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Attitudes Toward Poverty

by David J. Cherrington

For Latter-day Saints, as for all Christians, attending to the needs of the poor is service to God (Matt. 25:31-40; Mosiah 2:17; D&C 42:38) and an expression of the greatest spiritual gift, the attitude of charity (1 Cor. 13:13). King Benjamin explained in the Book of Mormon that, as a result of true repentance, people are filled with the love of God and the desire to administer to those in need (Mosiah 4:16). It is no excuse that "the man has brought upon himself his misery," for all are beggars dependent upon God, who gives generously (Mosiah 4:17-23). Benjamin required that the poor also carry this attitude and covet not—those who cannot give are to say in their hearts, "I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give" (Mosiah 4:24-25). Giving to the poor is essential to retaining a remission of one's sins and walking guiltless before God (Mosiah 4:26). Anyone who cries unto God sends up a petition in vain without giving "to those who stand in need" (Alma 34:28).

In 1935 the Church established an extensive Welfare Services program to assist those in need. In addition, all members of the Church are encouraged to give their time and resources wherever possible. Efforts to help the poor are designed to relieve suffering by supplying immediate needs (cf. Luke 10:29-42; 16:19-39), to build self-sufficiency through employment, and to teach people to give willingly (D. McKay, CR [Oct. 1941]:54; see Welfare Services). Widows or orphans are to be provided for (James 1:27; D&C 83:6), especially those destitute because of persecution (D&C 42:30, 39; 52:40; 104:14-18). Indolence on the part of those who are able to work is condemned (Prov. 20:4; 1 Tim. 5:8, 13; D&C 42:42); the poor are to contribute their own labor, whenever possible (Deut. 15:7-11; 24:19; 2 Thes. 3:10). Through the efforts of all living the gospel law in an ideal society worthy of the presence of the Lord, there are "no poor among them" (Moses 7:18; Acts 4:32-35; 4 Ne. 1:2-3; D&C 42:30-33; see Zion).

Those who willingly give to the poor are promised many blessings, including eternal life (Luke 18:18-23; Matt. 25:31-40), deliverance (Ps. 41:1), forgiveness (Alma 4:13-14), happiness (Prov. 14:21), material rewards (Prov. 19:17; 28:27; Jacob 2:17-19; Deut. 24:19), and answers to prayers (Alma 34:28). Strong condemnations are repeated against those who refuse to share with the poor (2 Ne. 9:30; D&C 56:16). Caring for the poor is a significant moral challenge and obligation (Deut. 15:11; CWHN 9:193).

Under the Law of Moses, the poor were to be treated generously (Epsztein, pp. 108-134). The corners of fields were left for them to reap (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21); the produce of the land every seventh year was given first to the poor and the stranger (Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:3-7); loans to the poor were interest free (Lev. 25:35-37; Ex. 22:25-27); Hebrews sold into bondage to other Hebrews were emancipated and generously supplied after six years of service (Ex. 21:2-6; Deut. 15:12-15); and the tithes not used by the Levites were given to the poor (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-13). Still, this did not absolve the responsibility to do more if another remained in need (Deut. 15:11).

The law of consecration, revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831 (D&C 42), invited the members to give all they possessed to the Church, receive back what they needed (their stewardships), use what they received to provide for themselves, and give their surplus to the Church. These surpluses and the residues of their inheritances were held in the bishop's storehouse and used first to help the poor (Cook, 1985). Latter-day scriptures speak warnings equally to the rich and to the poor: "Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls…. Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men's goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!" (D&C 56:16-17).

Most fundamental, however, is the generosity of individuals. As a minimum, most Latter-day Saints believe they should fast for two meals (twenty-four hours) each month and give the equivalent of these two meals, or more, as a fast offering. In addition, many believe they are expected to do more, to contribute to organized charities and to give personal assistance in the form of money, training, and encouragement (see Economic Aid; Humanitarian Service).

(See also Wealth, Attitudes Toward; Daily Living home page; Welfare and Humanitarian Assistance home page)

Bibliography

Cook, L. W. Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration. Provo, Utah, 1985.

Epsztein, Leon. Social Justice in the Ancient Near East and the People of the Bible. London, 1986.

Nibley, Hugh W. Approaching Zion. Salt Lake City, 1990.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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