Round Table: Correlation — vol. 1

As our regular readers know, By Common Consent occasionally gathers experts in certain fields to discuss topics in a round table format. In continuing this grand tradition, we are pleased to release volume 1 in a series on Correlation.

The participants included:

Let me take some space from an already lengthy post and devote it to our participants. Thank you very much. Your words are profoundly important and I have greatly appreciated them. Cheers!

From: Jonathan
To: Claudia, Armand, Greg, Jan
Date: 11/13/2005
Subject: Correlation Round Table
I was born in 1976 and am a product of the correlated era. I think it is hard for anyone growing up with Correlation to see what it actually is. I imagine that most Mormons my age (or younger) associate Correlation with the monthly ward council meetings. The recent Sunday School lesson on Correlation stated that under the auspices of the Apostles, Correlation includes:

  • Maintaining purity of doctrine.
  • Emphasizing the importance of the family and the home.
  • Placing all the work of the Church under priesthood direction.
  • Establishing proper relationships among the organizations of the Church.
  • Achieving unity and order in the Church.
  • Ensuring simplicity of Church programs and materials.

To begin with, what were the key changes in the Church and among the Saints as a result of correlation?

What were the factors that induced correlation?

Are there key events in connection with Correlation? Correlation is often thought of being a product of the sixties, is this true?

For those of you that experienced it as members, how did Correlation effect your worship?

If you wrote the Sunday School manual (most of us pray for things like that), would the list have been different? If so, in what way?

From: Jan
To: Claudia, Armand, Greg, Jonathan
Date: 11/15/2005
Subject: Correlation Round Table
Greetings to all of you,

I’m still pretty covered up with responsibilities tied to the American Academy of Religion and the American Society of Church History. So, I have gone back to an early version of the final chapter in my Sojourner in the Promised Land and copied the section that I wrote on Correlation. Since much of this material did not make it into the book in this form, I will append that section below. It deals with several of Jonathan’s queries.

I will be very interested in how you all answer what it is like to be a part of a “correlated church” and how that differs from the church when it was “auxiliarized” rather than correlated.

Best regards,


During the decade of the turbulent 1960s, many LDS intellectuals were convinced that the denial of the priesthood to black men was the most critical issue the church faced. In point of fact, however, there were so many other issues occupying the time and energy of the Brethren who stood at the head of the church at that time that the placement of the priesthood question in the church’s problem priority order is by no means clear. Other issues that loomed large were

  • the need to maintain doctrinal consistency;
  • the need to establish unambiguous reporting lines;
  • the need to establish an activity program that could be followed by wards, stakes and branches throughout the church;
  • the need to reduce the numbers of meetings and activities in which individual Saints were expected to participate so that they could fulfill their family duties;
  • the need to stop the drain on church resources and church order occasioned by duplication of effort in departments and church auxiliaries;

In order to deal with these and other matters occasioned by the growing institutional as well as ecclesiastical complexity that accompanied elevated levels of church growth and geographical expansion, the First Presidency revived and refurbished an oversight and coordination program which had been in existence in the church in one form or another since 1907. Originally called the Committee of Correlation and Adjustments, in one of its several earlier incarnations it had been called and it functioned as a Union Board of the [church] Auxiliaries.

By 1960, the necessity of some form of correlation became evident to the First Presidency and the Twelve, which then included on the Council a number of men who, before being called as General Authorities, had been successful as the leaders of large business enterprises). Consequently, a broad effort at correlation was undertaken. It started with a review by a committee of General Authorities of the purposes and courses of study of the priesthood and the various auxiliaries. Following up on the outcome of this review, the First Presidency organized the church’s instructional and activity efforts into three divisions. One of them included everything which dealt in one way or another with children; the other two were the youth and adult divisions. Three coordinating committees, each headed by a member of the Twelve, were then formed and charged with oversight of one of these divisions, with that oversight extending to all the church’s many departments and auxiliaries as they went about serving the children, youth, and adults of the church.

By the beginning of the 1970s, correlation was extended to the planning, preparation, translation, printing, and distribution of church materials. In a related development, the First Presidency established a formal Correlation Department made up of all the members of the Council of the Twelve with a three-man executive committee made up of the president of the Twelve and the next two senior apostles. This brought under the direct control of the priesthood hierarchy all church curricula, all periodicals published with the imprimatur of the church, and all church organizations, including those which had formerly operated with quasi-independence, producing and publishing their own periodicals and instructional materials. (In 1971, the various publications of the auxiliaries were suspended and three new magazines to serve the children, youth, and adults of the church were established. These were the Friend, the New Era, and the Ensign.)

This was not a new system reflecting some newly revealed doctrinal principle; priesthood authority over the whole church had been there in principle from the days when the prophet Joseph Smith presided. In the past, every arm of the church – every department, auxiliary organization (the Sunday School, Primary, the soon to be renamed Mutual Improvement Associations for the youth, and the Relief Society), educational activity (the Church Educational System, BYU, Ricks College), and all departments (missionary, genealogy, building, and so on) had been ultimately responsible to the priesthood and the General Authorities presiding over it. Thus the move to place Correlation in the vanguard was essentially a much-needed systemic renovation. It foreshadowed, however, the demise of the quasi-independence of any part of the church (especially its auxiliaries and its institutions of higher learning) which had grown at a time when the reporting structure in the church was much less straightforward than it would become after 1970.

In the next two decades, along with the development of an elaborate church bureaucracy which also answers directly to the priesthood, the authority of the Correlation Committee has been gradually extended to a point in the 1990s at which all “communications are transmitted through a single priesthood line from the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve to stakes and wards and thereby to families and individuals.” While that reclaiming of direct priesthood ascendancy over the whole did not occur all at once, a striking alteration in the church which did have a one fell swoop feel to it came about in 1980 when a consolidated meeting schedule dramatically decreased the time Latter-day Saints spent in meetings, formerly spread throughout the week, to a three-hour block on Sundays. Coming at what from this end-of the-century perspective can be seen as the mid-point in a reorganization that concentrated LDS religious authority in a single priesthood line, the consolidated meeting schedule spelled the death knell of the auxiliarized church and announced the coming into being of its successor, the correlated church.

From: Claudia
To: Armand, Greg, Jan, Jonathan
Date: 11/16/2005
Subject: Correlation Round Table
As one who, along with Armand, lived and loved the pre-correlation church, I still look back on those days with nostalgia. What a rich and satisfying cultural life we had with constant musical performances, three act plays, hand work projects, welfare farm work, speech contests, instructional and recreational dances, etc. etc. I can say with conviction that every valuable thing I ever learned, I learned at church.

I experienced the changes of correlation, without any idea of what was happening, as an effort to keep more young men active. It is true that the extensive MIA programs were very female-friendly. I remember my mother explaining to me why the boys were getting so much attention, that girls were always good about things like church but that boys needed some extra help. So what I saw in the early years of the program was a simplification that eliminated many of the cultural programs that I valued in favor of more scouting and priesthood programs.

Then there was the energy crisis, the collapsing of meetings every day into the three hour block, eliminating as unnecessary the frills that made the auxiliaries interesting. I was embarrassed to belong to a church that met for three hours at a time. That was what the Puritans did, and we all knew how passe that old Calvinism was. And once that decision had been made, and we now have three meetings of being preached at, I could easily recommend further cuts.

My other explanation for the change was preparation for the international church. President Kimball’s observation that to transport one of every thing the Church published would take two trucks justified the simplification of materials. If the church were to be spread to more people with less education, the complex programs had to be cut or simplified. Fewer items were turned out and simplified to sixth grade level meaning that people needed less help in their church responsibilities. So less instruction was needed. And the money needed to support those infant congregations in foreign climes came from the stateside Church which was impoverished financially and programmatically. The simplified programs meant a loss of richness. The spreading out of the money meant that the Church could not be maintained at several levels.

Those were my explanations from observation. I find the list of explanations in the question puzzling. What does anyone mean by “maintaining purity of doctrine” in our do-it-yourself Church? Where is this pure doctrine available? We don’t get it in general conference or in the Church magazines. We don’t deal with doctrine so much as we do with programs.

I do fear that the emphasis on the importance of the family and home is closely connected to placing the church under priesthood direction. It can be read as an effort to get women out of Church organization. I quote in support of this an interesting comment of Elder A. Theodore Tuttle from an interview of 1977 quoted in David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory A Prince, Wm Robert Wright (2005) pg. 143. [Thank you, Greg.]:

(We) could see the auxiliaries running the Church, as it were…We had no Priesthood board but they had large and talented and powerful Mutual boards and Sunday School boards and Relief Society boards and Primary boards. And they scattered throughout the Church teaching their message, and they were talented people and taught so well that the auxiliaries of the Church were far more effective and powerful in the members’ idea and view than were the Priesthood quorums…So I would say, to characterize the Church prior to Correlation, that the auxiliaries ran it and everything took second place to them.

The authors go on to say

But curriculum reform paled in significance next to Lee’s other goals of reining in the auxiliary organizations and placing day-to-day control of the church in the hands of the Twelve. (pg. 155)

So, according to this, the women were sent back home because they were too effective. The “proper relationships among the organizations of the Church” have been established by putting the priesthood in charge of everything. I think the Church’s ability to build the loyalty of her men is a great achievement, unimaginable in any other religious body, and correlation has contributed greatly to the production of seasoned male leaders. But I think that it might be noted that the women have lost many of the positions and opportunities that they once handled with skill and devotion and that our congregations are the poorer for it.

From: Armand
To: Claudia, Greg, Jan, Jonathan
Date: 11/16/2005
Subject: Correlation Round Table
I think Jonathan, in his initial “kick-off” of this exchange on Correlation, identified correctly the six major goals of Correlation, and then Jan, in her response yesterday, provided a good overview of the historical process by which Correlation was actually implemented. My own analysis of Correlation has included an analysis of its unintended consequences, including its impact on the grassroots culture of Mormons, at least those in North America (see, e. g., pp. 163-67 of my The Angel and the Beehive). Among those consequences, I include a tendency toward convergence with Protestant fundamentalism in both pedagogy and worship style. In pedagogy (lesson manuals, formal sermons), Correlation has imposed a “cut-and-dried” approach that emphasizes black and white answers that are not hospitable to questions; a dependence solely on the official manuals and on the scriptures studied mostly in a proof-text fashion, with an accompanying avoidance of “outside” sources for any lessons; a preference for literalism in scriptural interpretation and an assumption of inerrancy in the standard works (except the Bible); a definition of “follow the prophet” that is usually interpreted operationally as unquestioning obedience; a suspicion of any portrayal of church history or doctrine that is not triumphalist and faith-promoting; and a growing preference for sacrament meeting talks, testimonies, and music of a “soft” kind – that is, with a basis in emotion (preferably including tears) rather than in exegesis. (I elaborate further on this last point in my essay, “Faith, Feeling, and Folkways,” just published by Signature as part of a collection edited by Bob Rees in honor of Eugene England). All of these traits I associate with Protestant fundamentalism.

These are also the main changes that I sense in the grassroots culture of the Church compared to my experience growing up in the wards and stakes of northern California during the 1930s – 1960s. While these changes seem to have developed mainly from the 1960s on, I attribute Correlation less to a reaction against the Age of Aquarius (the 1960s social upheavals) than to the crisis of managing rapid growth, though both Correlation and other developments from that era are part of the “retrenchment motif” that I trace and document in Angel & Beehive. I readily admit that I don’t like the way the Church “feels” to me now as much as I did when I was young (but that is due to changes in me as well as to changes in the Church). Perhaps paradoxically, however, I will add that despite the “unintended consequences” of Correlation that bother me, I recognize that it is not the Church’s “job” or responsibility to make us feel comfortable. It is instead the mission of the Church to make sure that its instruction or pedagogy is free of error, that its teachings are transmitted effectively (i. e. indoctrination, not necessarily intellectual stimulation), and that it reaches the new convert in both California and Bolivia with the simplicity of its teachings – and not just its Ph.D lifers.

An unnecessary and regrettable side-effect of both Correlation and the rest of the retrenchment program has been a suspicion, and often even a hostility, toward what Arrington called “the un-sponsored sector” of LDS life and culture – namely the private publications like Dialogue, Sunstone, and most of the books not published by Deseret. This wariness about any literature not known to be “approved” spills over even on to the Journal of Mormon History and BYU Studies. Accordingly, a lot of wonderfully inspiring literature that could enrich our meetings both spiritually and intellectually is kept at arms length by local leaders and teachers who feel obliged to avoid any “outside materials” (indeed, such is the official instruction in the manuals themselves). Of course, the overwhelming majority of Church members don’t even know of the existence of such un-sponsored resources : Even BYU Studies, published largely at Church expense, has no more than about 4,500 subscribers, despite its access to the entire BYU alumni list as potential subscribers. The other journals I mentioned have far fewer subscribers. I would not expect the Church or its leaders to endorse or promote these un-sponsored publications, certainly not publicly, but I would settle just for some “benign neglect” and an end to the rumors of dire consequences that still spread among our local leaders, if not among the Brethren.

So if I were writing a Sunday School manual, I would surely enrich it with many ideas, stories, and examples drawn from these other publications. I would make sure that thereby the doctrine would not be diluted but only strengthened in its appeal and beauty. Of course, that’s just another reason that I am ward membership clerk, rather than gospel doctrine teacher!

From: Greg
To: Claudia, Armand, Jan, Jonathan
Date: 11/16/2005
Subject: Correlation Round Table
I presume you all have access to the chapter on Correlation in the McKay biography, so I won’t include it or summarize it.

There is no question that in McKay’s mind the goal of Correlation was simple: eliminate the overlap in curricula. Period. He clearly told Harold B. Lee that his mandate was not to change anything in Church organization. It is equally clear that Lee had been drawing up plans for a general overhaul of Church organization since the time he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1941, and those plans left curriculum coordination in the dust. To me, the irony is that the eventual effect of Correlation probably went well beyond what even Lee had envisioned. I suspect he would be horrified were he to come back and see what happened.

I spent two hours this afternoon with Florence Jacobsen, whose term as YWMIA General President began in 1961 (the same year Lee was appointed to head the Correlation program) and lasted over a decade. She confirmed what Lynn Richards, who served in the Sunday School General Superintendency, told me, that they had virtually complete control over their own organizations, including the writing of instruction manuals. The only reason I say “virtually complete” is that Jacobsen said they had to submit the manuals to their priesthood advisor, Delbert Stapley, for final approval, but he never vetoed any of them. The autonomy of the auxiliary organizations, including their own lesson manuals and magazines, largely survived the first decade of Correlation, probably because McKay was still alive and would have stood in the way of such sweeping change. Within a couple of years of his death, however, the lasting changes were made, which included the unceremonious release of Jacobsen and her counselors and board members.

One may wonder if the dismantling of the auxiliaries was a swipe at women, or a larger stroke to dismantle all of the organizations, whether male- or female-oriented. I suspect the latter. Reduced to its basics, it was a power grab. Until that time, the auxiliary organizations had exercised near-complete autonomy, and this drove some, like Lee, nuts.

In terms of impact on the younger Church population, I agree with Claudia that the virtual dismantling of the YMMIA and YWMIA was the epicenter. Their programs defined our Church membership, even outside of Utah (I grew up in Los Angeles). There was an energy, an excitement in those years that is not even echoed today. For whatever the merits of Correlation–and there is no question that the manner in which the Church was governed in the decade prior to the implementation of Correlation, when growth made it unwieldy, became outmoded–it unnecessarily stripped the Church of much of its vitality.

A more sinister side to Correlation came later. What had been coordination turned to control. In a sense, Correlation became the Thought Police of the Church. Paul Dunn told me of his battles with Correlation, whose employees tried to control the content of his discourses.

Since Correlation has, in a sense, been the “hub of the wheel” for several decades, it is appropriate to evaluate it in terms of its fruits. Were the engine chugging along at full speed, there would be less room for complaint. However, we see a largely de-energized membership (particularly the youth), declining convert baptisms, appallingly low activity rates in many parts of the world, and even alarmingly low activity rates among returned missionaries. Certainly many factors combined to produce these troubling conditions, but Correlation has to rank high on the short list.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    I believe I speak for all of us when I say, “hoooo boy!”

    This is very interesting stuff.

  2. Yes! Verrrry interesting. Thank you for this!

    I’ve never completely understood what the fuss over “correlation” was, but now I’m enlightened.

  3. Given all the talk about “accountability,” you think there would be some feedback mechanism whereby senior leaders would systematically evaluate the success or failure of large programs like Correlation. If it failed, would anyone know it? What would indicate to senior leaders that Correlation was failing … youth inactivity? Member burnout? Complaints from members?

    If the Church were run like a corporation, efforts would be made to capitalize on the positive aspects of Correlation but modify it to lessen the deleterious effects. But that isn’t happening. I think the Church is better described as something like a large government bureacracy whose programs are never given the critical scrutiny that corporations, with a bottom-line mentality, give their own operations.

  4. This is a great discussion.

    I guess the obvious question is, was the pre-correlation model of church governance sustainable? If not, what possible alternatives are there?

  5. Some form of correlation was imperative. The Church was in a place that was not sustainable. For those who would like more information, the Correlation chapter in the Prince book really is an important resource.

  6. Thank you for providing this. Very interesting. In my opinion, boring Ensign articles and lesson manuals is part of what brought me here (the ‘nacle). Very good discussion.

  7. Dave,

    Are you sure that efforts to evaluate and modify programs aren’t occurring? Personally, I don’t have much idea at all what goes on inside the church office building. Nor is it obvious to me that the members as a whole are especially de-energized or burned out in comparison to times past, as Greg Prince states and you imply. I just don’t have access to the kind of data that would allow me to make those kind of judgements—I only have my own experience and a few anecdotes.

    Does anybody have any systematic evidence about these questions?

    Also, I don’t know what you’re referring to with “all this talk about accountablility.”

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Great roundtable, J., thanks for bringing it here.

    I was born in ’58, so my pre-correlation memories are limited, but I have some. In particular I recall annual road shows, which I really enjoyed participating in, but that now no longer happen. I also remember attending Primary and youth meetings on days other than Sunday, and having Sunday School in the mornings and then coming back for Sacrament Meeting at 5:00 p.m.

    And while I think our current priesthood manuals are a big improvement over the older style, they still cannot compare to the pre-correlation ones of the 50s and 60s, which were written by individuals and not committees. (I have several of these old ones that belonged to my father.)

  9. Kevin,
    “Roadshows” still happen in some parts of the church. A highlight of my life (yes, I’m lame) was winning the Reading Stake Roadshow for the Oxford Ward. We had a musical number that riffed off of Britney Spears and included electric guitars and drums. It seems local leaders can rebel if they choose. At least if you’re off the grid in England or someplace.

  10. Nice roundtable folks. Bryce’s question is the question. Sure, so some type of correlation was inevitable but could it have been done in a more sustainable manner? Could they have done it while still allowing all the pre-cor groups and schedules to exist?

    Can’t wait for Round 2!

  11. I am (predictably!) very interested in Claudia’s observations about the effects of the Correlation process (movement? program?) on women. While it’s true that the idea of bringing church functions under the umbrella of priesthood organization “can be read as an effort to get women out of Church organization,” I think it’s far from clear that getting women out was an intentional goal. I’m inclined to think that it was an unintended consequence. However, once it was in place, it seemed to me that the brethren liked it, and have resisted attempts to undo that element of correlation (by, for instance, squelching the initiative of uppity General RS presidencies). Several recent talks (one by Sheri Dew, one by Elder Packer) that describe the founding of the Relief Society seem designed to extend and reify the notion of a correlated RS, making it sound as though Joseph Smith organized the RS with help and support from loyal and firmly subordinate sisters. But the impulse to describe it this way seems quite recent–last 5 or 10 years, maybe?–which bolsters my suspicion that the desire to get women out of church governance was not a primary impulse behind correlation, but has grown up *since* correlation, as the Church has sought to differentiate and market itself as a strongly pro-traditional-family institution. Maybe an example of pseudo-doctrine springing, weedlike, out of policy.

    Claudia? Anyone?

  12. Ed, I was thinking of the general idea that every one is accountable for their stewardship and reports to someone. Who does a program report to? Is there ownership of programs (i.e., a person who is actually responsible for it) or is no particular individual leader responsible for any particular program?

    As for “what goes on inside the Church Office Building,” obviously I don’t have good information. How do we get the people who do have good information to divulge it? If, in fact, there is recognition that there are negative as well as positive effects of Correlation and that they are making changes in response to that recognition, they should make some effort to keep the membership informed. It’s our Church too!

    It’s not like the is a Big Issue for me, it’s just that I don’t see any reason why there isn’t a little more emphasis on communication and feedback.

  13. Aaron Brown says:

    Armand lists a number of the unfortunate effects of Correlation, as he sees them, including:

    “a preference for literalism in scriptural interpretation and an assumption of inerrancy in the standard works (except the Bible); a definition of “follow the prophet” that is usually interpreted operationally as unquestioning obedience.”

    While I understand how correlation would lead to the other items in his laundry list, it is not intuitively obvious to me why it would lead to a “preference for literalism” or “unquestioning obedience.” In other words, I think many of us who didn’t live through the pre-Correlation era find it hard to imagine a time when these attitudes weren’t the norm, correlation or no correlation. So I guess I’m wondering … was there really a time when these notions weren’t so ubiquitous? Tell me what that was like. (It’s honestly a bit hard for me to imagine).

    Aaron B

  14. Dave, in your first comment you make the comparison to a business…which is a comparison I have often heard leveraged against the Church pejoratively. The little interaction that I have had with those intimate with the COB, would suggest another model – a theocratic bureaucracy; a government.

    As you point out Dave, if it were a business then efficiency and outcome would be paramount. I have heard that were the Church run like a business a third of the employees would be fired and everyone else given raises.

  15. Aaron, it is my perception that literalism has always been the normative position. However, I think that there have been some big exceptions – Brigham calling the OT kids stories; the First Presidency saying that Jonah probably isn’t literal, etc. I think the difference under Correlation is that literalism becomes the only option, not just the most prevalent.

  16. Wonderful discussion!

    Kris, I think you’re right on in your analysis both in terms of the unintentionality of the consequences of correlation and in the recent reconstucted narrative of the Relief Society history (although, I think it’s probably less recent than 5 or 10 years).

    As a longterm Gospel Doctrine teacher, my own experience in the church is negatively impacted by correlation on a regular basis.

    I was recently reprimanded in a rather humiliating way for being weeks behind the correlated Sunday School schedule. Although I have gotten lots of feedback that many class members have been inspired to begin an in-depth study of the Old Testament (some of them for the first time) because of my lessons, I was told that I need to follow the schedule and keep to the correlated manual or be released. When I asked why, the reason I was given was that we needed to be on the same schedule as everyone else in the church. When I again asked why it possibly matters that we’re having the same lesson as people in California, Brazil or Japan, the reason was “because that’s the schedule from Salt Lake.” The illogic of this reasoning in the face of my love, knowlege and training in the text, my experience as a teacher, and the particular needs and interests of the members of my local ward is rather annoying to me.

  17. We see that Big Business is moving more and more in the direction of mass-customization (with the internet being a huge factor). Is it possible/likely that the Church will in any way move in that direction? (Yes, I know, the Spirit is the perfect customizable force of the gospel, but I’m talking on an institutional level.)

  18. Thanks for putting all of this together–an outstanding conversation.

    Perhaps the thing I find most irritating about correlation is the homogenizing impulse it embodies. That impulse has been let loose on the Mormon past as well as the present, producing the widespread impression that things have always been as they are now.

    So, for example, Aaron Brown asks whether there has ever been a time when “unquestioning obedience” was less prominent or emphasized than it is today. In fact, there has, and the most recent powerful opponent of this idea was Hugh B. Brown. (Have you all ever noticed how rarely quotations from him are included in the correlated lesson manuals?) There have also been high-profile instances of large numbers of faithful Mormons deciding that the instructions of the hierarchy were unwise. Utah’s vote to repeal Prohibition would be one interesting example.

    But, I guess, pluralism isn’t normative today, and the examples of it seem to get deleted from our collective correlated memory…

  19. JNS,

    I think you may be overreading Hugh Brown’s opposition to obeying the prophet. President Faust, who admired him greatly, has reiterated this story from him on more than one occasion:

    “A few days later President Hugh B. Brown counseled me that the most important thing I should do is to always be in harmony with my Brethren. President Brown did not elaborate. He just said, “Stick with the Brethren.” I interpreted that to mean that I should follow the counsel and direction of the President of the Church, the First Presidency, and Quorum of the Twelve. That resonated as something I wanted to do with all my heart.”

    Of course, I think “unquestioning obedience” is, to some extent a straw man. One can question and wonder privately and still obey and publicly support. That has, I would guess, long been the reigning view of how to interact with the Church and its leaders. Is there a prominent amount of correlated material stating that one should not privately question things one does not understand?

  20. Thanks for a very thought-provoking discussion.
    In my mind, one of the more distressing results of correlation has been the demise of the “teaching correct principles, and letting them (members and leaders) govern themselves” philosophy. This has resulted in a keeping the letter of the law culture, as alluded to by Melissa, which ends up ignoring the individual needs of classes, branches, wards, etc. and the personal revelation of those who lead such groups.

    One example comes to mind — shortly after the letter came out ending missionary farewells, we had a missionary going out from our ward. We had not sent anyone on a mission in 8 years. Interpreting the counsel as being primarily aimed at high LDS population areas where missionaries were departing frequently and interupting regular worship services as well as the problem of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses style farewells, the bishop chose to have the farewell anyways. The ward and the family were edified and united. In this case, following the uncorrelated path was better for the ward. How do we simulteneously balance the needs of individual members and those who work in the Church Office Building without creating complete chaos?

  21. That is a great point, Kris. There is a tension that is necessary. I can’t tell you how glad I am that the proscription of outside materials in Sunday School theoretically bars Mormon Doctrine from wielding its mighty head!

  22. I’m curious too, about if the program answers to anyone, and if it does to who? Especially now as we’re entering a completely saturated population. We’re getting to a point where those entering adulthood have only been taught by people who can only remember the correlated church structure. Most of the people my age (early 20’s) have parents who can just barely remember the church being ‘different.’

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Melissa, I’m sorry that you are getting grief for being behind in the lesson schedule. When I taught GD I was often behind. Usually it wasn’t a problem; as long as there were no complaints from the class members, there was a sort of benign neglect at work (read the bishop had much bigger fish to fry).

    I think the impetus to keep everyone on the same schedule is a sort of franchise ethic. How many times have people gotten up in testimony meeting and extolled the virtues of the church being exactly the same everywhere you go [a la McDonalds]?

    And Kris, three cheers for your bishop. I think he did exactly the right thing. My impression actually is that the church leadership intends for local leaders to have and use this kind of discretion, and are frustrated when so many fail to do so. (But should they be surprised when it seems as though the initiative has already been beaten out of them before they were called as bishops?)

  24. re # 8:

    I grew up with roadshows (and I am not old live you KB). How is it that I experienced roadshows in both Dallas and in the beating heart, SLC, in the 1980s if they were correllated away in the 1960s?

  25. Amri Brown says:

    As far as Sunday School correlation is concerned, each manual says that a teacher should pray over the lesson, follow the Spirit and choose to teach according to the needs of your particular ward’s needs. I have always believed that and while I generally teach the scriptures assigned, I never use a word of the manual. Throughout my teaching experience, this has always been welcomed with open-arms. I haven’t gotten in trouble until I came to the (conservative?!) East coast where I have been mandated to follow the manual exactly or not teach at all. I am surprised at the fear with which members approach teaching. Frankly I think church teaching generally stinks and I think that mostly comes from members’ unwillingness to pray and adapt lessons to the needs of their wards. Why are we so afraid? We’ve been given permission to do it in the beginning of every manual. Has this fear been born out of correlation?

    If the family Hugh Brown stories are true (they are prolly half truth/half bitter interpretation) that quote came from being beaten into submission.

  26. “shortly after the letter came out ending missionary farewells,”

    We are always careful in our ward to refer to them as “non-farewells” (similar to the “non-homecomings”).

  27. Amri Brown says:

    And one other thing–I am prepared from on-coming stones–sometimes I like that church is the same everywhere. Sometimes I hate it, but sometimes I do like it.
    I’m sorry. And now I will hunker down.

  28. Amri: “If the family Hugh Brown stories are true (they are prolly half truth/half bitter interpretation) that quote came from being beaten into submission.”

    King Benjamin: “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

    Perhaps that is not the kind of submission you had in mind!

  29. #26 I was around mission age 18-20 when this policy came out and we all very studiously referred to it as the missionary’s “opportunity to speak before leaving on/returning from a mission.” We had a little too much fun saying this complete title every time it came up. :)

  30. Amri Brown says:

    “Spare the rod, spoil the child”

    I dunno. Maybe it is the submission we have in mind.

  31. Jess Brown says:

    My opinion on the workings of the church/correlation/etc varies according to my calling. As a teacher of the YW, I abhored the manuals – they were too black and white, boring, encouraged word-for-word reading from the manual and so on. I also personally believe that you should never tell a fictional story to illustrate the consequences of breaking or abiding by the commandments. In my experience, things have rarely turned out “the way they’re supposed to”. I did feel a little un-kosher, though, when I taught a YW lesson on following the spirit or something like that and the manual suggested showing a picture of a maze as an “attention-getter”. I chose to show a 2 minute clip from Labyrinth (yes, the one with David Bowie) and the most anal member of a bishopric I’ve ever known chose that Sunday to sit in on the lesson. But at least it’s also frowned upon to play 5+ minutes of “You’re Not Alone” or some other Mormon pop musice during a lesson (or a slide show of Christ set to “Bridge Over Troubled Water).

    As a primary president, I don’t feel at all marginalized b/c I’m female. Yes, I have to report to the bishopric and callings go through them, but when you have a whole ward full of people, there has to be organization somehow. And following the schedule helps me when I find out at the last minute that a teacher didn’t show up and have to find a sub – I can hand them the manual and look at the lesson schedule and say “lesson #20”. Granted, primary lessons aren’t the same as Gospel Doctrine. And, when you’re in primary every sunday, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole ‘nother world out there.

    As for activities being limited nowadays, I don’t know how much time you all have, but I wouldn’t want to be in charge of anything more. I already hate having to plan Quarterly Activities. Who has time to be in charge of all the things (dances, roadshows, cultural whatever) that everyone misses so much? Sure it’s great to participate, but what if you have to plan it and pull it off? I know that in my current ward we barely have enough adults to staff the Primary as thoroughly as it should be. Do we start giving everyone 3 or 4 callings so we can do all the extra stuff?

    One ward I was in had roadshows on a single Saturday. Every ward in the stake was given a “supply” list ahead of time, you showed up in the early morning with a few youth and a leader to write the roadshow (topic handed out that morning). Everyone else showed up a few hours later and you spent the day practicing and gave the performance that night. A marathon day, but at least it only used up one Saturday rather than the endless Wednesdays and Saturdays in the past. It also put every ward on a more equal footing. Frankly, I hated roadshows growing up b/c my ward’s was always the “stupid” one. (you remember, there was always one ward or branch that was much lamer than all the others).

  32. Holy Smokes! What a great roundtable.

    Here are some of my favorite lines:

    So, according to this, the women were sent back home because they were too effective.

    Among those consequences, I include a tendency toward convergence with Protestant fundamentalism in both pedagogy and worship style. In pedagogy (lesson manuals, formal sermons), Correlation has imposed a “cut-and-dried” approach that emphasizes black and white answers that are not hospitable to questions; a dependence solely on the official manuals and on the scriptures studied mostly in a proof-text fashion, with an accompanying avoidance of “outside” sources for any lessons; … a suspicion of any portrayal of church history or doctrine that is not triumphalist and faith-promoting; and a growing preference for sacrament meeting talks, testimonies, and music of a “soft” kind – that is, with a basis in emotion (preferably including tears) rather than in exegesis.

    A more sinister side to Correlation came later. What had been coordination turned to control. In a sense, Correlation became the Thought Police of the Church. Paul Dunn told me of his battles with Correlation, whose employees tried to control the content of his discourses.

    If it makes anyone feel any better — the good news is that the bloggernacle remains completely uncorrelated. The bad news is that it gives guys like me a mic…

  33. Frank (#28)

    So is that another way of saying “Who’s your daddy?” ;-)

  34. Costanza says:

    I remember those Reading Stake roadshows! I participated in the Newbury Branch’s contribution to high-brow theatre myself.

  35. One possible benefit of correlation is that grandstanding like that of the John Birch society ought not to have place in contemporary Mormonism. Ditto _Mormon Doctrine_.

    I’ve wandered a bit geographically, having worshipped with Latter-day Saints across the Former Soviet Union, parts of Central America and Europe and a variety of locations in the United States. Correlation has meant that there is a shared lexicon of faith, and it has provided some validation to attempts, particularly in Russia, to make things more discernibly LDS. An advantage to correlation is that pet projects and theories ought not to receive institutional backing, making it possible to have a variety of beliefs without taking over someone else’s Mormonism. I watched branches struggle through discussions of ESP, witches, and laser therapy (shining a flashlight with tinted cellophane over the liver in hopes of curing chronic fatigue), and while I rather enjoyed the discussions, many of us are relieved that those are not ideas pushed forward by lesson manuals. For those of us whose testimonies are not reinforced by semi-official apologia, how nice that they are not routinely included in church materials.

    In application, I think Armand is right that there has been a tendency not to cut the Gospel back to its core to allow a shared experience of Mormonism but to engraft contemporary Evangelical culture onto it. But there is this spark of liberation in it as well, this sense that since relatively little beyond faith, kindness, and institutional loyalty is mentioned in official channels we are free to engage Mormonism in much richer ways. I would hate to feel that my vision of Mormonism were pushed onto others, and I feel better in my explorations of faith knowing that there is a core orthodoxy on which people can rely. They can still believe in Mormonism even if they don’t believe me.

    And personally, I have nightmares occasionally about going back to MIA and separate Sunday School and the endless succession of activities at church. I can barely keep up for three hours and would be upset at an institution that, in the name of my family, kept us separated 5 nights a week.

  36. Oh, and can I please plead on bended knee that we stop making corporate analogies as if by doing so we hope to valorize the church to the extent that it mimics American corporate culture?

    I thank God every day for the ways in which the church has bucked the trend of corporatization of every facet of our lives. I of course realize that in many respects business culture has infiltrated our LDS culture, even in modes of governance at times, but please don’t plead with church authorities that they become more business-like.

    On the topic of whether correlation has affected the disaffection of the rising generation of Mormonism, this is of course an uncontrolled pseudo-experiment with very little ground for drawing any conclusion. I’m not convinced that the speculative and pleasantly idiosyncratic lesson manuals of yesteryear or a wider variety of organizational models or more frequent mandatory meetings through the week would necessarily change that much, though I wouldn’t reject it outright.

  37. Last post and then I get back to work.

    We Mormons often get very wrapped up in our own little world as we try to hash out these big questions. I think it’s worth considering the issue more generally.

    In a sense this is a question that reflects the dynamic tensions within Catholicism. The Catholic church famously worked with indigenous cultures in crafting the liturgical calendar (hence all the smug nerdlies who defame Christmas or Easter on the grounds that they were originally pagan holidays) or rituals or even theology. The Catholic church famously also has a wide variety of versions, ranging from nearly occult mystical groups to vaguely pious Americans to secularly (or nationally) Catholic Italians, along with a variety of holy orders. They have managed to do this in a structure that maintains a reasonably clear chain of command, and a living prophet named the Pope (mutatis mutandi, he’s about the same as the Mormon prophet within their system). How are they holding up? How has that system functioned?

    As I think about it American Protestantism is another solution to the problem, this one with an even less centralized core. The Westminster Confession and follow-on attempts at clarifying the core of Protestantism are a far cry from the Papacy, but they do represent a shared understanding of what it means to be a Protestant. Sometimes I think the humanities/academic wing of Mormonism is proposing a liberal (ie not Evangelical) Protestant version of Mormonism. That’s the direction I’m probably the most tempted.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think both Catholics and Protestants are losing membership, and my basic impression is that they’re less correlated than we are overall.

    But what about another indigenous American Christianity, the Jehovah’s Witnesses/Watchtower Foundation? They are an even more extreme example of correlation, as best I can tell, and it seems to be working better for them than for us. Maybe we just haven’t taken correlation far enough?

    In all this, I am very sympathetic to Kristine’s question about the effect on women and their experience of church participation and leadership. I think she’s right that what we call correlation is multi-faceted and we need not assume that every facet must be present for correlation to persist.

  38. Julie M. Smith says:

    J. Stapley writes, “I can’t tell you how glad I am that the proscription of outside materials in Sunday School theoretically bars Mormon Doctrine from wielding its mighty head!”

    I think J. Stapley’s thought here requires a little more airtime. While I would be intrigued by Melissa’s non-schedule-conforming GD class, allowing that to exist means taking the risk that the next ward over will have some nutjob GD teacher spend five months on Haggai. (That would be me! I love Haggai! No joke!) Correlation means no drums in sacrament meeting, but it also means no treacly Mormon pop songs, either. Correlation means no outside materials in Primary, but it also means no Country Cute Bubble Art depictions of the prophet Joseph Smith. Correlation means no elaborate YM/YW, but it also means that families aren’t made to feel poor, cheap, or left out when they can’t fork over a few hundred per kid for their YM/YV activities.

    In other words, the bland middle of correlation forbids some things we might wish to include but also spares us some things others might inflict on us. Might that be a reasonable trade?

  39. Steve Evans says:

    “it also means no treacly Mormon pop songs, either”

    Like “Because I Have Been Given Much”?

    Yes, correlation cuts both ways, and safeguards as well as stunts. But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s an objective judicial system; rather than banning treacly pop and drums, Correlation really means giving the official Stamp of Approval (TM) on certain brands of treacly pop.

    This is only a reasonable trade if we happen to like On The Way Home, the accepted Primary songs and the other corporate brands we have thrust upon us. Otherwise, it’s a completely unacceptable trade. Culturally speaking, I’d accept the Ardith Kapp if it also meant the return of the drums.

  40. Julie M. Smith says:

    Steve, I think that almost everyone who has posted here constitutes the minority in terms of taste (music, hermeneutics, etc.) in the church. In other words, if you think “BIHBGM” is bad, think about how much worse it would be if the average ward music person could pick not just from the hymn book but from the wide, wide world of LDS music for sale.

    For every Melissa teaching GD, there are 50 GD teachers who would show 30 minutes of Living Scripture followed by 3 quotes from Especially for Mormons and call that a SS lesson. As much as I would prefer a system that didn’t reign Melissa in, I’ll take it over a system that wouldn’t reign the other 50 in.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    Julie, I guess I see the alternative as being wider than the current scope of LDS music and Living Scripture, because both are products of our correlated culture. Think of the art, books and thought that preceded Correlation, and that’s more my style. Plus I see no harm in drawing from the best (music, art, religious) books to begin with, so we have plenty of other resources to think about.

    In other words, I believe that the ridiculously awful mormon music and Especially For Mormons-style thought exist because of Correlation, not as alternatives to it.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    …and I’d take the 50 awful ones, if it meant free thought.

  43. Julie M. Smith says:

    Steve, I don’t think you can blame Especially for Mormons etc. on correlation. Those things exist simply because people are willing to spend money on them. That in itself is a cultural barometer that should give you a hint as to what would fill our meetings if there was no correlation.

  44. Steve Evans says:

    well, Julie, we’re in “what if” land now, so who can say for sure — but I suspect that Correlation has a far greater impact on establishing the content of Mormon culture than you admit.

    But no, you’re right that I cannot blame Living Scriptures, etc. solely on Correlation. I also blame (telemarketing pioneers) Jared F. Brown and Seldon O. Young, as well as Richard Rich, Orson Scott Card, and Brian Nissen.

    For Especially For Mormons, I blame Peg and Sherm Fugal, pioneers of schlock, as well Stan and Sharon Miller.

    In other words, I blame the pornographers, not their readership.

  45. Steve Evans says:

    “Pornographers” is a little harsh; I meant it mostly as an analogy to an oft-used cultural argument.

    No porn in those works. Trust me, I’ve looked.

  46. the First Presidency saying that Jonah probably isn’t literal

    Hey, do you have a reference for this?

  47. This correlated visage, this veritable vanity, is no vestige of the vox populi, but is a vacant, vanished, verisimilitude, not to be venerated but vilified. We wish for something vivified, and vow to vanquish this venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice. We, the correlated, hold the blogs as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

    Down with Correlation!

  48. Julie M. Smith says:

    Ben S.:

    “In October 1922 . . . the First Presidency received a letter from Joseph W. McMurrin asking about the position of the church with regard to the literality of the Bible. Charles W. Penrose, with Anthony W. Ivins, writing for the First Presidency, answered that the position of the church was that the Bible is the word of God as far as it was translated correctly. They pointed out that there were, however, some problems with the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, for instance, was written by Moses, but “it is evident that the five books passed through other hands than Moses’s after his day and time. The closing chapter of Deuteronomy proves that.” While they thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the story as told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it “is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book” to illustrate “what is set forth therein.” They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct. Nevertheless, higher criticism, they pointed out, was merely scholarly opinion and could say nothing about the doctrinal accuracy of the ideas in the books.”
    Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930 [University of Illinois Press, 1996], page 282.

  49. Kristine says:

    an aside: Julie, I love Haggai, too. How can you not love a prophet who curses people with mildew?!

  50. Like “Because I Have Been Given Much”?

    The most glaring instance in my life in which I exercised unrighteous dominion came on my mission, where I refused to allow “Because I Have Been Given Much” to be sung at any meeting at which I was presiding.

  51. Count me skeptical as well on the connection between correlation and bad LDS pop art.

    Unfortunately, correlation hasn’t saved me from experiencing it in a number of the wards that I’ve been in.

  52. John Mansfield says:

    There is quite a bit of enthusiasm here for the fruits of the 1850s and 1860s reformation and retrenchment.

  53. Julie #38: Correlation technically bars the “good” and the “bad” in equal measure (regardless of how any given individual defines “good” and “bad”). But, like so many other things, correlation isn’t applied equally to all offenders. I continue to hear a fair amount of Janice Kapp Perry in Sacrament Meetings; I have, however, heard the correlated music rules applied to strike down a brass quartet version of a Bach piece.

    Likewise with respect to Sunday School. I’ve been in a few wards where the Sunday School teacher brings Mormon Doctrine with the lesson manual and the scriptures to each class meeting. But I also know a person who was released for using Greg Prince’s McKay biography in Gospel Doctrine last year…

    Unequal enforcement can make seemingly universal principles cut differentially.

  54. Julie M. Smith says:


    No argument here. But, again, how much worse would the situation be if the anti-Kapp crowd didn’t have a rule/guideline to fall back on?

  55. RT said: Hugh B. Brown. (Have you all ever noticed how rarely quotations from him are included in the correlated lesson manuals?)

    I wondered about this, so I downloaded some manuals from the church website and checked. The assertation is true only to the extent that quotations from any modern, non-president-of-the-church GA are quite rare.

    Here are the total numbers of quotes from six correlated manuals (the four “Gospel Doctrine” manuals, the “Gospel Principles” manual, and the Priests Quorum manual), for six GAs, each of whom served in the first presidency, and served as a General authority for as long or longer than Brown.

    Hugh B. Brown: 6
    J. Reuben Clark: 1
    Henry D. Moyle: 0
    Stephen L. Richards: 1
    Marion G. Romney: 8
    N. Eldon Tanner: 0

  56. Julie (#48): Thanks for that quote, I’ve been wondering why there seems to be such aversion in some Mormon circles to higher criticism (see other quotes here).

    I think this raises the chicken or egg question regarding correlation, it seems doctrinal purity was a concern well before correlation….

    I also think the corporate parallels alluded to above are worth exploring in more than in pretentiously disdainful ways—that is, there are good economic reasons that the corporate model has been so globally successful, despite the ensuing cultural drawbacks, since many of those same forces are at work in the church (several of which have already been mentioned).

  57. JNS (#53): Your point is well taken, though I think your examples are tenuous. “No brass instruments” is a much easier rule to enforce than “no mawkish music,” and I don’t think pairing Prince’s book with one written by a former apostle (no matter the quality of doctrine) establishes a misappropriated mean….

  58. Evey Hammond says:

    V (#47),
    Are you like a crazy person?

  59. ed,

    Thanks for the fact check. It seemed to me that I had heard Hugh Brown quoted a fair but because I actually knew who he was since childhood (as opposed to some of the others). So I’m glad to see that I was not insane for thinking that.

  60. Randy B. says:

    “But I also know a person who was released for using Greg Prince’s McKay biography in Gospel Doctrine last year…”

    I wouldn’t have lasted long in that ward. Last year, I used Prince’s book in virtually every DOM lesson. Interestingly, I think there is less of a benefit to doing something similar with the WW lessons this year as the manual seems quite a bit better (IMHO). (Though, thanks to Justin, I often use additional material from the talks and sermons quoted in the manual.)

  61. Kristine says:

    “So I’m glad to see that I was not insane for thinking that”

    Of course, Frank, some of the other things you think…


  62. I’m all for Mormons getting integrated into their larger non-Mormon communities and if correlation (meaning less programs) has helped us to get involved more in our communities (theater, knitting lessons, whatever) then hallelujah. I think it’s a little kooky how much we still keep to ourselves.

  63. Greg wrote:

    “Were the engine chugging along at full speed, there would be less room for complaint. However, we see a largely de-energized membership (particularly the youth), declining convert baptisms, appallingly low activity rates in many parts of the world, and even alarmingly low activity rates among returned missionaries. Certainly many factors combined to produce these troubling conditions, but Correlation has to rank high on the short list.”

    Alright, maybe this is easier for those who grew up in the non-correlated era to see than it is for me (born in 1975).

    But I don’t get this statement.

    Sure, I see the apathy and lack of enthusiasm Greg writes about. But I always assumed it was just due to human nature and never really attributed it to anything the Church was doing.

    I’m open to the idea, but I just don’t see it. You’ll have to spell it out a bit better and show why apathy is a result of correlation. You can’t just throw out unsupported statements and expect us all to know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen another way of doing things, so please enlighten me.

  64. Elisabeth says:

    Seth – You answer your own question. Yes, it is difficult for you to see the differences between pre-Correlation (P.C.) and today because you weren’t around P.C. to personally experience these differences.

    I wasn’t around P.C. either, so I’m grateful that we have the people who participated in this roundtable discussion to share their personal experiences P.C. with us.

    Also, even without their first hand knowledge and expertise in Mormon studies (check out Prince’s excellent David O. McKay bio, btw), it’s not so crazy to postulate that Correlation contributes to high inactivity/drop out rates. As we’ve seen from the comments here, the exigencies of managing a worldwide organization from Salt Lake City squelches individual initiative and creativity – which can adversely affect a member’s testimony and commitment to the Church.

    Julie (#54) - in my experience, the GHI (and other correlated instructional materials) have never been very useful evidence in favor of supporting a more liberal interpretation of Mormon culture/practice. In other words, the “anti-Kapp” crowd rarely wins, because the cultural acceptance of cheesy Mormon music is so pervasive as to extend acceptance to JKP songs as a matter of course. And how can you argue with songs called “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” or “Follow the Prophet”??

  65. greenfrog says:

    I found the round-table comments fascinating.

    One thing that I expected, but didn’t see, was any reference to the change in authority status of the Church Patriarch. If my aging memory serves, that occurred at roughly the same time as the rise of correllation, and I always (perhaps mistakenly) assumed that it was a function of the consolidation of authority associated with the correllation effort.

  66. “it’s not so crazy to postulate that Correlation contributes to high inactivity/drop out rates.”

    I agree with this. It is not crazy to postulate a connection. It is crazy to think that one has done anything more than issue a hypothesis. It is crazy to think that one has proven anything or even shown it to be likely. But it is not crazy to put forward a hypothesis that a large Church program affected the Church.

    “Of course, Frank, some of the other things you think…”

    I imagine the full extent of my insanity will only be fully revealed at the Judgement Bar.

  67. Ed #55, please compare with Bruce R. McConkie, who never ranked as high as the individuals you mention. As I remember, McConkie has more than a 2-1 advantage.

  68. Greenfrog, I suppose by “change in authority status,” you mean something like “elimination of the office.” The Church Patriarch hasn’t existed for decades, the Doctrine and Covenants notwithstanding…

  69. Steve Evans says:

    “It is crazy to think that one has done anything more than issue a hypothesis. It is crazy to think that one has proven anything or even shown it to be likely.”

    No, it’s crazy for people to discount the personally observed conclusions of others.

  70. smb, I’m not sure emulation of the JW’s theological control, despite their excellent conversion and retention rates, is good for Mormonism. I’m not saying that there aren’t things to learn, but theology, I believe, is not one of them.

    I also think that there are major correlative impediments to your vision of open Mormonism – notably CES. Though, as CES seems to be on the wane (including, hopefully, all those so-called neo-orthodoxy drenched manuals), perhaps we are not too far off.

    Steve, pornographers? Ouch. I get the point. But whoa.

    Julie, I think your point is an important one. However, as in my comment to smb, CES has a tremendous amount of institutional inertia and CES is trapped in the 70’s.

  71. Steve Evans says:

    J., it’s hyperbole. Did you not read my comment no. 45?

  72. greenfrog says:

    J. Nelson-Seawright wrote: Greenfrog, I suppose by “change in authority status,” you mean something like “elimination of the office.” The Church Patriarch hasn’t existed for decades, the Doctrine and Covenants notwithstanding…

    Maybe I confused myself, but I remember the Church Patriarch being a separate and (as far as lineage goes) distinct position within the Church’s general hierarchy. And I remember (but may have muddled things together) the Patriarch speaking at General Conference and the like until the advent of Correllation.

  73. Steve– “No, it’s crazy for people to discount the personally observed conclusions of others.”

    Shall we poll the population of Mormons and ask them about their personal observations of Correlation?

    This is a matter of causal analysis, which requires assumptions or information about what would have happened in the absense of the program. Thus knowing what did happen, even personally, and up close, and very, very well, is often woefully insufficient. Not always, of course, if the counterfactual is easy to guess; but here it certainly is not. There has been nothing close to evidence about what would have happened presented or implied here. And without that, there is nothing but a stated hypothesis, however interesting.


    Ed compared Hugh Brown to a group of people with similar external characteristics and found him to be extremely well-represented. You, on the other hand, are plucking an outlier (Elder McConkie) out of the distribution and demanding that President Brown be compared to the outlier. Elder McConkie is an interesting and provocative figure, well worth study. But saying President Brown is quoted less than him is actually telling you about Elder McConkie, not so much about President Brown.

    This is not very good methodology. Doing this means the issue becomes all about BRM, the outlier, rather than what you originally wished to talk about, which is HBB.

  74. Greenfrog, I haven’t read the article yet (it is in my pile to read, though), but it is likely a good resource:

    E. Gary Smith (1988) The Office of Presiding Patriarch: The Primacy Problem. Journal of Mormon History. vol. 14 pg. 35

    Maybe I’ll post on it after I read it… :)

  75. Jonathan Green says:

    But Steve, it’s not crazy to ask people who are proposing that their personal observations hold true for the church as a whole to provide some justification for that belief. Seth is asking a reasonable question.

  76. Steve Evans says:

    Jonathan (75) – you’re right about that. Perhaps it is a matter of framing the issue in a proper way. I agree that conclusions about the church as a whole can require some additional backup.

    My problem is the “prove it!” mentality that seems to surface whenever people hear statements they don’t like. A far more effective technique, in my view, is to offer counterexamples or to pose particular questions. Otherwise, all we’re doing is offering bland critiques about causal analysis. Any hack can do that — a real discussion involves sharing of experiences, not just generic attacks.

  77. Elisabeth says:

    Frank, there is plenty of evidence in social science/economics that shows diminishing returns with respect to institutional economies of scale.

    If we adapt this analytical framework to evaluate Correlation, I’d imagine we could find a causal relationship between individual activity rates and Correlation.

  78. There is an interesting book about history of the office of church Patriarch called “Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch.” You can look inside the book at Amazon.


    You are right that McConkie is quoted far more than Brown or the others I listed…I was even thinking earlier that I should go back and look look at that. Still, I think that Frank’s point about him being an outlier is right. If you had said “ever notice that McConckie is quoted more than Brown, who in turn is quoted much more often than other past GAs?” then your comment would have been entirely accurate, but wouldn’t have implied what you wanted it to imply.

  79. D. Fletcher says:

    Nothing against correlation (or missionary work, for that matter) but I too miss the Church of my youth, the smaller but more intensive church of David O. McKay, of church meetings every day of the week, of sacrament meeting at night, and a total of 15 temples worldwide.

  80. John Taber says:

    Nothing against correlation (or missionary work, for that matter) but I too miss the Church of my youth, . . . of sacrament meeting at night, and a total of 15 temples worldwide.

    Fine. Good luck implementing that everywhere else in the world. I for one was relived when the curriculum was streamlined in the late 1990s, because I knew that the vast majority of places I served on my mission would be able to implement the same program without a hitch. (It sure beats teaching the one ten-year-old girl in a branch out of the “Joyous Girls A” manual because that’s where she’d be in a “real” Primary. And BTW, that doesn’t alliterate in Italian.)

    The institutional and cultural baggage the Church carries makes it difficult to get on the ground in many places as it is. So some things get left behind. Just like things like Deseret Industries, and most of the commercial ventures, etc. were meant to serve the majority of members, but barely make it out of the western states.

    Other things that made sense in the Utah of 1900 or 1950 get implemented awkwardly everywhere else they get implemented at all. Try doing “Light the Way to the MIA” anywhere people don’t walk to church. At least that eventually went away, along with teaching Andean Indians the foxtrot because it was in the Young Woman manual.

    President Hinckley mentioned in the priesthood session of October 2002 General Conference that the Brethren were trying to take the Church apart and put it back together again. I expect that we haven’t heard the last of that process. I look forward to the results.

  81. Steve: “Otherwise, all we’re doing is offering bland critiques about causal analysis. Any hack can do that — a real discussion involves sharing of experiences, not just generic attacks.”

    I’m sure this is true of focus groups (and perhaps that is the model bcc is striving for), but making a causal claim is always going to bring up critiques (bland or otherwise) based on the millenia-old questions around inferring causality, as irritating as those are to people in focus groups!

    “I agree that conclusions about the church as a whole can require some additional backup.”

    I agree too!

    Elisabeth: “Frank, there is plenty of evidence in social science/economics that shows diminishing returns with respect to institutional economies of scale.”

    Actually there is also a lot of work showing increasing returns to scale in institutions. This, for example, would help explain why some companies get so very large. So I don’t think the question is so cut and dried. Regardless, the diminishing returns critique (in general) would be a critique of having lots of members, not one specific to Correlation. To make it more would require more assumptions that one would also wish to test.

  82. Steve Evans says:

    Well, Frank, I guess the problem is that your critiques are in fact millennia-old, and they feel like it. If you have a substantive contribution or counterpoint based upon your personal experience rather than just a raw critique, I’d be all ears. Otherwise, it’s old hat.

    BCC as a focus group is an interesting concept (though a threadjack). I see a focus group as a small group from which you sample by open discussion, the members’ opinions on a particular subject. How can a blog site be anything else than a focus group, when its very essence (the posts) are composed of discussion based on opinions on a subject? If you label a site a “focus group” as a means of attack, it’s an odd one.

  83. John #80, I agree that implementing the pre-Correlation church worldwide is impossible. The current alternative, however, seems to be to implement a uniform program that works equally poorly almost everywhere. But these aren’t the only two choices.

    What about decentralization? In the 1980s and especially the 1990s, that was assumed to solve all problems, and it probably doesn’t, but it might solve some. What if curricula were designed and implemented at a level where they could be more closely attuned to actual circumstances on the ground? Then the church could more-or-less fit the needs of most people in each place, rather than imposing what is still a very mountain-states U.S. framework (even if simplified) on the entire world.

  84. John Taber says:

    My point about the curriculum, at least, is that it works, and is relatively easy to implement. (All right, Gospel Doctrine can get stale.) If it were on a mountain states framework, there would still be a Primary or youth Sunday School manual for each year. There isn’t now. Truth is truth, it’s not something that varies from place to place.

    I appreciate the idea that no matter where I go, I have a fairly good idea what to expect in church (at least on Sunday.) I appreciate that I was able to hold the same calling in three different wards and continue to grow in it. Not that there aren’t some hitches and anachronisms, but the Brethren at least try to iron those out.

    We can’t simply tell the leaders in each country, OK, do your own thing. They would lose their anchor, have nothing to work with. Some might decide to do away with Primary or something like that.

  85. Elisabeth says:

    Frank – sure the question isn’t so cut and dried. That’s why, when we are confronted with a question, we first do some basic research about the question, instead of believing that we already know the answer to it!

    In any event, it would be an interesting exercise to study the growth of religious organizations – an interdisciplinary study of which administrative and spiritual functions are best centralized, and which functions are best retained under local control.

  86. Elisabeth,

    I am sorry if I gave the impression that I “already know the answer”. I did not say that and I don’t believe it. As for an interdisciplinmary study of religious organizations, you might be interested in Iannoconne’s review article in the Journal of Economic Literature. It is not such a study, but it does look at some interesting features across religions.


    i stick with what works. Think of it as the New and Everlasting Critique of People Who Just Make Things Up. :)

    I think of a focus group as a place to share experiences and feelings about A, but not really an attempt to discern what is actually the truth about A. Causal critiques (and other purely intellectual exercises) have little place in such a group, because the focus is not on A’s attributes, but on how one subjectively feels about A. Thus, opinion matters, but reasons not so much.

    That is the distinction I was making. I have no problem with the idea of a focus group and so was not insulting them. Though, as you may well imagine, I would rather carve out my intestines with a dull spoon than participate in one.

  87. Put me down as a fan of correlation precisely because I think it has caused a decrease in the amount of schlocky music, cheesy poetry, and crummy talks.

    Once in jr. high school I wasa sick and stayed home for a day. The only reading material I could reach without getting up was my mother’s stack of old Relief Society magazines. I can state without fear of contradiction that, by the standards of today’s Ensign, the R.S. mag represented suckitude at it’s greatest. Page after page of crappy poems, gossipy “news” columns, and folk doctrine in great abundance. By the afternoon, I was sicker than I was in the morning.

  88. Look, all I was saying is that we just haven’t seen a convincing argument that correlation was correlated =) with higher rates of inactivity.

    Not only did we not get any statistical evidence, we didn’t even get any annecdotal evidence. Just unsupported statements from the panelists claiming that “it is so.”

    I need more than that.

    Even a better explanation of the benefits we forgo under the correlation regime would have been nice. But even that wasn’t really covered in the panelists remarks except cursorily.

  89. John #84, I understand the attractiveness of being able to parachute into any ward in the world and knowing pretty much everything that’s going to happen during the 3-hour block. But jet-setters are only a very small constituency within the church; the convenience of the current set-up for us simply can’t be a significant factor in evaluating Correlation.

    About the current curriculum, you say, “it works, and is relatively easy to implement.” Well, I guess I see that statement as partly begging the question. One of the hypotheses under consideration is that the current curriculum is a cause of the inactivity crisis. If that’s the case, I would certainly not want to affirm that the curriculum works. I suppose you have something more modest in mind: even very weakly institutionalized church units are able to make the basic meetings happen. If that’s what you mean, I agree with caveats. Many of the poorly-institutionalized wards I’ve attended have a hard time making Sunday School and priesthood work. Often, the result is a lesson in which one person reads the lesson manual verbatim until it is finished. Obviously, such an approach has only a family resemblance to a functional class group meeting.

    Decentralization need not mean a total end of central support for curriculum development. And obviously some guidelines could be imposed; this isn’t an all-or-nothing question.

    One last thought: you say, “Truth is truth, it’s not something that varies from place to place.” Fair enough. But as Mormons, a major part of our religious claims are based on the idea that what people need to hear in order to profit most from the truth does change depending on circumstances. If this weren’t the case, then continuing revelation would be unnecessary. But if the best way to teach truth can change over time, then surely it can also change over space (whether geographical or cultural).

  90. By the way, can I note my single biggest pet peeve regarding Correlation? Its name. Correlation is cov(x,y)/sd(x)sd(y). Centralized planning just doesn’t have anything to do with that concept.

  91. Mark IV,

    The picture of a teenage boy lounging on a couch, surrounded by and reading piles of Relief Society magazines, is delightful.

  92. A little bit pervy if you ask me.

  93. It seems to me that correlation means “control.”

    Before reading the McKay book, I had the impression that correlation was just about men (i.e., priesthood) taking “control”, particularly of organizations not directly in the priesthood line of authority. (Almost like a coup by the men.)

    From reading the McKay book, I now understand that “priesthood” was always in control, in the sense that all of the auxiliaries reported to the First Presidency. That, however, gave them some measure of autonomy from other priesthood leaders, like the Council of the 12 or local priesthood (male) leaders.

    But now the general auxiliaries also report to the Council of 12 (I do not know if any report to the Presidency of the 70). Under the current structure, stake auxiliary leaders have no authority with respect to ward auxiliaries. That is, the ward relief society is accountable to the bishop, not the stake relief society. (And the stake relief society is accountable to the stake president, not the general relief society.)

    In a sense, then, correlation is not just about control by priesthood, but about increased control by priesthood at levels below the First Presidency.

    I think that makes some sense–it is tough for a local auxiliary leader to have two bosses (a bishop or counselor and a stake auxiliary leader).

    But an increase in control by priesthood leadership may lead to a loss of initiative (and enthusiasm) by non-priesthood leadership. I leave to our scholarly (or spiritual) experts where to draw the line between (1) micromanaging which (in my mind) can sap the soul and discourage local adaptation and (2) loss of control which can lead to anarchy.

    My sense is that the Brethren are aware of the issue, and probably debate and wrestle with it in the same way we do here (and some may even read these intriguing posts–or even post under a pseudonym).

  94. Steve Evans says:

    DavidH, you’re right about the pseudonymous brethren. I mean “Ronan”?? Such an obvious fake name!

  95. D. Fletcher says:

    Ronan, Amri, meems — do these come from the Adamic language?


  96. um, yes. and out of respect, please do not say it out loud.

  97. Frank Fish says:

    Ronan/Conan? Hmmmm…which GA speaks with a German accent…?

  98. Serenity Valley, # 91,

    When I was too sick to walk across the room to get my Louis L’Amour books, you know I was sick. But really, don’t you think the auxiliary magazines were the absolute worst form of dreck discernible by the naked eye? Give me the skimmed, homogenized Ensign any day. It just seems like we are a bunch of old people here, talking with nostalgia about the good old days that really weren’t all that good.

    Amri, # 92,

    A little bit pervy if you ask me.

    LOL! You know, it does sound kind of creepy. But it worked, as a kind of aversion therapy. Now, whenever the high council speaker starts into his dramatic rendition of The Touch of the Master’s Hand, I have to run from the room with my hand over my mouth.

  99. I agree that correlation has contributed to inactivity among our your youth. I talked to my inactive brother about his inactivity once, and he said one of the reasons he stopped going was because he felt that at church or seminary teachers were just fishing the correlated answers out of people. They really didn’t care what people personaly thought. All that matterted was that members gave the answer that was in the manuel. He got fed up with it and stopped going.

  100. Bruce Rogers says:

    Some people have expressed their opinion that public schools should be run like a business. Some people have said that the church should be run like a business.
    I would ask them to tell me what business they had in mind. Enron? Almost every day I read in the newspaper about another business in which the CEO turned out to be dishonest. A ‘crook’ in everyday language. Look at the business page of the newspaper or the business report on TV news. Do they give examples of how a company is trying to make a product that is actually better for the consumer? No, all the reports that I have seen are reports of the price of the stock. How did the inovation affect the price of the stock? Is this the type of mentality that they want in the church? It is very true that good speeches are given by business men exorting good works, but in the private communications, we find that greed and dishonesty are frequently shown to be found among the top leaders. Jesus once indicated that he had difficulty finding good people among the rich. I suspect that it is the same today.

  101. Paul Dunn told me of his battles with Correlation, whose employees tried to control the content of his discourses.

    Hmmm. Looks like the correlation committee might have been asleep on the job as far as that is concerned.

  102. MikeInWeHo says:

    RE: 37

    There are about 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, and the church appears to be growing about 1.5% a year. Definitely not shrinking. This means that there are more new Catholics added every year than every Mormon on earth (not that math was ever a strength of mine).

    As for the Protestants, you’d have to define the term more precisely. The mainline Protestant bodies (United Methodist, Episcopal, etc) continue to shrink but the Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches are booming.

    RE: 100

    From an outside perspective, it already is run like a corporation. Very McChurch. Please don’t take that as an “anti-” comment; it’s just a friendly observation. The sheer uniformity of attire, architecture, etc, is extremely corporate. I can’t think of another religious organization on earth which comes close. The real danger isn’t corruption a la Enron, imo, it’s more of a GM scenario….stagnation and gradual loss of market share.

  103. Ebenezer Robinson says:

    As usual, I’ve come late to this discussion, but I can’t let it pass, just because I’m — ummm — uncorrelated in the Bloggernacle. I can’t claim to have absorbed all the wisdome that’s already been presented in this discussion, but I can already not wait for Round 2.

    Just two thoughts that seem important to me, and not already covered in previous comments.

    1. What have we lost? I started playing a word game in my mind, trying to list terms that were important in my (longago) youth and which have (to my knowledge) no valid referent in today’s church:

    Jr. Sunday School
    Sacrament Gem
    Practice Hymn
    Speech festival
    Two-and-a-half-minute talks (nobody would even get the joke anymore, when a bishopric member said I couldn’t even clear my throat in 2 1/2 minutes.)
    Bandlo (spelling?)
    Birthday pennies
    Road show (part credit for rogue stakes that still try)
    Dance festival (part credit for vast regional extravaganzas put on from on high)
    Dance specialist (my Mom and Dad’s favorite callings)
    June Conference

    And more. It’s a fun game, but also indicates options for participation that don’t exist now. Which brings me to my second thought.

    2. The proliferation of auxiliary boards at the ward, stake and general level provided many many people (both men and women) with the opportunity to work together to try to make meaningful differences in the programs of the local church and thereby in the lives of the church members. Seems to me one (presumably unintended) consequence of Correlation is to turn us from a church of participants into a church of observers. We’ve all been disempowered by the change. In recent wards I’ve lived in, we’re even disenfranchised from our own opinions: Sacrament speakers have been assigned GA talks to regurgitate, rather than come up with their own ideas.

    BTW, check the copyright: Because I Have Been Given Much is borrowed from the Presbyterian hymnal, so at least it’s not MORMON schlock, just Protestant schlock we’ve appropriated.

  104. Mark Butler (II) says:

    I have to say that I haven’t been in a Gospel Doctrine class for a long time that was more exciting than watching grass grow. Despite the benefits in terms of uniformity, cost savings, etc., the net result is that an intelligent junior high school student could memorize the “take away points” of the complete 4 year curriculum of the Church in less than a week, and for an adult it is Groundhog Day over and over again. There is no there there.

    As an institution Sunday School has lost any relevance in the contemporary Church – it might as well just be put out of its misery. People who care about the detailed content of the scriptures can study on their own. Much the same argument could be made with regard to Seminary and Institute, which generally have a level of seriousness several steps down from any decent Protestant Sunday School class.

  105. Boy, as much as we complain today … how much more will we complain in 40 years when more than half of the Twelve comes from outside the Utah Mormon culture and has a very tin ear to the toothless complaints of “dadgum, it’s just not the way it used to be…”!

    I can’t tell you how much I prefer the Church of 2005 to the Church of 1975 or 1985. In the old days, the so-called “interesting” gospel doctrine lessons were lectures on Nibley. Today, they actually tend to focus more on the scriptures…

  106. Ebenezer– very good list of what’s missing after correlation, and analysis of what it means– we’re observers (or slumberers) rather than participants.

  107. John Taber says:

    But as Mormons, a major part of our religious claims are based on the idea that what people need to hear in order to profit most from the truth does change depending on circumstances. If this weren’t the case, then continuing revelation would be unnecessary. But if the best way to teach truth can change over time, then surely it can also change over space (whether geographical or cultural).

    So you’re saying that every member in Utah has been in the Church longer than every member in the rest of the country, or at least those of us east of the Rockies? (I actually had a stake president at BYU with that attitude. He didn’t recognize my Aaronic Priesthood ordinations because apparently we second-class “back East” Saints make do with whoever here for leadership, while in Happy Valley only the best get called.) But to take this further, have all American members been in the Church longer than members elsewhere?

    When it comes right down to it, every ward in the Church (or at least every stake) has members who have been in for less than a year, members who have been in for fifty years or more, and at the very least representative samples of everything in between. The only exceptions are in countries where the Church hasn’t been established that long, but that only affects the upper bound for length of membership or age. (And even there if you look at the mission/country level you have the mission president and his family.)

    The Church has nearly four times as many members as it did when I was born (in the early 1970s). World population hasn’t even doubled during that time – this means that the majority of members are converts, or at least children of converts. (I fit that latter category myself, as does my wife, even though we both had ancestors in Nauvoo.) Incidentally, the Catholics are not keeping up with world population growth.

    Sure, I’m old enough to remember some of the things from #103, and I don’t particularly miss any of them, as they have no direct Gospel bearing. I’d hate to imagine trying to implement them in places where the Church hasn’t been established all that long (I served my mission in one) just because that’s what evolved during a century of relative seclusion in Utah.

    I’ve seen the curriculum overhauled twice in my short life, but now that it’s adaptable everywhere (with procedures in place for accomodations) I don’t expect to see that again anytime soon. (Well, maybe they could breathe some life into Gospel Doctrine.) Could any of us really see the Church going back to a September-August curriculum year in the northern hemisphere, and a March-February year in the southern?

  108. mumacita says:

    Correlation seems to be the Mormon version of PC (political correctness). I remember when I was asked to substitute for my friend (a former Stake Pres) in the gospel doctrine class. Earlier in the week,I had decided to quit going to church due to my growing resentment and rejection of the LDS doctrine/cultural role for women in the eternal scheme of things. I didn’t understand priesthood domination. My friend was so kind when I told him of my decision and said” Well, I wouldn’t want to ask you do anything you didn’t want to do”. For some reason I asked what was the lesson on. “Harold B. Lee”. I remarked that “He’s my favorite Prophet” because of his emphasis on “reaching the one” and because of the circumstances of my life and struggles. So I agreed to teach the lesson, knowing I would adhere closely to the manual as the dead end seventy ( lady returned missionary) that I was. Obedient on the outside. Dieing on the inside. When I got the manual on Thursday evening I was dismayed to find that the lesson was on Priesthood Correlation and the historical dismantling of the auxillaries, from Jos. F Smith up until the time of Harold B. Lee. I was distraught knowing I was going to have to teach how women were removed from institutional power and influence (including the stripping of women giving blessings, the removal of women being in control over what their manuals contained, their activities, their financial independence). The highligt of the class was a highcouncilman on the back row who stood up and informed the class”But it is my job to tell my wife what to do.” Need I say more.

  109. As a Bishop, I don’t feel like my hands are tied at all by correlation. But it sure seems like almost every teacher in our ward thinks that all they can do is read the material provided by the Church. It’s frustrating. I keep encouraging people to speak and teach with power and to do what they feel is right. But it is almost as if they question if they are right if it doesn’t quite match the lesson outline (I hope that made sense).

    The whole correlation thing is interesting. One of the big motivations behind the missionary change (to “Preach My Gospel”) was to stop the missionaries from reciting things from memory, and teaching principles in whatever order and in whatever manner was needed by the investigator. The push is for missionaries to know the material, and then teach it in the most effective way for their investigators. Who knows, maybe other areas of the Church will change the same way.

    One last question…
    Is the article about the Presiding Patriarch (comment 74) available online?

  110. Graham, it is not. However, MHA is digitizing its archives and word on the street is that there will be a significant release in the next few months. I’d check their website, occasionally.

  111. Sue Decker says:

    I don’t have the countless hours that it would take to read all of the observations about the change to correlation that took place in the 70’s although I remember well when it happened as I was in my late teens. I am grateful for the change. As a busy Mom to 5 children, I believe that it cuts down on the number of outside hours that we would be involved in church activities and leaves us more time to focus on our family, temple attendance and service to others. I am grateful for the correlated lessons on Sunday and that our gospel doctrine teacher sticks to the schedule as my children are receiving the same lessons in their respective Sunday School and primary classes and we often discuss the lesson materials as a family. Most of all I am grateful for a living prophet whom I feel is very in tune with the needs of a world wide church. I’m sure that many of you may feel that my comments are “the standard Mormon line” and very simplistic but that is ok too. Best regards.


  1. […] Note the absence of scare quotes around the word “Blessing” in the title, which denotes a complete lack of sarcasm: I am serious about the blessing of Correlation. I came to write this post specifically in response to comments by Mark Butler, for example in threads here, here, and here, but I begin with a point I have wanted to make more broadly to all those (including in the end, to my surprise, Nate Oman!) who wail and gnash their teeth at the results of Correlation. […]

  2. […] By Common Consent is pleased to release the second of a two-part round table on Correlation. Vol. 1, is available here, and adds a significant depth to this conversation. The participants in this round include: […]

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