Friday, June 08, 2007

The Lord's Way

Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord's Way.



In 1977 President Ezra Taft Benson explained the basic principles governing whether Latter-day Saints should accept government assistance: "Occasionally, we receive questions as to the propriety of Church members receiving government assistance instead of Church assistance. Let me restate what is a fundamental principle. Individuals, to the extent possible, should provide for their own needs. Where the individual is unable to care for himself, his family should assist. Where the family is not able to provide, the Church should render assistance, not the government. We accept the basic principle that 'though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.' "

He then voiced an important distinction between "earned" and "unearned" assistance, explaining its importance in terms of its spiritual impact on the recipient: "Latter-day Saints should not receive unearned welfare assistance from local or national agencies. This includes food stamps. Priesthood and Relief Society leaders should urge members to accept the Church welfare program and earn through the program that which they need, even though they may receive less food and money. By doing so, members will be spiritually strengthened, and they will maintain their dignity and self-respect."

By the 1980s, Latter-day Saints all over the world were being taxed to support a variety of government services not limited to the poor -- ­free hot lunches in grade schools, low tuition in colleges, and counseling services in between, to cite only a few examples. Should they forgo access to such generally available government programs ---­which they were taxed to support -- ­and turn only to the Church for aid?

As in President Benson's message quoted above, the Church has continued to counsel its members not to accept traditional government support of the poor, such as food stamps. But where a government-supported program is generally available to all citizens and where it can be squared with self-reliance and the other principles of church welfare, church leaders now raise no objection to their members' participation. For example, no objection is raised when a member makes a significant personal contribution in order to realize the benefits of a program (such as a student who must study in order to realize the benefit of the tax subsidy inherent in a low-tuition college education).

The principle of self-reliance and its relationship to government assistance is described in this key passage in the Leader's Guide to Welfare:

"Latter-day Saints have the responsibility to provide for themselves and their families. Individual members, however, may find it necessary to receive assistance beyond that which the family can provide, in which case they may turn to the Church for help. In some instances, individual members may decide to receive assistance from other sources, including government. In all such cases, members should avoid becoming dependent upon these sources and strive to become self-reliant. Where possible, they should work in return for assistance rendered."

In his testimony before the House Committee, Welfare Managing Director McMullin gave public expression to the new approach: "Where community resources are available that are compatible with our approach, we are happy to use them. Our overarching aim, however, is always to help people help themselves."

There is a large and perhaps widening gap between government's way and the Church's way of caring for the poor and the needy. The gap is inevitable because the Church's purposes, dictated by the commandments of God, are to serve spiritual as well as temporal goals.

Increasing urbanization and the diversities encountered in a worldwide church pose many challenges for those who are responsible to use the Lord's resources to help the poor and the needy. Recent changes in church organization and procedures facilitate this sacred mission, but the most important variables are still the attitude of the potential recipient and the inspired direction of the bishop. Neither of those fundamentals has changed. The Lord's way of welfare will continue unchanged, so long as the members are determined to support themselves to the best of their ability and then to participate in assisting others less fortunate, and so long as bishops continue to administer assistance in the Lord's way.

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