Mormons and Prosperity

February 8, 2010 | 51 comments
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What the scriptures teach us about prosperityThe Prosperity Gospel (which the linked Wikipedia article defines as “the notion that God provides material prosperity for those he favors”) is often associated with Evangelical megapreachers. [Note 1.] But we all know there is a Mormon variation of the Prosperity Gospel lurking behind the ubiquitous references to blessings and how to earn them that populate LDS books, sermons, and discourse. So when I started reading my review copy of What the Scriptures Teach Us About Prosperity (Deseret Book, 2010) by S. Michael Wilcox, I was hoping that at some point the author would distinguish the Mormon view of prosperity from the Evangelical version of the Prosperity Gospel.

The Mormon View of Prosperity

Alas, no. The book contains no explicit discussion of the Prosperity Gospel and no direct comparison of Evangelical and LDS views. The index offers no entries under Propserity Gospel, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Evangelical, or even Protestant. The best I can find is an entry for John Calvin, which leads to a passage on the value of work: “During much of European history, for instance, the upper classes did not work. … The laboring man was looked down upon. During the Reformation, however, John Calvin in particular struck upon Paul’s counsel to elevate work. All work was done for Christ; therefore, one should find contentment in it and take pride in doing one’s best. God would reward you.” (p. 74.)

So, absent comparisons, what is the Mormon view of prosperity? It is worth distinguishing between folk doctrine and scriptural doctrine. The author, a retired Institute instructor at the U, relates his experience posing the following questions to his students: Can you be rich and righteous? Can you be worthy and wealthy? The discussion invariably reveals a large majority who are sure there is no difficulty squaring riches with righteousness, and the author affirms that this is the case in discussions by all age groups, “from high school and seminary students, to university and institute students, to working professionals, to retired senators” (p. 2).

So I conclude from this early discussion that the Mormon folk doctrine of prosperity is that having lots of money is not a problem. That is actually a middle or neutral position between the polar views that money is a sign of God’s favor (the Prosperity Gospel) and the contrary view that money and questing after it are in some sense evil and that the rich, however defined, are somehow morally tainted. It seems that most of us Mormons are convinced money is neither an obstacle nor an aid to personal righteousness.

The Scriptural View of Prosperity

What then is the scriptural view of wealth? “There is very little about wealth in the standard works that is optimistic in nature. I usually ask the class if they can cite a single verse that speaks positively about money. In all my years of teaching, no class has produced a single verse.” Instead, the scriptures contain “a great deal of warning and counsel” (p. 2). The balance of the book consists of a balanced review and discussion of the “warning and counsel” regarding wealth and riches to be found in the Bible and in LDS scripture.

The easist way to give a sense of how this very readable book covers the topic is to simply note in bullet form some of the items that jumped out at me as I read it. The book discusses literally hundreds of scriptures on wealth and riches. Here are a few of them:

  • The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) who pulled down his barns to build greater ones, puctuated by God’s blunt declaration: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (p. 12).
  • The troubling parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-12), with the author’s suggestion that the two masters we cannot simultaneously serve are not God and money (see Luke 16:13) but God and ourselves (p. 22).
  • The parable of the sower, in which the destructive thorns that choke away the vitality of the good seed are described as “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22) or as “the cares and pleasures and riches of this life” (Luke 8:14) (p. 31-33).
  • D&C 6:7 and its definition of being rich: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall ye be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (p. 36-37.)
  • Paul’s opinion (1 Tim. 6:10), linking avarice and apostasy: “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (p. 71).
  • D&C 49:20, equating material inequality with social sin: “It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (p. 94).
  • The spectre of class warfare, from 4 Nephi 1:25-26: “They did have their goods and their substance no more common among them. And they began to be divided into classes.” (p. 159.)

Besides citing and applying a wide variety of scriptures, the author of course offers the sort of good advice and commentary one expects from an experienced teacher with plenty of stories and observations to share. These nuggets for contemplation include:

  • A sobering reflection on the potentially negative effect of legacies as colorfully illustrated by the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) (p. 56-57).
  • A suggestion to spend money on moments instead of things (p. 66). Memories outlive gadgets.
  • A brief discussion of the relatively recent equalization of ward budgets and missionary expenditures across church units to prevent inequality or perceived slights (p. 89).
  • Especially for green Mormons: “It may be necessary … for some of us to decrease our expenditures of the earth’s wealth, whether that is in food consumption, energy use, housing, transportation, or in other areas” (p. 94-95).
  • On fasting and compassion: “Hunger is the greatest scourge of poverty. When we fast we feel, in the slightest of ways, what the poor may feel every moment of every day.” (p. 120.)
  • Throwing a bone to affluent American Saints: “The fiscal stability and affluence of ‘First World’ Church members has built, and continues to build, the kingdom in all the nations of the world where it is allowed to progress” (p. 139).
  • A short chapter devoted to an allegorical interpretation of Samuel’s discussion of “slippery riches” in Helaman 13. “As we ponder passing through the needle’s eye, Samuel’s reminder of the slippery nature of wealth is good to remember” (p. 153.) This is one Book of Mormon chapter that really benefits from the allegorical approach.

The Law of Consecration

The law of consecration, covered in the last chapter of the book, deserves its own discussion. I am never pleased with the way the law of consecration is depicted by LDS authors. The law of tithing is generally described as a type of lesser financial law and contrasted with the law of consecration, which is held out as the ideal social and economic system. In fact, the financial and in-kind contributions under tithing are, for most people, arguably equal to or greater than the net contributions made under the law of consecration as practiced by early Mormons. Measured in terms of sacrifice, tithing outperforms consecration. Furthermore, the historical record as I read it suggests Joseph abandoned attempts to practice the law of consecration during the Nauvoo period not because the Saints were greedy or imperfect but rather because the system just didn’t work very well. [Note 2.] At the end of the day, Joseph was a practical man and the practical truth of the matter was that consecration failed every time it was tried. Joseph got over consecration and moved on to something that worked better, but the Church somehow didn’t get the message.

I don’t think the author would agree with this view (at least as I outlined it in the preceding paragraph). On the other hand, he talks more about the principles of consecration as a way of living than about the law of consecration as a social and economic system the early Saints attempted to put into practice. But how does one distinguish between the two as discussed in the Doctrine and Covenants? Contemporaneously, the revelations referred to an actual system the Saints were attempting to live. Only in retrospect do we have the luxury of bracketing the actual system or set of practices and extracting a set of abstract principles that can then be transplanted to a different system.

That is a complicated way to proceed. For example, the author references D&C 104:12-14 (all things are the Lord’s), then comments: “We are his [the Lord's], all that we have is his, and we will one day account to him how we ran his property as steward. In one sense, we can’t give the Lord anything. It is all his anyway. Consecration is a recognition of this established fact.” (p. 175.) But two pages later he quotes D&C 42:32 (“Every man shall be made … a steward over his own property”) and comments: “Property does not belong to the state. It does not belong to the Church. It belongs to the individual, but with the caveat that the individual realizes that in the final analysis all belongs to God.” (p. 177.)

I’m not sure what “in the final analysis” means. Perhaps that’s equivalent to “after we’re all dead.” After we’re all dead, everything belongs to God. But we’re not dead, we’re still alive, so we’re still in the ownership regime described by the first clause, where property “belongs to the individual.” You have a free choice of what and how much of your property to contribute. What you do choose to contribute (or consecrate) is a sacrifice because you do actually own it and because you freely chose to give it up. If you contribute someone else’s property, it is not much of a sacrifice, is it?

Now I suppose one could say that what we should be doing right now — as we live our lives in the real world of 2010 rather than “in the final analysis” or in some world populated by hypothetical ideal people — is that we should be living the principles of consecration through the vehicle of the law of tithing as practiced by the LDS Church. I suspect the author, who deftly discusses the principles of consecration in the last chapter and encourages us to live them, would agree with that prescription. If so, I wish the author and others who offer a similar discussion would just come right out and say it: Consecration is dead; long live consecration. [That is: The law of consecration is dead; long live the principles of consecration.] Anyone who has served as a financial clerk knows the degree of financial sacrifice that many Latter-day Saints make on a weekly or monthly basis. I wish we would stop telling these good people that they are living some sort of second-class law of sacrifice because it is now labelled “the law of tithing” instead of “the law of consecration.”

Conclusion

Any evaluation of a book must take account of the intended audience. This isn’t a scholarly monograph or historical inquiry, it is a 190-page discussion of scriptural teachings about prosperity written for the general reader. As such, it succeeds very nicely. Whether one is an LDS version of the rich young man weighing the cost of following Jesus or a modern-day widow with hardly a mite to spare, the book offers a full course of the “warning and counsel” promised in the first chapter, as well as a needed dose of perspective and encouragement fit for these trying economic times.

Notes:

1. See Mark Ellingsen, Sin Bravely: A Joyful Alternative to a Purpose-Driven Life, Continuum, 2009. He writes: “Although regrettably he [Rick Warren] shares some commonalities with the proponents of the Prosperity Gospel (the belief that God will materially bless his followers who have the right frame of mind), analysis in this book will make clear that Warren and these preachers like Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Bruce Wilkinson … , and Creflo Dollar should not be confused” (p. 2).

2. See my earlier post “What Happened in Nauvoo, Part 2: Flourishing” for more discussion of the transition from practicing the law of consecration to practicing the law of tithing.

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51 Responses to Mormons and Prosperity

  1. Garrett on February 9, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Almost every church leader I have ever had(including both of my mission presidents) has told me that if you pay a full tithe and generous offerings, you won’t have serious financial problems.

    But they never told me you’d get rich.

  2. It's Not Me on February 9, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I will likely purchase the book because I enjoy Bro. Wilcox’s talks. Thanks for the review.

  3. Mark B. on February 9, 2010 at 8:15 am

    That just means, Garrett, that every church leader and both of your mission presidents who told you that are, like the rest of us, fallible humans and completely capable of teaching false doctrine.

    And, they probably didn’t tell you that by any historical standard, and in comparison to most of the rest of the world, almost all Americans are rich beyond the wildest imaginings of the vast majority of earth’s peoples.

  4. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on February 9, 2010 at 8:42 am

    A very well thought out post, Dave.
    The Laws of Consecration and Tithing are not matters of prosperity, they are exhortations of obedience to the Commandments of God. God and His Son, Jesus of Nazareth, have not given specific directions on how to be good businessmen and make lots of profits?

    THEY are concerned with the Widow’s Mite, the Lost Sheep and Coin, the Good Samiritan, the Woman of Zarepta in the OT, etc.

    The purpose of their creation is to prosper everyone and to return us even richer into heaven. Jesus, in His parable of the Unjust Steward tells of a rich man and selfish steward, who was accused, by many, of pocketing of the rich man’s profit. [Luke 16, casts an interesting light to our current economic mess].

    What I found fascinating was the attitude of the rich man toward the unjust steward. The steward had chosen to go it alone; without the rich man’s approval and thus risks being cut off. The steward’s pride takes him on a divirgent path by making even more profit.

    The pharisees made light of it. Jesus openly charged them as servants of the Unrighteous Mammon. If we can serve an Unrighteous Mammon, then we can also serve the Righteous Mammon. The difference between the them is the Law of Concecration and Tithing.

    The nearest thing to a “Prosperity Council” is the “Order of Nehor” in the Book of Mormon. Its works resembles, that of the Business Roundtable in Washington DC, which was founded after WWII to give direction to the rebuilding effort of the world’s economy after that “good” war.

    Very little is written in the Book of Mormon, except some nasty things about Nehor in the beginning. The Order of Nehor seems to be a countervailing economic influence throughout the Book against the righteous Nephites and Lamanites. Not much is written about their agenda. No wonder, the Book of Mormon is the OTHER testimony of Jesus Christ.

    The people of that Book had a continuous struggle against the Order’s excesses. Ultimately the Order made the Law of Mosiah, a meaningless appendage to the liberty of those serving the Righteous Mammon.

  5. Garrett on February 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

    http://bit.ly/a7akBz

    Can you teach false doctrine in general conference?

  6. Ardis Parshall on February 9, 2010 at 9:57 am

    There’s a whole heckuva lot more in that talk, Garrett, than a simplistic “paying tithing=no serious financial problems.” For one thing, while the people as a whole prospered for righteous behavior that goes very far beyond mere payment of tithes, the very fact that there were poor and hungry and naked who needed to be succored suggests that at least a few members of the community had rather serious financial problems.

  7. Julie M. Smith on February 9, 2010 at 9:58 am

    ““There is very little about wealth in the standard works that is optimistic in nature. I usually ask the class if they can cite a single verse that speaks positively about money. In all my years of teaching, no class has produced a single verse.””

    Proverbs 31:10-31 is supportive of being wealthy and enjoying wealth, although the emphasis is clearly on the hard work that goes into creating the wealth, and it does mention giving some of it away.

  8. Mike S on February 9, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Here is an interesting article talking about this area. While I think the two aren’t related, there does appear to be a bias among LDS people as viewing “wealthy” people as more righteous.

    https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/IssuesInReligionAndPsychotherapy/article/view/494/469

  9. Craig H. on February 9, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I asked a seminary class of mixed background and income (big geographical ward) whether they thought wealth was a blessing for righteousness. All the rich (and they mostly were quite) kids raised their hand; the other kids, lower middle and lower class, raised their hands against the proposition. So the bias toward wealth as a blessing doesn’t necessarily come from all ranks. And maybe there’s a little self-justification in the wealth gospel.

  10. bbell on February 9, 2010 at 10:13 am

    My personal life exp is that money is neutral. Its our attitude about it that determines its influence in our life. I have seen it both be a blessing and a curse depending on the person/circumstance.

  11. James Olsen on February 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Great review Dave. A couple points:

    From a historical perspective, I’m unconvinced that there was a mass, unaccounted for phenomenon of the majority of the saints and almost all of our succeeding GA’s simply missing Joseph’s pragmatic switch. Brother Brigham tried even harder than Joseph to get us to live a radically different economic order, claiming explicitly that he couldn’t die and face Joseph if he didn’t at least do his best to harangue us into the United Order.

    Second, you’re equivocating concerning the nature of consecration. On the one hand you make a fantastic distinction between the law and principles of consecration, and send a great message that I heartily endorse that we need to quit telling the saints who sustain painful economic sacrifice that they are somehow second-class celestial citizens. But there’s also a clear difference between a pragmatic fulfillment of consecration that operates necessarily within the constraints of a greater social economic order described as “groaning in sin,” and the sort of radically different order that the Lord has instituted each time he’s established a literal Zion. I agree that it’s silly to claim we’re not doing enough under our current system, but also see no evidence at all to claim that this current system is ideal or even an equally merited alternative.

    Finally, private property is, pure and simple, a convention. Since Locke’s abysmal failure, there has not been one solid argument to underlie natural property rights. “In the final analysis,” stripped of the theological implications, could simply be taken as a reminder of this simple fact. Private property just ain’t a natural right. This isn’t to deny it’s potential benefit. But if we keep in mind that there’s nothing either divine or natural about ownership, but rather that we choose (collectively) what it is and how it works, we can focus on making sure we’ve got the right kind of convention, and have the courage to tinker with it as needed to fulfill the greater good.

  12. Jonathan Green on February 9, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Dave, thanks for an excellent discussion. It’s easy to dismiss the notion that God’s blessings extend to the financial as folk doctrine or a fallen ‘Prosperity Gospel,’ and the idea can certainly be twisted beyond recognition in each, but the uncomfortable fact is that biblical and modern scripture and church teachings largely support the idea: not that wealth is a sign of righteousness, but that God has an interest in and influence over our material welfare. If we consider the church’s programs, we find both humanitarian efforts to help the poor (others, outsiders, ‘them’) and programs (PEF, local employment programs) to increase the material standing of church members, of ‘us.’ So if the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is not in accord with Mormonism, neither is the idea that we are meant to be wretched now in order to merit a true reward in the afterlife.

  13. Matt W. on February 9, 2010 at 10:43 am

    It seems like either S. Michael or Brad put out a book every month at Deseret Books. I’ve personally never read any, so really appreciate this review.

  14. Adam Greenwood on February 9, 2010 at 11:14 am

    There’s lots of reasons, including scriptural reasons, to doubt the prosperity gospel, just as there are lots of reasons to doubt the related idea that suffering is punishment for sin, but unfortunately its not just a few isolated scriptures that support either idea. Both ancient and modern scriptures have certainly preached that righteousness brings material blessings; it would be wrong and stupid to dismiss this as simply false doctrine. Jonathan Green’s approach I like.

  15. Chris Henrichsen on February 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

    James (#11): “Finally, private property is, pure and simple, a convention. Since Locke’s abysmal failure, there has not been one solid argument to underlie natural property rights.”

    I could not agree more. It may be a good convention, but it is just that.I think Rousseau really put much of Locke’s argument to rest.

  16. James Olsen on February 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Jonathan & Adam: it seems to me that the main pernicious element that you point to (in both the righteousness–>wealth model and the sin–>material suffering model), is the notion that God intervenes with causal regularity to promote or demote one’s material well-being. It makes sense to me to read the scriptures/prophetic statements you allude to within our general framework of progression. Work is efficacious (for saints and sinners both), and living an obedient, godly life is going to include or entail a development of our general skills and competency that will, ceteris peribus, inevitably benefit our material standing.

  17. Mark B. on February 9, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Well, Garrett, I’ve never preached in General Conference, and am not likely to ever have that responsibility. But, the answer to your question, generally, is, why not? Which of the speakers in general conference is perfect, infallible? Of course, it’s more likely that the listeners will misunderstand what is said.

    But “material blessings equal wealth (as 21st Century Americans understand it)” and “payment of tithes will assure no serious financial troubles” are both false statements. But they can both be false without negating the promise that God will prosper those who keep his commandments.

  18. Mark B. on February 9, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Except, just as with the economist’s assumption in the old joke of the existence of the can opener, ceteris ain’t paribus.

  19. Stephanie on February 9, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I disagree with your take on the law of consecration (which really means I just agree with most of the LDS authors you disagree with). If the law of tithing has replaced the law of consecration, then wealthy people can just pay their tithing and call it good and not feel any additional burden to sacrifice to help others. I think the point of consecration is that those who have more give more. That doesn’t negate or somehow cheapen tithing – it just emphasizes that “where much is given, much is required”.

    Plus, you have to be living the law of tithing in order to enter the temple to make the covenant to live the law of consecration. I feel that each of us who make that covenant are responsible for living it in our own lives (ie. the “principles” you refer to)

    And, the church distinguishes between tithing and consecration by how it uses the funds from each. Tithing runs the operations of the church, fast offerings are used to pay bills for people, etc. I guess I just don’t understand equivocating the two.

  20. Stephanie on February 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Also, I think a lot of our Mormon view of the prosperity gospel comes from the Book of Mormon. Each time the people were righteous (and held all things in common), they prospered and became wealthy, although I think the wealth and prosperity is more a function of the society as whole than individuals.

  21. Stephanie on February 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Sorry, just one last thought about the law of consecration. The intent of the law of consecration is to help us to have all things in common. Just paying tithing does not accomplish that objective. It neither elevates the poor nor brings down (by choice) the rich.

    Anyone who has served as a financial clerk knows the degree of financial sacrifice that many Latter-day Saints make on a weekly or monthly basis. I wish we would stop telling these good people that they are living some sort of second-class law of sacrifice because it is now labelled “the law of tithing” instead of “the law of consecration.”

    The law of consecration requires that you give above your own needs. So, if families are struggling to make ends meet or to meet their needs, they can still be living the law of consecration while not contributing anything above their tithing. Families who are receiving aid from someone else’s consecration are living the law of consecration. You are not required to give if you do not have.

  22. Steve H on February 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I think that it is worth considering a number of factors:

    The promise of prosperity and righteousness is something that I believe may apply more to a society than to an individual. For example, political and police corruption (Think Haiti, Russia, North Korea, Burma) can be related directly to poverty.

    Of course, even the most righteous individuals can be made to be miserable by conditions beyond their control. (again, think Haiti. Even those Saints who had any sort of food storage would find that their saved stores would be unavailable because of, or destroyed by, the earthquake.)

    I think that our church can promote a gospel of prosperity in subtle ways:

    The act of offering conference and scriptures on-line, or that of recommendeding that we use blogs to promote the gospel, suggests that having home computers, PDAs, etc is a good thing. If having those things is good, then having the means to purchase them must also be a good thing. Therefore, by being righteous, we can afford electronic gadgets that help make us more righteous.

    Our church leaders tend to be affluent people. I believe that in general, the skills that lead to affluence are also the skills that make one worth considering for leadership positions. However, it is easy to confuse the order and decide that being affluent is a requirement for serious church work. In college, I had one Mormon professor specifically counsel me to make “lots of money” so that I can serve “more effectively” in the church.

  23. The Only True and Living Nathan on February 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I hear that “God provides material prosperity for those he favors” mostly from Mormons who say that other Mormons believe it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Mormon who believed it. Maybe I’ve just spent too much of my life among poor Mormons who know better.

  24. Jeremy on February 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Stephanie said:

    “Also, I think a lot of our Mormon view of the prosperity gospel comes from the Book of Mormon. Each time the people were righteous (and held all things in common), they prospered and became wealthy, although I think the wealth and prosperity is more a function of the society as whole than individuals.”

    I often hear people refer to the BoM when preaching Mormonized prosperity doctrine. If that’s the model, then the U.S. must a righteous place indeed. Except, as you parenthetically allude to, one of the most consistent indicators of wickedness in the BoM is the width of the gap between rich and poor. If that’s the marker, than the American righteousness is waning, not waxing.

  25. Stephanie on February 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Except, as you parenthetically allude to, one of the most consistent indicators of wickedness in the BoM is the width of the gap between rich and poor. If that’s the marker, than the American righteousness is waning, not waxing.

    I think this is true.

  26. JT on February 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    TOTALN: “I hear that “God provides material prosperity for those he favors” mostly from Mormons who say that other Mormons believe it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Mormon who believed it.”

    I’ll have to echo that. This applies to many perceived problems in the church that I hear people talking about.

  27. Jay on February 9, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    We love escape clauses more than we love anything else. And everyone’s favorite is the one about the “love” of money. We can go to bed in our million dollar mansions with another million dollars worth of snow mobiles, ATVs, motorcycles, jet skis etc. in our garages, and feel righteous as all get-out if we can just convince ourselves that we don’t actually “love” our money. Self-justification? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha!”

  28. Matt Evans on February 9, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for the review, Dave.

    There are two different facets of prosperity that are almost always conflated in these discussions. The first is whether God rewards his people temporally, which the scriptures support, and the second is the degree to which we may use our material comforts for our own benefit, which the scriptures typically condemn. Most people, though, attempt to justify their selfish use of their resources by citing scriptures showing that God prospers his people. Jacob 2:17 is a favorite here: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” Making “all . . . rich like unto you” is a lot of sharing and effectively requires material equality.

    The ultimate standard is that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, and in that regard most of us fail abysmally, and even the very best among us do quite poorly.

  29. CS Eric on February 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I like the point that it isn’t so much what, or how much we have, but what we do with it. Regardless of whether we call it consecration or anyother name, I believe we have a Christian obligation to share our material goods with those who are less fortunate.

    I nearly fell out of my seat in Sunday School when the comment was made that the parable of the ten virgins was meant to apply to food storage. As long as my family’s needs are met, why not share with others around us?

  30. Matt Evans on February 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    “As long as my family’s needs are met, why not share with others around us?”

    I would make the statement stronger still: even if my needs are not met, shouldn’t I share with others who have needs greater than mine?

    It seems to me that this is required by the second great commandment.

  31. James Olsen on February 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Amen Matt.

  32. elchupacabras on February 9, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    It would do everyone well to read this statement from Richard Bushman:
    “We must keep in mind that capitalism is godless. It…does not include faith as one of the virtues of a successful investor, executive or worker. Capitalism as a system subscribes to Korihor’s creed that one succeeds according to the strength of the creature. In some cases it has overtly encouraged rugged individualism as a way of life in direct opposition to the communal service called for by the gospel.”

    http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleBushmanIllAtEase.html

    Enough said! I rest my case on the perverted idea of out of control capitalism and economic prosperity.

    I live outside of the U.S. in a ward obsessed with this idea. I decided to take a vomit bag to church after hearing one lady get up and quip, “I was attracted to your Church thanks to all of the luxury cars in the parking lot. I wanted to be a part of it for that reason!”
    I came home and re-read the Book of Mormon and its warning against pride and immediately followed it up with a dose of Chomsky!

  33. Cameron on February 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Something someone told me years ago and I wonder if its true for the earthly Church but not necessarily true in the Kingdom of Heaven is that to be something here and now on earth in the Church you have to be married and successful. If you are not then the Church is hard to navigate. Its almost like you have to be immune to the gain is godliness statements and wealthier members getting the “bigger” callings. I have learned in my entire life in the Church that just because you are a member doesn’t insure you against everything that mortality has to offer. We can be born again and should be but I wonder if that doesn’t even make your temporal life go smoother from an economic perspective. I know poor and wealthy members who are in leadership callings who know little or nothing about the Church. But they are married and successful and seemingly so far deal with life supposedly better then others in economic terms. I like what Elder Adhemar Damiani of the 70 said once

    “Many are the things that come upon him who is a saint as well as upon him who is a sinner—disease, death, catastrophes, accidents, and so forth.

    Neither prosperity nor poverty indicate whether a person is living a Christian life.

    Physical suffering is not evidence of wickedness, nor is it punishment for sin”.

    Here is the link to his talk
    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=1bd96a4430c0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson on February 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    As one commenter said, Americans are incredibly rich compared to most people in the world. Contra to another commenter, one does not need to be rich to have a computer and access to the internet (visit your local public library).

    Most of the discussion here is about wealth and prosperity as a thing apart. I suggest that the main focus of the gospel as the Saints live it is what things we value more than accumulating more wealth, or enjoying material wealth.

    The sacrifice of tithing, fast offerings and other donations means we value service to the poor and the Church and participation in the temple more than the things we could buy with the money or the added wealth we could earn by investing it.

    The sacrifice of our time, as young missionaries and older missionaries, and in church callings, as opposed to using the time to earn more money or do things that decrease our need for money, is a significant part of Mormon life, and every time we do it we are saying “Service to others is more important than money for me.”

    The investment of time in our spouses and families means that Mormons sometimes forego the kind of personal investment in work that earns advancement in an organization. Time with our families is more important than earning more money to buy things for our families.

    Obviously, there are many factors that affect our prosperity. Aside from time, and accumulated wealth, there are also personal habits of thrift and saving that can be enhanced when we adopt the discipline of making significant donations of our funds. There is the cumulative benefit to each of us of living in a society of good and trustworthy people (see Joel Kotkin’s book “Tribes” and his suggestion that Mormons are a nascent international “tribe” that will prosper, as Jews and Chinese do, because of our mutual trustworthiness). There is the value of education that is enhanced by our study of the Gospel and our attitude of honoring learning (that is much of the key to Jewish prosperity). There is the goal-setting behavior that is inculcated in us along with lessons about achieving within Scouting and accomplishign things as a misisonary and in church service. There is the accumulation of capital among individual Mormons that is an asset that can be tapped for investment into enterprises that employ other Mormons or loaned to other Mormons 9through normal financial channels or through programs like the Perpetual Education Fund).

    My understanding of the promises of prosperity for righteous nations in the Book of Mormon is that all of these factors converge synergistically in a righteous nation, even as they present opportunities to be tempted into sin, that in turn squanders societal wealth and increases poverty, which can remind us to be righteous. Ther are statements by contemporary prophets that quote Brigham Young’s fear about the trail of prosperity that would come to the Saints, as they rose out of the poverty of immigration and community building and persecution in the 19th Century.

    Orson Scott Card wrote a short story about the temptations of abundant wealth, titled “Dinner at Helaman’s House”. The trigger in that story for an examination of the uses of wealth is the visit of a returned missionary who has spent two years among people of great poverty in Latin America, who is greatly troubled by the casual wealth of Helaman’s big new house and family.

    I have seen poor Saints who are animated by greed, and rich Saints who make contributions to their church and communities far beyond a tithe. Like other aspects of salvation, it is not where you are but how you are oriented that is most important.

    One last observation. In my own experience, people who denigrate the idea of personal property often do it as a prelude to demanding that my personal property be put to use for some purpose that they perceive as more urgent than my own. I am not impressed when President Obama criticizes Americans (as he did in speaking to groups of rabbis and ministers) for being wealthy and not being willing to “share” health care with the poor, when he is not asking for voluntary donations but is threatening to punish us with the prosecutorial and confiscatory powers of government if we fail to contribute in the amounts that he thinks are commensurate with our wealth. He thinks of himself as Robin Hood, when he acts the part of King John. When the choice is between the property being controlled by the person who earned it, or controlled by someone who simply has the power to take it by force, it is an advance of civilization when the former condition prevails over the latter.

  35. Stephanie on February 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    When the choice is between the property being controlled by the person who earned it, or controlled by someone who simply has the power to take it by force, it is an advance of civilization when the former condition prevails over the latter.

    Well said.

  36. Matt Evans on February 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Great comment, Raymond, and I agree with your critique of those denigrating personal property. God’s commanded that we respect private property.

    It’s interesting to note, however, how your comment, “[t]he sacrifice of tithing, fast offerings and other donations means we value service to the poor and the Church and participation in the temple more than the things we could buy with the money” is only about the marginal value of the money we forego, so the person earning $100k who gives $12k to charity values the charity more than the difference between the comforts of a $88k and $100k lifestyle, and this twist on your statement is equally true: “all of the things we buy for ourselves show what we value more than offerings, temples, or the poor, hungry and sick.” The person donating $12k still chooses to give $88k of goods and conveniences to themselves rather than others who need it more.

    Again, the purpose of this is only to show how far even the best of us are from loving our neighbors as ourselves.

  37. Raymond Takashi Swenson on February 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Matt: Yes, the Savior’s observations about the relative value of the widow’s mite donated to the temple versus the larger (in absolute value) donation of the rich man goes right to that issue of marginal value. And his advice to the “rich young ruler” to sell “all” and give to the poor, and then follow Christ, points up the difficulty that the rich have in following the widow’s example.

  38. Drew on February 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Consecration is more than an economy. Sure, that might be part of it. Consecration is a way of life. We make covenants to live the law of consecration. That’s not made in anticipation of some future time. That’s made in the here and now. There might be some obstacles to living it in it’s completeness (think United Order). But I believe we err when we say, “we’re not to live the law of consecration right now, the law of tithing has taken its place until further notice.” Because finances are only a part of it. If the law of consecration is dead, then it is because we killed it. But we can live it, if we recognize that all that we have and are is the Lord’s and we are at His disposal. In my opinion.

    And, I will disagree that it was abandoned not because of anything the Saints did. Joseph Smith chastened members of the Church bought up much of the land, where the Saints were gathering, not as a means to preserve it for future Saints as they gathered in, but to sell it for profit. He said, “Here are those who begin to spread out buying up all the land they are able to do, to the exclusion of the poorer ones who are not so much blessed with this worlds goods, thinking to ley foundations for themselves only, looking to their own individual familys and those who are to follow them…Now I want to tell you that Zion cannot be built up in eny such way.”

  39. Drew on February 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    I think the “Prosperity Doctrine” reminds me a little of the Zoramites– being caught up in worldly possessions and the we-thank-thee-because-we-are-chosen attitude, while at the same time rejecting all those who were poor, etc.

  40. Drew on February 9, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    The Prosperity Doctrine the world teaches, as I understand it, not only that God will help you materially, but that he wants you to be wealthy. It goes far beyond taking no thought for what we should eat or drink (God will take care of our needs), and draws much closer to the concept that God will take care of all of your wants, too.

  41. meg on February 9, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I knew Mike Wilcox before he became “S. Michael Wilcox”. He isn’t a GA or a scholar and his books are about himself and his experiences. Young adults find him charismatic–I was one of those captivated by him in institute class. As I matured I saw he sometimes sets young people up for disappointment in what he tells them to be true as he knows it.
    And it can pose a danger if a new convert or someone with a weak testimony is told A will equal B and C will follow if you do this and that and it doesn’t.
    In his book about the temple, he recounts how he went there and told the Lord that he’d do anything to make sure his children each made it to the temple. He says the Lord told him that they would make it if he attended the temple regularly himself. That revelation is for him and it’s between him and the Lord. But that can’t be taken to mean that regular temple attendance will save everyone’s children. And if
    someone wants to believe that and it doesn’t work out that way, they are being set up for a terrible fall.
    Anyone and everyone writes books. Take what they say with a grain of salt if they aren’t GA’s. Mike has good things to say but I’ve learned to be wary of people who make their living off the members of the Church.

  42. Dave on February 9, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Meg, I think it is misleading to depict CES instructors as “making their living off the members of the Church.” They get paid from the payroll account of the CES, not by direct selling to members or students. In some sense, you could say that just about everyone “makes their living off of X,” where X is some group of people that benefits from the products or services provided by their employer or business. But that’s really just a description, not a critique.

    As for disappointments … well, life is full of disappointments, some deserved and others entirely undeserved or unfair. Hopefully yours were short and temporary.

  43. meg on February 10, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Dave–I’m not referring to CES teachers at all! I’m referring to members who write one book after another, do the talk radio circuit,
    have an LDS travel business, etc. I’m wary of Glenn Beck as well.
    I’ve always had a strong testimony because it’s rooted in the Lord , the scriptures and in the doctrine. I don’t trust in the “arm of flesh”–unless it’s the Prophet or the equivalent.

  44. Gerald T on February 10, 2010 at 2:54 am

    George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. I appreciate the discussion as it puts us somewhere past the illusion if we are willing.

    I believe our communication is an effect of our effort, desires, and the care that we give it. Heavenly communication occurs when we desire it to occur in spite of how much has been sent. The prophet speaks and is heard only if there are listening ears. The spirit attempts and is able only if there is an open heart.

    I think Mosiah 28:3 is an example of all of those requirements coming into play “…for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”

    When was the last time that any of us quaked and trembled for our brothers and sisters whom the current prophet has just said we must “rescue”. Somehow the intersect of this with Mark 8:35 “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.” determines what we are willing to bear and what is most meaningful to us.

    When my probation is over, I do not expect to be queried about my status and wealth in the world, but on whether I was the in the neighborhood of “…the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” as referenced in Matthew 18:4. If I am about my Father’s work I will not be at risk prosperity wise money or no money. No?

  45. It's Not Me on February 10, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Just because a person may get some money for writing a book doesn’t mean the book contains nothing of value.

    Likewise, just because I don’t know of the persons who post on this blog doesn’t mean they have nothing of value for my consideration.

    I’ll read what’s there, filter it as I find appropriate, glean what value I can and move on.

  46. document on February 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I never have to be worried about being in leadership anyways, I’m a musician! We never get called to leadership! I raise my hand to offer help, and a whip is pulled out by the bishop saying, “Get back at the organ, you!”

    I have found that people are generally called to what they are naturally talented at. In my town, most of the bishops and stake presidents we have had were either a doctor, lawyer, or big shot at the local government complex. However, we do have one librarian, one construction manager, and one high school teacher in leadership positions currently. None of these are “well off” or prosperous, however, all of them have phenomenal leadership skills.

    Just like with music callings (where five or so people in the ward have a “monopoly” on those callings [at least it is in the three stakes I have lived in]), people who have leadership positions generally tend to have great leadership skills. This (most of the time) means that they will be affluent in life, because (in my humble experience), those who are natural leaders are more likely to receive promotions, pay raises, etc.

  47. John A. Coltharp on February 11, 2010 at 2:07 am

    It is true: being righteous can yield worldly riches, because God blesses us when we are righteous. Some members of the Church, however, have perverted this doctrine, thinking that if a person is rich, that must mean they are righteous. Anyone who thinks this way is making totally false assumptions. It’s often rich members who think this way, probably to delude themselves into thinking they are clean before God.

    As far as whether or not having riches is good or bad, I fully agree with Brigham Young on the subject:

    “The question will not arise with the Lord, nor with the messengers of the Almighty, how much wealth a man has got, but how has he come by this wealth and what will he do with it? . . . The Lord has no objection to his people being wealthy; but he has a great objection to people hoarding up their wealth and not devoting it, expressly, for the advancement of his cause and kingdom on the earth. He has a great objection to this.” (JD 11:294.)

    “If, by industrious habits and honorable dealings, you obtain thousands or millions, little or much, it is your duty to use all that is put in your possession, as judiciously as you have knowledge, to build up the kingdom of God on the earth.” (JD 4:29–30.)

  48. Velska on February 11, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I am surprised that Jacob 2:19 has been omitted.

    Money — or amount of it — does not tell about our righteousness or lack of it. “I will take the treasures of the Earth…” is a sentence that many know.

    It is true, that for some it is given to have riches, if it so be that they desire to help others. But we will get ways to help, pecuniary or otherwise, if we are sincere about it.

    Too many Mormons, from my view, have bought the Prosperity Gospel hook, line and sinker; they think that because they have plenty of money, they are righteous.

  49. Ardis Parshall on February 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    I’m reading the 1959 Millennial Star at the moment and have just run across a lengthy article on the wealth and business advice of the Marriotts (just beginning to branch into hotels and still in the Hot Shoppe business).

    The title? “Good Mormons Don’t Go Broke.”

  50. John A. Coltharp on February 11, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Wow! Good Mormons Don’t Go Broke? What vol., no., date, pg., etc.?
    I’d like to read it tonight.

  51. Mark B. on February 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Well, J. Willard didn’t, did he?

    Isn’t that proof?

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