IS THE UNITED ORDER SOCIALISM?

By Loyal to the Word


         The United Order is the economic outgrowth of the Law of Consecration, wherein all that belongs to the individual is dedicated to the work of the Lord. It was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in February 1831. Upon his arrival at Kirtland, the Prophet observed that the Saints there were practicing a communal living of “common stock” which they referred to as “the family.” The Prophet noted that his was a result of “strange notions and false spirits” that had “crept in among them.” The Prophet continued, “With a little caution and some wisdom, I soon assisted the brethren and sisters to overcome them,” and the economic arrangement “was readily abandoned for the more perfect law of the Lord” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 146-147). The Prophet Joseph Smith then had the following revelation: 


“And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.

“And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.

“And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.

“Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council”

(Doctrine & Covenants 42:31-34, emphasis added).



         In other words, those participating in the United Order would consecrate [i.e. donate] all of their property to the Church. An appropriate amount of property – no doubt consisting of much of their own original property – was then to be deeded back to the participant as a “stewardship.” Profits that were made thereafter which were over and above the “wants and needs” (D&C 51:3) of a family were to be donated back to the Order to help the establishment of other families. 


The Concept of Stewardship

         The idea of stewardship was that all things belong to the Lord anyway, and he has only given us our blessings and comforts through his goodwill; therefore nothing we have is in the absolute sense ours, but we are mere stewards over the property the Lord has seen fit to let us enjoy. This stewardship under the United Order was to be imparted by the bishop. The Lord instructed:

 

Edward Partridge 

 

“Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge [the first bishop of the Church], 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.”

(Doctrine & Covenants 51:3).


Is the United Order Socialism?


         Socialism is government ownership of the means of production. It is a system where private ownership is abolished and the government has sole ownership and control over property, and society itself. Some have assumed that the United Order is a form of socialism. I hear that all the time from liberal Mormons, and sometimes well-meaning members of the Church assume the same. This idea, however, is totally false. And the leaders of the Church have been uniform in teaching us that the United Order is not socialistic or collectivist, but is rather much more closely related to capitalism. 


The Prophet Joseph Smith on Socialism and the United Order


         This is demonstrated from the beginnings of the Church. In May 1838, in answer to the question, “Do the Mormons believe in having all things in common [i.e. central ownership of the means of production]?” the Prophet answered an unequivocal, “No” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 28).  In October 1835, the Prophet explained to a Methodist minister,

 



“…we had no common stock business among us; that every man enjoys his own property, or can, if he is disposed, consecrate liberally to the support of the poor and needy, or the building up of Zion.”

(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 295-296).

The Prophet Joseph Smith 

Joseph Smith “Did Not Believe the Doctrine” of Socialism

         When a utopian socialist spoke at Nauvoo in September of 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith made sure to document: “I attended a lecture on Socialism, by Mr. Finch…. I said I did not believe the doctrine” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 33). The prophet then noted with approval that John Taylor, known for his libertarian views, “replied to the lecture at some length” in contradiction to Finch’s ideas. It was only a few weeks later that the Prophet himself preached “about an hour on the 2nd chapter of Acts, designed to show the folly of common stock” (Ibid., p. 37-38).

         Former apostle Lyman Wight, after breaking away from the Church, established his own community on the socialistic principles of “common stock.” In response to this, Orson Hyde wrote:



 

Lyman Wight and Orson Hyde 

“Why does Bro. Wight teach and enforce a doctrine that Joseph Smith never did nor never would sanction? Namely: a community of goods, or property thrown in together as common stock. Though this doctrine has sometimes been practiced by good men, the original purpose and design of God was to make men accountable for their stewardship…. The whole course and order of nature – the constitutional organization of man – the voice of the martyred prophet of the last days, and the eternal purpose of God, all stand opposed to Bro. Wright’s ‘common stock’ principles; and no people can prosper that enforce this as a law among themselves.”

(Orson Hyde as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, 1973, p. 227).



The First Presidency in the Twentieth Century


         Coming down now to more recent times, in the twentieth century there has been an abundance of teachings about the United Order as it relates to socialism. On this subject the First Presidency has declared:

 


“Communism and all other similar isms [i.e. socialism and fascism] bear no relationship whatever to the United Order. They are merely the clumsy counterfeits which Satan always devises of the gospel plan. Communism debases the individual and makes him the enslaved tool of the state…. Latter-day Saints cannot be true to their faith and lend aid, encouragement, or sympathy to any of these false philosophies.”

(Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6: 151).


“To our Church members we say: Communism is not the United Order, and bears only the most superficial resemblance thereto; Communism is based upon intolerance and force, the United Order upon love and freedom of conscience and action; Communism involves forceful despoliation and confiscation, the United Order voluntary consecration…. no loyal American citizen and no faithful Church member can be a Communist. We call upon all Church members completely to eschew Communism.”

(Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., David O. McKay, Messages of the First Presidency, 6:17-18).



 


J. Reuben Clark – First Counselor in the First Presidency


         J. Reuben Clark was one of the great General Authorities of the Church. He was a member of the First Presidency for over 28 years, from 1933 to 1961. A nationally recognized authority on the Constitution, President Clark spoke on it and related subjects throughout his long and illustrious ministry. Truly the Lord had raised up a seer to teach the Saints and warn them of the threats to freedom and the Constitution.  


The Fundamental Principle of the United Order – Private Ownership of Property

         Regarding the nature of the United Order, President J. Reuben Clark, who was uniquely qualified as a statesman and governmental expert as well as a scriptural authority, taught in General Conference:


J. Reuben Clark, Jr. 


“The fundamental principle of this [United Order] system was the private ownership of property. Each man owned his portion, or inheritance, or stewardship, with an absolute title, which he could alienate, or hypothecate, or otherwise treat as his own. The Church did not own all of the property, and the life under the United Order was not a communal life, as the Prophet Joseph, himself said, [History of the Church, Vol. III, p. 28]. The United Order is an individualistic system, not a communal system.”

(President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, October 1942). 


Ezra Taft Benson – As President of the Council of the Twelve


         Ezra Taft Benson was another powerful voice for freedom and the Constitution. Called as an apostle in 1943, He became President of the Church in 1985 until his death in 1994. Like President Clark, President Benson was a statesman,.an expert on the Constitution, and spoke untiringly for freedom. Few men were ever qualified like President Benson to comment on matters touching the religious, political, and economic.


Not Economic and Social Leveling

         While President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, President Benson made sure to teach the young people the proper concepts underlying the nature of the United Order. He taught the following:


“It has been erroneously concluded by some that the United Order is both communal and communistic in theory and practice because the revelations speak of equality. Equality under the United Order is not economic and social leveling as advocated by some today. Equality, as described by the Lord, is “equal[ity] according to [a man’s] family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs” (D&C 51:3).

“Is the United Order a communal system? Emphatically not. It never has been and never will be. It is ‘intensely individualistic.’ Does the United Order eliminate private ownership of property? No. ‘The fundamental principle of this system [is] the private ownership of property’ (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, October 1942, p. 57).” 

(Ezra Taft Benson, “A Vision and a Hope for the Youth of Zion,” BYU Speeches, Apr. 12, 1977). 

Ezra Taft Benson 


Other Twentieth Century Apostles


The United Order, Opposed to the Principles of Socialism

         Marion G. Romney, speaking expressly under the direction of the First Presidency in General Conference, taught:


Marion G. Romney 


“…the United Order can never function under socialism or ‘the welfare state,’ for the good and sufficient reason that the principles upon which socialism and the United Order are conceived and operated are inimical.”

(Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, April 1966). 


More Capitalistic in Its Nature

         Harold B. Lee stated in General Conference, as a newly called apostle and having been head of the Church welfare program:



“…contrary to the belief and mistaken ideas of some of our people, the United Order will not be a socialistic or communistic set-up: it will be something distinctive and yet will be more capitalistic in its nature than either socialism or communism, in that private ownership and individual responsibility will be maintained.” 

(Elder Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1941). 

Harold B. Lee 


Purposes of the United Order


         What are the purposes for the United Order? The revelations give us some indications from which we can draw conclusions:



“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;

“That 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 you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.”

(Doctrine & Covenants 78:4-7). 


The Meaning of “Equal”

         What does it mean in this revelation to “be equal”? In another revelation the Lord explained, “And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties [i.e. of the Lord’s storehouse], for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just” (D&C 82:17). In other words, equality was not to mean that each man must own the exact same things, but that each was to have equal privilege to access the Lord’s storehouse “according to his wants and needs.” This was to be done so that stewardships could be maintained and managed effectively.


Orson Pratt 

         Orson Pratt explained that, “It is well known that for farming purposes, it does not require the same skill as for manufacturing many articles, nor the same capital” (as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, 1973, p. 277). In other words, not all participants would own or have stewardship over the same amount of goods, as occupations vary and call for different circumstances, but “there was [to be] no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Also, Orson Pratt wrote, “The Lord never intended that every man should possess an equal amount of stewardship with his brother. Why? Because God has given to some men greater ability to manage and control property than others” (as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, 1973, p. 278). Therefore, there would still be a disparity of wealth, but no one suffering in poverty. The equality was one of equal footing as stewards, and not of equal resources or property. 

         Orson Pratt explained further that, “No equality can be brought about by dividing property; the Lord never intended such an order of things” (as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, 1973, p. 277). There was to be no expropriation of property to divide it among a favored class. Instead, the Saints were to voluntarily consecrate themselves and their means, and consider themselves united as joint heirs to the Lord’s property. 

         Brigham Young agreed with this sentiment, and taught that equality did not mean a division of property, or taking property by force and redistributing it to others and expecting an equal outcome for all. He taught, 



“Supposing that the property of the whole community were divided today equally amongst all, what might we expect? Why a year from today we should need another division, for some would waste and squander it away, while others would add to their portion. The skill of building up and establishing the Zion of our God on the earth is to take the people and teach them how to take care of themselves and that which the Lord has entrusted to their care, and to use all that we command to glorify his holy name. This is the work of regenerating, of elevating mankind to the higher plane of the Gospel; in other words, of simply teaching them their duty."

***

“Now, if we could take this people, in their present condition, and teach them how to sustain and maintain themselves and a little more, we would add to that which we already have; but to take what we have and divide amongst or give to people, without teaching them how to earn and produce, would be no more nor less than to introduce the means of reducing them to a state of poverty.

“I do not wish for one moment to recognize the idea that in order to establish the United Order our property has to be divided equally among the people, to let them do what they please with it. But the idea is to get the people into the same state of unity in all things temporal, that we find ourselves in with regard to things spiritual. Then let those who possess the ability and wisdom direct the labors of those not so endowed, until they too develop the talents within them and in time acquire the same degree of ability.” 

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 18:354).


         From this we learn that in the United Order there is not to be an equality of property in the sense of absolute ownership; People would not own the same amount of things. As noted further above with the teachings of Orson Pratt, in the United Order there would still be a disparity of wealth, because there is an inherent disparity of ability among people. But there would be no poor within the Order as a result of the system and the love it is based on.

         So how then are the Saints made equal if this does not mean the dividing of property? In answer to this, Elder Orson Pratt remarked,


“How are we to be made one and equal in the inheritance of temporal things? If the riches of the earth were equally divided among all the children of God, circumstances would soon render them unequal; accidents, misfortunes, unwise calculations, sickness, and many other calamities would reduce some to poverty; while through experience and favorable circumstances, others would greatly add to their property …. Hence it is supposed by some, that under such changing and fluctuating circumstances, equality could not be maintained, even though it should be established. They argue that if they were all made equal today, circumstances would render them unequal tomorrow…. God’s plan of making His Saints equal in property is not subject to any fluctuating circumstances; it is a perfect plan; it is not brought about by an equal division of property, nor by any division at all. Division of property, like division of doctrine, is a plan of the devil…. Equality among the Saints is not to be introduced by an equal division of property, but by a union of property.

(Orson Pratt as quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, 1973, p 274).


         This  “union of property” is to be understood in the sense that all mankind are merely stewards of what is really the Lords property. And since all mankind are children of God, all are stewards of that which does not truly belong to them, even though we may refer to them as owners. But like in the Parable of the Talents, some stewards are capable of managing more than others of what belongs to their lord (see Matt. 25:14-30). However, though some will have more than others, wealth beyond that which is necessary according to the “wants and needs” of a family (see D&C 51:3) are to be given as freewill offerings to the Church to help those in need (D&C 42:33-34), eliminating the problem of poverty.


That Every Man May Improve and Gain

         As to further information about the purpose of the United Order, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation goes on further to say:


“And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—

“Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.”

(Doctrine & Covenants 82:18-19, emphasis added).



A Summary of the United Order’s Purposes

         Therefore the purposes of the United Order were:

  • To create a sense of equality and brotherhood among the Saints.
  • To more easily enable widespread economic opportunity among the Saints.
  • To eliminate pride and envy.
  • To foster sensibilities towards the interests and needs of others.
  • To prepare the Saints for the celestial kingdom by requiring obedience.
  • To see that the Saints are in a position to prosper according to correct economic principles.


Summary of the Differences Between Socialism and the United Order


         One might be excused for mistaking in ignorance that the United Order is socialistic. But after reading the foregoing quotes which speak expressly to the contrary, if one continues, because of ideological reasons, to insist that the United Order is like socialism, this constitutes open and willful rebellion against the truth. The differences between the United Order and socialism are many and fundamental. We will list them now for good measure:

  1. The United Order is completely voluntary, while socialism requires the use of force to confiscate (i.e. steal) the property of others in order to redistribute it. It is Satan’s method to operate by force, destroying free will and forcing the masses to bend to the will of a dictator (see Moses 4:1-3).
  2. The United Order retains the private ownership of property. Each individual’s consecrated property is considered private property once it is placed in new hands. In Mormonism, “the right and control of property” is a sacred and undeniable right (D&C 134:2). Those who participate in the United Order have absolute control over their property, while socialism seeks to abolish private ownership and give the sole power of property ownership and control into the hands of the state.
  3. The United Order encourages private competition, as competition is the means by which services are rendered better and more efficiently. Socialism seeks to eradicate competition and give the consumers only one choice - the state.
  4. The United Order is administered at the local level, with the Bishop of each ward being the Lord’s judge in the matter. Socialism, on the other hand, is administered at the federal level of government, the most inefficient and faceless and removed entity imaginable. 
  5. The family is the center of the United Order and the focus for which men work for economic prosperity. In socialism, the government seeks to replace the institution of the family with the state.
  6. The United Order holds respect and value for the Constitution of the United States, which is based on the premise of a free market capitalist system. Socialism is at its core completely opposite to the principles of the Constitution.
  7. The United Order is a private, voluntary system administered by a private Church among its members. Socialism is administered by the government with the aim to usurp authority over all people.



Conclusion


         To quote Elder Marion G. Romney speaking under the direction of the First Presidency: “No brethren, socialism is not the United Order” (Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, Apr. 1966). The similarities between socialism and the United Order are very superficial; the differences between socialism and the United Order are stark and immovable. The leaders of the Church have been unanimous in saying that socialism is fundamentally different and antithetical to the premises the United Order are built on. Members of the Church, after reading this article, have the knowledge necessary to reject the mistaken notion that the two systems are alike. And if there be some who see this article and yet continue to assert that the United Order is socialistic, let it be known that they are dishonest and their sophistry is lies.


 
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