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.
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.