Tis Better to Receive than to Give: Ask the Bishop (Poll #10)

by: Bishop Bill

October 8, 2011

The single hardest thing I had to do as bishop, repeatedly, was deciding who would get fast offering help, and who would not.  So, I’ll let you help me on this one.  You’re the bishop!

There is a family in your ward that runs hot and cold with church attendance.  They come for 6 months, and then disappear for another 6 months.  Once during their six-month church vacation you visited them. They really did not have an explanation for their inactivity, just that they were busy.  While in their house, you noticed their kids had all the latest electronic gadgets, and they had a large screen plasma TV.

A few months later, they show up in church, and the husband asks for a meeting with you.  You know what’s coming, as you have helped them in the past with rent assistance.  Sure enough, the husband asks if the church can help pay their rent. You remind him that while they were doing well this past year (as evidenced by all the expensive toys in their home), that they did not pay any tithing or fast offerings.  In fact, it has been well over a year since they paid any tithing.

You're the bishop. What do you do (Poll #10)

  • Have compassion on the family, and give them the money, but remind them of their obligations (tithing, fast offerings, and church attendance). (45%, 44 Votes)
  • Tell the husband that you will not be helping this time due to lack of paying tithing or fast offerings over the last year while employed. (36%, 35 Votes)
  • Pay half his rent because he only comes half the time. (14%, 14 Votes)
  • Tell them if they attend for a few weeks, you'll help them out with rent. (5%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 97

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Discuss.

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29 Responses to Tis Better to Receive than to Give: Ask the Bishop (Poll #10)

  1. geoffsn on October 8, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    I think my response would depend on the quantity of funds available and the number of other people in the ward in need of help.

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  2. Dan on October 8, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    have compassion and remind them of their obligations.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 3

  3. Jeff Spector on October 8, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    You should give them food assistance first, have them develop a budget, have them pay the rent out of as much funds as they have and figure out a way to pare down their lifestyle to match their income. Suggest (maybe even require) they start attending Church on a regular basis and pay tithing as a sign they understand who is helping them out. The Lord and the members of the ward who do pay.

    None of those answers were close to that.

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  4. NewlyHousewife on October 8, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    Sell all the fancy gizmos.

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  5. Course Correction on October 8, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    Church attendance should not be a qualifier for help to the needy. It sounds like this family might need budget counseling rather than money.

    Giving financial aid to those who don’t truly need it facilitates poor choices.

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  6. Jared on October 8, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    #3 Jeff nailed it in my opinion.

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  7. Douglas on October 8, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    I would evaluate their true means and where they could cut back. For example, if they’re maxed out on store credit and credit cards to buy the toys, suggest credit counselling and either selling the toys or letting them be repossessed. Emphasise that assistance from the Church is meant to be temporary (unless there’s a terrible disability which forever negates any earning ability) and to sustain the essentials of life, not to sustain a lifestyle. Also emphasise, regardless of temporal needs, of the need for regular Church activity for their spiritual welfare.
    Therefore, though each answer has its own merits, none seem to suffice to meet the family’s true needs and at the same time protect the integrity of the Church Welfare program.

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  8. Dan on October 8, 2011 at 8:02 PM

    I agree with Course Correction.

    Who teaches finance and budgeting to anyone these days?

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  9. Jon on October 8, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    I agree with 3 & 5 with emphasis on budgeting. I would probably require reading something like “Your Money or Your Life.”

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  10. Aaron L on October 8, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    For me, their previous tithing/fast offering payments and activity levels are much less important to me than their obvious financial mismanagement. Even if they had paid tithing and attended church consistently, I would give them resources for professional financial counseling, then have them sell their toys. If they still needed help after all of that, then we could talk about giving them financial assistance.

    People with a house full of the latest electronic gadgets and a huge plasma flat screen almost never have good justification asking for charity. There are too many other people in the world in much greater need than they are.

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  11. Miskky on October 9, 2011 at 1:15 AM

    Of course, these “case studies” can seldom supply all that is needed to make sound decisions nor are all the possible choices available.

    I feel many have given some good answers. But, how does one balance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, etc. with the teachings of self-reliance?

    I’m sure many who are smarter than I am have thought about this a lot and have come to any or all of the conclusions above.

    I have asked myself what does God do..? Does He always give us everything we ask for? Does He always save us from harm, accident or illness rather we are righteous or not? Does He always save us from our own bad or stupid decisions or mistakes? It sure would be helpful to know more about how He makes those decisions but then… He IS God.

    I guess how we make those decisions is an individual choice for each of us. Some might say, “Pray and ask for guidance of who and how to help.” Well, I’m not convinced that God will always answer those prayers either.

    I guess somewhere along the road of life those are the “growing” points. In the end, is it the decisions we make or could it really be where our real intent, our hearts are?

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  12. mudonme on October 9, 2011 at 1:37 AM

    I’m thinking that you wanted to narrow down the choices for the vote as it seems to me there are many other viable choices for handling the situation.

    I was taught that the order in seeking assistance was 1) exploring all of our personal resources, including returning or selling what were not needs. 2) our families, our own and extended. 3) the church. If I have it a little skewed, I at least remember that the last resource was the church.

    The mentality I see that would help define the situation, is what are needs versus wants. If I am totally honest with myself, needs would be defined as food, shelter, and clothing. Each of these categories can also be refined. What kind of food, shelter, and clothing do I need? I need to meet nutritional requirements as best I can. I could make do with shelter that I could heat and keep out the elements. Most thrift shops can provide inexpensive and adequate clothing.

    If we open our eyes to the global situation, there are
    many countries whose citizens would love to live on what we discard daily.

    I digress and will jump down from my soapbox. I am certain the poll pertained to what we see as our local situations. However, the church is a worldwide organization and we truly do have members who are in dire straits. They may never have indoor plumbing, clean water. or floors other than dirt.

    I believe in giving. I believe in assistance. I believe the way we assist may change the way a family lives and the choices they make with their resources. Proverb or scripture, I don’t remember…if we give a man a fish, he is fed for a day. If we teach him how to fish, he will be fed for a lifetime.

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  13. prometheus on October 9, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    I can’t say I would pick any of the poll options. I think that budget counseling is going to be a key issue, but I don’t think that refusing aid is in keeping with what we learn from the scriptures (thinking specifically of King Benjamin condemning the blaming of the needy for their state in Mosiah 4).

    It is a bit of a complex situation – do they have the toys in leiu of eating out, movies and so on (netflix + used ipod = way cheaper than one movie a month)? What exactly is their budget scenario? What if it was a piano and three violins instead of a tv/ipods? Should the family sell those?

    I guess what I am saying is that I feel the need for more information before rendering any kind of judgement, and that erring on the side of mercy is better than the alternative.

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  14. Paul on October 9, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    Yep, bishop, if your only choices were the ones listed, you didn’t have enough choices. Jeff (#3) nailed it. But don’t discount NewlyHousewife (#4).

    When I was a bishop in Venezuela, our stake president counseled us to do exactly what NH said: if they have two TVs, sell one. If they have one TV, sell it. Fast Offerings are to preserve life, not a lifestyle.

    All the talk of budgeting and credit counseling are also great suggestions. There ought to be a Needs Analysis performed, together with a “recovery plan” (I can’t remember what it’s called; it’s been a while since I saw a needs analysis page). To me, that’s where we observe whether the recipient of fast offering assistance is really humble. Also: what will the recipient do in exchange for the assistance (whether in-kind food aid or rent)?

    So much missing…

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  15. Paul on October 9, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    Of course (as post script to my comment above) — if you as bishop were inspired to deny aid because of their lack of attendance and lack of tithing, that’s perfectly acceptable, particularly if it had been part of a previous conversation in a prior year.

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  16. small star on October 9, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    The presence of up-to-date electronic gadgets don’t indicate anything. The family could have been well- off and then one or both parents could have lost their job and they could have spent the prior six months going through their savings. The stuff in a house doesn’t evaporate when someone’s life circumstances change.

    Plus, have you priced TV’s lately? You can get one practically for free at Goodwill. So! I say, without further information, we can’t judge whether they are ‘deserving’ or not.

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  17. CS Eric on October 9, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    I remember one branch president I worked with who got a call from a member he had never seen or heard from. He agreed to help this brother on one condition: the guy would have to pick up the check at the church after Sacrament Meeting. That was too much to ask, so this poor brother got nothing.

    This same branch president also filled the food requests himself, since we didn’t have a Bishop’s Storehouse anywhere near us. When he did so, he always bought the best cuts of meat, the best-looking vegetables, etc. His theory was that the Lord would give the best, and so he would too.

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  18. hawkgrrrl on October 9, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    I agree that the approach has to be more comprehensive and include longer-range financial planning (which I think most bishops will do in this situation).

    I think this post begs a larger question around how member donations are used. I’ve also seen situations where those donating need it more than those receiving it. That is hard to judge, but doesn’t seem quite right either. People sometimes make a great sacrifice to donate. What kind of person squanders the widow’s mite? The church does seem to have its own breed of “welfare ho” among the deserving poor.

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  19. Peter LLC on October 9, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    Sell all the fancy gizmos.

    then have them sell their toys.

    our stake president counseled us to do exactly what NH said: if they have two TVs, sell one.

    Used consumer electronic goods are worth close to nothing. Demanding that the family sell their stuff might satisfy some sense of retributive justice for what could have been poor decisions in the past, but it certainly won’t help them now. Since cash is fungible, I’d think of ways to give assistance in kind if the thought that paying the rent would aid and abet an overly exotic lifestyle kept me up at night.

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  20. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 9, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    Used consumer electronic goods are worth close to nothing. Demanding that the family sell their stuff might satisfy some sense of retributive justice for what could have been poor decisions in the past, but it certainly won’t help them now.

    Unfortunately, that is true. But I still like Hawk’s comment at number 18.

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  21. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 9, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    CS Eric … yeah, I’ve seen that a few times … what can you say?

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  22. Ray on October 9, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    Selling non-essentials isn’t about the money received; it’s about an important principle regarding attachment to material non-necessities.

    Other than that, what most others have said – with a particular “Amen” to Hawk’s #18. One of the worst things we can do, imho, is squander the widow’s mite. That truly is grinding the faces of the faithful poor.

    I would give assistance, based on the actual scenario presented, only if the family agreed to budget counseling and regular accounting of their spending habits to the Bishop or Relief Society President (or a trustworthy HT or VT).

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  23. Douglas on October 9, 2011 at 9:44 PM

    #18 – yea, verily, for some the most compassionate thing you can do for a brother in “need” is to give him a swift kick in the heiney! It takes courage to say no, or, “brother, you need to get your act together”. It’s no different than dealing with unruly youngsters. Discipline them, and then show an even greater measure of love in its wake (D&C 121:43).

    This while listening to Iggy Pop…

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  24. larryco_ on October 10, 2011 at 12:05 AM

    Several have suggested financial counseling. As a HPGL with some financial background, my bishop would send me to homes of people receiving assistance to help them develop a budget. What an eye-opener! One story stands out. I visited a family who I had personally never seen at church. A new home, new truck and suv in the driveway, gorgeous furniture in the house, and electronic gadgets galore. I really tried to restrain myself but finally said, “It would be my recommendation that you avoid any major purchases for the next 5 years as you pay off your credit cards and loans.”

    By their expressions you would think that I had just asked them to go without air and water for five years. I had deeply offended them and they told the bishop so. I swear that was my only negative comment to them as I sought to have them begin keeping a budget.

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  25. Chris on October 10, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    Of course, every situation is different, but when I was serving as bishop, we did not have the resources to help with housing but we could help with food and utility assistance and we helped the families to develop a budget, which the families often had neglected doing. If the family was unable to manage, we were counselled to recommend that they move into more affordable accomodations. In addition, we encouraged them to seek help from their extended family members.

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  26. pondering on October 13, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    I find it interesting, and very sad, that I don’t see any mention of asking God what He would have one do as the Bishop. I believe that God would give a different answer for different people. I guess most people reading this blog don’t believe that is a viable option. And, if someone did mention petitioning the Lord, please point me to the comment # as I must have missed it.

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  27. Henry on October 13, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    Pondering:
    “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things;
    Sometimes we have to think for ourselves.

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  28. Paul on October 13, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    #27 Henry, while I agree with the sentiment in general, I don’t agree that it applies here, except as an intellectual exercise.

    #26 pondering, you may note that in my response early on (#15) I said, “Of course (as post script to my comment above) — if you as bishop were inspired to…” which implies seeking that inspiration.

    I (and others) have raised this issue in other editions of the ask-the-bishop poll, but my assumption that this poll is for discussion / entertainment purposes, and none of us is likely to receive inspiration on this particular circumstance, since none of us is the bishop involved. We hope Bishop Bill did at the time, of course.

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  29. Jonathan on November 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    From experience. Have them bring in the bills so you can write the checks to those needing payment – while you go through the home with his Priesthood quorum leader and point out what will be going in a Yard Sale to help defray future costs. If they are not willing to part with the toys, they get no more help.

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