The New Fourfold Purposes of the Church

December 10, 2009    By: Geoff J @ 5:50 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

There have been rumors circulating in recent months that the threefold mission of the church that became part of Mormonism under President Kimball (Proclaim the Gospel, Perfect the Saints, Redeem the Dead) was going to be expanded to include something about caring for the poor and needy. It now appears those rumors were accurate. We get this from Peggy Fletcher Stack’s article on the subject today:

The LDS Church is adding “to care for the poor and needy” to its longstanding “threefold mission,” which is to preach the LDS gospel, purify members’ lives and provide saving ordinances such as baptism to those who have died.

This mission first was coined by late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball in the 1980s and since then has been repeated as a mantra by the church’s more than 13 million members.

The new group of phrases will be described as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “purposes,” rather than missions, and will be spelled out in the next edition of the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions , due out next year, church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed this week.

I like it. A lot.


  1. Geoff, maybe we should get all those evil banks to forgive the mortgages of the poor and needy and then they won’t be poor and needy and we can stay with just three missions.

    Comment by Michael — December 10, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

  2. I am interested in how this will be implemented.

    Part of me wonders if this is a political move to improve good will post prop 8. I don’t really think so, and am delighted as this move seems so perfectly in line with the preachings and life of Thomas S. Monson. I like that he is making his mark. Part of me wonders if this will create more space for democrats in mormonism. Part of me wonders what approach the church will take. I guess the folk wisdom I’ve head in the church has been that we can’t “take the people out of the slums” but need to “take the slums out of the people” Not sure of the origin of that, but I heard it in the MTC associated with some church president. What method will we take for helping the poor and needy?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 10, 2009 @ 6:38 pm

  3. Are you suggesting, Matt, that Democrats somehow are more concerned about the poor? Than Mormons today? I don’t follow your comment on that point. It sort of sounds like if you are concerned about the needy, you must be a Democrat. Is that right?

    Comment by Chris — December 10, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

  4. “It sort of sounds like if you are concerned about the needy, you must be a Democrat. Is that right?”

    Sounds right to me.

    However, we likely should not read too much politics (in the partisan-sense) into this change. It is not there.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 10, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  5. Chris- For the record I am not a democrat (I am an independent). You may not be aware of it, but democrats currently in the United States are proponents of something called universal health care, a health care program designed to provide more health care primarily to the poor and needy. Leaving aside whether it works, I think my linking of the two is possible.

    However, I do not believe the statement need be partisan, any more than I think it is a public relations effort.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 10, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

  6. Michael,


    Nah, banks will still find a new way to steal money from the poor. ;)

    Comment by Dan — December 10, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  7. Matt: Charity can’t be coerced by the government and help for the isn’t promoted by government inefficiencies. What I worry about most is the “I paid my taxes so I have fulfilled my obligation to the poor” syndrome.

    Comment by Blake — December 10, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

  8. I fully agree with the Church putting this #4 on the list of purposes. I just take issue with politicizing the issue. There are more ways to bless the poor and needy than requiring people by law to support them. Better ways, too, in my opinion. Dem vs. Rep always reeks of power and control instead of allowing people the freedom to choose correctly or to err.

    Comment by Chris — December 10, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

  9. yeesh people. It was an idle thought. I was not trying to politicize anything. I just wondered if democrats who are stereotyped sometimes as marginalized in our religion will feel less marginalized with this development. Frankly, I hope so. I hope no one feels marginalized by the Church.

    I am interested to see what types of programs the church amplifies with this. Maybe we’ll finally get something workable going in the philippines. (Cebu had no Bishops storehouse, as it would be very difficult there as many join the church for financial reasons already, and I can count the members of the church there I met who were not poor on one hand)

    Comment by Matt W. — December 10, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

  10. Michael (#1) — Easy there with your bank hating bro. I happen to collect my paychecks from a bank.

    Matt (#2) — Way to step in it Matt. (grin) I think your overall questions about implementation are good ones. I wonder too. If the programs end up being fairly traditional methods of giving to the poor I can imagine that will chafe some of the (many) wingnuts in the church just like the church’s moderate stance on the immigration issue does.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 10, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

  11. I, for one, am very grateful that the church is adding this new purpose of caring for the poor and needy publicly.

    Also, the fact that our US government — you know, we the people — decides to use some small fraction of its overall resources from taxes from we the people for charitable purposes like programs for the sick and needy (as well as for fighting wars, building roads, and having to regulate financial industries and attorneys and the like, among other things) should not, as Blake seems to suggest, be dismissed as non-charitable because it is done by we the people communally.

    I would never discount the need to be charitable individually or as families, but there’s nothing wrong with a government of the people deciding to give charitably together. You and I have the right to elect representation and if our representatives believe we want to use resources to help others and it passes muster, I’m all for it. Of course, like in any giving there should be accountability.

    Furthermore, as a retired government worker, I’d pit my former agencies efficiencies when I was there up against your private one any day. And I encourage you not to engage the syndrome worry so much about even if you have to pay taxes.

    Comment by wreddyornot — December 10, 2009 @ 11:45 pm

  12. Nicely stated and argued wreddyornot.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 10, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

  13. Almost 20% of those making less than $30,000 don’t have a bank account. Of course, these days predator check-cashing places are turning out to be a better deal.

    Comment by Bill — December 11, 2009 @ 12:54 am

  14. Is it possible that this is a change in name without any change in policy? Look, the Church already does a LOT to care for the poor and needy: bishops’ storehouses, employment services, PEF, disaster relief, Mormon Helping Hands, etc. Yet critics can point to the 3-fold Mission and say, “You don’t even mention the poor.” Is this just a name-change to highlight the services we already provide?

    Comment by BrianJ — December 11, 2009 @ 1:03 am

  15. Does this officially expand the scope of church welfare to not only [Latter-Day] saints, but also non [Latter-Day] saints?

    It will be interesting to eventually find out what changes there are to the CHI. That will be where the rubber hits the road for most of us.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 11, 2009 @ 4:59 am

  16. BrianJ,

    I think this will not lead a change in policy, though policies and practices in this area are always evolving. This change is largely symbolic. However, to say that it is symbolic is not to say that it is hollow or just a PR stunt. Symbolism is important and valuable.

    I posted on this at FPR on Sunday, One of the commenters wondered in some would just use this focus on the poor and needy just as another opportunity to bash on government welfare programs. That does appear to be what some are doing and we can expect a lot more.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 11, 2009 @ 7:15 am

  17. I don’t think the 4th purpose will result in any substantial change in current Church activity. What it will do is make it easier to justify those activities in a formalized way.

    I suspect the handbook will say something along the lines that all quorum or auxiliary activities should further one or more of the four purposes of the Church.

    Comment by A. Davis — December 11, 2009 @ 7:39 am

  18. Great, does this mean that there will now be a 4th committee in our EQ classes that we have to sit around and make something up for by the end of class for each of the missions of the church? Don’t tell me I am the only one that had to sit through one of those.

    Comment by Hans — December 11, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  19. Are these still quorum commitee surrounding the three-fold mission. I chaired the proclaiming the gospel commitee when I live at Wymount at BYU a decade ago. I have not heard of it since. When I was EQP I found no mention of it in the handbook (which does not mean that it is not there, I just did not see it).

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 11, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  20. That should read: “Are there still quorum commitee surrounding the three-fold mission?”

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 11, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  21. Charity can’t be coerced by the government and help for the isn’t promoted by government inefficiencies. What I worry about most is the “I paid my taxes so I have fulfilled my obligation to the poor” syndrome.

    Does anyone ever really say or think this? This seems to be a new accusation towards the left that I have heard recently.

    I don’t personally know any democrats who feel or live that way – LDS or otherwise.

    Comment by Bandanamom — December 11, 2009 @ 9:48 am

  22. Chris H, I looked into Quorum Committess a few years back and it seems to be a stake by stake thing. Personally, I think adding the 4th purpose is definitely going to get me to the Bishops Storehouse with my wards YM next year.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 11, 2009 @ 9:51 am

  23. Matt,

    Quorums should be involved in all four areas. I have also be in relatively small quorums, so that might explain why we rarely break up into commitee. Thanks for the link.

    The new emphasis will likely lead to many good discussions and teaching opportunities.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 11, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  24. I think we do have such a “I paid my taxes so I have fulfilled my obligation to the poor” syndrome, at least with health care. If you have no health insurance and talk about the difficulty of getting care, how many [hundreds of] times have you, like me, been told that everything is okay because emergency rooms have to take you? (Emergency rooms won’t take you for non-emergencies, such as figuring out why you’re dizzy all the time, or why that unusual pain under your shoulder has persisted for months, or any other chronic but not yet emergent problem.) People saying such things seem to be saying “I pay my taxes and my health insurance so I’m supporting emergency room care for you, so why should I be concerned about any other aspect of health care reform?” They remind me of Scrooge saying, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

    More to the point of Geoff’s post, we really don’t have the slightest idea yet how this new purpose will be implemented — all we have so far is the barest second-hand confirmation via a non-Mormon newspaper that the purpose will be added. It’s fun to wonder what will grow from this — I’ve posted today about my speculation that priesthood authority and organization may be as essential to effectively caring for the poor as that priesthood is to effectively preaching the gospel, perfecting the saints, and redeeming the dead — but we really won’t know anything until President Monson or his delegate tells us a whole lot more than we know now.

    In the meantime, I’m labeling everything I say as speculation so that I have much less crow to eat later!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 11, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  25. Here’s my wish list:

    1. As Matt W. has noted above, there are very few bishop’s storehouses located outside of North America. If this new initiative really comes about, I’d like to see our brothers and sisters have the same benefit of storehouses that we enjoy.

    2. I would consider it a big step forward if we could become as concerned about someone who isn’t receiving assistance but should as we are about somebody who might be wasting assistance or receiving it unworthily. It is an incredible experience to sit in a welfare council meeting and listen to somebody who has 4 snowmobiles and a boat in his driveway bitch and moan because he noticed a Domino’s pizza box in the garbage can of a family which is temporarily receiving fast offering assistance. The handbook states that it is the bishop’s duty (and, by extension, the ward’s) to “seek out the poor.” While we are under obligation to see that funds are used wisely and not squandered, I wish we would focus as much on seeking out the poor are we are on rooting out waste.

    Comment by Mark Brown — December 11, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  26. Chris H,

    “It sort of sounds like if you are concerned about the needy, you must be a Democrat. Is that right?”

    Sounds right to me.

    Sigh. For the record, I think both republicans and democrats care about the poor, but due to differing economic worldviews tend to disagree vehemently on how to best help the poor. It is sad that even though year after year people do studies showing that republicans give way more of their own money to the poor (even after removing church donations, etc) democrats (like yourself) continue to claim that only democrats care about the poor. I think it is ridiculous and frankly a bit offensive.


    Does anyone ever really say or think this? This seems to be a new accusation towards the left that I have heard recently.

    Have you looked at charitable giving in Europe lately? The European nations give dramatically less per capita to charity than the US and one obvious candidate for an explanation is that they are very heavily taxed to support a much broader welfare state.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 11, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

  27. Ardis #24- I am guilty of this. I always pay my fast offering, then when I am directly asked by a stranger for help, I rarely ever give.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 11, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  28. Jacob J,

    I was being sarcastic. Chill.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 11, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

  29. I’m cool as a cucumber, no need to chill further. I’m glad you were being sarcastic, but you gave voice to a very real sentiment which is what I am really responding to. No hard feelings.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 11, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  30. All is well. I have said in a number of places that this is not a partisan issue. I do not think Matt’s comment was meant to make it one, so I was taking a poke at the other Chris’ comment.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — December 11, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  31. This sounds very exciting. The Church does provide some specific welfare services that are absolutely unique and wonderful. These however, are sometimes not heard about, and as a result, some members who would probably be interested in participating don’t know about them.

    I believe that by bringing this area into the spotlight many more members will understand those Church programs and will want to participate. Instead of having to simply donate some amount to a vague box in their tithing and offerings slip. I think we will understand better what that vague box stands for. And this is of course a core value of Christianity.

    Comment by Manuel — December 11, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  32. Looks like what I suggested in #14 is more or less accurate:

    [Bishop Edgley, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said] “Including language about caring for the poor and needy…recognizes the long-standing practices of the church. I don’t think you’re going to see anything change, but we’re always trying to be sensitive to the needs of others and to be better at delivering relief.”

    Comment by BrianJ — December 14, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  33. Eric # 15

    Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center which is under the umbrella of the church welfare system.

    The Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center was established in 1991 in Salt Lake City, Utah to (1) prepare emergency relief supplies for shipment worldwide, (2) train those desiring to develop employable skills and become self-reliant, and (3) offer service opportunities.

    Relief Supplies

    The emergency relief supplies required by the Church include clothing, personal care kits, and medical supplies. Once donated, these items are processed and prepared for shipment to where they are needed most. In a typical year, the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center will ship about 12 million pounds of shoes and clothing, 1 million hygiene kits, and 1 million pounds of medical supplies to relieve suffering in more than 100 countries.


    At any given time, more than 100 individuals—mostly refugees and immigrants—are being trained at the center to join the workforce and become self-reliant. These trainees, representing as many as 30 countries and 20 different languages, attend classes in English, computer skills, and customer service. Trainees are assigned a job coach who, in addition to work skills, emphasizes the importance of attendance, punctuality, personal hygiene, and other basic life skills. Training lasts up to 18 months, after which assistance is provided in finding long-term employment.

    Here are some other articles. The LDS Church provides relief to thousands of people that are not LDS, and they do not add “religious tracks” like so many people think they do.

    Elder Ballard honored by Catholic Community

    Comment by skhe — December 14, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

  34. This forum is only the beginning of the arguments that are going to ensue within the church because of this change. 90% of my Ward is Democrat (East Coast) as are most of the Wards out here. In the current political atmosphere, to say this subject won’t draw political lines in church is ridiculous. More is spoken of about the poor than almost any subject in scripture. It was the difference between Sodom (Ezek 16:49) and Enoch’s city. It is always about the poor. The D&C says clearly again and again things like “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.” How many talks do we have to read by Hugh Nibley about money and Babylon? It is the poor and, yes, a government’s care for the poor that defines a society. Private support of the poor is necessary for our own salvation (Mosiah 4) but government support is also clearly expressed EVERYWHERE in the scripture regardless of what Glen Beck says. This is a great turn for the church and will spark much needed discussion, but there will be disagreement for a while. Even church leaders disagree about this subject right now. But creating an Enoch Society isn’t going to happen overnight until our hearts get right with money. This change will force all of us to read scriptures about money and the poor, even the uncomfortable ones.

    Comment by Dan M. — July 12, 2010 @ 8:04 am

  35. In the current political atmosphere, to say this subject won’t draw political lines in church is ridiculous

    Excuse me, what is particularly political about the involvement of a private organization in charitable activities? Do you suppose that political conservatives are against the second great commandment? Are fast offerings on the list to be eliminated? Deseret Industries? Bishop’s storehouses? Welfare Square? Humanitarian Services? What other programs of the church are the troglodytes against?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 12, 2010 @ 8:41 am

  36. Thank goodness for the enlightened East Coast Mormon Democrats.

    Comment by Riley — July 12, 2010 @ 4:07 pm