Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that they were the only ones with a "legitimate right to be stewards" of all property on the earth?

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Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that they were the only ones with a "legitimate right to be stewards" of all property on the earth?

Nothing in the Doctrine and Covenants or Brigham Young's talk threatens the right of anyone to own property

One critics of Mormonism claims that Latter-day Saints believed that "they were the only ones with a legitimate right to be stewards of the Lord's property—i.e., all creation. Gentiles, on the other hand, because they had no claim to the earth, would have to give up to the Saints what they mistakenly viewed as their property." [1] The author cites the following sources in support of his claim:

The author makes claims which his sources do not sustain. Nothing in the Doctrine and Covenants or Brigham Young's talk threatens the right of anyone to own property. Brigham explicitly states that entry into such a law is voluntary, of one's own free will. He makes the (uncontroversial, for any Christian) observation that everything belongs to God, and so anything a member sacrifices is not really 'his' to begin with.

During the LDS settlement of Utah, they received first claim on lands, and many settlers reportedly deeded their land to the Church—as was their right. This does not mean that they would, could, or did compel others to do likewise.

None of this means that everything which other people own should be owned by the Mormons. That is sheer fabrication.

The Doctrine and Covenants verse cited reads:

37 And it shall come to pass, that he that sinneth and repenteth not shall be cast out of the church, and shall not receive again that which he has consecrated unto the poor and the needy of my church, or in other words, unto me—

This does not mean that apostates or non-members have no right to property. This is, rather, a description of how the Church's united order economic system was to work. Property was given to the Church, but the member received some back and was given legal title to it. It remained his to do with as he wished, even if he left the Church—both legally and under the laws of the Church. As Milton V. Backman explained:

[Initially] instead of conveying deeds to members, Bishop Partridge...leased land to the Saints. Under the provision of the contracts [initially drawn up by Partridge]...if an individual left the Church, he had no legal claim to his inheritance.

On several occasions, Joseph Smith wrote to Church leaders in Missouri informing them that their application of the law of consecration and stewardship was not correct....

the Prophet informed Bishop Partridge, in a letter dated May 2, 1833, that although stewards had no claim over their initial consecration, their inheritances beclonged [check spelling] to them; it was their property. "Concerning inheritances," he explained, "you are bound by the law of the Lord to give a deed, securing to him who receives inheritances...." He further taught that if an individual transgressed and left the Church, the inheritance still belonged to him.[2]

Brigham Young: "[this law] will be one of the last revelations which the people will receive into their hearts and understandings, of their own free will and choice"

Brigham Young's cited speech refers to the same section of the D&C; he even quotes verses 30-32]—this is the same material found in the author's History of the Church reference. After discussing other scriptures about consecration, Brigham observed:

[this law] will be one of the last revelations which the people will receive into their hearts and understandings, of their own free will and choice, and esteem it as a pleasure, a privilege, and a blessing unto them to observe and keep most holy....

[300] To whom do these elements [i.e., material blessings on the earth] belong now? To the same Being who owned them in the beginning. The earth is still His, and its fulness, and that includes each one of us, and also includes all that we seem to possess. It includes all the elements, in whatever shape, form, or condition, and wherever they are situated, whether in the native state, or in a state of organization for the comfort and benefit of man....

If we could perceive and fully understand that all the ability and knowledge we have, every good we possess, every bright idea, every pure affection, and every good vision of mind from our infancy to the present time, are [301] all the free gift of the Lord, and that we of ourselves have nothing original, we should be much better prepared and far more ready to act faithfully and wisely under all circumstances. Every good thing is in His hands, is subject to His power, belongs to Him, and is only handed over to us, for the time being, to see what use we will make of it....

It is then the design of the Lord that mankind should be placed in this dark, ignorant, and selfish state, that we should naturally cling to the earth; for, as it was said here last Sabbath, the earth is very good in and of itself, and has abided a celestial [303] law, consequently we should not despise it, nor desire to leave it, but rather desire and strive to obey the same law that the earth abides, and abide it as honorably as does the earth.

If we do abide this law thus faithfully, we are sure to get our resurrection and exaltation, for then we can see and understand things as they are. Then instead of concluding that the Lord has drawn us into difficulties, and compelled us to do that which is unpleasant to our feelings, and to suffer sacrifice upon sacrifice to no purpose, we shall understand that He has designed all this to prepare us to dwell in His presence, to possess His Spirit, which is right and intelligent, for nothing but purity and holiness can dwell where He is....

[304] What is our duty? It is our duty to improve upon every blessing the Lord gives to us. If He gives us land, improve it; if He gives us the privilege of building houses, improve it; if He gives us wives and children, try and teach them the ways of the Lord, and exalt them above the dark, degraded, and sunken state of mankind, &c.; if He gives us the [305] privilege of gathering together, let us sanctify ourselves. In His providence He has called the Latter-day Saints from the world, has gathered them from other nations, and given them a place upon the earth. Is this a blessing? Yes, one of the greatest the people can enjoy, to be free from the wickedness of the wicked, from the calamities and clamor of the world. By this blessing we can show to our Father in Heaven that we are faithful stewards; and more, it is a blessing to have the privilege of handing back to Him that which He has put in our possession, and not say it is ours, until He shall say it from the heavens. Then it is plain that what I seem to have I do not in reality own, and I will hand it back to the Lord when He calls for it; it belongs to Him and it is His all the time. I do not own it, I never did. He has called upon the people to consecrate their property, to see whether they could understand so simple a thing as this. When they bow down to worship the Lord, they acknowledge that the earth is His, and the cattle upon a thousand hills; and tell the Lord there is no sacrifice they are not willing to make for the sake of the religion of Jesus Christ....

[308] Observe the men who have come into this Church rich in property, and where can you find one who has said, "I brought fifty, forty, or twenty thousand dollars into this Church," but what they have either come begging to the Church at last, or apostatized? If you cling to the world, and say it is hard for you to do this or that, recollect that the love of the Father is not in you. Let me love the world as He loves it, to make it beautiful, and glorify the name of my Father in heaven. It does not matter whether I or anybody else owns it, if we only work to beautify it and make it glorious, it is all right. Let me do what I am called to do, and be contented with my lot, and not worry about this, that, or the other. I have spoken long enough. May God bless you. Amen.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure

The author's final source is a nineteenth century work which describes a visit to Salt Lake City by a Jewish author. That author writes:

I may say all the real estate in the valley is the property of the church, for proprietors have only an interest in property so long as they are members of the Mormon Church, and reside in the valley. The moment they leave or apostatize, they are obliged to abandon their property, and are precluded from selling it, or if they do give the bill of sale it is not valid—it is not tenable by the purchaser. This arrangement was proposed by the governor and council, at the conference which took place during my residence among them in 1854, and thousands of property holders subsequently deeded their houses and lands to the church, in perpetuity.

Under the operation of this law, nobody but Mormons can hold property in Great Salt Lake City.[3]

Already, we have seen that the author has distorted the source. The real estate in the valley's is the Church's—the members do not "own" it. This is not to say that non-members cannot (and do not) own property elsewhere. But, since the property owners deeded their goods to the Church, the Church is the legal owner.

Carvalho continues approvingly:

There are numbers of citizens who are not Mormons, who rent properties; but there is no property for sale—a most politic course on the part of the Mormons—for in case of a railroad being established between the two oceans, Great Salt Lake City must be the half way stopping place, and the city will be kept purified from taverns and grog shops at every corner of the street. Another city will have to be built some distance from them, for they have determined to keep themselves distinct from the vices of civilization. During a residence of ten weeks in Great Salt Lake City, and my observations in all their various settlements, amongst a homogeneous population of over seventy-five thousand inhabitants, it is worthy of record, that I never heard any obscene or improper language; never saw a man drunk; never had my attention called to the exhibition of vice of any sort. There are no gambling houses, grog shops, or buildings of ill fame, in all their settlements. They preach morality in their churches and from their stands, and what is as strange as it is true, the people practise it, and religiously believe their salvation depends on fulfilling the behests of the religion they have adopted....

[Of new immigrants] each and all of them are comfortably provided with land and tenements. The first year they, of course, suffer privations, until they build their houses and reap their crops, yet all their necessities in the meantime are provided for by the church, and in a social point of view, they are much happier than they could ever hope to have been at their native homes. From being tenants at will of an imperious and exacting landlord, they suddenly become land holders, in their own right-free men, living on free soil, under a free and enlightened government.[4]


Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 84-87, page 553 (hardback); page 551 (paperback).
  2. Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1983), 74–75. ISBN 0877479739 GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  3. Carvalho, chapter 22. off-site
  4. Carvalho, chapter 22. off-site