Last Christmas instead of the usual ward Christmas party with the turkey dinner and Santa Claus, my ward decided to do "An Evening in Bethlehem". We were asked to dress up as if we lived back then and for those of us who didn't (me included), they had scarves and lengths of fabric at the front door.
Each family was given 10 pieces of silver (pennies wrapped up in aluminum foil) by the government and led into the gym to Bethlehem. Several booths were set up selling food and other items. We were told that we would have to pay a tax on the money given but we were free to spend our money. I can't remember what the tax was but in the end, due to haggling and shop keepers who were willing to give family deals we were all sufficiently fed. In fact the food was good.
It was one of the few times in the ward when I felt equal to the other people.
There were no poor and starving among us.
Yet, there were people who had more, because they had the businesses that sold the food.
Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?
I have read many blogs by conservative LDS. Mostly, they are terrified that if the government offers things like health care, housing, and feeding the poor, that they themselves will become the poor. They equate socialism with communism. They believe that if we give to the poor the poor will not do anything. They see a collapse in economics and the death of the American dream. They see a society of slavery.
It leaves me scratching my head. Passages in the Book of Mormon condemn this attitude.
"And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained many more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they." Jacob 2:13
Isn't that what we do when we frown on those who are in welfare programs? When we fight against those who want to set up social programs to help the poor? When we put ourselves above those who are homeless or jobless.
"If you give to people they won't work for themselves." It's an argument I've seen over and over.
Sure, there will be some who won't work. But just because there are some who won't work doesn't mean that there will be none who will work. You might as well say "because some people won't help themselves then I won't help anyone." Isn't that being lifted up in the pride of your heart and supposing that you are better than they?
Everyone deserves basic food, shelter, adequate clothing, healthcare and education. Here's the thing. Most people want more than the basics and most people are willing to work for it but many people are not given the opportunity to work. Most people do not want to sit around doing nothing. Most people have hopes and dreams and want to contribute to society.
Obtaining a job is a two sided process. One you have control over and one you don't. You can apply for the jobs and show up for the interviews, but it's the other people who decide if you get the job or even the interview. There's always someone else who is more qualified, more educated, more experienced, has the connections or simply looks better. When there's one position and several vying for it, only one person wins. It's a game played with other competitors that you don't know and you play it completely in the dark.
On top of it, if you're homeless, then forget it. You don't have the clothes, the transportation, the bank account or even an address. You might not even be able to take a shower.
Some claim that people should just give without government intervention and that the government should be kept out of charity. Agreed. People should give from their own hearts, and decide where the money goes and how much to give. But how is that working out? If it's working then the only homeless and hungry would be those who choose to be, which isn't the case. We still have the poor among us because there just isn't enough people helping. So is the answer to do nothing?
"There's homeless shelters."
Homeless shelters have their limitations. They also have desperate people stealing from each other. From what I've heard they are scary places. They fill up at night and then everyone has to pack up and leave early in the morning to face the cold. They are not a home. Doesn't everyone deserve to have a place to call home? A safe place?
"I'm a self-made man. I did it all on my own. If I can do it anyone can."
Hogwash. No one gets anywhere alone. Someone helped you along the way. Parents, a school system, a mentor, the customer that buys your goods, the bank that loaned you the money, the teachers that educated you, etc. NO ONE entirely makes it on their own. Those that haven't often have not had the same breaks or opportunities. Some don't have the skills to become the greatest sales person in the world or the one who created Facebook. Not everyone can be a Bill Gates or a Donald Trump.
"Those that are homeless or poor must be doing something wrong or God would bless them."
Try telling that to Job. He's in the bible. It seems that the poor are among us not because they have done anything wrong, but as a test for the rest of us. There is no condemnation of the poor in the scriptures.
Look, I'm not saying that anyone should feel guilty about their nice home or their two cars, or their boat or the family vacation to Europe. I'm not against the rich. I'd like to be one. And I don't think that taking from the middle class or the upper middle class is good for the economy. Keeping money circulating is important and that can't happen by creating more poor in order to feed the poor.
But there's some crazy statistic that says that two percent of the rich control ninety-nine percent of the money.
Does that sound fair? Couldn't those rich contribute more and still keep their mansions and yachts and designer clothes because really how many private jets do you need? Some rich make it sound as if they give huge amounts of money, but if the list of Oprah's contributions are true, although the numbers sound big, they don't even add up to ten percent of her income, a basic number that should apply to everyone and should be more for those who can give more.
Does a rich man really work harder than the single mom with two jobs? She actually puts sweat equity into the money she earns. He may too but he also has other people earning him money, his businesses earning him money and his money earning him money. He doesn't have to put in nearly the amount of effort that she does.
Speaking of single moms, why is it that if a woman is married, then staying home with the children is a noble thing to do. She is contributing to society by raising the next generation. But if she gets divorced, she is expected to go to work, sometimes flipping burgers while someone else raises her children. If she stays home with her kids, she is no longer contributing to society but now she's a parasite, a blight on society. So if you have a husband you're worth something, if you don't then you're not?
So what's the answer? How about actually taxing the rich instead of giving them all the loopholes and giving the money received from the taxes to the poor.
But even more important, how about a switch in attitudes. Not every homeless person is an addict or crazy. If you lose your job you can lose your house. If you don't have money you can't rent. Unless you have a really good savings account, anyone can become homeless.
Let's stop looking down on the unemployed. Not everyone chooses to be unemployed. You can do all the right things and still not get the job.
Let's give a pass to single moms. At least until the youngest child is able to stay at home alone after school. Staying at home to raise kids is an important job.
Let's set up a system where those who are unemployed can count volunteer work as employment. If they can't find someone to pay them to do a job, then what's wrong with volunteering and getting some experience? They are still working, so does it matter if their checks come from the government?
Let's not assume that the poor are lazy or drug addicts. There are those that advocate drug testing people on welfare because if they're on welfare then they must have a drug habit. Not many can afford a drug habit while on welfare. Most are scrambling to pay the rent and have some left over for food.
Health care should be available to everyone. Why should a family lose everything because someone gets sick? Why should someone die because they can't afford a doctor?
The homeless and the poor can do little to contribute to the economy. People with money to buy food can. Doesn't that make economic sense?
Poverty does not give people incentive. Often poverty can lead to depression and hopelessness. Constant rejection does not give people the skills to rise above their circumstances. It can do the opposite.
There was once a man who although he had marketable skills, chose instead to live among the poor. People took him in and fed him, clothed him and washed him. He even encouraged a few of his friends to abandon their work and live like him, relying on others to provide. In return he gave much more than he was given. His name was Jesus.