Monday, March 21, 2016

The LDS Church Endorsed Socialism: What Policies in 1939 Mean Now

While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is politically neutral, leaders have spoken out on political matters at different times for different reasons. During the Red Scare, it wasn't uncommon to hear leaders speak out on the evils of socialism (comments that were not endorsed as doctrine of the Church and which were often met with rebuke from the other leaders). 

What most people don't know is that during the Great Depression, the Church advocated socialistic principles. In 1939 under the direction of President Heber J. Grant and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Church published an official course manual titled "Priesthood and Church Welfare." In it, the Church advocated for the "socialization of our service institutions through a system of progressive taxation based upon ability to pay...taking the bulk of their [captains of industry] profits to finance free education, free libraries, free public parks and recreation centers, unemployment insurance, old age benefits, sickness and accident insurance, and perhaps eventually free medical and hospital service."

You read that right. The LDS Church was feeling the Bern.

In fact, the leaders directly contrasted socialistic principles to capitalistic ones, declaring socialistic ones to be "more plausible" than capitalist in "correct[ing] existing abuses":
"...since all capitalistic systems are founded upon the institution of private property, inheritance and the profit motive, great inequalities of ownership and income inevitably result. ...Among the more plausible suggestions offered to correct existing abuses without adversely affecting the productive system, is to continue the socialization of our service institutions..."
They believed that this system would “reduce unemployment, eliminate extreme poverty among the lower classes, and secure greater economic welfare for the less fortunate … without destroying …the individual initiative of those who create the wealth.” The leaders explained that this economic system is the logical extension of the Law of Consecration
"...the state and local governments have established tax-supported systems to take [the place of the Church's system], as they logically should do.
Thus we see how the Mormon Church, through the wisdom and foresight of its leaders, has led the way in this movement toward a greater diffusion of the benefits of our economic progress. They have set the pace for a greater realization of the Christian ideal of the brotherhood of men, through a wider distribution of economic and temporal things as well as in religious and spiritual blessings.”  
They recognized that with this economic system, while average families may not be rich, the benefits will outweigh the costs:
"The average family may not have much more money, if any, to spend under such a system than now. But if education can be provided for free, regardless of the number of children; if police protection, health and sanitation inspection, recreational facilities and other social welfare services, can be had without a cost, then the meagre family income can be devoted the necessities of life, plus some of the comforts now enjoyed by the higher income classes." 
Not only did they advocate for a free education, they also advocated for free health care:
"For if hospitalization, medical and dental care, music and art education are added to the list of free services; then if old age benefits, unemployment insurance and similar social reforms are also provided for those in need, out of the tax receipts, surely the average family income will be greatly augmented. True, the income may not appear in the weekly pay check, but the total goods and services available to the family in the form of education, medical care, and social security benefits, if paid for on a cash basis, would amount to a surprisingly large cash income.”
The leaders of the Church knew that this would require "a carefully worked out tax system so that every one will contribute according to his financial ability." They suggested high "inheritance and state taxes" in order to prevent "large fortunes to be passed on from generation to generation," thus extinguishing the "idle rich who have been living on earnings of past generations."

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that this is the official position of the LDS Church or that it constitutes doctrine. 

I am saying that there is no official doctrine on socialism. 

It doesn't matter that Ezra Taft Benson spoke out against socialism or that Heber J. Grant advocated for it (or at least signed off on a manual that did). What does matter is that our modern leaders have stated, unequivocally, that "principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties and candidates," that there are good members of the Church who belong to many political parties, including National Communist parties, and that our emphasis should be on leaders "who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest." (*ahem*)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has reminded us that there have been instances in which leaders have made mistakes and have advocated incorrect principles or policies. We run the risk of making the same mistake when we dogmatically hold to what a leader said at a particular point in time and declare it official doctrine - especially when the Church has stated that it has no official doctrine - or when we declare those who with an opposing viewpoint as corrupt, evil, or lazy. 

With that being said...

I agree with this text in that the benefits of this system would far outweigh the costs and that it mirrors divine laws; I agree with President Brigham Young who declared income inequality to be one of the great evils facing our country and who established a socialistic system in Utah; I agree with the Prophet Jacob who taught, "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you;" I agree with King Benjamin who called to repentance those who refused to impart of their substance.

In other words, I'm liberal because of my religion, not in spite of it.

Update: 3/25/16

I wanted to clarify that these statements were not made specifically by President Grant but by those that the Twelve Apostles instructed to create this manual, specifically Stewart, Walker, and McGavin. But dismissing this because they are the official authors would be like dismissing a Sunday School manual (or any other approved material) because it was actually written by the General Sunday School leaders. The fact is that this was written under the direction of the Twelve and published by the Church for study material. 

Also, all of the quotes taken above can be viewed in their entirety in the photocopies above. Nothing was excluded except to make it easier to read. Feel free to read the original documents. 


  1. The sin of Sodom, thinking riches make us worthy of Gods love.

  2. There is a big difference between compelled taking of wealth and property versus willfully giving it. Nobody is feeling the burn.

  3. You are willingly a citizen of the USA. Democracy is messy. It is a horrible political system, but better than every thing else.

  4. If the president of our church asked wealthy church members to give more to the church than they are already giving, I think most would. As a middle class member, I already give more than just tithing to the church every month to help those less fortunate than I. I have faith that our church gets the donations to the right people who need it and not embezzle or waste it. People opposed to a socialist government don't trust their politicians to do that same. Our church also promotes self-sufficiency and hard work which minimizes freeloaders receiving benefits. If the church went back to the United Order I would have no problem with that but I will fight against my country going socialist. It comes down to who I trust with my money.

  5. Is it possible to obtain a copy of this book?

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