LDS World: LDS Church Welfare's aims and purposes

Published: Sunday, June 5 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

An acquaintance recently recounted the story of a friend who spent a terror-filled evening on May 22 with her child in the bathtub in their home in Joplin, Mo., during the deadliest single twister in the United States since 1947.

While the house around them was literally torn to shreds, they managed to survive unlike many others in a community with few basements and little protection from tornadoes.

Rated a Category F5 on the Fujita scale, this type of tornado clocks in at between 261-318 mph. It has the capacity to lift strong frame houses off their foundations and literally disintegrate them — and it did. It has the ability to lift automobile-sized objects, turn them into missiles and rocket them through the air — and it did. It has the ability to strip bark from and uproot trees, and demolish steel reinforced concrete structures — and it did.

With tornadoes, hurricanes, warfare, tsunamis, floods, fires and earthquakes, it is no surprise that many people are feeling overwhelmed and that there is a real need for charitable outreach in the world today. Resources are stretched, and spirits are flagging in many countries around the globe. This is not the first nor, I suspect, the last time that there will be a compelling need for welfare services and assistance.

In light of increased man-made and natural disasters, it is also not a bad time to review the best way to supply relief in a world where state and private welfare is sometimes mismanaged or often counterproductive to the goal of creating self-respecting, self-sustaining individuals.

The LDS Church welfare program had humble beginnings, coming on the heels of the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression in the 1930s. In April 1936, Harold B. Lee, who would become prophet and president of the church in July 1972, was called “to head up the welfare movement … and (to) help put the church in a position where it could take care of its own needy.”

The need was extreme when Lee was called with 35.8 percent unemployment in Utah and more than half the men in Salt Lake City out of work in 1836.

The church’s philosophy then, and one that has not changed, was described by the First Presidency: “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far 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.”

People from around the world come to learn about and observe the Church Welfare Program and practices. They tour farms and centers, spend time at Welfare Square and are amazed at the orderliness, management, enormous amount of resources at hand, and the opportunities available to indigent or struggling individuals seeking to learn and develop important life skills.

Welfare in the church is not used as a tool to exert control over others or available in perpetuity for those who are capable of working. Optimally, the Church Welfare Program is a stopgap until emergency and interim needs are met. Church programs help individuals develop skills so they can be self-sufficient. People are taught the art of frugality and encouraged to prepare in advance for possible emergencies by having basic supplies on hand. As they develop skills, inevitably, their self-respect increases, and they develop a greater capacity to mitigate suffering and to endure hardship.

When all is said and done, the success of this program is easily explained: the Church Welfare Program is divinely inspired. And while this is a church-wide program, it is also a worthy model for families and for individuals — encouraging work, thrift, the development of marketable, personal and financial skills, and the care of self and others.

We see this last facet of the Church Welfare Program as hundreds of thousands of church members donate time and money to work on church farms, church canneries, charitable enterprises, in making and donating blankets, quilts and other goods, and in packaging myriad emergency supplies in advance of disasters and crises.

The Church Welfare Program is exquisite, worthy of emulation, and if implemented would measurably address and dramatically improve conditions around the world.

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