I don’t know about anyone else’s wards/stakes, but, in several of the ones I’ve lived in, I’ve come across quite a few people who believe that when hard times come, the bishop or Stake President will “call in” everyone’s food storage and then share it to make sure everyone in the ward has food. Those who espouse this opinion usually have little or no food of their own stored, but have an ample supply of excuses and justifications for their disobedience to prophetic counsel.
I’ve struggled with this concept on several levels, in spite of the fact that I personally could not watch someone else’s child starve while I had food to eat.
What, therefore, are the principles and commandments from the scriptures and latter day Prophets and Apostles related to this question?
Here are just a few of the more pointed quotes on this topic from the scriptures and the Brethren (those on my class e-mail list may have seen some of these before, but I promise, you have not seen them all – especially the coup de grace – a letter from the First Presidency).
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (including his food storage) (Exodus 20:17)
For individuals to retain their dignity during a time of personal distress, opportunities for service and work commensurate with the recipients’ circumstances should be found. The value of the work or service need not be equal to the assistance received but rather sufficient to avoid the evils of the dole and the fostering of an entitlement mentality. H. David Burton, (“The Welfare Responsibilities of the Bishop,” Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance, [Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2009] (08288), 7)
We must never let the Lord’s program of self-help become a dole, for “the idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways” (D&C 75:29). If an individual refuses to do his part by working according to his ability, then the bishop has the prerogative of withholding assistance until a reformation of attitude is achieved.” (Pres. Marion G. Romney, “The Role of a Bishop in the Church Welfare Program,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 96.)
The Church was two years old when the Lord revealed that “the idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways.” (D&C 75:29.) The Welfare handbook instructs: “[We must] earnestly teach and urge Church members to be self-sustaining to the full extent of their powers. No true Latter-day Saint will … voluntarily shift from himself the burden of his own support. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Almighty and with his own labors, he will supply himself with the necessities of life.” (1952, p. 2.) …When people are able but unwilling to take care of themselves, we are responsible to employ the dictum of the Lord that the idler shall not eat the bread of the laborer. (See D&C 42:42.) The simple rule has been to take care of one’s self. When the Church welfare program was first announced in 1936, the First Presidency said: “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 people help themselves.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3) President Romney has emphasized, “To care for people on any other basis is to do them more harm than good. The purpose of Church welfare is not to relieve [a Church member] from taking care of himself.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1974, p. 166; italics added.) The principle of self-reliance or personal independence is fundamental to the happy life. … We have been taught to store a year’s supply of food, clothing, and, if possible, fuel—at home. There has been no attempt to set up storerooms in every chapel. We know that in the crunch our members may not be able to get to the chapel for supplies.” (Boyd K. Packer, Gen Conf., Apr. 1978)
Family preparedness has been a long-established welfare principle. It is even more urgent today. I ask you earnestly, have you provided for your family a year’s supply of food, clothing, and where possible, fuel? The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare today as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah. (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, November 1987, p. 49)
Should the Lord decide at this time to cleanse the Church…a famine in this land of one year’s duration could wipe out a large percentage of slothful members, including some ward and stake officers. “(Ezra Taft Benson, Gen. Conf. April 6, 1965)
What does it really mean when we say the church will take care of us? Consider the following: My brothers and sisters, throughout the history of the world, the Lord has been concerned for the eternal welfare of the souls of his children. Over the past fifty years, inspired leaders have taught welfare principles to help us plan ahead for difficult times that may come in our lives. The Church has grown and is now spread over many countries throughout the world. But the strength of the Church and the Lord’s real storehouse is in the homes and hearts of his people.” (Robert D. Hales, “Welfare Principles to Guide Our Lives: An Eternal Plan for the Welfare of Men’s Souls,” Ensign, May 1986, p.28)
The Lord does help when we go to Him in times of need, especially when we are committed to His work and respond to His will. But the Lord only helps those who are willing to help themselves. He expects His children to be self-reliant to the degree they can be.” (L. Tom Perry, Gen. Conf. Oct. 1991, Becoming Self-Reliant)
My warfare is, and has been for years, to get the people to understand that if they do not take care of themselves they will not be taken care of; that if we do not lay the foundation to feed and clothe and shelter ourselves we shall perish with hunger and with cold… (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 16)
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
And last, but by no means least, is the following letter from the First Presidency addressing this very topic.
TO THE BISHOPS OF THE VARIOUS WARDS.
SALT LAKE CITY, July 9th, 1883.
Complaints have reached us to the effect that in some of the Wards of the Territory a disposition has been manifested by some of the Bishops presiding to take possession of and disburse the wheat which has been collected by the members ….
This wheat has been collected by the members … in the various wards at considerable trouble and they are the proper custodians thereof and responsible therefor ….
No Bishop has any right, because of his authority as a presiding officer in the ward, to take possession of this grain. It belongs to [those] who have collected it, and it is their province to dispose of it for the purpose for which it has been collected, and it should not be appropriated or disposed of by any Bishop for any other object.
JOHN TAYLOR, GEORGE Q. CANNON, JOSEPH F. SMITH,
First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints.(Messages of the First Presidency, 2:355)
A note regarding this letter – it refers specifically to wheat gathered by the sisters, the members of the Relief Society, because THEY had been admonished to glean the wheat from the fields as a result of the continued disobedience of the men to the command to store their grain rather than sell it. This, the sisters had diligently done. Some bishops then decided that it was their prerogative to take the wheat so gathered and saved, and disburse it as they saw fit. The First Presidency very clearly stated that no, the stored grain belongs to those who put forth the effort to gather and store it and it is theirs to provide for their family, and others as THEY see fit, not as any presiding authority might try to determine for them.
President Taylor also taught, “In speaking on this, I would say to the Presidents of Stakes, and to the Bishops, see that there is no oppression of any kind, or anything approaching arbitrary measures, or anybody interfered with; let everything be done righteously, properly, and voluntarily.” (Oct 7, 1877 (JD 19:129))
On Dec 13, 1893, President Woodruff told a meeting of the Relief Society that even he, as President of the Church, did not have the authority to take the wheat from them. He said the local bishops could request to borrow a quantity of it on condition that they sincerely believed they would be able to repay it, and if the sisters felt they had more than needed for their families, they could give him some in exchange for a certificate promising repayment by the bishop. (See Wilford Woodruff, Collected Discourses, V) If neither the Prophet nor the bishop have authority to take the wheat, neither does anyone else.
One might rightly ask, “Well, if the bishop (or other Priesthood leader) cannot collect and distribute stored food as he sees fit, then what CAN he do?” His first responsibility, according to H. David Burton, (“The Welfare Responsibilities of the Bishop,” Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance, [Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2009] (08288), 7) is to teach the members, while there is yet time to prepare.
I would suggest that Joseph’s Smith’s example should also be followed. He said he taught the members correct principles and they governed themselves. Once a Priesthood leader has either personally or through the Preparedness Specialist made certain that the members understand the principle and the practice, and that the principle is ever before them lest they, like the ancient Nephites, forget, he must then follow the Law of the Harvest and the Parable of the 10 Virgins. Those who have not prepared will bear the responsibility of doing whatever they can to feed their families, short of stealing from those who have prepared (Which constitutes being a murderer in one’s heart if not in fact – and this applies just as much to those who would use the government to steal another’s stored supplies as those who would do it personally. Such individuals quite literally trade their eternal salvation and exaltation for a mess of pottage.).
On the other hand, those who have extra, more than they need for their own family, have the opportunity to be charitable, but charity cannot and must not EVER be forced. There is no place in the Lord’s plan for force or coercion of any kind, by any one, regardless of position in Church or government.
… when we undertake to cover our sins, …gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control…or compulsion upon … the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:37)