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The Liberal Mormon: Property as a Means to Spiritual Ends

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 30, 2013

Lesson for October 14, 1928

Property as a Means to Spiritual Ends

“Property has its duties as well as its rights.” – Thomas Drummond.

“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 6:17-19


Basal Readings

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. if therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall ye not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Matthew 6:19-34

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. – 1 Timothy 6:2

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. – 1 Timothy 5:8

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. – Romans 12:17

Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. – Ephesians 4:28

Problems

1. How is individual property right related to work or industry?

2. (a) What social purpose does the right to private property serve?

(b) In order that this purpose may be realized what must be the attitudes of the owner toward his property?

3. (a) Why are some other values more important than property values?

(b) Give illustrations.

(c) Why then should property be regarded always as a means and never as an end in itself?

Supplementary Readings

And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? – Luke 16:9-12

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. – James 5:1-6

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. – Luke 6:24

And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. – Acts 4:31-37

Comment

Private property is on the one hand a reward of industry and on the other hand it is a protection against want or financial dependence. Other social systems have been devised to care for both of these conditions, systems in which all property becomes public, that is, all ownership is vested in the community and each individual contributes toward community welfare in proportion to his ability while each receives in proportion to his needs. This plan is patterned after the ideal family. It was practiced for a brief time in the primitive church as related in Acts 4. In the early history of the L.D.S. Church a similar plan was suggested under the name United Order, but never fully realized by the Church as a whole, and only for a brief time by any branch of the Church. The system of tithing and other free will offerings, and free service to the Church, are present methods of realizing in part the ideal of the United Order.

The principle to which all Church members are expected to conform is, however, that each shall dedicate himself, his time, his energies, and his means to the cause for which the Church stands. Since, however, the Church does not undertake material support of all of its members, the system of private enterprise and private property are continued. it seems self evident, however, that all private property rights are regarded by the Church as subordinate to the great ends for which the Church exists; namely, the salvation of the human race. This salvation may, however, be both temporal and spiritual, one, if not both of which, require the use of property in some form or other. The proposed discontinuance of private property does not mean to destroy property but only to transfer title to the community. Much property is now thus held. The nation, the state, and the various subdivisions of the state own extensively, as do also churches, fraternal orders, and other voluntary community organizations. these properties are used by the communities to which they belong; somewhat as private property is used by its owners. In the latter case, however, this private use is always subordinate to the public welfare. The state maintains by force, if need be, its right to require private property to contribute toward the public need. this is the meaning of taxation. The Church makes similar claim upon its members, but upon a purely voluntary basis. Over and above all of this every owner of property is morally and religiously obligated to use his property, as he should his knowledge and his abilities, in the service of his fellowmen.

Applications

1. In what ways may a young person earning a salary use his property for the good of his fellowmen?

2. Consider the evil consequences of:

(a) The miserly attitude,

(b) The spend-thrift habit.

3. Compare with these the consequences of wise spending and righteous giving.



5 Comments »

  1. Oh my heck!

    “this private use is always subordinate to the public welfare. The state maintains by force, if need be, its right to require private property to contribute toward the public need. this is the meaning of taxation. The Church makes similar claim upon its members, but upon a purely voluntary basis.”

    Chew on that, a little Brother Beck and various widespread political movements in Utah I will not name so as not to violate Keepa’s no-politics format (but I can sure use this on my blog!)

    And this from 1928 at the height of laissez faire prosperity just before it crashed? Prophetic indeed.

    And I have an answer to 3(b) in the first set of questions: Slavery, sweat-shops, taking advantage of migrant workers, Provo landlords, robbing widows and other various schemes of using church connections to commit fraud.

    Why is it that we miss the clear message of the Book of Mormon? It’s not about all the culture war items. We can all diagram the “Pride Cycle” with our eyes closed but fail to recognize that “Pride” means “Wealth” or rather, the constant misuse of wealth much to our condemnation?

    Sorry. Getting a little carried away.

    Comment by Grant — January 30, 2013 @ 7:33 am

  2. I pushed Grant’s button! (Thanks for the heartfelt reaction, Grant.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 30, 2013 @ 7:53 am

  3. Ardis, Based on your reading, do you have a feel for how prevalent, or not, the views expressed in this lesson were? Thanks for this post. It’s important to be reminded of the diversity of our social/economic/etc. heritage.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — January 30, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  4. That’s my chief purpose in posting the series “The Liberal Mormon” (you can find other entries by checking the “Topical Guide” link in the upper left-hand corner of this page and searching for “liberal mormon”). These lessons, and some articles with similar themes, didn’t appear very often, but often enough in the 1920s-1930s that we can be sure they were a legitimate, accepted element in Mormon thought.

    We take it for granted today that most Church political and economic and social rhetoric, at least in the western US, will be conservative-to-radically conservative. And most of us are aware of the attraction the John Birch Society had on many members for a time.

    But we’re much less aware of this strain of more liberal political and economic and social thought in the Church. There are other ways to think about scripture and gospel doctrines — and whether or not anybody adopts them as a personal philosophy, people ought to be able to acknowledge these as sincere, faithful ways of thinking about human problems. {/soapbox}

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 30, 2013 @ 9:34 am

  5. Perhaps I have a different understanding of conservatism and liberalism, but this lecture really seem more anti-libertarian than pro-liberal. I don’t find my conservativism much shocked by any of this.

    Comment by Adam G. — January 31, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

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