Personal and Community Responsibility

0-aCommunityGardenYesterday in priesthood we discussed President Monson’s October 2010 Conference address on the Three Rs of Choice. One of the three Rs is ‘Responsibility’ — which led, of course, to discussing personal responsibility. In the discussion it occurred to me that personal responsibility is very closely connected to community responsibility.

I expect someone will claim that there is no such thing as “community responsibility.” But it seems to me that this is precisely what the Church, at least, is about. We, the Church, as a group, a community, have the responsibility for helping each member achieve exaltation. I do recognize that this doesn’t relieve any individual of personal responsibility. Instead it simply increases the responsibility on each member of the community to help his neighbor.

This may also apply to other groups, such as local and national governments. Being a citizen gives us not only benefits but responsibilities for other citizens. As a community, we are responsible for our joint defense, for example, and likely also for our common welfare.

How then does individual responsibility affect community responsibility? I don’t think I have a complete answer. At least, communities have responsibilities when individual responsibility fails — when individuals aren’t responsible as they should be, then communities must step in to try to make up the difference. If an individual is irresponsible and steals, then the community must try to fix the resulting problem. If an individual fails to feed himself, then the community may need to feed him.

Many of the things we do as communities, be it as the Church, as a government, or as some other group, must be done either because individuals can’t or don’t always live up to individual responsibilities. I don’t believe any of us are innocent, not needing the help of others. We must recognize that these failures by individuals are done by everyone. No one is innocent and no one can really say that they have no need of others. Paul suggested as much in 1 Corinthians 12:21: “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”

None of this is anything new, of course. This is why the Church exists—to bring all unto Christ. It is also one of the reasons we need governments.

What troubles me is that our rhetoric often doesn’t recognize this, and worse, many use individual responsibility as a kind of weapon against others, as an excuse for not fulfilling community responsibilities. Somehow the fact that they have managed to be responsible in one area leads them to think that everyone should be responsible in that area. The logic they use says, “these individuals weren’t responsible, so we shouldn’t help them.”

While I hear it most often when discussing politics, this logic also arises in Church situations. For example, here in New York City (where public transportation is plentiful) when one ward tried to arrange transportation to Church for some ward members, other ward members suggested that these members should be responsible and get themselves to Church. So they should. Does that mean that the community is no longer responsible for whether or not they come to Church?

There is, of course, a balance between individual and community responsibilities. I’m not trying to suggest where the boundary is. I’m not even sure there should be a boundary between them. I am suggesting that we must not use individual responsibility as an excuse for failing to keep up our community responsibilities. Just because individuals fail to do what they were supposed to do doesn’t mean we get to wash our hands of them.

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37 comments for “Personal and Community Responsibility

  1. Julie M. Smith
    May 30, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Nice post. I had similar thoughts re the blaming of Katrina victims:

  2. May 30, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Yesterday’s 5th Sunday PH/RS in our ward featured a man who is involved with the Church Welfare Department. He spoke about the various phases of personal responsibility and provident living, and for the most part it seemed very good. When he spoke of managing finances, though, he kept saying, “It’s easy. It’s nothing more than adding and subtracting. Finances are easy.” He didn’t explain what he meant either by “finances” or “easy” — just kept repeating that it was “easy.” I suppose the talk broke down for me there because I *don’t* find finances easy. Even when you don’t have the problem of debt (I don’t), it isn’t necessarily easy to make limited finances stretch everywhere they need to go for even the most provident of living. I can accept that finances are easy for him, but some of the rest of us need instruction, or at the very least don’t need the implied criticism of being stupid if we struggle with something that is “easy.”

    I’m losing my point. It was something about that supporting your post, and that if we’re going to take upon ourselves the right to pass judgment in that or any other area, we also need to take upon ourselves the responsibility to teach and model and encourage and forgive and assist until something is as easy for others as it is for us.

  3. ji
    May 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    To me, it is all individual responsibility. A bishop exercises the responsibility of his office — a Primary teacher does the same. But a ward mission leader fails when he tries to shift his responsibility to others, such as by requiring the elders quorum president, high priests group leader, and Relief Society president to each bring five names for the missionaries to visit in the following week. Let each man or woman magnify his or her own office, offer help to others as he or she may be able, and put no burdens on anyone else.

    So with the example of transportation in the original posting — to me, it is fine and even wonderful for a group of members to try to help others with transportation needs — but when those kind members, in their zeal, try to require other members to provide transportation and then talk badly about them when they don’t, they err and are no longer kind. For all I know, those other members are already doing some good in some other way. Anyone who wants to do good should do so.

    My focus should be on going good myself. I don’t need to focus on whether my fellow ward members are doing good.

  4. Jax
    May 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    ji a ward mission leader doesn’t fail when he wants the EQ, HP and RS leaders to bring 5 names for the missionaries to teach….That is the Rescue plan laid out by President Monson as the way the missionary efforts are to be used in activating less-active members. It has a complete beginning with the President of the Church, and any ward/branch mission leader not gathering those names IS failing to fulfill his calling.

  5. May 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Jax, please provide a link or citation to some writing where I can read about this “Rescue Plan” and its detailed requirements (which leaders, how many names, according to what timetable) of which you speak. Thank you.

  6. May 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    JI, I’m not at all sure what exactly you are trying to say. You seem to be addressing something that happened to you that has perhaps a peripheral connection to the op.

    Everything in the Church is meant to be done by persuasion, instead of the coercion you describe when you talk about the transportation example.

    But I do think your suggestion that “each man or woman magnify his or her own office, offer help to others as he or she may be able, and put no burdens on anyone else” may be a little simplistic.

    The fact is that we all err and in the process put burdens on others. Our communities should then try to help somehow. That’s what I mean by “community responsibility.”

    I don’t see how we can realistically expect either ourselves or others to truly “put no burdens on anyone else.”

  7. Bob
    May 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    @ Ardis E. Parshall:
    ” Reach out, rescue the fallen
    Publish ed: Saturday, April 12, 2003″__??? (Google)

  8. May 30, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I’m still trying to figure this out but it is clearly not one or the other (individual or community responsibility). Zion is a community of individually righteous yet of one heart (pure) and one mind. And there are no poor among them. I don’t entirely know what this means as I continue to promote it and work towards it. But I’m pretty sure it is not found in ANY political or philosophical system of man. And it certainly can’t be some club of selfishly righteous individuals. Service and sacrifice on behalf of others is certainly part of it. And there is no fault in trying the best we can (together) to improve our whole community placing faith and hope that the Lord will make up the difference as he does in individual salvation.

  9. May 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Thank you, Bob; I had searched and found that talk (Stand in Your Appointed Place) before asking Jax for a citation, but I didn’t see in it the formal details that Jax says are part of the “rescue plan” (i.e., a demand that certain ward officers cough up on demand and short notice a specified number of contacts for the missionaries). I confess that I have always resented the almost hostage-like situations where ward mission leaders insist that ward members give them contact names and addresses before we’re allowed to leave a meeting; last time I toured the Beehive House, the sister missionary guides pulled the same stunt. If Pres. Monson had actually endorsed tactics like that, I needed to rethink my resentment; if Jax was distorting a general duty that ward leaders have to help local missionaries contact less actives, then I wanted to know that, too.

    Without a further source, I’d have to say that Jax is unfairly calling ji’s ward leaders to task for failing to do their duty if they don’t adopt the jackboot tactics that ji describes. The ends are worthy, the means are not.

    In a thread on personal/community responsibility, it seems fair to note that.

  10. Suleiman
    May 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I’ve never heard of such a rescue plan, and PLEASE don’t tell my ward mission leader, he is such a zealot he’d up the ante to 12 names each.

  11. May 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Kent, this is a fascinating thought. Thanks for your post.

    When I read Ardis’ comment #2 I thought of a discussion we have from time to time in our ward in which we’re reminded to be spiritually self reliant. Of course, in the truest sense, we cannot be spiritually self reliant, because we cannot be saved in any way without the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

    Similarly, the Book of Mormon teaches that a people is likely to be judged by how it cares for the poor. Consider the Anti-Nephi Lehis. I suppose one could have argued that they should have been more self reliant (and not covenanted never to talk up weapons again. Fortunately their neighborly Nephites in Jershon did not feel that way.

  12. May 30, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Grant (8), I wasn’t trying to suggest that it was either one or the other. In fact, I see the two as inseparable. Personal responsibility can’t be successful without community responsibility, and vice versa.

  13. May 30, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Paul (11), I’m not even sure we can be spiritually self-reliant without the rest of the community.

  14. May 30, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Kent(12) Yes, I guess I was responding more to Jl. I don’t mean to start any controversies but I kinda believe in communal, existential guilt (else why would we need to be cleansed from generational sin and blood?) as well as communal salvation even if it includes individual righteousness and service to others leading right back to that community. I mean, I really believe that scripture in D&C 1 that says the Lord is pleased with the church (community) but can’t tolerate individual sin. Which I think means we are better together than we are individually.

  15. Mark Brown
    May 31, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Kent, great post. There is also another aspect to the false choice of personal or community responsibility.

    A very unfortunate result of our idolatrous worship of Teh Famalee is that many LDS now feel justified in limiting their service to their ward and church community on the grounds that accepting difficult or time-consuming callings or otherwise doing the necessary grunt work of the church would detract from their precious family priorities. Rather than share their gifts with the people in the pews with them on Sunday, they hoard them for “personal” use.

  16. Peter LLC
    May 31, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Rather than share their gifts with the people in the pews with them on Sunday, they hoard them for “personal” use.

    Or shift them to a ward that will make “better” use of them.

  17. May 31, 2011 at 3:54 am

    I cannot provide adequate amounts of chocolate to my family. As part of your communal duty, please contact me to sign up for your donation date. Thank you for your cooperation.

  18. May 31, 2011 at 7:04 am

    This is an interesting article. Currently, I’m in a calling that demands much of my time and energy. I feel like the “boundary” is very difficult to define – as it changes from person to person. Everyone needs “help” in different ways.

    I’ve been realizing that I can receive guidance on these “boundaries” by seeking the Spirit. I’ve also realized how incredibly nuanced the Spirit is. Sometimes, I have a thought or an idea on how to help another, and it is good, so I feel like I must pursue it. I’m realizing that even though the Spirit confirms that an idea/action is good, it may not always be the best – for my situation, my family’s situation, or the family of the person that I’m trying to serve.

    I wish that there was a solid answer or boundary, but there isn’t. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the three parables given by Christ: the lost sheep, the lost piece of silver, and the prodigal son. In the first two examples, the shepherd and the woman look for that which is lost. In the third, the father patiently and lovingly waits. Every situation is different – with different causes and courses of action.

  19. Jax
    May 31, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Ardis… I don’t have links to the information given out, but I have the handouts, booklets, etc. If you would like to provide me with an address I’d love to send them to you.

    Your leaders shouldn’t be accosting you to get them though. It is to happen through the ward/branch councils where the auxillary presidencies provide names of less active people that they would suggest the missionaries teach. The Bishop/BP decides who would be the best person to offer an invitation to the “15 names” and they are asked if they would be willing to have the missionaries come teach them the discussions. If you aren’t on the ward/branch council, or are asked to offer the invitation, then you probably don’t have much contact at all with the Rescue Plan or how it is supposed to function. No missionary or mission leader should be cornering you to grilling you for names; though they shouldn’t have to either :)

  20. May 31, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Jax, I think what you’re describing is a program outlined by Elder Perry a number of years ago. (Maybe others participated in the roll-out — I didn’t, but saw an article or talk from Elder Perry on the subject). The basic idea was to have a “focus 15) list of families missionaries could visit and teach when they weren’t teaching investigators. That’s different from a relentless demand for referrals.

    Interestingly when our mission president spoke recently in stake conference, he mentioned that he had been instructed in his MP seminary NOT to speak about missionary work in stake conferences.

  21. Jax
    May 31, 2011 at 10:41 am

    So this strikes to something that I think about ALOT! While I am required to work out my own salvation, and each individual is likewise tasked, I am also held guilty for the “blood and sins of this generation” if I fail to live up to my covenants. Which gives me a very big headache! since I am also linked to the communities affairs as well. I can’t just run into the woods and hide to keep myself clean! I would if I could!!!

    I have to do the best I can, and I need to be honest enough to make sure it is my VERY best. But the best I’ve been told to do, the things my covenants demand of me is to fulfill duties to the community. To feed the poor, clothe the naked, succor the afflicted, etc. Even if I am without guile, without impure thoughts, without a hard heart, if I don’t look out for the welfare of my neighbors than I have failed in my covenants and my personal responsibility.

    And what is the communities responsibility? Well, for each individual to do what they can as well. I help person X while they help person Y. And when we get out numbered then as long as any of us have food, then we all have food. If anyone has shelter, then we all do. I don’t suggest that this is the Governments responsibility, but it is for the community. It can and should be done without FORCING any unwilling participants to contribute.

    And if I’m the only willing participant? Then I’ll help all I can all by myself and hope all the day long that I can do enough to rid myself of the blood and sins of those around me!

  22. Jax
    May 31, 2011 at 10:50 am


    It is implemented under the title “Rescue Plan” in my stake. We haven’t had anything on it in stake conference, but we did have stake meetings to give us the material and to teach us how it was supposed to be administered. This training was complete with a copy of the painting Pres. Monson was looking at when he came up with the concept.

    We have a spiral bound booklet of 3/5 cards that outline the steps that we are to follow and paper work to use. We report weekly to the stake leaders and to the mission president how many “rescue lessons” were taught by our full time missionaries that week.

    Ji’s post said that mission leaders fail when they force EQP, HPGL, and RSP to provide 5 names for the missionaries. Well, that is exactly what is supposed to happen in the Rescue Plan. There are supposed to be 15 names, 5 from each group, that the missionaries can teach. For the Rescue Plan, these aren’t supposed to be investigators, but less active/part member families. If a mission leader is “forcing” names for investigators that isn’t part of a program that I know of. But ji’s post sounded so similar to the Rescue Plan I assume that that is what was referred to, and that because it isn’t relevant to everyone in the ward that ji didn’t know it did in fact come down from the very top and IS a part of the mission leaders responsibilites.

  23. May 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Yep — I think we’re talking about the same thing.

    I heard this first introduced while I was in Taiwan a few years ago. Our mission president there learned it in his MP seminar.

    When I moved back the US and became the WML, I learned it again. No spiral bound 3×5 cards, but the concepts are the same. (Our missionaries actually gave me a copy of the Elder Perry talk, which, now that I think about it, came from a new mission presidents’ seminar.

    Our focus was to give our full time missionaries plenty of folks to teach so that they could teach at least 20 lessons a week. In our particular ward, one set of elders (zone leaders) was shared by our ward and another one. So they had little time to teach our “focus 15”. But our ward coucil continues to monitor.

    (In our ward, the focus 15 discussion was a regular topic in Ward Council — no harassing of MP and RS leaders by the WML, but rather more of a consensus discussion around who ought to be added to or taken from the list over time. I’ve since been released, so maybe our new WML is more agressive than I was…)

  24. ji
    May 31, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I will clarify my posting a little — I really don’t like demands or taskings or quotas; I don’t think they fit in the Lord’s Church — rather, as I heard from a stake president’s counselor many years ago, the best way is to ask an officer or member if he or she will accept an assignment, and permit that person to say yes or no — the no might or might not come with reasons, but is still an acceptable answer. When one member, under the guise of his own office or in a desire to help others, demands something from another member (five names this month and five more next month, or that a family pick up someone else to bring to Sunday meetings), he or she errs.

    If a ward council is trying to operate the rescue plan that has been described here, that’s good. And if a Relief Society president brings in five names, that’s good. But if she doesn’t, that’s okay, too — she should not be blamed by the other ward council members for the failure of her ward’s rescue plan or for failing in her calling or for failing to sustain the prophet. Who knows, maybe the spirit led her to do some other good work during the week? The Lord probably still loves her. Everything in the Church is done voluntarily, with kindness, and with appreciation. We love members when they successfully magnify their callings in the way we think they should. We love them when they don’t.

    I can’t quote anything, but I tend to believe President Monson would support my general thought, even if not well-expressed here — there is a need, and there is a plan recommended — but the need and the plan cannot form the basis of demands or taskings or quotas. If a member really feels someone else needs a ride to church meetings, that member should try to solve the problem by himself or with like-minded friends — but to make lists and taskings to other ward members is reaching too far. Asking is good; demanding for feeling negatively towards others who don’t share one’s vision is not. One might have a particular vision or want to respond to a particular need, and another might feel impressed to respond to another need. That’s good.

    If one person is selfish with his time and talents, that is that one person’s problem — not the community’s problem. And if one person has a need, it is that person’s need and problem — maybe some others will want to help, and that’s good, but the need remains under the ownership of the one person. So to the original posting, yes, it is the responsibility of each member to get to Sunday meetings — there is no community or ward responsibility to arrange transportation — but how kind and wonderful it is if some of those ward members who have the means are able to help some of those who don’t.

    Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too.

    To me, it is all individual responsibility.

  25. Jax
    May 31, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I personally dislike the Rescue Plan. It symbolizes that we are/have failed as Home/Visiting teachers and as caring neighbors. All it does is organize people to do what they should have already been doing, like the scriptural sloth who must be commanded in all things!

    I disagree that “if one person has a need, it is that person’s need and problem.” If that one person has a need, and I can meet it for them, than as a person under covenant it is my problem and my responsibility to help. I can’t turn them away for any reason. Throughout all scripture (OT, NT, BoM, D&C) the only qualification for our caring for the poor, needy, hungry, naked, transportation dependent, widow, orphan….. is NEED. Not their worthiness or their work ethic or their even asking. If anyone has a need we can fulfil, we are obligated to do so. We aren’t obligated because we are US citizens, or members of a neighborhood, but we are obligated by the covenants we have made and the community of saints we have joined. This is not the responsibility of the world, for LDS people aren’t supposed to a community with the world, we have higher standards, higher responsibilities, and higher rewards.

  26. WVS
    May 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Allison, that was very well put, and please add my name to the recipient list. Please.

  27. May 31, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Jax, while I don’t dislike any rescue plan, I do agree that we ought to do things with the revealed programs / systems already in place. I served in a bishopric a while ago and one of the counselors was famous for coming back to established organizations and plans rather than trying to invent something new. It was not at all unusual for him to ask “Isn’t that something for the home teachers?” or “Shouldn’t regular PPI’s cover that?” or “Couldn’t we do that in ward council instead of having a separate meeting?”

    I don’t know how other stakes are doing it, but in our ward, the Focus 15 families are to get missionary teaching visits in addition to regular contact from Visiting and Home Teachers. I doubt there’s anything magical about the number 15, except that it encourages each quorum and the RS to consider prayerfully who they might include in such an effort.

    JI: I’m sure if the WML had been assigned by the bishop to collect the names for the rescue plan, he probably feels it’s his individual responsibility to collect those names. But you’re absolutely right: everything should be done with love unfeigned.

  28. ji
    May 31, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    We might be talking past each other rather than understanding each other. If a friend or neighbor has a need and you feel impressed to meet that need, you are free to do so, and encouraged to do so — that’s good. But one member should not command or expect other members to meet a need that he or she observed, nor feel bitterness or any other unkind feelings if they don’t respond to a call to fulfill that need. Those other members might be fulfilling some other needs. No good comes from pointing out the perceived failures of others.
    To me, it is all individual responsibility. Let every man or woman be a anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. Can a ward mission leader (interested ward member) ask for names (volunteers to help transport the poor to meetings)? Yes. Should he demand such or feel unkindly toward others if they don’t? No. That’s all I’m saying.
    We do live in a community of saints. Thanks be to God for our community — a wonderful community of individual saints.

  29. Scott Armstrong
    May 31, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    What irks me is when people (I’m looking at you, Republicans) use “personal responsibility” to bludgeon struggling individuals and groups. The problem is that it’s often a very apples and oranges kind of thing.

    It doesn’t pass the logic (or ethical) test for a middle-class white guy with a degree to point to a person with a disadvantaged upbringing and say, “Well, I went to college, that guy should have taken more personal responsibility like me.”

    I think in certain cases society’s lack of responsibility (in its attitudes, institutions, etc.) trumps personal responsibility. But I agree, it’s very difficult, probably impossible, to divide the two.

  30. May 31, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Jax, I’m still trying to figure out the “rescue plan.” Are your handouts things that came from the Church itself, copyrighted and with the familiar logo and all the other signs of a formal church program, or is this a stake program, with locally produced handouts, that is based on principles some local leader drew from Pres. Monson’s 2003 talk?

  31. chris
    May 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    30 – Ardis, does it matter? Ultimately, it seems to me like you’re trying to find out if it’s the Lord’s will that we number his sheep and then consider a certain number of them for rescuing.

    Rather than ask someone for sourcing on this, I think it’s definitely one of those questions you can ask God about.

  32. May 31, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    chris, I get it that you don’t like me or approve of any of my comments. That’s great — I return the favor. Don’t try to control what I ask, or whom, or Whom, okay? That’s above your pay grade.

  33. Jim Donaldson
    May 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Ardis, I think it is mostly a church-wide program. I’m in Colorado and we are doing it here at least in our stake. In fact the mission president came to our ward council meeting to introduce it. Written instructions from the mission president came about six months ago to our stake.

    The new wrinkle here, I think, is having the full time missionaries teach the “Preach My Gospel” lessons to less active member families and having the missionaries be more active in the reactivation effort, with baptism not the immediate goal. The mission president had some statistics (I know, check your wallet) that were used to show that teaching these lessons to less active and part member families tended to generate more, er, ‘baptizable’ investigators than the usual methods.

    I think they also want the FTM to be teaching the lessons, even if not to investigators, maybe for the practice. Plus the idea is these inactive members could usually use a refresher course.

    I got the idea that while this was a church program, primarily articulated by Elder Perry to mission presidents, it hasn’t come by way of the usual ‘roll out” method.

    Hope that helps.

  34. May 31, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Scott (29), that’s more or less my feeling too. I really object to claims that others should be more responsible as a way of avoiding our responsibilities as a community to help.

  35. May 31, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks, Jim, it does.

  36. May 31, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    #33 Jim, your understanding matches mine. The referenced talk by President Monson seems to be related in that Pr Monson discussed rescuing, but that’s about as far as it goes. It was not referenced in our stake.

  37. Jax
    May 31, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    ji maybe we are talking past each other…I can’t tell you that you should do your job better (unless I’m your bishop I suppose) nor should you tell me I need to feed the homeless guy on the corner. We should both just do our best. Our best must also include a sense of responsibility to the community and fellow members. Agreed?

    Ardis, not the familiar role out, but the 3×5 bound booklets were from HQ along with information to use it. The stake leaders sat in training with other stakes and got training from the area 70 and then passed it on to us locally. Not sure if it is worldwide, but I think it is across the U.S. at least.

    As I was indoctrinated about it, no WML should be accosting members in the halls gathering names for the missionaries. It is a more internal program that the ward council uses to try to reach out to less active families and further there knowledge of the gospel. Jim’s reasoning is along with what I suppose the goals are for using the FTM’s.

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