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Is the Church's "threefold mission" becoming "fourfold"?

Compassion for the elderly and infirm that has come to characterize Thomas S. Monson's ministry soon will be embraced more fully by the worldwide church he leads.

The LDS Church is adding "to care for the poor and needy" to its longstanding "threefold mission," which is to preach the LDS gospel, purify members' lives and provide saving ordinances such as baptism to those who have died.

This mission first was coined by late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball in the 1980s and since then has been repeated as a mantra by the church's more than 13 million members.

The new group of phrases will be described as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' "purposes," rather than missions, and will be spelled out in the next edition of the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions , due out next year, church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed this week.

"Caring for the poor and needy," Trotter said, "has always been a basic tenet of the [LDS] Church."

Elevating it to one of the faith's major purposes brings added emphasis.

"This is a dramatic move and very important message," said Jan Shipps, an Indiana-based American religion historian who has spent decades studying the LDS Church. "It's not that Mormons haven't already been caring for the poor and needy with its humanitarian program. It's just that this moves it to the top of their priorities, along with proselytizing and temple work."

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