A non-LDS acquaintance who was seriously impacted by the recent Colorado fires called my attention, a couple of days ago, to Mormon efforts in the area, including the free distribution of clothing to people who had lost their homes. Today, I found a news article that mentioned some of those efforts. It reads, in part, as follows
“From what we’ve been told, all of these [seven LDS] families [who lost their homes] are insured, so they’ll have the means to rebuild,” [President Kevin C.] Woodward [of the Colorado Springs Colorado North Stake] said. “But that doesn’t meet the short-term need for housing, food, clothing and other necessities of life.”
Church resources and its organized response have provided necessities for not only affected Latter-day Saints, but also others in the community.
“The organization of the church allows us to respond very quickly to community needs,” Woodward said.
Members throughout the Colorado Springs area have opened their homes to families in need of temporary housing. And a huge clothing drive was sponsored by the LDS Church last Saturday to make clothing available to those in need.
“People were able to come and choose what they needed and were able to walk out of there with clothing that would work for them over the short-term,” Woodward said.
There are many similar stories. Here’s one, for example, from 3 June 2013, about LDS participation in relief efforts in the wake of the tornados that devastated Moore, Oklahoma. And a dedicated search would find scores, if not hundreds, more.
Some critics complain about such stories. (At least a few of these critics, I suspect, while faulting the Church for the way in which Latter-day Saints aid the needy, probably do little or nothing themselves along such lines. Secularists talk a good game, but repeated studies have demonstrated that, on the whole, they give far less in volunteer service and in charity, even to secular causes, than religious people do.) Did Jesus not advise us, they say, to
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:1-4)
Often, the game seems rigged. If we don’t talk about the good we’re doing, we’re accused of doing none. If, on the other hand, we mention it, we’re accused of boasting. The one invariable rule is that we deserve condemnation.
However cynically, though, such critics raise a legitimate issue.
Should the Church be silent about the good that it does? Should it even, perhaps, try to conceal its efforts?
I think not.
With the so-called “New Atheists” loudly proclaiming that (as the late Christopher Hitchens liked to formulate it) “religion poisons everything,” blaming all or virtually all wars and human evil on belief in God, I see no reason for religious people to be duct-taped into silence on this issue.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a message that it wants to take to the world. It fervently believes that its message is one of life and salvation, one that can make an enormous difference for good both now, in this world, and for all eternity in the world to come. It will, and should, use every legal and honorable method to bring that message to the attention of humanity. With that in mind, I have no doubt that, during disaster relief situations, the Church hopes to do well by doing good. After all, Jesus also said
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16).
The crucial difference, it seems to me, is whether an individual is seeking personal glory for himself, seeking to have others praise his benevolence, selflessness, and value to the community, or whether that individual is seeking to glorify God and to build God’s kingdom. We’re commanded to be self-effacing. But we’re certainly not commanded to be silent about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy. (Alma 29:9)
And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting. But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will nott boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever. Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice? Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell. Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work. Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. 25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us. . . . Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name. Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land. (Alma 26:10-16, 36)
Having briefly made a case in defense of its willingness to tell the world about some of the good that it does, I need to add that, especially as a former bishop, I can testify from personal experience that the Church also does a vast amount of good — certainly it tries to do so — even when there are no appreciative audiences, even without publicity. Silently. As a bishop, I saw this at first hand, and participated in it. People were helped with food, money for their rent, job placement, vocational training, clothing, medical care, mental health counseling, employment counseling, emergency housing — with not a single brass band in sight. And this goes on every week, worldwide, on a large scale and face to face with individuals. A friend with close personal ties to the highest leadership of the Church in the Philippines passed on the comment from his contact there to the effect that, if members of the Church in the United States had any idea at all of what the Church did there during last year’s devastating floods, we would be enormously proud. And I can say that, from what I hear through various channels, about humanitarian aid and measles vaccinations and the drilling of water wells and literacy programs and wheelchair distribution and training in neonatal resuscitation and donated medical devices and many other things, I already am. It’s deeply gratifying to belong to an organization that does so much good. I want the world to know about it.
(And, by the way, those signature yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vests are for visibility, but that visibility isn’t only about religious propaganda. The members of the Black Forest Fire Department, shown in the first photograph above, are also wearing yellow, and I’m guessing that few if any of them are Latter-day Saints.)