Mormon Doctrine on the Dustbin (Part Two)

Posted: February 17, 2019 in Fred Anson, Mormon Doctrine on the Dustbin, Mormon Studies

“If history has shown us one thing, it’s that today’s Mormonism is tomorrow’s dustbin fodder”

by Fred W. Anson
The Church of Jesus Christ claims, “The gospel has been known throughout eternity, and its principles have been preached among men and women from their beginnings on this earth.” (Robert L. Millet, “The Eternal Gospel”, Ensign, July 1996) and “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.” (Ronald E. Poelman, “The Gospel and the Church”, Ensign, November 1984).

But history tells a different tale: The Mormon gospel is temporal and constantly changing. Here’s a partial list of Mormon Doctrine, scripture, and bits and various pieces that have been left on the dustbin of history. This is the second in this ongoing, intermittent series of articles.

7) The United Order
Joseph Smith’s February 1831, Book of Commandments Chapter XLIV revelation established the United Order as “a covenant and a deed which can not be broken” (BoC 44:26). Mormon Historian, Fawn Brodie (the niece of LdS President, David O. McKay) explains the backstory and history:

Joseph Smith set up an economic order in his church which followed with a certain fidelity the life history of the typical communistic society of his time. When he first arrived in Kirtland, he found Rigdon’s tiny “community” in chaos. “The disciples had all things in common,” wrote John Whitmer, “and were going to destruction very fast as to temporal things; for they considered from reading the Scriptures that what belonged to a brother belonged to any of the brethren; therefore, they would take each other’s clothes and other property and use it without leave, which brought on confusion and disappointment. . . .”

Before long Joseph issued a revelation setting up the United Order of Enoch. “Behold,” said the Lord, “thou shalt consecrate all thy properties, that which thou hast unto me, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken, and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church.” Private property became church property, and private profit a community spoil.

Production was kept on an individual basis. Each convert, after “consecrating” his all to the church, was given back certain property “sufficient for himself and family,” over which he acted as a foreman or “steward.” The system was thus more akin to farm tenancy than to the true communal agriculture practiced by the Shakers and New Harmonists. Upon the death or disaffection of the steward, the land reverted to the church, which permanently held the title.

Whatever surplus the steward exacted from the land, or whatever profit the mechanic derived from his shop, was contributed to the church storehouse and treasury, the convert keeping only what was “needful for the support and comfort” of himself and family. The spirit of true Marxian communism — “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” — was implicit in the whole system.”
(Fawn M. Brodie, “No Man Knows My History (Illustrated): The Life of Joseph Smith”, Arkosh Publishing, Kindle Locations 2410-2426)

Brodie also describes the demise of the United Order:

On April 10, 1834 the Kirtland council dissolved the Order. Dividing the community property was a thorny business. Tired of quibbling and recrimination, Joseph finally resorted to a revelation to parcel out the real estate, deeding himself the temple lot, Rigdon the tannery, Cowdery the printing shop, and most of the other leaders the lots on which they were then living. In 1835, when the time came tor print this curious document in the Doctrine and Covenants, he substituted fictitious names to avoid any unpleasantness — Ahashdah for Whitney, Olihah for Cowdery, Pelagoram for Rigdon, Mahemson for Harris, and Gazelam for himself. He even used code names for the industries — Laneshine house for the printing shop and Ozondah for the store. Except for a few leaders who knew better, the Mormons believed these to be the names of people living in the days of Enoch.

From this moment Joseph began to efface the communistic rubric in his young theology. Since most copies of the Book of Commandments had been burned, it was easy for him to revise drastically the revelation on the United Order when it was republished in the enlarged Doctrine and Covenants in 1835. The Lord no longer demanded consecration of a man’s total property, but only a donation of his “surplus” over and above living expenses. In reprinting the first twelve issues of the Evening and Morning Star, Joseph revised most, though not all, of the descriptions of the original Order and commanded his missionaries to destroy the notion abroad that the church had ever been a common-stock concern.

Although Rigdon repeatedly urged a restoration, Joseph made only one effort to revive the Order after 1834. This was a greatly revised consecration program that he launched in Missouri in 1838. It collapsed at the end of the year when the Mormons were driven out of the state altogether. Thereafter the prophet was content to let the United Order be translated to the plane of abstract ideals, where it was destined to remain. Years after his death, experiments with communal living were tried in the desert isolation of the Great Basin, but these also disintegrated because, it was said, the Mormons proved as yet unworthy to live the higher law of God.”
(Fawn M. Brodie, “No Man Knows My History (Illustrated): The Life of Joseph Smith”, Arkosh Publishing, Kindle Locations 3184-3206)

So despite the fact that D&C 104:1 claims that the United Order is supposed to be, “an everlasting order for the benefit of my church, and for the salvation of men until I come” the United Order no longer exists in the LdS Church.

8) The Original Law of Consecration
Those members who might feel that the 10% mandatory tithe of the modern LdS Church is high should consider themselves lucky. In Early Mormonism, you were encouraged to give 100% of your estate to the Church. From Wikipedia:

As practiced by the Latter Day Saints in Smith’s day, the law of consecration was for the support of the poor and to ensure that all members would be “equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs”. Adherents were asked to voluntarily deed, or consecrate, their property to the Church of Christ, and the church then would assign to each member a “stewardship” of property “as much as is sufficient for himself and family”. If consecrated property became more than was sufficient for the assigned steward, the “residue” was “to be consecrated unto the bishop” kept for the benefit of “those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.”

Under Smith, members attempted to implement the law of consecration through the establishment of the United Order, but it was never fully instituted due to conflict and disagreements.
(Wikipedia, “Law of consecration”

An echo of the original Law of Consecration can still be found in the Temple Endowment Ceremony which contains the following rite:

THE LAW OF CONSECRATION
[Peter, James, and John return to the Terrestrial Room.]

PETER: A couple will now come to the altar.

We are instructed to give unto you the law of consecration as contained in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, in connection with the law of the gospel and the law of sacrifice, which you have already received. It is that you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.

All arise.

Each of you bring your right arm to the square.

You and each of you covenant and promise before God, angels, and these witnesses at this altar, that you do accept the law of consecration as contained in this, the book of Doctrine and Covenants [he displays the book], in that you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.

Each of you bow your head and say, “Yes.”

That will do.
(“The Terrestrial World”, LDS Endowment website) 

Each of the 10 companies of Mormon handcart pioneers was accompanied by a wagon train that carried supplies, and sometimes had room for an ill, injured or simply worn-out walker to ride along the trail for a short distance. Painting by William Henry Jackson. – Courtesy NPS.gov, William Henry Jackson Collection, Scotts Bluff National Monument.

9) Gathering to Zion
Just as it’s very name implies, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was originally an apocalyptic cult. As is the case with all such cults, the idea was that the Lord was gathering the faithful together in anticipation of Christ’s return to set up His Kingdom on earth. So if you’ve ever wondered why the Early Mormons moved en masse from New York, to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, to Utah, now you know. If you’ve ever wondered why an estimated 85,000 people immigrated from Europe to America to join the “saints in Zion” during the 19th Century now you know. If you ever wondered how the culture of food hoarding and Mormon triumphalism developed, now you know. As then Apostle (later to become LdS President) Joseph F. Smith explained in 1877:

In this dispensation there is a principle or commandment peculiar to it. What is that? It is the gathering the people into one place. The gathering of the people is as necessary to be observed by believers, as faith, repentance, baptism, or any other ordinance. It is an essential part of the Gospel of this dispensation, as much so, as the necessity of building an ark by Noah, for his deliverance, was a part of the Gospel of his dispensation. Then the world was destroyed by a flood, now it is to be destroyed by war, pestilence, famine, earthquakes, storms, and tempests, the sea rolling beyond its bounds, malarious vapors, vermin, disease, and fire by the lightnings of God’s wrath poured out for destruction upon Babylon.
(Joseph F. Smith, ‘Arrival in Salt Lake City—The First Principles—The Question of Authority—The Ordinances—Education of Our Youth—Plural Marriage, Etc.—“Mormonism” Immortal’, September 3o, 1877, Journal of Discourses 19:192)

Just consider the Apostle’s words above in light of the fact that this was imperative not just a nice idea or some type of nebulous ideal that one could choose or not choose. The Gathering to Zion wasn’t to be taken lightly, it was a requirement of joining the Latter Day Saint faith back then, not an option. You got baptized, you started tithing, and you gathered you and yours to Zion as soon as you could. Period.

So what happened? Why has the Gathering been quietly been swept into the dustbin? Mormon Scholar Kathleen Flake explains that around the turn of the 20th Century there was a subtle but significant shift in Mormonism:

Instead of being admonished to do the works and receive the blessings of Abraham, the Latter-day Saints were encouraged aged to manifest Yankee virtues and Progressive Era values. Exhortations to missionary work overtook the other elements of nineteenth-century millennialism; growth, not gathering to Zion, became the rallying cry. During Joseph F. Smith’s tenure, immigration to Utah was officially ended, and the church began to build centers of membership abroad.
(Kathleen Flake, “The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle”, Kindle Locations 1690-1693, Kindle Edition)

Then in the mid-Twentieth Century, the Gathering to Zion was quietly phased out during the David O. McKay administration. As Greg Prince, the biographer of David O. McKay explains:

David O. McKay brought this church into the 20th century, even though he got started halfway through that century. We were a church that still was insular. We brought people to Salt Lake. He said, “Let’s reverse that. Stay where you are. Grow where you’re planted. Make the church a vital force throughout the world.”
(Greg Prince interviewed in the PBS Documentary “The Mormons”, Part Two. Quote from official show transcript.) 

Thus, today, having someone immigrate to Zion as part of the Gathering to Zion is the exception, not the rule. The Gathering to Zion doctrine is now, it’s explained, a spiritual, not a physical gathering. And the LdS Church is trying to send the original Gathering to Zion doctrine down the Memory Hole by rewriting its own history so that it reads like this:

Why did so many faithful members leave their home countries in those early days of the Church? Many reasons can be named: to escape persecution, to help build the Church in America, to improve their economic circumstances, to be close to a temple, and many more.
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “First Presidency Message: Developing Christlike Attributes”, Ensign, October 2008, p.7)

So down the Orwellian memory hole goes real history! It’s 1984 all over again, “Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.” (George Orville,“1984”, Kindle Locations 1053-1054, Pandora’s Box. Kindle Edition) And thus, modern Mormons are given misinformation to cover up the hard reality that the only constant when it comes to Mormon Doctrine is constant change.  Tomorrow’s LdS Church will be very different from today’s church. Tomorrow’s “eternal gospel” will be very different than the Mormon gospel that’s taught today. And, as it has always been, Mormon Leaders will have to lie in order to give members the illusion that nothing has changed, all is well in Zion, and the gospel is as it has always been.

But this is the problem with dust-binned, man-contrived, bad theology, isn’t it? It still leaves carnage in its wake. It leaves a mess. And by forcing good men to lie to cover up the truth it has left a trail of incriminated dust behind Mormon Leaders since Joseph Smith onward, hasn’t it?

By their fruit, you shall know them indeed.

Bales and bales of shredded paper and cardboard waiting to be converted into paper-mash and then reformed into new paper products. The original will then, of course, be lost to the Memory Hole.

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Comments
  1. Ron Gwaltney says:

    Next to go would include the teaching that perfection is an achievable goal via the abandonment of sin, replaced with the teaching that by “trying”to achieve either you ARE succeeding. Trying = Succeeding.

    Like

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