“One of the greatest values … is the virtue of honest work,” wrote Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1995 to 2008.
That axiom is nowhere better exemplified than in the LDS Church’s welfare program, which has blessed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people – members and nonmembers alike – during times of need. That is why I was honored to author the resolution, which the Senate passed this past week, paying homage to this important and inspired program on its 75th anniversary.
Work has always been enshrined as a guiding principle in the lives of LDS church members. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, many church members were unable to find work. To help those who were struggling, without fostering idleness or a sense of entitlement, church leaders instituted the welfare program in 1936.
Then-President Heber J. Grant explained the purpose of the program was to “set up … a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of the dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people.”
Simply put, the church’s welfare system taught people to do all they could to help themselves before turning to others for a helping hand. Those who still needed assistance were given the opportunity to work and serve others for what they received so they could become self-reliant and maintain self-respect.
Times have changes since the program’s founding. Our nation has weathered economic busts, natural disasters and wars and scores of other calamities. And 12 U.S. presidents have come and gone. But the LDS Church’s welfare program has cared and carried on – with the same set of core principles.
Church members still fast for two consecutive meals each month and donate the money they would have spent on that food to the church’s welfare program. Furthermore, people still work and serve others, to the extent they are able, for whatever help they receive.
What has changed is that today’s welfare program does more and reaches more people than ever. The LDS Church now has 129 Bishops Storehouses throughout the world where people in need can go to receive free food, clothes, household items and other commodities. And Latter-Day Saints, regardless of whether or not they receive assistance, collectively donate countless hours volunteering at church canneries, farms and other facilities to provide the basics used to stock the storehouses.
There are also 300 employment resource centers across the globe at which volunteers help hundreds of thousands of people – many of whom are not Latter-day Saints – fine-tune their resumes and receive tips and training to help them find gainful employment. In addition, Deseret Industries, the LDS Church-run thrift stores, provide refugees and the disabled with jobs and hands-on training to help them move on to long-term and more lucrative employment. Moreover, LDS Family Services provides adoption services, support groups for addition recovery and counseling for those struggling with emotional, social and spiritual challenges.
Finally, Church Humanitarian Services was formed in 1985 to expand the welfare program around the world. Wherever there is a need, the church through its welfare program is prepared and ready to respond.
For example, the LDS Church donated $13 million in cash and 3,000 tons of emergency supplies in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. And thousands of Latter-day Saints provided more than 42,000 days of service to victims, regardless of their religious views or affiliation. Similar relief efforts have been initiated in response to disasters in many other parts of the world.
Little wonder so many dignitaries, including U.S. presidents, have lauded the LDS Church’s welfare program. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan said: “If, during the period of the Great Depression, every church had come forth with a welfare program founded on correct principles … we would not be in the difficulty in which we find ourselves today.”
As I look at our national debt driven by poorly organized and administered entitlement programs, I can’t help but realize Reagan’s words ring just as true today. The LDS welfare program belies the assumption that if the federal government does not tackle a problem, no one will. It is evidence of just how vital a role our nation’s churches and other charities play in providing for the well-being of Americans and the people of other nations.
At 75, the LDS welfare program is an inspirational example of how much a private organization can accomplish when its members give of their money, time and talents. I join with many others in saluting the church and its leaders and members for the success of this great program.