A passage of scriptures in 2 Nephi 26, starting with verse 20, again addresses the concept of economic disparity being a keystone of wickedness and unbelief:
“And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor. “
That is the very first characteristic associated with their wickedness – the root thereof being “that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.” Not getting gain from ethical business practices, getting gain from exploiting the poor and those with relatively less power in the society.
These prides are themselves connected to the secret combinations and murders “of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things.” The exploitation of the poor is directly connected to back-room dealings and murders. It does not matter if such things are made legitimate by the laws or customs of men: these things go against the laws and customs of God and His people.
God is contrasted with this power of pride and wealth in verse 25: “… he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.” There is no monetary cost to come unto God, none at all. The cost is in faith and humility and charity. In verse 27, “… he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”
In verse 29, the sermon returns to the enemies of God:
“He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”
It is not enough for these men to get gain, but that they must also be seen as doing the equivalent of God’s work in the eyes of the world, even as they build up their own kingdom. In the next verse, we are told, “Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love.” These things, these prides, these oppressions, these inconsiderate acts and practices that build up some and hold many down, these are forbidden of the Lord, and they are the first on the list of things that are forbidden. Murder, lying, stealing, cursing, envying, malice, contentions, and whoredoms all follow in a catalog in the next verse. Those are also bad, but the chief among those listed is the pride in setting one’s self up to get wealth and gain as they rule over a nation.
One has to assume that, if these proud and uncharitable men are ruling a nation, that they have made arrangements to make their works of darkness nevertheless legitimized by their laws. Consider that Christ was crucified according to law, not an act of a mob swept up in a moment of violent whims. The apostles were put down according to law – and I’ll note that at the same time, the devout teachers who followed Rabbi Akiva were also martyred by that same law. All these people were preaching against the pride and riches of the powerful, and the powerful had an answer for that ready to go in their unjust legal system.
The catalog of wrongdoing from murder to whoredoms will always be among normal human populations. Such is the way of things. But when committed by individuals, they do not flourish and those who commit those sins have opportunity to repent in a just society. That is why they are mentioned in passing in a sermon targeting the chief evil among men, that which gets their governments to be exploitative and unjust. In an unjust society, built up to ensconce men in power, those wicked things flourish, especially in service to those men in power. And let us make no mistake – “men” here is not a general term referring to all humanity. “Men” is specifically focused on the male segment of the population, which has been dominant in perpetuating unjust and unequal power structures throughout history. There seems to be a special need for males to have specific instruction in how to govern according to the laws of God, and that their tendency to abuse power has been a plague upon humanity from the earliest times.
But God offers an alternative, should we approach with humility and a willingness to let Him prevail over our own prides and desires. In 2 Nephi 26:33, we read:
“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
All are alike unto God – this conclusion to a sermon about the wickedness of pride and wealth gained from oppressing the poor is interesting in that it addresses the very thing that makes the unjust society possible: inequality. Inequalities produce stratified social structures where those in power benefit from the exploitation of those not in power, and that the power itself enforces those inequalities as a means of ensuring the perpetuity of that unjust power. God’s power is just, as it is based upon equality.
Inequality results from men who seek their own gain. Equality results from men who seek the charity of all.