There have been five changes in the Church in the last fifty years that seem to have altered the shape of the modern church and its direction. They are:
- A move from the Church as a single tribe “the blood of Israel” or a large family to a collection of super families or affiliated tribal groups.
- A move from blue collar ethos to white collar professional standards (with a change in image and expenditures that make sense to white collar professionals and that alienate blue collar members).
- A loss of Church centered social organizations and programs — so that if your family organization or tribe does not provide them, the Church offers no social connection for you (which also works to drive members who are not part of a tribe away from the Church).
- A move from being mostly Democrats to mostly Republican.
- Correlation. The term means many things, but it expressly means the Hellenic Greek Philosophy of Idealism as applied to religious thought (in the form of presentism).
This essay discusses these changes and what they have come to mean.
The Blood of Israel
In the 1960s and 1970s, a now noted Methodist graduate student encountered the Mormons in Utah. Her name was Jan Shipps. She was shocked to realize that the Utah Mormons acted like an ethnic group or a tribe — with the amazing feature that you could join it rather than be born into it. Usually an ethnic group needs much more in the way of blood relationship and it takes a few hundred more years to set up than the Mormons had obtained.
But for a Mormon, every where you went you had people who treated you and acted like extended family. They shared culture and background and, honestly, often generational roots and classic ethnic heritage. But the Church in general acted like one large tribe or one large family and it had the mythos or central culture story of being of one blood, the “Blood of Israel.”
That has changed. Now it is much more important to be part of a large family in the Church. People are often told that as converts they are not really suitable as marriage candidates. General authorities as a class tend to come from a group of elite family groups. People tend to rely on their family groups to meet important social needs rather than the “extended” family of the Church or society as a whole. There is actually less engagement in the common social sphere rather than more.
In addition, many Church employees and Church related businesses (e.g. the manufacturers of temple clothing, etc.) are tied into the kinship groups. In many places (though not all) the Church is not so much one extended family as a collection of tribes or clans with outliers no longer able to join the extended family or tribe, to become part of “the Blood of Israel” just by joining the Church. In fact, the Church rarely uses the phrase or meme “Blood of Israel.”
Slowly, but surely, the Church is moving from being “of one blood” to being a collection of tribes or super families with everyone who is not a part of those excluded.
The Blue Collar Divide
From the 1900s to the 1960s, the Church had a working class, blue collar ethos and was proud of it. It was a collection of people who showered after they had put in a work day rather than before (to use someone else’s phrasing). In many, many ways, the Church was very egalitarian blue collar. If there was a building project, everyone was expected to put in time. If a building needed cleaned — everyone participated.
If we had had the current system of cleaning chapels that we now have, general authorities would be telling stories of how they and their families had cleaned the chapel last week — much like we heard stories of general authorities whose first callings in the Church were things such as picking up song books or other humble tasks.
This was reinforced by the Church’s financial condition. Since this discussion is focused on the changes from the 1960s to the present, let us look at the Church then. Under David O. McKay, with the financial issues, general authorities often served a great financial sacrifice.
The Church very much presented as being run by a lay clergy and volunteers and the lack of compensation and frugality was part of the ethos and public presentation of the Church.
People could drive by President Kimball’s small plaster house. It looked like a 1200 square foot three bedroom, one car garage home. Some general authorities served on boards of Church owned businesses and they were compensated for that like other board members, but many were very much blue collar in their clothing, life style and expenses.
That fit the blue collar image of the Church. Since the 1960s there has been a divide.
Now, the image of the Church is tied to that of white collar professionals — and successful white collar professionals. We look at Romney and Cannon for our role models.
Mission Presidents are expected to present as successful professionals. Mission homes are residences suitable for professionals to live in (and, honestly, testing has shown that presenting to the public this way has a positive impact on missionary work and success). They have allowances for decoration to both improve the presentation and to give comfort to the families living in them.
When we look at those who serve in callings, at stipends and compensation and reimbursements (all of which are different things with different legal meanings) we benchmark against successful white collar professionals instead of against typical blue collar “average joes.” Those who are a part of the white collar professional class see that as natural (and reinforcing the “improved” image of the Church). Those who are blue collar often see it as excess.
Outsiders, who are mostly professional class, for the most part see the change as a positive improvement. Those who have blue collar roots do not. While historically it created improvements in the Church’s outreach, the recent actions by Pope John Paul have shown that once a Church establishes that it is “successful” — once that happens — voluntary retrenchment is seen as a very positive thing. Forced frugality is seen as failure. Voluntary frugality is seen as a positive.
Loss of Community
It used to be that a “Mormon Church” was a community center. A common by-word was that you could tell the LDS chapel because it was in constant use every night of the week. Members expected the road shows and dance festivals and athletic leagues and steady dinners and other activities to provide a community core that embraced them. Many of these were tied to fund raising or other activities and they consumed a good deal of time and effort.
That has ceased. Social needs are no longer expected to be met by the Church (with the goal that members by going out into the community will bring the community back to the Church).
Thus rather than the Church being a community — one that met social and emotional needs — it has gone to a Church that serves a basic, simplified ration of religious training, and encourages the members to find service opportunities on their own. The change is that members now need to find social opportunities on their own and to study and learn the gospel (beyond the simplified curriculum) on their own.
This ties into the change from one family or tribe to many families and tribes and the growing alienation of those outside of the super families that dominate the core of the Church.
David O. McKay and his sons were all Democrats. Utah governors were always Democrats. That has really changed. The Church has gone from a more liberal Church in many ways to one that is more conservative politically. That makes for a real disconnect at times between older Church publications and newer ones and between the expectations of some members
The term means many things, from streamlining the number of publications to uniform building design.
In this discussion it relates to the Hellenic Greek Philosophy of Idealism as applied to religious thought (in the form of presentism).
This is the idea that there are about fifty core religious concepts and that when you look at any scripture or talk or historic writing any person can, armed with those concepts, find the eternal truth in them.
In the worst form this is proof texting on a grand scale. To quote from Wikipedia:
Prooftexting (sometimes “proof-texting” or “proof texting”) is the practice of using isolated, out-of-context quotations from a document to establish a proposition in eisegesis. Such quotes may not accurately reflect the original intent of the author, and a document quoted in such a manner, when read as a whole, may not support the proposition for which it was cited. The term has currency primarily in theological and exegetical circles.
This is to be distinguished from quotations from a source deemed a hostile witness, which inadvertently substantiate a point beneficial to the quoter in the course of its own narrative. Even when lifted out of context, those facts still stand.
Many Christian ministers and Christian teachers have used some version of the following humorous anecdote to demonstrate the dangers of prooftexting: “A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, ‘Then Judas went away and hanged himself’ (Matthew 27:5b). Finding these words unhelpful, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, ‘Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”‘ (Luke 10:37b). In desperation, he tried one more time. The text he found was: ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.'” (John 13:27)
It tends to do the following things:
- It inhibits any change as it solidifies current thought as the eternal thought from which there is no growth or change.
- It destroys any reading of texts in context or for deeper meaning. The deeper meaning is the bullet point understanding imposed on the text from the list of core concepts.
- It turns the entire gospel into a very simple story, and religion into a simplified approach to everything.
Basically, every class and every story becomes Gospel Essentials (the introductory classes for new members of the Church). The message of any president of the Church becomes the same as any other and the manuals based on their sermons and teachings tend to become interchangeable. It is as if they did not have distinct ministries, messages and missions.
For a longer discussion of what Hellenic Idealism means in this context see this essay:
- Idealism: beauty is a property constructed in the mind, so exists only in descriptions of things.
- Hellenic (or Platonic) Idealism: beauty is a property that exists in an ideal form independently of any mind or description.
- Aristotlean realism: beauty is a property that only exists when beautiful things exist.
- Anyone who is famous has beauty (neo-calvinism/popular culture).
What is interesting is just how these frameworks can be applied to almost anything. Sociology, popular Marxism, and, of course, religion.
Platonic thought is found every time someone reads scripture and assumes that any particular concept refers only to a specific ideal form, that can be discovered without regard to the context of the person doing the discovery. Thus the modern discussions about faith (which is used in several different ways) where instead of acknowledging the different uses, every use of it is treated as fungible and the same as any other.
Or John Taylor and quotes from him about Priesthood — which he used in three very distinct ways (brotherhood, authority, and the power of God delegated to man) as if every time he talked he was saying the same thing.
Those are examples of Hellenic Idealism applied to simplify and redact the past to what we have in the present. It leads to Presentism (link is to the wiki explanation — this essay is already too long).
That is a huge change from the 1960s when they were seen as very different, very human, each with a unique mission and service to perform.
You can see the impact of the changes in many places. For example, rather than general authorities flying coach (as they did in an era when there were no frequent flyer miles at all), they now fly enough that they generally get free upgrades for all their flights (like just about any professional who flies a lot).
As a result, no one is surprised to see them in first class. Professionals and those who fly a good deal, see that as natural. Blue collar members are often offended at the thought, complaining of the “waste” (even though, of course, almost all of it comes from free frequent flyer upgrades).
Rather than staying in member’s homes and eating with them (which was the standard), the policy is now that general authorities stay at hotels and buy meals (and, I would note, that while they are older on the average than they used to be, they are much healthier in spite of being older. This has been a major health improvement for general authorities).
Not only do they stay at hotels, they stay at hotels that have the marker “white collar successful” and they dress not as “blue collar, Sunday go to meeting clothes” but as “successful white collar professional dress.”
White collar members take pride in this. Many blue collar members are alienated by this change. Often outsiders are more willing to meet with Church leaders and treat the Church better as a result.
Church families are broken down into groups of extended kinship groups (which often works to exclude those who do not have large families). That is also reflected in who is called as a general authority and who serves on the general boards of the Church. It impacts who interacts with general authorities (as they no longer stay in homes and have a social circle created by family and friends, not their local ward) and as a result, who is known and treated as a known commodity.
Inclusive social events like road shows, relief society dinners, dance festival and the like are all distant memories (and now the domain of Mega Churches) — making the extended tribes even more important. More and more people who leave the Church do so without any social ties to bring them back.
Interestingly enough, many who leave the Church do come together to form social groups that have activities to replace what the Church once had and no longer provides.
There are counter forces. The new service to refugees under the direction of the Relief Society may well grow into something serious. The Church Essays are more nuanced and more detailed. The Maxwell Institute has gone from apologetic efforts back to the scholarship that marked it at its origins.
Like the Pope, the LDS Church is now seen as successful enough that voluntary financial restraint by leaders may well become a marker for service and sacrifice that will not alienate the target group the Church is aligned with. In fact, a move towards austerity may well be the sort of thing that creates a positive image.
Instead of staying at Motel 6 being seen as proof of failure, it edges on becoming a marker of humility and proof of the humanity of leaders.
While there does not seem to be an inclusiveness in leadership (to the extent that there has been too much in the way of judgmental scorn heaped on some people over their appearance), that may change as well. I cringe at some of the things that have been said judging women purely on their appearance.
All of these shifts mark changes that are slowly spreading out from the center. In parts of the world where the church is inclusive and brings everyone in, with charity and kindness it is still an extended family much like an ethnic group and not devolved into tribalism. In places where it is becoming a playground for quasi-elites (people who want a better quality of member and who socially exclude those who are too poor or otherwise socially lacking), there is a lot of exclusion — and the church is shedding half of its members or more because that many are rejected. (Pro tip. 50% of any group will be in the bottom half).
It is fascinating to see parts of the Church that are acting like that.
In similar fashion, because historically when the Church has mission presidents who share the local poverty, missionary success falls and when the mission presidents present as white collar professionals, missionary success increases there are changes which are reflected in the stipends and the allowances for things such as clothing and decorating and cars that create a gap with many who do not share a white collar professional ethos. The Church’s image has improved enough that it may well be able to endure a more fiscally conservative approach (or it may not — I don’t know).
Let us be clear. I can see the social patterns that others have described and collate them into a single place (this blog post) but I do not know what the Church is doing to adjust, counter and lead out from where things are.
The elements in this essay all reflect the changes that have come over the Church in the last 40-50 years. These changes are:
- A move from one large family to affiliated super family, clan or tribal groups with the natural exclusionary effects that can have while benefiting the members of the super families.
- A move from blue collar ethos to white collar professional standards (with a change in expenditures that make sense to white collar professionals and that alienate blue collar members). Even the protest groups in the Church tend to take on white collar values and approaches.
- A loss of social organizations and programs — so that if your family organization or tribe does not provide them, the Church offers no social connection for you (which also works to drive members who are not part of a tribe away from the Church).
- A change in the political flavor of the prevalent members of the Church from Democratic to Republican (though not without limits and counter-forces).
- Simplification of Church teachings and doctrine in the style of Hellenic Idealism so that everything means the same and proof texting is not a defect but a virtue (and not without push-back. Consider Elder Packard’s talk on that subject).
Those are the shifts that have affected the Church from where it was in the 1960s to where it is now. Who knows which changes it will face in the future.
The big questions
- What do you think?
- What have I missed? — Seriously, I could well be wrong on 95% or more of my observations. What have I missed, where have I gone wrong, what should I have seen or included?
- Where do you think the Church will go in the next 30-40 or even 50 years?
Pretty spot-on. I am currently working on my thesis which has a somewhat similar hypothesis. The proof.texting part was very helpful.
Stunning overview Stephen! Very well done. You have given me much to consider.
The photo of the miner to illustrate blue collar is a little off, I think. The mining centers were one of the few pockets of non-LDS culture in Utah, railroads being the other, since BY had from the beginning railed against it. I would say that the 19th into the early 20th century church was blue collar but overwhelmingly agrarian. Think of all of the GC talks, even today, that center around the virtues of the farm and the lessons learned there that the speaker presents to his audience.
My grandfather was LDS, and started working in the mines as a 16 year old. All the boys in the family started out in the mines. They were German immigrant converts. Maybe a pioneer stock vs immigrant convert difference?
GC talks are given by people with tribal/super family connections. It is rare to hear a concert speak at GC. It is rare to hear anyone speak at GC who is not a member of one of the well connected supper families within the church. At a certain level, family connections become key to promotion.
I’m a little iffy on number one. I live in California, close enough to Utah that our small town has two wards, but far enough away that we are considered the mission field. Most of the LDS families I know are isolated from their extended families and the church/other members are the center of their social universes. I also continue to see new converts and move-ins easily accepted into the ward circle. So I wonder if the movement from the church as the primary tribe to circles of familial tribes is only true in the Jello belt.
I would argue that there is still a social hierarchy in my area. Traditional families (often with Utah roots) where the father is in a white collar job and the mother is a SAHM are at the pinnacle (and hold all the leadership positions). I don’t know that this is a reflection on the church as much as it is on money, education, and status symbols in American Culture overall. (These same people would be the pinnacle of social success in any other group as well.)
The article did make me wonder if so much of what I struggle with in terms of the church image is because I am in a very blue collar family. The idea of ‘voluntary financial restraint’ appeals to me a little too much. I find the idea that presenting ourselves as upperclass opens doors as incredibly distasteful as well. It sure isn’t what Jesus did. I suppose these days the doors to rich people are more valuable than the doors to poor people?
1-SuperFamilies – check, but I would agree with Amateur Parent on the “pioneer stock” really giving more Mormon creds.
2-Blue to white – check.
3-Less social – check. I remember the push many years ago where every event had to have a spiritual purpose. I thought, “we can’t just enjoy each other’s company??” I guess the answer is, “no.”
4-To the right – check.
5-Correlation – DOUBLE CHECK!
The one that I don’t see that I expected is the leadership worship/follow the prophet being so much in the forefront – almost THE biggest issue sometimes overshadowing even talking about Christ. I live well outside the Mormon corridor and I have seen the dividing line on “are you with us” that used to be quite a bit more accepting. If you came/helped/served and didn’t try to mess with other’s testimony (i.e. – you didn’t bring up issues found in the current essays), then you were one of the group. Now it seems you have to be lock-step on everything or your being part of the group is question.
If more could be added I would say that we seem to be retreating on several doctrinal grounds. Hinckley saying we don’t push “we can become Gods” or “we don’t teach polygamy.” It seems like doctrinal legs are collapsing and we are trying to find a few that can still hold the table up.
I see a move from ward family to extended family where I am in Britain. It’s probably at that transition point now. There are enough members whose extended families are not members that there is still some sense of church family. But… there are also large families (my own extended family is one such), where some of my generation have married into other large families creating a expanding network of people to whom we are related by those marriages. I’m wondering if that transition isn’t almost inevitable, and a result of encouraging large families back in the 70s. To what extent it’s a function of our only being able to maintain relatively close ties with however many people it is(for some reason the number 150 springs to mind), and to what extent the church emphasis on family having a primary importance, I don’t know. So events such as baptisms, ordinations, baby blessings become more family events rather than ward events, with family travelling across country to be there. It can be fascinating to map out the links and see how these large, local-to-Britain LDS families are becoming interconnected. And I do notice that my parents generation (they themselves were youth converts) are much better at reaching out to and including others, even in what are becoming family events, than are my own generation. I admit to feeling more a sense of tribe with my family, though I tend to be something of an introvert anyway.
You’ve given me lots to think about there.
Miss Understood and Howard — thank you.
Hedgehog — yes, it is a different thing so see how this change is spreading.
RT — it is a trend, not one that is complete, and the patchwork impact makes it stick out more when you encounter it. My current ward, after a few weeks my wife introduced herself to the bishop. His response “yes. I knew you were here.” He felt no need to say hello or welcome us.
I will note that Jesus was criticized for eating with the Publicans because of their sins *and* because of their wealth. The same for allowing a woman to anoint his head with oil.
Amateur Parent — good points, down to the fact that people will exclude miners from the tribe because they weren’t their relations.
A Happy Hubby — that is an interesting point as well. I think much of it is the stress of trying to move a large organization in the same direction. Strange that the first real push to “follow” came with moving away from polygamy. Now the people who least like polygamy are those who are the least happy with the doctrines and approaches used to move the entire church away from it.
I updated the essay to explain Hellenic Idealism a little better and to provide a link to explain Presentism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presentism_(literary_and_historical_analysis)
Definition of presentism
: an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experience.
uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.
Amateur Parent, I’m sure there were LDS miners, probably more in the coal producing areas of south eastern UT since coal was a necessity and not a luxury. But the mineral mining areas that produced copper, gold, silver were generally surrounded by strong pockets of non-LDS influence because BY discouraged the saints from looking for mineral riches. I’m just saying that a miner isn’t a very representative photo for the blue collar tradition in the early church, it’s got to be a farmer.
“So events such as baptisms, ordinations, baby blessings become more family events rather than ward events” Hedgehog, that is a great example of the change Stephen is talking about. My experience is the same.
The mining question relates to the rest of this. My mother-in-law’s grandfather came from Norway to Utah for the mining; he ended up raising a Mormon family and eventually becoming a Mormon himself. My wife’s father comes from Idaho’s Gem Valley. It used to be called Gentile Valley. I asked my father-in-law about the gentile/saint mix there, and he said that at the beginning of the 20th Century it was 50/50, but by mid-century pretty much all of the gentile families had come into the LDS Church. In Wallace Stegner’s Mormon Country (1942), the last third of the book is about gentiles living in Utah. Stegner found the gentiles more interesting than the Mormons, but it seemed they were mostly part of Utah’s past, not its mid-century present. A typical section was about Corinne, the “Gentile Capital of Utah,” a railroad town of 1,000 without a single Mormon that eventually became another thoroughly Mormon town.
Mormonism once had a very strong inclusive drive.
Oops. I got Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II backwards. Since they were very different the mistake is even more glaring.
I meant the “I am wrong” but in a more general sense that my observations were based on small sample sizes and my conclusions could be completely off base.
But it turns out I was wrong on more mundane things. Bad editor. Worse that the editor and writer were the same person.
I wonder how much of this is a consequence of our “Average is Over” times with its diminishing middle class. Church leaders’ suits and ties look pretty much the same to me as the ones in pictures from 1975, but a blue collar worker then would more often than today have a suit of his own that he wore to church, jury duty, weddings, graduations or such. The working class has become more underclass; for example, not marrying before having children.
Stephen, there have certainly been some significant cultural changes along the lines you describe. However, I would be hesitant to say that they are all negative. Some of them are inevitable reflections of broader trends in world culture.
1. Less tribal, more focus on individual families. This seems to me to be the natural byproduct of the church’s greater emphasis on the family. And by and large, I see this as a positive thing. Church members no longer make church sacrifices at the expense of their families. Increasing emphasis on family also reflects societal changes towards “helicopter” parenting.
2. Blue to white collar. This is probably a result of an increasing white collar dominance in society’s middle class. As blue collar work declines, percentages of while collar membership naturally increases. As a burgeoning white middle class prospers, their values reflect that added prosperity: nice hotels, business class flights, etc. I don’t know if this is a bad thing, just a reflection of a change in the baseline living and working standards of society in general.
3. Ending social programs. I think this goes along with the greater emphasis on family. Church activities are less, but there are still plenty in my opinion, maybe even too many.
4. Embracing the Republican party. This is perhaps the inevitable result of the counter-cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s as the democratic party came to represent some progressive values antagonistic to LDS doctrine.
5. Correlation. This seems to me an inevitable change associated with increasing global media presence. Consolidating the message was probably essential to the enormous mid-century missionary expansion. I’m not sure if it’s influenced by Hellenic idealism. It may be butressed by a culture sympathetic to idealism, but I think the implementation of correlation was practical rather than philosophical. Correlation may actually subdue dogmatism by narrowing the range of doctrinal influence into a smaller number of doctrinal points. BRM’s Mormon Doctrine is too expansive for correlation. Mormon Doctrine’s influence exists IN SPITE of correlation. Liberal ideas could exist alongside correlation in the same way Mormon Doctrine does, but there is not enough support for them to gain much hold in the culture and leadership. But correlation gives liberal ideas a bit of breathing room by keeping them from being completely smothered by fundamentalism, which is currently the natural LDS orientation. Correlation is our friend, in my opinion.
I agree that change is not all negative.
Just wanted to reflect on the existence of changes.
And correlation has immense positives.
Stephen– What’s the Elder Packer talk you refer to in point #5 of “The bottom line”? I’m unaware of any pushback to corrolation, and found your remark that all the “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church” quotes could be interchangeable to be spot on.
Stephen, Concerning your “Counter Forces” I am reminded of Elder Hales talk where he wanted to buy his wife a fancy coat (April 2009 General Conference). IMO they are well award of the issue and there is restraint.
That should have been well aware … typed to fast.
I’ll have to find the talk. He talks about being corrected about his use of scripture citations and changed his talk.
Mark — I would never say they were not painfully aware.
“Only last Friday while putting together some things for a presentation, I read part of it to some brethren from BYU. I noticed they looked at one another at one place in my reading, and I stopped and asked if there was a problem. Finally one of them suggested that I not use a certain scripture that I had included even though it said exactly what I wanted to convey. How dare they suppose that a member of the Twelve didn’t know his scriptures! I simply said, “What do you suggest?” He said, “Better find another scripture,” and he pointed out that if I put that verse back in context, it was really talking about another subject. Others had used it as I proposed to use it, but it was not really correct. I was very glad to make a change.
Now you may not need a correlating hand in what you do, but I certainly do. This brother lingered after the meeting to thank me for being patient with him. Thank me! I was thankful to him. If I ever make that presentation, it will only be after some of our Correlation staff have checked it over for me.
Now I give you all full credit for knowing more about your work than anyone else — more, certainly than the staff of the Correlation Department. That is how it should be, for you are hired or called to be a specialist. I also know from experience how easy it is to get turned around, and, as Brother Lee warned, to face the wrong way.”
A good example of correlation as an anti proof texting force.
A few reactions to the 5 changes you outlined:
1 – The “super families” is interesting to consider as a byproduct of the anti-birth-control push for large families in the 1970s. Bednar seems to think this is the crown jewels since he pointed out the value of “multi-generational families” in the recent 5th Sunday lesson on sabbath observance. The problem is that it adds pressure and fear to parents with children who don’t stay in the church. That’s not the best dynamic to insert into family relations.
2 – Without a doubt the white collar ethos is more attractive to converts who aspire to it while being ostracized by it. It also explains the “uniform of the priesthood” rhetoric.
3 – I think the loss of programs is regrettable, and I was reminded of amateurparent’s post that the church often leaves people behind. There is social ostracism in this approach. I miss Linger Longers and Roadshows.
4 – The political affiliation change is interesting, but also coincides with many other ideological party changes. The real issue I see is that when you couple it with the white collar ethos, it becomes a haven for those who believe in the prosperity gospel, that you deserve your wealth and that wealth is a sign of righteousness.
5 – Correlation and proof-texting is to me the most insidious of these changes. It’s like we’ve outlawed thinking and discussion. If you don’t give the correlated answers, you are viewed with suspicion.
This was a fascinating read for me. Some of the points I had not thought of but agree with. I see some shifts as a result of these changes. It is easier to leave the church over historical and factual problems because there is less community pull from the church.The second is this creation of certain elite groups in the church that dominate power. Do you have any information on the frequent flier miles or is that an educated guess?
The frequent flyer miles thing is the experience of friends and others who fly a lot.
One said he could not imagine a world where anyone who flew as much as he did was not in a perpetual upgrade cycle.
This essay appears to relate to the church in Utah but not really to the global church including anywhere in the U.S. more than a stone’s throw from Utah. Except for correlation which is an organizational element and therefore has a more global reach. Your first point especially is very foreign anywhere outside of Utah where most members are either converts or only one or two generations removed from converts and make up a small portion of the population. Out here, typically, the church and the ward is a member’s adopted family and social community which is in contrast to your third point. The change in political affiliation may be more from changes within the parties and not changes within the church or membership. I grew up in the south which in decades past leaned heavily democratic but now leans more republican so that’s certainly not a change that’s unique to the church.
“General authorities as a class tend to come from a group of elite family groups.”
I am not sure that is factual, and I wonder how much research you have done on each general authority to be able to make that claim. I know that Elder Bednar did not come from such a family (grew up with a non-LDS dad). I know that Elder Nelson did not come from such a family (his parents did not go to church until he was grown up and out of the home). Elder Scott did not have an LDS dad. President Uchtdorf certainly does not come from an elite (LDS) family group. Yet, in my lifetime, I have seldom seen a general authority more beloved then he is. And there are many, many more examples. I think when you look at individual lives (if you could even get at this data), you will see that they are where they are because they have served with love and dedication over many years, and not because of their name or family background.
I live in Utah, I am a convert (only member in my family), and I have never felt that this held me back in any way. Many of the men and woman that I come into contact with in my calling (those that serve on general boards and in other positions of “higher” church leadership) have come from “less-elite” families or are converts, even here in Utah. The common theme with most of them is dynamic faith, endurance through personal trials of every kind, and dedication to the Savior.
I would be interested to know the factual basis for your statement that “[g]eneral authorities as a class tend to come from a group of elite family groups.”
Thought-provoking post, Stephen. I do think some of your points are debatable, esp. what Sense says regarding your claims of GAs coming from elite family groups. What resonates most about your post is what hawk says about #s 2 and 4. There is, IMHO, a rather insidious assumption about the relationship among American corporate culture, its habits of dress, and the so-called “prosperity gospel.” I think the reason for that is that Mormons, for some odd reason, tend to be really keen on looking for outward manifestations of righteousness. I believe that tendency is driven, at least in part, by a fear of difference/other people/any kind of deviance. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard disparaging remarks made about tattoos, multiple piercings, long hair on men, etc. To focus on that kind of stuff is madness. Completely antithetical to the gospel of Christ. Ironically, as much as we preach against being “of the world,” that’s exactly what we are being when we make character judgements based on appearances. The fact that we teach as a truth that there is a “uniform” that distinguishes righteous people from unrighteous people is deeply troubling.
Brother Sky, I think the “outward manifestations of righteousness” is driven by the Book of Mormon verses “if you are righteous, you will prosper in the land.” It’s a small step.
Elder Bednar is a Whitney. Elder Nelson was Spencer Kimball’s surgeon.
Joanna–thank you. I’d use callings extended in the last twenty years for my baseline.
Brother Sky– I think all my points are debatable and could well be wrong.
Was talking with a fifth generation Mormon attorney in east Texas. He had a relative called to the 70 around 1960 who turned it down because he couldn’t afford it.
Things have changed.
One comment on the trend to the republican party. Groups such as the church choose and pick what they like in political groups. In many ways the republican party goes against values that are taught in the gospel.
Nepotism in the LDS Church
Off topic question here, but I’ve been meaning to ask for a while. I heard a rumor that apostles are required to live the law of consecration. Anyone know where that rumor came from or if there is any real info for or against?
I’d love to know the answer to that too.
Look at GAs who did not grow up as part of the elite families. Look at who they married. So many GAs are son-in-laws of powerful men within the church. Thy have married into those families.
I see this same dynamic in the area I live in the south .. Very far from the Wasatch Front. So many local members are transplants from Utah. They go back to Utah for holidays and summer vacations and family reunions. They live locally for the employment, but their family ties are in Utah.
Those same families make sure that the entire stake knows what family affiliations they have. They talk endlessly of the accomplishments of their ancestors and relatives. There are large family trusts and a sense of familial power and empire building within the church. Those families jockey for religious position and promote one another in any way possible. It is a dynamic that makes me uneasy.
AP–that is a good point. If tribal affiliations were not so important we wouldn’t hear about them constantly.
If clannishness really does take hold, then at some point cousin marriage will become common, both because it seems desirable to keep even marriage within the family, and because family is the main source of social connection available. Richer saints will have a well-functioning network of extended family that pairs them with second-cousins. Poorer saints will marry first-cousins they’ve grown up around.
So a Dynasty that cultivates upwardly mobile demographics via Heartsell(tm) marketing, defensive HR policy by Kirton McConkie, legalistic doublespeak from Elder Oaks and public relations via MD of Public Affairs (in place of the prophet) struggles without meaningful revelation to maintain control of these 5 major but fragmenting pieces? How can a please the leaders organization that disparages critical thinking ever expect to have meaningful correlation? Put God in charge!
Howard: I read your link. But for it to mean anything, you would need to compare those individuals listed there with every person who has served since the beginning as a general authority, general auxiliary presidency member, mission president, etc. What percentage of all who have so served are the people on your list? My estimate: probably less than 5%. Then factor in that for well over a century everyone serving in those callings pretty much came from Utah, and were likely related to earlier members of the church. To meaningfully prove a nepotistic tendency with facts will take some work, and will have to consider many things.
It’s not my list Sense.
Keeping BYU subsidies going has been intended in some ways to prevent it from becoming a place for the rich to create their own society and to create a cross class cultural mixing in the Church.
Every call for divestiture is really a call for the creation of a true class structure.
I was trying hard not to be cynical, but then i read in the e ensign that L Whitney Clayton’s son was called to be a general authority 😉
I was feeling pretty in uncynical today until I read that L Whitney Clayton’s son was called as a general authority 😉
You know not of what you speak. I was a mission president’s wife, serving in Mexico from 2007-2010. The guidelines for mission presidents are generic in nature and do not always apply. For example, I did not employ a maid or gardener and if I had, I would have paid for them out of my own U.S. dollars. I did my own cleaning every week and once a year a crew of LDS maintenace workers came to the house to deep clean it. We left employment at about $100,000 per year to serve for three years which we did happily. During that time, we were given a small stipend to pay for food and other expenses.
We also spent all of our own money (through U.S. banks and credit cards) to fly our children to Mexico to see us. We used our own money for gifts. We know of other mission presidents and wives who did not use the stipend at all. Many missionaries in the world would not be able to serve without financial help including mission presidents. Since many of us have not retired, where would we get enough money to support ourselves for three years without income? Unlike young elders and sisters who can save for years for their upcoming missions, mission presidents do not apply for the job — they are called and have about six months to prepare to sell their homes or get their financial affairs in order so they can serve anywhere in the world.
I don’t know what your problem is with the administration of tithing dollars or with tithing itself. No one tells you what to pay or forces you to do so. I pay tithing willingly and count it a blessing in my life. Whatever those who are in charge of the funds do with it is fine with me. Once I give it freely, it becomes someone else’s responsibility to oversee, administer, and distribute.
“I liked this from the comments, quote:
“In terms of whether the Church (and its entities) pays employees above market, I can say that a few years ago I was approached by a Church entity for a high level legal position where the pay would have been $160,000 per year, which is about the starting salary for lawyers in several large cities. It would have required a substantial reduction in pay for me (ultimately I was not offered the job) and probably anyone else of the caliber they sought. True, for the vast majority of people (and most members of the Church), that level of pay would have seen exorbitant, but by standards of the legal marketplace, the salary offered was relatively modest. Thus, I do not think that the lawyers in the Church’s employ (some of whom were partners in major law firms) are paid exorbitantly–paid very well, I am sure, compared to the Church at large, but well below market for legal services. Question: should highly trained professionals be willing to work for the Church for, say, the average salary received by an average members–or even less than the average? Should the law of consecration require at least that much sacrifice? I have heard through the grapevine that at one time BYU’s faculty salaries were so low as to be akin to the law of consecration. I gather that pay levels for employees have been a subject of much discussion over the decades by the leaders of the Church. If the tension has been resolved by paying employees in a market range for the nature of services, I do not have a problem.
I do not have enough information to opine on whether or how reasonable the living allowances are for the general authorities.
Posted January 8, 2013 at 6:43 PM
It seems to me that church employees, unless very high up on the ladder, are under paid for their positions. It’s the general authorities that get very generous compensation.
Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:24 PM
My dad was a mission president. And this sounds a lot better than it actually was. My parents did live in a very nice house, but usually the Church has purchased those already and keep them for the mission, and each president/family just live in the same house. In our case, the mission home was also a place for missionaries to stay, included mission offices, etc. My parents did have a gardner, because the house had a somewhat big yard that they simply didn’t have the time to maintain.
No cook/house keeper that I remember. My siblings went to the public school out there. My mission presiden’ts kids did get to attend an American school, but they also didn’t speak the language of the mission. My parents had a mission car, but it was nothing fancy, and gets passed on from mission president to mission president until it’s too old.
In short, my parents had everything they needed during their mission. But I know my dad was limited in his funds, and there were no fancy Christmas presents, or other gifts, or traveling of kids. I don’t know if that was because my dad chose to not use more of what he could have gotten, or because it sounds more elaborate than it really is. I started college (BYU) while my parents were still serving as mission presidents, and I know that it was a financial sacrifice for my parents to support me (I wasn’t allowed to work the first 2 semesters, and still needed money beyond tuition – Church only paid for tuition). So, I don’t know…this is still too speculative for me.
– See more at: http://www.dovesandserpents.org/wp/2013/01/how-much-does-a-mormon-apostle-make/#.dpuf“
“Was talking with a fifth generation Mormon attorney in east Texas. He had a relative called to the 70 around 1960 who turned it down because he couldn’t afford it.”
This can’t be accurate. The First Quorum of the Seventy and Seventies as general authorities weren’t organized and called until the mid 1970’s. In 1960, Seventies were stake callings, not full time callings like they are today.
The seven presidents of the seventy (then called the “Council of the Seventy”) have been considered General Authorities since pioneer times. J. Golden Kimball and B.H. Roberts are two examples. Someone with better resources than I could probably tell you who those seven individuals were, and if there was an opening in the 1960 timeframe, because it would be announced in General Conference.
I’m thinking S. Dilworth Young, Milton R. Hunter, Bruce R. McKonkie, Hartman Rector Jr, Marion D. Hanks, Antoine Ivans, and either Theodore Tuttle, or Sterling Sill.
According to LDS.org. My guesses of actual names in comment #51 are inaccurate. See list of names at the bottom of https://www.lds.org/ensign/1976/07/the-seventies-a-historical-perspective?lang=eng
Marion D. Hanks in ’53; A Theodore Tuttle in 1958. The next man called to the Council of 70 was Paul H. Dunn in 1964.
Threadjack ended 🙂
Correlation… I once was an occasional gospel doctrine substitute teacher in a particular ward. My mind has a way of making connections between concepts, teachings or events that at first seem unrelated… And I thus sometimes used scriptural cross-references which were not in the manual for a given lesson. My bishop became irate with me and told me that I was being “unfaithful to the brethren.” He insisted that I only used cross-references which were in the manual for the given lesson… As bishop, he had the keys, authority, etc. to do this. I credit him with understanding the needs of this ward better than I did. The truth is that this particular ward was not prepared for any further light or knowledge. So we moved to another ward that was more open. Anyway, there are some rays of light that the LDS Church is becoming more open to “teaching by the spirit.” But I think there is a solid mass of older and sometimes cantankerous high priests who may be too set it their ways to embrace needed changes. I much prefer a spiritually guided, Socratic teaching methodology, with discernment and critically thinking…
White collar members take pride in this. Many blue collar members are alienated by this change.
Some of us white-collar members are alienated by the change. My stake used to be predominantly rural/exurban and outstate; a number of years back, a stake was formed in the area north of us that trimmed off our outlying wards. As lines were redrawn to rebalance things, we ended up with some of the “cake-eating” affluent suburban wards west of Minneapolis. Since then our stake leadership has been largely drawn from those wards, and not from our eponymous ward area or county. Success in business seems to be taken as a mark of the Lord’s favor, even for people drawn from the older areas. Many wise and humble men and women who come home from work with some dirt on their hands (I love that line about showering after the day’s work, not before) end up not using their full leadership potential because they don’t have six-figure incomes or drive Lexuses to work.
It’s a shame. Nibley is rolling over in his grave.
In re. Tom’s comment in #53:
As bishop, he had the keys, authority, etc. to [tell Tom to stick only to the manual footnotes and sources].
If you taught as inspired by the Spirit, he did not have that authority.
I am a lifetime member of the church I live in central Idaho on the west side I come from deeply rooted Mormon pioneer stock I am married to a registered nurse who graduated from BYU and I am as blue collar as a 30 yr journeyman electrician can be we have raised 4 children who are now adults they are all happy 3 are married they all have college education s except our youngest he is currently on a mission in Canada our family has watched in horror as the church has become apologetic and the lockstep following of every wind of doctrine seems to be going on the vast number of our current church leadership can trace their roots back to Joseph Smith’s council of fifty and their ideas seem to reflect a dependence on social approval not on their own spiritual experiences or personal growth they rely on scriptures and prophets rather than seeing the savior Ind his ministry in their lives the brotheren need to get back to serving they need to read and apply mosia s message in the Book of Mormon and they better do a better job of listening to their followers Brigham young always said the saints would be tried much more by affluent living than by poverty and the widows mite is worth more to the church than hunts mans lear jet well maybe he wasn’t that great of a prophet to see the state we’ve fallen to but wilfords prophecy about women consuming their children was spot on in our society of abortion and mitt Romney riding to a governor s position by placating to it the spirit is grieving and it seems an all out sprint in darkness is taking place in the church in general All the analysts have left out there are many who have seen the hand of the lord in their lives and believe for no other reason I for one am one of them next time you get a chance to sit by a miner or a logger or a tradesman over the age of 60 who is still going to church interview him he is not still there because he shook hands with president benson. He is there because of personal experience