The story goes, in 1941 the Gila River overflowed and flooded Arizona’s Duncan Valley. A young Mormon stake president, Spencer W. Kimball, wired Salt Lake City asking for money to aid the disaster relief. Instead of money, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent men. Said then-church President Heber J. Grant: “This isn’t a program of ‘give me.’ This is a program of self-help.”
Years later, while serving as church president, Kimball noted, “It would have been an easy thing, I think, for the brethren to have sent us [the money], and it wouldn’t have been too hard to sit in my office and distribute it; but what a lot of good came to us as we had hundreds of [our own] go to Duncan and build fences and haul the hay and level the ground and do all the things that needed doing. That is self-help.”
Reflecting on Kimball’s experience, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, testified, “By following the Lord’s way, the members of President Kimball’s stake not only had their immediate needs met, but they also developed self-reliance, alleviated suffering, and grew in love and unity as they served each other.”
The above reflections on self-help, on charity, embrace what I believe when I urge charity and community engagement instead of expanding government programs like Medicaid. When government programs are created or expanded, it causes the role of individuals in a community to stagnate or contract. Good-hearted people are heard to say, “I pay taxes. I’ve done my part for the needy.”
Uchtdorf remarked in an October 2011 session of the church’s General Conference gathering, “The lesson we learn generation after generation is that rich and poor are all under the same sacred obligation to help their neighbor. It will take all of us working together to successfully apply the principles of welfare and self-reliance.”
Many of my Mormon friends know that I am Jewish, and (in addition to trying to convert me!) they’ve taught me much about the generosity that is the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s one of the features of the church I admire most. These teachings proclaim that when we choose to help someone of our own free will, we not only “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” our compassion opens ourselves to blessings from our Heavenly Father. However, when tax collectors force us to render aid, we are not giving of our own free will and therefore cannot receive His blessings.
Some of the most generous people I’ve ever met are people who have been helped through acts of charity. These givers feel a sense of gratitude they can’t get from government aid, and are moved by a sense of duty and obligation to help those who struggle as they have.
The decision to personally and directly care for the poor is a force multiplier that creates strong families and loving, everlasting communities. Our willingness to pursue that path reflects who we are as Idahoans and as Americans.