In the early years of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its members embarked on an ambitious attempt to live in a communal system they called the United Order. The United Order was more than just a Utopian experiment, like those of the Amana Colonies or the Icarians. According to “world-class organization and management guru Peter Drucker…the Mormons are the only utopia that ever worked.”
The United Order was a covenant organization that incorporated private property rights and principles of religious stewardship, recognizing that God is truly the “owner” of all things. Members of the Church practiced principles of consecration, in which they donated surplus properties to the benefit of the entire community. The orders operated as a corporation and each member and family were shareholders. As the corporation prospered, all the members of the orders prospered together. Unlike other Utopian systems, this one was not communistic or socialistic in nature. It might be more appropriately considered a form of “cooperative capitalism.”
Communities of latter-day saints formally lived these principles in frontier Missouri during the mid-to-late 1830s with some success. After their expulsion by mobs following the infamous “Extermination Order” by the state’s governor in 1838, the saints practiced the principles in Nauvoo, Illinois in a less formal sense. After the migration to Utah, several united orders were formed to help the Mormon pioneers cooperatively attain prosperity.
One of these orders, which formed the town of Orderville, Utah, published the principles by which they would live, as part of their charter in 1874.
- We will not take the name of Deity in vain, nor speak lightly of his character, or of sacred things.
- We will pray with our families morning and evening and also attend to secret prayer.
- We will observe and keep the Word of Wisdom, according to the spirit and the meaning thereof.
- We will treat our families with due kindness and affection, and set before them an example worthy of imitation.
- In our families and intercourse with all persons, we will refrain from being contentious or quarrelsome, and we will cease to speak evil of each other, and will cultivate a spirit of charity towards all.
- We consider it our duty to keep from acting selfishly or from covetous motives, and will seek the interest of each other and the salvation of all mankind.
- We will observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, in accordance with the revelations. . . .
- In our apparel and deportment we will not pattern after nor encourage foolish and extravagant fashions. . .
- We will be simple in our dress and manner of living, using proper economy and prudence in the management of all intrusted to our care. . . .
- We will honestly and diligently labor and devote ourselves and all we have to the “order” and to the building of the kingdom of God. (Comprehensive History of the Church, 4:485 86, cited in http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6126)
These ideals are still upheld by us today. Today’s latter-day saints no longer live in the United Order, but we seek to practice its principles in preparation for the future establishment of the “center stake” of Zion. We do this by faithfully paying tithing, participating in a monthly fast, and donating the money for the food that would have been consumed to help the needy. We also participate, as we have means to do so, in other humanitarian funds such as the Perpetual Education Fund, volunteering in bishops’ storehouses and canneries, and by serving missions.
Harold B. Lee, a former president of the Church, anticipated that the return of the United Order for latter-day saints would be preceded by a time of severe economic distress:
“…I have difficulty understanding that [latter-day saints] would be able to live in the United Order were it to be instituted in this day. I also have grave doubts that prosperous times will make possible that happy day spoken of. I fear we must yet see more difficult and trying times than any we have passed through before such a day can come.” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, p.280)
Will the current economic difficulties, exacerbated by the current administration’s potentially disastrous policies, bring about the “difficult and trying times” of which Harold B. Lee spoke? Another former LDS Church President, Lorenzo Snow, said:
“The united order is like Noah’s ark. We should understand that the Lord has provided, when the days of trouble come upon the nations, a place for you and me, and we will be preserved as Noah was preserved, not in an ark, but we will be preserved by going into these principles of union by which we can accomplish the work of the Lord and surround ourselves with those things that will preserve us from the difficulties that are now coming upon the world, the judgments of the Lord.” (5 October 1900, Conference Report, pp. 4-5.)
It is in the interest of all latter-day saints to faithfully practice the principles of consecration as fully as we can in our families so we can be prepared when the time opportunity to enter the United Order arises in some future day.
For more information about the United Order, it’s history, and its principles, please check out my book, Building the Ark: Preparing Today to Live in the United Order or visit the web site Building the Ark.