This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session from the October 1975 Conference.This session of Conference was a "Welfare Session," which was something they used to do, apparently. It was very interesting to hear so many talks in a row about the same subject! And, on a completely undoctrinal note, this session has the distinction of containing the most incomprehensible quote I've ever heard in General Conference. Surely there is some context I was missing, but…??? It's President Romney, quoting President Grant quoting HIS father:
I was told that my father, who was the superintendent of public works in early days … said, ‘I can pick out every man who is working by the day, and every one who is working by the job. I find men working by the day—by the day—by the day; and I find them working by the job, by the job, by the job, job, job—by the job, by the job, by the job, by the job.’
Now, we want our people…to work by the job and not by the day."Well! There it is. I hope that was enlightening to someone.
Mostly, though, this session reiterated again and again this fundamental gospel principle:
Our Heavenly Father loves us so completely that he has given us a commandment to work. This is one of the keys to eternal life. He knows that we will learn more, grow more, achieve more, serve more, and benefit more from a life of industry than from a life of ease. (Howard W. Hunter, "Prepare for Honorable Employment")
During the whole range of man’s existence there has never yet been any plan by which men may live righteously in idleness, and no such plan, it is my faith, will ever be devised. (Marion G. Romney, "Welfare Services")This has been repeated so many times by church leaders, it's obvious that it's part of our core doctrine. And it's not the sort of "poor people should know their place" sentiment that critics might accuse us of, because it applies to all of us. No matter our material circumstances, we see work as an ennobling principle and a privilege; something that builds us into the type of people God wants us to be. We work, and we encourage others to work, not as punishment, but as practice for Godhood.
It is right to care for the poor and the needy. It is wrong to give them something if they do not work for it to the extent of their ability…
About 25 percent of those receiving help are not in a position to work, although perhaps even they could do something if priesthood leaders made creative and inspired efforts to find the service that could be done. The spiritual strength of God’s children is destroyed when the program is not followed as the Lord has outlined it. Our people need to work for what they receive. (H. Burke Peterson, "The Welfare Production-Distribution Department")I can imagine someone protesting, like I always wanted to protest after doing mindless "busywork" worksheets at school, "But is work for work's sake really valuable? Are we all going to get rid of our washing machines and our other labor-saving devices, just to give ourselves more of this 'ennobling' work?" Obviously, that's not our position either. And I love the way the underlying principles balance that idea. We have never been a technophobic church. On the contrary, we embrace technologies as a chance to…do more work! And to do even better sorts of work:
We work so that we may have the necessities of life, conserving time and energy left over for service in the Lord’s work. (Howard W. Hunter, "Prepare for Honorable Employment")I'm not sure if we can set up any definite hierarchies, but it seems like the main idea in all these talks was something like, "Working for what we receive is good. Working beyond our own needs, for the physical or spiritual benefit of others, is even better." And in fact, that is the whole goal:
Of fast offerings, President Kimball has said, “I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be more generous. Instead of the amount saved by our two or more meals of fasting, perhaps much more—seven times more [should be given]—when we are in a position to do it.”I like the echo here of Jesus' instructions to forgive "seventy times seven"—as more of a mindset than a number. Since the number seven usually denotes completion or perfection, both Jesus' and President Kimball's words here probably mean something like, "Give ALL you can. Give until your desires and love for your neighbors are completely and fully one with God's."
And then there's our extraordinary idealism: our faith and belief that THIS PLAN WILL WORK. The Lord's plan will succeed! President Romney quoted this amazing statement by President Grant:
We must not contemplate ceasing our extraordinary efforts until want and suffering shall disappear from amongst us.But not just monetary want and suffering, because of course, that is only part of the suffering people experience in life. The Lord's program of having his children care for each other goes even further:
The relief, encouragement, comfort, rehabilitation, homes supplied, companionships established, hope and peace inspired, and other charitable and benevolent services rendered through our social services program are incalculable. No money value can be placed upon them. (Marion G. Romney, "Welfare Services")I'll end with President Kimball's closing statement of the conference, which I liked just because it seemed so unusually…feisty for a President of the Church! It made me want to shout "amen." I love belonging to a church that does so much good in the world, and encourages ME to do so much more good than I would ever think of doing on my own. Here's what he said:
And third, I would like to say I wish our enemies could have seen this program this morning and seen the wide variety of help and assistance and succor that could be given to the people of this world. And then I wish they could have listened to what President Romney has said, and all the other speakers. We are doing a great service; and it would please us if they would go and do likewise rather than criticize our efforts.So…okay then! Let's go and do likewise!