The following 1933 and 1936 First Presidency statements provide principles for provident living in today’s world of economic uncertainty.
A period of great economic hardship called the Great Depression struck the United States and the Church during the 1930s. The United States government and the Church implemented programs to assist the millions in need. Church leaders were concerned that members would succumb to a “dole mentality,” the idea of getting something from the government for nothing.
In July 1933 the First Presidency set forth fundamental principles for financial security in a letter to stake presidents. In October 1936 President Heber J. Grant read a second message in general conference, formally launching what is known today as the Church welfare program.
Reported conditions in the state and nation suggest that a considerable burden may rest upon our Church relief activities in the near future. While it seems our people may properly look, as heretofore, for relief assistance from governmental and perhaps other sources, it cannot now be certainly foretold either what or how fully sufficient this assistance will be, and we must therefore prepare ourselves to meet the necessities that may fall upon us.
The Lord will not hold us guiltless if we shall permit any of our people to go hungry, or to be cold, unclad, or unhoused during the approaching winter. Particularly He will consider us gravely blameful if those who have heretofore paid their tithes and offerings to the Church when they had employment shall now be permitted to suffer when the general adversity has robbed them of their means of livelihood. Whatever else happens, these faithful persons must not be permitted to come to want or distress now. …
The Church organizations set up by the Prophet Joseph in the very early days of the Church, if properly coordinated by the bishops and presidents of stakes, are qualified by purpose, jurisdiction, ability of membership, and experience to carry on adequately, during the coming winter, the work of caring for Church members. Indigent non-Church persons will obviously look to other sources. But no one must be permitted to starve or freeze in our midst.
In rendering assistance to those in need, the Church officers should have one prime consideration in mind: namely, that relief, except to sick, infirm, or disabled, should not be extended as charity. Our faithful Church members are independent, self-respecting, and self-reliant; they do not desire charity. Our able-bodied members must not, except as a last resort, be put under the embarrassment of accepting something for nothing. In recognition of this wholly praiseworthy and admirable attitude of mind, Church officials administering relief must devise ways and means by which all able-bodied Church members who are in need may make compensation for aid given them by rendering some sort of service. It is believed that private and community enterprise in our wards and stakes can be found or created in sufficient quantities for this purpose.
The experience of some of those of our stakes in which there is now the largest proportion of unemployed persuades us that this can be done. …
We exhort the members of the Church to prepare to take upon their shoulders this great burden which now threatens us. The cries of those in distress must be hushed by our bounty. The words of the Lord require this from us. A feeling of common humanity bids it from us. Never has the Church membership had a better opportunity than now to reap a harvest from obedience to the law, given by the Savior, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” [Acts 20: 35]. If we shall fully observe that law, the Lord will pour out His richest blessings upon us; we shall be better and happier than ever before in our history; and peace and prosperity will come to us.
The spiritual condition and faith of the members of any ward or stake may be gauged by their response to this urgent call of the unfortunate for help.
To Israel of old, God spake through Malachi:
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
“Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” [Mal. 3:8–10].
Out of an experience, rich in God’s blessings and chastisements, ancient Israel drew this bit of profound wisdom: “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses … burst out with new wine” [Prov. 3:9–10].
These are the blessings promised to those who do not rob the Lord. We must not be guilty of this offense. We earnestly exhort the people to have faith in the Lord and His promises. Take Him at His word: “Prove me now herewith, … if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and learn how much the Lord will bless.
We wish the presidencies of the stakes and the bishops of the wards to urge, earnestly and always upon the people, the paramount necessity of living righteously; of avoiding extravagance; of cultivating habits of thrift, economy, and industry; of living strictly within their incomes; and of laying aside something, however small the amount may be, for the times of greater stress that may come to us. By no other course will our people place themselves in that position of helpful usefulness to the world which the Lord intends we shall take.
Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, J. Reuben Clark Jr.
As promised at the last April conference, we inaugurated a Church security [welfare] plan. To facilitate the putting into effect of the plan, we organized a general committee whose functions were to represent the Presiding Bishopric in the detailed administrative work of coordinating and supervising the labors of the various regularly established organizations in their large and important security operations.
The security [welfare] plan contemplated no new Church machinery for this work but provided for the use of all the existing Church organizations—the stake and ward organizations, the priesthood quorums, the Relief Society, and the various auxiliary organizations—each of which was to render the maximum service it could furnish in the interest of the general welfare of the Church.
The announced objective set for the Church under this program was to provide by 1 October 1936, by a wholly voluntary system of gifts in cash or in kind, sufficient food, fuel, clothing, and bedding to supply through the coming winter every needy and worthy Church family unable to furnish these for itself, in order that no member of the Church should suffer in these times of stress and emergency.
Our primary purpose was to set up, insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole [getting something for nothing] 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. Work is to be reenthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.
Our great leader Brigham Young, under similar conditions, said: “Set the poor to work—setting out orchards, splitting rails, digging ditches, making fences, or anything useful, and so enable them to buy meal and flour and the necessities of life.” This admonition is as timely today as when Brigham Young made it. …
Every ward and stake is expected to face the necessity not only of providing for its own but of helping other wards and stakes. In no other way would it be possible to do the work which the Church is aiming to do. But few stakes and wards are in a position where they may be rightfully satisfied by merely caring for their own. …
We must not contemplate ceasing our extraordinary efforts until want and suffering shall disappear from amongst us.
The responsibility of seeing that no one is hungry or cold or insufficiently clad rests upon the bishops, each one for the members of his own ward. He will use every Church organization of his ward to help him in his work. For help outside his ward, he will look for necessary assistance to his stake presidency, they to their regional organization, and these to the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, whose primary responsibility it is to look after the poor of the Church as a whole.
For this great undertaking the Lord has abundantly blessed His people already, and He will continue to pour out His blessings so long as the people do their duty by the poor.
Generations and generations ago, the Lord said to Israel of old, urging them to pay their tithes into His storehouse, “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” [Mal. 3:10].
To this generation, the Lord has said, “Inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me” [D&C 42:31].
And the Lord added this admonition: “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” [D&C 104:18].
Jacob, speaking to the people of Nephi, said:
“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” [Jacob 2:18–19].
We are grateful to our Heavenly Father for His goodness unto this people during this year, for the bounteous crops which He has given to them, and for the measure of prosperity which has come to our midst.
We have proved the Lord and He has opened the windows of heaven.
We are grateful to all those who have contributed of their substance to our achievement. We thank all those who have served so long and earnestly in the working out of this program and especially to those 15,000 and odd members of the Church who have been directly concerned.
We invoke the blessings of the Lord upon each and every one of you. We pray the Lord continually to inspire His people to the end that we shall once more be able to take care of all those worthy ones amongst us to whom hard times have come in these days of stress.
Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., David O. McKay
In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 5:331–34; 6:19–23. Spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and paragraphing modernized.