Some readers may have had the frustrating experience of speaking about politics to our brothers and sisters who mistakenly believe in left-wing politics and/or economics. You may say something like, “well, you know that Church leaders have spoken out against socialism,” and they will say something like, “well, not democratic socialism.”
Let us be clear, dear readers: most Socialists of the 19th century and the early 20th century would be absolutely ecstatic to see what left-wingers have achieved, even in the supposedly capitalist United States. The United States today is a country where the government absolutely dominates the economy. Social welfare spending (meaning spending on government health care, Social Security and entitlements) makes up nearly 60 percent of the federal budget. Remember that there was no such thing as federal social welfare spending as recently as the early 1930s. Meanwhile, total government spending has skyrocketed from 8 percent of GDP in 1900 to almost 40 percent today.
By any reasonable standard, we are have a socialist system in the United States with pockets of laissez faire in a few isolated industries. Yet, we constantly hear from politicians that more socialism is necessary.
Oh sorry, not socialism. Democratic socialism.
So, let’s be more precise. What we have today is, again by any reasonable standard, statism. This is a system where the government dominates political and economic life.
And this is the opposite of what modern-day prophets have repeatedly preached going back to Joseph Smith. LDS prophets have consistently and unwaveringly been in favor of personal, voluntary charity. They have been against government-based welfare systems. And the reason is that government-based welfare systems are about force.
Again and again, prophets exhort us to voluntarily give to others, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help the helpless. They do not tell us that the government should do this for us, and in fact again and again they say that government-based charity is not God’s way.
(Note: if you still believe the United Order was a socialist system, please read this. It was not.)
Let’s hear from the left-wing favorite, President Uchtdorf, who spoke on this subject at General Conference in October 2011. President Uchtdorf clearly points out that caring for the poor is not about government sending people a check. Caring for the poor is about personal charity that involves action by both the giver and the receiver:
There are many good people and organizations in the world that are trying to meet the pressing needs of the poor and needy everywhere. We are grateful for this, but the Lord’s way of caring for the needy is different from the world’s way. The Lord has said, “It must needs be done in mine own way.”9 He is not only interested in our immediate needs; He is also concerned about our eternal progression. For this reason, the Lord’s way has always included self-reliance and service to our neighbor in addition to caring for the poor.
Let’s hear from some other prophets on the issue of statism:
Wednesday, 13. I attended a lecture at the Grove, by Mr. John Finch, a Socialist, from England, and said a few words in reply…
Thursday, 14. I attended a second lecture on Socialism, by Mr. Finch; and after he got through, I made a few remarks, alluding to Sidney Rigdon and Alexander Campbell getting up a community at Kirtland, and of the big fish there eating up all the little fish. I said I did not believe the doctrine. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 33)
We heard Brother Taylor’s exposition of what is called Socialism this morning. What can they do?Live on each other and beg. It is a poor, unwise and very imbecile people who cannot take care of themselves. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, p. 21)
…the world have generally made great mistakes upon these points. They have started various projects to try to unite and cement the people together without God; but they could not do it. Fourierism (authors note: Francois Fourier was a French socialist and writer), Communism — another branch of the same thing and many other principles of the same kind have been introduced to try and cement the human family together. And then we have had peace societies, based upon the same principles; but all these things have failed, and they will fail, because, however philanthropic, humanitarian, benevolent, or cosmopolitan our ideas, it isimpossible to produce a true and correct union without the Spirit of the living God, … (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, p. 137)
I was speaking, a while ago, about the people there being divided into three classes. One of them you may call infidel, under the head of socialism, fourierism, and several other isms. Communism is a specimen of the same thing, … (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 23, August 22, 1852)
You may wish to know why I make these remarks. I will tell you. Because God himself grants this right to every human being upon the earth irrespective of race or color; it is part of the divine economy not to force any man to heaven, not to coerce the mind but to leave it free to act for itself.He lays before His creature man the everlasting Gospel, the principles of life and salvation, and then leaves him to choose for himself or to reject for himself, with the definite understanding that he becomes responsible to Him for the results of his acts. (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 23, p. 77)
In things that pertain to celestial glory there can be no forced operations. We must do according as the Spirit of the Lord operates upon our understandings and feelings. We cannot be crowded into matters, however great might be the blessing attending such procedure. We cannot be forced into living a celestial law; we must do this ourselves, of our own free will. And whatever we do in regard to the principle of the United Order, we must do it because we desire to do it …The United Order is not French Communism. (Lorenzo Snow, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 19, p. 346, 349-350)
Joseph F Smith
…We must choose righteous men, good men to fill these positions. Hence if you will only get good men to fill these offices no one should care who they are, so that you have agreed upon them, and were one. We want you to be one both in temporal, political and religious things, in fact, in everything you put your hands to in righteousness. We want you to be one, one as God and Christ are one, seeing eye to eye. Do not try to crush anybody, or build yourselves up at the expense of your neighbor. Do not do it; it is a custom of the world, and it is a wrong principle. (Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 25, p. 251)
Heber J. Grant
…Among the Latter-day Saints they speak of their philosophy and their plans under it, as an ushering in of the United Order. Communism and all other similar “isms” bear no relationship whatever to the United Order. They are merely the clumsy counterfeits which Satan always devises of the gospel plan. Communism debases the individual and makes him the enslaved tool of the state to whom he must look for sustenance and religion; the United Order exalts the individual, leaves him his property, “according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs,” (D&C 51:3) and provides a system by which he helps care for his less fortunate brethren; the United Order leaves every man free to choose his own religion as his conscience directs. Communism destroys man’s God-given free agency; the United Order glorifies it. Latter-day Saints cannot be true to their faith and lend aid, encouragement, or sympathy to any of these false philosophies. They will prove snares to their feet. (Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., David O. McKay, The First Presidency, CR, April, 1942, p. 90)
George Albert Smith
Consider the condition in the world, the number who are determined to take from the rich man not what belongs to themselves, but that which belongs to the others. God has permitted men to get wealth, and if they obtained it properly, it is theirs, and he will bless them in its use if they will use it properly …
We must not fall into the bad habits of other people. We must not get into the frame of mind that we will take what the other man has. Refer back to the ten commandments, and you will find one short paragraph, “Thou shaft not covet.” That is what is the matter with a good many people today.
They are coveting what somebody else has, when as a matter of fact, many of them have been cared for and provided with means to live by those very ones from whom they would take property. (President George Albert Smith, Prophets, Principles and National Survival, p. 343 [compiled by Jay Newquist], CR-10/49:171-2)
David O. Mckay
We are placed on this earth to work, to live; and the earth will give us a living. It is our duty to strive to make a success of what we possess — to till the earth, subdue matter, conquer the globe, take care of the cattle, the ‘locks and the herds. It is the Government’s duty to see that you are protected in these efforts, and no other man has the right to deprive you of any of your privileges. But it is not the Government’s duty to support you. That is one reason why I shall raise my voice as long as God gives me sound or ability, against this Communistic idea that the Government will take care of us all, and everything belongs to the Government. It is wrong! No wonder, in trying to perpetuate that idea, they become anti-Christ, because that doctrine strikes directly against the doctrine of the Savior…
No government owes you a living. You get it yourself by your own acts! — never by trespassing upon the rights of a neighbor; never by cheating him. You put a blemish upon your character the moment you do. (David O. McKay, Statements on Communism and the Constitution of the United States, p. 23)
Harold B. Lee
Now, keep in mind with all the crowding in of the socialistic reform programs that are threatening the very foundation of the Church, we must never forget what the Lord said, “that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” (D&C 78:14). Whenever we allow ourselves to become entangled and have to be subsidized from government sources — and we think that it’s the expedient way to do business in this day — or when we yield to such pressures, I warn you that government subsidies are not the Lord’s way; and if we begin to accept, we are on our way to becoming subsidized politically as well as financially. (Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, , p. 314-15)
Ezra Taft Benson
The fifth and final principle that is basic to our understanding of the Constitution is that governments should have only limited powers. The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess.
By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by the people. The creature cannot exceed the creator. (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Sept. 1987, p. 8)
No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction. (Ezra Taft Benson, Title of Liberty, p. 190)
Our nation will continue to degenerate unless we read and heed the words of the God of this land, Jesus Christ, and quit building up and upholding secret combinations, … (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, July, 1988, p. 80)
We must keep the people informed that collectivism, another word for socialism, is a part of the communist strategy. Communism is essentially socialism. (Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, p. 90)
“I fear for the future when I realize that for some thirty years our once-free institutions, political, economic, educational and social, have been drifting into the hands of those who favor the Welfare State, and who would “centralize all power in the hands of the political apparatus in Washington. This enhancement of political power at the expense of individual rights, so often disguised as ‘democracy’ or ‘freedom’ or ‘civil rights,’ is ’socialism,’ no matter what name tag it bears…
“I fear for the future when I see an affluent but complacent citizenry paying little or no attention to these and many other socialistic trends in America.
“Dr. V. Orval Watts, noted political economist, has described this socialist system which I fear-and I have but suggested a very few evidences. Here are his words: ‘Socialism… is the theory and practice of coercive collectivism. It is the evil fruit of greed for other men’s possessions and greed for control over other men’s labor.’” (Elder Ezra Taft Benson December 10 1963. A Race Against Time.)
Howard W. Hunter
… we know from both ancient and modern revelation that Satan wished to deny us our independence and agency in that now forgotten moment long ago, even as he wishes to deny them this very hour. Indeed, Satan violently opposed the freedom of choice offered by the other, so violently that John in the Revelation described “war in heaven” over the matter. (Rev. 12:7) Satan would have coerced us, and he would have robbed us of that most precious of gifts if he could: our freedom to choose a divine future and the exaltation we all hope to obtain …
To fully understand this gift of agency and its inestimable worth, it is imperative that we understand that God’s chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and long-suffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation… (Howard W. Hunter, That We Might Have Joy, pp. 77-78)
“From my own experience in business and as a lawyer and church worker, and from my firsthand observations in this country and other countries of the world, there appears to me to be a trend to shift responsibility for life and its processes from the individual to the state. In this shift there is a basic violation of the law of the harvest, or the law of justice. The attitude of “something for nothing” is encouraged. The government is often looked to as the source of wealth. There is a feeling that the government should step in and take care of one’s needs, one’s emergencies, and one’s future. Just as my friend actually became a slave to his own ignorance and bad habits by refusing to accept the responsibility for his own education and moral growth, so, also, can an entire people be imperceptibly transferred from individuals, families, and communities to the federal government…
“What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms…
“If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through “a democratic process” he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have last their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who “have not,” lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got “something for nothing,” and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.
“Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms which they have lost.”
(Speeches of the Year 1965-1966, pp. 1-11, “The Law of the Harvest.” Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, 8 March 1966.)
Gordon B. Hinckley
I am confident that it was out of what he saw, the bitter fruit of dictatorship that he developed his strong feelings, almost hatred for communism and socialism. That distaste grew through the years as he witnessed the heavy handed oppression and suffering of the peoples of eastern europe under what he repeatedly described as godless communism. These experiences further strengthened his love for the land of his birth …
He never got over his boyhood love for freedom. Rather, it grew within him. Nurtured by what he saw of oppression in other lands, and by what he observed first hand of a growing dominance of government in this land over the lives of the people. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Talk given at the funeral of Ezra Taft Benson, June 4, 1994)
So, there you have it: nearly every prophet has clearly spoken out against forced charity through government spending. And yet, so many latter-day Saints remain confused about this issue. Maybe they don’t really want to follow the prophets after all?