The Christian Promise: Salvation or Prosperity?

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August 5, 2013

The Lord’s commandment to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father.” Matt. 5:48  ( 3 Ne. 12:48 ) has been misinterpreted to mean perfection of condition rather than perfecting of character.

Matthew 6:19-21

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


Teachings of the Mormon Church include wholesome principles such as modesty in dress, thrift, the value of education, appreciation of the arts, self-improvement, physical health, honesty, self-sufficiency, staying out of debt, marital fidelity, moral purity, and the scriptural “Word of Wisdom,” which proscribes overeating, tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and all addictive substances. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nevertheless, face the same challenges, illnesses, insecurities and weaknesses, and addictions as the rest of the world. This in itself is not problematic, but there are certain social expectations within the Mormon culture–as well as other Christian denominations–that may lead individuals to hide their blemishes and sins, and promote a facade of outward perfection.

In my experience, most Mormons conscientiously strive to put forth a public image that speaks well of the church, and so are reluctant to honestly disclose their “issues.” But when individuals conceal their imperfections in order to maintain a personal image and promote the benefits of belonging to their chosen faith, those imperfections may go unchecked, ironically impeding the path to self-improvement that is at the heart of Christianity.

I live in a Mormon ward–much like a Parish in Catholic terms–which is composed largely of affluent families. It is a large ward with mostly intact families and numerous children. Its members are devoted to helping  to one another and service in the community. They pay tithes and offerings and many enjoy good reputations as community leaders. Curiously, the missionaries working in my ward struggle to bring new converts into the fold.  And, sadly, many who are baptized go inactive after a short time.

As a divorced mom and freelance writer engaged in activities outside of the typical LDS paradigm, I’ve struggled with feelings of deficiency.  I sometimes feel like a misfit. These feelings help me understand why new converts to my church may be overwhelmed with the expectations of Mormon culture.  It sometimes appears that socially sensitive, image conscious Mormons are broadcasting the message; “Look at my comfort, success, and ideal family! They alone are a testimony that the teachings of my church are true!” The individual or family who lacks worldly success and comfort, or whose relationships are fractured, may feel they have no place in the church of perfect families and financial prosperity.

Denominations espousing “tithing prosperity” or “Biblical prosperity,” which promises that the paying of tithes will bring earthly success and financial security, in my opinion, are practicing a form of blasphemy. Churches which regard God to be conveyor of good fortune, are actually denying His true character and power. When outward success is the primary appeal of a church, wealth idolatry has supplanted communion with God.

Brigham Young, 2nd President of the Mormon Church, once said:

The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth. (Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, 4th ed., p.128-129)

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may find worldly success to be their greatest obstacle to the “perfection” to which they aspire. The Lord’s commandment to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father.” Matt. 5:48  ( 3 Ne. 12:48 ) is sometimes misinterpreted to mean perfection of condition rather than perfecting of character.

The Mormon Church, and other denominations, which, through the perpetuation of a “church culture apart,” encourage their members to judge people by their outward excellence are missing the mark. There is arrogance in the idea that achieving outward perfection of condition is in any way relevant to what it means to become more like God. Jesus Christ calls all unto Him, and the broken and imperfect, rather than being shunned should be embraced.The stricken Job, an honest brokers who lost his children, his fortune, and his health, had no walls of outward perfection behind which to hide. But his faith and power of testimony is unequaled in all scripture.

by Marjorie Haun  8/5/13

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