The Need for Mormon Liberation Theology

Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.

Doctrine and Covenants 70:14

The sacred writings of Mormonism provide fertile soil in which to cultivate two ideologies which are, ironically, anathema to the modern American Mormon: pacifism and socialism. The pacifists are to seek Zion: “every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee to unto Zion for safety” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:68), and there will take place there a redistribution of wealth: “this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.” (Doctrine and Covenants 104:16). In fact, Mormon scripture explicitly identifies wealth inequality itself as sin. “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.” (Doctrine and Covenants 49:20).

Beyond just scripture references, early history of the Church under Joseph Smith and the branch of it that followed Brigham Young into Utah is replete with attempts to build a socialist utopia named “Zion.” Failures in these endeavors were attributed to sin. Zion has always been a central theme of Mormonism, although the definition has been watered down into a reference to the Church itself rather than the ideal of an egalitarian community—consisting of both spiritual and temporal, or economic, equality—that it originally represented. It is strange, then, that “socialism” has become an insult, and almost a swear word, among American Mormons.

The problem, however, is more than just an oddity of history. The modern American Mormon has constructed for himself a self-serving theology. Apart from the occasional, mostly symbolic, “service project,” worship of God has been relegated to a handful of rituals dealing with the afterlife. Mormon religion has come to be completely eschatological: “I get these ordinances, and I’ll go to the celestial kingdom.” Serve others, sure. Help out Brother Joe who’s moving in, or donate a can of food at Christmas. But don’t bother trying to make any significant impact in the world; that’s not expected of you. God Himself, then, only interacts with the world to bless the chosen people—particularly Americans and especially American Mormons—with the comforts of earned and deserved wealth while punishing the wicked and unbelieving (Catholic or non-Christian) third world with poverty and suffering.

Jesus, also, is relegated to a passive sacrifice for sin. He is no longer normative: His life is not an example for us to follow. The rhetoric of the “example” of Jesus in Mormon discourse is now so watered down as to have no real meaning. It is limited to modesty and chastity, as well as receiving the proper ordinances. It no longer requires the renunciation of one’s career, as it did for the Apostles (Matthew 4:18-22) or of one’s wealth (Mark 10:21). It definitely doesn’t require challenging the powers that be and receiving persecution and martyrdom in return; indeed, support for the government, and particularly its most unchristlike actions—those that involve the military—is considered a virtue. Rather than being beaten, stoned, and slain, the American Mormon cries noisily about his persecution when somebody refuses to accept the gospel or (gasp!) says something not nice about Mormons or their history.

Perhaps the American Mormon wouldn’t explicitly describe his theology in this way, but it is betrayed by his actions and his belief that any attempt to really change the world—any non-capitalist restructuring of society—is inspired by Satan. The American Mormon thus perpetuates the wealth inequality, or, as defined by Doctrine and Covenants 49:20, the sin in which the world lies. He has turned his religion from service to God into service to self. Self has become the new God, and Mammon is the evidence of its godhood.

The purpose of the above reflection is not to criticize Mormonism as viewed by the American Latter-day Saint in present times, although such criticism may be natural, necessary, and warranted, but to illustrate the immediate and critical need for alternative theologies to be made available to those Latter-day Saints who do want to see Jesus as normative and who want to make an effort, however futile it might be, to change the world for the better. We desperately need a Zion theology once again: a Mormon theology of liberation.

13 Responses to “The Need for Mormon Liberation Theology”

  1. well, this is most interesting; I’ve sent this to several people whom I care about–

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.

      I guess I should note briefly the most common criticism by conservative-leaning Mormons: that socialism is evil because it denies free agency. Apart from the fact that there are various forms of socialism, some impositional, others not, even conservatives implicitly admit limits to free agency: it doesn’t apply to things they don’t like. Drug users, undocumented immigrants, and others don’t get free agency — the government, according to them, has the right to restrict people from behaviors that they don’t like, but it should not be allowed to regulate anything to do with money, because… free agency. That inconsistency simply shows that mammon is their priority rather than Christ.

      Nevertheless, an anarchist or pacifist leaning socialism can respect free agency (and do so much more consistently than the conservatives) while providing equality for its members. David Graeber has described societies that have successfully done this in his books, so we can know it’s possible. Perhaps in a future post I’ll take the time to lay out a more detailed response to the free agency argument, though.

  2. Zion and socialism are opposing ideologies. Like fear and faith can’t exist together neither can Zion & socialism. People who break the law lose their agency and their rights to freedom for a season. Those people who live by the laws of the land should be free, free to act in any way they choose as long as they don’t hurt anyone or break basic law. Any government that tries to regulate or tax its people over and above these boundaries is guilty of taking away agency, freedom and liberty. The BOM talks of Liberty and Zion, this is what they strived for. On the other hand socialism and captivity was what the Kingsmen were pushing. Your Constitution and Bill Of Rights which is recognized in the D&C by the Lord as inspired by himself, speaks to the importance and upholds God given rights of freedom and liberty.

    According to your Constitution and Bill Of Rights you should not be paying personal tax.

    Jesus said you cannot serve two masters….and well the rest is history! We the Mormons sold Jesus out a long time ago, we are following Satan’s plan now. We had barely got out of Babylon before we jumped straight back in. Seek after Freedom and Liberty you will find the truth in these.

    • I should have mentioned that other frequent arguments don’t seem to understand the concept of socialism too well. Zion and socialism can’t be opposing ideologies because Zion is, by definition, socialist. The apostles after Jesus’ death had all things in common, which is, by definition, socialism. The Nephites, after Jesus’ coming, were socialist for four generations.

      The king-men were not socialist. Mormon described them as “those of high birth” — they were from wealthy families and sought to preserve their wealth and exercise power through it. They needed to overthrow the government to do so, which means they thought the Nephite government to be a threat to their wealth. It must have had socialist leanings. The king-men thought that with a new government, under a king, they could have “power and authority over the people.” They would have employees, wage-laborers, so to speak. They were fighting against the Nephite government so that they could establish capitalism. Capitalism is captivity for the vast majority of humanity.

      Likewise, the constitution may have been inspired, but only to the degree that it was better for the colonists than their previous subjugation. It does not represent God’s ideal of government — the Kingdom of Heaven that we should be seeking — unless your God considers a dark-skinned person to be 3/5 of a human being and permits slavery in his Kingdom. My God is no respecter of persons — all are alike to Him. Constitution worship among members of the Church borders on idolatry, and has replaced God as the object of our loyalty. It is interesting that many Latter-day Saints understand the scriptural canon (the Standard Works) to be fallible, yet appear to consider the constitution to be infallible. It is also interesting to note that the constitution does not require the United States to be a capitalist nation.

      Liberation Theology is all about seeking liberty. Liberty does not exist while people remain subjugated whether by violence or by money (which Satan equated with violence in our temple ceremony).

      • Also, Article I, section 2, paragraph 3; and Article I, section 8 of the constitution explicitly permit Congress to levy and collect taxes. It does not say that those taxes cannot be for personal income.

  3. SLC church leaders have made it known that living the United Order (Zion) is nothing like socialism. It. is. a type of socialism except when done properly, humbly, righteously and with devotion to God it can work, and is nothing like the socialism people think of.
    After the election I was told I was not a good or worthy member because I lean left. The rabid conservative Mormons can’t see their hypocrisy. Everything you said really is correct.. I really do try to see both sides to any issue on any subject (and feel all can compromise for the greater good) but unfortunately the majority of people do not, which is why this country is in a mess. (I would like to see Mitt Romney and his kind try to live the United Order – lol)

  4. I understand exactly what you mean Jeremiah and I’m sad to see grown adults have such simple logic fly over their heads muchless to see them refute the truth you have presented using sound logic and solid scripture references. I’m adding you to my blog roll on ldsviews.blogspot.com and will cite this post in one of my future posts, because I have been trying to articulate what you seem to have effortlessly done so much better than I feel I have. I would like to point out a couple posts I wrote and ask your opinion of them. One is called “Closer to Sodom than to Zion.” And the other is called “Lazarus and the Rich man” I may have others that broach the subject but those are the primary two. I’ll see if I can send you contact info or whatever but just leave a comment and let me know whatcha think, if you would. I feel I can best help by writing and providing food for thought and inspiration for people to do exactly what you are suggesting we do; to build Zion. For the benefit of all, not just the top 1%.

  5. Jeremiah,
    If only the Latin American priests who (back in the sixties) developed the doctrine of “the preferential option for the poor ,” had had The Book of Mormon at their disposal! It is the best handbook ever on liberation theology for the Third World. Whenever Nephi, Jesus, Mormon, or Moroni elaborate on Isaiah with regard to the topic (basically Isaiah’s only topic) of the captivity and ultimate deliverance of the oppressed remnants of the House of Israel from their Gentile oppressors, it is clear from context and consistent usage that they mean liberation of the third world peoples from the Western European powers, i.e. from the descendants of the western Guns, Germs, and Steel invaders who (for 500 years) have continued their dominance through Economic Hit Men, war profiteers, and other secret combinations built up to get power and gain. Capitalism has drainied the blood from the open veins of the global South, as well as from “the poor of my people” in the North.
    This theme is not just an incidental leitmotif in The Book of Mormon; it is the centerpiece of the prophecies of Jesus in 3rd Nephi (starting with verse 10 of chapter 18) as well as the last warnings of Mormon and Moroni to the Gringos (in and out of the church) in Mormon and Ether.
    If this is news to any of your readers, they should read The Book of Mormon again with this interpretation in mind. In particular Jesus prophecies that Zion will be built up, not by us gringos, but with assistance from a few of us. Why is that? It is obvious. We gringos worship Mammon as our god. We cannot give up capitalism for the united order. Private property and the profit motive have become part of our religion at the expense of our baptismal covenants as outlined by Alma in Mosiah 18.
    I’m nearly 66 years old. When I was your age my understanding of the BoM was almost nil although I had read it more than a dozen times in both English and Spanish. A few passages that nagged at me didn’t make any sense until my mid forties when I started taking Nibley and Chomsky seriously.
    You have a great gift of understanding and writing. Keep up the good work!

    Forest

  6. I agree that Mormons have gone to far when exceeding the allowance to make exception for sinner by making exception for sin. The teaching are made to mean something entirely different from what was intended. I fear one day so many LDS will support the AntiChrist because they are taught to uphold and support The Powers That Be, even to killing other LDS who in foreign lands are doing likewise. I fear that the gross negligence and ignorance of lay membership is largely a result of the higher orders retreating from such doctrines and counsels that are increasingly being viewed as “political.” We are left to ourselves to work it out through personal revelation because the Church has become impotent. I do not believe this is the result of the Church itself, rather because of the rise of the centralized and interventionist State. The Church can only focus on modesty and personal worthiness, because all social action is viewed as political action (very few anymore being able to make the distinction and even worse that the two are diametrically opposed to eachother!)

  7. One last comment: It is impossible for the LDS to live the Law of Consecration due to Tax Laws. The Lord cannot require the Saints to live a principle that human law prohibits. To establish the United Order, the ceiling on how much one can donate to charity for tax exemption must be removed. Otherwise, no one would be able to pay their taxes by living the law of consecration and would swiftly be thrown into jail. Unlike the Quakers, the LDS do not defy unjust laws. Nevertheless, they should be more proactive in changing or providing for themselves exception in those laws that would facilitate a living of the Law of Consecration.

  8. Hi Jeremiah,

    I enjoyed reading your post. I am an ‘active’ mormon father of three and an anarchist/voluntaryist. I don’t believe in the 12th article of faith and think it is merely disinformation used to protect the church from the state and that mormons should know better. I have a blog which promotes anarchism/voluntaryism: righttoreason.blogspot.com

    Greg

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