Gina teaches cultural studies, media represetation, and critical pedagogies at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. She blogs at KiwiMormon and we are pleased to have her as our guest.
Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
Professionally I research, teach, and think a lot about teacher positionality and cultural locatedness. Teachers inevitably bring their whole cultural selves into the profession but are often unaware that they are culturally constituted, socially constructed beings. It’s the most challenging of tasks to have them interrogate their own assumptions, and to see themselves as other than ‘the norm’. I’ve spent some time thinking about this issue in LDS teaching contexts, where, in an increasingly international church, Sunday school teachers from all variety of political persuasions are delivering the LDS curriculum. This becomes reasonably important when we consider a divine political economy such as the Law of Consecration. I would argue that ones culture, whether North American, French, or Samoan, will have a significant influence upon the approach of the teacher as she or he delivers this lesson.
So, I would like to do three things. Firstly, I wish to show how one’s cultural position will inevitably flavour a lesson, and secondly, I would like to demonstrate why my particular approach to this lesson is undeniably true –with a capital ‘T’. Thirdly I would like to invite you to think about how similarly emphatic, but ideologically loaded declarations might just serve to obfuscate the very essence of God’s word in the wrangle over who’s right, and who’s wrong. I still think I’m right, but I’m also aware that there are those at the opposite end of the political spectrum who also think they are right – the challenge is sorting out this messy place in the middle without compromising the very essence of this beautiful and transcendent law in a bun fight for political traction.
So here goes. I’m a socialist. I’m well aware of the negative currency that this has in American contexts, but here in New Zealand, notwithstanding our recent neo-liberal turn, being a socialist is not an epithet one tries to hide. I grew up in a staunch trade union family; I was carried on the shoulders of my grandfather to street corner meetings to listen to left-wing members of parliament; I went to university and read Marx; I joined the Labour Party of New Zealand and became a national youth representative until they sold out with their diabolical Thatcheresque market reforms in the 1980’s, and I’m currently on the Industrial Professional committee of the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union. I believe in social justice, in equity, in the redistribution of wealth and the rights of workers. I believe a nation or a community is weakened by naked competition, and strengthened by collaboration and cooperation. I’m in a perpetual fury over American capitalism’s ideological and systemic grasp. I’m incensed at the US for their overinflated industrial military economic complex that fueled an illicit invasion of a sovereign state that has lead to a disaster that will have repercussions for innocent people for generations to come. If you were to put me in an Orem ward, I believe I’d be excommunicated as a heretic and a dissident. But I don’t really care.
I was right about the Iraq invasion when I stood against my US associates in our expatriate ward in Taiwan, and I’m still right. What happened 10 years ago is symptomatic of a voracious nation state who continues to be the engine room for an insatiable political economy that whirrs on, generating wealth for a paltry few at the expense of the vast majority.
What makes my rage all the more acute is the following;
• Despite the explicit theology of wealth threaded through our scriptural canon that condemns nations for vesting their entire interest in financial interest at the expense of the people.
• Despite the fact that we have a remarkable book that maps out magnificently the fate of a greedy and gluttonous nation state that rejects Christ’s explicit injunction to overturn the moneychangers tables.
• Despite the fact that Joseph Smith attempted an applied theology that addressed his fundamental concerns about material inequality.
• Despite the fact that the most serious of our sacred rites warns that Lucifer’s will work stealthily over time to purchase both power and influence because he is confident that it is a sure fire way to ruin a people.
• Despite the fact that the enemy of God has declared his desire to use his emissaries (the wicked in high places) to purchase the means to conquer our world through ideological and material power where he has in mind to rule with carnage and terror.
Despite all of this, like a cancer, cultural Mormonism’s outright rejection of these fundamental doctrines has become it’s own shameful religious hegemony. A cultural hegemony that draws our attention to nose piercings, coke drinking, gay marriage, swearing, and skirt length at the expense of broader and a more thorough exposition of the essential, and resounding message of the scriptures – the contest between Babylon and Zion.
As a people we are poverty stricken in our discourse. Our expressions of faith have been reduced to a vapid preoccupation with decorating our homes with kitsch LDS paraphernalia featuring Jesus as the white, smiling, bearded, children loving street preacher of our mythologies, rather than the brown outspoken, theological subversive, and divine radical that he really was.
And it will be this philosophical background that will inform my approach to the Gospel Doctrine lesson on ‘The Law of Consecration.’
So lets just say what it is. The Law of Consecration was an applied theological experiment. Joseph Smith saw that the church was suffering under the heavy burden of inequality, he took is concern to the Lord and came up with an inspired formula for reorganizing the material affairs of the people he lead. This meant the installation of a system where the Bishops played a central role in receiving and redistributing property. Not that this kind of arrangement is anything new. If one reads the Lord’s intent for ancient Israel one cannot help but notice that God’s economy is one in which private wealth is institutionally consecrated for the common good. The litmus test for living according to the law of God is not the accumulation of massive wealth and the aggrandizement of the exceptional, but rather the conditions in which there is literally no poverty, and no class system. It would appear that God’s economy (in the very few examples of success we have available to us) brings about a state of blessed peace and happiness.
These days we talk about the Law of Consecration as simply the consecration of our time and talents, and our means to the establishment of a godly kingdom. A thorough exposition of the scriptures would suggest however that the Law of Consecration is not a good-will economy, or the simple aspiration of generosity in a halcyon future. It is philosophically and ideologically profound and complete. It is premised on absolute spiritual maturity, and relies on a community who consciously and enthusiastically works to confound the present political and cultural arrangements in favour of a social system that is heaven sent. Few communities have lived it in its entirety, Even the early Saints failed miserably leaving Brigham Young to lament:
Some of our Elders, and, in fact, some of the Twelve will tell you, “Yes, yes, the Order is a splendid principle and will bring happiness, etc., but it is not hardly time to enter into it, wait a little while until the people understand it a little better.” Why, they are fools! They don’t know what they talk about. They have ears to hear and will not hearken, and have eyes to see and will not understand.
So that’s my position. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that socialism IS the United Order, or wholly akin to the Law of Consecration. Its inferiority is obvious in socialism’s eschewal of spirit, and the law of the gospel. But I do believe there are echoes and traces of the socialist aspiration in the Law of Consecration, and I’m convinced that neo-liberal market capitalism is the Law of Consecration’s enemy.
So, I will carry this ideological baggage into my Gospel Doctrine class. I might not present my political resume so explicitly but my politics will be present, because I can’t detach from my politics – as you will not be able to either. The difference is, I’ll be right, and if you aren’t of my political persuasion – you’ll be wrong.