Giving without Prejudice: A Mormon Story for Thanksgiving

I’ve told this story before, but it’s a reminder to me of the importance of giving and sharing without being judgmental.

My father told me this story about 3 years ago. I had never heard any of this, and it still hurts to think about it.

When my mother became pregnant with me, my father was a Ph.D. student at USC. He worked for an aerospace company one day a week, and they paid most of his tuition.

My parents had three children before I was born, and my dad’s income barely paid the bills. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment that had been converted from a detached garage behind someone’s house. Needless to say, they did not have health insurance.

About 5 months into the pregnancy, my mom started bleeding, and not just a little spotting. The doctor told her that she was going to miscarry, and she should just have a D&C and get it over with. But, since she insisted she was going to do everything possible to have the baby, he told her she would need bed rest until I was born.

My parents sent my brother and two sisters to my grandparents in Utah for four months so my mom could stay in bed. When I was born, the doctors discovered a life-threatening birth defect, and I had major surgery that day. I spent the next six weeks in the hospital before coming home on Christmas Eve.

My uncle gave my dad everything in his savings account, but it wasn’t half as much as the bills. The Crippled Children’s Fund loaned my dad the rest of the money. My dad was forced to quit school and go to work full-time.

Until I was almost 6 years old, I had to go to the hospital overnight once or twice a week to have my esophagus dilated. By then I had two younger brothers. My family was very poor, heavily in debt, and under a lot of stress.

From the time that my mom started the bed rest until I was done having my bi-weekly procedures, no one from the church provided child care, meals, rides to the hospital, nothing. We didn’t get anything from the bishop’s storehouse, and no money to help with the bills. Literally, the local ward did nothing to help my family.

Just after I turned six, we moved from that ward. A few days before we moved, the former Relief Society president showed up at our house. She begged my mother’s forgiveness for not helping when we obviously needed help. She said that, in a ward council meeting, the bishop had said no one was to help the Williams family because “Brother Williams is not a full-tithe payer.”

I can’t tell you how much it hurt to hear this story. I gave so much of my life to the church, and this felt like a real betrayal. It still hurts.

But it reminds me that we must help people in need, even if we think they don’t “deserve” it, even if it inconveniences us, and even if it’s hard. I do not want anyone to think of me as someone who saw their need and didn’t help.


7 Responses to Giving without Prejudice: A Mormon Story for Thanksgiving

  1. Faith says:

    I can’t “like this post” because it’s just awful. How can people withhold assistance when common decency tells them to help? I’m so sorry for the trials your family had to go through, Runtu, and even sorrier that so many of the church members followed the insane counsel of the bishop at the time.

    • runtu says:

      I think that’s the thing I can’t wrap my brain around. I can understand one bishop doing something awful, but it just seems so strange that no one questioned it. Weird. And I’m really not angry about this anymore. Most Mormons are not like this, and one horrible situation doesn’t tar the whole church.

  2. Goldarn says:

    I can’t believe how awful that is (well, actually I can, but that’s another issue). It’s fascinating to me that the decree wasn’t “the ward isn’t going to help” it was “**no one** was to help” your family.

    And I wouldn’t be surprised if no one told your family to pay tithing and get help. No, you just had to suffer because that’s what Jesus taught.

  3. Diane Sower says:

    This was a bad call from a very biased bishop. One of the problems in having a lay church where people’s personal opinions of people determines their theological take on social justice.

  4. Too bad your bishop missed reading Mosiah 4:16-19.

  5. […] many people, damn fine loin fruit, blog readers, a great family and support system, lots of stuff, giving without prejudice, being out of the church, being a gay man and not straight, second life, winning NaNoWriMo early!, […]

  6. Your story makes me hope that I can be the kind of person who would have the strength to break from the social constraints and help those in need. I hope that I’d be willing to accept ostracism for disobeying an unjust, unmerciful request.

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