”)–not things that the poor will be given when God turns the tables on the rich.

  35. And in context of the rest of that verse (Isaiah 3:14) and the verse that follows it, it’s clear that God is saying that the condemned members of Israel have taken possession of riches that God intended for the poor, whether or not it’s also saying that one day those riches will be reclaimed as spoils of war by their rightful owners (the poor).

  36. jsmcclellan1 says:

    You’re right. That verse does state that the spoil in the house is from the poor meaning that they (His people) have taken from the poor. But if you look at the whole context it is an absolute condemnation of His people (and the leaders, v12) for doing that or allowing it to happen.

  37. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. I thought you were disagreeing with Jen K’s correct interpretation of the verse. But apparently you were not–you were just adding another meaning. Past spoils taken unjustly and future spoils taken with God’s help.

  38. I have had something weighing heavily on my mind for a while, and Elder Holland’s talk brought an even stronger sense of urgency. It is a daunting thing, but I am grateful for the added weight.

    Also, I knew a native missionary while I was serving in Japan who I learned was living on 2/3 the standard monthly allotment, since it was his own money he had earned after being disowned by his family and left penniless when he decided to be baptized. I once asked him how he could be so happy with everything that had happened to him, and he replied, “I have found the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can I not be happy?” Before I left to return home, I gave him my winter boots and coat – things he didn’t have on the north island of Japan heading into winter. I found out shortly thereafter that he had given those boots and coat to an investigator who “needs them more than I do”.

    I learned a lot from that wonderful young man, and I’ve tried hard to live up to what he taught me. I haven’t succeeded always, but I will never forget his example.

  39. wow, very cool story Ray

  40. On the topic of the Ogden temple, my understanding is that the remodel was driven in large part by the fact that the existing temple was hurting the value of other real estate owned by the Church in the area. The remodel was considered a sound investment as it enhanced the value of the other nearby holdings.

    Now I don’t know how to balance the needs of the poor now versus the value of the Church’s investments. But the same can be said of my own finances. Am I setting aside money for myself for the future that I really should be giving now?

  41. John: yes, you are. You should give it to me, c/o BCC Ventures LLC

  42. There was also a traffic issue. The number of weddings scheduled at Ogden was around <10 per year because of the aesthetics, meaning all of those weddings were being crammed into the other Utah temples. Changing the exterior helped redirect and even out those schedulings.

  43. I’ve been away most of the afternoon, but thank you for the comments. My conscious stung, like my husbands, as I listened. The answer to “Is it I?” is always yes. I can do more. I can try harder. I can give back perhaps only a fraction of what has been given me, but it’s very least I am required. This talk and the lessons therein is making me rethink what it means to claim discipleship.

    Thank you for the nod to the Liahona Children’s Fund- there is very good work happening there.

  44. I too enjoyed Elder Holland’s sermon. He only had so much time, but I had hoped he would have mentioned Matthew 25, where the Savior speaks of the sheep and the goats, and that one bright line between those who enter heaven and those who do not will be how one responds to the hungry, the thirsty, and so on. How many members might suggest that the critical quality would be how well one parented, or attended the temple, or handed out Books of Mormon. But the critical quality is the response of the heart to those in need. How much to give in time or means? C.S. Lewis suggests that one is not giving enough until it begins to hurt. I spend all my professional time with victims of domestic violence and the disabled, but I felt I could give so much more after listening to Elder Holland. I need to repent. A genuinely inspired sermon.

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    The last line of Isaiah 3:14 reads gezelat he’aniy bebateycem, literally “the plunder of [from] the poor is in your houses.” The NET renders “You have stashed in your houses what you have stolen from the poor.”

  46. yep

  47. I would love to help in the fashion The Church recommends, Fast Offerings, but I am leery of the fact all funds may be used as the Church sees fit. In other words: no guarantee that my fast offerings won’t be contributing to a Temple.

  48. “In other words: no guarantee that my fast offerings won’t be contributing to a Temple.”

    Jaxon, not sure what sort of guarantee you’d be looking for; fast offerings are in a separate bucket from tithing and Church investment funds, and have been so for quite some time. If the Church would reiterate this (as they have, many times), would you believe them? Would a pinkie swear help?

  49. Fast offerings stay local, in almost all cases. They are completely separate from tithing and other donations. Fast Offerings are only shared if a ward has a surplus and another ward is in need- but even when it’s transferred between wards, it’s still used for human need and not put elsewhere. From my time on ward welfare, I’m very acquainted with how this works, and those funds are considered consecrated and sacred. Having lived on them for a period, I can verify that is in fact true.

  50. Kevin, Thsi is tottally off topic, but I would like to learn Biblical Hebrew. I took four years of Greek and Latin at UC Davis, so have some sense of learning ( to an undergradute extent) an ancient language, although I realize that Hebrew will be an entirely different puppy. Do you have any suggestions as to a best online course? I have a small local university in town but no courses in Hebrew. Also a small local Jewish worship group but I’m not aware of any who would be willing to teach me. Thanks for any suggestions.

  51. Sorry about “tottally.) Better to learn English before Hebrew?

  52. Olivier Dunrea says:

    Jaxon, actually, while Fast Offerings remain within the stewardship of the Stake and largely within the Ward where the contributions are made. Only when there is unused excess are those funds distributed beyond the Ward and the funds are dedicated to providing food for Bishops Storehouses and other welfare endeavors. That money is not pulled out by the Church for other usages. Tithing money however is consolidated at the global Church level and distributed as the General Authorities see fit, including toward building temples.

  53. Daniel Smith says:

    There was a disclaimer added to US tithing slips to the effect that all donations can be used at the discretion of the church. While fast offerings have been (and hopefully still are) used exclusively to help the needy, that policy could change without nay greater fanfare than the blanket disclaimer .
    No, a pinkie swear won’t suffice. Yes, financial transparency would.

  54. My aftertaste from conference was heavily flavored by the last talks, thank you for cleansing my palate. (as it were) But more importantly, thank you for helping me to see this not as an opportunity to size up my brother, but to appraise and improve myself. We are blessed.

  55. I agree with Marie, I hope this talk becomes a part of our cultural consciousness.

    In terms of what to do, for me one answer is to increase the amount that I give. I love C. S. Lewis’ quote, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

    In terms of where to give, I would recommend checking out Peter Singer’s website, The Life You Can Save. http://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/Where-to-Donate. There are plenty of other good causes besides the ones they list, but I don’t think you can go wrong giving to any of these.

  56. Suffice it to say that suspicions of the Church abusing its received donations is contrary to the intent and spirit of Elder Holland’s talk. I’m sure there’s a place for discussing that issue, but it’s not here and not now.

  57. I loved this talk and Tracy’s write-up. When Elder Holland talks about how we should not withhold help even from those who have caused their own difficulties, I was struck.
    I have a close relative who is asking me for money to save her family from bankruptcy. They are healthy, educated people living in a first-world country (whatever that is worth). They have spent money on expensive vehicles that I have never been able to afford myself, and have several expensive toys that could reasonably be liquidated for extra cash. There are others far and near who I think are far more desperate, far more “deserving” of my help. I’m not a rich person by western standards, and so money I give this relative will likely diminish what I can do for others.
    Elder Holland says that God will tell me how to help, and I hope he will, but right now I’m stuck.

  58. This is inconsequential, but is Elder Holland grammatically correct to say the word “shall” is in the imperative? Although the whole sentence is a command, as far as I can tell, the verb itself is not imperative, and doesn’t even have an imperative form.

  59. Kevin Barney says:

    Travis, a future can sometimes have imperative force. This is called a “jussive future.” I talk about this in this post, which happens to be a commentary on a previous Elder Holland talk:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2009/04/07/some-notes-on-elder-hollands-conference-talk/

    (Do a search on jussive future, and check out several comments where I give further sources.)

    (As it so happens, I disagree with Elder Holland that Jesus’s words to Peter that he will deny him is in fact a jussive future; I think that is clearly meant as a prediction, not a command.)

    Fred, I taught a stake institute course on an Introduction to Biblical Hebrew two years in a row, so I have some experience with this. The textbook I used is Page Kelley, Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar.

    http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Hebrew-An-Introductory-Grammar/dp/0802805981

    Given your prior language experience, I think you could work your way through something like that. If you’re going to try to teach yourself, I would highly recommend a computer program called Hebrew Tutor by Parsons Technology:

    http://www.amazon.com/Hebrew-Tutor-Biblical-Personal-Interactive/dp/1572640618

  60. Fred- I’m not Kevin, but did several years towards a PhD in Semitics, including Hebrew. If you google “faithpromotingrumor teach yourself hebrew” you’ll find a 3-part series I wrote at a blog called FaithPromotingRumor on teaching yourself Hebrew. That was six years ago, and some of what I suggest is updated in the study suggestions in this article.

  61. Molly Bennion says:

    For sobering information about debilitating malnourishment among LDS children, check out liahonachildren.org. They’re doing important work and need money and volunteers to do more.

  62. Molly, yes- Liahona Children is a worthy and valuable charity.

  63. The talk was a clarion call, most definitely. But here’s the thing. When we all feel that caring for the poor is only an individual responsibility, which we can satisfy (and assuage our conscience) by donating to a worthwhile cause, giving more fast offerings, giving some money to a homeless person, etc. – we are not solving the real problem of poverty. Individual efforts, while valuable and necessary, cannot and will never be able to address this problem on a large enough scale, neither will private charitable giving. The only way to really begin to cure poverty is to address it as a community, a society, a nation. When Amos, Micah and Isaiah decried the inequality and oppression of the poor found in Judah, he was calling on the nation to repent. Until we as a people (LDS and particularly the wealthy nations) can accept this without getting into the political blame game, we will never be able to adequately heed this message in the way that I believe the OT prophets, Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon call on us to repent.

  64. The Church’s humanitarian service page has good recommendations for what people can do to serve in their own communities (https://www.lds.org/topics/humanitarian-service/help?lang=eng). I’m not a political person, so although I recognize the need for political solutions for long-term relief it’s not a cause I’m drawn to. Organizations that enable educational opportunities as a way for people to improve their economic outlook are ones that almost always speak to me (PEF, Days for Girls, Interweave Solutions, etc.). If you can find a cause that speaks to you, it’s much easier for it to become a habit.

  65. “When we all feel that caring for the poor is only an individual responsibility”

    Nobody here has said that, and neither did Elder Holland.

  66. Antonio Parr says:

    For those in the Baltimore-Washington area, the Baltimore Chapter of the BYU Alumni Association is partnering with Catholic Charities for a benefit concert on Thursday, October 23rd at the historic Baltimore Basilica. The concert will feature Jenny Oaks Baker and Irish Singer-Songwriter Declan O’Rourke, the latter of whom will be singing songs about the Great Irish Famine. All proceeds will go to Our Daily Bread, an extraordinary arm of Catholic Charities. If you are interested, please check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwjsjn8Ba9o . This event has been scheduled in the spirit of caring for the poor, as stated so eloquently and prophetically by Elder Holland.

  67. My bishop refers to our ward budget as “Mitt Romney’s money” and to the fast offering as “the widow’s mite”. Puts it into perspective for me…

  68. I think it was a great talk. I hope Elder Holland’s talk is a prelude to the church doing more on aiding the poor. It is estimated by some that the church has over 80 Billion and gets around 5-9 Billion per year in tithing. Could the church survive if it only had 40 Billion? Is the church going to actually use our tithing dollars in projects for the poor and destitute? Or was the talk aimed at us and will the church continue on its path of wealth accumulation?

  69. Gina, that’s an overly cynical view. Yes, the church is relatively wealthy but your comment completely ignores the sizeable humanitarian efforts the church carries out on a regular basis. Like you, I hope the talk is a prelude to the church doing more to aid the poor, but don’t pretend that we’re not doing anything now.

  70. Ray, no one has to say it’s only an individual responsibility explicitly – but in my experience that’s how the majority of the members of the church see it (at least in the highly conservative Mormon corridor where I live). Any attempt to even consider social/governmental responsibility invites immediate scorn and cries of the evils of socialism, liberalism, etc. So my commentary is not on what was explicitly said in the talk but more on how we all internalize it as a church and nation.

    In fact, I’ve often wondered if in some ways the typical call to care for the poor ultimately becomes a hinderance to a real solution. We become involved in relief efforts or contribute more money to an organization, and then we feel like we’ve done good and made a difference in the world. And we have *I agree* we have lessened someone’s suffering – which gets to one of the key points of Elder Holland’s talk and particularly the Mother Teresa example. But while this approach is admirable and needful, I think it tends to absolve us of our collective responsibility. We have done our individual part, so we don’t need to consider any wider, larger effort – which if we are talking social/governmental action “is not God’s way” anyway – so the real problem will never be adequately addressed.

  71. brycercook. That certainly seems to be the Victorian experience. There were philanthropic institutions, drumming up funds to alleviate the condition of the poor. Often donations would have been of the sort sufficient assuage conscience, on the part of the donor, but this only scratched the surface of what was actually required.
    There were some good mainly Quaker employers who cared about the well-being of their employees, providing good housing etc., but many more who did simply grind the faces of the poor in their extraction of labour for the lowest cost.
    It was revolt against these conditions that has led to the employment laws, education laws, housing regulations, and yes, social welfare we enjoy in Britain now.

  72. Actually Bryce, I’d say individuals are the best way to solve the problem of poverty, just like missionary work is best accomplished by individuals who care and not programs.

    Now we can have a program that empowers individuals to help (think big brother foster care for homeless) that will do wonders but bureaucratic entitlement (meet this requirement get approved for help from this administrator ) will most certainly not solve the systemic, generational problem of poverty.

    I’d assume if everyone of us felt it our responsibility to find a homeless person and take them under our wing we’d put a huge dent in the problem, if not end it. We’d also see more people suffer like Elizabeth Smart, unfortunately… But that’s literally a burden Bro. Smart’ family was forced to bear as a result of true Christ like discipleship.

  73. Christine says:

    Where is the picture from?

  74. Bryce, I don’t know any members who believe caring for the poor is only the responsibility of individuals – and I’ve lived in areas with every percentage of Mormons imaginable. At the very least, they believe in Fast Offerings and the attendant responsibility held by the LDS Church as an institution – and they also tend almost unanimously to support other philanthropic organizations, even if they personally don’t contribute to them.

    There are lots of members who oppose the way government welfare programs are implemented (and quite a few who oppose such programs themselves, unfortunately), but that is radically different than your claim that “we all feel that caring for the poor is only an individual responsibility”.

  75. “There was a disclaimer added to US tithing slips to the effect that all donations can be used at the discretion of the church.” I feel that the disclaimer is legally required because many charitable organizations have been litigated against by donors. (By way of example, after 9/11, the Red Cross received donations many, many times what was actually needed. The windfall was going to be a huge leg up in the face of the next inevitable disaster, but many people were very upset.) In any case, serving as a ward clerk and recording the collection and disbursement of Fast Offering funds, as well as participating in the rigorous audit process that follows, that Fast Offerings are definitely spent appropriately. As for the spending of tithing funds, yes, I do wish the financial report was more transparent (x amount on facilities, x amount on universities, x amount on missionaries, x amount on administrative, etc), but I also feel that it is not my calling to police the spending of Tithing. If those in a position of authority are found by Him to not have been wise stewards over other’s donations, I can only imagine His wrath.

  76. JBV speaks wisely.

  77. I’ve served in various callings in the U.S. that have utilized the LDS Employment Program and the Career Workshop, which is essentially all contained at http://www.ldsjobs.org. These resources are quite good and practical, and don’t require a “program” or a fancy title to teach to the unemployed or underemployed. All it takes is a commitment of faith, inspiration, time and effort on the part of the teacher and the learner, and I’ve seen many positive life-changing events come about through the use of these resources. We have even taught Career Workshops to groups in community centers and other non-LDS locations, with much follow-on success.

    I’m now living in a country that has far more poor than there are in the U.S., and I’m finding ways to utilize these recourses with the families that I home teach and with members of my branch.

    As we discuss Elder Holland’s memorable talk about doing what we can to help the poor, let’s remember to utilize these resources that the church has already developed. I hope this is helpful to someone out there who is looking for a way to make a difference.

  78. Thank you so much for your post, Tracy. Today I am where you were a few years ago.

    My bishop would not support me when I left my abusive husband last year. My three children and I were homeless for a month during the holidays. Thankfully I got an apartment Dec 20th, and was able to pay rent because of assistance from Domestic Violence Services. I was also able to provide Christmas for my children through them. Their program is structured in such a way to support the homeless abuse survivor, while also encouraging eventual self reliance.

    Please do not assume that contributing to fast offerings in any amount is enough to ease your moral burden on this issue. My personal experience has changed the way I give (what little I have as a single mom student). I don’t depend on fast offerings as my excuse. It is up to me to seek out those in need and minister to them. Often if that handout comes with a hug more good is done and I come closer to keeping my baptismal covenant to mourn with those that mourn. Don’t assume that those in need in your ward are being taken care of by the bishop. I’ve been in my apartment for 10 months, have no home teachers, no medical insurance, and continue to greatly struggle to provide. The church has not been an answer to my financial prayers but instead has been a great trial of my faith.

  79. Tracy, Thanks for your article. Your comments and experiences enriched the talk for me. I also have faced homelessness for a time and heart wrenching poverty. I’m glad we’re talking about this topic.

  80. I want to add a plug for Partners in Health, my favorite charity helping the poor effectively all over the world, as well as Casa de Sion, also called Safe Homes for Children, who feed hundreds of malnourished moms and kids in Guatemala. It’s founded and run by an LDS couple and they use 100% of donations to go directly to the poor, as they cover the overhead themselves. Liahona Foundation is also awesome, and I give to them regularly as well. Here’s my PIH fundraising page https://donate.pih.org/page/outreach/view/personal/Tatiana I can’t fast anymore myself since I have both type 1 and 2 diabetes now, but the idea is modeled, obviously, on our LDS fast offerings, though you don’t need to fast to give. All the money goes to Partner’s in Health, whom Charity Navigator gives the highest rating, and whose work is documented in the Tracy Kidder book Mountains Beyond Mountains.

  81. In light of how impactful and profound this talk was, I’m left asking myself, “why don’t we hear about this more often ?” Is it not the essence, the thesis of discipleship and love? The summative message and warning of the BoM -directed specifically at our day- is a similarly blunt rebuke of our materialism and treatment if the poor. Brigham said that the saints could handle any adversity except materialism. And at times, our leaders have privately lamented the future of the saints because of our wealth and materialism.

    In light if all this, I’m left asking myself, why this talk is so unique and why we find his bluntness so refreshing and out of the ordinary? I love the talk and was similarly pricked in my heart, but why do we find elder holland’s boldness and tears unique?

    Seriously, think about your “conference bingo” scorecard. Did anyone expect this? We bicker about gender roles, harp on pornography, nit-pick about hem lines and tank tops, tear each other apart about lgbt issues, repeat the “seminary answers”, and with Calvinist fervor, gratefully testify of the prosperity formula. We built a $5 billion dollar mall and 100+ temples and carefully cultivate real estate and investments in expectation of admiration. We robotically revere and place into leadership those who rose to worldly power as captains of industry. We pat ourselves on the back for all our humanitarian work which as good as it is, in the past 30 years, has barely reached the amount that the Methodists put to humanitarian/charitable causes in a single year. Granted, we’re much smaller, but I can’t understand why we dislocate our shoulders patting ourselves on the back about glory days 70 years ago when President Benson helped coordinate that famous first post-WWII European supply shipment. Dudes… 70 years ago. Meanwhile, UT rivals California in plastic surgery stats. Whether or not we can afford it, we live in McMansions, have boats, skiis, and play “keeping up with the joneses”.

    Our honored pioneer ancestors felt an urgency in preparing the earth for the Savior’s return. Millennial zeal meant building Zion and eradicating poverty. Today in our relative comfort we aren’t in a hurry to make changes. Much of that “crazy” millennial stuff is shuffled under the carpet.

    Still I wonder, isn’t this something that would unify us in purpose and heart as opposed to the decisive issues we’ve become so hung-up on?

  82. The story about president monson’s slippers was touching and set a good example, but at the same time I was bothered by it. Our presidents are so carefully managed that I don’t think those types of intimate exchanges can take place. It’s why we hear stories of Pope Francis sneaking out and working with the homeless as an incognito priest.

  83. All of us will go just so far (in our giving)…and no farther.

    We are self-lovers…first and foremost. That is why even our best efforts are filthy rags when it comes to making ourselves acceptable in the eyes of God.

    And that is why we need a Savior.

    We really ought do all that we can do. But there won’t be any stampede to help the poor…even as we tip our hat to them with what is comfortable to pinch out.

    Thanks.

  84. i was born into poverty and no one ever came around offering any kind of help , deep down there i fell bad knowing that the church does not help as it should (just mine personal opinion) but in the other hand something that really makes my day its to c someone like President Holland standing up for such a controversial issue ………after reflecting into various directions that this particular sermon could lead me i came to the conclusion that without exception we are all beggars indeed …. sorry about my lousy anglaise.