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Mormons and the poor

Published September 15, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A recent letter to the Tribune's Public Forum ("LDS liberals," Sept. 8) makes an argument I have heard often from my fellow LDS Church members who oppose government programs designed to help the poor.

The argument goes something like this: Although God, through His prophets, has commanded us to perform charitable works and care for the poor, this commandment is for individual, voluntary charity. Government programs rely on taxation, which is force, and therefore evil and part of Satan's plan.

This argument is usually espoused by people who are intelligent and of good faith, but apparently they haven't thought the argument through. It is used only as an argument against government poverty programs. One way to test the validity of an argument is to apply it to other instances and see how it holds up.

For example, one might say "I support the government fixing potholes in the street, but I shouldn't be forced to pay for it by taxation." Or, "I think we should have sufficient fire stations, but no one should be forced by taxation to pay for them."

The logical end of the argument is that each of us would fill out a form with our tax return every year, check the box next to programs we support and pay for only those. That's not how freedom is exercised in a republic. Rather, we each decide what kind of society we want to have. Then we should seek candidates who share our vision and support those candidates in the voting booth. That we may be taxed to pay for some programs we don't support is just a fact of democracy, not Satan's plan.

I recognize that I disagree with 84 percent of my brothers and sisters in the Mormon faith when I say this, but I don't see how it is possible to read the Book of Mormon, believe it is the word of God and support the Romney-Ryan tax and budget plan.

The Book of Mormon describes a society that was profoundly materialistic, where the worth of every individual was measured by the extent of his possessions. It was highly stratified, with clear differences between the rich and the poor. Only the rich had access to education (3 Nephi 6:12).

As a result of this obsession with obtaining wealth, the society turned its collective back on the poor. One Nephite prophet went so far as to say they "despised" the poor (2 Nephi 9:30). The reason they claimed for failing to help the poor was to say that it was a person's own fault if he was poor (Mosiah 4:17).

Every Nephite prophet from Jacob to Moroni warned against this insidious disease. Although it's true that some of the prophetic warnings were about individual charity, many of them are directed at all of the people, especially members of the church.

Surely some within the Nephite society were charitable in their individual lives, but the Book of Mormon prophets condemn all of the Nephites. Moroni, seeing forward in time, condemns all of us (Mormon 8:35-37). This implies that even the individually charitable are guilty if we are complicit in fostering or tolerating a society which does not care for its poor.

The real choice is not between voluntary charity or forced charity; it is whether we want to try to build a society where even the poor have access to adequate food, shelter, health care and education; or a society where only the well-off have these things.

Scott Daniels, a former judge and member of the Utah House of Representatives, practices law in Salt Lake City.