Welfare: Living The Royal Law

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Sunday morning Welfare session of October 1975.

General Conference has changed much over the years. One such change has been the Welfare session, which used to be held in the early hours of Sunday morning, before the actual Sunday morning session. It was typically attended by both male and female leadership where temporal issues were addressed. This session was discontinued in the 1980s.

But because this week we are talking about welfare, I thought I would run through the fascinating history of this spiritual–though temporal–law. It was during the years of World War I, the Depression, and World War II that the church seriously focused on the welfare needs of its people. The Relief Society played an important role in its development.

In 1954, Marion G. Romney gave a conference talk, entitled “The Royal Law According to the Scriptures”, which explained why we even have a welfare system in our church. In James 2:8, it states that the royal law is loving our neighbor as ourselves. The first time this was ever mentioned was in Lev. 19:9-10 when the Israelites were taught to leave something behind as they gleaned their fields for the poor.

Before I continue, I would like to make one small distinction: There is a slight difference between welfare work and humanitarian work.

  1. Welfare is for members of the church. We take care of our own by living as independent as possible in our own households and helping the households of our stewardships within the church.
  2. Humanitarian aid is for nonmembers. We have been commanded to reach out and serve the world, and the church spends a lot of money and material in coming to the aid of all of God’s children.

The royal law is ultimately the Law of Consecration, however, at this time the law that is required is seeing to the welfare of the membership. This is aided through tithing and fast offering.

An important factor in our welfare system explained by Pres. Romney comes from these two scriptures:

D&C 42:42–”Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.”

D&C 75:29–”Let every man be diligent in all things. And the idler shall not have place in the Church, except he repent and mend his ways.”

But then, King Benjamin teaches us what our attitude should be toward the poor in Mosiah 4:

“…Ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (v. 16) … ”whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent” (v. 18) … ”For behold, are we not all beggars?” (v. 19).

I think the message here is that we must be responsible in the care of ourselves and our families so that we are able to care for others.

During the 20s, 30s, and 40s, Amy Lyman served as a board member, secretary, counselor, and president of the General Relief Society. Throughout these years, she instigated and developed many of our welfare programs. It was through her efforts that our church has worked alongside the Red Cross in helping people across the world.

Relief Society women worked unitedly for national prohibition in 1918. Prohibition was an important piece of social legislation that freed women from abusive situations that made them helpless and defenseless.

In 1919, a social welfare department was established at Relief Society headquarters in the office of the general secretary (who was Sis. Lyman, at the time). The objective of the department was to serve–

1) As a center for cooperative work in Salt Lake City between stakes and wards, as well as agencies trained to help families in distress.  

2) As a center for Latter-day Saint transients and non-residents in need.

3) As a Latter-day Saint confidential exchange and clearing house.

4) As an employment center or bureau for women and girls.

5) As a training center for Relief Society women engaged in charity and relief work.

6) As the official child-placing agency of the Church.

The department grew rapidly, and by 1921, was given its own space, separate from the offices of the Relief Society, yet still run by the the General Relief Society Board.

Relief Society sisters were called to teach courses on combating social problems and instituting good health care, which were held at The University of Utah hospital beginning its reputation as one of the leading teaching hospitals in the nation.

Deseret Industries began as the Relief Society General Board started receiving, renovating, and remodeling clothing and furniture that could be repurposed.

Promoting good health came in the form of milk depots where children and babies were supplied with milk, whether parents could pay or not. In addition, babies were given well-baby examinations.

At the Relief Society April conference in 1922, upon the recommendation of President Clarissa S. Williams, nearly one-half million dollars of wheat funds, collected by the Relief Society, was offered to the Presiding Bishopric Office, to be held by them. The interest from this fund was used for health, maternity, and child welfare purposes.

Sis. Lyman served as a member of the House of Representatives in 1923 introducing the Sheppard-Towner Act which “promoted the welfare and hygiene of infancy and maternity.” With this Act came even more work for the sisters. Maternity chests were established in local wards and filled with maternity bundles and layettes.

Relief Society women were also the major factor in the introduction of a bill in the 1929 legislature providing for the establishment of an institution for the feeble-minded. It’s still in use today, across the street from the Mt. Timpanogos Temple in American Fork, Utah.

Welfare Square has been toured by every nation in the world coming to discover how we take care of our own. They also visit the Humanitarian Center where they can arrange for aid to be shipped to their people. Everyone recognizes the need people have to sustain themselves and their loved ones and sometimes they just need a little help in getting started.  

General Conference Welfare sessions were a reminder of what we have been called to do on this earth–to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39), which invites us all to live the royal law.

Information from: Amy Brown Lyman, “In Retrospect,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan-Dec 1942

Additional General Conference Odyssey posts:

Congratulatory Criticism G

Honorable Employment Daniel Ortner

No money value can be placed upon them Marilyn Nielson

Jan Tolman

Jan Tolman is a wife, mother of six, and grandmother of seven. She is a writer, as well as speaker, on the history of the Relief Society at www.ldswomenofgod.com. Several articles, written by her on Relief Society history, have been published in the Deseret News. She has taught Institute and served as a docent at the Church History Museum. She urges everyone to learn something new about Church History, and especially about the incredible women of LDS faith.

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About Jan Tolman

Jan Tolman is a wife, mother of six, and grandmother of seven. She is a writer, as well as speaker, on the history of the Relief Society at www.ldswomenofgod.com. Several articles, written by her on Relief Society history, have been published in the Deseret News. She has taught Institute and served as a docent at the Church History Museum. She urges everyone to learn something new about Church History, and especially about the incredible women of LDS faith.