"If We Are Preparing, Shouldn't We Still Fear?:
Fear-Mongering in the LDS Preparedness Culture "
Janille Shumway Stearmer
SquareTwo, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Fall 2008)
The concept of preparedness has been taught throughout history. I would venture to say that probably every culture in existence has had some story that resembles Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper fable. Almost from its inception The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught this as doctrine. One of our most well-known scriptures is found in D&C 38:30 “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." It is distressing to see, in relation to this wonderful doctrine of preparation, the tendency for some individuals and groups to encourage and practice extremes that have no foundation or purpose with regards to the true teachings of the LDS Church. These are extremes that seem to feed off of promoting fear, rather than trying to allay it.
Elder Franklin D. Richards stated that “throughout the history of the Church, the doctrine of personal and family preparedness has been emphasized by the leaders of the Church. Six phases of personal and family preparedness have been stressed by our leaders: education, career development, financial, health, and spiritual preparedness, and home production and storage. . . I personally feel very strongly that in furtherance of these teachings every man who has property and means should so live as to obtain wisdom to know how to use them in the best possible way to promote the welfare of his family and his fellowmen and in building the kingdom of God.”  Elder Richards clearly states the purpose of the doctrine of preparedness, not only for the individual and family, but for the entire kingdom of God. How do such statements, then, become twisted through fear-mongering and how can we guard against such distortions?
There are two ways that fear is used to distort the doctrine of preparedness. It can be use as a weapon of promotion for monetary gain and it can be used as justification to “prepare against” our neighbors and institutions. There are also two different levels of exploitation in each of these “fear-mongering” methods. The first is fairly benign, in which the individual or group simply invokes the doctrines of preparedness in order to give credibility to a product or service. In the second instance, a diverse and inclusive doctrine becomes warped into the single overriding extreme doctrine that should be adhered to exclusively by the chosen few. We often see these distortions most in relation to the above six categories enumerated by Elder Richards in the areas of finance, health and home storage.
At the level of more benign justification of services or products, a few examples should suffice. We are, at heart, a society that desires to succeed and provide well for our families. Financial consulting or investment firms can promote the concepts of “making interest rather than paying it,” getting out of debt, or having adequate insurances and savings plans in order to attract clients and agents alike. Another example could be found in the health and wellness industry where companies or individuals might imply that their products or practices more correctly obey the tenets set forth in the Word of Wisdom. Such promotional business practices are common among many companies and are not necessarily wrong. Problems arise when a particular company or an individual agent of that company implies it has the endorsement of the LDS Church or particular members of Church leadership in order to increase the bottom line or to improperly influence a person’s financial or health objectives.
That is not to say that every home storage business, health services product, or investment opportunity out there is corrupt, useless, or exploitative. Most are, in fact, quite responsible with how they separate their business promotion from their Church involvement. However, when a business product or service is promoted to the LDS population and monetary gain becomes more important than preserving the individual or the family, we should be able to recognize that the intent of that particular company or individual is not in line with correct gospel principles. Our response in such circumstances can be varied. You may choose to speak with the individual agent about what you find objectionable or, if that fails to shed light on an incorrect business practice, you may speak to a manager or owner. Acquaint yourself with industry standards and compliance issues, particularly if the product is of interest to you and you may consider purchasing it. Sometimes the answer may be to find a different agent or office to consult with. If the company as a whole continues to promote the incorrect practice, you can report them to industry tracking agencies.
The positions of trust engendered between Church members can also be problematic here, though, because no one wants to believe that a ward member or leader might have bad judgment or might be blinded by personal gain. We like to trust one another, often to the point that we ignore our own responsibility to investigate our options and weigh the risks against the rewards of certain actions. It is appropriate for LDS Church members to make a Bishop or Stake President aware of any circumstances in which incorrect business practices are being promoted by an individual or individuals within ward and stake boundaries.
Within the LDS preparedness culture there are also more malignant examples, unfortunately. There most definitely exist fringe groups and philosophies to which most of us have had some exposure. There is a great and uncomfortable divide between the “survivalist” or “militia” groups within the LDS Church and the greater body of Church membership and leadership. Often the individuals that promote this divide started out with a simple and sincere testimony of preparedness principles and a desire to share that testimony with others. That sincere desire can become corrupt when one of these individuals begins to believe in their own “visions” or premonitions above that of the counsel of prophets, or receives blessings or impressions that should have only been applied to their own circumstances but which they begin to promote as “revelation” to a larger audience.
The more extreme groups are generally small, but can have a very persuasive and divisive voice that leads others to incorrect actions based on fear, mistrust, and a perversion of true preparedness principles. I am referring to the “calls” to horde and hide your food storage so your neighbors won’t know how prepared you are and come knocking at your door when they are in need. Or to hide it so FEMA or the National Guard, or some other government organization, can’t come take your food and your guns (because we all know that FEMA is so well organized that the first thing on their agenda, when they get set up two months later, is to ransack the neighborhoods). Or, perhaps the most problematic of all, the misguided call for “prepared” LDS people to engage in secret meetings and move to remote locations to band together to defend themselves in the great and final days. These fringe individuals and groups actively nurture an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and isolation, and encourage the recruitment of other Church members to their side, often by making plans and spreading rumors not in line with gospel teachings or with stated LDS Church policy and practices.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, but equally disturbing, is the response of a seemingly large portion of the Church membership that states simply that they don’t feel like they have to prepare as much, or they will prepare differently than counseled, because they know that neighbors Peter and Molly have a year’s supply and they can just share. Thus Peter and Molly and the neighbors begin to distrust each other and may exchange less than Christ-like words with one another over the whole subject. And at least one of them starts stockpiling guns and ammo for the anticipated pillaging. Perhaps some LDS people even subscribe to the philosophy that if they simply believe enough they don’t have to prepare themselves, because God will provide a way for them – such as their neighbor’s year supply or the bishop’s storehouse or the BYU emergency supplies – thus promoting an incorrect sense of entitlement and lack of personal responsibility.
While the previously mentioned scenarios may seem a bit extreme, I am personally acquainted with several families who ascribe to these types of philosophies. One in particular that comes to mind is a family of seven that I have known for three years. The father is extremely concerned with the physical protection of his family. He spent thousands of dollars on a variety of guns and ammo, knife fighting courses, and urban self-defense and survival classes, on the very sincere belief that he cannot trust the government and will have to defend his family in the last days from looters and FEMA. However, this family’s food storage consists of only a year’s supply of honey and sprouting seeds. Sadly, there are also no financial reserves in place to handle any kind of economic downturn because the father is waiting for that “special investment” he got involved in to pay out, and then he will set money aside to buy food storage, pay off debts, and save money. I would like to say this is a singular phenomenon but this man has a whole group of like minded individuals who also subscribe to similar theories and practices, which they often promote through emails to their LDS Church acquaintances.
Not only does this place LDS Church members and our neighbors in a mentally and temporally unsafe position, it is also spiritually detrimental. “Prepared” neighbors can begin to see themselves as more righteous than their less-than-prepared neighbors, waiting for that special (and non-existent) midnight phone call or secret meeting with general authorities that will tell them to pack up and head to Camp Mia Shalom in Heber City or off to Missouri. In these varied circumstances, some LDS individuals may think of themselves as belonging to the group of the five wise virgins of the parable, when in reality they are sharing the attitudes of some of the foolish virgins. Often we focus on the “oil in our lamps” as being physical preparations such as food, fuel, or money. So we may consider ourselves “wise” if we have those resources set aside. What is equally essential is the spiritual preparation, which can be undermined by an attitude of selfishness when it comes to sharing with our neighbors. That attitude makes us just as foolish as if we had set aside no food or money, because we have chosen to put our trust in temporal things, not in the Lord.
Some very specific talks have been given by LDS General Authorities on the equal importance of spiritual preparation, most notably by Elders Dallin H. Oaks, Lynn G. Robbins, and Marion G. Romney. Elder Oaks in particular stated that “We need to make both temporal and spiritual preparation for the events prophesied at the time of the Second Coming. And the preparation most likely to be neglected is the one less visible and more difficult—the spiritual. A 72-hour kit of temporal supplies may prove valuable for earthly challenges, but, as the foolish virgins learned to their sorrow, a 24-hour kit of spiritual preparation is of greater and more enduring value.” 
We know that extreme attitudes and practices with regards to preparedness principles are not in accordance with gospel principles – almost every General Conference of the Church has at least one speaker that talks about charity, becoming more unified in Christ, or becoming a more Zion-like people. The following three statements were made in reference to the LDS welfare program, but I think the general principle of unselfishness, love and care for one another also applies to preparedness:
Victor L. Brown stated that “some people have reacted to the theme of preparedness as if it were a doomsday matter. In reality, all six elements of personal and family preparedness are to be emphasized so that the Latter-day Saints may be better prepared to meet the ordinary, day-to-day requirements of successful living. Our emphasis on this subject is not grounds for crisis thinking or panic. Quite the contrary, personal and family preparedness should be a way of provident living, an orderly approach to using the resources, gifts, and talents the Lord shares with us.”  Elder Brown’s statements emphasize the true purpose of LDS preparedness principles. There is no true place in the gospel for fear-mongering, panic, or selfishness and there never has been.
Marion G. Romney said, “Repeating President Clark’s statement of 1936, The real long-term objective of the welfare plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers” . . . the Lord doesn’t really need us to take care of the poor. He could take care of them without our help if it were his purpose to do so. “I, the Lord,” he said, “stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine . . . And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.” (D&C 104:14–15) . . . but we need this experience; for it is only through our learning how to take care of each other that we develop within us the Christ-like love and disposition necessary to qualify us to return to his presence . . . Only by voluntarily giving, out of an abundant love for his neighbor, can one develop that charity characterized by Mormon as the “pure love of Christ.” (Moro. 7:47.) In Mosiah we read: “And … Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.“And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God.” (Mosiah 18:27–28; italics added.) 
President Romney’s statement clearly outlines that the principles of welfare and preparedness are for our own personal spiritual and temporal benefit, not because God lacks the power to take care of us in whatever circumstance we may face. When we forget the source and power of all we possess, and all we may possess, that opens the door to a great deal of pride and exploitation. We know that one of the most important gifts God granted us is the gift of free agency. We may try to justify the actions of hording, hiding, or exploiting others by saying “It’s their own fault for putting off food storage” or “It’s not my fault they invested when they didn’t really have the money to spare.” We know that such attitudes are not charitable and bring condemnation on our own heads if we adhere to them to the misfortune of others.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson stated “Under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, early members of the Church attempted to establish the center place of Zion in Missouri, but they did not qualify to build the holy city. The Lord explained one of the reasons for their failure: ‘They have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them; And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom’ (D&C 105:3–4). There were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances" (D&C 101:6). Rather than judge these early Saints too harshly, however, we should look to ourselves to see if we are doing any better . . . "For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment" (D&C 104:17–18; see also D&C 56:16–17). Furthermore, He declares, "In your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld" (D&C 70:14; see also D&C 49:20;78:5–7). We control the disposition of our means and resources, but we account to God for this stewardship over earthly things.” 
Clearly, as we can see from the above statements and the legions more that support them, preparedness should be a principle of personal strength and character, a principle followed not only for our own welfare and the benefit of our family, but also for the benefit of society, encouraging all to become more Christ-like and filled with charity and unselfishness. Discussions of preparedness should not engender feelings of self-righteousness, entitlement, guilt or fear – it should instead promote feelings of empowerment, productivity, and unity among all the people. When making decisions regarding preparedness efforts and outcomes, we need only ask ourselves what we are feeling by nurturing one attitude over another – because we know that fear comes from only one source; hope comes from an entirely different, nobler and higher power. It is no wonder that the Great Deceiver would use one of our most unifying and empowering doctrines, that of preparedness, to attempt to tear us apart and thwart the Plan of Happiness.
 Richards, Franklin D. “Personal and Family Financial Preparedness,” Ensign, May 1979, 38. [Back to manuscript]
Oaks, Dallin H. “Be Not Deceived,” Ensign, November 2004, 43.
Robbins, Lynn G. “Oil in Our Lamps,” Ensign, Jun 2007, 44–48.
Romney, Marion G. “Church Welfare—Temporal Service in a Spiritual Setting,” Ensign, May 1980, 82.
 Brown, Victor L. “Welfare Services Essentials: The Bishops Storehouse,” Ensign, Nov 1976, 112. [Back to manuscript]
 Romney, Marion G. “Living Welfare Principles,” Ensign, Nov 1981, 92. [Back to manuscript]
 Christofferson, D. Todd. “Come to Zion,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 37–40. [Back to manuscript]
Full Citation for This Article: Stearmer, Janille Shumway (2008) "If We Are Preparing, Shouldn't We Still Fear?: Fear-Mongering in the LDS Preparedness Culture" SquareTwo, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleStearmerFear.html, accessed [give access date].
Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 500 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.