After reading the news of Faust’s passing earlier this morning, my husband and I naturally began to think about who might succeed one of our favorite leaders as an apostle. So, we began reading biographical sketches of our church leaders. With the exception of some foreign members of the Seventy, many of which served in the CES system, the vast majority of our leaders pursued careers in law or business. This did not especially surprise me, since in my experience this has been the case amongst local leadership as well.
Here are the stats for the Quorums of the Seventy as we read them on lds.org:
Note: I am only listing people by their primary careers, not by what BA they earned or by what other talents they might possess. “Business” means MBA types, those who got into management via another route, business professors, and business owners. Although business is a vague category, members of the seventy all tend to be in high-end, financially successful positions. Most of the foreign members, interestingly, came through CES. “Other” is comprised primarily of members in the military, medicine, and farming. There is a notable absence of secondary teachers, scientists and engineers (including software), government workers, social workers, artists, and other humanities types. Perhaps this fact is in part explainable by the fact that women tend to prefer these lower-paying professions. In terms of local leadership, I can only speak about my own experience, which is undoubtedly inflected by region, since I have no statistics. All but one of my bishops has been an MBA or lawyer. They have, for the most part, also been good.
Presidency of the Seventy:
Law – 2
Unavailable – 1
1st Q. of Seventy:
Law – 11
Business – 21
CES – 9
Other – 5
Unavailable – 1
2nd Q. of Seventy:
Law – 7
Business – 11
CES – 2
Other – 8
Although lawyers and businessmen undoubtedly bring with them extensive administrative experience that they gain in valuable, demanding professions – here, though, we might well wonder if an apostle’s chief role should be to run a bureaucracy rather than to teach the gospel – I have become increasingly frustrated with the ways in which our church culture has so strongly linked notions of leadership to successful careers within business.
While there is certainly much to admire in life trajectory of a business leader, it seems that our focus on one type of leadership can result in us overlooking how people engaged in other pursuits – social work, teaching, performing arts, farming, or even homemaking to name just a few- also have valuable perspectives, spiritual experiences, and skills that our church could benefit from deploying. But, if the church frequently appoints the same type of members to leadership positions, it seems likely that the ideas these other members can offer have a diminished chance of being passed up the chain of command, since these members will rarely occupy positions of power. As a consequence, our church might be less innovative, less informed, and less able to empower its members than if it had an influx of different types of leaders, ideas, and perspectives.
In my mind, the fact that our church emphasizes a business-oriented model of leadership is especially problematic, because it reinforces a male-oriented conception of leadership that helps marginalize women from key leadership roles. Granted, there are many Mormon women who have successful careers as lawyers, MBA’s, or other professionals – but it also seems that Mormon women are more likely than men to work in fields like social work that do not have leadership weight within our culture (even though people in these fields, like those in business, often do know how to run large organizations and have developed useful skill sets.). We could benefit from the insights they have to offer.
But putting aside the fact for a moment that retaining one model of success and leadership limits our potential to be a dynamic church and poses serious barriers to information flowing up the ladder, I wonder if this limited conception of leadership also limits the ways in which Mormons feel they can live successful lives that serve the lord and the ways in which we feel that we can experience spiritual fulfillment. What, after all, does being a “leader” have to do with testifying of and acting like Christ? Why do we imbue our church authorities with the rhetoric of leadership (as seemingly defined within a business/management model) rather than focusing more on the qualities that prepare them to speak about their faith?
For many years, I felt that the concept of leadership presented to me within church culture demanded a long career within a high-paying, prestigious field. But, this career model of success is one I have not followed, both because I found myself more fulfilled within academics and because the career model of success proved difficult for me to cling to in a complex world that often demands that I (and my spouse) respond to the needs of my family.
While I first experienced my inability to achieve the type of leadership that my culture seemed to validate with intense shame and insecurity, I believe that my disenchantment with that model of success has actually empowered me to outline my priorities and make educational, career, and family choices that I – and not just the people around me – value. For me, deciding that there are other ways of being successful and being a leader has been frighting, but also extremely positive, since I have been forced to exercise my agency and rely on my own judgements to determine what will make my life a success. Hopefully, my decisions will help me contribute to our church, too.
In all likelihood, our next apostle will also come from law, business, or administration. And that will be fine. But, there’s definitely a part of me that wishes he (since it can’t yet be a she) will bring more than administrative qualifications to the table. I’m really interested in hearing about the next apostle’s spiritual experiences, and I’m not convinced that the best people to teach the gospel always have classically successful careers. Joseph Smith, Sr., after all, was a financial failure by almost every measure, and he was also a patriarch that people sought after.