This is the third in an occasional series of posts that looks at the scriptures from a different point of view. My contention is that many people misunderstand the scriptures in their totality. In a past post, I looked at the Book of Mormon and discussed its view on taxation. In a followup, I looked at some examples of misunderstandings in the New Testament. I’d now like to look at some examples in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Do the poor have any responsibilities in the Doctrine and Covenants?
I think all Latter-day Saints can agree that the “rich” definitely have responsibilities. The D&C and all LDS scriptures make it clear that those who have more money (the rich) should give to the poor. Often. Abundantly. Repeatedly. Voluntarily. With good cheer. From the perspective of modern-day Latter-day Saints, my personal take is that you pay your tithing, you pay a generous fast offering, you serve in your calling and you take extra steps to help the poor (those who have less), such as volunteering in soup kitchen, homeless shelters, the bishop’s storehouse, etc. You and I are probably not doing enough to help the poor, so our responsibilities are clear.
But what about the poor?
Well, D&C 56 offers some insights:
16. Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment and of indignation: the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved.
17. Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
18. But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.
So, it appears that the poor do have a responsibility. It is to follow the 8th and 10th commandments, ie, not to steal and not to covet the property of other people. In addition, the poor have a responsibility to labor for their own support.
But there is another very important responsibility: not to take other people’s “goods,” ie property.
What’s up with that?
To understand this completely, it is important to return to the atmosphere of the late 18th century and early 19th century. The founders struggled a great deal with the proper role of government. Clearly, some minimal funds were necessary to help government function, but raising these funds involved taking money from some against their will. Such steps clearly contradicted the founders’ sense of the proper purpose of government, which is to protect private property and to defend the country from aggressors foreign and internal. This protection of private property is written everywhere in the Constitution, but most especially in the Bill of Rights. How can you justify the 3rd, 4th and 5th amendments unless there is an inherent property right? If property is owned by the community or the crown, then quartering troops temporarily makes perfect sense, but if it is privately owned then laws like the 3rd amendment against quartering troops are necessary. If property is owned by the public at large, then the police should be able to search “community property,” but if property is privately owned, then protection against a search (4th amendment) is expected. The 5th amendment clearly says property cannot be taken without due process and that private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation.
This understanding that government’s proper role is to protect private property is reinforced by D&C 134:2, which says that “no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will assure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”
The founders were also clearly worried about a pure democracy where 51 percent of the people could decide to take property from the other 49 percent. This is why they set up a republican system, which checks and balances (the Senate, states’ rights, the courts) intended to prevent tyranny of the majority.
In such a system, what is the responsibility of the poor (ie, those who have less than others)? It is to work and save and to avoid coveting and taking the property of those who have more.
We have clearly seen that the responsibility of the rich is to give voluntarily to the less fortunate, both in terms of money and in terms of time. Thought exercise: if everybody in the United States voluntarily gave 10 percent of his or her gross income to charity, would the modern welfare state be necessary? My guess is no, and there would be “no poor among us,” but we are unlikely to be able to test the theory during this dispensation of time.
The idea that the poor have responsibilities will be foreign to many readers because they have accepted the lie of the modern welfare state, which is that property rights (clearly laid out in the Constitution and the D&C) are to be circumscribed for one beneficial cause or another. We can probably agree that most of the people who want to transfer wealth from one person to another are well-intentioned, but I would argue they have lost sight of the proper role of government in a republic.
The modern welfare state has shown us there will always be some new cause for an entitlement. Social Security is a great example. In its conception, it paid for itself through a modest contribution by workers and their employers and was only dedicated to retirement. Now, the contribution is much larger (12.4 percent of your pay check) and the benefits go for disability as well. People are living longer, but citizens “want theirs” and oppose attempts to bring the retirement age for benefits in line with modern life expectancy. There is such a thing as private disability insurance, but in our attempt to “do good” we are ignoring basic principles obvious to previous generations.
On and on it goes to a $14 trillion debt. It all starts when we forget that all men and women have responsibilities, which is one of the principal messages of the Gospel.