There was no fanfare when it was announced that “caring for the poor and the needy” would be added as a fourth “mission” or purpose of Church in 2009, and perhaps rightfully so. After all, such a duty is already implicit in the overall mission of the Church. Throughout the Church’s history, the Lord has directed his Saints to care for those in need. To a group of called missionaries in 1831, the Lord counseled: “And 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” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:40).
With such plainness of words given to us in the past, why did the Lord inspire His leaders to add emphasis to this most basic Christian duty? I can think of a couple of reasons. First, there is certainly a need for it. As, Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently instructed, perhaps the most susceptible victims of poverty are children. He stated, “Worldwide, almost eight million children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from diseases both treatable and preventable. And the World Health Organization reports that one in four children have stunted growth, mentally and physically, because of inadequate nutrition.” In a previous interview on this site, Dr. Brad Walker estimated that at least 70,000 active LDS children fall into the category of being chronically malnourished, and estimated that 10% of whom will likely die as a result of inadequate nutrition.
These statistics focus on children. Imagine the devastation of poverty and affliction endured by men, and particularly women in addition to this.
The second reason I feel the Church has recently emphasized our duty to the downtrodden as a primary tenet and purpose of our faith is that we are failing at it. We seemingly forget “in all things, the poor and the needy.” Of course, I speak to Latter-day Saints collectively. There are many individuals and organizations within the Church that do much good to alleviate poverty and suffering in the world. We have spoken with many of them on this website and look forward to speaking with others. We would all do well to follow their lead. They do as the Savior did, who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). In all things, he remembered the poor and the needy.
Most of us, though we may view ourselves as poor, are likely among the wealthiest people in the history of the world. I would argue that for most of us, this has everything to do with where we were born and who our parents are. I personally do not feel that I have earned the abundant temporal blessings in my life. Notwithstanding, I have “enough and to spare” (Doctrine and Covenants 104:17). This comes as a great challenge for all of us in favorable economic situations. I truly believe that wealth, and what we do with it, is one of the great tests of the soul. I see myself as having stewardship over the temporal blessings I have, and what I do with it will have eternal consequences.
The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob, spoke specifically about how we should treat wealth. After the death of his brother, Nephi, Jacob spoke the following words to the Nephites:
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted (Jacob 2:17-19).
What powerful words! Imagine if we were to “think of our brethren [and sisters] like unto [ourselves].” Imagine if we used our substance, our wealth, for the express purpose of doing good. How many more people could be clothed and sheltered? How many more mouths could we feed? How many individuals, particularly women and children, could we liberate from living as slaves in our time? Finally, how many people could be relieved of suffering due to preventable illness and other afflictions if we only shifted our paradigm from “what can my riches do for me,” to “what can my riches do for others”?
President Brigham Young taught:
The earth is here, and the fullness thereof is here. It was made for man; and one man was not made to trample his fellow man under his feet, and enjoy all his heart desires, while the thousands suffer [today this could read billions]. We will take a moral view, a political view, and see the inequality that exists in the human family. . . . The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth (Young, in Journal of Discourses, 19:46–47).
How have we done as a people since the Church announced a primary purpose for its existence is to care for the poor and the needy? How many of us even knew that the Church has gone from three “missions” to four in the past few years? Are we doing all we can? If President Young’s words are our ultimate goal, I think it’s safe to say we have a long ways to go. There is no better time to start than now!