In the temple, we covenant to obey the law of consecration, but I have observed that there is some disagreement about what is entailed in obedience to the law of consecration. In the early days of the church, the saints established the United Order to implement the law of consecration as it had been revealed to that point. Members voluntarily consecrated (deeded over) their property to the Church and in return received a stewardship over property to meet their needs. The United Order lasted a relatively short period of time and the Church hasn’t asked people to deed over all their property for well over one hundred years.
The fact that we still covenant to obey the law of consecration combines with the fact that the United Order was disbanded long ago to create a problem. Obviously it is problematic to ask people to covenant to something they cannot do. If we are required to live the law of consecration then it would be very nice to define it in some way that makes obedience possible.
To that end, one common strategy used to bring the law of consecration within reach is to draw a bright line between the law of consecration on one side and the United Order on the other. On this scheme, the law of consecration involves the members consecrating (donating) some of their time, talents, and property to the church by doing service, fulfilling callings, and making monetary donations of various kinds. By contrast, this scheme describes the United Order as the system under which people deeded all of their property, received stewardships, and gave their surplus back to the church. Once the bright line has divided these two conveniently along the lines of what is practiced in the modern church and what is not, it is said that the law of consecration is still with us even though the United Order has been done away. There are lots of examples of this approach, but a few can be found here, here, and here.
My Rejection of That Solution
My only problem with this approach is that I think it is wrong. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that some of the underlying principles of consecration can be put into action in our lives today (outside the context of the United Order), I find no support for the idea that the law of consecration referred to in the temple is unrelated to the original system of deeding over property, receiving a stewardship, etc.. That is not to say that I believe we are going back to that system in the future, but I think we do a disservice to the concept of consecration when we pretend it is just refers to someone being active in (and donating generously to) the modern church. I believe God was asking for something more than that. I think he was teaching us something about heavenly society and I think some of what he was asking for cannot be achieved under our current economic system.
The first problem for the solution above is that the temple ceremony makes it clear that the â€œlaw of consecrationâ€ is to be understood as it is explained in the Doctrine and Covenants (apparently this is not as obvious as one might suppose). The primary sections of interest are D&C 42, 51, 78, 82, 83, 92, 104. A cursory reading of these sections will confirm that the term “consecration” is used to refer to the exact ideas being relegated to the term “United Order” in the proposed solution above (see, for example, D&C 42:32-33). The bright line looks totally ad hoc and phony when you read the revelations upon which we are told to base our understanding of the law of consecration.
Additionally, I think there really is more to the law of consecration than a generous fast offering. In tying the law of consecration to the celestial law and the concept of Zion (see especially D&C 105:1-5), the D&C gives us a concept of consecration that is not fully realizable in isolation. That is, there is only so far a person can go on their own in implementing a Zion society. In fact, the way in which the law of consecration binds everyone together economically seems (to me) to be one of the things that makes it so difficult to live. It is much easier to have feelings of compassion and forgiveness for people when their dumb decisions don’t affect me (and my pocketbook).
My Discussion With Bryce
Over on the templestudy blog discussion (linked to above, here it is again) I started to articulate my concerns but then my comments stopped appearing and Bryce didn’t respond to my emails. Without going through our disagreement blow by blow, I want to call out of couple of points which could serve as the beginning points of a discussion here. I take issue with the idea that we can all simply implement the law of consecration for ourselves by donating generously:
From the Romney quote you just used in the previous comment:
What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations.
I don’t think that’s right. What prevents me is that I am expected to be self-reliant. I am expected to save my money to protect against loss of job or catastrophe. I am expected to save for my retirement. I am expected to save so that I can help out anyone in my family who falls on hard times economically. All of these reasons to save give me very real restrictions on how much of my surplus I can give as a fast offering. I can still be generous, but I can’t responsibly give as much as people gave under the United Order. Not even close. (Jacob J, quoted from this comment)
If we take the counsel seriously to get out of debt and to save for ourselves and our families, there is a genuine question about how much I should be donating while I still have a mortgage. It is a very small percentage of us who have no mortgage. Bryce doesn’t “believe the prophets have counseled me to save millions of dollars in case I lose my job, or even for retirement, so that it not a limitless bucket,” (here) but, of course, the bucket is functionally limitless for most members of the church if they are expected to be debt free and have money saved for all the reasons mentioned above before they can be said to have a surplus.
But, here is the sentiment that is most distressing to me:
A Zion society doesn’t necessarily “take care of one another” per se. This is another myth. A Zion society consecrates individuals’ surplus for the support of the poor or those who have not, so that there is “no poor among them.” Those that have sufficient for their needs don’t give or receive any material resources from anyone else necessarily. If I don’t save in a Zion society because I think the society will take care of me in an emergency, it is nothing less than irresponsibility and idleness (Bryce Haymond, quoted from this comment)
I could hardly disagree more. In my view, a Zion society does take care of one another, by definition. The point of giving back the surplus, I believe, was that the participants were no longer to save individually, but collectively. They were bound together economically such that the only way to prosper would be for the whole community to prosper. The model for a Zion society is the family. We have a hard enough time getting our immediate families to live harmoniously in a mini-Zion. The law of consecration challenged the saints to extend that family system on a grand scale. It is no wonder to me that they failed.
I think we miss a lot of what God was trying to teach us if we convince ourselves that we’re currently living the law of consecration in its fullness. The point of Zion is that we establish something heavenly at a community level. This requires the development of celestial qualities in each individual (to be sure), but putting these qualities together as a community is its own unique challenge. I personally see no way that such an economic system could even be attempted in our modern economic environment. It may be that all the Glen Beck types on my “year supply of money” thread are correct and we are on the brink of societal meltdown after which we can attempt the law of consecration anew in the agrarian society to come. In my mind, it is more likely that we will never fully implement the law of consecration again, as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, before the second coming. But even if we are never going to implement it as it was laid out originally, I think it is a mistake to re-write history so that the law of consecration is watered down to mean paying tithing and a generous fast offering.