A Book of Mormon Verse Endorsing Welfare

I’ve been reading some Grant Hardy lately.  His book Understanding the Book of Mormon is excellent, so far.  I’ve also noticed some articles he’s written for Meridian Magazine recently.  Meridian is a very conservative site, and Hardy seems to lean more to the left, but his work fits in there surprisingly well. 

One article in particular piqued my interest.  In “The Book of Mormon and Social Justice,” Hardy discussed our primary text’s take on a then-controversial buzz term.  His analysis, like most explications of scriptural statements about public obligations from a liberal perspective, takes teachings about charity for individuals and church organizations and applies them to secular governments, which may or may not be warranted.  I’ve long wondered if anyone would ever find their holy grail here: a convincing scriptural story where a righteous civic leader institutes something akin to modern welfare. 

Hardy did it.  Though everything else in his article–which does make the valid point that all disciples need to be more generous and involved with those who have less–sits solidly in that murky private/public charity gray area, he does cite one Book of Mormon verse that undeniably makes his case, Mosiah 21:17:

Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain.

I can’t argue this away.  Here, a righteous leader in a civil office orders a redistribution of wealth for the relief of a suffering population. 

This is not, however, a carte blanche for social engineering, public works, or any possible program that would, ostensibly, “help people.”  Notice that this was a new program with a limited, specific goal, not an ongoing way of life which would endure endlessly.  Indeed, soon after the program is put in place, this group migrates to a richer, more friendly environment (Mosiah 22), where it’s uncertain if this program was necessary, modified, discontinued, or kept in place, as we don’t know if the widows were able to remarry or be supported by any other relatives, or what. 

Also, this welfare was instituted during a time of crisis–they were a religious minority made to suffer in an unfriendly land (perhaps we could draw some pioneer parallels here)–not to pander to the demands of a group, or to enfranchise or give entitlements to anyone, but only to sustain the lives of widows and orphans, who were clearly left without support because of a huge loss in battle (Mosiah 21:7-10). 

So what we have here is a presumably temporary program solely meant to provide food for war widows and their children. 

I think we could all get behind that. 

Isn’t the Church’s welfare program a great model, here?  Like what this verse describes, it’s limited in scope, defined in results, and ideally temporary in duration.  I think here of President Clinton’s restructuring of welfare with “workfare” reforms, as reviewed in liberal journalist David Shipler’s well-written but flawed The Working Poor.  Nobody wants waste, abuse, or infantalization from such programs, and I think that’s some common ground we could build from.  I think those focused values underlie not only the Church’s current welfare programs, but the one King Limhi instituted in Mosiah 21:17.

None of this is meant to gainsay Hardy’s main point, though, which, as I said, is undeniably sound.  Though we may quibble about its exact application today, there is a scriptural precedent for government redistribution of wealth to the needy.  Period.  Bravo, Brother Hardy. 



2 comments on “A Book of Mormon Verse Endorsing Welfare

  1. I would say that Hardy’s quote in Mosiah 21 does not concern the Church, but Civil Society.

    In the same way, everybody was welcome to Zion in Missouri, if they were willing to consecrate. I don’t know why we should live in a society, where only the rich can get educated, where single parents (whatever reason for their being single, rermember Msh ch. 4) have to work two or three minimum-wage jobs to keep herself and kids under a roof and put even some food on the table, where those, who are just plain unemployed can only become hobos like so many migrant laborers, farmers, and factory workers.

    I have always read D&C 49:20:

    But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

    as a warning to society, not just Church. Remember, the Saints were going to build a Zion, where everyone was welcome, if they were willing to live the Law of Consecration.

    The exploding income disparity can knock the basic pillars of civil society–if you can call a society, where a quarter of low-wage workers earn less than minimum wage, let alone without health care benefits, a civil society. One of the hallmarks of a civilized society is, that there are certain minimum ‘welfare’ level, where you know that the disabled, the chronically unemployed and single parents aren’t starving because of a lack of a certain level of security. It doesn’t need to be high, rememeber.

    Remember also, that Reagan was an ex-Union leader, and although he used the fictional ‘welfare queen’ and ‘small government’ in his campaign to attract the ‘base’? Reagan defended the right of workers to unionize, because otherwise they’re too weak to negotiate with their employees. The blunders like UAW who practically strangled their employer to death, are a ‘statistical freak’. Besides, I doubt if GM would’ve gone along with everything, had they not been sure that as one of the largest employers in the country, they’d be bailed out.

    The anger about bailouts is the one that I understand best about the right-wingers. They are corporate welfare, which is a LOT bigger drain on Federal and State budgets. And the banks; what actually happened is, that they run their ship aground, and got rewarded for it by the government (GWB, NOT BHO). So their losses where socialized, while they got their bonuses etc. Their profits never get socialized. The banks should’ve bee allowed to fall.

  2. Hey, Velska, remember that one time you left a long, rambling rant as a reply to a post here, and it was only barely related to the original post in the first place? You know, that one time? :)

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