April 13th, 2011

A More Accurate Definition of Charity

The following is an op-ed I wrote that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune today, responding to this one.


I wish to highlight Josh Kanter’s intellectual flexibility, for the mental gymnastics required to compose his recent op-ed with sincere intent are impressive.

Kanter criticizes Rep. Carl Wimmer who in turn criticized taxation-based social welfare programs, arguing that Wimmer’s stance is ultimately out of step with the LDS Church’s call to charitably help those in need. In doing so, he bends and twists his arguments to assert that taxation and tithing are the same, and that a supporter of church welfare therefore cannot legitimately criticize or oppose government welfare.

Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel (see Matthew 23:24)! Kanter claims that tithing is, like taxation, based on confiscation. He either ignores or is ignorant of the striking contrast between the two. If one’s taxes go unpaid, that individual is sent to jail or given hefty fines. This is indeed force-backed confiscation. Tithing, on the other hand, carries no temporally punitive threat enforced by gun-toting church leaders; it’s more like a membership fee to any private organization.

Kanter’s argument is further dismantled by noting that his attempt to conflate taxation and tithing relies upon a faulty assumption that tithing is used for welfare purposes. Tithing funds help the growth and development of the Church itself, such as paying for temples, meetinghouses, and missionaries.

The Church’s institutionalized welfare efforts are funded through donations over and above tithing, such as fast offerings and humanitarian aid donations–each listed as an additional donation category available on every receipt members use to pay tithing. These are completely voluntary, and unlike tithing are not even required for “good standing” within the Church.

Additionally, President Monson’s encouragement to help others, referenced by Kanter, was not a suggestion that the Church’s welfare program be the sole outlet of members’ charitable contributions. Members voluntarily donate to all sorts of other organizations as well as the Church’s own programs.

Based on this flawed comparison, Kanter goes on to argue that the Democratic party, which openly supports forcible confiscation of an individual’s earnings to (theoretically) help the poor, is more in line with Church teachings than their partisan rivals. This, too, is an erroneous assumption. While on the surface Republicans may protest government-based welfare programs, they often champion them (see Medicare Part D), especially when done at a state level. Few stand on principle to suggest, like Rep. Wimmer’s tweet does, that the government has no moral place in the arrangement whatsoever.

What is government? It is nothing more than a group of individuals. As such, it cannot legitimately have any different or additional power than that which it has been delegated by the individuals who are its members. The creature cannot exceed the creator. As my neighbor lacks the moral authority to compel me to pay for his mother’s medical needs, he cannot delegate that non-existent power to the government. The only moral and legitimate method of helping the poor is for individuals to voluntarily do so of their own accord, and with their own means–whether through their church, another institution, or directly to a person in need.

In the end, Kanter’s op-ed is little more than a logically-empty propaganda piece arguing that Mormons should be Democrats. He and others seem to be increasingly advocating this comparison of late, arguing that LDS scripture or prophetic statements justify their support of a state-based welfare system that relies on force. While these attempts may be sincere, they are extremely misguided and without merit.

30 Responses to “A More Accurate Definition of Charity”

  1. Connor
    April 13, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Here is the original op-ed to which I responded:

    Defining charity: the LDS Church and Carl Wimmer

    In a recent 24-hour period, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson praised the church’s welfare program and urged members to help others, while Rep. Carl Wimmer, quoting someone else, tweeted the following: “It’s wrong for someone to confiscate your money, give it to someone else, and call that ‘compassion’.”

    We truly live in interesting times.

    The Alliance for a Better UTAH stands with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in praising the church’s welfare program and President Monson’s call to help others.

    Wimmer’s tweet makes a nice sound bite and may well be a truism of the libertarian view of government and personal responsibility. However, the statement is difficult to reconcile with the church’s program and various governmental “discretionary” programs providing aid to those among us in their time of need.

    Both are necessarily funded by either tithing or taxes — both seemingly a “confiscation” as defined by Wimmer.

    While self-reliance, personal responsibility, personal liberty and certain inalienable rights may be hallmarks of American history, we have always been a compassionate and caring people — around the world and within our own borders.

    Lately, it has become chic to lecture from the political bully pulpit, applying anti-government rhetoric to these topics. However, turning our backs on people in need is more difficult and requires nuance.

    Sadly, the belief in helping our neighbors and strangers alike in need has become associated with liberal, left-leaning “Democratic” values (read that as a bad thing), rather than long-standing “American” values (read that as a good thing).

    The question, it seems, should start at the beginning: What do we, as a people, as a nation, believe in? Once we answer that question, we need to develop and apply our policies with consistency and intellectual honesty.

    Do we really believe only in the free market and personal responsibility, regardless of circumstances? If so, then we must carry those policies to their logical conclusions. Yes, do away with entitlement programs, but also abolish tax incentives for the richest among us and subsidies for our biggest corporations.

    Or is the argument really that social assistance programs are solely the purview of religious organizations and private charities? That view is significantly complicated by the fact that all such organizations receive donations supported by their tax-exempt status, provided by none other than the federal government.

    The Deseret News recently noted consistent polling showing that more than 60 percent of Utahns consider themselves Republican. Yet it is curious that President Monson and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are talking about ideals that many would claim form the very basis of the Democratic Party. Utah Common Values works to demonstrate to LDS voters that their ideals, like President Monson’s comments, are well aligned with those of the Democratic Party.

    Last year, Brigham Young University professor Adam Brown, writing for utahdatapoints.com, examined whether a good Mormon could be a good Democrat. It is a fascinating analysis.

    Given President Monson’s remarks and Rep. Wimmer’s tweet last weekend during the LDS semiannual General Conference, perhaps the question should be, absent party labels, what do we want to see when we look at ourselves in the mirror, face our neighbors or think of what will be said about us after we are gone?

    Figure that out and remember it each time you enter a voting booth to exercise your democratic right to vote.

    Josh Kanter is founder of the Alliance for a Better UTAH. An attorney, he lives in Sandy with his wife and two children.

  2. April 15, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Great article! I just wanted to add a quote. “The form will always be substituted for the reality [in religion and in charity]. The payment of [taxes] will supplant the exercise of real benevolence, and a fulfillment of the legal form will supersede the exercise of the moral duty.” (Herbert Spencer, The Proper Sphere of Government)

  3. Blaine Nay
    April 16, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Wimmer is right. Kanter is wrong and he probably knows it and he likely doesn’t care. Taxation is confiscation with threat of force. Offerings to churches, including the LDS Church are voluntary. Contrary to Harry Reid’s claim, paying taxes are not voluntary. Fail to pay your taxes and people with guns will come to your home or office. You risk losing your home and freedom. Taxation has absolutely no similarity to the compassionate charity that President Monson praised. Failure to pay a full tithe is not a crime and President Monson is very unlikely to send people with guns to your home to collect. Jesus expects individuals to be charitable. Charitable organizations, such as churches, generally make individual charity more effective. I defy anyone to find a passage in Scripture where Jesus thought charity was a governmental function rather than an individual responsibility.

    As with other churches, substantial portion of otherwise faithful members of the LDS Church do not pay a full tithe or other offerings. As with other spiritual weaknesses they are encouraged to repent by fellow church members and leaders who have no personal interest in whether the non-tithe-payer pays. They are not handcuffed or imprisoned. Their property is not confiscated. They are not publicly humiliated. They are fully free to continue to withhold their tithes. When one looks around a congregation, it is impossible to identify who these people are because nobody singles them out. Failure to “contribute” to the far less effective government welfare program, however is not met with the same tolerance.

  4. Jim Davis
    April 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Following are a few quotes (of many) from General Authorities of the Church which dispels the “government = charity” myth:

    We have succeeded fairly well in establishing in the minds of Latter-day Saints that they should take care of their own material needs and then contribute to the welfare of those that cannot provide the necessities of life. If a member is unable to sustain himself, then he is to call upon his own family, and then upon the Church, in that order, and not upon the government at all. -Boyd K Packer (Self Reliance)

    It has been fundamental to our way of life that charity is to be voluntary if it is to be charity. Compulsory benevolence is not charity. -Ezra Taft Benson (Freedom and Free Enterprise, 1965)

    Occasionally, we receive questions as to the propriety of Church members receiving government assistance instead of Church assistance. Let me restate what is a fundamental principle. Individuals, to the extent possible, should provide for their own needs. Where the individual is unable to care for himself, his family should assist. Where the family is not able to provide, the Church should render assistance, not the government. We accept the basic principle that ‘though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. -Ezra Taft Benson (Ministering to Needs through the Lord’s Storehouse System)

  5. April 19, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    If Satan had to register with one of the two major parties, he would be a democrat.

    Seriously, in the pre-existence he was a bleeding-heart liberal. He wanted to ensure that “not one soul will be lost”. But, as is the case with liberals and democrats, he wanted to deprive the people of their God-given agency in order to accomplish his purposes. THAT specifically (the desire to take away our agency) was the reason he got his arrogant butt kicked out of Heaven.

    My message to all the LDS liberals is this: Be careful that your bleeding hearts don’t take you to the wrong side of the fight over agency.

    P.S. I believe that BOTH parties are wrong. The republicans have drifted far astray, but my disdain for democrats is still greater.

  6. Curt Bentley
    April 20, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    @Eric:

    Remember that the defining characteristic of Christ was that bleeding heart.

    My message to *some* LDS conservatives is this: be careful that, in all your zeal for agency, you’re not being mislead into believing that you have to sanction significant temporal collateral damage in order to uphold God’s eternal plan.

  7. April 20, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    Personally, I’m a little tired of all of the Bastiat-inspired rhetoric: Taxation for social programs is compulsory compassion, etc… But that’s not what I’d like to contribute in this forum.

    I’d just like to point out that while the payment of tithing might be “voluntary,” a non-payer is not permitted to hold a temple recommend and thus to participate fully in the church. While a person can choose to not pay tithing and stay out of an earthly jail, he or she can’t enter the temple. Which is a more severe consequence? Is paying tithing really completely voluntary?

  8. April 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Bastiat’s principles happen to be the type of principles upon which this country was built (he of course wasn’t even born yet, but the writings of men such as John Locke, etc. were highly influential in the framing of our nation).

    I wish that all of the people who are trying to “change” this country would pick a different country. Stop destroying the land of the free. Go to Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has worked hard to establish a socialist paradise there.

    Why must liberals legislatively force their will and views upon the rest of us? In a TRULY free country, liberals could be free to establish little communist communities on private land that they bought. They could tax and spend their little selves to their heart’s content. But no, that is not how liberals and progressives work. They have to force the rest of us to act according to THEIR beliefs, turning our whole country into a huge communist community.

  9. April 20, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    grin.

  10. James Davis
    April 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    @ Matt L

    While a person can choose to not pay tithing and stay out of an earthly jail, he or she can’t enter the temple. Which is a more severe consequence? Is paying tithing really completely voluntary?

    Not paying tithing has eternal consequences and is therefore more severe but manipulating that comparison to imply that paying tithing is not voluntary is absurd. The payment of tithes does not include the element of aggression. Taxes do.

  11. April 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    True, aggression and a deprivation of blessings are not the same. However, both are a punishment, and are intended as such.

  12. April 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    Way to dismantle the poor mope. Enjoy your Easter, ruthless one.

  13. April 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Matt, whether you happen to like Bastiat or not, the comparison you are making is absurd.

    Regarding temple attendance, you have two options.

    #1 You don’t believe the LDS Church is true, in which case it makes no difference whatsoever whether you can attend the temple. It’s just a private club for members who willingly adhere to the club’s protocols.

    #2 You believe the LDS church is true, in which case you believe that there are natural, eternal laws that govern your worthiness to enter into God’s presence. Under this system, you are 100% in control of whether or not you attend the temple. No mortal man stand between you and the presence of God, or between you and the temple. It would be like trying to blame someone else that when you stepped off a cliff gravity forced you to fall.

    On the other hand, a government, which is a human institution, established by a group of mortals, and administered by a group of mortals, has no natural eternal law to follow when extracting from you that which you have rightly produced.

    There can be no comparison made between the two situations.

  14. Charles D
    April 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Isn’t the point of charity that we actually help? Did Jesus teach that our responsibility to those less fortunate was to be limited to free-will donations? Would it not be most charitable to employ the most effective possible methods to alleviate poverty and sickness? I think it is admirable that people are willing to give to charity but is charity really able to give all the help needed to all those who need help? Or is it really more moral in LDS theology to avoid taxation than to make sure that no human being suffers or dies because charity was unable to help them?

  15. April 25, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    @JJL9

    Grin.

  16. April 25, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    “Isn’t the point of charity that we actually help?”

    Yup.

    “Did Jesus teach that our responsibility to those less fortunate was to be limited to free-will donations?”

    Yup.

    “Would it not be most charitable to employ the most effective possible methods to alleviate poverty and sickness?”

    Yup.
    And the most effective possible method is to allow people the freedom to produce for themselves while limiting the threat that what they produce can be taken from them by someone else. This method provides the maximum incentive for people to provide for themselves and also leads to the maximum amount of aid being provided for those that need it.

    “I think it is admirable that people are willing to give to charity but is charity really able to give all the help needed to all those who need help?”

    No, but the fallacy is the assertion that some other method is “really able to give all the help needed to all those who need help.” It’s not hard to see the correlation between countries that attempt to use government force (think USSR here) “to give all the help needed to all those who need help” and the suffering of the people of those countries, and the correlation between countries that remove government from that role to the maximum amount possible (think early USA) and the advancement in the condition and prosperity of the people of those countries.

    “Or is it really more moral in LDS theology to avoid taxation than to make sure that no human being suffers or dies because charity was unable to help them?”

    False premise. You are pretending that we can either

    A) Rely on private charity, in which case there is some human suffering that goes un-aided.

    or B) use “taxation” to “make sure that no human being suffers or dies.”

    That argument, in a nutshell, demonstrates in very certain words (make sure that no human being suffers or dies) the fallacy of the bleeding-heart liberal mindset (and its incredible similarity to Satan’s proposal in the pre-existence). They believe that by using government to provide for those that need help more people will be provided for than otherwise. And more importantly, they haven’t even questioned that assumption and they assume that it is self-evident, and that as such anyone with a different approach does not want to help those that need help and wants them to suffer.

    But in fact, those that understand economics understand that a policy of freedom leads to the greatest good, to the least amount of suffering and to the greatest amount of goods and services being produced and shared amongst the greatest number of people. The true “bleeding heart” liberal is labeled conservative or libertarian.

  17. April 28, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Where has this blog been all my life?! Just got tipped off to it and I feel perfectly at home. Wonderfully put, Mr. Boyack…I couldn’t agree more.

  18. May 1, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    @JJL9: Awesome comments. I think those comments are particularly applicable to the comments that were made by somebody above, saying that Jesus Christ “was a bleeding-heart liberal”. I feel that such a statement is blasphemy (or, at least, an insult to the Savior of the world).

    Furthermore, that comment highlights the ignorant liberal belief that THEY are the only ones who are concerned about the needs of others. That belief is FALSE. In fact, if we did an objective study, I believe we would find that conservatives are more charitable than liberals. The thing is, we just also happen to believe in the principle of agency.

    It is BEYOND me, how a spirit could have supported the side of agency in the pre-existence, and then come to earth and be an anti-agency liberal.

  19. May 1, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    Eric,

    You’re so cute.

  20. May 1, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    Matt,

    Thanks. So are you.

    You’re the cutest. Seriously.

  21. James Davis
    May 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Matt L,

    Smug remarks don’t help you or your arguments gain credibility.

  22. May 2, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    Thanks to both of you.

    In a groupthink situation, different perspectives are not welcomed anyway. I honestly don’t know why I continue to return to this blog. The whole thing is simply impractical vituperative rhetoric. When I originally visited this blog I tried rational argument, but “resistance is futile.”

    Luckily there are enough moderates, or as some might call them, “bleeding-heart liberals” out there, to make sure that the opinions expressed and supported on this blog remain at the margins of the American political spectrum.

    I know, I know. You’re going to tell me that the “revolution” or the “movement” is growing. And so on… Well, I will look for Connor Boyack to win political office outside of Utah. If that happens, let me know. At that point, I think you can finally say that there is something like a ground swell of support for the 10th amendment rally cry. Until then… welcome to Boyack’s world. Come, have a seat.

  23. May 2, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Matt,

    “At the margins of the American political spectrum” ???

    So, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that’s true. You’re saying that this makes us wrong?

    Do you happen to be LDS? If so, wouldn’t you say that people would agree that our beliefs are “on the margins of the American religious spectrum”?

    You can marginalize a group or a philosophy, sure. But that doesn’t make that group or philosophy wrong.

  24. May 2, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Matt,

    You state, ” When I originally visited this blog I tried rational argument…”

    It appears to me that you hav abandoned that strategy. If you think you have it in you, I would challenge you to attempt a rational argument now.

    Rational, or logical, arguments are based on 1st finding common ground, and then following that to its rational or logical end.

    If you start with a premise that I don’t agree with and then use logic to make a conclusion based on that premise, then to me it’s not a rational argument, because it is based on a false premise.

    Do you base your rational arguments on principles?

    Principle:

    1. A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.
    2. A rule or belief governing one’s personal behavior.

    If you do, then you should try to find one that we have in common. Maybe we are so far out in the margins of the American political spectrum that we have none in common. If that is the case, then any attempt at logical debate is pointless because we have no base to start from.

    So I’m challenging you to come up with a principle that we have in common, one that leads to your conclusion, and not ours. That would be, as you put it, rational argument.

  25. May 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    Eric, yes, Mormons are on the fringe of the religious spectrum. No doubt.
    No, I never said that being on the fringe automatically makes you wrong. I just find the whole delivery of the tea-party message to be mostly counter-productive. Vituperative was the word I used previously.

    On that note, I am being challenged to find common ground with JJL9. I think you are right, we have very little common ground, if there is any at all. Hence, I ask myself the rhetorical question, “Why do I keep coming back to this bastion of “principles” that are so different from my own.” Principles (thank you for the definition) are obviously subjective. I’m sure you would accuse me of the same, but to tacitly suggest that your principles are the only “true” principles is quite arrogant. I challenge you to make a rational argument based on my principles. See, we’re going in circles now.

    I mentioned the word groupthink before. I think that is an accurate description of what goes on in this forum/blog. I would also say that there is a lot of groupthink going on on the left side of the political spectrum. What I would really enjoy is a discussion board where ideas based on pragmatism were valued and discussed more than ideology and rhetoric.

  26. May 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Matt, I’m not sure what “the whole delivery of the tea-party message” is. I don’t think there is such a thing. If there is, can you show it to everyone who thinks they are part of the tea-party movement so they can decide whether or not they really are?

    Why don’t you address the current discussion instead of generalizing any way? As if there aren’t factions within all portions of the political spectrum that are vituperative? If you think the general message of those who promote liberty and freedom is more vituperative than the general message of those who promote government interference and oppression, then your claim to pragmatism is completely hollow. Pragmatism implies that you are dealing or concerned with facts or actual occurrences.

    As to your retort about my discussion about principles you were completely disingenuous, knowlingly putting words in my mouth that I never said.

    In fact, my suggestion that we have a meaningful debate by finding common ground, or a common principle to build on was far more pragmatic than your continued name-calling (groupthink, vituperative) and belittling condescension (grin, you’re so cute), and demonstrates that you have no interest in having meaningful debate, but would rather make yourself feel better by claiming that those with an opinion that differs from yours rely on nothing but ideology and rhetoric.

    Where are your pragmatic additions to this discussion? I don’t see them anywhere.

  27. May 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    JJL9,

    FYI, vituperative and groupthink are not name-calling.

    You, too, are quite talented when it comes to twisting words and inserting meaning. You clearly missed the point of what I was trying to communicate–not sure if that was intentional or unintentional on your part.

    You ask me where my pragmatic additions are? I ask, where are there any pragmatic additions by anyone here?

  28. Jim Davis
    May 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Matt,

    I’m glad you brought up pragmatism as I believe it is a major factor which separates your philosophy from mine. I am a pragmatist but I believe pragmatism should be filtered through moral principles before it should be considered at all. Modern-day pragmatism ignores what’s moral but focuses on immediate ends. It is short-sighted and hardly considers unintended consequences. Unprincipled pragmatism ignores individual rights/freedoms and attempts to justify immoral actions because of the “greater good” which it supposedly obtains.

    As Charles has pointed out here already, he believes that the point of charity is to help the unfortunate but then he attempts to justify unprincipled means to obtain that goal. Forced charity, aka redistribution of wealth, is not moral and the debate should end there… But as some people prefer to just see the ends (or practicality) of an issue I’ll point this out- forced charity encourages dependence and discourages productivity. For a while it might “work” but eventually almost all productive people will see that the incentive isn’t there anymore and they’ll shift to the dependent side. This has happened in every society which attempts, albeit with good intentions, to take care of the needy through the means of government. Now that we have so many government programs “taking care” of the hungry, unemployed, sick, elderly and needy we are so broke that we can’t afford to pay what the government has already promised.

    Forced charity is not practical but even more importantly, worthy ends do not justify unworthy means.

  29. May 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    I guess we agree to disagree. I think both of us could go on explaining and defending our “principles” but I think you and I both are tiring in an attempt to get the last word in… at least I am. So, let’s end in agreement… we disagree. Truce, brother.

  30. October 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    You left out the end: “Government is a group of people, notably ungoverned.”
    The more theft and abuse of power I see, the more I’m convinced that nobody can really be trusted with much money or power. I’m a pretty good per on and I hardly trust myself.
    The application in this case is that private acts of charity are more effective than government.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.