“Work Makes the Difference”: A Church Welfare Proposal

I have a sure-fire proposal to improve church welfare.

Church welfare admittedly has a long and storied history. In 1936, the Church officially inaugurated the Church Security Plan. President Grant explained that the purpose of the plan was to provide

sufficient food, fuel, clothing, and bedding to supply through the coming winter, every needy and worthy Church family unable to furnish these for itself, in order that no member of the Church should suffer in these times of stress and emergency.[fn1]

In 1936, the Great Depression, which hit Utah hard, was still a recent memory, and its effects were still being felt in Utah. So it makes plenty of sense that church leaders were trying to establish a procedure that could help members weather the financial storm. 

In 1938, the church had renamed the Church Security Plan—we officially had the Church Welfare Plan. And by 1943, it had taken the shape we’re all familiar with:

First, every individual should value his or her independence and labor with all his might to maintain it by being self-sustaining. … Second, next to himself, the responsibility for sustaining an individual rests upon his family—parents for their children, children for their parents. … Finally, the individual having done all he can to maintain himself, and the members of his family having done what they can to assist him, then the Church, through the Welfare plan, stands ready to see that its members, who will accept the plan and work in it to the extent of their ability, shall each be cared for “according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.”

Note what this threefold vision of church welfare didn’t include, though: the government. In fact, the government was not only conspicuously, but deliberately absent. From the 1936 announcement again:

Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. [Emphasis added.]

It’s important to note that the church has moved on this: it expressly allows (and, in fact, encourages) members to simultaneously receive church and government benefits. From a 2009 worldwide church leadership training:

Question: Is it appropriate if an individual is receiving governmental welfare assistance to use Church welfare assistance as well?

Response: Members may choose to use resources in the community, including government resources, to meet their basic needs. The bishop should become familiar with these resources.


When Church members receive assistance from non-Church sources, the bishop may also give Church assistance and should help members avoid becoming dependent in any way on these sources.

I’ve seen first-hand the good that the church welfare system does, especially working hand-in-hand with various government programs that are available. But we could always do better. And this week, I saw how.

In the 1990s, a county welfare office in Riverside, CA, produced a CD.[fn2] And, with songs like “Welfare’s Just a Temporary Way of Life” and three versions of “Feels So Good” (the next words are “to get a job,” and the three versions are “country,” “urban contemporary,” and “Spanish”), what’s not to love?

My proposal, then: give a copy of the music to anybody seeking church welfare. Also, to anybody not seeking church welfare. Heck, if we forced the whole world to listen to this music, well, I don’t know that it would do anything to the employment rate, but we’d all have awesome/horrible songs stuck in our heads.[fn3] So there’s always that.


[fn1] Message of the First Presidency, Oct, 1936, pp. 2-3.

[fn2] For the full story, check out The Uncertain Hour or 99% Invisible.

[fn3] Heck, I’d be cool with it if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir decided to perform some of these songs at Conference. Or if the next hymnbook included them. Not because they’re good, but because they’re awesome.


  1. Curse you. 5 seconds and I want it out of my head!

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Those links in fn 2 are excellent.

  3. This easy listening sounds specifically designed for the long wait times at the county line.

  4. The CHI specifically directs saints to FIRST seek support from family, then government, then come to the church as a LAST resort. However, most members vote down US Government social service and welfare programming by those evil tax-and-spend democrats, citing that welfare is the role of PRIVATE organizations and churches, not government. Mmmm. Seems like we’re making a ‘catch 22’ for welfare recipients. “Go over THERE for help! Whoops, no money over there?” This hot potato game with the poor stems from contempt for them. (Mormon prophesied about this contempt for the poor in our day. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist!!!).

    Can we be real for a second? There are a heckuvalotta people who will never be self sufficient. We rant and rave about welfare being “temporary” and that we want ‘provident living’ for every person, but at some point we’ve got to realize that there are citizens who will be lifelong or decades-long welfare recipients, who despite their best efforts, will never be self sustaining. Think about the many physical and mental disabilities in our world, the infirm and aged, widowed or single mothers with many young children, etc. Our world is filled with greed, discrimination (race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.) and doesn’t value some of the greatest children and gifts God sends to us with monetary reward (e.g. think about all the brilliant artists, scientists, innovators, etc. who worked tirelessly, but whose genius was not recognized in its day. It’s like saying, “D@#$! that Van Gough! It doesn’t matter that the man painted all the time. Obviously they were bad, no one bought them. He should have put down his brushes and picked up a shovel to feed himself, that welfare leech!”)

    I saw a meme a while back. It acknowledged that although the saying ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime’ is true, we have a responsibility to our neighbor, which stands without exception. Christ called us to be charitable and to not judge others. That’s our calling, our job.It is NOT our job to figure out if someone ‘deserves’ charity. It is NOT our job to create arbitrary rules about our charity. Our job is NOT to sit around and discuss who gets fish when and why. Our job is fish. Simple. Fish. Our job is fish.

  5. What is the eternal consequence to us, of giving too much charity? Of helping a neighbor too long on welfare? Of blindly giving charity? What would happen to us on judgement day if we were accused of being too hasty in giving to our neighbor?

    What on the other hand is the eternal consequence to us, of giving too stingily, or being too restrictive, too judgemental, too short in our charity to our neighbor?

    Knowing that I am not perfect and will never get this right, I know exactly which side I’m going to try to err on.

    Honestly, if it costs me more money, if it means that they aren’t ‘taught their lesson’ as quickly as others think they should learn it, I will err on the side of charity. (I hope).

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