Monday, April 4, 2011

Close the Temples

I'm not sure I've ever heard stronger statements made in General Conference about the imperative to house the homeless, feed the hungry, and address the needs of the poor than I did in the third general session of this past General Conference.

One of the most astonishing statements came during the talk of Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, quoting President Heber J. Grant to the effect that the Church should shut down the seminaries, discontinue its missionary work, and close the temples before it should stop meeting the temporal needs of the hungry and homeless. Bishop Burton reiterated this point in his talk later, when he stated that it does not matter how many temples we build, how large our membership grows, and how positive our public image is. If we do not care for the poor, "we are under condemnation and cannot please the Lord." He also reminded the general membership of the Church of King Benjamin's teaching that we cannot hope to retain a remission of our sins if we allow the poor to suffer and starve. Society, he later stated, in order to be founded upon true principles, must be "woven with the threads of charity."

Silvia H. Allred, First Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency followed up with equally strong statements. To "visit the poor and the needy," she stated, constitutes the "essence of discipleship," because it is an expression of the general commandment to love one another and serve one another. It is "pure religion."

If this is true -- and I am convinced that it is in the very deepest part of my soul -- then it means there is not one of us, no matter what our status is in relation to the Church, whether we be excommunicated or in good membership standing, whether we be gay or straight, whether we have a burning testimony or are struggling to believe, who cannot exercise faith in this matter. In something so crucial, so central to the Gospel, can we really hope to have any sort of a living faith, if it isn't alive in at least this principle?

In his testimony later in that session, President Monson stated that the temples are a testimony that life beyond the grave is as real as our life on earth. But when a prophet of the Lord has said that we should close the temples before we stop caring for the poor, isn't that the same as saying that there is no eternal life worth having without charity?

15 comments:

Holly said...

This is the best and most inspiring report of Conference I've read. thanks.

Reuben said...

I love the priority these statements give to charity, but I could do without the scare tactics.

I want to be inspired to do good just for the sake of being good, not because I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't!

J G-W said...

Reuben, if you want to do good for good's sake, then you have charity, and the strong statements aren't for you. :)

I hear where you're coming from. And for myself, when it comes to doing the right thing -- whether it be lobbying with a representative to support important legislation on behalf of the poor, or whether it be volunteering in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter -- the positive effects we see from our efforts should be reward enough.

At the same time, we live in a society controlled by wealth and privilege that, right now, is pretty callous toward the less fortunate. And as a whole we seem to be moving in the more callous rather than less callous direction.

I've occasionally heard it said that good preaching should "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Given that most LDS are pretty, um, comfortable, maybe just a little hellfire on this subject isn't out of order.

Anonymous said...

I think the church could have done way more careing for the poor and neeedy with it's excess resources that it has since used to build that freakin' mall project in down town SLC. Dispicable.

-bjp

J G-W said...

bjp - Whatever we can say about about concrete steps that the Church has or has not taken, it's still a positive thing that Church leaders are emphasizing this in General Conference.

As Dallin Oaks said in the second general session... Desires shape priorities, and priorities determine actions. If leaders are teaching the people to desire charity above all the other virtues, one can only hope that it will translate into more concrete action down the road...

Jen said...

That stuck out to me, too, but I didn't catch the "scare tatics". Whenever the leaders speak, they are speaking for all of us, including as a reminder to themselves.

I thought it was just to emphasize the severity of how important it is to have charity. Because, like Burton said, we can not help doctrinally if we can't help temporally first. And that is the first principal of the gospel.

Scott N said...

... and yet they also announced a new temple in Meridian, ID, a small town not ten miles from Boise, where there is already a temple (and one which is, from what I hear from people who live there, rarely if ever even close to capacity).

If we believed Heber Grant's words, wouldn't we take the millions of dollars that a new temple costs and use it to help people who can't put shoes on their kids' feet or bread in their kids' mouths?

J G-W said...

Jen - I guess I agree with your take on this.

At the very least, what was said over the pulpit Sunday is no more severe than what the scriptures have to say on this subject. Take a gander at Isaiah, Amos, King Benjamin's discourse... Even the teachings of Jesus, for whom rich people were like camels trying to get into Heaven through the eye of a needle... The parable of Lazarus is pretty harsh too.

At the very least, it calls for a certain amount of solemnity in considering our responsibilities in this regard.

Scott - I guess it's always going to be possible to second guess actual, real-life decisions that get made by Church leaders about where to allocate resources.

All I can really say is, I've never heard such a strong statement about the Church's responsibility to the poor made in General Conference -- ever. I was just talking to my dad about this on the phone, and he agreed. He said he was actually started by how unequivocal and how strong Bishop Burton's statement was -- and it made my dad wonder if this doesn't signal a shift in priorities moving forward.

As a statement of values, I'm not sure anyone can do anything but applaud. I'm not in a position to make decisions about how to allocate Church resources. Hell, I'm not even allowed to pay tithing. But I can take the principle to heart, and make decisions about how and where to allocate my own personal resources of time, energy and money... I hope all who heard Bishop Burton's and Sister Allred's and President Monson's comments on Sunday will do the same...

Interestingly, my dad said that as a result of those comments, he's been thinking about this since then. So it had an impact on at least one faithful, testimony-bearing LDS.

Mister Curie said...

That does seem odd to hear such a statement coming from Bishop H. Burton who was recently honored, in part, for his revitalization of downtown SLC through his leadership on the Church's "$1.5 billion City Creek Center". http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700119385/Bishop-H-David-Burton-honored-with-Giant-in-our-City-award.html

Anonymous said...

Ya, words are just words. The church falls short in this area in a huge way. I believe these talks were just to help share the church's image. That mall project shows what the church will do with it's vast resources. All while making the widow feel worse that she didn't give more mites. This church is little more that a corporation disguised as the kingdom of God on earth.

J G-W said...

The Church is us too. We get to decide what to do with our resources, and how to make words more than just words...

Ron S said...

Here is a quote from Bp Burton's talk. "We honor those who in our day reach out in countless and often silent ways to “be kind to the poor,” feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, and visit the captive." As I listened to these welfare talks in conference I wondered how many listening would wonder as I did, how can we listen to this message on reaching out to the sick and the poor and yet, Utah and our elected representatives are in the forefront to take away health care for over 30 million people in this country? Did Harry Reid or Mitt Romney or Sen Hatch--- as they were listening, wonder why one was in the forefront to achieve this reaching out to the poor and the other two are doing their best to stop it and reverse it????

J G-W said...

Ron, you are absolutely right. I hope LDS legislators everywhere -- at the local, state and national level were listening very carefully to these words.

Chedner said...

As a president of a non-profit corporation, I understand the complexities of deciding where your money should go.

If I put 100% of the revenue into explicitly fulfilling the corporation's mission then I run the risk of not being able to build the business to a point where I can do even more good. That is to say that some money has to be put aside and spent on growth of the business. In a way, it's primarily selfish but ultimately the money is spent in the hopes of eventually furthering the goals of the corporation.

Call me a romantic, but I choose to believe (perhaps foolishly) such is the intention of the LDS Church.

After all, who am I to judge? I just bought a $15 blu-ray which money could have went to a much better cause.

We all fall short.

As president of a public charity seeking to benefit youth, I can tell you that very, very, very few people are quick to aide while many are quick to decry the shortcomings of others.

So, to all those who point out the shortcomings of others, I would suggest that you ask yourself: "When was the last time I donated to and/or volunteered at a charity?"

And every time you get an itch to complain about someone else not doing enough, I recommend donating at least $5 to a worthy charity instead.

J G-W said...

Chedner, I agree. My behavior is the only behavior I can change.