Caring for the Poor and Needy

[Stake Priesthood Meeting, June 2019]

Brethren, I want to talk to you this afternoon about something that is very important.  In recent years and months it has been especially weighing on me.  Addressing it with you is a component of repentance that I need to go through as a stake president.  It’s also part of the repentance we need to go through as a stake.  And, to varying degrees, it may be part of a very important repentance process that you (and perhaps your families) need to go through.

The topic is our responsibility for helping the poor.  While it is true that the line between spiritual and temporal matters is very blurry—if it even exists at all—and, to God, apparently it doesn’t—I am not speaking today about our responsibility to care for those who are poor in spirit or who are spiritually lost.  Those needs, of course, surround us on all fronts and our responsibilities there are sobering.  But that is not today’s topic.  Today’s topic is our responsibility for helping the materially poor.  Those needs are also staggering.  Fortunately or unfortunately, they do not confront us as directly in our immediate community as they do others in other parts of the world.

The Lord’s teachings on this topic are very clear.  They are also ubiquitous throughout all canonized scripture both ancient and modern.

At the end of the Savior’s life, he taught the parable of the sheep and the goats.  The message of this parable is vivid and should grab our attention.  Those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the refugee, clothe the impoverished, and minister to the sick and imprisoned… these will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Those who don’t… will not.

I am sometimes concerned about our responses to the story of the Savior’s encounter with the rich young ruler.  You all know the story.  The Savior said to him, “Yet lackest thou one thing:  sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”

While I acknowledge that we are not asked to make vows of poverty in our church—or to literally sell everything we have—nor do we have examples of the Brethren doing such things—I sometimes think that we go through great intellectual gymnastics to figure out how little the Savior’s message to the rich young man applies to each of us.  We sometimes do that while looking down on this man—who may or may not have ended up applying the Savior’s counsel better than we do.

Let me remind you that the vast majority of us in this room today are very wealthy.  Not a little wealthy.  Very wealthy.  You are the rich young ruler.  And so am I.  As I have pointed out before, most of us in this room are, in terms of wealth, in the top tenth of one percent of people in the world.  Many are well into that one tenth of one percent.  That means that if 1,000 random people were selected from all over the globe and put into a room and you were one of them, some among the 999 faces looking at you would be very hungry; some would be not far from death due to hunger, thirst, or preventable disease; and all would be looking at you as the steward of the greatest amount of resources that could help.

I worry about the Savior’s parable about Lazarus (not the one he raised from the dead; this one was fictitious) and the Rich Man.  The story is about the rich man, which, again, is you and me.  It goes like this:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:  And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom:  The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.  But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Tormented.  The word the Savior chose twice to illustrate the fate of those who live without helping the poor is “tormented.”  Brethren, let’s avoid being tormented.

It is true that temporal blessings follow obedience.  It is not true that our accumulation of temporal blessings is an indication of our righteousness or of our fitness for the Kingdom of Heaven.  In fact, the exact opposite may be true.

By show of hands, how many of you know the three things that were referred to in what we used to call “the three-fold mission of the Church”?  Some years ago, a fourth item was added to that list.  I am very sorry to report—and I apologize to all of you—that from a leadership standpoint, the significance of that fourth item being added was largely lost on me.  I ask your and our Heavenly Father’s forgiveness.  As a stake presidency, we hope to guide the stake collectively toward repentance in this regard.

Here is the current statement in the Church Handbook of Instructions:

In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.

Caring for the poor and needy is not last in that list.  It wasn’t tacked on as an also-ran.

So.  Brethren, here is what we have done and what we are going to do:

First.  We have long had three high council-led committees providing leadership to the stake for missionary work, gospel teaching, and temple work.  We now have a fourth leadership team addressing our “divinely appointed responsibility” to care for the poor and the needy.  This team consists of three high councilors and our entire stake RS presidency.  Sister Stevens, Stake RS President, chairs this committee.  Sister Cyndie Dobson also serves as a specialist on this committee—which has begun organizing and planning.

Second.  We have asked every ward to have a Ward Council-led plan involving specific goals for missionary work, gospel teaching, and temple work.  The wards have responded well and we are anxious to see those plans and goals come to fruition.  By the way, there is good statistical evidence that, as a stake, we are improving in all three areas.  And I am one who always looks at data with suspicion.  We will also be meeting with Bishops and others to address the question of leadership for caring for the poor and the needy within the wards.

Third.  We have communicated to stake members our desire that every individual and family engage in the work of salvation.  We have tried to not over-prescribe exactly how individuals and families should participate, knowing that circumstances vary, and that fathers and mothers should lead in their homes.  We have, however, promoted three “bulls-eyes,” so to speak for all to consider.  Those are:  having and pursuing a personal or family plan for missionary work; actively engaging in prayer and scripture study and teaching at home; and taking at least one family name to the temple each year for temple work.

Similarly, we are and will be inviting families and individuals to actively engage in the work of temporal salvation by caring for the poor and needy, whether near us, far from us, or both.  Like our missionaryminded.org website which offers dozens of ideas on how individuals and families can participate in missionary work, we will present a wide variety of ways that individuals and families can participate in caring for the poor and the needy and, as with missionary work, we will ask individuals and families to establish their own plans for doing so.  Let me give some simple examples of the types of ideas we’ll share:

  • People can increase their fast offerings—including teaching our youth and young children to pay fast offerings. I find it pathetic that we don’t teach our children to pay fast offerings—and I am one who failed at that both as a child and, for a long time, as a parent.
  • People can engage individually or as families or church groups in service projects found on JustServe.org.
  • Families or church or neighborhood groups can gather to put together specific kits and relief packages for distribution to the needy.
  • Families who have the time and means can travel out of the country to participate in on-site humanitarian projects.
  • Individuals can participate in Self Reliance Groups and help mentor others in the group.
  • Families can contribute to the Humanitarian Fund and LDS Charities. Let me add a few comments about this one in particular after we watch the following short video about the origins of LDS Charities…

[video]

There are some things I really like about LDS Charities.  One is that all the money we give makes it all the way to the end of the cause.  Another is that the Church partners with other charitable organizations and is part of the worldwide community doing good.  Another is that the projects it engages in—everything from immunizations to newborn care to water accessibility and emergency response—are the types of products that contribute toward self-reliance and enabling people.

Besides tithing, Church donation slips—whether actual or electronic online—contain only three other categories of giving:  Fast Offerings, Humanitarian (which is what funds LDS Charities), and Missionary Work (which is the most important self-reliance program in the world).  I would encourage you to counsel with your wives and families, consider the Savior’s teachings, consider what will matter to you when your life is at its end.  And give.  A lot.

Brethren, in trying to call myself and all of us to repentance on this front, I do not wish to fail to acknowledge the good you are already doing.  Please note that while I think we collectively have much work to do in this area, I make no judgments about any individuals.  I do not know your personal circumstances.  I do not know the extent of anyone’s giving or of their charitable efforts.  Those are personal matters between you and the Lord.  My interests are in relieving suffering and in keeping us all out of torments!

You are good, faithful men and it is one of the greatest blessings of my life to be befriended and taught and inspired by you.  Please take this message home and begin counseling together with your wives and children.  We have the birthright with all of its tangible and spiritual blessings.  We have a great responsibility and a great work to do.  Young men, your importance cannot be overstated.  Your own families and many others will be blessed because of you.  God has put you in position to do so—no doubt he has done so very intentionally.

The restored gospel is true.  Joseph Smith received divine authority.  We each bear some of that.  Russell M. Nelson is God’s prophet today.  Jesus Christ leads him.  Jesus heals all who trust Him and submit themselves to Him.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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