Mormons and Money: Consecration

Given the media coverage that Mitt Romney's wealth and taxes are getting and the common perception of Mormons as white-collar workers and successful business people, it is important to make several points. First, though there is some basis in reality for the stereotype of Mormons, to the degree that it fits, it does so almost exclusively in the U.S. and Canada, where half or less of the world's population of Mormons live. Even there, many Mormons don't fit the stereotype. Almost certainly the majority don't.

The other half or more of the LDS Church—Mormons in other parts of the world: Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific, Mexico, Central and South America—fit that stereotype even less often. Taken as a whole, most Mormons are not white. Most do not speak English. Most Mormons are not business people. Most Mormons are not wealthy. (Most are not even Republicans!)

It is also important to point out that perhaps one reason for the stereotype is that Mormonism has fostered a culture of education and hard work. Whatever one may think of Romney as a prospective candidate for the presidency (and not all American Mormons are equally supportive of him), as David Brooks points out, "Romney's salient quality, is not wealth. It is, for better or worse, his tenacious drive—the sort of relentlessness that we associate with striving immigrants, not rich scions." Even when we don't fit the stereotype, Mormon culture encourages a get-ahead attitude among its members, with both the advantages and deficits of that attitude.

Perhaps the most overlooked facet of Mormonism when talking about either Romney or the Anglo-Saxon, white-collar stereotype of a Mormon is that, within the history of Mormonism as well as within its contemporary culture, there is a strong insistence on social justice. Politically conservative American Mormons (unfortunately almost a redundant phrase) may not be comfortable with the term "social justice" because of the way it has been used in recent political discourse. In spite of that, Mormons are clearly committed to social justice if we understand the term to mean "the drive to build a society based on principles of equality and financial well-being that recognizes the equal value and dignity of each person." And we have been committed to that from the beginning.

The Book of Mormon is adamant about the dangers of wealth and the obligation to care for the poor. A few representative quotations:

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. (Jacob 2:17-19)

. . . Ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—but I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 4:16-18)

And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need . . . . And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need. (Alma 1:29-30)