What have we learned at LDS conference about caring for the poor and needy?

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2013 10:20 p.m. MDT

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and future church presidents Gordon B. Hinckley, center, and Thomas S. Monson tour the church's welfare cannery in Ogden, Utah, in 1982.

LDS Church Archives

SALT LAKE CITY — The attention of millions of Mormons is focused this weekend on Salt Lake City, where the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will open Saturday morning under sunny skies and cool, crisp fall temperatures.

They will participate either by attending the five different conference sessions in downtown Salt Lake City or via television, radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts, including — for the first time ever — live coverage of the male only priesthood meeting on general access TV and Internet outlets.

Latter-day Saints look forward to the two-day semiannual conferences as a time to receive counsel, inspiration and instruction from their church leaders, who choose their own topics, according to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

One of the topics that church leaders are frequently led by the Spirit to address is the responsibility of the church and its members to care for the poor and the needy. Although it should be noted that President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said in October 2011 that it isn’t “simply another gospel topic.”

“I believe that in the Lord’s plan, our commitment to welfare principles should be at the very root of our faith and devotion to him,” President Uchtdorf said. “Since the beginning of time, our Heavenly Father has spoken with great clarity on this subject: from the gentle plea, ‘If thou lovest me … thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support’; to the direct command, ‘Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple’; to the forceful warning, ‘If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.’”

“The two great commandments — to love God and our neighbor — are a joining of the temporal and the spiritual,” President Uchtdorf continued. “It is important to note that these two commandments are called ‘great’ because every other commandment hangs upon them. In other words, our personal, family and church priorities must begin here. All other goals and actions should spring from the fountain of these two great commandments — from our love for God and for our neighbor.”

In a landmark conference address on the subject in October 1972, President Marion G. Romney reminded his listeners that the early Latter-day Saints were impoverished, and yet they were reminded that in order to qualify as disciples of Jesus Christ they had to remember “the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”

“What will be our plight,” President Romney said, “if in our affluence we fail to remember them?

“In this modern world plagued with counterfeits for the Lord’s plan, we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency,” he continued. “Only by voluntarily giving out of an abundant love for our neighbors can we develop that charity characterized by Mormon as ‘the pure love of Christ.’ This we must develop if we would obtain eternal life.”

Later in the sermon President Romney spoke specifically about the LDS Church’s welfare program, which was established in the 1930s “to meet the needs of our times.”

“Through this program,” he said, “there are made available for the poor and the needy, in addition to tithing and fast offering funds, vast quantities of many varieties of food, clothing, fuel and other necessities of life. The program also supplies employment opportunities for all who can and will work.

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