Social Justice I: The Need to Help the Poor

When Christians, including Mormons, talk about the “threat” of homosexuality, they invariably fall back on the argument of Sodom and Gomorrah. They don’t want our society to face condemnation by encouraging the sin of homosexuality which led to the downfall of those cities. However, as I’ve noted before in a prior comment, the case for this interpretation is thin at best. The one incident leading to this conclusion, in which the men of Sodom call for Lot to send out the Lord’s messengers visiting him so that the men of Sodom could “know” them (Genesis 19:5) sounds more like prison rape—an act of violence to establish power and intimidation—than it does homosexuality.

From that one example most people assume a link between homosexuality and the downfall of Sodom and Gomorrah. We can certainly assume that there was a percentage of the population which was attracted to and romantically pursued members of the same gender, just as there has been in every civilization in every age on the planet. But to make the claim that widespread homosexuality was the primary cause for the destruction of Sodom based on this one story is a bit dubious.

What then was the sin of Sodom? What stirred the wrath of God? Ezekial enumerates the sins of that city in condemning the same sins within Israel during the Babylonian Captivity.

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. (Ezekial 16:49-50)

Sodom was proud, full of bread (materially wealthy? self-indulgent and concerned with self-gratification? Fat and sassy?), and unwilling to aid the poor and needy. Sexual sin may well have been widespread, but Ezekial asserts that it is was primarily due to selfishness, greed, arrogance, and lack of charity that the Lord eradicated Sodom and Gomorrah.

Among Jesus’ parables was that of the Sheep and the Goats, a metaphor for the final judgment at the end of this dispensation.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink.

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matthew 25:31-45)

The Savior does not list swearing, Word of Wisdom related problems, tattoos, number and location of jewelry, or sexually promiscuity—as grave a sin as it may be—as qualifications for goathood. No, it is our lack of charity and action toward our brothers and sisters in need which He claims will be the decisive factor in the final judgment. Why then do we as a culture get so wound up about the former sins, and so casual about the latter? What does it say about our moral priorities?

References to the importance of charity for the downtrodden and destitute are hardly obscure or isolated in the scriptures. Time and again the words of the prophets reiterate the importance of caring for the poor.

  • And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:10)
  • If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
  • Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. (Psalms 41:1)
  • He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. (Proverbs 14:21)
  • He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse. (Proverbs 28:27)
  • Is it [the purpose of fasting] not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:7)
  • Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity. (Daniel 4:27)
  • Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (Mark 10:21)
  • The parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30-35)
  • But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13-14)
  • And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—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. (Mosiah 4:26)
  • And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given. (Mosiah 18:27)
  • And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. (Alma 1:27)
  • And it came to pass in the commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church…some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were thirst, and those who were sick and afflicted. Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions… (Alma 4:11-13)
  • Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you. And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men. (Alma 34:27-29)
  • For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8:37)
  • Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor… (3 Nephi 13:1)
  • Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? (Mormon 8:39)
  • Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief, that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received. (D&C 44:6)
  • 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. (D&C 52:40)
  • Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls… (D&C 56:16)
  • Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them? (Alma 5:55)

This is just a small handful of the scriptures referring to our duty to come to the aid of the poor. Evangelical minister Jim Wallis insisted in his book,God’s Politics, that he and his fellow students found several thousand verses in the Bible regarding our duties to the poor (p. 212)—and we Mormons have a further two books in our canon beyond his filled with the same admonitions!

There are abundant historical and social reasons to battle poverty and its causes (the most self-interested being that poverty leads to rising crime and violence; if given the choice between paying more to help reduce poverty and paying more for police and security measures to fight rising crime, I choose the former), and plenty of scholarly writings to explain those secular justifications. But for me, the most important reason is simply because our Lord requires it of us; because if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27), we must sacrifice and serve them. It is not acceptable to try to separate ourselves from the poor, to remove them from our communities, ban them from our streets, and pretend they don’t exist. Just because they are economically segregated from those of us living in our suburban bedroom communities does not mean they aren’t there, and that we don’t have an obligation to help them. It is clear from the revelation that active effort to improve the social welfare of the less fortunate is not just a good idea, not just something nice to do if we can get around to it—it is a fundamental aspect of the Gospel of Jesus.

As Rob Miller, vice-chairman of the Utah Democratic Party has frequently quipped, the Lord promises to bless us liberally, not conservatively. (I like to note further in teasing my conservative friends that the scriptures abound in references to the word “liberal” in the context of describing God, his actions, and his people. The word “conservative” is not to be found therein). One of the definitions of the word “liberal,” the definition used in those scriptural references, is “characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts.” The Lord wants us to be liberal in our relationship to the poor. The modern Liberal ideology, with its embrace of social justice, addresses this responsibility. It recognizes, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, that “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little (1937 Presidential Inaugural Address).” The methods by which to fulfill this responsibility—from the diverse private and NGO program options to government programs such as public health care, public education, food, housing, and employment programs, unemployment support, minimum wage, legal protection of labor and the right to unionize, et al—all have their merits and defects, and are subject to debate. Our divinely appointed duty is not.

Next:

Recommended Reading:

  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ron Sider
  • God’s Politics, Jim Wallis
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40 Responses to “Social Justice I: The Need to Help the Poor”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    Amen and amen.

    Anyone who accepts christianity has a moral obligation to support the poor and downtrodden among us just as they have a moral obligation to fulfill any other religious principles or obligations that come with their conversion. Unfortunately it is common for many faithful individuals to remember their responsibility to condemn what they consider to be sinful behavior but to forget to watch out for those in need and to provide liberally for their care. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself on more occasions than I’d care to admit. Thank you for this reminder.

    I look forward to your Social Justice II post. The absence in this essay of an assertion that there is a moral obligation on the part of government to act as an agent of charity is refreshing. I agree with the secular reasons for government based efforts at assisting the poor and needy among us but an argument that these government efforts have a moral basis ignores the violence inherent in any act of government. Forced redistribution of wealth isn’t charity and it has no inherent moral value.

  2. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks, Jeremy. I’m afraid you will be less pleased with part III: The Libertarian Criticism of Social Justice Efforts. But we have some time before we have to cross that bridge.

  3. Jesse Harris Says:

    I think your closing statement sums it up perfectly: don’t be totally married to a particular solution. Doing so will distract you from taking care of the problem in the first place.

  4. mannjj Says:

    Derek,

    Heh…less than pleased isn’t so bad. It is still fun to read what you write even when you’re completely up in the night 🙂

  5. Jeremy Says:

    Oh…sorry about that. I didn’t know I was logged in to WordPress from my home computer. mannjj = Jeremy

  6. WP Says:

    I attend an LDS Latino Branch each week and am endeavoring to learn the language at age 59. I have two Deacons and four boy scouts I enjoy working with regularly. Twice a month at the Bountiful Temple I work with many Latinos who come to the Spanish speaking session. Two weeks ago, for reasons only they know, the presidency dismissed all of the native speaking Hispanics who could not pass an English equivalency test. Many hearts are wounded and broken. Of course they were told as soon as they learn English they could all come back. This includes some ofr the more senior members at age 75 who likley can never do this. Several who speak English well enough quit with their less accomplished associates in solidarity. Just a bit hurtful and disengenuous to me. We send our kids to Mexico and South America to win their hearts and minds but when they are here we tell them unless their English is very good they can no longer work at the place they love so much.

    A final observation…there are so few gringos who speak Spanish we will be unable to meet the needs for the Latino members. It is a sad time all over for people who are brown. Thanks for your post Derek.

  7. jennifer Says:

    Thanks Derek. You asked an important question

    “The Savior does not list swearing, Word of Wisdom related problems, tattoos, number and location of jewelry, or sexually promiscuity—as grave a sin as it may be—as qualifications for goathood. No, it is our lack of charity and action toward our brothers and sisters in need which He claims will be the decisive factor in the final judgment. Why then do we as a culture get so wound up about the former sins, and so casual about the latter? What does it say about our moral priorities?”

    I believe that the answer is that we cannot, at a glance or even a casual acquaintance, see the assistance a person gives to those less fortunate. Maybe they volunteer at the VA hospital. Maybe they send money or goods to the homeless shelter. Maybe they donate very generously to a religious group or humanitarian organization. Maybe they bought Christmas gifts for several entire families who would be otherwise be derelict for the holiday. The bottom line is that we do not, and frankly, should not, know these things – – the Lord teaches the honor of doing these acts quietly and anonymously.
    But is it easier to spot the teenage mom, the tatooed biker, the chain smoker, the scantily clad youth, the homosexual couples and the food stamp shoppers. These outward appearances offer the opportunity to pass a cursory judgement and many people take that shortcut rather than take the time to get to know people for their own merits IMO.

  8. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks for your comments. Wp, if I understand what you’re saying correctly, I’m extremely disappointed with what is going on at the temple there. How sad and hurtful to treat the Spanish speaking community so dismissively! But I applaud you for the work you’re doing with them in the branch.

    Jennifer, I think your thoughts have merit. But I also suspect there is more to it. Consider this: We often have talks and lessons in the Church about the need to magnify our callings, to do missionary work, to be sexually chaste, to be honest, to follow the Word of Wisdom, or to be dedicated to our family responsibilities—worthy topics all. We also often hear from the pulpit and in our classes messages on more superficial matters; talk about appropriate language, dress, jewelry, tattoos, etc. But when was the last time you heard a talk or lesson on our responsibility to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the ill, teach the illiterate/ignorant, make the jobless employable, etc? Aside for the occasional reference to a “generous fast offering” tacked on to lessons on tithing, and lessons praising the Church’s disaster relief efforts and welfare work—which is indeed herculean, I rarely hear any mention of the Lord’s call for us to make a concerted effort and serious sacrifice in serving the downtrodden. I think there is a disconnect there. Are we to rely on the Church to do our charity work for us? Is it sufficient for us to fulfill a cannery or D.I. assignment every few months for a couple hours? D&C 58:26 seems to imply otherwise.

  9. WP Says:

    Perhaps it will be reviewed and reversed. A Seventy responsbile for the Hispanic Initiative of the Church in the Utah North Area has been talking with the Branch President, Stake President and some of the members who were dismissed as ordinance workers. Someone suggested the temple president’s name be put on the prayer roll to soften his heart to let these Spanish speaking ordinance woorkers return to their posts.

  10. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Derek, interesting thoughts there. I certainly agree that the doctrine of kindness is not emphasized enough in the Church, and that people really need to reconsider their connections with the word liberal. However, I am aware of many people who both overtly and covertly share their wealth, and I intend to be one of them as my business and income grow, and you need to acknowledge those so you don’t imply that it doesn’t get done at all. A lot is there to praise, it does get done, and often by the people you’d least expect (WASPy conservatives). Just how much is expected is a question for the ages, and I’d suspect that deep down inside everyone knows whether what they’re doing is enough. Under any circumstance, and I don’t know where you stand on this, it is not the job of the government to redistribute wealth, and every step we take closer to that is a step closer not just to communism, but to Satan’s plan. If we are to get anywhere and truly become exalted, it needs to be of our own free will.

    I also enjoyed the comment about tattoos, swearing, etc. not being the weightiest of all matters. I do think you need to be careful not to include sexual sin in those things, because that is a very weighty matter indeed. How much well-doing does it take to offset those things? I don’t know, and don’t feel comfortable making eternal judgments on my fellow man, but be careful in your language so that you don’t express the idea that it doesn’t matter, because it absolutely does, especially in the area of sexual sin, where one is toying with a sacred power.

  11. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Orgill. I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I never suggested that people don’t share their wealth, merely that we don’t emphasize enough our obligation to make a serious sacrifice and concerted effort to uplift the downtrodden. I would also point out that just because people much give some excess doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualifying as sheep (consider the parable of The Widow’s Mites).

    Also, I would note that I didn’t say sexual sin isn’t weighty. I specifically insisted that it was very much a grave sin. But considering the Savior’s parable of the Sheep and the Goats, as well as his other words throughout the scriptures, I wonder if we might be a bit misguided when we give it such gravity as compared to charity and social action.

  12. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I’m glad to hear we are on the same page. You seem like a very bright guy. I was just a little concerned when you put sexual sin in the same category of “not as important as…” that you did the tattoos, swearing, and other superficial, surface things, because indeed, the doctrine of the Church is clearly that sexual sins are second only to murder in their seriousness, and there’s really no way to get around that. Now, do I believe that all practicing homosexuals are going to be cast off forever? Not at all, and I wish people of the Church had a little more mercy in their attitudes towards people who consider themselves gay. I know above all that God is good and will give the greatest possible reward to all his children.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on just what is required. As you said, giving some excess doesn’t get you all the way, and we should in fact be willing to give all if it is required of us. But the Church also teaches self-sufficiency and saving for a rainy day, and being too reckless with your own money, even if it’s for generous causes, is unwise because so many things can happen. I wonder if that sometimes gets in the way of people being as generous as they can be. Nothing inspires me more than generosity, so I would imagine that when the day comes when I have a huge amount of surplus, I will have little trouble putting it to good use, but I can’t point a finger at others who are a little more careful. That’s between them and God, and as I said before, I suspect most of them already know if they should be doing more.

    Lastly, I’d like to hear you elaborate on your thoughts about God giving liberally, not conservatively. I would like to see the way we use those words wiped away completely, but have to say that while that’s a good thought, it is incomplete. Liberalism has a lot of nasty stigma attached to it, and some of it is well-deserved. I think the extreme elements of both parties are way out of touch with reality (i.e., PETA freaks who care more about animals than human beings, the connection many liberals have to hippie-ish ideas of drugs and sexuality, etc.), and that is probably why the term is used as an insult rather than the compliment it should be. Thoughts?

  13. Wordsfromhome Says:

    Aaron,
    I think the answer to “How much giving is required?” can be illustrated in the parable of the widow’s mite” No matter how much we give, we have not given enough if we have not made a sacrifice in order to give it. So I think we can each discover the answer to that question when we begin to make choices to “give” instead of “have” of our resources of time, talent, and goods.

  14. jennifer Says:

    Good question Aaron, about how much is required. And your point about self-sufficiency is important in this discussion. Our leaders have encouraged church members to have savings, food storage, education etc. etc. I think that these are important goals. However, I think that part of the reason for these preparations is that most people do not have the faith to share what they have (eg. the widow story) until they rest assured that all their possible needs are met for some time into the future. Did the widow have a years’ supply, or savings? Um, no. But her faith was immense, and most of us do not have that kind of faith – so we are asked to prepare and secure our own needs in order to feel safe in giving. I think that Wordsfromhome pointed out that the giving must feel like a sacrifice, and that means different things to different people – and the Lord knows our hearts in those matters. When in doubt, we can be a little more generous than we are comfortable with.
    As a parent, I am always concerned that we do not have much money in savings and we need to have more food stored. I still work on these. But I try to be generous in as many ways possible and try to have faith that the Lord will help us through. So far He has – the hymn text that comes to mind
    “Praise to the Lord,
    over all things He gloriously reigneth.
    Borne as on eagle’s wings
    safely His saints He sustaineth.
    Hast thou not seen
    How all thou needest hath been
    granted in what He ordaineth?”
    (sorry – it’s a favorite hymn and I had to include it ; )

  15. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Thanks for the comments so far. I would still love to hear from you, Derek (and I’m not saying that to draw you into an argument, I just think you have a really interesting viewpoint and sincerely want to know). The question of how much is required is rhetorical, and really I just want to get your thoughts on other things.

    Good response, Jennifer. I would add that there is more to self-reliance than just the fact that people don’t have the faith to share. I bet many people would be able to do it in a time of disaster. If a Katrina (or more realistically, a major earthquake) hit Utah, I believe the government would be shocked at how little we asked for from them. Kind of like when the Teton Dam broke in the 1970s. I think God just plain expects us to be able to take care of ourselves, unless there is a legitimate reason to be using help. Not that there’s anything shameful about it when it’s needed, but there is nothing godly about sloth, and that seems to be the real lesson.

  16. jennifer Says:

    Aaron – true, many people share in a time of crisis and natural disaster. These sorrows often bring out much kindness and generosity. But do we not ALL need help? Can we “take care of ourselves” or are we ALL only benefactors of a loving God? Don’t we all have legitimate reasons for help – and doesn’t that help come in many ways??? Maybe in the form of:

    a promotion at work,
    a priesthood blessing,
    a kind neighbor,
    an inheritance from a dying grandparent,
    a Christmas bonus from an employer,
    some hand-me down clothes for the kids,
    a scholarship or grant for college,
    a food order from the bishop’s storehouse
    an inspired Relief Society lesson………..

    My point is that blessings and help come from the Lord, often through inspired friends & family. The idea of “taking care of ourselves” independently seems to take a lot of credit for one’s own successes, rather than acknowledge the hand of the Lord and assistance from friends, family and others.

    If/when Utah has an awful earthquake, the citizens would be better prepared than those in other states. But we’ve been hit over the proverbial head with it for many decades now, from prophets to stake leaders to RS activities – so yes, most people within the church are better prepared. The general public has not had that admonition for so long, from so many sources. They will need a lot more of it before they see preparedness the way we do. And if they dismiss our prophets as apocolyptic wackos, well, they won’t heed the warnings anyway.

    Derek – I thought of your blog when I got my Aug. Ensign yesterday. Elder Worthlin wrote an article that discusses caring for the poor and needy at length, in the context of the commandment to love our fellowmen. See it on pages 64-69. I know you probably already read it, but wanted to relate it to this discussion.

  17. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I don’t argue with any of that, Jennifer. Without the generosity of many people who have helped me out over the last three difficult years, I don’t think I would have made it. Unfortunately there are those who are not in a place mentally or otherwise to do for themselves, and shame on us when they are overlooked. I say only that as we “take care of ourselves,” God is more able to bless us, and it is unacceptable when men refuse to provide for their families. I look at it as all being the same thing: we are warned to live up to what we really are (gods in embryo).

    You have a good point that we have had more warning and others have not had the luxury of hearing (and sometimes ignoring) the prophets. However, it was a sad thing to see how some Katrina victims refused to lift a finger and just expected the government to take care of it all… that may have been one of the ugliest things we will ever see. Failure at all levels, from the federal and state officials on down to the individuals.

    The Elder Wirthlin talk you mentioned is one of the best I’ve ever read, and was needed. We get wrapped up in so many other doctrines that we forget kindness.

    I now would like to make a request. I am intrigued by this blog because I think it is such a mistake for church members to position themselves as far-right rather than trying to let their discipleship go beyond politics. I just want to get a feel for the people who contribute to this page and see if it will be a breath of fresh air or just more of the same far-left stuff, because honestly, I cringe at that just as much as I do from the Bush Administration. So far I have enjoyed it and it has not seemed extreme. I would like to know, if anyone is game, what they consider themselves politically, what they think of the world’s problems today, and who they would support in the next election. Perhaps we could create a new string if this topic isn’t the right place to do it? Anyone interested?

  18. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thanks for everyone for posting. Its nice to see readers get involved in a dialogue. Some very good thoughts and responses.

    Aaron, many of your questions are good ones, but I hope you will forgive me if I don’t fully explore them all right here. Many touch issues upon which I plan to blog in the future.

    I suspect that when we ask “how much do we need to give?” we are approaching the topic from a fundamentally flawed perspective; a perspective guided by the natural man. After all, what we’re really asking when we pose that question is “what is the minimum I can give?” I wonder if the Savior is hoping we develop our charity and compassion to the point where we ask “how much can we give?” ie, “what is the minimum I need for myself (both now and in preparation for unforeseen problems) so that I can use the rest of my stewardship to bless the lives of others?”

    So the answer is that there is no percentage or formula for determining “how much is required,” just as the Lord gives no formula or checklist as to what qualifies as keeping the Sabbath holy. It is a matter of our attitude and perspective.

    Are we giving enough? The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. There is increasing examples of conspicuous consumption among those who have means. Meanwhile, the scriptural ideal is to reduce the gap; when the BofM peoples were at their peak, there was “no rich and no poor.” Given this, I’d say we as a nation, state, and church membership are still falling short.

    Regarding sexual sin and its relative weight compared to a lack of charity, I’d pose this question for you to ponder: One man is given to promiscuity. Hetero or homo, whichever you’d prefer, but always consensual. He devotes his life to helping families in the inner city break the cycle of poverty. Another man is celibate until marriage, and completely faithful within it. He dedicates his life to amassing wealth for his own gratification; minimizing business “overhead” without any thought of his workers and refusing to help out those less fortunate.

    Who is more likely to be accepted into God’s kingdom? Which of these two men, each with serious flaws, best exemplifies the God of Love? I won’t get into quibbling over it, but I think it is something to think about.

    Little of the stigma of liberalism is deserved. The examples of the outrageous extremists and zealots, like the rare “Peta Freak” is no more representative of true liberal thought than the rare abortion clinic bombers, Fred Phelpses, and David Dukes are representative of conservativism. And there has been plenty evidence in recent years that liberals have no monopoly on promiscuity, infidelity, drug abuse or any other “indiscretion.” But the Right has become very good over the past decades at leading people to overlook the conservative embarassments and put the liberal sinners under a spotlight.

  19. Derek Staffanson Says:

    I think it a bit presumptuous to assume that the Katrina victims refused to “lift a finger” to help themselves. If you look beyond the headlines and news soundbites and media hysteria, you will find that the citizens of Katrina did quite a lot to try to help themselves and each other out during that terrible time. However, given the poor economic shape a great bulk of them were in, they didn’t have much capacity to help themselves.

    If you wish to keep discussing things in the comments, go ahead. I probably won’t participate much–I have a hard enough time finding the time to blog in the first place. Another option would be to join the MESJ Yahoo group or the lds-left yahoo group. There is always this sort of discussion going on.

  20. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Whoa, Nelly. I think you’re misunderstanding me, Derek. We agree for the most part. All I said was that sexual sin is a very serious thing, and not to be put in the same league as tattoos and profanity. How to judge between the two examples you cited, I’m not qualified to say, and neither are you. You do have a great point that people need to look deeper. For some reason people in LDS society think that it’s okay to point and jeer and condemn at certain sins and indiscretions, and that’s wrong.

    You also misrepresent me on Katrina. I didn’t say all or even most of them refused to do for themselves. I said it was sad to see SOME of them do that. I know there would be people like that in any disaster, and perhaps I’m displaying a more subtle form of racism by mentioning it, but some of those clips just got under my skin. I understand many of them were poor, but that doesn’t change the fact that the city provided opportunities to escape for a couple of days beforehand, and it was foolish not to do so, even more so given that most of them weren’t leaving much behind in the way of worldly possessions.

    Little of the stigma of liberalism is deserved, I agree. We need to move beyond labels. And yes, Republican scandals are myriad. But you clearly have your own image of conservatism that isn’t very nice, nor accurate. I have a lot of hope for you being someone who just calmly does what’s right without all the mudslinging, and that’s getting hard to do, because if you lean one way, a whole slough of preconceived notions about the other side is touted, and before you know it you’re trapped inside the party line. More than any other candidate I’ve seen, Barack Obama seems to be willing to overcome that. I will continue to check out your blog every few days, and have actually been invited to contribute my own blog on KVNU (which is where I got the link to yours). I hope we get the chance to correspond more. Ciao.

  21. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Yes, sexual sin is serious. But more serious than charity and compassion, words which perhaps best describe Jesus? I’m not sure…

    I’m not interested in mudslinging per se, but I believe in standing for what is right and calling what is evil wrong. The Savior did not hesitate to repudiate corrupt philosophies and those who would promote them. My perspective of conservativism and conservatives is not infallible, but is based on no party line. Rather it is formed by my observation of their words and deeds. It is observation, in concert with my study of history and the Gospel which has guided me to adopt an ideology which can be labeled far left or liberal.

  22. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I’m glad you are comfortable in your own skin. Just realize that I never even said you were wrong. I only challenged you on a couple of points. My main concern was putting sexual sin in the same category as some other, pretty superficial ones. Period. We don’t disagree here.

    I’m sure I come off as very apologetic about conservatism, but really it would be the other way around if I was arguing with a Hannity or Limbaugh devotee. But I just can’t let you slide on this. I’m not sure exactly whose words and deeds you’re holding up as an ideal, but it seems to me that they’re all doing the same thing, the only difference is how open they’re being about it. John Edwards declares a war on poverty from his 29,000 square-foot house. Al Gore preaches about global warming while he uses his personal jets and lives in a huge mansion that consumes several times that of the ordinary American. At least the Republicans don’t try to hide their greed. I’d rather hear someone say, “I’m going to try to make and keep as much money as I can, and up yours if you don’t like it” than some condescending crap about the need for a new social order. The second I see someone give up their lifestyle to back up their words, I’ll listen. But I suspect that that’s not going to happen until the second coming.

    Whether you like it or not, there are some major inconsistencies between liberal ideology and the gospel. (I would say the same thing about conservative ideology). I don’t know what your positions are on different issues, so I assume nothing, but I will be very interested to read your blogs in the near future, and if you feel like sharing, you can reach me at any time.

  23. Derek Staffanson Says:

    I’m afraid you’re making a common mistake by assuming Democrats are liberals, Aaron. While I may work with them for lack of a better alternative, I refuse to join the Democratic party because they are by-and-large too conservative for my tastes. But do not think that just because many of these quasi-liberals talk out the side of their mouths that there are no liberals doing the same. You might be surprised how many co-ops, simple-living communities, and examples of true work for the poor exist as oases in the desert of materialism.

    You also err in conflating actions with ideology. If you want to understand my ideology and whose words I follow, simply read a variety from my blog;)

    The same distaste for hypocrisy you mention regarding poverty and wealth makes me appreciate “hippie-ish” proponents of sexual liberation. At least they are being honest about themselves, as opposed to the conservative moralists who self-righteously condemn sexual licentiousness on one hand, while happily engaging in fornication on the side (Newt Gingrich, Robert Livingston, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Henry Hyde, et al)

    The general liberal ideology is not always right, nor is the conservative ideology always wrong. No human ideology can be always correct, simply because of the limits of human wisdom. But it is an error to assume that the middle-ground is therefore correct. Centrism is a virtue only if the middle-ground is consistent with the principles of morality. I’m afraid that those values are best, though not perfectly, represented by what would be considered the far left.

  24. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I will definitely look further back into your writing. I don’t want to make the mistake of putting words into your mouth based on what is common among liberals. I never said there were no real co-ops, just that there wasn’t a lot of it in mainstream politics. I, for one, admire the Amish, who live such simple lives and were so forgiving last year when several of their daughters were killed by a gunman.

    If you’re further left than mainstream Democrats, that could be scary. But again, I’d have to hear you elaborate. Are you for the government completely redistributing wealth equally among all? No guns for any reason? Total pacifism? Gay marriage?

    I will agree with you, hippies are a breath of fresh air in that they’re at least comfortable in their own skin. I share your disdain for the far right and their sex scandals. Gingrich and others who tried to remove Clinton from office were completely ridiculous, and they are paying a price for it. However, I don’t believe there is such a thing as “being yourself.” We all have our inclinations and come into the world with strengths and weaknesses, but they’re all malleable in the end, even if it doesn’t all change during this life.

    I don’t hold up centrism as the standard of virtue. Sometimes the right is right, sometimes the left is right, and much of the time no one is right but they’re too busy shouting at each other and playing the game to actually get things done. I consider myself a libertarian more than anything, and feel that while it’s not necessarily a perfect standard of morality, it’s better than far-right thought (no compassion or consideration for anything different from your own point of view), or far-left lunacy (why don’t we make a utopia by pooling everyone’s resources together, whether they want to be part of it or not – this is pretty much parallel with Satan’s plan). If something is harmful to others (pedophilia, cocaine use, and in my opinion, abortion), regulate it. Otherwise, stay the hell out of it and let God be the judge. Men will never agree on what’s harmful and what’s not, so instead we have Republicans versus Democrats. Frustrating, yes, but better than any other system that’s out there. Aside from caring for the poor, what is so profoundly moral about the far left? Because honestly, I find a great deal of it IMmoral.

  25. jennifer Says:

    Aaron – answer your own questions by reading more what Derek’s written. He’s already addressed many of these topics.
    I personally do not find much joy with in the Democratic party proper, although I have voted for many of them. I have been known to vote Republican in some races too. I see myself as a progressive, maybe more liberal than many Democrats.

  26. Aaron Orgill Says:

    You’re right, and I actually have read a smattering of his commentary. I find some of his stuff very enlightening, but have a knee-jerk reaction to anyone who describes myself as both far-left and committed LDS. Part of it is just that I grew up in a very conservative family, but I am always the first to defend people’s rights to their own politics and their own religion. To an extent I think the Church is due for a general shift to the left, but that doesn’t mean the wisdom of our ancestors should be cast aside, because the fact is, sometimes the old ways are the best ways. And given some of the changes that liberals are making right now, I wonder what’s next. Pedophilia as a lifestyle choice? There are already signs that that’s in the works. In retrospect, some of what the left has done has been so good, and looks today like a no-brainer. The civil rights movement, for one. It is unbelievable that 40 years ago blacks were fighting for integration. But others have taken us down a terrible rabbit hole. The drug and “free love” craze of the 1960s has destroyed more families than just about anything. The word liberal itself is undefinable by issues. What is radical to the point of being considered heresy in China or the Middle East has been entrenched so long here that it’s considered conservative. So in my world, there’s definitely such a thing as too far left, but we don’t want to go back to what some of the neocons are backing. It’s a very fine line.

  27. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Pedophilia defended as a lifestyle choice by liberals? Hardly. I’ve seen no evidence of this from either mainstream Democrats, the left wing of the Democratic party (like Kucinich), or the advocates of the far left. Please, show me where Jim Hightower, Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, or any other prominent far-left leader has encouraged acceptance of pedophilia. No, this is nothing more than a straw man of the right-wing reactionaries. And I would note that such a proposal would be as or more likely to originate from the libertarian ideology.

    Yes, the drug and free-love movement which attached itself to liberalism was tragic (though I wonder what leads you to believe they “destroyed more families than anything else”). I would point out that those movements were in large part a result of and reaction to the hypocrisy widespread within the morally conservative culture and to the commercialism and materialism resulting from the widespread free-market idolatry. So if conservatives want to blame those sad developments for social ills, they need to look in the mirror.

  28. Aaron Orgill Says:

    No dice, Derek. First off, I didn’t accuse the far left as if it had become a mainstream thing. I don’t think it has become a mainstream thing anywhere yet, thank God. But if we’re talking about where it is likely to become accepted, you guys are already touting gay marriage, and one just has to wonder what the next idea is supposed to be. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but every time I make a comment, you read it as if I’m accusing you and everyone else in your camp of the things I bring up, and that just isn’t so. I give a lot of props to liberals for some of the things they’ve gotten accomplished, and there is clearly a lot that needs to be changed in the world, but there are other things that have gone pretty well. You’re right, someone who comes from a libertarian viewpoint would be most likely to initiate widespread acceptance of pedophilia. The thing is, everyone is libertarian on some things, and not on others. And there are people out there, like the supercreepy Jack McClellan, who are trying to push things in that direction. It seems like liberals, who pride themselves on accept almost anything, would be more likely to embrace that than the ultra-stuffy conservatives. In some cases, it’s good to be stuffy (although we’d undoubtedly see scandals from the far right, as we always do).

    You are full of crap if you blame the development of social ills on conservatism. They may not have helped themselves by being so high and mighty

  29. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Pardon me. I accidentally clicked “submit”. As I was saying, they didn’t help their cause by being so puritanical about the whole thing, but that didn’t make anyone take the reckless actions they chose. Teenagers did what they always do: go to extremes to prove a point. Instead of trying to change the things they didn’t like, they acted like a bunch of animals, and society is still paying a price for it. I would ask what else you would suggest has destroyed more families than drugs and the selfishness of sexual liberation. I don’t know how you can question that. I’m sure that you will respond in part that the commercialism and greed of capitalism has contributed, and that may be so, but if we can learn one thing from the Boomers, it is that you have to talk to people in a language they understand to effect change, and try to implement the things that have been tried and tested and proven over many generations while you cast other, negative trends aside, and keeping the lines of communication open will make the world a better place, rather than making the old farts wrong about everything and treating them like enemies.

    Now I have something I want to toot your horn for. You deserve some major props on your writings that have caused me to change my heart a little bit and try an experiment. In my ward, I am responsible for the planning of sacrament meetings, and after reading some of your comments on our responsibility to the poor in your blog, I have shaken things up a little bit. This coming Sunday, the adults’ assigned topic is Self-Sufficiency (which was chosen by the bishop). I am allowed to give the youth whatever topics and accompanying scriptures I want. I am assigning them the topic of charity, which should prove to be an interesting combo. The scriptures I have assigned are Alma 34:27-29 for one, and Mosiah 4:16-18 for the other. It will be interesting to see what the adults have to say when their turn comes. I hope that some of King Benjamin’s comments stick with people, and that it can be a catalyst for remembering that we have no place judging, or turning our heads while those around us suffer. And I thank you for helping me to see the need to stress love and generosity. I hope it works.

  30. jennifer Says:

    Hey Aaron, I want to hear how the church meeting goes.

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  33. andrewsmiracledrug Says:

    I’ve come very late to this discussion, but I just wish to thank you for crystallizing what i’ve felt for so long.

    By the way, have you read Rawls? I know your purpose in this post is to show how charity is imperative, at least if we take the Lord at face value. But Rawls adds a critical secular component to the theory of social justice.

  34. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Thnaks for your comment, AMD. You are indeed right, this particular post was meant to establish the moral imperative for Social Justice from a Christian (and specifically LDS Christian) perspective. The secular justifications I saved for part three of the triune. They are much less compelling, as governmentally forced social justice conflicts with the rights of freedom and property. But they do exist nonetheless.

    I’m afraid I’ve yet to read Rawls, though he is on my list. With which of his works do you recommend one start?

  35. patricia munger Says:

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  36. Daniel Blakslee Says:

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  37. jude Says:

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    jude

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