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.