Do We Need A Fifth Mission?

December 15, 2009 | 98 comments
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The news is out that LDS leaders are adding a fourth mission for the Church: caring for the poor and needy. According to an official LDS spokesman cited in the Salt Lake Tribune article, the new mission (or purpose or emphasis) will be included in the new edition of the Handbook of Instructions to be issued next year. With a publishing deadline looming, I propose that we put our collective heads together and see whether we need a fifth mission as well. Perhaps adding a fourth mission alone is not enough to fill in the gaps apparently missed by the first three missions.

Samuel, proclaiming.
samuel four

For background, go read the Keepa post “Origin of the ‘Threefold Mission of the Church’ Statement.” That post relates how in 1981 President Kimball identified three missions for the Church: proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints, and redeem the dead. This pithy statement of goals is useful for paring down the Church agenda, which at the time President Kimball laid out the three missions had bloated to include a wide variety of sports, cultural, and educational programs that had little to do with the gospel of proclaiming, perfecting, and redeeming. The contemporaneous work of Correlation to reign in the then-autonomous auxiliary organizations of the Church, which were partly responsible for the bloated organizational agenda, was another manifestation of the desire for a more focused Church. It was about getting back to gospel basics, one might say.

But getting organizational priorities right is never a one-off affair. As circumstances change, new priorities emerge. A trickier problem is that organizations have their own inertia which can take a policy or goal and transform it, over time, into something largely unrelated to the original directive. The popular term “mission creep” captures this effect. Here’s the opening paragraph from the Wikipedia discussion of mission creep:

Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. The term often implies a certain disapproval of newly adopted goals by the user of the term. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs. The term was originally applied exclusively to military operations, but has recently been applied to many different fields, mainly the growth of bureaucracies.

Adding a fourth mission is an implicit admission that three was not enough. Or that the three mission paradigm, as applied in the Church, was not getting the job done. Or that mission creep has occurred and some corrections are in order. Obviously, caring for the poor and needy was somehow not getting the organizational attention it deserved. Is there anything else that we’re missing?

My nomination: the youth of the Church. For organizational purposes, “We shall not let the youth of Zion falter” would be a nice statement. What do we do? We proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We care for the poor and needy. We strengthen our youth.

It’s not that we don’t care about the youth now. But stated goals influence how organizational resources are used or, in simpler terms, how the money is spent. The proclaiming and redeeming prongs of the present three-mission statement support organizational budgets that direct huge amounts of money to support the worldwide mission program and an ever-expanding network of temples. At the same time, ward youth programs limp along on the meager provisions of the ward budget. Wouldn’t it be nice if the priority that we think we place on our youth were to get translated into organizational terms that would allow some of the resources that the LDS bureaucracy controls to flow to youth programs? If the youth really are a priority, let’s put them on the mission agenda.

The bottom line is that global statements of mission or purpose or emphasis do have an effect. Such statements focus the energy and resources of auxiliaries, staff, and local leaders on the stated priorities. Caring for the poor and the needy will shortly be given a higher priority. I think the youth (who we are losing in larger numbers than ever before!) need a higher organizational priority as well. Any other nominations? More generally, how can we as a church make the three-missions paradigm a more effective agenda for meeting the needs of the membership of the Church?

98 Responses to Do We Need A Fifth Mission?

  1. Ardis Parshall on December 15, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    “Youth of Zion” = subset of “Saints” = already totally covered by “Perfect the Saints.”

    That doesn’t mean we’re doing all that can or should be done, only that it isn’t an uncovered area.

    In what specifics do you see money as being the solution to keeping youth active?

  2. Alex T. Valencic on December 15, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I disagree that we need a fifth mission to focus on the youth. The youth are part of the body of Saints, and the perfecting of the Saints has been a keep aspect of the defined mission of the Church.

    I don’t think that adding the fourth mission of caring for the poor and needy is going to result in any monetary/budgeting changes, so much as it is an added emphasis that we have been seeing for some time, anyway. The church’s missions and temples are financed through tithing and specific donations for those causes. Welfare/humanitarian aid is financed through fast offerings and specific humanitarian aid funds. Tithing is meant to be used for meeting the physical needs of the church (buildings, operating budgets, etc.) I admit that I have no idea if the Church diverts some of the tithes to pay for humanitarian aid, as well. I’m sure someone will be able to confirm or deny.

    I also have a concern that focus on strengthening the youth as a separate mission will widen the gap between the youth and adults. Our young single adults are also in critical condition, although there are definitely reports in some areas where the search and rescue efforts are seeing a large degree of success. But if we say we need to add “strengthen the youth” to the mission, then we’ll also have to add “support the young [and not-so-young] single adults” and then there is sure to be someone who will claim that, within LDS lingo, “the youth” refers to those who are between the ages of 12 and 18, and therefore we’ll also need to add a category for those in Primary.

    If a mission gets too large, it acquires the status of those bodies of water that are a mile wide and an inch deep. I would rather us see the mission of perfecting the Saints to include all members of the Church.

    The interesting thing about saying we also have a mission to care for the poor and the needy is that this is a group that includes a vast majority of those who are outside the body of the Church. Therefore, it makes sense to add this mission: it helps break down the idea of Mormons caring for only their own, and helps add a focus to the already vast humanitarian aid program.

  3. John Mansfield on December 15, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    This idea of turning more resources controlled by the church bureaucracy directed at youth programs: Could that be fleshed out more? Bigger ward budgets? More seminary? Maintenance of youth camps throughout the world as is done with temples and bishops’ storehouses?

  4. Kaimi on December 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Dave,

    The fourth fold might not actually be happening. See Rory’s sidebar link above.

  5. Researcher on December 15, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting. I suppose I see this differently, since it seems like most of the time and resources of my small ward are already poured into (a) the care of the poor and needy (including those with addictions), and (b) the youth programs, including youth conference, scout and girls camps, weeknight programs, and early-morning seminary. Not much time or energy left for much more than that.

  6. Tim on December 15, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    EQ in our ward this year: $50.
    EQ in our ward next year, given a 10-20% drop in church attendance due to move-outs: probably $30 or $40. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it was $20.
    The youth certainly need attention. But I’m fairly certain they’re getting considerably more money and attention than groups like EQ.
    I think the big problem is not with the attention paid to the youth, but with the young adults. The church needs to improve the “Perfect the Saints” in that area–needs to hold on to the young single adults as well as put a larger emphasis on missionary work among college-age adults, especially considering the huge number of converts that stay active when converted in their late teens or early twenties, as opposed to the huge number of older converts that do not stay active.

  7. thesnakeguy on December 15, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    “President Kimball laid out the three missions had bloated to include a wide variety of sports, cultural, and educational programs that had little to do with the gospel of proclaiming, perfecting, and redeeming.”

    Who says sports, cultural and educational programs have little to do with perfecting the saints? It saddens me to see poor quality of music in church today, when we once had a much better tradition. That higher quality of the past was largely because of specific music programs. That is just one example.

    From a broader viewpoint, I believe the sense of community on a local/ward level is declining in the church. I think one large reason for this is that increasingly members only know each other from their interaction at sunday services and don’t participate with each other in many sport, cultural, or educational programs. Temporal and spiritual aspects of life are difficult to seperate. I believe a ward that gains a sense of community by rallying around a sporting program or has a serious choir with a tradition is much more likely to actively participate in what the author may identify more as a “perfecting the saints” program, like say home-teaching.

  8. Andrea R. on December 15, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Until the recent announcement, I had always thought that the unspoken fourth mission of the church was “Entertain the Youth.”

  9. Dan on December 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Dave,

    Or that the three mission paradigm, as applied in the Church, was not getting the job done.

    That’s probably it right there.

  10. Clean Cut on December 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    “I think the youth (who we are losing in larger numbers than ever before!)”

    Where can we get statistics on this? Or is this just based on personal observation? I have no reason to dispute this–just curious if there is any data out there that we can discuss. The same for data on those leaving the Church. Does it exist? If so, I’d like to see it. Critics claim that there are “droves” of people leaving the Church. I’d like to see some actual data and talk about this…

  11. Derek on December 15, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Strengthening the youth falls under perfecting the saints. But speaking of the youth, why aren’t we leading the world in preserving the environment for future generations? Isn’t it selfish of us to use up all the oil instead of trying to live more sustainable lifestyles? Do we really think our Heavenly Father will help us if we won’t even try to help ourselves?

    So I would make the fifth mission to protect and preserve our Heavenly Father’s creations.

  12. Dan on December 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I think the fifth mission should be Stewardship Over Earth. It is actually our responsibility to manage this earth properly.

  13. Martin on December 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Andrea #8

    I hear you. We’re pouring resources into the youth, and we’re still losing many. I think an emphasis on the new #4 might help them more than anything.

    We focus so much on youth it may be to their detriment. Maybe we just need to help them focus on someone else.

  14. Dave on December 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Kaimi (#4), I saw Rory’s link — it’s to a Mormon Times article that seems to be trying to downplay the story rather than report it. But even that article pretty much confirms the earlier report in the Salt Lake Tribune (that I linked to) which quoted an LDS spokesman confirming the substance of the earlier blog reports. Here’s what the Mormon Times post says:

    In the upcoming handbook, caring for the poor and the needy will be stated as one of the church’s purposes, along with its well-recognized, three-fold mission statement. “Caring for the poor and needy has always been a basic tenet of the Church,” said LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter. “The language reference is simply a description of the purposes of the church to be included in the next edition of the Church Handbook.”

    A description of the purposes of the Church is pretty much what the Three Missions are held to be, so I think revising and expanding a statement of the purposes of the Church [in an official publication directed to the local leaders of the Church] is equivalent to revising and expanding the Three Missions. Here’s what the earlier Salt Lake Tribune article said (paragraphing removed):

    The LDS Church is adding “to care for the poor and needy” to its longstanding “threefold mission,” which is to preach the LDS gospel, purify members’ lives and provide saving ordinances such as baptism to those who have died. … The new group of phrases will be described as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “purposes,” rather than missions, and will be spelled out in the next edition of the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions , due out next year, church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed this week. “Caring for the poor and needy,” Trotter said, “has always been a basic tenet of the [LDS] Church.” Elevating it to one of the faith’s major purposes brings added emphasis.

    I believe the last sentence is an observation by the journalist rather than a paraphrase of other remarks by Trotter, but I think it is an accurate observation.

  15. queuno on December 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    We’re pouring lots and lots of money into youth programs that seem (generally) to be working. Your mileage may vary, but not every youth wants to be cared for…

    I gripe about Scouting as much as the next guy, but only because I think that many “Scouters” in the Church care more about Scouting than the youth…

  16. sam on December 15, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    While I think the fourth mission is a good one, I also think that simply making up clever phrases is a waste of valuable human resources. Remember when Homemaking was switched to Home,Family,and Personal Enrichment Night? You do realize that this switch had to make its way through a committee. I think that is a waste of time. Changing titles, verbage, etc, is something that the business world executives like to do because, face it, when you get to high up the ladder you begin to have to justify your pay check. At least to yourself. You don’t really have anything important to do. You are no longer in the trenches with the rest of the grunts. So, you sit around, sipping an expensive drink and re-evaluating mission statements.

    I’d hate to think this mindset is permeating the Church. Let’s do the work and who cares what we call it.

  17. queuno on December 15, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I don’t think this is mission creep, by the way. It’s just a change/modification of priorities, based on new situations and a new time. Companies change priorities/purposes based on shifting circumstances. This is just another one of those situations.

  18. Dave on December 15, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    queuno, thanks for the comments. Just to clarify, I wasn’t suggesting that adding a fourth mission, caring for the poor and needy, is itself an example of mission creep. If anything, what has crept is whatever it is that the Three Missions once defined. By adding a fourth (and fifth and sixth …) new mission or purpose or emphasis, the leadership would be correcting the mission creep problem by refocusing on whatever it is that is not being given proper emphasis.

  19. John Hamilton on December 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    This “caring for the poor and needy” bit scares me a little. (Just a little.) I see some within the Church who take fast offering money to make payments on their brand new SUV and live much “higher on the hog” than I do. I’ve never asked for Church charity, but if or when I do, I will be very, very sure I really need it and that I’ve exhausted all other options.

    “Poor and needy” is so relative at times. I’m sure we will be blessed for helping all who ask (when we can), but I worry that the Church (being made up of almost entirely humans) will be taken advantage of by many who are just looking for the easy way out or don’t have moral scruples in financial areas or in accepting charity.

    There are, of course, many (within and outside the Church) who are in genuine need and are suffering. I hope good, well-thought-out and well managed programs are put in place (or improved) to weed out the “handout” seekers from the genuinely needy. There are some who will take advantage of a bureaucracy (even subconsciously) to get gain rather than to grow.

    Please don’t take this as me being “anti-poor” or without compassion. I just see many who’s weaknesses got them into a mess in the first place (such as being untrustworthy, etc.) being able to use those weaknesses to their advantage in a “charity” system.

    But, I do welcome this fourth mission or purpose of the Church. It is a worthy Gospel-oriented goal.

  20. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 15, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I work in the field of environmental regulation. In the developed world, between enacted laws and active organizations and political agendas, it hardly seems like the Church needs to put its resources into jumping on the bandwagon (though it certainly has done things in recent years to control energy usage and not have undue impacts during its building projects). For churches who have taken on the mission of “social justice” and “environmental justice”, they have become auxiliaries to someone else’s political agenda, and lost their ability to perform a mission as a church, which only churches can do.

    In the less developed world, the Church is certainly doing specific work on the gorund to improve the health and wellbeing of its members and communities, which is what needs to happen beforepeople can afford to worry about environmental impacts.

    Anyone who wants to find justification in the scriptures and statements of the prophets for their environmental activism should not have difficulty. After all, we are one of the few churches that specifically sees this earth as being our eternal home (for which many other churches criticize us). And there are specific projects that Church members do from time to time. But it is not a primary mission of the church, and does not need to be.

  21. Dan on December 15, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Raymond,

    And there are specific projects that Church members do from time to time. But it is not a primary mission of the church, and does not need to be.

    Right, just let God clean the mess up with fire… then somehow afterwards we’ll be righteous stewards who are not wasteful, somehow… we’ll magically learn those traits.

  22. Jim Donaldson on December 15, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    >“I think the youth (who we are losing in larger numbers than ever before!)”
    >Where can we get statistics on this?

    The church doesn’t publicize this, though they do have the figures that I suspect people at Headquarters pour over regularly, but you can make your own homemade snapshot version if you either have access to, or can sneak, a copy of your stake’s monthly activity report. I can use my own stake as an example: Primary attendance about 70%+, Priests >20%. I think our stake is fairly representative—maybe Primary is high. From my own experience as a bishop, 14-15 year olds are killer.

  23. Chris on December 16, 2009 at 12:08 am

    I would like to see the Church get back to basics and announce that our main mission is to love God with all of our hearts, might, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

    We are NOT going to become perfect in this life so the “perfecting the Saints” purpose seems overstated and forgets the critical nature of the Atonement.

    Proclaiming the gospel and redeeming the dead are great goals, but if they are not done with love, they become hypocritical efforts at best.

  24. Mark D. on December 16, 2009 at 1:50 am

    who take fast offering money to make payments on their brand new SUV

    Any bishop who does this on more than a one time basis in rather severe circumstances is derelict in his duty. In my experience, fast offering funds are sufficiently limited in a typical U.S. ward that bishops can hardly afford to provide significant ongoing monetary assistance of *any* kind, even for people in real need. So I have a hard time imagining anyone living “high on the hog” by virtue of the fast offering program.

  25. Chris Henrichsen on December 16, 2009 at 10:02 am

    John Hamilton said:

    “I hope good, well-thought-out and well managed programs are put in place (or improved) to weed out the “handout” seekers from the genuinely needy. There are some who will take advantage of a bureaucracy (even subconsciously) to get gain rather than to grow.”

    And

    “I just see many who’s weaknesses got them into a mess in the first place (such as being untrustworthy, etc.) being able to use those weaknesses to their advantage in a “charity” system.”
    King Benjamin said:

    17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

    18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

    19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

    22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

    When I wrote about the new principle a while ago at FPR, the reason that I was excited about it was because I think we too often treat King Benjamin’s words as outdated and not applying to us, However, he is speaking directly to us. It reads as though he saw the way in which the poor would be discusses in America in the 1980s and beyond.

    John, the “caring for the poor and needy” bit (I doubt you would call it the redeeming the dead “bit”) should scare you more than just a little.

  26. Ardis Parshall on December 16, 2009 at 10:57 am

    The whole “care for the poor and needy” discussion that we’ve been having on various blogs for the past couple of weeks has been fascinating, in part because it exposes a broader streak of selfishness and need to be in control than I had expected.

    We have judges in Israel — they are called bishops. Why are some members so unwilling to trust those bishops to fulfill their call by making a wise use of funds? Why are some so much more concerned that the wrong person might be helped too much than that the right people might not be helped enough?

  27. Peter LLC on December 16, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Amen, Ardis.

  28. Rory Swensen on December 16, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Maybe we need a “Like” button on the individual comments, too. I “Like” Ardis’ #26.

    Or I could just echo Peter LLC: Amen, Ardis.

  29. John Hamilton on December 16, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Good points Chris and Ardis.

    I did state that we should help all who ask as much as we can. I should have also added “as much as we think wise.” I would never withhold sustenance from someone truly in need, even if he “brought it upon himself.” I’m only worried about those who don’t really need it who are robbing resources from the truly needy. I think we will be equally condemned if we don’t use our limited resources (I think God limits them for a reason) properly to truly help people and not “aide and abet” their weaknesses.

    What King Benjamin said was that the withholding of help as a punishment or because we think we are “better” than who we perceive to be “lower” in society is wrong. There have been times (thankfully not many) where I did not know where my next meal was going to come from and then I would see people getting drug money by trading in food stamps and the like. I don’t think such programs actually “help” people in those cases. They do help some, of course, but I wonder in the aggregate if they don’t do more harm than good.

    My uncle was a bishop and he had a lady in his ward who wanted fast offering money for food and such, but she refused to cancel her cable TV service. My uncle is a very loving man, but he felt his stewardship did not allow him to use other people’s hard earned money (many of whom were dirt poor) to pay another’s cable bill. This is what I’m talking about when I say the Church needs to be careful. I guess I need to work on my faith in Church structure and stewardships a bit more.

    My uncle did not “look down” upon this woman, he simply had to choose wisely. We all have weaknesses that have the potential to harm ourselves and others. (MY biggest weakness is not thinking I have any weaknesses. :) ) The Church needs to find the true need in each circumstance. Bishops can do this well. I’m only worried that the Church may try to centralize aide too much (especially for that aide going to non-members) and lose the proper checks to make sure the most needy get it first and the less needy or those who would take advantage of it, to their own detriment really, are weeded out.

    I used the “poor and needy BIT” because I see so many people who want to bleed out money and resources from others to help those they think are in need rather than making the sacrifices themselves or even thinking of the sacrifices they want to impose (through “guilt” or force) on others in the name of being righteous. At one time I felt so much pressure under the “preach the gospel BIT” mission statement that I invited a coworker to church against my better judgement because my bishop insisted I do so. This caused resentment and awkwardness, which is no big deal, I suppose, but what would happen if undue pressure were to be applied to help the needy and we end up only providing drug money or helping an abusive father to stay home and not put in the effort God wants us all to do to improve our talents and grow. I have a coworker who has no problems taking disability because it hurts her back to push a computer mouse around, but is seen running around town carrying her children and plays on Facebook all day—and she is in perfectly good standing in her ward. I think this level of dishonesty or maybe simple “blindness” is just as hypocritical as King Benjamin’s counsel against arrogance and pride.

  30. Chris Henrichsen on December 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for prooving my point.

  31. John Hamilton on December 16, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Chris,

    I’m sorry we don’t see these things the same way. Different experiences, I guess. I work at a newspaper and we start a benefit fund every Christmas to help needy people in our town. We run articles and ads for weeks asking for nominations for a needy family that could use the money we collect. We collect quite a bit that is donated from our readers and employees, but we get hardly any nominations for people who need the help. I don’t know why this is. Maybe you can enlighten me? We eventually find some family that needs it, but I don’t understand why the local food bank is “swamped” with requests for assistance and we can collect lots of money but have a hard time finding someone who really needs it.

    I suggested we send the money to Latin America or Africa or to some organized charity, but that lacks the “personal touch” our editor is looking for. I’ve had family members ask me for “food” money when I know they just bought a brand new computer they didn’t need. I still help them, because I don’t want the image spread around that I’m “judgmental” (too late for that here). I worry that our natural generosity will be the downfall of those we are trying to help if we are pressured to appear righteous in this area rather than being genuinely helpful. I think “helping the poor” is particularly susceptible to this kind of abuse, which I’m taking your comment to be. I’m sorry that’s how I feel. I’m sure you mean well.

  32. Ardis Parshall on December 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    John, if there’s anything at all that you don’t have to worry about, it’s that your natural generosity will be the downfall of anybody. Well, maybe of you, but of no one else. Really.

  33. Chris Henrichsen on December 16, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    John,

    I do not need for you to see things the way I do. One of my interests is the way in which we try to differentiate between the deserving and underserving poor. My moral/political theory rejects the idea that anyone really deserves to be rich or poor. Nibley reads this into King Benjamins discourse and I agree. There are other interpretations as well.

    I am wrting something right now about my experience on church welfare. Keep an eye out for it.

  34. Dan on December 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    How can the church and its members shift away from the Baptist “Righteous-Economic-Success” belief?

  35. John Hamilton on December 16, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks Chris, it will be interesting to see your observations. Don’t get me wrong, I think the vast, vast majority of aide the Church gives out is genuinely needed and blesses the giver as much as the receiver. I’m just sounding a very tiny note of caution because I have seen, Ardis, where this generosity has done more harm than good. I have a brother who begged his stake president for money to “get groceries” for his supposedly starving family. The stake president actually gave him $1,000 out of his own pocket. My brother immediately took off on a road trip with the money and spent it all on anything but groceries for his family. This is an extreme example, I know, but needless to say the stake president (a friend of mine) was a bit “disappointed” to put it lightly. I have no doubt he was blessed for being generous, and that it was my brother’s problem, but I could have warned him if he would have known to ask. If he did it again, knowing what my brother would do with the money, the sin would be on him for not helping my brother in a better way and abetting his weaknesses.

    I’m sorry I’m not explaining this very well. I guess I’ve been too “hardened” by my poor examples and experiences. I just hate to see people suffer (the stake president wasn’t rich) because of misguided or uninformed generosity. There are evil people in the world, and a few are among the poor, even if the vast majority are up on “snob hill.” I would much rather error on the side of generosity, of course. I think we should always help anyone who asks, because we are all unworthy beggars anyway, but sometimes the help we give may need to be in a different form than what is requested. (You know, not buying an alcoholic another drink just because he asks, sort of thing.)

    Whew! I’ll try to be much more careful how I phrase things in the future. Once again, I applaud this forth mission of the Church and think in some ways it may even be overdue. I guess I just like to be contrary all the time. Just one of many weaknesses you guys are helping me to discover. Thanks. (I think.)

  36. John Hamilton on December 16, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Dan,

    I don’t believe righteousness has anything to do with economic success. I’ve seen righteous people in all economic statuses. It kind of bugs me that many mission presidents and other leaders are economically successful before the get called to their Church positions. Some try to excuse this in saying that the Lord “prepared” them for this service, and they may be right, but I still wonder. There are so many that would make great leaders in the Church, but I think they are passed over for the rich doctor or lawyer in the ward or stake. I guess there is some correlation to being a hard worker for the Church and having the same energy in the business world. To answer your question, though, I don’t know if there is an answer except to remind everyone periodically that their isn’t always a correlation. Some people are just lucky and others are not. (Myself being a “Gold Member” of the latter category, ‘case you were wondering.)

  37. dangermom on December 16, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Just chiming in that the youth receive the bulk of attention and money in our ward and stake. The other day I heard what the youth budgets are and my jaw hit the floor. (Not that I’m complaining; the Primary budget is also pretty good.) Youth programs get the pick of personnel as well.

  38. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on December 17, 2009 at 8:37 am

    I have followed the works of LDS Charities and am proud of that world-wide effort. The work to help the needy is not a Youth Program nor is it the Church “bureaucracy”‘s responsibility. It is a PRIESTHOOD responsibility. I look forward to see it implemented as such.

    Joseph Smith’s assasination was not the outcome of his restoration of the gospel nor his temple building efforts. It was the public pressure by insiders, Mormons if you will, who caused him to make a political effort and run for president. They wanted civil rights for the expression of an unpopular religious movement. His platform was rather progressive for his time. It created a virulent opposition among the general non-LDS neighbors and his murder.

    When Jesus of Nazareth spoke of LOVE, He did not mean the fatherly or sexual sort. He spoke of CHARITY, the brotherly and sisterly sort, who, when oppressed by authorities must seek a common interest, to care for each other. It caused His condemnation and crucifixion by the Herodian Temple officials, like the High Priest Caiaphas.

    Praise be, to our Father in heaven and Glory to Jesus Christ, that the First Presidency and the Apostles understand this. Watching our Congress and Senate work to obstruct the People’s Business, I am grateful for the vision expressed by our General Authorities.

    I regret that I am not computer savvy, so I don’t know how to link you to my Facebook, where I posed a number of ideas about the People’s Business. It might provoke you to a different line of thought.

  39. Dan on December 17, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Eduard,

    Watching our Congress and Senate work to obstruct the People’s Business, I am grateful for the vision expressed by our General Authorities.

    What the hell does that mean? Seeing that the people voted the current Representatives and Senators, thus going about the People’s Business.

  40. Alex T. Valencic on December 17, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Just a couple of thoughts for those who feel it is their place to judge the judges of Israel…

    Bishops do not just toss money out into the street for anyone to grab. They meet with individuals, they discuss their needs, their wants, their obligations, etc. They are taught correct principles of welfare before they provide welfare. They teach correct principles of welfare before providing welfare.

    Where you see a family being given assistance to make a payment on a new SUV, I see a family that made a purchase, signed an agreement, and then hit hard times and missed a payment. Then they missed another. Then they realised that if they were to miss another, they would lose their vehicle, ruin their credit, and be in a situation where the working members of the family would not be able to get to work, earn money, provide for the family, or even get a new vehicle, because their credit was ruined. I also see the mom who uses the SUV to bring her kids to soccer practice, and she also gives rides to the kids in the neighbourhood, because she has the vehicle that is large enough to carry them all, thus helping those around her. Who knows, maybe she even gives these same kids rides to church activities.

    I think we need to leave the judging to those who have been called and set apart as judges. And I’m pretty certain that Christ taught something about casting out beams before picking out motes.

  41. John Hamilton on December 17, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Alex, I actually got the SUV payment example from my stake president. He was going around to the different wards and giving lessons on being more personally responsible. He lamented the need to use fast offering money, and the need to ask the Church for more, to rescue member from their “foolish” decisions. (His word, not mine.) He never said we should not rescue them, just that we need to be more wise because the Church may not be able to bail us out every time. He also asked us to increase our fast offering donations, which we did (and he praised us for it later) despite his statements of it not being used as well as it could.

    “Poor and needy” is so, so, so relative. I don’t begrudge using money to get people out of jams, but there are so many people out there who are really, really suffering, but can’t get the help they need because so many more of us are not being wise stewards. Someone may have very good reasons for having a gas-guzzling SUV, but those reasons might, just might, pale in comparison to a child who is malnourished because her father is out of work and can’t get assistance because someone else needs to take kids to soccer practice.

    Of course I’m as hypocritical as the next guy, I don’t wish to infer I am somehow better than anyone else when I give these examples. I am speaking of a general attitude in the Church and not to any specific person or circumstance. There is always the unforeseen in everyone’s lives, whether we’re rich or poor, and I’m grateful for the Church and local communities who step in to help. I just feel that if we don’t question anything, for fear of being “judgmental,” we run the risk of not learning anything from other’s examples, whether they be good or bad.

  42. Jettboy on December 17, 2009 at 10:13 am

    There is no need to add another Church Mission. The ones we have are just fine, and any others are superfluous. Specifically, the “caring for the poor” is of a completely different(or lesser) category. The Three Fold Mission of the Church is theological and directly related to Spiritual Salvation. Caring for the poor is a moral responsibility. It would be under Perfecting the Saints as we learn to be Charitable and therefore “Like Christ” who is the perfect example. Aside from that, caring for the poor is a temporal mission the same as environmentalism (the political 11th Commandment).

    “How can the church and its members shift away from the Baptist ‘Righteous-Economic-Success’ belief?”

    By rejecting the Book of Mormon? Seriously, I see that theme constantly presented in its text. It is part of the pride cycle that is talked so much about in Church; righteousness – prosperity – pride – wickedness – repentance, repeat. The problem is not the belief that righteousness brings temporal blessings (that the Book of Mormon insists happens), but that we assume lack of prosperity is a sign of wickedness. I cannot find that anywhere in the Book of Mormon. Instead that lack of prosperity is a sign of natural conditions of a fallen world. My interpretation is that the prosperity gospel is only as good as what those who are blessed do with the money for those who don’t have the same success.

  43. John Hamilton on December 17, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Jettboy,

    I like your explanation of the pride cycle in the B of M, but I have to take issue with your “caring for the poor and needy” definition. True, some aspects of it could be put under “perfecting the saints,” but that infers an alterer motive for helping the poor. This mission needs to be separated from the “perfecting the saints” bit precisely because it should be simply relieving suffering and no more. Of course, there is a nice side effect of becoming more Christ-like when we do, but if that is our goal than we’ve missed the boat.

    Under your reasoning “proclaiming the Gospel” and “redeeming the dead” could also be put under the “perfect the saints” category. I think this fourth mission is a great idea! It singles out an aspect of Christian charity that needs to not be tangled up with what could become selfish motivations.

    Also, far be it from me to ever, EVER question the Brethren! :)

  44. Chris Henrichsen on December 17, 2009 at 10:36 am

    “There is no need to add another Church Mission. The ones we have are just fine, and any others are superfluous. Specifically, the “caring for the poor” is of a completely different(or lesser) category. The Three Fold Mission of the Church is theological and directly related to Spiritual Salvation. Caring for the poor is a moral responsibility. It would be under Perfecting the Saints as we learn to be Charitable and therefore “Like Christ” who is the perfect example. Aside from that, caring for the poor is a temporal mission the same as environmentalism (the political 11th Commandment).”

    Will the higher ups at Times and Seasons please inform Salt Lake that they are about the make a mistake. Silly general authorities.

  45. Chris Henrichsen on December 17, 2009 at 10:51 am

    ” Aside from that, caring for the poor is a temporal mission the same as environmentalism (the political 11th Commandment).”

    The spiritual and temporal mission of the church are intertwined. They cannot be separated. Is “love your neighbor” just a temporal commandment?

  46. thesnakeguy on December 17, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Ardis said “Why are some members so unwilling to trust those bishops to fulfill their call by making a wise use of funds? Why are some so much more concerned that the wrong person might be helped too much than that the right people might not be helped enough?”

    Being concerned that the wrong person is helped is the same thing as worrying the right people aren’t helped enough. I know of a family that had been on welfare for years and while on welfare took a 3 week family vacation to Europe. I personally don’t think they should have taken the vacation and think if they have that much money, perhaps they could use it to buy groceries instead of asking fellow ward members to buy their groceries. That money could then be used to help “the right people who might not be helped enough.” I don’t blame the bishop, I blame the family, at least in that instance. When talking about helping the needy and the poor, I see nothing wrong with discussing how to minimize the abuse of the system, because it helps maximize the benefits. The problem with this family that took the European vacation isn’t just about those funds being able to be used elsewhere. It is more difficult to raise funds when people see those funds help pay for someone else’s vacation, a vacation that they can not afford themselves. Yes technically the funds donated bought groceries, but money is fungible.

    In the early days of the church we were largely an agrarian society. If winter was coming and someone’s crops weren’t in it was easy to recognize a families need and the way to help was clear. Help them harvest the crop. In today’s cube farm world it is less clear who needs the help and when recognized, there often isn’t a clear path to assist. Weekly tutoring lessons in C+ programming perhaps? I hope the new emphasis will focus more on actual face to face service that builds community as opposed to the anonymous types of help like fast offerings. This is not meant as a criticism of fast offerings, but I hope we as a church can also find more direct methods of service at a personal level.

  47. Ardis Parshall on December 17, 2009 at 11:49 am

    That is greed squared, snakeguy. First, you refuse to let loose your grasp on the money that is supposed to be your fast OFFERING by wanting to control how the bishop uses it, then you want to extend that grasp by controlling how the money is used once it is given to a family whom the bishop has judged worthy.

    When someone gives you a gift, do you expect him to control how you use that gift? If you pass a part of the gift on to your children, does he try to control how your children use their portion? Where does this greed end, this refusal to give a gift freely and relinquish control?

  48. John Hamilton on December 17, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Ardis, I think “greed” is the wrong word here, or at least a little too harsh. Of course we should trust the Bishop and not concern ourselves with how the money we freely give is spent. (If it wasn’t freely given, that’s a different story.) But, it doesn’t hurt to be observant so that when, God-forbid, we should ever be called to be Bishop or to some other position where we must make “judgement” calls we will be able to spot the best courses of action for every situation.

    If you observe someone committing a crime, it is your duty to report it. Likewise, if someone might be abusing a system, it is your duty to discretely bring it to the attention of those in authority. Of course, in most cases it is none of your business, but if it is affecting the way you freely give, it probably should be addressed, if only to correct your own perceptions, if nothing else.

    I don’t think “greed” plays a major role here. For me, and many others, tithing and fast offerings are a considerable sacrifice. It is a worthy concern that such sacrifices are being made wisely and for the best good.

  49. John Hamilton on December 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    So, umm… Ardis… umm… how was Europe?

    Yikes! :)

  50. John C on December 17, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    I’m normally just a follower and not a poster on this site, but I am intrigued with the posts I see here.

    There always have been and always will be people that take advantage of the system, whether it be a governmental system or a religious system. And it’s not always financial (ie church court proceedings, etc). But so what? That is between them and the Savior to work out.

    What is particularly telling to me is the detail some posters here can still retain years later relating to how people have abused the system. You really need to let it go. Perhaps these people have repented of their ways and moved on; perhaps they have not. But you will never fully develop the Christlike attribute of charity until you learn to let go of these feelings of bitterness towards these so-called offenders.

    Life isn’t fair. I don’t have cable or TiVo, I drive a Ford Escort for crying out loud, and I am probably upside down in my home. But I don’t begrudge anyone their goodies or how they acquire them. Again, if I wasted effort on such thoughts, when would I ever be happy? I couldn’t even tell you who in my ward collects offerings, and I’m glad of that.

    And I’m grateful life isn’t fair. Christ suffered for my sins, after all, and that certainly isn’t fair. We are all beggars, though some of us are apparently better at it than others.

    Bottom Line: let them be and move on with your life. You’ll never be happy until you let it go and just give.

  51. John Hamilton on December 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Very true, John C, very true. Thanks.

  52. Ardis Parshall on December 17, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    But, it doesn’t hurt to be observant so that when, God-forbid, we should ever be called to be Bishop or to some other position where we must make “judgement” calls we will be able to spot the best courses of action for every situation.

    Yes, it does hurt, John Hamilton. You don’t know the facts of the matter (or if you do, shame on the bishop who violated confidence and gossiped about it, and shame on you for gossiping with him), so retailing a story you can’t really vouch for festers in your soul, poisons any discussion about charity in which you raise it, and perhaps creates a distorted impression of church matters in the mind of someone who doesn’t know any better than to trust your account as an adequate one. Let it go, and stop gossiping about it on blogs or elsewhere.

    Europe was beautiful, and many of the Europeans I met were wonderful — and charitable. I’ve never been treated better, never better fed, never better cared for since leaving my parents’ home, than I was as a missionary in Europe. But maybe you think I shouldn’t have accepted help from the Las Vegas 28th Ward in paying my way. Maybe European missions should be reserved for wealthy families, and poor folk like me should not be allowed to serve there. Or at least I probably should have gone without heat during my winter in the Alps, and worn my wool suit during summer on the Riviera rather than buying more suitable clothes, in order to meet your stricture against frivolous spending for luxuries by beggars like me. (Oh, wait a minute, I *did* go without heat in Grenoble, and *did* wear wool in Marseille … so maybe I’m okay after all.)

    Thanks, John C.

  53. Chris Henrichsen on December 17, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Ardis, thanks.

  54. Cameron on December 17, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    In our stake it was very well known that a certain family, the father worked, was receiving thousands in church welfare meanwhile two other familes, who actually needed it,received nothing and one of the families as a result ruined their credit-the father stopped coming to church. The first family the bishop got their TV out of a pawnshop and they also received $1500 for dog surgery and the ward redid their house, roof, basement, etc. So as a result several people stopped paying fast offerings and instead got together and adopted a child in Africa. So when we hear about welfare I wonder what these people will think that needed it and got nothing and those that didn’t need it got it. Talk about priorities-dog surgery vs. a family that needs to eat.

  55. JoAnna on December 18, 2009 at 1:08 am

    As a former member of the LDS church, and current Methodist, my thoughts about the added “mission” is this: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it….but if it is broke…. Hopefully the leaders of any organization, religious or otherwise, are wise and inspired enough to recognize when change is needed. Bravo to the Brethren for their addition to the mission of the church! It shows that the church is a vibrant, living entity, open to the ever-changing needs of the world and it’s members.

  56. SLO Sapo on December 18, 2009 at 11:17 am

    #54, please see #52, paragraph 2. It’s really good advice.

  57. John Hamilton on December 18, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I seem to spark a lot of hateful comments here. I can see that what I said, the examples I gave, were taken as judgmental. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but I can’t help how I feel. If I see someone beating a child, I’m going to step in and try to stop it. That’s the kind of person I am. I’m not going to take the time to find out if the child really “deserved” the beating or not. Likewise, if I know something about someone that the bishop or whoever does not, I feel it my duty to discretely say something. I don’t go looking for this stuff, like with the example of my brother earlier, it just happens. If I know a priest who is blessing the sacrament is sleeping with his girlfriend, should I just lay back and say nothing? I think the D&C has something to say about people who do that. I think that taking advantage of other’s generosity is as bad as, and in some cases much worse than sleeping around.

    The tiny note of caution I was expressing would be on a par with the Church saying it was going to conduct sex education classes in seminary. I would applaud such a move because I don’t think some parents do a very good job. (I know mine didn’t. Boy, was I ignorant.) But, I would still worry that they could run the risk of introducing more kids to temptation and sin if they don’t take proper care. It’s not that I don’t trust the Brethren, I would just be cautionary, which I see as my duty as a Church member. The same goes for Church charity programs if they are not managed wisely. I applaud our generosity and I don’t wish to micromanage or second guess the decisions of the Lord’s anointed. I’m just saying there is room for concern.

    That’s what I believe. I’m sorry that offends you. We can just leave it at that, I suppose.

    That said, I agree with John C. It is none of my business to look for or interpret from incomplete data. If I don’t know that priest is sleeping around, but merely have suspicions, the sin is definitely on me, especially if I bring it up. But if I caught them “in the act” and still did nothing, I’m the one in trouble.

    In any charity system I am as concerned, if not more so, with the receiver who may be in sin, as I am for the giver who may be taken advantage of. Truly helping one another is not always financial and that is what I’m mildly concerned about here—that Church members will merely “throw money” at anyone who asks and think they are doing God’s will when in truth they may be doing more harm. That is totally up to the stewards to decide, but it does not absolve us from being responsible and thoughtful ourselves.

    You know, I make comments on other non-Mormon religious blogs and I’ve never got the level of hate-filled banter I seem to be getting here. Maybe an Episcopalian, not being as familiar with Mormon doctrine, doesn’t have as much “ammo” as a fellow member. I don’t know. I guess I can’t help it if you feel all “gaggy” about my opinions. It’s just disappointing.

  58. Chris Henrichsen on December 18, 2009 at 11:32 am

    “You know, I make comments on other non-Mormon religious blogs and I’ve never got the level of hate-filled banter I seem to be getting here. Maybe an Episcopalian, not being as familiar with Mormon doctrine, doesn’t have as much “ammo” as a fellow member. I don’t know. I guess I can’t help it if you feel all “gaggy” about my opinions. It’s just disappointing.”

    Hate-filled? Maybe you are not ready for the big leagues if you find the comments responding to you to be hateful.

  59. Dan on December 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

    John,

    That’s the kind of person I am. I’m not going to take the time to find out if the child really “deserved” the beating or not

    The perceived abuse of fast offerings (particularly if approved by a bishop) is nowhere near on par with the abuse of a child. I think this is where people here have not liked your comparisons

  60. Chris Henrichsen on December 18, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Dan,

    Didn’t you get the memo in the 1980s. Welfare cheats are actually worse than child abusers.

  61. Dan on December 18, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Chris,

    I was baptized in 1987. I must have missed that memo.

  62. John Hamilton on December 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Comparisons are never ideal. They are sometimes exaggerated to make the point. Welfare cheats may not be as bad as child abusers, but they are still cheats.

    Bishops are not immune to mistakes. I will honer and do my best to respect and respond to everything the Bishop does and asks, but I will still seek confirmation on my own if I need it. If I am living right, or honestly trying too, I feel I am entitled to such confirmation.

    Example: My sister’s Bishop told her in an official interview to divorce her husband (who was his second counselor, by the way). My sister, though she did have problems in her marriage, felt this needed confirmation, but she never got it and chose not to follow his direction. That Bishop, just a few months later, ran off with the Primary President and was excommunicated. She was glad she “questioned” his directions. She has a wonderful marriage now and shudders to think what would have happened if she had torn her family apart merely to do what the “Lord’s anointed” directed.

    I don’t think the Lord wants us to “roll over” and lemming-like let other faulty humans guide our every footstep. That is why fast offerings and tithing are still, and always will be, voluntary. Just because you have a testimony of fast offerings doesn’t mean you never ever question anything related to it again. If you feel the need to ask, I think that 99.9 percent of the time you’ll find the problem is with you and not the Bishop, but there is still always the chance. The Lord didn’t feel the need to reveal directly to my sister that the Bishop was unworthy—that was left to other circumstances in His wisdom—but she was comforted that she still had the will and mind of her own to “judge” a situation based on her own perceptions as well as the Bishop’s. Again, this is not an ideal comparison. I hope you get my point, though.

    Boy, you guys really make me work at this! Can’t we all just share some “Warm Fuzzies” and be done? Man, I miss the Primary.

  63. Dan on December 18, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    John,

    Bishops are not immune to mistakes. I will honer and do my best to respect and respond to everything the Bishop does and asks, but I will still seek confirmation on my own if I need it. If I am living right, or honestly trying too, I feel I am entitled to such confirmation.

    But it’s not your responsibility to “right the Ark.”

    Since it is voluntary, if you don’t like what is being done with fast offerings, feel free not to contribute.

  64. John Hamilton on December 18, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Chris #58:

    Yeah, I think I’m going back down the the Minors here pretty soon. Good riddance, huh?

  65. John Hamilton on December 18, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Dan #63:

    Very sound advice.

  66. Chris Henrichsen on December 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    John,

    We are not being hateful or mean. We just disagree strongly. Please do not take it personally. Merry Christmas.

  67. Ardis Parshall on December 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    John Hamilton, you’ve done remarkably well at holding your temper and at least appearing cheerful under the onslaught. I couldn’t do that. But several of us do disagree, very strongly, with your repeated assessment of how far your stewardship extends and what our obligation is to our fellowman. You press your point, and shouldn’t be surprised when we do the same thing.

    I’d lots rather have someone pleasant like you around to spar with than the sarcastic, cynical, contemptuous voices we sometimes hear. (Like mine, sometimes.) Just don’t take it as hateful or mean when you can’t convince us that you’re right. You’re not. I am. By definition. Always.

  68. Dave on December 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I didn’t really intend this post to become a discussion of the merits of caring for the poor and needy or of how effective the LDS welfare system is in trying to do that. Funny how comment threads develop. Anyway, I might as well weigh in on the topic, which probably deserves its own post.

    Anecdotes of failure don’t indict the system. Any large system will have individual cases that appear to be and sometimes are mistakes. To indict the system, you need a large enough sample to make a statistically valid statement, plus some standard to measure systemic success or failure. For charitable programs, one measure of success is efficiency: how much of the contributions flow through to beneficiaries, as opposed to administrative overhead and direct costs of providing aid or assistance. On that measure I am sure the LDS welfare system scores very well. If 5% of LDS welfare assistance goes to people who (on some measure) don’t “deserve” it, it would still be a wildly successful program by any reasonable comparison to other programs, even though lots of people would have stories to tell (from that regrettable 5%).

    Nor does the term “cheating” easily apply to the LDS system, which runs on individual decisions of bishops, who have and are directed to use discretion in how short-term assistance is distributed. Unless they forge the bishop’s signature, they’re not really cheating. No one who is not in possession of all the relevant facts can properly second-guess a bishop’s discretion. Which is not to say bishops can’t make mistakes when approving assistance … just that most of us who conclude a bishop makes a mistake are speculating on incomplete information.

  69. Dan on December 18, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Ardis,

    You’re not. I am. By definition. Always.

    Except when I am. :)

  70. John Hamilton on December 18, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Yeah, we’re all right. Some are just righter than others. :)

  71. Jim Donaldson on December 18, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    “If 5% of LDS welfare assistance goes to people who (on some measure) don’t “deserve” it, it would still be a wildly successful program by any reasonable comparison to other programs, even though lots of people would have stories to tell (from that regrettable 5%).”

    Here’s how Brigham Young summed it up:

    Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are impostors who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy, March 5, 1860, Journal of Discourses, Volume 8, Page 12.

    In my bishop days, I sometimes took chances on things happening in the future that didn’t. You have hopes, you have plans, you try to use the opportunity to promote spiritual growth. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. People make choices. Sometimes if I knew at the beginning what I knew at the end in a given situation, I’d have done some things differently. But you don’t. You don’t want to give away the farm, but you want to bring about good. The motto has always been to Err on the Side of Generosity. So I kept the above quotation nearby. Looking from the outside can make the situation seem something that it wasn’t. I think Bishops generally do the best that their intellect and their inspiration direct.

  72. Alex T. Valencic on December 19, 2009 at 8:48 am

    I don’t mean to be judgmental, but I can’t help how I feel.

    It may be true that you cannot help how you feel, but you can help how you respond to your feelings. And how you speak to them.

    For every story about someone taking advantage of the Church’s welfare program, I can give you a dozen stories of how the bishops I have known have been able to lovingly administer assistance to those to whom he ministered. The bishops (current and former) around T&S can share even more – I just have the benefit of sitting in bishopric meetings and welfare committee meetings taking notes and scheduling appointments, as well as my personal experiences.

  73. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on December 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    # 39 Dan – I haven’t seen any good legislation pass Congress, and Senate in the past 20 years. It is usually an appealing title with plenty of earmarks and overspending. These guys and gals are playing a game with our tax dollars and giving titles to bills that are hypocritcal.

    Their Ethics Committees are useless and do not function to provide fairness or judgment over a member’s behavior. They excuse themselves from any accountibility, when it comes to the 10 commandments. The Peoples Business is far from their minds. They are in it for themselves, NOT us. Our government is no longer in the people’s business.

    Just look, who is leading the people, the Tea party movements. Limbaugh and Beck, are hardly pillars of our nation? It’s no wonder that the supporters split into 2 movements. I do think there is merit in the voters desire and in the movement itself. Do you remember reading that Nephi predicted this failure? One thing I am sure, in spite, of these failings we won’t ever be ruled by a king. The alternative, the rule by lack of order or corruption, does make me think there is more trouble ahead.

    I still think Mitt Romney would be a good Mormon presidential candidate. It would be a good start, but he is silent. He believes in what Republicans did. He could not formulate a Mormon religious response at the 2008 Presidential Debate against Huckabee. Believing in President Obama is not going to get us there either.

    You can’t be serious, Dan! Does any good come out of Washington DC? Well, I hope you did not miss the First Presidency’s Christmas message in your Stake? You may have learned something.

  74. Hemidakota on December 21, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Preparing the church for the return of the Savior.

  75. John Hamilton on December 21, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Alex #72:

    Good point. However, my wife tells me to express my feelings more. So I try it, and get my face rubbed in the dirt! Well, not really, I’m overly sensitive. You do have a good advantage over me in being in council with bishops. I spoke too soon it appears. I think the helping the poor and needy mission is great, but just like everything else, it should be done in wisdom and divine guidance. Which it is, for the most part, I’m sure. It is arrogant of me to second guess. I appreciate you sharing your experience.

  76. Rory on December 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Jim #71:

    I’ve nothing to add, other than thank you for that comment.

  77. Matt Evans on December 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I’m joining the conversation late and didn’t even have time to read all the comments, stopping around comment 50 or so.

    I just wanted to add that I share John Hamilton’s concern about the use of fast offerings, especially our use of them in American wards at the expense of wards in the developing world.

    When there are members without clean water and malaria treatments, it’s hard to justify ever using fast offering money for a mortgage payment on a 6 bedroom 4 bathroom house on the Wasatch Front’s east bench. But because bishops are given stewardship only for their wards, they inevitably distribute fast offerings on the basis of relative poverty, not absolute poverty. And in some wards the family that’s unable to make their payments on their $500k home, and facing the humiliating prospect of having to downsize into a neighborhood of $300k houses, is the poorest family in the ward and the beneficiary of fast offerings.

    For these reasons I have increasingly shifted my charitable giving from Fast Offering to the Humanitarian and PEF line items, trusting that those funds are better targeted to the most needy.

  78. Matt Evans on December 21, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Here’s how Brigham Young summed it up:

    Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are impostors who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy, March 5, 1860, Journal of Discourses, Volume 8, Page 12.

    This makes sense if you’re primarily concerned about yourself and whether you’ll get your blessings, but if you’re mostly worried about the needy, and not yourself, then it’s crucial to figure out who the needy ones are so you can help them. Money is finite, as people are wont to ignore in these kinds of discussions, so any money given to those who don’t need it is money we don’t have for those who do, and the poor are worse off when we don’t expend the effort to find them.

    As in other matters, we should be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

  79. Kristine on December 21, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Ah, Matt, so good that we’ve got you around to set Brother Brigham straight. (!)

  80. Matt Evans on December 21, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I completely agree with Brother Brigham that as long as your intentions are good you’ll get your blessings whether you help the poor or not!

    It just happens, however, that I actually want to help poor people, and I’ve seen enough poverty to know that our fast offerings primarily benefit the wealthy.

    I grew up thinking our family was poor, and so did those around us. For years we were completely dependent on generous family and friends (we received enough help that we never requested church assistance, even from the Bishop’s Storehouse), but I was cured of my delusion about our poverty when early in my mission I foolishly told a woman that my family was very poor. It didn’t take her long to show me how perverse my thinking was, asking about my clothes, my camera, our family’s two cars, our house with 3 bathrooms, etc. She didn’t know if there was a single family in her whole city that had two cars and three bathrooms! In short order I realized that I was from a wealthy family, and so were almost all of the people I’d ever met.

  81. Jim Donaldson on December 21, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    “It just happens, however, that I actually want to help poor people, and I’ve seen enough poverty to know that our fast offerings primarily benefit the wealthy.”

    I suppose that is true—if you define everyone as wealthy, as you did, unless I missed something. Maybe I don’t get your point. You somehow misunderstood that you were not poor when you were growing up compared to, what? third world dirt-floor poverty? Compared to that everyone here is wealthy?

    One of my current church assignments is as a regional transient welfare bishop in a large Western city. We help homeless and transient people, 95% non-members. I wouldn’t define those people as wealthy. Most have no place to stay at night.

    I do understand that on the whole most of the fast offering money goes to members, but at least in our ward most of the members live in small apartments, many do not have a car, and I don’t think anybody active in the ward, even the ‘wealthy,’ has 3 bathrooms. We are a mainstream US ward. I think that fast offering funds are used judiciously and regularly as necessary to keep people from becoming homeless, having their power or telephone turned off, and making sure they have sufficient to eat. I think that is closer to the norm here in the US for fast offering distribution. Many are one serious car repair from either losing a job, because they can’t get there, or a place to live, because they can’t pay for it.

    Joseph’s Smith’s genius (and inspiration) with fast offering was that it was a way for a bunch of poor people to help even poorer people. To a large degree, that’s still the case.

  82. Matt Evans on December 22, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Yes, I’m estimating that 75% of fast offerings are given to the wealthiest 10% of the world. Most Americans think “serious car repair” is a big deal, but those are issues only us out-of-touch Westerners are wealthy enough to worry about. Half of the families in many, many countries live on less than $5 per day, and they of course can only dream of having a car that needs a $600 repair, half their annual income! This is of course the issue, your bishop’s paying half of a Bolivian family’s annual income so his American member doesn’t have to walk to work!

    http://www.globalrichlist.com/

  83. Kaimi Wenger on December 22, 2009 at 4:03 am

    You seem to be regularly frustrated, Matt, by the tensions between scripture (especially some New Testament verses) which are radically egalitarian and redistributionist, and an institutional church populated by many wealthy people, which is only mildly redistributionist at best. Does the current institutional church put into practice all of the various radically egalitarian mandates of the New Testament? No, it doesn’t.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that those ideas are feasible. Historically, the attempts to put them into practice — by Mormons and others — have invariably ended in disaster. I don’t know that it’s possible to put them into practice, at least outside of the very small community level.

    And I don’t really expect the church to try. One obvious implication of your critique is that church members should seldom or never give financial assistance to people in the United States; they would get more bang for their buck elsewhere. But then, do you think it will be a particularly effective fellowship tool to tell the American member, “Buck up, buddy. It could be worse, you could be living in Bolivia.”

  84. Kaimi Wenger on December 22, 2009 at 4:08 am

    As for me and my house, I really have no intention of following Luke 12:33 and selling all that I own to give the money to the poor (and thus build up treasure in heaven). It’s a nice idea, though.

    Also, I think it’s easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a camel to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    But then, I’m speciesist that way.

  85. Matt Evans on December 22, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I’m not frustrated about tensions between scripture and institutional church, I’m saddened by how poor so many people are. The issue is the poor and destitute of the world, and how indifferent and out of touch we Westerners are to their plight. I’m certain that Jim is sincere, and that he spoke for almost all Americans, when he suggested that some Americans are just a “serious car repair” from extreme poverty.

    And yes, all American members should buck up about their material circumstances. Our culture would be happier if we realized that even the poorest of the poor among us are in the top 20% of the world.

  86. Researcher on December 22, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Historically, the attempts to put them into practice — by Mormons and others — have invariably ended in disaster. (83)

    It’s hard to claim that the end of the practice of the United Order in rural communities in Utah and Arizona was “invariably” (always) a disaster; sometimes the practice was necessary for the establishment of the community, such as in Joseph City, Arizona, and when the practice eventually fizzled out and the order disbursed the goods to individual family instead of communal ownership, it was hardly a “disaster.”

    Thanks for provoking this line of thought, Jim, Matt and Kaimi; it is interesting to think about fast offerings as a method for building and maintaining a local community in a parallel but much different manner than the United Order.

  87. Chris Henrichsen on December 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    The economist Amartya Sen, in his book Development as Freedom, argues that the way in which we measure poverty needs to be in more than just income. In terms of political disenfranchisement, the poor in America are as excluded and neglect as the poor in other countries. In terms of life-expectancy, the American poor do not fair much better than other places.

    For Sen, the question of poverty comes down to whether the poor in question can choose and seek after a good life. Access to TVs and vehicles does not mean that one is living fully human existence.

    There is no need to differentiate between the poor in America and the poor around the world. It is an effort to divide the poor. The poor everywhere have common concerns and a common enemy. Justice requires us to be concerned about both.

    There are sufficient resources to improve the situation of both. There is just a lack of moral and political will.

  88. Matt Evans on December 22, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Ardis, keep following your train of thought about your house, and you’ll see you’re right that it’s impossible for the poor in America to fall very far. We have too many organizations and too large a safety net. In America our panhandlers make $5-20 per hour! Several times more than many laborers make in a 10-hour work day!

    Chris, no matter what we call our resources, whether money or wealth or moral and political will, they are finite and we should expend them as efficiently as possible. No one argues that access to TVs and cars is sufficient or necessary to lead a “fully human existence,” and to suggest otherwise is a red herring. There’s a reason the poor of the world want to come to America where even panhandlers make $5-20 per hour, no one gets malaria, and food is so easy to come by they’ve heard that it’s a big problem in America that the poor people and their children are too fat!!

    There is no solidarity among the poor of the world for us to divide, and the poor certainly don’t share a common enemy. The reasons for poverty in America are very different from the reasons for poverty in Bolivia and Sierra Leone.

    Finally, Sen’s work wrongly conflates poverty with class, in my opinion, and I think the two concepts should be treated distinctly for both practical and conceptual purposes. Poverty can be cured with money; class can’t.

  89. SLO Sapo on December 23, 2009 at 12:15 am

    “In America our panhandlers make $5-20 per hour!”

    “There’s a reason the poor of the world want to come to America where even panhandlers make $5-20 per hour. . .”

    You figure if you repeat this often enough people will think it’s true? in reality, there isn’t enough good information out there to support a figure this high, and even the anecdotal evidence is pretty sketchy.

    There seem to be only two decent studies with anything like reliable data. One in 2001 in Toronto showed a median reported panhandling income of $200/month U.S. ($300 Canadian) – equivalent to about $245 in 2009. Another in 1986 in Chicago showed a mean reported panhandling income of $7/month – equivalent to about $14 in 2009.

    Even if panhandlers could occasionally make $5-20 per hour, studies also show that in general they couldn’t sustain this level of income for even an entire day, much less a month, week, or year.

  90. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on December 23, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Interesting discussions. Think about this. Why is there an LDS Church in the world today? Is it to satisfy our personal needs and wants or is it for some other purpose. There are convincing answers on both sides. Jesus said not to judge, because the measure we use may be applied to our own circumstances.

    I belief that the LDS Church most important purpose is to prepare for the realization of the Abrahamic covenant. The Redeemer Jesus’ purpose is to unite the divided children of God, our Father in heaven.

    How marvelous are His works, He has given those who receive His message temples to worship Him with a pure intent. To the world, who do not know Him, He has given the blessings of technology and the ability to learn of the wicked nature of those in authority.

    The LDS Church charitable activities, fast offering, perpetual education fund, and work with the Catholic charities, etc should be applauded, but it is done to prepare the field for harvest. It is not all of His Works. What part do we play in it, . . . just write a check?

    I know the Anointed Jesus and worship Him. What I am looking out for is an LDS “Alma”, the one who was present in King Noah’s Court at the trial of Abinadi. Alma became a leader in the opposition to King Noah’s abominations. He led the Nephite and restored the essence of the gospel.

    In our ward priesthood meeting, after quorum busness is finished, our program follows with a Missionary and a Home Teaching moments. It seems that the same men give their testimony regarding these efforts during the last 6 days. However, during the priesthood lesson we always have good lessons and a good learning experience.

    This tells me that the lesson Jesus taught that rich young ruler, [parable Matt 19: 19-26] is still not understood. We enjoy participation in a good lesson, but it is learning by doing that is wanting.

  91. Matt Evans on December 24, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    re: panhandling — while individual studies report diverse findings, the studies of the studies report median values in the $5-20 per hour range. Several studies report daily incomes above $200. The most common explanation for panhandlers’ high hourly income and low monthly income is due to their choosing to work only for short periods of time because they’re specifically working toward a short term goal, usually cigarettes and alcohol. The figures are also low, as is the case with the 1986 Chicago study you mention, when they are not limited to panhandlers and include any who had asked for money in the previous year. A Nevada agency determined the panhandling industry in Las Vegas was $8.4 million annually, which would equate to a $23k daily take the panhandlers divide.

    And returning to the point of my comments, no matter the amount panhandlers make, those needing help with their car repairs, utility bills and rent and mortgage payments are in the top 20% of global wealth, and many are in the top 5%. Fast offerings are primarily used to benefit the (global standard) wealthy.

  92. Chris Henrichsen on December 24, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    The Evan’s standard of poverty measurement is perverse and I proudly fight against such an ideology. To argue that poverty is no related to class is ridiculous and is the result of the most twisted aspects of the capitalist ideology.

    The poor have two common enemies. First, gross economic inequality. Second, those who say they have no common enemy.

    Merry Christmas.

  93. Ugly Mahana on December 25, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Matt,

    Just to clarify, are you proposing that those who currently receive church welfare in the United States or other similarly well-off countries turn to panhandling? If not, what is your point?

    I get that you feel that some funds are misapplied (to pay the mortgage on too large of a house, for example), but your argument that all in developed countries are better off than those in less-developed countries seems flawed to me. The poor in this country likely have better opportunities than those in some other places, but opportunity alone does not feed a person. If a man or woman cannot afford food, that means that he or she cannot eat without either theft or assistance. The fact that the starving man or woman has a neighbor who owns a bread factory does not negate the starving man or woman’s inability to meet his or her need.

    While lines undoubtedly must be drawn, drawing them around the borders of nations, instead of around individual circumstances, seems extremely overbroad to me. Have I misread you?

  94. Ugly Mahana on December 25, 2009 at 5:34 am

    Or, I get that you feel that some fast offering funds are misapplied (to pay the mortgage on too large of a house, for example), but your argument that the poor in developed countries should not receive Church assistance because all persons in developed countries are better off than persons in less developed countries seems flawed to me.

    As indicated in my previous comment, I would be happy to be told that I have misunderstood your argument. I really am seeking clarification.

  95. Alex T. Valencic on December 26, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Matt, in reading your comments, it seems that you feel that we should all strive to meet the lowest common denominator in income before helping anyone in financial need. So whenever your neighbour loses their power, you just say to them, “Welcome to the club! Folks in Bolivia have been without power their entire lives!”

    Need is relative. The poor in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, are not equal to the poor in Champaign, Illinois, but the poor are still poor and still need help. As a church, we use fast offerings to provide for the local needs of both members and non-members. That is the both the primary purpose of the fast offering fund. My fast offering contribution (the cost of the two small meals my wife and I eat on one Sunday in one month) is not enough to relieve the suffering of even one person in Champaign. But my contribution, combined with the contributions made by the other families in my ward, may be enough to help my friend pay her power bill. It is a small drop, but it is a drop. After all, causing my neighbour to go without power isn’t going to lessen the suffering of others, but it will lessen her suffering. And yes, it is suffering. It may not be as great as the suffering of others, but just as need is relative, so is suffering.

    Humanitarian aid is a separate fund and is provided in a different manner. It sounds like you would like the church to put an end to all local assistance and use all fast offerings and humanitarian aid donations to assisting those outside our immediate communities. It is admirable to want to relieve suffering among those in the poorest of poor conditions. But to do so at the expense of those right among us is not the way to do it. I don’t know if this is what you are actually suggesting, but it is definitely the impression that is being received.

  96. Matt Evans on December 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Chris, no one’s said that poverty and social class are unrelated. There’s no fight on that front to be waged proudly. Poverty and social class are related but they’re not synonyms. A class-less society could still be in extreme poverty and a highly-stratified society could have no one in poverty. Everyone could be experience equal poverty in a perfectly egalitarian group and a very unequal society (Beverly Hills) may have no poverty because even those with the least have much. Inequality isn’t the cause of poverty. Inequality is a social condition, whereas poverty — and malaria, hurricanes and 25% infant mortality rates — are states of nature that pre-exist society. It is of course true, however, that if the rich (which includes everyone able to read this comment) better shared our wealth with our neighbors whether voluntarily or through government, there would be less poverty and fewer people in want of eye glasses and malaria treatments. But even our generosity wouldn’t rid the world of poverty because the causes of poverty include war, political turmoil, corruption and despotism; our generosity isn’t even permitted to reach many people in need.

    UM, I continue to pay fast offerings, of course, I just think that the humanitarian and PEF programs do more good, and because I want to maximize the good of my donations I’ve increasingly shifted my church giving to those line items.

    The panhandling comments were only to show the comparative of wealth of even the poorest Americans when measured on a global scale. In rich countries like America there’s a, literally, unprecedented concern that its poor are eating too many calories. It’s the kind of problem the poor around the world only dream about!

    If a family in the US didn’t receive help from the church they might have to sell their car, or move into a small apartment, in with their family, or even into shared housing, etc., but they’d still have far, far better material conditions than our fellow members around the world deal with every day. I still give to people in the US, doing sub-for-Santas and buying tires for a single parent I home taught, etc., but question my acting as though a family I know going without new tires is more urgent than getting malaria treatments to the least of my brethren in Ghana or Guatemala.

    Alex, I think our charitable giving is subject to several psychological distortions. The first is a kind of availability heuristic that causes us to prioritize pains we witness over more severe pains we don’t witness. Hence we are more likely to feel compelled to give money to someone we can see that can’t afford their utility bills than to those we can’t see with needs that are far greater. I’ll bet that in wards with half the membership living in houses without electricity the bishop doesn’t consider it an emergency when someone gets a Final Notice letter from the power company, and really would respond to a request for help by noting that lots of the ward has never had power at all.

    Another psychological distortion is our tendency to care more about our own. I understand the gospel to be a challenge to overcome this natural preference. This is something I struggle with regarding my own kids: how much I should give my own rather than others (should I pay for my kids to take piano lessons, gymnastics lessons and do a special science program at school before I pay for a less fortunate Utah kid to do one of those? While there are still kids in Haiti without drinking water?!).

  97. Chris Henrichsen on December 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Matt,

    Thanks for your response. I think our theoretical differences (both in terms of social theory and political theory) are quite drastic and making this difficult. I guess this issue is always going to be difficult because it is so closely aligned with our ideological perspective, whether we view it as ideological or not.

    Sorry for overreacting a bit earlier in the thread.

  98. Matt Evans on December 27, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Chris,

    It’s always good to find someone who cares about the poor! I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, especially about my response to Alex. I was theorizing as I wrote. If there’s a literature on the reasons we’re more likely to buy tires for someone in our community than give live-preserving care to people out of sight, I haven’t read it. Having thought about it more in this exchange, however, it does strike me as very counter-intuitive that the people in the top 5% of global wealth receive as much charity as they do. In Utah we do sub-for-Santas for families that lost their jobs even though the family would still be in the top 1% of global wealth. That pattern would not be obvious to someone learning about principles of charity and surmising how charity would work in practice.

    It would be interesting to see how “charity” is allocated to different income groups around the world. I’m guessing the distribution would look much like a global income curve.