Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: manipulation

D&C Lesson 14 (Law of Consecration)

The Law of Consecration

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 42:30–42; 51; 78; 82; 104:11–18;
Our Heritage, page 26.

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

Overview

Ah, the days when I could get a rise out of a Sunday School class by cheekily suggesting that the Law of Consecration (aka the United Order) was a form of socialism.

“Socialism is Satan’s counterfeit for the United Order!” Brother Grumpus would always say. The classfull of Mormon-Americans would nod along. They probably didn’t understand socialism (or communism), and they sure didn’t understand the United Order, but I doubt they would have been thrilled with any of these systems. So it’s funny that this lesson tries to sell communitarian utopianism to what is very likely to be a very conservative class of members.

The Law of Consecration is not communism or socialism. It is, however, the mark of an incredibly demanding religion. Briefly, it is an economic system in which members place all their property and worldly goods into the hands of the same church leaders who ask if they masturbate.

It is the system that the Lord has ordained for looking after the welfare of his Saints… and it is something that always fails. It never works, but God doesn’t seem to know this.

There is, however, something that does seem to be working where it’s been tried so far: Universal Basic Income. I’ll plug that a bit later on.

Reading

How it started

The chapters for this lesson are revelations from the creator of the universe, and definitely not Joseph Smith, in which people are told to give Joseph Smith their money. Edward Partridge was supposed to work it out.

D&C 51:3 Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.
4 And let my servant Edward Partridge, when he shall appoint a man his portion, give unto him a writing that shall secure unto him his portion, that he shall hold it, even this right and this inheritance in the church, until he transgresses and is not accounted worthy by the voice of the church, according to the laws and covenants of the church, to belong to the church.

Here’s God giving poor deluded Martin Harris the business…

D&C 104:24 And again, let my servant Martin Harris have appointed unto him, for his stewardship, the lot of land which my servant John Johnson obtained in exchange for his former inheritance, for him and his seed after him;
25 And inasmuch as he is faithful, I will multiply blessings upon him and his seed after him.
26 And let my servant Martin Harris devote his moneys for the proclaiming of my words, according as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., shall direct.

and again…

D&C 58:35 It is wisdom in me that my servant Martin Harris should be an example unto the church, in laying his moneys before the bishop of the church.
36 And also, this is a law unto every man that cometh unto this land to receive an inheritance; and he shall do with his moneys according as the law directs.
37 And it is wisdom also that there should be lands purchased in Independence, for the place of the storehouse, and also for the house of the printing.
38 And other directions concerning my servant Martin Harris shall be given him of the Spirit, that he may receive his inheritance as seemeth him good;

…while calling Martin sinful at the same time!

D&C 58:39 And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world.

Joseph Smith was really something, wasn’t he?

I want to recommend Mithyn’s Law of Consecration Timeline, with loads of information about how it all went down. Mithryn’s breakdown of this lesson is also required reading. It explains the failures of 1830s-era consecration, but also of Brigham Young’s attempts in the 1850s.

This arrangement was supposed to be permanent.

D&C 78:3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion
4 For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven;
5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;

And despite the Law of Consecration being discontinued, the manual says it hasn’t changed.

Explain that the principles of the law of consecration have not changed since it was revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. However, the application of those principles changes from time to time. The current prophet helps us understand how to apply these principles in our day.

Obviously, it’s one of those “policy changes” rather than a “doctrinal change”.

So what really happened? Why did consecration fail? Predictably, the Gospel Doctrine manual blames the people, because God never fails, and if his plans don’t work, it’s because you were bad. (Just ask Eve.)

Some Saints lived it well, to the blessing of themselves and others, but other members failed to rise above selfish desires, causing the eventual withdrawal of the law from the Church. In 1838 the Lord revealed the law of tithing (see D&C 119), which continues today as the financial law of the Church.

In other words, God had to call it off because he didn’t realise that people were going to be selfish and mean. He just didn’t see that coming. Consecration was the victim of nothing more than God’s failure to grasp human nature.

Think about it: Joseph Smith had God himself giving detailed instructions on how to make it work, and it still failed? God could knock up a universe in six days, but it seems that figuring out an economic system that works was too hard. Which makes one conclude that God is a bit of a loser. Or consecration never works. Or both.

There’s another possibility: God is a really good engineer, but a really shitty economist. His all-knowingness only extends to certain areas. Which makes sense because he isn’t that great at other things, like moral reasoning. Many times, I’ve asked religious people, “Just because God is smart enough to make a universe, why does that make him a moral expert? Why would that mean that he gets to tell us how to live?” It always confuses them, because they’re not used to thinking that someone who’s good at one thing isn’t automatically good at everything.

The response you can expect from members is “Just wait until God is in charge of it, though. Then it will work.” But this makes no sense. In what way was God not in charge of it the first time? He was dictating entire sections of the D&C, explaining who should do what, and it still didn’t work. How will next time be any different? At some point the buck has to stop.

What are class members supposed to take away from this?

What else? Give the church everything.

We must be willing to make the sacrifices that the Lord requires of us at the present time. These include sacrifices of time, talents, and possessions. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve give us direction regarding how we implement the principles of the law of consecration in our day.

• How can we consecrate our time, talents, and possessions to help build the kingdom of God today? (Answers may include those listed below.)
a. Pay tithing and fast offerings and give generously in other ways to those in need. By doing these things, we can help the Church care for the poor and carry on the important activities necessary to build the kingdom of God on earth. Elder Marion G. Romney asked: “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1966, 100; or Improvement Era, June 1966, 537).
b. Serve willingly in the Church. The Lord has admonished each person to “learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence” (D&C 107:99). We should fulfill the callings we receive to the best of our ability. In addition to specific Church callings, we can share the gospel with others, do temple work, and seek to strengthen the testimonies of those who are new or weak in the faith.
c. Serve as a full-time missionary. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “Going on a mission teaches you to live the law of consecration. It may be the only time in your life when you can give to the Lord all your time, talents, and resources. In return, the Lord will bless you with His Spirit to be with you. He will be close to you and strengthen you” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 50; or Ensign, May 1996, 36).

God: Oh, did I say consecration? I meant fast offerings and going on missions.

It’s worth pointing out that, in the endowment ceremony, members promise to give everything they have to the church — and note: to the church! not to God. Once you’ve promised that, they own you.

And while the purpose of the United Order was ostensibly to care for the poor, getting members to hand over everything was a far more useful goal. After that, what else would you hold back from them? And if the whole enterprise fails, the investment fallacy makes you incapable of admitting that it failed.

George Carlin knew what was up.

What works: UBI

There is a way to make sure everyone has enough, and it seems to work: the Universal Basic Income, or UBI.

Universal Basic Income is a wellknown topic these days, so skip this part if you’re a fan, and read on if you’re not.

Many people worry about the rise of automation displacing jobs. In the past, this hasn’t been a problem because computers have created entire industries to replace the jobs they supplanted. However, with the new wave of driverless cars, robotic automation, and (crucially) AI systems that can do human jobs just as well as a human, there’s no reason to think that there will be a robot technician for every robot. That means a lot of less-skilled workers out of work.

This is all happening at a time when neoliberalism has funnelled a lot of money toward the top 1%, and shrunk the middle class. A lot of people are just not seeing a way out of their money problems, and this is fuelling hopelessness and extremism.

One solution that has been proposed (and tested) is a Universal Basic Income, or UBI. Everyone, no matter how much money they make, gets enough money to live on, and they can work more if they want to. With a bedrock level of economic security, they can make choices:

  • Leave a job they hate
  • Start a business they’ve always wanted to
  • Take care of kids, or someone who’s sick or elderly
  • Not have to do something terrible for little to no money because they have few other choices

With a UBI, people who are doing unpaid but necessary work will be compensated. If we want people to fill unpleasant or distasteful jobs, we’ll need to pay people at a commensurate level. Don’t like porn or sex work? Fewer people will be doing it for the money; you’ll only see the people whose hearts are in it. And people who are still in truly unsavoury careers, like marketing, will be exposed for the kind of people they are.

But with the basics of life taken care of (and how about a national health care system in place), people will be able to get on with things they’d like to do. And there will be a not incidental amount of money rocketing around the economy, increasing the velocity of money, and stimulating demand.

Religious folk will object. There’s an unhelpful protestant ethic that you should starve if you’re not feeding the employment machine.

GOP lawmaker: The Bible says ‘if a man will not work, he shall not eat’

One lawmaker is citing a godly reference to  justify changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) recently quoted the New Testament to question the strength of current work requirements.

The biblical passage, 2 Thessalonians 3-10, was a rebuttal to one of the hearing’s expert witnesses, a representative of the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON. (He referenced Leviticus.) It is also a familiar refrain to anyone who has watched past debates about SNAP.

House Republicans have historically cited the verse — “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” — as justification for cutting some adults’ SNAP benefits.

But this is just part of another bible-based system created by a do-nothing god that hasn’t worked. Why listen to him? He did a week’s worth of work ages ago, and hasn’t done a damn thing since, except write a couple of books.

Additional ideas for teaching

Why are Mormons so blasted conservative?

I’ll be straight with you. If you’re a Gospel Doctrine teacher in a politically conservative area, this lesson is a hard sell. And there are a lot of conservative areas, because Mormons by and large are not the most liberal people. Far from it.

Mormons Most Conservative Major Religious Group in U.S.

PRINCETON, NJ — Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, are the most conservative major religious group in the country, with 59% identifying as conservative, 31% as moderate, and 8% as liberal.

This is likely getting worse, as liberal members are driven out by the anti-LGBT leanings of the church’s policy makers.

Although batshit conservative John-Birchy members are also leaving, so maybe a bit of a wash. The leaked graphic from Mormonleaks — the one that prompted a takedown notice from the church — identifies threats from the “far left” and the “far right”. Denver Snuffer sits opposite John Dehlin. (Who is Robert Norman?)

Wait, where’s the bubble that says “Church is heavily compromised by its refusal to provide evidence for its claims or come clean about problematic areas of its history, plus it is untrue”? Guess they didn’t have room.

This next part is going to sound dumb. I’m sorry in advance.

For me, the conservative nature of the church was part of my deconversion. Specifically, it was when George W. Bush was re-elected to president in 2004 — county for county in the case of Utah.

I don’t mean that Mormons didn’t vote the way I wanted to, so they must be evil. There’s a lot of scope for political difference, and who knows where our political values come from anyway.

But that was the capper on a long lifetime of confrontation with Mormons, as some of the worst people in the American experiment. We live in a time when some really unapologetically evil people are in charge, and Mormons — the people who claim to have the greatest unfiltered access to the Holy Ghost — are the biggest defenders of the evil.

And yes, I do mean evil. If being evil means causing unnecessary suffering, then throwing people off their health care is a form of evil. Cutting off school lunch programmes so kids don’t get fed is a form of evil. Making sure wealthy people get enough while everyone else doesn’t is a form of evil. At some point, making sure people have enough stops being a political issue, and instead becomes a test of moral rectitude. It’s about whether you’re a Good Person, whether you give in to fascism, or whether you’re willing to turn in your neighbours on a registry.

And now that I seem to be talking about Trump, Mormons — after an initial period of uncertainty, after which they voted for him en masse anywaythink he’s just dandy.

Majority of Utahns now view Trump favorably, poll shows

Washington • President Donald Trump’s approval rating is increasing in Utah — a majority of registered voters now view him positively — even as his numbers nationally have sunk in his first two months in office.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll finds that 54 percent of registered voters say they somewhat or strongly approve of Trump’s job performance while 41 percent disapprove. In January, just before Trump took office, a Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll found 46 percent favorability for the incoming president and 52 percent unfavorable.

Does that sound like a group of people that have the Holy Ghost? Or are they willing to overlook a pussy-grabber when he does what they like?

Maybe there’s hope. I went to visit my TBM sister before the 2016 election. She confided that she wasn’t keen on Trump. Didn’t know why. Just didn’t like him. And I thought, Well, maybe there’s a line there that she wouldn’t cross. That election was a test for many people of what they would put up with, and a lot of people failed. At least for her there was a line.

Covetousness

There’s one thing you’re not supposed to do in this lesson, and that’s covet.

Read D&C 19:26 with class members. What warning did the Lord give to Martin Harris in this verse? Why must we overcome covetousness if we are to consecrate our lives to the Lord? How can we overcome covetous feelings?

D&C 19:26 And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of God

Wow — you’re not supposed to covet your own property. In the Old Testament, you weren’t supposed to covet someone else’s stuff, but at least you knew that for your own stuff, covet away! But apparently not. That this is part of Joseph Smith’s plan to get Martin Harris to hand over everything as part of a business scam is especially galling.

Also from the manual:

President Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid of covetousness in our Elders than I am of the hordes of hell. … All our enemies … in the world, and all hell with them marshalled against us, could not do us the injury that covetousness in the hearts of this people could do us; for it is idolatry” (in Journal of Discourses, 5:353).

I’m not going to beat the drum for capitalism — not as it exists today, that is. But it seems to be that covetousness is not really a problem when everyone’s finances are unconnected. I like my neighbour’s car. Maybe I’ll work harder or make better choices, and get one. That’s mildly positive.

Coveting is only a problem when everyone’s finances are linked. You only have to worry about someone drawing out all the money when it’s a joint account. So it seems to me that the United Order encouraged covetousness.

John Whitmer recorded that “The time has not yet come that the law can be fully established, for the disciples live scattered abroad and are not yet organized; our numbers are small and the disciples untaught, consequently they understand not the things of the kingdom.” Whitmer further noted that part of the problem was that “some of the disciples who were flattered into this Church… thought that all things were to be in common, therefore they thought to glut themselves upon the labors of others.”

In general, looking after each other is something that needs to happen, even if this isn’t the way to do it.

I like this quote from Louis C.K.

Bind the Lord

There’s an idea in this reading that I find slightly evil. It was promoted on my mission, and it doesn’t work. It led to a lot of disillusionment.

D&C 82:10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.

The idea is: if you’re doing what God says, he has to come through with the blessings. He’s bound. It’s a very mercantile view of spirituality.

So in theory, you could “bind the Lord” and get what you want. In the mission field, it played out like this:

  • Pray and make a covenant with the Lord that you’ll do something (obey the rules) if he’ll do something (send you people to baptise).
  • You do the thing.
  • He doesn’t do the thing back because he doesn’t exist.

This is very confusing. Apparently the Lord wants people to join the church, but he never seems to zap people’s minds and make them want to be Mormons.

With the failure of your covenant, you now have choices:

  1. Be disillusioned
  2. Clap harder
  3. Blame yourself
  4. Reinterpret the outcome in an uplifting way

Only number 1 is unacceptable in the church, and it also happens to be the best answer.

D&C Lesson 10 (Emma Hale Smith)

“This Is My Voice unto All”

Reading assignment

Doctrine and Covenants 25

Links: Teacher’s manual | Student manual

It’s a busy year for Your Humble Godless Doctrine teacher. So I’m posting this lesson as kind of a rough outline, with the intention of filling in the details later. Think of this as the notes that a Gospel Doctrine teacher would walk into class with.

Overview

This lesson is about Emma Smith Hales, Joseph Smith’s first wife (but not the first one he was sealed to).

In the church days of my youth, we didn’t talk much about Emma. I’d heard that she didn’t follow the Saints west, married someone else, and joined the Reorganised Church. So that sounded a bit shady. On the other hand, she had helped act as scribe for the Book of Mormon, even showing a remarkable lack of curiosity when she allegedly saw the “gold plates” left unattended, wrapped in a tablecloth.

The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.” (The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)

By the way, isn’t this kind of odd? I was always told that evil people stopped at nothing to get their hands on the plates, and that the plates had to be moved about all the time. But no, they’re just over there on the table.

So who was Emma Smith? Co-conspirator? Wronged woman? Infidel? What a fascinating range to choose from! But talking about her in church was fraught with peril — who knew what would come out from under that rock if you lifted it a little?

Well, for this lesson, the church constructs a much more wholesome image for her, and one that’s much more in line for what the church wants its female members to be: Emma as loving and supportive spouse.

Remember how I said that the Doctrine and Covenants really only makes sense if you think of it as Joseph Smith telling everyone what God wants them to do for Joseph Smith? This manipulation is evident in Section 25 — though, as we’ll see, this is not the most manipulative section. Not by a long shot.

Reading

Support

Emma married Joseph in 1827, over the objections of her father, who saw Smith as a dishonest character. From Mormonism Unvailed:

When we arrived at Mr. Hale’s, in Harmony, Pa. from which place he had taken his wife, a scene presented itself, truly affecting. His father-in-law (Mr. Hale) addressed Joseph, in a flood of tears: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money — pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept, and acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false.

Let’s see what the manual has to say about the happy couple.

In July 1830, the Lord directed a revelation to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 25). Display a picture of Emma Smith. Explain that this lesson focuses on three themes from the Lord’s revelation to Emma.

1. Husbands and wives should support and comfort each other.

D&C 25:5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.

Joseph says that God says to be nice to Joseph.

The manual again.

The Prophet taught husbands, “It is the duty of a husband to love, cherish, and nourish his wife, and cleave unto her and none else; he ought to honor her as himself, and he ought to regard her feelings with tenderness” (Elders’ Journal, Aug. 1838, 61).

What a shame that he didn’t keep this advice. Somewhere between 1833 and 1835, Joseph Smith  diverted his attention to Fanny Alger, who had worked for Joseph and Emma as a maid. William McLellin alleged that Joseph and Fanny had been caught by Emma in flagrante delicto.

“Again I told her [Emma] I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true.”

– William McLellin, 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, see In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton, p. 35

Oliver Cowdery spoke of the…

dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger’s … in which I strictly declared that I had never deserted from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.”

Oliver was excommunicated in 1938, apparently for not shutting up about it.

The church essay on this topic  tries to paper things over.

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

Calling it a “marriage” seems a stretch. Fanny moved on and married Solomon Custer in 1836, which is kind of what you do when you’ve had an “affair”, not a “marriage”.

On all of this, the Gospel Doctrine manual simply says:

Joseph and Emma Smith were a great support to each other during the many times of affliction they faced.

Not a word about Joseph’s sexual predation on other women.

(h/t: Redditor Juggler_Vain)

Activity: If you are in a real Gospel Doctrine class, please let us know if the instructor mentions the other women without being prompted by class members.

Pride

Here’s a theme that will be of no surprise to those who have read the Book of Mormon.

2. We should be meek and avoid pride.
The Lord commanded Emma Smith to “continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride”

Read the following verses with class members:

a. D&C 23:1 (to Oliver Cowdery): “Beware of pride, lest thou shouldst enter into temptation.”
b. D&C 38:39 (to the Saints in a conference of the Church): “Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.”
c. D&C 90:17 (to the First Presidency of the Church): “Be admonished in all your high-mindedness and pride, for it bringeth a snare upon your souls.”
d. D&C 98:19–20 (to the Saints in Kirtland): “I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland; For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness.”

Ask: Why did Joseph Smith tell so many people to avoid pride?

A major threat for a movement’s leaders is that people lower in the hierarchy will usurp them. You have to teach them to know their place. Convincing those people to be humble can help to tamp that down.

So many things about the church seems calculated to instill into its members a sense of docility and timidity in the face of unquestionable authority.

Rejoice

Here’s point 3 in the manual:

3. We should rejoice and be of good cheer.
The Lord admonished Emma Smith, “Lift up thy heart and rejoice”

Well, it does say that, kind of. But let’s read the whole verse.

D&C 25:13 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.
14 Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.

So what it actually says is: rejoice. And be meek, humble, love your husband, or else!

No idea whether being threatened like this made Emma feel joyful. Guessing not.

The picture that I get from this lesson is: Joseph Smith was gross. If God didn’t pick a womanising conman as his chosen prophet, he certainly showed a startling disregard for the fact that his chosen prophet looked an awful lot like a womanising conman.

Additional lesson ideas

A better world?

D&C 25:10 And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.

Horrible advice. This life is the only life we’re sure that we get. But the church tries to convince us to use up our life in the service of perpetuating itself, and furthering its cause. Don’t worry, they say; you get another life — if you give us this one.

This is one of the more evil beliefs in the church. The only better world that we’re ever going to see is the better world that we create ourselves right here, and it’s not going to happen if we’re ignoring it in favour of an illusory afterlife.

Did Emma try to kill Joseph?

There’s a story about how Emma tried to put poison in Joseph’s coffee. Steve Benson dismisses this as Brigham Young’s paranoia, and I tend to agree.

There is such a thing as justifiable homicide, and if she had succeeded — or more effective still, if someone had smothered an infant Joseph Smith in his cot — it would have spared her the lies and deceit of her philandering guru husband, and perhaps spared the world the dreary, dishonest, and self-serving religion known as Mormonism.