You’ve no doubt heard of the Deep State. It’s a little hard to define. MAGA Republicans think it is bureaucrats and officials inside the federal government who use their institutional power to undermine and sabotage the efforts of former president Trump to formulate and execute policies and plans to save the country from the woke mob and various other shady enemies. Others think the Deep State is bureaucrats and officials inside the federal government who use their institutional power to prevent or deflect the efforts of former president Trump to execute policies and plans to undermine democracy and ruin America as we know it. Here’s a book I recently read that takes the second view: American Resistance: The Inside Story of How the Deep State Saved the Nation (Hachette Book Group, 2022) by David Rothkopf, a “foreign policy, national security, and political affairs analyst and commentator.” He also does podcasts — doesn’t everyone?

The Deep States is an institutional thing, bearing institutional momentum you might say, the large array of individual employees and departmental structures that carry forward not just the knowledge of how to get things done in government but that are also the repository of the habits and traditions and practices and norms of the government and its various departments and agencies. Whether you think the Deep State is a good thing or a bad thing is largely a function of your political views and sympathies, tempered by your personal view of bureaucracies in general. Remember, a century ago the term “bureaucrat” had a positive vibe, maybe like the term “expert” or “analyst” these days. Nowadays, the term “bureaucrat” means either an incompetent government functionary or a malicious one.

The LDS Church has bureaucrats — that is, employees of the institution who know how to get things done within the institution and are also the human capital with knowledge of the habits and traditions and practices and norms of the institutional side of the Church. They do everything from managing the design and building of temples and chapels to the drafting and publication of curriculum material to running a huge translation enterprise to managing the far-flung missionary system.

Here’s the question: Is there a Deep Church? That is, do these tens of thousands of LDS employees go beyond simply executing plans and policies formulated by LDS leaders? Do they sometimes undermine or impede or deflect those plans and policies, either intentionally or unintentionally? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard or read a discussion on this point. As with the Deep State, one could see the Deep Church as doing bad work (undermining the good ideas or inspired initiatives of LDS leaders) or as doing good work (preventing a bad idea pushed by one or many LDS leaders from being enacted or at least minimizing the harm of a bad plan or policy).

Let’s consider an example or two and then let readers chime in with their own examples or ideas. Exhibit 1: Denigrating the term “Mormon.” Seems like a bad idea for a lot of reasons. I imagine that in discussions behind closed doors, objections were raised and apparently either overruled or ignored. If the Deep Church couldn’t stop the “I’m not a Mormon and neither are you” initiative, I’m inclined to think it doesn’t have much power. If it even exists in the sense of being any sort of opposition, actual or potential, to leadership proposals.

Exhibit 2: LDS curriculum. Having seen a variety of LDS manual series come and go, I’m inclined to think there are committees and departments within the LDS curriculum area that undermine every effort to improve our manuals. If Uchtdorf couldn’t fix it (he didn’t), then no one can. Proposals to upgrade the curriculum are likely met, in every meeting to discuss it, with objections like “If Grandma couldn’t understand the topic, don’t put it in” and “would a new convert in Peru be able to understand this lesson?” and “who needs history? Just tell them what to do.” If the Deep Church can counter every effort to improve the LDS curriculum, it must be fairly powerful.

Exhibit 3: Seminary and Institute. Whatever directives are given from leadership and whatever updated information gets put in manuals, I’m pretty sure a fairly large chunk of full-time LDS S&I teachers think they know best and will teach their students whatever they damn well please. From time to time, that may include personal opinions or it may include LDS doctrines and ideas from two generations ago that are now disfavored or it may include fringe LDS ideas that were never really “LDS doctrine.” If I had a buck for every eye-rolling story about something someone heard from their seminary teacher, I’d be rich. If there is a Deep Church, the large cadre of LDS S&I teachers is one of its strongholds. That’s going to get worse, not better, with the recent announcement that the BYUs are going to place less emphasis on scholarship and more emphasis on other things for hiring into religion departments.

So what do you think?

  • Is there a Deep Church in the sense of sometimes opposing or deflecting or redirecting proposals or plans or initiatives of LDS leadership?
  • Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
  • Any examples of interactions with LDS bureaucrats or employees that supports or refutes the idea of a Deep Church?