President Gordon B. Hinckley – exemplar of true humanitarianism

January 31, 2008 at 12:30 am (Christianity, History)

President Gordon B. Hinckley provides a good example of what truly good and effective humanitarianism is. This he does through the policies and programs he promoted within the Church.

1. Self worth
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches, as Christian bodies teach, that each person has an immense amount of worth, particularly in the eyes of God. So much so that if that person were the only person in creation to accept the gifts offered by God–the awesome sacrifice of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ–it all (the creation, the sacrifice of Jesus, the atonement of Jesus, the revelation of God) would have been worth it. These are deep and startling truths, and ones that inspire people to recognize their place in God’s work, to appreciate how important to and loved by God they are.

President Hinckley mentioned these, but perhaps demonstrated it more than he may have spoken about it. He always treated people, all people, warmly and with compassion, humor, wit, and love. This includes the poor and the rich, the high and the low. He travelled the globe to meet distant Latter-day Saints. Part of the Gospel message is this great worth of each person, and this uplifting is one of many reasons President Hinckley has tirelessly worked to spread the Gospel message and to inspire others to do the same.

This is true humanitarianism because this uplifts people spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, which can only lead to being inspired to excel the best they can.

2. Education
President Hinckley has consistently challenged the youth especially to get a good education. This challenge was for adults as well.

One of his lasting landmarks will be the Perpetual Education Fund. Back when the Church asked all members to live in “Zion” (wherever the Church was centered, then in Utah), the Church established the Perpetual Emigration Fund to help poorer members, especially poor converts, migrate to “Zion”. This lasted from 1849 to 1887 (when the US government forced its disbandment). In memory of that great effort, President Hinckley announced in 2001 the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to provide loans to students for further education to improve their lot in life.

But, notice: this is not a handout. It was a loan which, once the person was able, had to be paid back. This is a crucial point, for it fosters financial responsibility and proper use of the funds. Just giving people money does not work.

3. Employment
To be honest, this has been a constant emphasis of the Church since the beginning. Even though the Church has an admirable welfare system (which is quite unique in how it operates), employment is strongly encouraged. The Church encourages this not only by exhortation in its leaders’ talks but also by providing, for free, assistance in finding a job and in preparing to market oneself (writing a resume, practicing for interviews).

As a demonstration of how this sense was in the Church from the beginning, one of the earliest symbols for the Church and its members was a beehive. The beehive symbolizes industriousness: not only hard work in the Lord’s fields but also in the world.

President Hinckley has strongly promoted employment in his talks. This is important for it inspires people to get and keep a job, to remain useful and productive.

4. Improving one’s own people
Two elements made the improvement of foreign areas difficult as far as Latter-day Saints are concerned: one was the allure of America with all its glamor and opportunities, and the second was the allure of living among so many Latter-day Saints (possible in many areas of America). To elaborate on the second point: many Latter-day Saints saw (as many still view) Utah as “Zion” or the spiritual hub and heart of the Church. These were problems because people wanted to leave their lands and migrate to Zion (or, at least, America).

This view of Zion is technically not correct, as a verse from the scriptures of Latter-day Saints says: “[…] for this is Zion–the pure in heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 97:21). Thus, Zion is wherever the pure of heart are, whether Salt Lake City, Mexico City, or Ulaanbaatar. (This is why Saints are all over the world instead of all of them in Utah.) President Hinckley strongly emphasized this through his acts and policies. He built temples (special buildings where special ordinances are performed) all over the world, granting more people easier access to temples than ever before: the Lord’s teachings will come to them if they are faithful enough, rather than having to live in one of those few areas blessed to be near a temple. Furthermore, he visited countless countries and peoples, visiting the Saints where they are rather than them having to go to Salt Lake City to see him. He emphasized in these ways that it is perfectly fine for people to remain in their locales, not having to make pilgrimages. He was an equalizer of peoples. Thus they have pride to be where they are, inspiring them to improve their own lands by their own efforts, to be a force for good wherever they are.

These are methods even secular people can use to help uplift the downtrodden: instilling in them a sense of self-worth, encouraging and financially supporting education, promoting employment, and instilling in them a desire to remain in their country and to work to improve it.

I hope all the world can learn from the example and words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who tried so hard to be like his Lord and my Lord and our Lord, Jesus Christ.


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