Tom Smart, Deseret News
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is providing background information on its various charitable and benevolent efforts, which church members feel is a manifestation of their ongoing desire to "follow the Savior."

For leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discussion of charitable giving poses a scriptural quandary.

"The church is mindful of Christ's admonition to 'do not your alms before men, to be seen of them' (Matthew 6: 1)," LDS leadership said recently through a posting about LDS charitable donations and contributions on the LDS Newsroom website. "At the same time, it takes seriously the Savior's call to 'let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).'

"The church's relief efforts," the posting concludes, "strive for this balance."

Unfortunately, not all media coverage of the LDS Church's benevolent giving has similarly sought balance. Despite studies rating Latter-day Saints high for what is termed "pro-social behavior" -- that is, donations of time and finances to benevolent causes – both Reuters and Bloomberg Businessweek have published stories recently suggesting that the church's charitable giving begins and ends with its humanitarian outreach.

"While the church's humanitarian aid efforts and its significant financial donations may be known to some, few realize that they represent only a fraction of the costs and resources involved with carrying out these initiatives," the recent LDS Newsroom posting said. "Furthermore, it may not be well known that the church sponsors many other relief programs, including extensive welfare, vocational, rehabilitative, counseling and other services."

Included in this benevolent outreach by the church and its members are "millions of hours donated by Latter-day Saint doctors, nurses and other church members each year," the statement continued. "Thousands of professionals and volunteers give freely of their time and means to those in need, with no expectation of praise, publicity or reward."

The significance of those donations of time and expertise were downplayed in the recent news stories, as was the fact that "100 percent of fast offerings and humanitarian donations go directly to those in need."

"The overhead and administrative costs associated with these programs – in addition to the resources needed to build storage facilities, house and deliver humanitarian aid supplies around the world, train volunteers and so on – are privately fronted by the church," the Newsroom statement said. "Today, thanks to a robust infrastructure, the church continues to relieve hunger, thirst, suffering and poverty of millions of people around the world and to empower individuals and communities to become more self-sustaining."

The Newsroom posting is divided into sections explaining the various uses for LDS tithing contributions; the use of "fast offering" contributions in local congregations; the church's humanitarian outreach in both emergency situations and through ongoing special projects; the church's far-reaching welfare program which, one columnist observed, "lets almost no one fall through the crack while at the same time ensuring that its beneficiaries don't become lifelong dependents;" the Perpetual Education Fund, which supports non-U.S. Mormons in acquiring technical, vocational or professional education; LDS Family Services, which draws on charitable donations to offer counseling services for a variety of issues and challenges faced by families today; and Mormon Helping Hands, a program aimed at helping members provide community service all around the world.

36 comments on this story

The posting also notes that Latter-day Saints are individually generous in giving time and money to non-church-related charitable causes. Such giving, it says, "is a credit to the individual Latter-day Saint congregants and their neighbors who voluntarily give of their money and time to support those in need."

All of this is done by the church as an institution and by its individual members because of a desire "to follow the Savior's admonition to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and those in prison," the statement says. "Through the efforts of individuals, families and church programs, temporal and spiritual assistance has been given to millions in need."