Hal Boyd: Mormon gospel not money gospel: A reply to new essay on Mormonism from Harper's Magazine

Published: Monday, Sept. 26 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

The scripture, when placed in context, does not support the idea that "Mormon scriptures stress the close alignment of wealth and virtue." Rather, they stress the close alignment of wealth and pride.

Lehmann makes much of what he calls The Book of Mormon's "prosperity" cycle, yet he neglects to mention that the end of the cycle is pride and utter destruction. In fact, the main overarching theme of The Book of Mormon (prosperity and pride precede the fall) contradicts Lehmann's entire characterization of Mormon theology.

One does not need to scour the "pages of Joseph Smith's revelation(s) in vain for any suggestion that wealth complicates the spiritual lives of believers," as Lehmann suggests. In fact, a simple search on lds.org (the LDS Church's official website) will turn up the following verses among Smith's revelations, admonishing believers to not seek after riches alone:

"Seek not for riches but for wisdom… Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich." (Doctrine and Covenants 6:7)

"And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better." (Doctrine and Covenants 25:10)

"... It must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites (a Book of Mormon people) of old." (Doctrine and Covenants 38:39)

As for the concept that Mormonism creates a "neat inversion of the New Testament ethic of self-sacrificing service," Joseph Smith taught: "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."

Lehmann's essay also omits mention that one of the official four-fold missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "care for the poor and needy" — this manifests itself in specific programs like Mormon fast-offerings (alms given to the local poor), the church's extensive humanitarian aid program (a program which has given $1.3 billion to disaster relief, vaccinations, vision treatment, clean water initiatives, feeding the hungry, wheelchair distribution, education initiatives and a variety of other church efforts in 178 countries since 1985 alone) — not to mention the LDS law of consecration, a co-operative system received by revelation in which property was deeded to the church during a period in the 1830s and then redistributed by the bishop to aid poor members of the church.

"And behold, thou wilt remember the poor," reads Smith's revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 42:30. "And consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken."

The Book of Mormon further teaches: "Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. . . . Feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted." (2 Nephi 9:51)

Despite all this, Lehmann argues that Joseph Smith's real legacy is "the invention of a New World religion, merging a deeply exceptionalist vision of America's role in the biblical history with a hard-money gospel of individual success."

Yet today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the very organization claiming to carry on Joseph Smith's legacy, preaches nothing resembling a "hard-money gospel." Out of the 1,526,879 words spoken from the pulpit during all the LDS general conferences (semi-annual international church gatherings) from 2000-2010, the word "money" was uttered only 197 times (.012 percent of the time) and "gold" just 54 times (.0035 percent of the time) according to a Brigham Young University conference database. Despite Lehmann's inferences to the contrary, never once did church authorities admonish church members to make more money or advocate buying gold as a safe investment — and the very few times the word "gold" was used over the past decade it was usually quoting scripture warning against materialism or referencing The Book of Mormon's golden plates in telling the early history of the church.

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