News Release

‘Good Mormon America’ Article Refuted by Latter-day Saints

On 11 November, 2011, The Australian Financial Review published "Good Mormon America", Chris Lehmann's view of the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, Mr Lehmann misrepresents the Church and confusingly indicates that its members ascribe to the so-called "prosperity gospel." In so doing, he ignores entirely the depth and reality of the Church.

The AFR's essay asserts that Latter-day Saint doctrine "entails an ethos of accumulation that makes the so-called prosperity gospel seem listless by comparison."

By way of interpreting Chris Lehmann's remarks, "the prosperity gospel" is a belief that all Christians have an obligation to accumulate wealth and that their Christian status depends upon their ability to do so. Such a belief is entirely opposite to the Latter-day Saint view that salvation is earned by individual obedience to God's commandments through the grace of Christ.

Hal Boyd, writing for the Deseret News, refuted Lehmann's article when it originally appeared in the October issue of Harper's Magazine. Writes Boyd, "One of the most noted Mormon scholars to teach at BYU, Hugh W. Nibley, was an outspoken critic of the excessive accumulation of wealth". "His famous essay 'Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free' is a strong argument for why Mormon doctrine is antithetical to wealth obsession and materialism."To correctly portray the Mormon ethic of self-reliance and frugality, Boyd turns to Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve, who taught in a 2009 address: "To provide providently, we must practice the principles of provident living: joyfully living within our means, being content with what we have, avoiding excessive debt, and diligently saving and preparing for rainy-day emergencies."

Boyd goes on to point out that Lehmann "omits mention that one of the official four-fold missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is 'care for the poor and needy' — this manifests itself in specific programs like Mormon fast-offerings (alms given to the local poor), the church's extensive humanitarian aid program (which has given $1.3 billion to disaster relief, vaccinations, vision treatment, clean water initiatives, feeding the hungry, wheelchair distribution, education initiatives and a variety of other church efforts in 178 countries since 1985 alone).

Lehmann writes, "The Mormons have staked out the afterlife as a locale of ongoing entrepreneurial activity." His apparent belief that Mormons are millionaires in embryo, looking forward to millionaire-dom in the hereafter, is not linked to references in Church literature.

Hal Boyd reminds readers that in reality the annals of Mormon doctrine are full of cautions such as: "Seek not for riches but for wisdom... Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich." (Doctrine and Covenants 6:7) "And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better." (Doctrine and Covenants 25:10)

Lehmann cites The Book of Mormon verse: "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you." (Jacob 2:17)

"The author takes this verse and turns it on its head," comments Boyd, " to support his theory that Mormons are a materially driven people. In reality, the verse comes from a long sermon in the Book of Mormon that condemns seeking riches. The earlier verses from the same chapter read: 'You have obtained many riches; and because ... (of this) ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they... do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. ... let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!'

"The scripture, when placed in context," says Boyd, "does not support the idea that Mormon scriptures stress the close alignment of wealth and virtue. Rather, they stress the close alignment of wealth and pride."

"Good Mormon America" first appeared as "Pennies from Heaven" in Harper's Magazine and requires a subscription for reading.
Hal Boyd's reply to Lehmann's accusations appeared 26 September, 2011, in Deseret News as Mormon gospel not money gospel: A reply to new essay on Mormonism from Harpers Magazine.


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