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This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
This is the 141st week of the General Conference Odyssey, and we’re covering the welfare session of the October 1980 General Conference. Welfare sessions are not often my favorite, but this one really stood out to me with some great talks, including an excellent talk from (then) Elder Thomas S. Monson that features his trademark storytelling, and several more that gave me a lot to think about.
One of those was Elder J. Richard Clarke’s economics-heavy The Household of Faith. It was interesting to hear him talk about how the General Authorities struggle to get the members to understand the importance of their council without going off the deep end. In particular, they wanted to get people to take preparedness seriously, but “such talk is interpreted by the black-cloud watchers as a time of general calamity, and many stampede to the grocery stores to get ahead of the hoarders.”
It’s a good reminder that General Conference talks aren’t self-interpreting. We, the audience, can’t sit back and passively soak up the message like a sponge. We have to actively engage with what we are hearing and figure out how to apply the direction in our lives and in harmony with the principles we’ve already accepted. It’s also possible to go too far in our response to what we’re asked to do, a point that my friend Jeffrey Thayne just wrote a great post about.
Later on, I was surprised by this passage:
In order to balance our personal income and expenditures, we obviously reduce expenses or increase our earnings. Too often, however, people find it easier to adjust to a tighter budget than to find ways to generate additional income.
We’re all very used to being told that we need to keep our spending inside our budget, but usually the assumption is that we should do this by spending less. I was really surprised to hear the other side of the coin: earn more.
But that’s exactly what Elder Clarke meant, and he elaborated it clearly:
Our labor should be honest labor and quality labor. The only honorable way for each of us to share in the world’s wealth is to exchange our own goods and services for those produced by someone else. The Saints would be in demand everywhere and could command premium compensation if we would accept the challenge to set a Mormon standard of quality, unique because of its excellence. This is part of our religion.
I added the emphasis to that last line. That dogged insistence on drawing connections between apparently temporal concerns—like our day jobs—with our religion is one of the hallmarks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only in this Church would you read something like this: “Adam learned, as part of his first lesson by the Lord on economics,” or hear so much about the “divine law of work [that] shall never be repealed.”
Elder Douglas W. DeHaan continued the sacred/secular fusion right from the start of his talk, “Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?”
At times, working on a Church welfare production project can seem to be largely a temporal experience. We may have just spent a long, hot day on one of our farms thinning, weeding, or lifting. Or perhaps we are returning home near midnight, knowing that we are expected to be on our own jobs at 7:00 A.M. after working a swing shift in one of our canneries. While we may have a tired but satisfying feeling inside, it may not register with us that much of it was a spiritual experience.
This is a really interesting counterpoint to Rosalynde Welch’s famous FAIR Mormon talk on Disenchanted Mormonism. In the talk, Welch contrasts apparently secular perspectives with overtly religious ones, including these examples:
When I recover a lost set of keys, my first thought is “Oh, that was lucky!”; not “I am so grateful that a Father in Heaven is aware of me.” A mountain hike prompts the perception “The world is extravagantly beautiful, and I belong to it”; not “A loving Heavenly Father created this for me.” When I hold my newborn, I feel “There is nothing more precious and exquisite”; not “God gave me this child.”
As I understand her, Welch is suggesting that this dichotomy is unusual. That a majority of Mormons do have access directly to “an overworld” and that for them spiritual experiences “self-interpret”. I’ve always felt more connection to DeHaan’s view, however, which is that most of us, most of the time miss out on spiritual experiences, and that feelings like, “there is nothing more precious and exquisite” are the enchanted, spiritual experiences. In any case, Elder DeHaan’s position is another example of Mormonism’s collapse of sacred distance.
Finally, in Welfare Services: The Savior’s Program, Elder Marion G. Romney explains that when it comes to service, “we must be personally involved.” He explains:
We often receive reports that some of our people, and even some of our leaders, would rather contribute their money than take their time and talents and devote them personally. May I remind each of us that we need the spiritual uplift that comes from giving of ourselves and working shoulder to shoulder. It is healthy and sanctifying for the barber, the merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, the teacher, and the mechanic to get together; to hoe the same row—together; to pray for the same rain—together; to prune the same tree—together; and to harvest the same crop—together.
While our financial contributions are needed, we must work together with our hearts and hands if we are to come to that unity and oneness required of the Saints.
For me, these messages all come together in a common theme: it’s through mundane work that—working together—we build Zion.