Thursday, October 9, 2008

LDS Philanthropic Culture Part 1

A favorite Mormon scripture reads "...see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength..." (Mosiah 4:27). That phrase, as quoted, has been used recently in General Conference referring to church service (Ballard and Oaks), education/occupation/marriage/childbearing (Oaks), temple service (Oaks), family history (Oaks), heeding the prophet (Uchtdorf) and then Neal Maxwell built an entire beautiful discource around that phrase.

It is a great verse and appropriate in multiple settings, I think it is interesting to note that the context of that verse refers specifically to our philanthropic efforts as disciples of Christ and I highlight a couple phrases that I find interesting but do not always receive the same level of attention:
Mosiah 4:26-27 I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore all things must be done in order.

There is that famous essay by Hugh Nibley entitled Zeal without Knowledge, which phrase will serve as my thesis on this subject or at least will provide a benchmark for what we must be weary of. For the next three posts I would like to explore the philanthropic culture of the LDS community and evaluate our performance based on those measurements: wisdom, order, and diligence. The first post will attempt to provide a survey of the current/historical culture of philanthropy in the Mormon community, the second will look at trends, and the third is my hope for the future.

To set the stage, our mandate from scripture, living prophets, and the temple:

"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" D&C 52:40

This humbling sentiment is expressed throughout scripture: James 1:27, Jacob 2, and Matt 25:34-36 which has been a favorite scripture of both Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson.

However, I think we as Mormons have a much larger mandate, we are supposed to create entire communities, whole societies, that function in this manner. We are to be of "one heart and one mind" and have "no poor among" us. We speak of salvation, not in the Protestant tradition of individual salvation, but in the Israelite tradition of being saved as a people. We have a heavenly mandate to live the law of consecration now yet the common sentiment is that it will somehow be switched on at some magical moment in the future. Brigham Young had something to say about that:
Some of our Elders, and, in fact, some of the Twelve will tell you, "Yes, yes, the Order is a splendid principle and will bring happiness, etc., but it not hardly time to enter into it, wait a little while until the people understadn it a little better." Why, the are fools! They don't konw what they talk about. They have ears to hear and will not hearken, and have eyes to see and will not understand... I don't care how the world goes, what the President (of the U.S.) or his emissaries do. It matters nothing to me. What I am thinking of and interested about is how do the Latter-day Saints do?...The devil is in the community and he has not been turned out. Well, I still have hope in Israel.
I might not have the fiery bluntness of Brigham Young or the poignant prose of Hugh Nibley but these next few posts are delivered in a similar spirit, my hope in Israel and it is as more of a sermon to myself than to anyone else.

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