Thunker’s Weblog


Law of Consecration – Book Review
June 14, 2017, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, LDS, Mormon, religion

Robert Wheadon-126x150

The Mormon Theology Seminar has published another volume of scholarly papers. This volume, edited by Jeremiah John and Joseph M. Spencer, is entitled, “Embracing the Law – Reading Doctrine and Covenants 42.”  In Mormon theology, the Doctrine and Covenants is a volume of canonized scripture primarily containing revelations received by the prophet, Joseph Smith.  Each revelation is numerically designated as a “section.”

Section 42 is generally defined as the revelation where the Lord instructs the Prophet Joseph in the manner the poor of the church are to be cared for.  The revelation was called, “The Law,” by early church members, a contraction of the Law of Consecration.

Consecration, or the act of setting something or someone apart as holy, is the focal point of this revelation.  In a very general overview, the Lord’s plan was to have the early members of the church act as stewards over the properties they owned.  The stewards would retain what they needed for their needs and consecrate the extra to the church.  The church would then have the means to sustain the poor and needy.

The papers submitted by various LDS scholars on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants Section 42 cover various perspectives and interpretations of this revelation.  This collection offers a rich source for thought and additional questions of this 1831 revelation.  Let’s begin.

The first article is by LDS law professor, Nathan B. Oman.  Entitled, “‘I Will Give unto You My Law”: Section 42 as a Legal Text and the Paradoxes of Divine Law,” this article addresses the dichotomy of secular versus ecclesiastical law.  The question is a basic one in organized society and has been in scholarly circles since the 1600’s.  It is a question that continues to impact people on a global scale, with varying interpretations.  For example, in the United States, the UK and Europe, the division of secular law and theological law has been well established.  The division is not so established in Muslim countries where the Koran can form the basis of law.

For followers of any faith, the question arises as to what is more circumspect: to obey the law of your faith or to obey the law of the land.

Professor Oman presents the case that Section 42 is a document that contains both divine law, as well as a legal text.  The issue at hand is how the revelation instructs Joseph Smith to care for the poor of the church and to do so in a way that is legally in accordance with secular law.

As I mentioned above, the Law of Consecration involved caring for the poor by donating the excess of goods produced to the church for distribution among the poor.  One of the requirements set out in the revelation is that members would deed their property to the church, while still maintaining control of the property.  The question arose as to what happened to legal ownership of the property if the property’s historical owner decided to leave the church or was excommunicated from the church.  Did the departing member get the deed to his property back?  Section 42 declares that the property is retained by the church for the care of the poor.  It is no surprise that when Joseph Smith implemented the Law of Consecration, lawsuits arose from this very issue.

Professor Oman arrives at the conclusion that divine law is not a very comfortable bedfellow with secular law.  The two legal sources are not very compatible, mainly due to humanity’s lack of willingness to part with their worldly goods for the improvement of all.

Next is a paper by Jeremiah John entitled, “That My Covenant People May Be Gathered in One.”  Professor John is an associate professor of politics at Southern Virginia University.  The focus of Professor John’s paper is divine law and the reason for its success or failure in implementation among humanity.  His point is that divine law succeeds or fails solely on humanity’s obedience or apostasy of the law.  Law in theology gets defined as commandments and we then choose our level of compliance or disobedience.  The law itself is divine.  That divinity become effective only to the extent in which obedience is applied.  If the commandment or law is misinterpreted, disobeyed or ignored, then the blessings and celestial promises tied to that law cannot be bestowed.

There are several additional papers that explore some rather interesting topics such as teaching by the spirit, section 42 as a social justice document and the concepts of sacrifice versus consecration.  Joseph M. Spencer’s paper rounds out the volume with an outstanding article on textual variation in Section 42 and the Doctrine and Covenants in general.

All of the papers in this volume are thought-provoking and worth consideration.  Each article is unique in its perspective and well-researched.  I found it setting the bar for Mormon studies and Mormon theological examination at a lofty level.  It is a volume well done.