Faith, Works & Presidential Politics

Yesterday, John Kerry spoke in a chuch and invoked biblical support for an attack on “our present national leadership.” Kerry alluded to the following passage from James 2:14-17:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or a sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Kerry asked rhetorically, “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?”

This invocation of scripture has drawn fire from some quarters. For example, LeShawn Barber writes:

James gives guidance on how individuals, not governments, can evaluate their faith to determine whether it’s living or dead. It is the personal works of believers that James has in mind in this passage. It wasn’t addressed to Caesar. If Kerry were a Christian, he’d know that the biblical standard of the test of faith doesn’t rest on whether poor people exist or teenagers are killed in the streets. Using taxpayers’ money isn’t a work of faith.”

Bill Hobbs takes a similar tack:

Christians who delegate their “good works” to government are robbing God of the glory for such works. Think about it. When government writes a welfare check or picks up the tab for a poor person’s healthcare, who gets the glory? Government — and the politicians who proposed the program or voted for the increased funding. But when a Christian provides charity or help to their neighbor, they can easily give God the glory. You will never hear government tell a welfare recipient, “We’re doing this in the name of Jesus.”

While I suspect that we could have a conversation about the proper interpretation of this passage of James with respect to individuals, on the subject of Kerry’s misuse of the scripture to make the case for more expansive government, only one response seems appropriate: Amen!

73 comments for “Faith, Works & Presidential Politics

  1. March 29, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    Actually, I don’t think the argument about faith is really appropriate from a textual stand point. James is arguing that faith requires works. He offers an analogy in support, namely that it doesn’t profit the hungry person to say to them “depart in peace” and give them nothing. Faith without works, he says, is LIKE this. Thus, it seems that James is using what he sees as a common sense ethical point to make an anti-Pauline theological point. Each point is logically distinct from the other.

    Hence, Barber’s point — gov’t spending is not a necessary mark of faith — misreads James as making only a theological point. One could read James as making an ethical point independent of his theology position on the nature of faith. This merely ethical point could then support increased gov’t spending, without necessarily carrying any implications about the nature of faith, as discussed by James.

    Hobbs’s point is slightly different. However, it does seem problematic to me to claim that God is more concerned with being given the proper credit than he is with seeing to it that the poor get fed and clothed. Of course, to the extent that one uses gov’t spending as a poxy for individual virtue, he may have a point. But the issue of whether or not the spending is evidence of personal virtue on the part of the spender is logically independent of the question of whether the spending itself is desireable, unless you take an extremely aereatic approach to ethics.

  2. March 29, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    Amen, and amen.

  3. Kaimi
    March 29, 2004 at 3:55 pm


    I have to disagree with you. Perhaps it’s a difference in LDS theology versus other Chistian groups, but we _do_ believe that Zion is a state where there are literally no poor.

    Moses 7:18 reads:

    And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

    See .

    Ours is not to wonder whether people will spend money wisely or to congratulate ourselves for not being poor like others. We are to serve and give. The widow didn’t ask what people were going to be spending her mite on — she simply gave.

    Kerry is right to point out that the scriptures command us to help others. (See, e.g., Matthew 25 — the King doesn’t answer and say “good work on lowering tax brackets and cutting welfare rolls”). The scriptures don’t support the market ideas often associated with conservative thought — those are a veneer put over scriptures that actually tell us to _give to the poor_. (Sheesh — what happened to textualism? :) ).

  4. March 29, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    “You will never hear government tell a welfare recipient, ‘We’re doing this in the name of Jesus.'”

    Why not? To say that it is impossible for a communally legitimated corporate entity–i.e., a “government”–to be responsive to and supportive of a divine edict is to have already assumed that corporate entities and polities are shells, derivative counterfeits, mere distractions from what really matters: namely, the free, unemcumbered, rational individual. And it should go without saying that such an assumption is, arguably, utterly and fundamentally incompatible with the egalitarian ethos of Christianity.

    Consider, for example, Alabama…

  5. Adam Greenwood
    March 29, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    That’s all very well, Russell, but sometimes we ought to remember that we’re not talking about a government, we’re talking about this government, which isn’t known for its avid Christianity. Indeed, I believe it was the party of Mr. Kerry who were shocked, shocked by the faith-based initiative.

  6. March 29, 2004 at 4:04 pm

    I beg to disagree – faith does not REQUIRE works, faith PRODUCES works.

  7. March 29, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    Not to divert this thread, but as an attorney whose practice involves tax exempt organizations, it always amazes me that the Democrats do so much campaigning at churches. Organizations exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, such as churches, are completely prohibited from participating in political campaigning if such organizations want to obtain and or preserve their tax exemption. Yet, every campaign cycle there are reports of campaing speeches being given at churches on Sunday.

    As to Kerry’s comments, I find it laughable everytime someone like Kerry tries to teach from the scriptures or use a scriptural teaching to make a political point. Of course Kerry’s question is valid, if he is calling for greater individual and community compassion, but then he proceeds to claim that President Bush’s faith is without works because the Federal government doesn’t do enough for people. In my opinion, if we want more works of compassion, get the government out of the equation. I think it no coincidence that the states with the “biggest” government (i.e. most socialistic policies) also show the lowest percentages of charitable giving. I haven’t seen statistics on volunteerism and the like. A bureaucratic government cannot provide works of compassion. Only human beings can.

  8. March 29, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    “arguably utterly and fundementally”

    This strikes me as an odd phrase. Surely if it is really “utterly” and “fundamentally” opposed it isn’t really arguable. If it is arguable, then while perhaps it is opposed is it really “utterly” and “fundamentally”?

    I think that Russell does raise a fundamental and interesting question. I am wondering, however, if we are really on the horns of the dilema that Russell wants to force us onto. Can’t I acknoweldge the importance of corporate existence and action, while at the same time affirming that the state is sui generis without being committed to the belief that “the free, unemcumbered, rational individual” is all that “really” matters. De Toqueville comes to mind as a possiblity…

  9. March 29, 2004 at 4:09 pm

    By the way, I didn’t mean to imply God is more concerned with getting the credit than with the poor getting help. Far from it. But doing good works for the needy is one way to spread the Kindgdom of God and to show God’s love. That doesn’t happen when charity is done via confiscation of income (taxes) and redistribution via a godless bureacracy.

  10. March 29, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Bill: If the needy are actually fed and clothed, however, why isn’t that fact standing alone part of God’s love and his Kingdom. I agree with you that the virtue of a person who personally gives and the virtue of a person who votes for someone to have the gov’t redistribute are quite different. (Sorry Kaimi!) But I am less willing than you are to assume that God’s approach to the problem of the pure is as purely “historical” as you make it. (Cf. Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State & Utopia ch.7)

  11. March 29, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Kaimi, Is the “City of Zion” the same at the “City Council of Zion”?

  12. Kaimi
    March 29, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    It amazes me how angry people become when Democrats want to embrace Biblical principles. Republicans regularly excoriate the Democratic party as a godless, soulless organization.

    And now, when the nation’s most prominent Democrat talks about putting James 2 into action, everyone gets upset.

    Of course faith without works is dead. Of course we should all try to help the poor. And of course it is very, very possible to read the Bible in a way that is not politically, economically conservative. Perhaps when it says to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners, it actually means that we are supposed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners.

    There can be legitimate disagreement about the state’s role in such action. But it seems to me that Christians everywhere should be thrilled that John Kerry wants to care for the poor as described in James 2.

    Haven’t both parties agreed on this now? All that’s left is the details.

  13. Kaimi
    March 29, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    Gordon, Nate, et al,

    The widow didn’t personally go hunt down someome who needed her mite. She put it into the temple coffers — the government, as it existed at the time — for use as that government deemed appropriate.

    Bear in mind as well that that government was routinely criticized by Jesus himself.

    Yet, her act of giving her mite _to the government_ was personally approved by Jesus. See .

    So, why is it bad to give through the government again?

  14. March 29, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    Kaimi: It depends on Kerry’s point. If he is making a point about proper gov’t policy perhaps you are right. If he is making a point about the personal virtue of those who oppose his policy — e.g. George W. Bush — then arguments of the kind made by Bill Hobbs have some weight. Of course, Kerry is doing both — he is engaged in policy arguments and ad hominems. As for hypocrisy, one could just as easily point out the way in which liberals become hysterical about the seperation of church and state, public reason, etc. when conservatives talk about the Bible but not when liberals talk about the Bible.

  15. March 29, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    Bill: “I beg to disagree – faith does not REQUIRE works, faith PRODUCES works.”

    This may be a fair reading of Paul, but I don’t think it is a fair reading of James. Perhaps the real source of your ire is not Kerry’s political argument, but the anti-Paulinism of the scripture that he quoted!

  16. March 29, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    Kaimi, you are right about the importance of helping others, and about Zion. BUT, even as you note, it is we who serve and give. Kerry wants to take and give. There is nothing compassionate about the Federal or State governments withholding a portion of my income from me, involuntarily and then having another government agency pass a portion of such withholdings out (after a signficant amount has been wasted on inefficient administration of whatever government welfare program we are talking about).

  17. March 29, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    Kaimi, I do not think it is appropriate to compare the City of Zion or the temple in Jesus’ day to the modern welfare state. As you note, they are similar in that both aggregate the contributions of many to help the few. The perniciousness of the welfare state is its impersonality. It severs the connection between giver and receiver, depriving both of the benefits of personal charity. My understanding (hunch? belief?) is that such a connection still existed in the City of Zion and the temple.

  18. March 29, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Kaimi: You misread my point. I have not claimed that giving by the gov’t is bad. I have simply suggested that it may be less probative of the virtue of the giver.

    Whether or not the temple was “the government” is hugely more complicated than you make it out to be here. Interestingly, in context Jesus approves of the widows giving because the way that she did it — secretly — was evidence of personal virtue, as opposed to the rich man who gave very publically. This would seem to suggest that only those who give via the “government” quietly are virtuous. Those who loudly proclaim the virtue of such giving might arguably be thought to more resemble the rich man who insisted that his personal virtue be recognized. ;->

    My point about the state being sui generis was not directed at the claim that the state should be involved in poor relief, but rather at Russell’s implicit claim that treating the state as sui generis committed us to the rejection of communal or corporate life.

  19. Thom
    March 29, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    When Christian service is delegated to Caesar, both the wealthy and the needy are impoverished. I think that when the poor receive money for their needs from government rather than from charitable people, both sides lose the blessings of giving and receiving sacrifice.

    When a charitable person DONATES their hard earned money to someone in need, both the donor and the donee receive the blessings of the sacrifice. The donor is blessed for keeping the Lord’s commandments by voluntarily helping another in need. There is joy in voluntarily helping others who cannot help themselves.

    The donor receives not only the blessings of the material assistance, but can also receive the blessing of knowing that someone, an actual person, sacrificed for them personally. There is joy in knowing that God and your fellow man love you enough to help you in your time of need. This knowledge can help motivate some to not only help themselves, but in turn help others.

    In a sort of spiritual “miracle of exchange” both the givers and the receivers of the sacrifice are blessed and uplifted.

    On the other hand. . .
    Subsidizing the poor with tax money strips the payor of the voluntary nature of the payment, diminishing both their agency and capacity to do good themselves. No commandment has been kept, other than to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and the joy of giving, helping, and sacrificing turns to resentment over bureacratic waste and the tendency of welfare rolls to grow along with tax bills.

    In a like manner, the recipient of government funds loses the notion that others are voluntarily sacrificing to help them. The money becomes an entitlement they believe they are owed simply because they deserve it. They see no sacrifice, only the obligation others have to support them because the law says so. There is no need for them to turn aound and repay the love and kindness by sacrificing to help others, because any money they make on their own will be heavily taxed to pay for other people. Why bother, since it’s the responsibility of paid government employees to take care of the poor?

    Both sides are stripped of the sacrifice and its blessings. Neither side is uplifted.

  20. March 29, 2004 at 5:09 pm

    All this fuss over the Bible, sheesh. We all know that Kerry is invoking the Bible to demonstrate to voters that he is not completely secular and perhaps to show them that Republicans do not monopolize “goodness” or Christian ethics. If George W. can spout lines from the Old Testament without having his logic and religiosity questioned, why shouldn’t we afford Kerry the same privilege? If you want to question the doctrinal correctness of politicians’ uses of Biblical text, then you have to shake your stick at the Republicans too.

  21. March 29, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    Nate, that was poor phrasing on my part; my apologies. As for your question (“Can’t I acknoweldge the importance of corporate existence and action, while at the same time affirming that the state is sui generis without being committed to the belief that ‘the free, unemcumbered, rational individual’ is all that ‘really’ matters?”)–of course you can…but you would have to make the specifics of your argument clear. Is the state truly sui generis, and vice versa, is there truly nothing “statish” about any number of Tocquevillian civil organizations which act collectively towards a public good? I do not deny that there can be lines drawn here (contrary to how it may sometimes sound, I don’t automatically support every redistributionist scheme around); I just want to argue that, depending upon the social problem one faces, those lines may not be clear, and they may shift.

    Gordon, when you write “The perniciousness of the welfare state is its impersonality,” you’re criticizing a method of collective redistribution, not the principle of such. I’m quite interested in criticisms of the form and operation of welfare provision, public schooling, medical insurance, unemployment assistance, public park maintainence, and any other form of government work in the U.S.; I’m less sympathetic to those who think that because there are material downsides that the whole principle is in question.

    Adam, true, but this is the only government I’ve got. If I can make it–by which I mean, of course, making me and everyone else who shares my civic space–even moderately more charitable and holy than it was yesterday, then that’s a goal worth striving for.

    Thom, I don’t really recall anything in the scriptures about helping the poor, or receiving gifts, as a way to experience or participate in “uplift.” Seems to me that the Lord never directed his prophets to dwell upon the psychological aspect of charity, on either end of the equation, and so I’m doubtful that, from a scriptural point of view anyway, dependency and resentment and self-satisfaction and self-worth are factors that ought to play much of a role in our assessment of redistribution programs. I think the main issue is the scandal of inequity, and the provision of succor to the poor and needy, period.

  22. March 29, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    Thom, are you saying that any government-administered charity is in vain?

  23. March 29, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    Russell: I don’t deny that there might be something “statish” about the kind of Toqueville-ish corporate organizations if by “statish” you mean “shares characteristics with the state.” However, it does not follow that they have all of the same characteristics. For example, the state has — with a few well articulated exceptions — a monopoly on the legitimate use of virtually all forms of serious physical violence. In my mind, this fact is sufficient to justify having a seperate set of reasons for state action versus other forms of corporate action. This — to my mind — pushes my quite a distance down the road toward liberalism. Note, it is the state monopoly on violence — not any particular metaphysical vision of the individual — that is doing the work. Hence any Germanic fireworks about the Cartesianism or Christian attacks Kantian individualism are beside the point.

  24. March 29, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Sorry, if someone else has already said this, I’m short on time.

    Mr. Kerry can’t have it both ways. I’m sure he’s heard of “separation of church and state”. He should follow it and shut up. He is the last person in this election I will accept Biblical quotes from. Hypocrite.

  25. March 29, 2004 at 5:42 pm

    Russell, Just a quick note of agreement on your form point above. Sometimes people speak as if assistance for the poor would not exist but for the New Deal. That has never been true, and it would not be true if we dismantled the welfare state tomorrow.

  26. March 29, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    By the way, I suspect that is way I came out so “liberal” on the political quiz Kaimi suggested when I usually end up being “conservative” or “libertarian” on others. Helping the poor is unquestionably good and right, but in my world, form matters.

  27. lyle
    March 29, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    Brayden: I think Renee has a goode point; and to be fair, Bush does get criticized for his usage of Biblical verse.

    re: the Widow’s mite.

    Nate’s point re: voluntarism is right on point. I’m all for a system of voluntary taxation where those that feel that government is a great way to serve the poor give their money to the government…while the rest of Us, or me at least, give to the Church or to needy individuals directly. Force & compulsion comes from the Enemy; Volunary Charity comes from Christ.

    Also, Kaimi, the temple coffer may/may not be a great analogy to government; but…even if ’tis, the coffer had a set and stated purpose…to help the poor…not ‘whatever the government wants to do with it.’

  28. Gary Cooper
    March 29, 2004 at 6:18 pm


    “Seems to me that the Lord never directed his prophets to dwell upon the psychological aspect of charity, on either end of the equation, and so I’m doubtful that, from a scriptural point of view anyway, dependency and resentment and self-satisfaction and self-worth are factors that ought to play much of a role in our assessment of redistribution programs. I think the main issue is the scandal of inequity, and the provision of succor to the poor and needy, period.”

    This is exactly the point that most frustrates mw with regard to those, particularly LDS people, who support welfare state schemes in one form or another. The implication of your statement, Russell, is that debates over welfare state programs should not concern themselves with whether the person receiving the assistance suffers any emotional/spiritual harm, but rather, “are they fed? are they clothed? are they housed?”. (And of course, we never talk about any harm to the person from the so-called “giver”, the person from whom the government “fast offering” has been extracted at the point of the sword–so much for Agency!)In other words, we pretty much, in a practical way, see the poor as cattle, animals for whom we are responsible to make sure they have feed, all their shots, etc., but that’s it. This is one of the major issues I have with the welfare state, it’s impersonal materialism, but it is not the only one.

    I guess my problem is this: We all agree that the poor need help. We all agree that the best way to do this would be for society to accept the principles of Zion, with those who have voluntarily giving, and those who have not accepting, with God, through His church supervising this. We all agree that our current society doesn’t do this, and as members we strive in our own ways to move our society to become as Zion. What I cannot accept, as a Latter-day Saint, is the principle that “helping the poor” is so important that it overrides other Gospel principles just as important or even more important.

    I regret that there are terrible inequalities in the U.S. in terms of education and other forms of well-being (though we are more fortunate here than other places in the world). I wish the very wealthy would give more to the poor–but I am not prepared to show up on the doorsteps of my wealthy members, the vast majority of whom are non-members, and FORCE them to give a “fast offering”. (And let’s not kid ourselves–the government takes from some and gives to others by force, and if you don’t believe it, try not paying your taxes.)To me, this isn’t charity, and it isn’t the basis for a Zion society, it is PRIESTCRAFT. At the very least, it negates human agency. I fail to see the moral difference between forcing a middle class family to give to the poor and forcing that same family to go to church. Either way, a religious principle involving what one SHOULD do is twisted into what one MUST do.

    Every member I’ve ever discussed this with who supported the welfare state always falls back on the idea, “well, then, what do you want, for them to starve?” The answer, deeply rooted in the BoM and other scriptures, is that, as a church and as individuals we do what we can, but if a society generally does wrongly by the poor, then the sin is on that society, and God’s judgement will be upon them. If, on the other hand, we endorse the principle of using force to make everyone be “good” and take property from one group of people involuntarily and give it to another because of the latter’s poverty, I fail to see where any line could be drawn to limit this to only helping the poor. Why not force others to pay for church expences? Temple building? Missionary work? There seems no real PRINCIPLE that says such would be wrong, only a matter of constitutional taste.

    Not to make anyone mad (and as a former radical socialist, you’ll forgive me if I speak with the zeal of the penitent sinner come back to convert my brothers in error), but is there a difference between the principle of forcing others to give to the poor, becuase otherwise some may go without, and the principle of forcing everyone to be righteous, because otherwise some won’t be saved? (Here comes the hornet’s nest….)

  29. March 29, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    Renee, why would Kerry be the last person allowed to quote the Bible? And what hypocrisy in particular did you have in mind? I don’t see why it is hypocritical to believe in the separation of church and state and, at the same time, to quote Bible verses? Perhaps that isn’t the point of your comment, but that is how I understood it.

    My suspicion is that, as I think is true in most political discussions, almost every one of us had decided who is “right” and who is “wrong” prior to knowing who the Democratic candidate would be. For reasons that have more to do with shared culture and history than anything else, most LDS in the U.S. knew already that no Democrat could be a possible choice for president and that any Republican would be. The reasons we give for our politics are, for the most part, ex post facto explanations of deeply held pre-judgments.

  30. Gary Cooper
    March 29, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    Jim F,

    What you’re saying may be true of a great many members, but not all. I voted for neither Bush nor Gore, I knew I could not vote for Bush this second time around, and knew I could not vote for any of the Democratic presidential candidatss as soon as I knew who they all were. Please don’t assume that those of us disagreeing with each other here do so from partisan grounds. Some of us actually find both major party candidates contemptible as politicians (and no, I’m not a Libertarian, more of a Edmund Burke/Russell Kirk/H. Verlan Anderson style conservative–we’re about as rare as sons of perdition!).

  31. March 29, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    “To me, this isn’t charity, and it isn’t the basis for a Zion society, it is PRIESTCRAFT.”

    I don’t think that’s really the definition of priestcraft.

    And I’m also not very comfortable, Gary, with letting the poor starve because God’s judgments will be upon our society. My belief is that most Americans don’t associate giving to the needy via taxation with some sort of religious act.

    Also, I’m curious: what Gospel principle do you see as more important that helping the poor? Seems to me that’s about as big as they get.

  32. Gary Cooper
    March 29, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    Steve Evans,

    The Gospel principle more important than helping the poor would be respecting Agency. It would be wrong to force people to give fast offerings–that, in effect, is what the government is doing when it engages in wealth transfer schemes.

    I understand that you are not very comfortable with people starving (if we don’t force people to give)and then taking solice in the idea that God’s judgements will come down on the “have’s” for not giving. I don’t either. I also am not confortable with anti-mormon groups leading people away from the truth, when government has the power to shut them down, and I don’t take solice in the fact that God will judge, etc. The same could be said for professors who deliberately lead their students to atheism, husbands who tire of the wives who worked to put them through school and then divorce them, preachers who bilk their congrgants for millions so they can have mansions and air-conditioned dog houses, etc. There are a whole host of situations in which individuals fail to do what is right, and because of that others are harmed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And, in each case government has the raw, naked power to intervene and “make things right”, provided the mechanisms of government for doing so are in the hands of those willing and desirous of intervening. This does not argue, however, that it is morally right, in the sight of God, to use government (which is nothing more than the collective monopoly on the potential and real use of violence) to in fact step in force these individuals to do what we think God wants them to.

    I am not God; I do not have His knowledge, nor His power, though wielding the power of the state may, in an intoxicating sort of way, seem like a god-like power. I have enough difficulty trying to direct my life to conform to His standards than to attempt to force others to do so. I recognize that it might be possible, if I did, to help some folks initially, (as Galadriel tells Sam in The Lord of the Rings, “That is how it would begin; that is always how it begins. But that is not how it would end.”), but I recognize something now that I did not when I was younger and enamored of the idea of all-powerful state action. I now see that whenever the principle of agency is ignored, it never stops at the initial transgression, but ignites a spirit of seeking ever more prpblems to “solve”, ever more wrongs to “right”, and I was able to finally look myself in the mirror and be repulsed at what I saw.

    We all agreed once that, though it would mean terrible suffering for many innocents, Agency was worth fighting for, and that suspending it would not create any Eternal good. It’s sad that, in a genuinely sincere desire to rectify injustices and help the unfortunate, we rush to the use of force against human freedom. It’s true that God will judge a society for how it treats its poor. God will also judge a society for how it treats human agency.

  33. March 29, 2004 at 7:16 pm

    Gary, government action or taxation isn’t a restriction on agency. Disobedience to the law is still an option, so the agency is still there.

    Fundamentally, I think you’re exaggerating your claims here, to categorize wealth redistribution as some sort of unspeakable evil, or to associate it with Satan’s plan. There is a difference of incredible degree that you fail to acknowledge.

    Plus, I’d just point out that it’s really easy for us rich folks to complain about taxation, government intervention, and restrictions on our freedoms. If any of us really had a dog in this race, first of all we wouldn’t have the luxury of posting on the internet, and second I don’t think we’d mind a government handout now and then, at the cost of “terrible suffering for many innocents”.

  34. Gary Cooper
    March 29, 2004 at 7:41 pm


    My wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Peru, grew up in far greater poverty than you and I have probably experienced, and she is more inclined to be anti-socialist than I am (you’ll never want to get her started on how Peru’s health system was destroyed after years of socialization). I grew up myself in a home where we frequently had to do without (no hot water, went to bed hungry more than a few times, saw my mother skip meals so my sisters and I could eat), which was possible in the early 70’s. While I agree with you that, as Americans, it is easy for us not to sympathise with the plight of the poor, let’s not assume that it is impossible, or that some of us haven’t had experiences that help us to have at least some inkling of what they may experience.

    I don’t think I exaggerate very much the evils of socialism. I once believed in it firmly, and I’ve read too much of what its advocates have to say and what they dream of to not see it for what it is. I do not wish to imply that those who believe in the welfare state are evil, only that their solution to the problems they wish to solve is ultimately worse than the problems themselves.

    Now, as to the point about disobedience to the law is still an option, so agency is still preferred—now, come on. That’s like saying that Christians in nations like Iran or Communist China still have untrammelled agency, becuase they can choose to be whipped, beaten, tortured, and killed for practicing their religion. Well, yes, they have agency–but as the BoM points out in Mosiah 29, a government bent on wickedness, of whatever sort, can intimidate and cjole people to do what it wants, and thus the EXCUSE rises in the minds of the people that they are not free to choose. If God’s hand can be found in the political realm throughout history it appears that He seeks to create situations in which individuals are left without excuse, and where they recognize their freedom and therefore their culpability.

    I know it’s difficult not to see this issue without emotion, and I was as guilty of that in my threads. Still, from a logical view, it is obvious to me that there is a difference between the state taking action against murderers and thieves, for example, where it is just doing what each of us as individuals could do (we can defend ourselves from unlawful assault), versus the state stepping beyond that and actually using force against conscience (“let’s make the rich give to the poor”. Government can stop me from killing and stealing from my neighbor, but it has no moral right to force me to be nice to him. If it tries to do that, it doesn’t make me or my neighbor better people, and if anything is liable to create bad feeling between me and my neighbor.

    On a another post here I mentioned Marion G. Romney’s conference talk, “Is Socialism the United Order?”. I suggest this as a good talk which lays out the issues pretty clearly. Either we help the poor in God’s own way (by freely giving, and encouraging others to do so), or we don’t help them at all, because trying to help the poor through Force creates far greater spiritual harm.

  35. March 29, 2004 at 7:46 pm

    Gary, you’ve mentioned your wife before. She sounds like a very interesting person. I’ve also read Romney’s talk. I would perhaps like someday to read some post-Cold War talks on socialization of services.

    Fundamentally, we’ll probably just have to disagree about whether giving to the poor through taxation is worse than nothing at all.

  36. Gary Cooper
    March 29, 2004 at 7:54 pm


    Yes, we can agree to disagree on this subject. And what’s really great, we can do so and still love each other as brothers in Israel. Now if we disagreed about which hand to use to partake of the sacrament, or something else really important….

  37. March 29, 2004 at 7:58 pm

    Gary, yer darn tootin’. Now, if you had a hook for a right hand, would you use said hook, or the left hand for the sacrament?

    Again with my pirate hypotheticals.

  38. March 29, 2004 at 7:59 pm

    Without trying to fan the flames further (if possible), I’m interested in hearing you talk more about laws not getting in the way of agency, Steve. I admit to thinking more or less along the lines of Gary here, but I could be talked out of it.

    Certainly our liberty can be potentially diminished (right?). Agency and liberty seem often conceptually similar and perhaps interchangeable in many circumstances. But I’d love to hear more about how you so effortlessly distinguish between them. Or if I’m mischaracterizing your statement, please set me straight.

  39. March 29, 2004 at 8:02 pm

    Gary Cooper, I take it that the fact that I said “most” rather than “all” passed your notice. I certainly don’t believe that all LDS are merely partisan, and I thought I made that clear. Nevertheless I think it true that most are.

  40. March 29, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    Logan, I wouldn’t say that I effortlessly distinguish between liberty and agency. “Carelessly” is probably the more appropriate adverb, so you’re probably not mischaracterizing me, either.

    With Gary, I was taking the position that we can distinguish between the capacity to make choices (agency) and the extent to which laws punish our choices (liberty). I’d agree with you that laws can limit our liberty, but I probably wouldn’t say the same for agency. I think it’s not necessarily the most important distinction in the world, and it was brought up as a facile argument against one of Gary’s posts.

    Gary was right to point out (I believe his reponse was, “now, come on”) that where our liberty is severely curtailed, agency is of little solace. But it’s still there. Flame away, though, if you like — I’m not particularly tied to these definitions.

  41. Gary Cooper
    March 29, 2004 at 8:15 pm


    Sorry, you’re right, you did make that distinction. I was enflamed with the passions of the moment when I responded. (And you’re quite correct thay most LDS tend to be quite partisan on this issue, the original issue of the post. Unfortunately that partisanship doesn’t always make for serious thinking, on either side.)

  42. March 29, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    That makes sense, Steve. I admit that I was secretly hoping for a revolutionary new definition, but that’ll do.

  43. Steve Evans
    March 29, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    Sorry to disappoint, Logan! I have nothing revolutionary to offer, unfortunately, except for the revolutionary cleaning power of the new Amway SA8 Cleaning System!! Learn more at my new MLM blog!

  44. Bob
    March 30, 2004 at 12:46 am

    If a man requires…then go two. That is how it use your Agency..give to both goverment and church.

  45. March 30, 2004 at 1:21 am

    First, let me say that I’m inclined to side with those in this thread who think that at the judgement bar God won’t be particularly interested in the socioeconomics of poverty or the apparatus that we as a society or individuals used to address the problem.

    Second, I have a hard time agreeing with those who say it’s bad to legislate charity, if those same persons insist that it’s good to legislate morality –same-sex marriage comes immediately to mind.

    Thirdly, I can hear the clack of people pouncing on their keyboards in response to the above paragraph to make clear to me the ways in which the defense of traditional marriage not only pleases God but benefits society as a whole, to which I would, first, agree (mostly…), but then respond that–

    Fourthly, doesn’t that point up a big element that has been left out of this entire discussion? Not to be simplistic, but: we pay taxes as our dues for participating in and reaping certain benefits from programs that can only be administered through governmental bureaucracies; it’s a longstanding debate how far those programs should extend (privitized Social Security? Socialized health care?) and how heavily we should be taxed, but we can all agree, I think, that some minimum is necessary for maintaining a civil society, and it only serves propagandistic purposes to describe that minimum as being something that is “ours” that is “taken away” from us. It’s a presupposed part of the protection of rights, freedoms, and safetry, that comes with citizenship. So, as much as I dislike taking Christlike charity (whether institutional or individual) out of the picture, doesn’t society as a whole benefit from having less poor people? Again, I’m not trying to be facile, but how does that change the equation if the money collected from me (“at gunpoint,” as some have suggested in this thread) is not thought of as forced generosity, but a simple, straightforward, self-serving investment (like firemen or police) that makes the country a better place for me and mine to live in? Whether one particular program or another accomplishes this or not isn’t my interest here, but rather whether the grounds on which we give (help for the poor, or protection from them?) or the perception of what we might get in return shades the discussion. (Again, I personally don’t like to think of the redistribution of wealth in this way, because I don’t think addressing social problems through institutional mechanisms, in and of itself, invalidates the inherent goodness of the end result.)

    Fifth, is anyone here really prepared to predict with any confidence that, if CHiPs and WIC were discontinued tomorrow (or had never existed), other mechanisms would emerge (or would have emerged) to funnel individual donations to address the needs that are met by those programs? Or, if they were discontinued and nothing took their place, is anyone here prepared to honestly explain to me how this would be a good thing? I’m sorry, but we put expensive programs in place all the time to make up for people exercising their agency in bad ways to the detriment of others. Why is “greed” not worthy of governmental countermeasures?

    Sixth, Renee, Kerry reading from the Bible is hardly any more hypocritical than, say, Bush’s leveraging his past alcoholism (and subsequent Christian rebirth) for political purposes.

    Seventh, does everyone else admire as much as I do the way Jim imparts a couple of lines of wisdom here and there, then otherwise remains above the fray?

  46. lyle
    March 30, 2004 at 10:34 am


    welfare is not a right; despite the UN and the birth of LBJs welfare state.

    legislation of charity vs. morality are completely different spheres. Charity can, and should, be left to private action. It worked for over a hundred years before FDR & LBJ. Morality legislation is about “restricting” the sphere of choices one can make with their moral agency without govt/social sanctions. Charity is about forcing/coercing moral choices out of every individual under the penalty of the heavy hand of the law. One of these options sounds like God’s plan…the other like The Enemy’s? To quote an army cadence song…”am I Right or Right? ‘you’re right!'” . . . literally y figuratively. ;)

    yes, i am sure that other programs to help women with children would emerge. same economic reasoning as that which points out that increased government spending doesn’t help out an economy in distress…it just siphons off capital that individuals would otherwise spend/invest. Funny…even John Kerry know believes that cutting taxes is good for the economy, as he proposed lowering the corporate income tax to help out businesses. First he quotes the bible…now he wants to cut taxes? Will the real John Kerry and not the Bush poser please stand up?

  47. Thom
    March 30, 2004 at 10:49 am

    Gary Cooper – Kudos for fighting the good fight while I was incommunicado for the night. You are a man after my own heart. Thank you.

    Steve Evans – I think, yes, I’m saying all government charity is in vain. I believe that there are certain Christian responsibilities that the Lord has given to us that we cannot delegate to Caesar. First and foremost, because it doesn’t work. An institutionalized process of taking money from productive people and giving it to unproductive people is both evil and unwise. It encourages, rather than discourages dependency. It hardens the hearts of the productive towards the needy. Worse yet, it placates those of us with the means and inclination to help others into believeing that since the responsibility has been delegated to the government, the government is now responsible for it, must be doind a decent job at it, and therefore I am off the hook for it
    “Charity” from taxation by the government fails because it is no longer “charity,” the it does not help the wealthy love and care for the poor, and it does not instill in the needy a desire to help others.

    Russell Arben Fox – With all due respect, I think you are sadly mistaken if you believe that prophets and apostles have not warned us against the psychological and spiritual evils of having a portion of society on the public dole. The problem as stated by them is that recieving something for nothing ultimately crushes the feelings of self-worth and the desire to work for self-sufficiency and to serve others within those on the dole.

    Jeremy – You are correct that we have an obligation to support and fund our government in carrying out its responsibilities to do what only government can do for the common welfare. I strongly disagree with you, however, that only government can be responsible for helping the needy. There are lots of things that truly speaking, only the government can do, such as print money, provide for national defense, etc (clearly not intended to be an exhausted list of what government alone can do), but helping the poor is one of the big areas that the government has opted to wrest from other organs of civil society, to the detriment of the poor, civil society, and the things only goverment can do.

    Yes I do believe that if the government got out of the wealth redistribution racket that churches and charities would step and fill the void, especially if taxes rates were immediate rolled back correspondingly. Would it be more difficult and perhaps more painful for the needy to get the help they need? Probably. Would this provide incentive to no longer remin needy if at all possible? Probably. Would it help and require both the wealthy and needly classes to humble themselves and work together, rather than despise each other? I think so. I think the Lord’s purpose is to get us to humble ourselves to both give and receive and work together to bless each other. The current system robs us of these blessings.

  48. March 30, 2004 at 11:10 am

    I am so utterly turned off by officious words like “the productive” and “the unproductive” (is that how the phrase “widows and orphans” translates in the version of the Bible you use?) that I don’t know how long I can continue participating in this thread without losing my sense of decorum…

  49. lyle
    March 30, 2004 at 11:18 am

    jeremy, w/o getting into a full-scale debate re: the parable of the talents…everyone, Thom included, is agreed upon King Benjamin’s speech and the need to help the poor without judging them as individuals. so…please feel free to address the arguments rather than feeling that the poor in money are being insulted. I don’t know about Thom, but the context of his remarks indicate he is talking re: greedy politicians who want to lock in votes by providing pork to the poor…not to any evaluation of the merits of the economically poor & their efforts to be economically non-poor.

  50. Thom
    March 30, 2004 at 11:24 am

    Jeremy – I’m sorry if you are offended by my choice of words, but economically speaking, the terms are perfectly true. The needy are needy because they are unproductive. Of course, people like orphans and widows are justifiably unproductive and have a righteous claim to help and care from those productive enough to be able to give.

    Unjustifiably unproductive folks don’t have as justifiable a claim on the produce of the productive. Now clearly, not all wealthy folks are truly productive in their own right, say trust fund babies and the like, but at least the ecomonic activity generated by their trust funds are productive and helpful to society.

    I assume your reaction was not just a knee-jerk touchy feely one. Would you be willing to explain the nature of your objection to me?

  51. Thom
    March 30, 2004 at 11:25 am

    Let me caveat my previous post with the clarification:

    The needy are needy because they are not productive enough to provide for their own needs.

  52. Thom
    March 30, 2004 at 11:31 am

    Thanks Lyle,

    The insidious political purposes behind government wealth redistribution is one facet of the problem I have not as yet touched on, although I do believe it is both insidious and pernicious. Who was it that said something like “No government will long persist once the people realize they can vote their way into the treasury?”

  53. lyle
    March 30, 2004 at 11:33 am


    The unjustifiably unproductive folk have the same claim upon our charity as anyone else. King & Prophet Benjamin makes this clear. However, perhaps you are referring to as strong a legal/political/logical as opposed to a moral/religious claim?

  54. Thom
    March 30, 2004 at 11:59 am


    I disagree that unjustifiably unproductive folks have the same legal or moral claim for help as the more justifiably unproductive people do. I think King Benjamin’s point is that because I ultimately owe my means to the Lord and am merely the steward of it, I must follow my Master’s commandments on how to use the means I have. Because I lack the Lord’s ability to righteously judge who is truly justifiable in their unproductiveness and who isn’t, I should leave the judgement to Him and not withold my substance when such a person petitions me for it.

    This is not to say that their claim is just as good, simply that I must honor it as if it were, because I will never know.

  55. cooper
    March 30, 2004 at 12:06 pm

    I find it incredibly interesting that each time someone begins to discuss the topic of Zion and the lack of poor there that it turns to money. When Zion is established the last of our worries of equality will be about money. I would think the availability of temple covenants would be much higher on the concern list.

    Mr. Kerry is invoking a well thought out path to the presidency. Is this comment about the “works of compassion” easier read when it is stated as “Ask not what your country can do for you?…” Mr. Kerry is all about getting votes. He is a JFK clone. Study his platform and his speeches and you will see he is following the successful model of JFK tweeked to fit today’s average citizen. It is just “formula” politics.

    One last comment about Mr. Kerry. If he really was concerned about compassion, maybe he wouldn’t have married a woman, produced children, stayed married for 18 years, obtained a divorce and then asked the Catholic Church to annul the marriage so he could marry again under the sanction of the church. I am sure his first wife would love to hear his definition of compassion.

  56. March 30, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    Thom, two points.

    1) “The problem as stated by them is that recieving something for nothing ultimately crushes the feelings of self-worth and the desire to work for self-sufficiency and to serve others within those on the dole.”

    With equal respect, I’m afraid I must confess that I can’t help but think that that sentiment doesn’t seem to match very well with the statements of Jesus, who appears to have been unconcerned with “sufficiency” or feelings of “worth.” (Look here for more: .) That’s not to say Jesus embraced redistributive economics; only that I don’t believe this particular criticism of such has much normative weight, at least insofar as the scriptures are concerned. (And yes, I know that there are numerous prophets and apostles who would disagree with me.)

    2) “I do believe that if the government got out of the wealth redistribution racket that churches and charities would step and fill the void, especially if taxes rates were immediate rolled back correspondingly.”

    Then how would you explain the scandalously high levels of poverty which existed throughout Great Britain and the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries; levels of destitution and despair that Brigham Young (in the 1840s), Charles Dickens (in the 1880s) and George Orwell (in the 1920s) all were horrified by and fulminated against (though obviously each in different ways)? Back then the government hadn’t even gotten into the “wealth distribution racket” yet, and taxes were correspondingly low. Plus, churches and public religiousity were much more vigorous then. Yet oddly enough, beggars continued to starve to death in large numbers, in London and Glasgow and Paris and New York and Boston.

    The modern state is hardly something to be trifled with. Clearly, it cannot, strictly speaking, imitate the role played by intimate and localized charities. This is demonstrated again and again by any close examination of the actual workings of our welfare programs. But, for better or worse (or better AND worse), modern human beings do not, for the most part, live intimate and localized lives; hence the needs of the poor and the capacities of the community have necessarily changed. (Marx knew this, and Roosevelt too; one can certainly disagree with their solutions–I do in many ways–but their diagnoses of the modern world were more right than wrong.) The state cannot and should not pretend to be a fully providing and succoring community; but neither should we assume that, just because civil society has been forced through (both fortunate and unfortunate) historical transformations, otherwise neglected divine imperatives regarding provision and succor cannot at least partially be taken up by other agencies, including governmental ones.

  57. Thom
    March 30, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    RAF – Your points are thoughtful and well articulated. I do believe that government has a vital interest in seeing to the welfare of its citizens, I just don’t think forcible wealth redistribution is the appropriate answer for all the reasons stated previously in this thread. I think there are myriad ways the government could encourage, incentivize, and facilitate truly voluntary charity to help those in need, without having to be the actual provider of money and services itself.

  58. Kaimi
    March 30, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    A post over at Mirror of Justice touches on Kerry’s comments. Rob Vischer notes:

    A spokesperson for Bush responded by labeling the speech a “sad exploitation of scripture for political attack.” I’m not sure how much room Bush has to complain about the political exploitation of scripture.


  59. Adam Greenwood
    March 30, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Mr. Fox,
    You make an implicit point when you say that 19th and 20th century beggars starved in the Boston, New York, etc [but not in the small towns].
    You make that point explicit later: most of us don’t live intimate lives in a community that will help us out.

    You diagnose the welfare state as a response to this dissolving of locality. It is also a cause. I desire very much that the needs of the poor be seen to, just as I would desire very much myself to be helped if my circumstances turn, but I also desire very much real charity, requiring real sacrifice and towards a real person. I recognize that reducing government help to spur charity may well reduce the actual level of help (though that’s debatable, especially if the changes are made in wisdom and order). So be it. A fallen world is home to a suffering humanity.

  60. Matt Evans
    March 30, 2004 at 8:47 pm

    That Kerry guy is some act. Only a gifted actor can talk about compassion in the context of faith and works with a straight face the day after returning from a ski vacation in one of his half-dozen multi-million dollar homes.

    Where, Senator Kerry, are your works?

    I know, I know, Kerry’s shows his compassion by being generous with other people’s income.

    Kerry suffers from cognitive dissonance over his giving so little of his enormous wealth in a world with people who have so little. To assuage his conscience and ameliorate his cognitive dissonance, he subscribes to a view that those who refuse to allow Kerry to force his fellow citizens to be generous are the causes of poverty.

    It’s much easier for him to villify Bush than to look in the mirror, or at his luxurious lifestyle or, harder yet, actually sharing his luxury with so many people that he is no longer wealthy.

    As I pointed out in the Christian Taxation thread, there is zero (ZERO, ZIP, NADA) scriptural endorsement for forcing other people to serve the poor, or scriptural support for being generous with other people’s money, which are what Kerry proposes doing.

  61. March 30, 2004 at 8:57 pm

    Matt, I agree, and not only is there no scriptural support for forcing other people to serve the poor or being generous with other people’s money, but the scriptures prohibit stealing, the taking of others property. Why can a group of citizens do what one could not?

  62. Matt Evans
    March 30, 2004 at 9:09 pm

    Brent, I’m not ready to make quite as strong a claim as you are about the evil of taxes, because I believe they are necessary.

    I am definitely prepared to say that someone who is wealthy (and even those of us with one one-hundredth of one percent of Kerry’s wealth) cannot claim to have greater compassion because he is more generous with other people’s money.

  63. March 30, 2004 at 11:27 pm

    Brent, you ask “Why can a group of citizens do what one could not?” The answer is fairly straightforward: because a government is more than a group of citizens. Governments can incarcerate; citizens cannot. Governments can raise armies; citizens cannot. If your argument against tax-based government welfare is based on the assumption that government has no right to do what citizen’s cannot do, it is unsound.

  64. March 30, 2004 at 11:58 pm

    I should clarify. My point is not against taxation itself, but rather against progressive taxation. Citizens can come together to deal with problems. Of course, this costs money, and the citizens could agree that everyone should pay for the common needs of the group, or even a discrete population of the group (e.g., the poor and needy). What they could not do (and what private citizens cannot do) is take a discrete population and say “You are going to pay for the common good, or for more of the common good than everyone else.” In my mind, this is immoral and unjust.

    I also am not sure what is meant by government being more than a group of citizens. Governments are instituted, to paraphrase Lincoln, of the people, for the people and by the people. The people decide the rights of the government and can rein it in when it goes to far. Citizens also are the primary participants in the process (e.g., voting, running for political office, exercising other political rights, etc.). My point thus, is not that the government cannot do what citizen’s cannot do, but rather, that there may be limits on what the government can do and these limits may be based on the limits on individual citizen action.

    For instance, in the absence of governments, citizens could band together to form an army to protect themselves against attack from other groups of citizens. (In fact, they would in effect create a government for such a purpose). Citizens do have limited rights to apprehend criminals and/or defend themselves, and as pointed out in the prior example, they could band together to determine when it is appropriate for their appointed representatives to incarcerate law breakers.

  65. lyle
    March 31, 2004 at 9:37 am

    Alt: The logic isn’t unsound as originally put if we are talking about legal logic…it’s called “piercing the veil jurisprudence”; i.e. since a faction subverts the government…the government in effect disappears and the faction is exposed as the true entity behind the action in question; and thus legally liable.

  66. March 31, 2004 at 10:14 am

    Jeremy et al, I referred to Kerry as a hypocrite because he is part of the clique that decries separation of church and state. In MY OPINION, if someone is in favor if this *with the zeal of the of the party of Kerry and his supporters* they can keep their scripture quoting (be it from the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or Vedas) OUT of their political dealings, be it in the oval office or on the campaign trail. THEY can save it for Sunday (or whatever their day of worship is) and keep it out of the public arena.

    Jeremy, I’m sorry. I must have missed the part in the original post that talked about Bush bringing up scriptures. Would you be a doll and point that out to me? Because honestly, I just don’t recall seeing it and can’t imagine why I would call Bush into play on this because it wasn’t about him.

    But since you would like to bring him into this, as soon as I hear Bush and his party criticizing the slightest co-mingling of religion and politics, I will then call him a hypocrite as well for speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

    It’s absolutely baffling why you would assume everyone is so partisan.

  67. March 31, 2004 at 11:49 am


    Okay, I’ll take the bait, despite my better judgement.

    “I just don’t recall seeing it and can’t imagine why I would call Bush into play on this because it wasn’t about him.”

    You may recall that the title of Gordon’s original post was “Faith, Works, and Presidential Politics.” Presumably, you point out Kerry’s (supposed) hypocrisy in contradistinction to the (supposed) integrity of the candidate for whom you plan to cast your vote; and presumably, that candidate isn’t Ralph Nadar or Lyndon LaRouche.

    This is really my last comment in this thread (see previous comment RE lack of decorum).

  68. Gary Cooper
    March 31, 2004 at 11:58 am

    Jim F.,

    Not to quibble, but to respond to your thread on government being more than just a group of citizens. The logic that many of us would follow on that goes something like this:

    1. God instituted the first governments, and He did this in response to the lawless and predatory activities of Cain and his followers. This underscores that the prime and most important role of government is to act as a “policeman”–to protect life, liberty, and property.

    2. Government is CAPABLE of being much more than a policeman, but this does not argue that it SHOULD become such. Historically, human governments have tended to be tyrannical, to a greater or lesser degree. In fact, the vast majority of human history is dominated by the misery wrought by such tyranny. To the extent that governments have been limited to the “policeman” role, they have tended to be less tyrannical (such have been exceedingly few in number, a point we Americans do not remember often enough). To the extent that governments have moved beyond the “policman” role, they have tended to be more tyrannical.

    3. The chief problem tends to be human nature. Even the very best of us, if given political power, would be tempted to do things we shouldn’t. This might start out as a desire to end injustice or some other evil, but most of the time humans don’t stop when the supposed evil is vanquished. Becoming an avenging crusader is an appealing thing, and having “become” such, a strange desire tends to take root that we need to REMAIN the crusader, whether the world needs us or not (exceptions like George Washington, who pointedly refused to become military dictator of America when it was offered him on a platter, or Captain Moroni, who calmly went home when the war was over, are a tiny minority).

    4. Where governments have been instituted by the people (a great rarity), governments must abide by the limitations set by the people, or else the government is become a usurper. However, even governments of the people, from a MORAL point of view if not always a legal/constitutional one, have some limitations. By virtue of birth, all of us have the right to life, freedom of conscience, and the acquisition and retention of the fruit of our labors. In addition, we have the right to defend these rights from unlawful attack. These rights are limited to the degree that they may infringe on the same rights of others (so we can’t steal someone’s kidney to keep us alive, we can’t walk stark naked down a public street, we can’t steal someone else’s property, etc.).

    5. As individuals, there are MORAL restrictions on what we can do, and these are neither limited nor increased when we band together with other individuals. Here is the rub–while we have a MORAL right to form governments to protect us all from foriegn invasion and domestic crime, and to give this government power to set weights and measures, issue patents, build roads, and tax us to pay for its functions, we tend not to stop there. We start to look around and, if we have the votes, demand that this government start acting as a mother, a father, an employer, a businessman, a farmer, a preacher, etc. Or, those we elect get caught up in this malady, and we fail to correct this by voting them out of office.

    6. The history of republican (with a small “r”) government has been one of good and decent men starting off with the best they could cobble together (our own Constitutional convention is an example of this), and then such experiments becoming increasingly corrupted over time. A peculiar thing about representative government is that it is more likely to reflect the general moral “pulse” of a nation than any other form of government.

    7. It is impossible to create a government in this telestial world that is perfect, but it is possible to maintain one that is tolerable and where rights are generally respected. However, from long term perspective, NO GOVERNMENT CAN EXIST IN PEACE THAT DOES NOT SECURE TO EACH OF ITS CITIZENS THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PROPERTY. The paraphrase of D&C 134 is deliberate. In the U.S. today, for example, all three of these rights are increasingly encroached on. Unborn children, even in the third trimester, have virtually no right to life at all (the exceptions go to prove the rule). The ability to display Christianity in the public square is increasingly limited (my daughter last night told me that when she told her kindergarten teacher yesterday, whom she really adores, “I love you and God loves you too,” the teacher told her, “God is not a school word!”). The ability to lawfully obtain and retain property is diminishing, and an example of this is the spectacle of mothers having to work outside the home to support a family income, close to have of which is taken by force by federal, state, and local governments and given to other families, many of whom have an income only slightly less than theirs (the taxpayer).

    This brings me to the final point, which I am not sure we’ve really grabbed a hold of in this discussion. We can argue over whether transfer payments from one section of the populace (mostly the middle class and moderately wealthy, the super rich like John Kerry and George W. Bush having protected their own wealth in tax free foundations and the like, thus freeing them to “save the world” by redistributing other’s wealth) to another are practical; we can argue whether it is a state or federal issue; we can argue over whether it is immoral or not. Meanwhile, the current structure is about to crash around our ears.

    Has no one noticed that many of the programs we are arguing about hear are on the verge of bankruptcy? That we are paying for these programs with money we don’t have? That we now have children growing up in these systems who’s parents, grandparents, and great grandparents never have held employment–a permanently dependent group of people, many of whom are physically capable of work but simply don’t know how, and don’t understand the need? Just how many “Gospel principles” is the current system abiding by? Oh, yes, that’s right, the poor are “fed”; they are “housed”; they are “educated” (they are sent to schools for 7 hours a day, that’s education, right?). Yes, yes. But is that what “charity” is about? Doesn’t even the Church, through its bishops, sometimes say “no”?

    I apologize for the long thread here, but I think we all need to wake up and figure out that the current welfare state is a colossal mess, and whether we see it as a “principle we couldn’t live up to”, like the United Order, or whether we see it as a huge train of injustices and usurpations and tyranny, this state of affairs can’t continue. Either we work to overhaul this and return to the Lord’s system of limited government and reliance on individual repentence and good works (and live with the consequences of Agency), or we’re going to get what NOBODY here wants: THE CUSTODIAL STATE.

    I’m not the first person to use this term. By it I mean a government that throws up its hands and, in the name of maintaining public order, uses draconian measures to keep the whole edifice afloat. What would that mean? How about:

    1. You are a pregnant mother? You want help? You will forthwith pack up and move to gov’t housing in the nearest big city. You will have your “tubes tied” at gov’t expense, so we don’t have to pay for any more kids, and once born the child will be placed in gov’t daycare, while you receive mandatory training and job placement. You like that? Then starve.

    2. You’ve lost your job and have your wife and kids to support? See #1 above. Or starve.

    3. Drug/alcohol problem? See #1 above, but we’ll put you through rehab. If that doesn’t cure you, starve.

    4. All charity is now the exclusive province of the government. We must be on the same sheet of music, and churches tend to want to preach to the poor. No more Salvation Army soup kitchens, no more “Church Welfare Systems”.

    5. Anyone protesting this, with demonstrations, sit-ins, letters to the editor, etc., is a potential terrorist. See the appropriate provisions of a new, updated “Patriot Act”.

    6. Make sure you vote! You are Free! But don’t put an ad in your local newpaper attacking your congressman’s voting for all this within 90 days of an election, or if you banded together with others to finance the ad, etc.

    Don’t think this can happen? Just sit back and watch the news for the next 10 years and watch it unfold. Read the BoM and the D&C, too.

  69. March 31, 2004 at 12:21 pm

    Gary Cooper: I argued that the assumption impled by your rhetorical question, “Why can a group of citizens [by which you referred to the government] do what a citizen cannot?” is a false assumption. But you seem to believe that by doing so I have taken the position that the government is, therefore, not the product of the people and does not have to respond to it. That is an equally unsound inference.

    I did not take a position on the nature of government by pointing out that your assumption was false. In fact, the second point of your most recent post makes my point: if the government has a proper role as policeman, then it does more than I can do as a citizen. Of course there are times when I have the right to detain another person, but that right is not the same as police rights. Detaining a person while I wait for the police is hardly the same as incarceration. In other words, you agree that the government can do things that a citizen or group of citizens cannot.

    That was and remains the only point to which I was responding.

  70. Gary Cooper
    March 31, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    Jim F.,

    I know, I suppose I was really responding to the whole general theme that the responses to this post have come to turn around. You are correct, in the limited sense that you have stated, that there are some things that a government can do that individuals can not, but I would point out that this is really limited. Many of the things that this would include have more to do with the capacity for action, rather principle of action. Obviously, the very reason that governments are even formed is because collectively we can then do what individually we would not be able to, which is probably just restating your point.

    Perhaps it would have been more accurate if those on my side of this debate were to say, “People form governments because such a structure can do more than individual action is capable of. If the justification for creating government is its enhanced capacity to defend us from lawlessness and protect our rights, this good, and should be maintained. If, however, our motives, either in forming government or changing an existing one, is to go beyond such a function, we risk serious trouble, and we begin to encroach on the rights of others.” Would that be better?

  71. March 31, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    Gary Cooper: That makes your position much more clear. On that basis it would be possible to discuss what the function of government ought to be.

  72. lyle
    April 1, 2004 at 12:19 am

    President Benson created 15 principles for the “proper function of government.” The entire talk is available at:

  73. April 2, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Also, the NYT today has a story about how the Catholic Church is struggling to find a way to take “errant” Catholic Politicians, aka Sen. Kerry, to task for the Public Opposition to Catholic Church teachings as manifested by their votes.

    The discussion continues on this at my blog…

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