I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    There is so much human suffering in the world today. Why doesn’t the Church launch campaigns to end world hunger and ease the sufferings of the needy?

    Edward L. Soper, Welfare Services area director, Southeastern United States. It is encouraging to sense the concern for the unfortunate that this question reflects. I’m sure many readers share that concern.

    In addressing your question, I want you to understand that the greatest tool for easing suffering is the gospel itself. Conversion to the gospel so speeds the recovery and progress of those who live its precepts that miracles—temporal as well as spiritual—are wrought in the lives of people. It was this truth that led President Spencer W. Kimball to remark in 1974:

    “I remember as I went through the streets of Calcutta, seeing the great numbers of starving people. … I remember being on the fifth floor of a big hotel in Calcutta and looking down on the back street where these people in their meager clothing were lying on the sidewalks … with no place to go and nothing to eat and no shelter. … I saw the rain come, and I saw these people move back a little farther under a little shelter. I saw [the people in Peru] suffer, and we were upbraided by one of the press one day for not taking care of all these poor people. ‘Why did we travel the world and do all these things and did not take care of these people,’ he asked. I said, ‘That is something you don’t understand. If these people would accept the gospel of Christ, the program is provided and they could be taken care of, and their sufferings could be alleviated. They could enjoy reasonable conditions in their homes and in their living.’

    “And that is true, brethren and sisters. In my feeling, the gospel is the answer to all the problems of the world, if we go deeply enough and all are united in solving them. And that is why we work harder in missionary work, so that we can gradually bring the gospel to all the people, … the gospel of serving the poor, taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves.” (Transcript of Welfare Services Meeting, 5 Oct. 1974, pp. 18–19.)

    In the 1930s President Harold B. Lee, then a stake president, was assisted by the First Presidency to suggest a program that could address the problems you have raised. Of that experience, he said:

    “I sought the Lord, … and there was something that came to me. My first thought was, ‘What kind of an organization will we have to have, to do this?’ And I began to think of setting up something that was like the world has set it up, and I received one of the most fundamental testimonies of the value of the priesthood of this Church. It was as though the Lord had said to me, ‘… You don’t need any other organization. I have given you the greatest organization there is on the face of the earth. Nothing is greater than the priesthood organization. All in the world you need to do is put the priesthood to work. That’s all.’” (Transcript of Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Oct. 1970, p. 20.)

    With this in mind, it is good to know that the Church and its members are also involved in direct efforts to prevent and alleviate suffering. Though the Church works harmoniously with community and private agencies in this work, our labors are carried out through the established priesthood organization of the Church.

    Where the Church is well established, a broad range of Welfare Services resources is administered by the priesthood. Many who are destitute, as well as thousands who simply face temporary difficulties, are assisted each year through bishops’ storehouses, Deseret Industries, employment centers, and LDS Social Services agencies. Resources and help adapted to the circumstances and needs of anyone within reach of the Church are available to all who are willing to live by the principles under which that help is given.

    In the expanding areas of the Church, bishops and branch presidents have access to fast offering funds and the concerted efforts of local members to help in reducing want and suffering. In addition, over 2,500 sisters and older individuals and couples have served as full-time missionaries with Welfare Services assignments over the past twelve years. There are over 600 presently serving such missions in some 26 countries throughout the world.

    In nearly all of these areas, members and missionaries are directly involved in campaigns such as those you suggest. These missionaries have developed health and nutrition education curricula for school systems; helped upgrade medical care; mounted countrywide media campaigns against disease and poor nutrition; presented clinics, workshops, seminars, lessons, and “health fairs” reaching millions of people; instigated the planting of thousands of home gardens; taught home storage and wise nutrition; and strengthened the ability of priesthood and Relief Society leaders and members to prevent and respond to suffering.

    The Church has also provided emergency relief when disasters have occurred. Examples in recent years include relief efforts following floods in California and Idaho, hurricanes in the southeastern United States, and earthquakes in Nicaragua, Peru, Guatemala, and Argentina. You may be interested to know that in addition to providing food, temporary shelter, clothing, bedding, and tools in Guatemala, the Church designed and helped families build over four hundred new earthquake-proof homes. Homes were also built in Argentina for many who had lost theirs.

    These and other things are being done by members privately and by the Church to alleviate and prevent hunger and suffering around the world, but few of these significant acts are publicized. I am aware of the establishment of medical libraries in Samoa and Tonga; the creation of a neonatal clinic in a hospital in Chile; the development of a major foundation to support research benefiting the health of children worldwide; a history of medical and educational service by volunteers in underdeveloped nations.

    Certainly, members of the Church are proving true the confidence expressed by President Kimball: “I do not worry about members of the Church being unresponsive when they learn of the needy as much as I worry about our being unaware of such needs.” (Regional Representatives’ seminar, 29 Sept. 1978.)

    Although the Church and many of its members are involved in the effort to reduce hunger and suffering, it is important that each of us remain concerned for those in need. More poignant than the death of those who suffer is the reaction of those who, when made aware of the efforts of others to help, turn back to their comfortable life because “someone else” is helping the poor.

    We all have the opportunity and the obligation to participate in efforts to relieve suffering. To us, a prophet of God has said, “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.” (Mosiah 4:16.)

    The Church provides opportunity for and encourages all members to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.) “For of him unto whom much is given much is required.” (D&C 82:3.)

    There is much we can do individually and as families to alleviate suffering in this world, both at home and abroad. We can be effective home teachers and visiting teachers. We can serve as missionaries and see that our children do so. We can render compassionate service. We can carry out Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women’s service projects. We can work on the welfare farm or at the bishops’ storehouse. We can donate to the Deseret Industries. We can open our homes to foster children. We can volunteer time with local charitable agencies, or help organize community programs to serve those in need, or donate to worthwhile programs.

    Truly, “There are chances for work all around just now, Opportunities right in our way; Do not let them pass by, saying, ‘Sometime I’ll try,’ But go and do something today.” (Hymns, no. 58.)

    I have a neighbor who spanks her misbehaving children so severely that I can’t bear to be there. Is there anything I can or should do?

    Richard L. Hemrick, LDS Social Services, Las Vegas, Nevada; father of six. If the situation you describe is accurately perceived, and if the spankings are frequent and severe, then an investigation might reveal a case of child abuse. The immediate concern is for the physical safety of the child; sadly, there are situations where abusiveness has led to permanent physical disability or even the death of a child. It has also resulted in social and/or emotional damage with long-lasting effects.

    There are some things you can do. In fact, in most states and in many countries you are legally required to report such an incident; anyone (including religious leaders) who is aware of or strongly suspects child abuse or neglect and fails to report it could be subject to prosecution, with the resulting penalty of a fine, incarceration, or both. Since the child cannot be his own advocate, the child often must rely on the judgment and responsibility of others to defend him.

    Those who are uncomfortable in making a report to local child welfare agencies should contact their bishop, who can request the assistance of LDS Social Services in making the report.

    One question generally asked by those filing the report is, “What happens if my neighbor finds out I made the report?” It has been my experience that child services workers are sensitive to protecting the confidentiality of those making the report. Protection of the child and correcting abuse, if it exists, becomes the priority. This may include helping parents learn alternative ways to cope with the pressures of parenthood. Agency workers can assist parents who lack skills, understanding, desire, or motivation to make appropriate distinctions between discipline, punishment, and abusiveness.

    If, however, you feel the case is not one of legal child abuse or is less extreme than the cases associated with the above options, you may wish to take advantage of ‘teaching moments’ and offer non-critical suggestions like, “What do you think your child would do if … ?” and suggest an alternative way of discipline. Another might be, “Would it help if … ?” I know of one member who helped another begin the process of developing patience in parenting with a single, well-timed question. The sister in need had three children under school age and was feeling overwhelmed. During a visit, one of the children dropped an open-faced peanut-butter sandwich face-down on the carpet. The usual response would have been the mother’s fury and a spanking. But the visiting member asked, “Would it be helpful to put the child at the table?” It was a simple suggestion, but one the mother has since reported as a key in helping her to realize that she was neither helpless nor hopeless in controlling her frustrations.

    Whenever the child’s behavior appears to be a provoking factor in the abusive response, there are really two concerns. The first is the problem of the child’s behavior; and the second (and often the more serious) is the parent’s over-reaction to the child’s problem. If severe punishments follow the smallest mistake, some considerations in assessing the situation might be:

    1. What are the parent’s expectations of the child’s behavior?

    2. Are those expectations realistic?

    3. What are the stresses in the life of the parent?

    4. Can the parent distinguish between the need for a gentle redirection of behavior and the need for more parental attention?

    5. Are all behaviors that are not pleasing to the parent met with the same intense reaction by the parent?

    6. How supportive and helpful is the spouse of the suspected abusive parent?

    7. How sensitive is the parent to the opinions of others? In other words, how much of the parent’s self-esteem is based upon what he or she thinks others will think about him or her as a parent?

    This last consideration has been witnessed in supermarkets, department stores, and even in church meetings, where a child is harshly reprimanded or spanked because the child has embarrassed or inconvenienced the parent. As a parent of six children, I am continually challenged to remember that it is more important to be an appropriate parent helping the child with his problems, rather than allowing my problem with his problem to become the major influencing factor.

    There are numerous resources to help parents who experience frustration and anger with their children. Articles with “how-to” suggestions on parenthood appear regularly in the Ensign. Courses in family relations through the Sunday School and mother education through the Relief Society are available. I have seen local ecclesiastical leaders utilize the Mother Education instructor as a resource person to help mothers and fathers apply parenting principles on a one-to-one basis outside the classroom. “Becoming a Better Parent” is a course offered by trained and certified instructors under the supervision and direction of LDS Social Services; it is available through the bishop as part of the Church’s Storehouse Resource System. There are many similar classes available on the local community level.

    The intent of public child abuse programs and the programs of the Church is not to punish parents, but to assist in the protection of children and to help those mothers and fathers who want to become better parents learn how to do so.

    It is a most uncomfortable position to know of or even suspect child abuse or neglect. I would caution you not to ignore the problem, for a child’s health—or even his life—may be endangered. None of us would allow our small children to run uncontrolled through traffic, nor would we stand passively aside while our child put his hand on the hot element of an electric range. We would certainly love our children enough to prevent their getting burned or struck by an automobile. Should we love our neighbors’ children—or those who may be abusing them—any less?