Kristin L. Matthews spoke about how to accept the Book of Mormon’s invitation to care for the poor and needy, individually and as a society.
PROVO, Utah (October 2, 2015)—Any Latter-day Saint who has attended seminary or Sunday school can tell you about the Nephite pride cycle. In the Book of Mormon, the Nephite nation repeatedly experienced times of prosperity, leading to increased pride, resulting in a humbling fall (a war, famine or other cataclysmic event) and a return to righteous living, which would beget prosperity and begin the process anew.
However, according to Kristin L. Matthews, the term “pride cycle” is a misnomer. Instead, she reads Nephite history as a “greed cycle” (with pride being a result of greed) and sees the Book of Mormon as full of clear warnings to care for the poor and needy. Such was the topic of “Coming into the Fold of God,” Matthews’s Laura F. Willes Book of Mormon Lecture, hosted by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.
A Voice from the Dust
From its first pages through its closing narratives, the Book of Mormon gives varied examples of people driven to destruction by their obsession with personal gain. Laman and Lemuel first begin murmuring because their father abandoned all their wealth when he led their family out of Jerusalem. King Noah oppresses his people with heavy taxes and justifies his extravagance as a sign of divine approval. Wars are started by “secret combinations,” secret societies formed to “murder and get gain.” This self-interest repeatedly leads to ruin.
But as often as the people fall away, the Lord sends prophets to remind them of their Christian duties. In the May 1986 General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson taught that “when the Lord sent prophets to call Israel back from apostasy, in almost every instance, one of the first charges made was that the poor had been neglected.”
Though the Nephites ultimately fell, their record was preserved with a purpose. Matthews explained, “Whereas the Nephite people had become . . . obsessed with their own gain . . . the people to whom Moroni is speaking at the text’s close – us – have the potential to learn from this destructive selfishness and to turn our gaze outward as Christian behavior demands.”
Today, with so many living in poverty and the task of alleviating it so massive, responsibility for the poor must be shared. Matthews suggested that caring for the poor must occur at four levels: individual, community, church, and government.
Individuals, Matthews explained, must first change the way they view the poor. “Part of what we can do as individuals is actually recognize the poor among us, acknowledge that they are part of our lives, and treat them with the respect all children of God deserve,” she said. This change in attitude makes it easier to make donations, give service, and otherwise help others gain access to the resources they need to escape poverty.
At the community level, individuals and organizations can come together to meet the specific needs of their area. Matthews pointed to Salt Lake City’s Housing First program as an example of effective cooperation for the good of the community. In the past nine years, the program has decreased the city’s number of homeless people by 72 percent by providing them with apartments. Not only were the housed able to find employment more easily, but the program ended up costing the city less than half of what it previously spent on homeless initiatives per person.
At BYU, students and faculty are well acquainted with church-level service. The LDS Church continues to be involved in humanitarian efforts around the world, and members can contribute to these efforts by paying their tithes, fast offerings, and other donations. However, Matthews warned against thinking of the Church as a separate charitable entity. “We, LDS members, are the Church,” she said, “and we can be the Lord’s hands wherever there is a need.”
Finally, Matthews encouraged her listeners to be involved in the government level of service by calling for elected leaders to enact programs to assist the poor. She said, “As voters, we can vote against those whose platforms oppose social welfare programs and for those who seek to serve our brothers and sisters.”
Matthews concluded her remarks with a reminder of the promises made to those who care for the poor: that they will see their brothers and sisters realize their divine nature, missionary success increase and temporal and spiritual peace expand. She closed, saying, “It is my prayer that we will heed the Book of Mormon’s warnings and turn our hearts towards the ‘least of these’ so that we might magnify Christ and prepare the way for His return.”
—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)
Samuel covers American studies for the College of Humanities. He is a junior pursuing a degree in American studies with a minor in editing.