The Law of Consecration offers a lot of interesting discussion topics and ideas. As a political junkie, one of the most interesting concepts tied up in consecration is the idea of equality. The Book of Mormon has some interesting passages regarding equality; I cannot help thinking that they got Joseph thinking about economics and righteousness. Or, the impact of temporal things upon righteousness, anyway.
So, when the Lord gives the newly organized Church his Law, equality is a big issue. Nowhere is this more powerfully stated than in Section 78, where the Lord tells his people that the time has come , “[t]hat you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; For if you will that I give unto a place in the celestial world you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.” (D&C 78:5-7).
The idea just has the ring of revelation. If we were all equal, think of the problems we could avoid. There would be no poor, at least in the relative sense within the Church. There would be less pride and envy and greed. It would be much easier to avoid materialism if everyone was on an even plane, economically. Equality is a great idea, right?
On the other hand, as Joseph soon learned, voluntary consecration is hard to achieve. As an initial practical matter, there must be a “critical mass” of wealth to sustain the group. But once that is achieved, not everyone will easily overcome their temporal desires. For those who can, it is hard to be equal with someone who is not particularly interested in being equal with you. If you don’t have everyone on board, the whole system is destined for failure. As Richard Bushman points out in Rough Stone Rolling (p. 183),
The system never worked properly. The lack of property to distribute among the poverty-stricken early saints hampered the system’s effectiveness from the start. Joseph struggled on, aided by [Edward] Partridge and loyal Colesville Saints, who made up a large part of the Mormon population in Zion. In 1833, the Mormon’s expulsion from Jackson County would close down everything. The system’s two year existence was about average for the various communal experiments being undertaken in the period.
So what about consecration for you and me, today? I have to say, many members of my ward are kind and generous and charitable - - much more so than I. I truly believe that they take their commitment to consecration seriously. But, I do not see any big push to be “equal in earthly things.” In fact, most of my ward members seem downright resistant to the wealth equalization, Obama-style. (I know, I know, it’s not the same, but still . . .)
So what do you think? Is earthly equality a something to shoot for? Or is it a heavenly aspiration we cannot achieve in the real world? Could Joseph ever have made it work by free will alone, without an economic or political system to reinforce (enforce?) it? Why has the Church implemented it in only the loosest sense? And, would Joseph have voted for the Obama tax and budget plans?