Five years ago I was asked to be the managing director of the Welfare Services Department of the Church. Within a few days I received a phone call from President Marion G. Romney. He said, “Brother Pace, do you know anything about welfare?”
Under the circumstances, this was a sobering question, and I responded, “President, I’m sure I have much to learn.”
He asked me to set aside 3:00 P.M. each Friday for a meeting with him in which we could discuss welfare principles.
When I arrived at his office on the first Friday, President Romney’s secretary went into his office and announced, “Glenn Pace is here, President.”
He replied, “Oh yes, I’d like to see him, if he doesn’t stay too long.”
On my second visit, with “if he doesn’t stay too long” still ringing in my ears, I covered two items and then started shuffling my feet and papers, subtly signaling I was ready to leave. President Romney leaned across his desk with that twinkle in his eye and with a chuckle in his voice said, “Brother Pace, am I getting the impression you think you have something better to do?”
How I cherish those precious sessions spent with a man who has dedicated fifty years of service to the kingdom, especially in the area of welfare. He helped me to know President Harold B. Lee, President J. Reuben Clark, and other great leaders who emphasized the principles of welfare. I was counseled to measure all recommendations by the stated purpose of the welfare program as given by President Heber J. Grant in 1936.
President Romney would quote it from memory: “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far 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.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3.)
Many times President Romney emphasized that the notion of the welfare program beginning in 1936 was a myth. He quoted President Lee, who said: “There wasn’t any beginning to the welfare program. There isn’t any ending of the welfare program, we are always in the middle of it. No endings, no beginnings, only middles.” (Harold B. Lee, “Listen and Obey,” Welfare Agricultural Meeting, 3 Apr. 1971.)
He quoted scriptures relating to the commandment to seek after the poor—scriptures given to the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, and Jackson County, Missouri, at a time when almost all members were poor. He pointed out what was done relative to keeping these commands in Nauvoo in the 1840s and in the West in the late 1800s and in the early 1900s. He quoted Book of Mormon passages and used the New Testament to emphasize how much of the Savior’s time was spent helping the poor and needy.
He made the process sound so simple. “Brother Pace, don’t make things so complicated! All we have been trying to do is make our people self-reliant, because the more self-reliant one is the more able to serve he becomes, and the more he serves, the greater his sanctification.”
Over the years, there have been numerous approaches taken with the common goal of helping people become self-reliant. The welfare plan unveiled to inspired leaders in 1936 has become famous and is held up as an enviable example by leaders of other religions as well as government officials in high places.
As great as the various programs of the Church are, they carry with them a potential danger. If we are not careful, it is possible to get so wrapped up in the plan that we forget the principles. We can fall into the trap of mistaking traditions for principles and confusing programs with their objectives.
One Saturday morning I was on my way to fulfill an assignment on a welfare farm. We were to clean the weeds out of an irrigation ditch. My route took me past the home of an elderly widow in my ward, who was weeding her front yard. The temperature was already in the mid-eighties and she looked like she was near to having sunstroke. For a fleeting moment I thought I should stop and lend a helping hand, but my conscience allowed me to drive on by because, after all, I had an assignment on the welfare farm. I wonder what would have happened if I had followed the spontaneous prompting of the Spirit and unleashed the genuine compassion I was feeling. I wonder what would have happened to her; I wonder what would have happened to me. But I couldn’t do that because I hadn’t been assigned. We need more spontaneous acts of compassionate service.
In 1983 some major modifications were made to the welfare program being followed in the United States and Canada. In making the announcement, President [Gordon B.] Hinckley said, “Permit me to say at the outset that that which you will hear has been considered in depth in all of its implications by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve. …
“We reaffirm the basic principles of the welfare program. There will be no departure from those foundation principles. We feel the need to emphasize with greater clarity the obligation for members of the Church to become more independent and self-reliant, to increase personal and family responsibility, to cultivate spiritual growth and to be more fully involved in Christian service.” (Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 1 Apr. 1983.)
Since these changes have been announced, some have asked if the Church is abandoning or deemphasizing welfare. This question is common only to those who are having trouble distinguishing the difference between a principle and a program.
At the conclusion of a General Welfare Services Executive Committee meeting, where I felt I had waxed eloquent in discussing farms, trucks, silos, and canneries, President Romney invited me into his office for an unscheduled meeting. He asked one question, “Brother Pace, why is it we never discuss principles and doctrine anymore?”
I have not been the same since I heard that penetrating inquiry. From that time until my release as the managing director of Welfare Services three years later, I vowed to be more diligent in evaluating programs to see if they were still accomplishing their objective relative to principles.
Still true is President Lee’s statement: “Nobody changes the principles and doctrines of the Church except the Lord by revelation. But methods change as the inspired direction comes to those who preside at a given time. … You may be sure that your brethren who preside are praying most earnestly, and we do not move until we have the assurance, so far as lies within our power, that what we do has the seal of divine approval.” (Ensign, Jan. 1971, p. 10.)
As I travel into various countries, I am often asked, “When are we going to get the welfare program in this country?” I respond by asking if they have a Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I also ask if they have bishops or branch presidents, and if there are people with needs and people who can help. When they answer yes, I explain they already have all the ingredients necessary to activate a welfare program in their country.
During a trip to South America a few years ago, I spoke with a stake president whose stake had experienced over 50 percent unemployment during the previous three years. I knew the stake had received less than $200 from the Area office during that period. I asked him how the members had been able to survive without a large infusion of outside help. His answer was the families had helped each other—not just father, mother, sons, and daughters, but uncles, aunts, and cousins. When a cousin got a job, the money earned went to benefit everyone. In addition, ward members looked after each other and shared what they had, however so meager. With tears in his eyes he explained how close his stake members were to each other and to the Lord. Their spirituality had increased manyfold. Did they have the welfare program? Yes—and in its purest form.
I fear we have learned too much over the years about programs at the expense of insufficient understanding of principles. If we had learned more principles, priesthood leaders all over the world would be solving local problems with local resources without waiting for something to come from Church headquarters. Members would be helping each other without waiting for an assignment.
Programs blindly followed bring us to a discipline of doing good, but principles properly understood and practiced bring us to a disposition to do good.
I visited Ethiopia last year with Elder Ballard. We came home with vivid pictures of degradation and poverty etched indelibly in our minds. However, I am haunted more often with memories of the conditions under which some of our own members are living in other areas of the world. If every member could travel and observe these conditions, our fast-offering donations would increase substantially.
Moroni was prophesying of our day when he said: “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. …
“For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Morm. 8:35, 37.)
I have great faith in the generosity and compassion of the membership of this church. Never has it been demonstrated more clearly than during the special fasts held in January and November of last year. Over ten million dollars were raised for people we don’t even know. Our members respond when they are aware of a need. Brothers and sisters, that need has not passed. There is much to be done among our own members.
Poverty is a relative term. It means something much different in one country than in another. There is no common solution or program for every situation. However, principles are universal. We cannot bring everyone to the same economic level. To do so would violate principles and foster dependence rather than independence. People living in each country have the primary responsibility for solving their own problems. They must sacrifice for each other because, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” (Lectures on Faith 6:7.)
Members of the Church everywhere should ask themselves not “What can the Church do for me?” but “What can I do for myself, for the Church, and for my neighbors?”
The solutions to poverty are extremely complex, and the balance between too much aid and not enough is very elusive. Our compassion can lead to failure if we give aid without creating independence and self-reliance in the recipient.
However, there is a state of human misery below which no Latter-day Saint should descend as long as others are living in abundance. Can some of us be content living affluent life-styles while others cannot afford the chlorine to purify their water? Can we ignore the most basic temporal needs of our brothers and sisters and profess belief in President Joseph F. Smith’s statement that “a religion that has not the power to save people temporally … cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually”? (quoted in Albert E. Bowen, The Church Welfare Plan, Sunday School Gospel Doctrine course, 1946, p. 36.)
In 1936 we had a depression in the United States. Based on principles, a program was designed to fit the circumstances. Today we are an international church, and in many countries, the Saints face problems far more serious than those. Using welfare principles, solutions can be found to the challenges of today and tomorrow. May the Lord bless President Marion G. Romney and those with whom he labored for bringing to us an understanding of welfare principles. May we be as successful in meeting the challenges of our generation as our predecessors were in meeting theirs, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.