Last Sunday, Lolly and family arrived to watch General Conference on our TV (by choice, they live in a house devoid of television hook-up). Feeling compelled to join them in front of our screen during the morning session, I survived by amusing myself with the grandkids. When Presiding Bishop, H. David Burton, took the podium wearing a pink necktie, I snapped to attention. His genial, cherubic face signaled a spiritual message, and I was not disappointed as he described our duty to care for the poor, to do “the work Jesus loved.”
Critics have pointed out the discrepancy between the $3 billion the Church has spent on City Creek Center development and the $13 million the Church spends annually on aid to the poor, but I no longer expect perfection from organizations or their members. In the most moving part of his talk, Burton quoted President Heber J. Grant who, during the Great Depression, pledged the Church would not let members go hungry even if it meant closing the seminaries and temples and shutting down missionary work. While that may not be literal policy today, it is a lofty goal. Of course, the institutional Church as well as individual members fall short of attaining the standard set by Jesus, but Bishop Burton did a good job of reminding us where our priorities should lie.
Reflecting upon why Burton’s conference talk moved me while most others seemed irrelevant, I realized that Burton was speaking about the application of a universal principle—one of Jesus’s core teachings. Most conference addresses tell listeners how to become better Mormons. Burton told us how to become better human beings. While the two goals are not mutually exclusive, neither are they identical. Conference addresses typically admonish members to greater diligence in temple attendance, missionary work, obeying church leaders, Family Home Evening, and reading the Book of Mormon.
Many great people do none of these things, yet relieve suffering and provide opportunities for those trapped in poverty and despair—people like Greg Mortensen who builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Lesser know, but equally dedicated people include: Father Tom Hagan who builds and operates schools and feeding stations for Haiti’s poor, Somaly Mam, who operates a rescue for girls exploited in the sex trade in Cambodia, Dr. Anthony Lazzara who operates Villa la Paz, a hospital which cares for impoverished sick and handicapped children in Peru, and Scott Neeson, who gave up a successful film production career to establish schools in Cambodia.
Burton’s talk came close to being nondenominational. Compassion transcends church and national boundaries. Love and cheers to the Presiding Bishop with the pink necktie and generous spirit.