Towards a Mormon Concept of Social Justice

Below is an intriguing excerpt from a book written by Hyrum Andrus about a Mormon concept of social justice and the need for the regenerating powers of the gospel in order to achieve that ideal. After quoting the last half of Doctrine and Covenants 78:14, he wrote the following:

Social Justice It should be stressed that to be independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world the Saints must, among other things, be independent above the state-sponsored welfare measures. Latter-day Saints cannot consistently advocate the socialization of the state. For them true economic independence must be achieved through the gospel and its socio-economic law. Under this program the individual may be enlightened and regenerated by the Holy Spirit1 to where he becomes an independent agent under God and is enabled to act freely, intelligently, and in enlightened union with others to establish a program of true security and economic independence. By contrast, man-made systems that attempt to establish social justice lack these enlightening and regenerating spiritual powers. Consequently, to achieve union they must be manipulated like puppets, by various artificial devices. Such regimentation results in a loss of freedom for the individual. The creative powers of man are also stifled and initiative suppressed in such systems; and like lifeless bodies they are subject to forces of deterioration, so that greed, graft, and corruption are perennial problems among them. Finally, the security which men seek through such systems is but a fleeting and evasive substitute for that which may be obtained within the kingdom of God.2

Recently, Carl Youngblood tweeted that the “political tone” of this blog no longer fit the title of it and stated that the blog “unnecessarily link[s] politics with faith, negating any benefit to be had from either.”3 In order to remedy this situation Carl suggested that two blogs be set up – one on faith and the other on politics – in order for readers to obtain benefit.

Those are fair statements. The less than positive tone found in some of the posts and articles of late are indicative of the concerns many have had about eroding influences causing a loss of liberty in this nation. The words of those who spoke out now seem long forgotten.

On the other hand, the theocratic foundation of the kingdom of God also appears to be lost, even though it is an outgrowth of the woman seen in the vision of John almost two millennia ago.4 While this order of things may not currently exist, Brigham Young taught,

. . . there are further organizations. The Prophet gave a full and complete organization to this kingdom the Spring before he was killed. This kingdom is the kingdom that Daniel spoke of, which was to be set up in the last days; it is the kingdom that is not to be given to another people; it is the kingdom that is to be held by the servants of God5 . . . The kingdom of God, when it is set up upon the earth, will be after the pattern of heaven, and will compel no man nor woman to go contrary to his or her conscience. . . . Now I want to give you these few words–the kingdom of God will protect every person, every sect and all people upon the face of the whole earth, in their legal rights.6

The pattern for this kingdom was established in the spring of 1844 and was at times active in the political affairs of the Saints during the nineteenth century.7

Sources:

  1. Ed. – See for example, Titus 3:5.
  2. Liberalism, Conservatism, and Mormonism. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1965. 30.
  3. Dated 20 Aug 2010.
  4. See, for example Joseph Smith Translation Revelation 12:1-17; see especially verse 3 which states “And she brought forth a man child . . .”
  5. Ed. – See Daniel 2:44-45.
  6. The Kingdom of God.
  7. Godfrey, Kenneth W. “Council of Fifty”. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. 25 Aug 2010.

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  1. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    I appreciate the fact that you listened to my comments. I feel like I understand some of the reasons why you and many other people are concerned about what they view as negative trends in society and government and why you feel the need to discuss these things. I also sometimes have a tendency to fall prey to this kind of disappointment and voice my frustration from time to time. On the other hand, I actually feel that this attitude is fundamentally at odds with Paul’s admonition to “believe all things,” which is the title of your blog.

    I would go further to say that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. If a sufficient number of people feel that it is impossible to avoid the negative futures foretold in some individuals’ apocalyptic interpretations, they may very well come to pass. On the other hand, such pessimism and lack of faith would, in my opinion, be completely antithetical to Paul’s admonition. If we hope and believe in all possibilities, then we must believe that it is possible for humanity to seek a better alternative and to strive to bring about the kinds of advances that will transform the earth into the better kind of place we seek, and, like the people of Ninevah, avoid the prophesied destructions by repenting and doing better works.

    In fact, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, I believe that this transformation is already occurring. Many religionists (including many Mormons) deny it, but for those who are examining the statistics, the earth is becoming increasingly less violent and corrupt. Many positive changes are occurring, despite distortions from irresponsible journalists desperate to discover new scandals. True, much improvement is still needed, but nearly all measured trends look positive. Here is a brief TED talk that does a great job of demonstrating that things are actually getting better:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

    I think that some people’s insistence on thinking that the world is getting worse and worse is actually the opposite of faith. Faith is a principle of action; it believes in and works towards the possibility of improvement, not the inevitability of failure. Perhaps I can share one final example to explain myself. Consider the attitude we should take if we were to discover that a large asteroid is headed directly at Earth and will destroy all life on the planet when it hits us in five years. While some of us may languish in despair and others may passively await a chance or supernatural remedy, most of would naturally take the faith position and begin planning for and building a means of destroying or displacing the asteroid, even while feeling anxious or simultaneously hoping for a lucky break or supernatural assistance. This is the kind of position that I think someone should take who claims to “believe all things,” not a dogmatic insistence on the inevitability of doomsday scenarios or a constant watching for wrongdoing.

    I don’t say this as an endorsement of some political events which you perhaps justly bemoan. I’m just saying that I don’t think the overall tone is justified by the facts or by the admonition you profess to follow.

  2. Michael Towns’s avatar

    Ultimately, there really is no distinction between “faith” and “politics” anymore than there is any distinction between “faith” and “science”. We believe truth no matter where it is found. That’s been a principle of Mormonism from the very beginning.

  3. Shane’s avatar

    First of all – I think it’s impossible to definitively compartmentalize any given issue, conveniently filing it in either the “faith” or “politics” category.

    I wonder at people who claim the ability; for as I see the world, most things “political” alter, merge with and blend into the realm of “faith.”

    From the War in Heaven untill this very moment, Satan has been concerned with establishing a very political power over his brothers and sisters. His only concern has been totalitarian rule over us, with our complete subservience – willing or not. Every law that has ever been passed can be analyzed according to its relationship to either augmenting or supplanting faith.

    God has arguably always played a part in influencing laws and governments, from the theocratic patriarchies of Adam through Noah, down to the setting up of our own inspired Constitution – and He’s warned us about “secret combinations” which seek to overthrow righteous leadership and just governance. Ultimately, He will set up a perfect theocratic monarchy and will issue all laws – how political is that?

    Thomas Jefferson’s misconstrued “separation of church and state” statement has become the oft-repeated modern mantra – but I believe we’ve been decieved in our sometimes rabid striving for such a goal. I believe that all politics relates to faith, and that both are perfectly amenable to discussion on this blog.

    I also think that it’s silly to say that apocolyptic interpretations are mere pessimism and “antithetical to Paul’s admonition.” This makes God, Christ and the Holy Spirit mere cynics, as they inpired Lehi, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, John, Joseph Smith and pretty much every prophet through history to write and warn of the impending doom of wicked civilizations.

    While it is obvious that repentance will ALWAYS save from destruction (i.e. Ninevah) it is also known to God that people usually opt not to repent and will be destroyed. And though there are “Green Shoots” in the positive tendencies that Carl refers to in the TED reference above. I put my trust in scripture, which discusses some unpleasant times ahead.

    How then do I hope and believe “all things?”

    Because God WILL establish a perfect, lovely, peaceful, unified kingdom called Zion – THERE is true hope – never in Idumea or the “World,” but always accessible to those who repent and strive for it.

  4. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    “And though there are “Green Shoots” in the positive tendencies that Carl refers to in the TED reference above. I put my trust in scripture, which discusses some unpleasant times ahead.”

    “Because God WILL establish a perfect, lovely, peaceful, unified kingdom called Zion – THERE is true hope – never in Idumea or the “World,””

    I think that my problems with many of the posts here are summed up by these claims. First of all, you guys are channeling only certain prophets that support an extreme right-wing view, while you could find plenty of statements from other prophets, such as David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown and others, that support a very different view. You are filtering everything through a particular extreme lens.

    You don’t stop to think that it may be possible to interpret the apocalyptic scriptures you refer to differently than you are doing. Did not Jonah prophesy that the people of Ninevah would be destroyed? He did not even MENTION that his prophecies were conditional on the people’s repentance, and yet they did repent and were not destroyed. That in and of itself demonstrates that the scriptures 1) do not contain inevitable prophecies, and 2) that it is possible, nay likely, for many people to misinterpret them.

    Given this likelihood, I ask you, which interpretation do you prefer, one that will result in incredible loss and waste of human life and innocent suffering merely for the sake of glorifying an idolatrous sectarian Calvinist God, or one that is as dynamic and progressive as the latter-day prophet who restored this work, who would (in my opinion) look on your dogmatism with disgust and denial? By your answer you manifest whether you exercise faith or are in a state of passivity, whether you believe in our innate godliness and growth towards the manifestation of Christ or whether you think of us as the mere creatures of an absolutist dictator.

    You also fail to recognize the fallibility of prophetic counsel, such as in the time Heber J. Grant begged the saints not to repeal prohibition, a law which was championed by the left, was quite against basic constitutional principles, flies in the face of your libertarian leanings and was, by all counts, a huge failure that greatly increased the dishonesty and criminality, and greatly decreased the security of the average US citizen. It also greatly contributed to the power of the federal government, something else you guys wouldn’t like. But in your dogmatic insistence on following the words of the prophets as if anything they say from the pulpit carries with it all necessary authority, you ignore contrary examples that would invite the thoughtful student of LDS history more pause when examining the statements of the prophets, especially their political ones.

    Your final statement, that God will establish a kingdom, I agree with, but not in the way you think. My problem with it is that your view of God is idolatrous, in my opinion. You believe in a God who comes down and fixes things while we merely passively exercise faith in His coming. I believe in a God that invites us to participate in his atonement, to true godliness and all that that entails, a god who indeed will not be made manifest until we are prepared to receive him, who is not separate and distant from us, but with whom we are already intimately connected but do not yet fully realize it. He is the vine and we are the branches. One of my favorite statements from Brigham Young helps to clarify this type of God and the nature of the kingdom that will be built:

    “You may now be inclined to say, ‘O, this is too simple and child-like, we wish to hear the mysteries of the kingdoms of the Gods who have existed from eternity and of all the kingdoms in which they will dwell; we desire to have these things portrayed to our understandings.’ Allow me to inform you that you are in the midst of it all now, that you are in just as good a kingdom as you will ever attain to, from now to all eternity, unless you make it yourselves by the grace of God, by the will of God, by the eternal Priesthood of God, which is a code of laws perfectly calculated to govern and control eternal matter. If you and I do not by this means make that better kingdom which we anticipate, we shall never enjoy it. We can only enjoy the kingdom we have labored to make.”

    This kingdom is now being built, piece by piece, by all those who are contributing to the increase of the knowledge of God, the advancement of civilization, and all that entails, the eradication of human enmity and suffering and the elimination of aging and death, which Nephi called that “awful monster.” Only those of us who contribute to the building of this kingdom will be capable of enjoying it. We still have a lot to overcome, and the establishment of this kingdom is by no means certain, for if it were, then there would be no need for us to work towards it and exercise faith, there would be no agency of humanity, and there would be no human capacity for godliness.

    I am motivated by many of the things you refer to but in quite a different way. In my opinion, the number of possibilities that you are “hoping” for is far to narrow and limited. If you wish to truly follow Paul’s admonition, I suggest you allow your definition of “all things” to be a little more expansive.

  5. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    I should add one thing that I forgot to address in your post. What makes you think that people are not repenting? The TED talk and many other data points that are currently being gathered seem to indicate that people are, indeed, repenting and that the world is becoming a safer and more equitable place at an increasingly fast pace.

  6. Greg’s avatar

    Hi Carl – Thanks for your comments. In rereading the last two comments above, it is not clear if they were primarily addressed to Shane or myself. Could you please clarify?

    A few things to keep in mind. First, unlike a book, a blog is always a work in process. At times it may appear that definitive conclusions have been reached when they are at best tentative. Second, much of the content on this blog is provocative and intended to stimulate thoughtful discussion. Third, most posts are written for a web audience where short attention spans dominate and only one point of view can be explored. Last, many posts contain direct quotations and lack significant commentary. These types of posts will usually be used as reference material for later posts which are in the process of being written. Please don’t mistake these for being representative of my personal views.

    I think you’ll be surprised where this blog is going. There is much material that needs to be added that will prove foundational. And we hope you always feel welcome to share your point of view. Although we didn’t get a chance to get to know each other before the ward split and job relocation, we hope you are enjoying your stay in Norway. Please let me know who you are referencing above and I’ll respond appropriately.

  7. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    Wow, this post for me helps me to recognize the disconnect that can sometimes happen between the Internet and “real life.” I’m sorry I got a little carried away. I actually may have been a little sloppy in my criticism. I have seen a number of tweets and blog posts that seemed to me to focus on a fairly right-wing libertarian politics that, while I can certainly appreciate and sympathize with, I still felt was a little off from the blog title. I guess I was just trying to clarify a frustration that I’ve been feeling for some time as I read this and other blogs, like Connor Boyack’s, and I was perhaps conflating many different things that I have read in many different places. So, if I am not portraying your views accurately, I apologize. I have seen a lot of blogs like this one tending to quote President Benson’s rather extreme politics as if they were the official and correct position of the Church, which of course they aren’t.

    Greg, sorry but I didn’t realize I was talking to a fellow ward member. Is this Greg Bentley or some other Greg? Hope things are going well back home. Sorry if I got a little carried away.

  8. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    Just to add a little to my previous thoughts, a good friend of mine recently tweeted “believing the world presently to be more evil than ever before is essential to some religious persons’ identity” (http://twitter.com/LincolnCannon/status/22446333914). I’m afraid that is often true of many Mormons. I don’t think this is ultimately conducive to long-term healthy relationships and spiritual maturity, nor do I think it is actually true, based on what the research I’ve read studying trends in technological development, standard of living, and overall well-being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

  9. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks for the clarification Carl – we’ll chalk this one up to Internet attention span.

    Here’s a link to our About page.

    Carrie asked me to relay best wishes to your wife and kids.

  10. Shane’s avatar

    I know our comments have gotten somewhat offtrack from the original blog post, but I think this is a fun topic :-)

    Carl! I have to thank you for your comments, they really are well worded and thought provoking!

    I actually agree with you much more than I disagree. I’m in total harmony with you on many of your thoughts on God’s expectation of our own participation in His processes of builiding up his kingdom, both individually and collectively. I believe it’s much more of a pro-active, hopefull, faith-filled endeavor than we understand. And it would be clearly erroneous to expect salvation and participation in such a kingdom were we not to “waste and wear out our lives” trying to bring it about – both for ourselves and for every individual on the planet.

    Obviously the whole thrust of missionary work and prophetic calls of repentance comes with the expectation that people will heed those calls, and thus repent. As the people of Ninevah made that choice, it did indeed nullify Jonah’s warning. Clearly this is the course any sane person would wish for the world – and this is why God sends His missionaries and prophets to warn in the first place. His EXPECTATION and DESIRE is clearly to have us turn from our sin so that he can gather us under his wing and prosper us.

    I actually believe that many, many people are making these choices – the Spirit is moving among people all over the planet and they are recognizing its promptings. The wheat are strengthening, and I Hope we (very presumptuous, but I hope I’m in the group) are soon approaching the time when we can accelerate the building up of Zion in earnest – holding out this ensign to all of God’s children.

    I think our biggest divergence of opinion (perhaps) is in the accomplishment of the apocolyptic prophesies and warnings pertaining to the bulk of the world’s population.

    Though I would LOVE to be able to give more weight to the TED talk and other “data points,” I feel that observation of things clearly shows the majority of people care nothing for God, His covenants or His plan – and increasingly so. I think that most people around the world recognize that SOMETHING is amiss, and they subconsciously yearn for a return to righteousness. The problem is the deception with which the adversary has blinded our way of life – our culture.

    True, it is our responsibility to try to break through the deception, and we will succeed and get through to many. However, I personally think the Harvest end approaches, and the warnings today, unlike those in Ninevah, are mostly unheeded.

    I see a polarization of the world going on – those searching after the “blessings of the fathers” increasing in beauty and holiness as opposed to those “blinded by the craftiness of men” and “deceived by the power of the devil.”

  11. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    Hey Greg, glad to have finally made the connection! I actually remember enjoying your thoughtful comments in Elders quorum very much. I’m really kind of embarrassed by this whole experience, as it has shown me that, although I try to be fairly equal in my treatment of different subjects among different groups of people, I am still sometimes prone to let my guard down a little too much when I’m on the Internet and perhaps become a little too impatient in ways that I wouldn’t in a face-to-face conversation. Definitely a good lesson for me.

    Shane, thanks for your response. About your last point, having worked with a lot of different people, many of whom don’t share my faith and yet are still good people, I have come to the conclusion that actions are more important than creeds. I feel like your standard for righteousness is a little dogmatic there–”caring for God, His covenants [and] His plan” is not a universal enough standard of judgement, in my opinion. Many people may not conceive God in the way you do and yet be very good people. It is of course possible for atheists to be good and ethical people, and of course a good deal of people who claim a belief in God are bad and unethical.

    I don’t think that good people who were not raised in a religious setting will be punished for disregarding God, especially when the religions they have as examples so often engage in petty quarrels over minor points of doctrine and often resort to juvenile arguments and petty tactics to preach their message. It doesn’t help when much of the more religious areas of the world (such as the Bible belt and the Middle East) are often less educated, civilized and ethical than their more secular neighbors. I think these trends raise valid concerns that should invite us to examine the ways in which religiosity can become a net negative instead of a positive.

    When I try to judge whether the world is fundamentally becoming a better or worse place, I look at more quantifiable measures of goodness, such as the fact that child sexual abuse has decreased over the last 15 years (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100824082331.htm), the standard of living of nearly all nations has significantly improved over the last century, war casualties are consistently declining and a host of other improvements. I really should start taking up a collection of these kinds of stats to try show more proof of these trends–perhaps I will. Anyway, these kinds of quantifiable trends seem to me to indicate an increase in goodness, even holiness. Remember, BY said that there would be people of many different persuasions in the millennium, not just Mormons.

    Another thing that often confuses people is the 24-hour news cycle and the way that all corners of the globe are more accessible and we have more information available to us than ever before. Sometimes this glut of information makes us think that bad things are happening all the time, when in fact it’s just the opposite. The news media is becoming more and more desperate for information and is trying its best to find scandal or disaster, even if it has to invent something or make a mountain out of a molehill to do it.

    As Pinker points out in his TED talk, if the same mortality rates existed today as those that we see among contemporary hunter-gatherer societies and the fossil record, two-thirds of all people would meet a violent death before reaching old age, as opposed to the less than 1% of the world’s population who do today. Even though it seems like we have a lot of problems, things aren’t as bad as some people would like to believe, and they’re getting better all the time.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Greg and Shane. I appreciate them and welcome further ideas.

  12. Shane’s avatar

    Carl, you covered a lot of ground in your last post, and I think it would be fascinating to have a real conversation with you.

    Again, many good points in your response, and much food for thought.

    I COMPLETELY agree that “religiosity can become a net negative.” Religiosity is certainly not indicative of the charity residing in one’s heart, and which is one of the MANY reasons only Christ can see clearly enough to judge us.

    One thing that I need to clarify:

    When I said that “people care nothing for God, His covenants or His plan,” I was referring to the majority of the world’s population. I still maintain that the bulk of humanity is more concerned with meeting carnal desires than searching out spiritual truths. The measures you listed in your last response are definitely important factors in improving quality of life, but perhaps inadequate to indicate a sense of improving a culture’s “holiness.”

    However, I’m happy to acknowledge that God’s “Kingdom” includes those of all faiths, all nations and all peoples who are striving to INCREASE their light and knowlege (even those who, right now, may call themselves athiests). In D&C 10:67 it says “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” – not church with a capital C. To me this indicates that ANYONE who sincerely desires to know Truth, will eventually be saved, redeemed and hopefully exalted – and happily there are hundreds of millions of these types of people in the “bulk” that I’ve already referred to.

    I don’t think either of us will convince the other of which overall direction the World is headed, but let’s just say I would be very glad to find that you are right.

  13. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    Shane, as long as you don’t mind further conversation, I was thinking of a concrete example that might help us to understand each other’s position better. Let’s say there is an atheist entrepreneur, like Bill Gates, for instance, or somebody smaller, who is spending billions or otherwise investing a lot of time and effort on curing malaria and providing clean drinking water to poor Africans. I just use him because he actually is doing these things. Is the fact that he doesn’t believe in God all that relevant to the amazing work he is accomplishing?

    Furthermore, he could be compared to a ton of religious people who, despite being good people, are still not doing nearly as much to alleviate the suffering and improve the general well-being of humanity. I share these to argue that valuations of righteousness should favor real action over professed beliefs.

    While I do not intend to judge or classify all the different actions of people or to say that some contributions are necessarily worth more than others, I think we should in general try to be more objective and value action over belief, yet many religionists focus on exactly the opposite. For them, your belief is more important than whether or not you accomplish good in the world.

    While I do not mean to denigrate faith, I think that we should strive to constantly measure things and understand in measurable and verifiable ways what the overall effect of our beliefs and actions are, and discard those beliefs and actions that are less effective in bringing about the good outcomes we desire. If someone is more effective at doing these things, I care more about that than what he/she believes.

    “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, yet deals justice to his neighbors and mercifully deals his substance to the poor, than the smooth-faced hypocrite.” (Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, 5:401)

  14. Shane’s avatar

    Carl, I’m pretty much in agreement with the tenor of your comment. Especially since we know that “faith without works is dead” and not all that say “Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

    Certainly we can see many in our world such as the “atheist entrepeneur” who are developping their faith/hope/charity by striving to better the conditions of the world and the situation of their fellow men – this would be striving to increase “light” in my opinion.

    Such a person may even live his/her entire life and die in that athiest state, without ever accepting the Gospel or joining the church. However, I think that his/her sincerity is obviously manifest by his/her actions, and without the blinders and prejudices of mortality he/she most likely will accept the truth in the next life and quallify for ALL of the blessings of eternity – perhaps moreso than the lifelong member who never cared enough to do his home teaching, but bore his testimony every Fast Sunday.

    I would also include great authors, thinkers, artists and others in your example. Einstein, Hugo, Ghandi, Mother Theresa (who more than her?), Monet, Renoir, etc. These people all increased their talents and made the world a better place; they sought for an increase, and I would like to believe they will receive their reward.

    Of course it is impossible for anyone to judge the contribution (or lack thereof) of any other person. Thankfully, we can only try to increase our own light/knowledge/intelligence – and try to make our own contribution.

  15. Shane’s avatar

    One more note: I think it will surprise us who “makes it” to the Celestial Kingdom.

    In the book The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff, you’ll find the name of a woman among others who appeared to have their temple work done. The woman’s name is Charlotte Corday, and her claim to fame is that she murdered a man, she was a political assasin, perhaps even a “terrorist.” Yet she appeared to a prophet to claim her blessings among other valiant spirits.

    Yes, I think we will be surprised . . .

  16. Carl Youngblood’s avatar

    Thanks Shane. I appreciate your thoughts. I have enjoyed the discussion.

  17. Chris H.’s avatar

    Really?

    A post title “Towards a Mormon Concept of Social Justice” and I do not even get a mention.

    What is up with that? Also, are you starting a political blog? Could not tell if you where hinting at that. Additionally, you have always been political, not sure what the big deal is.

  18. Greg’s avatar

    Hey Chris,

    A post title “Towards a Mormon Concept of Social Justice” and I do not even get a mention.

    Sorry – too much going on and too little time.

    Additionally, you have always been political, not sure what the big deal is.

    Me either…

  19. Chris H.’s avatar

    I was just playing about not getting a mention. Thanks for responding.

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