Tag Archives: Accountabilty

“I Am Scripture”

Bednar

In a recent meeting Elder Bednar was supposedly asked a question by a sister missionary about women and the priesthood. He’s said to have given his own thoughts about the subject and when he concluded, the sister asked a follow up question.  “Are there any scriptures that talk about this subject?” Elder Bednar responded, “I am scripture.”

Now in fairness to Elder Bednar, I’ve heard this account from two different sources both in attendance at this meeting, and thus I relate the story relying upon second hand information.  If any readers have also heard this same story, please correct or confirm the details.

My first reaction to such a statement is not good.  Yet I fully understand as an LDS person raised in the church, that Elder Bednar is only stating what we teach.  “When a ‘prophet’ speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is scripture.”  Elder Bednar obviously considers himself a prophet and many of us sustain him in that calling.

But, we are also taught that “when any person speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is scripture.”

So why give more credence to the words of Elder Bednar than say… someone else claiming to speak by the Holy Ghost?  The standard LDS answer is “because God’s house is a house of order and that’s why keys are so important.  Whoever has the keys AND speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost is who you listen to.”

For nearly 170 years (post-Joseph), these men we sustain as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators have been able to more or less say “Let it be written, for I am scripture.”  Their Conference talks are immortalized and their words are given as lessons and talks and made into refrigerator magnets all around the world for years and decades to come.

Abundance Oaks

The Immortalized Words of General Conference

But to what end?

For me when someone (and I mean anyone, besides The Lord) says something akin to “I am scripture” the effect is to shut down any and all further communication or questions. The same can be said of many statements we tend to make as Mormons.

I’m reminded of a missionary companion who liked to one-up investigators who disagreed by “boldly” bearing his testimony. Its effect? The conversation usually stopped awkwardly. He taught other missionaries this principle too.  “Whenever you can’t answer a question, just bear your testimony (really hard).”

One time we were having a great discussion with a Catholic gentleman. He was hung up on The Book of Mormon. His questions and concerns were sincere. Then it came. “Sir, I know The Book or Mormon is true beyond a shadow of any doubt and that this church is the only true and living church on the whole earth!” This man replied with his own testimony. “Well, I know The Book of Mormon is NOT true and that your church is NOT the only true church on the whole earth!” My companion was taken aback. I waited for him to say “IS NOT!” like a 4-year old who has no logical arguments left. Fortunately he didn’t.

To be fair, our investigator wasn’t saying he “knew” anything. He was merely demonstrating how strange and immature such grand statements sounded to him and how off-putting they were.  The conversation usually just ends.

Even to members of the church familiar with such bravado, the effect of these traditional tactics can be very damaging.

To say “I know God lives,” five times in a row, for example, while increasing the pauses in between sentences, while climactically raising the tone of your voice each time, may just lead someone to believe you have literally stood in the Lord’s presence. This was a technique I observed from the late Elder Loren C. Dunn. If he had not actually seen God, would this be a good thing to do? Might this cause people to treat someone as a light and heap upon them their praise?

Monson

I spoke to a brother recently who provides security detail for the Brethren when they come to his area. He is a trained police officer. He told me that when an Apostle, Prophet or even a Seventy come nowadays, there are members who try to find out what hotel they are staying in so they can stalk them and try to meet them. He recently had to rescue a visiting GA from an overly excited LDS crowd, literally removing him from danger. The spared GA told this brother that it’s getting worse and worse as they travel around the world.

Curious, I asked why he believed members reacted like this around the Brethren. He said “It’s like they’re rock stars and people think that because they know the Savior, that if they can just touch them, something amazing will happen!” He then went on to say that a full grown man from his stake boasted that he shook Elder Ballard’s hand and was “never going to wash it again.”

Such adoration and idolatry is anti-Zion and anti-Christ. All of us can learn a lesson from this. Maybe you or I are not tempted by GA celebrity status, but our own claims may cause others to look to us as a light instead of to Him.

The Savior’s Example

The Savior of the world epitomized meekness and humility. When he was called “good,” he objected and deflected all praise to God (Matthew 19:17). When he gave talks, he quoted scripture, giving all recognition to the prophet he quoted. This despite the fact that it was He, the Great Jehovah, who had given the quote to begin with.  Unlike any mortal, “prophet or not,” Jesus IS literally the Word of God.  He, and only He, is Scripture.

When Jesus taught He did not often make bold self-promoting proclamations to induce obedience or to enhance his bona fides. Clearly He was entitled to, but He more often said:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. (Matthew 5:21) or “Blessed are the meek…”

He could have just as easily said “I am the Great Jehovah who once commanded you, Thou shalt not kill…” or “I the God of Heaven and Earth command you to be meek now before I pull your temple recommend.”

Jesus does not use His power and authority to compel obedience and adoration.

Although perfect Himself, He invited others to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Jesus speaks in plainness and humility.

And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things… (Ether 12:39)

Notice that Moroni’s claims are also plain, overt, and factual. He doesn’t leave the audience guessing whether he did or did not see the Lord.

Some Ideas to Consider

Whether leader or layperson, none of us is perfect.  We can benefit from each others’ feedback and prayers.  It’s a humbling and difficult experience to recognize or be made aware of our weaknesses.  The Brethren need not feel threatened, condemned or judged by our feedback.  They deserve our help as much as we deserve theirs.  Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to discern when they or anyone act and speak in the Lord’s name, otherwise we do them no favors and we only damn ourselves.

Here are just a few suggestions that I think would help us as members to NOT idolize the Brethren as well as to not set ourselves up as lights unto the world (2 Nephi 26:29).

We should never mislead people about what we know. We should not exaggerate our claims. If we haven’t seen Jesus or Angels, we should not make people believe we have.  We should not mislead others about it by speaking in circles or by emphasizing how special our witness is. Let’s be honest and humble and direct ALL praise to our Lord.  Only He can save.

Most of us can all do better in deflecting compliments and praise. Jesus said we should not even call one another Rabbi, which is to say Master or Teacher (Matthew 23:7). In my ward the CES contingency take turns suggesting that the other is one of the “Great Master Teachers of the Kingdom.” I believe such things to be devilish and destructive and yet all of us are tempted to heap praise upon each other.  It’s our culture.

We should not often call people by their full names preceded with titles. Let’s drop the words president, elder, beloved, prophet, seer, revelator, general authority, etc. from our vocabulary when addressing someone. EVEN Jesus said to not call Him good! Do we really suppose He would have liked to be called Our Beloved President Jesus (add initial) Christ, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, while in mortality?  To do so is to desecrate Him; His calling. Why should we be greater than He?   He was called “Jesus.”  That should serve as our model when speaking to or about each other, no matter our calling.  Titles and initials inflate egos.

Church Leaders not speaking at General Conference would send a powerful message if they did NOT sit on the stand. In fact, they could even dress normally, i.e. not to the nines in expensive suits and dresses (fine twined linen?) and they could serve as Ushers and Parking Attendants and assist the infirm. They should consider standing at the doorways rather than sitting in plush red seats where all can see. Didn’t the Savior teach us to be servants especially when we are viewed as greatest?  (Matthew 32:11).  Let the poor and the elderly sit in those seats.

General Authority families should not be given preferential seats at General Conference. They should not occupy the entire front section of the Conference Center as they currently do. These people should get in line with the rest of us for tickets.  Why not let first year converts or investigators sit in those seats?  Or the handicapped?

NO calling in the church should EVER BE REMUNERATED nor should anyone receive a stipend who teaches or serves in the church (Mosiah 18:24). The church knows that its 80,000+ missionaries and its 3+ million active members of the church tell everyone that what makes us different from all other churches is that no one is paid.  The Brethren KNOW this is what we tell people.  And yet some of us KNOW this is not true.  It’s simply wrong to encourage the lie by not correcting the record.  It’s dishonest.  It’s immoral.  It would be one thing perhaps if the brethren were merely being supported.  This is simply not true.  They earn very large sums of money as a direct result of their callings.  The church needs to come clean and set the record straight and deal with the consequences.

ALL transactions and expenditures ought to be made available for members to see.  Every contract, every piece of property bought or sold, every trip, every personal expense, every stipend, every salary, every bonus, every royalty ought to be made public.

Church leaders should not fly First Class as I have witnessed on more than one occasion.  For those of you that don’t think this possible, here is a recent picture of President Nelson.

13k_Nelson

He’s apparently on an International flight from SLC to Germany, traveling with Elder Hallstrom accompanied by their wives and someone who appears to be Elder Nelson’s bodyguard (far right in the picture) ALL flying First Class.  Retail price of each ticket?  $13,000.  Coach price?  $1300.  What would be wrong with sitting in a regular seat with normal folks?  It would sure save a lot of tithing money.  One ticket at this price is equal to two years of tithing for a person who makes $65,000 per year. Fifty people could have flown for the price likely paid for these five tickets!  One ticket would pay for an entire mission for a young man or young woman who cannot afford it.

Are these men so frail and so important that they can’t sit in a normal airplane seat?  Why not just pay the extra $100 for more leg room?  “But everyone would bother them if they were in coach” one might argue.  But, isn’t that their calling?  To preach the gospel whenever they can?  I’ve heard more than one apostle say we should pray when we get on a flight that we will be able to share the gospel with someone seated next to us.  How does the future prophet of the church do that here surrounded by his wife on his right and protected by hired muscle on his left?

Church leaders should not be served the sacrament first, but rather should bless it and administer it as servants to the congregation as the D&C teaches.

There are many small but important changes the church could make that I believe would both help the church to better conform with scripture as well as prevent people from leaving.  Again, brothers and sisters, it’s our duty as members of Christ’s church to sustain these men in their callings by sharing our concerns.  We need not be angry or revile against anyone.  We can share our concerns with love.  If we don’t, then who will?  Anti-Mormons?  It is far better that we encourage positive change from within by “common consent” than have it imposed upon us by the wrath of God, when it’s likely too late.  We who believe in the Restoration must open our mouths.  Those in the chief seats would do well to stop trying to silence those who offer their concerns.  It’s our church too.  The Savior’s message to the church leaders of his day seems to still apply to us in our day.  Will we heed the call of our Master?

And Jesus said unto his disciples, Beholdest thou the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin.  Go thou and say unto them, Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption?  Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.  (JST Matthew 7:6-8)

Defending Freedom

Washington

It is my belief that the Constitution is an inspired document akin to scripture.  As Latter-day Saints we ought to be particularly mindful to defend its principles, knowing that the failure to do so will lead to our destruction.  This is the message and warning of the Book of Mormon to the Gentiles who have inherited this land of promise.

A man I respect greatly recently admonished that “If you can see the problem, you should speak up. Help others to understand the path we are on will end with collapse and violence.”  He was addressing other issues, but I think the advice to speak out applies to ALL topics affecting our Constitutional freedoms.

The following letter was written and sent to the First Presidency.  I share it with permission from the author who wishes to remain anonymous.  I think the letter is outstanding and lays out a very compelling argument that needs to be heard and considered.  I applaud his courage and hope the Brethren will not retaliate for his sharing his concerns.  I also hope more freedom loving people will express their concerns to the men tasked with leading the church in these matters.

Dear Brethren,

I write to you regarding the Church’s position taken in Utah regarding the rights of the religious to determine whom they will hire and to whom they will rent. As I understand, some of the general authorities of the Church influenced the legislature to take the position that it is permissible to force employers to hire LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders) and for landlords to be forced to rent to the same group, even if they object to doing so because of religious reasons. I also believe that the Church similarly supported exempting religious and educational institutions from this requirement.

Assuming I have my facts straight, I would urge you to reconsider. D&C 134 is considered scripture by the members of the Church. Verse 2 states:

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

All subsequent mention of verses will refer to D&C 134, unless otherwise specified.

If we believe that the right and control of property is an essential aspect of freedom, why did the Church’s leaders move to restrict such? And if the leaders thought there was some good reason to support such a restriction, why did they exempt their own organization? Are the rights of the People somehow subordinate to the rights of one group which they have created?

This section in the D&C talks of the need for the government to respect the conscience of the People. Surely men and women have the right to follow their conscience in this matter. Surely man-made laws, such as public accommodation laws, do not trump God-given laws in this matter. If a person is not permitted to allow his/her religion to inform his conduct in this matter, where is such informing allowed? And what boundaries does the government have to respect? If the right to control property is excepted in this instance, is there really any such right?

Verse 7 talks about the need for government to protect the “citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief“. If Latter-Day Saints or Catholics or Baptists feel a need to manifest that belief in their landlord or employer duties, is not the government duty bound to protect them? Is it not their property/employment position? Do they not have the right to determine to whom it goes? And if it does not go to a certain individual, the latter’s rights have not been violated because it is not their property or position. Why, then, have you supported the government violating its duty?

And while this law supposedly applies to members of all religious societies, so that all of them are affected, has not this law enabled the denial of individual rights of the members of all societies, which is spoken against in verse 9 (We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby … the individual rights of its members, as citizens, [are] denied)?

Verse 10 talks about the conduct of religious societies, how they have not the right to “try men on the right of property“.

10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

Yet it seems to me that you have done just that, only using the arm of the law to accomplish what by scripture you could not do. If you thought the act of denying rentals or jobs to LGBT was against our religion, why did you not simply excommunicate the offenders, or instruct stake presidents and bishops to do so?

This action, that you have engaged in, is sad from another perspective. Normally men/women are to appeal to the civil law when the right of property is infringed (verse 11 – We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed). But what does one do when the infringer is the law itself? Furthermore we are warned to not engage in sedition and rebellion, while protected in our rights (verse 5 – We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly). So what are citizens to do when the government itself is the aggressor and offender of rights?

I come to you as a convert and member of 46+ years. I served a mission in xxxx and have served the Church in various callings over the years. I’m just an ordinary member. For most of my life I would never have dreamed of writing such a letter to you. But I learned my love for the constitution by reading talks of earlier leaders such as J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson and others. These verses in the D&C became some of my favorite ones:

D&C 98

4 And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.

D&C 101

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

D&C 109

54 Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever.

I served my country on active duty for 7+ years in the Army (and later in the Army Reserve) and taught soldiers under my care about the Constitution which we had all sworn an oath to defend and protect.

Never in my life would I have imagined that the leaders of my Church, who are acknowledged as prophets, seers and revelators, would become the enemies of that same Constitution which I hold as sacred and which I pledged to defend and protect.

So I am in a quandary. I know the teachings of not correcting someone who is higher in authority than myself. I also know this scripture:

D&C 88:81 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.

I have been moved in my heart to so warn you. I know I am nothing but the Lord is the Almighty and He will not be mocked. When I asked Him about telling you these things, He said:

“warn your brethren that their course leads to hell and the enemy of their soul. It is not of Me.”

Brethren, I want the best for you. Please consider these things.

No Poor Among “Them”

Is the church building Zion?

Holland

General Conference, October 2014

The purpose for establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was to build the Kingdom of God on Earth and establish latter day Zion.  Faithful members, some of whom cannot always afford it, consecrate tithes and offerings to support this end.  The church is only the “steward” of these sacred funds intended to build Zion, not the “owner” entitled to make use of the funding for other projects or purposes.

To establish Zion we must become of one heart and one mind, dwell in righteousness, and have no poor among us. (Moses 7:18)

But many active and faithful tithing paying members have concerns about what the church has been and is doing with their tithing.  More importantly many are wondering if the church’s expenditures are getting the world any closer to establishing Zion.

For many years the LDS Church has segmented revenues from members into two main categories: tithes and fast offerings.  Tithing today is used to build temples, churches, and other buildings, and in short pays for all the expenses of the church.

Fast offerings today are used to care for the church’s poor and to help humanitarian efforts around the world.  As I understand it, tithing is NOT used to care for the poor inside or out of the church.  I do not know when this practice began and I’m open to any thoughts any of you may have on the subject.

The first mention of tithing in scripture goes back to the Book of Genesis:

And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.  And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God; Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.  (JST Gen 14:36-39)

It would seem that in this instance Melchizedek used tithes exclusively for the poor.  There is no mention of fast offerings or of any segmentation of funds.  In a cursory search of the scriptures, I find no precedent justifying NOT using tithing for the poor.  I also find no precedent that fast offerings should replace tithing to care for the poor.

In attempting to create Zion, Melchizedek became personally connected with Heaven.  He had become a King of Peace (a type and a shadow of Christ) because he had entered into that Order of the Priesthood discussed in Alma 13.  He was now teaching his people how to repent so they too could connect to Heaven and become Fathers of Righteousness.

Melchizedek’s purpose, and the purpose of whatever organization he may have established, was solely to build Zion.  He was the high priest and the keeper of the storehouse of God, appointed by God himself to receive tithes FOR THE POOR, in order that Zion might be built.  His people thus lived in righteousness, became of one heart and one mind and poverty was eradicated among them.  This is the true pattern to establish Zion.  Is this the pattern the church follows today?

It is estimated the church averages between 5 and 10 billion dollars per year in tithing and “other” revenues.  We can safely assume its fast offering income represents a small fraction of this larger number. The actual number is withheld from the members (and the public).

The church often boasts it has contributed $1.4B to humanitarian efforts since 1985.  This is a large amount of money.  During that same period of time, however, the church has collected an estimated $150B (or more) in total revenues.  In other words, the church has only given about 1% of its total revenues to humanitarian efforts in the last 30 years.  As a side note, I find it interesting that while the church no longer publishes any of its financial information, it does disclose how much it gives to charity.  I find it ironic since the scriptures teach we should not to boast of such things.

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.  And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:3-5)

Some wonder why the church is so focused on buildings, real estate development, farm ownership, and marketing when its true goal should be to build a Zion people?  Are meetinghouses and Temples and TV ads truly that important in this effort?  Could you imagine what could be done if the church used its tremendous tithing fund (instead of just the fast offering fund) to assist the poor in the church and around the world?  What effect might this have in bringing souls unto Christ and to the establishment of Zion?

city creek

Some have also had concerns over worldly advertising campaigns that seem to celebrate immoral and luxurious lifestyles.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, interestingly, has about 19 million members worldwide.  It builds smaller meetinghouses and focuses its efforts and resources on building thousands of schools and hospitals for the poor.  The Adventists also have one million new members join them annually, compared to an estimated 300,000 total new members each year for the LDS Church.

The Adventist model is much more service focused.  Receiving roughly only $3B in total revenues, the Adventists have built and successfully run more than 7,800 non-profit schools and hundreds of hospitals around the world.  Apparently, focusing on schools, education, and health, especially in third world countries, is much more effective in gaining converts than expensive marketing efforts and other business endeavors.

The church, on the other hand, will spend as much as $3M on a single billboard this year in Times Square.  I’m not sure how many billboards the church leases, but I think it’s quite a few.

Imamormon_TimesSquare

Are expensive ads in New York Times Square helping build Zion?

How much does it cost to start a small school in a third world country?  About $10,000. 

The church could build 300 schools for the cost of one NY Times Square billboard.

I found it interesting that in Elder Holland’s talk this past October Conference he stated he does “not know how it feels to be poor.”  I’m not sure about you, but I think many members do know how it feels.  You don’t have to live in Africa to be broke, to suffer from hunger, to be $250 away from bankruptcy, to lose your home, or to have your only car break down.  Now I know that many will argue the fact Elder Holland does not know what it’s like to be poor is proof that the church’s system of consecration is working— for some; who happen to have spent their entire adult life employed by the LDS Church.

Elder Holland was a seminary and institute teacher and became the president of BYU.  The church likely paid for his Yale degrees.  As a side note, the church’s Perpetual Education Fund is limited to what it will pay per applicant.  In most of the world, an individual is eligible to receive about $1,400 in total funds.  Even in places like Africa, this amount is often not sufficient to get someone the education they need to rise out of poverty.  Additionally the PEF recipient, even before getting a job, must pay back the funds borrowed with interest.

This is apparently not the case with church employees.  A PhD student today at Yale can expect to pay about $65,000 per year.  A PhD can take as long as 5 years.  The church’s investment in Elder Holland would pay off however.  During his time as BYU President he became known as a prolific fundraiser, having raised over 100 million dollars for the University.

But, many worthy members of the church in the U.S. and all around the world do know what it’s like to be poor.  It’s estimated that over 80,000 LDS children suffer from malnutrition or are starving and 900 of those children will die this year from starvation.  That’s equivalent to three entire wards in the church!  The numbers are even more staggering when you begin to calculate the children and grandchildren who are never born because of the unnecessary premature deaths of these neglected LDS kids.  Why does this have to be, while we have those among us who have so much?  Why does the church continue to spend billions of dollars on buildings and condos that sit empty, while many of its own children are homeless, orphaned, and dying of starvation?  Is this what the great high priest and keeper of God’s storehouse would do?

Vatican

Do we have any chapels or temples we could use to help the poor?

I applaud Pope Francis who, going against the tide of popularity, “plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.”  Think of all the wasted showers in our meetinghouses with baptismal fonts that go unused for months and years at a time.  Of course inviting homeless people to shower or to get food in LDS churches would attract riff-raff and so we continue to follow the example of Temple Square that we “should not give to panhandlers” but allow other organizations that the church supports to help these people.

I remember a bishop and stake president training where presiding bishop David Burton bragged, “The church will build more square footage this year than Walmart!”  I found this odd, after all, how many baptisms will Walmart have this year?  How many people will come unto Christ because of Walmart this year?  Again, why is the church so focused on real estate and business comparisons when the goal is to build Zion?  Have we lost our vision?

walmart

Some struggle with the church’s business-like approach

Bishops in the church are very limited, practically speaking, in what they can give to the needy.  I won’t bore you with details of what most of you already likely know.  But, I will say I am surprised the church now teaches that a needy member should exhaust family and government assistance before coming to the church for help.  It used to be that government was the last resort.

We are all too familiar with needy people who leave the bishop’s office dejected because they were turned down for help.  I remember seeing a woman crying in the back of the chapel one Sunday before Sacrament meeting.  I asked her what was wrong.   She told me how humiliated she was because she had just asked the bishop for help with food.  When the bishop found out her troubled 20-year-old daughter lived with her (who had drug problems), he told this hungry elderly woman this was a good opportunity for her daughter to “step up.”  This woman was not highly educated.  She was a convert of 5 years or less in the church.  She had lived a hard life, was nearly crippled in her advanced age and despite her meager income, always paid her tithing.  In her own words, she had never asked “this bishop” or the church for anything.  “This bishop” was a successful doctor from Salt Lake City.

Upon hearing the story, I immediately left the meeting and went to the store and bought all the groceries I could afford and took them to this woman’s completely empty fridge.  I don’t say this to brag.  I say this only to suggest every normal human with a heart would do the same thing.  Yet, the church, which receives up to $10B each year, which could literally eradicate poverty among its own members, chooses often to not even provide the basic needs of an impoverished soul.

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.  Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.  For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:16-19)

We were also trained as bishops to never give assistance without making that member do some sort of service in return.  I always ignored this counsel.  I understand we should teach principles of self-reliance and that being idle is not good.  But, I found in my experience that most people were already working hard or were ill in some mental or physical way and asking them to “work for their food” seemed to bring more shame than benefit.

In April of 2011, Bishop Burton speaking of the establishment of the church’s welfare program said, “The commitment of church leaders to relieve human suffering was as certain as it was irrevocable.  President Grant wanted ‘a system that would… reach out and take care of the people no matter what the cost.’  He said he would even go so far as to ‘close seminaries, shut down missionary work for a period of time, or even close temples, but they would not let the people go hungry.”

Perhaps the church would do well today to follow President Grant’s counsel still.

I have met local stake presidents who work for the church in the third world.  They are the lucky ones.  Yet, the church does not believe in paying someone more than the local equivalent wage.  They have a term for this I cannot recall at the moment.  One stake president earned $900/month running the church’s unemployment center.  Even though he was paid quite a bit more than the average poor laborer in his country, his salary from the church only allowed his small young family to live in a one-room shack that most of us wouldn’t want to even store an old car in.  They had no car of their own.  No running water in their house.  Mold everywhere due to the climate.  No kitchen, no stove.  No shower.  They shared a hole in the ground for a toilet with other families in the neighborhood.

Now I know some of you reading may think my comments do not reflect all the good the church is doing around the world.  And that the church does more than most churches to relieve human suffering.  In part, I agree.  The church does a tremendous amount to help devastated people around the world.  I also recognize that not everything is accounted for in the $1.4B donated over the last 30 years. In addition, LDS volunteers give countless hours, sewing quilts, sending care packages, serving missions, etc.

But, our church has been charged to build Zion.  Are the leaders of the church doing their part?  Imagine what the church could do for the poor with even half the tithing money we generate each year.  Do we really need so many buildings?  Why not rent a schoolhouse or meet in homes?  Some of the homes in my neighborhood are empty and even bigger than our local meetinghouse.  Some of those homes belong to families on missions or serving as General Authorities.  Do our church buildings really increase our membership that much?  Or are we robbing the poor because of our fine sanctuaries? (2 Nephi 28:13)

I’ll never forget the sister who came into the bishop’s office while I was serving in that position.  Her furnace had broken down and was beyond repair.  She was recently divorced and was working as hard as she could.  Her husband, a “respected man in the stake” had cheated on her for the second time.  Her daughter just had a baby out of wedlock.  She was a faithful member of the church, but was embarrassed to come to ask for help.  As I sat there and listened to her story, my mind could not help but recall the advice from previous welfare training:  “Make sure she is paying her tithing.  Make sure she has gone to her family first.  Has she applied for state assistance?  Is she keeping the Word of Wisdom?  Will she be willing to clean the church each week or work in the storehouse?  Or provide service to someone else in the ward?  Will she be willing to take a Dave Ramsey course?  (I wish I was joking about this one.)”

I told this sister to not worry about the furnace and to have the contractor who gave her the bid she was most comfortable with to give me a call.  She broke down to tears.  “But, it may cost $3,000 to replace,” she said while now sobbing.  “That’s okay.”  I responded.  “The church has the money.”  I knew I was breaking the rules and would have to make two payments to avoid the necessary stake approval, but it felt so right.

Again, I do not provide this example to pat my anonymous self on the back.  I respectfully petition the church to reconsider how it spends the tithes of the church.  As a member who pays tithing, I also request to see an accounting of how our money is being spent.  The only reason to not share such things is to avoid scrutiny and criticism, which is also a good thing when it helps correct abuses. The church is perfectly willing to dispense criticism of members believed to be “apostate” or erring morally, doctrinally, or in their families. Why is there no balance through accepting good-faith, believing, donating and supporting members’ concerns. No one is going to gratuitously attack–  the anti-Mormons will always have complaints.  But why should the institution fear its faithful members?  Why hide from them?