Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Please Excuse My Charity

It's been a very long time since I've posted here...I've had things to say, but little time to say it. Alas, time remains short, so I will jump right in.

A few weeks ago as I sat in a Sunday School class at church, I felt inspired to say something...not in that class, but here at Intelligent Life. What I had to say would have been difficult to address during that lesson, but I felt strongly that it needed to be said nonetheless. I just didn't want to speak up because my emotions were not in the right place and it would've disrupted the lesson.

The lesson was about the first few chapters of Mosiah, and a discussion took place about giving to beggars. My heart sank when I heard my neighbors nearly-unanimously agree that it was best to refrain from giving to beggars. Frankly, I was shocked, dismayed, and disappointed in what I was hearing. One person even stated that the Brethren have explicitly recommended that we do NOT give to "panhandlers" — as if this reported admonition got us all "off the hook" once and for all.

I subsequently engaged in an extensive search for ANY reference to a General Authority in ANY official capacity telling members that they should stay their hand in helping the poor in this manner. Unsurprisingly, I found nothing.

What I did find was the following:

In his October 2014 General Conference talk, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,
So how might we "do what we can"? For one thing, we can, as King Benjamin taught, cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, "Are we not all beggars?
...Amulek says, "After [you] have [prayed], if [you] turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if [you] have [it], to those who stand in need—I say unto you, … your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and [you] are as hypocrites who do deny the faith." What a stunning reminder that rich or poor, we are to “"do what we can" when others are in need.
"He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker,"and "whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor … shall [also] cry himself, but shall not be heard." (Proverbs 14:31, 21:13) 
....I also know that although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and "because I have been given much, I too must give."
...May we...in the true Church of Jesus Christ to do what we can to deliver any we can from the poverty... (italics are Elder Holland's; bold is mine.)
Hmm...nothing there about making sure we don't give to beggars.

Meanwhile, in a 1988 "Questions and Answers" in the Ensign, John F. O'Donnal, president of the Guatemala City Temple, said:
"Based on the scriptures and my experiences, I have determined that giving [to beggars] is a personal matter to be decided by each individual."
Again, no statement telling us NOT to give.

And the actual lesson we were studying that Sunday stated:
"...there is no single right approach to helping the needy. We should remember the principles taught by King Benjamin and seek the guidance of the Spirit in each situation." 
Again, no citation to General Authorities telling us to refrain from giving to beggars.

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

"God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other."
The prophet's admonition mentioned nothing about only serving other members, or those approved by our bishop, or selected by a committee, or found to be worthy in some way. "Each other" includes the guy standing out in the cold holding a sign.

Moroni 7:46 says, "...charity never faileth." It doesn't say, "...charity never faileth, as long as you don't give to beggars."

D&C 44:6 says, "Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief..." — yet doesn't go on to say you should not visit them and administer to their relief if they happen to be sitting on a curb in the Walmart parking lot.

The Prophet Joseph said:

"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." 
Nothing there about avoiding the beggars on the street while ranging through the whole world. Nothing excluding beggars from the whole human race.

Mosiah 4:16 says:
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish."
Matthew 25:40 says:
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
This short item in the September 1991 Ensign is a clear endorsement of giving to panhandlers. Why would the Church print this item if the word from the Brethren was to NOT give?

The Prophet Joseph Smith said,
"It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase." (bold is mine)
Nothing there about avoiding the beggars.

As I've said, the tenor of that discussion in Sunday School a few weeks ago was frankly heartbreaking. My friends sounded cold-hearted. But I know they are not. They are good, loving, generous people! I'm not here to cast judgment upon any of them. I'm just pointing out that I think there was some well-meaning but misguided groupthink going on that day. I also wanted to specifically call out the fact that, lacking any citation to the contrary, I can safely say that no General Authorities have told the members of the Church to withhold from those who ask of us. To the contrary, the admonition to provide for the needy is repeated again and again. Granted, the best way to help the poor may be to give a generous fast offering, but turning away the beggar is by no means the recommended course of action (or inaction). The whole class discussion that day was really disturbing to me.

Obviously, we must use good judgment and listen to the promptings of the Spirit with regard to beggars. No, we needn't give to everyone who asks, every time, if we don't feel right about it. But to categorically state that we should give to NO beggars is simply wrong.

Finally, I refer you to this experience I had a few years back. Please read it...you'll be glad you did. (If I were to listen to those who say "never give to a beggar," I would have missed out on this profound, heart-changing experience.)

Give, or do not give...that is your choice. It is not my purpose here to make anyone feel guilty. The scriptures and the words of our leaders are clear; please, please...don't spread false information about what the prophets and apostles have said regarding charity. It may ease the conscience to believe that we've been told not to give, but it's just not true. I don't always give...and I feel bad when I don't...even though I know that there are scammers out there. But for me, erring on the side of charity and doing whatever I can is my choice — a choice for which I know I will be blessed regardless.

So, please excuse my charity, but I am not going to stop giving to beggars.

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