Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Liberal Mormon: The Social Teachings of Jesus as Applied Today

The Liberal Mormon: The Social Teachings of Jesus as Applied Today

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 28, 2011

The adult Sunday School lesson for —

December 9, 1928

The Social Teachings of Jesus as Applied Today

“Cultivation of good will toward fellowmen, accompanied by intelligent effort to secure social justice and otherwise to be of greatest service to immediate associates, community, and humanity, is descriptive of the moral duty of men and women today.

“That devout religious spirit which, in New Testament times, prompted its possessors to give to the begging leper by the wayside now prompts citizens by cooperative action to build leper hospitals where these unfortunates may be comfortable for the remainder of their lives, while every effort is also made to discover a cure for the hitherto incurable. It has also become a prime moral and civic duty of modern men to cultivate and, if necessary, enforce by law, such a spirit of justice and tolerance that innocent persons will not be in prisoners, and even guilty ones will have humane treatment and opportunity for restoration to normal social life. There is likewise the civic duty of providing industrial or social insurance, widows’ pensions, free public education, and other similar measures in justice to all. Were such provision made, the widow and the fatherless would have less need of that charity which is manifest in providing material aid to the destitute.” – Milton Bennion, Moral Teachings of the New Testament, pp. 223-224.

Basal Readings

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. – James 1:27

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.– James 3:17-18

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. – James 4:17

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:9-21

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. and on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto hm, Go, and do thou likewise. – Luke 10:25-37


1. (a) What are some of the striking differences between the civic ideals and practices of our own time and country and those of New Testament times in Palestine?

(b) What differences do these facts make in the manner of applying the moral teaching of the New Testament?

2. Describe some modern community practices that illustrate in a large way the moral principle taught in the parable of the good Samaritan.

3. In what particular ways do you now see the Golden rule applied?

4. (a) Why are the rich criticised severely by Jesus and by his Apostles, especially by James in his epistle?

(b) May this criticism be applied to many of the rich of today?

(c) To what conditions must a rich man conform in order to justify his possession of riches?

(d) How are these conditions related to the principles set forth in the basal readings?

(e) Is poverty in itself a guarantee of Christ-like character? If not, why not?

5. Enumerate some ways by which all the members of a modern community may share in the use of the natural resources of the earth and the goods of civilization.

Supplementary Readings

M. Bennion, Citizenship, Chaps. 9-15.

M. Bennion, Moral Teachings of the New Testament, Conclusion.

High School and College textbooks on Social Ethics, Sociology, Economics, Problems of Democracy, American Problems, Social Problems, Community Civics, American Government, etc.


The abstract principles of right and wrong are rather easily formulated and learned. it is not so easy to know with certainty exactly how best to apply them in some of the complex situations of modern life; it cannot be done instinctively, and inspiration does not usually come to those who do not exert themselves to find out the truth and to determine what is right in any circumstance that calls for such determination. The apostle James’ axiom that “faith without works is dead” applies here as elsewhere. This is an age of study, of enlightenment, of social progress. Vast changes have taken place since the New Testament was written. Some of the customs of that time, such as those relating to the place of woman in society as portrayed by St. Paul, have, in large measure, passed away. Cases of poverty, sickness, and social injustice are now cared for by social rather than by individual means. this is illustrated in the charity departments of governments, family service societies, relief societies, and other such charity organizations; in public and semi-public hospitals; in industrial insurance, widows’ pensions, public parks and play grounds, free public libraries, public schools, and other such institutions financed by income from the wealth of the community.

All of these are modern ways of applying, in some degree, the social teachings of Jesus. It is unfortunate that some who profess his name are opposed to taking the wealth of the community for the support of such agencies of Christian service. Any thorough-going application of the teachings of Jesus would go much farther in the consecration of the wealth of the community to the common good of all. The tendency to move in this direction is generally best represented in our time by enlightened social workers. As of old, this social tendency is opposed chiefly by some of the representatives of great wealth privately owned. The moral battle is between social enlightenment and human sympathy on the one hand; and social ignorance, or individual selfishness or both, on the other.


If you are to be a disciple of Jesus, on which side must you take your stand in this moral battle?



  1. ” It is unfortunate that some who profess his name are opposed to taking the wealth of the community for the support of such agencies of Christian service. Any thorough-going application of the teachings of Jesus would go much farther in the consecration of the wealth of the community to the common good of all.”

    The problem I see is that “taking” and “consecrating” are two entirely different things. If the wealth of the community is taken involuntarily, it is no longer consecration. Sure, it can still be really useful, but it is no longer an “offering”.

    Consecration embraces agency. The other way, not so much.

    Just my two bits. (Please be gentle)

    Comment by -MMM- — October 28, 2011 @ 7:16 am

  2. You won’t get any argument from me, MMM. The United Order becomes the Devil’s counterfeit when it’s imposed at the point of a pistol.

    However, I think of C.S. Lewis’ warning that Satan loves to preach those virtues we are already practicing. By and large, the Saints are pretty good about resisting mandatory charity. But if we are going to resist mandatory charity — and I think we should — it behooves us to redouble our efforts to practice voluntary charity.

    I am cautiously optimistic about the Saints in this regard. Those few wealthy Saints whom I know well do seem to be generous with their charity. And there is evidence that Utah has a lower than average income disparity ( which strikes me as a good sign. Nevertheless, I am bothered by some of the conspicuous consumption I’ve seen in largely Mormon areas of Utah.

    I suppose I’m not entirely innocent in that respect; I mean, a second Death Star? …

    Comment by Vader — October 28, 2011 @ 7:57 am

  3. MMM, you’re right. The Lord Jesus Christ taught solely about individual righteousness and individual consecration — he never commanded taxation or compulsion. Even so, individuals should be generous — their Christian duty requires it. My Christian duty to be generous does not create a claim or demand on another’s part for me to be generous to him or her specifically, and he or she should not compel me to support his or her favored social project.

    I’m all in favor of voluntary social service associations.

    For all those who favor compulsion in building Zion, please be gentle.

    Comment by ji — October 28, 2011 @ 8:21 am

  4. Two good things this morning:

    1. I love Ardis like a sister. She is one of my few real friends on the Bloggernacle.

    2. I am not is my usual head-bashing mood. I am struggling to ignore my enemies. However, I think I may have the will to ignore them.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 28, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  5. p.s. I also support some governmental tax-paid social service efforts, as a representation of the will of the citizenry in some matters. But my point was in the beauty of the voluntary, because that is where salvation and sanctification occur.

    Comment by ji — October 28, 2011 @ 8:30 am

  6. Participatory democracy also embraces (and promotes) agency to take responsibility for ourselves and each other including those who aren’t of a religious tradition that practices (well, at least espouses) consecration. The social gospel is not about the redistribution of wealth or some other anti-socialist bugaboo. It is about a civilized people providing for equal opportunity (not results) allowing access to education, employment, health care, even entrepenuerism. All of us participate with the abilities we have. Those with wealth can participate through a progressive tax system on the philosophy that as they have benefitted the most economically from the stability and opportunity of our social and economic system, and having more than provided for all their basic needs, they owe a larger share back for the public good. That doesn’t really sound like Satan’s plan to me. (Just don’t tell Brother Beck).

    Comment by Grant — October 28, 2011 @ 8:30 am

  7. The should be: “I am struggling to love my enemies.”

    Comment by Chris H. — October 28, 2011 @ 8:30 am

  8. Didn’t “Brother” Beck warn the public on his TV show that if their Church used the phrase “Social Justice” they should quit and find a new church. Maybe some one should send him a copy of this manual.

    Comment by andrew h — October 28, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  9. For whatever reason I loved this suggested supplementary reading in a sunday school manual:

    High School and College textbooks on Social Ethics, Sociology, Economics, Problems of Democracy, American Problems, Social Problems, Community Civics, American Government, etc.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 28, 2011 @ 9:44 am

  10. I should have reminded readers about the ongoing requirement for participating in “The Liberal Mormon” threads — It isn’t enough merely to disagree with the post.

    ** You must also account for the presence of the idea you disagree with in Mormon teaching ** Why did the Church promote as official teaching something you so greatly disagree with? **

    I’m not offering a platform for people to pontificate on their own political views. With this series, you must directly address the Mormon content. There are plenty of other platforms for repeating your own conservative sound bites.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 28, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  11. Sorry! Didn’t know the rule. I was merely pontificating.

    Comment by -MMM- — October 28, 2011 @ 10:19 am

  12. Ardis, I do think that the fundamental Mormon issue is the issue about whether wealth transference must be done voluntarily or not. The standard theological appeal is that it was Satan’s plan to force people to be good. Within a Mormon theological setting I actually think this is a pretty compelling argument.

    The place it falls down is that most Mormons also think the community as a whole has a duty to provide a certain level of service. Thus there are few Mormons libertarian to the point of rejecting spending on roads, police, fire-fighters, military, and so forth. What these people can’t do is explain why other services (say the leper colony) don’t fit into this. Given that the appeal to force as a counter-argument tends to lose its power since most are willing to use force to achieve a certain level of government service. The debate is just about where that level should be.

    Figuring out what should or shouldn’t be forced in terms of government service seems much more difficult and perhaps harder to argue within Mormonism. After all I think everyone would agree these things (or at least many of them) should be done if we can afford them. The debate is whether the government should do them and I just don’t see Mormon theology offering much there one way or an other.

    Comment by Clark — October 28, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  13. To add, it’s also interesting that early Mormons seemed to have no trouble with pretty heavy government programs so long as they were the government. The problem for them was more whether it should be done nationally and how to deal with “outsiders” within the community. That appears to be the key debate. And it’s right as we make the move to those questions that our texts about the City of Enoch or the period of peace amongst the Nephites strangely fall silent.

    Even libertarians would allow for Mormons to create their own communitarian society so long as people can enter or leave of their own accord. Effectively a freely entered into social contract. The problem when done nationally is that people born into the society can’t form a social contract and the problem with not entering into the contract is rarely dealt with well.

    I think a Mormon solution might be the idea of a shadow government just for Mormons. And that could easily be done simply by making tithing requirements more robust and audited and perhaps even making payment progressive. For various reasons I doubt the Church would do that but it would answer the the lesson you quote without violating the ethics of even the most extreme libertarian.

    Comment by Clark — October 28, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  14. I think that -MMM- and Clark have amply explained why conservative Mormons have issues with compulsory giving.

    The idea that hasn’t been explained is why social justice concepts would be promoted by the Church (even in 1928). There’s a couple of options, and I’m not educated enough to know which is most likely. These include “it’s pre-corrolation and it slipped through.” and “government programs back then were within constitutional limits”

    Someone more liberal than I could likely give a far better explanation.

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 28, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  15. Clark, your philosophy would be more persuasive except for the niggling little point that “the government,” that thing that is “taking by force,” IS US. Well, that and the fact that most of the people who complain the loudest about being forced to support the community’s decision to offer social services very often have no objection to the forced extraction of tax dollars to support offensive military action around the globe.

    When the agency calling for the funds to support the lepers (to use your example) is *US* — whether the organization of the *us* is the civil government or the church — there is no “taking” by an outside force, an “other,” any more than within your own household there is a “taking” by an outside force when your wife writes a check at the shoe store to buy your son new school shoes. You may have put the dollars in the checking account; you may not be directly benefiting from the shoes because you won’t wear them; your wife may not have discussed that specific purchase with you beforehand; you may even prefer to use those dollars to buy yourself a new iPad — but it’s a transference of the wealth that is completely in accord with the obligations of the household.

    I see no difference in the community or nation recognizing its obligation to care for the poor and needy and transfers wealth from one part to another to achieve those goals. That seems to be more in accord with the text and scriptures of the quoted lesson than your red herring of “Satan’s plan” — that’s a tactic akin to bringing up Hitler as a debate squelcher. There can be no discussion when someone slaps that card on the table as if it had any relevance. It doesn’t, not here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 28, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  16. ““government programs back then were within constitutional limits”

    As are the ones today.

    Of course, 1928 would have been just before the Great Depression. There were not many government programs yet. So this would be more theoretical at this point.

    It is pre-correlation. However, it is also during a time of far great political diversity amongst the Saint and the brethren.

    I love that Milton Bennion is a major source.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 28, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  17. Whether or not government programs are within constitutional limits or not is an open question. The Supreme Court says that they are, and that’s the most important, I guess. But good, faithful Mormons have disagreed with Supreme Court decisions before (Reynolds v. U.S. and Roe v. Wade are two easy examples) and I see nothing treasonous or apostate with someone (Like me!) saying many govermnent programs are without consitutional backing.

    Similarly, I think Ardis dismissing the “Satan’s plan” argument out of hand is disingenuous. Many pChurch leaders that are far more schooled in both Curch and Government than myself (e.g. J.R. Clark and E.T.Benson) have made the same comparison. Disagree if you like, but the argument cannot simply be dismissed.

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 28, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  18. “But good, faithful Mormons have disagreed with Supreme Court decisions before (Reynolds v. U.S. and Roe v. Wade are two easy examples) and I see nothing treasonous or apostate with someone (Like me!) saying many govermnent programs are without consitutional backing.”

    Trust me…”treasonous” and “apostate” were not the words I had in mind.

    “Disagree if you like, but the argument cannot simply be dismissed.”

    Sure it can…Ardis just did.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 28, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  19. I appreciate the tone of your response. I’m bending this blog’s “No Political Discussions” ban to the breaking point!

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 28, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  20. Clark Goble (Not the Other Clark, but just Clark) says it well regarding the whole silly “Agency” Argument, in that people use it only to disown the programs they do not like, as opposed to the socialist programs like military, road building, police, etc. Liberals make the same free agency/satan’s plan argument about legislation around abortion and marriage, while Conservatives use it to fight against taxation going to care for the poor. I think it was Dallin Oaks who said something to the effect that our freedom to choose does not obviate us from the responsibility to choose the right.

    As a self-proclaimed apolitical person, This lesson really made me think of that. Maybe I need to be work on my own “social ignorance”.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 28, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

  21. “to be work”? Maybe I need to work on my ability to type as well…

    Comment by Matt W. — October 28, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

  22. Clark, your philosophy would be more persuasive except for the niggling little point that “the government,” that thing that is “taking by force,” IS US.

    But it’s not. It may represent us (and one can dispute how well), but it’s not the same thing. Rather what happens is that a small group of people make laws they enforce. That’s not the same as “us” which would require unanimity. We agree that if enough people think something is good (with a slew of check and balances) that all will (or should) agree with it. But that’s different from what you outline.

    Second even if one agrees that the government can do something by force it doesn’t follow that they should do something by force. For instance it seems clear to me that the government can, if they want, nationalize businesses and take over property. However in most cases I don’t think they should. So there really are two separate topics I think you are conflating.

    I think the point the Other Clark raises is a good one. Why was the Church in favor of a lot we’d call social justice at this time. I think there are several reasons. The main one is that it wasn’t that long before that the Church was effectively a theocracy and did engage in such social justice programs. So I’m not sure they were thinking about the practical problems of government overreach (even though unarguably Mormons were past victims of such overreach) Second in the early 20th century I think the law of unintended consequences hadn’t really been understood. Reason seemed undefeatable and was radically changing society. The fact simple ideas couldn’t “master” the world hadn’t really sunk in yet. Even the aftermath of WWI hadn’t completely sunk these ideas with failure. In large measure I think there was a certain hubris characteristic of human reason and the belief we could easily master everything. I think the backlash on that only arose in the 60’s and I think that true within the Church as well.

    Finally I think the Church was simply victims of popular culture. It was in its support of progressive ideals in the 20’s and it was in the conservative backlash against such ideals in the 60’s through the 90’s. As to why they adopted that particular aspect of popular culture rather than others I personally suspect that has more to do with regional variations than religious variations. I’d simply note that the Mormon view tended to be a typical western view in many ways. I think that even today a lot of Mormon views are best seen as a regional expression. (Which is to say I don’t think whether Mormons are progressive or conservative tells us much about whether one should be a progressive or a conservative)

    Matt W (20), I don’t find the agency argument silly but it is most definitely frequently abused by both left leaning Mormons and right leaning Mormons. Most people appealing to it tend to be rather inconsistent in its appeal. That said I do think it a pretty important theological principle that honestly is quite significant to many Mormons. Free will in various guises as long been one of the major factors in Mormon theology.

    Chris H (16) You have me very curious now. Was the 1920’s actually a period of greater political diversity among Mormons? I’m skeptical on that. Although I suspect in part it depends upon what one means by diversity. I think at that time there wasn’t quite as large a block in terms of party identification. However that’s an artifice of the structure of US politics I think. Within each party there is more diversity than people on the other side often recognize. (Look at Libertarians, social conservatives, economic conservatives etc. just within the supposedly monolithic GOP today) More significantly the Church is now not terribly regional whereas in the 1920’s it really was. That leads to a lot more diversity of political thought even if Utahns are more Republican now than in 1920.

    Comment by Clark — October 29, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  23. You’re still preaching nothing but political talking points, Clark. You haven’t addressed the religion at all. You haven’t explained away the teachings of Christ as outlined in this lesson, nor answered the questions the lesson raises. You talk politics and culture … and ignore religion.

    Whether you like it or not — and you don’t — these “liberal” ideas were taught by the Church, and can be/are supported by scripture. And your only explanation is that the Church was a victim of popular culture! Look in the mirror, man!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 29, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  24. The extension of principles of charity from individuals to communities is not so straightforward as it may seem.
    For one, I find no support in the scriptures for the “Robin Hood” principle of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Using the family analogy, would a father with no independent income of his own be justified in taking from a son who has a good job and giving to the one who does not? The more he has to rely in forcible means, and bigger the cut he takes for himself in the process, the less closely his practice is that of charity and the more it is that of a common thief. This is a matter of degree: The line between good and bad becomes obscure when, as in the sausage of public policy, there is a mixture of good principles and not-so-good principles involved.
    For another, while there is abundant counsel in the scripture to give to the poor and those in need, I find no divine commandment to give to idlers or thieves.
    Admittedly, there are those who think all or most poverty is due to idleness, but this is manifestly not the case. Government is no more efficient at distinguishing the needy from the greedy than individuals or Bishops. (Not that the needy and the greedy are mutually exclusive classes).
    For a third, there is the problem of wickedness and folly in government. One should not hand over the administration of the Church Welfare program to the likes of the Gadiantion robbers. I won’t try go to go into the details of how the political class in the US (both parties!) has promised and delivered benefits and handouts to backers and favorites without regard to the general welfare, sometimes as it were in secret, and sometimes with all the mock compassion of Giddianhi. These days, before I listen too closely to anyone talking about “social justice”, I want to know how many rooms are in their mansion.
    Brother Bennion was writing before the Great Depression, before Social Security and AFDC, and even before the Welfare program. He wasn’t wrong, but I myself would give more weight to the counsel of leaders who have seen these in operation, and who have focused on the how as much as the why of truly charitable giving.

    Comment by Confutus — October 30, 2011 @ 12:35 am

  25. “Brother Bennion was writing before the Great Depression, before Social Security and AFDC, and even before the Welfare program.”

    He did support the New Deal, which included Social Security and AFDC.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 30, 2011 @ 7:53 am

  26. Ardis,

    I appreciate your work. These comments, and my time at BYU-Idaho and BYU, have led me to give up on finding sympathy for social justice amongst Mormons.

    I have decided to follow a different strategy. I hope, pray, and work that they are out voted.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 30, 2011 @ 7:58 am

  27. I admit that the response to this Sunday School lesson leaves me stunned. Nowhere in this lesson is there any endorsement for a definite policy for the “taking the wealth of the community”; it is only an endorsement that acting together, the people of the community have an obligation and the means to care for the poor and needy in fulfillment of the teachings of Jesus Christ — which is something that can be done in some manner under the political program of any but the most selfish, greedy, and unChristlike persons. There is no endorsement of a violent taking, or an unjustifiable taking, merely the recognition that the community (acting through its government, which is an action of the people themselves, regardless of Clark’s distinction between representative republicanism and direct democracy) has that duty, and provides the organization for accomplishing it.

    We have been treated to the characterization of social justice as “Satan’s plan” and akin to Gadianton robbery. We have heard readers dismiss any possibility of united civic attention to the poor and needy as an obvious mistake on the church’s part, an uncorrelated aberration.

    There is not the slightest hint in such comments that perhaps commenters’ political views could stand some adjustment in light of scriptural teaching. Rather, commenters are so certain of the rightness of their political views that they are willing to jettison the teachings of scripture and their own church in order to rationalize their political dogmatism.

    I’m ashamed of you. (Feel free to be ashamed of me in return: I loved the lesson, and find it to reflect the best of my religious tradition.)

    I’m tempted to close comments on this and all future Liberal Mormon posts, but there’s always the possibility that somebody will address the core issues, as I have invited readers to do time and time again. I’ll leave the comments open — but comments are closed to all reactionary libertarians and conservatives who ignore the principles of the lesson and want to use this platform to mislabel social justice as Satanic, like Gadianton, or an error by my Church.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 30, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  28. “The moral battle is between social enlightenment and human sympathy on the one hand; and social ignorance, or individual selfishness or both, on the other.”

    Ardis, or should I say Gen. Parshall, I appreciate that you are leading the way in this battle.

    I agree that this represents the best of our religious tradition. However it is a dying wing of that tradition. It has been not only been smothered by Bensonites and Skousenites, it has also been poisoned by those who claim to be liberal but who care little about the social message in this lesson. Too many are more interested in tearing down the Church than fighting inequality and suffering. Ardis, you and I have fought these forces as well.

    Where does that leave the liberal Mormon like you and I. It leaves us rather lonely.

    Could you send me a PDF of the original?

    Comment by Chris H. — October 30, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  29. Can’t send that, Chris — I transcribe materials in the library, and don’t make pdfs.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 30, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  30. Maybe I will have to do some library research then.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 30, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  31. “Cases of poverty, sickness, and social injustice are now cared for by social rather than by individual means. this is illustrated in the charity departments of governments, family service societies, relief societies, and other such charity organizations; in public and semi-public hospitals; in industrial insurance, widows’ pensions, public parks and play grounds, free public libraries, public schools, and other such institutions financed by income from the wealth of the community.”

    The variety of resources listed here is impressive – and is not exclusively governmental. As I read the article, I was intrigued at the questions. They invite the participants to consider the best of their society, to point out how the spirit of the quotes are applied – not whether any one application is more righteous than others. While we undoubtedly still struggle to meet the standard set by Christ, it is interesting that the fundamental point, that some provision must be made for the poor and those otherwise disadvantaged, does not seem to be lost on either side of the political commentary found here. Maybe there is hope for us yet.

    As to the question of direct (federal) governmental action in Mormon thought, there a two other tie-ins that seem meaningful. First, Pres. Heber J. Grant’s support for prohibition. If prohibition didn’t involve the use of force, I don’t know what would. Yet the world had not yet recognized the full evils of modern totalitarianism, in either it’s fascistic or communistic modes. I wonder to what extent World War II and Stalin affected popular LDS thought – or the mind and ministry of Pres. Benson.

    Second, the states-rights argument used by the POTUS in response to the Saint’s pleas for relief form the mobs of Missouri. The president’s (Van Buren’s?) response that “your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you,” though weak, represented a political understanding of separate responsibilies of the national and state governments. One of the main tenets of Joseph Smith’s candidacy for the presidency was the assertion that the national government had the authority and responsibility to protect citizens from local bullies. Attitudes changed, I imagine, regarding the correct allocation between local and national authority once it was seen, in territorial Utah, that the national government could be just as oppressive as a local mob. Still, this article is not that first time that a Mormon saw government interference in civil society as virtuous.

    Comment by Ugly Mahana — October 30, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  32. Please excuse the spelling errors in my last paragraph above.

    Comment by Ugly Mahana — October 30, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

  33. Thank you, Ugly Mahana, thank you, thank you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 30, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  34. Ugly Mahana! (which I seriously doubt – the moniker not the thoughts.) I thank you too. I’ve tried to promote some those ideas about Brother Joseph’s views on states rights, etc.

    I can’t get in the mind of Elder Benson either and I certainly don’t want to get in the mind of Bro. Skousen, but I have wondered myself whether the communist expansion after WWII further cutting off missionary work was part of the motivation for opposing godless communism so strenuously. I am fully aware that Elder Benson, and a few others, took some rather conservative political views and justified that to some extent on an interpretation of scripture. Yet I don’t really remember any political statements of President Benson as “President” Benson. I seem to recall his messages to exhort us to read the Book of Mormon and beware of pride. I’m going to have to do a skim of his conference talks to see if I remember it correctly. My whole concern is this idea government is somehow inherently evil when we have Section 134 not to mention the 12th Article of Faith.

    (In full disclosure, I should remind fellow keep-a-ninnies that I am a federal employee trying to do some good in the world and take it a little personal when others imply I’m working for some kind of criminal conspiracy stealing all their money for nefarious purposes).

    Comment by Grant — October 30, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  35. Riches canker; charity does not. If for no other reason, shouldn’t we be willing to give away all that we have, without compulsion?

    Comment by Alison — October 30, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

  36. There are many things I don’t understand about the whole idea that if it isn’t “voluntary,” it doesn’t “count.” What’s this about? Brownie points in heaven? So if we as a community decide to help the needy, you don’t get “credit” for it in your individual eternal charity account, and therefore we shouldn’t do it? Better that people starve than that you contribute something involuntarily and miss out on your blessings? What if you just decide to make your personal contribution to the community effort to be voluntary? Or what if you just forfeit your blessing by grumbling about your “mandatory” contribution, pay up like the rest of us, and help the needy anyhow?

    It can be enlightening to search for rich and poor in the scriptures and read what comes up. It’s a pretty remarkable smackdown of the usual “conservative” way of thinking.

    Behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low… Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    Does it count as compulsion if we’re threatened with the torment of hell if we don’t ante up?

    Comment by Left Field — October 30, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

  37. Thank you Ardis. I heart this post.

    Comment by Diana — October 30, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

  38. After reading everyone’s comments, mIne seems out of place. I think it is interesting that all of the scriptures cited are from the New Testament. Why not refer to the excellent passages on this subject in the Book of Mormon? I’m sure a contemporary lesson on the topic would balance out the treatment with a Doctrine and Covenants reference thrown in for good measure. If the influence of President Benson is to be discussed regarding this lesson, I think this change in the generalized thinking of the church is more clearly in line with what he taught as president of the Church than political philosophies.

    Also, when I listened to General Conference this month, I thought I heard a lot of exhortation along the same lines as this lesson (although they don’t use the phrase “social justice”).

    Comment by Lonn — October 30, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

  39. Thanks for the additional discussion of the past few comments.

    Lonn, I think the lesson limits its citation to New Testament scriptures because that was the focus of the adult class that year (that isn’t clear from what I’ve posted here). I’ll look at the Book of Mormon lessons for that era and see if I can find one drawing from that book.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 30, 2011 @ 11:53 pm

  40. Ardis already said everything political that I would have said, only better.

    So on to the “core issues.”

    I find it an interesting balance between community charity, which happens automatically in our society via taxation, and individual charity. Just as I shouldn’t use fast offerings as an excuse to not respond to the faces of hunger and need I see around me, I shouldn’t use taxation as an excuse not to give personally.

    I don’t see taxation as evil. I see some uses of taxes as amoral, but that is different. And I particularly don’t see taxation for the relief of the poor as a bad thing. It’s only “involuntary” if you don’t want to do it. I voluntarily pay my taxes without complaint so that roads can be maintained, schools can be funded, and yes . . . the poor can be fed. Do I entirely agree with the WAY those funds are dispersed, no. But I probably don’t agree with the way the beggar uses my $5, either. That’s not the point. The point is to respond to human suffering, on a community, religious, and personal level.

    I think that this lesson has more meaning than charity in the classic sense. It does a great job of pointing out what should be obvious to disciples of Christ.

    I have been sorely tempted at times to “return evil for evil” towards my ex-husband. I’m sure he thinks that sometimes I do, because I don’t let him use me whenever he would like. But although there are times when I have certainly failed to live up to the standards in this lesson, I think the Lord has guided me to live peaceably overall. I am thankful for that.

    Sure, it sometimes rankles when I know what he is still doing to me and my daughters, and I choose to not fight back. But it is teaching me truly that “vengeance is [the Lord’s]” in a way that no other experience would have taught me. I am grateful for the chance to learn the meaning of charity, not only in a didactic sense, but in a true, personal, burning way.

    Early on in my experiences, I prayed fervently that what I would be going through would bring me closer to Him, rather than turn me to bitterness. For the most part, He has blessed me with that. I hope He continues to do so.

    Comment by SilverRain — October 31, 2011 @ 9:26 am

  41. Ardis, honestly I think I was talking theology. But I fully agree that how we order our theology is very heavily affected by the culture we find ourselves situated within. (Including me – I’m not so vain as to think I have some ideal position from which to judge our theology)

    Of course this was taught within the Church. But lots of stuff has been taught within the Church – much more so if you appeal to manuals rather than writings by prominent GAs. That’s why anyone familiar with the history recognizes the futility of picking and choosing quotes. The more history you become familiar with the more you’ll find a diversity of thought on theology.

    Now in some ways since the rise of correlation you’ll find the Church much, much more careful on political matters and the claims within manuals much more vague. But if we are looking at theology proper then this matters (unless you think anything taught in anything published directly or indirectly by the Church counts as theology). So I guess what I’m asking is where you are drawing the line on what is or isn’t theology. I think I am engaging with the theology but simply find the attempt to divorce theology from context (especially political context) problematic. I think that true in exegesis of ancient script as well as most 19th century writings. We are simultaneously always already embedded within a culture that allows us to understand as well as seeing but through a glass darkly.

    So I think you may be taking me as arguing for something I’m not at all. If we look towards fairly stable and established theology then we have two dueling drives of establishing an equitable society and maximizing our freedom. Unlike either conservatives or liberals I don’t think that tension can easily be resolved and I think that over the entire history of the church the way the tension has been viewed simply has varied. Now if you are asking me to appeal to specific texts to demonstrate that I can. But honestly I’m not exactly sure what your critique of me is attempting to establish.

    Comment by Clark — October 31, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  42. You’ve made yourself as clear as you’re going to, Clark. Move along.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 31, 2011 @ 9:39 am

  43. @Ardis in 23 and 27 — I guess I will forbear from commenting on future “Liberal Mormon” posts until I get a better understanding of the type of comment you’re soliciting.

    I thought the comments from both ends of the political spectrum above were (1) quite moderate compared to other corners of the bloggernacle (2) quite religious and (3) very, very Mormon. (Who else but a Mormon would bring up the Gadianton robbers in a discussion of government agencies? Outrageous!) FWIW, I thought the discussion of agency, the war in heaven, merits of voluntary v. involuntary giving etc. was very thought-provoking in a positive way.

    BUT… I can see that’s not the direction you want the discussion to go, so I’m becoming a passionate lurker.

    I still heart this blog!

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 31, 2011 @ 9:48 am

  44. Lived religion, and a theology that is abstract philosophy, are in no way identical — they may not even be second cousins to each other.

    There are Mormons today who identify themselves as politically liberal *because* of their Mormonism, not *despite* their Mormonism. There always have been such Mormon believers in practical liberality, who find their inspiration within their religion.

    It is taken for granted in many parts of the bloggernacle, and in many Gospel Doctrine classrooms, that the Church and its doctrine are politically conservative, that there is no room within Mormonism for members to be guided by something other than whatever is currently being shouted by the most extremist Republican voices. This assumption is so fixed that some members — including participants in this thread — cannot conceive of the barest possibility that Mormonism might lead someone to different political conclusions than their own, and their only explanation for lessons such as this one must be an aberration, a mistake, a perversion of Mormonism. Thing is, there are so many, many such lessons, talks, and editorials in the church publications of earlier eras. You might fairly dismiss one or two as aberrations, but not all of them, taken as a whole. I have many more to post in this series.

    I’m not trying to convert anyone here. I want only to provide the evidence that such a way of looking at the world, and of interacting in social and political and economic spheres, is possible, and once was an accepted and unremarkable part of Mormonism.

    Trouble is, too many of those who disagree with the ideas expressed in these posts are using them merely as an excuse to disagree and to sing another chorus of that tired old ditty called “you can’t force me to be good — that’s Satan’s plan.” You’re welcome to disagree, and even comment on your disagreement, but please respect my request that you engage the Mormonness of the old documents.

    No more “it must have been a mistake, because those ideas are foreign to Mormonism.” They aren’t foreign to Mormonism. There they are, right in the manuals and magazines. And they’re being lived today by your fellow Saints, who probably don’t talk about them a whole lot in order to avoid the kind of comments that have been posted by some here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 31, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  45. Thanks, Ardis. Wonderful comment. If you intend on posting more installments in this series (which I hope you do), I’m guessing you’re going to end up copying and pasting that last comment into each one; the “it’s Satan’s plan” reflex is so predictably persistent!

    Comment by David Y. — October 31, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  46. Truly an interesting lesson, Ardis – and so appropriate for our time.

    I certainly am not someone who believes that if it was said decades ago it still must apply . . . but when it is said over thousands of years by many, many prophets and apostles I think it fits the “by the voice (singular) of my prophets (plural)” definition of the voice of the Lord. I also think the entrenched arguments you oppose in your comments probably are the core reasons the current global leadership is stressing social justice right now – even if they aren’t using that term in order to avoid political division.

    I also would ask whether it truly is voluntary if it is part of the now four-fold focus of the LDS Church, added by the Church President, of whom the most conservative members sing at full voice, “Follow the Prophet!!” It’s absolutely fascinating to me to see the contortions that are required to pound others with that stick and then turn around and do one’s best to explain how that particular emphasis is the opposite of their condemnation of “non-voluntary” giving – as if there was a difference before the President of the LDS Church made it an official, primary focus of the entire church.

    I think the religious tension is caused by a mis-application of the “prosperity gospel” to individuals instead of communities (of all sizes), where I believe it belongs based on the actual scriptures in which it is taught. It’s that bastardization of a divine principle that denies the divine requirement to redistribute wealth in such a way that the poor are exalted and the rich abased – and the poor no longer exist in Zion.

    Fundamentally, based on the reality of our current lives and religious communities, I think we as a people simply have no clue how to make it happen, because we collectively have bought into a false version of the prosperity Gospel. We’ve watered down King Benjamin’s majestic address and, just a bit, bought into Korihor’s “management of the creature” ideology.

    Comment by Ray — October 31, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  47. So elegantly put Ardis, Ray and David Y. I could never have argued and reasoned so well on my best day – which this is decidedly not.
    But I recognize opinions I share even through the haze of a truly bad day. Thank you !

    Comment by Diane Peel — October 31, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

  48. Being the one who brought up Gadianton, I wish to attempt to clarify some of my points.

    First, I did not mean to imply that the people who set up or currently administer government social welfare programs are the same kind of murderous robbers described in the Book of Mormon. Rather, I observe that the reign of judges was enlightened in the beginning, but after 163 years, it had rather departed from the ideals of Mosiah and Alma. I do mean to claim that there are and have been similar corrupting influences in contemporary US government (not just at the federal level) and they can, have, do, and will attaint anything our current governments set up and administer. I don’t believe the morality of a program can be properly considered without accounting for the immorality of those who participate in it, whether as architects, administrators or beneficiaries.

    Second, by alluding to later LDS leaders, I had J. Reuben Clark and Harold B. Lee more in mind than Ezra Taft Benson, although I might have been more explicit and supplied quotes. Perhaps they will come up later.

    Third, I did address at least one of the questions in the original post (4e). The NT’s condemnation of the selfish rich is even more forceful in the Book of Mormon and the D&C, although it’s not emphasised much in contemporary teaching. But more specifically Mormon are the specific and explicit condemnations of the covetous poor, although Jesus did address that subject, too.

    Comment by Confutus — November 1, 2011 @ 3:25 am

  49. Wow! The post/lesson was straightforward, based primarily on the words of the scriptures and perfectly explains and then guides to the questions of; How can we do more? How can we do it better? How can we BE better?

    After reading this I felt uplifted and had several specific things that I thought to do for people in my life. I made a list so I wouldn’t forget, and then I started reading the comments.

    Ick! What the heck was that and whose gospel do a lot of those comments make sense to? I can’t imagine those words coming from Christ’s mouth or that of His prophets! Where in the gospel does institutionalized charity equate with the Gadiaton robbers? Have you tried reading your comments out loud, looking in a mirror? Do you see and hear how you are belittling the beatitudes? Did you find some secret part of the Book of Mormon that has Lamanite teachings and get them confused? (Sorry if this is off track Ardis, I guess I am isolated to some degree because I live in Oregon, from the spiritual gymnastics that is required to have your politics and religion clash. I will attempt to switch gears.)

    I think that as the doctrine of Christ, this expressed a major part of what being a follower of Jesus Christ means.

    “It has also become a prime moral and civic duty of modern men to cultivate and, if necessary, enforce by law, such a spirit of justice and tolerance that innocent persons will not be in prisoners, and even guilty ones will have humane treatment and opportunity for restoration to normal social life. There is likewise the civic duty of providing industrial or social insurance, widows’ pensions, free public education, and other similar measures in justice to all. Were such provision made, the widow and the fatherless would have less need of that charity which is manifest in providing material aid to the destitute.”

    All of the the things mentioned here are things that Christ taught. Loving the sinner, while enforcing the law. Helping the widow and the destitute. Teaching children to know and love the scriptures and to gain as much knowledge as they can. Having as much as possible to offer to those who need food, clothing, medical care, and the love and support of fellow followers of Christ.


    Comment by Julia — August 29, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  50. Ardis,

    I used this as the foundation for one us my posts, and gave you props for the great work you do here!

    Thanks for making so many amazing thing accessible!


    Comment by Julia — August 30, 2012 @ 9:31 am

  51. One of the rewards of this kind of blog, Julia, is learning that some post that is no longer an active subject of conversation has been read and used by somebody. I’m not-so-secretly pleased that Keepa is becoming a repository of stories and documents that serve as a resource for others — and I so appreciate it when someone tells me that they’ve used a post in some way.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 30, 2012 @ 10:43 am

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