After the announcement of the change or cancellation of multiple church history pageants, I recalled several other instances in my past where decisions seem by church leaders seem to be made more because of cost benefit analyses than what is best spiritually.
Baby Blessing, or Useless Record:
On my mission I met a family that was incredibly upset with the bishop. They were a long term inactive family, but they were at least what we might call cultural Mormons. (Or I guess now its formerly known as a victory for Satan.) This family had a baby and wanted it blessed at the church, but the Bishop wouldn’t allow it. In a meeting some time around the event we were discussing the inactive family and he mentioned what guided his decision. They never come to church and he didn’t see the point of adding one more name to a membership list that was already riddled with errors and, it was implied, more people than he could manage. This is not an exact quote and its from 20 years later, so please take it with a grain of salt. But I got the distinct impression that he gave a good bureaucratic answer. It was so good I remembered it 20 years later in discussion about the pageants. What he seemed to miss in a quest for stream lined paperwork is a special ceremony this family could have had, the importance of having a baby on the records for possible future contact and activation, and if done at church they would at least show up that Sunday! So it seemed like a bean counter decision that missed the spiritual mark.
These are initials for covering your butt. My friend from college got divorced and her kids were reaching baptismal age. She is the custodial parent and her boys want to get baptized, but her apostatized and generally angry and drunk husband had to be consulted first. It turns out the church needed written authorization from the other parent. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that on its face. The potential for secret baptisms and using parental inspired religious choices of the kids to get back at exes is a real threat so it’s understandable. I was simply struck with how legalistic they were. This is a church founded upon the teachings of a person that turned over the tables at the temple and had apostles nicknamed the sons of thunder. And now we have moved to cyb. The counter to this argument is that Jesus never lived in a litigious society like this with a 24 hour news cycle so lawyers and a pr spokesmen are necessary additions like clerks and stonemasons were back then. But still, it seemed jarring to me of how beholden they were to the paperwork.
This also dovetails with my time that I was single but still technically married. In my heart I knew I was done, but my paperwork was lagging behind. I was just going to hopefully meet some people and have a fun time that night. Heaven knows I had very few of those in the days leading up to my divorce. I wasn’t planning on fornicating even if I had the je ne sais quoi to pull it off. But the church who had multiple leaders like Joseph Smith and Parley Pratt marry women who were already married, wouldn’t let me walk in the door to a singles dance.
Singles are Too Much of an Investment:
Speaking of singles, the Las Vegas singles conference was cancelled a few years back. The reasons given was that it was just too much investment of volunteer labor and resources for something that was too sparsely attended by local singles. The key to that reasoning is “local.” The conference was one of the largest in the Western US. It was over President’s Day weekend so lots of people would come from surrounding states for the holiday weekend. This is vitally important to singles because there is often a vicious catch 22 that traps singles. This is where nobody comes because there are few attractive options. So they stop coming, and when somebody new shows up they find no attractive options so they stop coming too, and so on until you have the same handful of mutants from table nine at every activity. This conference broke that cycle by bringing a large swath of people here for what had the potential to be a good time. It was hit and miss especially as I soured on the singles scene but overall it was a pretty good time that resulted in good contacts and dates with quality people.
But a bean counter looked at some spread sheets, or got negative feedback from leaders whose congregations felt over volunteered, and thought he should cancel it. I am on the ground floor here and I can say this was a devastating blow to the singles scene. The leadership promised a greater amount of smaller activities catering to local singles but I haven’t seen any. (I was fairly burned out so I treated it like an academic conference and went to the more promising presentations, but even then I felt relaxed and in my natural setting so I still met a surprising amount of people.) I understand people’s time is valuable, and tithing money is sacred, but I really think this was a bureaucratic decision more than one based on needs of the singles community. And it made us feel, in one more way, that we weren’t really valued. Our stake has enough money for their own camp, orchestra, and huge park, I think they could spare some money for the best shot at getting us out of singles hell.
Of Pageants and Paydays:
The final piece is the pageants. I never heard of an official reason, but the conventional Kreminology suggests this was largely due to the investment of time for what was becoming an increasingly members only audience. Ironically, this bean counting failed to account for the negative economic impact on local economies, many of which normally don’t see this kind of traffic without it. This one hurts in particular because I like activities such as road shows and pageants that build a sense of community. I don’t really know my neighbors that well, I work from home, and I’m not really a people person when I leave the house, so having a nice community event where I can do some improv or put on a budget costume while chilling with my ward neighbors sounds really nice and an excellent investment. (I’ve also proposed a block party concept to my HOA but they are too busy acting like it’s Game of Thrones.) Instead of doing that at church I usually attend events at the Sci Fi Center and other local venues. Ironically then, community events like pageants, road shows, and the like would be especially helpful way of “hastening” the work for those that don’t attend regular Sunday services.
It saddens me that a church founded on the teaching of somebody who said to leave the 99 to go after the 1 would become so driven by what seems like profit. (Bishop Bill used the prophet to profit line before I could write this piece but I think he is on the right track.) I don’t know everything that goes on beyond the scenes, but I’ve observed enough to tell me that decision making is often a cost benefit analysis of budgets and bean counting instead of what should be more of a spiritually driven analysis. I think that can crowd out important spiritual decisions and actually hurt people.
Thanks for reading!
This is one of those cases where I would like to be wrong, so how do you think I may have missed the mark?
What examples of bean counting decisions have you seen? (The small plot of land used for urban farming in New York City might be a good example.)
How many lines into the article did you get before thinking about the mall in downtown Salt Lake? I’m shocked.