Does the Church boast, unscripturally, about the humanitarian good that it does?

Does the Church boast, unscripturally, about the humanitarian good that it does? May 31, 2015


Friedrich der Grosse
Frederick the Great as crown prince (ca. 1739)


A vocal number of angry secularist ex-Mormons like to complain online about humanitarian aid given out by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


It’s not enough, they say.


I’ll leave aside the likelihood that they themselves give little or nothing, because I can’t know in any individual case what they do.  But study after study indicates that religious people typically give far more to charity, and far more service, than do secularists.  And religious people still donate more time, labor, and money even if their specifically religious contributions are factored out.  (Moreover, for what it’s worth, the Mormon strongholds of Utah and Idaho rank first and second, respectively, in donated service.  That’s unlikely to be coincidental.)


But the complainers aren’t finished.  Not by a long shot.  Organizations such as the Red Cross give far higher percentages of their budgets to humanitarian aid than does the Church, they say.


Which may well be true.  For the obvious reason that organizations such as the Red Cross were founded to do only humanitarian work, whereas the Church was established to build and maintain chapels and temples and universities and and seminaries and institutes and proselytizing programs and youth camps and genealogical research facilities, and so forth, along with humanitarian work.


But the Church, they say, boasts about its humanitarian efforts.  It should keep those efforts secret.  (Imagine their complaints if we did keep all of our efforts secret — as, in fact, most of our efforts are kept quiet.  The Church does nothing, they would then say.)


Some of them love to quote this passage, from the very teachings of Jesus that most of them otherwise reject:


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)


It’s a handy weapon, I suppose.


But they seem to have forgotten this passage, also from Matthew, just a few verses earlier:


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)


How to reconcile the two passages?


I think the point is that our goodness, if we can muster it, ought not to be a matter of personal boasting, nor of seeking status in the eyes of mortal humans, but should, rather, serve as a means of drawing attention to God, his Kingdom, and his Gospel.  People looking on should be motivated to say, “I want to be a part of that,” not “My, my, that Max Mustermann is a remarkably admirable fellow.”


And that, I think, is how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is trying to act.  It’s thoroughly scriptural.


But the more sneering and disagreeable critics will do what they will do.  And, curiously, they seem to enjoy it.


As Friedrich the Great of Prussia famously said, Jeder wird nach seiner Façon selig werden.  “Everyone will be saved in his own way.”  Or, in a perhaps more appropriate translation for this context, “Everybody will be made happy after his own fashion.”


We get to choose.  Whatever floats their boat.


Posted from Berlin, Germany



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