Chain of Command

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried an article on its front page reporting on the confusion surrounding who ordered the nation’s military on defcon 3 after the 9/11 attacks. A four star general says that he did it, but the Bush administration says that the president gave the order. Rather, they say something like no improper action was taken–although Bush has said in two speeches, both in backwater locations, that he gave the order. Reading between the lines of that carefully worded language and the places chosen for Bush to make the case that he gave the order; it seems likely that the general gave the order first. If this turns out to be the case, no doubt defenders of the president will argue that this was an exceptional case and no time for government boondoggle.

The church’s chain of command goes all the way to God, and we are one of the few religions I know which claims modern prophetic direction. I have been taught, and believe, that God could appear to the prophet and have a chat with him if needed. The prophet-God link in the chain of command is one of the strongest sources of authority in the church–when major policy changes are enacted, it is always supposed by many members, that God must have spoken to the prophet about it directly. Joseph Smith was les than clear about who should take over after he was gone with the result that the church didn’t have a head for 2 years after he was martyred. There were other attempts at usurping the top job after Brigham Young and John Taylor’s deaths. My understanding is that the current means of succession wasn’t definitely decided until well into the twentieth century.

The chain of command gets progressively weaker and less persuasive the lower you go. It’s easier for most of us to accept the prophet’s directives than our bishop’s for a few reasons: First, we know our bishop personally and we don’t think that a policy change in our ward is driven by a chat with God–although our doctrine teaches that we are all entitled to revelation regarding our stewardship and that must include heavenly visitations if needed. Second, it is easier for the prophets directives to be interpreted broadly, or, if that won’t work, recognize that he is speaking broadly and put ourselves in the “exception” category. My question is whether there is a tendency among certain groups–say liberals and moderates, to usurp the chain of command. No doubt, everyone tends to think that they know best, but since moderates and liberals are a distinct minority in the church, policy and perhaps doctrine runs counter to what we think. Put another way, do we commandeer teachings about–oh, I don’t know–gender and homosexuality. Is running in the van guard just a means of taking the church where we believe it needs to go–and is this the same of not only usurping local leadership, but prophetic leadership?

Comments

  1. “Edited by Siteowner”?

    Steve — I refuse to be silenced by your Orwellian tactics!!

    Aaron B

  2. “Put another way, do we commandeer teachings about–oh, I don’t know–gender and homosexuality. ”

    Church policy does run counter to what some Mormon liberals think. And if we don’t have the guts to be activitsts…well then at the very least there are a lot of closet liberals who are secretly applauding the homosexuals who are brave enough to bring their family to church.
    My 74 year old liberal mother told me about the lesbian development with glee. Change is coming! What are wards going to do? I mean it’s going to be uncomfortable for wards to treat them differently. It was ackward and sad for wards with black families and of course for black families themselves back in the seventies.

  3. “The stake prez wondered “Is she a PRACTICING lesbian?” Yes she is! Duh. But he is letting them attend anyway, of course.”

    I’m not sure that he could bar her from attending. Everyone is welcome to join us in weekly worship (well, unless they were violent, etc).

    “You say you’re Canadian, but not a U.S. citizen. But isn’t Canada just the 51st state anyway?”

    I have no problems with the United States and Canada merging. Ten provinces are just too few nowadays. Now, 60 provinces? That’s more like it.

  4. Aaron,

    I can’t see what’s odd about my view. I’m saying LDS leaders make a good faith attempt to stay out of politics. They do make statements on doctrine and morals. They think the Proclamation is primarily a doctrinal and moral statement, but many people may view it as a political statement, especially in the context of the growing gay marriage debate.

    The political implications are clear if you lived in California during the Prop 22 campaign–Church members were expected to contribute funds to the initiative (I attended a fundraising “fireside” at the SP’s lovely home) and to campaign for its passage (I got a phone list of voters to call). That’s about as political as it gets. The Proclamation is the justification for direct LDS involvement in such campaigns.

    I suppose that short summary shows I’m partly wrong–it appears they are now consciously choosing to be more political, and well beyond simply making political statements. If that’s the case, I think it is a step in the wrong direction.

  5. Aaron, it’s your pr0n links again!!

    Orwellian tactics, indeed. Just trying to establish a smut-free zone here, and your lesbian fetishes aren’t helping.

  6. Aaron, LDS leaders say they won’t make political statements or require members to take political positions. Since they do avoid overt political endorsements, I take it they are sincere in stating that position. If they stray, they do so unknowingly or largely so.

    It seems like your position is that they are intentionally duplicitous, knowingly practicing what they say they are not doing. That’s an even less flattering portrayal.

    The Church has been burned by politics in the historical past. I think they really have learned that lesson and try to keep the Church out of politics whenever they can. I think that’s the right approach.

  7. Aaron, my indifference to political issues is a very boring story, and very short, so I’ll spill it here:

    I’m Canadian. When I turned 18, I moved to the States for college, and haven’t lived in Canada for more than a few months at a time since. So I don’t feel qualified to vote on Canadian matters (though I follow the trends).

    I’m also not a U.S. citizen, so I can’t vote on domestic issues. Hence, no caring about them.

    So, I’ve never voted. Pathetic, I know. So be it. At least I keep my trap shut about politics, because otherwise people would just shut me down (and rightly so).

  8. AMAZING BUT TRUE: one RS president’s daughter is a lesbian. The lesbian and her partner have adopted some kids. They have been to other churches but want to raise their kids as Mormons so they come to church as a family. Yes, the lesbian was a member and has been excommunicated but she wants to come to church with her family. The stake prez wondered “Is she a PRACTICING lesbian?” Yes she is! Duh. But he is letting them attend anyway, of course.

  9. Based on my own experience and observation, liberal mormons are no more likely to disrespect authority than any other politically-active member. Yet, when authority is questioned by a liberal the demonstration of “lack of faith” is often attributed (by others) to his or her political leanings. If a dittohead questions authority the political motivations of the questioner don’t seem to be as heavily scrutinized. This is only based on my own observations though, and I say it without a touch of bitterness. ;)

  10. Grasshopper says:

    Dave commented:

    “[Scriptures such as D&C 121:37] are sometimes quoted but never really applied to differentiate between office and true authority, which are synonymous in the orthodox Mormon view.”

    In my experience, these scriptures are used to distinguish between authority and power. In Mormonism, authority does come with the office, no question. But power is directly related to one’s use of authority. So one’s official authority can be undermined by abuse. Effective authority and official authority may be very different (e.g., numerous national monarchies).

  11. Dave,

    I don’t know that bureaucratic structure itself confers authority, but it seems pretty clear to me that concrete links connecting the top with the bottom are important. We are careful to trace priesthood lineage, for example, back to Jesus Christ and we recognize that the stake president has a stewardship that supercedes the bishops. If you are saying that the church isn’t like the military and we don’t just get orders and then obey–then I agree with you. Well, at least I agree that it doesn’t have to be that way, although it certainly can be that way if you want it to be. But I don’t see how you can possibly say that there isn’t a rigid structure governing the administration and, to a large extent, the doctrinal direction, of the church.

  12. Aaron Brown says:

    Dave,

    I’m afraid I find your argument rather odd. You say:

    “LDS leaders say they won’t make political statements … Since they do avoid overt political endorsements, I take it they are sincere in stating that position.”

    First of all, can you point me to the specific comments by LDS leaders you have in mind? I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at. If you’re referring primarily to endorsements of specific political parties or platforms, then I agree LDS leaders do not, and claim they will not, make such endorsements. The fact that they have issued a Proclamation that happens to coincide with the “Conservative Republican position on Social Issues” doesn’t necessarily constitute an official endorsement of the Republican Party.

    But I find particularly strange the claim that, however you view their activities, LDS leaders are somehow “unknowing” in what they’re doing. I strongly suspect that a good number of General Authorities are sophisticated enough to notice the various debates taking place in American society regarding family, gender, homosexuality, etc., and it has probably occurred to them that, the Proclamation may have “political ramifications” in these areas.

    You may be right that allegations of “intentional duplicity” would be “less flattering” than allegations of ignorance, but (1) I’m making no such allegations, since I don’t see the issuance of the Proclamation as contradicting what LDS leaders claim they’re in the business of doing; and (2) even if I were making these allegations, they’d be less far-fetched than the notion that LDS leaders are just too out of it to notice the “political” implications of their activities.

    Incidently, it is not at all clear to me what specific political obligations, if any, arise out of the Proclamation. A good topic for a separate post, perhaps…

    Aaron B

    Edited By Siteowner

  13. Kristine says:

    Dave,

    Um, yeah. I think my next post might be about my issues (they do not begin or end with the mandatory dried-flower-framing issue!) with the Proclamation on the Family.

  14. Dave, I like the idea that liberals may just not subscribe to the chain of command metaphor, but is it true?

    My thought is that most liberally-minded mormons I know do in fact respect the authori-tay of the prophet, the G.A.s on down. Sometimes there is a kind of breakdown once you hit the S. President and below, but that could be for other reasons.

    In your mind, what kinds of authority in the church do liberal mormons subscribe to?

  15. Kristine says:

    FWIW, I was mildly active against Prop. 22 in California (lawn sign, interviewed once by the San Jose Mercury news and quoted as disagreeing with the Church’s stance) and nothing happened to me. Well, nothing formal anyway. I did have some awfully unpleasant conversations with ward members. I never talked about it in a class, and tried to avoid the topic if at all possible in conversations with other Mormons. There were a couple of more vocal members in a neighboring stake whose temple recommends were taken away (which, btw, is a wholly extraprocedural form of discipline, nowhere suggested or sanctioned in the GHI).

    I think the experience of Mormons who were for the ERA is probably instructive: disagreement in the political sphere was OK, as long as you didn’t try to represent your view as connected with the Church, or directly attack the Church in public. I think the church is still concerned enough with its image that trying to damage the Church’s reputation by publically suggesting, for instance, that the policy is motivated by homophobia would likely get one into hot water. As long as you couched your objections in legal or procedural terms, and didn’t unnecessarily drag the Church into public controversy, I think the consequences would likely be limited to local unpleasantness.

    As for whether one can be faithful and still believe the leadership is wrong about some issue or another, I think church history is full of examples that support this possibility. Certainly, there’s no doctrinal requirement to tender fealty to the hierarchy–obedience is owed always to God and to righteous principles. We commit to “sustaining” the leaders, which need not imply “obeying” them. In fact, I think the current trend of expanding the notion that “God will never allow the prophet to lead the church astray” to some de facto form of infallibility looks an awful lot like trusting in the arm of flesh.

  16. I agree with grasshopper — the scripture distinguishes between authority and power. But I’ve never seen in Mormonism the situation where official authority is undermined by abuse. Since official authority here is given by revelation, it leads some to believe that abuse is unlikely or somehow justified by God.

    Take the example of a Bishop, who can, with some limits, run the ward like a despot. How would his official authority ever get undermined? He might get released by his higher-ups, but his use of authority is rarely questionable by those in the congregation.

  17. I don’t think it’s a lack of “faith” to not just agree and support with the church’s stance on gay marriage, though it may be a form of apostasy.

    Mat, your latest comment reminds me of the ongoing theme of faithful dissent. Sounds like you want to be a believing and faithful member of the church, without agreeing with everything the church does or stands for, particularly in the political arena. If that’s a fair restatement of your feeling, I’ve got to warn you — you’re in the minority.

    Personally, I think we do have a duty to support the church and its acts, even when we’d personally take a different tack. This perspective of mine may stem from the fact that I don’t care much about political goings-on, and so the stakes don’t interest me as much. Gay marriage amendment? Couldn’t care less — which is why I am the ideal member.

  18. I don’t think it’s just a liberal/moderate thing. I happen to have a mod-lib democrat for a stake president, and the dittoheads in my ward are always second-guessing him.

  19. I love making comments on blog postings that have gone inactive. That way I can say whatever I want and no one will ever read it.

    I respectfully disagree with Matthew that “The chain of command gets progressively weaker and less persuasive the lower you go.” I often find it much easier to follow the counsel of my home teachers and my quorum leaders than I do certain of the apostles. I guess I just have local leaders and you dont!

  20. I think Lynne raises a fascinating question. How will individual congregations and local leaders react if and when gay and lesbian families start to become an active presence in LDS wards? (I’m not convinced that day will ever come on a grand scale, but you never know). Even if there is no ecclesiastical approval of gay relationships, if gay and lesbian families choose to attend, it will become very difficult for most LDS members to avoid facing a host of practical and ethical questions concerning how to treat and think about gay families.

    Dave — I’m not clear on why you think Church leaders are unaware “how political their statements have become.” They seem perfectly aware to me. I also find a bit hard to swallow the suggestion that since most Mormons tend to identify with the values of the Republican Party, they have just inadvertantly adopted the positions on social issues that happen to be embraced by that party. (Maybe I’m reading too much into your comments?) However one feels about the Church’s stand on various social issues, I hardly think the Church just fell into its positions by some fluke of recent history.

    Aaron B

  21. kaimi, am I really being that unclear???? I’m ecstatic they are at church!!! Do you have a lot of homosexual couples attending your ward as a family unit with their adopted children? Are you high or are you being facetious?

  22. Kim Siever…

    “I’m not sure that he could bar her from attending. Everyone is welcome to join us in weekly worship (well, unless they were violent, etc).”

    Sure, but the situation was new enough to everyone involved that the question was raised. It will be an interesting experiment. I’ve lived in a lot of different wards and this is the first I’ve heard of a gay couple attending a Mormon ward with their adopted children. I hope they are welcomed.

  23. Kim, we should just the Canadian comments roll off our backs. When we come back south to take back the colonies, they’ll quickly change their tune.

  24. Kristine,

    I like your comments. I, too, found the whole Prop 22 experience something of an eye-opener, more in retrospect than at the time. My impression is that affair (and being drafted, no questions asked, into the LDS political campaign) caused many California Mormons to reassess how far they are willing to defer to LDS policy pronouncements on social issues, politics, and even doctrinal interpretations. If the Church takes the same approach with the next Prop 22 event in California, I predict a lot more resistance from the ranks of the faithful. Could get ugly.

    The problem is there’s really no easy line to draw between social issues, politics, and doctrine these days. Is the Proclamation a doctrinal revelation (it’s not canonized), a thoughtful statement of desirable social policy, or just an illustration of standard right-wing political thinking? To me, it sure looks like a policy document stating a position. It could easily be titled, “Official Endorsement of Conservative Republican Position on Social Issues.” They don’t realize, I think, how political their statements have become.

  25. lynne, not sure where you’re going with that… how does it tie to Mat’s thesis about chain of command? Just curious.

  26. Lynne, that reminds me of what I just read in the Book of Mormon the other night. I’m reading in 3rd Nephi and the chapter where Jesus institutes the sacrament. He talks about how important it is, and how no one should take of it unworthily, but the rest of the chapter/sermon is Him explaining that church should be open to all. No one should be sent away.

  27. Mat,

    on the note of speaking up in EQ, I’m reminded of the recent T&S post by Jim F. about Paul’s admonition not to eat the meat of sacrifices, not because God is against it, but to avoid the appearance of evil.

    I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about that idea, and while I believe it’s important for diverse voices to be heard (hence the blog), I’d rather hold my tongue than make someone question their testimony.

    That’s the important balancing test here, I think — not whether our position is right or wrong, necessarily, but whether our actions in relation to our position will lead ourselves and others to a better understanding of God and the gospel. Some issues are worth fighting for, in my book — some aren’t (no sandals without socks!).

    In the meantime, I’m still processing what Dave has to say about God’s role in the kingdom. I’m not quite sure I agree with him, but it’s interesting stuff.

  28. Mathew and others,

    I don’t dispute that the Church is a tightly managed, top-down institution. It is a well run religious corporation.

    The question concerns where God enters the managerial process. God doesn’t have an office at the COB and he doesn’t issue memos. In other words, God is not the box at the top of org chart. If God is in the process, it must be through inspiration of one sort or another. But Mormon descriptions and accounts of inspiration sound no different from what other Christians say about inspiration or being moved by the Spirit.

    Bottom line–“real” authority is dependent on inspiration or some living link with God, not simple metaphors like “chain of command” or “keys.” One who really takes chain of command seriously ought to be Catholic; they have a much stronger claim.

  29. Matthew,

    Make sure you’ve fixed grammtical and spelling errors before posting. :-)

  30. O.K., fair enough. I see the connection you’re drawing, Lynne. But I would avoid limiting Mat’s post to a discussion of gay/lesbian mormons; there’s a lot of other possibilities out with regard to what Mathew’s saying about how we perceive authority.

    Dave, I think has hit the nail on the head when he said “there’s really no easy line to draw between social issues, politics, and doctrine these days.”

  31. Obviously the military metaphor appeals to people who want to portray ecclesiastical links to God as a chain of command. I don’t think “liberals” want to usurp authority as much as they simply have a different view of the whole matter, somewhat at odds with the “chain of command” metaphor.

    And it is just a metaphor. Mormons love the keys metaphor too–it’s used ony once in the New Testament, suggesting the metaphor did not originate with Jesus, but it is the foundation of the Mormon view and the term “keys” appears repeatedly in the D&C. Like the “chain of command” metaphor, it sees bureaucratic structure itself as conferring authority, rather than any personal link a leader establishes via the Holy Spirit.

    There are contrary LDS scriptures (such as D&C 121:37, “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man”). They are sometimes quoted but never really applied to differentiate between office and true authority, which are synonymous in the orthodox Mormon view.

  32. OOOPS I got cut off . Here’s the rest. Sorry.

    We are given line upon line and the churchÂ’s organization is here to help us achieve perfection. Many a return missionary has commented on how difficult it is to see investigatorÂ’s denied the greater blessing the gospel had because they could not get past the basic teaching of say chastity, or the word of wisdom. Those ideas considered liberal by some provide an excellent opportunity to better understand Christ/truth, to continue learning line upon line until we have a perfect knowledge.

    In answer to MatÂ’s question: “Do we commandeer teachings about–oh, I don’t know–gender and homosexuality. Is running in the van guard just a means of taking the church where we believe it needs to go–and is this the same of not only usurping local leadership, but prophetic leadership” No, we are simply smarter than other church members and drawing closer to God at a much faster rate. OK, IÂ’ll get down off the tower now. WhoÂ’s next?

    Karen, drop me a line, IÂ’d love to hear from you: jared@jlldesign.com

  33. Steve,

    I don’t have a dog in the gay marriage fight either and I certainly wouldn’t put my membership at stake over it. I have a mild preference for allowing gays to be married, but I can see both sides of that argument–although I am strongly against it being anything but a democratic (i.e. non-judicial) decision.

    But you are right–I want to be a faithful member while disagreeing with what the church does politically. It sounds like you think that isn’t possible–at least if I am in active disagreement. Activism isn’t really my thing–but what about giving your POV in Elder’s quorum? [Note to all readers--we will soon be developing a set of rules to determine how many steps we are allowed on the Sabbath. Volunteers for the commitee wanted.]

  34. Steve,

    I don’t understand. You say you’re Canadian, but not a U.S. citizen. But isn’t Canada just the 51st state anyway?

    :)

    Aaron B

    (couldn’t resist…)

  35. Steve,

    They let Canadians past the border now? Odd. I thought we had guard digs and electric fences or something.

    Lynn,

    Re: Lesbians, why wouldn’t they come to church? A lot of people come to church who are dealing with issues in their lives. There are word-of-wisdom violators, non-tithe-payers, and even the occasional rumor-teller. The church isn’t for the perfect, it’s for the publicans and sinners. Would you prefer lesbians who _didn’t_ raise their kids LDS?

  36. Steve,

    This is an aside, but I look forward to a post from you at some point (on a new thread?) that explains in more detail your claimed indifference to political issues.

    Aaron B

  37. The term “chain of command” implies information and authority being passed from the top down. In Mat’s original post he states, “The chain of command gets progressively weaker and less persuasive the lower you go.” While this is true for most organizations I don’t believe the church’s structure, if implemented correctly, is set up this way.

    Most companies are organized with a CEO, board of directors, regionals, managers, and so on working down the line. The further down you go the more people fill each position: a company can have one CEO but 150,000 managers. This results in a “cone” shaped structure. It’s been argued the church is organized in much the same way with Christ as the CEO. I believe, please follow me here, to accurately portray the church’s structure the cone must be “flattened” by pushing on the top point of the cone. This results in the same organizational structure but with the “chain of command” now running horizontally, not vertically. Carry the analogy further by removing Christ from the center position and inserting the prophet in his place. To complete the analogy place a plate of glass, representing Christ, on top of the entire surface of the cone. While bureaucratic decisions are still passed horizontally, from CEO to manager, each person along the chain of command has access to (through the sister principals of prayer & revelation) to the “CEO,” or in our case, Christ. Is any of this making sense?

    I know the analogy is kind of corny but it’s the only way I can explain how I view the church’s organization. Each person is entitled to revelation. While leadership, guidance, and answers may come from those further to the center, we can all “reach up” and get answers directly. (This isn’t the place but you can think about who has what right to receive what kind of revelation.)

    The entire church can be given guidance, through the prophet, on controversial issues such as homosexuality but each individual can ask God to know if this is correct. In this way our understanding and testimony grow.

    I sometimes, unrighteously, group members/investigators into two categories: believers & doubters. Believers are those that have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, a living prophet, and the restoration. When they disagree with something the “brethren” preach they let it go saying, “I don’t have the answer, but the church is still true.” Doubters too believe in the Book of Mormon, a living prophet, and the restoration, but are always fitting the church into their own understanding. When it doesn’t fit they decide the church isn’t true.

    We are given line upon line and the churchÂ’s organization is here to help us achieve perfection. Many a return missionary has commented on how difficult it is to see investigatorÂ’s denied the greater blessing the gospel had because they could not get past the basic teaching of say chastity, or the word of wisdom. Those ideas considered liberal by some provide an excellent opportunity to bett

  38. There’s no chance of changing the brethren’s view on gay marriage. They’ve dug their feet in on this one. If you don’t care about the issue, then you don’t personally know a family that has been torn apart by this. Read the Judd Hardy story. All we can hope for is that we are raising future generations of leaders that will be more open to the idea. I’d doing my part to raise my little liberal army!

  39. This is an example of the lower end of the chain of command facing the reality of a real life Mormon Lesbian. Here’s somebody who obviously realizes the church hierarchy is against gay marriage. Nevertheless, she got married to her “partner” and STILL wants to attend the Mormon church. More and more bishops and stake presidents are going to be faced with this. They can issue all the proclamations they want but some gay people still want to be MORMON!

  40. Well isn’t it a lack of faith to not just agree and support with the church’s stance on gay marriage? I honestly believe that this isn’t a doctrinal matter, but suppose that it was? The thing I find frustrating about myself and many of my moderate friends is that we are unwilling to admit that we just think the church is wrong–obviously that puts you in a position that is very difficult to defend. Explanations about why you support civil gay marriage and still believe the church is led by inspired leaders remind me of explanations of why the church decided to admit blacks to the priesthood. Most of the time, they just don’t ring true. I think it may be a more powerful position to just say that you can’t reconcile the two with the caveat that given time and increased knowledge you believe they will be reconciled.

  41. Your post made me think of instances where the chain of command has been invoked in my church experience, and I have to admit that the time I’ve seen it, it’s been a mask for unrighteous dominion. Leaders that truly lead by the spirit and love their respective stewardships don’t relate in terms of “chain of command,” I don’t think.

    What it reminds me most of is the petty district leader or zone leader getting mad at me on my mission, because I asked the A.P.s or the President a question without running it by them first.

    I think your statement that “it’s easier for most of us to accept the prophet’s directives than our bishop’s” is provocative and thoughtful for many reasons. A part of our respect for the prophet may be a function of the cult of celebrity that accompanies the title, as well as the fact that we don’t know him personally. But in my mind, sustaining our local leaders is all about putting our trust in the even though we know them personally. It’s the ultimate challenge of a lay clergy.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean, though, about commandeering or usurping the chain. Are you asking whether liberally-minded LDS people are more likely to not respect local leaders? Or are you skipping that question, to ask why liberals don’t respect local leaders?

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