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Should Mormons Give Money to Panhandlers?

Should Mormons Give Money to Panhandlers?

Yes. The answer is: Yes.

LDS Living Magazine recently asked the question “Should Mormons Give Money to Panhandlers?”

Instead of addressing the question, the two LDS Living authors grapple with their own issues of middle-class privilege and guilt.

Why make this a Mormon question at all? It doesn’t have to be and it isn’t really. However, Mormon scripture, specifically the Book of Mormon, speaks directly to this issue.

As a result, Mormons seem to spend a lot of energy justifying their own discomfort with the panhandler.beggar-cup

King Benjamin is a Book of Mormon prophet who lived roughly 100 B.C. He delivers a grand oration which covers a number of doctrinal topics. It can be found in the first five chapters of the book of Mosiah.

While LDS Living makes passing reference to King Benjamin, the authors clearly have not taken a closer look in quite sometime. And if they have, their articles represent little more than justification for ignoring those very teachings.

My family and I came across the passage from King Benjamin last night during our family scripture study which states “…ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” (Mosiah 4:16)

Plain and simple.

The two verses that follow that one are devastating:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God (Mosiah 4:17-18).

King Benjamin is clear in his condemnation of those that judge the beggar. Yet, it comes so easily to us. As is the case of Jannalee Rosner in LDS Living. In her words:

Whenever I’m approached by someone asking for money, I feel like I am hardening my heart to those in need. But my practical head knows I can’t financially support myself and three people on the street, especially when those people may or may not be honestly in need. What’s a girl to do? My quick fix to the problem was to quit carrying cash so that I could truthfully say that I didn’t have anything to give, easing feelings of guilt from lying or judging legitimate stories.

By putting herself in the position of “judging legitimate stories” and by allowing her “practical head,” to win out, Rosner and many people like her have decided to embrace the “natural man” spoken of by King Benjamin earlier in his oration (Mosiah 3:19).

Rosner gives away her true feelings about King Benjamin in her last sentence:

“How do I find a balance between wise and righteous judgment and treating people as Mosiah directs?” says Rosner. She seems to have missed the part in King Benjamin which clearly states that this is anything but righteous judgment. If her judgments are wise, then King Benjamin must be foolish.

Those that challenge the world are always foolish.

King Benjamin has more for Rosner and the wise of the world:

And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are arich as pertaining to the things of this world. (Mosiah 21-23)

To deny the beggar is to deny the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4: 26)

I do not think that this means that we must always give to every panhandler in every situation. There will be times when we actually do not have cash or change on us. There are times and places where we might not feel safe stopping. I understand that. But if, like Rosner, we actively plan not to have money on us so we do not have to lie to the beggar, we are not guiltless.

Additionally, giving to the beggar or panhandler barely starts to fulfill our obligation of “…feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.”

If you do give of your change, you are doing just that. You are doing just a little. A little is still something, but it is not something that we should feel self-righteous about.

King Benjamin does say that we should do things with wisdom:

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. (Mosiah 4:27)

There are many things that we can do to help those in needy. Ultimately, that is what King Benjamin is talking about. The beggar is just an outward symbol of the needy. I do not see anywhere in King Benjamin’s oration an invitation to choose the wisdom of the world over his council. Instead, he is arguing that we should use wisdom to address the needs of the needy.

There is not one answer or one silver bullet. My argument here is not a liberal one or a conservative one. It is also not a private one or a government one. However, if we adopt the attitude advocated by King Benjamin, we might be better able to cooperate one with another.

However, as long as we loathe and despise the poor we will never get there. This pride not only puts us at odds with the poor, it puts us as odds with God.

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Comments

  1. # 2 leader in the Church hierarchy says that we should as much as possible:

    “My parents lived in a very modest home…One morning, my mother answered a knock at the door and was confronted there by a large, frightening-looking man, who asked her for money.

    She said, “We have no money.” There were in that home innumerable children, but very little money.

    He pressed his demands, insisting that she give him some money, finally saying, “I am hungry; I would like to get something to eat.”

    “Well,” she said, “if that is the case then I can help you.” So she hurried to the kitchen and fixed him a lunch…She could tell as she gave him the lunch at the door that he was not pleased…

    She watched him as he went down the lane through the gate and started up the road. He looked back, but he did not see her standing inside the door, and as he passed the property line, he took the lunch and threw it over the fence into the brush.

    My mother…was angered at the ingratitude. In that house there was nothing to waste, and she was angered that he was so ungrateful.

    The incident was forgotten until a week or two later; she answered another knock at the door. There stood a tall, raw-boned teen-age boy, who asked about the same question in essentially the same words: “We need help; we are hungry. Could you give us some money; could you give us some food?”

    But somehow the image of the first man appeared in her mind and she said, “No,” excusing herself: “I am sorry. I am busy; I cannot help you today. I just cannot help you.” What she meant was, “I won’t. I won’t. I won’t be taken in again.”

    Well, the young man turned without protest and walked out the gate, and she stood looking after him. It wasn’t until he passed through the gate that she noticed the wagon, the father and mother and the other youngsters, and as the boy swung his long legs into the wagon he looked back rather poignantly; the father shook the reins and the wagon went on down the road. She hesitated just long enough so that she could not call them back.

    From that experience she drew a moral by which she has lived and which she has imparted to her children, and though that was, I suppose, nearly fifty years ago, there has always been just a tiny hint of pain as she recalled the incident with this moral: “Never fail to give that which you have to someone who is in need.”

    I stress to you young brothers and sisters in the Church your obligation to give that which you possess to any who may be in need. I recognize that admittedly your material substance is meager compared to the needs of the world, but your spiritual powers are equal to the needs of the world. I urge you to resolve with me that never so long as we live would anyone be hungry, spiritually or physically, that we could aid and assist.”

    – Elder Boyd K. Packer, Memorable Stories and Parables p. 45

  2. It is good to be open handed when it comes to the poor and not to be judgemental. I remember a chaplain saying to me and a group of men one time, “The only difference between me and you is that my life isn’t out of control.”

    But I take issue with one of the quotes you quoted above:

    “And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4: 26)”

    For a person who is genuinely born-again, there is no “retaining” a remission of our sins. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ. Jesus is the righteousness of God in us. Paul says in Galatians 3:1-6, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

    And in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

    Those who are born-again and belong to God don’t do anything to make sure their sins continue to be forgiven. They don’t do anything to maintain their salvation. Jesus at the cross did everything to ensure the person who comes to Him will never be lost. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all who call on Him.

    • “Those who are born-again and belong to God don’t do anything to make sure their sins continue to be forgiven. They don’t do anything to maintain their salvation. Jesus at the cross did everything to ensure the person who comes to Him will never be lost. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all who call on Him.”

      And what if they cease to call on him? Paul says, in Corinthians 9:

      “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

      So he certainly saw the possibility that, without discipline, he himself might fall short of the goal and so be disqualified for the prize.

    • Whenever RealClearReligion shares one of my posts, I know Dave will come by. I would be disappointed if he didn’t.

  3. N. W. Clerk says:

    I’ll show you my annual fast offering contributions if you show me yours.

  4. Chris, one problem with your understanding of Jannalee Rosner’s statement, at least the quote you gave. Rosner’s judgment seems to involve whether the panhandlers are actually needy, rather than whether their need is a just punishment for their actions. When it comes to giving we are prohibited by Mosiah from making the second call, but not the first.

    • Assuming that are frauds seems to violate the spirit of what King Benjamin is arguing for. We have to make judgements and decisions of some sort. I understand that. However, the idea the panhandlers are swindlers seem rooted in animosity.

      • I don’t assume panhandlers are frauds, actually the opposite. I was merely pointing out that Benjamin’s prohibition covers judging *why* someone is suffering whereas Rosner’s story dealt with judging *whether* someone is suffering. Still, the mix-up is understandable enough since Rosner seems to have made the same mistake. She actually placed herself in accord with Benjamin’s (not Mosiah’s, oops!) directive when she stated: “But my practical head knows I can’t financially support myself and three people on the street …” Benjamin commands:

        “… the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. 25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.”

        When is it true belief and when is it an excuse to not give? It is likely to be different for each of us, circumstances differ, but God knows and ultimately He will be the one we answer to.

  5. Growing up my mother always taught me to give to those in need. Usually, if I have the time and means I try to offer to buy them a sandwich or something else and see if they accept.

    However, I see another position as equally consistent with the words of King Benjamin: we have to give, but we are able to give in wisdom and prudence. Especially for our large giving ( not a dollar given to a person on the street), we should ensure that our money does the most good. That might mean giving more as a fast offering, giving to LDS humanitarian services, or giving to local organizations that organize food banks or shelters. Our money should be given prudently rather than haphazardly.

  6. Chris Henrichsen cites Mosiah 4:16 early in his comments: “…ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.”

    I don’t believe most Latter-day Saints would hesitate to assist someone truly in need. Unfortunately our present society is rampant with professional scammers who often make more by holding a cardboard sign than many people earn by showing up for work on time. We generally do not hesitate to help those who are in dire circumstances beyond their control, but struggle to enable those who beg not out of necessity, but out of indolence.

    Last year KSL ran a story which illustrates the justification behind people’s general distrust of the true needs of the panhandlers they encounter in their everyday activities: http://www.ksl.com/?sid=27782692

    Just one quick excerpt:

    “Day after day, homeless and hungry, jobless and stranded, they are begging for your help. So what would you do if the food you generously gave was tossed to the side? What would you think if they appeared to be faking an injury? What would you say if, at the end of the day, a car would be waiting for them to jump in and drive off?

    “For people like Tom Jager, it doesn’t sit well. He said he’s witnessed the business of begging firsthand. Jager said he saw a car dropping off a crew of panhandlers in the morning and picking them up at the end of their shift. He confronted one of the organized panhandlers, who he said openly admitted to being in the business of asking people for money. “And I said, are you really even homeless? And she goes, ‘No. We have a house,'” Jager said. “I said, ‘You’re basically running a business where you’re asking people for money?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, basically.'” ”

    There are several examples at the KSL link above, all of which justifiably make people think twice about monetary assistance.

    I think the story told by Boyd K. Packer is an important one. We can’t possibly always know when someone is truly in need and when they are merely trying to scam us. And many of us struggle in the present economy and cannot just give to everyone whose path we cross, thus we attempt to pick our moments when we can offer assistance. But each of us is responsible to do what we CAN do. If we’re uncomfortable giving money (which is the case with me unless I am familiar enough with a given situation to believe that cash will be used as intended), we can usually offer food. Even a simple Happy Meal is a kind gesture which probably won’t break the bank. I’d rather be giving in some manner and discover later that the beggar was a fraud, than withhold giving and discover later that he or she was in sincere need.

  7. Rob Perkins says:

    This “yes” answer is significantly complicated by the differences between Benjamin’s kingdom and the realm we live in today. If the difference in judgement amounts to the fact that refusing the beggar doesn’t consign him to perish, or if the person refusing does so because he committed money to institutions which make it a point to seek out and save the destitute, does that change the calculus of refusal?

    What about the dynamic changed by the fact that methamphetamines exist? If the giving causes that man to perish, rather than sparing him, what of that?

    From another angle, though, when I think about the fast offering, I can’t equate that completely to what Benjamin was talking about. It’s used to help the poor, but by and large I think it doesn’t have the scope it needs to be that thing.

  8. Elouise Bell says:

    SYMPHONY suggests we give in wisdom and prudence. And surely that is the watchword for “big giving.” But the panhandler doesn’t operate under that umbrella, does he? There’s no way of knowing, no time to be wise and prudent, as I drive up to a busy intersection where someone stands with a cardboard plea. There’s no way of knowing ANYTHING about his reality–drugs, booze, laziness, dependents, PTSD, real need. There is hardly time to fish around for a dollar or two. There! The light’s changed! On we go.

    So I usually keep a few dollars or perhaps a five-dollar bill in that dark little slot above the cup-holder. Knowing it’s there helps me stay aware of the conundrum. Most of the time, when I drive up to an intersection that’s occupied, the light’s green, and thus the problem is solved. (Oh?) When it’s red, I just try to be open. Most of the time, nothing happens. But every now and then, I get a Nudge, and then I flap the bills in my hand, and the panhandler comes over. I try to make eye contact. Sometimes I say, “Take care of yourself.”

    I don’t kid myself about the reliability of my little “nudges.” A better idea would be to buy some of those vouchers from a drive-in, or to keep a basket of apples or some nutrition bars in the car. Next time I get a spell of being organized, maybe I’ll try that. What I want to avoid is thinking I’ve solved the problem, or not thinking about it at all, taking less account of the stranger with the cardboard than of the changing light.

    Thank you for holding up King Benjamin’s sign, Chris.

Trackbacks

  1. […] This Hymns of Social Justice post is a companion piece to Chris Henrichsen’s post “Should Mormons Give Money to Panhandlers?” found here […]

  2. […] This Hymns of Social Justice post is a companion piece to Chris Henrichsen’s post “Should Mormons Give Money to Panhandlers?” found here […]

  3. […] week, I wrote about what Mormon scripture teaches about giving to beggars. But who needs scripture when you have the Chamber of Commerce on your […]

  4. […] 7. Should Mormons Give Money to Panhandlers? by Chris Henrichsen […]

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