United Order vs Consecration

I always thought the United Order and Consecration were the same thing.  I’ve been reading a book called Great Basin Kingdom by Leonard Arrington (former church historian) and learned they are actually different.  The basic difference to me seems to be that with Consecration, one gave all they owned to the church, and then were given back “what they needed.”  With the United Order, it seems to have originated out of various economic cooperatives established to give fair, reasonable prices and jobs to the Mormons.  In some cases, saints could choose to consecrate all their possessions to the United Order, but usually it worked more in an economic cooperative, where fair prices were established for Mormons.  If they sold to gentiles, often the gentiles paid more.

The United Order movement was an extension of cooperatives.  These cooperatives began principally around 1868-1884, and were set up as a response to how current trading was accomplished.  In chapter 10 (page 193-194), Arrington says,

Structurally, most Mormon “cooperatives” were nothing more than joint-stock corporations, organized under the sponsorship of the church, with a broad basis of public ownership and support.  Functionally, however, most Mormon cooperatives appear to have been motivated principally by welfare rather than profit; patronage was an act of religious loyalty; the church participated  in the organization, operation, and financing of most o the important establishments; and the whole cooperative movement was permeated with an unmistakable pietistic zeal and feeling of religious obligation…

…most merchandising was in the hands of non-Mormons because of the stigma attached to “profiteering Saints,” and because of the inability of Mormon traders to refuse credit to their “brethren” and force payment of debts.

There was an interesting quote from Brigham Young explaining why Consecration didn’t work under Joseph Smith, and also why Joseph wasn’t a good, successful merchant.  From page  83,

Let me give you a few reasons…why Joseph [that is the church] could not keep a store and be a merchant….Joseph goes to New York and buys 20,000 dollars’ worth of goods, comes into Kirtland and commences to trade.  In comes one of the brethren, “Brother Joseph, let me have a frock pattern for my wife.”  What if Joseph says, “No, I cannot without the money.”  The consequence would be, “He is no Prophet.”…Pretty soon Thomas walks in.  “Brother Joseph, will you trust me for a pair of boots?”  “No, I cannot let them go without the money.”  “Well,” says Thomas, “Brother Joseph is not Prophet; I have found that out, and I am glad of it.”  After a while, in comes Bill and sister Susan.  Says Bill, “Brother Joseph, I want a shawl, I have not got the money, but I wish you to trust me a week or a fortnight.”  Well, brother Joseph thinks the others have gone an apostatized, and he didn’t know but these goods will make the whole Church do the same, so he lets Bill have a shawl.  Bill walks off with it and meets a brother.  “Well,” says he, “what do you think of brother Joseph?”  “O he is a first-rate man, and I fully believe he is a Prophet.  See here, he has trusted me this shawl.”  Richard says, “I think I will go down and see if he won’t trust me some.”  In walks Richard.  “Brother Joseph, I want to trade about 20 dollars.”  “Well,” says Joseph, “these goods will make the people apostatize; so over they go , they are of less value than the people.”  Richard gets his goods.  Another comes in the same way to make a trade of 25 dollars, and so it goes.  Joseph was a first-rate fellow with them all the time, provided he never would ask them to pay him.”  [sermon of October 9, 1851, JD, 1, 214-216]

Cooperatives turned out to be a real success, and there were several different implementations of them. Chapter 11 of the book gives some real interesting background as to these cooperatives turned into United Orders, as well as the different kinds of United Orders formed in Utah.  The nationwide Panic of 1873 affected economies in Utah as well as nationwide.  From page 323,

This co-operative movement,” said Brigham Young in 1869, “is only a stepping stone to what is called the Order of Enoch, but which is in reality the order of Heaven.” [See Brigham Young sermons in JH, October 6, 1850, October 8, 1855]  In 1869 and succeeding years, sermon after sermon played upon the theme to unify and the necessity of extending the principle of cooperation to every phase of life.

From page 324,

The resources of ward members were pooled, and an attempt was made under the aura of religious sanction, to root out individualistic profit-seeking and trade and achieve the blessed state of opulent self-sufficiency and equality.  This new order, recognized to be somewhat different from the law of consecration and stewardship, was called “The United Order of Enoch.”  [This idea is taken from the city of Zion in the Pearl of Great Price.]

Since these orders developed separately, about 4 different kinds of orders existed.  Page 330 starts talking about them.

First, there were St. George type orders in which persons in the community contributed all of their economic property to the Order and received differential wages and dividends depending upon their labor and the property contributed.  Gains were achieved through the increased specialization of labor and the rationalization of agriculture by cooperative farming.  However, in most of these communities a few residents failed to join, and this caused some practical problems which were not always satisfactorily resolved…

(page 331) A second type of United Order did not involve consecration of all of one’s property or labor, but contemplated an increase in the community ownership and operation of cooperative enterprises.  This is the Brigham City plan, and was introduced in communities where the cooperative system was already widespread.  Thus, the United Order was simply used as a device to reinforce and extend the cooperative network already in existence…

(page 332) A third type of United Order was essentially a modification of the Brigham City arrangement.  Designed for wards in the larger cities of the territory-Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, and Logan-a single cooperative or corporation was organized in each ward to promote some needed enterprise.  All ward members were asked to participate in financing it.  The theory seems to have been that, if economic reorganization was impossible because of a considerable number of Gentile residents, the wards could still contribute toward territorial self-sufficiency by initiating an industry whose products had been imported previously.  Thus, while there would be little to create employment and develop the territory.

I mentioned this in my previous post, but let me summarize some ward projects:

  • Hat factory
  • Tailor’s shop
  • Soap manufactory
  • Boot and shoe shop
  • Large foundry
  • Machine shop
  • Making agricultural tools
  • Planning mill and woodworking shop

From page 333,

Perhaps the most interesting of the orders were those established on a communal plan.  In some quarters this plan was called the Gospel Plan.  Settlers contributed all their property to the community United Order, had no private property, shared more of less equally in the common products, and lived and ate as a well-established family.  The best known of these was established at Orderville, Utah, but others functioned in Price City, Springdale, and Kingston, Utah; Bunkerville, Nevada; and in a number of newly founded Arizona settlements.

I talked previously about the pants episode, which comes from Orderville, which came from this communal arrangement.  So, what do you think of these different orders?  What do you think of Brigham’s statement regarding Joseph Smith?  I honestly don’t think it would be any easier for us to live like this than it was for them.  When people talk about how the people weren’t righteous enough to live consecration, it seems to imply that we’re more righteous than they were.  I honestly don’t understand why we would make such an arrogant statement, because I think it would be extremely difficult.  I’m impressed with these ideals, and their attempt to live this higher law.


22 comments on “United Order vs Consecration

  1. Great post, MH. It certainly gives more insight into how difficult and complicated it was to live. I tend to think that these Saints failed not because they’re weren’t willing or righteous enough, but rather because of the practical and technical side of things. They (including the leaders) probably had the best intentions, but keeping the United Order in a united order must have been complicated — especially for a bunch guys who were basically learning as they went. And goodness knows JS wasn’t the greatest at the practical side of economical matters. 🙂

    I’m sure that they probably had the best intentions, but it looks like they ended up being guinea pigs in an experiment that is way more complicated than it looks or sounds at first glance. In today’s world it would be far more complicated. I think it takes much more than a willing heart to make it work. But, as you said, we should be impressed by their attempt and not so much the end result.

  2. MH, you might find it interesting to read about the Kibbutz movement and why it declined.

  3. I think it was fascinating that the “tough old Gentiles” were necessary to apply the price and credit discipline of the profit system, because the love of the saints apparently led to self-destructive behavior.

    I hope we aren’t engaging in similarly self-destructive “love” today: The desire to make everyone a homeowner with sub-prime loans and the resulting housing bubble that triggered the immediate world-wide recession comes to mind.

  4. The law of consecration is a state of mind. It is an attitude of giving all you have, if required, to God. The United order is a program that should be based upon the principle of Consecration. If people cannot accept the law of consecration, then the united order will not work.

    Temple going members know that we are to keep the law of consecration today.

  5. FD, thanks for the link! There are definitely some similarities there.

    FireTag, what self-destructive behavior are you referring to? In Orderville, they lived better than surrounding communities until the Silver Rush. If there had been no rush, I wonder how long it would have survived…

    It does seem to me that some of these orders were not only the result of recession and banking panic of 1873 (these banking panics were much more routine in the US prior to the Great Depression in 1932 when real banking regulations were implemented), but these orders did seem to be somewhat recession-resistant. With equality, you remove the boom/bust cycles, which should provide more economic stability.

    PK, while we make a promise to be willing the law of consecration, it’s basically an empty promise in mortality. With these early saints, this promise was much more tangible, and less of state of mind than it is today.

  6. I was referring to the things that caused JS to be a poor storeowner that BY talked about earlier in the post.

  7. I guess when I hear “self-destructive behavior” I’m not thinking “He was a poorly trained businessman, because he gave away goods without forcing payment.”

  8. PK, your point was spot-on, with the exception of “if required.” All endowed saints have the capacity, and the covenant duty, to live the law of consecration to its fullest and at all times. This can be done outside the United Order or any other formal group program. While it is indeed a lofty goal, it simply means living according to the will of God. In that sense, nothing we do is really for ourselves. We only attend to our own needs to the extent necessary to remain happy, healthy servants of the Most High. Ultimately, everything we think, say, do, give, etc. is for the benefit of others as we are led by the Holy Spirit. We keep only what is necessary. Living by this standard, how much of what we possess should really be considered excess and donated to the Church? How much greater would our fast and other offerings be if we truly strived to live it to that level?

  9. HM, I wholly disagree that it is an empty promise in mortality. See my earlier reply to PK.

  10. LDS in Texas. I strongly disagree with this statement: “it [the law of consecration] simply means living according to the will of God.”

    Have you turned over title to all your property to the church? Do you live in a cooperative society where everyone wears clothing cut from the same bolt of cloth?

    I think early saints would laugh at your claim that you live the law of consecration outside a formal group program. You live nothing like the people I’ve referenced in this post. Your claim is empty when you compare your consecration with theirs.

  11. I think I see where you’re going, MH, but we will have to agree to disagree that the law of consecration, as it is taught in LDS temples, requires a distinct, formal program outside the temple other than the Church itself. Every endowed member has made a covenant to live it NOW. Because there is no vehicle for me turn over title to all my property to the Church and receive back from the Church what I need for my own and my families’ subsistence (would I become basically a ward of the Church?), because I cannot live in a Church-authorized society where everyone wears clothing cut from the same bolt of cloth, are you saying that I am unable to live the covenant I have made? Can you see the disconnect there? I don’t disagree that the United Order, cooperatives, etc. have a part in the law of consecration, but the law itself is higher, spiritual, and they are only temporal manifestations of it.

    I STRIVE to live the law of consecration outside a formal group program, but I fall miserably short of that daily. As I said, it is a lofty goal, but one I fervently believe in. You’re right, I don’t live like my ancestors or the people in your post, but I NEVER compared my consecration with theirs. You got there on your own. My post was merely my opinion and description of of the ideal. Like I said, I fall short of it.

    Overall, good discussion and I’m glad I came across your blog. Certainly not something I would encounter in Gospel Doctrine. Meat is what you find here, and sometimes a little “gamey” at that. : )

  12. LDS in Texas, Thanks for stopping by. Perhaps my meat is a little gamey, but hopefully it is still nourishing.

    It seems to me we disagree based on semantics. You seem to be arguing that you are living the Law of Consecration in theory (albeit you’re falling far short), while I am saying that in practice, nobody lives the law of Consecration in this day. I am much more impressed with the practical consecrationists of Brigham Young’s day, than theoretical ones of our day. Perhaps you live the Law of Consecration better than I do, but in practice I think your effort is pitiful compared to these early saints. (My effort is so small to be unmeasurable.)

  13. With all the rain in North Texas today, I find that I have more time for this stuff than I would otherwise. Not necessarily a bad thing.

    The semantics thing occurred to me as well. My focus has been the “Law” of Consecration and what I can do today to live it even though we are not “commanded” to practice the United Order or any other temporal form of “consecration” requiring goods in common, cooperatives, etc. As I perceive the whisperings of the Spirit to me, I have all that is necessary around me to give all that I have and am (possessions, time, talents, etc.) to the building up of the Kingdom and the establishment of Zion. The greatest of those would be my will and when/if I completely accomplish that I believe I will have successfully complied with that covenant.

    I, too, am impressed with those who were called to practice it collectively as a society, mostly by their willingness to toss aside all that they had previously been taught about economics and accept a higher paradigm, which required them to “walk the talk” in a very real way. However, our circumstances today may not be any less real. We both know that mere outward observance of a law does not imply true faith in it or compliance where it counts (in our hearts, who we are). They failed to bring again Zion and the reason that is most tossed around is because they could not live up to the Law in their hearts. There were jealousies, strifes, wickedness, etc.

    Now, if we allow the possibility that formal programs are not required to live the Law of Consecration, then I think we step onto dangerous ground when we try to compare their effort to that of many around us today. By definition, as long as I give my all and only keep what is necessary, I am doing all that is required of me at this time to comply with my covenant. For a practical example of how that could be accomplished today (not completely, but significantly), I would reference Elder Hales’ talk in April Conference. Just one example of one facet. And again, although I am falling way short of that personally, it is probable that as I strive to live that standard and the Law grows within my heart, I will be in a position to successfully live within the formal programs if and when I am ever called to do so. And if there are enough others like me, Zion will be established. I don’t fall into the camp of pointing the finger of judgement at them for their failure because, as you say, it implies we think we are more righteous; but I also don’t subscribe to the “pioneer worship” that can be found in the Church. I believe I live amongst some who could successfully pull of the United Order and Zion and there were certainly some among the early saints that could have as well. I don’t think the trials we face today are any less difficult. If we were to look at the hearts of both groups, there might not be as much difference as some would expect.

    This happens to be one of my favorite topics and I have a lot more to say on it, but I have said enough for now. Don’t be surprised if you see more from me in the future on this and other similar blogs (have been a lurker at MM from time to time). Thank you for making me feel welcome to do so.

  14. I often have the business channel on in the background while I work. I heard one commentator ask plaintively — and I have felt the same way at times — “How much is it fair to ask me to give?”

    I want to get to the point where I always feel, “How much do I get to give?” and mean it with the kind of joy Alex Ovechkin would show if you asked him how many goals he got to score. (hockey note to MH and FD!

  15. LDS in Texas, I am glad you have broken out of your “lurker” status, and I welcome your comments. When I look at the Law of Consecration as (paraphrasing) “giving all our time, talents, and energies which we have received or may receive in the future to the church”, I can’t think of a single person I know who does this, yet the pioneers did. I think that people like Mother Teresa live the Law of Consecration better than most LDS do.

    I get your point that we don’t need a formal program to live the law of consecration, but in reality, I think without a formal program, nobody would do it. Even Mother Teresa took a vow of poverty as part of a Catholic Order of Nuns, which is a formal program. Every once in a while you will hear about someone who gives out $100 bills in a secret Santa way–I suppose this could be considered a form of consecration, but this is a rare exception, and only happens to a person late in life–it’s rarely a lifelong way of life to live this way.

    FireTag, I would like to get into King Benjamin’s frame of mind about giving–that would be pretty cool. (And I would have picked Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby over Alex Ovechkin–but you’re probably picking a local hockey star over a national one…) 🙂

  16. I see Alex more, but there is really a little boy’s joy to him and an excitement when he scores that I was trying to capture as an example: I’d like to have the attitude where every gift I give, every person I help, is so much of a high that I can’t wait to do it again.

  17. […] may want to review Part 1 and Part 2 of my consecration series as […]

  18. Great question, FireTag, and one we must all ask ourselves if we intend to fulfill our covenant. Of course, the answer is individual and provided by the Holy Spirit.

    Therein lies the difficulty in looking around and surmising that no one is living it today. This is further complicated by the fact that even in a Zionist / United Order society, all members wouldn’t have the same stuff or even live at the same level of “luxury” (for lack of a better term). Individual adaptation applies based on varying needs, wants, personal taste, etc. That last part has a good portion of my opinion in it, but it is based on all that I have read on the subject. Even in a United Order situation, I wouldn’t care that my neighbor had a boat because I’m not really that into them anyway…but I’m sure I’d be able to borrow it as often as I wanted. : )

    …Again, the Law of Consecration goes much deeper than the temporal.

  19. MH, it wasn’t my intention tonight to publicly drum up on old subject, but I couldn’t find a way to message you directly. So, for what it’s worth, all can enjoy (or not).

    On the subject of consecration (again, one of my favorites), I offer a link to a talk from the 2008 Sperry Symposium. Not sure if you’ve seen this before. It could have just as well been entitled “The Law of Consecration for the 21st Century” and takes the same approach as I have, although more thoroughly and eloquently. Thought you might enjoy.


  20. LDS in Texas,

    Thanks for posting this. While you’re welcome to email me at mormon heretic at gmail dot com, I think this is a perfect place for the link. I listened to only the first 5 minutes, but judging from that, I may have to write my own transcript of his talk. It sounds very interesting, and I definitely want to take time to listen to the whole thing. It could be a future post! Thanks. (And I don’t mind resurrecting old topics either, especially if you have something valuable to add such as this link.)

  21. […] Oliver Cowdery, and WW Phelps are excommunicated.  Many of these dissenters opposed living the Law of Consecration.  (As I mentioned in my previous post on consecration, it won’t work unless all members of […]

  22. I want to make sure if United Order is very dangerous? I am looking forward to know information about the ordinance of consecration and United Order. Let know if it’s wrong. I feel it is wrong that I should not have discussed with Bishop about this situation because I got in trouble. I apologize if I have mentioned this, just to make sure because I make mistakes and did not know If I have offended the bishop and may have caused turmoil and confusion in the church. I hope it will help me. I want to confess for having attempted to set up United Order in the church. I am sorry that I am trying to repent day and night my sins that I wanted to build the United Order. I want to ask you to forgive me for this stupidity of my mind because I was so schizophrenic for trying to attempt to build United Order. I am very sorry.I will not mix my stuffs with the church. I am thankful for your attention. I know I am not worthy to stand in the church. It was a pleasure to know and stay in church. I tried the best I could do. Thanks. (Do not attempt to email me, I want to protect myself from virus people).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: