Fifty years ago this year, on Sunday, April 5, the prophets, seers, and revelators of the Church of God on earth at that time met in a very significant meeting. Presiding was President Heber J. Grant, with his counselors, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and President David O. McKay. Out of the meeting came a modern day application of eternal principles in what has come to be known as the welfare plan of the Church.
President McKay declared, "This organization [the Church] is established by divine revelation, and there is nothing else in all the world that can so effectively take care of its members." President Clark added that the Lord "has given us the spirituality. He has given us the actual command. ... The eyes of the world are upon us." And then he added, "May the Lord bless [us], give us courage, give us wisdom, give us vision to carry out this great work." (In Henry D. Taylor, The Church Welfare Plan, unpublished ms., Salt Lake City: Henry D. Taylor, 1984, pp. 26-27.)
As I researched those watershed statements and the heaven-inspired counsel which came in that year of the creation of the Church welfare plan, I was impressed. As we prepare to move forward with a renewed emphasis on the eternal principles of Church welfare, I feel we should begin by reviewing those early teachings that they might give us the strength and resolve to move forward.
At October general conference during the same year, President Heber J. Grant read a statement from the First Presidency that explained the principles upon which the Church's welfare efforts were based. Included were these familiar words: "Our primary purpose was to set up, insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership." (In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3.)
Since those beginnings, we as a Church have continued to receive divine direction as circumstances have required. Programs and procedures used to implement welfare principles have been modified, and they likely will continue to change from time to time to meet changing needs. But the basic principles do not change. They will not change. They are revealed truths. Direct counsel has been given regarding the application of these revealed truths. I've topically arranged these guiding principles as follows: work, self-reliance, sound financial management, a year's supply, caring for the extended family, and wise use of Church resources.
Work is basic to all we do. God's first direction to Adam in the Garden of Eden as recorded in scripture was to dress the garden and take care of it. After the fall of Adam, God cursed the earth for Adam's sake saying, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." (Gen. 3:19.) Today, many have forgotten the value of work. Some falsely believe that the highest goal in life is to achieve a condition in which one no longer needs to work.
Let us hearken to the counsel given by President Stephen L Richards in 1939: "We have always dignified work and reproved idleness. Our books, our sermons, our leaders, including particularly our present President, have glorified industry. The busy hive of the honeybee Deseret--has been our emblem. Work with faith is a cardinal point of our theological doctrine, and our future state--our heaven--is envisioned in terms of eternal progression through constant labor." (In Conference Report, Oct. 1939, p. 65.)
Self-reliance is a product of our work and under-girds all other welfare practices. It is an essential element in our spiritual as well as our temporal well-being. Regarding this principle, President Marion G. Romney has said: "Let us work for what we need. Let us be self-reliant and independent. Salvation can be obtained on no other principle. Salvation is an individual matter, and we must work out our own salvation in temporal as well as in spiritual things." (In Welfare Services Meeting Report, 2 Oct. 1976, p. 13.)
President Spencer W. Kimball further taught concerning self-reliance: "The responsibility for each person's social, emotional, spiritual, physical, or economic well-being rests first upon himself, second upon his family, and third upon the Church if he is a faithful member thereof.
"No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able, will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family's well-being to someone else." (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 77.)
Perhaps no counsel has been repeated more often than how to manage wisely our income. Consumer debt in some nations of the world is at staggering levels. Too many in the Church have failed to avoid unnecessary debt. They have little, if any, financial reserve. The solution is to budget, to live within our means, and to save some for the future. Nowhere is the oppressive burden of debt more clearly taught than in the graphic counsel of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.:
"It is the rule of our financial and economic life in all the world that interest is to be paid on borrowed money. May I say something about interest?
"Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; it never visits nor travels; it takes no pleasure; it is never laid off work nor discharged from employment; it never works on reduced hours. ... Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you." (In Conference Report, Apr. 1938, p. 103.)
There is another aspect of sound financial management, and it has to do with our budgeting and offering to the Lord a fast offering to bless those in need. We must cheerfully and gratefully apply this principle if we would perfect ourselves.
I remember as a young bishop receiving a telephone call from the hospital late one night wherein I was informed that a widow in my ward had passed away. I went to the hospital and there obtained the key to her apartment. A note had been left that this was the procedure I was to follow. As I entered her humble basement apartment, I turned on the light and went to the little table which was in the small living room. There on the table were two Alka Seltzer bottles with a note beneath them. The bottles were filled with quarters. This sweet little widow, Kathleen McKee, with no relatives surviving her, had written this note: "Bishop, here is my fast offering. I am square with the Lord."
I think we simply need ask one another, are we square with the Lord? Remember the principle of the true fast. Is it not to deal our bread to the hungry, to bring to our own house the poor who are outcast, to clothe the naked, to hide not ourself from our own flesh? (See Isa. 58:7.) An honest fast offering, a generous fast offering, will certainly be an indication to our Heavenly Father that we know and abide this particular law.
Recent surveys of Church members have shown a serious erosion in the number of families who have a year's supply of life's necessities. Most members plan to do it. Too few have begun. We must sense again the spirit of the persistent instruction given by Elder Harold B. Lee as he spoke to the members in 1943: "Again there came counsel in 1942. ... `We renew our counsel, said the leaders of the Church, and repeat our instruction: Let every Latter-day Saint that has land, produce some valuable essential foodstuff thereon and then preserve it.' ... Let me ask you leaders who are here today: In 1937 did you store in your own basements and in your own private storehouses and granaries sufficient for a year's supply? You city dwellers, did you in 1942 heed what was said from this stand?" (In Conference Report, April 1943, p. 127.)
Undergirding this pointed call is the stirring appeal from our own living prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, wherein he has given specific suggestions for putting these teachings into action:
"From the standpoint of food production, storage, handling, and the Lord's counsel, wheat should have high priority. ... Water, of course, is essential. Other basics could include honey or sugar, legumes, milk products or substitutes, and salt or its equivalent. The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare today as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah." (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 33.)
As has been said so often, the best storehouse system that the Church could devise would be for every family to store a year's supply of needed food, clothing, and, where possible, the other necessities of life.
In the early church, Paul wrote to Timothy, "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (1 Tim. 5:8.) It is our sacred duty to care for our families, including our extended families. Often we see what might be called parent neglect. Too frequently, the emotional, social, and, in some instances, even the material essentials are not provided by children for their aged parents. This is displeasing to the Lord. It is difficult to understand how one mother can take care of seven children more easily than seven children can take care of one mother. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., gave clear direction on this matter: "The prime responsibility for supporting an aged parent rests upon [the] family, not upon society. ... The family which refuses to keep its own is not meeting its duty." (In Conference Report, April 1938, p. 107.)
President Stephen L Richards gave an inspired appeal as he rallied members with these sentiments: "How can sons and daughters who owe everything they have-- their education, their ideals of life, their capacity to acquire independent living and their characters--to parents who have worked, sacrificed, prayed, wept, and striven for them to the exhaustion of their bodies and their energies be parties to a scheme which would make their fathers and mothers the objects of charity and cast the burden of their support on the community and stigmatize them with the loss of independence and self-respect. ...
"I think my food would choke me if I knew that while I could procure bread my aged father or mother or near kin were on public relief." (In Conference Report, Oct. 1944, p. 138.)
The final principle which I wish to stress is the proper use of Church resources. The Lord's storehouse includes the time, talents, skills, compassion, consecrated material, and financial means of faithful Church members. These resources are available to the bishop in assisting those in need. Our bishops have the responsibility to learn how to use these resources properly.
May I suggest five basic guidelines: First, bishops are to seek out the poor as the Lord has commanded and administer to their needs. Do not suppose that someone else will do it. It is a bishop's priesthood duty. He may call on members to assist, but he is responsible.
Second, bishops should thoroughly analyze the circumstances surrounding each need for welfare assistance. He wisely calls on his Relief Society president to assist in the evaluation. He exercises discernment, sound judgment, balance, and compassion. Church resources represent a sacred trust which becomes even more sacred as the bishop properly applies these resources in blessing the lives of others.
Third, those receiving welfare assistance should work to the extent of their abilities for that which is received. There are many creative ways leaders can provide work opportunities. With help from their welfare services committees, bishops will want to provide that work which will enhance the recipient's efforts to become self-reliant.
Fourth, the assistance given by the bishop is temporary and partial. Remember, Church assistance is designed to help people help themselves. The rehabilitation of members is the responsibility of the individual and the family, aided by the priesthood quorum and Relief Society. We are attempting to develop independence, not dependence. The bishop seeks to build integrity, self- respect, dignity, and soundness of character in each person assisted, leading to complete self-sufficiency.
Fifth, we assist with basic life-sustaining goods and services, not the maintenance of current living standards. Individuals and families may need to alter their standards of living in doing all they can to meet their own needs. A church dole would be worse than a government dole because it would fail in the face of greater light. Church practices portray more honorable aims, more glorious potential.
Faithful compliance with these revealed welfare principles and practices have preserved lives in times of crises. An example is found in the response of Church members to the 1985 earthquake that devastated parts of Mexico City. Church members and leaders rose to the occasion, drawing on their own preparedness efforts to help themselves and others around them.
Another example occurred at the time of the Idaho Teton Dam disaster in the summer of 1976, when thousands of Latter-day Saints gave of their own reserves to those whose every belonging was swept away in the floodwaters. We remember also the massive effort of Church members following World War II when our own prophet-leader, President Benson, then a member of the Council of the Twelve, administered the distribution of more than seventy-five train-carloads of commodities to needy members in war-ravaged Europe. These outpourings of humanitarian service were made possible by the faithful adherence of Church members to the very principles we have just reviewed.
The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have outlined that, commencing with the second half of this year, the Saturday evening session of stake conference involving all adult members will be devoted to teaching these doctrines and principles. Our forward progress in this great work is dependent upon a deeper understanding and a more thorough application of divinely revealed welfare principles. We have confidence that under the guidance of the Spirit, we can all come to a "unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God ... unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:13.)
We want to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we be prepared as individuals and as families, may we teach, may we lift, may we build, may we motivate, may we be inspired as we seek to bring our lives into conformity with these gospel principles. I bear my witness that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the program which we call the welfare plan of the Church came from God and is for the blessing and the exaltation of his people.