Warning: Liberal Apocalypse Coming
I recently attended a family reunion where I’m pretty sure I was the only “liberal.” Liberal, in this case, means I voted for Obama. Good thing my children are innocent or the family may have disposed of me quietly. Instead they just subjected me to long conversations about gun rights and the rapid imminent destruction of America. Their main point was how bad the second coming is going to be for us liberals because we have no guns to protect our food. I stayed silent for the sake of peace and the fact that I knew at least three of them were packing. Anyway, it all compelled me to write my response here.
First of all, I just want to point out what we know about church protocol in the face of natural disaster and large scale destruction. Each stake president and bishop is responsible for accounting for all the people in his stake or ward and finding food, clothing, and shelter for those lacking. He, of course, uses the relief society and priesthood to organize this endeavor and calls on all members to open their doors and resources to those in need. Then after he has accounted for everyone in the stake or ward he organizes the people to go out into the community and serve where they may. We have proof that this system works because it is replayed over and over in natural disasters all over the world. I first became acquainted with the system when I read the letters of a stake president serving in New Orleans when Katrina hit. He spoke about the generosity of the congregants towards their brothers and sisters and then chronicled the way they opened their hearts, doors, pantries, and closets for the people of New Orleans. Sandy is another great example. If you haven’t seen this, then please take a moment. And keep in mind that this was organized on a local church level and did not come down officially from Salt Lake. This is the local church following protocol the best way they can.
So tell me again about needing a gun to protect my food in the last days. I think I’ll be too busy working with the Relief Society to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. At least that’s what I hope. I hope that the bishop (assuming he survived) will call me and say, “We need you to bring your wheat to the store house—because we know you are clueless about what to do with it. We need to organize and redistribute it and get all our people fed.” I hope that I won’t be greedy and mad about the virgins with no oil. I hope that I’ll be willing to turn over all that I have and go out and serve God’s children. I Trust the church in this way. The bishop might call my Uncle Jeff to pack heat and stand guard at the door, but not because others are trying to take what we have—because they need protection in order to distribute food in an orderly way. I was raised in an apocalyptic-happy family. We looked forward with eager anticipation for the time of Christ’s coming. I remember that when Clinton won the presidency I felt excitement about the then-guaranteed second coming. Clinton’s evil social liberalism and his history with drug use would bring the world to its end-for sure. Needless to say I have since changed my expectations and my politics. While waiting for the second coming, I have had the opportunity to learn from many years of interacting with the world around me. I think God has bigger concerns than social liberalism. Christ is concerned about more than just the politics of the United States. He takes stock of us collectively, as a whole world, but he considers us individually, feeling the suffering of even his sparrows and ravens. He comprehends the pain and agony of his children equally. But let’s focus on the sparrows and ravens for a moment. I’ve always loved Luke 12: 6-7 and Luke12: 12-31:
6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows…
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
22 And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.
30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
31 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.
As clear as these verses are I feel that it is profoundly important to address these two questions: How does seeking the Kingdom of God feed and clothe the nations (vs. 30-31)? And why is Christ teaching the disciples using examples from nature?
The first question is worthy of more discussion than I can introduce here, and I trust the readers to thoughtfully consider it, but it’s important that Christ acknowledges in verse 30 that God understands the physical needs of his Children. He does not undervalue our physical care and nourishment. Christ is teaching a larger lesson about how the world might be sustained. Living the Gospel of Christ, following his example, and teachings will address bigger issues and problems, like hunger and poverty. The parable makes it clear that wealth and prosperity is not something of value to God. Abundance, apparently, is something different—it is having your needs met while finding joy and peace through a Christian life. The pride cycle in the Book of Mormon is always connected to the economic equality of a people. Every time a people loses site of the Gospel there is class division and the poor begin to be persecuted. Over and over we are instructed to feed and care for the poor and needy. Alma 5:55 begs us not to turn our back on the poor and the needy. 4 Nephi 1:3 points out that there were no poor or rich in the society that existed after Christ’s coming. In Mosiah 4:26 King Benjamin entreats us to care for the poor and the needy and cloth the naked so that we will stand guiltless before God. And the list goes on. Undoubtedly God cares that we are looking out for one another. He is concerned when we hoard our wealth—when we build bigger barns to store our excess. God reminds us repeatedly not to persecute the poor and weak things of the earth. True, he promises that we will prosper if we follow him, but that prosperity hearkens back to the Abundance that God intends.
The second question addresses one simple theme. God loves the natural world. He is profoundly aware of it and it stands witness to the great love of God for his children. The simple acknowledgement in these verses confirms an affinity that Christ feels for the marvelous beauty and power of the earth. He also addresses the idea that it is self-sustaining in its very nature. I recently conducted an interview with Steven Peck, an evolutionary biologist and professor at Brigham Young University. He asserts that evolution is the principle by which God governs the living world. Through evolution God takes great pleasure in the development of a distinctly unique and unexpected nature. The process itself sustains and preserves and God is fond of the diversity and progress of its development. Christ teaches that God has provided for even the lilies and grasses and that we, being greater than these, should trust that he has provided for us though the wondrous bounty of the earth. As I read the words of Christ I am reminded again and again of these simple truths: abundance is having your needs met while finding joy and peace through a Christian life and that God loves and cares for the earth that sustains us.
A number of years ago I found myself a missionary in Uruguay. So often I encountered poverty that was pervasive and seemed absolute. There was a group of street kids that lived in my neighborhood. They slept in an alley near a grocery store where they commonly begged for food. As we encountered them in the streets I would ask questions and find out names and ages. The oldest of this group was 11 years old and the youngest was near to five years old. One day I had a bag of pastries with me as I turned a corner to find this group of boys coming down the street. I called one of the smallest to me and handed him the bag and then watched in horror as he returned to the group only to be kicked and punched until he surrendered the bag to the bigger boys. It happened so fast that I could do nothing to prevent it and I was left standing with the darkest feeling of doubt and hopelessness. I was struck by the brutality of their poverty. I knew that no matter how many lessons I taught these boys they would still be plagued by the gnawing hunger in their bellies. People have to be fed and clothed as well as be taught a gospel of love and hope. It is no coincidence that Christ so benevolently cared for the physical needs of the people with loaves and fishes just as he cared for them spiritually.
Recently I came across this graph showing the economic disparity in America. There are many more just like it. (Google “economic wealth distribution in United States”).
Now I know that there are many issues surrounding poverty in this country. I know that the poor can be lazy and greedy but I also know many lazy greedy rich people and my point in using this graph is to say that obviously something is wrong here. And not just in this country but all over the world. In fact many would argue that the US doesn’t struggle with poverty the way most nations do. But In considering the last days I would ask if there is a more pervasive sin than greed. The United States with all its wealth still struggles with great debt and economic inequality. These issues cannot be blamed on one economic system or political party. We are all responsible. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, as well as the verses above, uses language that forces us to ponder humility. It blends the physical and spiritual in a way that disallows any confusion about the marriage of our physical and spiritual states. Christ calls on us to follow the will of God in humility and then charges us to be stewards of those in need. Given the disparity of our nation’s wealth, it seems our politics and policies neglect his counsel which reflects us individually. I’m not sure how I feel about an apocalyptic end but I would wager that it will be brought about by two problems: our greed and neglect of the poor, and our unabashed consumption and abuse of this earth. The poor and suffering far outnumber those that enjoy economic comfort and security. That imbalance is a greater threat to our freedoms and political stability than any other issue. We cannot blame others for this problem. We must address it in our own hearts and minds daily. We must also be stewards of the earth God gave us, which is meant to sustain and provide for all of God’s children.