The Fourth Point: Caring for the Poor and Needy

In 2009 the “threefold mission” of the Church was extended to include a fourth point: “to care for the poor and needy.” Obviously practical charity is not a new concept for Mormonism. The very same chapter that included the famous “If any of you lack wisdom…” verse that led ultimately to the First Vision also contains this emphatic assertion:

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)

This New Testament precedent was echoed in modern revelations. For example, Joseph Smith revealed the link between poverty and spiritual unity in the definition of Enoch’s Zion:

And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heard and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)

Next year came an even more stark revelation:

It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. (D&C 49:20)

Clearly, Mormon doctrine has had an economic aspect from the very beginning. And of course it wasn’t just a matter of doctrine. The focus on economic welfare was maintained out of necessity throughout the Church’s early history. Persecution and the hardships of frontier life and intercontinental immigration ensured that temporal needs were always in focus. What’s more, this focus has not been lost in modern times. The Church’s welfare program continues to be central to the institution and our perception of it, and modern programs like the Perpetual Education Fund (initiated in 2001) obviously were not being held back by the lack of formal emphasis on economic concerns prior to the 2009 change.

This raises two related questions. First: why wasn’t the temporal aspect included in the original threefold mission revealed in 1981? Second: why was it added in 2009?

2013-12-02 Pres KimballPart of the answer is revealed in a talk President Kimball gave in 1978 (three years prior to the unveiling of the threefold mission) called Becoming the Pure in Heart. In it, Kimball followed the Mormon pattern and paired a discussion of the “building of Zion through sacrifice and consecration” with a discussion of Church and state welfare programs. While emphasizing the importance of practical charity, he also espoused a deep distrust of centralized, government-run programs. He argued that government programs are prone to handouts (which are spiritually corrosive to the recipients) and also that their impersonal, bureaucratic nature can crowd out individual participation (which is spiritually corrosive to the donors).

Kimball’s talk presumed that the only redress to poverty is the re-allocation of physical wealth. This re-allocation can be private and voluntary (good) or it can be public and coercive (bad). Given only those two options, it’s no wonder that when Kimball subsequently unveiled the missions of the Church, poverty-relief was not among them. Within the paradigm in which all public policy efforts were suspected of being dangerous spiritual counterfeits, there was nothing further to consider beyond the welfare programs already in place (or subsequent offshoots to them, like the modern PEF).

But what if there is an alternative? What if there’s another view of poverty—what causes it and how it can be alleviated—that steps outside the dichotomy of private donations vs. public bureaucracy?

There is, but it’s not an alternative that would have been obvious in the 1970s and 1980s when the world was still dominated by the Cold War. At that time, ideology seemed starkly divided between capitalism and communism. We now know, however, that communism was never a viable economic policy. Although China and Cuba continue to pay lip service to the rhetoric of the revolution, both have learned that economic liberalization is the essential key to survival. North Korea alone remains a staunch adherent of the ideals of communism and a tragic but convenient reminder lest we forget.

We can now see that it is capitalism and only capitalism that has ever succeeded in lifting large populations out of absolute poverty, raising standards of living, creating a prosperous middle class, and so forth. This is not seriously debated among economists, but just as an illustration here are key findings from The Rational Optimist:

  • Between 1980 and 2000, the poor doubled their consumption.
  • The Chinese are ten times richer and live about 25 years longer than they did 50 years ago.
  • Nigerians are twice as rich and live 9 more years.
  • The percentage of the world’s population living in absolute poverty has dropped by over half.
  • The United Nations estimated that poverty was reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500.

These are the fruits of the globalization of markets and widespread capitalism in the post-Cold War reality.

Even the apparently pitched political battles between European and American models, or between the American left and right, are first and foremost about the key question of how to make the free market work. No one—or at least no one who is taken seriously and understands basic economic realities—questions that any kind of a welfare state must be first built upon a thriving and prosperous market-based economy.

One of the key insights that follows from all this is that long-run poverty is not essentially about material wealth. When we look at poverty on the global scale, we understand that the lack of material wealth in the developing world is a symptom of deeper of dysfunctions. Just as one example, Hernando de Soto Polar—a Peruvian economist and long-time critic of the Shining Path Maoist terrorists—described the vital importance of the complex but subtle regulatory infrastructure that is present in capitalist nations but non-existent in much of the developing world. We take it for granted that such questions as “Who owns this house?” can be fairly and unambiguously determined in the United States, but ownership of property (and especially valuable, productive property like land) is subject to corruption, nepotism, and ambiguity in much of the developing world. As a result, de Soto Polar writes “An elite minority enjoys the economic benefits of the law and globalization, while the majority of entrepreneurs are stuck in poverty, where their assets –adding up to more than US$ 10 trillion worldwide– languish as dead capital in the shadows of the law.”

De Soto Polar’s recipe for reducing poverty is simple: enact legal reforms so that everyone—and not just the powerful—have access to the market. If you want less poverty, you need more capitalism.

2013-12-02 Hernando de Soto Polar

That’s easier said than done, of course, but the important implication of this example is simply this: there are policies and programs that can work effective to combat poverty and stimulate economic growth other than the generally pointless shuffling around of material wealth that treats only the superficial symptoms of poverty.

We have a deeper and more profound understanding of the kinds of dysfunctions that lead to poverty, and how they can be addressed. Economists like Amartya Sen have challenged our emphasis on wealth comparison with illustrations about equality of opportunity, and popular writers like David Brooks have expounded the social aspects of poverty within the United States in works like The Social Animal.

So, the most important thing we knew in 2009 that we didn’t know in 1981 was that there are a whole range of policies and laws and regulations that can work to reduce poverty other than by coercive and centralized wealth redistribution. Speaking generally: We learned this largely because the collapse of capitalism’s only serious rival redirected our attention to the question of how to make capitalism work. Speaking specifically of the Church: the lesson probably came after the Perpetual Education Fund became just one example of a specific poverty-fighting program that eschewed wealth redistribution and focused on an underlying cause of poverty (lack of access to education) instead.

With this new understanding, it made all the sense in the world to formally add poverty as a central concern of the mission of the Church. It’s not that the issue is more important in 2009 than it was in 1981. It’s that we now have a new vision for actions which can be taken to address the concern. Of course, I haven’t said what exact policies we should be interested in pursuing beyond the bare minimum of including free markets as a necessary ingredient. I have also focused deliberately on the long-run aspects of poverty as opposed to short-run questions such as disaster relief. It’s a complex topic, and one that I look forward to treating in greater detail with Walker Wright (whom I’ve previously introduced) in the near future.

52 comments for “The Fourth Point: Caring for the Poor and Needy

  1. Thanks for this. A couple of week’s ago in my ward’s RS, the teacher mentioned the “threefold” mission of the Church and was surprised, as were many others, to hear that we now include a fourth element.

  2. Thank you for this. But the main problem I see is that the church is far too focused on things like gay marriage, secularism, feminism… I have never gone to church and heard talk focusing on the dangers of income inequality, the love of money, consumerism, etc. It really gets me frustrated. Christ’s message mentions the evils of the love of money all the time. But where does it mention those other things? Those things that my fellow ward members seem to think of are an existential threat?

  3. “the Perpetual Education Fund became just one example of a specific poverty-fighting program that eschewed wealth redistribution”

    The PEF redistributes wealth. I think what you are trying to say here is that it isn’t meant to be a *permanent* system of redistribution (as if one would always have to send more money to a person who would remain poor without that influx) but rather a *temporary* system of wealth redistribution, so the person can no longer be poor. I think, especially if this is an ongoing series, you might want to tinker with your terminology a little to avoid confusion, since most people (rightly) see a big difference in temporary redistribution (=programs designed to help people become self-sufficient) and permanent redistribution (=programs that don’t) and would only favor the latter for special cases such as illness, old age, etc.

  4. Yes, unfortunately the fourth mission of the church hasn’t really caught on that much. In fact, during our last Stake Conference the Stake President devoted much of his talk to the Threefold Mission of the Church, with nary a mention of the fourth, and was surprised when my husband mentioned it to him later.

  5. Can anyone verify that the 4th mission was actually added to the Handbook? I remember the 2009 announcement, but I haven’t seen anything aged to the Church’s website. It seems to have kind of petered out….

  6. (Also, please check spam filter. It was kind of a grumpy comment–perhaps that’s why it was filtered!)

  7. Robert C.,

    It’s not in any clear bullet points, but obscured in the following paragraph:

    “In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”

    Buried in Priesthood Principles 2.2 “Purpose of the Church”

  8. BYU is a much bigger wealth re-distributor than the PEF will ever be (whether short-term or long-term). The BYU subsidy doesn’t have to be repaid, but the PEF does. Nothing short of welfare for the middle-class.

  9. Thanks for an insightful post on a subject near to my heart. A couple of thoughts.

    First, the three-fold mission of the Church, which arguably had been around a long time prior to its articulation in the 1970s, was often characterized as a Priesthood concept, that is, the three-fold-mission of the Priesthood. The fourth mission of care for the poor and needy had its own long pedigree, having been given directly to the women of the Church at least as early as 1842 (hence the “relief” in Relief Society). I see the 2009 articulation of the four-fold mission of the church as a part of the movement toward the fuller integration of women — and emphasis on co-responsibility of men and women — in the kingdom-building practices and organization of local congregations.

    Second, I’m looking forward to hearing more about the alternative methods of addressing poverty. I have been pondering the condition of the Book of Mormon peoples near the time of the Savior’s ministry, 3 Nephi 6:12-15. The inequality of wealth, educational opportunity, and civil discourse leads to a complete collapse of social infrastructures. I am wondering if your ideas will include ways to address these causes of poverty.

    Finally, in my calling and my vocation, I have seen that there poverty is destructively intertwined with child abuse, alcoholism, and mental illness. Any effective method of addressing poverty will have to address those problems.

  10. @#8, thanks, I’m glad to see the fourth mission did make it into the Handbook somewhere, even if I wish it were more prominent in the Handbook and on the Church website.

    (Also, I realize my previous comment wasn’t caught in the spam filter, I just posted at the cross-posting at the Difficult Run blog. Just as well — I’ll come up with a more productive/constructive response some of the ideas that concern me in this post, and I’ll post it later in a comment here, in a subsequent post, or at the Feast Upon the Word blog where I occasionally post, and where I can address what the particular hermeneutic dangers I’m worried about….)

  11. Genuine Question-

    Your whole timeline kinda falls apart, and with it much of your argument.

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention! I didn’t realize that the threefold mission could be traced so much farther back than the 1980s, and of course that will change the thrust of our argument. I don’t think that it really threatens the essential core, however. The important idea is that Church leaders appear to have seen only two options: public and private wealth redistribution and that within that paradigm there’s not a lot of room for an expansive anti-poverty agenda. This dichotomy has been transcended since the 1980s, however, as the end of the Cold War put more of an emphasis on making capitalism work. So we might have to observe that the Cold War was not the original impetus for keeping the fourth point out (since there was no Cold War in 1939), but the end of the Cold War and the shift in policy research since then is still applicable.

    I appreciate the help!

  12. Julie M. Smith & Roger Hansen-

    You both make solid and related points. We’re definitely going to have to be much more careful with our terminology in a more formal setting. It’s not just “wealth redistribution” that needs more care and attentiveness, but even more so the term “capitalism”.


  13. “the lesson probably came after the Perpetual Education Fund became just one example of a specific poverty-fighting program that eschewed wealth redistribution and focused on an underlying cause of poverty (lack of access to education) instead.”

    Do you mean “eschewed coercive wealth redistribution.” Because the PEF is a form a charitable/voluntary wealth distribution. And even if you did mean to add “coercive,” it still wouldn’t make sense, because nowhere in the PEF homepage, or statement from an LDS leader regarding PEF, is there any statement against government-sponsored wealth redistribution.

    But to address your overall point, I don’t see the LDS church’s revelation of a fourth mission in 2009 as having any correlation with the supposed improvement of developmental economics over the last 30 years or as a stand against wealth redistribution. If anything it simply appears to be just another attempt by the LDS church to improve its image amid increasing criticism heaped upon it (made increasingly available to people because of the internet) over its lack of financial transparency and allegedly low percentage of humanitarian spending.

  14. It should be noted that PEF is no longer listed on the tithing form. And additionally, there is a statement saying that the Church can move the donated monies wherever it needs to to make things work. The Church’s commitment to PEF seems to be ebbing.

    For whatever reason, the Church needs to do more to end poverty. Particularly considering that half of its members are now living in developing countries.

  15. Job #1 of the Christian is to provide the Word of God.

    Feeding the poor is a penultimate issue. Even Jesus turned the crowds away when they came back to him the next day after he fed the 5,000.

    He basically said, ‘this is not a program to feed your stomachs…but to save your souls.’

    Sure…Christians ought feed the hungry. But it should never take precedence over handing over the good news.

    My non-Mormon 2 cents.


  16. @15 “what does ‘the poor will always be with you” mean to you? To me it means you can’t end poverty until everyone has Zion in their heart.

    @16 Steve, I think you are right to point out the false dichotomy. Our actual dealings with people are never segmented like this.

  17. I’m with Robert C above — the announcement was made in the Salt Lake Tribune in 2009 that a fourth mission would be added to the 2010 handbooks, but I never saw it, either. As the narrator points out, if it is there it is sort of obscured.

  18. #16. We have plenty of missionaries out there teaching the gospel. At the moment, probably too many. So teaching the gospel isn’t the problem. Helping members and their neighbors out of their dire straights also needs to be a priority.

    #17. We will never be at a point where “everyone has Zion in their heart.” This looks too much like an excuse for inaction.

  19. I always felt the fourth mission was added because we (as a people) weren’t making it a part of the other three. That we were using the first two (Strengthen the Members, Proclaim the Gospel) with a slant that only the “deserving” should get help. That we were neglecting the poor amoung us in favor of patting outselves on the back how well we did the few things we could nicely categorize into the three missions.

    I think the three could have been enough (just as the two Laws given by Christ could be enough) if we’d just follow them properly, rather than the human tendancy to try and find ways to skirt the edges of the law.

  20. Nathaniel thanks for bringing this 4th fold to a small forefront. A few weeks ago I lamented the lack of attention this fold receives on StayLDS. I agree with Kirsten, here is a universal principle – lifting up the hands that hang down – and yet it never gets air time. It is listed on, not that anyone looks for it.

    But helping a brother or sister, I think, is the number one thing Christ did. Relieving poverty has many tangents to it, yes things can be given such as money, food, clothes – but there is poverty of the mind, the soul, a community. These can be taught, which invites productivity and life saving. If I were in charge of life, I frequently find out I never am, this fold in the mission would be my focus. Thanks again. I liked this post.

  21. ““what does ‘the poor will always be with you” mean to you?”

    Well, in context, Jesus is quoting that line from Deut 15. The rest of the passage reads:

    “therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

    So I read Jesus’ statement as a command to help the poor.

  22. And of course “the poor will always be with you” doesn’t apply to every society at every time. The society in 4th Nephi didn’t have any poor. They didn’t have any rich either…part of me wonders if that’s a sacrifice we as a society have to make if we want to eradicate poverty.

  23. We should have a church wide conversation about what counts as “punishing success” and what counts as “making the successful responsible to the society that let them be successful”.

  24. #19 Better to hand it over (the gospel)…do it to them (your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake) than to teach it. But teaching about it is also important so that it doesn’t turn into a self-focused religious ladder-climbing project.

    And, can we ever have enough people handing over Christ in a world in love with self-justification projects…and themselves in general?

  25. The point of my citing the ‘poor will always be with you’ quote is that poverty will never go away unless 100% of people live the law of Consecration of their own free will and choice. No man-made organization can substitute for that principle, and most substitutes have huge downsides (greed vs slothfulness) no matter how noble their motives or wise their implementation. Only universal conversion permits the 4th Nephi society.

    Making this point in no way detracts from the obligation to help others. Nor do I think we need to wring our hands about official lists. Anecdotally, every ward I have been in, it wasn’t necessary to remind people to help the poor – they did it naturally.

    Jader(24), from my perspective, ‘making the successful responsible’ misses the whole point, going back to the scriptures on motives and giving:

    “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.”

    ( Source: Howard W. Hunter, Speeches of the Year 1965-1966, pp. 1-11, “The Law of the Harvest”, Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, 8 March 1966 )

    Having this perspective in no way detracts from one’s capacity or proper state of heart in succoring the poor. In fact, I would say it manifests a profound understanding of giving, evidenced by the fact that someone who holds it understands the equally profound blessings missed out on by the giver who was compelled.

  26. One recent anecdote comes to mind.

    2 months ago, I had an impression to give a painting of the Savior as a gift to a recent convert. This man doesn’t have much money, is probably pretty poor. The Spirit didn’t tell me to give him money, it wanted me to help catalyze his spiritual strengthening.

    Another anecdote comes to mind. A few years ago money was tight, and a Stake Presidency member and his wife stopped by with leftover girls camp food to give to us. This wasn’t really necessary for us or very healthy, but was more of a spiritual message from the Lord that he was taking care of us, and that’s the reason they were prompted to do so.

    I apologize that my long-winded-ness has so plainly manifest my frustration at differing definitions of poor. Are we not all beggars?

  27. “making the successful responsible to the society that let them be successful”

    There is so much to unpack here. First of all “making” others sounds like a nice euphemism for force. It sounds eerily like Satans plan to destroy the agency of man (and yes I’m aware of modern deviations from this concept of agency, but you can go all the way back to the early Prophets and find them teaching about Satan’s plan destroying agency by forcing or “making” God’s children do his will).

    But looking a little further, you combine “making” with becoming “responsible”. So your plan somehow forces others to increase their responsibility — sounds again like a lie from the beginning. You can’t remove someones agency and simultaneously increase their (righteous) accountability. Agency and accountability are closely linked.

    Then in the coup de grace to a free and prosperous society you end with the justification for your unrighteous policy by suggesting that it’s appropriate because that society “let them” be successful.

    We’ll of course ignore where true success in this life lies — not in the accumulation of wealth, property, vacation, or even health care plans.

    But you seem to really believe that society “lets” some prosper (and presumably lets others fail) — once again further destroying the concept of agency at both ends. I don’t suggest that anyone can prosper without cooperation and benefit of being a part of the group. But in as much as all follow the rule of law, make and keep contracts of their own free will and choice, etc. both you and I have every chance at success that many a millionaire has.

    There is a key difference though. The willingness to take risk combined with the ability to make good decisions (and that decision/risk factor often gets reduced to “luck”, which might be a humble way of looking at it, but the decision/risk calculation has a lot to do with timing, and appropriateness, etc. plus the fact that many of us just aren’t willing to make the “right” kinds of risks).

    I’ve rarely met a poor person I have not personally helped with either a job or thousands of dollars of my personal money as a gift who was not a terrible decision maker. I don’t say this to judge them harshly or condemn them. But really I’m saddened at the fact that after many interventions of my own – either direct contributions and/or creating specifically tailored job positions around that person’s strengths, they have almost universally squandered their opportunity through poor decision making.

    Don’t get me wrong, I make plenty of poor decisions in my own life, and I can imagine the Lord shaking his head at some boneheaded things I do which affect me mentally or spiritually, etc. In a lot of ways this is probably worse off in an eternal sense (I’m truly grateful for and often feel unworthy of repentance) than the one who makes poor “temporal” decisions, yet is firmly planted in faith. Because in the end, I’ve also never met a person who endured in their faith in the midst of years of poverty who did not come to make better and better decisions to the point of where they were financially more secure — not exceptionally wealthy, but able to take care of themselves and offer a small degree of help to others.

    And I think this is why the Lord responds it has to be done in his own way, and why we heard glimpses of Mitt Romney saying to peers that he often struggled with the poor and how to best help them.

    Society is already pushing farther and father down the take more/entitle more road. So I don’t suppose I can stop this, because it really seems to be something we learn through tragic experience.

    But to make a long story short, it would be very nice if we actually had enough faith in the words of the modern day prophets to trust in their words in this regard up on the watchtower, rather than condemning their counsel to the bias of coldwar mentality, or staunch convservativism, etc.

    Learn (either in this life of the next) through tragic experience or trust in the counsel of the prophets and have the truths distill upon your soul by the Holy Spirit — a distillation, which I might add requires first and foremost charity.

  28. ps – I’m definitely not saying we should not and can not do far more than we already are! I think the vast majority of our time in mutuals, meetings, socials, etc. could be much better spent providing “relief”.

    I feel that if every activity in church actually lived up to this principle voiced by Julie Beck, we’d be well on our way to living up to this fourth mission of the church:

    “The sociality, friendship, and unity we desire will be the sweet results of serving together with the Lord in His work.” We spend a lot of time organizing parties for parties sake, etc. But the Lord wants us to spend our time in the service of each other as we do his work.

  29. Cameron,

    “Are we not all beggars?”

    That’s precisely the excuse I use to avoid helping those out in need. We’re all beggars! What makes them think that their hunger for food is any more important than my hunger to feel good about myself!

  30. Chris,

    I agree with your statement “I think the vast majority of our time in mutuals, meetinss, socials, etc. could be better spent providing “relief.”

    The rest is a little more difficult for me. Your neo-con economic philosophy implies a level field, and there is certainly not a level playing field. You have a great many more opportunities than does a individual born in a war zone in Africa. Maybe relief should work to level the playing field.

    Additionally to assume that government taxation and allocation is coercive and tithing is not is a bit of a stretch. If you want to go the temple and end up in the highest level of the celestial kingdom, you better pay your tithing.

    I would advocate that on tithing forms that members allocate part of their 10 percent to LDS Humanitarian Services. But unfortunately, the leaders are not bound by your allocation. (They are free to move the money around according to a statement on the tithing form.)

  31. Additionally to assume that government taxation and allocation is coercive and tithing is not is a bit of a stretch.

    Let me get this straight: if the IRS allowed everyone to define the tax code for themselves, took everyone’s word for whether or not they paid their taxes (according to their own definition), and in the event of self-declared non-payment of taxation restricted their response to sadly shaking their heads and saying “Well, you will be missing out on blessings,” that would strike you as “coercive”?

    I’m not sure what a good analogue for taking away your temple recommend would be. The problem is that, unlike stripping you of the right to vote or of your passport or something, the only consequences of losing your temple recommend are the consequences ascent to. The threat of federal prison time is coercive in a way that non-attendance of the temple absolutely is not.

  32. If you don’t like the tax laws in the United States you can put your monies in the Cayman Islands (like Mitt Romney) or you can donate real property to the Church to avoid capital gains (like Mitt Romney), or move to another country (like Sean Connery). If you don’t like State taxes, you can move to Nevada (no income tax). Or as many citizens do, you can cheat on your taxes.

    Which is the worst penalty, possible jail time or eternal damnation?

  33. chris (28),

    “But in as much as all follow the rule of law, make and keep contracts of their own free will and choice, etc. both you and I have every chance at success that many a millionaire has.”

    This assertion is extremely naive and assumes that there is equality of opportunity and social mobility in the US, which there most certainly is not. The chance that a child born in the bottom fifth percentile rose to the top fifth percentile (meaning making over 70K annually by the age of 30 and 100K by 45) is roughly 10 percent throughout the US:

    It is abysmally low in the southern US, a little over 5 percent, which is a testament to persistent systemic racism there.

    Furthermore, you assume that the wealthy are all deserving of their wealth and have come by their wealth through a combination of hard work and luck. Ha! If only the wealthy were all hard working producers. No, many are simply clever at screwing people out of their money and manipulating the law to back their unethical wealth-making tactics. What you call good decision-making, many call being more manipulative and cunning. Your beliefs are absolute foolishness.

  34. Roger (15) I like your comment. The December Ensign has a good story about a used soccer ball as a Christmas gift. I have made some dumb recent financial decisions but am still hoping for a good holiday for my kids.

    BTW our stake (in Utah) has been talking a lot about the need for more fast offerings.

  35. Chet, fast offering, LDS humanitarian services, and PEF (under “others” on the form) are all great ways to give.

    Steve (35), I agree with you totally.

  36. Roger (33), you are correct in saying that tithing is gathered through coercion, albeit, perhaps a milder form of coercion than taxes. For while the LDS church doesn’t force me to produce a statement of the income that I make to prove that I am paying ten percent or threaten me with imprisonment, it still imposes a penalty on me of not allowing me a temple recommend. For a convert living in an area with no temple and who has no family members in the LDS church, this penalty is completely inconsequential. But for someone in Utah, who has lots of family and friends in the LDS church, depriving someone of their temple recommend can potentially subject them social shaming. This shaming is particular felt at temple-related events such as weddings. Also, the shaming can be felt at tithing settlement.

    For if tithing were strictly voluntary, then why not just place a slit on the bishop’s door where people could privately deposit cash? Why attach their names to their donations and meet with them once a year to verify if they are paying a full tithe or not? Is that not a form of mild coercion?

  37. Roger-

    I’m not really sure if you’re being serious or not.

    If we restrict ourselves to secular analysis, it’s obvious that all of the methods for avoiding state or federal taxes are significantly harder than avoiding tithing, right?

    If we presume on the other hand that the Church is true and if you don’t pay tithing you go to Hell, however, that still doesn’t result in coercion. At least, not unless you’re willing to call all commandments coercive. There’s nothing unique about tithing, right? We are coerced to pay tithing in the same sense in which were coerced to live the law of chastity and coerced to not lie and coerced to be perfect.

    Maybe you subscribe to the idea that God is just an Angry Sky Despot(TM) and that all commandments are coercive. Which, OK, but then arguing that tithing is coercive is pointless. All religion is coercive.

    On the other hand, I don’t think commandments are coercive at all. I think they are choice and natural consequence. If I tell my kid “Don’t touch my laptop or I’ll beat you” that’s coercive. If I tell my kid “Don’t touch the stove or you’ll get burned” that’s not. Which category do you think God’s commands fall into?

  38. God’s Commandments are pure law..if we do then for a need to justify ourselves.

    But if they are done without self-consciousness…for the neighbor…then they are a good work.

    Trouble is, I never met a pure motive yet.

  39. Nathaniel, I’m pretty much serious. I object to the way tea partyers, neo-cons, etc. belittle government assistance to the poor because it coercive (ie. taxes have to be paid). We live in this country, we need to pay our fair share. And that includes for a safety net (homeless, mentally ill, unemployed, foreign assistance, etc.) My Mormon neighbor asked me to sign a anti-tax petition of some sort. I declined. I live a comfortable life, I need to pay my fair share. And since theoretically we are governed by elected officials, I do have some say in the way it is spent.

    I also object to members who want to describe tithing as non-coercive. Granted you don’t go to jail if you don’t pay; but if you are a believer, there are other penalties (loss of temple recommend, terrestrial kingdom habitation for the rest of eternity, etc.). For a Mormon believer this is serious stuff. And once you pay, you give up all influence on how the money is distributed, plus there is no financial accounting. It has been reported that very little tithing money goes to any form of assistance to the poor. (We don’t know for sure the extent of LDS assistance because there is no financial accounting.)

    The Mormon Church has been described as the “prosperity gospel” on steroids. And to a certain extent they are right. How many GAs have extolled the wonderful blessings that happen to people who pay there full tithe. It is a popular topic in General Conference. So if you use of the analogy of the carrot and the stick. Aren’t we also encouraging the payment of tithe with a carrot (blessings)?

    My only point in all this is we need to respect our government more. We need to quit trashing the social net and foreign assistance. Could they be better . . . sure. We also need to realize the limitations of a top-down ecclesiastical structure which provides little financial accounting.

    I spend all of my vacation time in Africa. I love it there. The Church is rapidly growing there. We need to do more for the members living in developing countries and their neighbors. We need them to have the same opportunities that we have.

  40. I recently attended a training meeting by Elder Oaks on Ward Councils. When someone asked how to account for the “threefold mission” in planning things out, Elder Oaks answered, bluntly, that the best thing you can do about the threefold mission is to “Forget about it.” – noting that the idea of the threefold mission compartmentalized and overly divided the Work of Salvation, and didn’t include key aspects, such as caring for the poor and needy, a hallmark of President Monson’s ministry.

  41. “On the other hand, I don’t think commandments are coercive at all. I think they are choice and natural consequence”

    Wait, what is the “natural consequence” of not paying tithing? In many cases, there is a non-natural penalty imposed upon the non-tithe payers by the members and local leaderships themselves. I know of several people who do not want to pay tithing but feel obligated to lest they incur the wrath of their believing spouse/family upon them (just look through the posts on the New Order Mormon forum). I grew up consistently hearing that tithing comes before all else. And this little gem made it past the editorial board of the Ensign just last December: “After reading these scriptures together, Bishop Orellana looked at the new convert and said, ‘If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.'” Now this didn’t come from the FP/Q15 or a GA, but still, what a frightfully horrendous message to share. Risk your family’s livelihood to pay a church??? The rest of Aaron West’s description of how an LDS bishop in El Salvador browbeats the poor into submission can be read here:

    I don’t think that there can be any denying that the high-pressure tactics to which the LDS leadership and membership alike resort in getting people to pay amount to a form of coercion. For many, the temporal cost of not paying (and I’m not talking about whatever supposed cost there is in the afterlife) exceeds the cost of paying.

  42. Roger-

    Nathaniel, I’m pretty much serious.

    You seem to have a clear motivation to criticize particular strain of anti-government sentiment, but I can’t help but feeling that your strategy of linking taxes and tithing is unnecessary and unsuccessful.

    Taxes are coercive, sure, but who says this is a bad thing? None of your arguments (sketched above) care about coercion one way or another. E.g. “We live in this country, we need to pay our fair share.” In other words, “here are the reasons I believe in coercive taxation.” I don’t see any reason to shy away from this. After all, not only taxation but government itself is coercive and we still have AoF 12.

    So why try to connect tithing to taxation at all? Your arguments that tithing is coercive seem to be some kind of attempt to counter anti-taxation arguments by using tithing as an ideological shield. “If you don’t like taxes, you must not like tithing either!” I’m not sure why else you try to link them. But the link doesn’t really work, at least, not via coercion, because tithing really isn’t coercive in the same sense that taxation as.

    You say “if you are a believer, there are other penalties,” but that’s the whole point: the coercion of tithing depends for enforcement on beliefs within the mind of the person in question. Whether or not you view tithing as “coercive” depends on whether or not you happen to care about temple blessings, but the federal penitentiary system doesn’t care what you believe. You’re still going to jail.

    So you want people to respect the government more and you think the Church is culturally (theologically?) veering into priestcraft (that’s how I’d interpret “prosperity Gospel on steroids”). Well OK, but I think you’ll need a new argument to meet those ends. Tithing as coercion doesn’t work.

  43. Steve Smith-

    On the other hand, I don’t think commandments are coercive at all. I think they are choice and natural consequence… (me)

    Wait, what is the “natural consequence” of not paying tithing? In many cases, there is a non-natural penalty imposed upon the non-tithe payers by the members and local leaderships themselves. (Steve Smith)

    I don’t know what the imposition of non-natural penalties has to do with my point. Some people overzealously enforce rules, but that has no bearing whatsoever on the moral validity of the rule itself. I think we can agree that (as a general notion) lying is bad and also agree that imposing non-natural consequences of torturing people to death for relatively mundane violations of that rule is, itself, bad. But the morality of the lie would be totally independent of whatever non-natural consequences some crazy despot decided to attach to it.

    My point is that commands from God (as opposed to laws from humans which includes human innovations to commands that originally came from God) are predicated on natural moral laws. When God gives a command, it is based on an independently moral valid reality. God says “Thou shalt not kill” not because doing so makes killing immoral, but because killing is already immoral and the command recognizes this fact and warns us not to violate it. In other words, my argument is that commands are generally instructive (like “don’t touch the hot stove”) rather than coercive (like “if you touch the TV remote I’ll smack your hand”).

    Of course not all commands are so simplistic. There are other rationales. For example, I believe the principle behind the Word of Wisdom is primarily one of solidarity. Lots of people could enjoy alcoholic beverages without getting drunk, becoming addicted, or sinning in any way. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with drinking alcohol. Nor is there anything unhealthy with it in moderation. But some folks would naturally become addicted (especially in a world where not everyone starts out as a Mormon) and so if we didn’t have a general provision against alcohol we’d have a culture where there was a visible and uncomfortable contrast between “strong” Saints (who could have a glass of wine now and then with no ill effect) and “weak” Saints (recovering alcoholics who could never drink again). I believe that the WoW enacts a principle of solidarity by saying “OK, well then none of us will drink.”

    Violation of the WoW thus violates a moral principle of solidarity, and there are natural consequences of that. It also violates the general moral principles of obedience to God, and there are natural consequences of that as well. Those consequences are real and independent of the fact that you might also get some self-righteous, judgmental consequences from Mormons.

    There’s an objective moral reality under-girding all commands (or so I believe), but obviously it’s not reflected accurately in our chaotic, random, and unfair mortal probation.

  44. “I don’t know what the imposition of non-natural penalties has to do with my point.”

    The discussion we were having concerned whether the LDS church’s method of collecting tithing amounted to coercion. Your point was that it did not because a) for LDS believers, tithing was a commandment of God, b) commandments are instructive, not coercive, and c) whatever punishment results from the violation of commandments (which are predicated on natural moral law), be it imposed by nature or society, is natural, and therefore cannot be coercive.

    I agree that there is an objective moral reality/natural moral law, but all fall short of grasping it in its fullness. Hence, all human laws and moral codes are merely approximations of natural moral law and some are arguably more in line with natural moral law than others. Also, let’s take God out of the equation and just assume that all laws and moral codes are human originated. But that’s beyond the point.

    My issue is that the imposition of excessive punishments that don’t fit the crime is not in conformity with natural moral law and is therefore coercive. Is may be right and ‘natural’ of me to take issue with a friend who lied to me and punish him by ceasing contact with him for a period. But it would unnatural of me, and coercive, to seize him and hold him captivity in my basement for lying. The LDS church is mildly coercive in its collection of tithing (at least in areas near temples and with high concentrations of LDS people) by not allowing an easy opt-out. It coerces people into obedience through shaming, guilt-tripping, telling them of punishment in the afterlife, high-pressure tactics (of which tithing settlement is one), etc. Some of these may not be the policy of the LDS church, but it is the unfortunate reality of the LDS experience for many, which the LDS leadership does not step in enough to change. For instance, some LDS wives coerce their husbands to pay tithing through veiled threats of divorce, and when the leadership, upon knowing this, does not step in to discourage such behavior indirectly takes part in the coercion.

    As for the supposed moral principle of solidarity that you mention, I agree that standing in solidarity with one’s community is important and necessary in many cases. But pushing the issue of solidarity alone is a form of coercion. We should gather in solidarity because we stand behind a principle, not simply because someone said so. Without a well-reasoned rationale behind why people should stand in solidarity with one another and their community, it is coercion. Asking an Indian man to pay an exorbitant dowry for his daughter to marry in order to show solidarity with the community tradition is coercion. Asking a Muslim family to accept their son to undertake a suicide bombing to show solidarity with the supposed Palestinian cause is coercion.

  45. “In it, Kimball followed the Mormon pattern and paired a discussion of the “building of Zion through sacrifice and consecration” with a discussion of Church and state welfare programs. While emphasizing the importance of practical charity, he also espoused a deep distrust of centralized, government-run programs. He argued that government programs are prone to handouts (which are spiritually corrosive to the recipients) and also that their impersonal, bureaucratic nature can crowd out individual participation (which is spiritually corrosive to the donors).”

    I think you originally brought up the issue of anti-government sentiments.

    The reason that I link tithing with taxation has to do with how we threat the poor. Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you want to emphasize the Church method over the government (corrosive). But not all government aid is corrosive and provides a bigger pot of money to address the issue of global poverty. We need government participation and the “neo-cons, libertarians, and radical laissez-faire capitalists” (the majority of church members) seem to want to reduce our participation in the war against global poverty to zero.

    And I’m not all the enraptured with the Church’s effort. Sure individual Church members are doing the best they can, but the Church effort toward reducing global poverty is miniscule.

    And to somehow pretend that tithing, the source of most of the Church’s income, in not coercive seems naive. So it is my belief that Church members need more say in how Church money is spent.

  46. My issue is that the imposition of excessive punishments that don’t fit the crime is not in conformity with natural moral law and is therefore coercive.

    Sure, I agree with that. The problem is that folks have a tendency to identify any negative repercussion as coercion, and I think it gets a bit silly. E.g. “The LDS church is mildly coercive in its collection of tithing (at least in areas near temples and with high concentrations of LDS people) by not allowing an easy opt-out.” The point at which we’re saying that any undesireable consequence is coercion is the point where I just think we’re not having a serious conversation anymore.

    Without a well-reasoned rationale behind why people should stand in solidarity with one another and their community, it is coercion.

    I thought the term “coercive” was getting stretched even before I got to this point. No: I do not think failure to provide the right rationale makes something “coercive”. It might be “authoritarian,” but that’s not actually the same thing.

  47. I suppose we’re running into the obstacle of defining what coercion is, and as to whether or not it is always bad. This is perhaps a discussion for another time. But the bottom line is that tithing collection in the LDS church is not as voluntary and non-coercive as you seem to think it is (it is not like the LDS church just passes around a collection plate or has its members slide anonymous donations under the door). Don’t just dismiss this as not a serious issue. I suggest you visit New Order Mormon forum to read stories of many people who want to leave the LDS church, but do not for fear of incurring a huge social penalty. Many feel obligated to pay tithing out of fear of rejection by friends and family. Why do they feel this way? Why can’t they just opt out with little negative repercussion? Worries about divorce or being treated as an inferior by family seems like more than just a minor undesirable consequence to me. What’s worse is that sometimes the local leadership encourages this sort of behavior.

    I would also recommend watching To Verdener (Worlds Apart), a Danish film based on a true story of a girl who is shunned by her Jehovah’s Witness family for no longer desiring to be part of that religion: Now the LDS church is different than the JWs and does discourage shunning. But it points out what is an inconvenient truth for many religious people: it is not just governments that can be unjustly and unreasonably coercive but religious communities as well can be so as well. Although, without the freedom to detain, imprison, and fine, they are of course not as potentially coercive as governments.

    As for your second point, OK, fine, I’ll rephrase it. Without a well-reasoned rationale…it is authoritarian, and authoritarian systems often rely on coercive and arbitrary tactics (as opposed to persuasive tactics) to accomplish goals.

  48. Nathaniel, you’re just flat cheating here.

    You claim that morality is “natural” and in some sense beyond God, but then you say that in our mortal probation things are chaotic, unfair and random.

    So, on the one hand, any arguments from this world in contradiction to your point can be dismissed and put off to the world to come and furthermore, even if a person was trying to agree with your moral position (for example, agree well enough to be able to predict your position on a given moral question in advance without you discussing it) I can’t see how they would do it, because you don’t have a way of telling the difference between your this-worldly understanding of morality and your belief in universal morality, continuity of identity, transcendental willing substances, etc.

    Reading your posts is like watching a pretty good science fiction TV series; it hangs together enough to get you to watch but its clearly neither coherent or real enough to influence one’s life project.

    Oh. well maybe next episode I’ll see how it all makes sense.

  49. The quote got left out.

    “There’s an objective moral reality under-girding all commands (or so I believe), but obviously it’s not reflected accurately in our chaotic, random, and unfair mortal probation.”

    I’ll be consistent at least and point out that I don’t think you will face any natural consequences of your cheating.

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