What is wrong with a free handout?

President Eyring gave a talk on Saturday during this past conference about fast offerings.

th.jpgI 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.

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  • Jacob S
    commented 2015-04-14 19:18:33 -0700
    If I may, I would like to respond to this article. To avoid straying from the doctrine of the Church, the bulk of my response will be quotes from General Conference & Official Church publications.

    I have two points in which I disagree with this post;

    1. The Church’s welfare program (Fast Offerings) is not set up as a free handout. It is set up to help members become self-reliant.

    In speaking about the Church’s relief effort after Tytphoon Haiyan, Bishop Dean M. Davies said this;
    “Modest resources were provided to help Church members rebuild their wood-frame shelters and homes. This was not just a free handout. Members received training and performed the needed labor for themselves and then for others.” (The Law of the Fast: Oct 2014) (Italics added)

    And from the Church Handbook;
    “Self-reliance is the ability, commitment, and effort to provide the spiritual and temporal necessities of life for self and family. As members become self-reliant, they are also better able to serve and care for others.”

    “Church members are responsible for their own spiritual and temporal well-being. Blessed with the gift of agency, they have the privilege and duty to set their own course, solve their own problems, and strive to become self-reliant. Members do this under the inspiration of the Lord and with the labor of their own hands.”

    “When Church members are doing all they can to provide for themselves but cannot meet their basic needs, generally they should first turn to their families for help. When this is not sufficient or feasible, the Church stands ready to help.” (Handbook 2: 6.1.1)

    Many Church leaders have spoken about welfare in the Church, and in Government. President Benson was one of the most outspoken on this topic. However, as many people dismiss what he taught as “his opinion” I will quote others. (For more on this, I recomend reading here)

    If you search “evil of dole” on LDS.org you will find dozens of references to this quote;
    “Our primary purpose was to set up … a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership” (Handbook 2: 6.1)

    Free handouts hurt individuals, families, and communities, not help.
    “Even with the universally accepted desire to help the poor and needy, the Lord concurs in our goal but warns, ‘But it must needs be done in mine own way’ (D&C 104:16). Otherwise, in our efforts to help, we may actually hurt them. The Lord has taught us the need to promote self-reliance. Even if we are able to help, we should not give or provide what they can and should do for themselves. Everywhere it is tried, the world learns the evils of the dole. Truly God knows best.” (The Lord’s Way Stanley G. Ellis. Apr 2013)

    Elder Marion G. Romney said this;
    “A few years ago I read a lengthy book dealing with the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. That fall, in large measure, was due to the purchasing of votes with unearned benefits, such as entertainment, circuses, and food. The government’s actions built up in the people an expectation and demand which eventually could be kept down only by the establishment of a dictatorship. Many of our members live in countries where this history has repeated itself. In the United States, our treasured American work ethic is waning and the purchasing of votes with unearned benefits is dangerously common.”

    “One of the most demeaning things a government can do is to teach people that the government owes them a living.”

    “By contrast, ever since the Church was organized, it has encouraged its members to maintain their own economic independence and to work for what they get, to produce that which they consume…”

    “Church welfare principles have always been with us. Although President Grant’s statement came in 1936, you will note he said that ‘independence, industry, thrift, and self-respect [should] be once more established.’ Also note that he said work should be re-enthroned, not enthroned. If time permitted, we could begin when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and found the earth cursed for their sake. (See Gen. 3:17.) We could trace these principles through biblical and Book of Mormon times.” (Work and Welfare: A Historical Perspective. Apr 1982)

    One more by Harold B. Lee, who was quoting Brigham Young;
    “My experience has taught me, and it has become a principle with me, that it is never any benefit to give, out and out, to man or woman, money, food, clothing, or anything else, if they are able-bodied, and can work and earn what they need, where there is anything on the earth, for them to do. This is my principle, and I try to act upon it. To pursue a contrary course would ruin any community in the world and make them idlers.” (Discourses of Brigham Young [Deseret Book Co., 1943], p. 274.) (Teach the Gospel of Salvation. Oct 1972)

    2. I feel that the argument of “earning” forgiveness, or exaltation, is mis-leading. Again I will quote from General Conference.

    James E. Faust gave a beautiful talk on The Atonement of the Savior;
    “My beloved brothers and sisters and friends, I come humbly to this pulpit this morning because I wish to speak about the greatest event in all history. That singular event was the incomparable Atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. This was the most transcendent act that has ever taken place, yet it is the most difficult to understand. My reason for wanting to learn all I can about the Atonement is partly selfish: Our salvation depends on believing in and accepting the Atonement. Such acceptance requires a continual effort to understand it more fully. The Atonement advances our mortal course of learning by making it possible for our natures to become perfect. All of us have sinned and need to repent to fully pay our part of the debt. When we sincerely repent, the Savior’s magnificent Atonement pays the rest of that debt.” (The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope. Oct 2001)

    While it is true that we can not “earn” our way into heaven, please remember this;
    “…I am profoundly grateful for the principle of saving grace. Many people think they need only confess that Jesus is the Christ and then they are saved by grace alone. We cannot be saved by grace alone, ‘for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’” (The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope. Oct 2001)
  • Marcy Swan
    followed this page 2015-04-11 14:20:47 -0700

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