A short time ago an institute director received a letter from a university student posing a problem that in one form or another comes before every Church teacher.
It appears that the student had been converted to the Church, or at least baptized into membership, some three years previously but had come to feel that while Church members profess belief in Christ and love for fellowmen, these beliefs are not being transferred into action.
He mentioned specifically failure to join current movements designed to alleviate conditions in the ghettos of our country, failure to apply Church wealth to help alleviate want in foreign lands, seeming unconcern about blacks, poverty, and unemployment, and lack of action to help stop the war in Vietnam.
Clearly, the Church of Jesus Christ must be concerned with the social problems enumerated, and the concern of this young man is commendable. His spirit is not one to be squelched but one to be directed.
Most of us are concerned with these same problems, and not the least of those concerned are the leaders of the Church. Granted, the social conditions of the world are not what we would like them to be; the real crux of the problem lies in what should be done about it. More specifically, what should The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do about it?
To answer the above question, one would do well to review what Jesus did about such problems when he was upon the earth and what he has instructed his prophets to do in our day.
The social problems of our day are not unique. Jesus was born into a world beset with serious social problems. There existed in Palestine a wide gulf between the rich and the poor. Beggars were found in all of the cities and villages. Disease was rampant. The natives of Palestine were held in bondage to the Roman overlords. Thievery and brigandage were everywhere. The story of the Good Samaritan, involving a brutal attack on a lone traveler, could have been taken from numerous real happenings. The unarmed dared not venture abroad at night. Even the apostles of our Lord sometimes went about armed, as evidenced in the account of Gethsemane.
There existed organized political movements designed to remedy matters, to achieve equality, to throw off the yoke of bondage, and to alleviate hunger. Members of one of these groups became militant in nature and sought to achieve their ends by revolution. This group, the Zealots, thought that they perceived in Jesus the leader they sought. It is recorded that they offered him a crown. He was at the height of his public popularity. When he rejected the movement as the remedy to the social ills, the multitudes turned from him. He said unto the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” The answer of Peter is classic. “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67–68.)
Jesus had the power to alleviate hunger. He had just fed the five thousand who seemed to desire his word and who had followed him around the Sea of Galilee to be near him. But the answer lay not in bread, nor in clothing, nor in houses. The answer lay deep in the hearts of men.
He who was most touched by man’s inhumanity to man, he who had time for the lowliest of the low, knew that man can rise no higher than his thoughts, than his philosophy of life, his understanding of its purpose, and his relationship to the Almighty. These are the things that determine the stature of man.
Hence, Jesus devoted himself to the teaching of gospel truths, to the establishment of a church with apostles and seventies to teach and to baptize. He knew that change in the individual brought about change in society, that change in the individual was brought about by a change in his spirit, and that the change in his spirit came from the acceptance of God and his commandments.
What was the outcome? All of the social and political movements of men came to naught. But the gospel of Jesus Christ changed those who embraced it. We read concerning the Church:
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
“And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4:32–35.)
The change wrought even in those who had only part of the gospel is set forth by one Justin Martyr, who lived in the second Christian century.
“We, who were once slaves of lust, now have delight only in purity of morals; we, who once practiced arts of magic, have consecrated ourselves to the Eternal and Good God; we, who once prized gain above all things, give even what we have to the common use, and share it with such as are in need; we, who once hated and murdered one another, who on account of differences of customs would have no common hearth with strangers, do now, since the appearance of Christ, live together with them; we pray for our enemies; we seek to convince those that hate us without cause, so that they may order their lives according to Christ’s glorious doctrine and attain to the joyful hope of receiving like blessings with us from God, the Lord of all.” (Augusta Neander, History of the Christian Religion and Church, trans. Joseph Torrey, 11th ed. [Boston: H. P. Houghton and Co., 1871], vol. 1, p. 250.)
In the Book of Mormon we have a classic example of how the gospel of the Master proved more powerful than any other force to cure men’s ills.
Finding that the government of which he was head could not, through legislation or government edict, reduce the crimes and inequalities among his people, Alma resigned his leadership as chief judge and went forth to change his people by missionary activity, working individual to individual.
“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5.)
And it worked. Community after community turned to righteousness.
In the golden era that followed Christ’s appearance on the American continent, the effect of gospel teachings is reflected in the following:
“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Ne. 1:3, 16.)
In our day, the Church proclaims that the remedy to social ills lies in the programs of the Church and the principles taught therein. There has been no lack of concern for mankind. Rather there has been heightened concern. Note the spirit of the gospel in these words:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
“And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
“And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
“Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:10–16.)
The Church has met the physical needs of its members by various economic policies: the law of consecration of property, the United Order, tithing, fast offerings, the welfare program. No member need suffer from hunger or want if he is faithful and diligent.
Nor has help in the way of food and clothing been withheld from those not in the Church. The Church has been among the first to extend aid to countless unfortunate people when earthquake, fire, and flood have caused misery and want. This help has gone unheralded but has been substantial and has greatly helped those struck with disaster. This is but a temporary help that must not be denied our fellowmen. But, you cannot permanently help a man if you cannot effect a change in him, in his attitude toward God and man.
The United States government has given billions in goods and services to help underdeveloped nations. But many of them are still underdeveloped. It is like pouring water into a sieve. Nothing becomes filled. Many persons engaged in such programs return home disillusioned.
The Church is primarily interested in the individual, in his inner thinking, in his self-respect. The Church does not merely convert men to Christ. The Church has a program that transforms belief into action, first to effect a change in the convert himself, and then to harness his enthusiasm and energy in extending his newfound way of life to others.
Yes, there is concern in the Church for those deprived of the comforts of life, for the victims of social injustice, for the sick and the afflicted. But there is a remedy—and that remedy is being preached to all men. This remedy is offered to all mankind if they will come unto Jesus. The young person concerned about extending a helping hand should read again the words of the Savior to John Whitmer, who sought to know what he could do with his life that would be of most worth to him:
“And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.” (D&C 15:6.)