Entitled

lamanandlemuelI very much enjoyed Elder Renlund’s comments on entitlement. First, because he made clear one of the reasons why we should be very conscientious about how we give help. It affects the receiver’s spiritual progression. Second, the King Benjamin-esque tie-in to all of us who, like any Church welfare recipient, are beggars before God.

Lastly, because while he laid into bad attitudes, whining, and murmuring, his central story was about someone missing the sacrament. A story whose happy ending relied upon a saint telling the Branch President, one hopes charitably, that a priesthood holder, a deacon in this case, made a mistake in performing his calling. And a Branch President who took care to see that mistake corrected. Because people do make mistakes.

I think there was an implicit lesson, secondary to the main one about the Sacrament and the Savior, that we can and should give leaders information to help them correct mistakes. We just need to do it with the right attitude. “Don’t be whiners” does not mean “never speak up”. It means speak up with humility and charity and for the right reasons.

Keeping all this in mind would probably help ease a lot of the friction for people who feel that leaders don’t listen to them. Or for those leaders who (incorrectly) think they should not be ever told about their potential mistakes. And nobody should feel entitled. Because that makes you act like a jerk.

25 comments for “Entitled

  1. I’m still trying to decide what to make of the following observation in Elder Renlund’s talk:

    The more we distance ourselves from Them [God and Jesus Christ], the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings.

    It is true our attitude to grace should be gratitude rather than a sense of entitlement. Good so far. But a big chunk of LDS discourse seems to buy in to the idea that we earn and therefore do deserve blessings. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say” (D&C 82:10) is regularly quoted for the proposition that if one is obedient, blessings follow. Even more to the point is this passage:

    There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:20-21)

    The LDS position has been that, in fact, we *are* owed blessings in return for obedience. So it is puzzling for Elder Renlund to attack that view. Perhaps LDS leadership is now fully endorsing the traditional Protestant view of unmerited grace.

  2. Fair enough. But I would say that while we are given blessings when we obey, I don’t think it says anywhere that we are “owed” blessings. Thus the passage in the D&C is perfectly consistent with King Benjamin’s “he doth immediately bless you”. Not because you deserve it, but because that is how God treats us.

  3. Everything about Elder Renlund’s talk is that God is the giver and we are the recipients. So why is the very first conclusion that we should be careful not to be too generous in our giving — not for our own sake, of course, but as an added blessing to the receiver? (We’re never stingy in giving that sort of blessing away, are we?) Are you telling God not to bless you too freely? Or just that we shouldn’t bless the other guy too freely when that blessing comes out of what we have received freely from God?

  4. I think the message I got was that we should be _very_ generous and we should do it as close as possible to the person we’re helping. And if we don’t know anyone who needs help that is usually an easily fixable problem. Especially if we know a Bishop or two. Failing that, we should funnel money to groups that _are_ close to those in need.

  5. What about promises in your Patriarchal Blessings? At some point you start to wonder if it’s going to happen and then you think well it can’t be God’s fault so it must be mine and then you think well I must not be enough or do enough or am smart enough or enough to get these promised blessings and you can “dwindle in unbelief” or just abandon the whole thing or am I missing something when it’s not happening?

  6. “The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement” — strikes me as pop psychology trying to become doctrine. I’m really questioning whether one general authority giving his own reasoning in a private conversation with another general authority and then being quoted in conference is sufficient. But you know we’re going to hear this for years to come in every discussion of charity, helping the poor, government assistance, or the welfare program.

  7. I found the idea that a church leader in Africa where there is so much need would be given this advice, and accept it, that an isolated person giving aid leads to a sense of entitlement. Sounds more like Republican doctrine than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I found it very jarring.

  8. I like this sentiment, to the extent that it means that we need to draw nearer to God to accept His grace, as Luther understood all too well (even if he is too often misaligned with the notion of cheap grace). However, I suspect that christiankimball is right — it will probably be more often quoted as yet another example of a general authority questioning the wisdom of “government handouts.” The problem, as I see it is this: (A) the incentive distortions (call it “entitlement”) associated with handouts are probably significant and (B) the benefits associated with handouts are also probably significant. Most people in the United States, in my experience, believe one of the foregoing propositions but not both. And, in my experience once again, most Mormons in the American West fall into the camp of believing (A) while expressing skepticism for (B). Thus, I would think that at least for most Mormons in the American West (and isn’t that most of American Mormons?), they don’t really need a talk on the costs but the benefits of handouts. Unless this was a talk meant for members outside of the United States? At the very least, this talk illustrates how difficult it can be to try to deliver a message to a highly heterogenous group of people.

  9. If it’s possible that the talk will be held up by ‘Republicans’ or conservatives for mirroring their world view, it’s just as likely to be rejected by some liberals and ‘Democrats’ for contradicting theirs.

    What’s more likely, a general authority giving a completely misguided talk with political overtones in conference that is not later contradicted and not corrected; or your own politics are causing you to reject the truth, which exists independent of whomever you cast your vote for?

  10. I would love to see research that supports (or contradicts) Elder Renlund’s assertion about distance between giver and receiver increasing the receiver’s sense of entitlement. I did some cursory Googling yesterday and found studies showing one factor in a growing sense of entitlement: increasing wealth. If someone is aware of other relevant research, I’d be very interested in seeing it.

  11. Elder Renlunds assertion that distance between giver and receiver increasing the receiver’s sense of entitlement seems very straightforward to me. Instead of seeing and being with those that are helping you, you become ignorant of the sacrifices involved in your charity to an extent. The “machine” of government or even there Church gave to me, not my neighbor. I am not knocking welfare or humanitarian aid.

    I think the same concept works in reverse. When we hear about starving children in Africa, their plight is so distant, just a matter of words and some stock photo, that the effect or draw towards charity is weakened. If Jimmy down the street is starving your relationship with Jimmy plays a role and you more freely give and your level of Vincent is raised. It is just more real and tangible. You know and can see the effects.

  12. I have had gut wrenching experiences with poor people to whom I have given money. The more I have given, the more they expected me to give. So I can understand Elder Renlund’s statements. I still try to be charitable with both time and money, but I try to be discerning. On another note, we are increasingly becoming a cashless society. I seldom carry paper money or use an ATM. What will become of panhandlers? Will they start carrying credit card reader devices? I am not trying to poke fun at street beggars. I have purchased meals for some of them.

  13. True Blue, I don’t think that was what he was saying. You may wish to reread the talk to be sure, but it seems to me that he was talking in favor of an isolated person giving as better than arms length intervention by groups with little familiarity or connection with the individual in need.

  14. In his talk today, President Uchtdorf very clearly taught that there is unmerited grace in action when Jesus seeks the lost sheep. We don’t need to prove ourselves worthy for Jesus come after us when we’ve lost our way.

    He also came very close to redefining obedience. It was a great talk.

  15. It may seem intuitive, but intuition isn’t always accurate. That’s why I’d love to see some research evidence.

  16. http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/50799-Democratic-Republic-of-Congo-Lubumbashi-to-Kinshasa/page1
    Seems that entitlement really is a problem in Africa. They’re real humans, with complex motivations. It’s not right to patronize them, to use them as morality pets, when we could try to work with them. The detrimental effects of foreign aid are well-documented:
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123758895999200083
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/spiegel-interview-with-african-economics-expert-for-god-s-sake-please-stop-the-aid-a-363663.html
    And seem to back up Elder Renlund’s point perfectly.

    The LDS way out of poverty has never been through faceless welfare. And it works far, far better than the world’s way out of poverty.

  17. Thank you SO so much for this post. I am a former Relief Society president who worked with branch president that could not understand the concepts you discussed here. Being a wealthy man, he insisted that the poor folks we ministered to first behave like responsible, upper-class folk before they could receive church aid. Needy families went very hungry on our watch–I went to the stake for help, but stake leaders lived two hours away from us and could not see what was happening, so they lovingly reminded me to take counsel from branch leadership instead of going to them. I fought long and hard for those families, even tried to feed them on my own dime, but ended up moving away to another branch rather than watch people suffer under my stewardship. Since then, I have spent every testimony meeting, every church lesson, and every sacrament meeting talk advocating for the poor because I have been so haunted by the experience.

    In addition to Ruby K. Payne’s books, I have discovered the work of scholars Lipina and Colombo, whose text _Poverty and Brain Development During Childhood_ reveals that there is an actual cerebral breakdown (brain damage) that results from the years of abuse, neglect, and malnutrition so common to most poor upbringings. This means that we can no more judge people raised in poverty as “undeserving” or “acting entitled” than we can judge special-needs persons as having brought their condition upon themselves. This is something that middle class and upper class children don’t experience, so church leaders hailing from those cozier, more comfortable backgrounds should never judge.

  18. Oops–the comment above was meant for your other post about people in poverty! When I refreshed the page on my phone to leave my comment, I somehow ended up on this post’s comments section by mistake…poetically enough, my comment sort of fits here, too, so I will just leave it!

  19. “LDS way out of poverty has never been through faceless welfare. And it works far, far better than the world’s way out of poverty.”

    Outside the U.S., the church often partners with other aid organizations so I don’t know if there is a basis or not for the claim that the LDS system is far superior. Actually, I don’t know if there is a basis for this claim within the U.S either.

  20. I’m not talking about emergency poverty relief, I’m talking about long-term intergenerational poverty relief. There’s a cultural shift in LDS converts that I’ve seen in and outside of the US. I’m sorry I don’t have statistics for that, but in my personal experience converts are resocialized into a realm where hard work and education are necessary and possible. Members believe themselves to be givers more than they believe themselves to be receivers, and can validate those beliefs with the many opportunities for service the Church provides.

  21. The peer effect is very noticeable. Of course it doesn’t merely affect Mormon converts. There have been several economic studies that show one of the best things you can do for people in very poor neighborhoods is to simply move them out of that neighborhood. i.e. see this PBS story “…children who moved from high-poverty to low-poverty areas at a young age grew up to earn 30 percent more on average than those who remained.”

  22. That seems intrinsically the sort of question that inevitably leads to bad studies. (grin) How on earth would one measure “entitlement” in any reliable way?

  23. I am really struggling with the notion that distance breeds entitlement.

    To wit, I live in one of the nicest places in the entire world in central Orange County, CA. Master planned community, lots of capital floating around, etc. It is quite common in EQ for the discussion to become one of “how do I raise my children in such a great place and still keep them grounded and unspoiled.” And we aren’t talking about others spoiling them; we are talking about the parents spoiling them out of a concern to give them a nice life.

    For example, my parents send me $100 every year for my birthday. I expect it now. If I were to only get $20 this July, I would probably be miffed. I feel entitled to $100 on my birthday from my parents. On the flip side, if I were to go to Chik-Fil-A and find out that some stranger paid my meal once as a kind gesture, I would hardly demand that experience to repeat each time I go out to eat.

    To me, it seems the closer the relationship, the more likely we are to feel entitled. What am I missing?

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