The Salon hopelessly tries to attack Mitt Romney based on LDS doctrine. (link)
They fail, hopelessly.
First, the full context of Samuel the Lamanite. See http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/hel/13.21?lang=eng#20
Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you.
Even a casual reading of this passage says why they are cursed: they set their heart on their riches. In the modern LDS church, a poor person can sin in this way as much as a rich person. Paying your 10% and “laboring in the vineyard” religiously is a good way to keep your perspective of things. Mormons, including Mitt Romney, likely spend a great deal of time actually working with their hands and time to help people in need. Just yesterday I visited two people who needed my help, but not in a money way.
The Salon article continues:
In 6 BC, as the story goes, somewhere on the American continent, the inhabitants of this mythic city had grown decadent. There were extreme class divisions. Politicians were corrupt. The government disregarded the sick and poor.
The disregarding of the sick and poor is not what you may first think. The Nephite government never, ever gave even a tiny amount of assistance to the poor. The rich were called to help the poor, and the church might have helped coordinate that. But the government was condemned for giving preference to the rich because of their riches, and ignoring the poor and the sick in their legal needs. The Law of Moses was the law of the Nephite government, and there were specific condemnations for judges who refused to hear the case of the sick, the poor, and the widows.
God had called Samuel to essentially Occupy Zarahemla, to stand up and speak out against corporate greed and wealth accumulation.
This is plain silly. God called Samuel to deliver a message, and that was all. There were no corporations recorded in the Nephite country. They lived the Law of Moses and the Law of Moses doesn’t have any provisions for incorporation. The Occupy Movement is nothing like what Samuel the Lamanite did, not even a little bit. Yes, he spoke against people who put their hearts on their riches, but he didn’t assault their police or poop in their parks.
The mention of “environmental upheavals” seems to bring in the topic of Global Warming into the debate. The Nephites were a superstitious people by our standard. They believed it was God that caused the stars and the storms and the earthquakes and disasters. In fact, it was the lack of superstition by the time of Jesus’ death that condemned many Nephites to die. They had grown so accustomed to seeing the prophecies of God fulfilled word-for-word that they came to believe that there was no power of prophecy at all. This does remind you of this day, but not the LDS church.
It’s an ontological dilemma facing every millionaire Mormon.
Mormon doctrine is entirely clear on this matter. There is no dilemma. We work as hard as we can, make as much money as we want to, without neglecting our family, church, and civic duties. What we earn is ours to do with as we please, beyond the 10% of tithing. We are asked to donate generously to the Fast Offering fund, and we are asked to do good in our communities. In today’s economic climate, doing good is as simple as depositing your money in a bank, or buying stock or investing in startups. This money goes to help people who need it more than you do at the time.
The Church does not support and will never support handouts. We always attach strings to the handouts. Why? Because freeloading is not acceptable in Zion. Everyone must work, even the rich. I am sure, again, that Mitt Romney was out there doing the menial labor that every other member of the church does. I’ve worked with the very rich and the very poor, doing the same things they do in the church. There is no class distinction. We do not treat the rich any differently than we do the poor. We do not allow them the luxury of thinking they are better because they have money and others do not. Their money is for them to bless their lives and the lives of the people around them. We are taught also not to covet, to wish to take things from people to make it our own. That is a gross crime and sin against nature as well.
Mitt Romney and City Creek represent the culmination of a great transformation within Mormonism.
The church has always had the rich and has always been involved in expensive real estate ventures, almost from day one. The Book of Mormon was printed using a rich person’s money who joined the church as a founding member. The Kirtland Temple was an extravagant structure built in frontier land inhabited by Indians and nothing but a few settlers. Again in Missouri, and again in Nauvoo, the church undertook expensive real estate projects to brighten the frontier and build a community worth living in. In Salt Lake, from day one, the plans were made for what could have been the most ambitious building at that time, the Salt Lake Temple that took forty years to complete. In addition, the layout for a bustling city was begun with the church behind the project.
Joseph Smith would definitely approve. It is our job as stewards of the earth to beautify it and to use its natural resources for our benefit. We have rich among us because we are righteous, and because we take care of the poor and because we make sure that everyone who is willing to work can find a decent job. We inspire people to get as much education as they can, to stay out of debt, to live within their means. Being rich is one of many goals every Mormon should have. Although many will not obtain material wealth, we should work and plan and save to become financially secure, aka, rich.
Ironically, while Romney would prefer to discuss wealth inequality in “quiet rooms,” the topic consumed both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s sermons and writings. For a short time in the Book of Mormon, the Nephites abandoned their love of riches and established “Zion” — a classless utopia that “had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, but they were all made free.”
There is no irony here. Romney’s goal is likely the establishment of Zion, just as my goal and Smith and Young’s goals were.
The Mormon concept of Zion is entirely foreign to those outside the church. It is literally beyond their imagination. Smith taught that Zion could only be built by a people who attended to their church duties, observed the Sabbath, and worked hard, along with keeping all the sacred commandments. If a people do this, then they can join together in an economic unity called the United Order. We do not practice the United Order (because we could not keep it if we tried — we are not yet pure in heart enough), but we know exactly how it would work. I don’t know any Mormon that doesn’t wish they could join in such an order.
This is how the United Order worked.
First, those who wanted to join had to make sacred covenants with God to keep the order. They gave all of their property to the bishop, and likely working with the bishop, received property they would own outright.
Members of the order owned what they had. There is no leasing. (One of the early bishops ignored Smith’s express orders on this topic.) If you want to leave the order, you keep what you owned. No harm, no foul.
Within the order, things behave almost exactly like they do in a free market system. You work, you make money, you buy what you need, and you generally try to do well for yourself. The difference is your surplus. You take all of the surplus that you make and give it to the bishop, who then distributes it out to whomever needs it.
One of the problems with capitalism is people stop working when they have enough. Under the United Order, you try to be as productive as possible so you can benefit the people around you as much as possible. You can never make enough under the United Order, because you don’t rely on your surplus to establish your future.
We are promised that if we live worthy enough to begin the United Order again, that when we do start it, we’ll be so productive and wealthy that the outside world looking in will envy us. I can see this happening. It happened on more than one occasion in the Book of Mormon, where the righteous people probably lived the United Order on more than one occasion. Mormons who look to the millenium do not imagine slogging out life in the mud, barely able to put a square meal together. No, our buildings will all be encrusted with gigantic gems of the most precious nature, and the surface of the earth will be ornamented with the most extravagant gardens. How can we have these things unless we are so brilliantly productive that the idea of putting a gem on the side of a building seems like a good one, or devoting immense time and energy on building and maintaining a garden is seen as a proper use of resources? Any such people will have completely eliminated all forms of poverty, including sickness and ignorance.
Note that the church becomes the center for economic activity. Outside of the free market, the church is the nexus where all charity is done. If you need something, go see the bishop. If you have surplus, go give it to the bishop. It is apparent that the church would build universities and science foundations and hospitals and markets all for the purpose of benefiting everyone with these resources. The church will be the foundation for almost every other facet of our lives.
Young’s plan for building up the saints into the United Order is not the United Order. The experiments they did in places like Orderville do not describe the same kind of environment that the scriptures and Smith prophesied of, and the people at the time knew it. Young’s plan to feed the hungry and tend to the sick and educate the ignorant is the same plan and mission we have today. Why do you think the church spends considerable time helping its youth prepare for college, and why do we build colleges across the country? Why does it administer the perpetual education fund? Smith and Young’s vision has not changed today. We would feel just as comfortable as listening to them lecture on helping the needy as we do today.
The LDS church is deadset against government charity. When the ideas were first formed, the LDS presidents decried them as tools of the devil and the path to slavery. Although the church today has incorporated government welfare into its resources, it is well understood that if you are on welfare, you are doing something wrong. If it were possible, we would handle all the cases ourselves. As it is, the saints are no longer able to afford it, because of the burden of taxes and regulation, along with the enticement of free money for people who do not work.
The Book of Mormon speaks about this. Were we to live under wicked King Noah, who taxed his people mercilessly to fund his extravagant building plan and alcoholic addiction and standing army, we would have far more freedom than we do today under our current government! The people of Israel rebelled against their king who demanded 10% of their time. Our situation is more comparable to the people of Alma who were enslaved by the Lamanites and held captive and had half their property taken away. Were we free from this oppression, we would have more than enough to see to it that no one in our communities would have to ever talk to the government for charitable aid.
But how would the poor fare under the first Mormon president? By all accounts, not well. Romney has eagerly endorsed Paul Ryan’s budget plan to slash $3.3 trillion from programs that benefit low-income Americans. Furthermore, Romney refuses to consider increased taxes on millionaires or a modest increase on the taxable rates of capital gains. He encourages the wealthy to hoard their riches while the poor continue to struggle. It’s a familiar story he should know. Samuel the Lamanite continues to cry out to Romney in sacred protest, “The day shall come when they shall hide up their treasures, because they have set their hearts upon riches; cursed be they and also their treasures.”
This is communist pablum, pure and simple. Taxes hurt the poor, not the rich. The rich will be fine after taxes. The poor see prices go up, services go down, and are not educated well enough to avoid tax increases. Romney does not hoard his wealth, and does not ask anyone to hoard their wealth. Romney’s money is at work right now, helping the poor. We know, for a fact, that government money spent on charity does more to hurt the poor than never collecting the money in the first place would.
If Romney had his heart set on his treasure, he wouldn’t run for president. He wouldn’t donate 10% of his income to the church. He wouldn’t be hiring people to work on his houses. He’d be making plans to make a billion or more, and finding ways to cheat other people out of their wealth. That’s not what he is about, and the Salon knows it.
I hope this isn’t the last attack born of ignorance of Mormon doctrine. I’m glad I have the chance to explain what we really believe and practice. If you line up the Salon’s idea of the ideal society vs. the Mormon one, and gave people the chance to seriously contemplate it, they would choose the Mormon one every time. Yes, it looks remarkably similar to the American dream. Well, the Mormon dream came first, or rather was a product of the same elements that lead to the American dream. What do the Salon writers imagine to be our dream? A communist utopia where you have to line up to get your government money and beg the government for lenience? Sorry, I’d rather live in Zion than that society.