Guest Post: The Fourth LDS Church Mission: To Practice ‘Pure Religion’

The following guest post comes from Warner Woodworth, author and co-author of a variety of LDS articles and books, including “Working Toward Zion” and “United for Zion,” among others.

I rejoiced in recent days to learn the Church is ready to officially expand its original three-fold mission to a new fourth one. Beginning in October, two months before the first published article in the Salt Lake Tribune appeared, I had started emailing NGO associates around the globe, especially in Africa and Latin America, informing them that this would soon become a reality. What this will mean for Church members, as well as those of other faiths is open to conjecture. In this short essay, I attempt to review the history and context of this new development, and raise a few provocative issues at the end.

Since 1982 under the leadership of President Spencer W. Kimball, there have been key thrusts which focused as follows: 1) Proclaim the Gospel, 2) Perfect the Saints, 3) Redeem the Dead. These statements have guided much of Church policy-making and practices by providing a framework for emphasizing what we should do as a major global religious organization. They were articulated precisely at the time when many corporate consultants and CEOs were attempting to make their organizational purposes explicit so they could achieve maximum results in their work, higher output, larger profits, and greater excellence.

Yet for some of us in the Church, there was always a feeling that something was still lacking. Sure, we ought to preach our message to unbelievers and baptize as many who become converted. Clearly, LDS members needed to grow in truth and light until they became more holy as is humanly possible. And obviously, the sacred work of genealogical research and performing temple ordinances for our ancestors, indeed the whole world’s dead down through history, was critical. But for me, I often wondered and prayed for an additional driving purpose. While I certainly believed we should work to save the dead, I also deeply felt we should save the living.

Thus, over the years, I would suggest to others the need to expand the Church’s mission by considering an emphasis on helping those in poverty. In meetings during my years of serving as an informal advisor on Church community outreach and service to reduce human suffering, I often argued such logic. In hundreds of fireside presentations, in Utah, the U.S., and around the globe, I tried to make the case for such an additional emphasis. In my writing of conference and Education Week speeches, in my BYU classes, and in various other settings, I pled the cause of the poor. Yet in many cases, the response was to demur. Many people’s reaction was that of dismissing this idea as merely a secondary matter, and they countered that the essence of their religious effort ought to fit neatly within the official three-fold missions stated by the Brethren.

Gradually, over time, however, various and miraculous changes occurred. For me, the first one of recent decades was in the mid-1980s when the Church Humanitarian Fund was established. It was in part a response to the petitions of Mormons in America and Europe who called for Church headquarters to take action to address the massive East African crisis in which millions of children, their mothers and fathers were literally dying of starvation because of drought and civil wars. The Brethren were inspired to take action, and two general fasts were called for, resulting in the collection of more than $10 million for relief.

While much good was accomplished through the Humanitarian Fund, LDS efforts could not reach some regions of the world because the Church had no official recognition or legal status. We had to partner with Catholic Relief Services or other entities. A number of us who were engaged in Third World development work professionally, suggested the necessity for establishing an LDS NGO through which material goods and LDS experts in poverty-alleviation, agriculture, and other aid strategies might be able to provide such expertise to those countries.

Therefore, the second innovation occurred which was the creation of a Mormon NGO, Latter-day Saint Charities. This happened in 1996 under the direction of the First Presidency. Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley had been keenly aware of the world’s suffering masses as he became the most traveled prophet in the history of the world. Since then, LDS Charities has been registered as an NGO in a number of nations hit by civil unrest, floods, famines, earthquakes, and other disasters. These activities have enabled the Church to channel hundreds of millions of dollars in relief and development throughout the earth.

The next major step in the evolution of service to those in need, was to set up the Perpetual Education Fund. This program was announced by President Hinckley at General Conference March 31, 2001. I had begun discussing this idea in the late 1980s, and proposed the creation of a Perpetual Education Fund (PEF), based on the early pioneer model known as the Perpetual Emigration Fund. It had brought thousands of converts from around the world to settle in Utah and build Zion. With a few associates, I began experimenting with the obtaining of private donations from wealthy Latter-day Saints since about 1995, and we created education funds for returned missionaries in such countries as Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. In spite of seeing the need, and in spite of realizing we could successfully pull together the necessary funding for private ventures through our NGOs, some officials did not like the idea, or felt it was simply unnecessary.

Imagine my absolute joy when the Church finally announced the creation of the new PEF for returned missionaries in 2001! I dropped to my knees and gave a prayer of thanksgiving because I had known firsthand how such small loans transformed many RM lives. As that fund has since swelled to many hundreds of millions of dollars, I have seen the transformation of many lives among our young adults in the Third World.

However, I also felt deeply that we as Mormons could make a larger difference in society, not only with our own members or missionaries. Back in the 1970s, I was getting a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. During that time I sought to combat racism and poverty in inner cities such as Detroit and Flint, Muskegon and Grand Rapids. I had the opportunity to mobilize a number of LDS members in these projects. Later, I lived as a visiting professor for over a year in Brazil, where I learned so much about Latin American hunger and poverty. My feelings grew that more was needed, and that not only did the United Nations, the World Bank, and the U.S. government have contributions to make for the poor, but so did the Church.

During the 1980s, after the three-fold mission was proclaimed, I sensed something was still lacking. It was the need for a fourth. My feelings and prayers for this new emphasis have grown stronger over those several long decades. Then, as rumors began to circulate months ago that a new fourth mission of the Church would be announced, I began to rejoice because I already knew in my heart what it would be. My guess is that was true with a number of other individuals as well.

Pres. Monson is the precise leader for making such a change in Church focus. After all, he is best known for his personal sensitivity regarding those near death’s door, whether in a hospital, or at home. He is the one admonishing us by precept and example to “visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction,” to give of our time and energy to minister to the have-nots, in our own community, as well as around the world.

This new fourth-fold purpose of the Church will raise the prominence of doctrines admonishing us to be more aware of suffering, reaching out to others, and providing community service to the downtrodden.

We should remember, however, that this new emphasis has actually been among the core elements of Church teachings since the early days of the restoration.

Declared President Joseph F. Smith: “It was the doctrine of Joseph Smith, the original revelator of ‘Mormonism,’ that the spirit and body constitute the soul of man. It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints, that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come.”

Likewise, Brigham Young argued: “We will take a moral view, a political view, and see the inequality that exists in the human family…. It is an unequal condition to mankind….What is to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.”

This additional mission helps fulfill a scriptural mandate: “For I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the House of Israel” (Doctrine & Covenants 42:39).

Why it took so long, no one really knows. But I have a few ideas with which to open up dialogue with readers of this essay.

First, maybe we as members were not yet ready for it. Many Saints in the United States seem tired of funding the bulk of donations through fast offerings to the needy, especially those of other countries. Whether it’s a racial issue, or a political agenda, they seem to feel that the poor of our inner cities and the Third World brought their problems on themselves: They are unemployed because they are lazy. They are sick because they are drug or alcohol addicts. They are alone because they simply weren’t married in the temple. I disagree with such assertions, but I have heard such stereotypes often over the years.

A second explanation as to why this change took so long is that we as a people never really got over the consecration ideals of the Church in Nauvoo, as well as later in Deseret’s mountains. Fully accepting and practicing the laws of selflessness and love were hard back then, and probably much more so now when we are swimming in a flood of materialism and greed. Our society is bombarded by ads touting such values as consumption is good, simplicity is bad, and having a bigger home or fancier car is essential to our public image, both in the Church as well as in the world of Manhattan and Palo Alto, on the foothills of Salt Lake City or Bountiful.

Yet another reason this new emphasis is occurring now may be the context of human suffering that we see around us. There are more poor today in the world than ever before. Some 25 million children die each year, most because of poverty and preventable diseases. While many families became richer than ever, and America had a huge jump in numbers of millionaires over the past decade, millions have suffered from the growing gap between haves and have-nots. This new initiative has particular significance in these times of economic recession, the fact that tens of millions of Americans have no access to healthcare, the realities of countless families losing their homes because of unscrupulous lenders, as well as the greed and predatory practices of Wall Street.

Perhaps the prophets of today sense that neither Big Business nor Big Government is going to solve society’s inequities on their own. It’s going to take a new sector, a social innovation movement in which average folks like you and me, begin to assert our agency and act on our own to design new initiatives, not from the top down, but the bottom-up.

Probably, many rich Mormons will be offended by such a radical idea of a new fourth mission, that of the redistribution of wealth. Perhaps some within the Church’s leadership were themselves not convinced. Factors such as these can help explain why there has been no big public announcement about this sea-changing idea. Instead, it may be floated quietly as a sort of trial balloon to gage members’ reactions before it becomes a formal and much-heralded decree.

I know there were many debates over a variety of such policies over the years. These have included disagreements over having missionaries spend time each week doing volunteer community service, LDS donations going to Catholics, Muslims, and those of other faiths, and the channeling of Church resources to other nationalities, especially those of leftist or socialist political ideologies, and so forth. Yet the cries of the poor have not been unheard. The suffering of the widow has not been ignored. And now, under the inspiring leadership of President Thomas S. Monson, a new fourth mission, or “purpose,” as it will be called, is becoming official.

In my view, having this addition to the Church’s past three-fold mission will serve to have the Church perceived as a caring institution, not just a Sunday meeting image which many friends have of us. May we never forget the admonition of the Apostle James: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

So when you next get on your knees in prayer, give thanks that you belong to a Church that seeks to more heavily care for the poor and to increase the emphasis on practicing genuine charity today.

I rejoiced in recent days to learn the Church is ready to officially expand its original three-fold mission to a new fourth one. Beginning in October, two months before the first published article in the Salt Lake Tribune appeared, I had started emailing NGO associates around the globe, especially in Africa and Latin America, informing them that this would soon become a reality. What this will mean for Church members, as well as those of other faiths is open to conjecture. In this short essay, I attempt to review the history and context of this new development, and raise a few provocative issues at the end.

Since 1982 under the leadership of President Spencer W. Kimball, there have been key thrusts which focused as follows: 1) Proclaim the Gospel, 2) Perfect the Saints, 3) Redeem the Dead. These statements have guided much of Church policy-making and practices by providing a framework for emphasizing what we should do as a major global religious organization. They were articulated precisely at the time when many corporate consultants and CEOs were attempting to make their organizational purposes explicit so they could achieve maximum results in their work, higher output, larger profits, and greater excellence.

Yet for some of us in the Church, there was always a feeling that something was still lacking. Sure, we ought to preach our message to unbelievers and baptize as many who become converted. Clearly, LDS members needed to grow in truth and light until they became more holy as is humanly possible. And obviously, the sacred work of genealogical research and performing temple ordinances for our ancestors, indeed the whole world’s dead down through history, was critical. But for me, I often wondered and prayed for an additional driving purpose. While I certainly believed we should work to save the dead, I also deeply felt we should save the living.

Thus, over the years, I would suggest to others the need to expand the Church’s mission by considering an emphasis on helping those in poverty. In meetings during my years of serving as an informal advisor on Church community outreach and service to reduce human suffering, I often argued such logic. In hundreds of fireside presentations, in Utah, the U.S., and around the globe, I tried to make the case for such an additional emphasis. In my writing of conference and Education Week speeches, in my BYU classes, and in various other settings, I pled the cause of the poor. Yet in many cases, the response was to demur. Many people’s reaction was that of dismissing this idea as merely a secondary matter, and they countered that the essence of their religious effort ought to fit neatly within the official three-fold missions stated by the Brethren.

Gradually, over time, however, various and miraculous changes occurred. For me, the first one of recent decades was in the mid-1980s when the Church Humanitarian Fund was established. It was in part a response to the petitions of Mormons in America and Europe who called for Church headquarters to take action to address the massive East African crisis in which millions of children, their mothers and fathers were literally dying of starvation because of drought and civil wars. The Brethren were inspired to take action, and two general fasts were called for, resulting in the collection of more than $10 million for relief.

While much good was accomplished through the Humanitarian Fund, LDS efforts could not reach some regions of the world because the Church had no official recognition or legal status. We had to partner with Catholic Relief Services or other entities. A number of us who were engaged in Third World development work professionally, suggested the necessity for establishing an LDS NGO through which material goods and LDS experts in poverty-alleviation, agriculture, and other aid strategies might be able to provide such expertise to those countries.

Therefore, the second innovation occurred which was the creation of a Mormon NGO, Latter-day Saint Charities. This happened in 1996 under the direction of the First Presidency. Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley had been keenly aware of the world’s suffering masses as he became the most traveled prophet in the history of the world. Since then, LDS Charities has been registered as an NGO in a number of nations hit by civil unrest, floods, famines, earthquakes, and other disasters. These activities have enabled the Church to channel hundreds of millions of dollars in relief and development throughout the earth.

The next major step in the evolution of service to those in need, was to set up the Perpetual Education Fund. This program was announced by President Hinckley at General Conference March 31, 2001. I had begun discussing this idea in the late 1980s, and proposed the creation of a Perpetual Education Fund (PEF), based on the early pioneer model known as the Perpetual Emigration Fund. It had brought thousands of converts from around the world to settle in Utah and build Zion. With a few associates, I began experimenting with the obtaining of private donations from wealthy Latter-day Saints since about 1995, and we created education funds for returned missionaries in such countries as Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. In spite of seeing the need, and in spite of realizing we could successfully pull together the necessary funding for private ventures through our NGOs, some officials did not like the idea, or felt it was simply unnecessary.

Imagine my absolute joy when the Church finally announced the creation of the new PEF for returned missionaries in 2001! I dropped to my knees and gave a prayer of thanksgiving because I had known firsthand how such small loans transformed many RM lives. As that fund has since swelled to many hundreds of millions of dollars, I have seen the transformation of many lives among our young adults in the Third World.

However, I also felt deeply that we as Mormons could make a larger difference in society, not only with our own members or missionaries. Back in the 1970s, I was getting a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. During that time I sought to combat racism and poverty in inner cities such as Detroit and Flint, Muskegon and Grand Rapids. I had the opportunity to mobilize a number of LDS members in these projects. Later, I lived as a visiting professor for over a year in Brazil, where I learned so much about Latin American hunger and poverty. My feelings grew that more was needed, and that not only did the United Nations, the World Bank, and the U.S. government have contributions to make for the poor, but so did the Church.

During the 1980s, after the three-fold mission was proclaimed, I sensed something was still lacking. It was the need for a fourth. My feelings and prayers for this new emphasis have grown stronger over those several long decades. Then, as rumors began to circulate months ago that a new fourth mission of the Church would be announced, I began to rejoice because I already knew in my heart what it would be. My guess is that was true with a number of other individuals as well.

Pres. Monson is the precise leader for making such a change in Church focus. After all, he is best known for his personal sensitivity regarding those near death’s door, whether in a hospital, or at home. He is the one admonishing us by precept and example to “visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction,” to give of our time and energy to minister to the have-nots, in our own community, as well as around the world.

This new fourth-fold purpose of the Church will raise the prominence of doctrines admonishing us to be more aware of suffering, reaching out to others, and providing community service to the downtrodden.

We should remember, however, that this new emphasis has actually been among the core elements of Church teachings since the early days of the restoration.

Declared President Joseph F. Smith: “It was the doctrine of Joseph Smith, the original revelator of ‘Mormonism,’ that the spirit and body constitute the soul of man. It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints, that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come.”

Likewise, Brigham Young argued: “We will take a moral view, a political view, and see the inequality that exists in the human family…. It is an unequal condition to mankind….What is to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.”

This additional mission helps fulfill a scriptural mandate: “For I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the House of Israel” (Doctrine & Covenants 42:39).

Why it took so long, no one really knows. But I have a few ideas with which to open up dialogue with readers of this essay.

First, maybe we as members were not yet ready for it. Many Saints in the United States seem tired of funding the bulk of donations through fast offerings to the needy, especially those of other countries. Whether it’s a racial issue, or a political agenda, they seem to feel that the poor of our inner cities and the Third World brought their problems on themselves: They are unemployed because they are lazy. They are sick because they are drug or alcohol addicts. They are alone because they simply weren’t married in the temple. I disagree with such assertions, but I have heard such stereotypes often over the years.

A second explanation as to why this change took so long is that we as a people never really got over the consecration ideals of the Church in Nauvoo, as well as later in Deseret’s mountains. Fully accepting and practicing the laws of selflessness and love were hard back then, and probably much more so now when we are swimming in a flood of materialism and greed. Our society is bombarded by ads touting such values as consumption is good, simplicity is bad, and having a bigger home or fancier car is essential to our public image, both in the Church as well as in the world of Manhattan and Palo Alto, on the foothills of Salt Lake City or Bountiful.

Yet another reason this new emphasis is occurring now may be the context of human suffering that we see around us. There are more poor today in the world than ever before. Some 25 million children die each year, most because of poverty and preventable diseases. While many families became richer than ever, and America had a huge jump in numbers of millionaires over the past decade, millions have suffered from the growing gap between haves and have-nots. This new initiative has particular significance in these times of economic recession, the fact that tens of millions of Americans have no access to healthcare, the realities of countless families losing their homes because of unscrupulous lenders, as well as the greed and predatory practices of Wall Street.

Perhaps the prophets of today sense that neither Big Business nor Big Government is going to solve society’s inequities on their own. It’s going to take a new sector, a social innovation movement in which average folks like you and me, begin to assert our agency and act on our own to design new initiatives, not from the top down, but the bottom-up.

Probably, many rich Mormons will be offended by such a radical idea of a new fourth mission, that of the redistribution of wealth. Perhaps some within the Church’s leadership were themselves not convinced. Factors such as these can help explain why there has been no big public announcement about this sea-changing idea. Instead, it may be floated quietly as a sort of trial balloon to gage members’ reactions before it becomes a formal and much-heralded decree.

I know there were many debates over a variety of such policies over the years. These have included disagreements over having missionaries spend time each week doing volunteer community service, LDS donations going to Catholics, Muslims, and those of other faiths, and the channeling of Church resources to other nationalities, especially those of leftist or socialist political ideologies, and so forth. Yet the cries of the poor have not been unheard. The suffering of the widow has not been ignored. And now, under the inspiring leadership of President Thomas S. Monson, a new fourth mission, or “purpose,” as it will be called, is becoming official.

In my view, having this addition to the Church’s past three-fold mission will serve to have the Church perceived as a caring institution, not just a Sunday meeting image which many friends have of us. May we never forget the admonition of the Apostle James: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

So when you next get on your knees in prayer, give thanks that you belong to a Church that seeks to more heavily care for the poor and to increase the emphasis on practicing genuine charity today.

38 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Fourth LDS Church Mission: To Practice ‘Pure Religion’

  1. Warner is one of my heroes. He is a master of bridging theory and practice. I have used his works in many of my classes and gave Working Towards Zion to my father this Christmas to explain a bit of my thinking (my father-in-law is mentioned in the book).

    This commentary on the new mission is great. Plus, a lefty guest posting at M* gives me warm fuzzies.

  2. This was an interesting post, though I disagree with some of the premises. It seems to say that the author was ahead of the curve with regards to the inspiration behind this new emphasis. It was only twenty years ago that tithing funds were pronounced sufficient to pay for most of the Church budget. Previous to that, ward members were asked to donate significant amounts of money to ward budgets, on top of their tithing and fast offerings. Not to mention members contributions to building their own chapels and shouldering the building of Temples. The idea that perhaps the members of the Church have been stingy and only take care of their own is an unfair generalization that ignores the realities of where the church was financially in the past.

    D&C 78:14 states that the Church must become “independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world”. I think the timing of this change is more an issue of logistics than spiritual maturity, though spirituality may be part of it. But Latter-day Saint prosperity does not equate with Latter-day Saint selfishness by default. With the economic boom of the past 25 years, the Church hastened Temple building and sent out more missionaries. Perhaps as a result of natural progression and the priorities of the Lord, we are now strategically positioned to take on a greater role helping the poor and needy of all the earth. In essence, there was no delay in operations nor “missed opportunities” by the Brethren. The Lord knows what He’s doing with His Church.

  3. @ James- I don’t believe Brother Woodworth claims himself to be spiritually ahead of the curve. He has simply encouraged everyone to better follow the scriptural counsel that has been in the Latter-day Saints’ possession since the early days of the Restoration (a short list would include Jacob 2:11-21; Mosiah 4:16-26; Mosiah 18:27-28; Alma 5:55; Alma 35:28-29; 4 Nephi 1:3,24-26; D&C 38:24-27,39; D&C 49:20; D&C 52:40; D&C 56:16-17;D&C 70:14; D&C 78:6-7; D&C 88:123; D&C 104:15-18; D&C 105:3-6; Moses 7:18; all the Biblical passages related to this subject and that have been in mankind’s possession even longer).

    I don’t fully know the history of the Church’s economic situation. I do know that from Joseph Smith to the present day modern day Prophets and Apostles have lamented the covetousness of the members of the Church. President Marion G. Romney once posed the question: “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses [in the early days of the Church]?” He then answered, “Nothing but our own limitations” (Conference Report, April 1966, 100).

    I don’t deny that some members give very generously and that most give at least some. But can we do better? I include myself in that question. How can we better live up to the Lord’s standards regarding temporal wealth and equality? Brother Woodworth is attempting to answer these questions and to combat those persons (I’ve met them, too) who wish to sweep these teachings and principles under the rug.

  4. James,

    I’m going to cheerfully disagree with your premise. It is true that 20 years ago the church began using tithing money differently than it had previously done, and that members had been asked to donate to various budgets and building funds. But at the same time, the church instituted the budget allowance program. In the ward I was living in at the time, our ward budget went from $45,000 per annum to about $6,000 per annum. The church really put the clamps on the kind of profligate spending wards were used to at the time. President Kimball said that he was shocked to find out how much wards were spending and what they were spending it on.

  5. Pingback: Mormon Care for the Poor Will be Accelerated « Messenger and Advocate

  6. Pingback: Mormon Care for the Poor Will be Accelerated « Messenger and Advocate

  7. Many Saints in the United States seem tired of funding the bulk of donations through fast offerings to the needy, especially those of other countries.

    I feel this is a very generalized statment that throws many of us who give our fast offereings and could care less who they go to, under the bus.

    Over all I found this post to be very preachy and a bit on the holier than thou side of things. You speculate a lot, but you’re not the one who is in charge, so can you really say exactly why this was put into place? Can’t we just be glad the Church added the fourth mission, get on with it and not dissect it too much?

  8. JBA: Having been a missionary to a 3rd world country prior to the church’s mid-80’s entry into humanitarian service, I can see exactly where WW is coming from here.

    One of his themes is that many (not necessarily most) members seem to think that if there is not an “official program” or directive/encouragement for something, then it’s not worth doing, or that members even _shouldn’t_ do it. I’m with WW 100% in having a distate for that attitude. If I think something is “a good idea” and if I have the time and resources for it, I try to do it.

    Another theme here is that when the church has been involved in doing something during someone’s entire life (or entire adult life) such a person tends to think and speak as if the church has always been doing that.

    That needs to be corrected. We need to be aware of church history, and especially how the church and its programs _develop_. Just as the “fuller” gospel and many of its principles wwere unfolded over a period of _years_ during the 1830’s, so have further principles and programs unfolded and developed since then. The Lord gives out things line upon line.

    The church is based on continuing revelation, but it’s also based on what most of the membership can handle. There might be something the Lord wants done, but if the majority of the members can’t handle it, He might put it on the back burner (like the United Order, or the Jackson County temple).

    I hope that by being aware of this pattern of growth and development of the church, members might be more open to receiving new ideas, coming up with ideas on their own, doing things on their own, and not wait to be commanded before doing something.

  9. I tend to agree with Joyce and think that playing the class card is dangerous when trying to teach and discuss doctrine.

    Probably, many rich Mormons will be offended by such a radical idea of a new fourth mission, that of the redistribution of wealth. Perhaps some within the Church’s leadership were themselves not convinced. Factors such as these can help explain why there has been no big public announcement about this sea-changing idea. Instead, it may be floated quietly as a sort of trial balloon to gage members’ reactions before it becomes a formal and much-heralded decree.

    Really? You think so? I’m not certain that I share your pessimism, Warner. Again, advancing such ideas does little to promote the doctrine of consecration and is probably offensive to those wealthy saints who already give generously of their means. Have a little more charity when dealing with other brothers and sisters in the Church.

    I welcome this new mission of the Church and am glad for its announcement.

    Aside from a few disagreements with your post, I enjoyed reading it and appreciate your willingness to share it with M* readers.

  10. I’m sure that Warner will respond sooner or later, but you are always welcome to respond as well.

    Happy New Year everyone!

    Back to football and food!!!

  11. I might add, I enjoyed the post though disagreeing with some of it. I did agree with this statement:

    “Perhaps the prophets of today sense that neither Big Business nor Big Government is going to solve society’s inequities on their own. It’s going to take a new sector, a social innovation movement in which average folks like you and me, begin to assert our agency and act on our own to design new initiatives, not from the top down, but the bottom-up”

  12. How does this fourth purpose square with the Church’s multi-billion project in downtown SLC, part of which includes million-dollar-plus condos, which, I understand, are not designed to house the poor and needy. Perhaps the Church should be putting its money where its mouth is. What was wrong with the old mall, anyway?

  13. Great and important news indeed. (And when, incidentally, will it be official — as in, I assume, announcement from pulpits of one kind or another?) Bro. Woodworth’s efforts over decades are indeed admirable, and I’m sure he doesn’t mean to suggest that the prophets were wrong not to follow his lead earlier. Of course the imperative to serve the material needs of our neighbors has always been central to the larger imperative to “perfect the saints” — at least since the two great first commandments were revealed to be two sides of the same coin. But surely the renewed emphasis on the commandment to demonstrate love of our neighbors by addressing their material needs is a very significant and timely development.

    My only worry regarding Bro Woodworth’s expression of support is a slight tendency to suggest or be vulnerable to a separation between the two great commandments (as if “saving the living” were something distinct from “perfecting the saints”). This is a separation which is all too common in our “secular” world — in fact which might be said to define it.
    I heartily agree with the call for “bottom-up” efforts, but our contributions to any “new sector” or “a social innovation movement” must be guided by an understanding of the deep linkage between service and sanctification, between material and moral-spiritual ministering. I trust it will not seem inapposite to paraphrase a recent prophet: an outside-in (social or political efforts to address material needs) strategy must never be divorced from our inside-out (moral-spiritual) efforts, although priorities and means will of course vary with circumstances and urgencies.

    That said, let me conclude with my whole-hearted embrace of the fundamental Christian duty of caring for the poor, and even beyond this of the centrality of equality to holiness. Let us pray that those committed to greater material equality might come to understand its dependence on sanctification, and that those who hunger and thirst after spiritual righteousness might not neglect its essential connection with equality and a willingness to sacrifice material things (especially the superfluities which now threaten to overwhelm many of us “saints”) in order to assist others . And let us follow Brother Woodworth’s splendid example by acting on our prayers.

  14. Thank you for the wonderful post. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds. This could be a wonderful opportunity for us to labor side by side with, and learn from, our Christian brothers and sisters. It will also likely be a tremendous test for members of the church, since their politics usually preclude the redistribution of wealth. Perhaps this is fulfillment of Brigham Young’s prophecy: “my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches.”

  15. Here’s what this post made me think of:

    [First, a slight disclaimer - I slightly disagree with all this hype about the "fourfold" mission. From what the actual church news department has said, it seems like that the church is not adding a fourth mission, but folding the three fold mission into a longer list of purposes. The official statement says "In the upcoming handbook, caring for the poor and the needy will be stated as one of the church's purposes, along with its well-recognized, three-fold mission statement." which says to me there is no fourfold mission, but a reorganizing of how things are emphasized. The threefold stays three fold, but the caring for the poor and needy part gets more emphasis as another principle. The practical effect is the same, but I wish people would stop using the phrase "four fold" when the church itself isn't using it. However, that's more a matter of rhetoric, and since the principle is a good and true one, I've spent too much time on this already - now, on to my actual point:]

    About a month and a half ago, a high council speaker gave a talk about how fast offerings were down in the stake, when they were needed most. In priesthood, the Bishop affirmed this, and said the same was true in the ward. They both challenged us to step up and donate more.

    Them Elder’s quorm started, and guess what topic dominated the conversation? A very rich family in the ward had flown to New York to purchase a very expensive, limited edition spots car and then drove across the country, taking several weeks in order to stop and see the sights. The quorum members openly praised this elder and his recently returned RM son for the purchase. From the ensuing conversation, it became clear the car cost in the hundreds of thousands and had very high gas mileage and no practical value other than the prestige of owning it. The vacation itself was clearly very expensive as well.

    I almost stated “does anyone see the disconnect between this conversation and what the bishop and high council member just challenged us on?” But I couldn’t think of a way to do it that wouldn’t have created conflict, so I just let it go.

  16. Thanks for the comments. Please allow me to respond to several people’s reactions.
    First, although some call me a leftist, that’s really not where I am (although there should certainly be more respect due to lefties than right-wingers, if one studies the politics and economics of the gospel). Instead, if you want to stereotype me, classify me at the bottom, with the poor whose cause I’ve advocated throughout my life. So the axis is not horizontal (right or left), but vertical. For me, the more accurate perspective to describe my philosophy is being one of those who fight with society’s disenfranchised masses, against those at the top, who trade in money, power, rank, and material things. I believe the Church will increasingly design and implement new tools for putting the last first, and the first last.
    If this means I’m “playing the class card,” OK. So was Christ, Biblical prophets, Joseph, Brigham, and many of the Brethren of the last days. In doing so, perhaps I should have prefaced everything by acknowledging the support our global humanitarian work among many of the world’s poorest. Last year, our NGOs benefitted from the generous contributions by wealthy Latter-day Saints (and others) which enabled us to raise $46 million in 2008 alone. With those monies, we were able to accelerate our impacts in 34 countries by growing our microfinance client base to more than 6.1 million people. I would suggest that millions of more dollars could have been put to good uses if the wealthy had channelled more or their reiches to the poor rather than bigger houses, fancier cars, and the hundreds of other trinkets that were pruchased in the past 12 months. Although we don’t have the final numbers for 2009 yet, my guess is it will be more money than ever before.
    Let me also point out that it’s quite well known that the poor tend to give more generously to charity than do the rich. This is not the time to explore why this is so, but considerable research pretty convincingly shows this to be a fact.
    I hope I didn’t shake anyone’s faith in the Church, nor sound preachy. However, readers’ phrases like getting “ahead of the curve” and/or “you’re not the one in charge” suggest a misreading of my paragraphs. Our membership is not a matter of competition or winning a race. I specifically said “no one really knows” the reasons as to why this fourth mission was delayed until now. I then offer a couple possibilities. But they were only conjecture, as I indicated.
    Primarily I was trying to elucidate how Church policies and practices toward the poor have evolved over recent decades. Maybe LDS members just couldn’t handle the full principles, so they have been introduced gradually, as fast as the rich (and also the poor, by the way) could handle them.
    This was certainly true of the full Law of Consecration and Stewardship, in parallel with the United Order, as readers may be aware. It was not accepted by the people, and generally most opposed by wealthy early Mormons. The orders, as with most things, were attempted according to various models: Communal cases in rural areas such as Orderville, multiple yet independent urban cooperative organizations like firms in Salt Lake (think ZCMI), or one big unified cooperative into which all the groups in St. George were incorporated under one umbrella. Each system had strengths and weaknesses, but social class conflicts were major causes of their decline.
    Today, it seems to me that as soon as more members can handle it, further efforts will be made to redistribute wealth within the kingdom because it’s clear that when some possess a great deal and others little, “the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:20). I believe tithes, fast offerings, missionary financing that is equalized, humanitarian donations, LDS Charities, PEF, and now this new fourth mission are all means to greater equalization.
    What’s coming next? One more program I hope occurs in the next several years will be the creation of an LDS Family Self-Reliance Fund to give microcredit to the poorest folks in the Church so they may launch microenterprises that give employment and other income-generation opportunities to Third World Saints. This wouldn’t be for young RMs to further their education, but for older but impoverished fathers and mothers. With entrepreneurial training and new financial capital, struggling parents will come to be able to pay for the education, healthcare, and subsequent missions of their own kids. Sustainability will eventually be possible as these families work themselves above their nations’ specific poverty lines. The process won’t be welfare or charity. Instead of a handout, it will be a hand-up, as one of my NGOs calls this process.
    Finally, let me briefly address the expression that we should not get out ahead of the Brethren. When you look at Church history, most changes evolved from individual members who took initiative form their own prayers and inspiration. Later, Church leaders grew to understand, then embrace, and then make them official. Throughout my entire life, I’ve been told in blessings, in face to face meetings with various leaders in mission fields, stakes, and at Church headquarters, to labor and pray for inspiration that we may invent new strategies and solutions for improving the institutional Church, as well as the larger society.
    Such has never been my prerogative alone. Each of us is called to gain inspiration, seek the Spirit, counter the ways of the world, and build the kingdom. As D&C 58:25-29 affirms, we’re not to be commanded in everything, but to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” act from our “own free will,” because we are “agents” unto ourselves, and all of us are required to do “good” things.
    Hence, when you review our history as the gospel has evolved throughout this dispensation, you see a great array of bottom-up innovations by rank and file Mormons: Emma’s criticism of members tobacco habits which gave rise to the Word of Wisdom; the Church hymns inspired by hundreds of gifted members from early times until now; Richard Ballantyne’s launch of what finally became the Sunday School; the early Nauvoo women who can only be described as feminists with their contemporaries like the great suffragett, Susan B. Anthony, who began meeting to form an association well before the Prophet Joseph met with them to make the Relief Society an official organization; Aurelia Rogers who had the vision to experiment and ultimately found the children’s Primary organization; Harold B. Lee as a stake president on the west side of Salt Lake who experimented with various welfare systems before the official Church programs were established; the push by Brazilian converts in the 1960s-70s to give Blacks the priesthood; the many inspired Africans who invented various models of the LDS structure before Salt Lake leaders finally responded and began to establish the Church on that continent; and so forth.
    Maybe each of these and countless other individuals were all just sinners, but I don’t think so. Over the years, I have heard different Brethren say they don’t have all the answers, and many have continually sought ideas and experiences from the rank and file. Apparently it’s not just an occasional rebel proposing something, but a mandate from the Lord that we each contribute our best thinking and our personal insights to the sacred work of restoration.
    Finally, I never say the Church has all been completely restored. Rather, the restoration is continually unfolding, piece by piece, step by step, as we can handle it. While prophets and apostles have the keys for the whole Church, thank goodness they are open, not only to the Spirit which may guide them directly, but also the spiritual promptings and initiatives that come through the Saints individually.

  17. Bookslinger #7

    I too served my full time mission in the third/developing world and am acutely aware of the suffering that exists in this world. I should write a post about the suffering that goes on in Bulgarian orphanages and nursing homes…it would make you sick to your stomach. I think most people are more than happy to give their offerings w/o reservation to where they go. My point was that the author of the post was making general statments that kind of rip members in the first world for being well off. Not all with money hesitate to give what they have, or resent it when the Church asks us to give more “than our fair share”. It is not a crime to have money, to earn money or to be wealthy. It is not a crime to have nice things and enjoy what you have either.

    Currenly in our stake, there are two wards that fund most all of the welfare needs in our stake. I am a member of one of those wards. When our bishop asked us last year in tithing setlement if we would be willing to give more in offerings, we did not hesitate to do it — even though on the face it might appear that we are doing more than our “fair share”.

    I just don’t like the fact that the author seems to posit that all in the first world want only to hang on to their money, when in reality I think most members of the Church, at least the people I know and go to church with are happy to give.

  18. It seems to be very difficult for those whose claims to status and recognition depend upon managing ideas, or at least words, to see what they have in common with those imperfect mortals whose claims to worldly status depend upon managing materially productive enterprises, or at least money. Humility is a tricky virtue to recommend to others, just as selfless service to needy brothers and sisters eludes expression as a going political concern or as a “social” or intellectual “movement.” Jesus was certainly not a bourgeois, but then neither was Barabbas a Christian. Nor Judas, quite.

  19. I agree with Ralph that we should be careful not to seperate the two great commandments. I think the focus on serving and caring for other should be seen as a sign of our love of God. The two really go hand-in-hand. It ia pride that forces us to see them in opposition. However, I think this is part of what Warner is getting at. We have developed our commitment to the temple and missionary work in a way that testifies to the many miracles of the restoration. Our commitment to the temporal care of the needy has been well-organized but limited (I am not saying that we have not done some great things). I am hoping that the change means that we will more fully articulate and discuess the role that caring for neighbors (with everyone being our neighbor) plays in gospel practice. It is not just swell when others do nice things. We have deep obligations to those is need.

  20. As to when this change will become “official,” I have not heard anything. Of course, I like to think that me blogging about it is official enough.

    Did one of my comments get deleted? I am glad. It would not be the same commenting here if that didn’t happen.

  21. It is truly strange how I can agree more or less with the substantive points in this post while at the same time having an exceedingly negative reaction to the tone in which it is written.

  22. Ardis,

    I think that hard-hitting argument has value. I think it is great that this make people uncomfortable. The problem is that in the end, it is the “tone” that makes people uncomfortable and not the plight of the poor. But, to be honest, having tried in the past to address these issues in a “civil” manner, it makes little difference. Most people are just interested in justifying there own life-style, and the life-style of there fellow community/ward members, and have little interest in the human condition. As a result, we need Warner to come and give people a shake on occasion.

  23. And thinking you are on the right side of history can make it hard to be humble ;-)

  24. Chris, I think it might be an interesting thought experiment to exchange the subject of this post from “caring for the poor” to “promoting abstinence” or “promoting heterosexual marriage” and see how you and other lefties respond. These are also worthy goals, constantly promoted by the Church, yet a post extolling one’s lifelong efforts to promoting the Church’s position on marriage, and pointing out how others need to follow suit, would almost certainly be met with widespread derision by most of the Bloggernacle. People don’t like “holier than thou” posts on any subject.

    Having said that, I am in the process of defining my 2010 goals (we have a family exercise to do that), and this post has helped me focus on areas where I can do a better job of helping the poor, so if one of its purposes is to tweak our consciences, it worked with this unapologetic and avowed capitalist.

    Let’s aim for a productive, peaceful and contention-free 2010.

  25. Geoff,

    “…see how you and other lefties respond.”

    Sigh. Since all of us lefites are the same, that makes sense. I do not see you and I getting past our mutual dislike anytime soon.

    “Let’s aim for a productive, peaceful and contention-free 2010.”

    Sure. This will likely require me to stay clear of M*.

    Ralph,

    I would be interested in picking up on your comments elsewhere. There is much to be done.

  26. Chris, the dislike is all on your side. You seem like a nice enough guy to me. Hanging around M* does seem to upset you, so you may want to spend less time here in 2010, just for your own happiness.

  27. Chris, I don’t object to “hard-hitting” where it is warranted, and in an important, too-often-neglected area like actually following through on a commitment to create Zion, “hard-hitting” would be appropriate. The tone I object to is the “give me the glory, because I’m a pretty glorious fellow” part. (I wanted to avoid saying that out of respect for YOUR respect for the author, but I don’t want my contribution to this thread to appear to be that of one who agrees with doctrine in theory but can’t be bothered to put it into practice.)

  28. Having served a mission and later lived in Latin American countries for many years, I am well aware of the poverty and suffering of poor people, including Church members, in most countries. However, I was pleased to see that the Church was and still is doing all it can to ameliorate the situation, including building and running schools (in Mexico), and teaching poor people how to improve their lives. In some countries and in contrast, I also saw the utter futility and almost total waste of billions of tax dollars due of our government’s asinine USAID efforts to “help the poor.” Another grave error committed by some church organizations, such as the Maryknoll brothers, was to assume that a Communistic revolution of the poor was the answer. Class envy was their message and it worked well enough in some countries to end the lives of thousands as a result.

    Let’s continue to help the poor in all nations, including the US, but avoid the errors of other profit-seeking NGO do-gooders. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is still valid as well as “Faith without deeds is dead” (my favorite quote from Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the NT’s letter of James).

  29. I had forgotten about this post, but it is well worth re-reading. It is fascinating how often the author uses the words “I” and “my” and “me.” Ardis’ comment on tone is spot-on. The self-righteous, holier-than-thou nature of this post is truly off-putting but quite telling regarding the attitudes of the people who tend to write these kinds of things. *They* are the only good people — all people who do not act as they do are bad, don’t care about the poor, corporate shills, etc, etc.

    Warner is so blinded by his own ideology that he cannot accept the simple but undeniable truth that a)often people who claim to be for the poor are not and b)results matter. All dictators in history use language about wanting to help the poor as they steal money for themselves. Warner also ignores the fact that it is free-market activity that works much better at making poor people less poor. Warner is the kind of person who looks at Mao’s China and sees prosperity when the true result was tens of millions of deaths from starvation and government force — and widespread poverty except for Mao and his cronies. He is incapable of seeing that it was the embrace of the market that brought literally hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty.

    Warner’s heart may be in the right place (but re-reading this I highly doubt it — this post is really about Warner trumpeting himself and his “caring” attitude), but if the policies he proposes bring about poverty and misery, is he justified?

  30. One slight caveat: in comment #18 Warner does acknowledge that micro-credits that spur entrepreneurial activity are a good thing. So, he does seem to have a bit of knowledge on how the market works and how entrepreneurs are not all evil people, etc. If only he would take this knowledge and apply it to the macro scale (ie, policies that promote entrepreneurism on a national scale are also good because they make fewer people poor and provide equality of opportunity) he might get closer to understanding why his screeds against “Big Business” and “Wall Street” are so off the mark. To be clear: crony capitalism where the government promotes one business over another is clearly a horrible thing, but this does not mean business itself is a horrible thing, as Warner sometimes seems to understand.

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