Conference explores link between Mormon religion and co-operation

A conference on the Mormon co-operative model highlighted the relationship between religion and co-operation in Utah. More than 100 co-operators, academics and students attended the event held at...

A conference on the Mormon co-operative model highlighted the link between the Mormon faith and co-operation. About 100 co-operators, academics and students attended the event held at Utah Valley University on January 17. 

The two organisers, Jason Brown and Warner Woodworth were very pleased with the event's outcome. Mr Brown, Adjunct Professor at Utah Valley University said they aimed to mark the International Year of Co-operatives whilst raising awareness of the past.

"Our aim was to explore the future possibilities of co-operatives in Utah connected to our heritage and co-ops as a sort of third way business strategy.

“We talked about Mormon co-ops and gave examples of successful co-ops. We also spent time talking about Mondragon. Some people in Utah do not understand what co-ops are and what they do, although many of them are members of electric co-ops and credit unions."

He added there continues to be a general co-operative spirit in Mormon communities, but co-operative forms of enterprises are not as popular as they used to be, with most Mormons now supporting capitalism.

However previously the Mormons, influenced by Robert Owen’s ideas, proposed an alternative economic model.

Mr Brown explained why Mormon communities across Utah adopted the co-operative model. 

He said that soon after the assasination of Joseph Smith, founder of the church, conflicts had escalated between Mormons, and other Illinois residents. Thus in 1846, under the guidance of Bringham Young, Mormons settled in Utah to get away from religious persecution in Ohio and Illinois. 

In an attempt to create a self-sufficient economic model, they began to construct a society in isolation, developing a sustained programme of intense interdependence.

Co-operative development consultant, Andrew McLeod, who has published various articles on the Mormon co-operative programme, explained: “The Mormons employed something called the Law of Consecration, which called for believers to turn over their property and then be granted back a sufficient amount for their own support; this was the foundation for the Mormon commonwealth.

“They created community-owned enterprises for wholesale, distribution and retail, as well as production of all sorts of goods.”

In 1968 Bringham Young founded Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI), one of the earliest department stores in the United States.

“Everyone in the community owned the stores; there were also co-ops like dairy co-ops and manufacturing and a whole variety of co-ops emerged in the 1840s,” said Jason Brown.

Under the United Order programme, Mormons established egalitarian communities designed to achieve income equality, eliminate poverty, and increase group self-sufficiency.

Asked whether he plans similar events in the future, Mr Brown said the idea behind the conference was to start a co-operative Enterprise institute, creating a third party association for Utah co-ops.


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