When I was growing up, we would usually drive 9 hours north to visit my sister’s house in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving. Since she was 20 years older than me and had gotten married the year I was born, my niece was more a peer to me than the adults in attendance although I was two years older. Visits to my sister’s place had caused controversy in the past. When we visited during my tenth birthday, my brother-in-law refused to let me join the adults’ card game even though I was a very experienced card player, trying to relegate me to the play room with his younger children. I didn’t want to play with their childish toys; I wanted to play Canasta! My mother was angry at his rude dismissal of me and took me out for a drive to cool down.
Later, at Thanksgiving dinners, even when I was a teen, there was controversy over where I belonged. Was I a child, like the offspring of our hosts, or was I a peer to our hostess, my sister? Her husband seemed to have one opinion, and my mother had a different one. My sister didn’t want to get involved in a dispute. I would often just capitulate and sit with the kids. I was definitely not a fan of the kids’ table. Some of their manners were rude (peas don’t belong in your nose!), and we seemed to get the mashed potatoes only after they were cold. But it wasn’t like the conversation at the adults’ table was fantastic and fun either. They were boring! They sometimes talked about work or politics. They also got stuffing that had grapes, apples and walnuts mixed in, which was too adventurous for my young palate. Eventually, as my niece got older, she complained about the kids’ table, and she graduated to the big table while I was still relegated to the kids’ table with her siblings. It was an unjust and capricious system.
Now that I’m an adult, I’ve been to many family dinners with my in-lawsthat have been served buffet style with open seating and too many people to fit at one table. People load their plates, then take a seat on a couch or chair or at the dozen or so seats at the table. Kids and adults alike are mixed together. Adults sometimes have had the authority (and temerity) to usurp a desired seat from a child, but others followed squatters’ rights. As occasional hosts of Thanksgiving dinners, we have always made sure there were enough seats at the table for everyone, although we have sometimes had an overflow table in another room staffed mainly by teens who preferred the company of peers. If any teen didn’t want to go to the second table, they were more than welcome to choose their seat at the other table. This open seating approach, while lacking in formality, has been much more enjoyable to me. There’s no jockeying for position, no rules about who sits where. It’s just about relaxing and enjoying each other and the food.
I’ve seen a lot of posts in online Mormon discussions in the last week about some of the formality and hierarchical thinking members have grown up with in the Church. Here are a few topics I’ve seen discussed:
- Should parents force their kids to go to Church or allow them to make the decision? At what age does forcing children become counter-productive? What about a child who is gay? How does this affect parenting dynamics?
- Is it wrong to use nicknames with missionaries? Does this show disrespect to their priesthood office (this was sister missionaries calling elders “champ” and getting taken down by their branch president for disrespect)? Or is there a bottomless pit of uptight wannabe bishops in the Provo area waiting to be called to be an MTC branch president? This one reminded me of a friend who was YM president and objected to the youth using leaders’ first names rather than “Bro. Stickupyerass.”
- In Mary Ann’s post last week, she talked about the reason the “Whistling and Whittling Brigade” was disbanded: because they recruited 12 year olds to join their ranks, and Brigham Young didn’t like roving gangs of twelve year olds acting like a de facto police department. (As I pointed out there, 12-year olds were eligible to receive the endowment if their bishops deemed them mature enough). She quoted leaders who felt it inappropriate for 12-year olds to perform the duties of a Deacon, which was designated as an adult role (involving whittling and whistling / being a rogue intimidation force rather than today’s mundane role of passing the sacrament).
- A topic that never goes out of style in online Mormon forums: adult children who have left the Church and their relationship with their believing, church-going parents. There is a compulsion for many of these adult children to confess their unbelief to their parents and/or to feel “seen” or validated by their parents despite this fundamental difference in worldview.
- Another age-old topic that probably originated with Adam ratting his wife out to God in the Garden of Eden, but the role Church members see their local leaders holding in their lives, seeking their advice and approval for things that are incredibly personal / nobody’s business, particularly when Church leaders have a poor track record on these topics.
- The use of “one size” messaging in the manuals and in recommending For the Strength of Youth for adults as well as children.
- Bishop Bill posted about Tad Callister’s recent Ensign article on principles vs. rules, including the analogy of wayward children needing adult oversight in TV choices, used as an analogy for the Church’s relationship with adult Church members.
All of these discussions got me thinking about the very Mormon question within the Church regarding becoming an adult. When do Mormons graduate from the Kids’ Table to the Adults’ Table? How does Mormoning influence parenting?
In a sense you could say that there is a Kids’ Table and an Adults’ Table in the elitism associated with Temple Recommends. If you hold a Temple Recommend, you are given more responsibility. You are a (potential) leader, eligible for callings that your non-Temple Recommend holding peer would not be given. Some call this “pay to play,” referring to the requirement of paying 10% tithing to be considered eligible for leadership roles.
As long as the Church has been around, there has been a desire for elitism. There were constant changes to hierarchical structures that Church members could climb to gain power and exert influence. These were often tied to loyalty to leadership. When the endowment became less elite, the second anointing was added as an additional elite ordinance that would allow some to graduate to even higher levels in the Church with even greater promised blessings (hello, you can have adultery without consequences?? Really??)
If you go back to the original twelve apostles, they too jockeyed for position with the Savior, trying to get him to say who was most important. He famously explained (although it’s unclear that they “got it” in the moment) that if you wanted to have an important space next to him in Heaven, you’d have to endure a hellish life on earth basically, and be tortured to death and whatnot. He wasn’t handing out cushy advancements to cronies. They still signed up, but I can’t imagine that was what anybody was hoping to hear.
There are formalized worthiness tests within the Church (for adults, the biannual Temple Recommend interview, for youth, every six months they interview with the bishop, and for BYU students, the now-annual–but formerly one-time–ecclesiastical endorsement). These are designed to identify those who are orthoprax and orthodox and to weed out those who are not. Through these heuristics, the Church can deem a person an insider or an outsider, someone trusted or someone feared. Using these proxies for trust, we create an elitism among the ranks of Church members.
Control & Authorization
Some members strongly believe that you need authorization for just about anything you do. They take personal matters to the bishop for advice. If someone asks them a question, they suggest talking to the bishop. Or they might search for answers to every question using only talks by high ranking Church leaders. One ward member was upset when lessons were selected that were from General Conference talks given by anyone other than the Twelve. In her view, the “higher” the authority, the better the information, and to this end, anything but the highest human authority she could envision should be scorned as unacceptable, unworthy of discussion (unfortunately, this obviously meant that no women had any authority in her view). Authority gives some people comfort. Knowing that they are approved by an authority figure makes them feel secure and right.
Others prefer autonomy to authority. They may even chafe at the control or too strong influence of an authority figure. They want to feel that their choices are their own, whether right or wrong. They may have been burned by authority in the past or they may have more confidence in their motives than those of other people. They may prefer personal accountability for mistakes to a life lived by the design of another person.
Most children crave the approval and love of their parents. I remember reading a short story when I was about 12 years old, at the cusp between childhood and growing up. The story was about a girl my age who for the first time realized that her parents weren’t the best, that they made mistakes, that her mom’s lipstick was crooked (symbolism!). She was initially devastated, her worldview rocked to the core. She didn’t think she could forgive them for being fallible humans and still being so in control of her life. But eventually, she forgave them their mistakes, and she learned to take more personal responsibility for her choices.
That’s pretty much how growing up works. Unfortunately, some parents are loath to give up that all-powerful control they have over their children or they are too invested in the idea that their adult children are their legacy, an extension of themselves, a pass/fail grade on their parenting. In Mormonism, the doctrine of eternal families takes that fear parents have of losing control and infuses a little damnation into it, plus the idea that their own eternal reward will be ruined by a child who chooses not to remain Mormon. This presupposes that the doctrine on eternal families is accurately understood, and given how vague it is, it really can’t be correctly understood, but it is still enough to trigger and exacerbate normal parental fears. It’s also likely to backfire in that relationships based on the theory of heavenly eternal relationships don’t necessarily equate to building great relationships during this lifetime. If the relationship is bad in the here and now, why would anyone wish for it to continue in the hereafter?
Universalism vs. Conditional Love
If the first two examples are about the conditions people have to meet to be acceptable to parents and other human authorities, the third category is about being expansive in one’s views of others and our acceptance. In LDS scripture, we find: “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10) This hints that humans are required to be universalists, but that God may be conditional if He chooses (although it doesn’t claim that He won’t be Universalist, just that He can do what He likes). The statement puts humans on equal footing with each other, showing that with our imperfect understanding and natures, we aren’t in a position to judge others or create comparisons and hierarchies within our own human ranks. The scripture is about forgiveness, so it assumes that a wrong has been committed toward the forgiver, but all human judgments of what is acceptable and what is not are called into question by the gospel in the scriptures. As it says in Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
I see this as saying that when we try to apply our own hierarchical thinking to God, we will never get it right. We always turn to self-justification and condemnation of our perceived enemies. I mentioned the movie Inherit the Wind in last week’s post, based (fairly accurately, in fact) on the Scopes Monkey Trial. When the fundamentalist prosecutor (and holy crap does he prosecute that schoolteacher!) gets his comeuppance, his former friend the defense attorney defends his statement that the prosecutor had much greatness in him. He is criticized by the journalist (charming, cynical Gene Kelly) for not condemning the terrible prosecutor more fully, and he replies:
“Why? Because I refuse to erase a man’s lifetime? I tell you Brady (the prosecutor) had the same right as Cates (the schoolteacher): the right to be wrong!”
Although the fundamentalist prosecutor uses his time in the movie to whip up resentment among the local Evangelicals who literally chant a song about lynching the defense attorney and his client (!), the defense attorney supports their right to be wrong about the fight they are making. His approach channels the words of Edwin Markham’s poem “Outwitted”:
He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Looking back at my childhood holiday meals, in a way my brother-in-law felt that my presence in his peer group would lessen his own experience and his own sense of importance. Why should he have to treat someone he viewed as a child as an equal? My mother’s view, aside from loyally defending her child from a social slight, held a formal understanding of hierarchical “rights” based on relationships in the family; like a pedigree chart, immediate family is one level, next generation is a level removed. This is partly just the thinking of prior generations. For example, in Jane Austen’s books, knowing one’s place in terms of precedent based on societal importance was essential. It would be a huge faux pas to try to go in to dinner before someone higher ranking, a misstep that could result in being scorned by others as too self-important. When 16-year old Lydia Bennett elopes in Pride & Prejudice, she pointedly tells her 22 year old unmarried sister that she now goes into dinner before her because as a married lady (er, child?), she has higher social standing.
My in-laws took a different approach altogether, and it was chaotic by the standards I’ve described in my own upbringing, but instead of any attempt at formality, there was real pleasure and joy in one another. The kids mingled with the adults. Everyone had access to everyone. We were all equal; there weren’t enough seats at the table, and nobody cared. Certainly this chaos had its upside. But for those enamored with social hierarchies, it would have been madness, an upending of the natural order of things! (Which I may have personally thought for a few minutes the first time I encountered it, but I quickly saw the appeal).
Our current First Presidency seems more focused on human hierarchies and conditional acceptance than perhaps some previous ones have, or at least it’s more openly discussed in those terms. We’ve also been ratcheting up the ways to measure fealty within the Church during my lifetime. I recall growing up that it was very common for adult Church members not to have a current temple recommend, and many did not pay tithing. The increased focus on these two measures have certainly filled the coffers of the Church, but maybe we’ve also lost some universalism in that process. Also, when we focus on what can be measured, we often lose sight of what cannot be measured. It’s like the difference between a person who is religious and one who is spiritual. You can be both, but just being religious doesn’t make you spiritual.
- What do you think is behind this focus on measuring worthiness and only giving certain callings to those deemed loyal by those specific standards? Do you see it as new or was it always there?
- What would the Church look like if it were more Universalist? What would be different? How would you accomplish such a thing? What would be the downside?
- Would the Church lose its “stickiness” (member retention) if there were more acceptance of people and less focus on worthiness?
“When do Mormons graduate from the Kids’ Table to the Adults’ Table? ”
Well, from one of L. Tom Perry’s reported stories (the chocolate box at Q12 meetings),I think maybe they don’t. Instead, one must first be a deferential (adulatory even) yes-man with good statistics to graduate to the Q12 table and then wait for the deaths of those with longer seniority in the Q12 before you can have a choice of milk rather than dark chocolates. Adulation is constantly taught by GAs’ example in General Conference; it sometimes seems to be required that they each claim great love for by the president of the Church and admiration and gratitude for his inspired leadership. It’s rarely a persuasive ritual.
The obsession with hierarchy and leader adulation is built into that version of the Mormon doctrine of exaltation that has one ruling and reigning (as a vassal king) over one’s own limited, but eternally growing, kingdom and [wives and] posterity Though the standards of sufficent loyalty have changed over the years, it seems to have always been there. The personal loyalty (and perhaps the adulation) requirement seems to have been built into JS’ dealings with his counselors, the Q12, and others. Vocal disagreement suggested excommunication; conceding and declarations of loyalty suggested reinstatement.
Actually, I’m not sure there is an adults’ table. I wonder.
But there are at least some Church leaders who listen to council and accept criticism and deal with it like real adults.
What might have happened at Thanksgiving dinner if Angela had been a suck-up to her brother-in-law? Can one even imagine “Please, let me sit at this table. I’m so anxious to hear your conversation and to learn from you.” or ” Oh, how brilliant/inspired/kind/generous you are.”
I suspect the increased focus on “worthiness” may be contributing somewhat to less “stickiness” currently, especially in young adults. It creates a culture where too many feel they don’t belong.
It’s funny how LDS leaders still, from time to time, talk about free agency or moral agency, yet the mechanisms of social control within the Church system (TR interviews, youth interviews, yearly ecclesiastical endorsements at BYU, and so forth) work in just the opposite direction. And the focus of all this control is primarily on institutional loyalty (attendance, tithing), not self-improvement or increased spirituality or morality. So we’re about personal autonomy and agency in theory but about social control in practice.
About “stickiness”: if you’re going to have a high-investment Church, I think you have to reward the high-investors (those ten people who do most of the work and go the extra mile with tithing). I don’t really object to that.
Great post. A lot to unpack here.
I think you’ve touched on the church’s modus operandi. It seems to need hierarchalism to thrive.
We like to say that the Church today (latter-day Church) is the same organization that existed in Christ’s time. Of course, anyone with any knowledge of biblical history knows that is a preposterous claim. Instead, it is very apparent that the organization we have today is a reflection of the 1950’s post-war culture that initially dominated Western life for the last 75 years or so. This culture includes a hierarchal structure, a written code of conduct and rules, formal goals and objectives, and a push for a high level of cultural conformity. Do you really think that’s the way it was back in Christ’s time? Can you acknowledge that’s the way it definitely was in say 1955?
Society is changing and these changes are going to drive more and more members from the Church. And when I say society is changing I don’t mean it is becoming more and more evil (every generation likes to say that). What I mean is that we are now openly rejecting patriarchy, racist structures and organizations, sexists structures and organizations. And we are supposedly more tolerant and accepting of all types of people (note: not sure there’s more acceptance of religious or conservative folks but that’s a separate topic). This growing acceptance of all types plus the rejection of traditional hierarchal organizations equates to doom for the Church. You have an entire generation of young adults looking at the Church and saying “this organization is not for me” based on the Church’s structure and history.
Will the Church change in order to retain more of its young members? Probably. But the norm is to be 10 or 20 years behind the curve before it changes (example:
Civil Rights Act of 1964 vs. lifting of priesthood ban 1978). Should be fun to watch.
I am still dismayed when I hear about the seniority and hierarchy among the Apostles. I find it insulting and sophomoric. Do we ever actually grow up, or are we consigned to game-playing and score-keeping?
A year and a half ago, when the Church ordered wards to consolidate priesthood quorums (no more separate EQ and HP), it didn’t end up working well in my ward. It felt like a hostile takeover. Us younger working-age guys had our only safe space hijacked by the old guys, with their old opinions and old ways of doing things, while the younger men were pushed aside. At the time, I used the same analogy to describe it–we are all now invited to the feast, but some of us still have to sit at the kids table.
My first thought is that women are sometimes invited to the adult table of the Church, but only equivalently to a teenager among adults. For most women, most of the time, the kids’ table it is….
Great article, lots to think about here.
Jack Hughes: I wrote an OP a few years before EQ and HP merged about the weirdness of the men having two different “statuses” while the women were all lumped in under one big “Relief Society” umbrella. When Ordain Women came out, my biggest objection was that the Priesthood is a men’s organization, and by that I mean it’s kind of ruined. It’s not egalitarian, not a Christ-like organization. It’s a competitive, titular, hierarchical, status-based organization where toadyism and power have become more important than outcomes to members. I come from a corporate background, and that’s one of the flaws of second wave feminism, too. Rather than improving the organizations that were created by men, for men, second wave feminists just joined those existing organizations by trying to integrate, changing ourselves to fit in.
The RS is (usually) VERY different from the PH as an organization. There never was a question of status. Nobody has status. Everyone is kind of equally unpowerful and marginalized. It’s definitely not the same as the new merged PH, but in a lot of ways, it’s much better.
Great post and something that’s been on my mind a lot (especially as I’m currently an “A” member, well probably A- since I’m a woman, but I’ll probably soon downgrade myself (or upgrade, depending on your perspective) to a C for many of the reasons outlined in this post).
To answer your questions:
What do you think is behind this focus on measuring worthiness and only giving certain callings to those deemed loyal by those specific standards? Do you see it as new or was it always there?
(1) Culture of benevolent paternalism — we know what’s best for you so we’re going to make you do it for your own happiness
(2) Loyalty oaths in the temple
(3) Fear of different beliefs and ways of life; insularity — Mormons are pretty uncomfortable with difference
(4) Historically an easy way to compel obedience and participation (fear-based is effective … for a while)
(5) Doctrine that emphasizes earning the best spots in kingdoms and dominion over others through righteousness / worthiness
(6) Leadership structure that promotes the A Mormons so that the only people who could ever actually change this won’t.
What would the Church look like if it were more Universalist? What would be different? How would you accomplish such a thing? What would be the downside?
Hard to imagine right now because honestly to Orthodox Mormons, Universalism is not just a difference of opinion but is actually *evil* and *dangerous*. So coexisting in the same congregation is really hard. And I don’t see us totally shifting to Universalism because there’s still SO much orthodoxy and many Universalists are leaving and certainly not becoming apostles. I’d say maybe there’d be a schism (Progressive Mormon congregations, Orthodox congregations), like in other religions, but our centralization and ward organization makes that complicated.
To make Universalist Mormonism survive (i.e., remove the sad heaven threats and coercion), I think you’d have to focus on community & meaning. It has to matter to people, and it has to make their lives more joyful and fulfilling now – not just promise some reward in the future for all your earthly misery if you’re righteous enough. I personally feel the church has gotten lazy because so many people just fall in line, and now that people are leaving because church isn’t meeting their needs (spiritual / emotional / social) the church doesn’t know what to do. (Hint: it’s not pounding the pulpit to convince people they’re wrong.)
Would the Church lose its “stickiness” (member retention) if there were more acceptance of people and less focus on worthiness?
Probably depends how you define “retention.” Would people be as willing to come every week, give 10% of their income, serve in callings they hate and aren’t suited for, etc.? No, I don’t think so, so you’d lose some stickiness. But if “retention” is defined as people willing to stay engaged with and active (maybe defined differently than currently defined) in the community, maybe it would actually improve – we are losing a lot of people right now because we suck at making room for them so they leave.
I’ll add one thought and that’s that I like your contrast of kid table vs. free for all, but I don’t think a chaotic free for all is the only other option. There are all sorts of other options that would be more respectful of people’s desires and interests and needs (vote on where to sit! Have someone really thoughtful get input from everyone and come up with a seating chart! Allow for people to select and negotiate over seats! Rotate seats each year so the same people don’t get stuck with inferior seats!). You can be more egalitarian and fair and compassionate without chaos *or* the authoritarianism.
As for elitism, keep in mind that in a high-investment church people always have their radar active looking for free riders (those reaping the blessings of the Lord’s Church without doing as much investment as the next guy). Free rider is an economics term; in psychology, the same thing is talked about as a cheater detection module or program in our mental functioning. With all of that high investing that an “A” member does (here’s where elitism is closely tied to watching out for cheaters), these A-people don’t want those who pay half a tithe or who don’t have a calling or who only attend twice a month to somehow sneak into A status instead of that solid C that they deserve.
I have to think the whole dynamic is much more muted in mainstream churches with a lower expectations as far as member effort and involvement. I imagine they’re just happy if you show up twice a month, sing in tune, and drop a twenty in the tray most of the time.
I just wanna be lukewarm, but I’m haunted by the GBH true/fraud construct.
One Thanksgiving after I had been living away from home I returned home for Thanksgiving and found no room at the adult table, so I went to sit at the kids table. This would have been fine with me; the kids were cute and fun, and I hadn’t talked to them much for a few years, so I was willing to sit there, but it felt just a tiny but weird. Someone soon noticed and made room for me at the grown-up table, which was nice. I appreciated that someone was looking out and included me.
With regard to church, I have gradually become more and more disenchanted. As I gradually stopped attending most Sunday school classes I felt quite liberated. I feel like I’m at the adult table now when I read and comment on blogs, whereas gospel doctrine class feels like the kids table. “(Oh you can teach section 132 without mentioning polygamy? That’s so cute!”)
And as I was participating less, guess how they tried to invite me back and make me feel included? They asked me to be the cleaning coordinator. Real nice.
Every member has “A” status during the pandemic; coming up on my 24th Sunday at home, enjoying this status.
There really was a lot of universalism in the roots of our faith under Joseph Smith, and it was one of the most ingenious aspects. If the concept of Heaven & Hell was too binary and exclusive, having multiple kingdoms, the lowest of which was still better than Earth, was a move toward universalism. Likewise, he wanted the Relief Society to be a kingdom of priests. He wanted to seal all of the human race to each other. He had everyone calling each other “brother” and “sister” and using first names. But he’s also the same guy who introduced a lot of elitist subdivisions and hierarchy, not to mention secret cabals (Danites, Council of 50, secret polygamists). The introduction of three degrees of glory was itself hierarchical.
I totally agree with Dave B.’s comment that the higher the requirements for orthopraxy, the more vigilant people are for freeloaders, and that makes highly orthoprax churches kind of the worst.
I think there are a few types of “A” members who may still be more inclusive than the rest of the “A” people, though: 1) converts, 2) former “C” members who later come back, and 3) ‘favored sons’ or legacy “A” listers who are really just there because their parents are a big deal in that stake, and they grew up there, so everyone’s eager to see them “succeed.” Not that all of those in these sub-categories are going to be open and easy-going, but they may be more than those who’ve been at this for their whole lives, keeping score, and building up resentment against the members they think are weaker or less committed or have sacrificed less.
I wonder if the Church would be better served by separating the doctrinal side of the leadership from the financial and social aspects. The doctrinal side would continue under the direction of P3 and Q12, and some institutional issues would require their approval.. The social/financial side would be under the control of a more democratic organization, which would involve both men and women, with the Priesthood not pulling rank.
The second organization could determine and/or oversee financial priorities, Church publishing endeavors, humanitarian efforts, missionary outreach (both proselytizing and humanitarian), public relations, nature of church meetings, and legal entanglements.
The intent would be to make the Church much less top-down in its management. And make it more universalist.
Chet – Not every member has “A” status during the pandemic. Single women are D- at best, since we only have access to the sacrament if we beg for it and if someone deigns to deliver it to our homes.
Roger D Hansen that sounds like a job for the General Relief Society Presidency and the Presiding Bishopric.
I think I was once on the A track ( multiple EQ presidencies, lots of talks in church), but then I got called as executive secretary. Bishop and I didn’t see eye to eye and I was quickly released after I refused to do something for the Bishop that I saw as an abuse of authority. So for the last 15 years I’ve been happily relegated to B status in Sunday school and primary in four different wards.
A couple of years ago, a friend asked me to meet him at a coffee shop. He is in his late 20s and a newly commissioned paster of a small Presbyterian congregation. Sunday attendance is usually in the 40 to 60 range, mostly older folks and very few teens.
He wanted to run some of his administrative problems by me to see if I might have some advice. He was having some issues with participation on some of the committees needed to run the church: budget, physical facilities, and the activity of the deacons (the men and women who are the equivalent of ministering brothers and sisters). We talked about the men’s group he wanted to start and we looked at some program materials he had picked up as he networked with some evangelical pastor friends. We talked about a youth program – he really had no idea where to start with that. That’s when I asked him what sort of guidance he got from the church HQ.
He looked at me kind of funny – like it was an odd question. I broke out my iPad and opened the Gospel Library app. I showed him all of the church produced materials: lesson manuals for every age, administrative handbooks, special courses of study like self-sufficiency, and so on.
He was blown away. At first, he was like a kid in a candy store, thinking about how there was something for almost everything. Then his countenance changed. He was troubled. Troubled that “something for almost everything” removes the work of seeking God’s will in these areas. Troubled that solutions are handed down from HQ rather than being developed by parishioners.
I attended his commissioning. When he was “ordained”, it was said that the Grace he received at his baptism was all the authority he needed to be the pastor. There were no special keys or authority other than what was freely and given by Christ to all members.
Sure, the Presbyterians have some bylaws and points of order (which keeps pastors from becoming autocratic), but there is no heavy-handed chain of command. Authority is given by Grace – not by a hierarchy that giveth and taketh away.
I respect all the hard work and inspiration that Mormons put into their callings. But I agree with so many commenters that the church hierarchy (local and general), the copious programs and manuals, and the insistence that we color within the lines really do put members at the kid’s table.
“What do you think is behind this focus on measuring worthiness and only giving certain callings to those deemed loyal by those specific standards?”
Obviously the church would like to make everyone a tithe paying, garment wearing, coffee abstaining, A+++ member. If Bishops, counselors, or relief society presidents didn’t do these things, how could they be expected to get their congregation to do what they themselves are not doing?
As for why church members have started placing such importance on ones place in the hierarchy, I think it has less to do with watching for free riders and more to do with insecurity.
The perfect example are missionaries. A mission has a very set hierarchy: junior comp, senior comp, district leader, zone leader, ap. Why do some missionaries care so much about their place in it. Because they want to feel they are good missionaries, or at least better than the other guy. It is really just a way to boost a fragile adolescent ego.
People who feel they are better than others because of a calling or temple recommend are essentially the same. They just want to see they are righteous or at least more righteous than the next guy so they feel good about themselves.
So many thoughts on this. But will try and limit my response.
I hate to take it back to COVID, but here we go. I don’t live in UT, but most of my family does. When the Area President came out and asked the members to please support the wearing of masks to slow the spread, my family was happy to comply. They were floored by the response of their neighbors. “Who does he think he is?” “He’s not important and has no authority over me” “I will only wear a mask if President Nelson says is.” So yes hierarchy is definitely the name of the game.
My mom wrote the book on segregating parents from kids on holidays. Not only is there a separate table, there is a separate room, with separate food. It really bugs me. I really wish I could understand why this matters so much to her. Even something simple like a July 4th BBQ leads to this behavior, where the kids get hot dogs and the adults get steak (and I get in trouble because I just want a freaking hot dog on July 4th). I just don’t get it.
On callings, man it’s a minefield. Years ago my friend was a counsellor in the bishopric, and he suggested I teach gospel doctrine. The Bishop however didn’t know me from Adam so he made me audition for the role. I informally taught the class twice to determine if I was good enough. I guess the made the cut as I had the calling for 2.5 years. But man it was so awkward. So many other stories about the hierarchy of callings but I must say, I’m old enough now that I’m happy to let others fight over callings. I have enough else going on my life.
Wow, Angela. You really know how to pack a lot of interesting observations into one post! I have two unrelated responses:
On the idea of ranking members, who’s at the adults versus kids versus C-level table, one clear distinction is gender. As already noted above, since women are ineligible for the most influential callings at every level of the Church, at best they can only aspire to being A- members. Another is marital status. If you’re single, you’re pretty much a perpetual C, regardless of how much tithing you pay or how many consecutive years you’ve held a temple recommend. I’ve read of lots of people describing how humiliating it is to be treated as a perpetual child at church just because they don’t have a spouse.
You said “Some members strongly believe that you need authorization for just about anything you do. They take personal matters to the bishop for advice.” I think this is completely understandable because the level of detail some Church rules get into is so fine that it strongly signals that the Church wants to have its nose in *everything* you do. When the Church regulates people’s undergarments, for heaven’s sake, and when it’s considered permissible to change them, it makes total sense that many members would conclude that it would also be interested in all kinds of other personal decisions. I’m actually a little surprised that there aren’t more members who reach this conclusion, because it seems pretty straightforward given all the things the Church wants to regulate.
Now that I have children, I’ve had to reconsider how to navigate participation in “church.”
Youth programs are immature, priesthood programs are offensive. Leadership is Pharisee.
The church only has to appeal to the demographic that financially supports it.
And it does.
Is there an apt comparison of Tom Sawyer convincing his easily manipulated friends into paying him the prime contents of their pockets for the privilege of white washing the fence (his chore) for him somewhere in the A, B, and C members, and church leadership analysis?
I’m with Elisa (C is an upgrade), Rockwell (kids table is kind of fun), JLM (happily a B), Chadwick (enough going on in my life), and Travis (reconsidering how to navigate church). I find it relaxingly liberating.
Dave B’s comment about free riders being subject to a super-devout A-lister running their cheater detection program is a scenario that is somewhat obliquely addressed in the parable of the prodigal son. While the super devout brother, who complains about not receiving the honor of a feast, doesn’t come under condemnation, neither does he gain favor, and most importantly is peripheral to the point of the parable. I have always found many layers of meaning in that parable.
I docilely accepted what I thought was A- or B status, completely oblivious to what it meant as a woman, but came to see that the social/cultural hierarchy actually had me in a very bad place as a woman married to a no-mo. I am responsible for getting myself out of that pickle, but now, on the occasions when I attend, I wonder if there’s a Sinners’ Table.
I still love to take wisdom from the parables, though, and find many of them favorable towards the free riders and take a jaundiced view of the devout disciples who are proud of the position they’ve achieved.
@Wondering, the first time I heard the Q12 chocolate story helped me realize the apostles could be blinded by the foolishness of their own generation. Surely a man after God’s own heart would know the beauty and richness of dark chocolate almost always surpasses the cloying sweetness of milk chocolate.
Can someone post a link to the Q15 chocolate story, please?
Thank you! You were quick.
MTodd and Sasso:
I think (but am not sure) that this is the SAME Stake Conference in which L. Tom Perry also revealed that he sat next to Boyd Packer during Q12 meetings, and that he would kick Packer in the shins and ankles, when Packer started becoming difficult. I think someone made a surreptitious recording of Perry’s remarks, and that is how they leaked out (the Church forbids recordings of such meetings).
L. Tom Perry had a tremendous sense of humor, and was happily sharing the human side of Q12 meetings during the Stake Conference, which to me is faith-promoting, showing these leaders as normal people.
Rather than respond with a yeah, his remarks WERE pretty funny, the Church’s reaction to Elder Perry’s indiscreet remarks seems to have been a further doubling-down on humorless dignity.
The Church aims to project an image of dignity that reminds me of a scene in the movie “Amadeus.” Mozart asks the Emperor to decree an opera written in German, the language of the people. The Court musicians, mediocre hacks the lot of them, are horrified, and insist that any opera must be in Italian, to be dignified. Mozart’s reply, sanitized for this post: Italian operas are so dignified that the singers defecate marble. The Emperor finds Mozart’s retort amusing, and decrees an opera in German.