This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
I’ve been out of town the last couple weeks, so I’ve missed the past two sessions. From the looks of it, I missed an excellent one last week. This week’s session yielded some great insights and few…well, we’ll get to that.
Marion G. Romney discussed how the “Church welfare is an approach to the law of consecration—the Lord’s perfect economic program.” He notes, “In light of these teachings [from the scriptures] it seems to me that every Church member, and particularly every priesthood bearer who wishes peace and joy here and eternal life hereafter, would give bounteously of his sustenance to the poor.” Yet, he made this important point: “The basis of God’s perfect economic program is labor.”1 Why? Because “[t]he dignity and self-respect of the receiver must be preserved.” This attitude toward work is something I touch on in my article for BYU Studies Quarterly:
In their book Wellbeing, Gallup researchers Tom Rath and Jim Harter point to evidence that shows, given a few years, people recover from tragic events (like the death of a spouse) to the same level of well-being prior to the tragedy. “But this was not the case for those who were unemployed for a prolonged period of time—particularly not for men. Our wellbeing actually recovers more rapidly from the death of a spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment.” Based on data from the General Social Survey, economist Arthur Brooks also found that one of the key elements for achieving happiness and self-fulﬁllment is work. This is due to its connection to what Brooks calls “earned success”: the ability to create value in our lives and in the lives of others (pg. 173).
Unfortunately, Romney attempts to use the cursing of the ground following Adam’s disobedience to make his point:
[Adam’s] was not a vindictive decree. The Lord was not retaliating against Adam. He was simply placing Adam in a situation where he would have to work to live. The ground was cursed in the manner prescribed for Adam’s sake, not to his disadvantage. Had Adam and his posterity been able to live without working, the human race would never have survived. Idleness is pernicious.
The problem is that’s not what the phrase means. As the NET Bible Commentary explains, “The Hebrew phrase בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ (ba’avurekha) [“for your sake”] is more literally translated “on your account” or “because of you.”” For example, the NRSV translates it “because of you.” This is not done for Adam’s benefit, but is done because of his transgression. While I dig Romney’s point, his exegesis here is flawed. Nonetheless, it reminds of me this quote from Elder Christofferson a few years back:
By work we sustain and enrich life. It enables us to survive the disappointments and tragedies of the mortal experience. Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.
Moving along, Elder Featherstone offered bishops some practical financial advise when it came to the welfare system:
Brethren, that is a great principle in welfare. Our home food bill is no more than it was six months ago or a year ago. We had to change the mix. We feel, bishops, you might well change the mix on those who are eating out of your bishops storehouse. When potatoes are $1.69 for ten pounds, let’s switch to rice. When meat is as high as it is, let’s not do as one bishop did, continue to give one family 67 pounds of beef each month. I don’t know that there are too many families here that are eating 67 pounds of beef each month. Those Saints receiving commodities through the bishops storehouse should not be receiving more than you are using in your homes. I hope this is a principle that we will remember and use very wisely…We are trying to spend the Lord’s sacred funds in the best possible way.
I don’t have much to say about this. I just thought it was an interesting topic to be addressed in General Conference. Church leadership isn’t just about abstract concepts and otherwordly concerns. It’s about the here-and-now. It’s about costs and benefits. It’s–in many cases–about economics. In other words, respond to with enlightened self-interest to the price system as any other consumer would.
N. Eldon Tanner talked about everyone’s favorite topic: obedience. “Obedience is the first law of heaven,” he says, “and it is obedience to the laws of God that I should like to talk about particularly, because these laws affect not only our happiness and well-being here upon the earth, but are essential to our eternal life.” I’ve mentioned multiple times the connection of the commandments to happiness and well-being and I’m always glad to see it discussed in General Conference. Some of his other comments cover familiar ground regarding self-discipline (which could be ultimately seen as the shaping of habits):
Self-discipline is the basis of our success. Man has been given a mind to think, to ponder, and to understand and decide what he wants to do and whether or not the sacrifice and discipline is worth it; and, in the Church, whether or not he can stand the ridicule and pressure of those with whom he associates. You have been called. You have been given the priesthood. You have been given the gospel. You are an example to the world. Be a good one. The measure of our success depends on our decision, our determination, discipline, and dependability.
Finally, President Lee urges the men the to take marriage more seriously. He states,
[Marriage] has lost its sanctity in the eyes of the great majority. It is at best a civil contract, but more than often an accident, or a whim, or a means of gratifying the passions; and when the sacredness of the covenant is ignored or lost sight of, then a disregard of the marriage vows under the present moral training of the masses is a mere triviality, a trifling indiscretion.
I think there is ample evidence to support President Lee’s claims. However, I’m always bummed when concerns I share are undermined by terrible advice. For example:
Teach those [married couples] who are having problems to go to the father of the ward, their bishop, for counsel. No psychiatrist in the world, no marriage counselor, can give to those who are faithful members of the Church the counsel from one any better than the bishop of the ward. Now, you bishops don’t hesitate to say, marriage is the law of God, and is ordained by him and man and wife are not without each other in the Lord, as the apostle Paul declared.
Um, no. This is why so many in the Church go to the bishop instead of a professional and never receive the counsel and tools they actually need. Thankfully, we’re seeing more and more bishops outsource these problems to professionals with the help of Church funds when necessary. A bishop can be useful, but authority and occasional inspiration doesn’t make you a therapist. We will likely do more harm than good if we encourage struggling couples to seek unlicensed and unprofessional help.
All in all, a mixed bag of a session. But when we look at the topics–work, finances, discipline, marriage–we see that the gospel is about everyday life. Let’s not forget that.