As a new member, you may be wondering what the church welfare program is about. Its purposes are somewhat different than many government programs.
If the Savior were to arrive in in your town next week, we wouldn’t find him in the mansions, sitting at a well-appointed dinner table or sleeping in an elegant guest room. If we wanted to track him down, we’d have to head for the very poorest neighborhood, where the needs are greatest. There we’d find him, teaching the gospel or with his sleeves rolled up, serving wherever he was needed. It’s how he lived his life on earth—healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and nourishing the spirit.
It’s this example we try to follow in our own lives today, and it’s this example the church follows as it develops, under the Savior’s direction, its own welfare programs. The world is sometimes confused by the title of our program, since it isn’t welfare the world’s way—it’s welfare the Lord’s way.
The church has always focused on serving those who are in need. In 1834, The Lord declared in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “It is my purpose to provide for my saints. … But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.” (D&C 104:15-16)
In modern times, the current welfare program began in the midst of the Great Depression. During the October 1936 conference, 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 the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3.)
A welfare program that did away with the dole? Welfare the Lord’s way isn’t ordinary charity. It isn’t a handout. It isn’t a lifestyle. So what is it?
The church’s Provident Living site explains our program this way: “The aims of Church welfare are spiritual. Members and others are helped to help themselves, ensuring that the needy are able to maintain dignity and self-respect as they strive toward self-reliance and providing opportunity for all to give of themselves in work and service to others.
“The real long-term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church” (Albert E. Bowen, The Church Welfare Plan, 44).”
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.