President Eyring gave a talk on Saturday during this past conference about fast offerings.
I thoroughly enjoy his insight. His talk reminded me of a couple weeks a go when a young adult spoke in church about fast offerings. It was a well prepared and well delivered talk. It was enlightening and up lifting. But there was a small part of her missionary-like explanation of the details and logistics of fast offerings that I had a hard time with. When talking about fast offerings and what the church does with the money donated she said that we give it to those in need. Immediately following that she made it a big point to include the qualification that it is not a "free handout", rather it is an "investment".
What is wrong with a free handout? Why are we as Americans so focused on not offending the conservative ideal of earning things for ourselves and not ever having a "free lunch"? The whole pure essence of giving charitable donations is that it is a free handout. It is something we are giving to someone else without a hope, expectation, or desire for repayment. If charity is something we give while hoping that the receiver will use it the way we want them to, then it is not charity. The type of gift that is given with conditions does not qualify as true charity. Why is giving freely looked upon as such a terrible thing when that is a huge portion of Christ's actions and teachings while on earth? By making the intentional allusion to business and the capitalist ideal of good investments we are losing the point of the "love" or "charity" that is involved in fast offerings. The stigma of a "free handout" has eclipsed the deeply personal experience of giving with a heart full of love.
Along with the discussion of investments and free handouts we often use terms like “deserve” and “earn” in an attempt to express our assessment of others’ worthiness. What is the difference between earning and deserving? In relation to the atonement and our ability to be clean and enter the celestial kingdom, we have definitely not, nor will we ever be able to say we actually “earned” our newly cleaned state. (There could even be an argument made that we will never even deserve repentance but will be forgiven anyway.) When Christ applied the consequence of all our sins to Himself and bore the burden of them all, He had already earned His own exaltation. He had already lived a perfect life, kept all the commandments and was the epitome of deserving to live in the celestial kingdom. He had no sin to suffer for but voluntarily chose to suffer for each and every one of ours.
That same principle is applied in many other teachings of the church. For example, when we fast we are not working toward "earning" or "deserving" exaltation in the traditional sense because it's not a part of the repentance process. But this commandment can easily be thought of as a way to lead our thoughts to the sacrifice and death of Christ, just as all commandments should. So if we consider our fast offerings as a way in which we are sacrificing something we have "earned" for someone else – not eating so we can give to those who don’t have anything to eat – we are giving to someone who has not "earned" what we are giving them.
This use of the word "earn" is used in a more modern sense of capitalistic monetary value that can be earned through labor. It can be applied by analogy to how we “earn” salvation by keeping all the commandments. Since we obviously cannot keep all the commandments perfectly and in reality can never earn salvation, there are times, essentially our entire lives, that we depend on the charitable gift of the atonement in order to repent. Somehow through the miracle of repentance we can live as if we did keep the commandments without having actually done so. Thus we can see the symbolism in our fast offerings where others can live for a moment as if they were able to earn the meal when they were not actually able to. But they very do much deserve it.
When we tell ourselves that our fast offerings are not a "free handout" we are removing the intentional symbolism of the atonement and the law of sacrifice that is demonstrated through fast offerings. We are acting in a way to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice when we sacrifice something we “earned” to give to someone who didn't. We can never earn back our exaltation from Christ who suffered the atonement to provide that chance to us. By requiring others to earn our charity we are ignoring and in fact denying the reality of the sacrifice of our savior in our own lives.