Blue Collar / White Collar

lego-workersHave you ever had a blue-collar bishop or stake president? Do any General Authorities from North America or Europe have blue-collar backgrounds before they were called as representatives of Christ? What about Mission Presidents?

What’s your experience been? Do lines fall differently in urban/suburban areas? I’ve heard the argument that it’s more about spare time and ability to serve, though I’m not sure that holds up under actual scrutiny. What does your ward leadership look like?

In 1983 Hugh Nibley commented on what he saw as the long developing trend of religious leaders shifting to being managers:

“If you love me,” said the greatest of all leaders, “you will keep my commandments. “If you know what is good for you,” says the manager, “you will keep my commandments and not make waves.” That is why the rise of management always marks the decline, alas, of culture…”

Presumably he was not merely referring to our experience in the LDS Church but across organized religions. Does the virtual disappearance of blue collar bishops, Stake Presidents and Mission Presidents fit with the trend observed more than 30 years ago by Nibley?,

Have blue-collar bishops and leadership positions really disappeared over the last 30 years? Were they ever common? If they have disappeared, is that simply a reflection of the larger US economy, or a reflection on the ranks of Mormonism in general?

What ramifications does this hold, if any, for the church of Jesus Christ?


  1. Is it true to be a mission president you need your house paid off? I heard that was the case but don’t have any references to back it up. If true, it’s a great financial divide in the church because being a mission president seems to be a prerequisite of any other high leadership calling in the church.

  2. I can’t say for sure that I have had a blue collar bishop. Several professors, some small business owners, a cop, executives. Maybe someone was blue collar and I just didn’t know it. Thing is, being blue collar can be quite lucrative. I suppose the most well to do ones spin it as being a small business owner, though.

  3. I’ve never had one. Is this something that could actually be tracked? I seem to recall that the Church News published the occupation of a new Stake or Mission President, so I guess you could throw that in a database or something?

  4. My father served as a mission president before he paid off the family home.

  5. I recall a stakepresident who was asked on his release if indeed his house was paid off, if he was willing to go overseas, what his other commitments were etc, etc, And in the end was asked what he could be asked for in the future.
    Carreerplanning of sorts.
    A very short time later his name was called in General Conference.

    He was a bluecollar guy with his own business, not too white collar. He still installs kitchens at friends homes himself as he used to to as bishop and SP. Even though he’s a 70.
    However he does have personnel doing it most of the time.

  6. BTW, this is in Europe…

  7. I had a blue collar bishop, who had several blue collar counselors. And most of the other priesthood leadership in that community is blue collar (although the higher up you got – SP – the less blue collar they got). This was in a small, rural community with a relatively large Mormon population. Lots of Mormons, not very many attorneys/accountants/doctors etc. period, let alone Mormon attorneys/accountants/doctors.

  8. In the Spanish language wards and branches in New York, a lot of the bishops and branch presidents are blue-collar workers. I knew several such men who had construction businesses, or worked in building maintenance or similar jobs. I knew a man who served in a district presidency who worked as a “presser” in a dry cleaners–until the cumulative effect of the chemicals made him sick and sent him to the hospital.

  9. Ive had several blue collar bishops in my lifetime: farmers, mechanics (twice), we have a counselor now who is a forklift driver. I live in a smallish urban area now with a fairly large military population, so we also have had a couple of military…one of them a Lt Col,the other a Staff Sgt.

  10. John Mansfield says:

    The answers will depend a lot on the readership of this blog. In the ward of my youth in Las Vegas, the bishops from about 1971 to 1998 were an electrician, a high school biology teacher, a plumber, a deputy district attorney, a paving contractor, and a pharmacist. How many of those jobs are represented among the readers of this post?

  11. Actually, I didnt think about it but they just called our new bishop and he installs heaters/ACs.

  12. My current bishop is an electrician. He replaced a guy with a PhD in Engineering. My two bishops before that were a concrete contractor and a mortician..

  13. When I joined the church, my first bishop was a plumber. The bishop of my last ward was a retired Navy boatsman’s mate who worked in a shipyard.

    As for stake presidents, most of mine have been dentists, although I had one who was a retired judge and one who was a university professor. I also knew one in a neighboring stake who was a realtor.

  14. Oh, and another recent Bishop owned his own landscaping business…

  15. That’s a good point, John Mansfield. This sampling clearly won’t be representative of the church as a whole. I imagined very different responses based on geography- urban v. suburban (as I mentioned in the post) but also Utah v. not Utah, North America v. South America, etc…

    As Amanda mentioned above, there was blue-collar leadership at the ward level, but the higher up you got, SP, MP, etc, the less blue-collar it was. Is this the case in most places? It’s been my experience, but I’ve admittedly only got a limited 11 years of experience.

  16. I suspect blue-collar church leadership is relatively common outside the US, in the Mountain West, in rural parts of the US outside the Jello Belt, and in non-English-speaking congregations in the US.

    In major urban areas in “The Mission Field” (gag), church leadership tends to be “Ethnic Mormons” who went to BYU and then started professional careers in NYC/SF/LA/Chicago/DC/etc.

  17. “Is it true to be a mission president you need your house paid off?”
    No. However, you will be interviewed to find out if leaving for three years will be a disastrous burden to you and your family financially. You are asked what your financial obligations are (mortgage, debts, children, parents, etc.). You are also asked about what your family obligations are. If you are the caregivers for aging parents or special needs adult children you may not be free to leave them. Your medical needs are also taken into account. If your medical needs can be adequately taken care of elsewhere then you can still be called, but if your medical needs are more extreme than this is taken into consideration.

    As for the post. I tend to think of things the other way around. I don’t think the Lord picks successful people to be leaders. Instead I think, if someone has the qualities of a good bishop or good relief society president or good apostle, chances are they have used those qualities successfully in other areas of their life like social skills, work ethic, good judgement, honesty, organizational skills, people management, delayed gratification, gospel study, educational goals, family relationships and friendships. The list goes on. Of course no leader is perfect, and some have glaring weaknesses. I fully believe that the Lord helps our weaknesses if we ask.As for bishops, I tend to think the Lord uses who he’s got, imperfect though we might be. But he’s also smart enough to try to get us to use our strengths too!

  18. I live in rural Arizona. The town is about 45% LDS. So far all Bishops of my ward and the Stake Presidents have been white collar. The Bishopric counsellors have been blue collar, and SP counsellors have been mixed. My mission president was white collar.
    I am a member who has a testimony of the doctrine so please do not come down hard on me for what I say next. In the town I live in people are called to leadership positions based on friendships first, then blood relations second. I was called as Primary Pres. and after 3 months we got a new Bishop. I was released and the new Bishop’s wife was put in as Prim. Pres. Yep.

  19. See the list of 77 Mission Presidents called in April

    In the gallery it lists their professions. Outside of one who owns his own plumbing business, a software developer, a customs agent, a few teachers, and a dozen or so employees of the Church either as institute teachers or other area resource managers, the majority are attorneys, doctors, CEOs, CFOs, Financial Advisors, and Insurance brokers.

    I think part of that aligns with the cost to serve and the ability to take on that responsibility either in the middle of your career or after retirement.

    As for Bishops and Stake Presidents, look around your congregations. In the urban / suburban Wards outside of the Mormon enclaves, the vast majority of the members I’ve encountered are employed in white collar jobs. That said, I’ve had Stake Presidents and Bishops who were policemen, firemen, construction workers, and mechanics of the top of my head.

  20. I’ve had plenty of blue collar bishops (and SPs) in and around Utah and the Mormon corridor. I have no idea about GAs but it wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t plenty blue collar types there are well. I suspect some process LDS Church leaders as white collar (even if they are not) thanks to LDS social dress standards for males being even stricter than today’s white collar workers. If you only see a GA in a suit, you think they always wear a quit, even if they earned their living in blue jeans and with their hands.

  21. When I first saw the picture on the post I thought it would be about Lego and a connection to Mormonism. Darn — but Lego Movie tomorrow!

  22. Sorry to disappoint, MaryAA- I liked the nod to the famous photo of the workers on the girder high above New York. But yes, my kids are counting the minutes to the Lego movie, too.

  23. OD, I suspect that the reason for the high proportion of “upper” leadership being college-educated professionals is that there are high demands placed upon these individuals which require a professional mindset, polished communication skills and a broad education.

    But part of me yearns for the past and the Bishops I knew who were farmers, ranchers, miners or “blue collar.” Many were WWII veterans. Their testimonies were pure and they were some of the greatest men I have ever known.

  24. There is something to be said for the wisdom of those who work with their hands more than their powerpoint. Different life lessons to share, or at least from a different vantage point.

  25. I agree, Angela. My gut sense is that we generally tend to undervalue the contributions of less educated members. It’s probably impossible to suss out how much of that is skill set, social conditioning, expectation, our own counsel to get as much education as possible, and the convolution we can sometimes have with prosperity being linked to righteousness. While I don’t have the statistics to prove anything, my own experience is that the more professional men are the ones who get called to higher offices. Which came first? Chicken? Or Egg?

  26. I have lived mostly in suburban areas outside the Intermountain Western States, and it has been a solid mix for me. If I had to guess, I would say white collar probably out-numbered blue collar, but not by much. Very few of the white collar leaders, however, would have been considered wealthy.

    Mitt Romney as my Stake President was one extreme, with another man who was the CFO of a very large corporation in second place; a man who loaded UPS package trucks in the morning and installed appliances during the day was the other extreme. I loved all three of them and almost all of the others I have had. (Unless I go back to my youth in rural Utah, where only a small percentage of people were white collar workers, and even most of the white collar church leaders were salt-of-the-earth farmers at heart.)

  27. The Other Clark says:

    I long for the day when, as part of the Equalization Plan for Missionary Expenses, some white-collar financial advisor is asked to pick up the expenses of a faithful blue-collar [fill in the blank] so Bro. Blue Collar can serve as mission president.

  28. The Other Clark says:

    In my Utah County ward, one bishop was a BYU professor, the next a painting contractor. The counselors were all white-collar. In north Idaho, we have a retired funeral home director, an orthodontist, dentist, and three small business owners (chiropractor, old folks home, and writer). A former SP is an artist. Both my mission presidents were church employees. So pretty much a mixed bag. But my experience is that regardless of the color of the collar, at least one member of the bishopric will be from the top 3 richest families in the ward.

    The apostles seem to represent a fairly equal white/blue mix. The 70s, though are overwhelmingly white collar, and I suspect that’s due to their duties. Functionally, most serve as senior manager/administrators, with specific assignments dealing with legal, financial, and other business concerns. It should come as no surprise, then, that the apostles chose men that have the proven skills and abilities to succeed in these enterprises.

  29. Which of the Q12 has a blue-collar background?

  30. I think all my bishops/SPs have been white collar, but in my young adult years I never interacted with my bishops much, so I’m not sure i know.

    The post gave me the “wouldn’t it be nice if there were more blue collar bishops/SPs” vibe, even though that certainly wasn’t in the text. I would think the typical bloggernacle participant would generally prefer white-collar bishops, by the assumption that they would likely be more liberally educated, and therefore more open-minded and less dogmatic or judgmental.

  31. Some assumptions here about white collar= financially secure. Certainly the many recent news stories about adjunct Ph.D. college instructors on food stamps makes it clear that is not always true.

    A plumber or locksmith or mechanic may be much better off financially than a recent law school grad.

  32. In Tennessee, my last Bishop drove a truck. His wife had to drive him on all his assignments and visits because if he drove himself he would exceed the number of hours he was allowed to drive in any 24 hour time period. Most of the SP were executives, though we did have one who was a school teacher. I’m surprised at the number of leaders who were retired or on disability. I guess that goes to support the available time theory.

  33. John Mansfield says:

    The comment above by OD, “look around your congregations,” reminded me of something I wrote years ago, “We Want to Live in a Company Town.” I wrote “People don’t move across the country to take a job they could have found where they were. Consequently, the newcomers’ presence is more tied to the major institutions of a community than it is for those who are already there. For example, when I arrived in Baltimore, both of the bishop’s counselors were there because that’s where Johns Hopkins University is.” In places where the membership and leadership of the ward is largely out-migration from Utah and the West, they will have moved there for white-collar jobs. The starkest example of that that I lived was when I lived west of Detroit. Nearly every man in my ward was a BYU graduate working in the auto industry in engineering, finance, or management; there was one single member of my quorum who worked on an assemble line.

  34. whizzbang says:

    I have had 3 Stake Presidents, 1 was an academic and now teaches Church History at BYU, the 2nd was a dentist and my current one was a CEO of a trucking company but he got fired and now works at UPS. I think the most spiritual of the 3 by far was the academic.
    I have had as Bishops a occupational therapist, a janitor, a retail store chain exec. a postal exec. accountant, 2 architects,a baker and now a semi retired pharmacist. I honestly believe the ones that don’t work with people are the worst ones, especially for me the Janitor, baker and pharmacist.

  35. Pres. Packer = educator
    Elder Perry = accounting in the retail industry – high level management
    Elder Nelson – surgeon
    Elder Oaks = lawyer and judge
    Elder Ballard = “interests in automotive, real estate and investment businesses”
    Elder Scott = mechanical engineer – nuclear power industry
    Elder Hales = business – “executive positions with three major national companies”
    Elder Holland = college educator – top administration positions
    Elder Bednar = college educator (Business) – top administration positions
    Elder Cook = lawyer (partner) and top health care administrator
    Elder Christofferson = lawyer (top levels)
    Elder Andersen = businessman

    It’s hard to tell from the official bios on, but a quick look makes it appear that at least three or four of the apostles are from homes that would be classified without question as blue collar. I don’t care enough to check more detailed sources.

  36. And what about Pres. Uchtdorf? What did he do for a living? He’s never said…

  37. Uchtdorf was a pilot with Lufthansa.

  38. And an executive for many years.

  39. Doesn’t seem like anyone has mentioned the major shifts in employment in the US during recent decades… There aren’t nearly as many skilled blue collar jobs anymore, so a lot higher proportion of people who can handle responsibility are going to be white collar. There are exceptions of course, but, as many have said already, people who have their acts together *tend* to try to seek more education so they won’t get replaced by a robot. The mix of white collar/blue collar is roughly the same in our ward leadership (Utah Valley) as in the active population of the ward as a whole, but those blue collar leaders are in management positions (they do still get their hands dirty too, so I guess they’re kind of on the fence between the categories). These aren’t people bouncing from one unskilled minimum wage job to another, which accounts for the majority of the younger blue collar workers in the ward (who tend to have a hard time fulfilling any calling, let alone a leadership calling).

  40. Sorry, didn’t include the First Presidency. Major oversight.

    Pres. Uchtdorf: “For twenty-six years President Uchtdorf was an airline captain for Lufthansa German Airlines. At the time of his call to full-time Church service, he was the senior vice president of flight operations and chief pilot for Lufthansa.”

    In November 2012: “President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany during a recent short ceremony at the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The Order of Merit is the highest tribute that the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals for service to the nation, recognizing exceptional charitable work as well as accomplishments in various other types of social, political and scientific endeavors.”

    President Uchtdorf’s early years were not white collar, to say the least. Interestingly, he trained and worked in Germany and the US and was commissioned as a pilot in both the United States and German Air Forces.

    President Monson was raised in a blue collar environment. He studied Business, taught briefly at the Univ of Utah, then went into printing – marketing and sales.

    President Eyring studied Physics, taught Business at Standford, was a visiting professor at MIT and was President of Ricks College.

  41. One of the best bishops we ever had was a gardner. But all the others? Accountants, doctors, lawyers, etc.

  42. Euro member says:

    here in europe, we’ve had both with a preference given to white collars (when available).

    But the most important criteria is that the ones called are always convergent thinkers when it comes to the gospel, the church administration, the way to do things etc.

  43. I did mention that, Owen, in the OP. It’s a legitimate question.

    It seems like the sampling here shows bishop and ward level leadership in many areas has had a decent representation of blue-collar workers, but most of you are reporting at the higher callings, the men who labor tend to disappear. (To be fair, I don’t consider a professor or CIS instructor a blue-collar worker. In my own experience, all of my leadership has been desk or otherwise professional jobs- employment where a button-down shirt is required, and manual labor is not.)

    Part of my reasoning in asking this question was simply to see if my own experience was representative, or an anomaly. It’s fair to ask if the men who are chosen as leaders are chosen so because of their skills at management and their willingness to serve, or if there is a degree of preferential treatment or status involved. It probably fair to assume it’s a mixture of both, and probably many other factors.

    I do wonder though, as we theoretically move up the leadership ladder and the men with more labor experience and fewer white-collar skills are less represented what we might be losing. In LDS culture we venerate the farmer as a noble occupation, but what of the day-laborer, the gardening contractor, the sanitation worker? It’s not hard to imagine they might offer a different experience and perspective in a leadership meeting.

    I’m also painfully aware that in this conversation, we are talking exclusively of men.

  44. John Mansfield says:

    “It’s not hard to imagine they might offer a different experience and perspective in a leadership meeting.”

    Or writing on a blog.

  45. I was being facetious re: Pres. Uchtdorf’s past employment. Because he’s even poked fun at *himself* for his propensity to use airplane stories.

    Thinking back to the bishops and BPs I’ve had in my adult life,, each and every one of them has not only been ‘white collar,’ they’ve been successful in their careers. Almsot without exception they have owned nicer homes and nicer cars than the average ward member. On the whole they were good men so I’m not t rying to ascribe a lack of humility to financial success. And I think that’s part of a larger problem we have in the Church, where we equate financial success with righteousness – and even more so, the reverse is also true. It’s like we are only reading the first half of the BoM Pride Cycle and ignoring the second half.

    My husband was on what you might consider the leadership track when his career was going well, post-Recession. Then he was laid off a total of 4 times in 4 years. You really find out who your friends are in the ward when you go through something like that – a lot of members won’t touch you with a ten foot pole because of course if you lose your job it must be because you did something wrong. (Unless you lose your job and are immediately hired by a better company for twice the salary, in which case you aren’t living in the real world, you’re in a General Conference talk on tithing.) Husband is still very much ‘white collar’ (he’s in sales) but he’s no longer given the higher-profile leadership roles. Not that I am complaining, mind you. I actually like getting to see my spouse from time to time.

  46. I don’t recall ever having a blue collar Bishop or SP.

    I suspect that the reason for the high proportion of “upper” leadership being college-educated professionals is that there are high demands placed upon these individuals which require a professional mindset, polished communication skills and a broad education. So the idea of the simple farmer (farm boy) leading and speaking by the spirit was just folklore? Isn’t the truth more that we’ve become a hierarchical institution (an arm of men) and those skills are needed to articulate the cumbersome golden calf? Don’t our meetings typically contain more announcements that spiritual experiences?

    Which came first? Chicken? Or Egg? Obviously professionals came first. Adam was an attorney wasn’t he? Lol.

  47. Thomas Parkin says:

    The telling thing is the lack of vision. Do we have any articulation of a vision of Zion? Any way to measure ourselves against it, find ourselves lacking? No, and it’s more than a little because such an articulation would work counter to the Mormon space that has been created over the last 40+ years. So many years in which all the maneuvering was defensive, and such problems in the wake of this.

  48. Euro member says:

    A Carpenter would never be able to have a high position in our current church…

  49. Excellent points, Joni- and part of what I was dancing around with my “Chicken? Or egg?” comment Howard references. There does seem to be a correlation between financial success (or the appearance of financial success) and higher leadership positions- because certainly blue-collar jobs can pay very well.

    This is why I cited Nibley- he was apparently concerned at the move away from spiritual and pastoral care towards a model of business management. I’m not saying lesser educated or blue-collar workers would be more spiritual, and I’m not suggesting correlation is causation. I am wondering at the long-term effects of pulling heavily from one specific type of member, and the focus (and possible repercussions) management skills being of apparently higher value than skills of pastoral care. Perhaps the heavy load of paperwork, long meetings, and administrative work our bishops and SP’s have to do is the real issue. Is this the case? I don’t know. But it bears looking at.

    If it is the case, and the administrative work certainly needs to be done, and done competently, then perhaps Steve Evans’ suggestion in his recent post about assigning trusted elders to pastoral care bears true consideration.

  50. We’ve elevated activity over spirituality requiring a lot of coordination (management). There is an undertone of a prosperity gospel “Let’s go shopping” that subtly drives us toward higher incomes and simple discipleship is largely symbolically confined to serving a mission, then set aside as an ongoing way of life. We’re largely a form over function church today.

  51. On the macro level, I tend to agree, howarddirkson- however, when it comes to personal relationships and fellowship, we are still very good at loving and caring for one another. I’ve experienced some of the finest moments of my human life with my fellow church members.

  52. Jack Hughes says:

    I had one bishop (probably my favorite) who was a sanitation worker, but he was the exception; the rest were mostly borelords like executives, attorneys, business types, etc. Increasingly, I am seeing manifestations of prosperity gospel in how Church leaders (local or worldwide) are selected.

    Its not much of a stretch to extend our typical GA worship (“Elder X. is a spiritual giant, he’s my favorite conference speaker, etc.”) into a celebration of that man’s worldly success. When we put them on a pedestal, we tacitly send the message to our youth (young men especially) that those career paths (business/law/orthodontics) are somehow more “righteous” pursuits. I knew a lot of guys in college who chose their respective degree programs not based on their strengths or talents, but based on potential income, social status and Church status. I remember a graduating class of dental students in my ward being advised by the bishop to each buy a new business suit before moving into their next ward, and wear it on their first Sunday there because “you need to make a good first impression, since you will be looked over for leadership positions as soon as you arrive”. As a fine art/sociology major, I got no such advice.

    I am anxiously awaiting the day when some Brazilian taxi driver or Nigerian goat herder is plucked from obscurity and set apart as a seventy or apostle, especially if this is the worldwide Church we suppose it to be. When that day comes, I will know without a doubt that calls to serve are truly inspired. I won’t hold my breath, though, as long as we have an endless parade of successful white American baby-boomers with family connections to fill those vacancies.

  53. Yes, you’re right Tracy M we are still very good at loving and caring for one another! There are many other strengths such as family values and helping those in need and kids raised in the church have an almost innocent childlike countenance that is very attractive and engaging compared to their edgy peers.

  54. Now, it’s quite possible that, as the optimistic jks says, it may be that the Lord simply sees the white-collar professionals among us as having shown in their careers that they have the necessary skills to lead in the Church as well, and that the blue-collar workers among us haven’t had the same amount of initiative, experience, or skill. But it’s highly unlikely that this would in fact be the case, as is apparent to anyone who’s ever seen the internal workings of either a business or a bishopric. People are people, and they make mistakes, and sometimes they learn from them.

    My (non-Utah) stake underwent a reorganization a while back in which the more rural wards were stripped off and made into a stake of their own. We got a bunch of new wards from some of the more prosperous and affluent parts of our metropolitan area. Our very professional, attorneys-and-business execs stake leadership seems to find most of the High Council, stake leaders, and bishops from the white collar set. It’s been a noticeable and commented shift of focus, really obvious to those who remain from the older world.

    And that’s too bad. Sometimes the cake-eaters need someone who works with his hands for a living to provide some perspective on how many people actually live.

  55. So if we characterize our conversation thus far at say the 10,000 foot level Tracy M, aren’t we left with locally ministering to each other (loving and caring for one another) while money flows upward and words and occasional gospel nuggets flow downward? Isn’t this the disconnect that causes us to function as a business on the macro level and more like a church on the micro level. Where is the scriptural business model for the church? Isn’t this where we departed?

  56. Good questions, howarddirkson. I would adjust that to say money flows both ways- wards without substantial fast offerings are equalized by wards that have more than enough- I have been the beneficiary of such charity and can testify. But broadly speaking, yes. Which I think was Hugh Nibley’s point in his excellent talk.

  57. Interesting griping about prosperity gospel, etc. There is one reality that I don’t think has been addressed in the comments: the fact that people die.

    Perhaps people don’t die in your wards, but they do in mine. And who’s in charge of the funeral? The bishop. Funerals are often held on weekday mornings, and how can a bishop conduct the funeral if he is a factory worker or otherwise tied to a job without much flexibility in the way of personal days or vacations?

  58. The church does some very good things with money and when we look at it in dollars it’s a lot of money but when we look at it as a percentage of total income it’s really just token. So what we are left with on the macro level is a lot of professionals cultivating buildings and businesses and this business culture is spilling over into the stake and ward levels.

  59. I’m sorry Amy T- that just doesn’t make sense. i cannot imagine the occasional weekday funeral would interfere any less with a heart surgeon than it would with a contractor.

  60. Okay, so funeral can be a stand-in for all the extra demands a bishop has on his time: the constant phone calls about matters both important and trivial, the long counseling sessions, the emergency financial needs, the never-ending meetings including tithing settlement, youth activities, youth interviews, figuring out ward callings, the marriage crises and wayward children and suicide attempts and mental breakdowns that need immediate attention, the hospital and prison visits, tithing settlement, and the funerals.

    Might be easier for someone who’s on a salary than someone who’s on a time clock.

  61. I’ve lived in dozens of wards and have had a very good mix of blue/white collar bishops and SPs. I think the anecdotal stories reflect more about where Bloggernacle commenters live than any actual bias. As far as “upper” level goes, very few average blue-collar type workers are capable of donating the immense time and resources necessary to serve in such callings, stipends notwithstanding.

    The economy was different in the “good old days” before a global church.

  62. “Have you ever had a blue-collar bishop or stake president?”

    Own of my favorite bishops was a firefighter. He taught me forgiveness as a time when I felt most justified in being angry. He is a large reason why I am still Mormon and still alive.

  63. Since the church encourages the pursuit of higher education I think that we may continue to see more white collar leadership as well as more white collar membership. In my urban, non-mountain-west ward, over the last 6 years, every single active high school senior, including the ones whose parents are blue collar workers, has gone on to a traditional 4 college (or started at the local community college and then transferred to a 4 year institution) with plans to follow a white collar profession or upper level service industry work. In the rural branch I lived in before that 60% of the graduating seniors did so. All but one of the other 40% went straight into the retail workforce (service industry) or bounced around aimlessly. (That one did construction with her dad.) In that branch about 20% of the working parents were white collar workers. Once again there were blue collar families raising kids, and the majority of those kids were aiming for white collar educations and jobs or service industry work.

    Whereas 50 years ago an education that resulted in a blue collar job was considered sufficient to support a family and send your children to college, it no longer is believed to be so in the city where I live. So my experience with LDS kids is that unless a kid has a super-penchant for the skills necessary for a blue collar job and a mentor to facilitate that, he or she tends to think that college and white collar is the way to go.

    That may change as the increase of white collar workers continues to make white collar salaries fall, making college debt even more onerous, and shortages of good blue collar workers makes their salaries rise, but that reality hasn’t sunk in here yet.

  64. New Iconoclast, you got me thinking. My ward is in the suburbs of a large Midwestern city with a good size LDS contingency. My ward doesn’t belong to one of the THREE stakes that make up the city (despite holding our meetings in the stake center); we have been gerrymandered to a stake that makes up a good chunk of the less populated part of the state. We are suburban; the stake includes (and is named for) a small city that is home to a minor state university, and the rest of the stake is rural.

    At least half of the stake leadership comes directly from my ward, including two consecutive SPs. If you’d ask anyone in my ward, they’d tell you that the stake can’t possibly function without our ward because we have stronger members, we provide better leadership, etc. But reading this post has made the lightbulb click on in my mind: it’s not that the men in my ward are *stronger* or *more righteous* or *better leaders* than the men from the surrounding wards and branches. It’s that they are more likely to be white collar, corporate, outwardly successful businessmen and *that* is what we conflate with successful leadership. The men in the other wards and branches are more likely to be university professors (but it’s a non-prestigious, non-Church-run school), administrators, or farmers.

    The sad thing is, I don’t think anyone is better off for this arrangement. Telling the members of our ward that we are so great we have to run the entire stake isn’t great for our humility (and makes it a lot harder to ensure that the ward is adequaately staffed when the best and brightest are constantly being siphoned off). And we definitely resent having to drive an hour each way for staake conference when we *meet* in another stake’s SC. But I can only imagine how much the *rest* of the stake must resent *us.* Being told that they aren’t good enough to run their own stake and they need to import these upwardly mobile businessmen to keep things going must chafe. I’m involved with the youth and I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about stake youth activities – our youth don’t like them because they don’t *know* anyone outside of our ward (they are more likely to be friends with the LDS kids in neighboring suburbs, who of course are part of a different stake) and the rest of the stake’s youth feel like our kids walk around like they own the place.

  65. Perhaps Oliver was better suited to be President of the church than Joseph?

  66. Addendum and then I’ll shut up about this, I promise.

    The phenomenon applies to the wives as well. Almost every YW Pres and RS Pres I’ve seen is the wife of an important, white-collar, upwardly mobile member of the ward. And the phenomenon I described with my husband – where he was once on the ‘leadership track’ before 4 layoffs in 4 years – it actually applies to me as well. It’s like I’m seen as the fruit of the tainted tree. And it’s not like I am itching to hold leadership positions (ugh) but it really makes you think.

  67. Oh gosh. It really does vary. We’ve had several RS presidents that were single; the current one is divorced. We also had a twice-divorced brother serving as a counselor in the last bishopric. So spouse status was a non-issue.

    One thing to keep in mind is that we only know who agreed to serve, not who was originally called. Blue collar folks might be called just as often, but the person feels that they cannot accept the calling of bishop because it would negatively impact their livelihood.

  68. Perhaps Jesus finally got his advanced degree postmortem, saw the light, became a republican and directed the church to do the same?

  69. A few comments have suggested that the qualities required to be a good church leader are the same qualities that will lead to success in other realms. This logic is only sound if we require the same skills of church leaders that are required for secular success. There is bound to be some overlap (I think that is fine), but shepherding the flock is a qualitatively different endeavor than satisfying the demands of market economics. Therefore, if the overlap is too strong we have probably lost sight of something important.

    There is a pretty strong executive bent as you go higher in the church organization. I can live with this; these leaders must be pretty decent at organizing large-scale efforts. The downside is that we ALSO view them as the model shepherds and are encouraged, officially and culturally, to take our cues from them. As such, I’m quite sure we have lost sight of something important.

    I’ve had a mix of blue collar/white collar local leaders over the years and all have tried hard to be good to me in their own way.

  70. The church used to have a non-leadership tenure track for some men but it was eliminated in the priesthood correlation changes of the 80s. What do you do today with slightly off kilter but active men when you can’t make them Seventies?

  71. Leadership track? Does that include lessons in how to discern the spirit and how to receive revelation or is it more of a middle manager skillset thing?

  72. John Mansfield says:

    All this concern for blue-collar church leaders is interesting, because this blog seems pretty uniformly white collar. Reaching out to the least of these our brethren, I guess. Is there anyone reading this who works a blue-collar job? For myself, the last time I did was 1988. Sometimes it bothers me that my children are so cut off from that. The scene from Breaking Away resonates where the father tells the son he’s not a cutter; cutters were something from before the son was born. It made me quite happy last summer when my 17-year-old found a summer job with a plumbing/HVAC company and spent his days installing piping in a new highrise. There will be plenty of time behind a desk from him all too soon.

  73. The Other Clark says:

    It sounds like the true criteria when selecting leaders is not white collar vs. blue collar, but how much free time and flexibility the individual has. Thus truckers, artists, self-employed building contractors, and small business owners that would typically be considered “blue collar” are given preference for leadership over salaried workers and time-clock punchers that lack the flexibility to take time off for the myriad jobs bishops are expected to. (Funerals have been mentioned, but there’s also girls camp, scout camp, hospital visits, welfare checkups, etc.) Outside the Mormon corridor, proximity to the meetinghouse is also a consideration. Perhaps this is why Joni’s stake provides a disproportionate share of the stake leadership; as the other wards are scattered in the far corners of the state.

  74. My current bishop spends a ton of time traveling for business–mostly out of the country, and so he’s often gone on Sundays. I was once in a ward where the entire bishopric was out of town one week for business. All white collar, all quite wealthy. Flexible schedules if they can’t even make it to church because of job commitments? Not really.

    I will say this–I think it has a lot to do with perceived success. The times in my life when I was economically and academically successful (compared to the rest of the ward) I received leadership callings. The times in my life when I was not so successful, I got called–repeatedly–to teach primary. This wasn’t a flexibility thing. My two different leadership callings came at a time when I was extremely busy in other areas, and my primary callings came when I had plenty of free time and lots of flexibility.

    I’ve served in a couple of wards where a rich subdivision was combined with a lower or middle class subdivision. Pretty clear what neighborhood was disproportionately represented in leadership–and which neighborhood too often suffered because of the lack of representation in leadership.

    I can only think of a handful of bishopric members I’ve had who’ve been blue collar. They were, without exception, very spiritual men. White collar? Some of them have been deeply spiritual, many of them have not.

  75. I don’t think proximity is a consideration in our stake – we drive an hour each way for stake conference. We hold our regular Sunday meetings in *another* stake’s SC. (My husband points out that this is pretty common in the intermountain West, but it’s pretty weird out here.) Two wards meet in our actual stake center, the one that’s an hour away, and I’m not aware of a time when the stake president has come from either of those two wards.

    It gets even weirder when you factor in mission boundaries… Because we’re part of a stake that’s distant from our metropolitan area, we belong to a different *mission* than every other ward in the city. We’re actually part of the mission for a different *state.* Our missionaries have to leave the mission boundary every time they want to go to church…

    But the weirdness of the way the Church draws boundaries is a story for another day, I guess. It’s just that before I read this post I hadn’t really considered *why* our affluent suburb had been gerrymandered. I had gone along with the pervasive belief in our ward that the rest of our stake ‘just doesn’t have strong enough leadership.’

  76. It’s interesting that Salt Lake City is the most upwardly mobile city in the United States, meaning a higher percentage of people who are raised in the lowest socio-economic quartile end up moving into the highest quartile as adults. The LDS Church itself mirrors this, when viewed broadly compared to other religions. We tend to look at where leaders end up and ignore where they started. I think that’s an important element of this conversation, because it places Pres. Uchtdorf and others at the top as “white collar workers” while ignoring the fact that they started their adult lives with blue collar roots. I know a lot of local leaders about whom that could be said (white collar workers as adults who understand blue collar issues very well) – and if I ever become a Stake President (God forbid), people will chalk me up as just one more white collar worker, not realizing I came from a background of significant poverty. (My father was an elementary school janitor with eight kids, and my mother didn’t work outside the home. At the end of many months, my parents counted their available balance in coins, not bills.)

    Another overlooked element is that we tend to misrepresent (or, at least, forget how little we know about) the financial situations of Jesus’ closest disciples – the ones that became the leading apostles of the early Christian Church. We emphasize the fishermen – but that isn’t an accurate characterization. Of those about whose professions we know, there was a physician and a tax-collector – and the “fishermen” (James and John) appear to have been business owners and not time clock laborers. Those four would be considered white collar workers of their time – a time when the white collar work population was significantly lower, as a percentage, than it is now. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember if the others’ employment prior to following Jesus is mentioned, but Judas had enough financial knowledge to be the group’s Treasurer (and we also tend to ignore the implications of why a treasurer was necessary, in our tendency to think of the group as poor, uneducated itinerants).

    Perhaps this isn’t as new a discussion as we tend to believe.

  77. Joni, I’ve been running through the wards in my and neighboring stakes trying to figure out if we’re in the same Midwestern city. ;) (Probably not, but the same issues apply.) I might have been on the “leadership track” once myself, but that ship has sailed. Not only am I only moderately successful professionally, but I’m a little too outspoken. The real loss is my wife, who is still teaching Primary, but is one of the most competent, capable leaders I know. When I was released as ward clerk, that seems to have limited her as well.

    We held our last stake conference at another stake’s stake center, which is coincidentally located much closer to the population centers of those affluent suburban wards to which I referred earlier.

    Fortunately, I feel kind of Edwin Woolley about the whole thing – it’s the Lord’s church, not mine, and my eventual exaltation depends not at all on the callings I hold or the career I have, but a lot more on the type of father, husband, and human being I am. That means I have my work cut out for me! I just think sometimes that we tend to waste, in the official sense, an awful lot of human ability and capital. I only hope that we’re able to take advantage of it in the real ways in which we love and serve one another from day to day outside the boundaries of calling and organization.

  78. The Other Clark says:

    Joni, Tim, I stand corrected. Church administration sure can get weird, from time to time. Despite it being the Lord’s church and all, it’s clear to me that like all callings, some leadership callings are inspiration, some are desperation, and some are relation. Cest la vie

  79. some leadership callings are inspiration, some are desperation, and some are relation

    This darned “human” thing we all have to deal with! It’s no wonder Satan’s plan seems appealing, sometimes. :) Usually when I’m cold, hungry, tired, etc. Come to think of it, just like the other things we use to ‘ease’ our way through life, from chocolate to alcohol.

    Fora like this are a very good way to help us sound off, see other viewpoints, realize we’re not alone, gain strength from each other, and put our chins down and keep moving forward.

  80. “It’s hard to tell from the official bios on, but a quick look makes it appear that at least three or four of the apostles are from homes that would be classified without question as blue collar.”

    Ray, which three or four apostles would you classify as having had blue collar jobs? I looked at the list and saw it 12 for 12 white collar. Maybe our definitions are different?

  81. I know everyone’s experience is different, but I’ve served in a couple of the bishoprics and the idea that we’d consider whether someone is white collar versus blue collar as a prerequisite for a calling is bizarre. I think the prevalence of white collar leaders at a ward level now versus historically is a a result of our changing economy, ward boundaries, and the reality that leaders will need to sacrifice time at work to serve in the church. Sacrificing time away from work is difficult for people who live paycheck to paycheck (whether white or blue collar).

    As to leadership at a higher level in the church, I think its natural that leaders consider your skills and career. If you are considering someone to be president of a stake, it would not make sense to ignore the fact that one person you are considering has been very successful running organizations in his professional career while one person has never run an organization. I do not think this is necessarily contrary to the spirit of revelation. I think the Lord is well aware of our skill-sets.This is why Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps were called as scribes. Joseph Smith, at least early on, could not have filled that role. Along that same line, I would not consider our last two prophets to behave been extremely successful in their professional capacities.

  82. Sorry, “have been” not behave.

  83. Rusty, I said they came from homes with blue collar backgrounds – not that they were blue collar workers.

  84. “…like all callings, some leadership callings are inspiration, some are desperation, and some are relation.” Yep.

    Of course, the main reason for callings is “human reasoning.” The one making and/or suggesting the calling often does so because they believe–falsely or not–that the candidate is the best choice for the job. Human reasoning is based partly on bias–including a bias against certain lower-paying professions like public school teachers, mechanics, etc.

    Obviously, often leaders are chosen based on a combination of these factors. Perhaps we need more of a focus on both inspiration and on eradicating bias towards those with lower incomes.

  85. Or maybe we can just focus on talking about things that we know something about and keeping quiet about things that we cannot know.

  86. Mark, that really doesn’t sound fun at all.

  87. The Other Clark says:

    I would consider Elder Uchdorf (military pilot) Elder Packer (seminary teacher) and Monson (Newspaper classified sales) blue collar. Although they rose to positions of prominence rapidly, their original career beginnings were quite humble.

  88. ^ I would not.

  89. 15 years ago I lived in the Bay Area in California in a small city just north of Berkeley. Our ward boundaries covered mostly areas of the East Bay not as affluent as many others nearby (Richmond, Pinole, El Sobrante, to name a few). Our Bishop was in his early 50s and worked as an elevator repair man. It was the first time, and so far the last time, that I’ve had a blue collar worker for a bishop. A really wonderful and kind bishop too.

  90. Joni, I am almost certain that your suburb is on the northern side of your Midwestern city. If not, the situation you describe is remarkably similar to a stake I lived in not long ago. I lived in the smaller college town with two wards. I can’t speak for everyone in town, but i think the general feeling was that though we appreciated the suburban ward, we didn’t feel that they were the backbone of the stake. Many of the other stake leaders came from a variety of smaller towns and there were a good number of strong, active families in these areas. It’s an issue that I never heard brought up.

    In my experience, the leadership of my wards and stakes hasn’t been overwhelmingly white collar (except in student wards). In my current rural Idaho area we have mostly farmers and mine workers serving in leadership, including the stake presidency. I also agree with the observation that in rural areas, most of the “white collar” workers are not far removed from their roots and often are still doing other things, like farming, on the side.

  91. I keep going back and forth about what, or how much to say. I will leave it that as a woman who left an abusive marriage, and has supported other women leaving them, no matter what jobs we had, and no matter hoe respected we were in our professional lives, we all were released from leadership callings, or taken out of the running. A group was talking about this recently, and we decided that if you are a woman who left, then it took a minimum of 15 years, to even be considered for leadership positions. When we found the average amount of time for the men we left, (we did not count the men who left the church) the average time for a leadership calling of some sort was 7.8 years. We counted any presidency, clerk or stake calling of responsibility, and from the time of divorce or legal separation.

    I know the group isn’t really talking about women, or abuse, but I just can’t let us be a completely forgotten/unrecognized part of the discussion. It seems men are “forgiven” faster than women, or at least become “trustworthy” faster. The only group more ignored? Women who have never married. Sigh.

  92. melodynew says:

    White collar for me in Utah County. Without exception. That may have to do with the areas in which I’ve lived, but that’s my experience.

    Professional/financial success has apparently become the qualifying characteristic for church leadership. .. long gone are the biblical days of one’s genealogy or tribe delineating one’s “chosen” status. These days, it’s money. Whether that is good or bad, I don’t know, but I think Nibley was on to something.

    Also, I’ve had a wide variety of experiences with my mostly white collar bishops. Some were filled with common sense and wisdom, others were completely removed and unable to connect with my experience as a single working mom. So, I can’t say whether WC or BC individuals make the best leaders. I’m just saying, WC wins the prize for shear number of leadership positions in my neck of the woods.

  93. Where I live there seems to be a trend of calling CES employees into Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies. Feels a bit like paid clergy. I don’t have a problem with that, but it seems a bit hypocritical from a church so proud of their lay clergy.

  94. Joni, I know what “Midwestern stake” you belong to! Reason being because I belong to the stake in which your stake has its Sunday meetings and have some really good friends from your ward. I moved to the area almost 5 years ago and was very confused by that entire setup. As for our leadership our stake has a large immigrant population both from South of the Boarder and the Pacific Islands so a good portion of our leadership is comprised of blue collar. We have a pretty fun mix of great people.

  95. In 40 years my ward has NEVER had anyone but a university professor or physician as a bishop. The stake is run by our CES man and he actually made an announcement that the ward would never want for bishops with the university and hospital providing a sufficient stream of PhDs and MDs into his hands. We don’t have any big corporations or lawyers in the area. The previous SP mentioned as he was finishing his calling that the church sent out word to put CES people in leadership positions (bishoprics and stakes) to help the church navigate through a leadership “crisis” made by the growing church outside the mormon corridor.

    I’m surprised no one has brought this up, but corporate people are for the most part numbers people. They are business guys who see the bottom line and equate people with numbers. Most wards get by with this type of leadership, but many will tell you that they appreciate having a people-professional for a bishop after being led by an accountant.

  96. Julia the poet – there’s a possibility that divorced women aren’t receiving leadership callings b/c ward leadership might assume you have enough on your plate as a single mom. That’s not necessarily a valid reason not to extend the calling, but it may not be that they deem you “unworthy”.

  97. James Heilpern says:

    The best bishop I ever had was a general contractor. The three counselors he had over six years were also definitely all blue collar, although I don’t remember their specific occupations. I think one of them was an air conditioning repairmen. At least two were ex-military. What makes this especially interesting is that these men were called to preside over the Singles Ward in Chapel Hill, NC. The majority of the members of the ward were graduate students at either UNC-Chapel Hill or Duke University. When I arrived as a freshman, I was initially underwhelmed by the bishopric. The previous bishop had passed away about six months before I got there and had been a world-famous chemist. Many of the older members of the ward commented that he had been the smartest man they had ever known. At age 18, I wanted “brilliant” church leaders, and didn’t feel I could learn much from these humble men.

    I was an idiot. An absolute idiot. That bishop taught me more about the atonement, receiving revelation, church government, and discipleship than any other man in my life other than my own father and my (maybe) my mission president. About two years after I got back from my mission, he was released as bishop and called into the stake presidency. As the stake institute president, I had the great fortune of continuing to work with him for another two years in that capacity. The high counselor assigned to oversee the institute program in the stake was a professor of public policy at Duke, who became one of my spiritual mentors in his own right. The two often initially disagreed during meetings, but I had the great privilege of watching these men “counsel together” (with me and the Institute Director) and “study [issues] out in their mind” and come to a unified consensus guided by the Spirit.

    On a side note, that bishop is still in the stake presidency. He helped pick his successor in the Singles Ward and I was present at the sacrament meeting when he testified that his successor had been called by revelation. His successor . . . was a business man and a great spiritual giant in his own right.

  98. My mission president — also in North Carolina, where I may’ve known Mr Heilpern’s bishop — was a college dropout & cable repairman. Prez told us quite emphatically not to follow his path but to go and get an education so we’d have more time and skills to serve in the kingdom later in life.

    Perhaps there’s another skewing factor — in my present ward, I can only think of four blue-collar families among the active membership. We have many, many grey-collar folks but few blue. There’s not much blue collar anywhere I’ve lived of late, either in or out of the church.

  99. Oh, and my current stake president manages a convenience store, while his counsellors are an ol’ country boy who got into them computers back in the eighties (I just learned this this morning talking to his daughter; I’d thought the guy was a contractor) and an insurance agent, respectively.

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