Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Another “Fourfold Purpose” Thought (or, Why I follow prophets instead of trying to lead them)

Another “Fourfold Purpose” Thought (or, Why I follow prophets instead of trying to lead them)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 11, 2009

Even while stating my commitment to support the change, I commented on another blog that I was hesitant to see “care for the poor and needy” added to the traditional “threefold mission” — the Church, led by the priesthood, is the only organization on earth with the power to “proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead,” while anybody and everybody ought to be caring for the poor and needy regardless of any special priesthood commission.

But as I lay sleepless early this morning — the time I do my best (or sometimes my weirdest) thinking — I recalled comments made elsewhere by those discussing this development: “The poor will always be with us.” “How can we care for the poor without making them dependent on charity?” “If charity is forced — whether extracted from us by a government or by the Church — it isn’t charity, it’s socialism.”

And then I wondered …

Maybe caring for the temporal needs of each other really is a function of the priesthood as much as the other three missions. Maybe the charitable shortcomings of well-intentioned people and organizations are, like the well-meant but insufficient teachings of those without the fulness of the gospel, a result of applying human, not divine, principles and authority.

Will I look back in a year, or five years, or ten, and recognize that prophetic leadership and inspiration — charitable programs and principles taught and implemented under priesthood authority — are as different in character from the well-intentioned efforts of men as are the differences between the other three purposes of the Church and their non-priesthood counterparts?

In any case, I’m no longer in the least reluctant to see a modification to the traditionally expressed mission of the Church. I’m looking forward to seeing what may be proposed by prophetic leadership, and how I can assist.



  1. Right, as usual.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — December 11, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  2. Amen, Ardis.

    As more and more people start finding ways to rationalize NOT helping the poor and the needy – and as the financial foundation of the Church allows it to help in ways that were impossible in the past, I am ecstatic that this has been added officially and explicitly.

    Comment by Ray — December 11, 2009 @ 10:22 am

  3. Ray, when the Proclamation on the Family was issued, almost everybody thought it was sweet and nice … and unnecessary, because it stated the obvious about what almost everybody believed anyway. A very few years later we recognized how prescient it was. You make me wonder if something similar is in store with regard to charitable care.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 11, 2009 @ 10:57 am

  4. I agree with those who think the explicit wording is necessary — because it puts into real focus in our minds rather than just “perfecting the saints”.

    Maybe the point is that we will get closer to perfecting ourselves by helping the poor and needy…

    We’ve had infrastructure in place for a long time to help the poor and needy; now it’s time to get every member involved, not just the specialists who are called to support the infrastructure (but the average ward member knows little about what they do).

    Comment by queuno — December 11, 2009 @ 11:17 am

  5. Maybe there is nothing political about this, at least not in the realm of American Politics. Let’s not forget that the majority of Mormons are now not American. The shift is more towards Latin America and Asia (where most of the world’s population is anyways).

    Comment by Dan — December 11, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  6. Yeah, I would never have thought there WERE something political about it, although I know that’s what people are saying elsewhere. But if *you* acknowledge the possibility that not every move might not be a calculated political move, then no one else should find it insurmountable, either. Thank you, Dan.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 11, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  7. Adris,

    I certainly hope the priesthood will play a great role in fulfilling this “purpose,” but I can’t help thinking that the change may have even greater implications for the Relief Society (both in responsibility and in stepping forward to a more ‘prominent’ position). Joseph Smith said that “the Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized” and that the object of the society is “the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes.”

    Thanks for maintaining such a great blog.

    Comment by Craig M. — December 11, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  8. To the extent the corporate Church is the metaphor for Jesus Christ on the earth, caring for the poor and the needy, to me, fits nicely within the raison d’etre of the Church. I’m thinking of the verse in Moroni where it says that “the church” was to gather together often to fast, pray, and to speak with each other concerning the welfare of their souls. So, to me, there’s no dissonance between the Church’s unique priesthood authority and this added emphasis on the poor and the needy.

    I wanted to say one other thing, though, that this post brings to mind. It’s common to hear Church members express prospective hope that they will obtain a spiritual witness after a change has occured in the Church. For example, when a new prophet is sustained, after General Conference, I will hear folks speak of how they anticipate that, because the Church is led by revelation, they have the right to obtain a witness from the Holy Ghost that the new man called is actually God’s prophet. And I heard the same sentiment from my own father after the announcement of the priesthood ban being lifted in 1978 — in his journal, he writes how he accepted the new revelation, but that, as was his right, he anticipated obtaining a personal witness of it by the Holy Ghost.

    Too often, however, I hear only the first part of that equation (“I accept this new direction/new prophet/etc., but I know that I can get a personal witness that the change was from God”) but rarely do we get to hear the second part (“OK, I wrestled with the Lord, and I’ve obtained a new understanding”).

    In that context, then, this post had double meaning for me. What a wonderful gift to hear from someone on the other side of having chewed on an issue/new direction. For that, I thank you, Ardis! This was fantastic.

    Comment by Hunter — December 11, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  9. It wasn’t until my mission that I discovered that caring for the poor and needy helps provide them with just that little extra space (physical and psychological) that they need to grow, learn and develop as disciples of Christ.

    Comment by Wm Morris — December 11, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  10. Ardis, I concur with you on your comment #3. Just like the Proclamation on the Family, I think we won’t see the full wisdom of this new development for several years, even though we will probably see immediate results now.

    Comment by Maurine — December 11, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  11. Several years ago, while Sandra and I lived in DC, we had Randy Quarles, then an Undersecretary in the Treasury Department, speak at Sacrament meeting. He talked about how we as 21st century Latter-day Saints often look back at the trials and sacrifices of the early LDS members and pioneers and wonder what (if anything) will be asked of us. He then suggested that our great ‘pioneering’ effort may well be to help lift those in the developing world out of poverty and sickness.

    We happened to run into him at our old DC ward when Sandra and I were visiting Washington in early September. I mentioned that talk and the fact that I have cited it to others on occasion. He looked a bit startled that anyone remembered that talk, much less cited it to others.

    I wonder what he’s thinking today. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — December 11, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  12. I like when you think out loud.

    Comment by BHodges — December 11, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

  13. Thanks for wondering early in the morning, Ardis; it has produced some wonderful fruit!

    Comment by Ben Pratt — December 11, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  14. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Ardis. I think you have hit on something really important and it has me thinking more deeply about this.

    Comment by m&m — December 11, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  15. A scripture that seems to apply is Alma 1:30.

    Comment by Bookslinger — December 11, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  16. I think the future will also show that God prepared the right leadership at the right time to bring about this change. President Monson must be one of the most compassionate men who ever lived.

    Comment by Jack — December 11, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  17. I’m also mulling over the comment about the Relief Society and how its mission might play into this new element of the Church’s purposes.

    Still, the concept of being organized under the priesthood is relevant and significant.

    And exciting.

    (Lots to think about, too, as I mull over the lesson for GD that I have been assigned for Sunday, on the Proclamation…)

    Comment by m&m — December 12, 2009 @ 12:46 am

  18. “If charity is forced — whether extracted from us by a government or by the Church — it isn’t charity, it’s socialism.”

    I often think that the Lord doesn’t care how charity is provided, or what its name is, or what the methodology is.

    We will be compelled to be humble if we won’t humble ourselves…

    Comment by queuno — December 12, 2009 @ 1:00 am

  19. Four fold is awesome. First I’ve heard should read the tribune more regularly. I remember weeping when PEF was announced. At the time the spirit had been brooding over me for months. My heart was drawn out to the those around the world in desperate circumstances, mothers, fathers, children. I wanted so badly to lift and render aid and yet I felt so helpless to do anything that would really matter. It felt like PEF was an answer just for me, even though it wasn’t really about me at all, but rather those ones that had been in my heart. Four fold, awesome.

    Comment by Dovie — December 13, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  20. Yesterday after PEC I asked my Branch President if he had heard that the Church was adding a new mission to the three-fold. He started laughing and asked what the punch-line was. I guess the way I asked my question sounded like the start of a joke.

    That said, after I explained the new mission/purpose to him he got quite excited. We spent about ten minutes talking about what this means for the Church. I for one am glad to see the addition.

    Comment by Steve C. — December 14, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

  21. Steve C.,
    Nobody in our correlation meeting yesterday had heard anything about this, but because I was assigned the spiritual thought, I used that time to explain what I knew and read some from Bishop Edgley’s remarks in the Deseret News.

    Comment by Maurine — December 14, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  22. Maurine: I don’t think too many people had heard about it. Thank goodness for Ardis and Keepa to keep us up to date on the current going-ons of the Church. 🙂

    Comment by Steve C. — December 15, 2009 @ 8:34 am

  23. I agree that there is fundamentally not much difference between taxes and tithes. And when the “new purpose” of The Church was discussed in my EQ meeting Sunday the spirit bore witness of some interesting things. 1. This does not necessarily mean new or more programs. Those we have are wonderful and should be implemented fully. But through placing the responsibility squarely on the backs of each individual, God will bring about his strange and marvelous works. 2. (And this is directly related to the first) Personal involvement and interaction between rich and poor, lds and non lds, etc. is vital for the rolling forth of the kingdom. One brother in my ward identified, as a major barrier to his helping the poor and needy, the fact that he did “not know any poor or needy people.” He contrasted this with his wife who worked in the public school system and therefore came in regular contact with poor people. I found it very interesting and revealing. I mean this brother brings this situation up as an inhibitor to christian charity on his part. And I would say rightly so. But it doesn’t have to be this way. So what is it that really holds people back from caring for the needy? If an unfamiliarity with the poor people of our world has anything to do with it, then what keeps someone like this man from becoming familiar with financially struggling individuals. I was sitting right in front of him and I am poor by every definition of the word. The group that meet for services in the Tongan tongue in the same chapel as us, on the same day most definitely stand in need of assistance. The man is a resident of a small but incredibly affluent town and would but have drive only ten minutes from his house to find real suffering. How real are these divisions? How were they created and maintained? And please tell me how all pervasive has this false sense of separation become when a wealthy individual can claim to feel paralyzed in terms of philanthropy due to lack of association with the poor while in the same breath admitting that the connection is no further than his spouse lying next to him in bed every night?! Priesthood and Relief Society working together should be essentially husband and wife teams tirelessly bettering the world around them.

    Comment by Robert Scott — January 4, 2010 @ 1:10 pm