Caring for the Poor and the Needy to be Added to the LDS “Three-Fold Mission”

According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, the LDS Church will be making a change to the “Threefold Mission of the Church” to better reflect our responsibilities as Christians.

The LDS Church is adding “to care for the poor and needy” to its longstanding “threefold mission,” which is to preach the LDS gospel, purify members’ lives and provide saving ordinances such as baptism to those who have died.

This mission first was coined by late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball in the 1980s and since then has been repeated as a mantra by the church’s more than 13 million members.

The new group of phrases will be described as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “purposes,” rather than missions, and will be spelled out in the next edition of the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions , due out next year, church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed this week.

“Caring for the poor and needy,” Trotter said, “has always been a basic tenet of the [LDS] Church.”

Elevating it to one of the faith’s major purposes brings added emphasis.

“This is a dramatic move and very important message,” said Jan Shipps, an Indiana-based American religion historian who has spent decades studying the LDS Church. “It’s not that Mormons haven’t already been caring for the poor and needy with its humanitarian program. It’s just that this moves it to the top of their priorities, along with proselytizing and temple work (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “New LDS emphasis: Care for the needy,” Salt Lake Tribune, 12.10.2009).”

I think this is a fantastic move, and I hope it helps the membership of our faith reconsider the role of being charitable and compassionate in their lives. I hope people consider this an invitation to look beyond the traditional means by which we try to help our brothers and sisters in need, look beyond the tithing/donation forms, the formal charity drives (things like MS drives, March of Dimes, etc). and disaster relief. Our faith and its members has generally done a pretty good job at that sort of thing. But I would like to think of this upcoming change as an invitation to broaden our perspective on caring for the poor. Can we consider how our daily lives and decisions impact those less fortunate around us? Our consumption decisions, our decisions about our business decisions, our employment decisions, all can have an impact on the needy and downtrodden. Can we consider them? So often I hear rather disparaging comments within LDS circles about the desperately poor whom we see around on the streets, outside shopping centers, or in our library. Can we look with more compassion on those we see around us every day who are in desperate circumstances?

This month we celebrate the birth of Him who gave us a priceless and otherwise unobtainable gift, who gave it not in some exchange, but out of pure love for all of us who needed his help. What better way to celebrate than to give to those from whom we cannot expect anything in return?


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27 Responses to “Caring for the Poor and the Needy to be Added to the LDS “Three-Fold Mission””

  1. Alice Says:

    This is nice. And yes, while the church itself provides services for the poor, hopefully this will encourage members, as you said, to be more giving in their personal lives.

  2. Daniel H. Says:

    I agree with this. In priesthood one Sunday one of our most right-wing members sat and said that the government shouldn’t be involved in welfare, and turned it into a tirade against the Democratic motions in Congress.

    The thought occurred to me, though, that if we don’t want government in the welfare business, we need to step up, be more Christ-like and take care of those around us, effectively removing the need for the government to step in. Surprisingly, he seemed to agree.

    And it seems like the church is moving that way, too.

  3. adamf Says:

    I appreciate the comparison to the atonement. Not that it is the *same* thing, but rather it is a perfect example of how we should approach serving the “poor and needy.” We often turn up our noses at those who may have “brought it on themselves” or those who “haven’t worked hard enough.” YES, we need to be wise as serpents, so to speak, but that wisdom must also have equal compassion, forgiveness, and charity, etc.

  4. mormongandhi Says:

    This is great! For a long time, I have been interpreting the “three-fold mission” of the LDS church as Proclaiming the Gospel (love), Perfecting the Saints (nonviolence) and Redeeming the Dead (from temporal and spiritual prisons) and in that way I was able to include this command to care for the poor and the needy – but this new emphasis is now timely and welcomed. Check my article about “modern day prophets – advocates of freedom and social justice” (

    Changing the word “mission” of the Church to the purposes is also fine, I suppose. What is the difference? Are we de-emphasizing the importance on mission? What does that mean for mormon theories of social change, in that case?

  5. Yorgus Says:

    About time. Too many members of the church think that the only worthy charity is the church itself. I have friends and acquaintances who give me a funny look if I mention donating to the Salvation Army, Doctors without Borders, Red Cross, NPR/PBS or other charities. As far as they are concerned a tithing slip 12 or 24 times a year, and an annual donation to the Boy Scouts, demonstrates their charitable spirit. They give themselves an extra pat on the back if they add a donation for Church Humanitarian Services.

    You can’t take it with you.

  6. Dale Says:

    For me this is nothing new. (I span 50 years of membership).
    This is taught in the Bible, Book of Mormon and everywhere in the Church. It is also taught in many other faiths.

    I was raised by parents who helped others always.
    Sometimes in person,
    sometimes anonymously.
    ALWAYS without fan fair.

    They did not just donate to Boy Scouts – they helped out.
    They did not give the begger money – they took him to dinner.
    They gave money for clothes – then delivered them to Mexico.
    They knew of a baby – found adoptive parents.
    They were/are doers – not just talkers.

    They judge themselves – not others!

    Some day I hope to quietly measure up.

    I have tried to raise my kids the same way.
    We all need to step up to the plate, but not because someone or the Church has told us to. But, because it is the right thing to do.

    What I do today is important because
    I am paying a day of my life or it.
    What I accomplish, must worthwhile
    because the price is high.

    I am better at doing than writing, forgive my lack of style and take it all for what it is worth. My Rant.

  7. anothersunshinewriter Says:

    Thank you for this! As a liberal Mormon living in a very, very right wing state, seeing another member with similar belief is so very refreshing!:)

  8. Gabrielle Valentine Says:

    OH MY GOSH! I have found some people who AGREE with my points of view! I’m so happy. FINALLY. I am a Mormon Democrat. You have to read the blog posts I’ve written the last several days and see how mean some of these righteous Mormons are when I simply say we should be more charitable or provide better health care services or give more. They say it’s enslaving them and forcing them. I can’t stand it! I can’t get through. Then I went on another blog and they all were so rude! One told me I was going to hell for even considering universal health care! I hope I can fit in, here and I’m so happy to find your blog and read what you say!!! I’m NOT ALONE!!!! YAY!!!

  9. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Mormon Ghandi, I’m not sure what the change from “Mission” to “Purpose” means. It seems to me that mission is more militant, and also much more prone to being compartmentalized. Purpose seems to be more organic, more likely to be applied to any and all activities. But that’s just speculation on my part.

    AnotherSunshineWriter and Gabrielle, it’s good to hear from you. I understand the frustration of feeling alone and isolated when you hold an alternative view in the Church! Thankfully, the internet has provided many more opportunities for expression and networking, and if you haven’t already, you’ll find that there are many more liberal Mormons online. I’ve many listed (though it certainly isn’t comprehensive) on my Delicious account. See here, if you’re interested.

  10. mormongandhi Says:


    You should add my site “latter day satyagraha” to your Delicious account πŸ™‚

    Mission is more militant! Yes, I am all for making the LDS church less militant, if possible. I have some thoughts published on my site on the idea of developing a culture of peace – grounded in principles of the restoration.


  11. Jennifer Says:

    Yes, I was happy about this announcement too. Seemed like a major component of the gospel was lost on too many members….
    Gabrielle, I’ve heard those right-wing sentiments too. Seems like it boils down to a couple concepts:

    1- people who love their money (ie. tax dollars) more than they love people (even ones who are sick, dying, widowed, children, etc.)

    2- people claiming that they can do more effective charity acting on their own than by having the government “steal” their money for social programs (meaning that people want to control who they help, because government would help even those who don’t “deserve” the help)

    These two sticking points fly in the face of a number of gospel precepts, IMO. First off, King Benjamin explained that we all are beggars (meaning that the money is never ours to begin with). Second, Moroni plainly taught that those who love money more than the poor “pollute” the church and defy the gospel. Third, the Savior taught that we should be compassionate even to people of different races, religions & beliefs (the parable of the Good Samaritan), and not be so quick to judge who “deserves” our assistance & who doesn’t. We should be willing to share everything with anyone, which is a tough doctrine to live.

    In 4th Nephi, we see a sketch of a Zion community in which all things were common and there was “no poor among them”… the right wing social & economic policies work against this ideal. The fact that we have SO MANY unmet needs in our wealthy society condemns us as a people (meaning the voluntary individual contributions help but are woefully inadequate to meet the needs). We can have gov. safety nets AS WELL AS individual acts of sharing and compassion. We need it all. They are not mutually exclusive modes of addressing the problem!

  12. George Says:

    In doing some reading about temples recently for a lesson I was teaching I came across this interesting quote from Pres. Hunter. You could not guess it was from the dedicatory prayer of the Bountiful Temple.

    “Bless thy children throughout the world who know hunger, who have no shelter and who face daily suffering. May we who have been blessed with abundance reach out in a spirit of love and true charity to those who yearn for our help.”

    Maybe as lay members of the Church we will feel more urgency in ratcheting up our personal involvement, not just waiting for the institution to do it for us. I welcome these changes as I do most all changes in practice, procedure, even doctrine. I am thinking of President Spencer W. Kimball denouncing as the false doctrine – the Adam-God thing.

    Thanks for the post Derek.

  13. Oly Says:

    Careful not to confuse politics with religion now. Are you sure you want to impose charity through the political process? Gov welfare and church welfare are very different so please consider wisely.

    Jennifer – your understanding of doctrine needs refined. We do not own what we have, God does. He allows us our agency. Government does not own what we have – we own the gov – and we tell it what it can have. But when it usurps the people and takes, that is fundamentally wrong based on the principle of agency, unless off course you’ve switched sides since the war in heaven.

    Although the gov does own most the the land in Utah, and over half of the American homes and land they occupy through gov liens held by freddie and fannie. They also hold claim to over half of my property (income) in one form or another. Yet, I am supposed to desire to contribute more to this albatross of inefficiency to redistribute the wealth. I’ll stick with living the law of sacrifice and consecration through my church with generous fast offerings, tithes, and service.

  14. DJ Says:

    Good post, Derek. I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner; we agree on at least one thing! haha

  15. Buddy Curtis Says:

    I like the new emphasis on the poor. Although it is sad that we need the extra emphasis at all since that is at the core of the gospel of christ and I believe the original three-fold mission of the church was what the organization of the priesthood’s responsibilities was all about and “Perfecting” the saints would naturally bring about Zion and drawing closer to Christ which is impossible without taking care of those less fortunate. “If ye have done it unto to the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me”

    If this point was lost on members than they just don’t get it.
    However, the giving unto the poor should always remain a top personal responsibility even though the Church as a whole will be making it a top goal of its organization.

    Government’s involvement in giving to the poor and the Church giving to the poor are very different however. Whenever someone is being given a handout from an organization and doesn’t really have the intimate contact with the person he is recieving the charity from then he/she begins to think that it is “owed” to them and cripples them into thinking that that is their natural station in life. The church always encourages and sometimes requires that the person is looking to provide for themselves if they can. Whereas the government just keeps on giving.

    I think the government would get a lot more done if they wold just relinquish the taking care of the poor to those local charity organizations (like the church, non-profit hospitals,etc) and give an increase tax incentive to individuals and corporations to drive funds directly to these organizations (such as a Tax Credit instead of a Tax deduction).

    Local charities and churches will run their organizations leaner and with a more personal contact with those that they are helping.

  16. Julie Says:

    The church claims it helps the poor and the needy, but truly I feel they could take a few lessons from the Salvation Army Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, doesn’t have even one homeless shelter

  17. Couldn't help but notice Says:

    In all honesty several liberal/left wing ideologies are very hard to squeeze into the acceptable lifestyles of a faithfully upstanding member of the LDS Church. Supporting homosexual/lesbian lifestyles is a no brainer. (Freedom of Choice Act) Then supporting abortions especially for persons not even of 18 years of age, that’s pretty much telling your children to have premarital relations, not sure which verse of Holy Writ justifies this kind of nonsense. These are just a few things that just don’t fit the LDS persona. If I really wanted to rub it in I could write enough books to fill your private libraries. Oh and also check your facts just a little better there folks the LDS church has raised more funds for and provided more services for homeless families, needy people and tragedies the world over then any other private organization in the world.

  18. Adam Says:

    I don’t know anyone who “supports” abortions, although they must exist. Pro-choice does NOT equal pro-abortion. The opposite of pro-life is pro-death. The opposite of pro-choice is pro-no choice. πŸ˜‰

    The church also supports gay rights, just not marriage.

    Regardless, I think it’s pretty hard to be a member of either party and be an upstanding faithful member of the church. Both (and don’t get me started on the cult or Ron Paul) are filled with evil and conspiring men I think. Capitalism – where every man prospers according to his own genius (from the BoM) – is evil, just as socialism is. Fact is though we all live in this fallen world and have to decide whom we’ll vote for. I don’t think any argument can be made that one side isn’t evil though.

  19. Adam Says:

    Whoops, I meant the “cult OF Ron Paul” haha.

  20. Couldn't help but notice Says:

    I’m not discounting the article it’s a great article and the good liberal agendas are wonderful but I find far more favorable values in the conservative agenda.

  21. Couldn't help but notice Says:

    Look up the freedom of choice act before you eat choke on your own words there captain libby. Obama’s own words before he was in my opinion magically elected.

  22. Couldn't help but notice Says:

    Another note Socialism/Communism is an attempted Zion through force, we all know very well that the Zion of Enoch would never have come to fruition on such practices. Force can never bring about the pure in heart. Discounting or discrediting “The Freedom of Choice Act” is not really a forceful situation. The person who puts themselves into a position where they may even need to consider abortion in 99% of the times capable of never being there to begin with. Rape victims are the only suitable circumstance. Taking away consequence does not teach anyone anything either. The church clearly teaches it’s members to do their best to be self sufficient. This can easily be equated to Capitalism. Your attempt to title someone’s prosperity to be evil is completely ridiculous. If my fellow member makes $350,000.00/yr because he/she is brilliant and excels in education and becomes a cardiovascular surgeon doesn’t make them an evil person just because I on the other hand am not brilliant and I become a truck drive only making $50,000.00/yr. This is a brief example of Capitalism, whether or not you see it that way that’s actually what capitalism is. It’s not Darwinism or anything else you want to equate it to. The scriptures clearly teach us that people normally have different levels of intelligence. Please read them before you attack me (Abr. 3:18-19). Also understand that doesn’t always make the difference on how much income someone makes, but it can definitely be a deciding factor especially in first world countries. And yes we live in a fallen world that’s why most of all we should try to do the things that will lead to the best outcome by voting in leaders who at least claim up front they want to do things that are in favor with what our God in heaven teaches. I don’t think people who want to allow people to murder unborn children the first thing when they get elected would make the best leaders.

  23. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Couldn’t Help, many people feel the way you do. That is why I created this blog, to show how I see the teachings of the Gospel more closely tied to liberal ideology than that of conservatism. I’ve addressed many of your points in other posts on this blog. To touch on them briefly: I would agree that supporting the right of other faiths and individuals to follow their consciences in determining the parameters of marriage is indeed a “no brainer,” particularly since it is rather hypocritical for a religion which has previously denounced government efforts to restrict their own pursuit of alternative marriages to then attempt to do so to others.

    I see no basis for the assertion that what you misconstrue as “supporting abortions” would encourage “children to have premarital sex.” Free agency is an crucial part of the Gospel, and yet you would hardly suggest that God is encouraging us to sin simply because he permits us to do so. Simply allowing for the possibility, as even the Church advocates–in more circumstances than just rape–is simply moral and compassionate. I might plead with women in most circumstances to bear their child, but I firmly believe the decision should rest with her than with some combination of legislators and judges trying to decide whether or not she meets the criteria of rape or other tragic circumstance.

    And as for economic systems, you seem to be making the common mistake of confusing the idea of “free markets,” with capitalism, which is very narrowly a theory about the use of capital, not choice, and which posits that people should seek their own self-interest (see Ayn Rand’s books, including _The Virtue of Selfishness_). Considering the fact that the LDS canon is replete with warnings about the perils of wealth and admonishments of the rich, and the fact that every truly righteous society in the Book of Mormon has neither poor nor *rich*, I find it curious that so many like you are so quick to justify the accumulation of wealth and the great gaps of wealth in society. Yes, the Church does encourage self-sufficiency, but the Gospel and scriptures equally emphasize the need to be charitable, to give *liberally*, and to serve others rather than focusing on the self-interest encouraged in capitalism. I’m perplexed that you would bring up socialism/communism in the discussion, since I have not. Surely you realize that there are more options than just two, that you can be wary of capitalism without being communist.

    Can you cite evidence that “the LDS church has raised more funds for and provided more services for homeless families, needy people and tragedies the world over then any other private organization in the world”? No doubt, the LDS Church has done some incredible work, but more than any other? Considering the vast size and resources of the Catholic church, and their long history in serving the disadvantaged, I suspect it would be hard to argue that the LDS Church has given more in total in services than them, just for one.

  24. Couldn't help but notice Says:

    You know I’ll just leave with this. I don’t need to mention anything more, I guess I shouldn’t have said anything to begin with but I think the reason I said anything at all was that I’m worried that there would even be any so-called separate title that someone provides for themselves in the Lords only TRUE Church aside from a specific calling in the Church. Personal politics are fine but being a member really doesn’t need to be more then that. Liberal Mormon? Even Conservative Mormon… What is that? Really? My recommendation is simply go to church, study the scriptures, have personal prayers, be attuned with the spirit for by the power of the spirit shall you know the truth of all things. If you’re a member of the church, your a member that’s it, it’s wonderful and that’s what it is. These silly titles remind me an awful lot of a very familiar group of people in the Book of Mormon King Men. I know we can surely be better members by admitting this whole class/title of Mormon nonsense is just silly. Keep political issues in politics. If you were a fellow member in my ward I wouldn’t look at you any other way if your political voice differed from my own. I sure hate to think that the Lord looks at us and judges us differently because of our political ideals. But is there an over all way the Lord governs and would have us govern ourselves, I think there is it’s very simple and always has been. I still think the simple information He provided the apostles in the original Church is the greatest of all. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

  25. Lutaaya Ronald Says:

    Praise the Lord
    Am in Uganda East Africa and need help from You over their
    Any help given to me is welcome.

    Am seriously in need.

  26. considering self-employment Says:

    considering self-employment…

    […]Caring for the Poor and the Needy to be Added to the LDS “Three-Fold Mission” « A Liberal Mormon[…]…

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