I’ve caught a moderate degree of flak from a few Mormons who believe I’ve misrepresented the position of their church regarding social justice. To restate my argument, it was that 1) the Mosaic Law, as enunciated in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, holds that the poor are to be provided for as a matter of public law, not individual charity; and 2) that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which saw itself as restoring both ancient Israel and the early Church, incorporated this aspect of the Mosaic Law into its own public law in the nineteenth century.
The late Dean May, an eminent Mormon historian, laid out the course of Mormon social welfare policy 20 years ago in a fine article: “Body and Soul: The Record of Mormon Religious Philanthropy,” Church
History, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Sep., 1988), pp. 322-336. Beginning with the Book of Mormon (4 Nephi 3), the LDS Church was imbued with the teaching that care of the poor was a collective responsibility. As May makes clear, this was from the outset a teaching focused not on all the poor but on the Mormon community itself. To that extent, Mormons were under less of an obligation to care for the stranger among them than were the ancient Israelites. But it was equally the case that, as members of the Church, they were obligated to provide for the poor, whether enthusiastically or begrudgingly. By my lights, that’s a corporate commitment to social justice.
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