“Can you be a good Mormon and want to be a millionaire?”
This question, or something very much like it, was posed in my Sunday School class last week. I think the very question says something interesting about the asker, but since my short answer (“No”) would not have gone over terribly well, and my longer and more justified answer would’ve taken over the lesson, I thought a blog entry might be a good place to explore the issue.
In looking at all the topical guide references to “riches,” I can’t find a single one that talks about earthly wealth in a positive way. Some may be considered neutral, such as (1 Kgs. 10: 23 , 2 Chr. 9: 22) “Solomon exceeded all . . . for riches,” and so forth. But the vast majority seem pretty pejorative.
What’s the big deal?
The scripture about not serving two masters (Luke 16: 9, 11, 13) is particularly potent. Mammon of course literally means “riches” of the earthly, temporal kind. The story of the rich young, would be disciple (Luke 18: 22-27) re-emphasizes the point.* Earthly riches and the kingdom of God just can’t seem to go together; they’re like repelling magnetic poles.
The greatest contempt in the scriptures is the love, desire, and seeking for riches. Powerful passages include: D&C 56: 16 (those who don’t give to the poor will say “my soul is not saved.”), D&C 68: 31 (the Lord condemns greed), D&C 6: 7 (don’t seek them, eternal riches are more important anyway), 3 Ne. 6: 12, 15 (seeking wealth is the cause of their great iniquity), Alma 7: 6 (setting hearts upon riches equates with idolatry), Mosiah 12: 29 (riches equated with whoredoms), Jacob 2 (very abominable sin is seeking riches and pridefully keeping them).
In fairness to my Sunday School class, the members were pretty good about emphasizing this point – that “The love of money is the root of all evil” (emphasis added, generally by those seeking to justify wealth). We’re generally good about understanding we shouldn’t seek it – certainly not with pride or to have more than someone else – but is there still a way to be good and be rich? Maybe our question is “Can I be a millionaire and a good Latter-day Saint?”
Is it OK to have money?
Gordon B. Hinckley shared this Brigham Young Quote:
Brigham Young went on to say on that occasion:
It is our duty to preach the gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing, and build temples. The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution, and be true. It my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth. [Nibley, Brigham Young, p. 128]
To which I can hear many of you say, “Hasten the day.” Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled – Gordon B. Hinckley
It seems that whether we like it or not, whether or not it is “OK,” the saints are going to have money. So given that we have it, but that desiring it (saying “Hasten the day” or with Tevye, “May the Lord smite me with [this curse]”) is bad, what should we do?
“Surely, you’re not suggesting I give everything I own away?” This seems to be the natural question asked incredulously when ever someone mentions taking the scriptures on riches seriously (i.e. Jacob and King Benjamin’s sermons in addition to the New Testament passages). I think that the story of the rich young would-be disciple is instructive. He didn’t ask that question; he knew the answer, he just didn’t like it. After telling us that we have no excuse to deny the beggar (especially if we blame the victim), King Benjamin counsels us to do all things in “wisdom and order.” While this is a wise balancing point, I have never met a Latter-day Saint who was ever at risk for giving too much of their money to the poor. King Benjamin’s remarks lead me think that it is theoretically possible, but in my practical experience, I have never witnessed it.
In that vein, I am suggesting that we give away every material possession. I suggest that we give it to the Lord and put our trust in Him to take care of us as He promised. While there is no earthly institution authorized to receive this consecration, that does not obviate our responsibility to live that law. We can consecrate all our earthly possessions and even our selves, now, to God and then act as faithful stewards in dispensing them as He sees fit. Does He want us to give a double fast offering? He’ll let us know (maybe He has). Does He want me to spend enough money to feed several families on college tuition? In my case, yes. Does He want us to buy a million-dollar home? I’d be surprised, but I’m not going to tell God what He can and can’t do with His money. But the point is that it is His. Consecration is simply acknowledging that and being honest with His stuff. If I want to be a good Latter-day Saint, I can’t be a millionaire – God’s the millionaire. But if I’m the steward, I better use it as He would have me use it.
* Handy Nibley refrence on the “Eye of a Needle” not being a Jerusalem gate:
The disciples marveled greatly at this, for they had never heard of that convenient postern gate, invented by an obliging nineteenth-century minister for the comfort of his well-heeled congregation—the ancient sources knew nothing of that gate, and neither did the baffled apostles. That is another “para-scripture.” (Approaching Zion, Deseret Book, p. 168-170)
and a lighter reference: http://snltranscripts.jt.org/96/96cheyward.phtml
Filed under: Scripture | Tagged: Brigham Young, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, economics, eye of a needle, Gordon B. Hinckley, Hugh Nibley, Jesus Christ, King Benjamin, Latter-day Saints, love of money, Mammon, Mormons, rich young ruler, riches, Scripture, Solomon, Sunday School, wealth |