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Freedom or Compassion?


Recently I was talking with a friend who is a faithful saint. He expressed his frustration that we sometimes conflate our religion and our politics. We sometimes act as if a faithful member of the Church could have only one political stance: “Freedom comes first.” The people who start their history with the war in heaven sometimes talk as if the only principle worth fighting for is agency.

I agree with that friend. I suppose that agency got us here. But using that agency to show love and compassion is what will get us back with Father. While we start our story with agency, we conclude it with the United Order. Should we imagine that every cousin of socialism is evil? Should we talk as if government must always be minimized? Must the great principles of freedom and compassion be at war with each other?

I grew up in a home that was very conservative politically. I have been very conservative most of my life. But the repeated demand of scripture to care for God’s underprivileged children makes me more open to many ways of helping—including some governmental interventions.

I am not defending big government. I am not suggesting it is the immediate solution to our woes. Each of us must find ways to care for the poor. But I invite humility and patience as each of us tries to find a way.

Maybe we could all try to welcome any efforts to care for God’s underprivileged children. Maybe it is not Uncle Sam who is the enemy but rather Satan. He would have us harden our hearts against the poor. “They brought it on themselves.”

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:17-19)

I don’t think God wants us to choose between freedom and compassion. I think He wants us to use our best inspiration to choose both.

How can we do that? I welcome your ideas.

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18 Comments

  • Reply Lynn March 29, 2009 at 6:57 am

    I struggle with this, myself. I joke that I went into the waters of baptism a Frank Church Democrat and came out a Goldwater Republican.

    After the divorce, I raised the last four of my five kids on what I earned as a clerical worker and was immensely thankful for the Earned Income Credit each spring. [Thank you, my fellow Americans.]

    We also got a lot of help from the church during the children’s father’s repeated bouts of unemployment. [Thank you, my brothers and sisters.]

    One of the great ironies ~ and embarrassments ~ in my life is to have the mindset of a fiscal conservative, and to have needed assistance from time to time.

    Now that the children’s father is no longer complicating my life, and the last chick has left the nest, I am inching toward solvency. Having been what most people would call poor for much of my adult life, I am learning new habits, saving a little for my old age, paying off my debts, and finding opportunities to serve.

    I will not give cash to beggars, but I will buy them a meal, because I remember what it was like to be hungry and too proud to ask the church for help. As my situation improves, I will be able to do more for others, and one of my frequent prayers is that when I have the means to do so, I will also have the inclination.

    As the hymn says, “It requires a constant labor, all His counsels to obey. If I truly love my neighbor, I am in the narrow way.” Sometimes I find myself singing “I’m trying to be like Jesus”, through gritted teeth.

    It’s a process, and a learning curve.

    • Reply admin March 31, 2009 at 3:05 pm

      Lynn, I love what you said about singing praises through gritted teeth. Poignant.

      I suppose that periods of vulnerability in my own life have increased my compassion for fellow travelers.

      “Is government the right way to help?” some might ask. I don’t know. But I’m open to that as one part of the safety net.

      Thank you for sharing your life with us, Lynn.

      -Wally

  • Reply Charmaine March 29, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    The question is what has worked? A united order situation can only work if people are righteous. I think the early church attempt at this has proven that we are not ready. Charity works best from the private sector. It is less prone to evil forces. Handing out money is not the answer either but giving people opportunities to bring themselves up. My husdands father and mine were both coal miners. We grew up very poor but well taken care of with none of the glamerous material things that people “must” have today. My husband has a PHD. I have a bachelors degree. We are financially comfortable. No one helped us get through college. We were motivated by righteousness. All we have to do is look at California with its throw money at everyone policy and Europe with its high unemployment rate to see that socialistic policies are not the answer. I am not saying that the government should not do anything but when it does everything no one feels like they need to be personally responsible or charitable. We really do handicap peronal agency. My 30 year old single 6’5″ strong and capable son is getting food stamps because he is lazy. We are making it easy for him to take what little money he makes and use it unwisely because the government is feeding him. When we feed children all their meals at school we take away the parents opportunity and obligation to do it. There is a growing expectation that the government is always the answer and the more we get the more we want…to the point of bankrupting future generations and then we will really see how bad it can get. To me this is a situation of making evil look good and charitable. I think President Benson would have a few words to say about what is going on today.

    • Reply admin March 31, 2009 at 10:55 pm

      I agree that President Benson would have a lot of interesting things to say on this subject. I also think that King Benjamin does. I think that our challenge is to figure out how to wisely and appropriately show mercy. “If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another,” is the challenge from Joseph Smith. How do we wisely and helpfully show mercy?

      -Wally

  • Reply Candleman April 1, 2009 at 6:16 am

    While there are cases where government assistance has made a significant difference in the lives of the poor, legion are those which have corrupted and kept the poor right where they are.

    Visit just about any Indian Reservation in the West and you’ll see just what I mean. There is no prejudice here, just sadness and compassion at the tragedy I see among the people I love.

    Native American people are among the first to tell you that Government handout programs have done little to help and much to corrupt their populations. It is a case of good intentions and a guilty conscience gone awry. The Church did much the same thing in the 60’s with the Indian Placement Program and other support intended to lift the native people out of their impoverished circumstances. One church leader told me the programs were canceled because we found we had put the people on Spiritual Welfare in much the same way the government had put them on Temporal Welfare.

    When I hear politicians describe their intentions with regard to government caring for us and solving our problems the spirit whispers to me that their arguments and objectives are much the same as those of Satan in the original battle of our lives. He too wanted to care for us from cradle to grave. He too wanted the credit for it. We turned his plan down then, how about now?

    Government compassion is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you ask me. If it bore any resemblance to the church welfare program I’d applaud it. It doesn’t.

    I don’t feel exonerated from caring for the poor, on the contrary, but I’m convinced that choosing government for the task will eventually impoverish us all. In fact I really think that is Satan’s desire and that he has plenty of help among power hungry politicians, who have quite intentionally maintained poor populations among us with promises and programs that have utterly failed the people to whom the promises are made. Further, I think those vote getting promises are fully designed to maintain and develop a voting block with a handout mentality to insure the perpetuation of their power.

  • Reply Sandee Spencer April 2, 2009 at 8:26 am

    I think the thing I fear most about a large increase in Government involvement in our private lives is what might be the ultimate intention?

    A love of our fellow man and respect for his agency would point us to assist, encourage, shore up etc. and help turn all gratitude to the God that gives us all sustenance .

    I wonder about the new proposed budget item that will end or diminish tax credits for charitable contributions. Is that because our Government wants all assistance to come from them so that all devotion and thanks (and consequently power) might go to them as well?

    I’m also troubled because if I choose to give aid and care to the poor I am blessed with an increase of the spirit in my life and a more kind and grateful heart. But if the government takes money from me by force and they distribute it to the poor I lose the blessing.

    How much better it would be for the government to encourage and rally the efforts of all good men to assist, encourage and shore up those that are currently in need. Our stake just held two fasts that:
    1. Those that are without work might find gainful employment.
    2. Those that have had their hours and pay cut might be blessed to know how to live frugally so that their families might flourish despite less income.
    3. Those that are business owners might experience continued business that they too might be able to provide for their families and offer employment to those that need work.

    How wonderful it would be to have our entire nation fasting, praying and working for such results.

    Sandee

  • Reply Nancy Gonzalez April 6, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Thank you for a thoughtful blog. I seem to remember a quote by someone important that goes something like, “what ye do unto the least of these, my brethern, ye do unto me.” That about clears it up! 🙂

    • Reply admin April 9, 2009 at 2:47 pm

      That captures it all, doesn’t it Nancy!

      -Wally

  • Reply Candleman April 9, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    It might capture it all, but it doesn’t answer the question about whether government is best for dealing compassionately with those in need.

    It seems to me that our compassionate government is impoverishing us rather than rescuing us.

  • Reply Jim April 10, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Regarding “welfare,” I enjoyed the two articles in the March Ensign, Becoming Spiritually Self-Reliant, Spiritually and Physically, by Elder Ballard, and The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance by President Marion G. Romney.

    I believe the Church’s welfare system offers a wonderful pattern: help people to get on their own feet so that they can they can become self-reliant and be in a position to serve and help others. I believe a big part of the program is for those receiving assistance, according to their ability, to offer some kind of service or work, perhaps even if it is fulfilling one’s calling.

    Of course there are exceptions where someone may be disabled, elderly, etc. that will require assistance without being able to perform any work or service in exchange. And these truly are exceptions in that the goal in these cases is not to help the person become self-reliant as that is not always a possibility.

    There are numerous things we can do individually outside of the Church to assist the needy. We can donate food to shelter or food bank, donate time to prepare or serve food in a shelter, donate usable clothes and other items to shelters or Deseret Industries or Goodwill, etc. One doesn’t have to look far to find an opportunity to help. It only requires a willing heart…

  • Reply a guy Nathan April 10, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    A great question: From whom should giving come?

    Could it be that America has replaced her God with Santa Claus? Gifts come from no where on Earth, at no expense to people, government, or politicians. (Although there is a North Pole, might not we discover that there is no real town with little elves at the North Pole?)

    Could America’s values and governement be following the ideals of the “Santa fiction”?

    I believe it costs more to give through government than to give it directly or through The Church or other nonprofit organizations.

    I believe many politicians may sincerely hope to do a great deal of good through government-giving and that in many cases of giving they are correct but I also believe that without “protection”-oriented hurdles, controls and expenses placed on us by government “for our safety, health and welfare,” most of the good that is done by government aide would not be needed in the first place.

    A point to ponder.

    I wonder if the PC and Apple computer industry had a legal start. Were the garages that incubated the information economy zoned “industrial”?

    So long as government keeps a healthy portion of law-abiding citizens powerless to sustain themselves, yes, we need liberal policies and liberal politicians. But what if we replaced the current liberal ones with the kind of liberal that not only cared but cared enough to set people free?

    For conversation, let’s guess an arbitrary percentage of politicians who do care enough. Let’s guess the percentage at 1/3 of those on each side of the isle. A minority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats, each group of which eyes the other with suspicion while hoping that if they play partison long enough, eventually they may be able to get the majority of their own party to go along with them.

    We can see several problems if this guess is correct: no caring majority exists. The caring minority can’t get together because of suspicion; it is fragmented into groups too small to constitute a powerful voting block.

    On the other hand, if this were a correct guess, the good news is that if those who cared were to identify each fellow member and devise a proper solution, there is significant potential for enough less-caring politicians to be peruaded to vote with them so they could look good, too.

    I have a hint for the caring ones. Once I had a neighbor with a simple business plan to sew underware and sell it at an out-of-doors market in Roseville, California. She got shut down because of “protection”-oriented government; she needed her underware federally inspected for the “health and welfare” of potential customers – according to legislators who made the relevant regulations possible by an act of Congress.

    More than needing government to stop an enterprising woman from competing with big business, I believe my former neighbor’s prospective customers needed the liberty to engage in self-reliance for their health and welfare. The same “protection”-oriented measures that stopped her also stops millions of other Americans in their pursuits of “health, life, and happiness.”

    If America and her government is following the wrong God in Santa Claus, and there really are costs to government gifts of “protection”-oriented restrictions and government liberality, a caring government would have to let people do things without the protections of a “nanny” state, so more of the citizenry will have the means for innovation, self-reliance, etc.

    Some of these self-reliant members of society would then develope further employment opportunities for others; and eventually we would have more people able to afford the end of government welfare.

    So another great question would be:

    “How can we reduce dependence on government to the point that private charity could and would supply the need?”

    And you already know my thought: stop government from making self-reliance and innovation difficult or legally impossible for innovators and self-employed merchants, manufacturers and service providers.

  • Reply Mark April 13, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I agree that we need to take care of our brethren, and that is also the reason that government intervention must be minimal and cautious.

    Charity is something that can only truly be initiated by an individual. The church’s welfare system is the only one of which I know (I should be better read on this) that appropriately offers recipients opportunities to earn and grow their way out of their difficulties.

    Attempts to be “charitable” on a government level add bureaucracy and disincentivize private giving. And they can never be charitable, because the “agency” principle is often hard-coded into rules and regulations.

    I think that the government can do some things to encourage giving, for instance as stated above, allow those who are giving to be excused from some of their obligation to support the state. This is a logical encouragement as these gifts should be much more effective at lessening suffering and encouraging recovery than the government doling out support.

    But when the government begins to “automate” the process of charity, the heart and soul are removed, thus leaving an empty husk of a provider, turning hearts away from their most glorious Parent. Discouraging us from giving because we know that the government has done the job already.

    Also, the government is a creature of force. While the United Order is creature of agency. Trying to replicate the same charitable exterior is not possible without the coherent and light-inviting internal governing principles.

    • Reply Momnmb April 27, 2009 at 10:47 pm

      Mark hit the nail on the head of the whole question.
      “Also, the government is a creature of force. While the United Order is creature of agency. Trying to replicate the same charitable exterior is not possible without the coherent and light-inviting internal governing principles.”
      The government uses force to take from taxpayers robbing them of the blessings of giving voluntarily.

      It also robs the receiver of the chance to ask for help and earn the benefits received. Just like Satan’s plan to force us all to heaven, government forced charity replaces genuine righteousness in the people. I believe far too many people do not reach out to the needy because they believe that the government takes care of it and the small gesture they could offer seems insignificant compared to what government programs offer.
      Then there is the issue that government handouts invite abuse of the system, encourages broken families and absent fathers, and create a sense that we can get something for nothing. I believe that government handout programs do more harm than good.
      I disagree that deductions are government welfare. They are allowing us to keep our own earned money not the redistribution programs that people usually mean when discussing government charity.
      Eve said that it was good for us to suffer so that we could know joy. If government will not let us suffer, how will we learn to value joy? Not all suffering is bad. Many times suffering brings repentance and better choices.

  • Reply admin April 16, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I suppose I am the odd man out on this issue. I have seen people I love who lost a job then had a baby with complications. I was glad to be a taxpayer who could help them. I was proud to help build a safety net for them and others like them. Of course the hard question is how big the net should be. Free school lunches for children in poor families? Unemployment benefits? Healthcare for the poor? We all draw the line somewhere. But it is worth noting that the single largest entitlement program in the USA is for the middle class: providing tax deductions for mortgage interest. Do we believe that incentivizing home ownership for the middle class is a more important function of government than caring for the poor and sick? That’s a question I wrestle with. It seems that we should do as much for the poor as the middle class. So, can we be creative about ways to do that without creating dependencies? How about educational supports for the poor? How about special job training? Let’s not tighten our fists for the poor while insisting on handouts (in the form of mortgage interest deductions) for the middle class.

    -Wally

  • Reply Candleman April 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Wally, I think I understand where you’re coming from.

    Recently, our local Juvenile Judge hosted a conference on troubled youth in our community. 80 people attended the conference. Each of those 80 represented at least 10 others in their various government agencies. My first reaction was shock! Approximately 800 people in our community are employed caring for folks in trouble with some kind of poverty. Be it spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, psychological, temporal, they all have serious enough lack in their lives to warrant some kind of intervention. I wondered how many people were receiving services as compared with the number employed providing services.

    I was the only attendee who was not a government employee.

    I would have expected that 800 people could spread a pretty wide and thorough safety net. Not so. The universal opinion of the group was that way too many folks, especially children were falling through significant holes. It was interested that because of budget constraints due to the failing economy, many looked to me to plug the holes.

    I’m the LDS Branch President at the Youth Detention Center. We are stepping up to the plate, but are very restricted in what we can do because of government regulations. Those who would volunteer have nowhere near the access individual youth that agency employees do.

    I came away from the conference with new awareness and humility.

    1. The depth and breadth of need was appalling.

    2. The efforts of the agencies and their personnel were heroic despite being under compensated.

    3. Every social worker put children foremost and their concern was deeply felt and genuine.

    4. Most were operating with failing models.

    While people and their care are foremost in the programs, policies and hearts of these agencies. Rehabilitation and recovery seem to be largely lacking as shown in statistics across the board. It appears to me that this failing is largely due to the procedural strings that come attached to every penny the government offers the agencies.

    I am aware that much, if not all of what Wally does in his work is aimed at prevention. His approach is the exception rather than the rule. Most if not all of the agencies I witnessed at the convention were involved in fighting brush fires rather than preventing them. And too many of those are mere band aids on problems needing tourniquets.

    The universal angst I detected on the part of social workers across the board gave me the impression that even they feel their efforts are amounting to little more than straightening the deck chairs on the titanic.

    Conclusion: I don’t object to us caring for the less fortunate by means of the government and taxation. I just struggle with the prevailing methodology and the wasteful, bureaucratic way in which it is administered. Obviously, we have nothing in place that is better.

  • Reply admin April 24, 2009 at 9:16 am

    I agree completely! The need is enormous. (This is a telestial world!) And government has not been very efficient. I like to think that creativity could help. What if, rather than setting policy by a tortured process of special interests, we started doing demonstration projects in communities all over the country and tried to invent new ways to serve?

    I think we might make amazing progress if we used the kind of creativity that is characteristic of God.

    Blessings,
    Wally

  • Reply Rick June 16, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I’ve just come across this article and discussion and I see that, although some have touched on it, what’s really missing is the doctrine of the subject. We LDS have been blessed with Prophets, Seers and Revelators in the last days. They have not been silent on this important issue that affects our daily lives. John Taylor, David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson and many others have made it clear that it is NOT the government’s role or right to be “charitable”. They must be righteous, that is, perform their duties in righteousness, and that includes not stepping beyond the role they have been assigned by the Constitution.

    It’s not about whether the government mismanages the charitable process or adds costly layers of bureaucracy to the process, etc. It’s the fact that they have NO RIGHT in the first place to FORCE taxpayers to contribute to “good causes”. The Brethren have been extremely clear on this matter at all times. Why do we a) not read what they have had to declare to say about the matter, and b) not heed their words by following them in every respect? Rather than speculate that perhaps compassion by government is a good thing, why not just read for ourselves the utter logic and doctrinal simplicity expounded by Ezra Taft Benson in “The Proper Role of Government” (Google it). Therein he proves that the “government” is not some autonomous entity, but is just the representative of the will of the people. And just as a small group of well meaning citizens has no moral right to force others of its group (by gunpoint and threat of imprisonment) to give up money to some charitable cause – just because the majority agree that would be a good thing – the “big group” of citizens (called the government) has no moral right to do so either. Period. Read what Benson the Brethren have said and you’ll put this compassion by force issue to rest. You’ll be hard pressed to find a single declaration by the Brethren supporting Government Compassion, but you’ll find numerous clearly showing that the government has NO moral or constitutional right to be involved in it.

    Support the Brethren. Support the Doctrine. Support the Constitution! Satan supports Government Compassion. He did in the pre-existence and he does now.

  • Reply Kristen July 7, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Thank you, Rick. We had deliberated for a while on how to accurately express our beliefs but hadn’t accomplished it yet. You have correctly summarized the truth here.

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