1. Reasons for Withholding Charity from Those in Need
There are many reasons why we might refuse to extend charity to those who are in need. If we are honest with ourselves, most of the reasons stem, we know, from some defect in our own character. We are too self-centered, selfish, unkind, greedy, and insensitive. We don’t want to part with the possessions we have or to spend money we have saved. We are too absorbed with our own affairs, or those of our immediate family, to look beyond ourselves. We do not see the needs of others or, if we do, we do not feel an obligation to help them. We lack the capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of our neighbors and do not feel their pain and suffering as though it were our own. We lack the compassion and empathy necessary to help when help is needed.
Before going on, what do we mean by “charity.” We have no special definition—charity has two component parts: first, it always involves the sacrifice of something—time, energy, resources or money--for the benefit of another, who is in need. Certainly, charity may involve the giving of “money” or “commodities,” but giving money is only one form of charity, and often that form of charity is the “cheapest, ” most “disconnected,” and “most impersonal,” removed from the real needs of those whom we intend to serve. Second, charity always involves the “right” state of mind—we sacrifice, not for the purpose of being seen of others, or getting the praise of men, but instead we sacrifice with a genuine desire to help others, growing out of our love and concern for them.
But, like many things, life can be complicated and what seems simple may not be as simple as we think. For there are occasions, when one wishes to extend charity (and has the right state of mind), but still chooses not to help. The purpose of this section is to identify circumstances where this may happen and to consider whether we are justified under these circumstances from not extending charity to those who have real needs.
(a) “I have done my share.”
Sometimes, we feel as though we have done enough, and shouldn’t be asked to do more. The feeling can be fleeting—with a little time, we are ready to contribute again--or it can stem from the feeling that we are really maxed out when operating at our normal pace. We can’t imagine squeezing much more out of our days to help others. From the perspective of charitable contributions, the Church asks all faithful members to pay tithing (10% of the members’ income) and to be generous in making monthly fast offering contributions. Without doubt, members who are obedient to both commandments make significant monetary contributions to the Church, the proceeds of which are used for charitable purposes. When compared to others, faithful Church members throughout the world contribute more, whether measured in absolute dollars or as a percent of total income, than others who belong to the same socio-economic groups in the countries in which they live. In addition, members are generous with their time—they are often active in community and social groups, such as Little Leagues, Boy Scouts, PTAs, United Way, and the like, to which they make generous monetary contributions and offer their services. They volunteer to work in schools and library, coach sports teams, and serve as scout and community leaders. So busy are they with Church and non-Church activities many feel they have little extra time for further volunteerism. They feel they have done their share, and asking more of them would be unfair.
The Church has never said or implied that members have done all they should by obeying the Church’s financial laws and by being active in the Church. Certainly they recognize those are major contributions. But at the same time Church members are expected to be good stewards over all that is entrusted into their care. Some have more than others. Of those who have much, much is expected. The wealthy (and by Malawian standards, almost everyone in the United States, could be considered wealthy) should make financial contributions above and beyond the faithful payment of tithing and fast offering contributions. Each members is expected to be generous, taking in account what they need for their family, and the excess available to bless the lives of others. Members are always well aware that there have been occasions in Church history when much more was required of the saints. Both the United Order, as well as the law of consecration, are reminders that the Lord may ask for more. Sacrifice is at the heart of the Mormon experience. And many members have at the back of their mind that the time may come when they are in fact asked to be more generous by the leaders of the Church. Most of the faithful probably believe that they would respond favorably to such requests if made, but privately they think as long as they are not asked to do so, they are justified in going as far as they do, current sacrifices being enough for the time being. One may reasonably wonder if that is enough.
(b) “I have given all I have and I have no more to give.”
Many in the Church may feel they are stretched thin, believing they have little more to give or it would be unfair to ask more of them at this time. But few, if any, could claim that they have given all they have. Most live comfortable lives and see themselves as being the beneficiaries of rich blessings at the hand of the Lord. That the saints could be asked to get all as a symbol of their discipleship seems unlikely and far-fetched. Yet we can read of such sacrifices in the scriptures. One such famous account is the story of the poor widow to whom the prophet Elijah comes, asking her for a little water and a morsel of bread. There has been a terrible drought in the land, leaving many of the poor destitute. The widow responds to Elijah, saying: “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” No doubt, having foreseen the blessings to which she is in store, Elijah promises her” “Fear not; go and do as thou has said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”
To those from Western countries, the account seems almost apocryphal, since being on the brink of starvation in first world countries is almost inconceivable. But to someone in Malawi, where the risk of facing starvation is real--something most subsistence farmers may face on any given year due to floods, droughts, and other climatic conditions-- the circumstances can easily be imagined. It is interesting that the Lord even speaks to this extreme case. “And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” What matters is the attitude of the poor—they should have compassion and be willing to share if they had the substance to share. That the right attitude is at the core of charity is reflected in Paul’s famous chapter on faith, hope and charity: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” The act of giving confirms what is in the heart—it is the work that evidences the faith—but ultimately what matters is the compassion, kindness, caring, empathy that one feels. Without the act, the record of the heart is left empty.
(c) “I do not give because I have no confidence in the channel of distribution.”
Often we are asked to give money to charitable organizations, dedicated to a wide range of worthy causes—fighting against cancer; protecting battered women; caring for orphans; helping refugee victims; and combatting treatable diseases like malaria. At the same time, we hear horror stories about the abuses perpetuated by some unethical charitable organizations. Some of these organizations divert the vast majority of the charitable contributions they receive to pay salaries, cover bloated overhead, pay management and other fees to profit making affiliated entities, so that only a small percentage of the donations ultimately find their way to the intended beneficiaries. This sorry history has rightfully given rise to a great degree of cynicism on the part of the public. Many are now skeptical of those claiming to have philanthropic intentions, and wonder whether the charities raising money really have the best interests of the needy in mind.
As a consequence, many potential donors hold back, turning down opportunities to contribute, even for causes they support. They are only interested in contributing to charities that are scrupulously honest in their dealings with the public, are committed to getting the maximum dollars to the target beneficiary group, and have a track record for helping efficiently those in need. By these standards, the humanitarian arm of the Church scores well, as do a number of other well-regarded charities. Consequentially many members are willing to contribute to humanitarian causes through the Church or through other commonly-recognized charities with pristine credentials while they are wary of making similar contributions through other charities. It is not surprising that most of the charitable giving in the United States is not directly from donors to donees, but instead is fueled through intermediary charities, like United Way, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, who have in place the partnering relationships with on-site organizations capable of deploying the monies raised to those in need.
(b) “The individual asking for money has no claim upon me.”
All of us are surrounded by individuals, who, for one reason or another, have some claim upon us for support. These claims grow out of the sense of responsibility we feel for others. The most obvious example is the members of our immediate family. Fathers and mothers are expected to provide for the needs of their children. The scriptures impose this obligation, and the obligation is generally recognized in all societies. “And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry,or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God and fight and quarrel one with another….” This sense of responsibility to help out, for most of us, goes far beyond immediate family—we feel a duty of care for parents, grandparents, and other members of our extended family. This includes not only blood relatives, but those who play the roles of blood relatives. For my purposes, I think of these fields of responsibility much like concentric circles around us, and those for whom I feel responsibility fall within the rings radiating outward from the core. The closer to the core the individual, the greater the sense of responsibility I have for their welfare.
For some of these circles, including those including family members, the membership of the group is fairly fixed; yet for other circles, those within the circle may come and go from time to time. For example, some of our circles include close friends, neighbors, people at church, and colleagues at work. The circles are not static and are subject to constant change. Sometimes our circles grow out of “callings” we have in the Church—a bishop feels a responsibility for all within his ward; a seminary teacher for the students in his class; a home teacher for the families he home teaches. How strongly we identify with the individuals in some of the more amorphous circles ebbs and flows, depending upon lots of factors—how much contact we have; how long we have known them; how much personal affinity we feel for one another; how much we have been called upon over the years to help one another out. For Carole and me, our circle now includes many of our Malawian members. What I find intriguing is how the scope of our fields can change just through the act of caring. Several weeks ago Carole and I began visiting with Enita and her sick daughter Angellah. Sure they were members of our Zingwangwa Branch family, but the more we visited with them in the hospital, the greater our tie. What was initially a somewhat impersonal relationship became very personal through the act of caring. I am sure this is one of the reasons it is important to pray for individuals by “name,” to break down the impersonality of our relationships and to create in us a sense of “responsibility.”
Those who are outside of our circles of responsibility rarely have much claim upon our charity. This is another way of saying that we can’t assume responsibility for everyone—some things we just have to let go, however much we might wish it to be otherwise. Of course, we may make anonymous charitable gifts and we may help people we don’t know well—just out of a generosity of spirit that may animate us as we enjoy more of the Lord’s Spirit. But, for the most part, those to whom we give the most—of our time, money and other resources—are those within the concentric circles closest to us. It is much easier for us to say “no” to those with whom we have no or limited ties.
(c) “I am not going to give because the one seeking aid is “undeserving.”
On occasion, we refuse to give aid because the intended beneficiary is, in our opinion, somehow “undeserving.” We say to ourselves—whether honestly or not—that were it not for this, we would otherwise be willing to help. Lots of reasons can be adduced as the basis for disqualifying individuals from getting aid. Some of the reasons are more justifiable than others. We have dealt with them in the past and find them to be dishonest, ungrateful, and dependent. They take advantage of the charity they receive from us or others. They misrepresent the extent of their needs. After receiving aid, they are demanding, fail to show gratitude, refuse to extend to others charity when they are in need. They are not willing to work to provide for themselves and their family. They are lazy and thoughtless. They use the aid given to them to support addictions. The list of disqualifying behavior is almost endless. And all, or many of these, factors seem justification enough to support withholding charity.
The difficulty with this approach to charity is that it requires of us to make a judgment as to the worthiness of those in need before extending charity. If they are worthy of charity, we will provide it; if not, we will withhold the charity, even though they are in need. To be sure, it is impossible to live life without making constant judgments —we all do it and we all do it all the time. Rational life requires that of us. The problem is, however, that unlike the Lord, our judgments are not always “just.” We often judge with a beam in our eye; we judge after the sight of our eyes and the hearing of our ears; we do not look upon the heart, nor do we know the thoughts and intents of men. Only the Lord can be said to execute “righteousness judgment.” “And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears. But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.”
Interestingly, King Benjamin touches upon this vexing problem when discussing the morality of withholding aid to those in need on the grounds that their own behavior brought upon them their own misery. “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just.” This of course is one example of many possible cases of “undeserving” behavior on the part of those in need. Where the need is real, King Benjamin is quick to point out that withholding charity is not justified on the basis that “it’s their own fault.” Indeed, his language is quite blunt: “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.” What is required of us is to be charitable—to “succor those that stand in need of your succor.” King Benjamin reminds us that we are “all beggars” in the sight of the Lord—all that we have comes from God—and at the same time—we must all petition the Savior for the remission of our sins. We are all dependent upon the Lord and are all unworthy. How can we expect the Savior’s mercy if we are not willing to extend our mercy to others? If God is prepared to grant our petitions for mercy, surely we should be willing to grant the petitions for mercy from those in need, imparting of our substance to them in need.
Some, both in the Church and out, will be startled by the following statement in one of the Church leadership handbooks outlining the terms upon which Church welfare is administered: “Providing welfare assistance should not be based on the activity level or worthiness of those who need it. Using the welfare principles outlined in this handbook, the bishop administered assistance to all members in need. He encourages less-active members who receive assistance to improve their spiritual well-being by attending church, praying, reading the scriptures, and increasing their in the Church.” What drives the administration of the charity is the recipient’s need—not the recipient’s activity level or worthiness.
(d) “There is a difference between “smart” charity and “stupid” charity. Some charity does more harm and good. I will not give aid if I think it hurts more than it helps.”
God expects his disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” I have always thought this admonition should be read broadly. To me it means that all involved in the Lord’s work are to be intelligent, discerning, careful, thoughtful, and wise. There is no excuse for sloppy discipleship. Certainly, the Lord expects our hearts to be pure, innocent, to be free of deceit and guile, to be single-minded in pursuit of God’s work, to rely upon the Lord and not the arm of flesh. But such innocence, and reliance upon God, should be not confused with carelessness.
With this in mind, the saints should exercise good judgment in how they perform their charity. They should be looking for ways to help that “really” help. We have a right to approach giving charity in intelligent ways. Charity does not mean honoring all of the requests of those who are in help. Sometimes, perhaps even often, those in need do not know what is best for themselves. They may ask for help of one type when help of a different type is actually what is needed. We are expected to be discerning in how we provide charity.
However, in saying this, we need to be careful--we are not excused from helping those in need just because they ask for the “wrong” type of help, because they don’t know what is right for themselves or because we find them annoying or pushy. Where there is a real need, we have an affirmative obligation to help as best we can, at least as to those within our circles of responsibility. For the Church, the circle of primary responsibility includes the Church members. For us, the circles of primary responsibility include first of all family members and then others for whom we have, one way or the other, assumed responsibility. When speaking of help those in need, what kind of needs are we talking about? Certainly, we mean, at a minimum providing for the basic needs of life—shelter, food, water, clothing, and companionship. Of these basic needs the Savior spoke often: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” There is, to my thinking, an affirmative obligation to figure out how best to help those in need—in short to be smart about being charitable.
(e) “I can’t do everything. Too much is being asked of me.”
The needs of the needy go far beyond what anyone can do, even if one were willing to do what the young rich man could not do—dispose of all of one’s possessions, give them to the poor, and follow the Savior through a life of dedicated and single-minded discipleship. It is easy to see how quick one might become discouraged. To avoid this discouragement, we need to do what we reasonably can do--we need to take satisfaction in that and we need not to torture ourselves by what we can’t do. I think there are two keys to this problem. First, one needs to take on manageable projects; and second, one needs to adopt a manageable pace—taking into account one’s age, health, energy, and other commitments. King Benjamin is unstinting in the advice he gives to those hoping to be “guiltless before God”—“I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” Yet, immediately after making that statement, he says: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”
 See __________________________.
 1 Kings 17: 12.
 1 Kings 17: 13-14.
 Mosiah 4: 24.
 1 Cor. 13: 3.
 Mosiah 4: 14.
 See, e.g., Matt. 7: 1-5.
 See, for example, 1 Samuel 16: 7. “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his statute; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
 Isa. 11: 3-4.
 Mosiah 4: 17.
 Mosiah 4: 18.
 Mosiah 4: 16.
 Mosiah 4: 21.
 Handbook 1—Stakes Presidents and Bishops, “Other Guidelines,” 46 (2010).
 See, e.g., Matt. 10: 16. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
 For example, many of the Liwonde saints live within the flood plain along the Upper Shirer River. Ever so often, the Upper Shirer River floods, destroying the crops of the subsistence farmers working the farms along its banks. At some point in time, those saints need to leave their homes and fields along the flood plain or somehow come up with another solution to the periodic flooding that destroyed their crops and undermines the livelihood. They cannot continually put themselves in harms’ way and expect others—the Church or the government—to bail them out. Church leader need not be apologetic about giving unwelcome advice, telling those members to leave their historic farms and homesteads and find some other way to make a living, if that advice is necessary in order for them to be self-reliant.
 Matt: 25: 34-36.
 See the discussion under ____________________.
 For example, the Church does not expect senior missionaries to keep the schedule, and to work at the pace, of the younger missionaries. This does not mean that the senior missionaries are less effective.
 Mosiah 4: 26.
 Mosiah 4: 27.