Active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints covenant to obey the law of consecration, and although I have long felt we discuss it too little, more Saints seem to be taking notice. Various historical and doctrinal opinions have been expressed on the law and on the "united order," including some insightful and some unusual opinions by Kent W. Huff in his book Joseph Smith's United Order.1 Using this book along with the contributions of several other scholars and Church leaders as a basis for discussion, I explore the history, meaning, and future of the "united order" as part of the larger law of consecration. Starting as an eleven-man organization in charge of Church business and operating under consecration principles, the united order -- actually called the united firm -- transformed into the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to historians, most Church members did not even know of its existence, let alone participate in it. Traditional understanding is that the firm's consecration model provided the pattern for the Saints to follow. An alternative interpretation, described by Kent Huff, is that the Saints' only real attempt at a formal consecration effort was for disaster relief. In fact, according to Huff, the Saints in general did not deed their property to the Church as we've learned in Church history classes. He further argues that even the former-day Saints in the City of Enoch, the early Christians in Jerusalem, and the Nephites right after Christ's visit didn't really have all things in common in the way most of us have imagined. I disagree with this interpretation and provide evidence against it, but I appreciate the historical information and several philosophical insights that Huff provides. Other scholars and historians challenge the widely-held notions that 1) tithing is a lower law, given because the Saints failed to live the full law of consecration, and that 2) a formal form of consecration (the united order) will eventually return. I advocate instead for the traditional understanding of the law of consecration and stewardship as taught by Church leaders, believing it is the path toward both freedom and equality the world is looking for, and I explain why I believe it -- or a similar program -- will eventually be reinstated.
About the Author
Richard D. Gardner is originally from Logan, Utah, but grew up in several states, mainly Hawaii. He has taught biology at Southern Virginia University (a private four-year liberal arts institution catering to LDS students) since 2004. He earned a BA in biology from Utah State University (1991), a PhD in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Arizona (1998), and did post-doctoral work at the University of Virginia for six years prior to his current appointment. He served a mission in Curitiba, Brazil in the late 1980s. In addition to scientific publications, he is the author of The Heart of the Gospel: Explorations into the Workings of the Atonement, and its sequel, God’s Organizing Power: Explorations into the Power and Blessings of the Priesthood, and was quoted extensively in a July 2016 New Era article on science and religion. Richard is married to Naomi Blair Gardner, and both have been active in the BSA at the district level (Naomi received a Silver Beaver). They have six children (5 living).