A Rant about Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance is not a gospel principle. It is found nowhere in the scriptures. The closest we come to it are various verses requesting that one not be idle. But we appear to have made an idol out of the “self-made” man that is antithetical to the gospel and really needs to stop.

I blame the Protestants. One of the issues behind the Reformation was the absolute dependence on the sacraments of the Catholic church for salvation. Having a good relationship with God was important, but without the sacraments, you could hope for Purgatory at best (note: this is a gross simplification; feel free to nitpick if you like). Luther resolved the issue by saying we are all saved, but Calvin took a different approach. God, he preached, has chosen a select few to save, everyone else is fuel for hell’s fires. Grace is all that matters, what you do is unimportant. However, those chosen by God will most likely naturally produce evidence of their election in how they live their lives. They will be more holy, more pious, and, perhaps, God will prosper them (see note above about simplification).

Well, the pilgrims were Calvinists and they brought that set of beliefs across the pond with them. We tend to think of the “Protestant work ethic” that we situate in their colonization as rooted in the need to work hard to survive those first cold winters. But that doesn’t reflect reality. The first generations of colonizers were often so sick that they couldn’t work at all; their survival was initially wholly dependent on the Indigenous peoples who took pity on them. Protestant work ethic worked (and still works) instead as a racial and class division. The pilgrims worked while the Indigenous peoples idled, it was assumed.  Protestant work ethic was a signifier that the Protestant way of being was superior to the heathens they encountered in America; it only recognized the kind of work that the Protestants were already good at. And the Protestants prospered, while the Indigenous people did not, driven away by the guns and plagues brought by the people they saved. God’s ways are mysterious indeed.

The current-era version of the Protestant work ethic is the Prosperity gospel, which teaches that if you are righteous, God will give you stuff. Conversely, it teaches that if you have lots of stuff, God must like you, what you do, how you think, who you vote for, and so forth. American culture has bought into this myth entirely; it is the reason anyone cares what celebrities think about anything. This, specifically, is the reason the Zion society fails in the 4th Nephi, dividing up based on the accoutrements of wealth. This is why Donald Trump (or, I guess, Jim Bakker) appeals to Evangelicals and conservative Mormons (see Malachi 3:13-15).

So, in America, being poor is worse than unfortunate; to be poor is to be in a state of sin. You must have done something to displease God, otherwise you would not be poor. The whole country, state and society, stands around pointing at the poor, like Job’s accusers, trying to get them to admit what they did wrong. They didn’t go to college, they got the wrong degree, they don’t speak English, they came here illegally, they don’t maintain their yards like they should, they never got married, they got married too young, they shouldn’t have had a child, they have a culture problem, they listen to the wrong music, they like the wrong shows, and a thousand other subtle and unsubtle racist, ableist, sexist, and classist justifications for why they are poor and, more importantly, why we don’t have to give of our substance to help them. Each is a means to demonstrate that they are not our neighbor.

This is antithetical to the Gospel. Not just because we are specifically commanded to not engage in this sort of victim-blaming (see: Mosiah 4:16-26), but because, as King Benjamin points out, we are all beggars. There is not a person on earth who is not entirely reliant on the atonement to achieve any sort of salvation. I don’t care if you are Ghandi, Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one, you are just as reliant on God’s grace as that Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, and Warren G. Harding amalgam over there. Nobody earns their way into heaven. Nobody is better suited for heaven. We all fall short and the amount by which we fall short is always infinite. That’s what the atonement is for.

Sure, we are not to be idle. But engagement in work or a cause is no protection against poverty (see, for example, Joseph Smith’s early life). Itinerant carpenters and fishermen in 1st century Palestine would definitely know this. And Christ had little time for those who engaged in righteousness for righteousness’s sake. To be a disciple is demonstrated by your  love of your neighbor and that means helping your neighbor (however you define that help).  Do you want to be like Christ? Then be like Christ! Go to the poor, the imprisoned, the sex workers, the homeless, the beggars, those despised by society (I’m guessing IRS workers don’t count, but probably just barely) and help them. Don’t worry about  whether they are “worthy” of help or interested in or capable of change. Help them. Because they are often in situations where they cannot be self-reliant. When we cannot be self-reliant, Christ intervenes. Be his angel.

So, to reiterate, self-reliance is not a principle founded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t make it inherently bad, but when it is used to excuse not helping or listening to those around us, it is very bad. One of the more important messages of the Gospel is that we are wholly reliant on Christ for our salvation and, should we desire to be saviors on Mt. Zion, we should be as free with our grace as Christ is with his. After all, Christ repeatedly said he was only doing the things his Father would have him do. How self-reliant is that? 


  1. Interestingly enough, Jesus did go to the IRS workers, or rather a tax collector (Luke 19). Despised for his occupation, he was the rare rich person Jesus hung out with. Probably because he was despised by society and because he gave half of his wealth to the poor.

  2. Not a Cougar says:

    C’mon, John, how the heck are we going to grow the investment portfolio to a trillion dollars if we spend it all on people in need? Better to give’em a pair of bootstraps and assume things will automatically get better. At least it’s cheaper. /s

  3. almost at the last says:

    “Protestant work ethic worked (and still works) instead as a racial and class division.”
    Statements like this are a clear sign that you are only engaged in virtue signaling your moral superiority and are engaged in autofellatio.
    Respect my culture dude!

  4. Would that be troll culture?

  5. Bob&Anna says:

    I hate the self-reliant message coming from the church. Who is truly self-reliant? I am sure there are people who think they are but they are forgetting those people, systems, and things that got them where they are. And as noted we are all reliant on Christ.

    I am all for personal responsibility and accountability; doing what you can with the resources you have (financial, physical, etc.) and taking responsibility for your actions. But self-reliance feels like another tool to judge those around us when we should be serving.

  6. This seems to conflate self reliance with the prosperity gospel, neither of which are doctrine but I think separate. Adam was told he would live by the sweat of his brow. I think hard work, living within your means etc are important principles. But many members assume if you work hard and are righteous you’ll be blessed temporally, because they have, and therefore if you’re not blessed temporally you’re either lazy or unrighteous. I was raised fairly sheltered in southern California and remember moving to NYC and taking part in a stake big brother/big sister program. The first youth I met lived in the projects in Harlem, mom worked two jobs, dad not around, etc. He was a fantastic kid but I remember being hit how stacked the odds were against him and in a short period my worldview on poverty, race, and social support changed. I still view self reliance as important but recognize most often does not lead to riches.

  7. Thanks, John C. Protestant work ethic, prosperity gospel, transactional salvation, rationalizations for colonialism and for class or caste structures, and even the mythology of the American cowboy, all point in the same non-Christian direction. Foreordination and chosen-ness and covenant people and born-in-the-covenant and second anointing are all Mormon-flavor traps for the soul. We’ve got to wrap our minds and spirits around caring for widows and orphans and fatherless and etc., around the last who will be first, around the workers in the vineyard. Around myself being both saint and sinner, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

  8. I appreciate this quote from Marion G. Romney:
    “Food for the hungry cannot come from empty shelves. Money to assist the needy cannot come from an empty purse. Support and understanding cannot come from the emotionally staved. Teaching cannot come from the unlearned.”

    Of course “self-reliance” may be taken to an extreme that would be antithetical to the Gospel, but there is a difference between wishing to help other people, and actually doing it. There was a time in my life that I needed fast offering assistance, and I’m grateful to others who had enough for themselves, and could then give additional for my benefit. Their sacrifice has stayed with me and makes me want to continue to pay it forward.

  9. Anonymous says:

    17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

    18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

    19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

    John, while I agree with many of your sentiments isn’t self reliance in many ways just the human condition? If we don’t take care of ourselves, then who else will? I am with christiankimball on the prosperity gospel and transactional salvation but I am too much influenced by Hobbes. Life is for the most part nasty, brutish and short.

    One of the biggest problems the poor have is that the wealthy oppress them. They keep them down. If we lessen our oppression of the poor they would probably do just fine.

    I see God as being self reliant. He is a creator and a builder. He is industrious. We should work to improve our garden plot as we are able. God isn’t idle but He doesn’t hoard the wealth of the universe either, He shares it with us. He is a gardener who tends and takes care of his garden.

    John, I hear you… too often we blame the victim. I hear your rant and accept it.

  10. You’ve mingled an important truth, which I’ll sum up this way: don’t use one commandment to justify breaking another, with a feel good philosophy, that self reliance is not scriptural.

    But then, there are the actual scriptures. Here are just a few, not to mention the abundance teachings by modern prophets which I don’t include, all that teach that self-reliance is scriptural.

    “and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him” Moses 5:1

    “The ​​Lord​​ recompense thy work, and a full ​​​reward​ be given thee of the ​​Lord​​ God of Israel, under whose ​​​wings​ thou art come to trust.” Ruth 2:12

    “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not ​​​work​, neither should he eat.” 2 Thes. 3:10

    “rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.” Alma 24:18

    “And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and ​​​cloth​ of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land—” Mosiah 10:5

    “and this they did that they might ​​​provide​ food for themselves while in the wilderness.” Alma 17:7

    “But Jesus answered them, My Father ​​​worketh​ hitherto, and I ​​​work​.” John 5:17

    “And the Lord said: Go to work and build…” Ether 2:16

    “And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and ​​began to build buildings; yea, they were ​​​industrious​, and did labor exceedingly.“ Mosiah 23:5

    Also, making a blanket statement about why conservative members supported Trump is doing exactly what you tell us not to do with your “isms” argument. Potential Supreme Court appointments was one reason I voted for Trump despite not liking everything about him.

    It might be that you’re so surrounded by the cultural aspects of what you call prosperity gospel, (I also saw that ideology from my time in UT, and hated it) that you’re pushing too far against it so as to ignore the scriptural foundation for what seems like a pretty important part of agency and becoming.

  11. Kristine says:

    Rick–all of those scriptures are about work, not about being poor. The fact is that work is not a defense against poverty in this country.

  12. pconnornc says:

    I love that scriptural wrath is most often seen directed at the hypocritical and those who oppress the poor. But I think that you are creating an either/or comparison that is not necessary.

    We can give alms to the poor, assist the widow, lift our brethren and not be judgmental AND still live by the sweat of our brow, strive to be obedient and experience a degree of prospering in the land.

    I would even posit that the parable of the servants & talents is counsel to prosper what we have been given – which is at the heart of self reliance.

  13. MapleMom says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I support hard work, education, and thrift, but I worry that Mormons too often weaponize self reliance as an excuse not to care about the poor. They vote for politicians whose party platforms deliberately or inadvertently harm the poor. They condemn social safety nets (unemployment insurance, welfare, universal healthcare) as socialism. They blame the poor for being poor instead of examining the systemic challenges that keep poor people trapped in the class to which they are born. Weaponizing self-reliance destroys empathy while ramping up pride and self-justification. It’s a huge problem within LDS culture, particularly along the Rocky Mountain corridor (on the Canadian side of the border too).

  14. Mkng1,
    For me, the connection between self-reliance and the prosperity gospel is pride. Both fundamentally center the human instead of the divine, as if our purported righteousness forces God’s hand in some way.

    It’s a good quote and as King Benjamin says you shouldn’t walk faster than you have strength. But full storehouses don’t help the poor either. You have to empty them sometime. See Luke 12:16-21.

    I obviously disagree that the commandment to work is the same as a commandment to be self-reliant. I’m having trouble thinking of verses that command us to rely on our own works, instead of God’s, but they could be out there, I suppose. Even in temporal things, God asks us to turn to him; he doesn’t promise a certain set of results, but he promises involvement. As far as I can tell, in the scriptural viewpoint, we are not meant to live independent of God.

    Regarding Trump, you have your reward.

    If I’m being honest, I think it is sinful to have too much money. But I don’t think earning money for work is sinful nor do I think living “comfortably” is. There are nuances and mitigating circumstances in all of that. As President Romney noted, if all our cupboards are bare we just starve together. But I think it is telling that we richer folk often think we deserve the filet mignon while offering the funds for stale bread crusts to the poor. It is telling that, in the parable of the talents, the one who did everything he could to not lose his inheritance, to keep what was his, was the one the Lord found wanting.

  15. Perhaps I’m just not cynical enough, but I always got the impression that the self-reliance push was to improve the ratio of those economically well off to those who aren’t, to improve the odds that the not well off could receive help.

  16. My ward had a stake high councilman speak on self-reliance sacrament meeting yesterday, so the timing for this couldn’t have been more perfect.

    I don’t have the answer for this, but wish I did. It’s hard for me because I see both sides. On the one hand, I understand the need for more programs and resources that help church members and I do find social safety nets to be sorely lacking, especially when taking into consideration how so many church members marry young and start having babies young, and then are tasked with juggling school, work, and ward/stake callings. Too often, the mothers end up sacrificing their own educations and career prospects, which could leave them in bad situations later on. That is a problem that isn’t addressed enough. On the other hand, I’ve been in wards (family and YSA/SA both) where several people abused the goodwill of their fellow congregants, some of whom did this for YEARS before the situation was addressed and resolved. I’ve seen firsthand the resentment that has caused, especially when it comes to bishops who play favorites and decide that their favorites are the ones who need all the help in the world even when they’re financially sound… and in those cases, it’s always the people who are in genuine need of help who are being judged unfairly and having resources withheld from them.

    I liked Bob&Anna’s comment about personal accountability and taking responsibility while also acknowledging that self-reliance can be a tool used wrongly judge those who need help. Both things can be true: we must work hard, become educated, stay out of debt, own up to our failings, AND be sure we aren’t judging people who fall on hard times, while at the same time make sure we’re using our OWN discernment to be sure we aren’t enabling people who take advantage and letting those bite the hands that feed them and reporting ecclesiastical abuse when necessary.

    Again, I wish I had the answer for this. I’m looking forward to hearing what other people have to say.

  17. Self reliant does not equal self made.

  18. Mortimer says:

    John C.
    Yes. This. 1000x this. Amen, brother!

    Do this. Print out the post. Stick it in the mailbox and send directly every Q15 member at 50 E N Temple, SLC.

    Then, get in the internet and send this as an editorial to the Liahona. And Deseret News. And LDSLiving Mag.

  19. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    I think it’s unfortunate to have included the term “Self-Reliance” in the title of your rant, because it comes across as clearly targeting the church’s relatively recent initiatives which share that name — and my guess is that you’re more disappointed with the prevailing execution of charitable programs and societal trends surrounding poverty.

    We are surely falling short in adequately addressing the needs around us, but these recent steps in the past 3-5 years seem clearly positive to me. Your concerns seem legitimately directed at the LDS culture and conservative government over the past few generations, but where do you have a beef with the following (pulled from the handbook, though not copied in entirety)?:
    –Develop spiritual strength (prayer, study, fasting, service, attendance, participation)
    — Physical and emotional health promotion (Word of Wisdom, nutrition, receiving proper medical care, strengthening relationships, stress management, seeking help and counseling support for challenges)
    — Develop education and employment, develop a budget
    — Create additional preparation so you can care for yourself, or others in a time of unexpected need.

    I confess that I’ve not taken the time and energy to complete any of the recently developed 3-4 month courses that really focus on some of these areas, but the outlines seem useable, and the chit-chat around the ward seems more positive than otherwise.

    We’ve elevated caring for those in need (no longer making any reference to “poor”, and we’ll all take our turn being needy sometime), to the same organizational level of emphasis that temple and missionary work have.

    So, yeah, I hear and echo your overall concern, and to be clear, you didn’t make any specific mention of the steps or programs that have the Self Reliance title. We still need to get water to the end of the row, but I do think our recent developments are making that more likely, not less.

  20. Kristine says:

    “I confess that I’ve not taken the time and energy to complete any of the recently developed 3-4 month courses that really focus on some of these areas, but the outlines seem useable, and the chit-chat around the ward seems more positive than otherwise.”

    Maybe you live in a ward with few actually poor people? The outlines are not useful for coping with serious poverty.

  21. Also, the Worldwide Pathway program promotes self-reliance. The church is striving to make educational opportunities available to all. It is a great way to lift the next generation out of poverty.

  22. Self Reliance for the Upper Crust says:

    I’m remembering my ward’s 5th Sunday lesson on budgeting … not for rent and food and bus fare, mind you, but how best to deal with bonuses and investments and stock sales. Anyone with that kind of income needs professional financial advisers; those of us on the east side of the ward didn’t know whether to respond with amusement or anger.

  23. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    There are many, many serious health challenges that cannot be remedied simply by better eating, more sleep, and some physical activity. But that doesn’t mean we kick dirt on those things, or that they don’t deserve our attention. In fact they will almost certainly accelerate and augment whatever heavier-duty interventions do take place that a person can’t self-administer.

    Sometimes you need to lose 15 pounds and do some yoga, and other times you need a new kidney. It would be a mistake to lump those both together.

    So yeah, in a small suburban ward like mine, the value of the church programs probably lies in preventing unforeseen financial/employment/marital/emotional challenges, or making marginal improvements — whereas in other situations, there is a higher need to fully reinvent, correct, and/or provide indefinite support that is beyond the scope of the programs.

    I imagine that over time, as the topics feel germane and compelling to both my wife and I, we will end up working our way through most of the programs. And I think, churchwide, that sort of thing will modestly raise the collective average of our abilities and preparedness. It is not the magic wand to fix everything, and we are right to get upset about misusing the concept in order to withhold support — but I think it would be unfortunate to dismiss its value as part of the solution.

  24. wildflower says:

    self-reliance in of itself is a sound principle but I agree it has become weaponized against the poor

    I have some insight into this being involved in the compassionate care/welfare side of my ward’s relief society. Our RS president (who I am close to) and her family are on the poorer side of our ward, not the poorest, but definitely below the median income level of ward, they’re immigrants and have temporary visa status in the country in which we live. And yet the RS president often finds her self making and taking meals and ministering more generally to families of much higher socioeconomic status than hers (when a the wife would get ill or have surgery or something). It’s kind of a big time and financial commitment, given that our ward is pretty large in terms of geography and with gas prices these days. It’s the same case with one of her counsellors, also poor but one of the few people who would serve in such ways willingly, enthusiastically, and often at their own initiative.

    I find it kind of upsetting that, in our ward, it’s pretty much the poor serving and supporting the poor AND the rich, while the wealthier members don’t really do anything in terms of that kind of service and ministering, or at least not as frequently as far I as can tell. The RS president never complains about it, at least not to me, but I’m pretty sure she recognizes the situation for what it is, but whatever she may be thinking she seems to keep it to herself.

    One kind of funny but also sad thing that happened was the bishop’s attempts at improving ‘self-reliance’ in our ward, he proposed an 11 week course or something, and asked for volunteers to teach this course, each class would be 2 hours long and it was to be held on like thrusday nights or something at 7pm. Nobody wanted to teach it, of course, it’s kind of a massive time commitment, and once again, the wealthier members turned it down the invitation, and it ended up being someone who I’d guess was around the median of income levels in our ward.

    Unsurprisingly, no one came, especially not the target demographic of the ward in more tenuous financial circumstances. And I imagine they didn’t attend for what should of been very obvious reasons (week night, huge time commitment, poor members live far away from the church, less frequent public transportation available at night, etc.). The bishop agreed to drop the course after two weeks of zero attendance.

    Don’t get me wrong I think our bishop and the other wealthier members (who occupy most of the leadership positions) are otherwise good people, but the self-reliance rhetoric is just so deeply imbued that I think that, in their minds, challenging that is tantamount to challenging church doctrine or doubting the president of the church or something.

  25. Folks,
    In the OP, I tried to be clear about what I was saying. Self-Reliance is not a Gospel principle. It is not necessary for salvation and it is not derived from scripture. That doesn’t make it inherently bad (which I think I said) although, as has been noted, when it is weaponized, it is very bad. But self-reliance is an ideal derived from economics, not the Bible (or LDS scriptures). It has definitely been intermingled with scripture (see all my talk of pilgrims and Jim Bakker), but it didn’t originate there. To be self-reliant is, to put it baldly, to have sufficient capital to not require much aid from others in order to survive. Spiritual self-reliance is a bad metaphor; testimonies are not self-made or maintained in isolation. Physical self-reliance is great for the abled, for other folk less so. Everything else discussed by the church is economic. And, in my limited experience, frequently tone deaf (if you don’t have the money to pay rent and buy food, budgeting will only let you not pay your bills more efficiently). And God wants us to build communities, not silos. Finally, it makes people think it is shameful or sinful to request help. This should not be the case.

  26. pconnornc says:

    I wonder how much of the Lord’s (or just the church’s) push for self-reliance is for the benefit of those who already have a measure of self reliance? In Section 84 Bishop Whitney is commanded to seek out the poor, to minister to their wants (not needs) for the blessing (or humbling) of the rich & proud.

    We are commanded to share of our blessings with others – isn’t knowledge & capacity a blessing? Sharing of our abundance or excess, regardless of what it is, would be a Gospel principle. We read about how the access to education was key to the divisions amongst the Nephites. When I see members in our ward engaging in helping others be more self reliant, I consider it a blessing for giver and receiver. I even try to take the approach if an investment I make in trying to help someone does not lead where I would desire, at least I was blessed by the interaction and connection.

    I also had never taken such a narrow view (economic) of our self reliance efforts. Though the time spent on financial counseling & training is not trivial, I would think the efforts for increasing education are even greater (and the glory of God is intelligence). And both of those efforts pale in the number of hours spent helping people be self reliant as individuals and parents.

    I’m not sure the Lord differentiates things as spiritual or temporal like we do ;-)

  27. For, are we not all beggars? I realize that phrase is meant in different ways. However, one of my pet peeves has to do with these self-reliance courses in the church. In my ward, they chose a woman who is an example of perseverance, etc. in the face of adversity, two divorces, etc. The only problem is, she came from a middle-class family with a middle-class education and has the attitude that “if I can do it, so can you.“ This is so destructive to people who have many complex sides to their misfortunes. Nothing can be more detrimental and discouraging than a church sanctioned form of impatience. Thank you for bringing to light something that has eaten at me for a long time.

  28. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    It makes me want to throw things every time someone on our Ward (or Stake, or…) decides that we need to have a class on self-reliance (read, financial literacy) so they can help those who are struggling. Because if the poor just knew how to put together, and stick to, a budget they would turn their lives around. Budgets work when the money going in is equal to, or greater than, the money flowing out. For most poor people, that’s not the case. People generally aren’t poor because they make poor financial decisions. They’re poor because they have very limited financial options.

  29. MDearest says:

    A few years ago I moved from a very prosperous, insular neighborhood to one that is adjacent to a lot more complex economic challenges. Did I word that clearly? I live in a place where I see homeless folks regularly, and occasionally interact.

    In Phoenix, and elsewhere, there has been an explosion of homelessness, and one can attend any number of grassroots meetings where more fortunate folks can attend to the “problem.” Last week there was one that detailed a 5-year plan to create “interim housing” in refurbished hotels for those who would tolerate a “closed campus” (leaving only for a job, etc) and “campgrounds” with storage lockers/showers/amenities for those who would not. There was discussion about police action and, as always, the criteria for which an individual can be arrested or otherwise detained, currently “softened” here at present due to a DOJ investigation that has nothing to do with homeless people. Apparently there is a Lot Of Money available for agencies staffed with helping people who qualify to receive funds. (Qualifying for funds and solving real problems are not the same thing, as we well know.)

    Poverty is a crisis, always, that inherently kills all efficient problem-solving. Sometimes the ability to solve one’s problems is reduced to nothing. Then you die I guess.

    All of the people I know of who are struggling financially have a patchwork of sketchy support systems that may, at times, mitigate the pressures in their lives as they wax and wane. People who are stable enough to have the luxury of dabbling in self-reliance don’t experience anything like the magnitude of pressure as experienced by those in poverty. The work required is endless— meeting crisis with inadequate resources and diminished effect, and it’s exhausting. The few safety nets available mean more work and effort, and a tolerance for absurdity in the face of the daily crisis.

    There is so much work to be done, to help people in this crisis, I can’t begin to describe the possibilities.* We have powerful resources in our country, but no one with any power to develop them has the will to do so. And in fact, it seems like the powerful are choosing actions for mere spite, that harm the most vulnerable first and worst. Without public service credentials, I have little expertise to offer, except this: I am sure that we have enough to help whatever folks in poverty need, without undue regard to those folks’ self-reliance. In fact, the close a person is to poverty, the more self-reliant they have to be. If only people in privilege could recognize *that* set of self-reliance skills.

    *But I can start a list.
    (of ways help is needed)
    • Government policy re: affordable housing.
    (Rent control is sooo painful, I know.)
    • Creative incentives and policies to ensure affordable housing ongoing.
    • Humanitarian help- find current effective action orgs, and give them resources.
    • Bona fide christian care, (Small c intentional) every possible way to bind up all the different wounds.
    • Keep politics out. Politics has its place and that place isn’t in this work.
    • Your turn

  30. MDearest is exactly right.

    I was extremely poor right after law school, 2011. Great resume, but in the Great Recession I had no connections (the firm I’d clerked at for two years was laying lawyers off, not hiring them), no job offers, a second baby on the way. Food stamps, small apartment that we struggled to pay rent on, no health insurance, massive ER bill, car that broke down on way to job interview in another state, trying to come up with a little money to start my own firm because job prospects were so bad.

    And I learned this–being poor saps too much out of a person. So much time and energy are spent on trying to just get by that you don’t have time or energy to really succeed. Had we had a real safety net–something more than just food stamps and pregnancy Medicaid–it would have been much easier to devote that time and energy to getting a business off the ground or finding a decent job.

    The scriptures talk a great deal about the need to give to the poor. I’m convinced that if we really want people to be self reliant we need to provide a more adequate safety net so that they have the bandwidth to worry about something other than being able to make rent every month.

    Of course, all this talk about self reliance is more about making financially successful church people feel better. Instead of donating their wealth to the poor or paying their employees what they’re worth (as the scriptures instruct) they can set up and teach self reliance classes.

  31. My opinion is that the greatest challenges facing the family right now are economic. People can’t afford housing. Even if one parent wants to stay home with the children, two paychecks are necessary to pay rent and buy food. Health insurance requires working full-time, which is fine until a chronic health condition makes it so you or a spouse can’t work. Money is a common spousal tension. If more people earned a living wage, that tension would ease or disappear. Faith doesn’t pay for living expenses anymore.

    I see a lot of paperwork from people who have filed for bankruptcy, and these are not big spenders. More than a few are full tithe-payers. Many are spending half, or more, of their income on rent or a mortgage.

    I wish the Church would take up fair wages as a moral issue, and start quoting the scriptures about not “oppressing the hireling in his wages” in talks and lessons. I wish the child tax credit payments hadn’t expired. The resources are there, but MDearest rightly points out, those who control the resources aren’t motivated to spread them around equitably.

  32. Geoff - Aus says:

    Tim, poverty feels very different when there is no light at the end of the tunnel than when you have a law degree in your pocket.
    Right of centre folk want to be sure the poor are helped by churches and individuals, not governments redirecting funding toward the poor. A tax cut for rich is the government redirecting funding to the rich. What is wrong with them sending some it the other way? The poor can be incentivised too.

    It is my perception that the church self reliance programme
    1.infers that God will help you, so if you are poor God didn’t help you. What did you do wrong?
    2. Is all about increasing your income, and totally lacking in how to turn your income into wealth.

    US gdp creates $60,000 per person/year ( family of 4 $240.000 ). How is it distributed? Who decides? Governments? Capitalists?

    There need be no poverty in America.

  33. Just me says:

    This is spot on. When it comes to self reliance in church, it boils my blood. Me and my family has been on the poor side, always being told that if you pay your tithing, and be completely faithful, you will receive blessings! Let me tell you where that got us. Taken advantage of by every ward we have been in, help in the way that really doesn’t help, examples being bishop storehouse food that is barely fit for human consumption, just enough for an existing much older vehicle to limp along another year, useless toys and clothes that didn’t fit my kids, oh and leftover food storage from other families that got pawned off on us. Now, since I’m pretty much on the church rolls in Name only (never know when back tithing might come back to ya) and I’ve stopped being the shill for the church (still believe there is a god) things are way better and I have a better understanding of true self reliance. Job opportunities are better, money goes towards what is actually useful, and a different route to a much newer, modest car. Self reliance is what it is in the title. God gave each of us a brain, use it and help others in ways that would actually be useful, like a power bill, or gas money (which really helps right now)

  34. Doing all we can to better ourselves and use our talents is the scriptural part, IMO. But that does not translate necessarily into financial recompense. Also, we know from research that generally speaking, the more self reliant we become, the more we expect others to be so and we tend to become less charitable. That, IMO, is quite an interesting theological exploration in itself… the self-reliant being equivalent to the natural man, so to speak. As you allude to at the end, self-reliance eventually spills over to a lack of a need to rely on things divine or with a faith imperative.

  35. E Bywater says:

    The principle taught by the church is found in the Standards for Youth:
    “One of the blessings of work is developing self-reliance. When you are self-reliant, you use the blessings and abilities God has given you to care for yourself and your family and to find solutions for your own problems. Self-reliance does not mean that you must be able to do all things on your own. To be truly self-reliant, you must learn how to work with others and turn to the Lord for His help and strength.”
    This seems pretty solid to me. It doesn’t mean do everything on your own, it does mean learn to work with others and rely on God. Self reliance is NOT an excuse to not help others because we want to “teach them to be self-reliant.” I agree that often members of the Church, and unfortunately leaders as well, teach self-reliance from a different perspective, which I wish they wouldn’t do as it is unfair to those in different situations, as many of you have said.
    My only point here is that I agree with many things that have been said, except I don’t believe that the CHURCH teaches those things. It is often the error of members and leaders who just can’t comprehend the situation that others are in.


  1. […] big white food storage buckets as part of our decor. Some have even insisted self-reliance is not a gospel principle taught anywhere in the scriptures—portraying it instead as a relic of the “prosperity […]

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