Saturday, August 29, 2009

Communalism vs. Communism

The LDS Church in its beginning practiced a type of economic system called the United Order based on the example and teachings of Jesus Christ and the Early Christian Saints. What is the United Order? The United Order is a type of Communalism or communal living where members of the church live as the Early Christian Saints lived "with all things in common." This economic system should not be confused with Marxist Communism. There are important differences between Christian Communalism and Marxist Communism. It is also interesting to examine why the LDS Church and other Christians no longer attempt to observe communalism as the Early Christians did.

Remember that Paul said by the Levitical Priesthood is nothing made perfect. And remember that the rich young man asked Christ what he had to do to gain eternal life and after reciting the requirements of the law, he asked "what lack I yet?" Upon which Christ responded, "Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow me." Christ was explaining the oath associated with the higher covenant. Giving our whole souls too God and all we possess is called the Law of Consecration and it is by accepting and committing oneself too this covenant that a person can become fully sanctified and perfected in Christ.

We see evidence in the NT that the early Saints also had received this higher oath and covenant as the Bible says they lived with "all things in common." Now what this term is referring to is not the Law of Consecration itself, but an economic system LDS refer to as the United Order. This economic system which is a type of communalism is not necessary for an individual to observe the law of the consecration, but it empowers a community as a whole to observe and keep the covenant.

If the Early Saints lived the Law of Consecration and Communalism or the United Order, why don't we live this way now as Christians? The reason is actually the story of Thanksgiving.

When John Bradford and the Puritans came to America, they desired to establish a Zion or perfect society. As part of this, they desired to institute communalism as their economic system as they believed the Early Christians practiced it. Accordingly, they assigned 1/3 of the settlers to grow and farm the food, 1/3 to watch out for Indians, and 1/3 to look for gold. Well, you can guess what happened. Everyone wanted to look for gold and no one wanted to farm the food. Consequently, the Bishops storehouse which was the common store of the people was empty. Therefore, Jamestown Colony and the Puritan settlers suffered greatly.

Now, the reason for their suffering is not because Communalism is evil but because what the puritans practiced was probably not exactly what and how the Early Christians instituted the United Order. Additionally, this higher law does not function well in a society mixed with good and evil people. Because everyone has equal claim on the Bishops storehouse, inevitably, there will be idlers who refuse to work for their own support and leach off the resources of the community without making any contribution themselves.

So, what happened in Jamestown with the Puritans? The Colony leadership got together about this issue and after making prayerful consideration, felt inspired that they needed to revoke the United Order and re-nstitute the lesser Law of Tithing. Accordingly, everyone was given a plot of land and told that after they have given 10% to the Bishop's storehouse, whatever they grow in excess of their own needs, they can keep. Well, you can imagine what happened? The Jamestown Colony experienced immediate success and were blessed with abundance. They were blessed so much that the Puritans dedicated a feast day to God to give thanks for His blessings. And as a gesture of peace, they invited their Indian neighbors to participate. And this was the first Thanksgiving and why we observe the Law of Tithing in America and do not institute communalism as was practiced by the Early Saints.

Now, Communialism and the United Order is not Communism, at least how the Early Christians and how Joseph Smith was taught it. According to Joseph Smith's version, LDS saints enjoyed private land ownership and leadership were to labor with their own hands for their own support, although this labor often involved the full time job of operating the Bishops Storehouse itself. In that case, they were free to rely on the storehouse for their needs. They were not paid for preaching sermons on Sunday.

D&C 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 at his coming.

Thus in both implementation and ownership and management of property, the United Order preserves to men their God-given agency, while socialism deprives them of it. . . . Socialism takes: United Order gives. -Marion G Romney, General Conference, 1966

D&C 51: 3-6 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. 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. And if he shall transgress and is not accounted worthy to belong to the church, he shall not have power to claim that portion which he has consecrated unto the bishop for the poor and needy of my church; therefore, he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him. And thus all things shall be made sure, according to the laws of the land.

The purpose of the United Order was to voluntarily humble the rich and bless and elevate the poor according to the pattern set out by the Early Christian Saints and according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First and individual voluntarily gave away all their land, possessions and money of their own free will and choice without compulsion or coercion. In return they received a deeded stewardship and inheritance of land, possession and money according to their needs and righteous wants. The individual owned that stewardship and worked it and magnified it for the welfare of himself and his dependents. If there was any excess beyond the needs and righteous wants of him and his family, then that excess was returned to the bishops storehouse. But make no mistake, it was all voluntary and individuals had private property rights and could give their land to their heirs upon their death. That individual retained claim on the inheritance, even if they were excommunicated.


river song said...

extremely interesting and thoughtful; thanks so much!

Danny said...

Excellent analysis on this subject! I couldn't have found a better explanation on this topic.

JPHooson said...

Fantastic, I've been meaning to delve into this topic for ages and it's good to find a good insight. I had cause for concern after hearing Benson's repeating hatred towards all things socialist. It's more clear now however, that he was pointing 'the evils of socialism' more towards the atheist persuations of marxist communism and not wholly contradicting the church - which is integrally a communal (communist) setup. Members bear the burdens of others, pay tithes and one day will fully live the law of consecration (only it will be headed by Christ and will function as a Utopian society in the millenium).
I still think Benson was wrong to mix his political persuasions into his discourses..if he was really that much of an anti socialist as his discourses would suggest, he obviously didn't understand the law of consecration!

Brad said...

The law of consecration only works in perfect order.(meaning no one is corrupt) Socialism and communism are man made and will always be corrupt therefore making it impossible to work. Pres. Benson knew exactly what he was talking about and he knew exactly what the law of consecration is. JPHooson, look a little deeper and have just a little more faith in the prophets.