Mormonism: Service and Giving
It is a basic Christian principle, at the heart of the Law of Moses as well as at the heart of the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, to be charitable. The Lord’s people have always been instructed to look after the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor (Deuteronomy 4:17, Isaiah 1:17). This directive does not allow us to judge for ourselves who is worthy of our help. Instead, Jesus Christ has commanded each of us to help those in need and to let Him be the judge of their hearts.
- “And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance” (Mosiah 4:21–22).
This means that we do not have the right to judge a person’s motives or past choices. If a person needs help, we are commanded to give that help. While charity is essential to salvation, there is another side of the coin. Idleness is a sin. Mormon doctrine teaches that we are required to do all we can before we can expect help from others. So, while we are commanded to be charitable without judgment, before we ask for help ourselves, we should be doing all we can to provide for ourselves. Work is an eternal principle.
- “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated. And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace” (D&C 88:124–125).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a remarkable humanitarian aid program, which serves the world, not just members of the church. With work as a central principle, these programs reach out and help those in need by meeting critical needs and then helping the people to become self-sufficient. You can best help people by helping them to help themselves.
Since 1985, 178 countries have received (and many continue to receive) humanitarian aid from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ has also donated $1.3 billion dollars in humanitarian aid since 1985. This aid often comes as an emergency response to a natural disaster, such as earthquake, tsunami, or flood, or to a man-made disaster. Aid is also frequently given to help in long-term projects fighting things such as famine and disease. Five such ongoing projects include neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is very well organized in its relief efforts. Within hours of a disaster, a church official works with local government officials to determine specific needs before sending those supplies as soon thereafter as possible. Once critical needs have been met, church officials then reach out in other ways to help rebuild communities. Teaching people self-reliant skills helps community members to reach out to one another and to learn how to take care of themselves. Self-reliance is essential to a person’s self-esteem and to a community’s ability to learn and grow to become independent.
One of the reasons the LDS Church’s humanitarian aid program is so successful is because 100 percent of donations given to its cause are used for relief efforts. The Church covers its own overhead costs. Donations come largely from Latter-day Saints, but anyone is free to donate to this program, and many people from around the world do. Aid is given to those who need it worldwide, without regard to nationality or religious affiliation of recipients. Latter-day Saints believe that every member of the human family is a beloved child of God and is equally deserving of help when needed.
More so with welfare than with humanitarian aid, the governing principle is self-reliance. While in long-term humanitarian aid projects, the principle of work is still there, with many emergency response situations, people just need help immediately, but always with the end goal of self-reliance. This is often where the principle of welfare comes in.
“The objective of the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to care for the needy while teaching principles that will allow needy persons to become self-reliant and retain their self-respect. The program also provides opportunities to all other members of the Church to serve — fulfilling the commandment Jesus Christ gave to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick.” (http://newsroom.lds.org/topic/welfare-and-self-reliance)
The money to fund The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ welfare program comes from the fast offerings of faithful Latter-day Saints. The first Sunday of each month is set aside as a Fast Sunday. Members are invited to fast for two consecutive meals and to donate to the Church’s fast offering fund the money they would have spent on the meals they skipped. This money is then used to care for the needy of that congregation. If money is left over, those funds are sent to church headquarters to fund larger welfare projects.
While the principle of welfare and fast offerings was started soon after the organization of the Church in 1830, the Great Depression brought about a need for a larger program. In 1936, the Church organized the welfare program that continues to run today, but it has expanded to fill the earth, and it assists people of all faiths.
Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, has the largest welfare facilities of anywhere in the Church, which include a cannery, a milk-processing plant, a bishop’s storehouse, a thrift store, an employment center, and silos for wheat and other grains. A bishop’s storehouse is used to hold a variety of goods. Those individuals and families who are in need and who have been faithful members may come here with a requisition signed by their bishop to receive items to meet their specific needs. There is no charge for this. There are 129 of these facilities around the world to meet members’ needs. Aid is always given with the understanding that those who receive aid are doing the best they can and will continue to pay their tithing and fast offerings to help others.
The Church’s welfare program extends beyond physical items. Employment service centers provide training for people to build their skill set and résumé to qualify them for a better job. There are 259 employment centers around the world. 
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that we must take care of ourselves, but sometimes circumstances arise where that is not possible. We are also responsible for helping those we meet along our way. Charity is the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47) and we are required to develop this attribute without judgment of those who receive it.
In addition to the Church’s two worldwide programs which focus so much on charity, Latter-day Saints are commanded to give service in their own spheres. Many congregations have their own service projects each year. Some of these include neighborhood spring clean-ups, when green waste and other large objects are picked up by volunteers and brought to the dump. Other examples could include helping families move in or out of their homes, helping in roofing projects or other home-improvement projects, bringing meals to a family whose parent or child is sick or to a bereaved family, helping elderly couples shovel snow in the winter and take care of their yards in the summer.
Developing true charity means that we are sensitive to the needs of those around us and do what we can to help one another. If God has blessed us with all that we have, how grateful should we be? And how better to show gratitude than to reach out to others who are struggling and to share what we have been blessed with?
Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13 what charity is and is not. Charity is never given with a spirit of selfishness or pride. Charity entails recognizing that we all struggle, we have all been blessed, and we are all brothers and sisters. We should reach out to each other in love, understanding, and support, with gratitude to our Savior, Jesus Christ.