How Much Should We Advantage Our Kids Over Others?

When asked why they aren’t more generous with their time or money, many people answer that if they gave more, it would be at the expense of their own children. Sure, the argument goes, it would be great if I could pay an extra $100 to provide immunizations for kids in Africa, but my first duty is to my family, and giving that $100 for immunizations would prevent me from taking my kids to the water park.

Everyone presumably agrees that Christianity imposes some limits on advantaging our own kids over others. Imagine a Christian dad stranded on a deserted island with two toddlers, one his daughter, the other unrelated. We would certainly feel the father had failed his Christian duty should he explain that the reason he hadn’t given food or water to the unrelated child was because doing so would have taken time away from making a play drum set for his child. To reject his rationale we do not need to deny that he has an obligation to his daughter or that musical talents are important.

The deserted island hypothetical is clear-cut because (1) both children rely completely on the adult, (2) the consequences to the unrelated child are high, and (3) the value of the drum set is low. Determining at what points those three factors combine to become un-Christian is the interesting question.

Does the fact that I’m not the only one who could pay to immunize African children make it less immoral for me to buy my kid a PlayStation instead? How much does it matter that the African children I’d immunize aren’t at risk of immediate death? How much does it matter if I’m spending the money on something better than a drum set? (I’ll ignore for now the question of how much we can spend on houses, cars, vacations, etc., and still claim it’s “for the kids.”)

What presents Christians the toughest hurdle justifying their advantaging their own kids over others is knowing that Christ considers every person, especially the least among us, to be Him. The unrelated child on the deserted island is God. The African child who has diptheria today because I spent the money that would have immunized him on a play kitchen set for my girls, is God. (Of course this is less painful to me because I don’t know which kid would have been immunized had I bought more immunizations, and I can hope that none of the kids I would have immunized have contracted the disease. Ignorance is bliss. This relief is similar to knowing that no one else, including none of our readers, paid to have him immunized, either. And of course I’m relieved most of all that the person who got diptheria because I bought a kitchen set is not me.)

So the next time you’re tempted to justify your failure to help needy children by saying it would reduce what you provide for your kids, remember that in choosing to give your children a play kitchen set, or to take them to the museuam, you’re choosing to let God get diptheria.

100 comments for “How Much Should We Advantage Our Kids Over Others?

  1. i am really enjoying your posts.

    i deliberately give my child less and give other’s more. no play stations, ipods, cellphones and sugar coated cereal. nope just a library card and a bus pass. however, I will give more “goods” to a child in need. hell, I will give more money to a needy family/child, than I will give to a family member.

    why? because at the end of each day, my belle will kneel in prayer and be grateful for her membership in the church, the roof over her head, her school, the meal she ate and two loving parents who will give her time, love, discipline and boundaries. She knows that she may not have all of the “cool stuff” but she has security and comfort, unlike some other children.

    did I mention I like your posts? I like the uncomfortable questions. they need to be asked


  2. Matt:

    Next time you get a chance, I need about $18k to get new siding for my house. I am guessing you have some kind of savings plan for your retirement. If you could just give that upand send it my way….


  3. 1. The reason most of use don’t help kids in Africa more is most likely because they are in Africa (out of sight out of mind). People usually help those around us and most visible first.

    2. It’s a dangerous game playing why don’t we (or you) do more. I’ve seen countless charities and religions criticized because they only do X to help when they could be doing X + Y.

    Ideally we would all take what we need and give the rest to the poor, some of us are farther along than others in that respect, but hopefully all of us are always striving to be more compassionate with our fellow man.

    Should we always feel guilty about everything we have that others don’t?

  4. Matt, I see your post as asking the following question: to what degree do we limit the wants of our loved ones, to provide for the needs of others, especially others we don’t know. I recognize that you are limiting your post to limit the loved ones to our children.

    In terms of money, the pattern taught by Christ seems to be that we should limit spending on our wants as much as possible and either spend the surplus on others needs or invest it in causes that can provide for others needs.

    In terms of time spent with our children, I think we should not be as stingy. I think that many of our children’s wants for attention are actually needs. To deprive them of time can devalue them as individuals, thus possibly leading to lower self esteem, less chance they will have a testimony of God, a greater chance that they will turn to lesser sources like television, addictive behaviours, etc. for comfort, etc. In the end, in a very real way, we end up devaluing society as a whole.

    I might be wrong in saying so, but I value improving my child’s spiritual and emotional health life more than improving the life or health of someone I don’t know. I think that Christ some what demonstrated the same thinking throughout his ministry. He did not spend those years of his life exclusively tending to the physical needs of others. He did not actively seek out sick people – he healed them as they came to him. The only exceptions were when he actually travelled a good distance to heal loved ones. He probably spent a good deal of time away from tending for physical needs, such as in prayer or teaching. Therefore, I think his first priority was for the spiritual enrichment of the people he knew and encountered. So, I think Christ would hold me more accountable for neglecting the spiritual and emotional wants of my child than he would reward me for providing for the needs of individuals I don’t know.

  5. Good post. You raise an interesting question. It really is sobering to think about misery in the developing world. The best way to solve this problem is through two words:

    Free trade.

    We need to elect politicians who will eliminate tariffs that hamper free trade. We also need to stifle activists who are against globalization. By allowing our American economy to trade freely with developing nations, we can provide these people with jobs that will lift them out of poverty and allow them to eat and obtain medical care. This really is an economic problem. This is a problem is too immense to be solved by individual donations to foundations, etc. It needs to be solved by the power of the free market.

    So the best thing you could do to help the kids mentioned in this post is to vote for politicians who support free trade and oppose activists who want Nike and Gap out of developing nations. This will do so much more than paltry $100 donations.

  6. There are other factors to take into consideration. It’s not our job as parents to only provide rood and shelter for our kids. We have to provide guidance and safe relationships. My husband’s family is heavily involved in foster care. His aunt and uncle fostered several children when they were younger; today, his aunt runs her own foster service and his cousin (said aunt’s daughter) is a social worker. I’ve heard many times that “No relationship equals rebellion.” So I concede the point about the Playstation but don’t see the family trip to the water park as completely valueless.

  7. I think these are good questions for a personal journal and for searching personal introspection. However, I don’t think these are good questions to hurl out on the internet. Most of us already feel convicted by the Holy Ghost and various scriptures in our own hearts and consciences for not living the gospel as fully as we can. I think you should let authorized servants of the Lord do their work to teach the people in their stewardship what they should do and how they can give more. I don’t think that you need to prance around like a modern-day Jacob, preaching to the people lest their sins fall upon your head. You have no stewardship over us, and therefore no sin is on you if you refrain from rubbing our noses in our inadequacies.

    What is it you are trying to accomplish? Those of us who try as hard as we can to live up to our covenants are already asking ourselves these searching questions, or at least we should be. We don’t need you as an additional goad.

  8. Good points, Dan S. Christ’s example bears a lot of thinking about.

    Matt E.,
    the examples you give–water parks, kitchen sets–all seem a little extreme, but thinking it over I realize that really is the choice most of us make. I do spend money on water parks and kitchen sets for me and my kids, and there probably is some cheap, life-saving thing we could do with the money instead (I think I remember reading about diarrhea dehydration kits). I notice, though, that the Proclamation on the Family does endorse wholesome recreational activities and Brigham Young built a theater at a time when the Saints were pretty poor. I also notice on the other hand that there are probably good reasons for paring back what you give your kids for their own sake, not just for the sake of charity to others.

  9. Tonight I am going to go home and strip away all of my kids’ most prized possessions and give them to the poor kids, lest I be judged by Matt and others of giving my kids more advantage than other kids. In fact, I will purposely disadvantage my children in every way possible. When they tearfully ask why I am doing this, why they can’t have a bed, why they must eat bread and water instead of good food any more, I will simply explain that someone told me that was what Jesus wanted us to do. I am sure they will understand, and grow up with a love of Christ in their hearts as they sleep on the floor in rags so the kids down the street can have beds, lest the Lord think I advantaged my kids over others.

  10. Jordan F.,

    You are not exhibiting much refinement in your response, but I think your agrument is valid.

  11. The point is, I can see where Matt is coming from, but I think his pointed questions lean towards absurd behavior. All of us should engage in healthy introspection, preferably as we study our scriptures and commune with the Lord each day in solemn prayer and meditation. But we need not do so in response to questions hurled on a blog by persons with questionable motives.

  12. Jordan F., I think I am recognizing your point through the sarcasm, but just to be sure, could you please elaborate. . . : )

  13. I know Matt Evans. I sometimes question his tact or his sense, but I don’t question his motives and I don’t think he’s specifically questioning yours, Jordan F.

  14. When Jacob asked his people the hard questions, he did so in a very humble manner, as the chosen and called spiritual leader of the people. He did so in the spirit of prayer and humility, with a knowledge that what he said might actually offend the tender sensibility of those who were trying sincerely to live the gospel. Alma did the same with his discourse in Alma 5, preaching lovingly, humbly to the people in his calling as the Lord’s representative to them, having been duly called and, we presume, set apart.

    My bishop recently had a frank discussion with the ward on difficult issues. He did so in the spirit of loving humility and exercising the keys of his office.

    I think there is a difference between pointed questions from such individuals and “permabloggers” on T&S. The difference is that the one is humbly, lovingly, doing everything in his.her power to bring people closer to Christ by asking them hard questions to cause them to change their lives. The other seems to be attempting to pit people against each other in the spirit of sophistic discussion akin, in my opinion, to asking how many angels fit on the head of a pin. These questions need to be asked in the private chambers of our meetinghouses, our homes, and our hearts. Not debated on a blog.

  15. I agree in part with Adam. I know Matt too and he’s one of the least judgmental people I know. He’ll be one of the first to admit that tact is not his strongest point. But, I think his posts are intended to illicit a stronge visceral reaction to get people thinking and responding, not necessarily because he enjoys kicking us in the collective crotch.

  16. mfranti, I’m glad you’ve liked the posts. They’re issues I think about a lot. I’ve used your explanation with my wife: our kids are so fortunate already, they have parents and extended family who love them dearly, etc., etc., other kids need “stuff” so much more than ours do.

    Matt W., I’ll put your request for siding money at its rightful place in my list of priorities. : )

    Alan and Dan S., thanks for your comments. I’ve been meaning to write a post titled “The Irrelevance of Needs vs Wants” for a long time. Rather than answer you here, I’ll recommit to posting it soon. And Dan, your take on the post is spot on — it’s even more damning when we spend money on ourselves; I was trying to show that spending the money on our kids is not an out.

    California Condor, I agree that trade restrictions hurt the poor, but it doesn’t absolve my responsibility to help those in need now. It’s not enough, as you pass a woman stranded with a flat tire, to remind yourself that you vote for politicians who want to pass a law requiring RunFlat tires. And of course free trade doesn’t solve all social problems. There will always be children trapped by rotten circumstances.

    PDOE, I don’t think trips to the water park are useless, either. The moral challenge is deciding whether to give *your family* the benefits of a family trip to the water park, and not the family of the poor single mother from across town. Her family relationships would be strengthened if they could go to the water park, too. How many times should our family go before we decide that God and her family deserve a fun day together as much as we do?

  17. I think there are also stewardship issues with this thread. Our children are under our direct stewardship to take care of them physically and spiritually. The same is not true with African kids with diptheria. We should be actively engaged in making this world a better place, though. With questions like this, though, I am reminded of a couple of recent GC talks where they said that the fast offering that we pay is one of the great ways to help the poor and needy. I’m not saying that we should only pay our fast offerings and then we’ll be kosher with God, but just pointing out that their are other ways to help people.

  18. But, I think his posts are intended to illicite a stronge visceral reaction to get people thinking and responding

    And that is exactly the point. The Lord needs people to change their lives. He does not need people illicit strong, visceral reactions.

    I live in Texas, where fire ant hills abound. I often have to caution my kids to step over those pesky buggers or risk getting bitten. Often, I like to gently place my foot on one and watch the maddened fire ants scurry about en masse, it’s kind of entertaining when I am bored or need a break from yard work. However, I am not sure this is appropriate to do with people.

  19. Jordon F., it is one method of communication. Granted strong, but sometimes very effective. I disagree that only stewards should use those methods. In fact, stewards might want to steer clear of those methods if they interfere with the message or offend the person under the stewardship. However, those who are not stewards can and should thoroughly enjoy the use of those methods. Christ sometimes used these methods, you can’t deny that. “Thou fool”. . . “Ye hipocrites”, etc. He used language for effect, not just for content.

  20. Jordan F.,
    I think your point is clear and I think you’ve had ample opportunity to explain it. I think its also clear that there are people who are interested in discussing the questions Matt E. raises and it would be courtesy on your part to let that discussion proceed undisturbed now that you’ve had your chance to have your objections noted.

  21. How so that Christ had the right but not others? By right, do you mean that he was intentionally trying to bruise someone with words? I disagree. I don’t think that Christ was trying to intentionally hurt, and, I presume, neither is Matt. Joseph Smith said that we should censure to the degree that we have the balm to heal up. I think that means knowing when and where to use strong language. In a public forum like this, I don’t think that censuring words should actually be offending anyone since the words are not directed to someone specific, and are intended to get to the truth in the most efficient way possible. Sugar coating the facts, or the language in which they presented, does little for me.

  22. (1) I would never buy my kids a playstation, but that’s beside the point and I don’t begrudge other parents their right to do so.

    (2) Your questions assume immunizations are a good thing, which I agree with but not everyone does.

    (3) My own personal introspection and musing, brought on by prayer, personal study, and personal revelation, tells me that we need to do more to help others and, assuming the basics plus a few extras are taken care of, more fully consecrate our resources to those who need it. The order of things laid out in the scriptures and the church handbooks tends to point me in the direction of first making our resources available to extended family members, then local ward members, then the local community, then the world at large. I do not think this heirarchy indicates a belief that the child in Africa is less a priority in the eyes of the Savior than the child next door, but it indicates that all things should be done in order. I think the Lord wants us to be efficient, and I believe that the most efficient use of our resources is to share them with those whom the Lord has placed in our paths to help first, then with those not in our “path”.

    I agree that we can, and probably should, forego that next trip to the waterpark. However, I think the Lord expects us to make the most efficient use of our resources (see, e.g., the parable of the talents), so rather than donating that extra money saved to immunizations in Africa, perhaps it should go to the ward fast offering fund or to the local immunization clinic or the local homeless shelter. Perhaps instead of spending a day bonding in the materialistic void of amusement parks, we could bond as a family serving dinner together at the homeless shelter.

  23. Condor (5) – so you support open borders and amnesty for all illegal aliens, right?

  24. Matt E.,

    I think your #20 misses the full force of PDOE’s argument about the waterpark because its not clear that PDOE’s day at the park and the single mom’s day at the park are equally useful. PDOE’s day at the park with her kids is building a relationship that is salvific for her kids and that PDOE is consciously using to help guide them in righteousness. PDOE just doesn’t know that about some random single mom and her family.

    Also, I think the way you’re substituting ‘God’ for selected people is disquieting. Christ didn’t say naked people are God’; he said that service done in clothing the naked would count as service done to him. You’re trying to get us to feel the real force of what Christ said by calling the people you’re talking about God but for me its more distracting than anything. By directly equating someone with God you’re extending the parallel far beyond the context of service, which is inaccurate. Sinful mortals aren’t God and calling them that borders on blasphemous.

  25. Matt Evans (29) Good comment. I disagree with vile. All are sinners, yes, but not all vile.

  26. I should add that I think children are particularly quick at grasping and enjoying the opportunity of rendering service as a family.

  27. I don’t think Christ was trying to intentionally hurt anyone with his words. But I am not sure about Matt since I don’t know him, and he seems awfully bruising (and willingly so) to me. Still, I suppose I can give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Enough said on that. *zips lips*.

  28. Perhaps instead of spending a day bonding in the materialistic void of amusement parks, we could bond as a family serving dinner together at the homeless shelter.
    and #33 are excellent suggestions.

  29. Jordan F., you’ve read my post more specifically than I intended. The children in Africa are real, and so is their diptheria, but their inclusion in my post was primarily illustrative. So were the PlayStation, water parks, music lessons, etc. I fully agree the Lord expects us to be efficient. I’m arguing that all of us use our money inefficiently, spending time and money on things of small marginal value to us that could provide things of great value to others. (That was the point in my deserted island hypothetical contrasting food and water with a primitive drum set. It is inefficient to use our talents and resources to make a drum set when they could be used to keep a kid from starving.)

  30. Matt Evans,
    He’d just decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. That’s good enough, no?

  31. Matt:

    I don’t think the mentality that would go into making a primitive drumset is necessarily inefficient when those same resources could be used to keep a kid from starving. In the extreme example you used to illustrate the point, it would be inefficient, in my opinion. But I do not think it is necessarily inefficient to provide our families with a few pleasurable things in life, even under the law of consecration. I know from personal experience that if we turn to the Lord in our temporal affairs as counseled in many parts of the scriptures, but particularly in Alma 34, that he will help us direct our temporal goods in the direction of most efficiency for providing the necessities and a few small pleasures to our families, to helping our extended families, to serving our ward and local community, to providing whatever is left to the world at large.

    I do not think there is a standard, pat answer for everyone to follow regarding the most efficient and consecrated use of their goods and services, at least not until we all live under a common law administered by one called and set apart to do so. Rather, we should strive to prayerfully consider these things ourselves, in our own homes and families, and with regular consultation with the Bishop (who has the keys to administer the rudimentary temporal elements of the law of consecration locally). We have found that the Bishop always knows someone who needs extra resources and can point us in their direction. I believe this is the approach that is in keeping with the heavenly injunction to bring forth of ourselves much righteousness.

    I acknowledge, I suppose, that all of us can do better, and that many of us need a kick in the pants to allocate our resources in a manner more in line with God’s will that all of his children be blessed both temporally and spiritually. However, I still think this is an improper venue to make such a call (OK, I should not have brought that up again, I’ll stop…)

  32. I have a book called “Life in the Law”, which is a compilation of sermons given by General Authorities and others on the the topic of being an LDS attorney and still keeping your soul (though some strongly believe this is not possible). One of the talks has always stuck ou in my mind- a sermon by Elder Marlin K. Jensen on “Anwering God’s Interrogatories.”

    The interrogatory that seems instructive in answering your discussion topic is God’s question of “What is property unto me”. Elder Jensen describes meeting a friend of his for lunch who had just received a hefty pay raise at his law firm (something that we lawyers see often in these days of salary wars), such that he and his family would be doing very well financially. The man lived in a “less fortunate” neighborhood, so naturally Elder Jensen asked when he would be selling his home and moving.

    “What do you mean?” asked the man. Elder Jensen explained that now that the man was making substantially more money, he was certainly going to move into a better neighborhood, with better schools and opportunities for his children, right? The man then humbly explained that he intended to stay right where he was and use his excess to bless those around him with opportunities they would not have otherwise had. Elder Jensen was rightly taken aback and humbled by this response. As was I. As should we all be.

    Perhaps this is also one thing we should consider in discussing this issue.

  33. These kinds of questions are the type that can drive me crazy, which means they have the potential drive the Spirit away. I’m not saying they aren’t good questions, but they can easily and quickly be taken to an extreme. Again, it’s that whole “wisdom and order vs. diligence” thing.

    I don’t know that the Lord expects us to live lives of austerity in order to reduce the austerity in someone else’s life. I do suspect that most of us can probably find ways to be more generous with our time and means. But there is still something that keeps me from thinking that it’s always bad to take a trip to the water park, or to buy that pizza, or to take that trip. These kinds of decisions are the stuff of life, and I think in the end, the Lord cares an awful lot about our hearts and about how we are contributing to His work on the whole, not necessarily about the dollar amount we spend to help others. Do we have a generous heart? Do we contribute time and means to the Lord’s cause? Do we evaluate that giving often?

    Ultimately, the suffering of the world won’t be fully solved until the gospel goes forth and is lived more fully by more people. In my mind, there are direct things we can do in the meantime, but we also ought to consider that the more the Lord’s work fluorishes, the more people will be able to get themselves out of the slums (to coin a phrase from Pres. Benson). This is not to excuse us from the short-term opportunities.

    One last point: The law of consecration as explained in the Doctrine and Covenants includes wants with needs. I don’t think that we are expected to give up all our wants in order to live the gospel. As always, the key is living by the Spirit and seeking to glorify the Lord in what we do.

  34. Probing questions, Matt, and interesting discussion. It seems to me that there is a fine line between humanitarian service/charity and social justice. One might start with an idea or prompting with pure motives to help others by, say, providing diphtheria immunizations instead of current choices such as a trip to the water park. The details, however, seem to inevitably complicate those pure ideas and promptings.

    Once one gets serious about providing immunizations (or microcredit, or relieving hunger, or treating AIDS in sub Saharan Africa, etc), my experience suggests that a one-time decision is not enough. One must consider the scope of the problem, evaluate and monitor interventions, etc. Such a level of involvement requires a long-term committment.

    Your post and the comments seem to focus on a Christian’s approach and responsibility regarding the needs of others. I guess I would ask: how much are Christians required to monitor and evaluate their charitable acts to ensure that they are effective?

    (By the way, I recently posted on health systems development in developing countries here:

  35. Matt 26:8-11
    “But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
    For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.”

    (And our children also grow up so quickly….)

  36. Adam, I think Christ intends us to be disturbed knowing that every needy person is Him. Imagine if we viewed the whole world that way. Think how much more service we’d render. Think how much less snarky my blog comments would be. : )

    My response to PDOE assumed that the single mother, like PDOE, wished she could shape her children through recreational activities at the water park.

    Jordan, we don’t need to wait for the church to reinstitute the law of consecration; we’ve been commanded to love our neighbor as ourself and to work for the benefit of our neighbor already. Free-market capitalism would yield Zion if everyone were motivated by love, all working for the benefit of their neighbor. The problem is that we aren’t motivated by love, and don’t work for the benefit of our neighbors.

    m&m, from my experience talking about these issues with many people, I would guess your fear that this issue can “be taken to an extreme” stems from your realizing how far we still are from Zion — where there are no poor and everyone works for the benefit of their neighbor — and appreciating what that says about us, individually and collectively. It’s unsettling to realize how much Zion “costs.”

  37. I agree that we don’t need to wait, indeed, I think I argued the opposite. We, as individuals and families, CAN and SHOULD work more for the benefit of our neighbors, seeing that we do it efficiently and with the Lord’s guidance in all things.

    What I did say was that until the system is in place and centrally administered, there is not one pat, standard answer for everyone regarding how to deal with the dilemmas you raise (in my opinion unfairly and undoctrinally and untempered by a sense of humility, love, charity and with a desire to set the ants a-scurrying- oops there I go again) in this post. Rather, the answer is best sought individually in the private chambers of the chapel, home, and heart, and it will vary from individual to individual.

  38. Naismith, combining that with Alma 5:14 we see that once His image is in our countenance, we don’t have to spend money on anyone but ourself! Mormonism is so comforting. : )

  39. Jordan, I haven’t provided answers, only shown how far we are from loving our neighbors as ourselves. There are people suffering today because you and I care more about ourselves than we care about them.

  40. Matt,

    I see your point, but I think you are wrong. People are suffering today because there is an opposition in all things and a dark prince of this world. It would not matter if we gave all we had and then some, people would still be suffering. Not that this does not mean we shouldn’t try, I am not being fatalistic. But I think your zeal here is misplaced and your conclusions are wrong. People are not suffering because you and I care more about ourselves thanh about others. They are suffering because those are the effects of the Fall.

    I agree that we can do more, and that we should do more to help. But I think that the answer is to seek personal revelation on how the Lord can allow us to MOST EFFECTIVELY alleviate the natural suffering state of humanity.

    I disagree that humanity suffers because we are selfish. But perhaps we suffer because we are selfish.

  41. I love these posts! They are making stop and do serious introspection and think about my priorities. I have typed about a dozen responses to this question. All I can say is that I don’t know but thanks for reminding me to think about it and do something about it. I know that I personally am not trying hard enough to help others.

  42. If my sister’s children are starving, or if her children suffer from a disease which I have the ability to cure or prevent by paying $100 for medication, and I look the other way, it is ridiculous to blame the Fall for their suffering. If I can save them, and choose not to, I may not be the direct cause of their suffering, but I am morally culpable for my failure to help her and her children. I am hard pressed to understand why it matters that those children live several thousand miles way.

    And of course humanity suffers because we are selfish. Good heavens, what could be more obvious than the fact that selfishness causes other people to suffer?

  43. Matt, I’d be interested in how you interpret Jesus’ response to Judas when he suggested the oil he was anointed with should’ve been sold to feed the poor. Pondering that scripture has, as much as anything else, helped me come to terms with these soul-searching questions of balancing competing demands for time and resources. Very roughly, I think consecration and devotion are of immense importance, even in light of suffering—and so it is along these lines, for example, that it doesn’t bother me that tithing spent on immaculate gardening when there are children suffering all over the world (any more!), or that I spend money in order to spend quality family time (but it does bother me when we spend money for poor-quality family time…).

  44. [#53 clarification: Tithing money spent on immaculate gardening for our temple grounds, that is. And “any more!” in that it doesn’t bother me anymore, those these kind of questions used to bother me….]

  45. I guess my perspective is different…. in our circumstances, not running faster than we are able looks like wisdom. We have medical expenses, and are supporting a missionary and a college student, and helping to raise the world’s finest grandchild. If I, the mom of the house, took a job of work, it would further jeopardize my health. Yet, it would add to an income that we could then use to donate more to needly people. For me, it’s not a valid trade off. I am doing what little I can. Sometimes, doing the best we can and not one bit better, is good enough.
    As great and expensive family outings go… last night we went to a movie for the first time in 3 years. Sunday night we plan to lie out after midnight and watch the annual Persied meteor shower, as we have every year since our children were toddlers. I refuse to give up pleasure, outright.

  46. deb, I’m saying that, from the sounds of it, you should feel good about the way you’ve consecrated and devoted yourself to your family (which includes pleasure, esp. shared pleasure). Wisdom seems very commensurable in this sense to devotion and consecration….

  47. ‘So the next time you’re tempted to justify your failure to help needy children by saying it would reduce what you provide for your kids, remember that in choosing to give your children a play kitchen set, or to take them to the museuam, you’re choosing to let God get diptheria.’

    I would really like to hear how Matt applies this principle in his own family: have him explain how far this goes (Christmas presents? living in lower-income housing?), how he explains this teaching to his children, etc.

    If he is not doing this in his own life, as most of us aren’t, I wonder if the ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ in the last paragraph would be better replaced with ‘we’re’ and ‘our.’ And I would be interested to hear him enter into the discussion about the forces which limit the degree to which we live this Christian principle and what we can practically do to overcome it.

  48. Matt,

    I think it is fair to ask how much we love our neighbors, and if we are trying to love them as God loves them. But I think the answers are more complicated than you are allowing for.

    Somewhere today in China, a child will be run over by a car and killed. Is it your position that I should react to that child’s tragic death the same way I would if it were my own child?

  49. Adan (35, in response to 30) – Actually, given 5, I thought 30 was a legitimate question to ask here. Many people on the pro-amnesty side use an argument similar in construction to the one made here. So I repeat my question.

  50. Matt, clearly we would do well to give up some luxuries so that others might have necessities.

    The D&C tells us that in the day of the Lord, the poor will be exalted by the rich being made low. There will be equalization of wealth. The majority of LDS have already promised to give everything to God, here and now. Whatever we don’t need for ourselves we are supposed to give to others.

    But what standard of living should we reduce ourselves to? Even the prophet has a TV, drives a decent car, has a comfortable home, wears updated clothing, etc. And I’ll bet he even eats at restaurants sometimes.

    We all must decide through the guidance of the Spirit what the Lord requires of us as individuals. And our gifts will be counted as naught if we shame others for giving differently.

  51. Adam Greenwood,

    Actually it’s not a threadjack. It’s about lifting people out of poverty through unfettered markets.

  52. Material goods can be used in a variety of ways.

    The day will come when your darling little children grow into teenagers. Expectations of near perfection will vanish and day-to-day survival will become your goal. At that point the usual methods of discipline that worked so well throughout childhood can suddenly become counter-productive. Time-out becomes an excuse to sulk and pout and make problems worse. Push-ups, running up and down stairs and other such physical punishments are no longer properly processed by the juvenile brain. All verbal threats, yelling and such is quickly matched and exceeded. Any resort to threats of violence like spanking can easily esculate to real violence, especially if the teenager gets bigger and stronger than their parents.

    What I have found to work in my family is to give my kids their lap top and cell phone and ipod, etc. But with each gift I remind them that the only reason I am giving it to them is so that I CAN TAKE IT AWAY WHEN THEY ACT UP! I remind them that with each gift I am putting another rope around their neck. You would be amazed at how fast they shape up when you just quietly and firmly, without any of the usual hysterics, take one of these prized toys away. If they really don’t prize it, then you might as well permanently confiscate it anyway. Modern society has immobilized so many traditional forms of discipline and I think we have to use what we can.

    Another example of how we used material goods to our advantage was the car. (I would never believe I did this if you asked me 5 years ago.) About 2 years ago my then 14 year old daughter became obsessed with getting a red sports car. The neighbors around the corner got their daughter a new red Corvette when she got her permit at age 15. So I came up with a list of fairly unreasonable criteria for my daughter to get a car: Less than $3000, more than 35 mpg, less than 100,000 miles, reliable according to CR, etc. Straight A’s in school while taking the harder courses, getting into the orchestra, etc were part of the deal.

    She spent most of a year searching e-bay, newspapers, auctions, everywhere for a red car that fit my criteria. She read car magazines and learned more about the purchase and care of a car than I could have taught her in 5 years. I also made her rotate all four tires on the minivan by herself and change the oil and air filter and learn to drive a manual transmission. To my surprize she found a red 1990 Celica on e-bay with a new paint job and tiny 1.6 liter engine that barely exceeds every criteria of mine and it was close enough to where we live so that I could test drive the car first. She bid on it and it went higher than her limit. She raised the extra money that day, hundreds of dollars, and won the bidding war (mostly by extortion from friends). She has convinced her friends that her car is nicer than any other car and it is, to her. She also got her little snout into our insurance and computer searched/called around and figured out how to add the new car to our policy while actually lowering our rates at the same time. Kids can do amazing things sometimes.

    It was an incredible learning experience. Since then we have had the usual repairs on an old car and she is more engaged in the care and maintance of that car than any of her friends. It is a life lesson of responsibility impossible to teach her in any other way. Her grades are tops and she won an academic award this year at graduation. I have only had to take those car keys once in over a year for the most minimal amount of sassinesss.

    If you want to raise your kids to be capable in a culture and century they do not live in, then come up with seemingly righteous reasons (like some of the suggestions above) to do stupid things to them. Don’t teach them how to deal with real problems they will face. They will eventually grow up, move away and know what an ass you have been. But they will forgive you.

  53. Mike – I have to say that your comment was a great threadjack. Completely awesome, but a threadjack.

  54. (Condor, Adam doesn’t want me to comment further, as he doesn’t think it’s germane to the conversation. I was only striving to understand your point further, not make into a political debate. I’m not sure why Adam doesn’t think either your comment or my follow-up question is legitimate, but whatever.)

    A separate scenario — My wife’s father refused to let her apply for scholarships when she went to college, because in his mind, he could pay for her school and he preferred to let other people get the scholarships and awards. Thoughts? Are we advantaging our children too much if we let them apply for financial breaks that they don’t “need”?

  55. Jordan, because you and I could relieve the suffering of more people if we spent less time and money seeking our own comfort and enjoyment, some people are suffering today because you and I care more about ourselves than we care about them.

    Robert C., I understand the story of the costly annointing oil strictly within the context of Christ’s preparing for his pending atonement and crucifiction. I do not believe he would typically consume expensive gifts for himself. Given the many scriptures from every dispensation about the responsibilities to care for the poor, I think this story must be interpreted narrowly. Using it to justify our own consumption is blasphemous. We are not Christ. As for expensive church buildings, we have to be careful given Mormon’s warning about misplaced priorities in the last days, “ye do love . . . the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”

    Norbert, in future posts I’ll talk about some of the practical dilemmas I face trying to do better (aside from the most obvious, that I really don’t care as much about others as I do about me; I’m convinced that if I genuinely cared about others’ happiness as much as my own, everything would take care of itself and I wouldn’t own or do very much of what I currently own or do. I’m trying to get into Zion through the back door.). One practical consideration is that I’m married and negotiate financial decisions with my wife, who doesn’t see things the way I do. We can get very frustrated with each other over buying decisions, especially how much to spend on Christmas and birthdays.

    Kathryn, I don’t know what we’ll have to give up to build Zion (though I do know that if we all shared everything equally in Zion, no one would have what you or I have). I don’t think looking to church leaders’ personal choices is particularly helpful. Brigham Young chose to live in a huge and fancy house, but he also failed to build Zion. (I don’t think those facts are unrelated.) What would help us is seeing the choices of those who did build Zion, but unfortunately we know little about them.

  56. Brigham Young did build Zion, and we are all beneficiaries of his and hundreds of thousands of Saints’ efforts. So long as we judge Zion by materialistic means, we will always see disparities, even in the Kingdom of God in the hereafter. Someone will have a larger mansion being prepared. Zion is the pure in heart. I will do more spiritual damage to a person in a poor country by giving them wealth than I would in battening down my own hatches and making sure my family is financially secure so that I can send one of my sons out to preach the gospel to them. With the resources God has given us, perhaps we should be more concerned about our own financial security than with aid to Africa. We are expected to keep our finances in order and to save. With the markets currently in turmoil, that advice is more poignant than ever.

  57. Chris – no, we won’t see disparities in the Kingdom of God in the hereafter. In the revelation to the shakers, Joseph taught that the world lies in sin because some people possess more than others. If that teaching is true, then materialistically we will have no disparities if we are living under God’s law.

    I agree with your point about keeping our own finances in order, though.

  58. Chris, sad and disappointing but nevertheless true, there are poor among us. We could be a happier people.

  59. “I do know that if we all shared everything equally in Zion, no one would have what you or I have”

    That’s an amazing thing to know, how did you come upon such information? The Book of Mormon suggests that in Zion there will be an abundance, not a lack. If Zion is the pattern of heaven then isn’t it reasonable to conclude that we won’t just have enough to get by but an abundance?

    And I’m not exactly sure what scriptures you refer to when you insinuate Christ wanted us to care for all of the poor throughout all of the world. Christ didn’t do that, He didn’t command us to do it, why are you suggesting that we do?

  60. Everyone will receive according to their needs. Some will have larger kingdoms consisting of larger posterity which will necessitate more. Some people are jealous of those with larger families here on earth. Zion is a matter of the heart. If an individual is feeling tuggings to do more for a certain cause here on earth, I am all in favor of it. No doubt there is a tremendous amount of greed. I just think it is very important to keep the focus where it belongs.

  61. I think you have to have a change of heart. For me, this was teaching in the public school system. I had a reality check…not because I didn’t know there were “poor people” out there, but because I knew them and loved them. I had a child in my class who had no electricity or water for three months. Children who wore the same four outfits all year long. And many cultural and socio-economic barriers. I won’t go on and on, but it changed my life. I want my children not necessarily have their cell phones taken away (my kids are only 7 and under so we haven’t gotten to that point yet), but to know HOW LUCKY they are to have the opportunity to have them by serving others. I joined Junior League and worked in domestic abuse shelters and with unwed teens who fled from home because their fathers were going to kill them if they didn’t have an abortion. My point, is that when you serve these people, you “get it,” start caring, and after your local community you start caring about Africa, etc. You have to figure out how to keep Africa etc from being out of sight and out of mind. We have pledged to serve dinners at shelters. We go through our toys and clothes every six months and not just drop them off at goodwill but take them to places where they can see the good it does. When our kids only interact with people who have the same or more as they do, they don’t get the perspective.
    I think it also helps to engage our kids in discussions. Do we need a bigger house, kids? What do you think about sharing rooms? How do you feel about not having Thanksgiving dinner until we help serve at Salvation Army?
    Of course we have friends who are building a 15,000 sq foot home……but that’s another thread.
    So basically, start local, and work your way to Africa. But unless you have a change of heart, it’s just another guilt trip.

    And yes, my girls do have a kitchen play set. :0)

  62. Rusty, the scriptures are clear that there will be an equality of possessions among men. 4 Nephi: commonly shared property; D&C: not equal in spiritual things unless equal in earthly things, not right that one man possess more than another; Jacob: “be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” If we shared everything equally, my wealth would be average. The church average is probably a middle class family in South America.

    Chris, I don’t think Christ could have been more dramatic in highlighting where we should put our focus: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” If anything can focus the mind better than a gun, everlasting punishment is right up there.

  63. I finally read this post, I haven’t gone through the comments. (Even though I made a knee jerk comment early on) I have a couple problems here.

    1. It seems a little sleazy to me that I should Care about the Child in Africa because the Child is God. Why can’t I love the Child in Africa just because they are a child in Africa. Shouldn’t that be enough? Why must it be that I am allowing God to get dyptheria when I am allowing a baby to die?

    2. I’m not a fan of communism. It is not the welfare program of the church to just give and give and give. It is part of the program of the church to be rewarded for your own hard work.

    3. There is a good point here, that if we could just cut back on our rampant consumerism and share the wealth in appropriate ways (say investing in foreign businesses or in foreign micro lending companies or even giving fast offerings) we could help the world. On the other hand, my children have 2 play kitchens.

  64. Amen, Amy. My perspective changed dramatically when I started working in inner-city school districts throughout the Midwest, and it changed even more when we took care of our foster son. It’s hard to love someone, REALLY love them, unless you know and associate with them.

    We do not give things away to Goodwill – even though that is a noble service. We take our things to a local homeless shelter for families. There is something about seeing the children who receive your clothes and books and toys that means much more than putting them in a bin and driving away.

  65. I’m actually in quite close contact with people in Russia. Try as I might, there is not a lot I can do for them besides love them as equals. I do know that bringing them to an American standard of living too quickly would result in pride in so many cases that the spiritual damage would quite clearly not be what the Lord would want. In ancient times, a man would sell his soul for a few acres and some goats. Materialism is a spiritual disease which keeps us from being like God. How much material is secondary to the love of mammon.

  66. Matt (77),
    I don’t agree with your reading of the scriptures you’ve alluded to, not that that matters, except to bring up that scriptures aren’t self-interpreting.

    On point, as I eat well, or otherwise spend money, I consider the good it could do for others. And nonetheless, I consume, and feel minimal guilt about it, for various reasons that are mine alone, or are between me, my wife, and the Lord. Nonetheless, I try to serve, and I try to serve more than I currently do.

  67. 1. It seems a little sleazy to me that I should Care about the Child in Africa because the Child is God. Why can’t I love the Child in Africa just because they are a child in Africa. Shouldn’t that be enough? Why must it be that I am allowing God to get dyptheria when I am allowing a baby to die

    Either Christ is not above using cheap rhetorical tricks to get us to do things, or else he really will treat our service to the least of our brethren as it were service to him. And our failure to serve them as a failure to serve him.

  68. Matt,
    You’re talking about what CS Lewis pointed out what the central problem with pride is: inequality. That it’s not about having something, that it’s about having more of it than others. And to that I agree with you, we will have equal possessions. What I don’t agree with you on is the idea that because we are equal that it will somehow be less than what we have now. Zion is not merely an economic state, it’s not just a shifting of money so everyone has the same amount. In Zion there will be a level of self-sufficiency, a level of hard work, a level of education that will also be attained and with those things coupled with righteousness loving of others (or as some call this, “synergy”) comes prosperity. More prosperity than we currently have. If we, as stewards of this earth, righteously lived according to the laws of Zion then the earth would bring forth its abundance, not just allow us to have the basics.

    Now, all that being said I’m not averse to feeling guilty about my own abundance in the presence of so much poverty, but Zion requires a lot more than me merely giving my money to the poor.

  69. Chris, I agree we should care about children for their own sake. The purpose of my calling them God was to remind people how emphatic Christ was that we care for them. Letting them suffer is the same as letting Christ suffer. While I agree we shouldn’t give and give to people who can work, we must give to children because they can’t earn enough money for their food and immunizations. Especially the millions of children who chose to be born to neglectful parents in the third world.

  70. Sam, how do you interpret those scriptures?

    Rusty, I hope you’re right that I’ll have more material benefits in Zion. That can’t be an inherent part of Zion, of course: the people in 4th Nephi didn’t have indoor plumbing, air conditioning, or air travel. Whatever material wealth they had, it was a lot less than I’m used to. And raising the wealth of the average Mormon to match the wealth that above-average Americans have now will require a lot of work. Either way, though, that in some future day the poor will have as many comforts as we do now doesn’t relieve us of our obligation to help them today.

  71. Hi all, first time poster, long time reader. I don\’t wholly agree with the premise that \”selfishness causes others to suffer\”, or however one might state it. For example, if an extremely wealthy person is sitting on millions of dollars in a bank account instead of donating it to charity what is happening with his capital? It is being lent by the bank to fund business ventures throughout the country that create jobs and opportunities that employ people–like you and me, and hopefully the poor guy–and ultimately raise our standard of living. A trip to the water park employs people at the water park. A cell phone employs people who work at the cell phone company. In some ways, I would rather help someone be employed by my investment than give that money to charity and see it evaporate–I guess this could go along with caring, but caring effectively (43 & 49). I\’m not claiming that charitable contributions are a waste, I think they are absolutely essential (for us and the recipients), but I am claiming that \”selfish\” uses of our resources can have positive consequences.

  72. Rob (87),

    I respectfully disagree. While tucking your millions away may help the poor here, it does little to nothing for the destitute poor in Africa needing immunizations that Matt refers to. In the words of Jeffery Sachs, those in extreme poverty “aren’t even on the development ladder.” They are too busy dying and suffering from diseases and hunger to be employed at the water park and cell phone company.

    There are, however, interventions in developing countries that have been proven to work so that charitable contributions aren’t “a waste.” They save lives. See “Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health” by Ruth Levine for an excellent summary of some of those proven interventions.

    In my opinion, the key to ending needless suffering is to approach these problems in a long-term, evidence-based, committed, sustained fashion. It seems to me that, too often, money and resources disguised to decrease suffering are actually politically motivated or implemented by humanitarians more interested in filling a personal charitable need than in seeing results.

  73. Rob, the moral issue is *who* gets to consume the product. Bakers will have work whether you eat the bread or give it to someone who needs it more than you do.

  74. Matt: is HOW you give it also a moral issue? Is it enough to just give the $100, or the bread, or must one do it in a way that is effective, and results in long-term end in suffering?

    In other words, are we as Christians required to give for the sake of giving, or are we required to ensure that our giving is effective?

    The former is relatively easy. The latter requires much more homework, monitoring of interventions, and collaborations (often with other organizations and governments with motivations different from your own).

    It makes one feel good (and can actually be fun) to give a few hundred dollars here or there, or give a child a piece of bread. Researching non-governmental organizations, or learning about the epidemiology of immunizations, or keeping track, week after week, of microcredit contributions, or volunteering as a social justice activist, or monitoring the use of mosquito nets, on the other hand, can be quite tedious and consuming.

    I’m not sure that the type of charity you are advocating will result in decreased suffering on a global scale (though the child with the bread might have some temporary decrease in suffering). How much are Christians required to address long-term suffering on a global scale?

  75. Rob, did you drop my German class halfway through the semester in 1994? If so: Hi, cousin! If not: what an odd coincidence! In either case, I have nothing intelligent to add to the topic at hand, so please continue the conversation as if I hadn’t interrupted.

  76. Chad, I expect that someone as concerned about their neighbor’s welfare as they are their own would try to ensure their help was effective. Imagine the lengths to which we’d go if our eating depended on it.

  77. I think this is one of those subjects that only makes sense wherein the Savior himself is the keeper of the gate and “employeth no servant there.”

  78. 91. Jonathan, I am the Rob H. you know and love. Of course I didn’t just drop your class. Rather, I transferred up to 102–an important clarification.

    88. Thanks Chad, that’s a great point. I guess I just don’t want us to get all “zero-sum” when we think about how resources are used. It is unfortunate that there isn’t more free trade with the African continent. I think one of the best things that could happen for Africa would be for Europe to stop subsidizing its agriculture so heavily.

    As an aside, there is an interesting thread on this sort of theme over at the Freakonomics blog. The basic question is as follows: if you have $10 do you give it to the panhandler on the corner or buy a hot dog from the vendor on the corner–or do you buy the hot dog and then give it to the panhandler as M. Evans might prefer?

  79. “if you have $10 do you give it to the panhandler . . . or buy a hot dog”

    Either way, the $10 will be spent. That’s the logical fallacy in the “my consumption creates jobs” — the needy or the charities we give money to will spend it, creating jobs too. The only difference between giving money to a needy person and buying him a hot dog is whether we or them determine how the money is spent. (We’ve already decided the needy person is the beneficiary.) That is just a judgment call. I’d give money to a person I thought would use the money responsibly because they better know their needs, and would give them non-fungible aid when I think I know their needs better than they do.

  80. OK, then, Matt, maybe your last paragraph should have read something like this:

    “So the next time you’re tempted to justify your failure to help needy children by saying it would reduce what you provide for your kids, remember that in choosing to give your children a play kitchen set, or to take them to the museum, you’re choosing to let God get diphtheria (assuming, of course, that were you to pay the $100, the immunization would have been effective in preventing diphtheria because there would have been health workers in place to administer the vaccines, and refrigeration equipment in working condition to keep the vaccines effective, and a health system in place so that the other vaccines in the series could be administered in the future as required, and hundreds of other donors to cover the cost of mass vaccinations, and a local ministry of health that will ensure that your sudden influx of money will not drain human capacity from other important public health programs such as AIDS and maternal health, and monitoring policies to ensure that the funds are used without significant corruption, and epidemiologists trained to track adverse side effects of immunizations).”

    I agree with your premise, that Christians should view everyone as Christ does. In real life practice, however, it’s much more complicated than choosing between a kitchen play set and getting a shot.

    Personally, I think that humanitarian work and charity needs to be more systematic, evidence-based, and results oriented.

  81. Chad S., there are many competent organizations providing immunizations to children in the developing world. It’s one of the main activities of the Gates Foundation, which is systematic, evidence-based and results oriented. There are valid reasons not to funnel money through the UN, only bad excuses not to use the Red Cross, Gates Foundation, Catholic Relief, or the church’s Humanitarian Fund (which I’ve heard frequently passes the donations to Catholic Relief).

  82. Matt: agreed.

    Historically, while there are and have been occasional (and sometimes phenomenal) successes in global health, those successes have been few and far between. That trend seems to be changing thanks to people like Gates and Farmer, and programs like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and the Measles Initiative.

    I still think that more emphasis needs to be placed on the impact that initiatives such as immunization campaigns are having on health systems in developing countries. After all, the goal should not be to increase immunizations, per se. It should be to decrease suffering, and increase health.

  83. This has always been a complicated issue for me. Because I grew up in devastating poverty, I can relate to children going without the necessities, let alone the perqs.

    So I made sure my kids had everything they needed and some things they didn’t. I also made sure they knew how lucky they were, which, in Jewish mother fashion, probably made them feel guilty.

    For us, it was a “when we had it to give, we gave” situation. We helped others as much as possible, and still do.

    It’s tricky finding the right balance, Adam. In a perfect world, all children would have what they need. This is not a perfect world.

    Now my grandchildren, that’s harder. I want them to have everything there little hearts desire.

  84. This seems like a question that has its delicate answers balanced on the fulcrum of philosophical economics. On the phil-economic point, a utilitarian would argue that you should advantage your child until the benefit is less than helping other children (or adults); donating time, resources, energy to your own kids surely has a curve of diminishing returns.

    Others might argue that you should treat all children in the world equally, but these people are unwise. Priorities should exist and a delicate balance must be struck. Parents should generously donate resources and plan fastidiously to aid their children, aiming to keep intact for their children the struggles and challenges that inspire growth and real responsibility.

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