Self-Reliance: faith in Christ, consecration, stewardship, the prosperity gospel and “the deceitfulness of riches.”

I spoke in church yesterday. My assignment was to speak about self-reliance. This post is adapted from that talk.

1. Spiritual Self-Reliance: there is no such thing.

I confess that I don’t really like the term self-reliance, because strictly speaking, there is no such thing as spiritual self-reliance in the gospel. The scriptures, the Book of Mormon in particular, are as clear as can be that we are to rely only on Jesus for salvation (see e.g., 1 Nephi 10:6, 2 Nephi 31:19, Moroni 6:4).

And aside from the scriptures, our own experience teaches us that trying to rely on ourselves for spiritual well-being is futile. Anyone who has really tried to keep all the commandments, and who is really honest, knows that really keeping all the commandments is beyond our capacity as fallen mortal beings in a fallen world. As we try to keep the commandments, that effort lays bare our inadequacy and our need for something stronger than ourselves to rely on. That something stronger is grace. Relying on ourselves makes keeping the commandments drudgery, and when that effort fails, as it inevitably will, relying on ourselves can lead only to despair. Relying on Jesus, on the other hand, leads to hope and salvation, and makes obedience joyful.

So when we talk about spiritual self-reliance, we don’t really mean that we should rely on ourselves or on our own righteousness. What we really mean is that we should learn to rely directly on Jesus himself instead of relying on other people or institutions to tell us about Jesus. Elder L. Tom Perry said this, back in 1991:

Independence and self-reliance are critical to our spiritual and temporal growth. Whenever we get into situations which threaten our self-reliance, we will find our freedoms threatened as well. If we increase our dependence on anything or anyone except the Lord, we will find an immediate decrease in our freedom to act.

This is certainly true. The more we rely on ourselves or on other people, instead of on the Lord, for our spiritual well-being, the less we will be able to do for our spiritual well-being. Relying on Jesus alone liberates us.

In my experience, the best way to develop this kind of spiritual self-reliance, is to continually experience conversion through repentance. I don’t mean conversion in the sense of getting a testimony that the church is true, though that is important. I mean conversion in the sense of becoming converted into a saint through the atonement, being healed, being changed from a fallen mortal person to a redeemed mortal person. It is one thing to read about conversion in the Book of Mormon, or in Paul’s letters, or to hear an apostle give a talk about it, but to truly become spiritually self-reliant, we have to experience conversion ourselves. And maybe I’m just thick-headed, but if you’re like me, you have to experience it over and over again.

2. Temporal Self-Reliance: Stewardship, not ownership.

The proper relationship we ought to have with wealth is something of a gospel paradox. On the one hand, we are counseled to be self-reliant, to be diligent and wise with our money and earthly possessions. On the other hand, we are warned not to set our hearts on riches, and commanded to “take no thought” for how we will provide for our needs, instead trusting that the Lord will provide for us.

How do you reconcile these? The restoration provides a radically powerful answer in an 1834 revelation that is now section 104 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In that section, the Lord explains in more detail just how it is that he intends to provide for his saints, by redefining the very concept of ownership itself:

[I]t is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures. I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. (vv 13-15).

The baseline principle that the Lord emphasizes here is to sweep away our concept of ownership. He alone is the owner of all property in the earth, and we, to the extent that we possess any of it, are not owners, but stewards (see also D&C 42:32). This is important because there are at least three important differences between a between an owner and a steward:

First, an owner is not accountable to anyone else for the way he uses his property, If we own our property, then we are free to waste it. But the Lord wants us to act as stewards, which means that we are accountable to him for the decisions we make about our property. This means that we ought to be wise with our wealth. It means that we ought to make the most of what we have. Of course, it does not mean that we should maximize profits oppressively—by grinding on the faces of the poor, or cheating customers or competitors, or denying fair wages to employees, for example—but it does mean that within the limits of fairness and charity, we should be diligent to make the most of that portion of the Lord’s property that we possess. But being diligent and wise as a steward is different from maximizing our own property to provide for ourselves. An owner who wants to rely on his wealth to provide for his needs will certainly take thought for how those needs will be met, but a steward can apply himself to wisely managing his lord’s property without taking any thought for how that property will meet his needs, because he knows that his lord will provide for him. We are still supposed to be diligent and wise, but not for ourselves—simply because we are accountable to God for how we treat his property. The restoration thus requires financial diligence and wisdom, but without providing space for legitimate self-interest or greed.

Another important difference is that an owner may demand his property from a steward at any time. If we recognize that we are just stewards, then we understand that it is the Lord’s from the beginning, not ours, and we have no reason to be resentful for the Lord asking us to dispose of his property as he sees fit. The Lord continues, in section 104, by explaining that while he intends to provide for his saints, “it must needs be done in mine own way”:

[A]nd behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. (v. 16).

If we feel that the Lord is taking our own property from us to give to the poor, we may feel resentful, or like it isn’t fair. Or, perhaps even worse, we may take pride and selfishly congratulate ourselves for being so generous and giving such great sacrifices out of our own pockets. But if we do as this revelation demands, and think of ourselves as stewards, not owners, then we will understand that we have no right to keep our property to ourselves, because it isn’t our property to begin with. If so, then we will see that giving to the poor is neither a hardship to be endured, nor a sacrifice to be praised, but is simply one of the duties of our office as stewards.

A third important difference is that unlike an owner, a steward has no right to use his lord’s money for his own use except to the extent that his lord authorizes him to. The Lord continues in this revelation:

For the earth is full, and there is enough, and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of the gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment (vv. 17-18).

That is pretty strong language (it is a reference to the parable of the nameless Rich Man, and poor Lazarus) [1]. But as stewards over the Lord’s property, these are the conditions that he has placed on us using his property for our own use. He does not authorize us to possess or use his property unless we give our portion to the poor and the needy. And you can tell that he is serious about it, not only because of the warning about hell and torment, but, because he calls it “the law of the gospel.” [2]

So when we talk about self-reliance, what we really mean is stewardship and accountability to the Lord in how we manage our wealth. There are all kinds of things we can do to develop that kind of self-reliance, such as learning how to keep a budget, time-management skills, getting education, learning how to start a business, and others. But the spiritual principle behind all that is that we are not owners, or even borrowers of the wealth we possess. We are stewards, and we are accountable to God for our stewardship.

3. The deceitfulness of riches.

As we talk about self-reliance, we often talk about the blessings that come from learning how to wisely manage our property. And surely the Lord does bless us when we obey good counsel. It can be tempting to take that to mean that if we are faithful, the Lord will make us rich. Or worse, to think that if we are rich, it must mean that we are righteous. Or even worse, to think that if another person struggles financially, it must mean that he or she is unrighteous.

Elder Oaks warned us specifically not to fall to this temptation in a talk he gave in April 2015 on the parable of the sower. You remember this parable. Jesus talks about a sower sowing seeds, and how some of the seeds fall in among thorns where they are choked out by weeds (see Matthew 13:3-8, Mark 4:3-8, Luke 8:5-8). When Jesus explains this parable to his disciples, Luke says that the seeds choked by thorns represent those that are “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life,” both Mark and Matthew use this evocative phrase: “the deceitfulness of riches.”

That is a wonderful phrase. The deceitfulness of riches. How are riches deceitful? In what ways do they deceive us? I can think of at least a few ways. We might be deceived into thinking that riches bring us lasting happiness or satisfaction. They won’t. You see this in the Book of Mormon, where the Nephites grasp so desperately for gold, but that it has become “slippery,” and they can’t hold on to it.

Perhaps worst of all, we might be deceived into believing what has been called the prosperity gospel: the idea that if you are righteous, you will be rich, and that if you are poor, it must be because of a lack of faith or righteousness. This is what Elder Oaks had to say about that:

Those who believe in what has been called the theology of prosperity are suffering from the deceitfulness of riches. The possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor, and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor.

A person’s wealth has nothing to do with the state of their soul. There are far too many rich wicked, people, and far too many righteous poor people for that to be true. This is a fallen world where “the wicked prosper.” God sends the rain and the sun to fall and shine of the righteous and the wicked like.

The Nephites, as they began to increase in wealth, made this mistake. They began to think that their wealth was evidence of their righteousness and that those who had less wealth were less righteous. Jacob calls them to repentance over it. He says this:

[D]o 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.

Again, this is pretty strong language. Jacob, like Elder Oaks, is no fan of the prosperity gospel.

In the world, you sometimes see those who instead of giving to the poor, or helping them develop skills to lift them out of poverty, want to just tell the poor to be more wise, or righteous or more faithful and that if they do, they will lift themselves out of poverty. That is not the kind of self-reliance that the gospel embraces. Remember what God tells us in that 1834 revelation we looked at earlier: The Lord’s way of providing for the poor is not to tell the poor to just pull themselves out of poverty. [3] The Lord’s way to provide for the poor is to make each of us an accountable steward, and to humble the rich. Jacob teaches the Nephites the same thing:

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 naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

These are the uses to which God wants us, as his stewards, to put his property.


[1] I love this subtle, but subversive little detail: how the Lord names the beggar in his story Lazarus, but the rich man is not even named. Jesus was a master storyteller.

[2] But what is “[our] portion”? That depends, I believe, on your individual circumstances and you can find that out by individual prayer and inspiration, but I believe that in most cases our portion is much more than that which we are naturally inclined to give.

[3] The revelation goes on to provide instruction about the “United Order,” or, as it was called at that time, the “United Firm.” The “United Firm” was one way that the Lord asked certain members of the church in the mid 1830s to live the principles of consecration. (See Matthew C. Godfrey, “Newel K. Whitney and the United Firm,” Revelations in Context (Nov. 19, 2015)). The United Firm didn’t last beyond the 1830s, and later on, some of the saints in Utah would live in a different kind of communal arrangement that were also called United Orders, but which also did not survive long. But while the United Firm and the United Orders are no longer in practice, that does not mean that the principles of consecration are sitting dormant, waiting until the millennium or some other time when God will “bring it back.” No. The principles of consecration and stewardship apply to us here and now. We don’t legally or symbolically deed our property to a bishop the way the saints did in Kirtland (see Sherilyn Farnes, “A Bishop unto the Church,” Revelations in Context (May 14 2013)), but that does not excuse us from living the principles of consecration and stewardship laid out in this revelation. The specific way we practice those principles has changed over time, but the principles of the law of consecration and stewardship are just as binding on us now as they were on the church in Kirtland.

Comments

  1. Masterful!

    I like the way you laid out what it means to have stewardship as compared to ownership. This point is also made in Mosiah 4:22 “your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God” (all of Mosiah 4:16-22 is relevant).

    I’m interested in the “prosperity gospel” and how that’s crept into LDS culture if not doctrine. Perhaps influenced by the oft-repeated BoM phrase “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land”. The phrase seems internally interpreted at least partly in terms of material abundance and that seems to be the default interpretation by casual readers (even though there are other ways to interpret that phrase).

  2. Great post! Two thoughts-

    1- . (Warning: Since graduating I’ve developed a interest in sociology and economics and have read enough books and listened to enough podcast to make dangerous! I know many and maybe even most readers of BCC will know more on these subjects than I do, so feel free to clean up any nonsense I create!) I’ve been reading lately about social capital (basically networks between individuals that build community) and human capital (skills and knowledge that people acquire to create value). The church’s self reliance plan seems to be to use social capital to increase human capital amongst its members such as getting them more education and even a degree (pathway), meeting other people in their ward that can teach them skills in basic finances or other marketable areas, as well as helping people find work which would allow them to continue to develop skills and knowledge. The Church emphasizes the point of view of the person developing human capital. The person getting a degree, a job or learning new skills will be better able to provide for themselves and others, and I guess that could be described as being more “self-reliant” but I agree with you that by putting “self” as the description turns our attention in a non-gospel conductive way. It also blinds us from the fact that to develop this so-called self reliance, there are a lot of other people at work! You used one L. Tom Perry quote, I’d like to compliment it with another:

    “The wealth of this Church will always be measured by the ability of its members to work together, not by assets listed on a balance sheet.”

    It is unfortunate that by calling the program self-reliance we turn attention from that fact.

  3. Apologies, upon finishing my first thought I forgot what my second thought was, as well as deleting the phrase “Two thoughts.”

  4. I took a similar approach in EQ when I was assigned to speak on self-reliance. Great to see I’m not alone.

  5. I especially like the move from converted to–an in-the-mind kind of thing–to converted into–a whole self kind of thing. And the move from ownership to stewardship. And from prosperity gospel (a phrase that bothers me because it’s not a “gospel” in any ordinary sense) to deceit of riches.

    I feel but resist for now the urge to argue about what stewardship means and how it is effectuated (interesting) and how riches deceive (somewhat less interesting to me). The better framing holds out promise for a fruitful discussion on topics that otherwise seem tired..

  6. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    While I find the attention Elder Oaks paid to this encouraging, it’s frustrating that he frames it as “the theology of prosperity”, which is vague and easy to miss unless you’re listening/reading closely, and know what he’s referring to. He’s giving a nod to the evils of the Prosperity Gospel, but doesn’t seem to want to be explicit as to what he’s talking about, so as not to piss off all the wealthy Church members who have so much administrative influence. We spend so much time engaged in the mental gymnastics necessary to justify wealth. Christ was pretty consistent in his ministry when discussing those who were wealthy, and their chances at salvation. To paraphrase, his stance was always “Good luck to you, Sir! (not going to happen)”. And the perils of our attitude toward prosperity (of which self reliance is the code word) is manifest in so much of our thinking about why people need help, their personal responsibility for misfortune, and the roles we all play in building Zion.

  7. your food allergy is fake says:

    Why is “self-reliance” even a thing in the church? Does this come from our pioneer history? I get the sense that it might also come from ward councils tired of dealing with dysfunctional welfare projects and would like people to stop asking for help.

  8. 1. The prosperity gospel is heresy and is rightly scorned.
    2. Its crept into the lds church a bit
    3. Its easy to criticize wealthy people when you are not personally wealthy. What should wealthy people do to ensure that their wealth does not serve as an anchor?
    4. At what point is somebody wealthy?

  9. Thanks for the compliments, guys.

    You’re right, JonD. Benjamin’s speech in general hits many of these same themes. I confess that I never really thought of it as a sort of foreshadowing of consecration, but I think it totally works. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I think the pride cycle is sort of our version of the prosperity gospel. It can be tempting (again, I think this is the “deceitfulness of riches”) to draw a connection between righteousness and wealth, but if you really read closely, what Mormon seems to say is not that wealth results from righteousness, but that wealth results from God’s goodness. But even in the Book of Mormon there are examples of unrighteous wealthy people, so while Mormon does portray the pride cycle, I think he would agree that it is not without exception. I have an old post about that here: https://bycommonconsent.com/2016/08/15/the-pride-cycle-the-prosperity-gospel-and-grace/.

    That’s a good point, JasonB. I like the idea of seeing the church’s “self-reliance” efforts as a way to put social capital to use increasing human capital. the “self” term can obscure that if we take it too literally, but if you look at the church’s newer “self-reliance” efforts, I agree with you that they are more about using the resources of the community to lift individuals than about wagging fingers at individuals for not lifting themselves.

    A Turtle Named Mack, I get what you’re saying. It is easy to miss Elder Oaks’ condemnation of the prosperity gospel. I missed it when I watched his talk the first time. But I don’t think that’s a deliberate attempt to tiptoe around wealthy members.

  10. your food allergy is fake, that’s a good question. While I’m not an expert in the history, it’s my impression that the church’s welfare efforts have always (or at least since the early 20th century and the great depression) up until maybe 5-10 years ago, included a pretty heavy emphasis on self-reliance and a heavy suspicion against a government “dole.” But I get the sense that in recent years the church has pulled back a bit on the bootstraps talk and our “self-reliance” efforts are focused more than they used to be not just on preaching against a dole, but on actually building people up while also providing for their immediate needs. I think this goes along with adding “caring for the poor and the needy” to what used to be the three-fold mission of the church.

    Some of it might be due to pioneer history, and some of it is due, no doubt, to plain old republican partisan politics, but I also think that it comes from a sincere and good desire to lift people out of poverty in a way that can be long-lasting and sustained and fulfilling. There’s something pretty cynical about telling poor people to just be more self-reliant without actually helping them meet their immediate basic needs, and I’m probably more in favor of providing government help than I can guess the average church member is, but there’s also something pretty cynical about just providing for needs without helping to develop skills, and I appreciate that the church is addressing both.

  11. Great questions, Bbell. That’s sort of what I was getting at with the second footnote in the OP. Asking “Am I wealthy?” strikes me a little bit as akin to asking “Who is my neighbor?” In a global sense, nearly all of us the United States are wealthy. But the difference between wealth and poverty is also felt most keenly in a local sense, not in a global sense. I don’t think there’s an easy answer. At a most basic level, though, if we see ourselves as one, rather than as separate, those kinds of questions might just melt away. At the very least, wrestling with those questions requires a great deal of introspection and self-examination, I would say.

  12. Paul Ritchey says:

    This thoughtful article is interesting in particular because it seems to get at a kind of cultural cusp the Church has been teetering on for a while.

    I can think of at least two policy areas (and I can imagine one more) in which the Church has recently moved in the direction naturally supported by the concepts of stewardship (as against ownership) and what might be called acting directly for the poor (as against, I dunno, praying “indirectly” for their aid?):

    1. Welfare: The recent completion of and public emphasis on the new Bishop’s Central Storehouse, which, if nothing else, is a gigantic symbol of the Church’s emphasis on actually, directly assisting the poor;

    2. Environmentalism: The Church’s powerfully reasoned position on the environment rests on the premise that we are non-owner stewards who have religious, moral obligations toward non-human creation. I don’t think anything highlights the stewardship concept more clearly than this.

    3. Migration: Query whether one could make an argument for the Church’s rhetoric on immigration (compassion, reasonableness, diversity is good, etc.) being rooted in self-reliance principles (stewardship plus aid to the poor)? If I were going to justify that rhetoric on “temporal” terms, I’d be tempted to reach for something very much like JKC’s thoughts.

  13. Thanks for the comment Paul! Two quick reactions to the point on migration:

    (1) I see the church’s tentatively pro-immigration (or at least anti-deportation) position as more about not splitting up families. To put it in doctrinal terms (or quasi-doctrinal terms, depending on what you conclude is the status of the Family Proclamation), I see it as a recognition that the family, not the nation, is the “fundamental unit of society,” so that the interest in keeping families together outweighs the interest in enforcing national borders.

    (2) I actually don’t think aid to the poor is a separate concept from stewardship from the standpoint of consecration. In the revelations, consecration is always linked to providing for the poor. And stewardship is basically always linked to consecration. So when we say “consecration” or “stewardship,” I think it is implied that that includes aid to the poor.

  14. your food allergy is fake says:

    Paul, can you point to a reference indicating the Church’s position on the environment? I am quite interested in this area and was not aware the Church had taken any recent positions.

  15. “What should wealthy people do to ensure that their wealth does not serve as an anchor?”

    Avoid using their wealth to purchase status symbols. Big houses, impressively decorated houses, cars, vacation, technology, etc. So much of the prosperity gospel is not about having wealth, its about making sure everyone knows one has wealth. I wish US mormons valued modesty more than prosperity.

  16. Really wonderful JKC. Echoes comments on the mirage of self-reliance in Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus biography, vol. 1.

  17. On the question of avoiding wealth becoming an anchor, I would say that the answer under the framework of consecration and stewardship would appear to be that you (1) remember that you are a steward, and that “your” wealth isn’t yours at all, (2) remember that you are accountable to God for how to spend that wealth, so (3) any spending decision should be one that you would be comfortable justifying to the man who actually did own the earth and all things in it, but chose to live as, and among, the poorest of the poor.

    I know that’s a little close to the old would-you-be-comfortable-watching-that-if-Jesus-were-next-to-you cliché, but I think it’s actually the answer, at least under the framework of consecration and stewardship.

  18. the other Marie says:

    This is tremendous, thank you. Our singles’ ward recently had a two-hour presentation during our church block by our regional “self-reliance” expert. I made a bit of a nuisance of myself repeatedly raising my hand, trying to pin down the definition of “self-reliance” that was being used (here it is, from the Handbook: “Self-reliance is the ability, commitment, and effort to provide the spiritual and temporal necessities of life for self and family”) and pushing against the claim that was being made: that temporal self-reliance was a prerequisite to salvation. As proof of this claim the self-reliance manual (and the speaker at our meeting) offered the following Marion G. Romney 1976 welfare services meeting quote re-quoted by apostle Thomas Monson:

    “Let us work for what we need. Let us be self-reliant and independent. Salvation can be obtained on no other principle. Salvation is an individual matter, and we must work out our own salvation in temporal as well as in spiritual things.”

    (It appears that Elder Romney later offered a softer position on self-reliance, noting in his Oct 1982 Conference talk that there are righteous people who cannot provide for themselves and should be tenderly cared for by the rest of us).

    If consecration were held up in these discussions as our ultimate goal–the self-reliance manual quotes selectively from D&C 104, avoiding the radical verses and not mentioning that the chapter is about consecration–and if it were not claimed that all righteous people will be enabled by God to be fully temporally self-reliant, I wouldn’t have a problem pushing so hard on “self-reliance,” or a perhaps better term as Sam Brunson noted in his prior post: “provident living.” I’m 100% in favor of encouraging people to be hardworking, frugal, and resourceful, as if such qualities are not found in abundance among the church membership, consecration and care for the poor will falter.

    On a more positive note, at the end of our two-hour self-reliance meeting, the Stake President thanked the speaker, but noted in gentle contradiction that it wasn’t possible for any of us to be fully self-reliant.

  19. I’ve noticed that church manuals are a bit inconsistent with the treatment of section 104. Many older manuals, and some current ones, skip over verse 16. But I think they are starting to get better. The “Principles for Becoming Self-Reliant” section of the returned missionary manual really does engage with section 104, including verse 16, and concludes that rich and poor becoming one is a principle of self-reliance. I think we’re getting better.

  20. Paul Ritchey says:

    First, your food allergy is fake, you can find a gospel topics essay containing (presumably) the Church’s thoughts on environmentalism here:

    https://www.lds.org/topics/environmental-stewardship-and-conservation?lang=eng

    And here is a recent press release from the Newsroom on the environmental efforts of the Church’s central Florida cattle ranch:

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-ranch-balances-agriculture-conservation-central-florida

    Second, JKC, I tip my hat to the (correct) conceptual nesting of stewardship and assisting the poor, as you describe above. They are certainly related concepts, and should be dealt with as both belonging to the larger discussion on consecration.

  21. I would be curious to see somebody give a definitive answer on my #4 above.

    I am much much wealthier than my great grandparents could ever imagine and I am just an upper middle class American in the suburbs.

    This is where it gets tricky. Accord or Lexus? What if the Lexus is a 2010?

    Or is it tbe love of money that makes it an anchor? See Paul.

    Should we judge wealthy lds folk that drive fancy cars and live in mcmansions? How many sqft is to large? 4k?

  22. Bbell, I did try to answer your question above, but I get that it’s not a very definitive answer.

    But the more I think about it, the more I think that it’s not really the right question under the framework of consecration and stewardship. Section 104 tells us that if we “partake of the abundance” that the Lord has made, then we are under obligation to “impart [our] portion” to the poor and the needy. So whether we cross some line between “wealthy” and just “comfortable” or something else, isn’t really the question. The question is whether we are partaking of the abundance of the Lord’s wealth. I think it’s safe to say that we all are.

    So then the real question becomes how much is our portion to give? There’s not a definitive, universal answer. I think it’s up to us to make that determination, with a lot of prayer, introspection, and self-examination. And I think, as I said above, that in most cases it’s going to be well above that which we are naturally inclined to give.

  23. But for the record, if it’s between an Accord and a Lexus, always go with the Accord. A Lexus is nothing but an overpriced Toyota.

  24. Well duh.. accords rock. I love giving lds friends the biz about fancy cars.

    Your saying its the attitude towards wealth? This is the Paul love of money answer I was expecting

  25. Well, I don’t know. I suppose yes, it is the attitude, in part, but I don’t think we can separate attitude from action. Our actions are the best proof of our attitude. If I don’t love my money, but I also don’t give to the poor, then can I really honestly say that I’m not attached to my money? Part of having the right attitude, I think, is not waiting to be asked, but actively acting as a steward to use the Lord’s wealth to advance the Lord’s purposes.

    I don’t think it’s enough to say, for example, I’m not attached to my wealth, and as soon as the Bishop or the church asks me to donate to something I will without hesitation, but in the meantime I’ll just pay the bare minimum in fast offerings and sit here and spend all the rest of my wealth on myself, but it’s okay, because I don’t love money and I can give it up anytime I need to.

  26. Also, to your question about whether we should judge wealthy Mormons, isn’t the answer to love the sinner and hate the sin?

  27. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Yes, it’s the love of money, per Paul. But, it’s really the love of what money represents. Mostly, money comes to represent “better than…”. That’s where things get problematic. Of course, if the Church was really worried about this problem, they would encourage everyone to give up business school, and to become social scientists, thinking great thoughts and not making any money (relatively). As fun as that might be, it’s probably the quickest way for the Church to implode.

  28. J. Stapley says:

    “Self reliance” discourse in the church is rooted in the Progressive movement, and amped up by twentieth-century anti-communism conservatism.

    I like what you have done here, JKC. Ultimately the Atonement and Zion are at odds with individualism. But even the early revelations were at least somewhat concerned with the idea of “freeloaders.” Unfortunately that concern is probably the least important aspect of Zion, and entirely absent in regards to the Atonement.

  29. Any discussion of any topic remotely related to this in my own ward leaves me uncomfortable and somewhat disappointed with the consensus. You’ve given me some new ideas from scripture to be able to add to the mix, if I ever again am brave enough to enter the fray (it almost never is worth it).

    In response to some discussion about our past: Yes, certainly there has been suspicion of “the dole” from the very beginning; and yes, aid to families/individuals has always had a temporary nature. But in the earliest days of the Church Security/Welfare Plan, just those few years before World War II intervened, a third and little-known emphasis of the Welfare Plan was to create, with the help of the quorum, income-producing opportunities for individuals. A quorum might raise the funds to equip a carpenter with the tools he needed to carry on his trade independent of a wage job. A group of Latter-day Saints on the west side of Salt Lake City built and operated a soap factory to generate income for those who worked there. In some cases, land was purchased by the quorum so that an individual farmer could work it for income. That kind of thing seems rather close to some of today’s efforts to offer education or specialized entrepreneurial skills rather than only emergency food and rent. The old projects were intended to help individuals become “self-reliant” (although I don’t ever see that term), but it was, at the same time, very much a social(ized) group effort to make that so — they didn’t just advise the farmer to buy some land and farm it, the way so much “help” from certain directions today merely advises the unemployed to “get a job” and the hungry to “eat cake.”

  30. Thanks for that history, Ardis. I love the idea of those old projects. A recognition that self-reliance is a set of skills and capital that, ironically, you need help from other people to acquire.

  31. Thanks Ardis.I have always found the actual history of how the Church responds to needs to be rather different from what many believe the Church would have taught back then. The Church has often been very practical, realizing that events can overtake the best of people and that solving the problem of helping others often requires a different approach than the rigidity of sticking with a doctrine.

  32. I am reminded of a story our former bishop’s wife told of a lesson she taught about the Law of Consecration to the teenagers in a very wealthy ward. Our stake included wards and branches of extremely differing financial standing. Some were new converts, refugees from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Others were extremely wealthy. Because the neighborhoods were divided by wealth, so were the wards. As she finished presenting her lesson, one young man seemed shocked. How much less they would have if they needed to share with the ward next door, he said. (This ward next door was also very wealthy, just not obscenely wealthy like his.) But it will require that you share equally with the Cambodian refugees, she said. She told us that he was stunned. How could he be expected to live as they did? This could not be a doctrine of the Church!
    Parents might do much better by their children if they did not expose them to the wealth they possess. It seems impossible once you possess something to let it go.

  33. I believe completely in the statement that we are not spiritually self-sufficient, ever. We all need help.
    As for physical self-sufficiency, I have too often found the teachings to be a stick the well-to-do and healthy and those with large active LDS families living near them use to beat the single, the poor, the ill and those with few family members in the area when they request help. Those who have help readily available seem incapable of remembering they relied on others when they had troubles.

  34. Perhaps a good way to think of self-reliance is that it is a gift that we work together to give to each member of our community, rather than as a thing that individuals are required to achieve.

  35. We’ve probably all heard stories about places like the Logan Utah temple – it sparkles and shines at night because the sisters gave up their fine china plates to be smashed into a mortar to coat the temple. It strikes me that such a request would really serve to equalize families – no more busting out Great-Grandmother’s fine platter as a display of wealth. In fact, having such an heirloom item after the temple was built would immediately tag the family as being “less righteous”, since they didn’t surrender their goods for the temple construction. It makes me reflect on my dad’s statement that “The Antiques Road Show” will probably tear apart more families than any other social influence in modern times.

    And if anyone remembers the ZCMI – that “C” in there stood for Cooperative. If somebody had a manufacturing skill, they had a quick and easy way to sell goods without the hassle of marketing and maintaining inventory. Brigham Young famously kept a big pile of rocks on one of his properties, and regularly paid people who were down on their luck to move the rocks from the northwest corner to the southeast corner. He’d pay slightly below market rates for hard labor, and people who came to him “cap-in-hand” got work, but had a great incentive to find another job.

  36. I highly recommend the March 1982 Ensign article “The Times For Whitney.”

    There have been a couple occasions when I’ve given lessons on “self-reliance” – and I’ve talked about how we need to be careful about being mislead by the term, that what we’re really after is self-responsibility, and I’ve mentioned Paul on those who think “gain is godliness” as well as the Parable of the Rich Fool from Luke 12. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.”

    Looking out over the Wasatch Front I think materialism is a problem our generation – in some ways myself included – is having difficulty with. Remember BY’s fear that the Saints “cannot stand wealth.”

  37. This idea has been on my mind a lot lately, ever since we bought our new house. We were looking for something much closer to my work (and it cut my commute by more than half!) and for something with some kind of view (the mountains from the back yard and the city from the front room). What we found was a large, custom-built home on nearly a half an acre in the suburbs, with a large swimming pool. We were able to buy it well under market value–we could not have afforded it otherwise. It is easily the largest, nicest, home I have ever lived in and may be the largest, nicest, home I ever live in.

    So far, the attitude in our family has been how fortunate we are to have found it. But I worry that this attitude may change from “we are lucky to have such a beautiful home to live in” to the attitude that “we deserve to live in such a beautiful home.” The idea of seeing it as a stewardship to share seems like one way to keep the gratitude. Thanks for the perspective.

  38. Mike, I’ve only ever heard that story about the Nauvoo temple, not Logan. It’s a nice story, but it turns out not to be true. ZCMI was a vestige of the old United Orders under Brigham Young. Like I said, it’s not the only way the church can practice consecration, but remembering the cooperative aspects are a good reminder to us of the principles of consecration that we should be living.

    Dan, I’ll check that out. Thanks for the tip. I don’t live in the west, so I’m not comfortable making that kind of judgment about the Wasatch front, but you’re not the first to observe that there’s a problem with materialism, and I will say that, based on my time at BYU and my periodic visits to Utah, there does seem to be a culture of materialism that is different from what I see here in upstate NY. I’m sure we have our own blind spots here.

    Thanks for sharing CS Eric. I appreciate the perspective.

  39. If you haven’t had a chance to experience the Church’s new self-reliance program, I would encourage it. I agree that the term self-reliance is contradictory in a gospel of reliance on God, but the program starts and ends with that reliance on God as its foundation. I serve as a facilitator in the program in my stake (it’s new in the US but not new internationally — has been rolled out in many countries over the past five years or so). It’s been an incredible thing to see people engage the materials with their eyes first on God to get guidance and help for their temporal goals. I also have felt so strongly the Lord’s desire to help people, really help them. Finger-wagging has no place in this program, and it’s not designed to be just for those deeply in need. Our stake leaders have the hope that everyone will go through it, and I see why. I love how the program is group-based; there is no expert teaching or talking down to others, but rather everyone is on equal ground engaging the material with the intent to engage the Spirit first before looking at the topic at hand (education, finding a job, starting or growing a business, or personal finance…the four courses offered). That communal sense of “you are not alone, we are all trying to figure out how to rely on God more and live wisely in our temporal affairs so that we can help our families and be able to help others.”

    I also really love your thoughts on stewardship. I think the corollary is that stewardship is truly a sacred journey, not one that can be dictated or judged from the outside. God considers the whole of a person’s life and story, not just the size of a home or the types of cars in the driveway. I think it’s essential that we not judge each other because the sin is in the heart, not in the stuff itself, and who can really judge the heart but God?

  40. I’ll second what Michelle says here about the new self-reliance program. There may be some variation on how it’s put into practice in each stake, but it seems to me that the church is making an effort to move away from the simplistic finger-wagging that we’ve sometimes seen pass for self-reliance in the past. Could it better? Sure. But I think it represents real effort.

  41. your food allergy is fake says:

    Really well said, Michelle

  42. “Could it better? Sure. But I think it represents real effort.”

    Everything can always be better. Goes back to your post. There’s one answer to that reality, and that’s Jesus. :)

    That said, the program encourages feedback. If you have suggestions, be sure to share them! Even in the past six months, I have seen some significant changes made in response to valuable, on-the-ground feedback. (Last year was a US pilot, and the first of this year was the first phase of roll-out, so it’s all still a work in progress in the US.)

    No program will ever be perfect, but to me, it felt like there is more going on that just trying to move away from finger-wagging. I think the Church is trying to move *toward* things.

  43. “No program will ever be perfect, but to me, it felt like there is more going on that just trying to move away from finger-wagging. I think the Church is trying to move *toward* things.”

    Yeah, I don’t think the church is doing this just for the sake of moving away from the old program. It’s moving away from that and toward a program that takes stewardship a bit more seriously. Sorry if my comment didn’t express that.