The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective – #5: Are We Not All Beggars?
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles that will focus on the Book of Mormon in response to President Hinckley’s challenge for church members to read that holy book before the end of the year. Click here to read the introductory article.
There are many ways the Book of Mormon seeks to rescue us from the latter-day philosophies of men. “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).
In the United States there is a very strong self-sufficiency ethic. We are much less likely than many other nations to provide for our families and our poor. That orientation is very good for invention and free enterprise. It has problems for Christianity.
We may convince ourselves that the government should not be in the business of caring for the poor. That may be true and it may not. I don’t see a clear scriptural mandate on that issue. The Lord does not tell us how it is to be done but he gives us no excuse for leaving it undone – whether through governmental or other means.
A Core Book of Mormon Message
Consider the following Book of Mormon statements:
Caring for the poor is a common theme of the Book of Mormon and all scripture.
The Lord’s Mandate
King Benjamin may be the prophet who has most clearly related care for the poor to the atonement of Jesus Christ. Our attitude toward the poor is a measure of our understanding of the atonement. The doctrine is starkly clear in his great final address dictated by an angel.
King Benjamin clearly taught that our attitude toward the poor must be gracious. Further, we can measure our understanding of the atonement of Jesus Christ by our response to the poor. The prophet Joseph Smith taught:
As Hugh Nibley observed (1989, p. 229), “God transfers his claims on our indebtedness to the poor.” If we neglect the poor, we do not understand Him, His work, or His graciousness to us.
It is hard to make the case that we are following scriptural counsel if we give a pittance to the poor while we enlarge our houses, increase our stable of cars, remodel our kitchens, and shop for designer clothes. The data on American lifestyles give the lie to our claims.
For example, the size of new single-family house exploded from 983 square feet in 1950 to 1,500 in 1970 (1.53 times the size of a 1950 house) to 2,330 in 2003 (2.37 times the size of a 1950 home) (National Association of Home Builders).
As large percentages of this world’s population live in small huts with dirt floors and no electricity, it requires cosmic levels of selective perception and self-deception to convince ourselves that we “need” a larger house, another car, granite countertops, and more shoes. Of the world’s occupants, 60% are always hungry and 26% are severely undernourished (David J. Smith, 2002, If the World Were a Village).
Our son Andy has done work for humanitarian projects. When he talks about poverty in Africa, it pricks my conscience. I know that my yearning for a bigger, lovelier home is the siren call of the great and spacious building.
What if we not only doubled our fast offerings but gave hundreds of dollars to the perpetual education fund and to humanitarian aid? What if we gave thousands?
God is inviting us through His message to the latter-days to care for the poor. This is the test that tells whether we understand divine grace. May we respond gladly to this Book of Mormon challenge.
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.