Don’t Call it a Comeback – Polygamy or Consecration?

Recent lessons in Gospel Doctrine have discussed “The Law of Consecration”.  But sadly, these lessons have typically skipped over the two most interesting aspects of this Law:

1. The original version of the Law of Consecration (1.0) didn’t allow people to keep the deed to their property.  The Church owned it.

2. There is nothing stopping modern LDS from living the Law of Consecration.  We just don’t do it because we are, for the most part, either poor or materialistic (or both).

Contrary to some comments I’ve heard,  living the Law of Consecration doesn’t mean a reduction in “self reliance” or somehow opting out of sound 21st century personal management principles. It doesn’t have to involve liquidating your 401(k) or not saving for the future.  It simply involves giving your surplus, your true surplus, to the Church so the less fortunate can be helped.  Any LDS who wants to live this higher law needs only take stock of their needs compared to their wants, and once their needs are met, they give the rest to the Church as a fast offering.

For example, if I am shopping for a house for my family of 6, I may determine that I need a house with 4 bedrooms.  A palatial 4 bedroom goes for $700k in my area, and a modest but absolutely respectable and livable 4 bedroom goes for $400k.  For purposes of this example, suppose I have saved $700k the purchase of a house.  If I am committed to living my life under the principle of consecration, I evaluate my needs, subdue my intense yearning for a McMansion in the foothills and buy the $400k house, and give $300k to the Church.

Suppose my car has broken down, and I need to buy a new one.  Again, I am fortunate enough to have saved $40k for a new car.  I need a nice sport utility for the bumpy roads around my house, and would like a BMW X5.  But I could get by with a decent used Ford Explorer for $20k.  So I buy the Explorer and give $20k to the Church.  That’s the surplus; it was more than I needed.

On a slightly smaller scale, and one that applies to just about every LDS in a developed country, there are countless choices we make where we choose to spend just a little more than we need to on clothing, food, entertainment, gadgets, and everything else.   The principles of consecration would suggest that we should use these oppurtunities to recognize our surpluses and make contributions to the poor and needy among us.  Even if it means passing up on a pair of $140 jeans or a $6,000 TV.

The most common argument against such ideas is that people always have jobs and situations where they need a $2,000 suit for court, or a $50k car lasts so much longer than a $25k car that it makes financial sense in the end.  While some of these arguments might have some merit (there is certainly a point where buying “cheap” clothes or electronics is counterproductive), it’s usually just a weak justification for our materialistic desires.  The point of consecration being that we need to overcome them.

I’ll also take a second to point out that the scriptures seem to spend more time complaining about the cost of peoples’ clothes compared to their modesty (and if the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, it’s possible the first thing Jesus saw when he showed up was a crowd of bare-breasted women, yet he didn’t mention it).  But I digress.

Frankly, given the choice I’m not sure which 19th century doctrine/policy (“doctrincy”) modern capitalist, “self sufficient” LDS would be more reluctant to practice: polygamy or Consecration.  That would be an interesting question to ask your Gospel Doctrine class.  I wonder if the answers would be divided along gender lines…?


Filed under Doctrines, Teachings, Policies and Traditions

2 Responses to Don’t Call it a Comeback – Polygamy or Consecration?

  1. MC

    This is an excellent example of pragmatism trumping doctrine. Money equals security equals independence, and no matter what religion you are, independence is one of the highest virtues in American culture.
    If you donate every penny of “surplus” to the church, then if and when an unexpected expense arises you’d have to ask the church, hat in hand, to cut you a check. Here you are donating 50% of your income to the church (let’s say), and now you have to ask for money like a welfare queen. That’s a virtually insurmountable psychological barrier for most independence oriented, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” conservative Mormons. You would also have to trust the church to give you the money you need. It’s easy to trust a church to give you salvation when the time comes–not so easy to trust it to give you money when you need it.
    Incidentally, when one compares the lifestyle of a typical middle class American with, say, a starving Ethiopian orphan, it’s hard to justify virtually *any* mainstream lifestyle. Does every one of your kids need their own private bedroom, when doubling up could free up enough income keep a child from dying of starvation? How can you ever buy new clothes when there are Mexican children who don’t even have shoes. Subsistence level living–stuffing your family in a 2 bedroom apartment, eating rice and potatoes every meal, buying second-hand clothes (and only when your clothes are literally worn out), driving an old clunker–is an unthinkable proposition for most people, even if their excess income would go to buy food and clothes for those who have none. Living a mainstream, middle-class American lifestyle requires some level of moral hypocrisy, because maintaining that lifestyle comes at the expense of people living in abject, life-threatening poverty.

  2. Adam

    MC said:

    “This is an excellent example of pragmatism trumping doctrine. Money equals security equals independence, and no matter what religion you are, independence is one of the highest virtues in American culture.”
    Recently a baptist friend of mine recently voiced exactly this sentiment. We were discussing the question of whether any stockpile of emergency supplies (such as food storage) should include firearms intended for the purpose of defending such supplies from looters.
    I argued that any reading of the New Testament shows that the correct Christian action in such a situation would be to share what you have with potential looters.
    His response was that in such a situation, he would allow his “American” values of self-sufficiency, independence, defense of home & hearth, etc. priority over his Christian values. At least he’s honest.

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