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  1. Great podcast, very thought provoking. I think it’s important to realize that the most powerful force within the church today, the correlation program/department was basically founded on the premise that people of other (read inferior) cultures just couldn’t get the gospel message as it was preached at the time, so it was streamline, simplified and became uniform throughout. Unity became the new call. If we are to become like the City of Enoch we must be “one”.

    1. I think this is an important point–Dan, when you phrase the choice as either saving souls or delivering the church in the same way everywhere, in their description of church programming (especially in the special training session they had a few years ago about the Basic Program of the church) church leaders seem to feel that these goals are the same. That is, that by making the church simple and uniform, souls will be more easily saved.

      1. Unfortunately, you’re right. They’re wrong in this, however! Sometime, somehow, we have to shift our focus to soul transformation over orthodox thinking and limited ways of expressing our changed hearts. When we do, no one will ever be able to claim church programming is even close to equivalent to saving souls.

    2. Fascinating point, Matt. Wish this category mistake hadn’t happened! Being unified in message or doctrine is in no way as important as being “of one heart”–plus it’s not supported by scripture. Even the “if ye are not one, ye are not mine” line in the Doctrine and Covenants was about law of consecration (economic unity/sharing, etc.). I love theology and doctrine but totally get that perhaps getting some of that right is not nearly as important as shifts of heart, becoming truly open and compassionate, seeing divinity in all and acting in concert with that recognition, etc.

  2. Matters such as those presented in the program are relevant in the more mature areas of the Church, too.

    Every ward that I have lived in within the US (outside of UT, ID, AZ) have had struggling Elders Quorums, where the most stable, “go to” guys end up getting “promoted” to the High Priests Group via Leadership and Stake callings. Thus there are few opportunities for seasoned members to share their experience and knowledge with newer and younger priesthood holders. There is an almost “invisible membrane” in place within the Melchizedek priesthood, that leads to great hesitation even to combine home teaching duties between Elders and High Priests.

    Some of this seems to derive from a drive to constantly grow, which leads to the hesitancy to combine Melchizedek Priesthood meetings and duties, which may seem as going backwards or “contracting.” Unfortunately, this seems short sighted as growth would be much more likely to occur if “new Elders” were more carefully nurtured by those most capable of it.

    Watching this self-defeating behavior repeat itself over decades is really frustrating!

  3. Thank you for this excellent and much-needed discussion. I’ve had the opportunity to attend wards all across the U.S. as well as in China. In China, there is a very different feel to the church than in any other place I’ve been due to the nature of the church’s limited abilities in that political environment. For example, we were repeatedly discouraged from proselytizing in any manner. Our meeting block was only 2 hours long (and although we only had 8 children, we still had primary). Most notably, only foreign members or those Chinese with foreign passports (such as those from Hong Kong) were allowed to attend our group. There were Chinese local members, but they met separately from us and via the government’s decree, we were not allowed to intermingle. It was certainly a unique experience for me, and I have to say, I loved having the pressure of missionary work removed for a while! Of course, the men still wore white shirts and the women still wore dresses and heels, even though many people had to travel for at least an hour on buses, trains or taxis to attend.

    I also agree that it will be crucial to the church’s future development to stop trying to ignore our history. It’s time to embrace the past, or at least acknowledge it. Just yesterday I read an excellent article about the history of women in the church washing, anointing, and blessing the sick. As always when I learn something of this nature, a unique part of the church’s history that has never been shared with me, I’m baffled as to why. Why ignore something so beautiful in our past? And why try to cover up the less comfortable issues? It serves no good purpose, and will only perpetuate the feeling that the church’s history is something to keep hidden away and not discussed. History happens and the sooner the church learns to embrace the past, the sooner they will be able to reconcile themselves with it.

  4. I’m happy to hear this. I agree with the other comments that is is a much-needed discussion.
    However, as great as the discussion was, I was hoping more time on the other way the church doesn’t work for everyone and that is: on a local level, on the level of individuals. (perhaps that could be it’s own episode?)
    Mormonism is an exceptionally one-size-fits-all religion. For nearly every variable aspect of a person’s nature, the Church provides one right answer. Generally, this comes from the General Authorities, who all fit within a rather narrow range of personalities, in all goodness of heart, seeing their own personal tastes as those of God’s and expressing that to all the members, compelling them to feel the same. Even when those tastes are otherwise good I think it can be destructive (for example http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1633 ) to require people to do something in an area that they will never find fulfilling is counterproductive. Even something like scripture reading. I enjoy reading and get great pleasure reading in generally and so reading from Scripture has always been positive but I know of many many more from whom it is/was not. However they may experience the same sort of edification from things that I do not.
    This first really struck me when I learned about the concept of ‘Crazy Wisdom’ which is: “a manifestation of certain spiritual adepts where they behave in unconventional, outrageous, or unexpected fashion.” While normally associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, there are some strains of it that occasionally pop up in Christianity.
    WHen I learned of this, it really spoke to me. As someone who, if I were to have any wisdom at all, it would probably be ‘Crazy Wisdom’ , I felt a great amount of understanding and acceptance even realizing such a concept existed. As someone who is both eccentric and Mormon, I often felt that the quirkier parts of me, while maybe not BAD per se, were not the ideal and that the ideal was the sort of Business persona of the Brethren. A persona, that in every other aspect of my life, as someone who has always related myself with counter culture movements, I might even go so far as to say that that I was against, which led to cognitive dissonance.
    But if, as a Mormon, I had been taught about ‘Crazy Wisdom’, the idea that there were multiple ways of being wise and expressing wisdom and one of those can involve unconventional ways that I could relate to, then I wouldn’t have felt such an internal struggle and even GOOD about what I was like as a person, instead of that I was forever ‘less than’ because I could never see myself in the conventional mold.
    Of course I eventually grew up and no longer looked to the institution for validation of who I am, but for an institution that DOES teach it’s members to look to itself for validations, it can destroy people when they don’t happen to fit the one-size-fits-all mold.
    Even the Catholic church allows someone to become a Monk if they like to live a contemplative, solitary life, which sounds great to me, but there is no option for that in Mormonism, in less you want to be something of an outcast and always seen as ‘other’ and definitely not esteemed as a Monk might be.
    I don’t know if ANY religion does this perfectly, but certainly within various traditions there exist a VARIETY of ways to worship or engage with God that individuals can pick and choose which serves their spiritual needs best without being overcome with the guilt that they need to do them ALL and in one particular way, feeling forever guilty because very few will ever be able. I’ve said many times that one the best thing about losing (or reworking) my faith is that I no longer believe their is one ideal way of being. Some things may enhance my life but I now realize it may never enhance the lives of others, no matter how much they try. As I see the world now, I would no more seek to compel those things on others than I would to compel human life on a Tiger. Although I would thrive, the tiger, because of different needs and different preferences would wither. Mormonism tries to make us all Tigers when what we need are tigers, bears and zebras. But no more than those….maybe buffalos and and zebra horse hybrids too…maybe.
    But I think this is ONE factor why people are leaving the Church. Once we find out the history isn’t what it’s claimed, we no longer have the motivation to keep trying to force our square bodies in the round holes the Church is making us go through. If the Church allowed more room for individuals, I believe I would still attend today, despite my unconventional beliefs.

  5. Wonderful podcast, bringing up for discussion some really meaty issues. I had a number of thoughts as I was listening:

    First, with regards to the discussion about how Pentecostals and others have more fully and effectively spread their numbers through decentralizing and releasing control over the process, the new(ish) blog Worlds Without End had a fascinating post on how this can be done relatively effectively even within other centrally organized ecclesiastical organizations, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists. Both of whom, I could add, are spreading much more effectively than us: http://www.withoutend.org/mormonism-decidedly-american-religion/

    In terms of the conversation thread on whether such decentralization could ever happen within Mormonism, I’m doubtful. On one hand, I’m not sure central church leadership would ever feel comfortable encouraging local leaders to use their creativity and go their own way, even in relatively innocuous small things, out of fear that doing so could lead to apostasy in the big things (i.e. local revelation challenging church-wide revelation). On the other, at least speaking from my own experience in the church in Brazil and Mozambique, I think such a suggestion might be met with deadening silence if it ever came forward, because those international members who have been in the church long enough to be in leadership have already been effectively taught to look to the central church in SLC for direction. Even culturally, I remember being turned to a number of times when I was in leadership positions in Mozambique, as church members wanted me to tell them how we did things (whether in terms of activity planning or whatever) back in the States.

    Regarding the possibility of “scaling down” church-wide, I’m with the panelist that mentioned how that might be seen as “biting the hand that feeds you”–when I think of how culturally important certain non-essentially-doctrinal milestones are to members of my extended family (e.g. becoming an Eagle scout, participating in church pageants, etc.), I don’t see the church ever getting rid of them without a big outcry from folks for whom these things represent decade-spanning traditions in their families (“my father and grandfather did ____, and now I can’t?”).

    1. I think you are right that it is unlikely that the Church would allow more directive control at the local level as a way to respond to local needs, but I think the same effect could had by simply giving MORE options. Not even taking away things like Eagle Scout awards, but by adding other things in addition. So you could get your Eagle Scout, but you could also do some other life enriching activity that is more suited to cultures and individuals for whom scouting doesn’t seem to work. Like me for example. I was super devout as a teenager, read the BOM 5 times by the time I turned in my papers, but I HATED scouting and often felt bad about myself because of it. Had there been something else that was equally acknowledged and admired by the community but fit to my preferences and abilities, I would have jumped at the chance.
      The way things are approached now in Mormonism is whatever good enriching things there are to do, should be done by EVERYONE. If, instead, we introduced MORE varieties of enriching things, but took away the requirement for the specific thing, I think it could solve a lot of problems, allow for diversity amongst individuals and countries, without having to let the Church spin out of control with each place being too different from the body as a whole..

      1. I totally hear you on this, Christopher–I was exactly the same way, I really enjoyed my first few years of scouts (because we were living in Utah and camping and all the outdoors stuff was awesome), but when my family moved to Texas when I was 16, I hated the way scouts worked there, and I gave up a badge or two short of my Eagle (something that, as much as my immediate family couldn’t care less, I still hear about from some extended family). I’d love if there were something that were equally culturally prized–the trick is just that, getting to where it’s valued equally. We have a spiritual equivalent in the Duty to God awards, which started up a number of years ago I think to do just this, create a spiritual set of steps for young men to go through, and also create something equivalent to Personal Progress for Young Men in countries where there wasn’t an official scouting program. I remember going through Duty to God in Young Men’s–the problem is, no one cared about that. They cared about Scouts. The church could try to create something else, but again, how do you make it culturally prized, or can you even force something to become culturally prized like that? There’s the rub.

        1. I think the solution is too draw from the local culture. Collaboration between local leaders and Slc to find something that is not only mutually agreeable but inherently valued by local members because of it being based on or drawn from the local culture.
          In South America something like this happened, For the life of me I can’t remember the specific details of the ritual and it makes it a terrible example. But it was somewhere south of the USA and wherever it was, the local members, during one of the transition stages for the females, (or maybe it was in a place where males had a transition ritual but not the girls) introduced their own tradition that involved some, version of some local ritual. I think it was originally from Catholicism but had become ubiquitous in the area. I remember when hearing it described, it sounded beautiful and like something people really valued, but eventually the higher ups put a stop to it. (the more I typed the worse I’m realized the example is without knowing the actual thing it was they were doing, but I don’t have any others!) (maybe someone else remembers better what it is i was referring to, bc I think it was from one of the Trifecta of Mormon podcasts)
          If something similar as that could happen, perhaps through local members submitting ideas, it can get approval from the local 70 and they could try it out. If it works well then they pass it on to the twelve for approval.
          After that, once officially approved they should allow those rituals to occur anywhere in the Church.
          No person or region would be compelled to choose any specific one, local places would certainly have their traditions that fit their customs which most people did. But for the individual, as long as it had been approved it was fair game.
          This allows both for very set guidelines by the Brethren, where everything is approved by them, yet cultural, regional and even individual variation. And it would facilitate growth and change in the church to come from the members themselves, from the bottom up, while still giving the brethren the control they desire and perhaps need for a stable church.

  6. A couple last observations from my year living in Mozambique, during which I was
    the District Executive Secretary and thus hanging out in the background of a
    lot of district-level meetings—the burnout factor was huge there. The district presidency began to try to implement all of the regular district-level leadership meetings that are listed
    in the handbook, in large part because of me, after my then-gung-ho self
    discovered the list while reading the manual and brought it up in presidency
    meeting. Really, really silly idea on my part—the district was really spread out, and especially people on the outskirts couldn’t afford to come several times a month 10 miles by bus to the chapel for another welfare meeting. Tangentially related to that was also a situation similar to the one described about whether or not to get a minivan/bus to help with church transportation—for a while during my time in Mozambique the church paid for leaders’ bus fare to get to meetings, and then stopped, wanting to promote self-sufficiency. As you might expect, attendance slowed down after that.

  7. I wonder if our 21st C. implicit dilemma–do people have to become Americans, at least culturally, before they can be good Mormons–shares some resemblance to the 1st C. explicit debate over people being required to become observant Jews before they could become true followers of Jesus? And if so, will it require a similarly dramatic revelation to settle it (remember Peter’s dream of the “sheet knit at the four corners” in Acts 10)? If there is (some resemblance, that is), it’s fun to think about the supposedly “unclean” objects that might show up on our latter-day sheet that turn out to be less “sacred” than we thought they were–white shirts and ties? tea? Franklin-type day-planners (either paper or electronic)? the three-hour block?

    1. Super point, Jim! I’d actually written on my pad during the conversation to possibly make this connection and then didn’t. So glad you did here! But what really blows me away is your suggestion about a revelation similar to the one Peter received and what might be in that sheet. You have my brain churning…. Love it!

  8. Good pod cast, but the audio was terrible. One person you could hardly hear while some others were too loud. I was constantly turning the volume up and down on my iPod — very annoying. Surely you can do a better job regulating the audio. My wife was suggesting to “turn that thing off!”.

    1. Sorry about that. We had a terrible time tech wise this time (worked for 25 minutes before starting trying to eliminate static and echo problems). We ended up with two of the folks having to do the recording via phones rather than everyone via computer and Skype, which is the usual way we hook up. The guests all record on one audio track, so couldn’t really adjust for each person separately during post production.

  9. I’d like to add a more encouraging note about the direction that the Church is taking, that appears to be opening up to greater flexibility. I recently returned from my missionary service in Lithuania, where the Church is very young, and doesn’t run the same way that it does in the US and especially in the mountain west. Due to the size of the branches we as missionaries fairly regularly were in leadership positions. As part of that we viewed World Wide Leadership Trainings and had access to the Church Handbooks, which were updated in November 2010, if my memory serves me well. One of the main ideas behind these handbooks and the Leadership training was that the programs that exist in Utah, Idaho, the rest of the US, etc, are not all necessary for a full Church experience. Promoting a more flexible approach to the organization of the Church, obviously the way that this intention is implemented is colored largely by the opinions and views of other leaders, so the successfulness in adaptation likely varies from area to area. At the least there appears to be recognition of some of the issues that were discussed and movement to address them.

    To answer the question about the Liahona versus the Ensign. In Lithuania, we, as missionaries, received the English Liahona monthly, and the Liahona was translated into Lithuanian twice a year, in addition to translations of General Conference. As far as I could tell, the Ensign and the Liahona differ only in that the Liahona includes excerpts from the New Era and The Friend, providing an all-in-one magazine.

    I definitely agree that an analysis of what is necessary to the Church and what is tradition within the Church, is essential to forward movement. A focus on what matters universally, and then area to grow, adapt as needed to meet challenges specific to the area, would be awesome. One way that this is happening is the creation of youth centers throughout Europe, for youth (high school and college age) to gather and do homework, play games, watch movies, whatever. Essentially to be in a positive environment that helps them stay away from sin. One of my companions was European and he often went to such a center and he had a very positive experience there.

  10. I emailed this comment to Dan, and then decided I should post on here too!

    I served in the Philippines Tacloban Mission from 2005-2007,
    and witnessed a lot of the “Same Ten People” approach in some of the
    urban areas. On the flip side, I witnessed some great branches that
    basically did their own thing, and just stayed lose to the cirriculum,
    but in their own way. In those areas, the meeting house was more of a
    hub for all of the members to just come together and have a good time.
    The comradery in those branches was something I have never experienced
    in any other ward.

    As for the programs, there was a real simplification. The youth
    programs were combined, there was a primary teacher or maybe two (that
    would technically be the presidency), and there was an Elder’s quorum
    president and relief society president. I was even Branch President for
    the last three months of my mission, and that was REALLY cool.

    I think the church needs to focus on goals and purposes instead of programs, and allow local leaders to create their own way of dealing with local issues.

  11. I’m joining the conversation a little late, but I had a thought that no one has really touched on yet. I think the Church’s hesitancy to allow practices to be informed by local culture, is connected to white Americans’ inability to see their own lifestyles as determined by culture, ethnicity, or race. In other words, we
    (that is, white Americans) see our own lives as “normal” or the default and what other people do as deviant, abnormal, or strange. Just a small example: my in-laws visited Thailand (where my brother-in-law served his mission) and my mother-in-law was always asking about whether they could get “normal food” as in, “Don’t worry, they have normal food at this hotel.” Every time she said it, I wanted to say (but never got up the nerve), “Thai food is normal for Thai people! What you’re talking about is American food!”

    I don’t think most white American Mormons see the Church as being affected by the culture and time period in which is was founded. Instead, they see our cultural practices as neutral. For example, rather than seeing white shirts and ties as examples of how corporate American culture has affected the Church, they see it as “the way to dress professionally and formally” and assume that it has nothing to do with race or class. By this logic, imposing our way of dressing on other cultures is not a form of colonization or American-ization. Of course this is a very naive way to see the world, but I think it’s very common, especially when it comes to racial differences. The person pointing out the differences or conflicts is often the one seen as racist. So if you say something like, “African Americans in our ward prefer wearing African dress to church instead of shirts and ties,” someone else might respond, “Are you saying African Americans can’t dress professionally? That’s racist!” You might get a similar response if you suggested that showing up on time is a cultural value that not everyone shares. I’ve had these kinds of conversations many times, and not just with Church members. This is a much broader problem in American culture.

    This problem is exacerbated in the Church by those who believe that everything about the organization was revealed by God. For example, I’ve heard Church members say in all seriousness that there must have been a Relief Society at the time of Jesus because the Church is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and the organization we have now was restored based on the model of the ancient Church. By this logic, the Church is not a vehicle for the Gospel, the organization itself is the Gospel, or at least can’t be separated from it. So our (supposedly) class-less, race-less, culture-less Church culture is not actually neutral, it’s in fact divine. And suggesting that it should/could be changed, or worse, that we could learn from other churches that are not led by direct revelation, borders on heresy. This is an extreme version of the position, but I think this is the way most American church members would lean if they ever put any thought into it (which they probably don’t most of the time).

  12. Great podcast! I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but wasn’t the shift to the three-hour block sort of an admission that not everybody was a middle-class Utah family where the wife stayed home, the husband worked 9-5, and the chapel was only a block away? I’m generally pessimistic about the church’s ability to tone things down or make adjustments so it works better for people outside of the mountain west, but maybe it’s possible.

    Anyway, I definitely agree that the biggest problem is the homogeneity of leadership. Of course, it’s not just a Mormon problem. The United States Congress is mostly middle-aged white guys who had successful business careers too. Unfortunately, seems like a self-perpetuating thing.

  13. My husband was active-duty military for 20 years; hence, we traveled all around the U.S. The last ward we lived in was a Hawaiian ward on the island of Oahu. I remember how interesting it was to see the local customs followed at church–everybody wore flip-flops, men sometimes wore sarongs, leis were a must, and congregations tended to be more vocal during Sacrament meetings: yelling out “Aloha,” responding in chorus to a well-made point, etc.

    Then we retired and returned “home” to Utah. Talk about culture shock! The entire first year my daughter was in young women’s, nearly every weekly lesson was about the evils of wearing “beach attire” to Sacrament meeting–and to this ward, that meant flip-flops! Every week my daughter would come disgusted, saying, “We learned about how evil flip-flips are again!” This following on directly after our great Hawaiian, laid-back church experience was jarring, to say the least.

    Listening to this podcast (and others on Mormon Matters) is my therapy session. Thanks for showing that there are other ways to view the world than through the monolithic, Utah-Mormon church lens!

  14. Hah! Finally listening. I found this interesting. My family is white and middle class and our ward is mostly white and middle class, but we are in Oakland and have a combined youth program with the more inner-city ward. A lot of members from our ward get called into youth callings like YW because they are well off and have cars and can get the kids from the other ward to seminary or dances or mutual activities. My family has just gone carfree and it really is a new experience. The buses do not go up to the church building on weekends at all. The bishop said it used to and when the transit people changed the routes, the Church tried to lobby for them to keep Sunday bus service for the people who didn’t have cars, but failed. Having a building closer to the city and not up in the suburbs (we go to church right next to the Oakland temple, for those that have been there) would be wonderful for families dependent on public transit. My family ends up spending about $45/week for a car-share vehicle to get to church, which is ok for us because we are fairly well-off, but would definitely be prohibitive for other people and families. And I do know that some people in our ward who often give rides to other ward members who can’t get there on their own, get burned out from the extra trekking and waiting on another family to get ready for church. I wonder if the Church would help out and help pay for gas for extra carpooling like that… Hmm…

    The more-inner-city ward has a lot of needs and they often pull bishopric members from our ward or elsewhere in the stake from the handful of men who are retired and can spend lots of time handling the extra needs. Of course, that might be a sign that the Church needs to change some of the role of bishop- it would be really hard to have a full-time or multiple part-time jobs AND be a bishop of that ward at the same time. Perhaps that means the bishop calling is a little overbearing and needs to be cut back.

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