Musings on Mormonism

On slums, hearts, and Ezra Taft Benson

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

-Ezra Taft Benson

I really like this quote, and have spent much time thinking on the distinction President Benson makes between the Lord’s and the world’s modes of operation. This was especially true during last semester, where I was taking a course on urban policy problems. Rest assured, while there was much talk of slums and environment, there was absolutely zero discussion of the Lord or changed hearts. Attending a secular institution in a practically-minded field like public policy, I didn’t honestly expect that such “fuzzy” spiritual notions would enter the classroom; nevertheless, earnest discussion of such pressing issues feels woefully incomplete without acknowledgement of the unseen, yet profoundly pertinent spiritual aspects.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this most recently (i.e. about 30 minutes ago) while working on a paper. I would like to pose a question in the hopes of getting some responses:

Should we have any misgivings about moving people out of bad environments?

Or framed another way,

If people are stuck in a bad situation, should an outside observer be more concerned with trying to reform and repair the situation, or with extracting as many willing souls to higher ground as possible?

I know what Batman from “Batman Begins” would say, but the Old Testamant, Book of Mormon, and other standard works of the Church might suggest otherwise. Somewhat surprisingly, in the aforementioned class, it seemed like people did feel uneasy about the notion of extrication (in the context of moving poor inner city people to the suburbs for employment), probably because environmental reform seemed more equitable.


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  1. * Justin says:

    I don’t think physically moving people does much in terms of fixing problems, so I think it’s ultimately better for everyone if we fix the broken neighborhoods. The tricky part is doing that without pricing the people who live in them out, forcing them to move.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago
    • * Bryce says:

      Thanks for the comment, Justin! I think we are in agreement about wanting to fix problems rather than just applying a small-scope solution for a handful of people. From a cost-benefit perspective, however, it does not seem that there is any way of fixing the myriad of problems which plague poor neighborhoods that is both effective and not monumentally expensive. In my mind, it seems much more realistic, and potentially more effective, to concentrate on moving people out and to where the jobs are concentrated (i.e. the suburbs). I suppose I would still have misgivings about that if I knew there were many good people, those who are anxious for something better if just provided the opportunity to pursue it, being left behind.

      | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago
  2. * Tiffany says:

    I have always loved this President Benson quote, too. It was a tough concept in my studies as well (the international development side, I mean), to concede that nothing our ngos and charity organizations do on a broad scale makes much of a lasting difference. Good thing we have the gospel then! This is one of my most comforting thoughts–to know that however miserable people’s environment and circumstances may be, real joy is always still miraculously available. So in response to your question, I tend to feel that the latter (extracting fewer to higher ground) is more effective and lasting positive change, and of course much more difficult. Good job thinking about deep things, Bryce!

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 3 months ago
  3. * Elder Noel D. Luke says:

    Relocating people to a “better” venue is a fanciful idea but ignores the more important issues of self-reliance, avoiding dependency, etc. I remember the George Romney Department of Housing and Urban Development (1969 to 1973) modular program back in the early 1970’s. His program finally fell out of favor. One problem in San Francisco was that their planned replacement housing for some government housing had the potential of displacing not lifting up those it sought to help. I don’t think there are many government programs but what outcomes usually end up at a totally different destination. As a Welfare Services Missionary in Cebu, Philippines, it is clear here that education and changes in counter-productive cultural attitudes is more to Pres. Benson’s famous quote in effecting lasting change. If you moved people here, you’d be messing with intricate family support systems usually overlooked by the do good social scientists.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago

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