Friday, December 4, 2015

Providing in the Lord's Way--George's Post

A.   Providing in the Lord’s Way

1.    Introduction

The central moral principle is Christianity is that each of us should love one another.[1]   While promoting such good will between men is not unique to Christianity, it is one of its more defining characteristics.   True believers are expected to live by that principle, and not just to give it lip service.  Christ made clear that true discipleship was predicated upon such acts of charity.   Moreover, those who claim to be disciples are asked to show love to the poor and needy,[2] and in doing so, they follow the example of Christ himself, who spent much of his mortal ministry caring for the poor and needy.   The importance of such care is shown in the 25th Chapter of Matthew, when the Lord, at the Day of Judgment, separates the sheep from the goats—the sheep being entitled to enter into the rest of the Lord—saying:   “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 he clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me…..Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”[3]
The Church provides detailed, and in a few instances surprising, guidance to the members on how the Church will care for the poor and needy in its midst.   When speaking of this guidance, President Uchtdorf in 2011[4] said:  “[t]hat the Lord’s way of caring for the needy is different from the world’s way,” and noted further that the Lord emphasizes that providing for the saints “must needs be done in mine own way.”[5]  This guidance is contained in several Church publications, including most prominently, a pamphlet entitled “Providing in the Lord’s Way,”[6] the Church’s two Handbooks of Instructions,[7] and “Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance.”[8]  Moreover, many General Authorities have summarized these principles, encouraging members to follow them, in a number of general conference talks over the last eighty some years.[9]  Many of these principles were first announced in 1936, when the Church’s modern-day “welfare plan” was introduced, as the United States and much of the world were still caught in the relentless vise of the Great Depression, a global economic crisis causing widespread poverty, sorrow and hunger.

2.    Three Cornerstone Principles

The Church’s welfare program is based upon three cornerstone principles, each considered complementary with the others.[10]  The purposes of Church welfare are to help members become self-reliant, to care for the poor and needy, and to provide service opportunities to those able to help.[11]   [12]

3.    What do we mean by the “poor and needy?”

What does the Church mean by the phrase the “poor and needy?”     It is not surprising that the Church uses the phrase, because the phrase is used repeatedly in ancient and modern scriptures.[13]    No attempt is made in the scriptures to define what is meant by the “poor and needy.”   Perhaps this is because everyone knows intuitively what it means; perhaps because it is impossible to supply a precise definition; or perhaps because poverty is a relative term, defying easy description, differing from one place to another, and from one group to another. 
Another plausible explanation is the phrase is a literary convention, and that its meaning is best divined by carefully looking at the wording.   Are the terms “poor” and “needy” to be construed in a disjunctive sense, meaning that it refers to those who are either “poor” or “needy.”   What makes this problematic is that many of the poor are not “needy,” and many of the “needy” are not poor.    Or are the terms “poor” and “needy” to be read in a conjunctive sense, meaning that it refers solely to those who are both “poor” and “needy.”   The phrase could be restated to read: those who are “needy” because they are “poor”; or those who are “poor” and the same time, are needy because of their poverty.   Either of these latter formulations is awkward and wordy, making it easy to understand why the short-hand version of “poor and needy” is preferred and commonly used.    
The reading that makes the most sense is the “conjunctive” one, and this also helps us to understand which of the possible “needs” of the poor that we might have in mind.   We are not talking about all of their needs--their emotional, social or psychological needs –but only those needs that arise due to their “poverty.”   This narrows the universe of the needs men and women have and is consistent with the focus we find in the Church’s policy on welfare.   For example, one finds the following statement in the pamphlet “Providing in the Lord’s Way:”   “There will be times in our lives when we will not be able to meet our needs without the help of others.”[14]   That statement, as well as others like it, should be construed to mean primarily basic physical or “temporarl” needs--such as food, shelter, security.[15]    There are many needs that humans have that can be satisfied only through interaction with others.   Indeed, those needs are essentially social at their core.   Who does not need affection, love, understanding, companionship and human interaction?    We are never free of such needs—indeed, having these needs is part of being human.   But whether or not those needs are fully satisfied does not necessarily impinge upon our ability to take care of ourselves and our families temporally.

4.    Individual Responsibilities

While the Church focuses upon the importance of families, the gospel is ultimately about “individuals” and their personal salvation—and the manner in which they exercise agency to choose between good and evil.   Men are punished for their own sins, and not from the sins of others.[16]  So it is not surprising that the Church’s welfare plan starts by focusing upon the obligation of each member.   If each person does his part, the collective takes care of itself.

(a)  Self-Reliance As a Bedrock Principle

Members of the Church are “self-reliant” when they use their own resources to provide for themselves and their families.   “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”[17]    Members should not expect others, including the Church, to be responsible for their well-welfare or that of their household.    Undergirding the principle of “self-reliance” is the concept of “personal accountability.”   Using agency, each individual is to work with his hands and apply his mind, skills, talents and other resources, to take care himself and those closest to him.   He is not to shift that responsibility to others.     In addition, he is ultimately accountable to God for how he uses the excess resources under his stewardship, not needed for himself and family, and expected to employ those resources to help others who are in need.
Were all to be self-reliant, or at least striving to be so, there would be little “poverty” in the world as we see it today.     Instead, communities would consist of vast networks of self-supporting family units, each independent and self-sustaining.    But life is not so tidy.    Many families are dysfunctional, and many individuals are unable or unwilling to take care of themselves, much less others.   Poverty is not so much a function of the physical “scarcity” of necessary resources, but rather a condition that persists because of greed and hardness of hearts of those with more than they need, because of the unwillingness of some to labor when they could, but looking instead to others to care for them and their families, and because of the break-down of family units, leaving the most vulnerable—including the impaired, children, the elderly, and those dependent upon others--without able-bodied individuals who are ready and willing to care for those less able to care for themselves.    “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.   Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his position, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”[18]  

(b)  Service—Blessing Both the Giver and Recipient

Welfare itself involves two parties:  the one who provides service, and the recipient of that service.   When welfare is performed “in the Lord’s way,” the service itself blesses both the life of giver and recipient.  It captures the essence of what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says:  “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.   And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.   For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to the part which lacked.”[19]   The weak need the strong, and the strong the weak—both spiritually and temporally.  Providing in the Lord’s way humbles the rich, exalts the poor, and sanctifies both.[20]  The giver learns compassion, demonstrates obedience, shows gratitude to God for the blessings he has received, and contributes to the unity of the saints.    He gives expression to his faith and builds testimony.  He provides an example to others, including members of his own family.   Moreover, he weans himself from dependence upon the “riches” of the world, placing “service” ahead of “things,” and freeing himself from the bondage of the flesh.
The recipient has the opportunity to accept service with gratitude.  He should use the service given to become more independent, and to free himself and his family from ongoing dependence upon others.     He should remember the blessings that come through service, and should strive to be of service to others in the future.    He should be willing to help others, in the same way, and with the same spirit of kindness, as he has been helped.

(c)   Each individual should be constantly looking for opportunities to help the poor and needy.   It is fundamentally an individual responsibility.

 It is our responsibility to be ever mindful of the poor and needy and to help them when we can. [21]    First and foremost, except as qualified below, members have the primary responsibility to help when they see the need.   They should do this before waiting for the Church or other organizations to step in and help.  As President Uchtdorf expresses it, the duty to serve is imposed upon all of us:  “Brethren, please do not think that this is someone else’s responsibility, it is mine, and it is yours.  We are all enlisted.”[22]  It does not matter whether we are rich or poor, whether we are closed related to or barely know those in need, whether we are old, young, middle aged, or whether we feel well suited, or ill-equipped, to help.   There is one qualification to this general principle.   When there are major catastrophes, affecting large groups, it becomes imperative for larger organizations, such as the Church, to become involved to coordinate the charitable services of individual members and others desirous of helping.
Each of us should be continually looking for opportunities to serve and think about how we can best help those in need.   We should not wait for someone else to ask us for help, or expect others to take the lead or to tell us what to do.    We should be agents to ourselves, and the counsel about being “anxiously engaged” in a good cause applies to those presented with welfare opportunities.  “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them   And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.   But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and received a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.”[23]   One is slothful if one waits on the sidelines when service opportunities present themselves.

(d)  How do we know what to do?

When and how are we to be of service to others?   Is that service limited to those who have the greatest needs or suffer from the deepest poverty?   Or are we expected to make ourselves available to help all who have needs, recognizing that everyone in life, in one way or another, however poor or rich, however dependent or self-reliant, may have temporary welfare needs.    In some cases, what is needed is to secure the basic necessities of life—food, shelter, security—while in other cases, the needs are those of companionship, friendship, empathy, a kind word or gesture.    In some cases, the needs are best fulfilled through collective action—i.e., through community efforts, through the Church or through steps taken by priesthood quorums or auxiliaries—while in other cases, individual acts of kindness are sufficient.     
The scriptures tells us that we can learn where and how we can help others through heeding the promptings of the Spirit:  “For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.”[24]  
Practically speaking, depending upon the circumstances, each of us may weigh a multitude of factors in determining whether and how to help others, including the poor and needy.   Among these are the following:
(i)                Do we know the one needing help?
(ii)              What kind of relationship do we have with the recipient—are we related, neighbors, friends, acquaintances, strangers, of the same nationality or ethnicity?
(iii)             Have we received similar requests for aid from the same individual in the past?
(iv)             Has the recipient helped us or others we know in the past?
(v)              Did the recipient ask for the help and, if not, how has the possibility of helping come to our attention?
(vi)             Is the recipient generally self-reliant?
(vii)            Does the recipient belong to a group generally regarded in society as vulnerable—such as the mentally or physically impaired, children, the elderly, and women with young children to care for?
(viii)          What kind of help is needed—the supply of basic necessities; health care; temporary or permanent help?
(ix)             Have we been asked to give aid, to make a loan or to provide work opportunities?
(x)              Will innocents be helped?
(xi)             Will the aid, if given, enhance or undermine the recipient’s ability to be self-reliant in the future?
(xii)            If the help requested is that of a loan, what is the likely that the loan will be repaid?
(xiii)          If work opportunities are sought, is the recipient capable of doing the work?
(xiv)          Has the recipient been generous to us or others in the past?
(xv)            How much of a reserve do we have for giving aid?
(xvi)          Will we be giving out of our abundance or scarcity?
(xvii)         Will sharing with the recipient keep us from giving to others who are closer to us or who may have greater needs?
(xviii)        Is the recipient young and impressionable, still capable of developing the character and traits one associates with those who are self-reliant?
(xix)          Is the recipient a person of character and virtue or subject to vices or traits that would keep him from standing on his own?  
It would be easy to expand the list of potentially significant factors.   Each case is unique: some factors may be relevant, and others not. 
Doubtlessly, we must exercise judgment in deciding whether, when and how to give to the poor and needy.   One thing every parent knows is that it takes years of patient training, reinforcement, and encouragement, to teach children the lessons needed to become hard-working, responsible, independent, self-sustaining, and virtuous.   Likewise each knows that those who do not learn these lessons in their youth may struggle to master them as adults.   Sometimes, it becomes necessary to help those who are incapable of helping themselves, even if there is little reason to hope for improvement in the future.   Those situations may call for the greatest compassion from us, precisely because there is so little hope that we will be able to change their hearts.    
As discussed below, the Church also considers a number of factors in determining when Church welfare will be given.[25]   When one compares the two lists, it is apparent that some factors are similar, some dissimilar.   It is helpful for members to review those guidelines, better informing them as to what the Church considers relevant, but members are not limited to considering those factors in making personal decisions about helping the poor and needy.   Members are at liberty to consider many more factors, and are expected to follow the promptings of the Spirit in making decisions about getting aid.  Moreover several of the Church factors are clearly inapplicable to members.[26]

(e)   The Church provides members with opportunities for providing service.  If service is provided through the Church, such service should be rendered strictly in accordance with Church guidelines.

The Church gives members opportunity to give expression to their charitable impulses.    Members are expected to fast for a 24-hour period each month (meaning to skip to two consecutive meals), and to contribute the money saved to the Church as a “fast offering” donation.   Those donations are then used by the Church to care for the poor and needy.    Members are also frequently asked by priesthood and auxiliary leaders to help members and others who are in need.    Some of these invitations are to participate in service projects involving others also invited to give service, and some are invitations to act on our own, often in our capacities as home and visiting teachers.  
No one thinks of these options as limiting or defining the outward scope of what members should be doing to help neighbors and others in need.   Quite to the contrary, members are expected to be constantly looking for opportunities to be of help.   They are to help in their homes, to assist extended family members, to assist neighbors and friends, to work in their communities, to provide voluntary service, and to be good citizens.   But, to the extent members provide service through the Church, that service is to be rendered in accordance with the guidelines the Church has set for using “Church resources.”

5.    Service through the Church

The Church has established specific guidelines for how service is to be rendered to members in need when the service is rendered through the Church and using Church resources.   In each instance where Church aid is sought, the service is to be rendered in a way preserving, to the extent possible, the integrity of the three fundamental principles: (i) helping members in need to understand, develop, and enhance their own self-reliance; (ii) asking members to be of service to help those in need; and (iii) providing the needed aid in manner that does not undermine the self-reliance of those being helped.  
In order to give content to these general principles, the Church has adopted the following specific lower level guidelines:
(i)                The bishop has a divine mandate to seek out and care for the poor; it is not sufficient to wait to be asked for aid;[27]
(ii)              Before providing assistance, the bishop reviews with members what resources and efforts they and their family can provide to meet their needs;[28]
(iii)             To the extent feasible, those in need should seek help from family members before seeking help from the Church;[29]
(iv)             Church welfare assistance is normally given to meet temporary needs as members work to become self-reliant;[30]
(v)              Assistance is to provide life-sustaining necessities, and not to maintain an affluent living standard;[31]
(vi)             When possible, the Church provides members with commodities or service instead of giving money or paying their bills;[32]
(vii)            Those receiving assistance should be asked to work to the extent of their ability for what they receive;[33]
(viii)          Receipt of welfare assistance should not be based on the activity level or worthiness of those in need;[34]
(ix)             Providing assistance may however be made contingent upon members fulfilling simple assignments, such as doing assigned work, looking for jobs, and eliminating unnecessary expenses;[35] and
(x)              The Church does not loan money to members in need; it is not in the banking business.
President Uchtdorf’s talk highlights several other principles: (i)  local leaders should try to deploy local resources for welfare problems before turning to Salt Lake City; (ii) to the extent the welfare needs can be satisfied through services, local priesthood quorums and auxiliaries should be used; (iii) individual members who have the capacity to help those in need should not wait for the Church to take the lead, but should volunteer, on their own, to find solutions and to provide aid.   President Uchtdorf further notes that “temporal” matters are really spiritual matters in the eyes of the Lord, so that learning to live by the Church’s welfare principles is learning to live by eternal principles that will bless the lives of both givers and recipients.   

6.    Messy Welfare Situations

What makes individual and Church welfare so challenging is that many of the situations are messy.   On occasion, one finds easy facts.   These situations are much like the bank that finds it easy to make loans to individuals, who really don’t need the loans, because they could self-fund their capital needs if necessary.   It would not be hard for a Church leader to extend welfare assistance to those who are always self-reliant, but who have had an unexpected setback: a wonderfully active, fully-intact family, with hard working and able parents  and solid kids; the occurrence of an unexpected setback, not of their doing—such as a death or sudden illness or property destruction due to a force majeure event; the expectation that the aid will be temporary, needed just a short while to allow the family to get back on even keel; and, the family demonstrates the right spirit---a sense of gratitude, a desire to wean themselves from welfare as soon as possible, a commitment to do all they can do to get back on their feet.  
But more often than not welfare cases are more complex, messy and unsettling.    There are always one or several factors at play making it difficult to extend the welfare or giving one pause whether the aid will really have the desired effect—that of helping the family or individual to be self-reliant again within a relatively short period. The family’s bread earner is unable or unwilling to work or can’t hold down permanent employment due to social problems or mental impairment.      The welfare is sought for a single mother with many pre-teen children, who are in need of daily supervision.   Family members have alcohol or drug addictions.   Neither of the parents has finished high school and lack the skills to get jobs generating enough money to cover basic expenses.   Due to poor planning the family has incurred excessive consumer debt.   No one in the family is capable of preparing and understanding a budget.   The family is dysfunctional.   The parents are a mess, totally irresponsible, willing to take advantage of the Church welfare system if they can, but there are innocent children in the home, who in the short run will suffer if welfare assistance is denied.   It is precisely for these reasons that the Church believes that bishops need to have the spirit of discernment to reach wise decisions, balancing the interests of the family against those of the Church.  

7.    Self-Help versus Self-Reliance

The term “self-help” often seems as though it is almost a synonym for “personal initiative,” a personality trait conducive to creating “self-reliance.”   Those who exercise “self-help” feel responsible for themselves and try, as best they can, to take care of themselves without asking for help.   On occasion, however, “self-help” is used in a broader context.   It is refers to the efforts of a group, some of whom are not in need of help, to address on a group basis a local problem.   For example, President Uchtdorf in his 2011 talk refers to the flooding of the Duncan Valley in Arizona, causing substantial damage to the property of local saints.   He then says: “Instead of sending money, President Heber J. Grant sent three men:  Henry D. Moyle, Marion G. Romney, and Harold B. Lee.   They visited with President Kimball and taught him an important lesson: “This isn’t a program of ‘give me,’ they said.  “This is a problem of ‘self-help.”   President Kimball then said  “….what a lot of good came to us as we had hundreds of [our own] go to Duncan and build fences and haul the hay and level the ground and do all the things that needed doing.   That is self-help.”[36]   As used in this way, “self-help” amounts to the aggregation of resources (in this case, presumably men, tools, trucks and other equipment) across a population segment, broader than the group of saints actually injured, for the purpose of spreading the load.[37]    If viewed from a Church wide perspective, help from members within the Stake or the Region surrounding Duncan can be regarded as “self-help;” but if viewed from the perspective of those directly affected by the flooding, the help given is “self-help” to the extent provided by those affected, and “outside help” when provided by those not directly affected by the force majeure event.   Often when dealing with natural disasters, the optimal approach is to enlist the services of a broader segment of the population to respond to the crisis, in short amortizing the human and financial costs over a larger group.

8.    What is unique by helping the poor and needy in Malawi?

Without question, what makes helping the poor and needy in Malawi so unique is the utter scale of the needs.   So many people (inside and outside of the Church) need help, and the help they need often relates to the basic necessities of life—food, shelter, health care, security, personal safety.  Their situations are so heart-breaking that it is impossible to hear of their needs without being profoundly moved.   Yet at the same time, it is hard to see how there are enough resources at hand to do much to move the dial.

[1] As reported in the Gospel of John, Christ pronounces: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.   By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  John 13: 34-35.
[2] D&C 52: 40 reads” “And remember inall things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”
[3] Matt: 25: 35-36, 40.
[4] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Providing in the Lord’s Way,” 2011 General Conference, __________.
[5] D&C 104: 15-16.
[6] A Leader’s Guide to Welfare, Providing in the Lord’s Way, 1990.
[7] Chapter 5, “Administering Church Welfare, Handbook 1, Stakes Presidents and Bishops, (2010), and Chapter 6, “Welfare Principles and Leadership,” Handbook 2, Administering the Church (2010).
[8] “Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance,” LDS DVD and booklet, (___________).
[9] See, for example, ___________________.
[10] Uchtdorf, supra, at _________.  
[11] Handbook 1, supra, at 42.
[12] To give content to these principles, the Church publications outline: (i) what these principles mean; (ii) the responsibility of individuals to care for themselves (generally called self-reliance) and to help others in need; (iii) when and how the Church itself, using Church resources, will step up to provide aid to the poor and needy; and (v) the various responsibilities of leaders within the Church to mobilize Church resources to provide such aid.
[13] For example, the following scriptures utilize various formulations in respect to the “poor and needy:” “love the poor and the needy” (Mor. 8: 37); “look to the poor and the needy (D&C 38: 35); “administer to the poor and the needy (D&C 42: 34); “consecretated to the poor and the needy (D&C 42: 37); “visit the poor and the needy (D&C 44: 6); and “plead the case of the poor and needy (D&C 124: 75); “oppress the hired servant that is poor and needy (Deut. 24: 14); “killeth the poor and needy (Job 24: 14); “cast down the poor and needy (Psalms 37: 14); and “let the poor and needy praise thy name (Psalms 74: 21).
[14] “Providing in the Lord’s Way,” supra, at 5.
[15][15] All of  us are constantly in “need,” if one thinks of life in terms of all of its social and psychological dimensions—the need for companionship, security, emotional support, and affection.   As humans, for such support, we are all dependent upon others—constantly--and not just at random moments when local resources are depleted—relying upon one another. 
[16] This principle is embodied in the Second Article of Faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their owns sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”  
[17] 1 Tim. 5: 8.
[18] D&C 104: 17-18.
[19] 1 Cor. 12: 22-24.
[20] See, for example, D&C 104: 15-18.
[21] A Leader’s Guide to Welfare: Providing in the Lord’s Way, supra, at 5.
[22] Uchtdorf, “Providing in the Lord’s Way,” supra, ____.
[23] D&C 58: 27-29.
[24] 2 Nephi 32: 5.
[25] See “Service through the Church,” infra, at ____.
[26] For example, no member would be expected to do any of the following: the need to complete needs and resource assessment forms; the requirement that Church assistance be the “assistance” of last resort; or the requirement that assistance be in the form of commodities or services.
[27] See, for example, Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3 and D&C 84: 112.
[28] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[29] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[30] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[31] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[32] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[33] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[34] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[35] Handbook 1, Section 5.2.3.
[36] Uchtdorf, “Providing in the Lord’s Way,” ______.