Near the end of last year, I wrote a post asking whether inclusiveness was a meaningless virtue. This post was written in response to several comments and posts that I’ve seen expressing related thoughts: 1) boundaries are essential for an identity to have meaning, 2) those who argue for inclusion without limits either implicitly place limits anyway (so, they are hypocritical) or do not realize that a limitless inclusion is meaningless (so, they are naive.)

My reaction was to say that I thought that advocacy for inclusion implicitly placed limits, so rather than this being hypocritical, this was just a part of the term — even if people weren’t explicit about it. In response, one interlocutor collected several memes where limits were not (and could not be) reasonably implied. Look at those silly people!

I still think about this. Especially when we consider something like the LDS Church (with its disciplinary actions) in specific of the Gospel of Jesus Christ more generally. Must one focus on the exclusive aspects of Mormonism or Christianity for things like Zion, the church, salvation, or exaltation to be meaningful? The common “political” breakdown (although this is not a clear-cut breakdown) has politically liberal folks seeing that the Gospel must be inclusive, while politically conservative folks tend to focus on the narrowness of the road that leads to life — there are not many that find it. (and then, of course, there are conservative folks who argue for a different kind of inclusion. For example, Elder Bednar’s comments that there are no homosexual members of the church can be seen as radically inclusive — according to him, every son or daughter of God can strive to follow the commandments [no matter what aspects about them cause them to struggle with those standards!].

Every instrument is precious

I thought of a certain metaphor that occasionally gets used by various church leaders, which is taken by many folks online as example of more inclusive tendencies. The church and its members have often been compared to an orchestra with many members. For example, in an October 2000 General Conference address from then Relief Society General President Mary Ellen Smoot, we are all instruments in the hands of God:

Truly, we may each be an instrument in the hands of God. Happily, we need not all be the same kind of instrument. Just as the instruments in an orchestra differ in size, shape, and sound, we too are different from one another. We have different talents and inclinations, but just as the French horn cannot duplicate the sound of the piccolo, neither is it necessary for us to all serve the Lord in the same way.

But lest you think that be merely advice of a bygone era, or advice only to the sisters of the church, please also recall Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s comments in his talk “Concern for the One” during the October 2008 Conference:

Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

These quotations sound really good, and they sound like positive messages for both sides of the spectrum — everyone is welcome…but we are all welcome to serve.

So, why does there need to be another post here?

The misunderstood saxophone

Well, it all got started when I was thinking of a story to go along with one of my video game cover songs.

I was covering a song from an old Playstation game, Final Fantasy Tactics. The song was called “A Chapel,” and in the original game, there’s really not any saxophone or jazz — so I wanted to provide some sort of explanation to why I would do a saxy, jazzy cover of such a song. I also wanted the video to be somewhat autobiographical — let people see and hear more about me while they listened.

In weaving a story, I thought about my own upbringing as a child. I remembered how growing up, several of the more musically-inclined boys and girls in the ward would play special musical numbers during sacrament. I wasn’t the best musician, but I always wondered why I could never do the same. At some point, I asked, and I was told that the saxophone simply wasn’t a reverent enough instrument for the church.

I didn’t really think much about it. I mean, I wasn’t really that great at music back then anyway.

But here we come to the present. Isn’t it strange that there would be talks in Conference about how every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony, and yet certain instruments are categorically banned from the chapel? (For more information, please check out this link of frequently asked questions for music during sacrament. It directly quotes a section from the 2nd Handbook that comments that “Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.”)

But then I re-read the general conference talks, and realized that what everyone had taken as radical inclusion had its own boundaries all along.

Instruments of the Symphony Orchestra

Instruments of the Symphony Orchestra

When I grew up, I was in symphonic band. We did not have a whole lot of french horn players, so frequently, my band director would rewrite music that was designed for french horn to be for the saxophone instead. I didn’t think anything of it — I just thought: well, we don’t have a lot of french horn players.

I did notice that occasionally, the orchestra director would hold auditions for certain band people — clarinetists, flautists and oboists, usually — to join in an orchestra production. I wondered why saxophonists were never asked, but I didn’t think much of it.

But if you look at the image above, you will see the reasoning. A symphony orchestra simply doesn’t include every instrument in a modern marching band, much less every instrument that was ever created. The symphony is a particular styling of music with particular instruments.

The Symphony and the Church

In one sense, this metaphor of the church as a symphony is a great example of how a seemingly inclusive metaphor can still implicitly have its limitations (even if those limits are not explicitly mentioned or emphasized). However, this metaphor can also serve as a great example of how seemingly inclusive intentions can nevertheless lead to exclusive behaviors and outcomes.

If you asked me if I thought Elder Wirthlin or President Smoot intended for their metaphors to be self-limited, I would say, “No”. I think that they intended these metaphors to be inclusive — anyone who is willing to repent and serve is allowed in the church.

And yet, this metaphor is implicitly exclusive.

The orchestra may not need only piccolos, but it never needs an electric guitar. If you want to play electric guitar, you have to find something other than an orchestra. A saxophonist may sometimes be invited to play with the orchestra, but only if he can conform his sound to that of a french hornists, or only if his conductor is picking musical selections from composers who wrote saxophone in with the orchestra.

So far, we have stuck with mostly European instruments, but if you think, the unexpected exclusivity of the orchestra has implications on scales of distance and times.

The orchestra is a particular creation in time and space, and although it has modernized somewhat over the decades and centuries, it has in other senses been resistant to change. That’s the main reason why the saxophone, invented in 1840 only after much of the classical orchestral repertoire had congealed, is not a standard part thereof. But the orchestra also is primarily European, and so instruments like the Chinese erhu don’t play a role in the standard orchestra. (This does not mean that there cannot be orchestral fusions like The Butterfly Lovers Concerto, but these are exceptional [in both the literal and colloquial senses of the word], and even this concerto was original written for western instrumentation, with traditional Chinese instrumentation only seeping into performances after China’s cultural opening in the 1970s.)

This provides rather unexpected (if not disarming) depth to the metaphor for the church — the church too is situated in time and space, and risks alienating those who fail to conform to that time and space. Or, put in another way…in the same way that any musician can play in the orchestra (but only if some of them pick up different instruments or learn to play certain styles of music), everyone can be a good Mormon (but only if they conform to certain cultural expectations that may or may not be identified as eternal or divinely inspired.)