How do we create and maintain unity at church while valuing diversity and avoiding conformity? Do we have to embrace the diversity of those who value conformity? Do we have to unify with those whose diversity gives us the heebie jeebies?
This post is actually a virtual RS/PH lesson, #23: “How Good and How Pleasant It Is . . . to Dwell Togehter in Unity.” See how I snuck that in there? Here are some interesting points from the lesson:
The first part of the lesson emphasizes how temple building brought the Saints together in a common purpose. It is interesting that the focus is on the work to build the temple, and there is no specific implication that the temple itself would create unity among the Saints, a point made more eloquently by joe spencer here.)
How Action Unites Us
The efforts of the Kirtland Saints were typical of the unity, sacrifice, and devotion that would make it possible for the Lord’s purposes to be fulfilled in the years to come. This was one of many times when the Saints would pull together, heeding the admonition of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together.” (JS quoted by BY in 1867)
Q: Although we are no longer typically involved in the act of building temples, how does temple construction still bring church members together? What other action-oriented events create unity of purpose? Consider: lay clergy, visiting/home teaching, humanitarian/service projects, etc.
Q: How do church members sometimes pull in different directions vs. together? What happens when church members pull in different directions rather than together?
Q: Does a lack of action create disharmony (as the saying goes “idle hands are the devil’s playground”–or something like that)?
A Diverse Church
“We would wish the Saints to understand that, when they come here, they must not expect perfection, or that all will be harmony, peace, and love; if they indulge these ideas, they will undoubtedly be deceived, for here there are persons, not only from different states, but from different nations, who, although they feel a great attachment to the cause of truth, have their prejudices of education, and, consequently, it requires some time before these things can be overcome. ” (1841)
Q: Do people still expect perfection of other church members? How do these expectations create disunity in the church?
Q: How do cultural divides cause disunity in the church? How can we overcome that in a global church that includes members from all personalities, political persuasions, and socio-economic divides?
Q: What “prejudices of education” still exist in the church today? How do we overcome these prejudices?
A Social Church
“We, all of us, have our friends, our connections, our families and associations; and we find that the ties of friendship … and brotherhood have indissolubly united us together with a thousand endearing associations; we have embraced the one common faith. A kindred sympathy runs through the whole body, even the body of Christ, which, according to Paul’s statement, is his church; and no one part of the body can be injured without the other parts feeling the pain, for says Paul, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member rejoice all the rest are honored with it.” (1842)
Q: Who should be considered part of the Saints? All who self-identify as Mormons or just those who practice their religion? All who sympathize with Mormons?
Q: How do our ties to others in the church increase the church’s strength despite the many flaws we and other members have?
Q: How do we help those who may feel like a minority in the church feel fully welcome and valued as a part of the group? How do we keep the majority from driving out the minority?
Angela…great lesson. Did you write this today or before our meeting? It was so great to meet you and Ken btw.
The last question is a great one. What the lesson is encouraging is cohesiveness (a mutual attraction for the group and its members). By increasing cohesiveness in a grouup it will correspondingly decrease groupthink, censorship, and all other negative aspects of majority influence & even the negative aspects of minority influence. It will also increase authentic dissent which will help to moderate the group.
Over time, if not exposed to a moderating influence, groups gradually become more radical as they base their ideal behaviour on their commonly held values. A minority group can help to moderate this shift towards radicalism/fundamentalism.
The leaders of the church have made it clear that those who self identify as “mormons” but who do not agree with certain theological aspects of the church are free to worship as “mormons” but are discouraged from openly sharing their views. Management psychologists advise managers (in this case church leaders) to encourage maximum conformity in order for them to most effectively manage the group. I feel that we see this in the church.
In addition, groups that also have a strong cultural element….as does the Mormon church…are exposed to groupthink and the negative things that come along with it such as suppression of information, devotion to leaders over principles, stereotyping outgroups, belief in inherent morality, direct pressure on dissenters, self-censorship,illusions of invulnerability, self appointed ‘mind guards’ and illusions that the group is infact unanimous when it most likely isnt.
In the church, those who rise through the ranks are those who show a commitment to the group’s ideals/values…which means that those people often do not represent the overall distribution of views within the church.
I see individuals in the church leadership as trying to encourage cohesion but I also see certain reactionaries and radicals within the group that have openly discouraged dialogue and the recognition of various groups within mormonism.
Exposing a minority to the unanimous majoirty can influence the minority to comply but also to appreciate the majority. Exposure to a minority leads to re-appraisal and a more open minded consideration of alternatives on the part of the majority.
In the church we should encourage more activites that are based upon building a mutual attraction for one another and this will help the majority and minorities to both feel less threatened. We should also encourage dialogue and expose the groups to one anothers views, like John Dehlin did with Mormon Stories.
If the majority does not actively try to keep the minorities we will most likely lose them.
>we are no longer typically involved in the act of building temples?
But in the last 12 years we have built over 80% of the temples standing today.
My main comment here about conformity vs. diversity – was about 5-10 years ago – the church disbanded a number of special interest wards (primarily based on language/culture needs) in the Western USA with the intent to get those members mainstreamed in strong standard english wards.
A number of stakes involved in this experiment saw their attendance and activity numbers plument as the individual wards lacked the skillset to fully integrate all of these people. Now the stakes are moving back to creating these special interest wards.
Let me share a parable with you.
1 There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
Now, using the Joseph Smith Method of Interpretation, let us identify the principles in the parable, and what each represents:
the lord = the Lord, i.e., God
the steward = God’s servants, to whom he has given stewardship, i.e., prophets, bishops, visiting teachers, and so forth
the debtors = those people whom the Lord’s servants have stewardship over
the debts = those righteous acts which we all owe God (see Mosiah 2:21)
So, God commends His servants for wisdom, when they accept from His children only what they are able or willing to offer, and forgive them of the rest, rather than requiring perfect righteousness.
Because for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light: they are willing to forgive one another’s sins, so long as they receive profit from the transaction.
Consider the source.
Steven – I wrote this before our trip. It was somewhat coincidental that you and I, continents apart, were thinking about more or less the same topic. It was great to meet you and Tara (and the rest).
Bold – while it’s true temples continue to be announced and built, the average lay member is no longer personally involved as they were in the Kirtland era (JS’s reference in the lesson), but I believe that even the disaffected swell with tribal pride over the building of new temples. It’s one of the hallmarks of being Mormon, that the physical act of temple building unites us.
Very good insights from all. I agree that if we don’t embrace diversity of thought and perspectives by loving those with minority views, there is a loss. Several types of loss as is pointed out above.
On the practical side, my experience is that disunity can be ameliorated to a great degree by just a few individuals on a unit level.
Call them bridgers, but they are members of either the majority or the minority who, for what ever reason, are capable of comfortably interacting and fellowshipping across social barriers and make a conscious effort to do so. Obviously it would be better if everyone were involved, but just a few can get most of the job done.
I like to think of myself as a bridger. I’ve been in both the majority and a couple of minorities and I can interact fairly comfortably between them. The problem I’ve found is that several wards and units in Utah have become so radicalized by Nazi Mormons (Robert Kirby’s term, not mine) that a bridger needs to either assimilate fully into the majority or go underground. There just aren’t enough of us to turn the tide or even act as a moderating influence. It can be a lonely existence at times.
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