Church History Lesson 38 (D&C 38; 42; 58; 104)

As stated in the Gospel Doctrine manual, the purpose of this week’s lesson is to help members understand the principles of spiritual and temporal welfare and commit themselves to greater self-reliance and service to the poor and needy.


The Great Depression

In 1929, on October 29 (“Black Tuesday”), the stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression. Few events in history have had a greater impact on the Church and its members than did this crash.

“The 1930s brought severe economic difficulties to most parts of the world. ln the boom years following World War I, unwise borrowing and a spirit of speculation had placed most nations’ economies on extremely shaky footings. The United States stock market crash of late 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. Around the world, businesses closed or drastically cut back production, throwing a distressingly large number of people out of work Long lines at employment offices and at public soup kitchens became an all-too-common sight. The Depression’s impact was particularly severe in the western United States where most Latter-day Saints then lived. . . . In the midst of these trying economic difficulties, the Lord revealed a plan for the material security and welfare of the Saints. First known as the Church security plan, the welfare plan helped restore thousands to productivity and self-respect while emphasizing self-reliance and the virtues of honest work. Over the years, the welfare plan would become a monument to the industry and vision of the Latter-day Saints.”1

The impact of the Great Depression was quite severe in the Mountain West. In 1932, unemployment in Utah reached 35.9 percent, and per capita income fell by 48.6 percent. But the Church had a welfare program even before the depression. During the 1920s the Presiding Bishopric and the Relief Society General Board were active in finding employment, maintaining a storehouse, and in other ways helping the needy. Therefore, as economic conditions grew worse following the stock market crash, the Church was able to build on existing foundations.

In 1930, Presiding Bishop Sylvester Q. Cannon insisted bishoprics were responsible “to see to it that none of the active members of the Church suffers for the necessities of life. . . . The effort of the Church . . . is to help people to help themselves. The policy is to aid them to become independent, . . . rather than to have to depend upon the Church for assistance.”2

Local leaders developed innovative solutions to the economic distress of members.

The Granite Stake in Salt Lake County put the unemployed to work on various stake projects, operated a sewing shop where donated clothing was renovated, and secured food for the needy through cooperative arrangements with nearby farmers. The Pioneer Stake, in an even less prosperous area, was especially hard hit by the depression. In 1932, the Pioneer Stake storehouse was established by stake President Harold B. Lee, with a storehouse was stocked with goods produced on stake projects or donated by Church members. General Authorities encouraged, counseled, and supported these efforts to help meet the emergency.

Temporal Self-Reliance

To be temporally self-reliant is to prepare ourselves to take care of ourselves and our families. When we are physically and emotionally able, we should not shift the burden of our own or our family’s care to someone else. We do this by learning to work, by storing food and other essentials for a time of need, by managing our money well, and by gaining a good education.

Elder J. Reuben Clark, Jr., became a counselor to President Grant in 1933. He had a distinguished career in international law and diplomacy, having served as under secretary of state and as the United States’ ambassador to Mexico. President Grant asked his new counselor to formulate a plan for assisting the Saints. In July 1933, the First Presidency set forth fundamental principles of Church welfare. They outlined specific relief measures that could be carried out Church wide.

The Church Welfare Program. In 1936, on April 7, the First Presidency outlined the Church Welfare Plan. The First Presidency to emphasized the purposes of this plan: “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.”3

“Our able-bodied members must not, except as a last resort, be put under the embarrassment of accepting something for nothing. . . . Church officials administering relief must devise ways and means by which all able-bodied Church members who are in need, may make compensation for aid given them by rendering some sort of service.” In compensation for help received, individual wards were asked to be prepared to meet the needs of their own members and then to give assistance to other units requiring help. The Presidency concluded its message by encouraging the Saints to remember the “paramount necessity of living righteously, of avoiding extravagance, of cultivating habits of thrift, economy, and industry, of living strictly within their incomes, and of laying aside something, however small the amount may be, for the times of greater stress that may come to us.”4

Food Storage. In 1937, on April 6, members were challenged for the first time to store a year’s supply of food and other necessities where possible. Sadly, some have ignored this counsel to their own detriment during times of personal need. And as we approach economic times that are frighteningly similar to those before and during the Great Depression, we may well expect that our future needs will be even more acute.

The Church Handbook of Instructions explains, “Church leaders have not given an exact formula for what to store. Rather, they suggest that Church members begin by storing what would be required to keep them alive if they did not have anything else to eat. . . . Through careful planning, most Church members can store a year’s supply of the basic items needed to sustain life. However, some members do not have the money or space for such storage, and some are prohibited by law from storing a year’s supply of food. These members should store as much as they can according to their circumstances. All members can provide themselves with added security by learning to produce and prepare basic food items.”5

Work. The Church Handbook of Instructions says, “To become self-reliant, a person must work. Work is physical, mental, or spiritual effort. It is a basic source of happiness, self-worth, and prosperity. Through work, people accomplish many good things in their lives.”6

The Lord has declared, “Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer” (D&C 42:42).

To those who choose to be idle, the Lord has warned, “Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!” (D&C 56:17).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Work is always a spiritual necessity even if, for some, work is not an economic necessity.”7 Work teaches us the value of things we obtain through our labor and it instills a sense of self-worth that can be obtained in no other way.

Financial security. Another aspect of self-reliance is to know how to manage our money. Financial issues cause many problems in our individual and family lives. The Church Handbook of Instructions explains: “To become self-reliant in resource management, Church members should pay tithes and offerings, avoid unnecessary debt, save for the future, and satisfy all of their promised obligations. Members also should use their resources, including their time, frugally and avoid wasting them.”8

Another aspect of financial management is to pay an honest tithe. The very process of calculating our income in order to tithe it can insure that we know what our means are and avoid spending beyond them.

Avoiding debt. Debit can enslave us, and is usually incurred when we covet things that are beyond our means. Then, finding ourselves in debt, we justify that we cannot afford to tithe or that we must work more hours (including on Sundays) in order to pay our obligations. Living simply can avoid all of these traps.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage. . . .If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts.”9

Education. Church members have always been counseled to educate them selves as well as possible. The early Saints were very interested in furthering their education. During the first year in the Salt Lake Valley, a school for children was taught in a tent. Later, Church leaders directed every ward to establish a school. A university was established at Nauvoo, and the University of Deseret was created in Salt Lake City in 1850.

Caring for the Needy

There are those, of course, who are in need through no fault of their own—widows, the fatherless, and the desperately poor. The Lord has commanded us to care for them, and the scriptures are full of injunctions to do so:.

— When we give our substance to the poor, we are doing it unto the Lord (D&C 42:30–31).
— We “must visit the poor and needy and administer to their relief” (D&C 44:6).
— If we do not remember the poor, the needy, the sick, and the afflicted, we are not the Savior’s disciples (D&C 52:40).
— If we are rich and do not share with the poor, our riches will canker our souls (D&C 56:16).
— We should love one another and give to each other as the gospel requires (D&C 88:123).
— If we do not impart of our abundance to the poor, we will dwell among the wicked in torment (D&C 104:18).
— The Lord’s “own way” of providing for the temporal needs of the poor is that those who have abundance must share that abundance freely with them (D&C 104:13–18; Jacob 2:17–19).
— We are to do these things freely and lovingly.
— The poor who receive such help must do so with gratitude and not with greed.

Fast Offerings. The Church provides organized ways in which we can give help in quiet, secure, and individual ways. One of those ways is to contribute fast offerings. “The Church designates one Sunday each month as a fast day. On this day Church members go without food and drink for two consecutive meals. They . . . . give to the Church a fast offering at least equal to the value of the food they would have eaten. If possible, members should be very generous and give much more than the value of two meals.”10

Humanitarian Aid. Another way to provide for the needy is through humanitarian assistance. For many years the Church has provided humanitarian relief and self-reliance projects to suffering people throughout the world—members and nonmembers alike—to alleviate the effects of poverty, war, and natural disasters.


When the Lord said, “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” He was not speaking purely of temporal preparedness (D&C 38:30). It these days of great spiritual wickedness, our faith can be challenged by persecution and the sophistries of men. Our children are bombarded by false philosophies in their education and social life. We also must learn to stand strong against the encroachments of Babylon all around us.

To do so, we must strive to develop spiritual strength that will enable us to resolve difficult problems in our lives and strengthen others in their times of spiritual need.

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve said:

“We have been taught to store a year’s supply of food, clothing, and, if possible, fuel—at home. . . . Can we not see that the same principle applies to inspiration and revelation, the solving of problems, to counsel, and to guidance? We need to have a. source of it stored in every home. . . . If we lose our emotional and spiritual independence, our self-reliance, we can be weakened quite as much, perhaps even more, than when we become dependent materially.”11

The way to prepare is not complicated. It is a simple as the oft-repeated formula: Family prayer, Family home evening, attendance at Church, keeping the commandments, and attending the temple. As we thus “stand in holy places” we will be prepared to meet the spiritual problems of our day with wisdom.


1. “That the Church May Stand Independent,” Chapter 14, in My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth: Readings in Church History [1979], 98–104.
2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1930, 103.
3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 3.
4. In James R. Clark, comp. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965-75], 5:332–334.
5. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2: priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders [1998], 258.
6. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2, 257.
7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 50; or Ensign, May 1998, 38.
8. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2, 258.
9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 72; or Ensign, Nov. 1998, 54.
10. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2, 256.
11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1978, 136-37; or Ensign, May 1978, 91-92.