Church and State welfare

One subject that has been debated recently is whether the Church is for or against welfare aid by the government. The introduction of the Church Welfare System in the 1930's has been described as a reaction to New Deal programs that the Church opposed.

It is a historical fact that President Heber J. Grant wasn't all that keen on the New Deal. But it's important to remember Church leaders were much more outspoken in those days about political issues, and weren't as careful as our current General Authorities on separating their religious from their political views. And the members understood this; President Grant didn't like the New Deal, but Utah farmers sure did, and my grandpa Olsen was both a lifetime devout Mormon and a die-hard New Deal Democrat who was fond of saying he'd vote for the devil if he was a Democrat. President Grant also campaigned against the repeal of Prohibition, and as you know, Utah was the deciding state that passed the repeal amendment.

Here's an interesting example: I have a cherished copy of the official General Conference Report of the October 1919 Conference, where sermon after sermon extolled President Wilson's League of Nation's program - and Elder Reed Smoot, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and a Republican Senator opposed to the League of Nations, was basically dis-invited to speak at that conference! He's nowhere on the program. (President Grant was a Democrat in those days, and openly stated so in that conference.)

Critics who keep claiming the Church secretly opposes government aid to the poor are sounding extremely provincial these days. Mormons from the Intermountain West are now a tiny minority of total Church membership, and our religion is thriving under many forms of government. Even back in the Seventies, I remember a Relief Society president on my mission from Sweden who was an ardent Socialist, and there was no effort to take away her temple recommend. For heavens' sake, we have a loyal German citizen serving in the First Presidency! Hurt feelings by members in European countries was one of the main reasons the Brethren were directed to stop talking about politics in the Sixties.

Bottom line: I think it's disrespectful to call the Church's inspired Welfare program a "reaction". It was an inspired revelation, and we can see from what happened since then that common sense New Deal programs like Social Security have blessed the lives of the Latter-day Saints, complementing the work done by the Church Welfare System. As a bishop, my training included instructions for helping those in need to access government programs they qualified for, to help them get back on their feet. The direction of modern Church authorities in regards to accessing help for the poor is more relevant that what President Grant's personal political views were back in the mid thirties.

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