Sunday, July 30, 2017

How Stands the Dispensation? 50 Variations On A Theme

How Stands the Dispensation?  50 Variations On A Theme

As an overall title for this large collection of essays on the nature of the church in the latter days, the above title seemed appropriate. Each of these essays has its own title and named subsections, altogether providing quite a list of topics. These essays were written over the past two years after studying various aspects of church doctrine and administration for the past 20 years. As I went along, my research knowledge grew and my attitudes changed as a result, sometimes weekly. That constant changing of viewpoint would logically mean that these essays are not necessarily consistent with each other, and may or may not cover all the topics I had in mind. Going back now to make sure I covered all the ground I intended to cover, while modifying all the essays to make them consistent with each other would be quite a task. I may have to let this project sit for a while before I would feel up to going the next step.

Without really intending it, I seem to have gradually invented a different kind of apologetics. I find myself defending the true and complete scriptural gospel against, and taking issue with, the LDS church, which has revised the original gospel so much, apparently for its own convenience, that it is almost unrecognizable in many areas when compared to the gospel restored and taught by Christ and by Joseph Smith. In many important cases, the gospel tenets taught by the existing church are exactly the opposite of original gospel teaching and practice.

In more normal apologetics, we might find people almost completely polarized, with one side vigorously defending the current interpretation of the gospel as put forward by church leaders, as against those who may be strongly and even mercilessly dissenting from the current church headquarters interpretation, or who may be representing a completely different faith tradition. It is often true that the actual truth is found somewhere in between the polarized arguments. That could be true in my case as well, as a three-way, four-way, or five-way discussion could help clarify all the issues and answers.

Much to my surprise, I find myself in this "internal apologetics" position. I believe it has special merit because I also believe that, however difficult it may prove to be, it is theoretically possible to get the church back in sync with the gospel, and then proceed to do what was always intended that the church would do, that is, to create a gospel-based civilization that can usher in the millennial era.

The LDS Church Is Responsible For the Collapsing of Western Civilization

The LDS Church Is Responsible
For the Collapsing of Western Civilization

The LDS church is responsible for the collapsing of western civilization. Since it could be preventing that collapsing process, but is not doing so, therefore it is responsible for the outcome. It was assigned by the scriptures to prevent collapse, but it appears that, to make their lives easier, the church and its leaders have so far refused to carry out that assignment, like the reluctant prophet Jonah. And, perhaps, like the prophet Jonah, it still may not be too late for the church to fulfill that assignment and see the surprisingly good results.

This way of putting the church's duty corresponds somewhat to the "last clear chance" doctrine in tort law. For example, we could apply it if the church were to blame the world for the damage done by its many sins and errors, but then the world could come back with the claim that the church had the last clear chance to stop the world's society from doing so much damage to itself and everyone around it, including church members.

"In the law of torts, the doctrine that excuses or negates the effect of the plaintiff's contributory Negligence and permits him or her to recover, in particular instances, damages regardless of his or her own lack of ordinary care."

Computation: If we were to estimate that the church has received about $6 billion in contributions each year for 30 years, that would be $180 billion in cash. If we estimate that a similar amount of volunteer work has been contributed, we would then have a resource level of $360 billion over the past 30 years. Other resources would presumably be available if sought for particular purposes. The question then becomes whether the church has made good use of its resources over the past 30-50 years. $400-500 billion sounds like enough to make a notable attitude change within a society, even if it is as large as the United States. In other words, it appears that the church has consumed $0.5 trillion in the last 50 years and has almost nothing lasting to show for it, certainly as it relates to helping to create a Zion-like society.

Instead of vigorously working to reverse all the many bad trends of our society, the church itself has collapsed and degenerated to become nothing more than a regional religion business, a profitable closely-held corporation, a regional mega-church, where the valuable information that makes up the Gospel has been simplified and repackaged and then used to set up an international string of franchised church installations to bring in tithing money. There is no attempt to improve society in general, but only to operate below the local governments' radars.

The grand Christian mission throughout the last 2000 years of the Old Testament, concerning the Israelites escape from Egyptian slavery, and again during the first 2000 years following the life of Christ, including the Reformation, was to bring freedom to the world, with its best representation being demonstrated in the United States with its inspired constitution. In turn, the United States has been the means to spread those freedom concepts throughout the much wider world. However, the LDS church leadership has explicitly chosen not to continue that great tradition and has instead chosen to do essentially nothing to maintain or promote freedom, but has become a free-rider on the availability of Western freedom, as long as it lasts. That opportunistic choice to take no part in freedom promotion is essentially a complete abandonment of its prime directive to promote freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility during this life and hereafter, bringing the very reason for its restoration in our time into question.

It would be too harsh to suggest that the church could have prevented World War I or World War II, but because during World War II or sooner, the church decided to declare itself pacifist and cease to promote freedom in any significant way, it now bears much guilt for the deteriorating state of the United States and the world. It decided to accept as unchangeable, and of no concern of the church, the various tyrannies and unhealthy ambitions found to some degree in every country on the planet.

It has built up a diplomatic corps and tradition, but if it is to continue to fund this very expensive bureaucracy, it ought to be using that diplomatic bureaucracy for a higher purpose than just timidly seeking permission for the church to enter a country and operate there. Yes, it could be useful to do that, but then that bureaucracy ought to go on to work at reinforcing Joseph Smith's proclamation to the leaders of the world about the arrival of the gospel and their responsibilities to accept and promote it for the good of their citizens and of the entire world.

The goal should not be merely to build up a few outposts in the world but to consciously build up a gospel-based civilization worldwide. (The details of such a process, its goals and rules, are discussed in earlier articles.)

All these self-centered choices seem to originate with church lawyers looking for a profit. This is the same disease that infected the Law of Moses bureaucracies at the time of Christ, where the gospel was corrupted for the express purpose of extracting profit from it. The first goal of church leaders today is to set up banking systems to allow transferring money from these new locations to Salt Lake City. Otherwise, these new locations are of no serious interest to the leaders.   

A critical choice was made in 1896. Having successfully survived everything that the world could throw at them, the church leaders' basic options at that point were either to strive to spread the gospel to fix the world, as they were assigned to do, or to warp and limit the gospel and use it to feather their own nest, recognizing and employing its profit-making potential in a world where many people worry about their eternal salvation. They received the Gospel for free and were expected to spread it for free, as a charitable gift, the best gift of all, but instead they decided to claim it as their own, as though they were its original authors and copyright holders, and then to constantly charge extreme rent for its use, whatever the market would bear. (Of course, it may have personally cost them time and money to implement it in their lives, as they freely chose, but the information, authority, and procedures themselves were free.)

Instead of receiving the gospel and its priesthood ordinances for free, as intended, every new member is expected to pay 10% of their income for the rest of their lives to the central church (whose leaders claim to be the "copyright holders") simply for the privilege of using the gospel which was intended to be spread for free. The unpleasant terms of pretenders, usurpers, and fraud come to mind.

Christ paid all the costs himself, and made the gospel and its atoning promise a free gift to all mankind, but the church leaders have decided that nothing so valuable should ever be given away for free, and, with a little trickery, they should be able to turn "free" into a major revenue stream. This is a little bit like the old mafia "protection racket" where the mafia forces payment of extortionist "protection" money else they threaten violence of some sort. Of course, without the mafia threat, people could enjoy their peace without any costs. Here again, the mafia reasons that peace and freedom are too precious to be given away or enjoyed for free, and they might as well be the ones who profit from it.   

In a similar way, the church leaders today seem to reason that the pioneers who went before them paid a huge cost or made a huge investment to receive the gospel and establish it in the American West. Having paid a great cost, their actual or claimed successors and assigns ought to be able to receive interest or rent on that great original investment forever. There is a great danger that if the church truly becomes worldwide and creates a gospel-based civilization, those original sunk costs will be mostly forgotten or taken for granted, and the perceived basis for charging rent thereon will diminish greatly. Therefore, the only way to maintain the interest or rent income on that commandeered original investment is to keep the church and its headquarters small and focused in Utah. That allows a small group of people who have some claim of connection with the original pioneers to continue to receive interest, rent, or royalties on that great original sacrifice and investment in the gospel.

But, of course, these many generations later, the biological and spiritual children of those pioneers make up most of the people in the Mountain West, so that having a small group of headquarters personnel claim to "own" that entire religious heritage and all its continuing value makes the whole set of claims rather strained. If that original investment belongs to everyone, there is no good logic for church headquarters cashing in on it at the expense of everyone else. It is a bit strange for those who inherited this charitable gift, so that it should be free to them, have to continue forever paying 10% of their income to those who improperly claimed to own it as against everyone else. No one should be required to pay endlessly for his own free inheritance. That was intended to be free; do bankers get to charge enormous fees for giving a person their inheritance?

In other words, like Christ, the original pioneers may have intended their efforts and costs to be a free charitable gift to the world, or at least to other members, but the church leaders have decided that they cannot allow those people to have the credit for the charitable gifts they desired to give, and the church leaders have virtually confiscated their charitable gifts and found a way to charge a great deal of money for them forever. In both cases, of Christ and of the pioneers, we are denying their wishes that these gifts they have made remain gifts. Again, this is like a banker who acts as the executor of an estate who actually claims the estate as his own and then sells it to the intended beneficiaries, without bothering to tell them that they are actually entitled to get it for free. Such bankers are fiduciaries, but they have failed in their duties. We say that they have breached their fiduciary duties.

Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:18) sought to create an occupation out of the gospel and its priesthood power and to make money at it. He later learned the truth and repented, but the church leaders today appear to have done neither.

The Uncertain Basis for Today's LDS Tithing Policies

The Uncertain Basis for Today's LDS Tithing Policies

Beginning at book page 101, see a more complete discussion of "The Paid Ministry Issue," including why the Scriptures unanimously condemn a paid ministry system, while also setting forth the correct and far more efficient charity and welfare systems operating at the beginning of the restoration of the church at the time of Christ and at the time of Joseph Smith, which ended the use of the mechanistic Law of Moses tithing system. "The Correct Answer" begins at page 106 and explains the early church's method of exercising member charity, in a way far more efficient than today's centralized tax-and-spend tithing system.

Some general observations:
There is an uncertain basis for today's tithing policies. At no point in our voluminous scriptures or history is there a totally complete and unequivocal statement that fully supports the extreme claims made by the church today that every member must pay 10% of his income annually to the central church in order to attend the temple and otherwise constantly and continuously be considered a member in good standing. This also means keeping his salvation up-to-date and continuously effective in case he dies. This is our version of the Protestant idea of being "saved," although theirs is a better "once and for all" situation.  This repetitive subscription model of salvation is a very clever way to extract money from people, playing upon their fears of not knowing if they are continuously approved of God. This puts the LDS church at least 60 years ahead of software subscription services such as Adobe who came relatively late to adopting this subscription technique for establishing a continuous revenue stream.

And, after receiving those payments, the central church then has accepted no responsibility whatsoever to report back what that money was spent for or to be responsible for achieving good results with that money or to even report how things turned out. Almost every other charitable organization is expected to report its receipt and application of monies, but the LDS church tells no one, not even its members. That seems to explain why the church is unrated by charity auditing organizations.

I have invented my own church charity rating system, and by that measure, the LDS church only effectively applies about 2% of the money it receives to its main scriptural mission of spreading the gospel. Certainly, the extreme upper limit of what it might be credited with spending effectively is not more than 10%, and I consider the whole situation almost a complete failure, based on original expectations

Overall, the church now spends about $400,000 in resources for every long-term member it adds to the rolls. It seems likely that in a better system, spending $4,000 would be much more than enough to give people the information and experiences that would bring them into the church, and it should really be much less than that. Using the $4,000 measure, that would indicate that the LDS church has a 99% overhead rate on administering the gospel, making it among the worst-performing charities.

The church headquarters unit has the good fortune of having a captive audience -- its members, perhaps mesmerized -- which apparently stopped paying attention to what the central church was actually doing nearly 100 years ago. No one seems to care anymore about any general church missions or accomplishments in the broader world as long as each individual member has his personal needs mostly met. This general self-centeredness is a major problem, as I see it. It is a gospel content problem as well as an administrative problem.

If a person does NOT pay his tithing, in today's church policy structure that is the equivalent of committing a serious sin, a crime, because that person becomes a person not in good standing and cannot attend the temple. That person is thus effectively partially disfellowshipped, regardless of any other factors that might be operating in his favor. The LDS concept of an afterlife does not include a Hell for people to burn in, but its leaders get the same rhetorical effect of consigning the members to a burning if they don't pay their tithing.

When defining a crime, it is common legislative practice (and presumably should be religious practice for sins as well, for the same reasons) to define all the elements of that crime so that there can be no misunderstanding, since the consequences of failing to abide by those rules can be very serious, possibly including fines and incarceration -- the loss of freedom. Justice cannot be seen to be done if a crime is not first carefully defined long before anyone can legally commit that crime. The principle is demonstrated in our nation's Constitution where it is forbidden to make something a crime after the fact – any so-called ex post facto legislation.

Reverting to some of the worst aspects of the old Law of Moses, times 10
As a very general issue to be brought up before going on too far, it should be mentioned that the Law of Moses was very specifically ended with the restitution of the full gospel by Christ himself. That alone should make us very leery of reinventing even a single "Law-of-Moses style" rule within the church, especially if it is for the convenience of church leaders. The old Law of Moses rule of tithing was perhaps the most intrusive rule of all of the 613 constraints on Jewish behavior. It required the Israelites to send 1/10th of the foodstuffs they produced to the cities occupied by the tribe of Levi. The Levites in turn sent 1/10th of that 1/10th to the capital city of Jerusalem for supporting the Temple and priestly activities there. So, to begin with, under the law of Moses, the law of tithing was quite a bit less burdensome than the current rules, and, we might carefully note, only 1% of the foodstuffs made it to the central offices in Jerusalem for religious functions there. In other words, we start out with multiplying the Law of Moses at least times 10 in our own era by demanding that all contributions go to Salt Lake City. That ought to require an extremely strenuous explanation of why this "Law of Moses times 10" rule ought to be observed in our own time.

Supposedly, we have no more professional priests today, since under today's rules, every man is his own priest, and it would be foolishness for a priest to pay himself 10% for conducting his priestly duties. Nonetheless, at this point, we have a self-perpetuating "tribe" of extremely well-paid "Levites" carrying out their professional priestly duties in Salt Lake City, apparently in complete contradiction to the intent of Christ in doing away with the Law of Moses and most of its enforced social rules including tribalism and the Sanhedrin/central bureaucracy.

We should certainly notice that the Word of Wisdom -- something which sounds very much like an old Law of Moses law, and yet is a great deal less intrusive and demanding than the relatively recently imposed policy on tithing -- was not given to us in the form of an exact Law of Moses rule, but rather as "not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom." It certainly has some cleanliness and health factors to commend it, and we make quite a production out of letting people know that we don't drink or smoke or do illegal drugs. Logically, since tithing is perhaps 100 times more important to most people than the Word of Wisdom, we ought to make the biggest possible production out of telling everyone that we all must pay all of our tithing directly and only to church headquarters before we can be considered serious members of the church. If living the simple Word of Wisdom makes us seem like devout religionists, we ought to wear a big tithing receipt on our clothing at all times, or around our necks, like the old Jewish phylacteries, to signal our far more extreme level of exacting Mosaic virtue.

Even making the 13+ questions of the recommend interview a critical part of living the gospel, including swearing fealty to a particular earthly organization, sounds strangely like bringing back the old Law of Moses lists of precise behavior to conform to before members can be certified as good members and considered pure and not unclean. Such a list, administered by a new form of Sanhedrin, was quite evidently NOT part of Christ's gospel. It seems like some kind of line has been crossed when the church moves from "teaching correct principles," and providing good examples, to enforcing certain quality control rules so that the central church can claim they have created a specific standardized product out of their members.

Christ not only said that he came to end the law of Moses, but he spoke with scorn about its tithing aspects. "Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law."  Matt. 23:23. It appears that the precise tithing aspects are objectionable for the very reason that they are so precise and thus can give the illusion of having completely fulfilled one's responsibilities. The concept of an exact tithing is advocated in our own time by saying that by fulfilling that law precisely, one can then claim they are perfect in at least one thing. But it is that very precision that might be sought for and claimed in religious matters that is indeed an illusion and a diversion from the more imprecise but more valuable feelings of empathy for the needs of other people.

As has occurred in our own time, members can justifiably claim that they have fulfilled all of their charitable duties by sending their 10% to Salt Lake City, and then they can forget about any other needs around them, whether obvious or not. This actually creates an insensitive and insular state of mind which does not have much to commend it.

One might expect that if Christ were going to change his mind on something he had treated with such disdain during his life, that he would "repent" if he had earlier made a mistake on this point, and then would explain in excruciating detail exactly how one was supposed to live this law in the times that were prophesied to contain the gospel in its most perfect and complete form.

There is no sign in the New Testament that the early Saints had any such program, although they did have a great reputation about taking care of their own members in times of hardship, along with taking care of their neighbors, in commendable Good Samaritan fashion. It seems they were indeed being better Christians than we are today when we have allowed power-seeking central organizations to take very large amounts of our money and then spend it in unchristian and wasteful ways, seriously interfering with our ability to act spontaneously as good Christians as the early Saints obviously did.

Our own more recent Scriptures do use the word "tithing," but even those scriptures make it clear that the term "tithing" just refers to any and all member contributions. Even when the modern-day Scriptures seem to set 1/10th as an expected minimal level of contributions, it never explicitly says that those funds may not be administered by the members themselves without any precise Law of Moses payment to some central organization, if such a central organization even exists.

Getting into some details
Maybe the time has now come to analyze and account for every use of the word or concept of tithing in the doctrine and covenants and other scriptures. The point is, I believe that nowhere in the doctrine and covenants -- today's important revelation and policy document -- is the complete tithing policy today justified by any clear statement. There are fragments of statements dealing with the issue of tithing, but they never add up to today's policy.

Rather, they support the exact historical behavior of the Saints, as being the correct behavior, at least until 1896 when the church leaders attempted to change this rational and very effective tithing policy to something else which was tailored to the personal desires and empire-building ambitions of church leaders. The reported 1899 statements of Lorenzo Snow, at least on their face, were simply a restatement of what had always been the gospel policy on tithing after the ending of the Law of Moses. It appears that only by implication and unofficial and off-the-record administrative statements and policy changes was that restatement gradually and secretly rewritten to reach where we are today.

Here are all the D&C verses that appear to deal with the definition of tithing:

64:23 Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned that his coming.

85:3 It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to his law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God.

97:10 Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that the house should be built unto me in the land of Zion [Jackson County, Missouri], like unto the pattern which I have given you.
11 Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people.
12 Behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may be a house built unto me for the salvation of Zion –

Section 119
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Far West, Missouri, July 8, 1838, in answer to his supplication: “O Lord! Show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.” The law of tithing, as understood today, had not been given to the Church previous to this revelation. The term tithing in the prayer just quoted and in previous revelations (64:23; 85:3; 97:11) had meant not just one-tenth, but all free-will offerings, or contributions, to the Church funds. The Lord had previously given to the Church the law of consecration and stewardship of property, which members (chiefly the leading elders) entered into by a covenant that was to be everlasting. Because of failure on the part of many to abide by this covenant, the Lord withdrew it for a time and gave instead the law of tithing to the whole Church. The Prophet asked the Lord how much of their property He required for sacred purposes. The answer was this revelation.

1–5, The Saints are to pay their surplus property and then give, as tithing, one-tenth of their interest annually; 6–7, Such a course will sanctify the land of Zion.

119:1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,
2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.
6 And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.
7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.

Section 120
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Far West, Missouri, July 8, 1838, making known the disposition of the properties tithed as named in the preceding revelation, section 119.

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, the time is now come, that it shall be disposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council; and by mine own voice unto them, saith the Lord. Even so. Amen.

First of all, if the central church is going to claim to have the drastic right to receive 10% of everyone's income in order for them to be a church member in good standing and receive the higher ordinances, then they ought to have the highest possible proof of that assertion, not some pieced-together jumble. In this case I believe the concept of tithing is a great deal less mandatory and a great deal less detailed in its definition than is the Word of Wisdom, which started out as counsel and not commandment. The Word of Wisdom was counsel to everyone, and it did not become a commandment until many decades later. The concept of tithing as an absolute rule and a commandment did not become an absolute and binding commandment until about 1960, nearly a century after the word of wisdom was accepted as a commandment.

There are some difficult and confusing events that the Saints suffered through in their first few years, and it would make no practical sense to take any ambiguity or confusion which comes out of those early decades as an absolute law to be adopted much later. The leaders of today interpret these tithing statements as absolute and binding commands, but it is very important to notice that the church members of the times did not, nor did the leaders. By today's interpretation of the terms of tithing, nearly every church member up until 1960 would have been ineligible to be a church member in good standing, and attend the temple and receive its ordinances, and they were supposedly all subject to being burned at His coming, since it was not required that they say any more than that they thought tithing was a good idea, whether they actually lived it or not. This should tell us that there is something fundamentally wrong with our current interpretation of the words in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Sections 64 and 83 tell us that we need to be tithed to not burn at His coming, but it does not define tithing to only be considered correct and complete if every last penny of it is paid to the central church headquarters. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery administered their own tithing before the church was organized, and that was the rule, in general, up until at least 1899. I don't believe anyone would say that all the church members up until 1899 would have deserved being burned at His coming because of the supposedly faulty way in which they handled their tithing. They did enormous amounts of good with that tithing, not the least of which was getting the Saints established safely in the West.

Section 97 is a little more specific, in that it tells the Saints that they should plan to focus their future contributions (referred to as tithing) on building a temple in Jackson County, Missouri, much like they had done earlier in Kirtland. But, apparently, that was not to be, and the next focus was on the temple in Nauvoo.

Section 119 sounds very specific on first reading, but in fact it does not completely define and support today's tithing policy. On the "excess" issue, from what I can see of church history, there was hardly a single person who made it to Jackson County who had anything that would be considered "surplus property." Most of them had only the barest amount of property that would sustain them and allow them to get to Missouri. The idea of putting that property into a central pool for others to use made no practical sense at all. In most cases, an inventory was kept, just to go through the motions, but very little made it into the common fund.

My assumption is that the members continued to do what they always did, which is to help each other as needed, and even this suggested, limited, one-time, level of church government tax-and-spend administration was pointless and ineffective.

There probably were a few wise, careful, and industrious souls who made it to Jackson County with some excess cash which could be put into the pool to pay off the very large real estate loan negotiated by Joseph Smith.

But, as the leaders more than once complained, too many people just pulled up stakes and left behind whatever valuable property they might have had, taking little of that value with them in their haste. Their responsiveness and eagerness is commendable, but it was still impractical to conduct a large-scale migration with no resources, simply because no one took the time to preserve and transfer those resources to the new location. Quite sensibly, later arrangements were made to sell land left behind, or to swap it for Missouri land.

With the short-term need to pay off those real estate loans, contracted for the direct benefit of the members, not the leaders, it made sense for the members to pay for the land they occupied, if they could. But this does not suggest that the church leaders had the permission of the members to spend money willy-nilly on their behalf or for any random purpose without any consultation. The leaders were taking great financial risks on behalf of the members, rather than the other way around, as we typically see today.

It was important for Joseph Smith and other administrators to be able to pay off the real estate loans they had taken out on the land where the Saints were settled. That would make it important to apply every dollar that was available and to avoid any kind of waste. Certainly it would be wasteful to have land or goods that went unused when there were people who needed them and could put them to good use. The Saints were all in this together, and this was an extraordinary tribal kind of situation where all of them working together was barely enough to allow them to survive.

Those extraordinary measures were indeed unusual and it would be unreasonable to continue them after the critical need was past. Ordinary self-reliance, perhaps along with various individualized insurance programs should normally be adequate. It would be like the pioneers who participated in essentially an army operation as they crossed the plains, as a matter of necessity. But it would be foolishness to then decide that was the ideal state for all of life and to continue those military-style living arrangements for the rest of their lives for some arbitrary religion-based reason.

There seems to still be great confusion about the supposed "law of consecration." As vaguely suggested in the headnotes, the United Order (or United Firm) was really nothing more than a silent business partnership, requiring no specific government authorization to operate, which was organized among a few of the leaders to help take care of church business. It never applied to anyone else, and it was never intended to.

Incidentally, an entry in Joseph Smith's History of the Church indicates that the Kirtland Temple was owned by the group of men who contributed to it and helped to build it, indicating that there did not even exist a church formal business unit to hold title, or that if there were, it would not be appropriate to put the title there.

It is one thing for church members to be expected to contribute 10% of their increase to gospel purposes. It is quite a different thing to expect that all of that 10% would go to church headquarters for their use, especially when anyone associated with church headquarters was not in a position to do anything much more with it than simply help pay off the general costs of lands that had been occupied by church members. Again, the most convincing evidence of the correct interpretation is the behavior of the members and leaders for the next 40+ years as each man used his own good sense about where 10% of his income might be best allocated. In the alternative, is anyone willing to charge all the early saints with apostasy? Since we are now nearly 200 years from the restoration, it is more likely that they were right than that we are, after a long period of doctrinal drift.

Those early Saints were right on many things where we have it wrong. For example, the Mountain Meadow Massacre incident appears to be a case where the early Saints had the better sense and better morals, and it appears that we malign them today simply because we are trying to defend our policies today, many of which are indefensible, while the early saints had it right, such as on the tithing issue. Our trying to make them seem foolish and evil perhaps is done to try to make us today look more wise and righteous, but, by so doing, we are being unfair, and we simply verify that we are indeed the more foolish and unethical ones.

A portion of Section 119:

4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth [to where or to whom?] of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

I think we should more closely consider the phrase that "this shall be a standing law… for my holy priesthood." By that I believe is meant every man who holds the priesthood, not just those who have special assignments such as the apostles or the first presidency. I think there is a tendency to read it as though it said "TO my holy priesthood [meaning only the top church leaders]," or that the tithing is "FOR my holy priesthood," meaning that the leaders should get all the tithing, but I don't believe either reading is what is said or is meant in the situation.

Obviously, it would be much better for the church today if there were an unequivocally clear statement about how much was to be paid, exactly where it was supposed to go, perhaps some more regulations on exactly how it was supposed to be used, etc. But since we don't have that sort of thing, a Law of Moses level of detail, in today's "law" itself, it is useful to go to the "legislative and administrative history," or, in other words, how it was interpreted by the members and leaders at the time. And I believe it is perfectly clear that no one interpreted these words that way at that time.

Section 120 designates a management group to decide what the central church should do with whatever tithing (member contributions in general) the church might receive, given at member discretion, as required by basic religious freedom, but it does not go beyond that to aggressively define tithing and turn it into a precise religious law of a binding nature such as aspects of the old and disavowed Law of Moses.

We might note as a practical matter, that there really WAS no functioning church headquarters which could do much more than print a few books and vaguely discuss and plan a movement West, for most of the time up till 1896. In many cases it would have been the height of foolishness to try to send one's tithing to the central church headquarters, especially when that headquarters was about to be dissolved and all its assets taken by the federal government. That was perhaps the most striking situation, but there were many of those kinds of situations over the 76 year period from 1820 up to 1896.

Certainly at the beginning, and perhaps at all times, "tithing," that is, potential member contributions, was better kept "on the hoof" (something like the concept of a walking blood bank), that is, in member possession, up until the time of actual need, rather than attempting to centrally gather great stores of wealth in any one place, creating a great temptation to leaders and outsiders, and creating a great risk that attempts would be made to rob it or take it by crime or by legalized force.

It appears that this "on the hoof" policy would be a good practice for all time. If the church leaders actually had faith in the wisdom of the members, and truly sought to be servants and not masters, they would not see any need to stockpile resources for any such purposes as creating pensions for church leaders or employees, or setting aside "rainy day" funds to keep the church operating at full budget in difficult times, completely independent of what might be happening to the members.

There are two great risks associated with a political government -- a standing army, and government access to a large amount of "standing" money. The federal government-sponsored central bank, known as the Federal Reserve, constantly debases our money for its own profit while giving the government borrowing and budgetary powers it ought not to have without specific legislation. We also have a large standing army and the associated military-industrial complex which spends our money excessively and irresponsibly and constantly encourages war.

With the church, we see the problem today from the centralizing of assets so that the church headquarters is under constant political, legal, and criminal attack, and it must maintain a huge army of very expensive lawyers and other staff to stave off the barbarians attacking from every direction. If there were no centralized assets, but only specific requests at specific times for specific, clearly justified needs, most or all of those very expensive central preparations and fortifications would be completely unnecessary, and the leaders would not need to constantly feel such crippling fear of actually pushing the gospel message out into the world, and possibly getting some unpleasant reactions, which they alone had to deal with.

The first century A.D. Saints had no problem finding the best places for their "tithing" or contributions or charity to be allocated, and they were extremely successful in spreading the gospel. If we could do as well today, using the same methods, then perhaps we ought to be using their methods.

We should remember that the federal government attacked the church viciously in Brigham Young's day, confiscating property where possible, including the church's money and even the temple. Political attitudes and risks may have improved slightly since those days, but it is hard to say whether things are really better or worse, simply because the church is now so much wealthier. The LDS Church, which is widely known to have many billions of dollars in property holdings and income concentrated in one place, might reasonably be targeted by those who wish to get money from the church's deep pockets or to hurt its progress, or both.

The persecutors of Joseph Smith imagined that if they killed him, the entire movement would fall apart. A little bit later the federal government hoped that if they dissolved the church corporation and took all of its assets, it would also cease to exist. The same impulse to supposedly cut off the head of the church and therefore destroy it completely seems to keep recurring, but the essence of the church is NOT found in one or a few men at the top, but no one seems to understand that, including the leaders themselves, as they keep making themselves more important and indispensable, continuously presenting a tempting target to the world.  Many millions are spent each year to defend the church leaders and the church itself from actual and potential outside attacks, when most of that very expensive defensive structure would be completely unnecessary if church headquarters collapsed back to a tiny shadow of its form today. In other words, the very fact of having a large and wealthy central headquarters sets up a feedback loop which causes further enormous unnecessary expense, which accomplishes nothing except to keep presenting a target which needs an expensive defense. This is the perfect world for bureaucrats, who "earn" and justify their salaries merely by their superfluous existence. This is bureaucracy self-created ex nihilo, like god creating himself.

We might recall that there was an attempt to declare a salary for the church leaders, just Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, I believe, which proposal was first passed and then specifically defeated. That ought to clear up the question of what the church leaders and members thought about that matter in the early days. That policy probably had not changed until Wilford Woodruff decided that he was extremely committed to making that policy change, even willing to basically excommunicate an apostle for apostasy for not agreeing with him on the controversial and contentious issue of using tithing for the personal support of church leaders -- basically giving them an official salary for the first time. Not incidentally, such a salary would likely serve as a means of controlling and disciplining leaders who ought to be able to use their untrammeled judgement in all important matters pertaining to the gospel. But now as employees, they would tend to be very subservient to the church president who controlled their salary and other perquisites of office. The pretense that apostles should be independent "prophets" would be greatly weakened.

Analysis of D&C sections for establishing today's church tithing policy
Today's tithing policy elements, in increments
D&C sections
Source: unwritten policy position


It is a religious duty to make useful religious charitable contributions to someone or for some good purpose

/ An unremarkable view of common religious charity.
It is a religious duty to make charitable contributions to someone or for some good purpose or be burned at his coming

/ This is not an argument to pay all religious charitable contributions to the central church. God will make this determination, not the central church.
It is a religious duty to pay 10% of income as charitable contributions to someone or for some good purpose. (This sets only the level, but not the disposition.)


/ There is some contextual implication that all tithing (10%) goes to the central church, but it was never done in practice until it gradually and very slowly began in 1899 and ended in about 1960, indicating that was not the original accepted meaning.
It is a religious duty to pay all religious charitable contributions to the central church

/ Never commanded, and very contrary to Christ's actual practices
The central church is empowered to spend all the money received through charitable contributions at their unrestrained and unreported discretion

/ But this was never done legally or in practice until it began in 1923 and became complete in about 1960, indicating that no one thought that was the intended policy in the 1838 revelation, now D&C section 120.
It is a religious duty to make useful charitable religious contributions to someone or for some good purpose or be partially disfellowshipped, as in losing temple attendance privileges.

/ Not enforced consistently until about 1960, indicating that no one thought that was the policy commanded in any of the Joseph Smith-era revelations. And we have no written and approved and canonized revelations to that effect yet.

The main point here is that none of the D&C sections covers all the elements of today's church policy on tithing in one place so that the meanings and interrelationships of all the elements are clear. In fact, none of the D&C sections include more than two of the elements. And all of the sections together, even if overlaying them and making them cumulative were legitimate (which it probably is not), that still does not clearly provide all of the elements of today's tithing policy. Only by adding very significant extra-scriptural administrative decisions can today's church tithing policy be pieced together. On such a critical point as "tithing" mere habit and tradition should not be acceptable as complete and binding.

More details and side issues
●Church historians and leaders have done the church a great disservice by continually trying to keep alive an attempt to insert socialism into the church teachings and organization where it was always completely foreign to gospel freedom concepts. These continuing attempts to insert political power doctrines into an ideology which explicitly condemns the seeking of power over others are completely misguided and self-serving.

●The higher ordinances were at times administered in such places as the rooms of Joseph Smith's store in Nauvoo, or in the endowment house in Salt Lake City. Although it is apparently preferred that these ordinances be administered in a more formally specialized and designated temple, especially while doing work for the dead, those ordinances have been nonetheless perfectly valid when administered in other ways. A suggestion was recently made by a junior general authority (obviously speaking out of turn) that similar "endowment house" methods might be used even today, when the Saints in a particular area might have great difficulty in building a proper Temple because of lack of resources or perhaps because of political resistance, but there is no obvious reason why they should be denied access to the higher ordinances because of these local difficulties. The 33 A.D. saints seem to have found easy solutions to this problem.

●In locations where civil marriages are very difficult or expensive, bishops or missionaries should be able to marry people for free (even at the risk of some conflict with the political government), and sealings should also take place in local facilities. The central church's stern insistence on being sealed only in temples which might be far away, and could cause a family great difficulty to reach, appears to be just a disguised, dishonest, and altogether unnecessary plea to extract more money from members through a semi-extortionist process, part of which is telling sob stories of families selling all they had to travel to a temple, presumably damaging their livelihoods and their futures as a result, all supposedly as a trial of their faith.

●The church does sometimes claim that the contributions which go towards humanitarian assistance throughout the world are delivered without any deduction for administration costs. That is commendable, and should encourage more such contributions, but it should also be remembered that is probably just a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, since whatever administration costs there might be are simply borne by other kinds of contributions to the church. It seems likely that the reason the church can claim to deliver humanitarian assistance money without deducting for administrative costs is simply because the bulk of that money is simply transferred to some other humanitarian assistance organization which WILL then spend a significant amount of that money on its administrative overhead. In other words, there is a more than a little bit of imprecision and obfuscation in presenting church policies and their practical consequences.