Can you be a Mormon and wealthy?

Kate Kelly's picture

Like a camel traveling through a needle's eye[1]
My parents were fighting traffic between Orem and Provo a few years back when a shiny new BMW Z4 zipped past them. The license plate on the swanky sports car was emblazoned with, "Alma 36:1." Curious about the cryptic message the owner was conveying to the public, they grabbed their scriptures in the back of the car and looked up the cryptic slogan. It reads, "My son, give ear to my words; for inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God, ye shall prosper in the land."

When they later mentioned it in passing, I began to sputter with disbelief and horror to have the awful underlying segment of Mormon culture that equates wealth directly to righteousness displayed tangibly in vehicular form. This sick vehicular joke inspired me to look inwardly to search for heinous signs of material pride. It is so easy to see the unacceptable level of material comfort as that place above ours and tidily excuse our own patterns of consumption in the face of someone else's more outrageous spending. But, examining myself and LDS culture I found innumerable examples, thoughts, and paradigms that fit the bill (pun intended).

It is morally wrong to have more than you need
The fact is that Mormon sins flourish within the lusty, fusty, grimy crawl space of gray area between the outright directives of the commandments. We thrive on indeterminate words like, "sparingly[2]" in the scriptures that in their ambiguity let us wiggle and shimmy out of a strict moral code and get away with murder, literally.
However, we are told in D&C 49:20, "But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore, the world lieth in sin." Squeezing away the comfort of ambiguity, we must acknowledge that the choice is between personal luxury and Christian charity.[3] Our relationship to the poor is directly correlated to our own withholdings. If I have more, others have less. To build a Zion with, "no poor among [us]" there must also be no rich among us.[4]
Our duties to the poor, wounded and afflicted are, in fact, clearly outlined in the scriptures. We are given specific instructions to:
1) Cloth the naked
2) Feed the hungry
3) House strangers
Our reward for doing so is very clearly, "life eternal" and for failing to do so even more acutely clear, "everlasting punishment[5]."

How do you determine what you truly need?
Caution is required in making financial decisions because the ol', "you have to be wealthy to be a mission president" or "there is so much good you can do with money" arguments creep in. Although many of the caliber of people that we slot into the ambiguous Great Oz category of "the brethren" are financially successful (to say the least), we must not make the mistake of using them to justify our material lust. Instead, I truly admire those who overcome the saturated temptations that high incomes provide. They are like those described by Alma who chose humility, instead of being "compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty," and as such will be "much more blessed.[6]"
We know that if approached with humility the Holy Ghost can tell us "the truth of all things.[7]" This humble supplication with God's gifts to us is crucial to avoid what Gandhi called, "the incessant search for comforts and their multiplication." He cautioned that people "themselves will have to remodel their outlook, if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves... for [us] to run after the Golden Fleece is to court certain death.[8]" Our modern world of easy goods and online pleasures is a perilous place and we must constantly keep guard to not drown our spirits in its commodities. If we consider our financial decisions in the light of the divine guidance, and receive spiritual confirmation, then we can rest assured that the possessions we have are necessary and good.

Victims of ease and luxury
Lest we think that our ten percent tithe frees us of obligation, it is the bare minimum requirement. We must give of our resources, financial and otherwise, until it hurts or it is not a true sacrifice[9].
J. Reuben Clark declared, "God has never worked out his purposed through the pampered victims of ease and luxury and riotous living. Always he has used to meet the great crisis of his work, those in whom hardship, privation, and persecution had built characters and wills of iron. God shapes his servants in the forge of adversity; he does not fashion them in the hothouse of ease and luxury.[10]"
We must give until it is physically and emotionally uncomfortable if we are to gain our salvation. The parable of the widow's mite gives excellent insight into the Lord's judgment over the use of money. It is not based on how much we give away, but on how much we keep for ourselves.[11]

Application
Our respective stewardships are given to us to bless those who come within our reach. But, how far do we reach? Joseph Smith states, "A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.[12]"
In summation, I quote BYU sociology professor Richard Johnson, "Inaction in the face of the current situation invites moral censure on each of us individually...I can easily imagine a hereafter in which most of the regretting, repenting, and pain experienced by contemporary middle-and upper-class 'active' American Mormons is due to the sin of keeping too much for ourselves."
I would like to believe that my standard of living is not a moral issue. However, ultimately I cannot walk uprightly before God if my standard of living is above that of my brother. To have a clean conscience I must give everything that the Lord has blessed me with, including money, time and all of my talents to build up his kingdom. Nothing less is expected; and nothing less will suffice.
________________________________
[1] Matt. 19: 24
[2] D&C 89:12
[3] Richard E. Johnson. Wealth and Poverty. June 1994.
[4] Moses 7:18
[5] Matt 25:46
[6] Alma 32:15
[7] Moroni 10:5
[8] Mohandas K. Gandhi. Collected Works. 46:55-56, italics added.
[9] Warner Woodworth. Wave of Hope Handbook. May 2005.
[10] J. Reuben Clark. July 24, 1947.
[11] Richard E. Johnson. Wealth and Poverty. June 1994.
[12] Joseph Smith Jr. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. 174.

Comments

Great quote Mahonri...thanks

Great quote Mahonri...thanks for sharing that.

Brigham Young - If you get a

Brigham Young -
If you get a frock worth three dollars when a two-dollar one will answer, and maybe last longer, you might have saved a dollar to give for gathering the poor.
Journal of Discourses 9:39.

Great stuff Kate. Of course

Great stuff Kate.
Of course next week's Sunday School lesson, I guarantee will have at least one person dragging out the old cliche;
"But of course it isn't money that's evil, but the love of money... being wealthy isn't bad if you use it to help others".
The only trouble with such a commonly repeated platitude is that is a sop to our guilt, and if LDS members lived by it as often as they said it we'd have the greatest concentration of philanthropists in any faith.

Vince...I agree with you

Vince...I agree with you wholeheartedly. That platitude is casuistic and needs re-examination in the LDS world. However, I have heard it from Stake Presidents and Mission President so I think that it is "Mormon Policy" as much as it is not taught officially but used to explain away our running in the capitalist race.

I have heard the real reason we abandoned cooperativism is because the USA wouldnt accept Utah if it didnt conform to the capitalist model. I could be wrong and need to investigate this further.

Cheers for the heads up on next weeks lesson. What do you think we could say Vince as a rebuttal to the that platitude?

"I have heard the real reason

"I have heard the real reason we abandoned cooperativism is because the USA wouldnt accept Utah if it didnt conform to the capitalist model. I could be wrong and need to investigate this further"

I really do believe the reason the early saints were persecuted so much wasn't always because of their beliefs on marriage but their economic beliefs. A really good book that explains the history of this way better than I ever could is The Great Basin Kingdom: by Leonard James Arrington.

Amazon is shipping it to me

Amazon is shipping it to me just as we speak. :-)

I have often thought that because the Saints were very prosperous in Nauvoo and Utah and challenged the hegemony of US elites in the east...I am excited to read it now.

Kate...I hope you won the

Kate...I hope you won the prize with that essay. It is incredible.

Such spirituality and depth to it.

Something my friend said the other day that resonated in my mind was:

"We must not sacrifice our morality or property or wealth."

That is te biggest problem the world faces...thank you for elaborating this in your essay and petitioning us to really see Christ in our fellowman.

I had to laugh at the BMW

I had to laugh at the BMW gag... that's really something! It's a very poignant and powerful scripture, that you quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 49. Neal A. Maxwell used it in his short book 'The Enoch Letters', that describes an imagined conversation between someone living in the City of Enoch (United Order), and a friend, living without. How much better the world would be, if we freely imparted of our surplus, to help those who are needy!

I wrote this article a couple

I wrote this article a couple of years back for a competition of BYU's Collegiate Post student publication. Since I believe in recycling, I've updated it a bit for a "new" post. I need the constant reminder of these potent words to recall how strongly I felt & feel about economic inequality.

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