One day in South America we had the interesting experience of seeing in a hot jungle area a small brownish gray animal hanging upside down in a tree. It had rather long front paws and short back legs. Its movements were so slow that it was hard to know whether it was alive or dead. We were told that it was a sloth. I was intrigued because reference to the sloth appears in scripture. The Lord used it with disdain, referring to those who were slow to act.
When the welfare program was begun in the 1930s, it aimed to eliminate the curse of idleness, reestablish self-respect, and help people to help themselves. The basic principles of the Lord’s economic system had earlier been revealed to the Prophet Joseph. Nearly everything that has happened since then has been to prepare us for the time when this program would be needed to a far greater extent. In the intervening years, many great principles have been declared. I shall review these briefly.
President Grant declared: “The Church needs blessings, and the only way we can receive … them … is by keeping the laws on which these blessings are predicated. The fundamental law pertaining to the welfare of our people is fast offering. The reason we want to stress the paying of fast offerings is because we need blessings that come from paying fast offerings.”
President Clark counseled: “Live within your means. Get out of debt. Keep out of debt. Lay by for a rainy day which has always come and will come again. Practice and increase your habits of thrift, industry, economy, frugality.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1937, p. 107.)
“Let every head of every household see to it that he has on hand enough food and clothing, and, where possible, fuel also, for at least a year ahead. … Let every man who has a garden spot, garden it; every man who owns a farm, farm it.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1937, p. 26.)
“Cash is not food, it is not clothing, it is not coal, it is not shelter; and we have got to the place where no matter how much cash we have, we cannot secure those things in the quantities which we may need. … All that you can be certain you will have is that which you produce.”
“We must purge our hearts of the love of ease; we must put out from our lives the curse of idleness. God declared that mortal man should earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. That is the law of this world.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1937, p. 26.)
“Many of us are not yet willing to bring ourselves under control and to quit spending not only all of our savings, but also all we are making, and in addition, running in debt on installment buying.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 117.)
You sisters will be pleased to hear again his counsel: “If there is any Bishop in this Church who thinks he can get along without his Relief Society, he does not yet know his job. And if he is getting along without his Relief Society, he is not doing his job.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 177.)
(May I state parenthetically that the displays in the Relief Society building of ideas for home storage, suggestions for meeting emergencies, etc., should be visited by all who attend the conference.)
President Harold B. Lee said, “Priesthood plus womanhood together bring exaltation! Priesthood plus womanhood is necessary in welfare. Without this teamwork, never in the world would we accomplish what we are doing in the welfare program.” (Harold B. Lee, address delivered at Welfare Agricultural meeting, 2 Oct. 1971.)
President Lee also taught: “Keep in mind that the Church welfare program must begin with you personally and individually. It must begin with every member of the Church. … You have to act for yourself and be a participant before the welfare program is active in your household. Moving out from there, then, to quorums, to united teamwork … tremendous results can come.” (Harold B. Lee, address delivered at Welfare Agricultural meeting, 5 Apr. 1969.)
“May the Lord help us to understand these fundamentals, and guide us to that destiny which … is … to attain, a full consecration, wherein we consecrate our lives, all that we have and are … for the upbuilding of the kingdom. Then only can we develop the faith necessary to an exaltation in the celestial kingdom.” (Harold B. Lee, address delivered at Welfare Agricultural meeting, 5 Oct. 1968.)
President Romney has said, “Both history and prophecy—and, I may add, common sense—bear witness to the fact that no civilization can long endure which follows the course charted by bemused manipulators and now being implemented as government welfare programs all around the world.
“Babylon shall be destroyed, and great shall be the fall thereof. (See D&C 1:16.)
“But do not be discouraged. Zion will not go down with her, because Zion shall be built on the principles of love of God and fellowman, work, and earnest labor, as God has directed. …
“As we prepare for the building of Zion, we must not and we shall not abandon the basic principles upon which our Church Welfare Services are founded: Love—love of God and neighbor—and work, or labor.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1976, p. 169.)
Elsewhere he states, “Almost from the beginning of my service in Church welfare I have had the conviction that what we are doing in this welfare work is preliminary to the reestablishment of the law of consecration and stewardship as required under the united order. If we could always remember the goal toward which we are working, we would never lose our bearings in this great work.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1977, p. 118.)
Now, brethren, listen to Alma’s landmark counsel for leaders: “And he commanded them [the leaders] that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.” (Mosiah 18:19.) We are under that same obligation.
President Tanner said that President Romney was the best informed and greatest authority in the Church today on welfare programs. In the last few years President Romney has restated and expounded the fundamental principles of the welfare program. The major addresses of the welfare sessions have been reported in the conference editions of the Ensign magazine for the last five conferences.
The preventive aspects of the welfare program can and must be accomplished by you quorum leaders learning, teaching, and implementing these principles. Besides the preventive work, there is the work of rehabilitation. The individual who is in need of sustenant help should be built back into a self-supporting member of the Church. This is the work of the priesthood quorums as Elder Hinckley illustrated so beautifully six months ago. The quorum must help its weakened members.
Likewise, on you Aaronic Priesthood quorum leaders—including the bishopric, of course—falls the responsibility to teach welfare principles to over half a million young men and women.
Often we hear youth say: “What is there to do?” In addition to the collection of fast offerings by the deacons, some of the finest opportunities lie in the area of Welfare Services. Brethren, build into your programs the excellent activities suggested in the Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Guidebook and The Activity Book. Here is a sampling of the useful and interesting ways in which youth can participate in home storage and Welfare Services activities: store and preserve food and water, store firewood and make newspaper logs, prepare an inventory of family possessions, plant a garden, build a compost pile and make an outdoor storage pit, prune fruit trees, make shopping comparisons, learn about proper diet, cook game fish or meat, clean a house, repair an electrical cord, replace a water faucet, paint the interior and exterior of a house, and enjoy a festival of homemaking skills.
Each of these ideas has other suggested projects that are both fun and useful.
Brothers and sisters, I have reviewed briefly these principles. They are true. You can live them. Now I give a word of caution, even warning. The word sloth or slothfulness appears in scripture twenty-five times, generally to condemn those who were slow to act. As we watched that sloth hanging in the tree, it reached out ever so slowly to pull off a leaf, then slower still brought it back and put it into its mouth. As we watched it we could understand the words impatient, irritated, exasperated. The Savior’s reference to the sloth and slothfulness illustrates His displeasure and impatience with the person who is slow to act, who is slothful. Brethren and sisters, our generation has been counseled patiently for more than forty years. It is no longer optional to learn and teach and implement these principles. It is crucial!
This work is divine. It will yet save and exalt us. That exaltation will come by living this law. May we in unity rise to this challenge and do it, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.