Wealth, Attitudes toward
Latter-day Saints view wealth as a blessing and also as a test. The Lord has repeatedly promised his people, "Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land" (Alma 36:30). But wealth can lead to pride and inequality: "Wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures" (2 Ne. 9:30). Therefore, attitudes toward wealth and the use of material abundance reveal a person's priorities: "Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good" (Jacob 2:18—19). To those who will inherit the celestial kingdom, God has promised the riches of eternity.
LDS beliefs about the nature and purpose of life influence Church members' attitudes toward wealth. Thus, the concept of wealth has both materialistic and spiritual dimensions: wealth is an accumulation of worldly possessions; it is also an acquisition of knowledge or talents. Since matter and spirit are of the same order, material wealth can become refined and sanctified by the influence of God's spirit as it is consecrated to his purposes. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to increase in all honorable forms of wealth, knowledge, and obedience, which increase the "wealth" or worth of the human soul and to "lay up . . . treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:20; D&C 18:10; 130:19).
The world and its resources belong to the Creator. Material blessings may be delivered from heaven if the recipient conforms to the Christian ideals of integrity, honesty, and charity. All people are of divine origin and have come to earth to know good and evil and to be tested to see if they will choose the good. By the grace of God and by their diligent labors consistent with divine law, both the earth and mankind can be perfected and glorified.
If the earth's resources are not wisely and carefully husbanded, however, wealth can become a curse. It is the "love of money," not money itself, that is identified as the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). President Brigham Young warned that wealth and perishable things "are liable to decoy the minds of [the] saints" (CWHN 9:333). Wealth may result in misuse and un-Christian conduct, immoral exploitation, or dishonesty. Greed and harmful self-indulgence are sins, and the pursuit of materialistic goals at the expense of other Christian duties is to be avoided. People with materialistic wealth draw special warnings regarding responsibility toward the poor; riches can canker the soul and make entrance into heaven exceedingly difficult (Matt. 19:24; D&C 56:16).
Thus, the accumulation and utilization of wealth confront the human family with some of its major challenges in determining the righteousness of goals and the correctness of behavior. "In many respects the real test of a man is his attitude toward his earthly possessions" (F. Richards, p. 46). The prosperity that results from honest and intelligent work is not necessarily repugnant to the spiritual quality of life, but the Church consistently warns of the risks of "selfishness and personal aggrandizement" that lurk in accumulating wealth (S. Richards, CR [Apr. 1928]: 31).
Personal reflection, prayer, and inspiration are needed in deciding how to use one's wealth. Fairness, justice, mercy, and social responsibility are individual requirements; improper behavior is not to be excused by the behavior of others, reflected in market forces or windfall accumulations. The responsibility of each human being is to think and act in ways that ennoble the divine nature. President N. Eldon Tanner outlined five principles that epitomize the Church's counsel on personal economic affairs: pay an honest tithing, live on less than you earn, distinguish between needs and wants, develop and live within a budget, and be honest in all financial affairs (Ensign 9 [Nov. 1979]: 81—82).
While not taking vows of poverty, Latter-day Saints covenant to use their wealth, time, talents, and knowledge to build up the kingdom of God on earth (D&C 42:30; 105:5). Providing for a family is a sacred requirement (1 Tim. 5:8). The mission of the Church in many countries of the world requires considerable resources to sustain Church members in seeking the spiritual growth and perfection of themselves and others. Ignorance, disease, and poverty can be overcome only with the assistance of material assets that result from the wise use of human talent and the resources abundant in nature. Thus the Church and its members seek to obtain the material resources that are needed to build the kingdom of God.
The principles taught in the standard works concerning the accumulation and use of wealth are sufficiently broad to permit an ongoing dialogue among Church members about what is pleasing in the sight of the Lord. Some emphasize that man must work and that the fruits of his labor are his due and right (D&C 31:5). Others point out that although man must work, God makes life and its abundance possible, and thus everything rightly belongs to him (Mosiah 2:21—25) and comes to man "in the form of trust property" to be used for God's purposes (S. Richards, CR [Apr. 1923]: 151). Some suggest that there are no limits on the profits one may gather provided the pursuit is legal and the ultimate utilization is appropriate. Others see business and legal standards of secular society as falling short: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven . . . . Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 5:20; 6:24). Having taught correct principles in the scriptures and through his priesthood leaders, the Lord leaves it to Church members to govern themselves through individual righteousness, with knowledge that all will be held personally accountable for the choices they make.
Johnson, Richard E. "Socioeconomic Inequality: The Haves and the Have Nots." BYU Today 44 (Sept. 1990): 46—58.
Nibley, Hugh W. Approaching Zion, Vol. 9 in CWHN. Salt Lake City, 1989.
Richards, Franklin D. "The Law of Abundance." Ensign 1 (June 1971): 45—47.
R. Thayne Robson