Additional Resource

The God-Given Role of Caring For Our Fellows


On Wednesday 14 June 2017, Elder David J. Thomson, Pacific Area Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, addressed members and guests of the Waikato Interfaith Council in Hamilton, New Zealand. A transcript of Elder Thomson's remarks follow:


Good morning dear friends, I feel deeply privileged to be able to speak to you today on this important topic from the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One definition of social justice is “a state or doctrine of egalitarianism” -  with egalitarianism defined as “a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political and economic affairs”[1].

A foundational doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that “ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny”[2]. This doctrine creates a great feeling of equality amongst Latter-day Saints, and towards peoples around the world, often evidenced by the frequent singing of a favourite children’s hymn, “I am a child of God and He has sent me here; has given me an earthly home, with parent’s kind and dear”[3]. And so, my friends as I consider the topic of this seminar from a Latter-day Saint perspective I see social justice in its simplest frame - as recognition of every person as a child of God – as my brother or my sister, as my equal in the eyes of God.

That wonderful apostolic missionary, Paul powerfully taught us that God “…hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation”[4]. In the Book of Mormon, a wonderful prophet, Alma powerfully foreshadowed another teaching of Paul to the Colossians, commanding disciples of Christ in the New World “that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, … having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another”[5].

This desire for unity across the children of God spread around the world leads us with open arms and hearts to seek what is right and good for all people and not just microscopically for ourselves, or just for people who are like us in culture or appearance or circumstances. Indeed, you will seldom hear the term social justice used in an LDS congregation – it is simply not a part of the LDS vernacular. The term social justice suggests that a wrong has been committed and needs redressing by those in power. Latter-day Saints proclaim that our Saviour Jesus Christ, through His atoning sacrifice satisfied the demands of eternal justice, and as His disciples, we act as His hands in applying that mercy to those in need.

A desire to care for the poor is an integral part of being a follower of Christ. We try to instil in the members of the Church a desire to care for the poor through monthly free will offerings as part of the observance of the Law of the Fast.  I can recall being taught this practise of fasting and making an offering for the poor with my family at an early age. The leader of each congregation then has a pool of funds to use to care for the needy in that community.

Across the Waikato and the world, you will find many members of the Church actively involved in local service opportunities in their communities, partnering with friends of the church and giving generously of time and means to assist people they have never met in communities around the world. Delivering relief to victims of natural disasters and civil unrest remains an essential priority. LDS Charities’ newly released 2016 annual report[6] demonstrates the Church’s ongoing mission to follow the Saviour’s example of relieving suffering, lifting burdens, and providing hope.

In 2016, the organization:

  • Completed 119 emergency response projects in 49 countries.
  • Served 116,000 people in 12 countries through the Benson Food Initiative.
  • Provided vision care for 90,000 people in 37 countries.
  • Trained 33,000 caregivers in maternal and new-born care in 37 countries.
  • Provided clean water to 380,000 people in 19 countries.
  • Provided wheelchairs for 55,500 people in 48 countries.
  • Sponsored 1,848 community projects in 107 countries.
  • Supported 488 refugee projects in 54 countries.

Much of this great work is done in partnership with other faith-based charities.

In 1842, when the Church was little more than a decade from its restoration, inspired men and women leaders collaborated to establish the Relief Society, which today is one of the largest women’s organisations in the world. The society was originally organised to administer welfare needs but quickly expanded to encompass the spiritual as well as temporal needs of the Saints. By the early 20th century, John Widtsoe, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, summarized the Relief Society’s purpose as pursuing the “relief of poverty, relief of illness; relief of doubt, relief of ignorance — relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.” The early Relief Society worked to fund medical training for women, make and market homemade goods, make their own silk, store grain for relief, build hospitals, secure suffrage [incidentally this first occurred in Utah in 1870, twenty-three years before Kate Shepherd’s wonderful success in New Zealand] and establish adoption services and programs of loans and grants to women”[7]. The wonderful work of the Relief Society, with more than 6 million women as members around the world, continues today and reaches around the world.  In April this year Sister Jean Bingham, General Relief Society President participated in a humanitarian focused symposium at the United Nations.  Her remarks there included the following pertinent comments:

“Our role in this effort is critical,” said Sister Bingham. “We need to build bridges among faith-based organizations, understand each other’s work, and cooperate more. We need to organize the time, talents, and resources of faithful people who desire to help. We are united in a common commitment to care for those in need. While individually we can do great good, collectively we can accomplish so much more.”[8] Sister Bingham also recently visited Uganda as part of a United Nations Children's Fund field visit.  She made that visit with her counsellor, Sharon Eubank.  Sister Eubank is the Co-Director of LDS Charities and responsible for the Humanitarian Services of LDS Charities.

In the early days of the church, LDS members had been greatly persecuted, subjected to violence and theft of property, and driven by mobs and in some cases civil authorities. At one point, a state governor issued an order allowing local militia and mobs to kill Mormons on sight if they refused to leave that state. You can imagine the feelings of these refugees in this time of great duress - to arrive in a town named Quincy, Illinois,[9] where they were welcomed, supported and cared for with generosity and loving kindness, reminding us of the wonderful direction given by the great prophet Moses, “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself”.[10]

I would like to briefly share two other historical examples from the Church which I found insightful.

Soon after the end of the Second World War, a severe winter hit Germany making life even more difficult for this vanquished people. In neighbouring Netherlands, people who had so recently been conquered by the Germans during the war, struggled to feed themselves and to begin rebuilding their lives and communities after the horror of war. Latter-day Saints in the Netherlands felt impressed by God to work together to plant a massive acreage of potatoes to help ensure they did not go hungry again. As harvest time approached they heard through their leaders of starving people in Germany – their former enemies – and agreed to donate the majority of their crop to help feed those people. The following year they chose to do so again and shipped tons and tons of herring as well, since apparently every good Dutchman knows potatoes are no good without herring! Little did they know that in 1953 a devastating flood from the North Sea would swamp their own low-lying land. Grateful people in Germany rushed to provide aid and support to the Dutch who had sacrificed so much to feed them in a time of desperate need.

In South Africa in 1980, a decade before apartheid came to an end, Latter-day Saints living in and near Soweto felt a great need to end the practise of segregated church meetings. The path was difficult. There were moments of misunderstanding, times when unintended offence was given by one group or the other, but united by common faith and doctrine these disparate peoples worked and struggled to become one. Over a 2-year period they achieved a remarkable unity in their worship and service that changed and blessed lives forever. Their example in overcoming ingrained social prejudice was inspiring.

I am certain that you can also think of many examples where faith, courage and personal sacrifice has enabled barriers to be broken down, hearts to change and healing to occur. Prejudice, poverty and injustice can all be defeated by individuals and groups making quiet decisions to do what is right regardless of the circumstances.

In addition to an outward reaching ministry of charitable service, lay leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints encourage and teach personal and family self-reliance. Most LDS congregations around New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, like those worldwide, regularly run free courses teaching self-reliance principles such as budgeting and financial management, growing a garden, making the most of educational opportunities at any age, job search skills, how to run a small home-based business and many others. A fundamental principle supporting this effort is the firm belief that a spiritually and temporally self-reliant person or family is better prepared to reach out to lift and strengthen others in their family, congregation and community.

In a few days, the Church is opening a new history centre and museum here in Hamilton that will share stories of individuals and families (here in New Zealand and in the islands of the South Pacific) doing exactly what we have been talking about today--lifting lives, fortifying families and creating caring and cohesive communities. You are most welcome to visit this history centre and museum when you are next in Temple View, and if you feel anxious about coming, please let us take you as our guests.

In 2012 Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, speaking to the House of Lords[11] said, “Many, perhaps all, of the world’s great religions teach their adherents the importance of making sacrifices for the sake of others, through charity, hospitality, visiting the sick, helping the needy, giving comfort to those in crisis, bringing moments of moral beauty into what might otherwise be harsh and lonely lives.”

This is so true. And I am sure you have all observed these ‘moments of moral beauty” the world over wherever you find people from faith communities, and also good people who are not people of faith, uniting and working together for the good of others.

There is much talk in the world of rights. This is of course appropriate. After millennia of so-called civilisation, there are millions around the world who lack basic rights and who live by various measures in some form of depravation. It is interesting to me that the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ included such battles – religious and political leaders who felt threatened by His teachings, and also some would-be disciples who advocated greater political and perhaps military action rather than the soul-saving spiritual revolution that He had come to bring.

Recently an LDS commentator stated that: “the purpose of freedom is bigger than freedom. The point of being free is for something, for someone. Rights start with the individual but do not end there. We find our truest selves in families, friendships, neighbourhoods, causes and congregations. These two sides of freedom – self and community – reinforce and give meaning to one another. We all have rights simply because we’re human. They are inherent and inalienable.”[12]

We all know that human rights must be inseparably connected to human responsibilities. One benefit of living in the age that we do, is that in my lifetime this world has become smaller and smaller. We now live in a time of near-instant communication, a 24-hour global news cycle and a seemingly insatiable appetite for the latest tweet, the latest political or moral scandal. Acts of terror bring the sadness and cost of man’s inhumanity into our living rooms. Some will ask despairingly, “What can we do?” I was inspired recently by reading the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first chair of the UN Human Rights Commission. She boldly stated that human rights are not some distant construct but they begin “in small places, close to home – so close and so small that they are the world of the individual person: the neighbourhood he [or she] lives in; the school or college he [or she] attends; the factory, farm, or office where [they] work. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning elsewhere.”[13]

And so, in conclusion, I return to my starting point: human rights and social justice begin at home where individual children of our Great Creator learn the mores and values of their faith and their society – where they may learn that they have a divine nature and destiny and a God-given role to play in caring for their fellows.

A hallmark of the ministry of Christ was identified by the Apostle Peter who said that Jesus “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed…; for God was with him”[14]. My children and my grandchildren will learn how to go about doing good, how to care for those around them on this beautiful planet, from me, from their grandmother - my wife, from the members of their congregations and from you, my friends. May each of us take this wonderful responsibility and opportunity seriously is my prayer. Thank you.




[3] “I am a child of God”, Hymns (1985) number 301; Text: Naomi W. Randall, 1908-2001. (c) 1957 IRI; Music: Mildred T. Pettit, 1895-1977. (c) 1957 IRI

[4] Acts 17:26 KJV

[5] Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18: 21; see also Colossians 2:2 KJV





[10] Leviticus 19:33–34 KJV



[13] Eleanor Roosevelt, “Where Do Human Rights Begin?”, 50.

[14] Acts 10:38 KJV

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.