my mission in Brazil, we were forbidden to give money to beggars.
were a lot of beggars. But whatever money we carried was intended to
sustain us as we served the Lord by teaching the gospel. And, as our
mission president pointed out, “Most of these beggars are
professionals. They look pitiful as part of their trade.”
each time I read the Book of Mormon, I got stuck in King Benjamin’s
sermon, where he told us not to let the beggar put his petition to us
we’ll tell ourselves, this man has brought his misery upon
himself; I won’t share with him, because he deserves his
suffering. But King Benjamin said that such people have “great
cause to repent,” and unless we repent, we perish forever, and
have no part in the kingdom of God (Mosiah 4:16-18).
we not all beggars?” asks King Benjamin.
“Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all
the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold,
and for silver, and for all the riches we have of every kind?”
words, and the verses that followed, struck me to the heart. I
obeyed my mission president — because he was right — but
I also made a vow that once I got home from my mission, and for
the rest of my life,
no beggar would put up his petition to me in vain.
exception would be when I truly had nothing I could share, as King
Benjamin allowed (4:24-25). I have to meet the needs of my own
family; I have to pay my debts; nor can I give away the money my
employees expect as their salaries.
do allow myself another exception. In Greensboro there are teams of
traffic-light beggars who are driven to their corners in the morning
and picked up at night. They get rotated around, but I know them all
now, and I figure that, having given to them once, and having ample
evidence that this is their trade, years on end, I don’t have
to believe their sad little signs any more.
I have given to
them more than once; I don’t have to keep pouring God’s
money into the bottomless well of professional beggary.
that’s a circumstance that King Benjamin didn’t mention: What
if the beggar is lying?
What if, in fact, he is not in need at all?
the Nephites of that time, anonymity was not possible. Everybody
knew the people of their village, and nobody could get away with
to be in need.
But in our towns
and cities there are so many people that liars and pretenders can
usually get away with their cons and scams.
you know what? I’m willing to be scammed a little, on the
chance that I
might be wrong
and the person might be needy after all.
forthright about it. For instance, I was walking with a friend along
a street in DC when a beggar accosted us with a high whining voice,
exaggerating his southern-black accent, like a parody of the
stereotypical Negro of 1930s movies.
So I said,
cheerfully, “I’m going to give you five dollars, but I
really don’t need the performance. You’re very good at
it, but talk to me in your real voice, so we can do this man to man.”
voice dropped into a normal range. “Fine with me,” he
said. And then, because I kept my word and gave him the five,
He got what he
needed, and we were able to shed a layer of deception. But I would
have given him the five even if the deception had continued.
figured that by King Benjamin’s standard, and by the standard
of D&C 104:15-18, that money did not belong to me. It had always
belonged to God, and now
it belonged to the man who asked me for it;
the question of whether he was honest or deserving was not mine to
for bishops, administering the welfare funds of the Church, the
question matters very much. Bishops
to be judges.
They are required to be wise stewards of the funds donated by the
Saints, and there are rules, strict and wise, about how those funds
are to be disbursed.
Welfare funds are
not to be used to maintain well-to-do people in their lofty
lifestyle. When a family in a fine house with fine cars suffers a
loss of income, then they are responsible first to adjust their
expenses to the change.
I have watched
several bishops over the years, and I admire and love their justice
and their mercy. They help people understand their own
responsibility first, and then provide help even as the recipients do
all that they can to earn their own way out of their dilemmas.
That is right —
for the official Church, for the ordained Judge in Zion. Just as my
mission president was right to forbid us missionaries to give to
beggars during our mission.
But most of us are
not bishops. Nor has the existence of the Church welfare system
exempted us from the personal requirements laid upon us in Mosiah 4
and D&C 104.
So in our ward —
as in many other wards and branches throughout the Church —
there are many Saints who form an unofficial King Benjamin Society.
And their bishops and branch presidents know about them.
Thus when gas
prices rose suddenly in the summer of 2008, our bishop had a fistful
of gas station debit cards, which did not come from Church funds,
that he could give to struggling families. Cars have found their way
to people who had lost their means of transportation. A mortgage or
rent payment has been made to help tide someone over.
of these needs met the standards for receiving Church welfare. But
met the standard of King Benjamin.
Many Saints have
taken the law of consecration to heart. Blessed with more of the
world’s goods than they have need of, they know that their
surplus belongs to God.
Nor do they think
their stewardship of these surplus goods gives them the right to
judge others. They are eager to say to the bishop, “You know
who is in need better than I do.”
Nothing goes on
the books. There is no thought of tax deductions or other benefits
to the giver. It isn’t their money, it is God’s, and
they set that money free to do the work of mercy.
I know about these
people because I have, from time to time in my life, been the
beneficiary of their generous help. I have also followed along in
the tracks of people doing such good works, for when I offered to
help, I found that the help had already been given; by whom, I did
not know, I was not told, I did not ask.
knew this: The
help was given by someone who believed King Benjamin.
This past week, I
happened to be in a position to observe as the bishop relied on the
King Benjamin Society to help a woman who had got the bishop’s
phone number from the missionaries.
Just to give
context, a few weeks earlier the bishop had been called twice by a
person who claimed to have three hungry children in the first phone
call, and five children in the second. The person insisted on cash
instead of help in kind.
story, the insistence on cash — both are red flags, and as a
judge in Zion he determined that there was no actual need. He did
not offer Church funds, and he did not call on the King Benjamin
But then he got a
phone call from this woman who had talked to the missionaries. She
was being evicted from her home and was looking at two weeks of
homelessness before she could move into her next place.
She claimed she
had once been “a member of your church,” but from the way
she talked, the bishop knew she had never been a Mormon. Nor did her
name show up on any membership record in the stake.
But she was asking
for housing, not money. The need was real.
Clearly this was a
job for King Benjamin. The bishop handed the situation over to a
Sister in the ward who had been known to take care of such matters
before. The Sister arranged for a room at a Microtel in Burlington,
where the needy woman claimed to have a job waiting for her.
From the moment
the woman arrived, it was clear that she was taking advantage of the
situation. She demanded a larger room, and the night clerk gave it
to her. She had a friend with her — who then spent the night
in a single occupancy room, though the woman denied it (the friend’s
car stayed in its parking place all night).
The hotel manager
and the Sister talked the next day. The larger room cost $20 a night
more. And the manager knew the woman — she had stayed there
before, her room paid for by another church. The woman always broke
hotel rules by not allowing maids into the room. She left her phone
off the hook and would not talk to management.
The manager and
the Sister from the King Benjamin Society reached an understanding,
and the Sister then talked to the woman on the cellphone she had used
to call the bishop.
happy to provide this room for you,” said the Sister, “for
the two weeks you asked for. We have paid for the smaller room, and
that’s the only one being offered to you.
“You need to
obey hotel rules, or we’ve authorized the management to remove
your things from the room. That means letting the maids in once a
day to clean. It means answering your telephone. If you can’t
live with these rules, you can always choose to stay with the friend
who brought you and spent the night with you.”
All of this was
said with good cheer — and firmness. The woman had an answer
for everything, of course. “The managers here are so rude to
me!” “I’ve found a cheaper rate for a better room
at the Econo-Lodge.” “I need the larger room because I
have so much stuff.”
But the Sister, in
the spirit of King Benjamin, did not argue. She merely said, “The
room we’ve already paid for is the small one at the Microtel.
That’s the only room we can share with you. I like working
with the Microtel management. They’ve been completely honest
with me about everything.”
Sister knew she was being lied to.
She knew that this woman was a scammer who had done this kind of
thing before. The Sister didn’t get angry. She didn’t
try to punish or confront or accuse the woman.
At the same time,
she was able to say, “This is what you said you needed, and
it’s what we’re offering. If you don’t need it
after all, then that’s fine. No one is forcing you to stay.”
Sister made it clear that she liked the managers because they hadn’t
lied to her. She didn’t have
to say to the woman, You have lied to us over and over.
much was true: The woman really did need a place to stay. When the
deadline came, the woman changed to the smaller room and stayed. She
grumbled the whole time about how she was being mistreated. Hotel
management did not bother to point out that she was not paying for
The King Benjamin
Society helps imperfect people — because that’s the only
kind they’re making these days. Just as I gave the whining
beggar what he asked for, even though I knew his act was phony, so
also this Sister helped the surly, ungrateful, lying woman —
because she really needed a place to stay.
was a transfer of God’s money from one temporary steward to
another. It was handled kindly and firmly, with
open hands and with open eyes.
The King Benjamin
Society does not ask whether you brought your troubles on yourself.
At the same time,
the King Benjamin Society only gives what it can, to meet a genuine
need. It is perfectly fair, as steward of the Lord’s gift, to
say, “This much is what we will share; if you need it, it’s
yours. If you choose not to accept it, that’s fine, too; we
will share with someone else instead.”
strange thing about the King Benjamin Society. There are no dues.
There is no membership list. Bishops know a few of the members, but
there are many others that the bishop is unaware of.
Members of the
King Benjamin Society can live in the same ward for years and have no
idea that they are both part of that club.
you have to do to join it is to share with someone in need. It
doesn’t have to be a stranger — it usually isn’t.
a family member, or a good friend. Often it’s someone you hear
about from a friend or family member, and you send your help along
anonymously. “Just tell them a friend heard about their need
and asked you to pass this along.”
one place where the roster of the King Benjamin Society is fully
known, and where the record of its good works is kept.
When the keeper of
that role meets each member (as he always does, eventually), he
greets them the same way:
good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things,
I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of
thy lord” (Matt. 25:23).
Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's
Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and
younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.
Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary
fantasy (Magic Street,Enchantment,Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables,Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker
(beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and
Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and
Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s.
Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs
plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.
Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife,
Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.