In the early 2000s, there was a push in corporate America for every company to act as if Disney was its competitor. That’s kind of a tall order since most of us see going to Disneyland and going to work as very different experiences. At Disneyland, we are the customer, paying them for an experience of family fun. No, wait, we are the GUEST, a neat little trick Disney does to make us (and their own team members) forget that we are paying customers and instead focus on the idea that they are inviting us and hosting us, entertaining us. And that trick does seem to work. Contrast your experience at any other amusement park with its bored and indifferent teenage employees vs. how Disney works on average. At a job, we are an employee; they have to pay us to be there because we wouldn’t be if they weren’t. But even that is different at Disney, because if you work there, you are a Cast Member! You are an aspiring actor, putting on a show. Nobody asks you to be a cast member in corporate America.
A friend recently reached out to me asking for some help with her resume in her job search. One problem she was having is that her job duties line up with the positions she seeks, but her job titles are unique to the companies she has worked at, making it harder for potential employers to translate her skills for their company. It’s a common problem, and pretty easy to fix, but it got me thinking about this idea that how we envision our customers and our employees can shift how we interact in the workplace.
American Express, where I worked for over a decade, pioneered the idea of credit card customers being “members,” using their “member since” slogan. In doing this, they implied that card holders belonged to an elite club with special privileges, a group one could aspire to join. This tactic eroded the commodification that was common to the credit card industry at the time, creating an alternate way of viewing customers, er, members.
Which brings us back to Church membership. “Member” is the term we most often use to describe our fellow congregants, but different people in the organization see members differently. Here are a few I was able to brainstorm based on memory. These are not the names we use to describe the role of “member,” but they are attitudes some hold about what the body of Saints comprises.
Employees. This is a direct byproduct of a lay clergy, and it’s so common in the Mormon church that we forget that other congregations are not like this at all! If you are assigned to teach a class, you have to get coverage. If you don’t, it’s like job abandonment. Some, particularly bishops who have callings to staff, see the members as their work force. When a member is unwilling or unable to take callings or lacks interpersonal skills or creates conflict or is otherwise making waves, they view them as trouble. They have a problem to solve, and they feel like they own the members as a resource pool to solve that problem. But still, they are mid-level functionaries who aren’t freelancing; they don’t create the structure or the job descriptions for the most part, and they have to report to the stake and area authorities. And for the most part, they can only change people’s assignments; they can’t fire them from the ward for doing a bad job in a calling.
Hostages. Occasionally, rather than seeing the members as individuals with free will, some leaders consider them hostages who can be compelled to do whatever they want. These are the leaders who “voluntell” people rather than asking them to do things. They expect compliance as if their orders came from Jesus Himself. These aren’t the norm, but they are certainly not super rare either. Often they view their own participation similarly, and assume that anyone who doesn’t is just not living up to their covenants and probably going to hell. After all, they hold all the cards. If you don’t do what they say, you don’t get salvation or exaltation. If they see you as making waves, they feel free to shoot the hostage.
Ward Family. A lot of church members view their ward as a sort of family, including besties, fellow parents, and also weird or off-putting uncles, racist grandparents, and a bunch of kids to add some fun and chaos to the mix. They expect to be able to rely on this kooky family if they get sick or married or need to put on a funeral or need a babysitter. They see the building as partly theirs, just as we might view our childhood home. It’s very common to hear members refer to the local church as their “ward family.” Similar to families, though, they can let you down. You sometimes have to hold your tongue. And coming out is a risky big deal.
Revenue Stream. This isn’t one I fully buy (accidental pun). While it’s a common refrain in exMo spaces, that feels backward to me. It’s galling to former (and some current) church members that the church requires tithing for temple attendance which makes it a pay to play arrangement, and of course, tithing is a regressive tax so it creates a bigger burden on the poor (who have little to no discretionary income) than on the wealthy. But those facts don’t mean that the Church sees members primarily as a revenue stream. We’ve learned that at present the Church has enough wealth that its wealth is now creating wealth. When former members say they are going to “stick it to the Church” by not paying tithing, it may feel satisfying as a form of revenge, but IMO the Church doesn’t really care about individual members’ tithing enough for this to register. I don’t personally think this is really how the Church views members, but you might disagree.
Voting Bloc. Politically minded leaders and members certainly have at times viewed the Church this way, dating back to one of the original frictions between the Mormon community and its surrounding non-Mormon neighbors. During the Prop 8 campaign, the Church literally treated members in California as their own personal voting bloc, strong-arming members into grassroots organizing and donating money in their fight against gay marriage. This one is tricky because, while they won their California battle, they lost the war, and it did a ton of damage to the Church’s reputation. Compared to other right wing churches, we are usually less comfortable mixing politics and religion openly, instead hoping to appear at least more neutral and inviting of people of various political views.
Students. Those who view Church members as students tend to say things like “the temple is like God’s classroom, teaching us how to become more like god.” Unlike most other churches, we do have more focus on “education” through the seminary program for teens, and our second hour of “instruction” at Church. There’s always some question between where education ends and indoctrination begins, and many don’t really know or see a difference between the two concepts.
Products. This may sound like a weird way to look at Church members, but particularly in a missionary minded Church, the members are an illustration of how well the Church “works.” When surveys show that a higher percentage of church members achieve secondary education and/or are wealthier, this makes the Church look successful and attractive to converts. When Church members do things that make the Church look bad, like storm the capitol or commit murders, they are deficient products. From this perspective, every member is either making the Church look better or worse at any given moment, and it is unfortunately somewhat subjective based on what the “judger” deems a good look.
Ambassadors. This is similar to the “product” viewpoint but combines it with the “student” viewpoint. Rather than seeing members as products alone, they are seen as individuals who are being taught how to represent the Church. There’s also some crossover with the employee mindset here, but specifically the sales role only.
Anyway, that’s a quick list of ways that Church members might be viewed by the Church. How Church members view themselves is another matter.
- How do you think Church members are viewed by the Church or by leadership?
- Have you had local leaders who saw members in any of these ways? How did it alter interactions with that leader?
- Are there ways of viewing members not listed here that you think apply?
- Do other churches view members the same way or differently than the Mormon Church does? How does this play out?
One way members are not viewed as is being an individual. In all of the examples you brought forward, the individual is not honored or even recognized. To see if this is true, all you have to do is talk about an area where everyone else doesn’t agree. For instance, support for your gay child. There might be polite discussions to your face but when comments are in public, like in a class, there is a high probability it will be made clear you can love the person but not the sin thus ignoring all aspects of an individual. Another example is speaking positively about Biden, Obama, or Clinton. You can’t even get to the reason you’ve individually come to a conclusion about your support for them. Finally if you stop attending for awhile, do people come to visit? If they do, are they asking about you as an individual or do they start why you aren’t going to the temple and your need to pay tithing. I’m sure there are lots of other experiences that people have had but are we treated as an individual or a member of some group.
Interesting analysis. In recent years, it seems (at least to me) the Church views it’s own members as expendable and replaceable assets, which could apply to most of the viewpoints listed in the OP. The Church has no reservations about working people to death, making unreasonable demands on members’ time, assigning “volunteer” tasks, pushing members to spend many many hours in the temple, pushing youth to serve missions regardless of their personal desire or commitment level, etc, within the context of a culture that tacitly forbids saying “no” to anything, and without regard to future mental and physical health consequences to the individual. If you commit a serious personal misdeed, the Church *might* expel you, depending on severity and leadership roulette. But if you cause public embarrassment to the Church or its leaders, or make public statements contrary to its leaders, or marry a person of the same sex, the Church will not hesitate to can you.
My ward started the year off with the bishop presenting a very ambitious ward mission plan, complete with goals, charts, and the promise of a ward ice cream party if said goals are met before the end of the year. This is a ward with an activity rate of about 30%, in which many longtime, stable members have essentially checked out during COVID and haven’t returned. Rather than make an earnest effort to entice those members back to activity, the ward leadership is instead focusing on recruiting new members. This sends a clear message that we (especially nuanced members who are hanging by a thread, like me) are replaceable. The only investigators that come are unstable transients. My ward averages about one adult convert baptism per year, none of whom have ever lasted more that a month. There is nothing in the new mission plan to address retention. The Nephi/Laban mindset (“better for one man to perish…”) seems to carry more weight in the Church than the teachings of Christ (leave behind the 99 to go after the one, welcome back the prodigal, etc.).
One of the interesting things about being out of the Church (note: I’m still a “member” technically because I have not removed my records) for me is that my perspective has changed drastically on what it means to be a member of the COJCOLDS vs. a member of other churches. In sum, I have a lot more admiration for members of other churches who participate in their respective churches than I used to. And I’m less impressed with members of the COJCOLDS although I think the Church is full of wonderful people (much better than the leadership).
Let me explain…I used to think it was a lame waste of time for people to participate in religious organizations that they did not claim to be the “true” church. The way I looked at it (and still do for my own life) is that participating in a church holds no value unless you have priesthood authority and revelation. Otherwise you’re just kind of playing church (shoutout to BW). When we lived in Dallas I wondered why so many of our friends and neighbors would engage in something that they didn’t claim to be the “one true church”. Meanwhile, I smugly went to hours of meetings each Sunday and during the week because I was part of the truth.
I now look at it quite differently. I really admire folks who are just trying to follow Christ, just trying to bring some spirituality in their lives, just trying to give their families some religious perspective. Not because they feel obligated or guilty or pre-ordained or chosen or because they are seeking some kind of eternal prize. They are just trying to be better people. I really admire them and I feel guilty now for dismissing their motives.
It’s not that I believe there are no members of the COJCOLDS that participate in church for the same great reasons I listed above. But far too often in my experience LDS membership was about corporate (SLC), regional (stake), and home office (ward) goals, obligations due to some perceived foreordained privilege, and a sense that we are chosen therefore we sacrifice. And there’s definitely an “us Vs them” mentality in which we believe we are superior because we have a prophet and the priesthood. I find this mentality to be void of the kind of basic Christian humility I have seen in community churches (note: I don’t participate in any church and never will again but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire the folks who do).
I sincerely wonder whether the Brethren want “membership” to consist of humble / charitable disciples of Christ or whether they prefer that we simply be loyal to them and the institution.
Josh H: “I sincerely wonder whether the Brethren want “membership” to consist of humble / charitable disciples of Christ or whether they prefer that we simply be loyal to them and the institution.” Wonder no longer! They only want the latter. The former would be a bonus, but since it contradicts the latter sometimes, the latter is more important.
I think you are exactly right. It’s reflected in the predominance of members who are republican and how that party does business. It’s very much reflected in church membership. Sad but true.
As I look at this, and in light of the Family History “rebranding” today, it heightens the divide between how I see the local church and how I see Salt Lake.
After a decade, our ward feels like a family. Many are odd or awkward but we feel like cousins and we’ve been though a lot over the years. Occasionally we have reunions with the stake, but the stake center is 75 miles away and we don’t think about them much.
I do think the view from Salt Lake is of ambassadors to increase the numbers of employees building the kingdom. Charitably, it could be for sharing the joy of the gospel with more of the world. Yippee! Logistically, that gets quantifiably measured and metrics end up mattering more than people. Baptisms are tallied. Mourning with those who mourn is not.
I feel like many in church leadership view us as perpetual children or maybe the better comparison would be as a pet. Children after all do grow up but a pet is always and forever in need of its owner, unable to grow in a meaningful way to take care of itself.
A few examples: leaders ask members to doubt their doubts but not their faith, or to put an exclamation point behind the president’s words and an exclamation point behind all other words, etc. Leaders don’t think the members will ever reach a level of sophistication to exercise their own morality. On a more local level, one time we asked some ward members with a stake calling if they also had time for a ward calling. These members told us their stake calling wasn’t much work and they were genuinely happy to also have a ward calling. This conversation was not at all coercive as we were simply seeking information. A few weeks later they accepted the ward calling only to have the stake say no. When we explained that the members said they were happy to perform two callings based on their individual circumstances, the stake knew better and wouldn’t allow us to issue the calling.
Volunteer comes to mind except that we don’t actually volunteer for anything. Voluntold maybe.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in leadership meetings where the plan was first to ask for volunteers to: clean the chapel, clean the temple, show up for a welfare assignment like packaging cheese, pull weeds at the temple, etc. Inevitably, someone always asks what to do if not enough people volunteer. The response from the priesthood leader is often, “If you don’t get enough volunteers, then you as the leader have the authority to assign people to do it, and that’s what you need to do.” This type of attitude fits the OP’s description of Church members as hostages–if you are given an assignment, you have no choice but to accept it.
It’s become so commonplace that when a “volunteer” opportunity is announced in 2nd hour that the threat is often made openly to everyone–“If we don’t get enough people to sign up during 2nd hour, then I’ll be making phone calls to make assignments instead.” I really don’t mind being pulled aside and asked nicely if I can “volunteer” for something (I might agree or I might not, depending on my situation), but if you’re going to literally attempt to command, er assign me to spend half of my Saturday “volunteering” at the local Deseret Industries based on your authority as my church leader, then I’m probably gonna tell you “no” just on principle.
Great post. I think I’ve experienced every one of the roles mentioned. I’ll add one more: Pariah. When you opt out of being an employee or a hostage and decline or ask to be released from a calling, one of the reactions that you may receive is that you become a Pariah. It’s super interesting to experience it or watch it happen, and can be painful, but if you’re able to embrace it, it is actually very freeing. As a pariah, or free agent, it becomes really clear who views you as a friend or ward family member, vs who looks at you as an employee that is not doing their job. I think there is a full spectrum of people at church, and I’ve had some leaders who cared about me as a friend, and some who wanted nothing to do with me after I said no to something. I try not to take it personally.
I think Josh H. summed up my view pretty nicely, “I’m not there because I feel obligated or guilty or pre-ordained or chosen or because I’m seeking some kind of eternal prize. I’m just trying to be a better person.” And I find a lot of peace in that, even if it is jarring to some of the leaders or other members.
This is an excellent post. It exemplifies the problems that have come from prohibiting people from being Mormons and requiring them to merely be members.
Let me explain. When people were Mormons, they were part of a community. A community built on friendship and caring. A community in which people wanted to spend time together with those they genuinely cared about.
With the jettisoning of the name “Mormon” came the destruction of the community. A drastic reduction in activities built on bringing community togetherness led to a group of mere members. A group in which members have no connection and get together only out of obligation.
What this has done is pushed people out of church buildings and into honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens is search of a sense of belonging. We now have vast hordes seeking championship in drunkenness and wanton sexuality.
Some have given up on companionship altogether. They spend their times in basements playing violent video games as Dua Lipa music blares in the background.
So let us be clear. Destroying the historic Mormon sense of community and replacing it with mere membership has been a disaster. That is irrefutable fact.
Acute observation! It may not push them into a honky tonk (I understand why you would suggest that among other things) but people do lose community and tend to replace it with something else. It could be a bowling league or pouring yourself more into your job because you get identity there. You can’t just be a Mormon and call it good, you are now either an “in” member or an “out” member even if you go to church. We do need that sense of belonging. It’s hard to believe it was a “revelation” that took Mormon or LDS away from us to be replaced by “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” We can’t even feel that COJCOLDS is right, and it also feel overly complicated and wrong.
I want to say they see us as soldiers rather than hostages or employees. After all hostages and employees can be expected to have their own thoughts and goals even if they do not feel safe to share them. A soldier is simply expected to obey, period, without thinking or considering anything.
My apologies if this idea offends any members of the military. I suppose there’s value in moving as a group under one master plan without questioning. There are many risks as well. Like Joseph Smith or Jesus Christ, I prefer to question authority and make my own decisions based on my own spiritual authority. The church isn’t set up for people like me.
As Instereo noted it’s not really set up for individuals. At least that’s how it feels to me. Those of us that are different can be judged harshly as sinful. A righteous member is expected to happily step into the covenant path along any time frame leaders set rather than responding to their own needs and development. Like a soldier who can’t make it through basic training we can be excluded from the army of the Lord (or ward family) when we can’t keep up with the covenant path. I find that contrary to my convictions of who Jesus is, and how I can grow to be like him, and my Heavenly Parents. I don’t think that’s how he means our communities to be, or come across.
In my ward family eight years ago “Mom” (bishop’s wife) was a bully and we had an “uncle” who bribed his kids into righteousness. We only lasted 2.5 years until we moved and found a new family who is a bit more chill.
warning: very long comment, probably with lots of weird typos:
I have more of a charitable opinion on this, charitable towards the Q15 and church’s leadership in general.
I think they think of the ‘membership’ as sheep.
Not in the derisive “wake up sheeple” kind of way. But I do think that they think that they have our best interests in mind.
I don’t think they think of us as a source of revenue, hostages, political muscle, etc. All of that stuff happens, but I think that’s more of a result of the structure of the system which, since the early 20th century, switched into going along with the calvinist death drive to consumption and personal absolution that informs the American capitalist viewpoint of the world. Government and corporate organizations work in the same way, and the Church follows those structures and thus will use its membership in the same way.
But, I don’t think that means that they’re doing that on purpose. I don’t think the leadership is like what several posts on r/exmo make them out to be, rubbing their hands together with glee while raking in the tithing dollars and congratulating themselves on running one of the world’s best scams. I don see that, mostly because they don’t appear to do the things that actual wealthy a$$holes who do run scams actually do. They don’t behave like Musk, Bezos, Trump, the royal family, etc. They’re not taking regular trips to Tahiti, hanging out on yachts with supermodels, collecting sports cars, etc. The church has tons of money, but, as best we can tell, not a lot of it is going to any people in particular. Q15 annual salaries are what? like 100K each? To us regular peasants, that’s a ton of money, but that’s nowhere near what leaders of billion dollar corporations pay themselves. And importantly, they don’t appear to be spending it on anything fun, and they don’t get to retire. For most rich a$$holes, the point of amassing(stealing) wealth is to able to retire early and spend the rest of your life having hedonistic experiences. These guys are wearing suits and ties and sitting in boring meetings until they die. Which, IMO sounds awful to me.
So I don’t think they’re deliberately out there to amass wealth, nor do I think they’re just an ideological tool in the hands of capital (i.e. get people mad about something so they’ll give more power and money to wealthy people, which is literally the purpose of all conservative culture wars). I believe that they actually do think that they’re out there doing God’s work. However, that in of itself, doesn’t mean they’re right, or doing it well. Good intentions always equate to being right, or doing the right thing.
So let’s circle back to the sheep thing now. I do think that they have the membership’s best interests in mind, and don’t necessarily want to lose anyone, just a shepherd likewise doesn’t want to lose any sheep and is generally committed to helping them be healthy and have good lives. (And this analogy, as the original one, chirst = shepherd, people = sheep, can only be extended so far, because IRL, the only reason humans keep sheep is as a means to material wealth).
The problem is that A) the church’s notion of what the membership’s best interests are, doesn’t actually completely align with what the membership’s best interests are. and B) they think most of us are kind of stupid.
With regards to A), they think that as long as everyone will just be straight and live in happy little nuclear families with 2.5 children, follow a set of rules, be nice to everyone (with a few asterisks on who counts as everyone), participate in a series of rituals, and never rock the boat then everything will be fine.
This hasn’t really been working too well in the past few decades, because the nuclear family was never really viable in the first place, and is especially less viable now in the current socioeconomic conditions. Also LGBTQ people exist, and don’t really have to pretend otherwise anymore, and they don’t “fit” in the prescribed plan of happiness. People notice things this, and begin to wonder why, and thus the boat starts rocking. The world is increasingly becoming a more difficult to place live in in these times, both on a physical and spiritual level. And showing up to church once a week to shake a bunch of hands, participating in some rituals, and some scriptures, just aren’t enough to overcome the spiritual emptiness that people feel these days.
With regards to B), I think they think we’re collectively too stupid to be able to handle the nuances and ambiguities of church doctrine, church history, and certain christian beliefs in general. I think they do know all about the ambiguities, inconsistencies, and ugly episodes of church history and doctrine. But they think most us couldn’t handle it, or rather, know about it and stay committed to the church. Which is why they’d prefer to hide/ignore it. There’s that quote attributed to Boyd Packer about “think of the little people… the grandmothers in Santaquin”. They won’t be transparent about anything because they’re afraid of how the membership would react.
Sheep (the animals), IRL are very stupid, all of the survival instincts and athleticism their wild ancestors had was bred out of them over the last 10,000 years or so to make them more docile and easier for humans to control. The Q15 want us to be docile and unquestioning, not just because they can extract wealth from us, but to protect us and keep us on the straight and narrow (or the covenant path or whatever).
Importantly, they also think that culling the flock on occasion is a necessary measure to protect the flock. Anyone who rocks the boat too much, or isn’t quite fitting in, will be made to take a hike.
So, TLDR summary: I think the Church leadership is genuine in that they actually think they’re doing a good thing (for us). But, I think the way that they’re doing it is wrong, and needs to change, but, even if they wanted to change things, they’re held back by thinking that we’re too stupid and untrustworthy. And that, for me, is the saddest thing. They ask us to trust in them without question, but they wont’ trust us, not even a little bit.
Seeing as the Church is run like a corporation, I would say the members are seen as either Assets or Liabilities.
Experiences my son had on his mission in a “third world nation” are telling. The young missionaries there were unduly pressured to baptize ill-prepared people. Many of the young elders were promising investigators that the Church would provide them with food once they joined. My son refused to participate and was bullied and blacklisted. Exactly Who was Ultimately applying the unethical pressure from how far up the chain of command, neither my son nor we could discover, although a regional rep was able to reap a promotion from the inflated numbers.
Missionary Baptism numbers are an Asset to the Church c-suite. They look great on paper. Nice to have those new members come in via self-pay volunteer efforts. Especially when they are viewed as a Potential Revenue Stream.
But Missionary Baptism numbers are a Liability on the Stake and Ward level. It’s now up to these local units to onboard and integrate these newcomers.
Now the new members were asking for the promised food. My son had just transferred into an area only to have the local bishop chase him and his comp down to reprimand them for their unethical behavior (which was not my son’s doing.). This bishop had these new “worthless” sheep in his flock to care for, who were expecting to be fed, and he wanted none of it. Why? Because there were not enough fast offering funds with which to feed them. So the ward members would need to step up to help and they could hardly feed themselves.
Ultimately, I think the Church sees most members (and now investigators and charitable recipients) as Liabilities. That’s how the corporate c-suite tends to see its employees and customers. Thus, the drive to maximize profits at their expense. And the Church is certainly maximizing profits.
@purple_flurp, I agree that it’s very unlikely that our top-tier leaders are in it to get rich. But I question whether it’s true that they “know all about the ambiguities, inconsistencies, and ugly episodes of church history and doctrine.” I see telltale signs of naivete every once in a while:
– Elder Bednar saying that we know by revelation that Jesus was born on April 6, betraying a hyper-literal interpretation of the scriptures and an unawareness that the D&C is misleading with regards to the provenance of several of its passages.
– Elder Holland having no idea about Joseph Smith’s 1826 trial, and uncritically accepting and relaying questionable stories of miracles.
– Then-Elder Nelson denying evolution: “Dogs have always been dogs. Monkeys have always been monkeys. It’s just the way genetics works.”
These are fascinating framings, hawkgrrrl. Thanks for this post! I have a few thoughts:
1) The Church sees members as customers. I think this is a straightforward way of how lots of Protestantism seems to work, in the US anyway. The various churches put out their different products and each shows how they’re the best for people to pick, and the people/customers/potential members maybe shop a few of them and then pick their favorite. If the one they’ve chosen changes, maybe with a new pastor they don’t like, they leave.
The LDS Church sort of fits at the edge of this. Its leadership is convinced that they have an utterly unique product, though, so they don’t feel the need to be as customer-centric as maybe other Protestants are. The Q15 and other GAs are convinced that they have a monopoly on the required ordinances for top-tier heaven, so they are about as responsive as you might expect a monopolist to be, as Elder Ballard made clear in his famous “Where will you go?” talk. This makes us kind of like hostages, unless we’re willing to give up on the celestial kingdom.
2) The question makes me think of the phrase “fellowcitizens with the saints” in Ephesians 2:19. The Church absolutely doesn’t see us as “citizens” of any kind, because being a citizen implies far too much input from the bottom to the top. Politicians dealing with citizens know they need to at least pretend to care about the needs of citizens. Church leaders are comfortable saying that God will inspire them with anything they need to know about us. They don’t need our feedback. See, for example, Boyd K. Packer’s famous “which way do you face” talk.
3) I like EagleLady’s point about assets and liabilities. I thought in kind of a different direction with these terms. Many people have reported that on their missions, the mission president told them to focus on baptizing families or men, and not too many single women. It seems likely that they got this direction from higher up. Not surprisingly, as long as GAs are committed to the female priesthood ban and a lay clergy, then they see men as more assets and women and more liabilities. I don’t know the history at all, but I’m guessing that while the priesthood/temple ban on black people was still in effect, the GAs similarly saw black people more as liabilities.
The examples you give, (to me) don’t necessarily betray a sincere naivete on the part of the church leadership. My point is that they will continue to say and teach things that some or all of them probably know to be oversimplifications (at best) or just out right not true. Because, for them, at the end of the day, the main purpose is to keep people coming to church and keeping them happy. The point is not to critically examine the church’s history and doctrine. I think all of them know that church history is a lot uglier than it appears in productions like the ‘Prophet of the Restoration’ video, but obviously they’re going to talk about that, or in most cases, even let on that they recognize that is the case. The closest any of them ever came to that was Uctdorf’s address in GC some years ago when he very daintily brushed upon the fact that previous church leaders may have made mistakes (and the rumour is that he was not called back the first presidency when RMN took over as a sort of punishment).
We do know that the church has made an effort acquire and hide anything that might compromise it’s projected historical narrative (cf. the Salamander Letter debacle). The gospel topics essays are the maybe the closest they’ve come to giving any kind of concession or recognition to the ambiguities of the church history and doctrine, and they’re buried away somewhere in the church’s website, I doubt they’re referenced much by Come Follow Me or any other curriculum. They’re hardly ever talked about. And this is a rumour (I think heard it from Gospel Tangents), but reportedly, Bedanar and at least one other apostle (perhaps Packer) were very against the Gospel Topics Essays even happening in the first place. If that is true, then on Bednar’s part that would show a recognition of the ugly history, even if he won’t actually talk about it.
As for Nelson denying evolution, I don’t really the see the relevance here. Again, the overarching goal is to not rock the boat, they’re savvy enough nowadays (in certain areas) to not give a pronouncement one way or another on something that would potentially alienate a significant portion of the membership. Saying that evolution is real or not real would get people mad either way, so they just opt for never talking about it nowadays, especially because it’s not really germane to the church’s mission anymore.
To say in a very public way something like “we don’t believe X anymore” or “previous prophet X was wrong about Y” would rock the boat too much. They value continuity, order, and unity above all else. And they will lie and feign ignorance in service of that image of unity and continuity.
But your comment does make we wonder if they ‘outsource’ the tasks of sifting through and reading and knowing the details about the ugly episodes of church history. Maybe they have a special committee of members of the 70 or secretaries who do that, thus protecting the more public facing Q15 from having to lie and having that on their conscience. Any maybe junior members of the Q15 may not even be allowed to see or study such material. Kind of like how when Trump wanted to see the still-classified JFK assassination documents and the CIA wouldn’t let him. Or how the CIA has continued to drag their feet on Biden’s orders to declassify and release said JFK documents.
A similar could be happening in the church, you have this other entity whose job it is to be the keepers of the dangerous forbidden knowledge so it doesn’t have to weigh on the minds of the public facing official spokesmen of the church.
So, I would like to add to the comparison of members being thought of like sheep, the idea that while the shepherd cares for his sheep and wants what is good for them, he also fleeces them on a regular basis, and every now and again, he will slaughter and eat one of his sheep. So, yes while the shepherd takes good care of his sheep, his needs always come before the needs of the sheep.
This is also true of church leadership. They tend to put their own needs and desires ahead of what is good for members. There are a few stories above where a mission president put his desire to rise through the ranks ahead of the good of members or missionaries. The known coverup of ugly church history is not in the true best interest of members, because if the church is based in a bunch of lies, the members deserve to know that. The hiding of ugly history serves to keep members serving and paying into the church, so it is for the needs of the institution, not the members.
And while thinking of us as pets who always need their owners and never grow up is cute, the owner loves the pet and always does what is best for the pet. Unlike sheep who are not loved, so much as kept healthy for the benefit of the owner. Pets normally are not taken advantage of or abused, and usually not used for economic gain. Sheep are used as a means of making money, while the sheep dog is a working pet. The sheep dog is loved and cared for, or they refuse to work. Sheep dogs don’t get voluntold and just expected to obey. But sheep dogs get something out of their work, they get loved and fed, and don’t d anything they don’t want to do. Example, my dad had a dog and one day his hired hand hit the dog, and the dog quit working until the hired hand was fired and left. The dog knew he was needed and wasn’t afraid to strike if working conditions were bad. Unlike the sheep, who get herded, fleeced, and eaten whether they like it or not.
So, yup, us members are seen as sheep.