Lesson 14: The Law of Consecration #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes

At the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Identify commonalities between the Law of Consecration and other communitarian religious movements.
  2. Explain the roots of consecration in the Mormon church.
  3. Assess how consecration fits in the modern church.

What Is Consecration?

In October of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Parley Pratt, and Ziba Peterson went west on a mission to the “Lamanites.” As they travelled, they came to the Morely farm near Kirtland, Ohio. Morely, along with fifty or sixty others, were part of “the Family” or “the Big Family.” Eleven core families moved onto the Morely farm and established a communitarian society, where they held goods and property in common.

When JS moved to Kirtland, he initially lived in the N.K. Whitney home, and his revelations during the first few weeks there focused on economic issues. On Feb. 9, 1831, he received a revelation on consecration, which modified the communitarian style that the Family had adopted. [Sources: Hearken O Ye People, Joseph Smith’s Revelations]

Have the class read part or all of D&C 42:30-42.

Note that Webster’s 1828 dictionary defined “consecrate” as

To make or declare to be sacred, by certain ceremonies or rites; to appropriate to sacred uses; to set apart, dedicate, or devote, to the service and worship of God….

Potential discussion questions:

  1. What did it mean for members to “consecrate” their property? (I would think the discussion should eventually arrive at the idea of sacralizing the profane. Even property could be dedicated to God. Of course, the discussion doesn’t have to arrive here.)
  2. Although we think of consecration as a matter of sharing, JS’s revelation prefaces it as a way to remember and aid the poor. What is our duty to the poor? How can consecrating (or making sacred) our property help us fulfill that duty? And without a formal system of consecration, how can we make sure to remember and help the poor?

The Apostolic Roots of Consecration

The idea of consecration has roots in the New Testament. Have class read the story of Apostolic economics and the story of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 4:32-37, 5:1-10.

How did JS’s introduction of consecration line up with the Apostolic church? And how did it differ from what we see in Acts?

Honestly, the story of Ananias and Sapphira is awesome in a lot of ways. Though I’m not going to lay out specifically how to discuss it, I wouldn’t blame you at all if you wanted to dissect it for a little while. Maybe get into what lessons we can glean from the story, particularly the idea of strict honesty. Because really, they weren’t obligated to contribute, and there’s no indication that they would have been struck down if they hadn’t joined in. Rather, it’s the dishonesty that got them. Why might strict honesty be important in a communitarian society?

Note that a big problem the first Mormon experiment with consecration faced was that courts weren’t comfortable with the economic arrangement. As a result, disillusioned members could often walk away and take either their stewardship or the property they had initially deeded back with them, which kind of death-spiraled the endeavor. [Source: Zion in the Courts.]

Other Communitarian Groups

This section isn’t essential, but it is interesting context:

Mormons weren’t the only group trying to return to the Apostolic church’s economics. (I mean, that should be clear: the Family were modified Owenites.)

A couple of the big groups were the Shakers and the Hutterites. (There are still Hutterite colonies throughout the U.S. and Canada, and they still hold property communally.) The Oneida Community was initially a communitarian religion, but, like many, eliminated communitarianism by the turn of the twentieth century.

My favorite, though, is the Israelite House of David. It was an early twentieth-century religion, and thus its communitarianism wasn’t contemporaneous with Mormonism’s. But it was pretty awesome: located in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the group eventually owned the trolley system, built and operated an amusement park, had travelling jazz and concert bands, and fielded a baseball team that played throughout the country. Oh, and also, members were forbidden from cutting their hair or shaving.

If you have the technology to show pictures, check out the baseball team here. The jazz band is here. The amusement park is here.

And there are videos, too: the midget autos are here. Miniature trains are here.

And look, I get that this may not fit in the lesson you want to teach. But the context is valuable, I believe, and the pictures and videos are frankly awesome.

If you want more details about religious communitarian groups in the United States, either for your lesson or for your own edification, I wrote an article about the tax treatment of these groups; whether or not you’re interested in the tax side of things, I talk in a little more detail about a number of religious communitarian groups. The article is “Taxing Utopia.”

The United Order

For purposes of this lesson, I’m going to mostly skip the United Order, except to say that basically everything you were taught about it was wrong. At least, if you were taught what I was.

Check out the introduction to D&C 78 online (because if your physical scriptures are as old as mine, they don’t have the same introduction). Per that (and Hearken O Ye People and this BYU Studies article), there was no “United Order” established in 1832 that included all of the members of the church. Rather, there was the “United Firm,” formed to oversee the church’s publishing and mercantile endeavors. The United Firm was made up of nine men (JS, Edward Partridge, Newel Whitney, A. Sidney Gilbert, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, Olver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps, and Martin Harris).

It’s not entirely our fault that we were wrong, though. Sometime after the United Firm was disbanded, JS replaced verse 3’s phrase “mercantile and publishing establishments” with “the affairs of the storehouse for the poor” and replaced the word “firm” with the word “order.”

If you have time and are comfortable with it, this may be a good time to talk about how JS was comfortable editing and amending his revelations after the fact. What should we make of that willingness? How does it affect the manner in which we read his revelations? Does that even matter? What can it tell us about the process of receiving revelation? How about the process of interpreting revelation?

One-Minute Paper

In the final minute of class, have the students write a one-minute paper. Depending on your ward, you may need to bring in paper (or notecards) and pencils. Alternatively, if your ward is tech-savvy, you could ask the class to do this on their Notes app or another word processing app on their phones or tablets.

The idea behind a one-minute paper is that students respond to a prompt for one minute. It’s basically a way for them to synthesize and process what they’ve learned. There’s no reason for them to turn it in to you or to share it with other members of the class, unless they really want to.

Suggested prompts (choose one):

  1. What was the most interesting thing you learned during today’s lesson?
  2. How did scripture influence and affect JS’s revelations?
  3. How can we help the poor today?

 

Comments

  1. Great fun, Sam. Also Acts 6 narrates problems with consecration that are relevant to the Mormon experience.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    This is really great, Sam. And thanks for the pointer to your article. Really, really, cool. Also the Isrealite House of David group. Completely new to me.

  3. Thanks, WVS and J!

    My father-in-law, who grew up in Ohio, was familiar with House of David baseball; the House of David was based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and apparently was touring around the Midwest for a long time, even though the religion kind of imploded upon allegations that the founder was engaged in sexual improprieties. (I’ve also met Chicagoans who are familiar with the baseball team.)

  4. renverseur says: