The Temporal Urgency of Faith

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Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Introductory Note:  Several years ago during General Conference I started journaling the messages my soul most longed to hear.  I posted one of those last Conference.  I’m doing so again now.  This requires a suspension of disbelief:  it contains a mix of true and aspirational content, and is written as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

Faith without works is dead.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast our spiritual burdens upon the Lord, rely on the grace of his Atonement, and put our faith in him during adversity.  But the Gospel also preaches that our spiritual health is intertwined with the physical welfare of our neighbors.  Pure religion looks not just to eternity but to now.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them:  ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (James 2:14-17)

The temporal urgency of faith resonates throughout ancient and modern scripture.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us there can be no spiritual purity for those who ignore the physical pains and sicknesses of their neighbors.  Caring for the poor and needy is one of the missions of the Restored Gospel.

During the October 1856 General Conference, President Brigham Young set aside messages of abstract faith to address the temporal needs of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, stranded in freezing mountains hundreds of miles away.  He called on all members to immediately commence the logistical work of a rescue:  115 wagons; 60 teams of horses and mules; 24,000 pounds of flour; as many blankets as could be spared.

“That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess.  It is to save the people. … Go and bring in those people now on the plains.  And attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties. Otherwise, your faith will be in vain.”

Within hours, rescue teams gathered around the Tabernacle laden with donated goods.

Today, we are inspired by Brigham Young’s prophetic urgency toward temporal salvation.  For six months we had planned that this General Conference would be an historic celebration of the 200-year anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision.  But world events have overtaken our plans.  After much prayer, we are rescheduling our commemoration of the past.  The COVID-19 pandemic is now.  We call on all members everywhere to channel their months of spiritual preparation into the holy work of succoring our world during a global pandemic.

Continuing the Restoration means continuing the work of rescue.  For now, Christ calls us to attend strictly to temporal things.  We must urgently care for all affected by this pandemic because faith without works is dead.

The rest of this Conference will be devoted to the logistics of how.  I will preview these messages, then step aside so faithful professionals can discuss their implementation in more depth.

Social Distancing

For the last few weeks, pandemic response work has been centered in our Church Office Building.  We have worked tirelessly to follow public health guidelines and shut down activities that risk global contagion.  We have closed our meetinghouses, our Temples, and our universities.  We have delayed mission service and commissioned flights to bring presently serving missionaries home.  We have urged our members to obey the stay-at-home orders percolating across states and countries.  We reiterate that message now:  stay at home.  Check in on your friends, families and ward families, but minister remotely.  Use phone calls, texts, and doorbell meal deliveries which minimize personal contact.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we are blessed to still hold this General Conference.  During the 1918 influenza pandemic, General Conference was cancelled alongside worship services.  As we adjust to this new normal of not gathering in person, we encourage all remote forms of fellowship.  We are inspired by the e-mail listserv gospel studies, Zoom relief society meetings, and access to public broadcast channels our members are creatively assembling while practicing social distancing.

Essential Services and Supplies

Even while combating the coronavirus together by engaging in social distancing, we can do more.  This pandemic is unleashing a dual medical and economic crisis.  It is our Christian duty to help.

We know many of you are essential personnel on the frontlines of a global response.  You are public health officials, medical professionals, and scientists.  You are manufacturers, engineers, and utility providers.   You are agricultural workers, food service suppliers, and truck drivers.  You staff food banks and unemployment offices.  You are keeping supply chains running and preserving lives.  We pray for your health and safety.  We speak often of magnifying our callings in the service of our Lord; for now, your work is your sacred calling.  God honors and blesses your selfless heroism.

To assist with your essential efforts, the Church is working to source and distribute masks and other personal protective equipment to professionals at increased risks of exposure.  The Church is working daily to produce and distribute more emergency supplies.  We have increased our manufacturing output at Church-owned farms and factories.  We have increased deliveries to and staffing at our Bishops’ Storehouses.  We have donated hundreds of thousands of respirator masks and supplied other humanitarian aid.

You at home can contribute to our efforts.  If you have food storage, now is the time to consume it.  If you have gardens, now is the time to plant them.  If you have sewing skills, now is the time to make and donate masks.  The Church has posted detailed emergency preparedness guidelines on our website to assist with these efforts.  It includes delicious recipes for food storage, common gardening tips, and patterns for cloth masks.

Financial Resources

Thanks to provident living, the Church in recent years has been blessed with a surplus which the Lord prompted us to save for precisely the sort of “rainy day” global crisis we now confront.  We are working withing existing partnerships to set up temporary food and supply distribution centers worldwide. Like we do after hurricanes and other natural disasters, we are converting our meetinghouses into temporary shelters, distribution centers, and in some cases medical facilities.  In areas where we lack a presence and existing organizations are more effective, we are making targeted donations to bolster their work in succoring the poor and needy.

If you are in a position of economic security during this crisis, we ask you to open your hearts and your pocketbooks.  This crisis has called us all to compassion.  Be merciful with those who owe you debt.  Please donate 10% of your surplus — more, if you are able and the Spirit inspires you to do so — to alleviate others’ economic suffering.  If donated to the Church as tithing, please know that the Church has prayerfully decided to earmark all tithing donations this year for immediate humanitarian relief.

But given the severity and speed of this crisis, we do not ask that you pay your tithing to the Church.  There are needs in your immediate communities which you understand better than a centralized Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.  Your direct contributions can alleviate those needs more quickly.  We urge you to make a generous fast offering instead of, or in addition to, your tithing.  We also urge you to donate generously to other religious and secular relief organizations in your area.  Maybe you can buy groceries for your neighbors.  God will bless you for your generosity no matter the form it takes.  Charity never faileth.

We know in the last month alone millions of you have lost your jobs and your financial security.  We do not expect donations from those in need, although God will bless you for every compassionate act you undertake.  Please know there is help available.  We have instructed all Stake Presidents, Bishops, and Relief Society presidents on how to quickly distribute fast offerings to cover food, rent, and medical care.  We are also making available additional Church funds which Bishops and Relief Society presidents can access to distribute to those under their stewardship.

* * *

We are called to be God’s hands on Earth.  Where there is suffering, we are called to compassion.  Although it may seem odd to show compassion by staying home, our collective duty now is to stem the tide of this pandemic, assist our essential personnel, and support life.

Staying home, however, does not mean staying passive.  Pray for the world and minister to your communities.  Increase displays of patience and love as you labor in close quarters.  Use your skills and resources to support food, shelter, and medical care for all of God’s children.

“Impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”  (Mosiah 4:26)

Together with Christ we can heal the world.

 

Comments

  1. I am weeping. This is the gospel in action that I love and believe in–we are capable of so much, and I am watching desperate for recognition of the collective sorrow and grief and worry we are carrying as the entire world right now. We may not be able to do everything, but surely we can do more to see and lift each other.

  2. This is lovely. I found myself oddly disappointed by conference today. Not that there weren’t some great talks, but they all felt so disconnected from the world-wide ‘feel’ of what is going on. Since we as a planet are in this together, I expected conference to somehow be connected to world-wide events. Maybe someone will give something like your talk tomorrow.

  3. I was thinking along these lines this morning as President Nelson touched on church meetings being cancelled, missionaries coming home, and temples closed. Those were, until recently, the three-fold mission of the church, and they are all shut down until further notice. The relatively new fourth mission is really the only one we can legitimately do currently.

  4. This is what my soul needed today. Thank you!!!

  5. This. This is the message my heart yearned for today.

  6. This. This is the message my heart yearned for today.

  7. I think this is beautiful and would love to hear a talk like this.
    At the same time, I am super grateful for many of the ways the church has responded during this crisis. Shutting down meetings around the world was swift and decisive. Putting a halt to missionary efforts shows a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. I know that fast offerings, bishop storehouses, etc. are running at full speed. Our leaders have had to make a lot of really important decisions over the last month that affect millions of lives. They must be exhausted and I’m sure grateful for how well they seem to have done so far.

  8. Evangelina Voz says:

    I am crying…this, this is what I wanted and hoped to hear today…not more about our name includes Christ and a new logo…but what He would do if He were here…THIS!!! We can do this, the army for good we have at a time like this…we can do so much more collectively than fast and pray…oh how my soul longs for exactly what you have written. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

  9. Carolyn says:

    @Pete: that’s partially the point? The overwhelming majority of anecdotes in this talk are TRUE, it’s what we’re already doing. So can we frankly talk about it? I got more practical info in a single email from my Stake President this week than in 6 hours of talks so far, and I’m just baffled.

    I know most General Conference talks are written a month in advance to allow time for translation and such, but I’m just a little surprised so far that more adjustments weren’t made to discuss a pandemic

  10. One gets the feeling that COVID-19 is that which must not be named, in listening to the talks so far. Instead, we are told yet again to put our shoulder to the wheel.

  11. Melanie1262 says:

    This is what I wanted to hear! The words I heard on Saturday rang as hollow and empty as the room in which they were spoken. Is there any chance today will be better? I have a son who has prematurely come home from a mission. How is the church going to deal with the collective PTSD of these young people? I am thankful for local leaders who have checked in and continue to minister. But where are the directions and words of comfort from the top? Why is the message of Restoration and First Vision more important than immediate succor? Thank you, Carolyn, for penning what I wanted to hear and helping me not feel alone!

  12. I’ll be honest, the last thing I want to hear about at conference is Covid19. We are bombarded with it, and I don’t even watch the news (only print media for me). I think the brethren are relying heavily on local communication within the church to address the issues of compliance with quarantine and economic needs and relief. Your letter from the stake presidency should be where you are getting the practical information you desire.

    Your post is lovely, and I suspect there will be something along those lines today, but if not, I think you will hear much more from your local leaders in the coming days. I know they are tracking how many members are sick, who has lost jobs, etc.

  13. I yearned to hear these things were being said & done, too! I was hoping to hear that a million-plus dollars of the “rainy day fund” were being donated to the UofU or the Huntsman Institute for research on a vaccine! I yearned to read: use what would normally be your tithes and donations in the coming months locally to meet immediate local communities’ needs and care for your family if your employment has stopped as we have sufficient to meet the needs to keep the church running for the next year due to past generosity of our members. I yearned to hear sincere condolences for those who have lost loved ones and assurance we will be doing all we can to contribute to the end of the pandemic and recovery from its aftermath. And, I also expected to hear strong admonitions to stay home, socially isolate yourselves and do not wait for local and state governments to issue orders to do so. Praise and support of those who daily serve in the risky demanding hospitals and care for the sick and dying.

  14. Chadwick says:

    “We have urged our members to obey the stay-at-home orders percolating across states and countries. We reiterate that message now: stay at home.”

    This would be very a much a “do as I say not as I do” given that the speakers are not staying home, especially when most of these speakers are considered the most vulnerable to the virus. They are literally going against their leaders in Salt Lake County. I get that on camera they are not seated next to each other. However, they are all holding the same podium. I’m genuinely concerned many members will see this as virtue signalling that COVID-19 is no big deal.

    I really hoped this week they would either postpone Conf two months, or have the speakers use zoom from their homes.

  15. Apparently we should spend this time at home indexing and doing family history instead of thinking about how to reach out to the sick, to those who have lost loved ones, to the hungry, to the unemployed, to the afraid, to the isolated and lonely.

    What an absolute travesty this conference was. I’m disgusted.

  16. Jon miranda says:

    Elisa
    Pandemic?

  17. This is what I hoped to hear too. I keep listening to conference with hope that this message will be coming.

  18. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    In the weeks leading up to conference, I thought the church hit the right notes in it’s handling of meetings, missionaries, temples and relief aid. I think the recent emphasis on home centered and church supported worship have also been hugely prescient.

    I had expected more direct discussion of current temporal needs, and indeed, the spontaneous prayers seemed to capture more of our current sentiment than most of the prepared remarks. It seems that adjusting the ten hours of messaging content is a large ship to steer, given the prerecorded segments and language translations involved — especially with a new proclamation being featured. It was beginning to loom on the horizon, but less than a month ago, we were still meeting on Sundays as usual.

    Maybe we would have been better off chucking it like Brigham did. I don’t feel like this weekend’s emphasis on the Restoration was tone-deaf, and now that it has been emphasized as planned, we can be in overdrive with our humanitarian efforts. In our hierarchy of needs, does our unique gospel message fuel temporal well-being through Christian service, or do we need hard earned evidence of our Christian efforts to give substance to our message? That’s a very valid discussion.

    I felt the apostolic blessing was powerful, as was the call for a second fast. I expect news of relief funding to be on it’s way relatively soon, and feel that this weekend’s time was intended more for strengthening listeners and emphasizing doctrine more than the announcing of short-term initiatives, though I agree they are critically needed.

    I thought the last 15 minutes were absolutely terrific. With the world community unraveling a little through suspicion and travel cessation, especially regarding China, the temple news was a balm. While millions in our country debate how much blame to place, and whether to name the virus after it’s country of origin, President Nelson’s announcement was moving and refreshing. And then to follow it up with the choirs from six continents, was a healing change of pace from everything else on the news these days. Seriously, a walk-off, grand slam home run.

  19. Elisa, did you hear Elder Holland’s talk? And the subtext of many of the other talks?

    Chadwick, you don’t think that the extraordinary efforts to organize a conference in which all participants stayed at least 6 feet apart from each other (per guidelines from medical experts) demonstrated that the Church was taking this very seriously?

  20. anon for this says:

    I liked Elder Holland’s talk. (And a couple of others — Elder Salazar’s was great.) And in general I think the Church has been doing a good job with the pandemic, and with conference logistics (the music in particular was very well done, and I teared up during Spirit of God).

    But… I don’t know. I guess I expected a little more from someone who is supposed to be a living prophet. I found myself wondering what the point was of having a living prophet if he wasn’t going to be having revelation about the unprecedented, challenging times we’re living in. I mean, Joseph Smith and the Restoration, yay, I guess? But I don’t need a living prophet for that, we’ve already had Joseph Smith. What I need a living prophet for is to address our present-day issues, the ones we are living through right now! Otherwise, what’s even the point?

    I’m not looking for super-explicit prophecy here. But I remember the Oct 2001 conference after 9/11, and President Hinckley approached 9/11 head-on. He didn’t claim to have answers he didn’t have, but he did speak to it, and it built my faith, whereas I felt this conference tore my faith down.

    Also, Elder Oaks’ talk. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have liked it at the best of times, but I probably would have just rolled my eyes and moved on. But WHY are we talking about ~marriage~ when there’s a global pandemic going on?? Who cares??

  21. nobody, really says:

    I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately. It seems that for anything that comes from “Salt Lake”, a third of the message is to let us know how inspired the message is, a third is the actual message, and a third is to tell us how blessed we will be if we adhere to the message.

    This conference didn’t do anything to change my perception. We had Elder Holland, we had a lot of Joseph Smith (understandable), and we had the standard “pray, pay, obey”. Perhaps a little “come back, we’re not as bad as you remember”.

    Mostly, I’m growing weary of sacrificing my health and family for a bunch of people who despise me. It’s a long message of “we don’t care how much you’re doing, you need to do more.”

  22. Chadwick says:

    Dsc:

    No, I do not think this is being taken seriously enough. Utah Governer Gary Herbert issued a stay home, stay safe directive that involves only going outside for an urgent need from an essential business. The list includes grocery, pharmacy, and health care centers. His essential list does not include religious services. His directive specifically says that high risk individuals over 60 should not interact with other high risk individuals unless they are part of the same household.

    The CDC has similar rules. Church leaders did not follow them.

    You may reasonably disagree on what is sufficient in order to flatten the curve. We are all learning as we go as none of us were alive during the last pandemic. I would like to be wrong here. But we don’t know that yet.

    And I second Elisa’s comment. Right now there is plenty we can do to alleviate real suffering, along with the daunting task of juggling-work-from home and educate-from-home schedules. For the average member, I don’t think there will be much free time for indexing.

  23. I love this, Carolyn. I hope you continue to make this a regular feature every Conference.

    One line in particular that struck me was this: “But given the severity and speed of this crisis, we do not ask that you pay your tithing to the Church.”

    I so wish this could be said by Church leaders. I think it’s clear that they do not trust us to do good on our own, without their careful micromanagment. Do you remember a few years ago when Elder Oaks was talking about some reduction in meetings (it might even have been the move to the two-hour block) where he said some scolding thing about how we needed to be sure not to waste the precious extra time they had given us back? I think that’s clearly the way GAs as a whole think about Church members: We’re not capable enough to be allowed to manage anything as serious as deciding where our tithing money should be donated, not even temporarily.

  24. We’ve seen plenty of “crazy” from other church leaders who are continuing to have services, unchanged. I am so glad that our church is being careful. I thought that the efforts made to comply with CDC recommendations were pretty thorough. I’m not sure that going into the homes of all of the GA’s and setting up a zoom thing would be effective. They would likely have needed technical support, and so it likely involved fewer people and less exposure to others by having a very limited meeting at the COB.

  25. Jon miranda says:

    Ziff
    Why are you so agreeable with everybody?
    I loved what you stated
    You post really resonated with me.
    Be the uppity wife that gets mad every now and then.

  26. I don’t remember a prophet asking us to fast twice for the same issue. And the fasting being only weeks apart. President Nelson detailed several reasons for the fast; all pertaining to COVID 19. He is a physician. It is obvious the pandemic is on his mind. God be thanked for a prophet on the earth again! A blessing of the restoration.

  27. Chadwick,

    First of all, you’re simply wrong about this not being in compliance with the Governor’s order. Nonprofits have not been asked to close, and faith leaders are specifically exempt. Even businesses may continue operating to the extent necessary, as long as precautions are taken, such as keeping a six foot distance and not shaking hands. As far as I can tell, that was strictly observed.

    As far as indexing goes, you almost seem to be contradicting yourself. Unless you’re a healthcare worker, the best thing you can do is stay at home, right? Isn’t that why you’re criticizing the decision to go forward with the conference? So what are you supposed to do at home that can help the situation? Indexing seems like a perfectly reasonable option, and it is far better than binge watching Tiger King on Netflix.

    There will be opportunities to serve in the aftermath of all of this. Staying busy while serving those on the other side of the veil is a prudent option that has the eternal benefit of providing saving ordinances plus the temporal benefit of allowing people to feel like they’ve accomplished something while they maintain they’re distance from people.

  28. Geoff - Aus says:

    Yes to the post. So much more could have been done. Chose instead to change logo. Less and less relavent
    I went to bed after hearing all the talks about womens priesthood that it might be leading up to something on Sunday. At least allowing single sisters to bless the sacrament, and even equality. But disapointed again.
    I also hoped there might be some moral guidance re voting.

  29. Michael says:

    As disappointing as this conference might have been to many, go back to the October 2019 conference. Do you catch a whiff of the coming crisis? I don’t. Whatever a prophet is supposed to mean in the 21st century does not include any specific warnings useful during the crisis today.

    I am surprised that they didn’t suggest that we plant gardens. Right now it does not appear that food will be scarce. We, as a nation, export a huge amount of food and we may have surplus food. But it wouldn’t take much craziness to shut down the trucking and supply lines. Having locally available food in the event the pandemic gets worse, comes in waves and lasts until next winter might be a good idea.Perhaps they do know something the rest of us don’t. Then why keep it a secret?

    I notice the death rate from this virus among healthy young people is reassuringly low. Normally in times of war young soldiers are asked to risk dying in battle. Why not now? Why are they not doing research projects with young VOLUNTEERS? Except accidently on one Navy ship and a few cruise ships. If I was 20 something, I would volunteer. When the young and foolish can party on the beaches of Florida/Texas and infect each other while mating indiscriminately, why not do something more helpful, better supervised and a bit less dangerous?

    I’m not suggesting our missionaries be manipulated into anything like it. But I think driving a wagon into the Wyoming winter of 1856 was probably more dangerous for a healthy young man or woman than this virus. Driving a wagon through Southern Utah that September certainly was, for a gentile anyway.