Voting With The Lord’s Dollar
In 1899, President Lorenzo Snow gave his famous Tithing talk, promising rain*. The Church was in dire financial straits, but by the end of his 3 year presidency our finances were in order. And by all appearances, the Church has kept the finances very tidy ever since. Last year, this article broke in the Wall Street Journal, which told the world that we have amassed a mind-blowingly large sum of $100 billion dollars.
Today, this cultural memory persists in our shared value of thriftiness. Pioneer descendants, bishops, relief society presidents, primary activity coordinators, elders quorum leaders, and mothers are all charged with stretching their dollar to its greatest expanse. And indeed, using our means to their greatest economy is an excellent skill and it is good to not be wasteful. But I contend that the time has come for us to expand our value system.
When we make purchases on behalf of the church, it is a time to stretch our vision and our reach.
When we buy candy for primary children, do we care if the chocolate is a product of child labor and slavery in other parts of the world?
When a bishop signs an order for food, does he offer a generous stipend to be used at a local grocer, or does he implore the family in need to pay only the lowest prices? Does the Lord care about supporting a local economy? Is it godly to provide patronage for home-grown companies that employ vulnerable humans with good wages and working conditions?
When a Relief Society president makes purchases on behalf of sisters or families, is there room for her to worry about the origin of the clothing she is purchasing? Does she have enough flexibility in her budget to buy textiles that were ethically grown and produced?
What part does stewardship of the earth play in our spending choices? Do we eschew using the Lord’s money to support single use plastic and poor land management practices? Do we go out of our way to support companies that engage in responsible ecological practices? Do we support companies that use their profits for good?
God is not a cheapskate. Creating a whole planet could not be cheap! Having children is not cheap! And there are seven billion of us walking around!
In all my years of church activity, the only measure of monetary goodness I have ever heard from the pulpit or in any planning session is thriftiness. But if God were spending the church’s money, God would take a broader view. Thriftiness has served us well, but it can no longer be our guiding star; we must think bigger. Our measure must not be how far the dollar can stretch, but how far it can reach and how many it can lift.
Next time you spend on behalf of the church, remember; we can afford generosity. We can afford sustainable products. We can afford to support local jobs and economies. We can afford to buy fair-trade. And God will expect it.
* In this article you can read more about Lorenzo Snow and the the 1898 Tithing revelation! The well-known story about Lorenzo Snow promising rain if the Saints would pay their tithing is, in their words, “unsubstantiated by contemporary records”, but he really did speak to the Saints about tithing, and he really did get our finances figured out in a big way.