A New Mission: Caring for the Poor and the Needy.

David H. Sundwall (my favorite bloggernacle Republican) reports over at A Soft Answer that the church will be revising the three-fold mission of the Church. It will be changing from the three missions to the four purposes of the Church. It sounds as though the three missions will still be represented, but the new forth purpose is of particular interest to me.

According to David’s report, Bishop Richard Edgley, counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, commented at a stake conference that the forth purpose would be “to care for the poor and the needy.”

Has anyone else heard any details or rumblings about this? I had heard somewhere that changes where coming to the three-fold mission, but I had not heard any further details.

I am excited about this. Issues related to poverty and inequality are central to my philosophical work and also drive my religious-interests.

Such an addition to the missions of the Church has been discussed at FPR by smallaxe almost two years ago (not only is he super nice, he is prophetic). I look forward to seeing how this is presented and discussed in coming Ensign magazines and General Conference addresses.

Now, this does not necessarily signal a radical change in the policies and practices of the Church. Bishop David H. Burton gave an account of the Church’s global humanitarian effort not long ago in General Conference. There has also been a focus on the perpetual education fund. Lest we forget, today is the day we give fast offerings.

However, I have long found that when it comes to matters of wealth and economics, there is no greater friend to inequality than Mormons (speaking of the general membership and not the leadership of the Church). What does inequality have to do with caring for the needy and the poor? Conditions of extreme inequality create and maintain poverty.

Like Hugh Nibley, I find that Mormons generally hold views consistent with Social Darwinism. The poor are poor because they deserve it. If only they worked harder and were more righteous they would not be poor. Like Nibley (see his lectures on the Book of Mormon), I find that most treat King Benjamin’s discussion of the beggar as outdated. If anything, King Benjamin’s discussion of the beggar is evidence that the Book of Mormon was written for our day.

While we seem more likely to give thought of the poor and needy at this time of year, it is a good time to give thought to how our actions (and inaction) year round contribute to poverty and the conditions of the poor.

Jacob 2:17: Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

26 Replies to “A New Mission: Caring for the Poor and the Needy.”

  1. I find the timing interesting, though not surprising given who the current prophet is. The fact is that around the world, we have a great economic crisis on our hands, not seen since the Great Depression, which was also felt around the world. During the Great Depression, the church created the welfare program. And now, during our current economic crisis, if correct, the church will add to its core focus, the care of the poor and needy.

    Maybe what we need are more economic crises in order to get people to realize the importance of taking care of each other more than we do. May we see less talk of “self reliance” and more talk of communal reliance.

  2. Dan,

    I do not have a problem with the the concept of self-reliance as long as we properly understand the social conditions needed for self-reliance to be realized by all.

    I think the Church has been interested in this issue long before this current economic crisis. The PEF and other humanitarian programs seem to show that the church was aware of and responsive to global poverty issues that existed prior to current events.

    Either way, I appreciate that the Church is responsive to actually living condition found in the world. The added emphasis is great.

  3. Chris,

    I think self reliance is an erroneous thought. I believe there is no such thing as self-reliance. No one individual is capable of surviving in this world without the assistance of some other individual at some point throughout that individual’s day. Clearly we must do everything we can in our power to provide for our families and for ourselves, but the way our economy works, we barter our services to others, thus we are reliant on others to provide us the means for which we then purchase items requisite for survival from yet other people. There is no self reliant individual on this planet. There never has been and there never will be. Because at the end of the day, each and every single human being relies on the one who created him in order to live.

    But that’s not the real subject of this topic here, so I don’t want to get too far off it. I’m glad the church is going with this. I think it is very wise.

  4. I was actually thinking today about a hypothetical: what if a general authority came to stake conference and said, “I saw a homeless person on my way here this morning, and this should not be. Bishops – figure out a way to solve this problem.” I think that members would respond very well to this charge and may be able to come up with some creative and useful solutions. It would be nice if we would do this without being directed to, but an extra nudge won’t hurt.

    Everyone likes being engaged in a good cause, and a greater emphasis on helping the poor (outside of the traditional welfare program) would make us better saints and help missionary efforts (referring not just to efforts to convert the poor, but more so in gaining interest among those who want to join in the cause — see the United Methodists’ ad campaign at 10thousanddoors.org or http://www.youtube.com/user/10KDWATCH to see what I mean — I went to their website after seeing one of the commercials on TV).

  5. I’ve heard rumors of this for a while, too (mostly from a ward member who likes to drop names and pose as being deeper in the central councils of the church than he really is, so I’ve doubted it), and while I can whole-heartedly support the goals and presumably the methods of any mission the church adds, I wish they could find a way to add the emphasis without tampering with the “three-fold mission” statement. As it stands now, those three missions can be addressed *only* by the church — no other agency or authority or power can deliver. But a mission of caring for the poor and the needy is something that tens of thousands of organizations and tens of millions of people can and should be tackling, and which we can do without the authority of the church. It isn’t a mission that is unique to the church, and I think it could be a mistake to weaken the mission statement by tacking on ideas that are not unique to the church, no matter how praiseworthy the endeavor. (It would be like tacking on to the U.S. Constitution everybody’s pet rules about alcohol — and marriage and flag burning — and turning that document from guiding principles into a penal code.) If the church does add this mission, it will be interesting to see how it’s worded and presented in a way that would — I sincerely hope — identify something unique about the church’s role.

  6. “The poor are poor because they deserve it. If only they worked harder and were more righteous they would not be poor.”

    I do not find this to be the case among my church acquaintance at all.

  7. In the early 70’s during the time that Harold B. Lee and Marion G. Romney were in the First Presidency we often heard of the fourfold mission of the church, with Welfare work being the fourth mission. This is not surprising as both men were instrumental in setting up the Welfare Program in the 30’s and 40’s.After Lee and Romney passed from the scene the fourth mission of the church was quietly dropped.

    What goes around comes around I guess.

  8. I have heard rumors of this as well, from a reputable but not infallible source. Though it’s something I can certainly get behind, I find myself mentally nodding with Ardis’ comment.
    I wish it were something we participated in more actively, whether as individuals or church units, without it having to be made explicit.

  9. I’m also very excited about this announcement. It’s always been a part of our faith, but its declaration as part of the Church’s core mission will, I think, better motivate the membership of the church.

    Ardis, I disagree that this addition may somehow dilute the three-fold mission of the church. I don’t think it’s the case that all three missions are our exclusive territory. While we have the capacity and authority to accomplish them more effectively and completely, proclaiming the gospel and perfecting our brothers can be accomplished by other churches and organizations. Only Redeeming the Dead is solely the domain of our Church. Churches lack a fulness and may have corrupted doctrines, but true doctrine inspired by the Spirit can and does fall from the lips of non-LDS missionaries and preachers. It is the same with other churches’ capacity to improve the behavior of their congregants. We can do both of those missions better and more completely than others. It’s the same with this fourth mission. Other organizations can and do help the poor, but we can do it so much more effectively. In that sense, this fourth mission would stay true to the spirit of the other three.

  10. Cool, this indeed constitutes a faith promoting rumor.

    I wonder what effect, if any, this would have on the political consciousness of fiscally conservative Church members. One response could be something like “Hmm, if the Church is that concerned about this at the institutional level, maybe some of those government programs aren’t so bad.” But I think a more likely response might be “See…this is how redistributionism ought to work–within the context of the Church so that voluntary and charitable giving can take place.”

  11. Last night I mentioned this to a friend in my ward who is rather libertarian/conservative in his outlook. He balked at the idea, arguing that the 3 Fold Mission was based in revelation and therefore wouldn’t be changed (as if caring for the poor isn’t based in revelation!). He also thought that caring for the poor was already covered under perfecting the Saints, so why bother making a new category? While I doubt most conservative members will respond in this manner, I think his reaction does provide an example of what a subset of members think of this idea.

    While I disagree with his reasoning, I do think it wise to hold off celebrating until something more official is released. Not that I doubt David Sundwall’s memory or reporting skills, but a blog post isn’t exactly a solid source. A lot can change between an off the record statement in stake conference and official promulgation in conference or the Ensign. Hopefully something official comes out soon.

  12. I think Sheldon raises an important question. My guess is that the response will be the latter, rather than former. I think this will be understood within a conservative model of private institutions working on solutions to alleviate suffering. I do hope that (assuming something does come of this) we won’t witness a similar expression of anti-government rhetoric that accompanied the birth of the welfare program in the 1930s. My sense is that the brethren have more restraint than they did previously, when Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, and others openly spoke of their disdain for FDR, the New Deal, and the “socialization” of America.

  13. Based on my limited experience, the church’s work for the poor can be summed up like this:

    1) We do a tremendous job of caring for our own. Individuals and families in need can receive help with the vitals (rent, food etc.). You have to be participating in the community in some way though.

    2) If there’s a disaster – we’re there.


    As great as the church welfare system is – I see a huge hole: Members helping the non member poor on a local level. Sure individuals take their own action – but there’s not much of a ward/stake initiative outside of the Christmas season.

    Here’s hoping that that “the 4th mission” changes that.

  14. Sorry, getting back to this a bit late. Busy trying to keep up with everything (including getting a letter off to the LSAC for Ethan). So I will not get to all the comments this morning.

    I agree with you in many respects. However, we should not concede the idea of self-reliance to the libertarians. I think that it is a great concept as long as we recognize is as a social one (will have to tackle that one at a later date).

    Glad to see that you are thinking about this issue in that way. One of our Gospel Doctrine teachers a month ago used the idea of rescuing the stranded pioneers and compared it to rescuing the poor and needy.

    Ardis #5 and Nitsav #8,
    I must say the the “three-fold mission” idea does not have great significance to me. This is not to say that temple work, missionary work, and serving my fellow saints do not have significance to me, but the three-fold construct has never had much pull.

    While caring for the poor might not be unique to the Church, or even Christianity, it is something of equal importance to the other activities. This is not a statement to the rest of the world, it is a reminder to us of the importance of caring for the poor. I would place it on equal footing with the rest. As Nitsav said, it would be nice if we could do this without changing the three-fold misssion. Yet, it would be nice if we did our temple work and home teaching without having them presented to us as the missions of the Church.

    Jana (#6),
    I am glad to hear that. I am drawing from my experience of reading papers in American Heritage and other classes.

    John Willis (#7) and Rameumptom (#13)
    I was not aware that this had come up before and I do not remember there being Welfare meetings at General Conference. I like the idea of keeping Welfare meeting at the stake and ward level. When I was EQP, we had a Stake Welfare Meeting were they shared a video from the General Authorities. It was great and allowed us to discuss it within the context of our local needs and struggles.

  15. Ardis, I did mean to acknowledge that explicitly but may have been unclear. To me, the greatest value behind the separation of the Church’s mission (to prepare the earth for the return of the Savior and establish Zion) into three (now four) parts is to help us organize our efforts. Quorums divide their membership into committees for each of these missions, and it’s that organizational structure that is the true value of the three or four-fold mission statement. To create another mission means to help create an organizational branch in every quorum of the Church devoted to that purpose. I think that would be great. Also, since the Church’s mission is to establish Zion and a distinguishing feature of a Zion community is that there are “no poor among them” then it makes perfect sense to me that this would be an explicit mission.

  16. Perhaps resilience is a better word than self-reliance. We need to cultivate resilience.

    most treat King Benjamin’s discussion of the beggar as outdated though publicly contesting it can get you released as a Bishop if the central audit committee finds out and you don’t publicly back down.

    The problem is that it is easy to become a neo-Calvinist. I need to blog about that again.

  17. Calvinism taught that people were predestined and either saved or damned. The way you could tell the elect was that they had good fortune.

    The modern twist on that is that success indicates inherent virtue, so that all success = virtue. If I am wealthy or good looking or famous, then I am the elect of God. The group known as “The Family” literally teaches that, using King David as an example, and claiming his sins did not matter.

    But in modern society it tends to conflate to “the money I have made is the product of my own hands, my own virtue” and “who am I to deny the justice of God vis a vis the poor?”

    I refer to that sort of mind set as neo-Calvinism, as it combines the concepts of inherent virtue and the ability to detect or identify the elect by outward signs of worldly fortune.

    It is tempting, as it is self reinforcing. It is easy to believe that our good fortune is something we have earned and deserve. That we are not all beggars.

  18. In the old, old days, the focus for the elders quorum was welfare, for the seventies groups it was missionary work, and for the high priests it was temple work/genealogy.

    I recall when President Kimball announced three missions of the Church how puzzled some of us were about precisely how welfare fit in–most of us concluded it must be a subset of perfecting the Saints. It certainly struck me as a significant de-emphasis, at least in rhetoric, about welfare.

    Later, the mission of the Church was rearticulated as bringing people to Christ, with three aspects (a Mormon trinitarian view–one mission in three aspects).

    Given the emphasis that Jesus, the Old Testament prophets, and Restoration scripture, all place on caring for the poor and needy, I would rejoice at a re-articulation and re-focus on that as a primary purpose of the Church.

  19. Three Sundays ago our HC and the second counselor in the SP were visiting. The Stake Presidency had just had their training with the regional GA and the newly phrased mission of the church was shared. He shared it with us in PEC and then the ward as a whole. It does indeed refer to the care of the poor and needy now. I do have a copy of it at home and I will put it here later tonight if I remember.

  20. A matter of semantics; sometimes I hear members say “self-sufficient,” rather that “self-reliant, “which denotes to me someone who says he needs no one. That mindset causes an individual to become contribution-resistant, even when sharing work, food, testimony, etc. would be beneficial. I believe that the term “self-reliant” provides an individual the confidence to do what he can, ask for help, provide help within his abilities, etc. – to me, it connotes a proactive mindset. When coupled with insight, courtesy, charity and the spirit, I believe miracles can happen.

    We live in the mission field – a district located in the largest and most financially-depressed county in the great state of New York, and are beginning to deal with these issues. We’re a three hour drive from a Bishop’s storehouse, eight hour drive from LDS Social Services and only two hours away (and a passport) from the nearest Temple. We don’t hear a lot of Faith-promoting rumors out here (unless we make them up) and I look forward to hearing what the Brethren say in the next conference; in the meantime, we’re working to to get our members employed, solvent and stable.

    Thanks for hearing me today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *