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Caring for needy has been longtime emphasis for Mormons

Bishop Richard Edgley, first counselor in the LDS Church's Presiding Bishopric, speaks about church's efforts to care for the poor and needy.
Bishop Richard Edgley, first counselor in the LDS Church's Presiding Bishopric, speaks about church's efforts to care for the poor and needy.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Caring for the poor and the needy is not becoming so much a principle of increased emphasis for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it is seeking expanded opportunities for compassionate efforts to those in need both at home and abroad.

"We've been emphasizing (caring for the poor) as strongly as we've known how from the beginning of the church," said Bishop Richard C. Edgley, first counselor in the church's Presiding Bishopric.

Media reports and blog posts earlier this week suggested that "to care for the poor and the needy" would receive elevated emphasis in the next edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions, to be released in 2010. The manual contains directives, responsibilities and information for local and general LDS Church leaders worldwide.

In the upcoming handbook, caring for the poor and the needy will be listed as one of the purposes of the church, along with tenets from its well-recognized three-fold mission — to proclaim Christ's gospel worldwide, to perfect the Saints through their receiving ordinances and instruction en route to gaining exaltation, and to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances for them.

"Caring for the poor and needy is one of the ongoing purposes of the church," said Bishop Edgley of caring for the poor and the needy. "Including language about caring for the poor and needy as one of the purposes of the church recognizes the long-standing practices of the church. I don't think you're going to see anything change, but we're always trying to be sensitive to the needs of others and to be better at delivering relief."

In a Friday afternoon interview with the Deseret News, Bishop Edgley cited Christ's teachings and admonitions for charity and compassion for others, which have been repeated by ancient prophets and the church's latter-day leaders.

"What we're trying to do is fulfill what the Savior has taught us," he said. "We've been trying to do it forever, and we'll continue to do it."

The principle coincides with the teachings of the LDS Church's current leader, President Thomas S. Monson.

"Anyone who knows President Monson knows his wonderful experiences and the wonderful example that he's set for the rest of us," said Bishop Edgley, adding, "He has by example taught us in how we can reach out and help with those who are suffering."

A worldwide church becomes a global witness to suffering and provides opportunities to reach out to others from the inner cities to remote international areas. It also can coordinate with local, national and international charitable organizations.

Bishop Edgley said the LDS Church can provide its own resources and commodities, coupled with a wide-reaching network of manpower, including local and area leaders, service missionaries and member volunteers. Such can mesh effectively with the church's partner organizations that can provide their own respective resources and help the church identify the needs and opportunities around the world.

He spoke of some of the welfare efforts he has personally witnessed — from visiting Mongolian orphanages to observing Armenian water projects, and from helping an initial distribution of 1,300 wheelchairs in Mexico to watching the production of prosthetic limbs in Laos for use there.

The United States' economic challenges — rising unemployment and financial difficulties — have resulted in increased local and national opportunities, too.

"It's so tender when you see the needs out there and so gratifying to play a part when we reach out to those whose suffering most of us don't even understand," he said.

And as community and national leaders join with care recipients to express thanks to the LDS Church for its compassionate efforts, Bishop Edgley said he is quick to redirect the attention to church members and others who assist in these global efforts.

"It's the 13 million members and some not of our faith who help us to be able to help those who are really struggling, and we thank them" he said.