give with wisdom that they may receive with dignity
The late-Apostle Marvin J. Ashton spoke in a conference address entitled Give with Wisdom That They May Receive with Dignity (November 1981) of a stake Relief Society President that had flashed a large picture on a screen, during a department session of Education Week sponsored by BYU, showing a bright-eyed boy with unkempt hair and folded arms, deep in thought. The caption read, “I know I’m somebody ’cause God don’t make no junk.” Ashton thought that, ‘with the grammar improved, that caption could well be the theme of Church welfare services’.
Marvin J. Ashton believed that, ‘every human being in every walk of life needs help in building his self-respect and self-reliance. To be truly effective, [church] welfare services must be concerned with the betterment of the total individual. A person’s image of himself is nothing more or less than what he has learned through his experiences and his interactions with others’. I will come back to this statement in a later article.
I currently work with a faith-based aid organization, where the concept of human dignity lies at the center of the organization’s philosophy and ethos. This concept is three-fold, and therefore lends itself well to mormonism. Although the importance of individual self-reliance and the importance of the family being the first instance of help in a crisis, church welfare services are built on the idea of human dignity: give help to self-help. I will describe below the three ideas that make up the human dignity triangle, as understood by the above-mentioned organization, and see how they fit with mormon ideas. If we were to organize these three ideas into a triangle, the model would look like this:
Human security implies food security, personal security, peaceful coexistence, access to health, water, clothes and shelter.
Human development implies access to education, vocational training, skills acquisition, as well as improving how societies work with the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and to debunk myths about these groups.
While human rights imply political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Human dignity cannot be achieved without the three corners of the triangle first being in place. This demands also that one work along three different co-strategies in order to achieve the goal of human dignity:
1. emergency preparedness and conflict prevention,
2. long-term development work and attitudinal change,
3. advocacy work to challenge structural injustice and decisions affecting the dignity of individuals and communities.
You may or you may not recognize Johan Galtung’s peace/violence triangle in the above definitions and strategies directed towards human dignity, but it may be summed thus: human security addresses direct violence, human development addresses cultural violence, while human rights address structural violence.
Now, what is the three-fold mission of the LDS church? To invite all to come unto Christ, through Proclaiming the Gospel, Perfecting the Saints, and Redeeming the Dead. Part of the problem with the LDS approach is that the Church is not sufficiently concerned with the total individual, like Marvin J. Ashton suggested, through the present narrow interpretation of its mission.
For more information about this three-fold mission and how the strategies of attaining human dignity may be applied to the church’s goals, please read the following three articles in the ‘human dignity series’: