From time to time we think about the Law of Consecration and discuss the Saints in the early days of the Church and how they couldn’t live it, and we wonder how to live it today and what would be required to build Zion and the New Jerusalem. It’s so easy to get caught up in the idealistic part of it and imagine how awesome it would be, isn’t it?
The older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize that idealizing it actually gets in the way of thinking it through and figuring out how to solve the problems involved.
It seems like living a life of consecration and building Zion requires a very fine balance between a number of opposing principles. We have to know what they are and master them to get anywhere on this. There has to be a balance between the individual and the communal, between the material and the spiritual. The idealistic doctrines and the hard economic realities must either mesh harmoniously or be held in a useful tension. There’s also the matter of finding a way to make it work across different types of economies at different stages of development, in different areas of the world, with different cultures and law systems governing work and ownership and so on. This is a complex challenge.
It seems to me that it is something that is learned line upon line, and consecration is a culmination of principles. I also think that the way consecration as an economy would be lived now in a modern economy is different than how the Saints tried to live it in the 1800s, simply because the type of economy we live in has changed.
Consider just one factor—land. In an agricultural economy, consecrating a farm one owns is one thing, but when one’s livelihood comes from employment at a business one doesn’t own, what does consecration look like? A job can’t be consecrated because the employer would probably say it was never a permanent possession. Instead, one would have to consecrate one’s salary.
Maybe we should pull back a little on that and consider how the principle of consecration might mesh with that of self-reliance.
Self-reliance is about providing for one’s own needs and the needs of one’s family. To that end, we seek to obtain a good education and obtain work in a field that provides enough and hopefully a surplus. We pay our tithing, store food and build up an emergency fund for a rainy day. I think we are also expected to get out of debt. Also, budgeting helps with living within our means.
The storing of food and funds for a rainy day suggests that saving is permitted and even expected. But then we also run into interesting questions. If one is to consecrate one’s surplus, where does one’s responsibility to provide for future expenses begin or end? If a person always passes on their surplus to the Church, then how does one pay for large future expenses (car replacement, child’s education, medical expenses, house, retirement)? Or should consecration of surplus happen after putting by savings for the future?
I have no hard-and-fast answers. Maybe part of consecration is working these things out for ourselves.
Let’s think about the idea of surplus for a bit. Surplus is whatever is left over that isn’t needed. In order for us to know what is surplus, we have to get an idea of what we really need. The tool for this is the budget.
Budgets are beautiful things. Many people tend to think of them as a strait jacket, but what they are is a tool for analyzing spending, discovering your spending priorities, and dealing with financial challenges and future needs. They help us uncover inefficiencies in our spending. The power to reallocate funds from category to category helps us deal with emergencies, roll with the punches, control our money instead of letting it control us, and plan ahead. I really think using a budget is a skill that scales in all kinds of interesting directions. Used to the full, it can help us know whether we are materially self-reliant or not, moment to moment, rather than just at the end of the month when it’s time to balance the accounts. All those little categories represent little bits of our material stewardship.
Let’s think about stewardship a little. The principle of stewardship is that God is the owner and we are his stewards, so everything we have is part of that. Eventually we will have to give an account of our stewardship (material and spiritual), so we have an eternal interest in working hard, maximizing our efficiency, growing in capability, preserving what we have, and learning to make wise decisions. Keeping and maintaining a budget is a fabulous tool for seeing how financial decisions have consequences over time. It reveals inefficiencies. It reveals where our money priorities have been in the past, which is an invitation to evaluate and make changes if needed.
Here’s another question I have. When it comes time to build the New Jerusalem, I wonder about how its economy will work. Obviously it will require faithful, consecrating people. The faithful people must provide for themselves, so I assume they will have jobs. In order for there to be jobs, there must be businesses and entrepreneurship. Perhaps they will own the businesses. But for there to be businesses, there must be demand, so there must be a solid customer base. Where do these customers come from?
Perhaps the customer base doesn’t have to be in the New Jerusalem itself. Maybe it can be elsewhere. But for Zion businesses to have a good customer base, the products must be superior enough and/or cheap enough among all the choices available that customers gravitate toward those businesses. (Oh look! Supply-side management! Manufacturing! Economies of scale!) Another factor that makes this tricky is that command economies tend to fall apart, so creating artificial demand or supply is not going to work. And then there’s the can of worms of hiring faithful members without running afoul of anti-discrimination hiring laws. Members will have to be work to be the best possible job candidate to be hired on.
Another question I have pertains to how interconnected economies are today. And yet there is a scripture that speaks of Zion becoming independent of all other creatures. Does that independence apply at the individual level, or at the level of economies? Is it possible to be interconnected and yet independent on an aggregate level?
I don’t pretend to know all the factors that have to be in place, but these are a few things that run through my mind. What about you?