While in engineering school, I took a class on feedback control systems. In its simplest form, a closed feedback control system takes input from its environment to control the output of a process. You all have a simple one in your home, the thermostat on the wall. You set the temperature, the heater or A/C comes on, and when it receives the feedback that the set temperature had been achieved, it turns off.
Businesses have feedback from employees and customers in the form of surveys, employee interviews, and the like. In the LDS church, the only scriptural mandated feedback control system I have found is in the Doctrine and Covenants where it talks about “common consent” (D&C 26:2, 28:13). I believe in the early days of the church, common consent was a true feedback system. A proposal would be put forth from the pulpit, debate would take place, and then a vote (feedback) would happen. This is NOT the case today, and I see no formal feedback control system today for the general membership.
When you believe that your church is run by God, then there is really no need for feedback from the membership. Elder Boyd K Packer said as much in this quote
Elder Lee had agreed to give me counsel and some direction. He didn’t say much, nothing really in detail, but what he told me has saved me time and time again. ‘You must decide now which way you face,’ he said. ‘Either you represent the teachers and students and champion their causes or you represent the Brethren who appointed you. You need to decide now which way you face.’ Then he added, ‘Some of your predecessors faced the wrong way.’ It took some hard and painful lessons before I understood his counsel. In time, I did understand, and my resolve to face the right way became irreversible.“All-Church Coordinating Council,” May 18, 1993.
Elder Packer’s direction from Elder Lee was to represent the brethren (church) to the members, and not the members to the brethren (feedback).
In spite of Elder Packer’s counsel, and lack of scriptural mandate, the church has realized that if they don’t get feedback from the membership, then people will tend to send their feedback by leaving the church, or in a particular case, stop attending the temple. A survey was send out in 1988 asking about temple attendance, and what was keeping members from attending. In 1990, major changes were made, using the survey as a feedback system.
But this post is not about the church’s feedback control system, or lack thereof, but it is about me, Bishop Bill, getting feedback. This post marks my 170th time I’ve written on these pages. I’ve posted every Sunday for the past three years, and did guest posts for several years before that.
So let me have it. What works with my posts and what doesn’t? What turns you off in my writing, and what do you like? Too snarky? Too immature? I hope with some feedback, I can face you my readers, and give you posts that will educate you, entertain you, and from time to time make you laugh or cry (most of the laughing will be due to my spelling and grammar!).
I like your posts because they are brief, thoughtful, and thought provoking. You use imaginative comparisons to illustrate your train of thought. Your posts also make me squirm sometimes, in a a good way. Cheers.
I have been reading posts on Wheat and Tares for quite sometime now. I live in the UK and have been a member of the Church since 1962. Therefore, I am new to replying to the articles posted on this site. I find the majority of the posts helpful as I navigate my way through deep concerns that I have regarding the Church and the way it has evolved over these many years since I was baptised. Bishop Bill, I enjoy , very much your posts and look forward to reading them and thinking about your thoughts on the various topics.
I enjoy your posts overall. I’m very forgiving of spelling errors, and although I generally do okay with spelling, I find muscle memory often takes over when it comes to typing, so that I’m often guilty of it as well.
I do find your reliance on logic unsurprising but also frustrating. It would make sense coming from an engineer. However, as a semiconductor equipment technician with some digital background, I’ve also learned that logic has many valid paths. The simplest explanation may seem the most logical initially, but others can be equally and possibly more logical. I’ve also come to realize logic is only one aspect of our existence. A favorite line I once read on another blog stated “The appeal of logical completeness is emotional.” It’s a bit ironic in a way.
Regardless of whether I agree with you, you make me think, for which I’m grateful.
I’m hugely impressed you’d even consider a post like this. I’d love to see W & T do something like this in general. I’d have a lot to say and would probably have to break it up a bit. Having said that, that I do learn some things from time to time and gain empathy for others is one great reason I keep coming back.
You have a built in feedback system in that you read the comments, and actually consider and respond to what the readers are saying. Unlike some of the more orthodox blogs where they simply delete any comment that doesn’t agree and support their original post. Or some of the feminist blogs where I have seen commenters get chewed out for not being “woke” enough on racial issues, or asking a question and then get chewed out for not already understanding. Sorry, perma bloggers, but you don’t encourage further understanding by chewing people out for asking what you think are stupid questions. Of course, the fact that I am saying that HERE instead of over at the offending sites, suggests how broken their feedback system is. You also generate thoughtful comments instead of just “well written” or “thank you for sharing“. When all the comments are basically “thanks” something is the matter that people are not engaging more. You get good comments, so your blogs are thought provoking.
I enjoyed the post, but I fail to see how the earlier church was receptive to feedback. Joseph Smith declared himself king in Nauvoo. His revelations were the basis of everything that was to be believed. No one else’s thoughts mattered. Common consent was uttered in D&C but I don’t see that it was put in practice. Brigham Young was a dictator.
As for present leaders, your absolutely right they aren’t receptive to feedback. In a way, they are sensitive to what critics say and do make policy changes as a response to that. But they don’t want to admit it. Don’t want to look like the tail is wagging the dog.
What John W said.
Anna: *cough cough* BCC *cough cough*
I agree there should be a feedback system. In this day this should not be that difficult.
I have recieved surveys from the church. They were sent by a woman, but I can not find one at present.
Also what Anna said.
Kudos for seeking feedback, Bishop Bill. Not a commonly-held trait! I have generally enjoyed the essays you post on W and T, finding some more interesting than others.
A suggestion: Chad Nielsen on Times and Seasons posts essays, and periodically inserts himself into the thread of comments that follow. From what I have seen, this is to answer questions raised in the comment thread, and to redirect the comment thread back to the points and questions he raised in his original essay. This helps to reduce the efforts of the small group of commenters who have agendas, and want to hijack the comment thread. He will also pleasantly but directly point out when commenters start getting nasty and personal. Direct but respectful disagreement is fine, but it seems inevitable that some people will cross the line, sometimes. I think what Chad does is a good thing and worthy of emulation.
Anna’s observation is spot-on, that some orthodox blogs simply censor differing opinions out and some feminist blogs treat people with contempt (my word, not hers, but the behavior Anna describes is accurate), when it comes to responding to commenters who are deemed not sufficiently “woke,” or who are so gauche as to not understand something that should have been OBVIOUS. And yes, thank you, Dylan, for saying it, BCC. Intolerance and arrogance trying to masquerade as intellectual heft.
I follow W and T, because while it is mostly progressive in outlook (and while I am not conservative anymore, I am certainly NOT progressive) and I often disagree with what is written, I usually enjoy W and T’s exchange of ideas, and the back and forth gets me out of my echo chamber, and helps me re-evaluate and refine my opinions. Joseph Smith said (I think I have it right) that it is by studying contradictions that truth is made.
Thank you, Bishop Bill, for fostering this spirit. Please keep it up.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org about all you have to say! We’d love to hear from you.
I have filled out 3 surveys in the last 6 years.
1 was for the ward council
1 was for the ward
1 was the COVID one by email from the LDS HQ
And another email survey from the ward. This one was funny because at the end they asked to put your name on it, but I didn’t realise it was going to be read by the whole Ward Council. Caused some fun conversations when my wife got back from WC that week…
Sometimes I am so busy and so when I get notifications that the nautical is published on me in tears I don’t need it because I know it’ll take a while, and I’ll do that later. But sometimes later never comes. However, when I see your post I know it’ll be short and contain factual information with your interesting interpretation/logical opinion (even if it is not your opinion), so I often read it. I like that they are thought-provoking, and not just another recapitulation of historical issues. Although some of the conclusions could be countered with different paradigms that nuanced members are forced to adopt, sometimes I prefer how you often don’t go into that, spending a lot of extra time deconstructing the logical argument. The comments can do that, I like the brief points of consideration.
I enjoy your short posts. You put enough content into them that allows them to be short but meaningful.
I usually read these at work when i’m taking a quick break from what I’m working on, looking for something insightful to read. Not going to lie, the ones about your mission were passed over. I’ve listened to enough missionary stories in my life. A quick reference for context is fine but anymore more than that is not what I’m looking for on my break.
Glad to see you move on from there.
I think you provide a very welcome perspective. I hope you’ll continue and not let anything discourage or distract you.
I enjoy your posts and come away with new insights. This topic would make a great separate post on feedback loops in the church.
In defense of the feminist bloggers …
100% agree that we need to allow for “clumsy curiosity” and not tear people apart for asking questions or even making comments that seem uninformed. Also, I’m not actually a feminist blogger and don’t spend a ton of time on those sites so I don’t have any skin in the game.
But … I think a lot of that reaction (as unhelpful as it might be) comes from spending so. many. years. answering the same questions and addressing the same arguments over and over and not seeming to see any progress.
I used to be very interested in and participate in lots of women in the workplace groups / events / whatever and eventually after many years just got burned out of seeing the same things over and over and over again and having the same discussions over and over and over again. And I tried to remind myself that “for this person, this is new, be gentle” but it is rough. Similar experience with church and women. I just truly do not want to hear any more arguments for why our church isn’t sexist. I have heard all the arguments. All of them. Really. I have. Yes, that one too.
So I wish they would have more patience with new people but I also encourage more patience (and humility) for the new people. I’ve found that usually asking sincere (if misguided) questions isn’t usually the problem. Coming in with hot takes and solutions and strong opinions and arguments (that people have been dealing with for years) is.
That said, agree that this W&T place is pretty neat for robust discussion and not a ton of toxicity.
I should add – I’ve had people on the feminist blogs be super, super rude to me so I hear you Anna. Just trying to be a little understanding.
Elisa, I know this is a bit of a thread jack, but I do understand about answering the same old questions, about race, about gender discrimination, about LGBT. But when a person of color writes a blog, well they have put themselves into a position of explaining, so I don’t understand then turning around and getting angry that people don’t understand *already.* And it hasn’t been the guest posters (the people who are actually discriminated against) that I have seen get rude, it is the permas. They are trying to “moderate” their blog and become a bigger problem than they are trying to prevent. It is the white cisgender people who consider themselves “experts” that think they need to defend marginalized groups by jumping on other white cisgender folk. It is a game of, “I am more woke than you are.” It is white people trying to prove they are allies. While I understand impatience, it doesn’t make for a good educational discussion where people leave feeling more understanding and compassion for marginalized folk. People leave feeling like “to hell with them. If they are rotten to me, why should I care how society treats them?” It defeats the whole purpose of the blog post and actually ends up doing more harm than good. Those people are not friends and allies to the marginalized, but are trying to prove how “good” they are. It is the same as a man mansplainnin feminist issues to prove himself a feminist. Please let the marginalized individual speak for themselves I f they find something offensive.
But getting back on topic, I like Bishop Bill because his posts bring up topics that are just controversial enough to be interesting, and he leaves room for orthodox believers as well as those who question, and those who are only cultural Mormons. I am never afraid to comment and know that if anyone is rude, it won’t be Bishop Bill. He keeps things kind of intellectual and logical, but that is kind of what I prefer any way. I don’t need a discussion of “I feel the church is true.” And when you get off into the emotional weeds, that is when people get defensive and offensive.
I think the comments prove his topics are interesting and that people feel safe commenting, which makes for a good discussion with a broad range of opinions.
@Anna fair point. I don’t disagree with that. Personally haven’t seen it as much but that’s because like I mentioned I don’t frequent those blogs much anymore. Used to.