Is an “entitlement mentality” a sign of evil in our nation?

The recent politically-charged stake conference address in Sandy, combined with the Medicaid expansion debate on Utah’s Capitol Hill, has re-ignited the following debate: Is an “entitlement mentality” a sign of evil in our nation?

Let me be clear: I would like nothing better than to live in a society where hard working young family fathers and struggling single mothers had the ability to provide for their families, without help from the government. We actually used to be closer to that ideal than we are now. When I was a young teenager back in the late sixties and early seventies, all the families I knew, even those whose fathers had humble occupations, were able to provide at least a modest home and the basic needs for their families, including health care.

Thanks to collective decisions we have made in our democracy, two things have changed since then. We have created a health care delivery system so expensive that no family can afford health care on their own. If your employer or the government doesn’t provide basic health insurance, it’s simply too expensive for any but the most wealthy to afford. The other change we’ve created is an economic system that has resulted in the largest disparity between the rich and the poor than any other developed nation on earth. Related to this, and supported by multiple international studies, is the fact that poor children in the United States have the lowest chance of improving their lot in life than any other developed country.

There will always be a tiny minority of people in any society who fit the description of “takers”. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about good, hardworking people who can’t provide for their families – especially when it comes to basic health care - no matter how hard they try. The cost is simply out of reach.

We, as a democratic society, have collectively created the society that produces suffering among good people whose only sin is not having an employer willing to pay for basic health care, and where hard working folks not blessed by God with the skills to be an investment banker can’t earn enough to provide for their families. We, as a democratic society, need to collectively step up to the plate and give those hard working people a hand up (not a handout) to achieve self-sufficiency. That’s what the Church teaches, and based on my training as a new bishop several years ago, the Church thinks it’s okay to make wise use of government programs to accomplish this. We also must fix the broken system we have all created and are all responsible for. Although not perfect, the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act is a good place to start.

Brigham Young once said, “I have seen many cases… where the young lady would have to take her clothing on a Saturday night and wash it, in order that she might go to meeting on the Sunday with a clean dress on. Who is she laboring for? For those who, many of them, are living in luxury. And, to serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, the laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life in them. Is this equality? No! What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.”

Do we have a problem with an “entitlement mentality” among the Latter-day Saints? I believe we do. The really evil entitlement mentality in our midst exists with those who have been deluded into believing that they are entitled to complete enjoyment of all the material goods they have acquired through the talents and privileges the good Lord has given them, their “gold, silver, silks and fine-twined linens”, without feeling the need to take any thought toward the poor other than to toss a twenty dollar bill to the bishop every Fast Sunday.

Now that would make an appropriate subject for a stake conference talk.

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