Recently, I read Elder Holland’s talk from the October 2010 General Conference. Entitled “Because of Your Faith,” Elder Holland describes the sacrifices and support that has been offered to him personally and to the Church generally and says thank you. It is a heart-felt act of gratitude for the many people who serve in the church; specifically, gratitude for the many people who serve in the church in the Mormon corridor today and therein lies the rub.
Part of the purpose of “remembering the captivity of our fathers” is to remind us of the importance of the Gospel by considering what others have sacrificed to participate therein. We tell stories of the pioneers and engage in ritualized re-enactments of particular companies in an effort to reinforce the idea that faith, sufficient to overcome, drove these folks through snow and fatigue. There is certainly no lack of stories regarding people in poor countries who walk or ride buses for hours to attend church or temple. Unfortunately, these often seem to us to just be stories. We remember the captivity of our fathers in the abstract, but we also managed to sneak a Nano onto Trek to occupy us during the boring bits. If you live in the Mormon corridor (and aren’t a migrant worker), you are much more likely to be a child of privilege than a child of sacrifice.
Elder Holland, likening the scriptures unto us, is thus forced to discuss the sacrifices of going a week without make-up, spending a night in a snow cave, or getting up a couple hours earlier to make a temple shift on time. Even the sacrifice of his mother, in temporarily taking a job to pay his mission bills, is the sort of thing that many women today would consider a blessing (only having to work temporarily). I should say that, for many people, these are genuine sacrifices and they should be praised. Elder Holland is right to praise them. But consider how the talk may have been different if he had strayed outside the Mormon Corridor for examples. What if he had shown video of those Guatemalans who walk miles to attend church? What if he had shown the crushing poverty that many third-world members live in, often while paying a perfect tithe?
One of the stated reasons that the early pioneers are considered so strong is because they sacrificed so much. Unfortunately, great sacrifice often results in no temporal blessing. In most cases, if you skip the big game because of your stance on Sabbath breaking, the team loses (assuming you are the best player or some such). Most of our sacrifices aren’t rewarded. We do them because they are what we should do. This is a good thing, because, among other reasons, those mutual sacrifices, unacknowledged and unrewarded, can bind us together. Suffering can make a people. At the same time, the Church in the Mormon corridor asks less and less of us (unless we are the bishop or RS president). Our desire to not interfere with family what-not means that church has been regulated primarily to the weekends (and possibly youth night). If we are in a large ward, and aren’t incredibly socially inclined, we are lucky to know the names of half the people who attend. Being a Mormon in the Mormon Corridor has less of an entry fee and less of a maintenance fee all the time.
Business psychologists will tell you that in order for an employee to enjoy their job, they must feel like they are doing something important; something that causes them to grow. Apparently, this is about as important to the employee as their own wage. Certainly, thinking of ourselves as the employees of the church is the wrong way to go (unless you are an employee, I suppose), but I do think this could be applied to the church membership at large. I think a lot of the flurry of activity surrounding the recent changes to mormon.org can be based in the idea that it gives members something more important to do than planning meetings, attending Scout camps, and sitting through lessons. Every member needs to acquire a sense of being involved in something important. Of course, we should have this anyway (that’s what a testimony is for), but I have a suggestion about something else we could do.
I’m going to pause here and state that the reason I feel free to make suggestions to the brethren is because I seriously doubt they read this blog or would be inclined to take anything I say seriously. So please remember that I understand that I am just some schmoe, that this is God’s church (not mine), and that the brethren are going to do God’s will (as far as possible). Consider this a thought-experiment, if you will.
I think that the church should start sending families on self-financed 3 year missions to third world countries. I think these should be service missions, but in the sense of serving and proselyting to interested parties. I think the missionaries should be instructed to strengthen the branches where they serve, but to not implement the systems that they are used to. Family missionaries should go out to the world, learn from it, and find ways to use local means and understanding to improve the local situation.
For members around the third world, this will help us to integrate. I know Elder Holland spoke to the Mormon Corridor in that talk because that is the area where he grew up and it is where he spends most of his time. It is Mormonism for him, and that’s just fine. But we need to integrate the wild branches with the original branches if we are to be the tree God wants us to be. Giving Mormon Corridor Mormons the opportunity to live with and work with Third World Mormons (who make up half the church) will allow for better understanding of their situation on every level of church government. I think it would increase our devotion in tithing and offerings. I think it would increase our giving to the humanitarian funds. I think it would also strengthen the church in those far-off lands, providing models of steady church membership for struggling branches. And sending our people out into the world, doing good, cannot be a wrong thing.
In the Mormon Corridor, this will also be a good thing. Consider the goggle eyes that missionaries get when they wander into Wal-Mart after having just returned from a mission in the Philippines (or some such place). Imagine that effect multiplied to include all the men, women, and children called on these missions. I tend to think that this will increase our modesty, not in the current primarily sexual sense, but in the sense of living within our means, unassumingly. If we know that, sometime soon, all our wealth will go toward maintaining our family in a foreign land, wouldn’t that change how we structure our debt, our past-times, and our lives? Living modestly and giving generously are ideals that we’ve long had in the Church; this change could encourage them.
Christ spent his time among the poor. He counseled the rich man to give up his riches. This wouldn’t require either forever, just for a time. But I think it would do us Mormons, in the Mormon Corridor, a wealth of good. If nothing else, we’ll start having better examples of sacrifice to draw on. Maybe that’s what remembering the captivity of our fathers really means.