The Mormon Wealth Attribution

By: Guest
October 27, 2010

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:

https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/IssuesInReligionAndPsychotherapy/article/viewFile/494/469

  • Do you believe wealth and righteousness are related?
  • What do you think about the MWA?
  • What are the implications of such beliefs?

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101 Responses to The Mormon Wealth Attribution

  1. Paul on October 27, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Where to begin?

    First, the study polls residents of Utah County only. So at best we can conclude these are attitudes of Utah County residents who happen also to be members of the church, not that this is a condition of the church in general.

    The reason I cite this issue is that my expeience far away from Utah Valley (in Latin America, Asia, and the US Midwest and Eastern states) suggests a different attitude and outcome.

    Granted, it’s easier to find a high concentratiion of church members in Utah Valley, but one wonders if they speak for the global church.

    Further, the Book of Mormon teaches clearly what has been called the pride cycle – that once those tangible blessings come (as the OP points out), the comes the fall. Whether those who are caught up in the pride of riches know it when they are in the midst of it is not clear; the many examples of the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon would suggest they don’t.

    As you say, Wealth does not equal righteousness. Nor does it, by itself, signal unrighteousness. Similarly, poverty is neither a sign of righteousness or unrighteousness in and of itself. And further still, neither is the calling in which one serves. A stake president is not necessarily any more righteous than an organist or chorister or door greeter.

    I think one needs to look further in the study of Utah County residents than simply their affiliation with the church. For instance, is there something else at work in the Utah church (that may or may not be present elsewhere)? Is there something unique in the American mindset that is not present in Asia or Europe or Latin America quite apart from the church (the study referenced that its respondents were overwhelmingly Republican, for instance).

    I do not necessarily mean to defend the church or even the residents of Utah County (I was one myself for eight years). But the linkage of personal wealth and personal righteousness is at odds with the gospel, and also at odds with what I’ve observed (anecdotally) in areas outside Utah County.

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  2. Justin Tungate on October 27, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    It is my guess that politics has quite a bit to play in this. Social Darwinism is a basic tenant of Republicanism, and the majority of Mormons are far right-wing Republicans.

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  3. Justin Tungate on October 27, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    I forgot to say what I think about it. MWA clearly runs contrary to what Christ himself taught. The “pride cycle” is bunk as far as I believe.

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  4. Cowboy on October 27, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    My observation is that yes, people do attribute wealth to righteousness. While Utah county does not represent the entire Church, it does represent the highest institutional concentration of it. This wealth attribution attitude is manifest at the institutional level where with little exception General Authorities, Mission Presidents, Temple Presidents, etc, are selected from among individuals of considerable means. Strictly as an opinion, this has led to a higher concentration of admin officials with backgrounds in Law, Medicine, or business and finance, as opposed to individuals with backgrounds in theology. This in turn is changing the Church more and more into a corporation and investment vehicle, rather than a Church – let alone THE Church.

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  5. Paul on October 27, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    Cowboy, your comment about the institutional level seems to equate righteousness (or perceived righteousness) with a calling of visible status.

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  6. Last Lemming on October 27, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    While Utah county does not represent the entire Church, it does represent the highest institutional concentration of it.

    These (and their clones in Salt Lake and Davis counties) are the people who are training the next generation of Seminary and Institute teachers and writing the next set of manuals. They may not represent the entire Church, but they shape it.

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  7. MoHoHawaii on October 27, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    This phenomenon is much wider than just Mormon culture, but I certainly agree that it appears to have infected us.

    I recommend Susan Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. Wealth as evidence of righteousness is an outgrowth of the 19th century positive thinking movement. Ehrenreich traces the history of these ideas and some(very negative) consequences of them. I really liked this book.

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  8. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    Great insight Paul, thank you!

    The study doesn’t say that every member of the church buys into the MWA. But rather that there is a tendency to do so. I have lived in the northwest, northeast and midwest (never in Utah). In all of these places there have been prominent members who buy into this MWA fallacy. (Admittedly this is anecodotal though)

    2. Your point is very valid about outside influences. Correlation does not equal causation. There could be many reasons for the MWA finding (Such as high-levels of republicans, living in a highly individualistic culture, misconstruing scripture, adoption of a protestant work ethic, halo effects, etc) I don’t know for sure, but I imagine members outside of the U.S. who experience greater poverty, or originate from more community based cultures (as opposed to individualistic cultures) may be less likely to adopt the MWA fallacy.

    While we can’t conclude that the “cause” of the MWA finding is linked directly to the church (it’s probably caused by lots of things) it was still a finding. Which means causation isn’t the issue. Its mere presence is the issue (even if it is just in Utah, which I doubt).

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  9. Paul on October 27, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    TE: In any case, wherever it comes from, it seems the notion that wealth = righteousness runs at odds with what the Savior taught. And that, alone, is reason to think about it.

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  10. Rebecca on October 27, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    Troth – Great post! I tend to associate prosperity theology with televangelists like Jim and Tammy Baker, or more recently Joel Osteen, the Houston-based megapastor.
    See “Does God Want You To Be Rich” at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448,00.html

    It’s a good reminder that we are perfectly capable of our own version of this kind of thinking.

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  11. John Mansfield on October 27, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    In the LDS church the perception of others’ righteousness has a lot to do with their willingness and/or ability to contribute their time. Will Sister Williams show up to teach the 13-year-olds in Sunday School? Is Brother Evans one of the half dozen men who show up to help load every moving van? If a person’s poverty is part of a general inability to manage life or sucks up all the time they have so there is nothing left to give others, then they appear less righteous. The rich can come up short in our minds, too, if they are so busy, busy, busy and off on travel so that they are unavailable to us. With some high-profile Mormons, I wonder “Yeah, he was a stake president, but could you call him to be an 11-year-old scout leader?”

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  12. John Mansfield on October 27, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    The vignettes in the appendix of the wealthy man and the poor man bias me toward the wealthy man. Everything works out for the wealthy man, but there aren’t any events where he takes a big gamble and it pays off; instead, his success progresses in steps that indicate desirable virtues like judiciousness, patience, and willingness to work. His success starts with an unexpected $100,000 inheritance, but it is used to purchase a fixer-upper house instead of place a down payment on a mini-mansion on the hill. Only at the end, after the string of incremental successes, is there any hint of ostentation, and by this point it seems mild.

    With the poor man, his employment history includes a stint as a car salesman, and involvement by himself and his wife in a multilevel marketing company, two jobs that will cause the reader to wonder about the poor man’s honesty.

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  13. Matthew73 on October 27, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    Don’t have time to write a lot here, but one reason that MWA exists to some degree in LDS circles is that it’s scripturally based. Mosiah 2:41 states, in part, that “those that keep the commandments of God . . . are blessed in ALL things, both temporal and spiritual” (my emphasis). Yes, I know there are other scriptures which cast material blessings in a very different light, but I’ve been to multiple stake conferences where this scripture (Mosiah 2:41) was THE theme of the entire stake conference. I’ve been assigned to give a stake conference talk on that verse.

    To be clear, I categorically reject MWA. I know plenty of folks who are sincerely trying to do what is right, sacrificing, etc. and have incredibly difficult challenges, whether in terms of finances, employment, health, family relationships, or any number of issues. (I finally decided that like many scriptural verses, Mosiah 2:41
    should not be read or construed or believed literally, but I’ll save those thoughts for a separate post).

    Anyway, my only comment is, those who believe in MWA can find some scriptural justification for their perspective.

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  14. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    Last Lemming: Yes, I think it does and will influence the Church in the future.

    Moho: Ehrenreich had some really great points and I think many in the Church have bought into the positive thinking myth as well. What happened to “realistic” thinking?

    Paul: Agreed!

    Rebecca: Absolutely, it is easy to demonize those who are obviously carrying it to far. It’s a lot hard to ask ourselves “is it I?” or see it in it’s more subtle forms.

    John: Great post about “Time” being a mediator of the MWA. The more visible- perhaps the more righteous. This could lead to it’s own type of attribution fallacies.

    Matthew: Yes…you can find justification for the MWA from the scriptures. You can often find justification for believing lots of things (almost anything you want) by looking at scripture alone. In fact I have often wondered whether the scriptures act more like a Rorschach test than they do a static “road map” back to God. See: http://trotheveryman.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/scriptures-as-rorschach-tests/

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  15. LDS Anarchist on October 27, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    “Do you believe wealth and righteousness are related?”

    Yes. If you are wealthy, you ain’t righteous.

    “What do you think about the MWA?”

    It doesn’t surprise me.

    What are the implications of such beliefs?

    Weathly Mormons will be damned, desroyed in the flesh and lift their eyes up in hell. Poor Mormons (who are meek) will inherit the earth and the spiritual gifts.

    I’m defining wealth as scriptural riches, meaning that you have a surplus. The only chance that wealthy Mormons have to save themselves is to give away all their wealth (surplus) to the needy, becoming poor themselves. I’m defining poor as anyone who doesn’t have a surplus, but has sufficient for their needs (the scriptural poor). And I’m defining needy as anyone who doesn’t even have what they need (the scriptural needy).

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  16. Ziff on October 27, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    Nice post, Troth!

    I agree with MoHoHawaii that this type of thinking is common outside the Church too. I think social psychologists talk about it (or something similar) as “belief in a just world.” It’s the belief that people get what they deserve, so rich people got that way by being good or working hard, and poor people got that way by failing to do those things.

    Also, thanks for the book recommendation, MoHoHawaii. That book is on my list; I’ll have to bump it up!

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  17. Cowboy on October 27, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    “The vignettes in the appendix of the wealthy man and the poor man bias me toward the wealthy man.”

    Of course, they are conveniently designed to do just that. Forget the fact that most American families are just one medical crisis away from financial ruin, the threat of which is often genetically doled out. There is little doubt that certain desirable characteristics and personal strengths have some correlation to wealth accumulation, for example the propensity to save and invest, including other forms of financial prudence. Let’s just not kid ourselves that it is even close to 1:1 ratio. There is a lot of variance caused by externalities which can lead to wealth or poverty. A person’s likelihood of being wealthy in their adult years has significant correlation to the wealth of their parents, and vice-versa. Inheritances have a big impact on the level of risk an entrepreneur can assume, etc, etc, etc. Suffice it to say, wealth should have no impact on persons perceived righteousness. Secondly it raises questions of whether callings in the Church are really inspired by God, or just money. If we assume that God is inspiring callings, then the correlation of wealthy members in callings of prominence inherently lends to the public connecting wealth with righteousness. However, as others have pointed out – Jesus just didn’t appear to see it that way. He told his apostles to go without purse or script, for that same God who notes the fall of a sparrow and clothes the lilies of the field, will certainly care for the day to day maintenance of his leaders. Today, those apostles spend a significant amount of energy managing a purse that would put Solomon to shame.

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  18. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Yes Ziff! Actually the “belief in a just word” construct was one the author studied when he conducted his dissertation on this topic.

    Cowboy: Nicely put, in fact the majority of wealth in America is inherited, especially the top 10%. (They must have been more righteous in the pre-existence than the rest of us (joke).

    Anarchist: You bring up the topic of distribution of wealth. Perhaps statements like “it is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than to pass through the eye of the needle” do more harm than good. Are statements such as these meant to keep the poor class content with their lot (because they are more likely to make it to heaven!), rather than fight the existing imbalance in power and resources (because if I get rich I won’t make it to heaven!)? It means leaving current social structures in place that benefit of the rich and do not benefit the poor. By dangling a carrot in front of the poor to stay in line. (I’m being a little dramatic here)

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  19. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 27, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    Two things. First, “MWA” is really just an expression of neo-Calvanism.
    Second, long term success tends to be correlated with gratification deferment. While some of that is genetic temperament, much of it is cultural. For example, very few people go to law school because they enjoy it (something that came up in a way that embarrassed me towards the end of my degree when another student realized I really enjoyed school).

    As for attitudes about wealth at Christ’s time, when he stated how hard it was for a rich man to be saved, the first response was [if it is hard for a rich man to be saved] then how can anyone be saved?

    The response was that salvation was impossible with man, but it was possible through God.

    Cowboy, I’m by no means wealthy. I grew up in trailer parks. I’ve never worked in “big law” — but I’ve been through three medical disasters (and yes, have broken a life time medical cap), each of which resulted in a funeral.

    It is possible for life to be more resilient than you give it credit for.

    On the other hand, I’m not wealthy. My only calling for the past year or so has been home teaching. So, who knows.

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  20. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 27, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    MoHoHawaii — thanks for the pointer on the book. You’ve added something valuable to another conversation ;)

    Always enjoyed C. S. Lewis and his caution that poverty does not equal holiness, when reacting against the contrary perception.

    A big issue, of course, is that service in the Church involves putting off your own gratification to serve others and at some levels a wider administrative skill set.

    I’ve seen a wide variety of Bishops, with wide backgrounds (from carpet cleaners to business men), and each has had their plusses and minuses.

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  21. Jon Miranda on October 27, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    The wealthy think different. If you tell a rich person that you want to start a business, they will say Go for it, you can do it! If you tell a poor person , they say Why? Where are you going to get the money? It’s too hard.

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  22. Cowboy on October 27, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    “It is possible for life to be more resilient than you give it credit for.”

    I don’t mean to come across as suggesting that someone not born of favorable circumstances is guaranteed a life of poverty. What I was intending to point out was that the external correlating factors suggest that wealth and poverty are most likely influenced by anything BUT religious righteousness.

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  23. hawkgrrrl on October 27, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    Excellent post! I think Mormons are prone to equate wealth with righteousness for a few additional reasons:
    1 – Mormonism is an American religion and very informed by “the American dream” and “American ideals.” We believe that anyone can go from rags to riches if they work hard enough, and that wealth doesn’t come from privilege, but from hard work and perseverance.
    2 – According to Pew Forum, Mormons ARE more wealthy than other conservative Christian denominations, and many of them also believe in the “prosperity gospel.” But our wealth is an unstated sign of our religion’s successfulness and truth claims to many. People who convert to the church often improve their financial circumstances.
    3 – In all sorts of social networks, wealth = more influence in the group. People of all sorts view the wealthy as worthy of extra attention and emulation just because they must be getting something right, so maybe they know more than the rest of us.

    I think another link is that hard work and ambition DO increase wealth on the whole. What is faulty thinking, though, is misattributing other forms of righteousness (e.g. praying, reading scriptures, service, magnifying callings, paying tithing) as directly linked to wealth. Nobody’s going to pray their way into Central Park West. The only caveat I will add is that living your religion (IME) seems to boost confidence; it has a self-reinforcing effect (similar to being healed by prayer). We do better when we expect to do better.

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  24. Jon on October 27, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    I don’t believe in the MWA for the individual but as a collective. Of course, I always reserve the right to change my opinion (referring to the collective MWA).

    I consider my parents to be relatively righteous (although my dad made some big mistakes) and both are poor (relatively speaking – depends on what you consider poor).

    LDS Anarchist,
    I think that scripture is more applied to those who get ill gotten gains (filthy lucre) and as another poster said, it implies that Christ is the only one that saves.

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  25. Thomas on October 27, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    “There are many wealthy people within the LDS church (more per capita than most religions).”

    Very simple: If you’re wealthy, you can more easily afford to pay tithing. If you can pay tithing, you can go to the temple. If you can go to the temple, you’re more likely to remain a Mormon.

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  26. hawkgrrrl on October 27, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Thomas, I think you are overlooking the other end of that equation: the welfare program. I know people personally who joined or stayed LDS just to have access to that benefit because they were struggling financially.

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  27. Thomas on October 27, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    “Social Darwinism is a basic tenant of Republicanism, and the majority of Mormons are far right-wing Republicans.”

    Hogwash. And for the umpteenth time, it’s “tenet,” not “tenant.”

    The idea that “social Darwinism” was a conservative or capitalist theme goes back to that old fraud Richard Hofstadter, who identified William Graham Sumner and Herbert Spencer as economic conservatives who supposedly used Darwinian principles to advocate free-market economics. First off, Spencer wasn’t even a Darwinian; second, the vast majority of people who *did* use Darwinian principles in economics and sociology tended to be Progressives (i.e., the eugenics-advocating “three generations of imbeciles is enough” variety).

    Progressives who mindlessly follow the Hofstadterian received wisdom, and associate their opponents with “social Darwinism,” need to look in the mirror — or at least their intellectual pedigree. A classic case of projection.

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  28. Rebecca on October 27, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    “Do you thing wealth and righteousness are related”

    I’d say that at the societal level this is true. When a society has a decent rule of law, and most of it’s citizens are ethical in the way they interact, you are going to have a prosperous society. If you look at the economies of Southern California vs. the Baja Penninsula, you can see this principle at work. You have very similar natural resources in these areas, but the corruption in government where there is not a good rule of law keeps Mexico in relative poverty.

    We have to be careful about making judgments on an individual basis. For example, there’s a guy in your ward who has a Mercedes. According to #15, he should give away all of his excess. If he were more righteous, he’d give away his money and drive a Hyundai. Maybe the guy with Mercedes gives away 95% of his income and can still afford a Mercedes. Maybe the guy driving the Hyundai has never given away anything in his life. What about the people in the middle? Should we all drive a Hyundai or are we risking our salvation by driving a Toyota? Does one’s attitude about the Mercedes matter? Did he buy it to show up the Hyundai drivers, or did he just buy it because it’s a good car. These kinds of scenarios can get ridiculous.

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  29. Justin on October 27, 2010 at 4:40 PM

    Either Jesus meant what he said when he said: Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. or he didn’t.

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  30. Will on October 27, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    Justin,

    Either the Bible say “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” or it doesn’t.

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  31. Matthew73 on October 27, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    Justin,

    What do you think Jesus meant when he said “Think not that I am come to send apeace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law”? (Matt: 10:34-35)

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  32. AdamF on October 27, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    Will/Justin – I think this is a good example of Troth’s point that what we interpret in the scriptures is more of a reflection of ourselves. Two people can pick up a Bible and come away with entirely different views on wealth, both feeling rather justified.

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  33. Will on October 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    AdamF,

    That was my point.

    General –

    I come from a very wealthy family, my siblings and I, not my father. It was not inherited. All of my brothers are millionaires. One has assets in excess of 50 million. My wife’s family has polar opposites – extreme wealth and poverty. Her sister’s husband cashed out on his real estate dealings for over 60 million in 2007; while, one of her brothers has nine kids and has never made more that $12 per hour.

    I have observed over the years how they got where they are and it has everything to do with following certain conservative principles. Along these lines, one of my least favorite comparisons is when people in the church equate opening the windows of heaven via tithing with wealth. You get wealthy by hard work, but mostly by following one simple rule: spend less than you make and wisely invest the difference. It is the formula for financial success. In contrast, the formula for financial disaster is to spend more than you make and finance the difference. This is true for individuals, families, churches and goverments. It is the way the church obtained its wealth.

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  34. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    Great points all around, it has a been a fun discussion.

    Another point I would like to make here though. It is easier for some people to say “just work hard, have ambition and spend less than you make” works fine for SOME people in SOME circumstances, if you are from the majority group for instance. If you are say an immigrant, or a minority group member, or HAVE to go into debt just to survive…let alone invest. Using the old “work hard, be ambitious, and spend less than you make arguments” just don’t hold water. It may work for some…but not all. Spending less than you make may be a choice between “do I eat?” or “do I not eat?”

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  35. Thomas on October 27, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    “Her sister’s husband cashed out on his real estate dealings for over 60 million in 2007…”

    Any man who made his money in real estate ought to be hanged, on general principle.

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  36. Thomas on October 27, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    “If you are say an immigrant, or a minority group member, or HAVE to go into debt just to survive…let alone invest. Using the old “work hard, be ambitious, and spend less than you make arguments” just don’t hold water.”

    Or not:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jun/18/sports/sp-moreno18

    Minority group or recent immigrant or not, if you teach your children well, there is a nonzero possibility of them becoming rich enough to give a ludicrously confusing two-city name to a storied baseball team.

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  37. LDS Anarchist on October 27, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    #18 (Troth) wrote:

    You bring up the topic of distribution of wealth. Perhaps statements like “it is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than to pass through the eye of the needle” do more harm than good. Are statements such as these meant to keep the poor class content with their lot (because they are more likely to make it to heaven!), rather than fight the existing imbalance in power and resources (because if I get rich I won’t make it to heaven!)? It means leaving current social structures in place that benefit of the rich and do not benefit the poor. By dangling a carrot in front of the poor to stay in line. (I’m being a little dramatic here)

    First, I find it ironic to find a latter-day saint (assuming you are LDS) entertain the idea that any statement of Jesus Christ could actually do more harm than good. (Yes, I know you were just being “dramatic,” but the irony is still there.)

    As for your question, no, statements such as the one you quoted are not meant to keep the poor content with their lot in life and keep the status quo as is.

    My understanding is that it was to work on both the rich and poor who desired salvation. On the rich, by causing them to give up their surplus and thus save their souls. On the poor, by causing them to change society by creating a wealth distribution system so that, and in which, even the rich could be saved.

    It likewise condemns everyone who does not actively give up (consecrate) their surplus to the needy and seek to establish (united) orders in which the surplus is distributed among the needy, which is the gospel way of providing for the needy.

    No poor, sanctified man is desirous to see his rich brethren burn in hell. The poor, sanctified soul wants to save everyone, not just his own soul. Therefore, no poor, sanctified man will desire that the status quo remain, thinking that it’s okay for him as he is poor and sanctified, therefore what happens to the rich is of no concern of his. No, on the contrary, he desires to facilitate the salvation of all God’s children. So, he will work to establish gospel-based (not State-based) united orders with others who also desire salvation and invite all, rich and poor, to join in the effort and save themselves by freely giving of their wealth, becoming poor themselves.

    When the Savior said, “ye have the poor always with you,” this was to be the case even in Zion, where all are poor (continuously giving of their surplus) and it is only this type of poor (the givers of surplus and the ones who desire to give of surplus) that are the meek type that will inherit the earth.

    Anyone can rationalize all they want about how paying a tithing and a generous fast offering is enough giving, but the principle is one of surplus, meaning whatever is above and beyond what you need to survive. If you pay a generous fast offering and a full tithing, but still retain even one penny of surplus, in other words, if you do not freely give ALL your surplus to the needy, you are coveting the drop and will be denied salvation.

    Under gospel law, riches (or wealth) was never intended to be used by the wealthy. It was always the intention that riches (surplus) be used by the needy. Any attempt to utilize surplus for the benefit of the rich is wickedness.

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  38. Will on October 27, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    Thomas,

    LOL

    He sold all his real property that had been accumlated over 25 years at what seemed to be the perfect time. He then started a hard lending (for Real Estate) company and got burned pretty bad on some loans in Nevada and Arizona when the economy crashed. He told me he will be lucky to get $.40 on the dollar. All told, Karma was involved.

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  39. Justin on October 27, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    Will:

    Either the Bible say “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” or it doesn’t.

    So, providing for your own naturally means to get a good business degree from BabylonYU and amass a large surplus — right??

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  40. Stephen Marsh on October 27, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    LDS Anarchist — Troth misunderstands what Christ was saying. Are statements such as these meant to keep the poor class content with their lot (because they are more likely to make it to heaven!) — absolutely not.

    It has nothing to do with that, and all addressing that even the rich, whom you presume to be blessed and favored of God, can not get into heaven without God.

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  41. salt h2o on October 27, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    Guest- no offense but this is ridiculous.

    You’re telling me that members of the LDS church when they discover that Brother Smith made millions on his downline- they immediately believe Brother Smith is more rigteous? Bollocks.

    Now, Brother Smith may think he’s more righteous, but I may think I’m more righteous because I’m better looking and Sister so and so may think she’s super righteous because she doesn’t drink caffiene and my brother may think he’s uber righteous because he got accepted to the Phd program at Harvard.

    Members of the church do not think that other members that have more money are more righteous than they are- especially if those people are collosial morons.

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  42. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    Thomas, Good example of an exception!
    “Minority group or recent immigrant or not, if you teach your children well, there is a nonzero possibility of them becoming rich”
    Yes and there isn’t a 100% possibility either. And what if your parents didn’t teach you well? Part of what I was trying to convey in the OP is that there are (at least) two global components to a wealth making equation: Personal attributes (which have been described here: hard work, ambition, saving, investing etc) plus environmental conditions (economic factors such as recessions, country of origin, how your parents raised you, upward mobility issues, glass ceilings, minority status, level of investment capital to start with, etc). There is risk involved (and perhaps luck). Sure, if one works hard their chances of becoming wealthy are greater than zero. But it is no guarantee. There are things on the environmental side of the equation that cannot be ignored or necessarily controlled.
    Your point is well taken. There are exceptions. But take the world population as a whole. Many more people live in poverty than those that don’t. Of the world population There may be millions of people who work hard, have ambition and attempt to save. (Actually, working hard is a common trait in the working class and those in poverty! To me it seems so ridiculous to blame laziness for being poor!) What is missing from this formula is opportunity. You can work hard, be ambitious, and attempt to spend less than you make all you want, but if there are policies or systems in place that don’t allow for upward movement. Or the housing market crash, or the…
    These things are even harder to achieve if you are also fighting against glass ceiling effects, or fighting stereotypes or prejudice.
    Don’t get me wrong. I agree that working hard, having ambition, and saving/spending less than you make is an essential formula for monetary success(for those that don’t inherit). However, it isn’t a guarantee. Other things must also be in place including opportunity, availability of upward movement, and luck! Imagine if (in the example given above) he had tried to cash out of his real-estate investments in 2008 or 9?

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  43. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    Anarchist and Steven: True…I was speaking a bit tongue-in-cheek. If it was offensive please forgive me. I certainly was not trying to disparage Christ. The point that I was trying to make (which I didn’t make well) was that there are (some) structures that benefit the wealthy and don’t benefit the poor. Given these structures and the other environmental factors mentioned above, one cannot make value judgments or negative attributions about the reasons why someone is poor. There are too many environmental issues involved that make such judgments (to a degree) invalid.
    While we shouldn’t assume that someone is poor because they were unrighteous. We also need to be careful to not assume that because someone is poor that they haven’t worked hard enough, been ambitious enough, or whatever. Doing so ignores the whole environmental piece of the equation.

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  44. phin on October 27, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    I think that maybe one point that has not been brought up is the fact that this particular issue is not some sickness “plaguing” Mormon culture alone. America was born on strong economic Calvinistic ideas and, understandably, these ideas have spread into the religious realm on all sides. This is not a problem purely with Mormon culture, but often religion in general, and has been throughout history. To point fingers and demand that these, albeit wrong, historical traditions are merely a “Mormon” problem is simplifying and isolating a much more global moral dilemma.

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  45. Troth Everyman on October 27, 2010 at 8:49 PM

    Salt, none taken.

    I think you make a great point. We all make judgments … which are problems when they are used as a form of comparison. President Uchtdorf’s update on pride at general conference was wisely addressing this topic.

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  46. Stephen Marsh on October 28, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    Phin — yep, though the current incarnation I tend to call neoCalvinism.

    There may be millions of people who work hard, have ambition and attempt to save. (Actually, working hard is a common trait in the working class and those in poverty!

    That was one of the results that two byu profs found when they were studying the difference between the rich and the poor. The poor tended to work very hard, which was (as they described it) depressing.

    The rich, in general, had family connections working for them more than any other factor. Self-reinforcing social networks.

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  47. Cowboy on October 28, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    “President Uchtdorf’s update on pride at general conference was wisely addressing this topic.”

    A few years ago I remember seeing President Uchtdorf sitting front and center at a Jazz game. Sittig with him were the ultra wealthy founders of Nu Skin. What to read into this? Not much, except that the Church responds to wealth just like everyone else. Of course, President Uchtdorf himself is a former executive of a major European airline. Money still talks.

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  48. Paul on October 28, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Because President Uchtdorf sat at a basketball game with the founders of NuSkin, the CHURCH responds to wealth?? I don’t get it.

    As far as I know, President Uchtdorf retired from his executive position at Lufthansa, where he worked for many years, earning the pension that he now may enjoy.

    Is the concern that he spent his money (or someone else’s) on a professional basketball game? Or that he sat with entreprenuers?

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  49. Will on October 28, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    Cowboy,

    Most of the Apostles and Prophets are wealthy along with most GA’s, Mission Presidents and Stake Presidents. Too me it is saying, if you have the leadership ability to make a lot of money you have what it takes to be a church leader.

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  50. Will on October 28, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Paul,

    He did not retire from Lufthansa Airlines, the church dragged him away. Lufthansa Airlines pleaded with the church to keep him.

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  51. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 1:06 PM

    #41 – The problem with your analogies is that there doesn’t appear to be any link between being called to the highest leadership positions in the church and one’s looks or not drinking caffeine or getting into Harvard. On the other hand, there is a pretty strong correlation between wealth and leadership in the mormon church. And anyone who would try to argue that most members of the church don’t see people in high leadership positions of the church as more righteous are simply not being honest. Consequently, it’s hard to see how members could NOT, at some point, begin to see a substantive link between wealth and righteousness.

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  52. hawkgrrrl on October 28, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    Will 49 – I think it’s more that they wouldn’t want to put someone in a high level calling who had demonstrated being unsuccessful with money. That didn’t work too well in JS’s day, you may recall. So, I don’t think being wealthy is as important as not being bad with money.

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  53. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    #52 – This seems like a bit of a stretch, Hawk. I’ve encountered numerous men in relatively high positions in the church whose only seeming qualification for the position they held was their monetary success. If it was really about people who were good with money, then the general authorities could be filled with CPAs, instead of men who are personally successful and wealthy. And beyond that, while I can understand why a bishop or SP needs to be financially responsible, how does that apply to a 70? They don’t preside over a congregation or manage a budget. Most of the GAs don’t have that responsibility.

    I understand the position that GAs, mission presidents, etc., need to be financially capable of traveling, being away from home and work, etc. That is reasonable. That said, this is a multi-billion dollar corporation we’re talking about. If callings are made by revelation, don’t you think there may be a peasant in South America somewhere who may be a pillar of righteousness and christlike love who might be worthy of being a GA or a MP? Why don’t we ever see that person “called”? And if that’s the case, couldn’t the church dig into its ridiculously deep pockets to front the cost of that man’s mission presidency, etc.? Because I can tell you from first had experience, a poor, humble servant would have been infinitely better than the CEOs of international companies who served as my first mission president and my area president. Neither of them have anything to do with my disaffection from the church, but when I think of the many things I dislike about the church, they’re respective ascentions to power within the church are right at the top of the list.

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  54. hawkgrrrl on October 28, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    53 brjones – maybe so. I’m not personally familiar enough with many of the high level leaders to say they are all wealthy. Hinckley and Monson, for example, were not wealthy businessmen. And would we really call the president of a church-owned university a big financial success? Some of them owe their success to the church all around.

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  55. Paul on October 28, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    brjones, My experience is just not the same as yours.

    I have personally known mission presidents in Latin America and Asia who were not particularly wealthy, but were competent in their professions. But in their service as mission presidents, they did not rely on their financial acumen. As they taught the gospel they did so with great conviction and the support of the spirit.

    There are members of the seventy who are of humbler circumstance from Latin America and Africa and Asia.

    I inferred it in my initial comment: personal worthiness is not the only quality to consider in the calling of a leader, though it is essential. A chorister may be just as personally righteous as an apostle. President Hinckley taught that principle repeatedly.

    The bishops in wards where I have lived have typically been run-of-the-mill members financially. Some have been above the curve and others below. The same with stake presidents I’ve known. In the US, those leaders would be considered rich on a global scale, to be sure, but not in the wards and stakes where they served. My experience is limited, of course.

    Will, nor sure your point on Pr Uchtdorf. My only point is that since he left Lufthansa at an age when he likely qualified, I suspect he draws a pension. I don’t know details of Lufthansa’s executive compensation, nor Germany’s statutory requirements, but I’m just supposing.

    I would also point out that not all those who earn lots of money serve in church leadership callings.

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  56. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    #54 & 55 – Undoubtedly my feelings are colored by my experiences. And although it does seem that as a rule the brethren are temporally successful, that is anecdotal evidence at best. I should be clear that I have known many wonderful bishops who were normal, down to earth, lovely men.

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  57. Cowboy on October 28, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Will/Paul:

    brjones comments articulate my sentiments fairly well, so I will refer you to his comments #51, and second paragraph of #53.

    I’m not at all concerned as to how Pres. Uchtdorf spends his money, nor the Nu Skin founders for that matter. The question is, what does it take to get a member of the First Presidency’s attention. If a family of lesser means were to call over to Church offices and extend a dinner invitation to any of the twelve, or FP – what would you expect? There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with Church leaders going to basketball games, or associating in the company they choose. For me however, it begs the question of how modern apostles are so different from Jesus who generally didn’t socialize on the basis of a class system.

    “Too me it is saying, if you have the leadership ability to make a lot of money you have what it takes to be a church leader.”

    Now this I don’t get. I will be the first to admit that I am a business professional, and I like turning a profit. I just don’t hold myself out as “one of the Lords annointed”. David of the Old Testament was the least likely to defend Israel from the Phillistines, yet God does not look on the outward appearance, he looks upon the heart. Or how about this little nugget from Elder Maxwell:

    “God does not ask about ability, only our availability. When we prove dependability, he then increases our capability”.

    All crap apparently. These days God’s criteria for being chosen is good business sense, whereas he formerly valued faith and obedience.

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  58. Will on October 28, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    Cowboy/BrJones:

    “Too me it is saying, if you have the leadership ability to make a lot of money you have what it takes to be a church leader”
    I agree this was a poor choice of words and not accurate, let me rephrase.

    “Too me it is saying, if you have the leadership ability to make a lot of money, you have one of many qualifications to be a church leader” This would be in a long list of others including faith, hope, charity, love, worthiness, etc…

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  59. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    #57 – And to piggyback on Cowboy’s comment, I think an interesting corollary to the “wealth as righteousness” question is the point Cowboy made about association. Even if you believe wealth doesn’t amount to righteousness, or even to high callings in the church, it’s a reality that president Monson spends relatively little of his time surrounded by the common people, including members of the church. He spends his time hosting national and world leaders, politicians, prominent figures, being interviewed for high-profile media events, etc. I think Cowboy’s question is valid – who are the brethren serving? And if they’re truly serving the members, has the meaning of the word “service” changed since the days of christ, because according to the NT, jesus considered service to mean ministering to the people one is serving. And I would argue that is what most people in the church interpret the word to mean for themselves. Is there a way to spin how the highest leaders of the LDS church spend much of their time to interpret it as serving their fellow man, or is this just another outgrowth of a global corporation obsessed with public relations?

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  60. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    #58 – I think that’s an appropriate interpretation, but again, the disproportionate number of temporally wealthy men serving in high leadership positions in the church would suggest that even if it’s only one of many qualifications, it seems to be a heavily weighted one.

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  61. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    #60 – Unless you believe that temporal wealth is a sign of righteousness, then you can cut out all the extra analysis. Of course, this brings us right back to the original question…

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  62. Will on October 28, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    brjones,

    I think it becomes a practical solution to call wealthy men to positions of leadership. Being a leader requires a good deal of time, which is an undue burden for those struggling to make ends meet as they may need to work two, or possible three jobs to get by.

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  63. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    #62 – I definitely understand this rationale, Will. But this begs the question as to whether these men are truly being called by revelation, and if so, what is the lord’s criteria by which he is choosing his “representatives on earth”. Is this really the way the lord is working? Let’s just call rich guys, because it’s a lot easier on everyone? This seems extremely cynical. It also seems to represent another large departure from the ancient church of the NT, which the church fancies itself a copy of. Besides, couldn’t the lord deal with that issue if he really wanted to? “There are a lot of righteous people out there, but they’re too poor and busy to serve me, so let’s just find some good rich guys and cut out the hassle.” This seems odd to me.

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  64. Cowboy on October 28, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    “I think it becomes a practical solution to call wealthy men to positions of leadership. Being a leader requires a good deal of time, which is an undue burden for those struggling to make ends meet as they may need to work two, or possible three jobs to get by.”

    So God is constrained to only choose leaders from among those with excess means?

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  65. Troth Everyman on October 28, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Part of the point of this post as articulated in the OP was that we can’t judge righteousness based on wealth or poverty. The wealthy who are called to callings may indeed be righteous and they may not be. We can’t tell… Wheat and tares you know. Haha.

    We are told “whom the Lord calls he qualifies”. We are also told that sometimes people are given callings to “teach the person given the calling”. These types of terms imply imperfect (unrighteous) people are often given callings. This may include high level callings. This leads again to the point that we can’t judge.

    I don’t think the is about whether or not the brethren are overly drawn from the wealthy…but more about the tendency of individuals to draw inaccurate inferences about those who are both wealthy and poor. Our conversation about the wealthy are a case in point.

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  66. Troth Everyman on October 28, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    In the first sentence of the last paragraph of the above post I meant to say “I don’t think the ISSUE is about…” and at the end of the paragraph: “Our conversation about the wealthy IS a case in point.” Excuse my poor grammar.

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  67. Stephen Marsh on October 28, 2010 at 6:03 PM

    I’d say that neither of the Oaks who were general authorities were very wealthy. Robert retired from the Air Force, and left his job to serve full time as stake president before he’d had a chance to make much money. The other Oaks was pretty much a career academic, with some other stints.

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  68. GBSmith on October 28, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    “I think Cowboy’s question is valid – who are the brethren serving? And if they’re truly serving the members, has the meaning of the word “service” changed since the days of christ, because according to the NT, jesus considered service to mean ministering to the people one is serving. And I would argue that is what most people in the church interpret the word to mean for themselves. Is there a way to spin how the highest leaders of the LDS church spend much of their time to interpret it as serving their fellow man, or is this just another outgrowth of a global corporation obsessed with public relations?”

    There’s an interesting corollary to this in Acts 6:2-4. I think as a criticism of the brethren, this is a bit of a stretch. I’m a long way from being a TBM but these are men who’ve spent their whole lives serving at every level. Some are well off but as I recall Jeff or someone did a breakdown of occupations and found about as many educators and scientists as businessmen and lawyers.

    “So God is constrained to only choose leaders from among those with excess means?”

    I haven’t seen many rich EQPs lately so I’d guess the answer to that would be no.

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  69. Stephen Marsh on October 28, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    I’m a long way from being a TBM but these are men who’ve spent their whole lives serving at every level.

    Yes. I’m a TBM, but yes. I look at men like Robert Oaks. He was in the military, retired, got his first job where he was going to make money, but was also called as a Stake President and the stake really needed a lot of time.

    He had only moved there for the job, had no other ties. But he quit his job and devoted himself to doing what was needed.

    He has a history of sacrifice and service, just FYI, not just that example.

    There are many more like him.

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  70. brjones on October 28, 2010 at 9:50 PM

    #68 – I think this response misses the point a little bit. I’m not suggesting the brethren are shrinking from their duty. What I’m asking is what is the responsibility of the modern Disciple compared to those of old. It seems to me it is to build the Church (big “c”) as opposed to ministering to the people. Maybe that’s what god wants them to do, and they do it willingly. Fine. But I’d argue that the role of a modern apostle is as much of a PR man as it is a minister, if not more.

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  71. Doug on October 29, 2010 at 2:02 AM

    #7 – Good reference! Thanks. I too feel that “positive thinking” gets oversold…usually by someone plugging the latest MLM or insurance. Nothing wrong with being upbeat (“There is sunshine in my soul today…”), BUT, there is the REAL WORLD. And sometime it SUCKS. Gee whiz, if life was just a hop, skip, and jump through “mamby-pamby-land”, frolicking merrily all the way, where would we be “proved” during our mortal probation?
    I too have experience financial reverses as well as successes. They’ve all been a good teacher. If my station in the hereafter depended on my net worth (not YET a million, thank you), I guess I’d be in trouble. Yet I seem to recall something about “lay not treasure on earth but in heaven…”
    Yes, the Church is run fairly much like a corporation. A plumber who works for the local school district will probably teach Sunday school. A fellow plumber who went independent years ago and now has a multi-million dollar contracting business will likely be at least a bishop if not in the Stake Presidency. It’s a matter of figuring that those that are good at making (and keeping) money are probably better skilled at running the Church’s affairs. Not that I think that’s a dead certainly, but it’s the safe way to bet.
    However, please don’t damn the wealthy for the mere fact that they have it. It wasn’t wealth that the Savior condemned, but the love of it. King Benjamin in his discourse said that it was fine to have wealth provided that it was used to bless others. IMO, I see well-off members not necessarily living as “high on the hog” as non-members of a similar financial footing, while giving significant amounts of money AND their valuable time.
    And let’s not forget that even the rich and famous have their issues too. I know of a certain sister that’s endured a divorce and the loss of a son to suicide in the past few years. In spite of her fame and wealth she’s no less deserving of compassion.

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  72. LDS Anarchist on October 29, 2010 at 2:03 AM

    There is a reason why Jesus sent out the seventy without purse or scrip, relying on the mercies of the world to provide for their needs. Only the poor were intended to teach and preach the gospel. We have turned things upside down by calling wealthy men to positions of leadership. They have turned the priesthood into an honor of men, as can only be expected.

    Strike up a conversation with your bishop, stake president, mission president, area authority seventy or any visiting general authority (all typically well off men) and continually call them Brother (insert their first name here) and see how quickly they are to teach you to refer to them by their titles. Try the same tactic with any poor priesthood holder (no surplus, but sufficient for his needs) in your branch, ward or stake and see if you get corrected.

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  73. Stephen Marsh on October 29, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    LDS Anarchist, I only know one area authority right now. Usually he gets addressed without a title, but he responds just fine to brother.

    Of course he is a partner in a large law firm. So he isn’t wealthy, just upper professional class (given that the divisions are generally:

    poor
    working class
    middle class
    professional class
    wealthy
    hidden)

    Area authorities in general have been pretty humble types, all in all, now that I think of the ones I’ve met over the years. I haven’t known enough to establish a valid sampling, but I’ve met a number of them who were very mild, if that is the right word.

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  74. Stephen Marsh on October 29, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    Actually, most of the “wealthy” you are likely to meet or see are really very successful middle class or professional class. I can’t think of a member of the inherited wealth/hidden that I’ve seen called to anything of importance.

    I’ll have to reflect on that. It would be easy to miss them if they were.

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  75. Troth Everyman on October 29, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    Just as it is difficult to outwardly judge whether someone who is poor is righteous or unrighteous (or any other attribute) it is difficult to outwardly judge whether someone who is rich is righteous or unrighteous. It goes both ways.

    Even for those who inherit wealth: They could be spoiled jerks that exploit people or they could be loving and kind. It is hard to know. We often can’t know.

    However, one thing that is different between the poor and the wealthy is that if you are rich the consequences of being unrighteous or righteous extend much farther and influence many more people for good or for ill. There is power in wealth.

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  76. Paul on October 29, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    brjones (sorry my browser doesn’t show comment #’s) — We have such different experiences.

    At a local level, the bishops and stake presidents I know give hours and hours of personal, ministring service; they do so willingly, and often without anyone else’s knowing what they do.

    The area authority I knew well in one area was a medical doctor who NEVER took payment from a member of the church who came to see him (including me, even though he knew I had medical insurace to pay his fees).

    I happened to be a driver for Elder Hales at a regional conference in Latin America a number of years ago. Unfortunately for Elder Hales, the conference and his flights were scheduled in a way that did not allow him to stay after the conference and visit with members. As we were waiting in a line of cars to leave the area where the conference was held, a disabled man in my ward was standing near the exit of the building. Elder Hales exited the car and walked over, greeted the man and spent several minutes speaking to him while the cars that were to carry him to the airport waited.

    President Monson’s stories of “his” widows and others he has personally served in hospitals and on visits to outlying areas of the church as well also demonstrate his desire, willingness and actions to minister.

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  77. Troth Everyman on October 29, 2010 at 7:56 AM

    It is even harder to know given the PR campaigns of certain individuals who are wealthy. The PR obscures the real “fruits” of the wealthy person making it even more difficult to determine whether their intentions are Christlike or not.

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  78. Cowboy on October 29, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    It’s pretty difficult to stand on the sidelines and try to tally in a tit-for-tat kind of way the various acts of charity vs the acts of selfishness of each of the Brethren. There is little doubt however that money is still the great facilitator of the Church’s activities – as opposed to the Priesthood. I don’t blame Church leaders for choosing outstanding and succesful professionals for high positions and callings, but it lends to the idea that LDS executive search is no different than any other enterprise. What this doesn’t show is how the spirit of revelation transcends worldly influence to find the pure in heart wherever they may be. Instead, it shows that the Church is just another mortal institution subject to mortal vicissitudes.

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  79. GBSmith on October 29, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    “I don’t blame Church leaders for choosing outstanding and succesful professionals for high positions and callings, but it lends to the idea that LDS executive search is no different than any other enterprise. What this doesn’t show is how the spirit of revelation transcends worldly influence to find the pure in heart wherever they may be. Instead, it shows that the Church is just another mortal institution subject to mortal vicissitudes.”

    I guess I’ve never seen it that way. We see successful men at the apex of their careers and lives but not at the beginning and mid point. Leadership in the LDS church has always seemed to be as close to a meritocracy and I’d imagine you can find. A person that succeeds as an EQP becomes a bishop’s counselor and if he does well there a bishop and so on. I don’t believe anyone is just plucked from a pool the wealthy and influential and made a GA. A notable exception might be J . Golden Kimball who once opined that his position was based more on “relation than revelation” but that’s just him. And even at the peak someone can stumble like Henry D. Moyle and have to be replaced. It all comes down to getting the work done. It may be revelation that decides who moves up or just common sense. That’s just something you have to decide for yourself.

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  80. GBSmith on October 29, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    “There is little doubt however that money is still the great facilitator of the Church’s activities – as opposed to the Priesthood.”

    Would you enlarge on that a bit?

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  81. Cowboy on October 29, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    I’ve known a lot of poor Bishops and Elders Quorumn Presidents. Some, but fewer Stake Presidents. Making the jump from Stake President to GA, Mission President, or Temple President, requires attracting extraordinary attention. I won’t be so bold as to suggest that with 100% certainty wealth is the single driver in selection. But shooting from the hip, it appears to have correlation.

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  82. Cowboy on October 29, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    #80 – Jesus ministry cost very little, some taxes as far as I am aware. When it came time to pay he sent Peter to collect by hussing it out of a fish’s mouth. This demonstrated that if Jesus wanted money, that too he could command by miracle. Furthermore showing Peter that he is not to worry about where the money is going to come from because God finances his operation in his own way. The LDS Church hasn’t even come close to this – instead they are a major financial powerstructure. It is not at all obvious that the power of the Priesthood carries the “work” forward, but instead currency. The Church has sufficient for it’s needs and invests the difference. Not necessarilly something that is morally objectionable, just not a testimony builder either.

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  83. Mike S on October 29, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I think it is telling that the Church is spending roughly $3 BILLION on the most expensive shopping mall ever built in the United States. At the same time, is averages around $30 million annually in humanitarian aid, or about 1% of that. ( http://www.providentliving.org/pdf/2009_WELFactSheet_English.pdf )

    Perhaps this post makes sense in that context.

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  84. GBSmith on October 29, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    This is straying off topic but as regards money I remember our stake president back in the 60s say that when he was an accountant in the Presiding Bishop’s Office that even with outside income the church couldn’t sustain itself without tithing. That was the year that Esquire did an article titled “How Much Money Hath the Mormons?”.

    Fast forward to now and as a branch clerk in a YSA branch, I see how much money it takes to just run our little unit. Comparing the church then with what’s needed now is a bit like apples and oranges. I participate when I can in a local Episcopal Church and see how they try to survive with no outside help and money is just a fact of life. I don’t think you can say that it’s one of the other, priesthood or money. Just the way things work. No comment on the great and spacious mall.

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  85. Troth Everyman on October 29, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    GBSmith – 79. I like your point about a meritocracy.

    “It may be revelation that decides who moves up or just common sense. That’s just something you have to decide for yourself.”

    Agreed, again this points out that we are making attributions about church leaders, their wealth and why or why not they are given callings. When why people are called simply can’t always be known. It is speculation that could be erroneous. A Type 1 error if you will.

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  86. brjones on October 29, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    #76 – Paul, I’m obviously not making myself clear. I’m in no way impugning the motives of the brethren in saying they are largely PR agents. I have no doubt that the vast majority of the brethren would do whatever is asked of them, and probably most would prefer to spend their time ministering to the people. The fact is, that’s simply not the church’s program. For local and regional authorities, perhaps, but certainly not for the higher leadership positions. It’s hard to argue with the fact that the majority of time and attention of the high leaders of the church is spent in PR type activities. I’m not even necessarily using that term as a pejorative. I’m just saying the brethren don’t spend most of their time ministering directly to anyone. The fact that you or I or anyone else has had anecdotal experiences in which we’ve seen these men involved in hands-on service doesn’t change this fact.

    Perhaps the reality is that all the PR activity of the church is about “getting out the message” and thus it really is seen as ministering to the people, albeit indirectly. I do think it’s understandable that some people question the church’s priorities when the apostles are really only ever seen on TV and in print, and a couple of times a year in person if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to the big live events. Then you contrast that with other obvious priorities of the church such as the City Creek project, etc., where such an investment is on the corporate side of the church, and is intended to grow the brand, not to benefit mankind in any direct way.

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  87. Cowboy on October 29, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    GBSmith – I’m a former Ward Clerk. I know how much it costs to maintain a building, and programs. It’s expensive, I get it. Expense has always been a component of consumption though, now and in the past. I’ve stated my opinion, so I won’t reiterate-We disagree.

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  88. Thomas on October 29, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    And yet as someone who finds himself representing a bankrupt megachurch, I do understand that somebody’s got to mind the financial store.

    Perhaps there might be a more decentralized church-governance model, which didn’t require so much energy to be spent on economic matters. But that’s not the church that was set up in the Restoration. For better or for worse, the Church that got Restored was a hierarchical church, and a hierarchical Church — as every example of such has learned since Linus picked up a crozier — runs on money.

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  89. GBSmith on October 29, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Cowboy, agree to disagree. Nice for a change to talk with someone that’s agreeable while disagreeing.

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  90. J.Ro on October 30, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Meh. Don’t believe anything that’s said in that AMCAP journal anyway. It’s mostly full of half-hearted attempts to say something scientific about Mormondom.

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  91. cowboy on October 31, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    GBSmith:

    Likewise -it’s nice to debate in a a way that challenges our own positions without letting it get too personal.

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  92. Doug on November 1, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    #83 – I’ve seen this “Red Herring” about how much money the Church is spending on the Crossroads mall project before, and it’s bunk. Methinks you’ve got your facts out of whack. In any event, whatever funds are involved are NOT “Church funds” in the sense that they come from tithes and offerings, rather, they are the financial affairs of Property Reserve (or at least the non-ecclesiastical part of it) and are a business investment not unlike having stock in General Electric.
    Remember the parable of the talents. The servant that had the talent to manage ten made ten more, the one with five earned five, and so forth. The one who was staked to a ‘measly’ one was upbraided by his master for at least not having left it on deposit with the ‘exchangers’ to accrue interest. I trust that the managers at Property Reserve are making a sound decision.
    Also keep in mind, sir, that the members self-direct their generosity by designating their contributions to whatever fund is available. Care to compare how much of the Humanitarian aid reaches the intended recipients versus ANY other charitable organization?
    Finally, judging by some of the rather sorry treatment I’ve seen given to the volunteer staff at the local Bishops storehouse, I wouldn’t put all too much stock in the “help the poor” mantra. At least the cretins that I’ve seen, if indeed they ARE truly “poor”, are very much poor in values and spirit for the utter ingratitude they display. Some of our brothers and sisters need a kind hand of help to be extended…others need a swift kick in the hiney.

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  93. Mike S on November 2, 2010 at 12:19 AM

    #92 Doug

    I’m not going to split hairs about the cost of the mall. The “official” costs are at least $1.5 billion. The Church won’t actually tell how much is being spent, much like they don’t actually give any details as to their accounting, but unofficial sources are between $2-3 billion. In any event, it’s a lot.

    And they may not technically be using tithing funds for the project, but at the end of the day, it’s all an accounting game. At some point not too long ago, the Church was near bankruptcy. All of the funds since then have ultimately come from contributions from members. They may have invested some and used profits to invest in more things, but at some point it all came from us.

    I understand the parable of the talents. I have absolutely no say in how the Church uses its money. I do know that Christ talked MUCH more about helping the poor and needy than he did about building buildings. Again, perhaps just a difference of opinion, but when we are spending 1-3% of the cost of a shopping mall on humanitarian needs, I do wonder where our priorities lie. If it was up to me, which it isn’t, I would tithe our tithes. I would spend at least 10% of what the Church took in on humanitarian needs. This would probably be in the range of $400-600 million per year, or 10-20x what we are spending. And if we didn’t have enough left over for the mall, so be it.

    Finally, I agree with your last paragraph. In my medical practice, the most demanding and least thankful patients I have are generally Medicaid patients who often think the world owes them everything. But I still see them and still give them the same care I do everyone else. I can’t change their attitude, I can only change my own.

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  94. Doug on November 2, 2010 at 1:05 AM

    # 93 – I’d like a citation of reputable sources, not mere chatter, that the Church was recently near bankruptcy in recent times. AFAIK, the Church practices scrupulously what it preaches to the rank and file about avoiding debt. Ergo, you don’t see a meetinghouse or temple go up save it’s paid for. True, there was some retrenchment not long ago insofar as there were layoffs (some say a much-needed housecleaning of deadwood) AND we were requested to shoulder the burden of meetinghouse routine maintenance (which has benefits of members appreciated the resources available to them..in fact, not to unduly threadjack but my memories of worshiping in the temple in recent times are far outweighed by those of cleaning it!).
    I would agree that perhaps a greater EMphaSIS (on the wrong SYLlable!) could be made on humanitarian concerns. There has been far more callings of senior couples to render missions (not necessarily of 18-month duration) in those areas. I and the missus look forward to some of that ourselves in about 12 years or so (when the little blond “monster” is out of college). But again, we members collectively ARE the Church, and can already do THAT in the contributions envelope alone! ALL of what we put in the “Humanitarian” category goes EXACTLY for that, WITHOUT siphoning off for overhead. So let’s both quit pontificating and pony up!!
    I’m glad that you render your medical services w/o concern about being thanked. Without knowing the specifics I’ll give the thanks to ya anyway. Especially if you got out of med school with a 250K+ educational debt! (Or had to avoid same by giving Uncle eight years of your career at proverbial slave wages as a military physician!).
    On the same lines as not giving a fig whether the mall project makes it or not (I’m a California kid, not a Utahn, so if it goes “splut”, big whoop), I’d say that at least the trend started by GBH about building smaller temples (instead of 100K+ SF monuments of the past) is a step in the right direction. If one were to extrapolate how much greater activity they generate and speculate how much tithes and else result, they probably end up being a net gain in terms of dollars. However, they’re being put up not for the financial profits of the Church but the spiritual profits of the members in their respective districts. In quite a few cases, methinks that a small but beautiful temples in some humble foreign land will be a net money “loser”. Therefore, I pray that we in the “U-S-of-A” and other locales that are still more prosperous will be able to make up the difference and then some.
    Pardon the late-night blogging…”Giants” hangover…

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  95. GBSmith on November 2, 2010 at 6:51 AM

    “I’d like a citation of reputable sources, not mere chatter, that the Church was recently near bankruptcy in recent times”

    Elder Tanner was brought in to the first presidency in the ?60s to get control of the finances. Henry D Moyle’s policies on baptisms and then based on inflated numbers, accelerated construction, brought the church to the point that it almost couldn’t make payroll for its employees. I think there are details in Richard Poll’s biography of Elder Moyle.

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  96. Cowboy on November 2, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    Regarding the Church being nearly bankrupt, I thought Mike S was reffering to the Church’s finances during the Joseph F. Smith era. That was when the Church first grew out of it’s former debts.

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  97. GBSmith on November 2, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    The time I was referring too likely wasn’t a near bankruptcy but an extremely serious cash flow problem. The first thing Elder Tanner did was institute a hiring freeze and I think put a stop to all building projects. I had been under the impression that the church’s budgeting had been based on previous years margin but evidently not back then. They were banking on increased tithing revenues from increase in converts but it turned out that baptisms based on baseball and names from graveyards don’t pay much in tithing and offerings.

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  98. Doug on November 4, 2010 at 2:06 AM

    #95 – #97: All the anecdotes I’ve heard before, but none implies the Church being “bankrupt”. Perhaps had to rein in the spending (e.g., depleted reserves) and sell off assets (stocks, land, etc.). Likely the Church’s business affairs had been in the hand of academics like Moyle or John A. Widtsoe. Though I don’t doubt those brethrens’ integrity and spiritual values, that’s not to say that they were the best fiscal managers. Someone like N. Eldon Tanner (a very successful Canadian oilman from Alberta and might conceivably become the PM of that province if not the first LDS PM of Canada, but the Lord had other ideas…) was needed to better manage the ‘talents’, and this paradigm hasn’t changed.
    Or, quoth the fictional Douglas Brackman from “LA Law”….”Someone has to be the S.O.B. that says no!”

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  99. GBSmith on November 4, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    Minor point but I think Moyle was a successful businessman.

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  100. [...] recent Wheat and Tares post discussed this recent study on Mormons’ perception of wealth and righteousness. Conducted by [...]

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  101. Wealth & Righteousness? « The Contrarian Mormon on November 11, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    [...] anonymous author at the “Wheat and Tares” blog reports [...]

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