I was listening to an interesting podcast about how American culture is unique in the world, and how our cultural assumptions change our worldview. The podcast reviewed six dimensions of national culture which are further described by Dutch author Geert Hofstede here who also shows how different countries rate on each aspect. As someone who has lived abroad and travelled a lot, I have seen these differences, and I also observe that they impact how our “global” (but really Utah-centric) Church is perceived by members in other countries. The Church is often described by historians as a uniquely American Church, one that lauds America as a promised land, was founded here, and embodies American virtues while also exporting those values to converts worldwide.
There are ways the Church culture is simply the same as American culture, and also ways in which it differs from American culture. When it differs, though, my view is that the Church still respects and gives preference to American cultural values. Read on to find out why I think so and if you agree.
First, let’s start with the six dimensions:
Individualism vs. collectivism.
Individualism is the extent to which people feel independent, as opposed to being interdependent as members of larger wholes. Individualism does not mean egoism. It means that individual choices and decisions are expected. Collectivism does not mean closeness. It means that one “knows one’s place” in life, which is determined socially. With a metaphor from physics, people in an individualistic society are more like atoms flying around in a gas while those in collectivist societies are more like atoms fixed in a crystal.https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/
This is the one where the US is the biggest outlier world-wide. The US is rated at 91/100 for individualism; Canada and Australia are also high. This was probably my biggest culture shock when I lived in Asia. In Asia, I discovered that teamwork was far more important than individual contribution, and firing anyone for performance, or even just holding them individually accountable, was nearly impossible. Results were typically only published for the team, and one time when there was a huge screw-up by someone, the site director simply accepted responsibility and resigned rather than identifying the individual responsible. I hated to lose her, but she saw this as her duty and did so unhesitatingly. Working in Asia for an American company made my role particularly challenging because my bosses were all American with American values, while my teams did not like competing with each other and found being singled out–even for positive rewards–to be embarrassing and carry social costs.
When the Occupy Wall Street protests were sweeping the globe, several team members talked about the Singapore movement having a hard time getting off the ground because nobody wanted to be the first to take a stand, and they didn’t want to get in trouble, so they needed to obtain permits to gather. In the meantime, I watched in fascinated horror while a US Occupy Wall Street protester take a dump on a police car on the news. Things that flourish in societies that focus on individualism: human rights, divorce, creativity, walking faster (!), and inequality. In a society that prizes individualism, we take credit for our successes individually. We believe we succeed because we worked harder, we got more education, we were more clever, we deserved it; people who didn’t succeed didn’t deserve success. These are our narratives. We also tend to be more competitive, wanting to stand out and be recognized as special among our peers. We don’t like participation trophies, and instead of team level recognition, we want an MVP.
The Church is less individualist than American culture is, on the whole, but it appears to allow for rogue libertarian actors (individualist values) more than social justice warriors (communitarian values). For example, consider Ammon Bundy who stood off against the government, or consider the indivduals in the Church who simply refuse to wear masks to Church. Even many local leaders have stated that people have “their agency” which is apparently more valuable than the safety of ward members as a whole. Even though the top Church leaders have encouraged members to be vaccinated and wear masks, some members have claimed that this means they are “fallen prophets,” and there has been plenty of allowance for these viewpoints. So while the Church wishes it could control individuals more, it seems to recognize that it cannot, but still has a much higher tolerance for deviation on the basis of individualism, even selfishness, than on the basis of social justice or advocating for others.
Power Distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This dimension is thought to date from the advent of agriculture, and with it, of large-scale societies. Until that time, a person would know their group members and leaders personally. This is not possible where tens of thousands and more have to coordinate their lives. Without acceptance of leadership by powerful entities, none of today’s societies could run.https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/
This refers to how much access we have to power in organizations. For example, in one of his books, Malcolm Gladwell talked about a Korean Air flight that crashed into a mountain because the power distance is high in Korean culture. The boss is the boss and cannot be questioned or criticized, or even given feedback like “Hey, we’re about to crash into a mountain!” Instead, the flight crew tried to give the pilot subtle, but increasingly anxious clues that they were heading into the wrong way, mentioning (in passive voice) that “many pilots find the control panel helpful” and other really vague cues that he needed to wake the hell up. The only reason this is known is because of the black box. The plane crashed into a mountain killing everyone aboard. Now that’s a high power distance. In a lot of American culture, we expect a lower power distance. Leaders have to at least pretend to be “accessible” or have an “open door policy” and be a “team player.” Another gauge of power distance is how easy or difficult it is for people to have access to those in power and have their concerns heard, understood, and addressed.
The same three countries mentioned above (Canada, US, Australia) all rate low on power distance, meaning we have an expectation that leaders will behave like team players, be approachable, take feedback, and not expect ring-kissing. Within the Church, that’s definitely not the case, at least not currently. As podcaster Peter Bleakley points out aptly in his Mormon Civil War podcast, our theology in the D&C which requires “common consent” to doctrine changes and new leaders being called and which also states that “unrighteous dominion,” a sin nearly all leaders succumb to, scuttles their authority, is revolutionary in its democratization of the Church, e.g. its reduction of power distance. Unfortunately, as he also points out, the Church has long been going down an authoritarian path that runs counter to these scriptures. Church leaders have deliberately made their word binding, expected not only obedience but policed thought and belief in ways unprecedented, and have recently updated the handbook to make a mere disagreement over policy (as opposed to the higher standard of seeking to tear down the Church) grounds for excommunication for apostasy. Current leaders are so hierarchical that they infamously share a box of chocolates based on seniority, forcing the least senior apostles to take whatever less desirable chocolates are left over (hope you like lemon cream, suckas). Not only are Church members discouraged from writing to their leaders, but if they do, their communications will be reverted to their local leaders, supremely awkward if its about them. This effectively closes off any potential for feedback from the group, driving those who want to give feedback to online forums like this one or more desperately (and effectively) the media.
Feminine vs. Masculine
Masculinity is the extent to which the use of force in endorsed socially. In a masculine society, men are supposed to be tough. Men are supposed to be from Mars, women from Venus. Winning is important for both genders. Quantity is important and big is beautiful. In a feminine society, the genders are emotionally closer. Competing is not so openly endorsed, and there is sympathy for the underdog. This is NOT about individuals, but about expected emotional gender roles. Masculine societies are much more openly gendered than feminine societies.https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/
This one requires a little explaining. A “masculine” culture is a patriarchal culture, one that expects gender roles and that assumes male leadership and male voices to be heard. It’s also a culture that adopts some of the “masculine” traits such as show of strength or posturing, avoiding apologies and shows of emotion, and a push to the grind work culture. A more feminine culture is less stoic and values emotional expression, focuses on relationships, and doesn’t push strict conformity to gender roles. The US is more masculine than average on this one, but not over the top either. Scandinavian cultures are more feminine. Interestingly, in North America, Canada is less masculine than the US, and Mexico is more masculine. The hotter the climate, the hotter the state-sanctioned tempers and or the hotter the women!
In general, the Church probably aligns fairly closely with the US on this one, despite its utter dearth of female voices in policy and decision-making. Some Church leaders push for more masculinity (refusing to apologize or acknowledge fault, using excommunication as a weapon). Others are less comfortable with these approaches. They just don’t seem to be the ruling class right now.
Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Uncertainty avoidance has nothing to do with risk avoidance, nor with following rules. It has to do with anxiety and distrust in the face of the unknown, and conversely, with a wish to have fixed habits and rituals, and to know the truth.https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/
The US is actually pretty comfortable with uncertainty compared to others. Canada is slightly more anxious about uncertainty and Mexico is really avoidant of it. High uncertainty avoidance manifests in a lot of extra rules created to grease the wheels in social situations, rules of expected courtesy and dress norms that are pretty strictly expected for people to interact comfortably. For example, at an international work event many years ago, I and my US colleagues were baffled by the dress requirement of “smart casual.” We were pretty sure “business casual” meant dark jeans were OK with a button down shirt or blouse or sweater, although that also felt weird, having these specific rules around it, but what was “smart casual”?? We asked around, and most of our European colleagues knew what it meant (as I recall, no jeans, but not full on business dress either). The US in general is pretty casual. We wear casual clothes everywhere, even to the theater, and we call each other by first names and have no special requirements around greetings. We don’t have gift giving / receiving customs either which are very common when making new acquaintances in other countries.
As compared to the US in general, the Church’s culture is far less comfortable with uncertainty, mostly because the leaders are less comfortable with it. There are social expectations around dress at Church (far more than other Churches) and use of titles with others, how we pray, how we speak, which hand we use, what color shirt is worn, whether mistakes are allowed when reading the sacrament prayers, who can make decisions, etc.
This is one area, though, where refusing to play along probably doesn’t carry super-high penalties. For example, if you dress differently or call people by their first name or use the wrong hand to take the sacrament, people might think you are a little odd or don’t know any better, but they aren’t going to chase you out.
Short term vs. long term orientation
Long-term orientation deals with change. In a long-time-oriented culture, the basic notion about the world is that it is in flux, and preparing for the future is always needed. In a short-time-oriented culture, the world is essentially as it was created, so that the past provides a moral compass, and adhering to it is morally good. As you can imagine, this dimension predicts life philosophies, religiosity, and educational achievement.https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/
Long term orientation means understanding what is happening, our decisions and actions in a very broad, long-term context. The highest country is Japan, which is exactly what I would have guessed. After the Fukushima disaster, in which a nuclear plant was leaking deadly radioactive material due to a tsunami, senior citizens volunteered to do the cleanup. We can’t even get people to take a vaccine to stop a deadly pandemic here in the US. Now that’s partly our individualism having a dark side, but it’s also not thinking long term about things. The senior citizens decided that their sacrifice of only a few years of life was the more logical choice to make for their families and community because they knew what not doing it would cause. They looked at the context. The US isn’t very good at understanding things in a long term context partly because we aren’t a long term country. We’ve only been around for a couple hundred years which is nothing compared to most countries, and that whole time we’ve been one of the most important world powers if not the top dog. We don’t think long term because we aren’t taught to think long term. What we are teaching as “American history” wouldn’t rate as history at all in many countries.
To me, it feels like the Church is very short-term oriented, driven by the fact that our leaders are all on death’s door. If they want to make their mark, they only have the short amount of time they possess the biggest of the big red chairs, but the changes made don’t seem to have a real trajectory to them, nor a real transformative power behind them. While the push to grow the Church’s wealth may be seen as a long term thought process, the fact is that the money is just sitting there, apparently waiting to be handed to the Savior when He returns (I think someone has seriously misunderstood the parable of the talents if so), there is no vision of what to do with these funds. There’s no long-term strategy. We enact the PoX in 2015 with seemingly little thought, to the point that it’s added to the handbook without any kind of rollout planned so a scramble is required to figure out all the problems with the change, then 3 years later, we un-enact the policy. And both times, it’s called a revelation! Since the second coming is deemed imminent by key decision makers, changes that are made are pretty short-sighted. It would seem that the Church is even more short-term than the US as a whole.
Indulgence vs. restraint
Indulgence is about the good things in life. In an indulgent culture it is good to be free. Doing what your impulses want you to do, is good. Friends are important and life makes sense. In a restrained culture, the feeling is that life is hard, and duty, not freedom, is the normal state of being.https://geerthofstede.com/culture-geert-hofstede-gert-jan-hofstede/6d-model-of-national-culture/
Mexico was the highest rated country for indulgence at 97/100! The US was still above average, but only a 68/100 for indulgence. Maybe one evidence of this is that there were several insurrectionists who didn’t even vote! They didn’t do the pain-in-the-butt duty part of keeping Trump in office, but they showed up for the “fun” part: protesting his loss as fraudulent by storming the capitol in costume and getting on TV!
The Church, though, seems to be increasingly restraint-focused. It wasn’t always so (e.g. youth conferences, road shows, linger longers), and our theology certainly has some fun potential that other Churches lack (e.g. eternal sex lives, getting our own planets to tinker with vs. playing a harp on a cloud while singing choral music). But it definitely feels that the current Church culture is focused on “doing hard things” and forcing sleep deprivation among kids and parents alike. We’ve traded youth conferences for Trek. We’ve gutted the artwork from the temples and the pageants from the Church culture. We’ve expanded our thought policing activities to an increased number of worthiness interviews, regulating beliefs and behaviors. Sermons have doubled down on duty, covenant path, restraint in marital sex lives to ensure procreation, doubling down on 1950s gender roles rather than freedom to be who we are, and guilting parents with threats of sad heaven without their loved ones. This one has changed a ton in my lifetime, and right now it feels that we are at a very high restraint point in our evolving culture, and getting higher.
Let’s see what you think.
- Do you see Church culture being the same as American culture or different? In what ways?
- Do you believe there is a bias toward American culture due to its familiarity?
- What changes have you seen in Church culture across these six dimensions in your lifetime?
- Have you experienced Church culture in different countries? Was it more American or more like the local culture?
Need to distinguish the difference of American culture and Intermountain west/ Mormon culture.
The Mormon church culture is sick and not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m curious about this: “Church leaders have deliberately made their word binding, expected not only obedience but policed thought and belief in ways unprecedented, and have recently updated the handbook to make a mere disagreement over policy (as opposed to the higher standard of seeking to tear down the Church) grounds for excommunication for apostasy. ‘
I don’t find that in Section 184.108.40.206 of the Handbook defining “apostasy” “as used here…”. Of course, I also have not found a decent search function for the Handbook. Is “mere disagreement over policy” made grounds for excommunication for apostasy elsewhere?
Church culture is clearly different than modern American culture. That is irrefutable fact.
Church and American culture were once very similar. Both believed in and practiced chastity, prudence, and self-control. Now, modern social culture actively promotes uncontrolled, indiscriminate sexuality. If it feels good, it must be done regardless of the consequences.
The Church should promote a culture or self-reliance and self-sufficiency among its members. This certainly goes against the European-style entitlement culture, but it is what is required.
In short, the Church should promote a culture of discipline and responsibility. If followed, this would solve much of the world’s problems.
I think the strongest resemblance between the Church and American culture is found in US corporate culture. Both are risk adverse. Both pretty conservative. One has a board of directors with a CEO and the other has a Q14 with a president. Both respect the top down structure and both expect a high degree of conformity. Heck, they both even look the same (mostly white men in white shirts).
The thing is, the Church looks like a US corporation in terms of leadership because the organization is literally a US corporation.
Some aspects of mormon church culture are good and positive, others are quite toxic. I would say the same of the american culture along with all other world cultures We can not generalize or stereotype.
However, when the church claims perfection and it is clearly not….and that manifests its self in the jello belt culture, there are atypical cultural attributes that are not present in other areas of USA.
I am speaking in general terms. But if we discussed topic by topic, even you JSC would agree. Your pet topics of industry, immorality, TV watching and such are equal in the jello belt compared to many other parts of USA. It is hidden and manifested in other ways in the jello belt/echochamber. Some mormons having never lived elsewhere outside an isolated mission/schooling experience think the outside world is scary and kids should only grow up with the clique jello crowd.
I just watched a documentary on Muhammed. His teachings and what morphed into Islam are not the same. Likewise what Jesus taught, has been modified. The LDS claims to be the pure church that brought the restored gospel forward, but it is fraught with as many problems as the catholic and prostestant churches, of which it taught us to critize.
The culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ is for us to choose and not the religiuos instuituion to tell us.( sorry for mispellings on my phone).
The current lds culture of zeleous obidience, pray not to be healed and doubt your doubts is not what christ message was.
There’s a lot to chew on from this post. It has been eye-opening to me to see some of these differences firsthand and notice the different ways people think. Like Hawkgrrl, I’ve had the opportunity to spend significant time working in Asia (Korea, China, Singapore). I served a mission in the early 90’s in Korea so got a crash course in some of these differences then. 30 years later, I moved with my family to China for work and was surprised to see how differently Chinese people thought (specifically in the lens of the OP) compared to Americans or Singaporeans or Koreans. While the Singaporeans and Koreans (and Taiwanese) certainly had different ways of thinking or viewing the world–we at least had some common framework of understanding where the other was coming from. Consider the following anecdote.
A coworker invited me to her house to eat dinner with her family. As I talked with her and her husband, we got on the subject of how Americans and Chinese think differently. I mentioned how in general CCTV cameras and facial recognition programs make Americans nervous. They were shocked and proceeded to relate a story about how CCTV cameras had recently been used to apprehend an accused murderer who had been on the lam for a year and held that up as a reason why CCTV should be welcomed and encouraged. This was a perfect illustration to me of both sides not seeing the true nature of the other’s concerns. Specifically, on the individualism vs. collectivism scale, I only see the danger to the individual of having “Big Brother” watch me and able to track me instantly. It never even occurred to them that this might be a concern.
Comparing church culture to American or other nation’s cultures is also interesting. I don’t think the church culture is as monolithic as some claim and there is much more room for finding your tribe than we give credit for. I grew up in an area where the church was not strong (only YM in my ward) and was so happy to go to BYU and find that there were other Mormons who I could be friends with. I didn’t really get on with the Peter Priesthood or Molly Mormon crowd so well–we could be friendly, but weren’t really friends. It was quite awesome to meet friends who would listen to Dead Milkmen and Sisters of Mercy and still want to serve missions. So, Church culture has a lot more room for individuality than we let on.
Maybe a more crucial question that needs to be asked (and not on just a church level) is whether any of these cultural traits are better than others and if so, which case and when? Is agency so important that we are willing to take risks to the collective? Is collective or organizational health paramount so that we restrict the agency of the individual? Is the added efficiency of a large power distance organization a fair trade for the added risks alluded to in the Korean Air case? One thing I find disturbing about some of these cultural studies is the tendency to say that all the cultural tendencies are equivalent. I do not think this is the case. For instance, in the Korean Air case, the fundamental issue of power distance had a distinctly negative effect (death). What is interesting is that when this root cause was identified, the fundamental change required a rejection of that portion of Korean culture. Power distance is so built in to Korean culture that your entire language is built on that power structure. When conjugating verbs, you conjugate based on relative status (verbs end in ‘-da’ to inferiors, ‘-eo’ for equals, ‘-imnida’ for superiors). To flatten the power structure, Korean Air decreed that English was the official cockpit language. So in this case, English was superior for flying airlines.
Perhaps the question I would ask would be for these 6 dimensions, which of them are critical and which are just interesting differences? For me, the individual vs collective is the most important item. I have a very American belief in the individual over the collective. For short vs long term outlooks and for indulgence vs restraint, religion in general and Mormonism, in particular, are excellent vehicles for encouraging long term views and self-restraint. These should be applauded. In the other 3 cases, I have much less of a dog in the fight. I’m sure others will have different lists than me.
I agree 100% that “culture” must be separated from”doctrine” in the church. Unfortunately, there seems to be an inability or unwillingness to do it.
How many youth were made to feel uncomfortable because they had two pair of earrings or wore a blue shirt on Sunday? How many adults have been alienated because they like music or movies that a mid-level authority once criticized in a conference talk? These things are not “doctrine” but they get elevated in importance beyond the simple doctrinal teachings.
A recent example is the flip flop on Saturday afternoon conference sessions. There was no doctrinal basis for having the extra meeting at all. When it was eliminated last month, many members celebrated because it would give them time to be with family and have a break in the unrelenting schedule of church meetings and callings. But it appears the leadership could not do without this thing that has become a part of the culture. It is as if they consider members to be incapable of filling a Saturday afternoon in productive activities on their own.
Rudi: “they get elevated in importance beyond the simple doctrinal teachings” I think this is because we have far too much power concentrated at Church HQ and not enough at local levels. The only people who get “promoted” to leadership are yes men who are chosen for their unquestioning loyalty, not their great ideas. Nobody above them wants to hear ideas or feedback. They want people to execute their vision only. We are all in Nelson’s ER now, and he doesn’t want feedback from us any more than he would from either his scrub nurses or the patient on the table. Oaks’ views are similar. He has told BYU that he expects them to fight his culture wars for him, that he doesn’t understand why there aren’t enough soldiers on the wall (aiming their guns at his LGBT enemies). This is where we are. It’s not a democracy on any level. This is an autocracy, and Jesus is not calling the shots.
Josh H: You are right in comparing Church culture to corporate culture since it is a corporation, but you can’t really compare it to contemporary corporate cultures which require authentic leadership, participation at all levels, employee satisfaction, open door policies, anti-discrimination, etc. This is an old-style corporate culture. It’s been less than a decade since women were required to wear nylons to work in the Church Office building, and women are still barred from all decision making.
Angela C: Very good points. I really should have said that the Church resembles 1950s corporate culture.
Great article. Well done. Ironically (for me anyway) even as I’ve slowly but surely grown to despise the LDS Church (and really all organized religions) my love for the United States of America has remained high. Oh sure, we’re not perfect and have made some “whopper” mistakes – but give me freedom and liberty any day. With individual and public freedoms readily available, I believe that human beings can accomplish just about anything. It helps no one in the world, to tear the United States down.
Squidloverfat: I too served a Mission to Korea 77-79 (Back when Dinosaurs still roamed the earth). I did – and still do – love the Korean people for their resilience, strength, history and generally good nature. BTW the single best thing I brought back to the US with me was a little Korean sister; who had been abandoned at a bus stop as a baby. Of course, she’s a now a beautiful, smart, grown woman; with 4 children of her own. I enjoyed your comments.
Re: Angela’s comment about President Nelson, his ER, and not wanting feedback from either the scrub nurse or the patient. It made me smile, as it made me think back on statements my late wife made, from time to time.
In his day, RMN was justly renowned as a heart surgeon and medical pioneer, one who did many acts of medical good.
My late wife was an RN. She was very good at her job. She did most of the heavy-duty nursing: ER, ICU, CCU, Burn Unit, operating room. She also spent a lot of time helping patients recover from necessary, but invasive, medical procedures. She was an old-fashioned nurse who thought of nursing as a vocation, in the Catholic sense. She loved taking care of people. I learned to trust both her medical judgments and her evaluations of a person’s character.
She often did not think highly of doctors. While she was always happy to acknowledge the good that doctors do, and their acts of individual competence and kindness to patients and family, my wife nevertheless found it difficult to deal with the “race” of doctors, generally. She particularly disliked the mix of Church Priesthood with the profession of doctor, because, in her opinion, holding both a medical degree AND the Priesthood often led to an assumption by the doctor that he was ipso facto right.
She found surgeons to be medical professionals who are so focused on patching a person up, that they often have trouble listening to others, and to often be lacking in personal warmth. She also remarked that surgeons are very often not focused on the pain that is caused by the medically necessary procedures that they perform, and that they often have trouble accepting patient input on pain.
I appreciate President Nelson’s medical service and his efforts to lead the Church. He has done much good in both areas. I also believe that his “surgeon’s personality” makes it hard for him to listen to others, and I think that can cause problems.
I think that old-fashioned doctors’ attitudes are gradually changing toward greater collaboration with patients and assisting medical personnel, and that is a good thing.
But I will always cherish the memory of several instances, where my wife intervened in medical procedures involving herself, me, and our children, telling the doctor, with a sweet smile on her face, that he was simply wrong—and the doctor, sometimes reluctantly, backed down, because my wife was right. Sometimes, the doctor even managed to acknowledge his error.
I think that there parallels between medical and Church situations.
@Angela and @Josh H said what I was thinking, which is, the Church reflects 1950’s American corporate culture.
My current corporate culture is more transparent, humble, egalitarian, moral, and generous than the Church. And that is a pretty big problem IMO.
@Taiwan Missionary I love those observations. I’ve read that a lot of surgeons are mild sociopaths. It’s too hard for empathetic people to cut (literally) other humans. That’s something to think about. I don’t think Nelson is a sociopath but I do think he is utterly, totally lacking in empathy and I come to that conclusion by listening to the way he talks about other people and recounts his interactions with them (i.e., calling his granddaughter-in-law “myopic”, attacking lazy learners, describing his last interaction with his dying daughter, etc.) and he most *definitely* has a God complex (see, e.g., his explanation of the POX “reversal” in which he blamed God for creating this problem and credited himself with fixing it, thinking every thought that comes into his head no matter how trivial or obvious is “revelation”, etc). Sorry, now I’m off topic, but I suppose to the extent an organization’s culture starts at the top, it’s pretty relevant to consider his impact.
Thank you for positive feedback and your own pertinent comment about surgeons.
One more thought: the medical profession has been gradually coming to the realization that admission of error and apology result in reduced number of lawsuits and other adverse legal actions. But that positive trend runs against 1950s corporate culture.
I hope the Church will someday do likewise.
The church’s failure to put doctrine over culture will kill growth in SE Asia. The people drink green tea, which has proven health benefits and does not impair the thinking process. When they hear that it is against the Word of Wisdom, they can not take the church seriously. An organization the bans green tea but has no problem with 64 oz big gulps twice a day simply has no credibility in their eyes.
Hawk—we just listened to the same podcast.
Enjoyed your thoughts.
We like to think that our culture is separate from the doctrine, that it stands above and apart from all the messy foibles we inherit from a church full of mortals. I’m not so sure we should let the doctrine off the hook so easy though.
Take the endowment for example. If you’re a man, the endowment trains you to think of yourself as Adam—a lone hero, rebuffing Satan and taming the wilderness. No surprise, then, that the men of the church are largely individualistic with a dash of grandiosity. If you’re a woman, you’re trained to think of yourself as Eve—the helpmeet (ugh, my phone doesn’t even suggest an autocorrect for that awful non-word) navigating impossible dilemmas and getting punished by the authorities for your wisdom. I could be off-base, but is it possible the women of the church are, on the whole, more collectivistic than the men as a result?
Now, you might draw a distinction between the Gospel of Christ and the Nauvoo-era doctrine we’ve inherited a la BY, but even our conceptions of sin and atonement produce cultural reverberations of shame that manifest themselves in all sorts of ways.
I see the first presidency, and trump as having similar culture. Both believe they are always right, and anyone who doesn’t agree has to be not heard, and then silenced, and discredited.
Is this corporate culture from the 60s or something different? Just plain abuse?
There is a big difference is the situation though. In the 60s CEO were paid 60 times the average wage (now 320 times), and the top tax rate was 70%, trump reduced to 21%. Capitalism out of control. Poverty likewise out of control, and now the virus out of control, though Biden and the vaccines helping.
In the 60s America was respected. Most of that respect has been squandered.
Americans think they are individuals but there are whole subdivisions where the houses are identical, even to the color.
Americans believe they are respected, even envied by the world. Only the third world. In so many areas America is like a third world country https://qz.com/879092/the-us-doesnt-look-like-a-developed-country/
This is because politics in America is so much further to the right than any other first world country, and so balance is lost. The church has bought into this unbalanced view of reality.
On a happiness index most first world countries are way ahead. In poverty, and imprisonment rates america is a world leader, in healthcare, food quality/obesity, life expectancy, cost and quality of education, gender equality, respect for minorities, and inequality the US is close to last.
It is also one of the most divided countries in the world.
I will be accused of hating America. I do not, I believe America came off the rails somewhere in the 70s, where the richest country in the world, was convinced the top 10% were entitled to 70% of the wealth, and the bottom 50% deserve 2%. Church members voting for trump and labeling democrats as marksists were voting to make this worse, when America is already the most extreme in the first world.
American religion has a lot of influence, through media, on people throughout the world. The church and its members believe they need to move our politics furthur to the right, by which they mean fewer rights, for women and gays, and the common folk.
I assume you are recieving a one sided coverage of the olympics showing how great America is.
America now has 13 gold and 36 total medals. Population 330 million.
Australia now has 7 gold and 19 total medals. Population 25 million.
We are just now playing Japan at womens rugby 7s, the score in the first half was 46 to 0. Hopefully there is a mercy rule, so the game is stopped.
Another thing noted here is the German women gymnasts have chosen to wear outfits that go to ankles and wrists, so they are less sexually objectified, Swedish women in beach handball, pay fine rather than wear bikinis. Would/could American gymnasts do that?
The culture of Utah Mormonism is considerably different from LDS culture outside of Utah.
What do you think contributes to the culture of religious scrupulosity and the fixation of belief systems among LDS in Utah?
I’m going to push back a bit on the prevailing narrative here. I think RMN (and GBH before him) has been focused on the international aspect of the church. I think such acts as minimizing the use of “Mormon”, abandoning the BSA, and ending pageants, are partly motivated by a desire to curtail the influence of Utah Mormon culture on the church as a whole. DHO pretty much excoriated the American saints who voted for Trump (even if it went completely over most of their heads.) We have the most multi-cultural and multi-ethnic set of GA’s then we’ve ever had.
Yes, we all have our cultural biases and blind spots (and for many church leaders those biases run deep), but I do see that a significant portion of church leadership, including RMN, are at least trying to understand and meet the diverse needs of the saints outside the Mormon corridor. It takes time to rewire those old brain paths, so I’m willing to give the Q15 a bit of slack as they try to do so.
My formative years were in the 60’s. My Ward in Michigan was very progressive. When I encountered the temple ceremony and missionary culture, boy was I shocked. I loved Michigan Mormonism, Utah Mormonism not so much.
It would be interesting to know Mitt’s real feelings about the Church. His father was our SP.
@JLM “DHO pretty much excoriated the American saints who voted for Trump (even if it went completely over most of their heads.”
Really? Excoriated is a strong word. While I agree his talk was ambiguous enough to be read by the left or the right as justification for their votes and criticism of the other, I don’t think this at all fairly characterizes his talk. That he took a dig at gay marriage doesn’t help either. Curious about what in the talk you interpret as excoriating people who voted for Trump.
Your point about internationalizing the Church makes sense but internationalizing looks a lot like corporatizing and sanitizing and ruling very top-down.
“The money is just sitting there, apparently waiting to be handed to the Savior when He returns”–this made me think of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia plate-throwing meme.
I think DHO’s talk might have gone a bit over your head. He gave as much cover for Trump supporting saints like his daughter, far too much imo, as he did the reverse.
Interesting analysis. Across the cultural dimensions referenced in the OP, I think Church culture can often be schizophrenic. For example:
Individualism/Collectivism–The Church teaches us to share what we have with others, give fast offerings, love our neighbors, be good citizens, etc., and has some distinct teachings about the possibility of living in collectivist societies in the future (Law of Consecration, United Order). However, some of the most fiercely individualistic ideas I have ever heard uttered out loud have come from members of the Church, especially in the last few years. There is a growing undercurrent of libertarianism among Church members that is too big to ignore. What was once common-sense disaster preparedness is now hardcore doomsday prepping, complete with weapons stockpiles and secret bunkers. I suppose those people latch onto teachings about agency and individual responsibility, stretch them too far, and think it gives them a pass on caring for the needs of anyone but themselves. I don’t think it’s a statistical anomaly that a LOT of Latter-day Saints voted for Trump–twice! So where did the Church go wrong in its messaging?
Power Distance–We all know that the Q15 and other senior Church leaders are inaccessible to the rank-and-file members, and the leaders probably like it that way. But at the local level (the one that matters), my bishop and SP are personable and approachable people. I know them, and they know me. My SP lives in my neighborhood and his kids go to school with my kids. To be sure, they have faults, and they don’t always respond well to ark-steadying criticism, but I know that if I approached either of them with a genuine concern, they would at least take the time to listen. At the local level, the power distance seems to be pretty short, and that works for me. As far as I’m concerned, the Q15 aren’t even real people–they are just characters on the world’s most boring TV show, fortunately one that only comes on twice a year.
Uncertainty Avoidance–While the U.S. is said to be a lot more comfortable with uncertainty that other countries, the Church seems to be leaning in the other direction. While our doctrine teaches of the importance of faith (hope for things not seen), we love to make emphatic “I know…” statements when expressing witness of that faith even more. Eternal certainty–such as the idea of families being united forever, or being reunited with our deceased loved ones–is a big part of our brand. We’ve also been at war with doubt for some time (“doubt your doubts”). As Mormons, we like to think that we know exactly how things are going to turn out, and that we are the ones who will come out on top. Even when it conflicts with our most basic teachings. To be fair, today’s Church leaders are more likely to make ambiguous statements about the eternities, and say things like “we don’t know…” as opposed to BRM and his contemporaries who often made authoritative declarations about the exact nature of God and the eternal destiny of humankind.
Short Term/Long Term–The Church teaches the value of eternal perspective, enduring to the end, etc. But every so often the leaders make indirect comments about preparing for the imminent return of Christ, the end of the world is nigh, “time is running out”, etc, and the rumors start swirling among the faithful members. When RMN teased a very special general conference session last year, members were abuzz with speculation about what it was going to be, with whispers about whether it was time for Jesus to make an appearance (turns out it was an anti-climactic pre-recorded message about the First Vision, followed by a waving of handkerchiefs in praise). Church leaders do nothing to stop those kinds of ideas from taking hold. Meanwhile, the Church embarks on a multi-year renovation and seismic retrofit of Temple Square, and continues to announce new temples that won’t be in operation for many years yet.
There are probably other examples I haven’t though of yet. At any rate, seeing such split messaging (and varied interpretation of messages) among the members of the Church is symptomatic of the fact that the leaders of the Church have far less control over the organization than they think they do.
Elisa: I think your assessment of RMN is accurate. The only thing I’ll add is that the level of public adulation he requires is also troubling.
@DKF, I would like to believe that if I were ever Prophet, I would tell the Q15 to stop expressing their gratitude and love for me every time they start to speak. It is so, so gross and leader-worshippy and I can’t believe he doesn’t ask them to stop. That he doesn’t says a lot and what it says is not good.
Just noting that the excessive adoration of RMN is off-putting, to be sure, and it may exceed that of previous presidents by a factor of N, but leader worship has been built into Mormonism since go. The veneration of Joseph Smith for going on more than 175 years while insisting that the church is led by Jesus Christ has always created confusion for me.
JLM: I love your optimism that the changes you cite were due to a more global vision. I don’t agree, but I love the attitude, and frankly, your opinion is just as good as mine if we’re talking about the motives of other people. Here’s what I perceive those motives to be:
– Ditching “Mormon.” This has long been Nelson’s hobby horse, and while it’s true that the term Mormon can be confusing in other countries, so can the extremely long official name of the Church. I see his motives differently: 1) the term “Mormon” started as a slur by other faiths, and is used to portray us as non-Christian by his favorite political bedfellows, the Evangelicals (trying to cozy up to them is frankly pathetic–they will never accept us, but will gladly take our money and votes), and 2) Nelson is a true scriptural literalist, and he reads the D&C injunction on the Church’s name as exclusive and authoritative, assuming it means that a nickname is an abomination (aka “victory for Satan”). That particular hyperbole tips his hand. He sees this as a moral imperative, not a strategic move to quit confusing foreigners. He also didn’t care for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign because unlike Hinckley, he doesn’t like self-deprecation or the appearance of humility. He sees it as a form of weakness.
– Ditching the BSA. While it’s true that trying to get my son his Eagle living overseas was one of the biggest rigamarole stories I’ve ever endured, I doubt very much that Nelson gave even a momentary thought to the international ramifications of the BSA. I believe there were a host of reasons to ditch it, chiefly: 1) Monson was its sole champion, and he died, 2) it created negative press due to budget inequities between girls and boys, 3) it was VERY expensive for the Church, 4) it created legal liability that Oaks didn’t like, particularly given the homosexual threats he is ever vigilant against, and 5) the BSA was becoming more progressive toward LGBT and female inclusion, two groups the Church doesn’t want mixing with their precious cishet boys in tents and canoes.
– Ending pageants. The biggest and most expensive pageant was the Hill Cumorah pageant, which isn’t Utah culture. But pageants were an artistic expense. Nelson doesn’t value art (consider the gutting of the Salt Lake Temple and the murals that they said would be preserved that they then destroyed), and Oaks hates expense (even though we are sitting Smaug-like on a pile of coin).
– Oaks “excoriating” Trump voters. As was pointed out, he did this so vaguely that none of them even recognized it was about them. Within minutes, I saw Trump voters on Twitter claiming both sides-ism, that this was equally about the Biden voters somehow. smh. Regardless, it seems pretty clear to me that their only beef with Trump is that he’s the people’s real prophet, which takes the focus off obeying their (Oaks/Nelson’s) authority. He doesn’t like having to live in Trump’s shadow, unable to contradict him without losing obedient subjects. As soon as Nelson said everyone should be vaccinated, there was a huge outcry from the further right in the Church that he was deceived and a fallen prophet. Sheesh!
Jack Hughes: “my bishop and SP are personable and approachable people. I know them, and they know me. My SP lives in my neighborhood and his kids go to school with my kids. To be sure, they have faults, and they don’t always respond well to ark-steadying criticism” 1) Not responding to criticism indicates higher power distance, and 2) I think there’s an argument to be made that on the whole, SP’s have very little actual power in the Church, particularly at this stage of correlation. But I agree with you that many SPs and bishops are approachable and friendly, far more than the next level up. They get released, though, if they don’t toe the party line.
Geoff-Aus: I simply cannot fathom someone still being fixated on Trump; while our current President (on a hot mic) declares “Well, I just got my butt wiped”. Geez, give it
a rest…..God in Heaven help the World if the United States falls. I can’t imagine that China would be a comfortable taskmaster for a people who’ve grown up with Freedom. As for Capitalism being out of control…..I’ll take it any day over what Socialism is offering.
And….yes, I do believe you really, really dislike America for some reason. Almost every comment you make is a slam on the USA. I don’t see people coming on here and slamming on New Zealand.
“I think there’s an argument to be made that on the whole, SP’s have very little actual power in the Church, particularly at this stage of correlation.”
Perhaps to some extent this is true, but in the everyday lived experience of ordinary Church members, stake presidents actually wield a lot of power. They can excommunicate people. They have the final say over who gets a temple recommend and who doesn’t, who’s fit to serve a full-time mission and who isn’t, who’s worthy enough to go to BYU and who isn’t, whether or not members are “forgiven” for serious sins, and a lot of other things that affect members where the rubber meets the road. When the FP/Q12 have to render decisions about cancelling sealings or restoring blessings to previously excommunicated members, the SPs recommendation is usually what carries the day, since the Brethren most likely do not know those members personally. When a high-profile Church discipline case is underway, the Church PR Department is quick to point out that such decisions are strictly a local matter, and rest with the local SP and not with the GAs; again, the SP is holding all of the cards.
This is important in understanding power distance, since a SP is less likely to launch disciplinary proceedings against me if I have enough social capital and stored-up goodwill with him. So, despite the power he holds over my membership and standing in the Church, I can close that power distance by treating him with kindness and respect (not by genuflecting or kissing his ass). That, or I can consciously choose not to give him any more power over me than I think he deserves.
Angela, I only stated that I believe international considerations were a part of the analysis for the noted changes. I expect the motivations that you have proposed were also significant factors.
As for DHO’s constitution talk, I thought he was a direct as he could be in chastising Trumpists given the rhetorical limitations imposed by the venue. The political and regulatory necessity of not calling out any names did limit the impact he was allowed to make.
Sadly I think @Angela is spot-on with what’s going with Nelson.
Going back to your post I was thinking about the short-term orientation – which is also very corporate (managing to quarterly profits and market response rather than long-term sustainability). I think you’re absolutely right on that and it’s so bizarre – you’d think that a prophet would be thinking long-term but our leaders are incredibly short-term thinkers. A comment on this blog helped me understand why: it’s because Nelson thinks that Jesus is coming like literally any day now. Why invest in long-term growth and sustainability if that investment may cause short-term losses when you think Jesus is practically knocking on the door? They are just white-knuckling it and hoping Jesus comes and fixes the Church mess. So short-term fixes to try to stop the bleeding but no attempt at fixing the actual underlying issues when fixing those issues might cause them to lose more people in the near term (and would be against their own interests because it would require admitting to being imperfect). It’s the opposite of visionary and frankly it’s a total lack of *real* leadership.
And yes, understanding Nelson as a true scriptural literalist (not hard to realize when you hear him speak) is key to understanding where he’s coming from and why he does and says what he does and says. So if you’re not a literalist, a lot of what Nelson says is honestly just plain irrelevant.
Elisa: Beautifully said. I love the reasoning and perspective….I think you nailed it with the “Short Term Thinking” thesis.
“‘The money is just sitting there, apparently waiting to be handed to the Savior when He returns’–this made me think of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia plate-throwing meme.”
I had to look up that meme. It was fitting and calls up pictures of the Jesus that throws money changers from the temple.
Your comment also caused me to think about Matthew 25 where Jesus says:
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Jesus tells us clearly what we are to do with our means. Using it for those in need is how we “give” it to him. Saving excess amounts of money is entirely inconsistent with what we read of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament.
Mata: “Saving excess amounts of money is entirely inconsistent with what we read of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament.” It also shows an astonishing lack of faith. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin.” Matthew 6:28. I will hasten to add, though, that I am also and always have been anxious about money. That scripture always makes me uneasy because I know its a hard saying for me to live by. But can you imagine talking about this one at Church, telling people to quit worrying about money, while sitting on a king’s ransom that would make the Pope blush?
Geoff Aus, I think you are absolutely correct.. It amazes me that Americans believe that their standard of living is high, that the USA has more “freedom” than anywhere else, and that it is viewed as a model by other countries. I returned from Austria recently and was amazed at the squalor in so much of the USA. We should remember that it’s desperation that causes people from third world countries to flee to the USA.
People at church often seem to be living in the City Of the Blind with their view of an Edenic America peopled by ancient Hebrews who apparently had fauna and flora that would be familiar to Europeans, but for which there is no evidence prior to the European illegal migration, but not the fauna and flora that was actually in the “New World.”
Population of New Zealand: 4.9 million
Population of Austria: 8.9 million
Population of Sweden: 10 million
Population of the United States: 328 million
Is the US perfect? Of course not. Is it better than every other country in the World? Of course not. Is it better than some? I think so. I’ve looked over the border into Communist North Korea and I don’t believe that there’s anything there to be emulated. I certainly don’t envy Venezuela, Cuba or Iran just now. I think there any a number of European countries that are doing many, many things right (better than the U.S.); perhaps Austria is one of them. Might the challenges of governing 300 million people be just a wee bit harder than governing 9 million? Maybe about 35-36 times more difficult.
Lefthandloafer brings up something very important: the population of the US. Truth is, the US consists of a vast number of different cultures. Mormons are simply one these many cultures. And even then, there is some diversity in Mormon culture. I spend considerable time hanging out with people who are themselves or whose parents are from Spanish-speaking countries. Many of them are US citizens. They have very different cultural norms and practices from white Mormons in Provo, where I grew up. I can tell you that much. And yet they are one of the many different cultures in the US. For work, I interact with many blacks from Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Very different cultures from Provo Mormons as well. So as to “American culture,” I honestly have a hard time picking out what exactly it is.
Lefthandloafer, You usually make extreme comparisons, that affects the credibility of the comparison. No one is asking that America be like North Korea, Venuzuela, Cuba or Iran.
How about you compare America to Germany population 84 million, or France 67 million or any other OECD country.
I do think the number of people who can not see that trump and the republicans he still demans loyalty from, undermining democracy, and good government, makes governing the country very difficult.
You interpret my comments as a slam on America, while I am trying to be constructive, and educational. I lived in Idaho, Ricks College, and was impressed by how isolated from reality, and the world, many of the people were. The internet must have improved things, but you still have to look things up to learn, and where you look depends on your prejudices.
That you repeat that Biden says something about having his butt wiped, no one can hear him say, and is out of context with the conversion, and unlikely to be said by anyone. Why would he say it, Yet you repeat it. Slam on America, making the country more difficult to govern what else could your motivation be?
When a large proportion of the country refuse to respect the elected leader it is more of a problem than whether the population is 70 million or 330.
Lefthandloafer, I see that you cite extreme examples that no one is suggesting. Has Biden or any democrats advocated that America be like North Korea, Cuba, or Iran? Are they really the only alternative to Americas extreme capitalism. The european countries you acknowledge are doing many things better than America are also socialist. They are the countries left wing americans believe america could become more like. Their capitalism is more regulated. America in the 70s was similarly regulated.
You see me as slamming america.
“I simply cannot fathom someone still being fixated on Trump; while our current President (on a hot mic) declares “Well, I just got my butt wiped”. Geez, give it a rest”
You seem not to acknowledge that trump is still controling the majority of the republican politicians.
This is the biggest factor making america more difficult to govern than would be usual. Any sign of cooperation is ridiculed by trump and those he controls.
As for repeating the other lie. Look it up on factcheck, ask yourself why would anyone say something like that, it would be totally out of the context. Then ask yourself what other motivation you could have for spreading such lies, than to slam america?
You compare americas populationto other countries with less than 5M people. Extreme again.
Population USA 328M ceo pay times workers pay 320, in 1965 20 times, in 1990 45 times.
Germany 84M 130 high for europe
Australia 25M ” ” ” 70
It is more credible when making comparisons to not choose the most extreme.
Do you really think wealth should be transferred from the poor and middle class to the billionaires, Which is the consequence of republican policy?
447 million live in the EU. You could compare the member nations of the EU to the States that are part of the United States. Somehow they have managed to rate higher than the USA in every way except gun violence, number of incarcerated individuals, and armaments. I doubt if anyone in the EU would look to Alabama or Kentucky or West Virginia as role models.
Vajra, the EU is not shining with all sorts of promising countries necessarily. Hungary and Poland are run by xenophobic authoritarians. Romania and Bulgaria have massive demographic problems with declining populations, brain drain, and internal economic disparity. Overall quality of life is quite a bit better in the US’s poorest states than the EU’s poorest countries. The US certainly has different challenges than the US. But the EU is far from being challenge-free. And if we look at Europe beyond the EU we’re looking at war-torn countries such as a Ukraine, countries where journalists are detained and imprisoned such as Belarus and Turkey and countries with major economic erosions such as Albania and Moldova. The different US states benefit tremendously from political and economic unity under a single federal government.
John H, do Hungary and Poland differ from the USA? tRump is a xenophobic authoritarian who tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power and who attempted a coup. Economics are not the only measure of well-being. Rumania has universal healthcare and a developing high-income economy . Romania has 98.8 literacy while Alabama has a literacy rate of 85.2o. Life expectancy is lower in Alabama than Romania. Alabama has one of the worst healthcare systems in the United States and consistently ranks in the the bottom rung when compared with other States. I do agree that “The different US states benefit tremendously from political and economic unity under a single federal government.” And Red State Alabama is a beneficiary of Blue State remunerations
vajra, actually I checked some of the stats on Romania and Bulgaria, and compared them with Alabama and West Virginia. Romania and Bulgaria were doing better than I had thought. You might be right. Maybe I was thinking of Serbia, Albania, Ukraine and Moldova too much. In those countries life does indeed appear to be worse than the poorest US states.
John W, none of those States is part of the EU.
In every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture — and American culture has triumphed. The United States has its own distinct social and cultural characteristics, such as dialect, music, arts, social habits, cuisine, and folklore.