Sheep Food (Part 1)

May 1, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 11:53 pm   Category: Feed My Sheep,Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

And you thought the Feed My Sheep series here at the Thang was dead… Oh, how wrong you were. So far we have discussed the relationship between sheep and shepherds in scripture and who the scriptures define as Christ’s sheep (and who they say aren’t His sheep). In the next couple of posts I will discuss what it is we are supposed to feed these sheep; or in other words, what is the sheep food?

It seems to me that the first type of food we are supposed to feed the sheep is, well, real food.

And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good-to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jacob 2: 19)

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you-that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God-I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4: 26)

Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake, who should come according to the spirit of prophecy; (Alma 4: 13)

Now there are lots of ways to go about feeding the hungry, but as Mormons we have a way that we are asked feed the hungry first: Through Fast Offerings. If any readers are not familiar with this term, Mormons worldwide fast (go without food and drink for at least two meals) one Sunday per month and donate funds to the church that are specifically earmarked to be given to the poor and needy. These donations are called Fast Offerings and are separate from the 10% tithing that faithful Mormons also donate.

Church leaders have encouraged generosity in these alms to the poor and Christ certainly seemed interested in seeing to it that his sheep were physically fed. We have discussed fast offering vs. other charitable donations here in the past and the advantage that I see in making offerings to the poor via fast offerings is that the funds are mostly distributed through the Bishops of the church. I happen to have faith in the mantle of a bishop and think that as a general rule God himself is able to work with these men to see to it that funds are distributed properly.

So what do you think constitutes a generous offering to the poor? I have a buddy who served as a bishop and he suggested that for most middle class families he would consider a 1%+ offering to the poor generous. For a family with a $50,000 per year annual income that is $500 per year, or about $40 per month. What do you think? I suppose that someone who was much wealthier than that might have a higher threshold for what constitutes “generous”. For example, someone earning $200,000 per year might not be stretched at all to donate $200 per month to the poor ($2400 per year). Maybe someone in that position would want to do more for the poor and go for a much higher monthly number or something.

Because each family is different the Church has intentionally avoided defining “generous”. But this is just a blog so we can take a whack at it. Is my buddy right? Is offering 1%+ to the poor generous for a middle class U.S. Mormon family? And what about after we pay off all of our debts (including mortgage) as we are counseled to do? What would constitute generous then? How are we doing at feeding the sheep real food?


  1. It is my understanding that the church has recommended a minimum donation level as being the cost of the meals missed. But we are encouraged to give more when we are in a possition to do so.

    I have thought of fast offerings as a way of ‘feeding the stranger’. Christ speaks or ‘when I was hungry you fed me’ and the person askes when did we do this, and he responds with – inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these .. you have done it unto me. It seems fast offerings is one way of doing this.

    I have also heard that there are many areas in the United States that are in the red in terms of fast offerings, meaning they give out more than they take in. I have heard that this is not the case in the ‘Mountain Time Zone’, so good for you who are there. Unfortunately many ‘third world’ nations are in the black when it comes to fast offerings. Something wrong here.

    Comment by Eric — May 2, 2006 @ 5:52 am

  2. One rumor that went around when I lived in San Diego was that the saints in Tijuana were in the black regarding fast offerings (meaning the collections from the members exceeded the disbursements to the poor from the bishop — looks like you got that backward Eric) but that many of the San Diego wards were in the red and thus were drawing from the general overflow fund (which presumably includes the widow’s mites collected in Tijuana). I don’t know how true how true that rumor was but it did manage to wake us up a bit… Of course it doesn’t take much for a bishop to go into the red in a San Diego ward. Paying one family’s rent or mortgage might be $1500-2000 per month and that alone would wipe out a lot of the monthly donations to the poor in many wards. Then when food or medication bills also come in it wouldbe easy to let disbursements exceed collections. With any luck the members in the wealthier areas help cover the wards in poorer areas.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2006 @ 8:46 am

  3. Someone once said that if a sacrifice doesn’t hurt it’s not a sacrifice. I like that. Of course the “hurt” threshold is different for everyone.

    Comment by Rusty — May 2, 2006 @ 11:57 am

  4. Hehe. That sounds suspiciously like my post from last May, Rusty: “A sacrifice is not a sacrifice unless it’s a sacrifice“. Looks like you participated there too (and I appreciate my friends offering pity comments on my less-than-popular posts!)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

  5. While I whole-heartedly agree with your opinion of Bishops, if I earned $200,000 a year I think I’d do the 1% for fast and perhaps another 1% directly (anonomously) to the sheep.

    I’m a little worried that the Church’s Fast Offering method “isolates” us a bit from those in need. F.O. is a method to prove the concept of wanting to help others. How much should we want to know about others specific needs?

    Ok. I’m not explaining this well… Should we know our neighbor’s situation well enough that we know little Johnny needs a new pair of shoes?

    Comment by ed — May 2, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

  6. Look, there is no such thing as sacrifice in anyone’s world. The “sacrifice” is something given to get something much greater in return. Thus, it is never a sacrifice. If we truly believed that there would be no return whatsoever, why would we do it? So there ya are, no sacrifice because the very concept of sacrifice is self-defeating.

    Comment by Blake — May 2, 2006 @ 6:05 pm

  7. ed – That is an intersting point. It is an issue of being largely blind to the results of our offerings vs. seeing the results. There is certainly an emotional advantage to seeing the results but I am not sure that it is any more commendable to see the results. The great thing about using fast offerings is that it is anonymous and almost entirely between us and God.

    Blake – I agree. That was the gist of that post I linked to in the response to Rusty. It seems to me that the “sacrifice” is really more an act of faith in Christ than anything else. We give because we trust Christ when he says we ought to give — even when it is scary for us.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 2, 2006 @ 6:17 pm

  8. Geoff: Maybe there is such a thing as giving without expectation of return. Maybe there truly is selflessness and willingness to just give out of love — but if it is truly selfless, it is no sacrifice. My view is that no one ever does what they don’t want to do. They may gripe about it; but in the end if they were to take accountability for their choices they would see that they are accountable for what they choose and what they give.

    On the other hand, the real question is — is it possible to give a gift. As Derrida has pointed out, a gift creates an expectation of return; but if a gift is given with expectation of return then it is no gift at all. I am just naive enough to know that parents give to their children; they give to their parents out of gratitude when parents are too old to care for themselves. I see selflessness all around me. It is just really people who go about doing what they do out of love without ever counting the cost or thinking about how they benefit. But then, what they give isn’s felt as a sacrifice either, but a privilege.

    Comment by Blake — May 2, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

  9. I guess I didn’t get my point across. Yes, it’s cool to see the results of charity, but I was trying to say “If we loved our neighbors, shouldn’t we know their needs?” – Instead of our neighbor going to the Bishop for help, wouldn’t a zion society know what a neighbor needs and leave the needed item(s) on their doorstep?

    Comment by ed — May 2, 2006 @ 8:42 pm

  10. I get a bit tired of the point about “sacrifice” not really being a sacrifice on account of the fact that God blesses us in return. Yes, God may bless us for our sacrifice, but this is, in fact, the literal meaning of the word sacrifice. From

    1. The act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or a person.
    2. Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value.
    3. Relinquishment of something at less than its presumed value.

    Now, clearly people do not intend meaning 3 the religious context, and definitions 1 and 2 are accurate without qualification. Blake’s comment (#6) said:

    The “sacrifice” is something given to get something much greater in return. Thus, it is never a sacrifice.

    According to definition 2, this could be restated as: The “sacrifice” is a sacrifice. Thus, it is never a sacrifice.

    As to a generous fast offering, I have queried several bishops about this and they all gave the same answer you got which is that 1% is the typical “generous” fast offering. I think that it is terrible that this is the extent of our generosity. My family gives 5%. It seems clear that if tithing didn’t mean “a tenth” and was left up the members to be generous, no would would be giving 10%.

    Comment by Anon — May 4, 2006 @ 7:13 pm

  11. Good points all around Anon. When my former-bishop friend asked what I thought a generous fast would be my first guess was 5% as well. I would love to someday be in debt free and able to give much more than that to the poor. The Law of consecration would seem to demand that of us after all…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 4, 2006 @ 7:41 pm

  12. My husband grew up with a quorum advisor who suggested the fast offering would mean more if it was a sacrifice, along the lines of #3 Rusty’s comment. He also recalls requests to double fast offerings (President Kimball?) and special pleas made by bishops for extra donations for non-specified ward needs.

    1% seems like a good place to start, should generally work if someone wants to go above the ‘two-meals’ rule. Another one that I’ve seen is donating an amount equal to the weekly grocery budget.

    Comment by Téa — May 13, 2006 @ 1:51 am