Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Your Attitude Toward Poverty”

“Your Attitude Toward Poverty”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 08, 2013

A Sunday School lesson for older teenagers, from 1945:

Your Attitude Toward Poverty

Problem: What Should Be the Attitude of Latter-day Saint Youth Toward Poverty and the Poverty Stricken?

The Shift in the Battle Against Poverty.

At the outset, let us be reminded by Milton Bennion, “Since social and political conditions have changed radically since New Testament times, the manifestations of love of neighbor are, in some respects, quite different. There is still need of that humaneness that is expressed in visiting the sick and providing for the poor and the oppressed. The greater task, however, now confronting mankind is the removal of the causes of sickness, poverty, and oppression. … That devout religious spirit which in New Testament times, prompted its possessors to give to the begging leper by the wayside now prompts citizens to 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…. 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 for that charity which is manifest in providing material aid to the destitute.”

In primitive societies food, clothing, and shelter were group concerns and sharing was only natural. In our own day, however, the production of wealth is more complicated, since human producers work as individuals. Whereas, the primitive group naturally cared for its defectives, aged, and widowed, the modern factory does not assume responsibilities for the workers’ family or kindred. The lame, sick, blind, deaf, feeble-minded, aged, and little children must be cared for out of the wealth produced. Unfortunately, in a civilization based upon property rights – inequalities are perpetuated from generation to generation, developing the inability in the possessors to see the extent to which wealth is the product of the group. It is in view of this situation that the gospel of Jesus Christ with its emphasis on the brotherhood of man is a practical approach to the problem of dependency, especially for the adherents of the faith. Inasmuch as we live our lives in the midst of unbelievers, it is imperative that the church program be supplemented by civic and social movements.

What is Poverty?

Poverty is technically defined by the sociologist as “that condition of living in which a person, because of either inadequate income or unwise expenditure, does not maintain a standard of living high enough to provide for the physical and mental efficiency of himself and to enable him and his natural dependents to function usefully.”

In twentieth-century concepts, poverty must be viewed in broader terms than food, clothing, and shelter. A decent standard of living must include some of the good things of the world – physical comfort, medical attention, opportunity for study and relaxation, and freedom from excessive worry over the material things of life. Learning, music, art, and the social graces should be within the reach of all. Unfortunately, poverty may even interfere with spiritual fellowship, as the Prophet Joseph Smith early discovered. Ideas, aims, hopes, and faith are closely associated with the presence of the material things of life, although super-abundance may be as dangerous as scarcity itself. the true Saint never desires excessive wealth, for self, remembering the statement of Jesus to the rich man, but enough for the optimum development of himself and all his brethren.

From the standpoint of the definition quoted above sociologists estimate, conservatively that “a fifth of our people (i.e., in the United States) do not have the necessaries of life to enable them to maintain their physical and mental efficiency and to conform to the standards of decency set by the members of their group.” In 1928, the average income per capita was $650 and for each person gainfully employed only $1,749. On the other hand, the most prosperous 5 percent of the income-receivers got 26 percent of the total; the most prosperous 10 percent received nearly 35 percent of the total. Incidentally, we have three social classes: the upper class, small in number, but with great wealth; the great middle-class, with their struggles and heartaches; and, the lower-classes, living below decent standards. Obviously, the Christian mandate would take from the rich to support the poor. This is exactly what the government is doing in property, income, inheritance, and luxury taxes. As we shall see, the Mormon pays tithing in terms of his income – from the widow’s mite to the business magnate’s substantial contribution. Nevertheless, the true Christian spirit is deeper than the letter of the law, secular or ecclesiastical.

The Causes of Poverty.

There are two great causes for dependency, (1) some defect in the individual, or (2) some failure in the social order to afford the man opportunity to work. Children, the aged, cripples, the deaf and the blind, the victims of industrial and other accidents, the undernourished, the sick and afflicted, and the oppressed (by landlords, employers, or dictators), as well as the shiftless and indolent, fall into the first class. Obviously, many of these are the victims of heredity and environment, classifying as dependents through no fault of their own. Into the second class go the millions of unemployed, normally healthy, efficient, and dependable. These are the victims of the machine age, with its ever-increasing “production curves.” Unless something happens to enable these persons to work at least part of the time, they will never know what work means. Meanwhile, society must care for these two classes; and, unless we are careful, they will tend to merge into one, equally dependent upon others for support and succor.

Brigham Young sensed the obligation of society (i.e. the Church) to provide work for the unemployed. Harry Hopkins is quoting his assertion, “Set the poor to work – setting out orchards, splitting rails, digging ditches, making fences, or anything useful, and so enable them to buy meal and flour and the necessities of life.”

In the story of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15) Christ indicates the obligation of society to furnish work to the able. (Read the citation in class.)

Resume of Jesus’ Economic Teaching.

Devoting a lifetime to the matter, Professor Kent of Yale lists eight economic teachings of the Savior:

1. The possession of more things than are necessary tends to destroy social efficiency.

2. The pursuit of wealth is incompatible with man’s highest ideals and interests as well as those of society.

3. Each man is under obligation to contribute to society in exact proportion to his ability.

4. No man is entitled to share who will not work. Services to society constitutes the only valid claim.

5. Private property is a public trust.

6. Society is under obligation to devise means to those willing to work can work.

7. The rights of humanity are paramount to those of capital.

8. The goal is fraternal cooperation, not selfish competition.

The Latter-day Saint Program.

In keeping with the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, the Latter-day Saints have always had social program in advance of their times.

The United Order was revealed to Joseph Smith on April 23, 1834, on the occasion of a council meeting in which the pressing temporal needs of the Saints have been considered. (See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 104.) In brief, it consists of the consecration of all property of the groups; the subsequent division of this property into stewardships; the consecration, again, of all profits from the various undertakings of the individual members and the redistribution of these profits according to need. Although tried in early days, the Order of Enoch is far beyond the present spiritual powers of the Saints.

Since then, the Church has depended entirely upon fast offerings, tithing, Relief Society funds, and priesthood quorum activities for the support of the needy. the Church Security Plan, inaugurated in 1936, contemplates no new Church machinery, but provides for the use of existing Church organizations. According to the Message of the First Presidency, October, 1936: “The announced objective set for the Church under this Program was to provide by October 1, 1936, by a wholly voluntary system of gifts in cash or in kind, sufficient food, fuel, clothing, and bedding to supply through the coming winter, every needy and worthy Church family, unable to furnish these for itself, in order that no member of the Church should suffer in these times of stress and emergency.

“Our primary purpose was to set up, insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.” (Deseret News, October 2, 1936.)

The responsibility is placed upon the bishop, who is to use the resources of his own Ward to the utmost. If necessary, he may look to the Stake Presidency for additional help. They in turn may look to the Regional organization, which, in an emergency, may look to the Presiding Bishopric, whose primary responsibility it is to look after the poor of the Church as a whole.

The Church Security plan contemplates that those on W.P.A. projects shall continue on these projects, “making sure to give a full day’s work for value received, but they are expected to contribute of their time when not so employed to the carrying out of the plan.”

Secular Movements.

Thirty-seven nations, in 1935, had definite schemes for the protection of their older members; schemes involving some form of pension, compulsory insurance, or retirement annuity. The United States has been slow in recognizing this need. However, the skeleton organization was completed October 14, 1935, and the Social Security Board has functioned as intended following the appropriation of Congress in 1937.

The Ideal.

It is to be hoped that the Church and the government programs will inaugurate a period comparable to that maintained by the faithful Nephites for more than two hundred years.

“And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need. (Alma 1:30. Read the entire chapter.)

Personal Problems.

1. What is my responsibility toward the poverty stricken?

2. How can I assist in the eradication of poverty?

3. Do I know the economic views of the Master?

4. How much wealth should I covet?

5. How should I plan to use my wealth?

6. Do I participate in the Church Security program? How can I?



  1. Ardis

    There are times where your posts are so good that I could kiss you. Thanks for another fantastic trip into Sunday School history!

    Comment by andrew h — November 8, 2013 @ 10:38 am

  2. This one is pretty eye-opening. Terrific.

    Comment by kevinf — November 8, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

  3. Thanks for digging all of these things up. I don’t know that I’ve ever commented before, but read regularly.

    Comment by Mike S — November 9, 2013 @ 12:17 am

  4. This is fantastic. Can you give me the name of the manual as well as its author by any chance?

    Comment by Jimmy — November 9, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  5. I second Jimmy. Please, please share your source. This is awesome.

    Comment by Jeremy — November 10, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

  6. This is the gospel of my heart. I wish that it was still being taught, and that we still asked all these questions, especially: “2. How can I assist in the eradication of poverty?”

    Comment by Juliathepoet — November 12, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

  7. At this point in our history, the Deseret Sunday School Union issued booklets quarterly with the lessons for the coming months. No author is credited — it’s simply issued by the Church. There are no particular titles for the booklets, either. This lesson was among those written for the “Advanced Senior Department,” the oldest youth group before young people went into the general adult class.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 13, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

  8. Wonderful, as always, Ardis. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — November 14, 2013 @ 8:47 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI