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Lessons From the United Orders' Failure

Jan 11, 2016 06:00PM

With hindsight, it appears Brigham Young may have jumped the gun by introducing the United Order to the Saints in 1873. That year there was a nationwide banking panic, and he apparently introduced the United Order to better insulate the Saints from the negative economic symptoms of “Babylon” - from bank runs to unemployment.

The Saints had been living in what we might safely assume to be a Terrestrial-level economy for only 10 years. That’s hardly enough time for its principles to sink deeply into the hearts, minds and cultural traditions of the people. Going from the Telestial-level economy of dog-eat-dog free enterprise to a Terrestrial-level cooperative free enterprise economy would require adjustment enough! Getting used to seeking the benefit of all one’s neighbors instead of just meeting one’s own needs would probably take a while to become a permanent feature of the LDS culture.

The cooperative movement was considered a stepping stone to the United Order by Brigham and other church leaders. In 1869, President Young noted, “This cooperative movement is only a stepping stone to what is called the Order of Enoch, but which is in reality the Order of Heaven.” In 1878, then President John Taylor stated, “What was the principle of cooperation intended for? Simply as a stepping stone for the United Order, that is all, that we might be united and operate together in the interest of building up Zion.” Apostle Wilford Woodruff in 1873 added, “We must give our earnest support to cooperation, for it is a step in advance towards establishing the Order of Enoch and the building up of the Zion of God.”

Personally, it seems to me that had the Saints stayed on the cooperative enterprise level for a generation or two, it would then have been easier to shift to the higher gear of Consecration and Stewardship. Sadly, within two years after rolling out the United Orders, the majority of them failed. Apparently, the Saints were still not ready to rise to that level, as the Saints organized by Joseph had also failed to do.

I would argue that since we Saints have to eventually build a Zion society, we should probably unite in moving back up the scale towards Celestial-level economics. Participating in cooperative enterprises, where the profits go to benefit the community, might be a great start in that direction.

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