I listened recently to a Mormon Expression podcast with John Dehlin, in which he comments upon the difficult position the Church leaders face. He observes that their are times when they make particular decisions based upon a legalistic-bureaucratic framework that sometimes seem incomprehensible, even unchristian but that these decision are understandable. I would like to ask this question: Is there an alternative?
Quinn argues that during the explosive Church growth of the 1950’s-1970’s the Church attempted to draw upon a number of external influences in making the organization more efficient and effective. At the same time there was an explosive growth in Church bureaucracy. This led some to become concerned over the influence and direction of power and authority within the hierarchical structure.
According to Quinn, both J. Reuben Clark Jr. and David O. McKay were concerned that the increasing bureaucratic, financial and organizational burden meant that the GA’s were not able (due to lack of knowledge or expertise) to make decisions that would need to be made. They would, of necessity, have to rely upon technocrats and other specialists from the various sub-committees at Church Headquarters. President McKay’s concern was that this movement would involve an ecclesiastical abdication of the God-given authority to led the Church.
This model of Prophetic leadership in temporal, as well as spiritual matters, has a long and varied history in the standard works and has been exemplified by our earliest and most influential leaders. The first reason therefore that I am unconvinced that there is an alternative to a mixture (even a heavy emphasis) on the bureaucratic, as opposed to the prophetic, in our Church leadership is that theologically they are expected to be able to guide a temporally-situated Church. Yet, their burden is fraught with a multiplicity of complex challenges that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others never faced.
John Dehlin rightly notes that within this they have a responsibility to protect the image of the ‘Prophetic Mantle’. In one sense, therefore, it seems possible that although they believe that as ‘Prophets, Seers and Revelators’ they have a responsibility over the temporal, they also feel a sense of dissatisfaction or dissonance over the types of decisions they have to make. This is evident by the fact they do not talk about such decisions and even try to mask these processes from the general membership because they feel that such decision-making processes might undermine the image of the ‘Prophetic Mantle’. I think they are right; it might well have this effect.
Now it is possible to argue that the ‘Prophetic Mantle’ does not need to be protected. I can sympathise with this position however I believe that the Brethren intentionally present a view of their work which most accurately exemplifies what they expect from their local leaders. Bishops and Stake Presidents do not make the same type of decisions that might require this legalistic-bureaucractic framework and they therefore expect local leaders to seek the Spirit in dealing with spiritual matters. I am not convinced that this is disingenuous but rather sense that they are trying to model the gospel in action to a culturally and intellectually diverse membership.
Therefore, they are in a tough, ecclesiastical bind. Abdicate the responsibility for the kingdom (to a small or even a large extent) or face the possibility of undermining the ‘Prophetic Mantle’, which I believe they have, and giving scope for local leaders to approach issues in this same legalistic-bureaucractic manner.
I can see why they do what they do because I am not sure I see a valid alternative, theologically or organisationally. Do you?