The Church Historian's Press


Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor

Mutual Improvement Association June Conference

Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

June 9, 1918

While World War I played out on the distant horizon, the 1918 general conference of the Young Ladies’ and Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations (YLMIA and YMMIA) in Salt Lake City addressed immediate needs of Latter-day Saint youth both on the battlefield and on the home front. A member of the YLMIA general board, Emma Jane Nield Goddard (1861–1940), taught youth leaders about raising a righteous generation in a time of chaos by focusing on loving neighbors.1 Goddard was born in Lancashire, England, to parents who had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before she was born.2 Emma and her two older sisters, however, joined a local Baptist congregation. The three girls worked in a factory and remained in England when their parents and younger brother immigrated to Utah in the fall of 1875. About four years later, the Nield sisters became restless without their parents and decided to join the family. They traveled to America in 1879, where they were baptized members of the church.3

The Nield family settled in Meadow, Millard County, Utah Territory, about 160 miles south of Salt Lake City. Emma taught school for several years with her brother-in-law, Benjamin Goddard, in Kanosh, six miles south of Meadow, then married him as a plural wife in 1883.4 In the winter of 1886, she took a break from teaching to attend the Brigham Young Academy in Provo with her brother.5 In December 1886, she joined the Meadow Ward Relief Society; a few months later she became the assistant secretary.6 In 1889, the Goddards moved to Salt Lake City, where, after three years, Emma became president of the Salt Lake City Twenty-First Ward YLMIA.7 In May 1896, she was appointed to the YLMIA general board by President Elmina S. Taylor. In this office, she served on the Guide committee, where she helped with curriculum, and on the Young Woman’s Journal committee.8

The twenty-third annual conference of the YLMIA and YMMIA was held in Salt Lake City on June 7–9, 1918, with a distinct focus on the pending crisis of world war. At the opening session of the conference, YLMIA president Mattie Horne Tingey presented the annual MIA slogan: “We stand for service to God and country.” Speakers and musicians participating in the conference encouraged patriotism and war support.9 The speakers at the conference also addressed the devastation wrought by World War I, acknowledging that youth and MIA officers alike were affected by having family and friends at war. Approximately twenty-one thousand individuals from Utah served in the United States armed forces, including over fifteen thousand Latter-day Saint men and young men.10 On the home front, American Latter-day Saint youth contributed to Liberty Bonds, the American Red Cross, the United War Work Campaign, and the Soldiers’ Welfare Fund; they also worked in local gardens to help with food production.11

Goddard addressed the YMMIA and YLMIA officers on Sunday morning, and her speech was later printed with others in the Young Woman’s Journal. Goddard, who spoke on love of neighbor, was preceded by Levi E. Young, who spoke about the love of God, and followed by May Booth Talmage and Richard R. Lyman, who spoke about service to country.12

Thou shalt love thy neighbor—this was not a new law when given by the Lord in the meridian of time.13 Under the Mosaic dispensation as recorded in Leviticus, the law was given unto Israel, “Thou shalt not avenge or bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”14 This injunction was beautifully emphasized by the Master in answer to the inquiry of a certain lawyer who stood saying,

“Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said unto him:

“What is written in the law? How readest thou?”

And he answering said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”

And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”15

You will remember, and I need not repeat in detail, the beautiful yet plain, simple parable told by the Christ of the man who had fallen among thieves and was left bruised and bleeding by the wayside. How the priest and the Levite, each in turn, passed him by, and how finally the despised Samaritan came along and attended to him most kindly and lovingly, pouring oil and wine on his wounds, finally placing him upon his beast and taking him to the inn and even then leaving the message with the master of the inn that he should still be cared for and that when he came again that way he would remit all expenses. The Master then turned to the lawyer and said, “Which now of these three thinkest thou was the neighbor unto him that fell among thieves?” thus leaving the onus of the decision to his questioner. What else could he say than what he did say? “He that showed mercy on him.” Then said Jesus unto him, “Go thou and do thou likewise.”16

In answer to one of the scribes who asked which is the first commandment of all, Jesus answered, “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment, and the second is like, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”17

This injunction was evidently understood by the apostles and has come down to us through the ages. Paul, addressing the Romans who had not been trained in this law of ethics, stated:

“Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law; for this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”18

In like manner when addressing the Galatians, Paul repeated the injunction, saying, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”19

If all Christian nations had been guided by this law, given by the Master as a rule of life for all of his followers, there would have been no war or contention, but peace on earth and good will to men would have prevailed.

As a consequence of the violation of this law, untold misery, sorrow, and death now exist in the world, and who can tell when the end will be?20 Erelong our wounded boys may be brought home, and again there will be “lamentation and weeping and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they are not.”21 Under these conditions we shall have ample opportunity for demonstrating our faith in the Master’s behest in striving to comfort and cheer the distressed, remembering that “pure religion and undefiled” is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keep ourselves unspotted from the world.22 We are surrounded every day with opportunities to practice this divine injunction.23

But how does this beautiful commandment apply to us as officers of these great organizations? Because these boys and girls, these young men and women who are in our charge, are in very deed our neighbors. They need our help and assistance more at this critical time in our world’s history than ever before. We need to throw every safeguard around them, for they are surrounded by temptations of the most subtle character. They are young and inexperienced and naturally love freedom and have their own ideas of obtaining pleasure. We must guide and counsel them in this adolescent period of their lives and help them to form strong and vigorous characters. We must enter the trenches of their temptations and help them to cope with and overcome them. We must study them and try to understand them, for often if we did, we would find a way to the heart of the apparently most careless and indifferent.

Edgar A. Guest has said:

When next you start in sneering,

And your phrases turn to blame,

Know more of him you censure,

Than his business and his name.

For it’s likely that acquaintance,

Would your prejudice dispel,

And you’d really come to like him,

If you knew him very well.

When you get to know a fellow,

And you understand his ways,

Then his faults won’t really matter,

For you’ll find a lot to praise.24

Let us show our young people the glory of righteousness, rather than the hideousness of sin, that the living of gospel law brings lasting joy and peace rather than the anguish that follows the wasted life.

In order to reach their hearts we must live very near to the Lord ourselves. God is love, and the more of this attribute we possess the more successful we will be.25 Our young people must feel this love, this all-absorbing desire of ours to help and bless them. But if after all our efforts, some few fall and become a prey to evil habits and are left bruised and bleeding by the wayside, what of them? Like the good Samaritan, we must reach out our hands and tenderly and lovingly, if possible, bring them back and plant their feet once more in the straight and narrow path.

Think gently of the erring one!

O, let us not forget

However darkly stained by sin,

He is our brother yet.

Speak gently to the erring ones!

We yet may hold them back

With holy words and tones of love,

From misery’s thorny track.26

We must be earnest and sincere, ever showing by our own examples that we believe the gospel ourselves, that we love it with all our hearts and souls and are striving every day to live by its precepts. We must give ourselves with our gift, for as Lowell says:

Not what we give, but what we share,

For the gift without the giver is bare,

Who gives himself with his gift feeds three,

Himself, his hungry neighbor, and me.27

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”28

J. S. Spalding says: “If justice is a universal law, love is a universal duty. Nothing but love can make us just to ourselves.”29 Our members must feel that we love each one of them and have real personal interest in them.

I know of no finer exemplar of this class of teacher than Doctor Karl G. Maeser.30 He lived for his work. Each pupil felt his benign influence. A benediction appeared to follow in his wake. His students felt his presence. Whenever he entered the classroom, order reigned at once where had been the careless chatter of thoughtless boys and girls. A desire to be and do all that he taught took possession of his students. His smile of approval was sufficient reward for their most arduous efforts. Through his most sublime teachings they were led to consecrate their lives and their all to the profession for which they were qualifying themselves. He studied his individual pupils and understood them. He knew just when and how to administer a rebuke, or to offer a word of praise or encouragement and even to show further loving tender solicitude. We would do well to emulate this noble example. We must seek to lead, not coerce, remembering the Master’s injunctions: “Follow me.” “Feed my sheep.”31

This coming season we must endeavor to enter into the social pleasures of our members and urge them to avoid even the appearance of evil. The natural escorts and protectors of our girls, viz., their brothers and sweethearts, have gone in the defense of their country’s colors; hence, we must urge more than ever that in all of their excursions, especially when absent from home overnight, that they have a chaperone. We must teach them that the chaperone is not a spy, but a friend, a protector, a wise and loving counselor. In fact, that it is the proper thing for a party to be chaperoned and that good ethics demand it.

Youth is the time for sweet, innocent pleasures; hence, we should encourage such and, as much as possible, help provide them. But in addition to taking this interest in their social life, we must try to impress our young people with the seriousness of the conditions by which we are now surrounded, and the necessity of each one of them assuming some personal responsibility in helping to bring about victory to the cause of truth and liberty. We can all do our bit no matter how poor and humble, how rich or influential we may be. Our boys at the front are risking their all.32 Should we not then be willing, gladly and cheerfully, to make some little sacrifice, some self-denial at home? A sacred obligation is resting upon each one of us, and the graveness of the situation demands that we curb our frivolities and offer our youthful strength and energy in supporting the call made upon us by our own great country and the allied nations in this world struggle for a reign of right, not might.

May God help us to sense the magnitude of the work devolving upon us and grant us strength and wisdom to perform our full duty in connection therewith. May we, during this conference, become thoroughly imbued with this spirit of giving and doing. Yea, consecrate our very lives, if necessary, for the establishment of peace and righteousness on the earth, thus fully demonstrating that we do indeed “Love our neighbors as ourselves.”

By thus aiding in raising a righteous generation we shall surely do the best service to God and country.

Cite this page

Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor, At the Pulpit, accessed July 25, 2024