Two dollars, I want my Two Dollaaarrrs!

April 17, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 12:03 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

The law of consecration worries me. It nags me. It harasses me. It won’t leave me alone. It’s like that paper boy in the 80’s teen flick Better Off Dead that kept showing up out of nowhere demanding his “twoooo dollllaaarss!” — It just won’t go away.

Last week in Sunday school we covered lesson 14 in the D&C manual – you know, the lesson called “The Law of Consecration”. My neighbor and friend Bruce is the teacher and he pulls no punches. He emphatically reminded us that we as a church are under obligation to live this law and that specifically those who have taken temple covenants are at spiritual risk if we do not keep every promise we make to God in the temple. He further pointed out that not even the prophet himself can rescind the promises that I have personally made to God. Only God can amend that contract.

Oh, great. Now what do I do? I’ve talked about money and righteousness in the past on two separate posts, but the law of consecration is about much more than money. As the lesson manual points out, the law of consecration is:

…an organized way in which individuals consecrate their time, talents, and possessions to the Church to build up the Lord’s kingdom and serve His children. (p. 75)

Ok I’m all for it. I’m willing to try it starting today… The problem is that the details are very fuzzy as to what exactly that means for me here and now. How do I know when I’m fully living that law? I want to do it but I still lack the knowledge of exactly what fully living it entails for me right now and how I can get there and how I can know when I’ve arrived. Roasted Tomatoes put up an interesting related post this week and Clark asked some extremely insightful questions in the comment (hat tip once again to Clark who I have quoted in two consecutive posts!). Here is what he asked:

Consider for example Geoff’s comment that under consecration we use only what we need and want. (Presumably everyone’s needs are taken care of but that leaves the wants) It seems that a person who wants to go waterskiing on Lake Powell has an unequal want to the person who wants to oil paint in the afternoon. Now if we say, but both are equal because their wants are equally met, regardless of the cost/value of the items necessary, then we’re left with a problem.

Consider if the boat, skis, and so forth for waterskiing are such that it has an undue impact on the community. So the presiding Bishopric of the united order tells our skiier that he can’t have his want. He really ought to want to paint. Suddenly we have an inequality of wants.

So wants can’t determine our equality.

This doesn’t occur in the primitive society because frankly there aren’t many goods to choose from.

The other problem with equality is the problem that there is no zero sum game in modern technological societies. Thus a limited hardship on a few and unequal benefits to a few might make the community as a whole more wealthy and thus able to provide for the wants. (Say being able to buy speedboats and skis for waterskies) In this case limited inequality actually could promote better equality.

The problem obviously is because our sense of equality is in terms of value, but values are not static things. Thus, how can we be equal? The obvious answer is, well change your desires. In that case that changes the values. So perhaps the reason our community with the skier is unequal isn’t because of the boat (or lack of it) but because of the desires of the skiier. Change the desires and equality returns.

But that brings about a most troubling conclusion. It would imply, for instance, that the graphs RT mentions are simply measuring the wrong thing. We could have identical graphs and have equality. After all, the problem then becomes the desires of the people. But we don’t want to say that, further we have that scripture about equality in earthly things and heavenly things.

It almost sounds like an invitation for a kind of monastic order where one totally renounces earthly things. But once again it seems hard to justify that in the scriptures as well. (IMO)

I know that was a long quote (I’m getting as bad as Justin with my long posts lately) but it was too good to pass up. I think I’ll stop here for now and pick up in a series of follow ups but there are a couple of questions at hand:

Does anyone think we are off the hook on the law of consecration right now? If so how can you defend that other than the fact that we are not living in the United Order as a church? If you agree with me that we are currently on the hook for consecration what do you make of this equality thing Clark brings up? What about the natural disparity that including wants and needs entails?

I reckon we better figure this stuff out or that dang paper boy in the back of my head will never go away.


  1. Alright, so we had a follow up discussion in SS today on this topic. A couple of interesting points came up. One is that needs and wants are different for different people. Bruce mentioned that a family is a fine example of a society that lives the law of consecration. The parents contibute the most but in theory everyone contributes what they can and everyone has their needs and wants met. Not all receive equal absolute amounts but that is ok. The sixteen year old eats a lot more mashed potatoes that the two year old does but both get their needs and wants met. Both are happy with dinner.

    This is well and good when there is a real abundance, but most of us are no at a point of abundance.

    That brings up the second point. None of us are really able to give much excess to the Lord/church if we are still in debt. Our prophet has repeatedly counseled us to pay off all of our debt (including mortgages), so until that is done we have debt payment as a legitimate need. So in that sense, paying off debt is living the law of consecration to some degree. The interesting test for those who do become debt free is what they do with the excess money then.

    The other factor that plays into this is what kind of house, car, vacations we choose and decide are appropriate needs and wants… It seems like it is pretty easy to consume everything we make no how much that increases.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 17, 2005 @ 7:02 pm

  2. BTW — I forgot to mention the best line from that movie Better off Dead. One of the high school classmates (the guy who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds) says to the lead character:

    “Lane, I’ve been going to this high school for seven and a half years… I’m no dummy!”

    Now back to your regularly scheduled sober doctrine. (How’s that for juxtaposition?)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 17, 2005 @ 7:13 pm

  3. My own take on it is that the Law of Consecration is eteranal and there are many Saints who have covenanted to live it. The United Order was an implementation of the LoC that is no longer in application. Moreover, it will likely never again be administered to the People of God, unless we go back to an agrarian lifestyle, which transition I sincerely doubt.

    So, we are required to live the LoC, but it is up to us to figure out how. Am I doing well? No.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 18, 2005 @ 10:34 am

  4. That’s just it J. How do you know you’re not doing well? What does doing well entail?

    Are you dealing with your need and wants? Are you paying back your debt? Do you have any excess (on top of your needs and wants) that you are not gving to the poor? What does it mean to consecrate right now (in the absense of an official United Order)?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 18, 2005 @ 10:49 am

  5. The interesting test for those who do become debt free is what they do with the excess money then.

    Is saving it a legitimate option? If so, how much and for what?

    Comment by Last Lemming — April 18, 2005 @ 10:52 am

  6. LL,

    That is just the line of questioning I wanted to follow up with. So if someone is debt free and has excess how much should go directly to the poor (via fast offerings) and how much should go to saving up for rainy days? We seem to have conflicting instructions here: One huge set of commandments telling us to care for the poor and needy but then out clauses like “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear”. Now maybe that “be prepared” scripture is not supposed to apply to temporal things but it seems imprudent to be unprepared financially all the same. But if we are not careful we will find ourselves “preparing” our whole lives and end up dying without ever caring for the poor. There must be a good way to work through this.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 18, 2005 @ 11:22 am

  7. I think we’re supposed to do both: save money so we can take care of ourselves and our family in case of unemployment, illness, old age, etc. (we’ve been counseled to do this by many prophets, President Hinckley most recently) and take care of the poor. I think it’s up to us how we split that, but as in most things, it’s our attitude that counts. If we’re being stingy with the poor and just giving fast offerings to check it off a list, that’s not the right attitude. (I think we’re supposed to take care of the poor even when we’re in debt, too.)

    As for the Law of Consecration, since we’re not living in self-sufficient LDS communities, I think that’s a matter of attitude, too. I do think it’s something we should be working on, though, in preparation for whatever will come in the future or in the afterlife, or whatever. I think of the Law of Consecration sort of as the Law of Sharing. I don’t know how it would work if implemented in today’s society, but there are plenty of ways I can think of where I need to improve.

    I think it’d be cool if neighbors could learn to share things like lawn mowers and other machines that aren’t in use constantly. Obviously, there are a lot of potential problems with sharing that kind of equipment–who’s going to pay for it when it gets broke, what about the guy who doesn’t take care of it properly? That’s all stuff that I imagine would be useful to explore and learn how to deal with in preparation for the Law of Consecration.

    But there’s probably a way for us to live it right now, especially as described in the temple covenants.

    (I just recently forced various in-laws to watch Better Off Dead. They had never seen it, which seemed wrong to me. I think they enjoyed it. I also recently gave a guy directions by saying, “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn!” He didn’t get it.)

    Comment by Erin J. — April 18, 2005 @ 1:49 pm

  8. As an economist, I have the most difficulty with this doctrine. Given what I know of the economics, this new form of socialism goes against the everything I know. Gary North has an excellent series of books on Old Testament economics and has shown that they enjoyed a libertarian free market system during most of the Old Testament from Genesis on… so its not a Moses’ law thing only. In fact, with doctrines such as Free Agency, libertarian free market systems fit very nicely.

    I sometimes think that Sidney Rigdon influenced Joseph a little too much on this one, and in trying to “restore all things” , things got a little out of hand as the 5 or 6 verses briefly mentioned in Acts obtained a whole new life. (The system in Acts obviously had a quick life/death as well)

    No matter how the United Order is presented it is still Socialism/Communism. And no matter what type of people participate; it will always FAIL. It cannot work. [ONE EXCEPTION: MIRACLES. City of Enoch supposedly used this, however Enoch was able to cause earthquakes on demand to destroy enemies. If the Priesthood can make fishes and bread on demand out of thin air (such as Jesus did), then it could work. Problem: Miracles are RARE. SUPER RARE. Few can do them or have done them. And even Joseph couldn’t create fishes out of thin air to save the United Order program]

    The problem is that economics is an extremely difficult subject, yet everyone thinks that its really a simple matter of people just sharing!
    The United Order was a command economy. There are verses in the D&C dictating who gets what house/store. The bishop or a committee during disputes decides on who gets what. The problem with a command economy is that you HAVE to HAVE omniscience to know what needs to be produced and who should get what share of the production. Then there are problems with incentives, division of labor, price, etc., etc. No matter what group has tried to do this type of thing Marxists, Pilgrims, Utopians: Its success rate has been ZERO. I would like to see a good economic discussion explaining just how this could ever work outside Miracles. Mises would have a field day destroying any argument on the benefits of socialist living.

    The fact that the church even purposed this is troublesome to me.

    I’m sorry if I come across as ranting, but there are 3 doctrines I have SERIOUS issues with. Polygamy, United Order, and babies getting a free ride to the Celestial kingdom. I try to keep a very open mind, but I have yet to see good arguements defending those doctrines. [Althought the HCK model defends the babies going to the Celestial kingdom quite well] I’m hoping that maybe someone here can help me see “the light” on this United Order thing.

    Comment by Speaking Up — April 18, 2005 @ 2:26 pm

  9. Nice comments, Erin J. (And I’m glad to see you finally comment here!)

    I agree. In fact I’m beginning to think I might be doing a decent job at living the law of consecration right now after all (and of course that’s pretty much the reason I post these things — to figure out how to fix me up. If others get good ideas along the way it’s all the better). Based on the pieces we’ve cobbled together reqarding how we consecrate money/resources I believe I am being generous in offerings to the poor (at least it feels that way to me right now). I’m focusing on knocking back debts also. I’m trying to keep my wants reasonable (comfortable home, reliable transportation, occasional family vacations, etc.). Perhaps that is how we keep the LoC today when it comes to temporal resources.

    Of course the LoC is equally concerned with how we use out time and talents. That is a subject of a future post, but will say I take solace in blogging on doctrinal topics when it comes to that.

    BTW — some might say my “comfortable home, reliable transportation, occasional family vacations” are in fact opulent when compared to the rest of the world. Maybe they are right. I will say though that the equality required of the Lord seems to be in Zion only — not being equal with all in Babylon too. If everyone in Zion worldwide had “comfortable home, reliable transportation, occasional family vacations” regardless of values in local currencies I wonder if the Lord would be satisfied with that… I suspect he might be.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 18, 2005 @ 3:03 pm

  10. S.U.,

    Excellent points all around. Honest comments like yours are what keep things interesting and educational around here.

    First, I think it might be useful to point out that the law of consecration and the United Order are not the same thing. The United Order was an organized attempt to implement the LoC. While we are under no obligationsto live the UO right now we are still obligated to live the LoC here and now.

    In defense of the UO, I have a few thoughts. I think the similarities to socialism/communism are pretty obvious, as you noted. But the similarities are mostly to theoretical socialism rather than the practical applications we see in the world today. The primary difference between the systems as far as I can tell is that the UO was entirely and exclusively an opt-in order. You were never forced or compelled to live in the UO, you either chose to do it or you didn’t. With socialism and communism you are in the system whether you like it or not and the only way to opt out is to leave the country.

    I also think you are missing one major society where the LoC/UO worked — the Nephites after the visit of Christ (see 4 Nep). They made it work for a couple of hundred years and several generations. That is longer than the modern Church has been around.

    This opt-in theme is so crucial that I think it is required to answer all three of your doctrinal qualms actually. The HCK model shows that the opting time extends well byond this earth, with the UO it only works with continued opting in, and polygamy requires absolute opting-in by all parties to work.

    As for living the LoC now — it could not be a more opt-in situation. We can live it, or we can not live it, and it is hard for anyone but God to know the difference…

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 18, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

  11. I’ve done some study on communist societies over the last year and a half. With this study I have put some serious thought into the similarities of communism and the law of Concecration/United Order of the LDS church.

    The definition of Communism according to two sources:
    Source 1: 2 Definitions

    1. “A theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.”

    2. “(often initial capital letter) a system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.”
    Note: These two definitions are subtly very different ( I will expand ).

    Source 2 Meriam-Webster online

    1 “a.A theory advocating elimination of private property b : A system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed.”

    2 “capitalized a : a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics b : a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production c : a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably d : communist systems collectively.”

    Again, notice the two VERY different definitions!

    This leads to the whole point of what is communism/Communism?

    Is it a first letter capital difference? What is the actual definition? One definition, in my own words, is the egalitarian system among a group of willing people. This would take a miracle! The other definition is the despotic takeover of a tyrannical government forcing people into an equalization program, often times against there will, or without full understanding of the system in which they will be subjected to. What does that sound like to you? In my opinion it sounds like the system Satan has had designed from the beginning.

    Communism (capital C) is a ideological system, which is a construed idea of the wholesomeness of the real system in which it resembles, which would be the Law of Concecration. In other words, Satan has devised a plan that has many similarities to a very high order system, which is reserved for the extremely faithful. When studying Communism it has a strange attraction to it, it pulls you in because of the ideological truths that surround it. I can see how it would play on the thoughts of many to the point of action and upheavals of governments. When I see a truly needy person, my heart drops, I tear up, and wish I had the means to take care of everyone in need in the world. Then on the other hand I see the truly rich and can’t help feeling a little jealous of what I don’t have. The disparity among us is truly great. I’ve slept in extremely posh hotels and played with orphaned children, who fret when it rains because the sewer water will seep through the ground below, into their living quarters. This difference in living conditions can play games on your emotions.

    The Marxist/Lennist/Maoist ways of thought are not the answer. The Soviet Union was never truly communist! Red China was never and is not communist. Maybe if we capitalize the ‘C’ and make it Communist then we have a match. The Marxist way of thought, which both Lennin and Mao Zedong both derived their systems from was a misguided plan to begin with. These plans have a similarity to a higher order, which people fell for. These forms of government created a confusion in the real truths of how the system is supposed to work and created a stigma of evil towards anything that resembled communism in ideology or theology. In Russian history early settlers did rely on communes (communism) for protection against the Mongols and it saved them from certain death. These united people were able to keep each other from starving in almost inhospitable lands and protect each other from their enemies. I feel this early cultural trait was engrained deep within their predecessors, and when a warped system surfaced through the hands of Lenin it had a certain ring of truth to it and a new type of Communism prevailed. Mao, himself of China, who was the leader of the Communist party of China (PRC) had to use a cultural revolution based on Communist ideology to start his totalitarian government. People were simply deceived, as often we too are, with things that closely resemble the truth. I still have many things to study about various forms of Communism. There seems to be many similarities between communism and the Law of Concecration, but almost none between Communism. I’m interested in any subjective thoughts on these ideas.

    Other interesting topics of study are the Hutterites of Northern America and the Amish communities. These seem to be two groups, who are much closer to the real ideas of the United Order, but I don’t want to go into that.

    Comment by Larry — September 18, 2006 @ 10:09 pm

  12. One should never forget the stewardship part of the Law of Consecration and Stewardship. That doesn’t mean license, but it does mean responsibility.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 18, 2006 @ 11:24 pm