Monday, October 8, 2007

Who is my neighbor? Really.

A lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Christians are familiar with the parable Jesus used to answer his question. So what's the answer? That's easy; I was taught that in primary. Everyone is my neighbor. Simple. Problem solved. Or maybe it's not so simple.

Listening to General Conference this past weekend, I heard at least two speakers (Elder Wirthlin and Elder Snow) quote Jesus saying that loving our neighbor is the second greatest commandment. Both spoke of love and serving others, and both were among my favorite talks of conference.

Elder Snow listed several categories of service: our church callings, in our families, and in our communities. But what about everyone else? What about the starving children in Africa, or the orphans in Russia?

Let me be clear that I am not criticizing him for not mentioning our responsibility for world-wide service. There may have been a reason why it was omitted, and it certainly is beyond the scope of one conference talk to enumerate all the ways in which we should serve others. Still, it seems like when we talk about service in the church, we usually talk about service to those around us, and people far away are often an after-thought. An exception to this is after some massive natural disaster.

I'm left to ponder whether it is more important to serve my neighbor down the street than on the other side of the world. If so, why could this by?

1) Perhaps by saying we should serve in our communities, we are including our world-wide community. But that doesn't seem consistent with the examples we often site.

2) Perhaps world-wide service is not emphasized because it's not practical that the church should expect us all to hop a plane and go to Africa. But there are other ways to serve, such as supporting the Red Cross, which we are able to do.

3) Perhaps it's not emphasized because the Church has a humanitarian program that is doing much good. Still, that doesn't feel like it absolves by responsibility, does it? At least I should be reminded to support that effort.

4) Perhaps the thinking is that if we all help out in our neighborhoods, everyone in need will be taken care of. But that assumes people who can help are evenly distributed geographically.

If my neighbor was diagnosed with some terminal disease, surely I would want to help, in whatever way I could that was not too intrusive. Don't I have the same responsibility to help those who are diseased and hungry across the world?

So who is my neighbor? Really.


Anonymous said...

Certainly there are times when one's LDS neighbors and co-worshippers are appropriate and needy objects of our service (see your "Practicing Service" post). And yet LDS people do seems to stand out as less responsive to the broader needs of individuals and societies in other parts of the world, LDS Church humanitarian efforts not withstanding. There are huge issues out there in need of our attention--global warming, and the consumerism with which it is linked, war, the work we will all have to do to overcome the dismay with which most of the world looks at US self-centeredness, the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots across the world--my impression is that Latter-day Saints are more concerned about monthly home teaching statistics than with these issues that will bear on the lives of their children and grandchildren. Perhaps these broader issues of being a good Samaritan have become associated with a political philosophy that many LDS people reject. If so, the problem is our own myopia as Mormons, our own lack of creativity and willingness to admit to the mistakes of our own society.

Geoff B said...

Horebite, I'm interested in having you guest blog at our group LDS blog Millennial Star. Please write to me at if you are interested.