“Elders are agreed on the way and manner necessary to obtain celestial glory, but they quarrel about a dollar. When principles of eternal life are brought before them—God and the things pertaining to God and godliness—they apparently care not half so much about them as they do about five cents. Instead of reflecting upon and searching for hidden things of greatest value to them, [the Latter-day Saints] rather wish to learn how to secure their way through the world as easily and as comfortably as possible. The reflections, what they are here for, who produced them, and where they are from, fro too seldom enter their minds.” – So said Brigham Young.
When one contemplates the sanctifying effects of true Christian behavior, after hope and faith, charity is the greatest of these. Yet can we dissemble charity from normative and theological economics and economic behavior? I think how we see macro-economic philosophy as well as how we behave with our own personal economics ties greatly into how we implement charity.
In Working Toward Zion, James W. Lucas and Warner P. Woodworth examine economic philosophy according to scripture and modern prophetic teachings, and surprise-surprise, it isn’t modern capitalism. D&C 77:2 states “that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual.” In other words, how we conduct our temporal (economic) affairs directly relates to our spiritual well-being. David O. McKay also offered that “The betterment of the individual is only one aim of the Church. The complete ideal of Mormonism is to make upright citizens in an ideal society.”
Woodworth offers that 28 percent of the Doctrine and Covenants relates to economics activities. The theology of Mormon economics is based upon concepts of consecration, stewardship, care for the poor, equality, and work and self reliance and they also respect the idea of the free market. Thus, it would be incorrect to label it as socialism (it may be a sort of proto-socialism) but it does not conceive of state-controlled or planned economies. In the 19th century, various attempts to implement these laws culminated in different types of “United Orders,” some of which were more successful than others. Many of the early united orders failed because of the failure in temporal duties because of the perceived imminence of the Second Coming. Others failed to understand the concept of surplus thinking as Brigham Young mused, that members thought surplus was a cow that “was of a class that would kick a person’s hat off, or eyes out, or the wolves had eaten off their teats.”
Nauvoo implemented many of the ideals of united orders, but didn’t institutionalize the united order. The most successful attempts at consecration and a form of united orders took place in the 1870’s in the form of co-ops. Lorenzo Snow organized all of the businesses in Brigham City in to cooperatives in 1874. Another example was Zion Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) where all common stock was held by LDS merchants who provided the goods. The First Presidency in 1875 spread the stock even further among many of the members so that stock wasn’t concentrated in the hands of a few. Rural communes such as Orderville instituted united orders in such a way that even items like clothing and food were created and distributed in common in a closed economy.
Ultimately, all successful united orders and many co-ops were disbanded as a result of an agreement with the United States of America in exchange for statehood. The US government felt that these united orders were a threat to its current capitalist economic order. Elder Widstoe wrote that the united order “as a mode of life . . . is in abeyance.” It will only be reestablished by revelation. Until them we were to follow the law of tithing as preparatory to the law of consecration. There are many parallels to this and the Manfesto. In fact, the confusion of consecration, Marxism, and socialism were evident. Politicians saw the Communard, the Fabians, and the French anarchists at the end of 19th Century and began to fear Mormon economics as another form of potential socialist economic turmoil.
All was not lost, however. In fact, elements of consecration were implemented in the 1930’s during the Welfare Programs instituted by J. Reuben Clark and Heber J. Grant. This is one formal representation of the consecration progressing into a new path after it was dismantled in the 1890’s. Other modern progressions to a type of consecration is the Church budget system implemented in the 1980’s and the recent Perpetual Education Fund on a limited basis. But there were some bottlenecks that arose at the end of WWII the curtailed movement towards forwarding consecration. The rise of Karl Marx, totalitarian socialism in Germany and Russia brought a major backlash against any economic experiment that was not modern enterprise capitalism. In the anti-Communist hysteria, even Mormons fell prey to embracing enterprise capitalism as a boomerang effect in order to curtail the erasing of freedom seen in the Red Menace. The freedom aspects of enterprise capitalism overshadowed all over failures of the system that consecration was supposed to correct.
So they have embraced MLM’s, real estate speculation, bankruptcy, and get-rich-quick schemes. Many Mormons have endeavored to become their own little Carnegies in direct opposition to consecration, something they covenant in the temple. They have been doing what Brigham Young lamented about in the hyper extreme—securing their way through the world as “comfortably and as easily as possible”.
But what can we do? There are some suggestions, especially for those of us with means.
- Actually donate your surplus in ways that help the world and make sense to the spirit of charity. This is done by understanding sufficiency in personal utility and not maximization of utility.
- Start by donating beyond regular tithes to fast offerings, humanitarian funds, PEF, missionary, and other funds.
- Also donate to other not-for-profits like the Red Cross, CARE, and international organizations that help the poor through micro-credit loans and eliminations of disease.
- Consecrate your time if you are a professional in doing pro bono work for those that cannot afford it.
- Formulate your own family-based consecration-based economic order. Families can share profits and property, hold common stock, make revolving loans, etc. This not only implements consecration principles, but also strengthens family ties.
- If you are wealthy, do as Jon Hunstman Sr, is doing, using all of your personal wealth to solve a problem such as cancer. Hunstman vows to cure cancer or die poor.
This is all something Mormonism can work on, and it would be in our best interest, creating a spirit of Zion so that we can be ready for its full implementation in the future. I will end with Brigham Young again, stating: “When all concede the point that when this mortality falls off, and with its cares, anxieties, love of self, love of wealth, love of power, and all the conflicting interests which pertain to the flesh, that then, when our spirits have returned to the God that gave them, we will be subject to every requirement that He may make of us, that we shall then live as one great family; our interest will be a general, a common interest. Why can we not so live in this world?”
I would not be surprised as the economy falters and that which has padded the pants of Mormonism in the past 50 years – capitalist entrepreneurship – falters if we enter a second type of depression, that the Church harks back to its economic legacy and implements again elements of consecration, the economics which trickles sideways in the benefit of all equally.