Can a Secular Relief Society Work?

For those of you following the story of the young teenage boy, Zhiwei, who has come to Shanghai from a distant province to get long-overdue surgery for a deformed leg (keep those donations coming!), I’m happy to report that he’s doing much better now that Mom has made it to town. Dad has been doing a great job, but what a difference a mother makes when it comes to comforting someone in pain. With Mom there, he’s now eating, smiling, and appears to be on the road to recovery. Even though Zhiwei is in a room packed with six hospital beds and lots of other parents and relatives caring for recovering children, I think his mother feels rather alone. She is away from her friends and relatives, away from the small farming community she knows, and is a stranger with a strange accent here for the first time in big Shanghai, sitting quietly in her corner of the hospital room.

When I brought my wife there to meet her last night, you would think that Mom had just found her long-lost sister or best friend. She threw her arms around Kendra and gave her such a hug, and just held her hands so warmly and so long, and then cried on her shoulder again when it was time to part. The display of appreciation got a bit overly dramatic by Western standards, but it was good honest rural Chinese warmth and gratitude. I had the feeling that this good woman really needs some fellow sisters from the Relief Society to be here supporting her.She needed another woman to help share her burden, even briefly. China needs the Relief Society. Not just for us foreign passport holders, but for everybody. My opinion.

In LDS culture, if a family was coming to a distant city for surgery, it would not be uncommon for a few calls to be made to reach local church leaders and explain the situation, and then local members might show up to help out or provide a little comfort. When a sister in Nanjing brought her non-Mormon husband to a hospital in Shanghai, her branch president called my branch president, and later that night my wife and I were at their hospital to help. My wife is currently Relief Society President in the Shanghai Branch and she and other sisters are involved in various efforts to lift those in times of trouble. And it’s remarkably affordable, being free volunteer service. I wish that woman from Jiangxi Province had a Relief Society network ready to help. She will have relatives and neighbors that will help when she returns, I’m sure, but I love the LDS network that can stretch across the miles (or the 1.609 kilometers).

As I pondered this woman and her son, I wondered what would happen if China tried to borrow from the LDS Relief Society and get similar results in a secular way. Red Brigade Sisters or something. Could it work? I don’t think so. The magic of Relief Society is the firm belief and understanding that we are all sisters and brothers, and that our love for the Savior needs to be expressed and cultivated in serving others. Indeed, growing in service and Christlike charity is a central purpose of our lives, and these lives of ours have purpose and value far beyond this mortal realm. All those principles that inspire service, sacrifice, and love are fueled by the religious aspects of the organization, by doctrine and faith and love for God, which doesn’t always easily fit within the framework of Marxism. But the heavily marketed ideals of Marxism, sharing to build a stronger, healthier society, are much more fully and practically achieved through living Christianity than through the institutions established by political theorists. China needs a Relief Society. Everybody does.

Could a secular version of the Relief Society work? I don’t think so. But I welcome any efforts any institution or government can make to duplicate the magic of the LDS Relief Society, one of the coolest and most needed organizations on earth. May we all learn from it.

I will say, though, that the love and service of Relief Society is not unique to Christianity. Buddhism, for example, has a strong service orientation, and a selfless Buddhist woman in particular has been one of my most important allies in advancing the cause of Zhiwei’s surgery. Her love and desire to serve other is not based on Christian religion, but inspired religion of a different variety. Thank you! And yes, of course, there are atheists who love and serve with remarkable compassion. It’s just hard to organize and channel selfless service Relief-Society style without the benefits of religious structure and teachings, in my opinion. Or could a secular Relief Society work? Let me know.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

4 thoughts on “Can a Secular Relief Society Work?

  1. Interesting you would speak of Relief Society, or a similar network. While passing some time today I went to the library and picked up some magazines from 2012 to read. There was an article about the disease AIDS in rural China (I have an awful memory due to illnesses so please forgive me for not having details). The article was a follow up from a doctor who went into rural China about 10 years ago to find out why AIDS was rampant. Very sad; many orphaned by it; people starving because they could no longer work; no medicine to combat the disease. The doctor worked very hard to get help and education to the people with the disease and about the disease to as many as possible. I thought about the very same thing – a network like the church can provide. It was an eye opener, and made me even more thankful for what I have. Thanks for the update about this young man and his family.

  2. I just recently finished another read through of the Work and the Glory. I often think about the needs of the homeless where I live and wonder if they could ever perform a work like Nauvoo or cross the plains.

    Similar conditions, but the Spirit is central to all of that. I keep hoping I'll find a way for a small group to band together and lift themselves out of poverty like the saints have done over and over.

  3. Jeff, your story illustrates how Marxism is a satanic imitation of the gospel. Marxism's ideal, or promise is "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" which is strikingly close to the United Order, and the scriptural accounts of saints "having all things in common." But your story, and the whole history of communist countries, puts the lie to that.

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