Almost a year ago (can it really have been that long?), there was much talk in the Bloggernacle about a rumored addition of “caring for the poor and needy” to the familiar “threefold mission of the Church” – traditionally a mission to “perfect the saints, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead.” Keepa’s contributions to the discussion were, first, a history of the threefold mission tracing the statement back much farther than its usually assumed origins with Spencer W. Kimball, and some personal thoughts on welcoming the addition, if indeed it were made. A Church spokesman at the time told us to expect the addition of a low-key specific emphasis on caring for the poor and needy when the newest Church Handbook was published in 2010.
Indeed, the Handbook has been published and the addition made, in a quiet, wholly untrumpeted manner. In section 2.2, “The Purpose of the Church,” in the chapter on “Priesthood Principles,” we find the statement:
In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.
The mission statement has lost its rhetorical punch by omitting the powerful imperatives of “perfect – proclaim – redeem” and replacing them with wordier, inelegant, and incomplete definitions of those missions. I call them wordier because, well, “helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ” seems a watered-down version of “perfect” and our identity as “saints”: I call them inelegant because “gathering Israel through missionary work” is just not as bold as “proclaim the gospel”; I call them incomplete because “enabling” falls short of “redeeming,” and this definition omits the significance of my own cherished role in identifying the dead so that those ordinances can be performed in those temples. The old statement was a rallying cry; the new paragraph is Coveyesque jargon.
But we aren’t writing scripture here, are we? The traditional missions do appear in the new Handbook, and they are accompanied by a new emphasis on caring for the poor and needy.
Hip, Hip, uh, Hip (for the fourth emphasis), Hurrah!