Jacob, Isaiah, and Social Justice in the Book of Mormon

I’ve taken greater interest in the concept of “social justice” ever since Glenn Beck warned us all to leave the Church over it.1 “Social justice” as a theological concept initiated mainly by Catholics, it receives close attention in what is referred to as “Liberation theology” (especially in Latin America), and it has more recently been embraced by John Rawls and other secular political philosophers. The phrase itself is seldom used by Mormons and a full treatment of social justice in Mormon thought has yet to be completed, although restoration scripture is bursting with opportunities for social justice exegesis.2

Joseph A. Grassi’s book, Informing the Future: Social Justice in the New Testament presents an overview of social justice themes throughout the Bible.3 He deftly demonstrates ways that social justice ideals embedded in the Old Testament are carried through the New Testament and the ministry of Jesus. Many of these same themes permeate the Book of Mormon, too.

The Book of Mormon approaches the idea of “righteousness” from a communal and even economic perspective, which resonates deeply with the Hebrew scriptures (especially Isaiah). This is especially evident in Jacob’s sermon condemning pride and inequality. Jacob promotes an ethic of wealth which calls for social justice. He functions similarly to other Hebrew prophets who, according to Grassi, “mainly function as mouthpieces of the living voice of God calling for a radical return” to the Torah’s call for equality. Moreover, a prophet’s “personal characteristics and situation” will flavor a prophet’s message, as can be seen in Jacob’s indictment.4

“[M]any of you have begun to search for…all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully. And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.

And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you

O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls! Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it? Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever” (Jacob 2:12-21).

The Lehite colonies in the New World have essentially performed a new Exodus and see themselves in that light (See 1 Nephi 4). Note that Jacob refers to their land as a “land of promise.” Similar to God’s promises in the book of Exodus, the LORD promised Lehi a “promised land” in which they would prosper only if they “keep my commandments” (1 Nephi 4:14; 17:13-14). The plates of brass (1 Nephi 5:15) presumably contained the Exodus account, thus they were familiar with the mighty acts of God and the covenants that went along with them. Early prophets in the Book of Mormon repeatedly refer to God’s leading of Israel from captivity in order to emphasize their own dependence on God and their own obligation to keep the Law. Thus the Sinai covenant of Deut. 5:6 is born again in the Lehites own experiences.5 Jacob’s prophetic condemnations clearly resonate with Deuteronomy’s invocation of the Exodus and God’s covenants with Israel (see Deut. 9:6-7).

In this overall context, Jacob’s call resonates deeply with Grassi’s depiction of Isaiah’s presentation of God’s lawsuit against Israel. While there are some interesting differences (Isaiah’s lawsuit is much more compact and not in the same exact order as Jacob’s), here I call attention to five elements from Isaiah which are also present in Jacob. I don’t provide an exhaustive comparison of verses, I only highlight a few touchstones:

1) Judgment time is near. As Jacob says, “if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.” Isaiah promises destruction to the transgressors, those who oppress and do not succor the fatherless, widow, etc. (Isaiah 1-5).

2) A description of evil works. Jacob: “you have obtained more abundantly…and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren.” He calls direct attention to the “commands” of God which are being neglected by not being “familiar and free with your substance.” In Isaiah, “they do not defend the orphan and the widow’s cause does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).

3) Invitation to change.“Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” In Isaiah: “Wash you, make you clean…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:16-18).

4) Justice as a sign of repentance and 

5) Hope for the future are combined by Jacob: “ye shall obtain riches if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” Isaiah: “relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow…” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Jacob’s message also aligns well with Jeremiah’s (see for instance Jer. 7:4—7), roughly a contemporary with Jacob’s father Lehi.6

Finally, one further element of Jacob’s sermon deserves attention from a social justice lens. Jacob employs God’s creation of the world as the basis for equality. He notes that God “created all flesh,” and that any one person “is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.” This reminder of common origin is thoroughly Hebrew, rhetorically reminding listeners of the creation which God pronounced “good,” at which time equality was the basis of human existence.7

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Footnotes:

1. Tobin Grant, “Glenn Beck: ‘Leave Your Church’,Christianity Today, 12 March 2010.

2. Preliminary work has been done by Dennis Potter, Loyd Ericson, Russell Arben Fox, Christopher Heinrichson, and a few others. Grant Hardy somehow snuck an article about it into Meridian.

3. Joseph A. Grassi, Informing the Future: Social Justice in the New Testament, (New York: Paulist Press, 2003).

4. Grassi, 33.

5. See Alma 25:15; cf. 1 Nephi 5:15; 17:40; 19:10; 2 Nephi 3:4; 20:24-26; 25:20; Mosiah 7:19; Alma 36:28, etc.

6. These five points are from Grassi, 37.

7. For more on Creation as a central theme of God’s expectations for human relationships see N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011), 148-154.

Comments

  1. That’s a good point about the creation as an equalizer. It reminds me of when Moroni makes the ironic point that the latter-day wicked will prefer dead wealth (“ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life…”) over actual living people (“…yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?). So much of our life and wealth is tied up with inert things as opposed to living entities.

    What’s also amazing is how many BoM passages you could’ve turned to for this post. We’ve barely scratched the surface.

  2. renverseur says:

    Are you familiar with Working Toward Zion: Principles of the United Order for the Modern World? See http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=10&num=2&id=292.

  3. I love you.

  4. DLewis, yes the BoM is absolutely ripe for social justice exegesis, ripe.

  5. ren: haven’t seen it, no.

  6. Bhodges, I will mail you a copy of Working Toward Zion tomorrow. Text me your address.

  7. Chris H.

    Do you feel Working Toward Zion is a little outdated. As much as I enjoyed it and was important in giving the big picture and some potential ways out, it seems that microcredit has not worked out as much as many of us hoped. In some areas it seems the rich idlers again have found ways to make money of the laborer using microcredit not for good but profit.

  8. J.

    I think that it lays out the principles well. I also like how it addresses both Karl Marx and Adam Smith. So, while it may be a bit outdated, there is nothing LDS out there that is newer.

    In my 2010 SMPT presentation, I said that I think that Woodworths work is largely business ethics from a Zion perspective. It is mostly meant for MBA’s. My brother-in-law read it while getting his MBA at BYU and he is now a social entrepreneur .

    (Warner gives a shout out to my father-in-law in it. I am biased)

  9. I don’t believe Beck or those who get overly zealous in condemning the concept of social justice ever argued we are not under condemnation for how we deal with (or ignore) the poor. My impression is that he was referring to people who use religious obligation to help the needy as a means for giving more power to the state, rather than doing it on our own. Must it always come down to this? Building up a straw man that assumes one side doesn’t want to help the poor or does not believe we are individually obligated to give of our substance? You might as well just tell us “Because I have been given much I too must give” cries out for social justice. I don’t think anyone who actually has an understanding of Christ, the BoM, Zion, etc. could be opposed to the concept of helping the poor. (and clearly we don’t do enough)

    But doesn’t the difference always come down to individuals choosing to do so. This post can stand on it’s own merits without trying to tie in social justice, which isn’t ever defined…. (what is the means to social justice, dependency inducing programs or individual changes in heart to help one another?)

  10. wilhelm,:
    My impression is that [Beck] was referring to people who use religious obligation to help the needy as a means for giving more power to the state, rather than doing it on our own.

    It seems to me that the most easy and common way to get around the discussion of how to help the poor presently is to invoke the specter of government control. Beck was painting with his typically broad, conspiracy-saturated brush. But since religious organizations themselves often take advantage of benefits bestowed by “the state” (tax breaks, funding assistance, etc.) I think it’s just as easy to frame it not as “giving more power to the state” but as recognizing the very real and legitimate power of the state (of the people, by the people, and for the people), and tapping into it with the power of the churches in order to reach a common and important goal: that of providing a more equal and a more merciful way of living especially for the poor.

    Most interesting to me in your response is that you immediately focus on the question of government. Aside from my teasing poke at Glenn Beck in the opening line, this post is strictly about a Book of Mormon prophet who is speaking in a very Hebrew way about inequality, justice, God’s desires, human error and inequality, etc., etc. I’m trying to unpack the picture the Book of Mormon presents us with whereas your response seems tied to present political fights about the power of government. It would be more useful to me if you responded to the actual selections from the Book of Mormon by offering your own exegesis.

  11. Must it always come down to saying: “Must it always come down to this?”

    Really, did you actually complain about a post about social justice including the concept of social justice.

    As to the question of doing it by yourself (yes, also a form of masturbation): social justice approaches are not about helping the poor, but are about addressing gross social inequality and poverty, both of which are deep systematic problem that cannot be addressed by acts of kindness. Such acts are dandy, but they mostly just make you feel better.

  12. Charitable giving maintains the authority structure whereas social justice actually tries to deal with the institutional and societal structures that led to poverty and other ills in the first place. Im not knocking giving which is important but if you ignore the larger structures and don’t seek justice societally you will likely do nothing to change the paradigm and are merely hacking at the branches and not the root of the problem.

  13. as a fan of social justice AND Mormonism i can understand that many people hear the term and become defensive about their own ideas about liberty, agency, pure motivation for service etc. i think there are legitimate arguments brought up by libertarians and anarchists. Dorothy Day of the catholic workers is an inspiration to me and she advocated a radical equality that was independent of state control.

    that being said i like the idea of a citizenship choosing (with our god given agency) to elect officials who prioritize health care, education, care for the poor, prison reform (more education), and fair wages above promoting a system of increasing inequality. i am also aware that taking the imperative from individuals in communities and giving it to the state can be problematic for many – and my attitudes toward this are still forming (i’ve worked for the state and for private companies in caring for vulnerable populations). i have not seen a perfect model yet.

    from what i understand Britain didn’t feel that health care was a national priority until they were devastated by the Germans during WWII. often it takes a humbling experience to wake a people up to their better selves. 911 had that kind of potential and instead we turned to hate, war and political opportunism.

    my prediction is that global social justice practiced by the church will continue to grow as the demographics continue to shift outside of Utah and the western US.

  14. Don’t forget Approaching Zion, volume 9 in the collected works of Hugh Nibley. While I had started leaning more towards social justice, this book put me firmly in the camp.

    Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Approaching-Zion-Collected-Works-Nibley/dp/0875792529

  15. I appreciate this Blair. I think all of the standard works over and over proclaim a gospel of social justice. I’m always surprised that somehow people spend a lot of time ignoring this and justify the gospel that people like Beck preach that ignores this in striking and harmful ways.

  16. I see no mention of the Government taking care of the poor. I guess a case can be made for it in King Benjamins speech but he also said he wanted to keep taxes low. Glenn Beck has never said that we should not take care of the poor. He does not support the government doing it. There are many reasons for this but I think Dennis Prager explained it best in this Column he wrote. http://www.wnd.com/2006/03/35352/
    I think Prager is spot on when he says:

    ” Under socialism, one is not only liberated from having to take care of oneself; one is also liberated from having to take care of others. The state will take care of me and everybody else.”

    The United Order is meant for a Rightous people. If you think our country is righteous enough for the United Order you have another thing coming. The Provident living website that the church has does not mention Government taking care of people it emphasizes Becoming self reliant.

  17. Sigh.

  18. Self reliance. Hmmm. Where’s that in the scriptures? Sounds vaguely anti Christian to me.

  19. Okay, the standard Mormon view seems to be that social justice is something awful. But for me, social justice means equality as well as liberty.

    One could call the right to own slaves “liberty”, because you don’t have regulation against slavery. But that doesn’t fit in with “equality”.

    King Benjamin’s speech was given to his people, not just to the righteous one. As so many people seem to be unrighteous, we need the government to “level the playing field” so that even if I’m born poor, I can work my way up the social status, if that’s what I want.

    Socialism isn’t that bad at all. In the latest British popular opinions poll, 70% of people were happy with the NHS, which offers “socialised” medicine.

    The most important message in the BofM is that we’re not to judge others’ levels of righteousness or “deserving” of support. There’s no way to make sure someone doesn’t abuse that, but then also the abusers are such a small percentage that it really matters very little. Teaching is more important than Judging.

  20. Hi, Brian Skinner. WND is a ridiculous (that is, worthy of ridicule) website written by true nutters (that is, people obsessed with the fake Obama birther conspiracy and global climate change deniers). It’s like the Onion, only it isn’t trying to joke. Dennis Prager clearly has no idea what “socialism” even is. If you’re not going to engage in the actual post, which is about BoM exegesis, at least refrain from referring to specious sources like WND and the National Enquirer.

  21. Blair — please define what you believe social justice to mean, and how the BOM passages you presented support that view.

  22. http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperDetails/letter-to-edward-partridge-2-may-1833

    This is an interesting primary document in Church History for evaluating the views of Joseph Smith on social Justice, touching on revelations concerning Concecration. Were the Saints not ready yet, or was the conception not radical enough? It would be difficult for me to concecrate property to help the poor, the way many of the early members of Zion in Missouri did, I applaud their efforts.

  23. Carey, basically, I take “social justice” to be a framework within which one seeks to identify “right relationships” and also advocate for such relations, including special attention paid to the marginalized. In religious terms, it sees the inherent worth of all of God’s children, and as God’s family we seek the best possible circumstances for all (which has implications for religious teachings and institutions). In secular terms, each human has inherent dignity, and as humanity is not a bunch of isolated individuals, each her own island, our societies impact the extent to which that dignity can be realized (which has implications for secular teachings and political institutions).

    As far as the biblical concept is concerned (which is the primary focus of this particular blog post and can be considered apart from anything Glenn Beck ever said or thought), it is drawn from the founding narratives of Israel as a people and the various commands recorded in their scripture in regards to who they are and how society ought to be ordered (and this carries through to Jesus and the New Testament). I believe we see interesting connections between that picture with what we find in the Book of Mormon, patterns which weren’t evident to me until my attention was focused on the idea of social justice.

    I couldn’t hope to do complete justice to the definition of “social justice” in the current amount of free time I have, though, and I certainly haven’t done a comprehensive analysis of the BoM on that score. This blog post is just a selection from a paper I was working on regarding that very thing but time is short and who knows when I’ll return to it. For those interested I provided several sources you can refer to for more info, including Grant Hardy’s article and Joseph Grassi’s book. I also suggested some names of other LDS who’ve already been exploring the issue for those with the inclination to google. Also, you might check out, for instance, Chris H.’s post here:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2010/04/rawlsian-social-justice-themes-in-mormon-thought/

  24. BHodges,

    Love it and totally agree. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy I highly recommend Jared Hickman’s “Book of Mormon: An Amero-Indian Apocolypse” (under review at a major non-mormon journal last I heard) and presented at Sunstone back in 2005. It can be interepreted as a liberation theology reading of the entire grand arc of the Book of Mormon wherein the book itself is written to subvert the “racial” divisions and narratives introduced by Nephi and which have caused us so many problems.

  25. Thanks for the positive vibes, rah. Thanks for the recommendation.

  26. so why does God give us social justice advice in the first place?

    Was it to benefit the poor more, to keep them from starving, so they can give “praise” to God or was it to benefit the wealthy more to keep them from pride? I am leaning towards the latter.

    Or to put it a different way; If a famine arrived in our land would God want those who have food give it away to any in need so that all might live longer or so that those who have food would avoid a prideful state while possibly dying sooner.

    Some might say it is one in the same however it leads to a more personal question that one must apply dependant on the answer.

    Should I seek to gain more from those who have so that I might not “starve” at some point in the future and thus be able to give “praise” or should I give more to those who have not that I might avoid pride? Or possibly a third answer, am I to act more like a revolving door that simply gives what comes my way after my most basic needs are met at that moment?

    and directed to Velska:
    Nothing I have read from the scriptures has ever forcibly taken from those who have to give to those who dont like so many of the failed and successful social justice programs have in the world.

  27. BenH, it takes a pretty prideful imagination to suppose that helping the less fortunate is all about personal glorification. As one friend of mine recently said on Twitter, “Social justice is not about making you charitable. It is not about you at all.”

  28. This may be a touchy issue, but I personally think it comes down to this:

    God says, “don’t commit adultery”. Thus, do we require legislation that would stone those who do, as he commanded in Leviticus/Deuteronomy?

    Of course, D&C did not restate that, and neither did Jesus, who did, however say the following (in both D&C and NT):

    “Take care of the very poor & poor (both, in Greek NT)”. Thus, do we also require legislation that would require the rich to donate to the poor, unless they do it voluntarily (which is what I guess allowing a tax deduction for charitable giving is about)?

    If our answer is “no” to one, and “yes” to the other, what is our attitude, viz-a-viz integrity? I find it tough to think that the luck of my birth in a relatively affluent country gives me license to think I’ve “earned” it. The “undeserving poor” argument only entered the stage, when the rich were being taxed for welfare. Until then, the giving was negligible at best.

    It’s about how much more we think we need.

  29. What’s also interesting to notice, Velska, is how quickly some people shift the conversation away from exegesis of the actual BoM text toward the question of scary government control.

  30. BHodges, thanks for the reply. I didnt mean to come off as someone who is simply involved with this discussion so I can gain. Though I do hope to learn from these posts and articles. I can see how my last post seemed a bit selfcentered. Sorry. I was simply inquiring into the purpose of God’s direction and guidance for us. I am not the best at conveying my thoughts in a manner that may be seen as altruistic due to the fact that I feel it more beneficial to apply all teachings into a “what does God want me to do with this/ how does God want me to change” type of scenario and not a “how can I get others to change” type. Not that I am saying anyone here has done the latter. Except for possibly your friend on twitter but i dont consider him actually here since you were just quoting him. Just kidding hodges :)

    Velska: I am not sure what your exact question is. I think you are asking if its ok to pass some sort of binding law against adultary then shouldnt it be ok to pass a law against inequality. Sorry if I totally botched that. Could you rephrase it?

  31. “Except for possibly your friend on twitter but i dont consider him actually here since you were just quoting him.”

    Oh, I am here. ;)

  32. haha love it!

  33. BHodges, they’re simply jumping to point of disagreement. Like it or not, “social justice” is a loaded political term which incites the conservatives (like “family values” incites the liberals).

    I really liked your post, and clearly Zion can’t exist without social justice. However, Jacob was preaching against pride and selfishness, not poverty (from a prophet’s perspective, poverty might not even be viewed as a bad thing). Pride and selfishness don’t necessarily lead to poverty of others — the worldwide economy has become extremely proud and selfish, but never have so many been lifted out of poverty as over the last 40 years. And it hasn’t been due to charity — selfless global charities have met immediate needs but not made few sustainable changes.

    Pride and selfishness clearly does lead to inequality, but again, Jacob wasn’t speaking against that either. His object was to change the hearts of the people. Equity and equality should naturally follow, but they weren’t the objective. The objective was a humble and generous people.

    So, when you use the text to argue for “social justice”, an already politically loaded term, you can’t be surprised that people think you’re making a political argument rather than just interpreting a text.

  34. Well, this post’s comments, such as those by Chris H, have inspired me to pick up a copy of “Working Towards Zion”. Sounds fascinating.

  35. BenH: I feel it more beneficial to apply all teachings into a “what does God want me to do with this/ how does God want me to change” type of scenario and not a “how can I get others to change” type.

    On this principle we could reasonably cancel our entire LDS missionary program, and most of the operations of Sunday School and other church meetings, so it isn’t a principle I’d adopt so strongly. There is great good in recognizing the role of personal responsibility in our lives, but to the extent that such a recognition overlooks or even denies the incredibly communal nature of human life I think we’d do best not to over-emphasize it.

    Martin: Like it or not, “social justice” is a loaded political term which incites the conservatives (like “family values” incites the liberals).

    No doubt, but I’m not catering this blog post to a limited subset of contemporary American conservatives who pay too much attention to people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, where they learn all the scare words they need in order to dismiss ideas before fully examining them (and I think we all do that to an extent, for what it’s worth). If anything, the opening line about Beck was actually radically off-topic of every other word in the post. It might have proven better to not open with that, but I decided to because I anticipated the inevitable blow-back that comes when such words like “social justice” are used. There is a much wider community out there, however, for whom the term “social justice” doesn’t carry this automatic (and I believe ill-informed) baggage.

    Frankly, looking at Jacob’s words which I quoted above, I am startled at your claim that the excerpt is only dealing with “pride and selfishness.” The post places Jacob’s rhetorical structuring within the tradition of a biblical prophet whom Jacob was ostensibly influenced by, for one thing, which you’ve entirely overlooked (ie, you’ve entirely overlooked the main argument of this blog post). I am baffled as to how you can claim that Jacob is not concerned about the poor according to the passage above. His statements literally make no sense aside from concern for the poor. Like I said in the comments, the extent to which a government system should be involved in the alleviation of suffering and poverty is a discussion well-worth having, but not one this post even approaches. That you’ve gone a step further and eliminated the fact that a concern for the poor is central to Jacob’s prophetic call (like Isaiah’s) is utterly baffling to me. I can’t understand it. And it is very discouraging.

    (By the way, if I’m ever going to wrest the scriptures, I pray to the Lord that I wrest them to the benefit of those who need it the very most, those whose cause was called “pure religion and undefiled” in the New Testament.)

  36. P.S.:

    “from a prophet’s perspective, poverty might not even be viewed as a bad thing”

    Spoken like a true Karl Marx!

  37. #33

    “from a prophet’s perspective, poverty might not even be viewed as a bad thing”

    Huh? Have you ever read the scriptures?

    Here’s a little primer for you http://www.lds.org/scriptures/search?lang=eng&query=poor&x=0&y=0

  38. Martin, that is one interpretation of Jacob 2, though one I would reject. The concern for inequality and poverty is not secondary as you contend. It may be secondary for you, but the seem to be at the forfront of Jacob’s argument (I am writing a paper on this for Claremont in April).

    Inequality and poverty, are actually not the primary concern of social justice theorist, or at least not that of Rawls. The primary concern is human dignity and inclusive citizenship. Inequality and poverty not only undermine both, but there are also signs of a lack of respect for human dignity. The also make equal citizenship nearly impossible.

    Social justice is politically loaded. I am not sure why those who point that out think they are so clever. It is a political conception by the very fact that it is about just social institutions.

    I think BHodges mistake was in mentioning Beck. While social justice is a well accepted topic of academic inquiry…Beck is nothing but rubbish and mentioning him just brings out the swine who cannot tell the difference.

  39. yeah I’m completely baffled that someone can say that prophets injunction to feed the hungry and clothe the naked isn’t concerned about the poor.

    One of the major themes of the book of mormon is caring for the poor and inequality, I’m continually amazed at how people just completely skip over these scriptures or reinterpret them to mean that we don’t need to care for the poor or that its okay to search after riches for our own sake (which the book of mormon specifically prohibits). it drives me crazy, and we will never be able to re establish zion until we come to understand this major teaching in the book of mormon

  40. JTB, that’s not what I said at all.

    BHodges, I’m completely for social justice, and I completely agree that you have support from the scriptures. My point is much finer. If poverty and inequality were in and of themselves the problem, God could fix that in an instant. The heart is the problem, and God’s object is to fix that. Fixing the latter requires Him to tolerate the former.

    With the political baggage associated with “social justice”, why wouldn’t a conservative fear you’re advocating skipping the heart changing phase and forcing redistribution of wealth? That is the point of disagreement, isn’t it? What Mormon is going to argue against Zion?

    I wasn’t trying to be clever or accuse anybody of wresting the scriptures.

    Chris, I appreciated your comment about human dignity and inclusive citizenship.

  41. Taxation equals stealing, right? ;) Just like the meagre existing efforts to regulate pollution or grabbing new pristine landscapes for upscale development is pretty much the same as taking your God & guns away. Somehow, the Amendments since the 2nd count for much less…

    But seriously, if I try to read the standard works in approximate chronological order it seems like all newer scripture is more or less an exegesis of the older.

    One indication of something being important is that it is repeatedly stated (like social justice in Isaiah, Jacob, NT and D&C, to name a couple of examples). That is one reason making it important to read scripture widely, in context, making for a less selective exegesis.

    Naturally, not everyone has the same resources to do that, e.g. because we often are too busy to do it. But we all tend to be selective.

    At the same time, I try to take the time to consider different interpretations critically, because I never know where they come from (well, there are some predictable ones). Nothing enriches my own understanding like trying to see things from others’ perspectives.

    So much stuff, so little time. I try to avoid reflexive responding, although sometimes it gets the better of me…

  42. BHodges, Chris, let me take one more swing at this while I have another moment…

    The reason I maintain that pride and selfishness are the primary concern, and not poverty (I’m neglecting your distinction Chris because I’m unequipped to handle it), isn’t because Jacob wasn’t concerned about the poor (or social justice), because he clearly was. But if the primary objective is misunderstood, one can justify means to achieve them that aren’t acceptable. For example, abortion is bad, God wants us to stop abortions, therefore we should should shoot abortion doctors. Obviously, we all know that would be wrong (at least, I’d hope). But it’s not just that the ends don’t justify the means, it’s that eliminating abortion isn’t the primary objective. The objective is a people who value each other, children, sexual and familial fidelity, personal responsibility, etc. And such a people could still abort pregnancies under rare circumstances, because abortion, in and of itself, isn’t the fundamental problem — death happens. If people don’t understand this and end up disagreeing about the best way to reduce abortions, a lot of wickedness can result.

    Likewise, if the elimination of poverty becomes the prime objective, all sorts of means could be justified, from the ineffectual to the immoral. This is especially true when we’re a fundamentally unrighteous people, which we clearly are. I believe there are a lot of systems that can lead to social justice, or at least improved social justice.

    I re-read your post, because I know how annoying it is to have someone make stupid comments about something they don’t appear to have read, but I honestly can’t see how anything you wrote contradicts my reading. Yes, clearly Jacob wants us to work towards equality and the elimination of poverty, and the parallels with Isaiah are wonderful. But to say social justice is Jacob’s primary goal contradicts my understanding of God. God doesn’t force (social) justice because can’t do it, but because He has a higher objective.

    My moment’s over. If somebody else concludes I’m saying prophets don’t care about the poor or that I’m justifying withholding my means, I’m gonna scream.

  43. social justice doesn’t have a hook for me one way or the other. I don’t listen to Glen Beck unless someone links me to him and even on that very rare happening…I don’t manage to finish listening. I am conservative.

    Both ends of the political spectrum care for the poor…they just have different modes of preparing an environment which will best allow the poor to succeed, and to care for those who cannot care for themselves. There is definitely something to the concept that forced charity doesn’t tend to have individualized application. It also limits the giving and receiving feelings. However a more individualize approach can miss huge portions of society who aren’t cute and loud. Sadly they really just tend to get less assistance. I think it’s important to have both sides pulling…not fighting…but reminding each other of the weaknesses and strengths of both approaches.

  44. what Jacob is saying is really quite simple.

    2:17- share your riches with your brethren so that they can be rich like you
    18- Seek the kingdom of god before riches
    19- afterward you can seek for riches solely for the purpose of giving said riches to the poor and needy

    Basically give your riches to the poor to create equality (vs 17)
    and seek riches solely for the purpose of giving them to the poor (vs 19).

    It’s really not so complicated.

  45. “A category of government activity which, today, not only requires the closest scrutiny, but which also poses a grave danger to our continued freedom, is the activity NOT within the proper sphere of government. No one has the authority to grant such powers, as welfare programs, schemes for re-distributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning. There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal? If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me…In reply to the argument that a little bit of socialism is good so long as it doesn’t go too far, it is tempting to say that, in like fashion, just a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer is all right, too! History proves that the growth of the welfare state is difficult to check before it comes to its full flower of dictatorship. But let us hope that this time around, the trend can be reversed. If not then we will see the inevitability of complete socialism, probably within our lifetime.”
    ― Ezra Taft Benson

  46. My joy is complete. I may need a blogging vacation after that one.

  47. “History proves that the growth of the welfare state is difficult to check before it comes to its full flower of dictatorship.”

    Actually, history does not show this, but whatever. President Benson gave a lot of years to fringe political thinking. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t a prophet when not being a nutter.

  48. Brian, you quoted Ezra Taft Benson. Great. Is that supposed to settle all discussion? I disagree with Benson’s “simple test,” (I don’t believe there is such a simple test, nor do I think the one he proposes is rationally applicable in any sense). I disagree with his simplistic assertions regarding what “History” shows (it seems to me history doesn’t show what he’s claiming at all, nor do past problems translate precisely onto present circumstances). And I don’t find his remarks about a “welfare state” persuasive (I’m not even sure what he’s referring to with that statement, especially since it was probably made more than 50 years ago or so). I feel no compulsion to try to map my politics onto Ezra Benson’s politics.

    But more important than these points, your quote has precisely nothing to do with the contents of my post. Try to stay on topic in the future. (insert passive-aggressive smiley emoticon here)

  49. The problem with “social justice” is the term has been co-opted by proponents of expanding governmental power. Its a “Leftist” phrase. Which means that people whose politics are more conservative, as in the vast majority of Mormons, have a problem with using that term. That is where Beck comes in. He is equating the term with socialism and expanding government’s power shrinking individual civil liberty in the name of providing for everyone. Agree with him or not, that is where he is going with it.

    That said, the term CAN be applied well for conservatives when explained. For example this article does the job perfectly. No one would argue that the scriptures don’t teach us to provide for one another. They would argue that it isn’t government’s place to force us to do so through law, but rather to be true charity has to come willingly from a person without being coerced. If you apply what you’ve said to those conservatives, like Beck, they would agree with you as well. Its all about learning to speak one anothers language, as opposed to attacking one another over misunderstandings.

  50. If we re-package it as private justice then conservatives will like it. Well, that would not be social justice.

  51. Cool, so all I need to do is think about social justice in the way that Glenn Beck and conservatives do and I’m good to go?! Awesome.

  52. Excellent post, Blair.

    It’s interesting that nobody has tried to discredit it in any way by addressing what it actually says.

  53. Say what you will about government or compulsion, agency, social justice or social engineering, It is clear to me that Jacob is repulsed by classism, by the idea that those that who have means got them because they are “superior” to the have-nots. I hear this meme at church. I hear it from every conservative political candidate. I hear it all over lessons on welfare in Elders quorum at my ward. This is a bigtime meme in the conservative camp, and is the big problem in Jacob’s eyes. Yes, he’s condemning the danger of feeling we worked hard for what we have and have “earned’ it, and therefore do not have to share it. He is pointing out the dangers of defining the poor as “idle” by default and withholding because of it.
    He is condemning the entire social system for not fixing inequality. He notes that pride is THE ultimate cause of this. It is pride that creates economic classes and poor. He is pointing out the danger of feeling that one’s possessions are their own. Ultimately, he seems to be saying, “give up on the idea that you have a right to ‘your’ property.” We need less focus on what’s our own, and more on what belongs to all of us, less me and more we. If we really do that, then who cares if the redistribution is through the government or whatever other means. We aren’t so attached to the property in the first place. Shifting the debate to government and agency does nothing to address these systemic problems that Jacob clearly abhors. Rather than focus on what the “wrong” solution is, just once I would love to have a conservative propose a better solution. If we are truly “free with our substance” I guess I just don’t understand why so much fear and anger at having the government take it if it is being taken for support of the poor. Certainly I don’t see the slightest scriptural justification for such political attitudes.

  54. I think people think of government action as something that is completely removed from their own actions and attitudes. Government is–or should be–a sort of a compilation of private opinions translated into policies.

    Welfare state is a common attitude that we do wish to take care of those, who fall on hard times. We know that we all need to chip in, and we also require that everyone does, because experience has shown that relying on voluntary contributions doesn’t work. Paying taxes is not the antithesis of giving charitably. Perhaps you have a bit less money for charitable giving, but at least as a whole, you’re giving.

    One way to practise private righteousness is to pay one’s taxes without bitching about it. The demagoguery in the line of “taxation is stealing” or “feeding welfare queens” (the welfare queen was a red herring to begin with; never existed, but it was a nice turn of phrase) is frankly disgusting.

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