The Mormon Wealth AttributionBy: Guest
Today’s guest post is by Troth Everyman:
Do we really believe that just because one is rich one is blessed by God? According to a study published in 2004 which researched the Mormon Wealth Attribution (MWA), we do. The MWA can be defined as the tendency of LDS individuals to perceive those who are wealthy as more righteous or pious than their less wealthy neighbors. The randomized empirical study reported that “Church members are more likely to attribute righteousness to a wealthy church member than to a poor one” and that (in general) wealthy members of the church are seen as being better people, both secularly and spiritually than poor people.
I have seen many LDS individuals (including priesthood leaders) apply negative attributions and stereotypes toward those who are poor or lacking resources. They implied that these poor individuals need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and either work harder or be more righteous. To me, making these kinds of attributions based on wealth alone (or at all) seems to be dangerous and hurtful.
What about environmental influences? Take the example of someone who has worked diligently to obtain training in a tech position. Then abruptly all of those tech jobs are shifted out of country. Did that person sin? Is s/he somehow less righteous than the wealthy person whose job was not shipped overseas? What about the person who invested all their savings in the housing market?
Wealth does not equal righteousness. There are many wealthy people within the LDS church (more per capita than most religions). However, just because one is LDS and rich does not mean one is righteous. I have known many wealthy LDS members who ran pyramid schemes, sold faulty merchandise, and were certainly not kind to their fellow-man. And yet at Church they were given a level of respect and positive regard simply because they made more than six figures. It has always struck me as odd that individuals who ruin other peoples financial stability can be perceived as somehow more righteous simply because they figured out how to make money and keep it. Does the value of the almighty dollar outweigh other values?
Poverty does not equal unrighteousness. I have known many people who had difficulty making ends meet. To me, these people seemed to be righteous and pious people who had deep and abiding faith in God. And yet these people were slighted, marginalized, and given menial callings at church. I also once had a close relative (who had experienced several financial setbacks in a row) ask me “why is it that this keeps happening to us? We pray, we go to church, we pay our tithing, we budget, we work hard, we do everything we are supposed to, why can’t we seem to get ahead?” Should I tell her she simply isn’t righteous enough?
While I disagree with people within the church that apply the MWA, I can understand why they apply it. Many LDS members buy into the concept of individualism as an explanation of poverty, if someone is lazy (an ungodly trait) then they are simply earning their just rewards. If they would pray more, be more obedient and work hard they would earn money. Individualism as an explanation of poverty asserts that poverty is always within ones control (based on secular conduct or spiritual conduct).
Mormons are also encouraged to believe in the MWA because of scriptures in the Book of Mormon which state that blessings (including worldly ones) are predicated upon righteousness; the more righteous the more blessings. At least until an individual becomes prideful (an unrighteous state) which is followed by a fall (which could mean they lose their money). It’s not a big leap to see why many members view those who are wealthy as somehow more righteous (They have earned their blessings by piety!). Those who are poor may have been prideful, or were guilty of some other sin which caused their fall.
The full reference for the study is: Rector, J. M. (2004). The Symbolic Universe of Latter-day Saints: Do We Believe The Wealthy Are More Righteous? AMCAP Journal, 29, 102-112. And can be read here:
- Do you believe wealth and righteousness are related?
- What do you think about the MWA?
- What are the implications of such beliefs?