In my post last month, I wrote about fundamental scripture based doctrine that lead us to value the earth. Now I would like to demonstrate that Mormons care for the earth through their stewardship, primarily in the management of our own homes and families. The first principle of stewardship is thrift.
We are currently counseled through the provident living program of the church to exercise thrift. There may be some confusion as to what thrift actually is. If I donate used but still useable things to a thrift store, where they may be acquired by someone else whose need for them is greater than my own, that is exercising thrift. If I purchase things that I need for a fair price, new or used, that is thrift, provided that I actually need the items, will use them, and can afford to buy them without incurring debt. Those are some big caveats that we often ignore as our buying habits are determined more and more by sale prices and bargains than the honest needs of our families.
“Learn principles of avoiding debt, discerning between needs and wants, and living
close to God in order to be provident providers both spiritually and temporally.” http://www.providentliving.org/
Thrift as an Aristotelian virtue is the pleasant mean between the excesses of profligacy (spendthrift) and miserliness. Thrift is the “wise economy in the management of money and other resources; frugality.” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/thrift)
Money is not our only resource; time counts too. As a SAHM, I often have more time than money. I have to be careful how I spend that time so that I am able to balance the demands that weigh on me.
Within official church discourse, we generally talk about thrift in financial terms–the use of our money personally within families as tithes within the church.
N. Eldon Tanner wrote:
Learn to distinguish between needs and wants. Consumer appetites are man-made. Our competitive free enterprise system produces unlimited goods and services to stimulate our desire to want more convenience and luxuries. I do not criticize the system or the availability of these goods or services. I am only concerned about our people using sound judgment in their purchases. We must learn that sacrifice is a vital part of our eternal discipline.
In this and many other countries, many parents and children born since World War II have known only prosperous conditions. Many have been conditioned to instant gratification. There have been ample job opportunities for all who are capable of working. Yesterday’s luxuries for most are considered today’s necessities…By way of testimony, may I add this to President Kimball’s statement. I know of no situation where happiness and peace of mind have increased with the amassing of property beyond the reasonable wants and needs of the family…
President Kimball has given this thought-provoking counsel:
“The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity unequaled in times past. The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth. But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand? Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God” (Ensign, June 1976, p. 4).
By way of testimony, may I add this to President Kimball’s statement. I know of no situation where happiness and peace of mind have increased with the amassing of property beyond the reasonable wants and needs of the family.
To be thrifty is to recognize that many things are unnecessary. If we develop the self discipline to deny ourselves the shallow gratification of our man-made consumer appetite, we may as a result 1) spend less money, and 2) consume fewer resources (because we are not purchasing those unnecessaries).
If we as a people live by the principle of thrift, we will as a natural result consume less and be in a position to serve more. Using our resources, financial and otherwise, wisely is the first step in becoming the stewards that God expects us to be. If we all are economical about the use of our time, money, and resources, then we will be, in practice, a very green people.
But not all Mormons practice thrift.
The question I must ask now is “Is thrift a virtue that Mormons value for all members of the church?”
Do we feel that all members should practice thrift, or is that austerity just for our poorer members? Do we assume that at a certain financial level, can we afford not to practice thrift? Would a greater emphasis on thrift for all of us have an effect on the numbers of members we gain and retain, like the prohibitions contained in the Word of Wisdom? Or is this counsel like the admonition to eat meat sparingly–a good idea in principle, the practice of which would benefit individuals and the larger community, more heavily emphasized by past leaders, but not necessary to temporal or spiritual salvation?
How can we avoid the prideful excesses and divisions that plagued the people of the Book of Mormon if we act in this way? How can we be identified as God’s peculiar people if we act just like everyone else in the day to day management of our resources and money?
I wanted to say that because we latter-day saints believe in and live the principle of thrift, our actions prove us to be good stewards of the earth. But a lot of us don’t live by these principles. I think we still believe that they are true, but we rationalize our way out of the inconvenience of living them by pretending they just don’t apply to us. And that is the kind of thinking that stratifies us when we should strive to be one in Zion.
Note: Thrift is a principle I fail at as often as not, so this post is an attempt to understand why I value thrift but do not live a consistently thrifty lifestyle. I believe that I as an individual should do better, and that we as a people should do better, but I cannot condemn any other individual in this matter.