Caring for the Poor and the Needy

The budget debate is a mess right now. U.S. politicians are facing quite the challenge as they make policy decisions to keep the country going. President Obama’s recent speech called all Americans to weigh into the debate and contact their federal representatives. Whatever side you are on, you have the right and ability to influence public policy through your representatives. If you haven’t yet, weigh in:

If you are on the conservative side, The Heritage Foundation provides a public petition to Congress.

And on the liberal/progressive side, MoveOn.org takes the opposing tack.

Whichever side you find yourself on, you have the opportunity to engage in government in the way a republic is designed. This also provides an opportunity to take a step back, and look at the bigger picture.

One of the central features of the debate in government spending is social services for the poor and the needy. A common argument against government funding for social services is that it is not the government’s responsibility to care for charity cases. However, it is less common to hear proposals that would meet the needs of the poor and the needy residing in the United States, without using government funding to do so. And yet, there are petitions encouraging U.S. policymakers to give money to other countries struggling with extreme poverty. If the United States cannot provide for the needs of its own poor, how can it conscionably appropriate funds to relieve poverty of other countries?

For the record, I agree that governments ideally would not use taxpayer money to the care of people in other countries, especially when there are such severe needs in our own country. With the proposed budget cuts, there will be low-income elderly, children in poverty and  disabled who will be without heat this winter, facing exposure and increasing the likelihood of health complications. And government funded heating programs are just one area expecting to be cut.

At the same time, I recognize the Christian and humanist duty for all people of the world to care for the poor and the needy. Though, the people of the United States may feel the need to prioritize the people of their own communities and country first, the suffering of people in developing countries are equal in value and importance.

Enter limited resources. If the money is not coming from governments, who does it come from?

Peter Singer, in The Life You Can Save, promotes the idea that everyone, especially those blessed with the affluence of the developed world have a percentage of their income to share with those who are in more need than they.  The Live You Can Save has been called the Billionaire’s pledge for people of all income groups.

Since I doubt we have any billionaire’s reading this blog, the pledge calculator conservatively estimates the percentage of income that a given household can comfortably donate to charitable and humanitarian organizations. Giving What We Can‘s donation calculator can tell you which percentage of the world is more wealthy than you. Chances are, if you are lower-middle to upper middle class, in a developed country, you are in the 20% percent of the world’s wealthiest and your earnings are 4 or more times those of the typical person.

So, the proposal:

Over a period of a few years, the United States government passes off the responsibility for social services to its citizens through incentivizing freewill donations to private sector non-profit organizations that take over service delivery. A suggestion for organizing and making needs known and accessible to potential donors is to use a website organization much like the one already in use by Global Giving.

The incentive from the government may be in the form of a tax credit or a tax deduction that is exempt from itemizing. A PSA and public education campaign similar to Let’s Move, maybe called Let’s Give, can be developed and promoted around the country.

While at the same time promoting citizen donations to social services, the proverbial Let’s Give campaign can encourage giving to international humanitarian efforts like those recommended by The Life You can Save, Giving What We Can and Global Giving. Singer asserts, “If everyone who can afford to contribute to reducing extreme poverty were to give a modest proportion of their income to effective organizations fighting extreme poverty, the problem could be solved. It wouldn’t take a huge sacrifice.” All it requires is the coordinated will, cooperation and some effective marketing.

We have the means available to meet the needs of all those who suffer from poverty, but it will require more people working together. Governments can play a role in the promotion of these values, but the domestic needs of their countries need to be their first priority. Sure, its redistribution of wealth, but this proposal addresses its biggest objection: voluntary giving. A good deal of resentment exists at the compulsory means of collecting funds for social services. If those who object so much were given the ability (and the incentive) to choose for themselves, perhaps we would see the Christian mandate to give of one’s wealth accomplished and relief for the poor and the suffering of the world.


What exactly does “Equal Partnership” look like?

Likely the most misunderstood and sometimes debated phrase in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”  Most Mormons seem to  believe that the division of labor between mother as nurturer and father as provider is a form of “separate but equal” each in their own sphere providing for the needs of children and family. The debate in that phrase comes from those who hope that it suggests each partner working equally in each “primary” responsibility, and that those tasks are shared equally. Maybe there is a chance that the church and its leadership is moving to a time where women are encouraged and supported in President Hinckley’s declaration “The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women” where they can do just as the prophet said which is to: “Set your priorities in terms of marriage and family, but also pursue educational programs which will lead… to a sense of security and fulfillment in the event you do marry.” (1)(2)

If there were to be a way where mothers could work and continue in their ever important role as the nurturers of children, it seems that Equally Shared Parenting would be that way. The basic premise is that fathers and mothers share all family responsibilities equally: about half and half with childcare, household upkeep and employment. Families live within their means, love and nurture their children with little reliance on outside childcare, and find personal fulfillment and unity as parents and partners. In fact, it has recently been said that this concept of equally shared parenting is a close cousin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Likely, this concept appeals to feminists since both husband’s and wife’s all around needs are taken in account, with each helping the other in all aspects. Its a far cry from the feminist agenda of the 1960′s where feminists advocated for women to assimilate into the male workforce and keep the same rules expected of male employees while at the same time being the mothers their children needed (or never becoming mothers at all) and doing the majority of the housework and daily living responsibilities of a household and family. Feminists of the era have since admitted that their ideas caused a great disservice to women who heeded their call

Its not a matter of women being in or out of the workforce now, however. Just like Apostle Quinten L. Cook counseled members, “we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances.”(3)

In a time of economic downturn with husbands unemployed for long stretches at a time, many mothers find that they must work to meet the needs of their families. Stay at home dads are learning what many stay at home mothers have known: something vital is missing from a parent’s life when his/her education and skills are removed from the workplace. Betty Freidan called it “housewife’s syndrome” and perhaps now, many house husbands are feeling it too.

The Women’s Service Mission has covered this topic in a couple of different ways in the past. The review of Radical Homemaker’s found gospel principles in the idea of husband and wives sharing household responsibility by cutting consumerism and creating families that produce more than they consume–what the author called “units of production.” On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, WSM featured the book The War on Moms: On Life in a Family Un-Friendly Nation which called for national reforms to the employment system to create jobs that allow families to provide for their needs and contribute to their overall well-being rather than continue to enslave them to a workforce that stretches parents too thin and places children in the care of people other than their parents for the majority of the time. Another book on this topic, written by the advocacy organization MomsRising, entitled The Motherhood Manifesto, outlines the MomsRising platform that calls for flex time work options for men and women in additional to supplemental (not primary or full-time) child care for families who need to make use of it.

The book Equally Shared Parenting takes a step back  from the policy debate and tells stories of families who are living the lifestyle they love without waiting for society to change for them. The authors interviewed 40 families most of whom have two parents working part-time to full-time, with little to no outside childcare needed. Many families are homeschooling their children. Fathers are just as capable of preparing lunches, soothing owies and teaching school lessons while mothers did their share of nurturing and homemaking and later being an integral part of their workplace. (4)

It sounds idealistic and it is, unabashedly so. Families across the country are making this work, even without the family friendly public policy advocated by feminists and apostles. (5) As more and more families embrace this way of living and enjoying life, these policies will be in greater demand and  Mormons may learn exactly what “equal partners” really look like.

Have you heard of Equally Shared Parenting? Are you or any one you know living this arrangement? What does the phrase “equal partners” from the Proclamation mean to you? Please respond in the comments.

Are you involved in advocacy for family friendly policies? Tell us about your efforts by writing a guest post. Email to service@ldswave.org.

Since this topic is focused women with children, the quoted was edited to leave out women who are do not marry or have children. If you are a single woman or are married but do not have children yet, would you consider the concept of equally shared parenting in your future family?

Gordon B. Hinckley “Ten Gifts from the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 89.

Quentin L. Cook “LDS Women are incredible!” Ensign, May 2011.

You can hear from the authors of Equally Shared Parenting in their interview with KRCL Salt Lake’s RadioActive.

In Quentin L. Cook’s address linked above, he counseled, ”I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.”