22 And let the bishop search diligently to obtain an agent, and let him be a man who has got riches in store—a man of God, and of strong faith—
23 That thereby he may be enabled to discharge every debt; that the storehouse of the Lord may not be brought into disrepute before the eyes of the people. (D&C 90:22-23)
This sounds as if the command was to find a rich man who would be willing to use his personal funds to discharge the debts of the Lord’s storehouse. But there may be something else going on here.
The storehouse had to get its goods somehow. It had to buy them from somewhere, and at that time it would usually be on credit. Suppliers would want to know that they wouldn’t be defrauded by a new customer. They would look at reputation to know whether to do business or not.
If a supplier had goods ordered by “that upstart Mormon church,” about which so much antagonism and vituperation was bandied, they would feel they were taking a risk. But if the agent who set up the transaction was a rich man who was also known to have strong faith, that would be a sort of social proof that would satisfy the suppliers. Suppliers would say to themselves, Well, [rich guy] is a part of that church, so there must be something respectable about it. [Rich guy] trusts them, so I suppose I can trust them. [Rich guy] will make sure I get paid because if I don’t, then his reputation and faith is on the line too.”
It might be easy to say that the storehouse was a bit unstable at that time, and I don’t know much about it, but what I do see in these verses is that the Lord knew people need social proof of some things, and He went about to provide it in the form of reputable people who would act in the church’s interest. The Lord also knew the church’s storehouse needed a good reputation in financial things, so He provided for that too.
If we lived in a perfect world with completely honest people, perhaps reputation and social proof would not be needed, but since that is not the case, the Lord still works to build trust for the various institutions of His Kingdom. Each of us is an informal piece of that. Every member a missionary.
Let’s make sure we live so as to not bring the church into disrepute among the people.