The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

Bishop Romney and Mormon welfare

The Daily Beast’s McKay Coppins penned a thoughtful column recently on why Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are the only two GOP presidential candidates to acknowledge climate change and evolution. In making his case, Coppins turned to past Mormon church teachings — and even quoted Bringham Young (who, in 1871, declared, “our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular…”)

Climate change and evolution are, of course, just two of the many hot-button issues modern leaders must confront. As such, I can’t help wondering if Mormon politicians are more likely to support other social policies, too.

Take, for example, the practice of Mormon welfare (this isn’t my term, the practice is literally called “welfare” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The practice is deeply ingrained in modern LDS theology. According to Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, H. David Burton, “… on April 6, 1936, that President Heber J. Grant and his counselors, J. Reuben Clark and David O. McKay, announced what would later become known as the welfare program of the Church.”

On the surface, the notion that private communities of faith — not the federal government — ought to fulfill such a mission, is well within the mainstream of conservative thought. “It is neighbor helping neighbor — not a faceless bureaucracy doling out entitlements,” says former Salt Lake County councilman Russell C. Skousen.”

Yet unless a Republican candidate has served as a pastor to a congregation, it would be hard to compare the background of most modern GOP politicians to Mitt Romney’s experience. To understand Mitt Romney (and because he’s the front runner, he warrants more attention that Huntsman), is to understand that for three years, he served as a Mormon bishop (similar to a pastor) while living in Belmont, Mass.

In this volunteer capacity, Romney oversaw all parishioners assigned to his geographical region, and one of his important responsibilities was to meet with congregants who were struggling financially, to determine how (or if) to help. Romney might, for example, decide the church would pay a family’s mortgage for six months — providing they found a job in three.

In short, it was Romney’s job to dispense Mormon welfare.

This was a heady job. As former bishop and stake president (presiding over several local congregations) Darren Richards recalls, “I have experienced the anguish of sitting with families in real distress [but] I have also experienced great joy in helping them sustain life by providing resources for food, shelter, medical care and other necessities.”

Despite Romney’s protestations that he would keep his faith separate from his politics, we are all (to one degree or another) a product of our experiences. As such, it’s probably fair to assume serving as a Mormon bishop for three years might well have impacted Romney’s worldview, with respect to providing aid. This makes Romney unique.

He was, by most a accounts, a good listener. And unlike most politicians, Romney clearly has real-life experience at looking struggling people in the eye, and making the kinds of tough decisions that few elected leaders ever make on such a personal level. It is a tremendous responsibility,” ex-bishop Grant Monson says of the position.

Of course, there is also a potential negative side. Liberals might recall that Bishop Romney visited a female congregant who was preparing for an abortion at a hospital and “forcefully counseled her against the procedure.”

It is entirely possible for religious politicians to be personally generous, yet staunchly frugal when it comes to dispensing taxpayer dollars. Still, some conservatives might conclude that this background of dispensing church welfare encourages a kind of “compassionate conservative” streak that went out of vogue after George W. Bush.

In paraphrasing LDS founder Joseph Smith, H. David Burton writes that bishops “can ‘fly to the relief of the stranger; … pour in oil and wine to the wounded heart of the distressed; … [and] dry up the tears of the orphan and make the widow’s heart to rejoice.’”

Could Romneycare have been an outgrowth of this worldview?

  • Dave

    Matt – I agree with many of the other comments – I’m not entirely clear where you’re headed with this piece. However, I think you should also highlight to a greater extent that the welfare system of the LDS church is anchored on at least two very important principles:

    1. Free will offering on the part of the giver - by fasting & foregoing their own meals, members contribute what they want, when they want to the funds of the Church.  As opposed to having said funds forcibly extracted by the state.

    2. Work & Service on the part of the recipient – those who receive assistance from the Church are often called to work or serve in some capacity to preserve dignity and render assistance to others.  Often this allows them to develop skills & experience useful in finding full-time employment.

    To the extent that Mitt Romney’s political views are informed by his experiences as a Mormon bishop, I would expect these two principles to be deeply embedded.  Further, these shouldn’t be in contradiction with any conservative or libertarian viewpoint (personal liberty and control of property, social support provided by non-government organizations, personal responsibility to work & be productive, etc.).   

  • http://twitter.com/blandinbasement Amanda

    Isn’t it a conservative approach to use private/religious entities to handle humanitarian/social issues???  There is no depth to this column.  Romneycare was a shift in burden from the taxpayer to the individual.  It’s not a welfare program.  This is so idiotic.

  • Anonymous

    Charitable giving is good and worthy effort to all charities who help the poor and is at the heart of the LDS church.  Their welfare program is responsible for emergency responsiveness around the world and leaders from all nations visit Welfare Square to learn how do it as efficiently as the Mormons.

    Nevertheless, Romney has made it clear that some services are best accomplished by the private sector and charity.  He would not more be interested in expanding the rolls of welfare as he would deficit spending.  Its laughable Matt Lewis would put that out there. 

    Mormons belief strongly in provident living and self-sufficiency.  I am sure the personal responsibility addressed in Massachusetts healthcare was more a reflection of Mitt Romney than the assistance to the poor in the same plan.

  • Ljohnson

    Not sure where exactly you are going with this.  As noted by a previous comment, the LDS church welfare program is funded entirely by LDS members “Fast Offerings”.  Many LDS members willingly skip two meals once a month and donate the funds they would have spent for those meals as “offerings” to the welfare program to help those in need.  It is not a free-loader program as those who receive assistance over an extended period are asked to volunteer their time working within the welfare system.  It’s designed as a hand up and not a hand out.  I’ve heard of Bishops who have denied assistance when the family or individual seeking assistance are not doing all they can to help themselves.  IE:  Can’t meet their all their bills but still maintain cell phones, cable, expensive cars, etc.

    If you would explain the entire welfare program in it’s entirety, your conclusion would be that Romney would lean more toward creating an environment for individuals to help themselves and encourage communities to fill in the gap with those that cannot do so themselves, as opposed to the big faceless feds.

    • Anonymous

      Indeed.  “Fast Offerings” are the model for how people should be willing to give and spread the wealth.  It’s simple to do and in volume creates an abundance of available money that can be used to benefit those who are less fortunate without bankrupting the giver.  Plus, the giver gets the “lite” version of what it feels like to be without food (if even for a couple of meals).

      The reasons this “privately funded” and “voluntary” sharing of the wealth bothers liberals are that it shows you can solve problems without government intervention and it puts control in the hands of the people, not the liberal elite.

    • Anonymous

      Indeed.  “Fast Offerings” are the model for how people should be willing to give and spread the wealth.  It’s simple to do and in volume creates an abundance of available money that can be used to benefit those who are less fortunate without bankrupting the giver.  Plus, the giver gets the “lite” version of what it feels like to be without food (if even for a couple of meals).

      The reasons this “privately funded” and “voluntary” sharing of the wealth bothers liberals are that it shows you can solve problems without government intervention and it puts control in the hands of the people, not the liberal elite.

  • Ogrepete

    A)  You’re categorizing Masscare/Romneycare as welfare?  If so,

    B)  How do you explain that people are required to have their own health insurance or lose their standard deduction on the Massachusetts income tax return?

  • http://twitter.com/ParisParamus Steven Rosenberg

    I don’t understand the premise of this piece.  You imply that Romney (and Huntsman) are predisposed to favoring a welfare state?  LDS “welfare” is private monies.  How does this bear on government social programs?  The issue isn’t social programs; it’s government, taxpayer-financed social programs.

  • Anonymous

    Are you saying that Churches shouldn’t help the poor and needy?  And anyone who may have helped someone in the past is ineligible to be President?  Is that really your message?  To be a Conservative means, not only governments but churches should not help the poor.

    This is a losing line of thought.

  • beej

    this is a stretch.

  • Anonymous

    The only problem is, the Christian church has a similar belief, and that never stopped anyone toting that Bible to follow that part of it either.