There have been many analogies to illustrate the different types of Mormons: Iron Rod vs. Liahona Mormons, Adam types vs. Eve types, TBMs vs. Liberal or Cafeteria Mormons. All of these analogies are trying to illustrate that there are very vocal, orthodox, unquestioning members, and there are also members who are unorthodox in how they view things, ask more questions, may be anti-authoritarian, and march to the beat of a different drum. The point of these analogies is that both types have precedent in church history and scripture and both should be accepted, despite the natural misunderstandings between the two groups due to their very different perspectives.
Recently a friend proposed another metaphor in light of the post-Christmas season: Wise Men Types vs. Shepherd Types. As I’ve given this metaphor more thought, I like what it has to say about human nature in general and Mormonism in particular.
First of all, despite whatever is going on in your store-bought Nativity scene, in scripture, the wise men and shepherds never meet. They are from competing narratives (timing is also completely different). The wise men only appear in the gospel of Matthew (chapter 2, verses 1-16) which was written primarily for a Jewish audience, to bolster Jesus’ authority. The shepherds only appear in the gospel of Luke (chapter 2, verses 8-20) which was written for all people, to show the universality of Jesus’ message and mission. Both of these aims are pretty important, but they are also designed to talk past one another. In fact, they are competing approaches to scripture that occur throughout the Pauline epistles, too. Early missionaries had to strike a balance between appealing to converts (including the rich and powerful which would really open a door) and appeasing the existing members who naturally gravitate to the message. In fact, a lot of writings of the early church (e.g. Origen) are defending against the charge from outsiders that Christianity was merely a religion for poor people and women.
In essence, the wise men narrative bolstered the authority of Jesus through a few means: 1) they were outsiders who worshipped Him, 2) they brought expensive gifts that held symbolic meaning, 3) wise men were intellectually and socially superior – they advised kings – so their word held more weight, and 4) they unwittingly tipped off Herod who went on a genocidal rampage – oopsie! By contrast, the shepherds symbolized the universal appeal of the message: 1) shepherds were common in all places, very much locals, 2) they didn’t have any special gifts of discernment but received a bigger than life vision that was so straightforward it didn’t require any interpretation, 3) they were viewed as humble, and 4) they proselyted about their experiences to everyone who would listen (although by contrast, Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart).
Matthew 2: 1 – 16 (Wise Men Type). From the scriptural account, let’s see if there are some personal characteristics we can apply to modern members:
1 Now when Jesus was aborn in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, They are viewed as outsiders from the east.
2 Saying, aWhere is he that is born bKing of the Jews? for we have seen his cstar in the east, and are come to dworship him. They had spiritual gifts to discern signs. They understood symbols. They also wanted to worship and come to Christ.
6 And thou aBethlehem, in the land of bJuda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a cGovernor, that shall drule my people Israel. They could quote scriptures and understood the significance and context.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. Kings listened to their interpretation of symbols, advice and counsel. They were trusted by successful, wealthy people.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. Herod attempted to manipulate them (unsuccessfully).
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. They took action based on their own study.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. They felt joy when they achieved their spiritual quest.
11 ¶And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and afrankincense, and myrrh. They brought expensive gifts with spiritual significance. (I used a steam room that was frankincense scented once – it smelled like corn chips dipped in VapoRub).
12 And being warned of God in a adream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. They were capable of receiving and understanding subtle revelation. They weren’t fooled by Herod’s power.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of aEgypt have I called my son. 16 ¶Then Herod, when he saw that he was amocked of the wise men, bwas exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and cslew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the dcoasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. There was unintentional significant blowback from their willingness to talk to Herod who used that information to try to snuff out Christianity before it was potty-trained.
Luke 2: 8-20 (Shepherds)
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the aglory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. They were intimidated and overwhelmed by significant spiritual experiences.
12 And this shall be a asign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. They needed specific instruction to understand signs and symbols.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 aGlory to God in the highest, and on earth bpeace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. They were compelled to action by their spiritual experiences.
16 And they came with ahaste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. They were excited to seek Christ.
18 And all they that heard it awondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and apondered them in her heart. They behaved differently than Mary and the people who heard what they said. They were enthusiastic and emphatic, but the rest of the people wondered and pondered.
Both types have quite a bit in common: spiritual experiences, they seek Christ, they recognize His divinity and worship him when they find him. But there are also some key differences:
Wise Man type:
- Seekers. They will study and travel to find wisdom they seek, regardless the danger or personal cost.
- Intellectual and scholarly. They are well read and have discernment and understanding.
- Worldly, exposed to many different cultures and belief systems. They are comfortable and confident explaining things to people from other cultures and backgrounds and they listen to add to their wisdom.
- Connected to the mythological and symbolic meanings in scripture. They may get bored with practical application or repetition for its own sake. They want to progress in their quest for wisdom.
- May be more reserved in sharing their views (they’ve been burned before). They may like sharing information in Gospel Doctrine, but might be more reluctant to speak up in testimony meeting. There is more going on under the surface that is unstated and complex in this story.
- Protective. They are very concerned about protecting the flock from scary outside predators.
- Practical, pragmatic. They live in the real world, live off the land, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and do what needs to be done.
- Provincial, isolated in views about faith. They are the humble locals who aren’t necessarily going anywhere.
- Responding well to literal instructions, not necessarily to symbolic or obscure meanings. They may really like the idea of “likening scriptures to ourselves” and personal application. They may view scriptures as 100% literal and have a tendency to aggrandize personal spiritual experiences.
- May be willing to share their views with everyone, regardless the response received. They probably like to talk a lot in testimony meeting, without a lot of nuance.
Do you believe these two types explain a lot of the differences between members in wards? Which type are you? Or are you elements of both? Which type makes the best bishop? Do we have leaders in the church of both types? Discuss.