United Order vs Consecration

Mormon Heretichistory, LDS, Mormon, social justice, stewardship, theology 26 Comments

I always thought the United Order and Consecration were the same thing.  I’ve been reading a book called Great Basin Kingdom by Leonard Arrington (former church historian) and learned they are actually different.  The basic difference to me seems to be that with Consecration, one gave all they owned to the church, and then were given back “what they needed.”  With the United Order, it seems to have originated out of various economic cooperatives established to give fair, reasonable prices and jobs to the Mormons.  In some cases, saints could choose to consecrate all their possessions to the United Order, but usually it worked more in an economic cooperative, where fair prices were established for Mormons.  If they sold to gentiles, often the gentiles paid more.

The United Order movement was an extension of cooperatives.  These cooperatives began principally around 1868-1884, and were set up as a response to how current trading was accomplished.  In chapter 10 (page 193-194), Arrington says,

Structurally, most Mormon “cooperatives” were nothing more than joint-stock corporations, organized under the sponsorship of the church, with a broad basis of public ownership and support.  Functionally, however, most Mormon cooperatives appear to have been motivated principally by welfare rather than profit; patronage was an act of religious loyalty; the church participated  in the organization, operation, and financing of most o the important establishments; and the whole cooperative movement was permeated with an unmistakable pietistic zeal and feeling of religious obligation…

…most merchandising was in the hands of non-Mormons because of the stigma attached to “profiteering Saints,” and because of the inability of Mormon traders to refuse credit to their “brethren” and force payment of debts.

There was an interesting quote from Brigham Young explaining why Consecration didn’t work under Joseph Smith, and also why Joseph wasn’t a good, successful merchant.  From page  83,

Let me give you a few reasons…why Joseph [that is the church] could not keep a store and be a merchant….Joseph goes to New York and buys 20,000 dollars’ worth of goods, comes into Kirtland and commences to trade.  In comes one of the brethren, “Brother Joseph, let me have a frock pattern for my wife.”  What if Joseph says, “No, I cannot without the money.”  The consequence would be, “He is no Prophet.”…Pretty soon Thomas walks in.  “Brother Joseph, will you trust me for a pair of boots?”  “No, I cannot let them go without the money.”  “Well,” says Thomas, “Brother Joseph is not Prophet; I have found that out, and I am glad of it.”  After a while, in comes Bill and sister Susan.  Says Bill, “Brother Joseph, I want a shawl, I have not got the money, but I wish you to trust me a week or a fortnight.”  Well, brother Joseph thinks the others have gone an apostatized, and he didn’t know but these goods will make the whole Church do the same, so he lets Bill have a shawl.  Bill walks off with it and meets a brother.  “Well,” says he, “what do you think of brother Joseph?”  “O he is a first-rate man, and I fully believe he is a Prophet.  See here, he has trusted me this shawl.”  Richard says, “I think I will go down and see if he won’t trust me some.”  In walks Richard.  “Brother Joseph, I want to trade about 20 dollars.”  “Well,” says Joseph, “these goods will make the people apostatize; so over they go , they are of less value than the people.”  Richard gets his goods.  Another comes in the same way to make a trade of 25 dollars, and so it goes.  Joseph was a first-rate fellow with them all the time, provided he never would ask them to pay him.”  [sermon of October 9, 1851, JD, 1, 214-216]

Cooperatives turned out to be a real success, and there were several different implementations of them. Chapter 11 of the book gives some real interesting background as to these cooperatives turned into United Orders, as well as the different kinds of United Orders formed in Utah.  The nationwide Panic of 1873 affected economies in Utah as well as nationwide.  From page 323,

This co-operative movement,” said Brigham Young in 1869, “is only a stepping stone to what is called the Order of Enoch, but which is in reality the order of Heaven.” [See Brigham Young sermons in JH, October 6, 1850, October 8, 1855]  In 1869 and succeeding years, sermon after sermon played upon the theme to unify and the necessity of extending the principle of cooperation to every phase of life.

From page 324,

The resources of ward members were pooled, and an attempt was made under the aura of religious sanction, to root out individualistic profit-seeking and trade and achieve the blessed state of opulent self-sufficiency and equality.  This new order, recognized to be somewhat different from the law of consecration and stewardship, was called “The United Order of Enoch.”  [This idea is taken from the city of Zion in the Pearl of Great Price.]

Since these orders developed separately, about 4 different kinds of orders existed.  Page 330 starts talking about them.

First, there were St. George type orders in which persons in the community contributed all of their economic property to the Order and received differential wages and dividends depending upon their labor and the property contributed.  Gains were achieved through the increased specialization of labor and the rationalization of agriculture by cooperative farming.  However, in most of these communities a few residents failed to join, and this caused some practical problems which were not always satisfactorily resolved…

(page 331) A second type of United Order did not involve consecration of all of one’s property or labor, but contemplated an increase in the community ownership and operation of cooperative enterprises.  This is the Brigham City plan, and was introduced in communities where the cooperative system was already widespread.  Thus, the United Order was simply used as a device to reinforce and extend the cooperative network already in existence…

(page 332) A third type of United Order was essentially a modification of the Brigham City arrangement.  Designed for wards in the larger cities of the territory-Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, and Logan-a single cooperative or corporation was organized in each ward to promote some needed enterprise.  All ward members were asked to participate in financing it.  The theory seems to have been that, if economic reorganization was impossible because of a considerable number of Gentile residents, the wards could still contribute toward territorial self-sufficiency by initiating an industry whose products had been imported previously.  Thus, while there would be little to create employment and develop the territory.

I mentioned this in my previous post, but let me summarize some ward projects:

  • Hat factory
  • Tailor’s shop
  • Soap manufactory
  • Boot and shoe shop
  • Large foundry
  • Machine shop
  • Making agricultural tools
  • Planning mill and woodworking shop

From page 333,

Perhaps the most interesting of the orders were those established on a communal plan.  In some quarters this plan was called the Gospel Plan.  Settlers contributed all their property to the community United Order, had no private property, shared more of less equally in the common products, and lived and ate as a well-established family.  The best known of these was established at Orderville, Utah, but others functioned in Price City, Springdale, and Kingston, Utah; Bunkerville, Nevada; and in a number of newly founded Arizona settlements.

I talked previously about the pants episode, which comes from Orderville, which came from this communal arrangement.  So, what do you think of these different orders?  What do you think of Brigham’s statement regarding Joseph Smith?  I honestly don’t think it would be any easier for us to live like this than it was for them.  When people talk about how the people weren’t righteous enough to live consecration, it seems to imply that we’re more righteous than they were.  I honestly don’t understand why we would make such an arrogant statement, because I think it would be extremely difficult.  I’m impressed with these ideals, and their attempt to live this higher law.

Comments 26

  1. The Brigham City arrangement is the most attractive to me. I believe economies function best when each person owns the means of his own livelihood and support. The Law of the Harvest is most manifest where you can plainly see the relationship between your productivity and your production. (See “Office Space” for the polar opposite.) However, some enterprises — especially in the modern world, which has its advantages, such as not having to watch your children die of hunger or diphtheria quite as often — are too big for one person to create or operate. A business corporation is basically a cooperative; a cooperative is simply a corporation where the producers, consumers, and shareholders are the same people.

    The problem arises when you have to operate in an environment which includes people who aren’t members of the cooperative; excluding them tends to annoy them, and not excluding people inevitably allows in people who try to increase their own benefit at the expense of the community.

    1. You could say that, but you would be wrong in such an assumption:

      Socialism not United Order

      No, brethren, socialism is not the United Order. However, notwithstanding my abhorrence of it, I am persuaded that socialism is the wave of the present and of the foreseeable future. It has already taken over or is contending for control in most nations.

      “At the end of the year [1964] parties affiliated with the [Socialist] International were in control of the governments of Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Israel, and the Malagasy Republic. They had representatives in coalition cabinets in Austria, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, constituted the chief opposition in France, India, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and West Germany; and were significant political forces in numerous other countries. Many parties dominant in governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America announced that their aim was a socialist society.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1965 Book of the Year, p. 736.)

      United States has adopted much socialism

      We here in the United States, in converting our government into a social welfare state, have ourselves adopted much of socialism. Specifically, we have to an alarming degree adopted the use of the power of the state in the control and distribution of the fruits of industry. We are on notice, according to the words of the President, that we are going much further, for he is quoted as saying:

      “We’re going to take all the money we think is unnecessarily being spent and take it from the ‘haves’ and give it to the ‘have nots.'” (1964 Congressional Record, p. 6142, Remarks of the President to a Group of Leaders of Organizations of Senior Citizens in the Fish Room, March 24, 1964.)

      Socialism takes: United Order gives

      That is the spirit of socialism: We’re going to take. The spirit of the United Order is: We’re going to give.

      We have also gone a long way on the road to public ownership and management of the vital means of production. In both of these areas the free agency of Americans has been greatly abridged. Some argue that we have voluntarily surrendered this power to government. Be this as it may, the fact remains that the loss of freedom with the consent of the enslaved, or even at their request, is nonetheless slavery.

      As to the fruits of socialism, we all have our own opinions. I myself have watched its growth in our own country and observed it in operation in many other lands. But I have yet to see or hear of its freeing the hearts of men of selfishness and greed or of its bringing peace, plenty, or freedom. These things it will never bring, nor will it do away with idleness and promote “industry, thrift and self-respect,” for it is founded, in theory and in practice, on force, the principle of the evil one.

      As to the fruits of the United Order, I suggest you read Moses 7:16-18 and 4 Nephi 2-3, 15-16 (4 Ne. 1:2-3,15-16; Moses 7:16-18). If we had time we could review the history, what little we know, of Zion in the days of Enoch and about what happened among the Nephites under those principles of the United Order in the first two centuries following the time of the Savior.

  2. I think there is no question that these united order communities are socialist in nature. I wonder what glenn beck would think of these orders if they were around today.

    I think the brigham city arrangement is the most practical arrangement. however, these orders are all primitive, even by 1870 standards. brigham young wanted to be completely self sufficient and wanted no idleness. well that is a great goal, but to keep everyone working, things often are done manually rather than by automation.

    my question is this. if we had a ward to build computers, or vaccines, or other high tech industries, where do we get the capital to start such a ward project? the problem of capital was a problem for brigham young as well, so they had to focus on basics, like farming and clothing. I don’t see united order communities as being technologically advanced. it doesn’t have to be, but many of the medical and technology advantages we have would have to be discarded in a uo community.

  3. The critical difference between United Order communities — especially the “open” cooperatives, as distinguished from the little cult compounds in the southern desert — and socialism, is that they were (1) voluntary, and (2) non-exclusive. Under socialism, the One Big Cooperative is the only game in town — and as a monopoly with skewed incentives, it frequently becomes unsustainable.

    “well that is a great goal, but to keep everyone working, things often are done manually rather than by automation.”

    Exactly. When some of the farmers at the Casas Grandes experimental collective community organized by Soviet admirer and Roosevelt adviser Rex Tugwell told the bureaucrat who ran the place that they needed to get some milking machines or the place would go bust (because the costs of production were exceeding the price of milk), they were told to go away; full employment at loss-making drudgery was better than profitable efficiency.

  4. “The critical difference between United Order communities — especially the “open” cooperatives, as distinguished from the little cult compounds in the southern desert — and socialism, is that they were (1) voluntary”

    I’m not sure that participation would feel very voluntary in a small community where everyone is a member of the LDS church and knows you. Opting out would likely be very risky in terms of not only livelihood but in being a member of the group with all that entails.

  5. yes, I am with gbsmith here. if the whole ward is volunteering, except for you, there can be a lot of pressure to volunteer. those that refused like william godbe were cut off from the church. yes, everyone had a decision to make, but I am not comfortable calling this voluntary.

  6. #5: See qualification re: “as distinguished from the little cult compounds in the southern desert.”

    Godbe got into trouble not because he simply refused to volunteer, but for actively opposing ZCMI and Brigham’s policy of autarky. All manner of sin shall be forgiven unto men, but thou shalt not by thunder cross Brother Brigham.

  7. Or, to put my discomfort with these comparisons of Utah beehivism with modern socialism into other words:

    “I knew Brigham Young. Brigham Young was a friend of mine. Well, actually, I didn’t, and he wasn’t, but I did stay at Helaman Halls last night. Anyway, you, Mr. President, are no Brigham Young.”

  8. If you weren’t just a farmer or stockman and were trying to live in Brigham City, I don’t expect you’d do very well outside of one of the cooperatives. I have no need to compare cooperative efforts of the LDS church with socialism, I just doubt that the society was big enough in those days to make it easy to operate outside the norm. Maybe in SLC or Ogden but other than that, probably not.

  9. it appears to me that uo societies seem to operate better in farming communities. current flds and other small groups like the house of aaron are agricultural societies. I don’t think uo’s work very well in cutting edge technologies like biomedical, computers, or other highly capitalized industries. going to a uo is naturally going to step back in time.

    that is not to say that uo societies don’t embrace technologies. it’s not like the flds don’t use a tractor or modern irrigation techniques, because they do. but you are not as likely to see them on the leading edge on innovation either.

  10. A few comments:

    1) I’ve noticed that members of the ‘older generation’ still carry residuals of the Great Basin Kingdom mentality. My father, for example, is convinced that holding yard sales is inappropriate for active LDS members. (They should donate and support the DI). Others insisted on doing their banking at Zions Bank, shopping at ZCMI, read the Deseret News and listen to KSL (It would be disloyal to not support the Church institutions).

    2) In N. Eldon Tanner’s biography, the author claims that one of the major achievements as an apostle and member of the 1st Pres (and perhaps the reason for his call) was to help the world know that Utah was no longer insular, and would support non-mormon businesses. This was certainly not the case in earlier decades; Box Elder Saints would shop in Brigham city instead of Corinne, even though goods cost half as much at the railroad town

    3) If you want to test your personal willingness to live the United Order, try living the Law of Consecration right now! Make a personal commitment to live the temple covenant now, and donate ALL of your excess back to the Lord. Increase the generousity of your fast offering, use the Missionary Fund, Perpetual Education Fund, or donate to non-LDS causes such as the local food bank, abuse shelter etc. Take un-needed possessions to the charity store. Use your extra time and talents to magnify your calling and “advance the kingdom.” It’s not easy, but one can live the Law of Consecration today. My testimony is that the Lord will always ensure you have enough if you live the principle

  11. #11 Clark: If you want to test your personal willingness to live the United Order, try living the Law of Consecration right now!

    I believe we are required to live the law of consecration right now. We who have received our temple endowment covenant to dedicate our lives, time, and material fortune of whatever size to the building up of the kingdom of God (aka the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). There is no provision for “when someone in authority tells you to do so.” Those of us under the covenant should be living the law of consecration at this moment.

  12. #11:

    “My testimony is that the Lord will always ensure you have enough if you live the principle”

    Sorry but “enough” has too many different meanings for me to bank on it. Enough food, money, troubles, trials, …? Plus I don’t see that God owes me anything for trying to do the right thing. Statements like this seem to place our relationship with God on more of a commercial basis and can foster a sense of entitlement that in the long run leads to trouble.

  13. So tell me, if you’re a faithful member who keeps covenants, why did you lose your job or have your wife come down with breast cancer that had already metastasized by the time of diagnosis, or have a daughter get pregnant out of wedlock. What were the blessings that God owed you because of your faithfulness? Maybe he decided that he’d save your blessings for later to see how you handled trials or maybe that passage from the Doctrine and Covenants doesn’t mean what you think it does. Since God works through his children maybe someone will make sure you have enough. Maybe he’ll open your home or wallet to you. I wouldn’t bet on that.

  14. #16 GBSmith: So tell me, if you’re a faithful member who keeps covenants, why did you lose your job

    Because your boss fired you.

    or have your wife come down with breast cancer that had already metastasized by the time of diagnosis

    Because cancer is one of the vicissitudes of mortal life.

    or have a daughter get pregnant out of wedlock.

    Because she copulated when she wasn’t married.

    What were the blessings that God owed you because of your faithfulness?

    God “owes” us exactly that which he covenanted with us to give, assuming we keep our covenants. This consists of the companionship of the Holy Ghost in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

    Another question your examples raise is, What aren’t the blessings that God “owes” to us? God does not owe it to us to:

    * Prevent others from exercising their agency to our detriment.
    * Shield us from the normal vicissitudes of mortal life.
    * Give us money.

    #11 Clark testified (based on his personal experience, I assume) that God “will always ensure [we] have enough if [we] live the principle.” While I don’t have precisely this same testimony, I can testify that God has always provided a way for me to take care of my family and even better our situation, even while things at work went from bad to worse for years at a time (and arguably in part by my own actions). This I attribute to many things, among them always paying a full tithing throughout my life.

    Superstition? Perhaps. I have never been very convinced by those who testify that they paid their last dime in tithing and then a breadfruit fell on their head. But based on my own experiences, I can’t say they’re wrong, either. All I know is that God has taken care of me and my family well beyond what I may have “earned”. I attribute that to tithing, though I acknowledge it may not be tithing at all, but something completely different. God hasn’t revealed to me that my faithful tithe-paying has brought me these blessings of being taken care of. That’s just my assumption.

  15. god doesn’t owe us anything. king benjamin taught that we are in continual debt to god. if he blesses us for following his commandments, that is a bonus, but he doesn’t owe us a thing, even if we follow his commandments.

    vort, for all the stories we hear in church where god blesses us for paying tithing, there are equally as many people that go inactive who had the opposite experience. please realize that church meetings are generally biased toward faith promoting experiences, and away from faith destroying experiences. I think it is important to keep this in mind. not everyone has faith promoting experiences or we would all be religious.

  16. The things I mentioned above are situations that in my work I’ve had to deal with over the years. The mother was 31 and the youngest of her 4 children was 6 weeks old. I put her in the hospital on a Sunday and on Monday had to tell her and her husband that she had cancer and it was already widely metastatic. I agree that the gift of the HG is a promise to those who are faithful and I agree that we’re not protected by living a righteous life but that’s the way it’s interpreted. When it says “there is a law irrevocably decreed…” people see it as a tit for tat relationship with God apart from the gift of the HG and I don’t agree. I helps me understand why Paul came down so hard on works.
    Telling someone that they’ll alway have “enough” if they’re faithful is superstition at best and magical thinking at worst and I hope for Paul’s sake he never has to come to realize that in a personal way.

  17. Job 13:15 (“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”) is the polar opposite of faith-promoting rumors about obedience yielding temporal blessings. Daniel 3:17-18 is good, too.

  18. The point is that what God could or might do to you shouldn’t change what we do if we’re in it for the long haul. It’s like the people from the Church Mission Society in London that were sent to west Africa as missionaries. Their things went packed in coffins because they knew they’d be needed but it didn’t matter. It’s where they were called so it’s where they went.

  19. Some excellent points here! There are definitely blessings for living the laws of God, but I also don’t like saying that God “owes us” anything because it’s inaccurate. He has promised to bless us when we follow his commandments but that is not the same as he “owes us”. On top of that, how and when he blesses us is entirely up to his discretion not ours.

    Another historical point is that even before the move to Utah, consecration and the UO were used at various times. During the period where the Church was centered in Ohio and Missouri, anyone who moved to Zion (Missouri) was required to live the Law of Consecration. Kirtland, on the other hand, had a United Order, which is mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants and is likely the main basis for the later orders that developed in Utah as the Church settled and became more stable.

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