We’ve all heard the story. You know the one. A man is stranded inside his home during a massive flood, so he prays to God for help.
Moments later, a truck rolls up and the driver tells the man to hop in.
“No thanks!” the man yells, “I’ve been praying. God will save me!”
Before long, the flood reaches the second floor of the house, and a man in a boat rows by. Through a window, he offers to row the stranded man to safety. Again, the man refuses. The floodwaters continue to rise, filling his home to the brim, so the man climbs onto his roof. A helicopter flies overhead, and for the third time, the man is offered a rescue, but once again, he chooses to wait. And when God never comes, the man wails and laments his unanswered prayers as he is swallowed up by the flood.
A few weeks ago, when Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced a churchwide fast for relief from COVID-19, my husband referenced this story, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Mormons are a self-reliant people, and I remember the many Sunday school lessons in which we were instructed to take our medicine before asking God to relieve a headache. Oftentimes, we were told, God had already prepared the way.
If accounts are correct, the church is sitting on a “rainy day fund” (their words, not mine) upwards of $100 billion and countless empty churches. Yes, they have reported generous donations of $2.2 billion in humanitarian aid over the last 35 years. And, yes, they have made donations of masks and medical protective gear to some countries affected by COVID-19. But at what point does a stash of $100 billion become social responsibility on a grand scale? At what point do we agree it’s not just raining, but we’re battling a typhoon?
When Nelson announced that April conference would be special like never before, I expected an announcement of mass relief efforts. I’m no economist, nor am I a scientist or a politician, but I can fathom the incredible good that could be provided with a mere 5% of the rainy day fund. Half of it could help to heal the world. But instead, conference consisted of a Joseph Smith commemoration, discussion of the end of times and an announcement of another churchwide fast. I was flummoxed.
We cannot imagine what could be done with resources of this magnitude, but Bill and Melinda Gates can. They’ve already donated significant amounts to the development of drug treatments and vaccines. Consider the research that needs funding, the small businesses dying on the vine, and the lack of hazard pay for medical staff. In a crisis that is deeply affecting the world’s most vulnerable groups, particularly the poor, homeless shelters everywhere are already stretched well past thin. What about immigrant populations and refugees? What about the families already living in poverty so severe they could soon be homeless themselves?
And yet, even now, the church is asking members for 10%. I have seen directives from local clergies to continue paying tithing, reminding them that during the pandemic, members “need blessings more than ever” so they should continue to pay. With people everywhere desperate to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table, the church worth $100 billion is asking its members for more.
On Good Friday, at the request of President Nelson, church members will fast once again that the “present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.”
This, if realized, would be tantamount to a miracle, a desperate rescue from a roof in a flood. But maybe it’s time for the church to stop praying for a miracle. Maybe it’s time to be one.
Jamie Belnap, Heber City, is a high school counselor in Salt Lake City.