Tag: Church Organization and Structure

Q: When is a policy not a policy?

A: When noone knows about it? A couple of Sundays ago, in the hall during Sunday School time, I was talking about vasectomies with a woman in my ward. (What?! What do *you* talk about in the hall during Sunday School?) She was telling me quite matter-of-factly how glad she was that her husband had been willing to have one when they were sure their last child had arrived. This woman is fairly conservative, and I’m sure she would never knowingly do something contrary to Church policy. In any case, she would not discuss it openly if she had. She just had NO IDEA that the Handbook of Instructions “strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control.” Moreover, unless she or her husband had been prompted to consult with the bishop about the surgery, there’s no way they *could* have known about the policy. So I’m wondering what the usefulness of such policies is. It’s true, of…

Elie on Faith and Ecclesiastical Selection

This month’s Atlantic brings an interesting article on papal succession. Paul Elie discusses (paid subscription required) the politics, factional infighting, and expectations governing papal succession — a topic which may be becoming increasingly relevant, nearly thirty years after the election of John Paul II. Elie, however, concludes by discounting all of the other factors and suggesting that: The cardinal electors . . . will ask first of all how authentic the faith of that man of faith is — how high his hopes, how deep his depths. They will ponder his character . . . . They will ask, What kind of believer is he? We believe, of course, that there are worlds of theological difference between the election of a Pope and the choice of a new apostle. But it seems to me that, when the church leaders meet to select two new apostles, many of the same questions will be asked. Politics may be relevant, and factional support…

World Religion vs. Global Religion (and Brain Drain)

I have been thinking about the international church lately. This is a field that has practically been ignored by LDS and non-LDS observers alike. This is pretty sad since we are growing so much more quickly internationally than domestically. There is a marked increase in attention paid to such areas by church leadership, but since we have really only begun this process of introspection, we have a long way to go. I have two thoughts on the international church right now:

The Purpose of Gospel Doctrine Class

The discussion below under Utah Mormons has rekindled a longstanding question for me: why do we have a Gospel Doctrine class? Elder Harold G. Hillam offered a very interesting history of the Sunday School Program of the Church in the August 1999 Ensign with an article entitled, “Sunday School: Oil for Our Lamps.” The Sunday School program of the Church dates back to the mid-1800s, when the focus was on teaching children the Gospel. Gradually the target age range for Sunday School lessons expanded to the system that we have today.

Consecrated Computer Geeks

As some have noticed the over all quality of the Church’s internet presence has been on the increase of late. In part this is no doubt simply the result of the Church cautiously exploiting a new medium, but I think there may be more to it than that, or so my brother-in-law tells me. In the interest of spreading unfounded faith-promoting rumors, here is the story as I understand it.

The Next Apostle

Yesterday in Church, someone asked, “So, who will be called as the next Apostle?” I responded with great certitude, “Merrill Bateman.” Of course, I have no idea whether Elder Bateman will become the next Apostle, but former BYU Presidents have a good track record in that regard. Actually, I didn’t find the question all that interesting because I know so few people who are legitimate candidates that the likelihood of my guessing correctly is close to zero. Only when another member of the ward suggested the name of someone I knew — someone not currently a General Authority, but who has reputedly “positioned himself” for such a calling — did I begin to contemplate the selection process.

Elder Maxwell

Last General Conference, Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s talk was a collection of friendly reminiscences. Last night, the church’s wordsmith passed away. The leader who provided us with the wonderful imagery of straightening deck chairs on the Titanic, and who always seemed to spin off gems like “If we entertain temptations, soon they begin entertaining us!”, is now smithing words with the smith of worlds. We’ll certainly miss him here on Earth.

Church Growth in Latin America

“Clutching the Book of Mormon and dressed in a white starched shirt and neatly pressed charcoal colored slacks, Willy Guzman walked across the cracked sidewalks of Zona 6 in Guatemala City to the shiny, white church that rises above the modest and mostly shanty flats of the neighborhood. As it neared 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the streets were bustling with men dressed in Western-style suits and women in skirt suits pushing baby strollers, all making their way towards the church. ‘Everyone walks to church,’ Guzman explained, ‘so as not to make anyone work on this day of worship.’” Sound like a paragraph or two from the church news? Nope — it’s the lead-in to a very nice article on MSNBC, titled “Mormon Conversions Surge in Latin America.”

Good Faith

The concept of good faith plays an important role in the law of contracts. Courts and commentators have long recognized that (many) contracts are incomplete, that parties cannot build meaningful, long-term relationships without some gaps in the initial framework. Such gaps, when discovered, might seem to allow one party to take advantage of the other. One method of preventing such behavior is the application of the duty to act in good faith. According to Judge Richard Posner, “The office of the doctrine of good faith is to forbid the kinds of opportunistic behavior that a mutually dependent, cooperative relationship might enable in the absence of rule.” If ever there was a legal concept ripe for Gospel application, this is it.

First Presidency on Disseminating Comments

Here is the recent Church statement about repeating General and Area Authority statements given locally (Thanks to Dan for the link): From time to time statements are circulated among members which are inaccurately attributed to leaders of the church. Many such statements distort current church teachings and are often based on rumors and innuendos. They are never transmitted officially, but by word of mouth, e-mail, or rather informal means. We encourage members of the church to never teach or pass on such statements without verifying that they are from approved church sources such as official statements, communications, and publications. Any notes made when General Authorities, Area Authority Seventies, or other general Church officers speak at regional and stake conferences or other meetings should not be distributed without the consent of the speaker. Personal notes are for individual use only. True spiritual growth is based on studying the scriptures, the teachings of the Brethren and Church publications. I take this as…

The Industrial Organization of the Gospel

Over at another blog, I recently commented on the evolution of the American military. Spouting off uninformed thoughts about institutional evolution having proved fun, I wanted to offer some thoughts about the evolution of the Church, particularly the missionary program. Of late, there have been two big shifts that are, I think, a symptom of a sea change in how the Church thinks about itself as an organization. The first is the call to “raise the bar” for missionaries, and the second is abolishing scripted missionary discussions. Here is how I see these changes.

Where is the Mormon Jurisprudence?

People regularly make the observation that Mormons are more concerned with orthopraxis than orthodoxy. In other words, Mormons are more concerned with right behavior than with right belief. The evidence in support of this claim seems fairly overwhelming in my mind. The fact of the matter is that we allow a huge diversity of beliefs on fairly fundamental questions (the nature of God and the nature of man for example), even though we frequently paper over the pluralism with equivicol and vague language. One the other hand, we worry a great deal about proper behavior: The Law of Chastity, the Word of Wisdom, participation in the Church, etc. In this context, I have frequently heard Mormonism compared to Judaism, which is taken as a paradigmatically orthopraxic faith. Which leads to me question: Why haven’t Mormons developed a jurisprudence.

Excommunicating the President of the Church (and some possible complications)

Suppose that Gordon B. Hinckley really started misbehaving, sinning left and right, and generally leading the church astray. Some might find this unlikely on theological grounds, after all President Woodruff said: The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. The implication seems to be that the Lord will “call home” any prophet who strays too far from the divine “programme.” Looking at the scriptures, however, suggests another possibility: Excommunicating the President of the Church.

Quorums

I’ve been working on discovery lately, and in reviewing of documents (board minutes, internal e-mails) I often come across the term “quorum.” Of course, for a board meeting, a quorum has a particular meaning: It is the minimum number of board members who must be present for the board to make decisions. We use the word a little differently in the church (or do we?) — we typically refer to the word’s second definition of “a select group.” But beyond that difference, what exactly do we mean when we talk about quorums?

Revelation and the Brotherhood of Man

Ha! I can beat Nate Oman at pompous blog titles any day (even when I’m just recycling one aspect of his question in less philosophically sophisticated terms!). And I apologize for the gendered language, but “The Siblinghood of Humankind” just ain’t got that swing. Astute readers (or literate nine-year-olds, really) will have noticed by now that I have a teensy tiny little problem with authority, especially when other people have more of it than I do. It has occurred to me that I have long since passed the age when such authority issues are appropriate, and even the age when they’re appealing in a Rebel-Without-a-Cause sort of way, and that my life might be easier if I would just get over it already. So I’ve been trying hard to figure out just why it is that I can’t cheerfully acknowledge other people’s stewardship over me and get on with the obedience training. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

The One True (Un-Micro-)Cosmic Church of Jesus Christ

What is it that unites the Church of Jesus Christ? Wherein lies our unity? In a recent discussion of baptism on lds-phil, amiable Protestant Joel Wilhelm asked some rather specific questions about the LDS understanding of baptism, and a very involved discussion ensued. After about a week, Joel remarked, ‘thus far what I have seen here seems to be a mirror image of debates within Protestantism or Catholicism about the sacraments, salvation without baptism or outside the church, etc. I am a bit more confused about “what Mormons think” and will try to sort it out more as I have time.’ Mormons thus appear to be a microcosm of the larger Christian world, a community that recreates in miniature the diversity of the larger community. This is sort of, but not quite, right. In response, Mark Butler observed, ‘The normative doctrine of the Church is broad enough to encompass dozens of traditional sects. The authority of the priesthood is the…

Elite Religion and Common Religion

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the topic of elite religion versus popular religion. In particular, it seems that the development of FARMS and other intellectual centers of Mormon studies has resulted in a division of sorts. On the one hand, Mormon studies scholars believe in a world where the Nephites lived in a tiny section of Central America, where the Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Guatemala, where the flood was a localized event, and where Joseph Smith was polygamous and polyandrous. On the other hand, most church members believe in a world where the Lehites covered the Americas, the Hill Cumorah is in New York, the flood was worldwide, and Joseph’s polygamy is never mentioned. Common church members believe the prophet is never wrong; elites believe the prophet may have opinions that are incorrect (such as men on the moon). Common members believe that women have never held any type of priesthood; elites point out early church instances of women…

Revelation, Regularity, and Monotony

In a few days, we will have the privilege of hearing from our leaders in General Conference. And they will discuss . . . well, we can’t say for sure, but it’s a pretty good bet that they will mostly discuss the same things that were talked about at the last General Conference. (Though Russell may think otherwise). Every month we also get the Ensign. It is extolled as the words of the living prophets. And every month, it seems to repeat, more or less, many of the same messages and ideas as it did last month, or the month before. This can be embarassing to us as church members. We eagerly explain to our non-member friends that we have a living prophet who tells us what God is saying. The inevitable question is then, “What has he prophesied lately?” And the letdown answer is, “Well, um, we need to pray, read the scriptures, and do our home teaching.” Are…

Prophecy in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Last week’s Sunday School lesson, like many in our ward, was a string of scripture verses taken out of context, interspersed with quotations from random General Authorities on the keywords in each verse. Many talks assume a similar format these days. It occurred to me that these lessons and talks would not have been possible even five years ago, and that perhaps we ought to spend a little time paying attention to the changes wrought by lds.org.

Apologia of a critical believer

In the long comments thread on Karen’s post on women’s issues, Brent has done the inevitable: accused those who criticize the “revealed structure” of the church of faithlessness. Brent gets kudos for stating his opinion forthrightly and eloquently. His is a criticism that gets to the heart of many divisive discussions between Mormons of different temperaments and ideological persuasions, so I am hijacking the comments thread to address the issue separately.

Next Up: Methodists

This just in: The “2004 Yearbook” reports on 215 U.S. church bodies with a record high total membership exceeding 161 million. Leading any other single U.S. church is the Catholic Church, reporting 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16,247,736) and the United Methodist Church (8,251,042). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th (5,410,544). … From 2001-2002, major U.S. churches that grew included the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Assemblies of God, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of God (Cleveland, TN). Recording membership losses were The United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and United Church of Christ…. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), an American-born church, continues to grow remarkably, remaining the fifth largest church in the nation. Among the 15 largest churches, the LDS also reports…

Committees and Technology

We’re all aware of church committee meetings, the bane of our existence. (The oft-recycled joke is that the “Fourteenth Article of Faith” goes something like “We believe in meetings, correlation, committees, sub-committees, . . .”). In a recent thread, Steve Evans comments: My suggestion: embrace technology — the e-committee is the future of the Church. Is the e-committee — having meetings through chat, e-mail or IM — a good idea? I can think of reasons that it might not work well –the digital divides between rich and poor and between young and old; lack of knowledge of computers; potential difficulty in feeling the spirit in discussion via instant message; church hesitancy to endorse the Internet given potential problems the Internet brings into households. Yet I would be thrilled if I could have more church meetings via e-mail, IM, or chat. And it seems quite possible that the church will move in that direction. (Or perhaps the “committee blog” is the…

Managing the Donor Base

I have been meaning to write about this for a while, and Brayden’s comments on the centralization of budgeting have spurred me on. So here is Nathan Oman’s based-entirely-on-meager-evidence-and-speculation theory of Church financing. Or at least a part of it.

The Mormons Take Manhattan

The New York Daily News discusses the recent influx of Mormons into New York City. (Via my colleague Wendy Cassity). The numbers are interesting — up from 1700 to 4000 members over the past 10 years alone. And there are apparently 25,000 members in the five boroughs. (Though as a member of a Bronx ward, I have to wonder what percent of the 25,000 are actually active). The article also discusses the new buildings, which have to be an exciting development for Manhattan members. (See Claudia’s earlier post mentioning the choreography of multi-multi-ward buildings in Manhattan).

Meeting Times

One of the familiar New Year’s rites for Mormons is the changing of the meeting times. My ward is moving from 11:30 to 1:30 meeting times. I’m not thrilled — the 11:30 time had its drawbacks (primarily that Sacrament Meeting fell right in the middle of nap time and lunch time), but a 1:30 starting time means that church doesn’t end until 4:30, and we won’t be home until after 5. That means that we will get less done on Sunday. (Sunday mornings are pretty much wasted time, but I occasionally get something productive done on Sunday afternoon after church). I was just wondering how this ritual fits in to Mormon history, and to the general religious landscape. Is the January 1st meeting-time change a recent development in the church? Does anyone (Jim?) know where the idea came from? How does this fit in to the change to 3-hour block meetings? And, is this a little bit of sui generis…

Ward “Gerrymandering”

The confluence of Kaimi’s post and a well-written article by Jeffrey Toobin in the latest New Yorker, as well as a recent discussion with a local church member, have led me to wonder: What principles should the Church apply when gerrymandering ward boundaries?

Duty to stick with a dysfunctional ward

This is a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit lately — what is a member’s duty to stay with a dysfunctional ward? I have been thinking about it because, well, I am currently in a dysfunctional ward. We have a hard time keeping major presidencies (such as the Bishopric and the Elders Quorum) filled. We are on massive life support from high council and missionaries (16 in the ward). We see dozens of baptisms each year, but almost all are inactive within 6 months. Some of those who didn’t immediately go inactive were immediately given major callings and overwhelming responsibilities, and that made them inactive. I play a major role in running the Elders’ Quorum, and my wife does the same for the primary (I also spot-teach Sunday school, pinch-hit on organ when needed, and play primary piano on a weekly basis). We are aware that, if we were to leave, it would be a major…