I Take Great Joy in the Pride of the Church

Jay Hinton is a BCC reader, and recently contributed this post (with its interesting questions) to us.

Certain new callings in the Church tend to be a bit of a spiritual shock to the senses, especially “high profile” ones like RSP, Bishop, EQP, etc. They tend to make us introspective, look again at the big picture, and question our level of spirituality.

Nevertheless, it came as a bit of a shock to me that I had this exact reaction to my recent calling as Ward Clerk. You wouldn’t think the impending duties of the ward bookkeeper/accountant would lead you to a spiritual re-awakening. Perhaps the reason it did was because I found myself flabbergasted by the calling, seeing as though I am the furthest thing you could imagine from an “organized” person (if you could only see the messy garbage dump that is my desk right now). In that sense, I have wondered since being called last Sunday if this isn’t the Lord’s way of playing mind games with me, and spiritual mind games always lead me to the scriptures.

Anyway, in my study over the past several days, I have been drawn to Jacob 5 and the allegory of the olive tree. Simultaneously, I have been drawn to a particular entry by Kevin Barney several weeks ago entitled “Lowered Expectations,” wherein the foibles and imperfections of a heavenly-govern yet mortally-operated Church was discussed.

One comment grabbed my attention toward the end of the discussion:

This is what is wrong with the church. The people with high expectations think that the church should do what is ‘right’. The church, on the other hand, places a higher priority on preserving the institution.

The church has become an end unto itself. Like the branches in the allegory of the olive tree, it has taken strength unto itself, overcoming the root. The result is that the fruit is bad.

Given my study of the olive tree allegory, this comment struck me. What was most odd, though, was that I took an incredibly odd sense of pleasure in the fact that I recognized what the commenter was saying was true. And it got me excited. How odd.

We are nearing the end of days. Whether “nearing” means 10 years or 100 or 500, no one can be sure. But I do see the evidence of what the commenter says in that the Church (see: members, not institution) does take some measure of strength unto itself.

But is that really the case? Is it so much more than in the early days of the Church when separatist groups formed regularly? I don’t know the answer to that question.

But, assuming for a moment that the Church as a people is experiencing a greater level of pride, doesn’t that, in a strange, twisted way, only add another log to the burning fire of scriptural evidence that the Church is true, in that it is fulfilling Zenos’s prophecy?

What do you think? Is the Church more prideful as a whole than in past eras? If so, does that, in a strange way, give you some measure of solace as it does me?

Comments

  1. I think it is both more prideful and less prideful.

    Externally, in past eras, it seems that the attitude was “we’re right, we have the truth”. Joseph Smith was certainly not afraid of telling people that they were wrong, that other denominations were “abominations”. Brigham Young never held back just about anything that crossed his mind. Even as recently as Bruce R McConkie, if you weren’t us you were of the devil – children of Satan himself. Whether you chose to call this pride or not, it certainly is strident.

    Contrast that with the recent “watering down” of our differences. Gordon B Hinckley even stated on national television that he wasn’t sure what was meant by “As man now is…” The Church has certainly become more mainstream, or has at least tried to portray that image. So I would argue that it is less “prideful” in many ways.

    Internally, however, I would argue that the Church is more prideful and concerned that it it absolutely right. In past eras, there was room for discussion of even controversial topics at even the highest levels (ie. evolution, etc.) There was room for “liberal” minded members and “conservative” minded members. I think the Church, as an institution, has essentially “purged out” people who don’t think like everyone else. While not technically “out”, I don’t know that Golden Kimball or Talmage or other early church thinkers would last long in today’s environment or be called as local leaders, let alone anywhere higher in the church hierarchy. There is an implicit pride present internally in the church, where if someone doesn’t “think like us”, that person is one the verge of apostasy.

  2. Whether it is pride or just increased cultural rigidity, I do notice a crystalizing around the “outward manifestations” of inner-faith. This often comes in the form of privileging mainstream western dress and grooming standards as quasi-commendments. I see this more as a maturing culture of Mormonness and less as a sign of end-times.

  3. Sterling Fluharty says:

    If you hear large numbers of members or church leaders saying that all is well in Zion, you could probably take that as yet another fulfillment of prophecy. ;-)

  4. I laughed out loud when I read this!

    In essence, this essay is saying the PRIDE of the Church is a fulfilment of prophecy, thereby proving that the Church is TRUE (and we have every reason to be so PROUD and ARROGANT)!!

    LOL!

  5. Just remember that the way to be successful as a Ward Clerk is to dump the work on the assistant clerks…

  6. Hank, please keep using all caps. This will attract the attention of a certain perma’s bannination stick.

  7. RE: Posting, 1. (last paragraph), and 2.
    .
    When you talk about “the Church,” it appears that you are not talking about the part of it in which I live. I attended last night the fireside in the LA Stake Center that was hosted by the Los Angeles African-American Affairs Council, a super-committee the Church has operating here in SoCal. My association with this group and other operations of the Church in areas with cultural and genetic diversity has surprised me with the remarkable flexibility and accommodation that I found. These people are at least as committed to the restored gospel as me and the other “home grown” types that I used to view as the face of the Church yet they show both the same resiliency of thought and the complete faith that we read about among the JS-era members. And these members are best served by the leaders who can lead, not corral, them. Maybe the Church is more vibrant and flexible where it is growing and changing peoples’ natures, and more institutional and crystalized where the members are focused more upon the tools than upon their uses.
    .
    Here’s a video I put on YouTube that exemplifies my experience:

  8. Scott (#6): indeed it has.

  9. manaen, I noticed the same thing in a NYC-area ward I was in a couple years ago, in which there were very few Mel. Priesthood holders, tons of converts, and not a lot of general church knowledge (my first sunday there, the EQ lesson was on home-teaching; as in, “What’s home teaching?”). Lots of strong testimonies, but expressed in very different ways.

    The long-time members were integral to that ward and in getting new members acquainted with the culture of the church (and things like home teaching), but there was a lot of good in that ward that came from the new members. I think it’s my wife’s favorite ward to this day.

  10. Hank, you’re not proud of the Church?

  11. Two years ago my family and I moved to “the valley” from “the mission field”. We were quite shocked to find that our experience with members here was that they were both prideful and asleep at the same time.

    Increasingly we as a family have come to find that the gospel is true and alive and the church is in many ways withering and dying. We see the cycles of the BOM being repeated. We are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the institution of the church while trying to maintain our faith in the eternal gospel.

    Obviously much can be said about individual wards and leaders being alive in the gospel, but in my experience these tend to be those that have developed a healthy distance from the institution of the church.

    Unfortunately it does not give me solace. It makes me sad. So many people now reject or leave the church because they do not understand the difference between the church and the gospel. I choose to believe the gospel is true and alive and has perhaps never been so healthy; but I believe the church as an institution is quite quite ill.

  12. Although I believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be the restored Gospel on the earth today, my mind spins over sharing this to those that would accuse me of arrogance and pride. I remember many years ago as a 14-year-old freshman in an advanced senior English class of being accused of being “arrogant and a know it all” because I knew where I came from, where I was going, and why I was here, which were the three questions that my teacher said that humanity had been struggling with since the beginning of time.

    I also think there a plenty of things that occur in the church to keep us humble. I still am trying to reconcile why Deborah of the Old Testament could speak for the Lord as the leader in Biblical times, but females are limited today in that capacity. Why would the church create a limitation for females to speak on his behalf at this time? The story of Deborah in the Bible seems to demonstrate that stewardship and leadership over both men and women does not need to be gender specific.

  13. Eric Russell says:

    Jay, people always think those around them are proud. It’s always been that way and it always will be. So no need to worry, your perceptions are quite normal.

  14. Diana–maybe you just haven’t met the right women.

  15. “I think the Church, as an institution, has essentially “purged out” people who don’t think like everyone else.”

    That certainly hasn’t been my experience – and I think Elder Wirthlin was making the plea that we not let it happen in his wonderful talk, “Concern for the One”. I just think it’s easy to hear the piccolos in wards where they are dominant and assume there aren’t any other instruments playing.

  16. While “purged out” may not be a technically correct term, it is a de facto purging, even though people may remain. It seems we are not encouraged to “speculate” or give our personal opinions on the majority of topics discussed in church. We are to “stick to the manual” and give the textbook answers that made it through correlation committee. We hear phrases like, “When the leaders speak, the thinking is done”.

    While lip service may be made to “diversity” in various talks like you mention, on a practical basis and in reality, it is NOT what is going on in the Church as a whole. That’s why you have so many people who feel that can’t say what they really think at Church, so they sit there quietly going through the motions. They only express what they really feel in blogs like these.

    In my opinion, the Church would be MUCH stronger if it actually accepted and encouraged the diversity of opinions present in its members. But in the top-down hierarchal model we are presented, there’s not a lot of room for that.

  17. I was thinking about this topic this past week- Are we getting to feeling too important and looking down on people. I live in Utah. Recently with the dedication of the New Temple here it was decided that no church meetings would be held in Utah on Sunday the 23rd of August, so People would attend the Dedication. For a month before the dedication it was mentioned all worthy members of the Ward should get the recommend for the dedication (every Priesthood, Relief Society and Sacrament meeting) currently my wife and I do not hold a recommend. We are working however to get back on track.

    I guess this post is about how I felt on the 23rd of August knowing that my Wife and I were not needed for any meetings at all. We stayed home. We were second class saints not needed or even given a chance to worship on Sunday with others. I know some will argue it is our fault and I won’t fault you for doing so, because it is)

    I still keep thinking of that day and the 1000’s of people told the same thing. Part member families, less actives just coming back, those who can’t go to the temple because of a WOW issue or tithing etc. Even though the gospel is meant for all People, on different stages of Spiritual Development, on that Sunday we were told sorry you are not needed.

    Sorry to go on with this, this is the first time I have expressed how I have felt about this in a public setting. I guess my hope is not to feel alone on these feelings I am trying to overcome

  18. I agree that there can be stifling rigidity and purging does occur. I don’t attribute it only to pride (“We’re rigid because our way is the best”) so much as to fear (“The ‘sinful ways’ of the world must be kept at bay, so let’s build a fortress of inflexibility”). ‘Sinful ways’ in quotes because it becomes defined as anything outside the structure, which is simply untrue and unfortunate. Whether it is pride or fear, all is not well in Zion because our capcity for charity and sharing the true gospel is diminished. Also, I do not believe the source of the problem is church headquarters; it’s human nature.

  19. I find it funny that people are saying the the Church institution is “purging out” people at this time more than any other time. For a group of people who claim to know a lot about LDS Church history, this is a surprising conclusion. There has always been, almost from the start, those who have left or been excommunicated from the LDS Church for all sorts of reasons. I can think of no time in history when membership waxed and waned, through excommunications (purging) or simply leaving, any less than now.

    I think the pride I see is from either those who think they are uber-righteous (and I know some people think I belong to that catagory), and those who think they are greater than the LDS Church institution. The difference might be that the uber-righteous seem to stay and the institutional critics leave. That does make sense when you lose respect for the organization. Most of the uber-righteous have a heightened sense of the institution’s importance. One could even say (although I don’t myself) that the reason there is a “purge” at all is that those who don’t respect the institution will naturally leave.

  20. Dan S., I can imagine that was a painful feeling. I admire you for working through it and trying to return to full participation in the church.

  21. Dan S,
    I was also unable to go to the temple dedication on the 23rd because my husband was gone on business and I have children under the age of 8, who can’t go to temple dedications. I will admit that I felt a bit offended when I read the next week in the church news that “all the faithful members” in the area were at the temple dedication. I thought “hey, I’m faithful, what’s the deal?”
    I think we need to remember that they meant “all faithful members who were able to go at the time”. Which would include those who are on the path trying to become worthy. As far as not holding church that Sunday, I imagine it was because it would have made a very long day for those who were able to attend the dedication. True, that wasn’t everyone, but it was a majority of members.
    It is frustrating when the church speaks to the rule more often than the exception, but I don’t think that’s because the leaders don’t care for those who are an exception.

  22. “I choose to believe the gospel is true and alive and has perhaps never been so healthy; but I believe the church as an institution is quite quite ill.”

    Great points, Andrew (#11), and that only seems to further support the analogy in that the roots of the tree are good, but “because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves.”

    Sometimes I wonder if the coming of the 10 tribes signifies the “institutional” power of the church being shifted to the international portion of the church and away from what has often been called the “Jell-O belt.” Not that I’ve seen much evidence of that happening any time soon. Perhaps if Uchtdorf becomes the prophet.

  23. Ugly Mahana says:

    I am tired of the quote “When the leaders speak, the thinking is done”. Every time I read it, it seems to me that it is used as a proof-text of the Church’s, and specifically the First Presidency and the Twelve’s, absolute unwillingness to countenance individual thought and action. I am aware of the source, but I have never attended a meeting where such a doctrine was preached. On the contrary, I have instead heard a constant stream of encouragement to individually determine whether the gospel, as taught in the modern Church, is true. So, I am tired of the quote. To me, it proves nothing.

  24. OK. Other examples since you are tired of that quote:
    “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over”.

    Or even if those are taken out of context, a more current example: President Hinckley mentioned that he didn’t like earrings on guys, or more than one on girls. Not “Thus sayeth the Lord…” or a consensus statement. Were we encouraged to determine what that meant for ourselves? Absolutely not.

    By the next conference, we heard a story about a guy who actually broke off a marriage to a girl who wouldn’t take out her second set of earrings. And the implicit message was that the girl was in the wrong, not the guy.

    Try letting a YW leader “individually determine” whether earrings actually had anything to do with the gospel and see how long she remains in her calling. Or was it President Hinckley’s personal opinion on the subject, much like Brigham Youngs personal opinion on the inhabitants of the sun and moon.

    So I accept the fact that the quote means nothing. Everything can be taken out of context. But, I will believe your claim that there is still room for non-institutional individuality in the Church when I see someone on the stand at General Conference outside the obligatory uniform of white shirt and dark suit. Or when people could question other leaders’ opinions much like Talmage and others did last century, without being excommunicated for apostasy.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    Mike, try to relax. You seem worked up.

  26. I really don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to confuse their feelings about members of the church with their feelings about the Gospel. In any group of people of any kind … at all .. since the beginning of people, there have always been and will always be a given portion of the group that many of us will not like. That’s just the natural man rearing his ugly head.

    The best thing for us to do is to be charitable in our assessment of others and hope and trust that they well be charitable with us. There’s no up side in getting offended about what this Brother said or what you heard this Sister say. Get over it and do your home teaching :)

  27. I was visiting family in Utah the week before the new Temple dedication, and was surprised that all other meetings were canceled, and wondered about those who could not attend for whatever reason. My heart goes out to those who feel left out. I think the effort was to try and pull as many people as possible into what I would have to say is a great experience (temple dedication). The message could easily get misunderstood, or even misstated as it filtered down to the local wards and stakes.

    I’m concerned about the materialism I see amongst members in the church, including myself, but I’m not sure I would say that we have become more prideful. Instead, I look at these things like dropping pebbles in a small pond. The ripples roll back and forth, and intersect with each other, but the volume of water doesn’t change, nor its basic characteristics. We need to be on guard and watch for pride, but I’m not sure that I would go as far as to say that I think the Church is “overpowering the roots”. The fact that we are talking about these things is evidence that we are trying to be better, and moving in the right direction.

    I also am reluctant, despite all apparent evidence, to engage in jello-belt bashing. I loved the years we lived in Utah, but we also have loved the years we’ve lived in Washington. If there is a sense of chilling homogenization in the church, it is attributable to individuals, and not the institution. And I think that is equally attributable to both those doing the homogenization, and those who complain about it.

    Elder Wirthlin had it right. Not everyone is a violin. Some are piccolos, and me, pretty much a bassoon. It seems to work out.

  28. I have a comment says:

    You know most plans will work, if you work the plan. The statement that “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over” is more about getting people to quit debating, ad nauseum, and just move forward with the plan. Unity is important and we can’t achieve unity if everybody elevates their ego such that they have to lead and can’t follow.

    And I have never felt that the Church promotes infallibility. A few years back the brethren shortened missions to 18 months. They repealed it not too long afterwards and went back to 2 year missions. I remember the prophet stated in the priesthood session of general conference that they thought so many more young men would go on missions if they shortened it, that it would more than make up for the shorter duration of the mission, and that the total headcount of missionaries in the field would go up. He than said “We were wrong.” And hence they were going back to 2 years.

  29. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE: 23,

    I have instead heard a constant stream of encouragement to individually determine whether the gospel, as taught in the modern Church, is true.

    This is true, of course. However, I think that the question of whether the “church is true” or not is a fairly ground-level one, not usually a dilemma for members of the church; if they are members, chances are, they’ve already decided that one in the affirmative.

    Things get tricky on the smaller scale of day-to-day choices. Not only are the prophets and apostles inspired to give guidance/commandments for your life, your local leaders have the same responsibility. On every level, there is a kind of (uneasy) federalism at play — you have the right and responsibility to inspiration from God in your own life, but what do you do when the inspiration you receive conflicts with a directive from general or local authorities?

    Usually, problems happen on the local level; most of us don’t know any apostles personally. What exactly is the boundary in which your Bishop or Stake President may work? What kinds of directions can they issue? Can they tell you to shave your beard? Eat more carrots? Are these enforcible? If you decide not to comply, what sorts of sanctions might they apply?

    I have no doubt that the vast majority of leaders in the church are marvelous! I have had wonderful local leaders. I have also had a couple of really, really, really bad ones, and those few experiences have made me extremely “gun-shy” when it comes to the church. For the most part, for the past 5 years or so, I have just tried to keep my head down and my mouth shut.

    So yes, Ugly Mahana, we are encouraged to seek personal revelation, not just about whether the church is true, but about our day-to-day lives. However, if my Stake President and I disagree about some aspect of my life on which we have both sought inspiration, do you really think that there is any question (as far as the church is concerned) about who got the right answer and whose revelation is mistaken?

  30. Latter Day Guy, I am suspicious when my stake president, who is a really great guy, and I believe an inspired leader, gets any personal revelation for me beyond perhaps what stake calling I ought to have. As a result, I don’t think I have ever found myself in conflict about truly personal aspects of my life with a leader in the church. What you say may have impact if I am EQ president, and the bishop and I are at odds about the status of the ward missionary program. He has the keys, so there you go. But for truly personal things where it is primarily my responsibility to seek inspiration (such as how I might vote in an election, or whether or not to change jobs), those are MY keys. And I can’t recall ever having anyone really challenge me on that.

    Then again, perhaps I wasn’t listening to them closely enough.

  31. “Certain new callings in the Church tend to be a bit of a spiritual shock to the senses, especially “high profile” ones like RSP, Bishop, EQP, etc. They tend to make us introspective, look again at the big picture, and question our level of spirituality.”

    Maybe that’s the big problem within our membership. The connection they make between the type of calling you have and your “level” of spirituality. “Higher” the calling = Higher Spirituality. How sad. Sometimes as I sit in Church, I observe the members and I feel that the simple, unnoticed, quiet guy sitting at the back row (who nobody knows that helps the poor and the afflicted, and commits his life to service) without no leaders knowing about it because after all, he does not brag about it and does not have a personality that seeks for the “higher callings”, is the one who will surely make it in the other side.

  32. Dan S just answered a question for me. On 8/22 a couple of people here in sunshiny NY asked if we were having church the next day as they had been told all meetings were cancelled. Now I know where they got it from. Thanks!

  33. Ugly Mahana says:

    re: #29 L-dG

    I liked a lot of what you said. You clearly outlined the tension that can exist between leaders and members. I am grateful not to have had to deal with bad or overreaching local leaders, and do not desire to speculate as to your experiences or as to my own response if I were put in that situation. I also liked kevinf’s response. Clearly there is a continuum, both of stewardship and of appropriate direction. I’ve got nothing more.

  34. Latter-day Guy says:

    30 + 33,

    Yes and yes. I suspect that my experiences vis-à-vis local leadership struggles are relatively (I hope ‘very’) rare. The church’s practice of giving very broad latitude to local leaders on many issues allows the gospel to be applied to each member’s needs, which I find beautiful. Unfortunately, that same latitude –– in the wrong hands –– can become pretty destructive.

    Almost perversely though, those few, painful experiences in my past have become a kind of testimony builder: Given human nature, the church must be true, otherwise that kind of nastiness would happen far more often than it does! ;-)

  35. I have never, ever, been in a Church meeting where the statement about “when the brethren speak, the thinking is done” was uttered without the presiding Church leader disavowing it soon after.

  36. Mike S (16),
    As regards the manuals’ injunction to not use outside sources: have you ever seen anybody actually follow that on a regular basis? (Okay, I have in EQ, where the teacher basically just read the manual, but it was lack of preparation, not obedience to the manual’s injunction. I’ll bet the majority of church teachers have never read—and are unaware of—the demand that nothing outside of the manual be taught.)

  37. I don’t understand #35 & #36, and others.
    Do you mean that the upper level of leadership (GAs), does not feel when they speak, the debate is over?

  38. Bob,
    If you want to speak of them as a monolith, then no. If you want to speak of them as individuals, then probably some do, some don’t. That said, I’m sure they appreciate it when people pay attention.

  39. The more things change, the more they become the same.

    I chanced to see a snippet of some show on what I can only assume was BYUTV (it was playing in a CES facility lobby) about using newspapers for geneology. The speaker was laughing about how people think that vice is a new thing and then read a bunch of gruesome headlines from a hundred-some years ago that sounded just like they could have appeared yesterday on any tabloid. I very rarely see anything that makes me ready to believe that the “changes” in either the prevalence of evil, pride in the church, or whatever are anything more than mortal memory putting a rosy tint on the past. We have more people now, we live closer together, but we’re just as fallen as we’ve ever been.

  40. #38: I would be happy to listen to them as individuals. But is not the teaching to listen to them only when they speak as a monolith?

  41. Johnny Lingo says:

    Raised in Utah, Father is a CSW there doing damage control after stake presidents and bishops.
    Many people’s lives are seriously injured due to the pride and miss-management of wards and stake leaders. Bishops are not held accountable for their actions or misdirecting. I have seen members go to SP about bishop miss deeds and be out off because the SP does not want to rock the boat. The result is that members have nowhere to turn. They must fall in line or find another place to worship.
    #24 you are right, Elder Bednars talk justified breaking off an engagement because the young woman did not take out her second earring….that sends the message loud and clear (permission to judge)….and it comes from the top down.
    Moving from Utah to the Bible belt was an awakening. We are behind in training our men. Other Christian organizations are hitting porn, abuse and other issues head on and openly. While LDS church leaders say “we have the fullness of gospel” then we put two men in a Sunday school class to protect the kids and keep teaching young girls that their immodesty causes young men to make wrong choices (I have the ref. if needed). Oh yea and break off the engagement based on earrings….Pride?…. mmmmm could be.

  42. What’s a CSW? Church social worker? Commie socialist whacko? Clandestine service whacker?

  43. Johnny Lingo says:

    Clinical Social Worker… basically a trained and licensed therapist…. unlike Bishops and Stake Presidents who are not trained or licensed.

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