In my studies about the various economies this week, the subject of the United Order has come to the forefront. I have learned that some people think – or they did in years past – that the United Order is socialism. It is not. Socialism is Satan’s counterfeit – or one of his counterfeits – to the Lord’s program to care for the poor and needy.
In the 1940s some people thought that the United Order was the same as Communism. There were enough people with this belief that President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. thought it was important enough for him to speak about it in his General Conference address. He explains that consecration and stewardship is the law for the Lord’s program and the United Order is the system for administering that law. He explains the foundation for the United Order:
The basic principle of all the revelations on the United Order is that everything we have belongs to the Lord; therefore, the Lord may call upon us for any and all of the property which we have, because it belongs to Him. This, I repeat, is the basic principle. (Doctrine and Covenants 104:14-17, 54-57.)
Clark suggests that the saints who previously attempted to live the United Order misunderstood the meaning to the Lord’s desire for all men to be equal, and this misunderstanding caused their attempts to fail. In order for us to understand the Lord’s meaning of equality, he provides it.
I think you will find only one place where that equality is really described, though it is referred to in other revelations. That revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 51:3) affirms that every man is to be “equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs.” (See also Doctrine and Covenants 82:17; 78:5-6.) Obviously, this is not a case of “dead level” equality. It is “equality” that will vary as much as the man’s circumstances, his family, his wants and needs, may vary.
Continuing his explanation, Clark says that under the United Order, every man was to consecrate to the Church all of the property which he had and to convey any real estate by a legal deed. The man’s property was then the property of the Church. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:30.) The bishop then gave the donor a stewardship by the same kind of deed. The property that the donor received from the bishop may be the same, more, or less than the original property donated. The man would then be expected to use his stewardship to produce a living for himself and his family. Any surplus produced would be consecrated to the Church to bless the poor and needy. The purpose of the United Order is to make all men equal in the sight of the Lord – lifting the poor out of poverty and putting them on the same level as the humbled rich – and exalting both rich and poor. Private ownership and management of property is an essential part of the United Order and differs from socialism in this matter. The United Order is an individualistic system and not a communal order like Communism.
In the 1960s some people thought that the United Order and socialism were the same thing, and Elder Marion G. Romney compared the two systems. He again emphasizes that people joined the United Order voluntarily by consecrating their property to the Church and receiving a stewardship in return where socialism takes private property for communal use. He shows that even though socialism and the United Order have a few similarities, they have even more differences. I wrote about this comparison last Sunday. He, too, emphasizes that the United Order is the Lord’s way to exalt all His saints, by releasing the poor from the humiliation of poverty and by humbling the rich by the sharing of their wealth.
The foregoing explanation of the United Order helps us to prepare to live the Lord’s system for caring for the poor and needy. In 1894 President George Q. Cannon spoke in General Conference on the topic of “Preparing for the United Order.” By this time various groups of saints, both in Missouri and Utah, had attempted to live the law of consecration and stewardship in the United Order but failed. The reason given for their failures was their unpreparedness to live the higher law of the Lord. Therefore, they were given lower laws – such as tithing, offerings, bishops storehouses, and welfare program – to help prepare them for living the full law of consecration as Cannon explains.
There are now many societies being formed that make great professions. They claim to be benevolent societies and to do great good to the people…. But I want to say to the Latter-day Saints that the Lord has organized a system which is perfect in all its details. There is no need to have it supplemented by anything of man’s device…. There is no benevolent society that exists, or that can be formed by human beings, that will reach the wants of the children of men as effectively as the organization which the Lord has given to us, and of which we now are a part…. The Lord has not left us in ignorance concerning these matters. This doctrine of equality that the anarchists, nihilists, socialists and such people dwell upon (some of them are resorting to the most dreadful violence to carry out their schemes), is understood by us, for the Lord has revealed to us how and to what extent it shall be fulfilled. He has given us the law with a great deal of plainness. But we are not prepared to carry it out. The leaders of the people are doing their best in teaching the people the primary principles of equality; but it will take time, it will take the power of God, it will take circumstances that will almost compel us to adopt that which God has revealed, in order to carry out that which He has laid before us as a duty that we must perform.
I want to say to you that the day will come – and it will be brought about by the Latter-day Saints – when there will be such an equality in all things among us that there will be no want, no deficiency of any element necessary for man’s happiness, no monopoly; when one man will not have more than he can use and another man be destitute….
Cannon continues by explaining that the earth contains enough of every element to provide for all of His children. The reason why some people are wealthy and others are poor is because men try to patch up systems to provide for the poor and needy. He also says that we must do away with the tradition of our fathers to take care of only ourselves and learn to reach out in care for other people. He says that other systems will probably arise before the Lord’s program is put into action.
In these remarks I refer to what is known among us as the United Order. I know that many have thought that this has passed off; that it is a phantasy, an idea that cannot be carried out; that it is impossible, as human nature is constituted, to make it practical. Probably many among us entertain that idea. But I can assure you that this is not the case. It is the plan that God has devised, and I want to hold it up before you if I can, so that you will see it and understand that God has devised a plan that is far superior to that which men have concocted. And it can be and will be carried out….
Cannon quotes Doctrine and Covenants 104:11-18, 54-75, which explain how the United Order is supposed to work. He explains that there will probably still be men who work harder and improve their stewardships more than other men. The farmer that is growing more grain may need another granary or a bigger tractor could go to the counsel and request it. If the new granary or the new tractor would help the entire Order, then his request would be granted.
All will be built up together. But will all, under these circumstances, have the same? If this Order were established, would every man have the same sized house, the same sized garden or field, the same number of fruit trees, or the same number of cows? Why, no. That is not the equality that the Lord means. The Lord will give to us according to our circumstances and our wants. Some families will be larger than others. Some men will need more cows than others. Some men’s business will require more horses than other men’s business will. In this way there will be differences. Then there will also be diversified circumstances. Every man will have the opportunity of exercising all his talents. There will be no restriction. He will have the opportunity for the exercise of the most commanding talents. The field will be before him, and he will have means to carry out His purposes and plans, if they be wise and such as his brethren will think prudent and judicious. Thus the poor will have their wants supplied, and there will be no want in the land....
So that each man in his stewardship will not be laboring for himself; he will be laboring for the whole, every man and woman being looked after, having a common interest, through inheritance, from our Great Creator, who created this earth for us…. Every want supplied, every proper desire of the heart gratified, until misery will flee from the fact of this fair earth, until want will be unknown, until the cry of the widow and the fatherless and the distressed will not be heard in the land…. This is the plan which God has devised. It may require what many trained as we have been under the old and existing conditions may look upon as sacrifices to bring it about; but it will come; for God has devised it, and it is the only plan by which we can ever get into the celestial kingdom and become joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
Cannon continues by saying that we must look to Jesus Christ and learn to follow Him. Then we must teach these principles to our children. We are to teach them that they are to labor to accumulate wealth – not for themselves but to benefit humanity, to be a blessing to others, and to help rear a society of unselfish men and women. We are to teach the children to deny their desires in order that they may learn that they do not need to gratify every personal want, passion, or appetite immediately. Then he tells us what will happen if we do not prepare ourselves to live the United Order.
Brethren and sisters, I want to say to you that as sure as God lives this Order will be brought about; and it will be with us as it was with the children of Israel who came out of Egypt – if we do not do it we will be removed, and a generation will be raised up that will do it; for God is going to carry out His purposes, and no power can prevent it….
Our circumstances at present do not admit of our entering upon these things. There are many changes that will have to occur in order to make that which I have said unto you practical. Laws perhaps will have to be changed, because they might interfere with this now; and it might not be wisdom for us under the present circumstances…What I have desired to do is to draw your attention to the fact that God has revealed a plan, and that you need not [join any other plan]. I speak on this to warn you; to put you on your guard; to show you that the Lord’s plan is broad enough to cover the whole subject and to furnish all the relief that could ever be desired by human beings…. Be a stable and a conservative people, and act up to your convictions. Maintain the influence that God has given you, and by your wise course cause it to increase in the land.
I know that this is a long post with lengthy quotes. I cut as much information out that I could and still give you understanding. The emphasis in the quotes is mine. My understanding of the laws of consecration and stewardship, as well as the United Order, has greatly increased from my studies. I know that there are many people who have covenanted to live the law of consecration and do so right now. I did not know that there is still a time in our future when the United Order will be lived. I continue to question my ability to live in total consecration to the Lord. I am striving to develop this type of faith in Jesus Christ and trust in my priesthood leaders, but I can only hope that my righteousness is enough to do so.