Eliza Wells teaches how Latter-day Saints will survive and thrive when they care about those around them.
“We don’t just need other people so we can develop into morally flourishing [people]; we need other people in order to literally not die,” said Eliza Wells, Ph.D. candidate at MIT. This remark drew chuckles during her lecture, “Feminist Ethics of Care in LDS Theory and Practice,” at the Latter-day Saint Philosophical Theology Project conference.
Care ethics means helping those in need who “we are sufficiently capable” of helping. “We’re completely vulnerable and dependent upon others [throughout our lives]. We need assistance physically, emotionally, morally . . . we’re dependent upon and interdependent with others.”
For example, a man who faces depression and mental health issues might depend on his wife and family for support and loving encouragement. A woman who suffered an injury might depend on her neighbors’ compassionate service to keep up with the demands of her home and work life. A child who doesn’t understand why he can’t hit his sister when he’s angry at her depends on his parents to teach him moral values of right and wrong.
To a degree, everyone has been sick, injured, or overwhelmed before, so everyone has depended upon guidance, assistance, and compassion from others. Care ethicists argue that because each person has vulnerabilities and complex needs, individuals have a moral duty to provide care labor for others.
Wells identified four levels of care labor to meet the needs of others:
First, “caring about others” (paying attention to the needs of everyone else and recognize that care is necessary). A youth seeing someone their age sitting alone at church and deciding to sit by that person demonstrates “caring about others.”
Second, “taking care of” (meeting someone’s particular needs). “Taking care of” someone might look like agreeing to deliver a meal to a sick neighbor, or volunteering to help a family move.
Third, “caregiving” (doing the actual “concrete labor” of meeting those needs). Interestingly, Wells emphasized that “just giving money isn’t caregiving.” Caregiving requires effort beyond financial donation, effort that is deeper and more personal. A woman might provide “caregiving” for her elderly next-door neighbor by visiting with them or pulling weeds for them in their garden.
Finally, “care receiving” (the response from the one who was cared for). A new mother returning cleaned dishes and a heartfelt thank-you note for a meal brought to her by a kind neighbor demonstrates “care receiving.”
Christ’s example of care ethics during mortality “demonstrates the centrality of care labor in Latter-day Saint thought.” He exemplified care labor throughout His mortal life, serving the afflicted, teaching the disciples, healing the sick, even washing the feet of His apostles to show them the importance of care. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members try to follow Christ’s example by giving and receiving care. The church-wide policy change from home and visiting teaching to ministering especially “resonates with” care ethics, Wells pointed out. The focus shifted from a less-meaningful monthly visit to meeting others’ personal needs through consistent effort and helping others to thrive in their communities.
Even with this shift in focus, more could be done to elevate the role of caregiving in the Church. Every member of the Church should be a caregiver. “Each of these steps [caring about, taking care of, caregiving, and care receiving] are necessary” for giving and receiving Christlike care labor, Wells asserted. Latter-day Saints must care for each other—not just so they can become morally developed individuals, but so they can thrive. By having a united goal to depend on each other and make personal efforts to give and receive care, all members will flourish together.
The Latter-day Saint Philosophical Theology Project conference hosted its inaugural meeting on BYU campus September 17–18th, 2021.