Leonard Arrington’s Nine Points

Image resultI recently ordered a copy of Gregory Prince’s biography of Church historian and founder of the Church History Library, Leonard Arrington. If you aren’t familiar with Arrington, here’s a brief blurb from Wikipedia:
Leonard James Arrington (July 2, 1917 – February 11, 1999) was an American author, academic and the founder of the Mormon History Association. He is known as the “Dean of Mormon History”[1] and “the Father of Mormon History”[2] because of his many influential contributions to the field. He was the first Church Historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1972 to 1982, and was director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History from 1982 until 1986.

From a diary entry dated August 17, 1992, Arrington expressed his frustration with several organizational aspects of the church. He titled this entry “Things I don’t like about the church.” This was his list:

1. The imposition of one pattern for everybody rather than suggesting two or three patterns and letting local wards or stakes or districts follow the one most convenient for them. Examples, the three hour meeting schedule on Sundays.

This is an interesting one. I know there are some places where a two-hour block is done for local reasons, and in other cases where the institutional church has done it as a pilot program. His suggestion is akin to states rights over national–a preference for local governance over institutional decision-making. I’m not sure who out there is clamoring to keep church at three hours (except the lovers of status quo maybe, but again, every single person I know would love cutting by an hour).

2. Appointing the highest tithe payers to positions of leadership rather than the most capable or worthy. In choosing stake leaders, the General Authority comes with a list of the 15 or 20 highest tithe payers and starts down the list to choose a stake president and high council.

This is an interesting one, and news to me. It’s not inconsistent with anything I’ve ever heard before, but I have never heard the angle about being the highest tithe payers. I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to rise to the top of that bucket merely by consistently paying a full tithe, but it is a bit unsavory if there is preference given to higher earners.

3. The maintenance of a disloyalty file on liberals, including articles they’ve written with questionable statements, newspaper clippings. These are used against the person without him or her knowing what is in the file and having a chance to deny or explain it. The supposition is that liberals are out to destroy or embarrass the church, a supposition entirely false.

This one is pretty terrible, and given the timing of when he wrote it, it’s particularly disturbing. Mere weeks later saw the infamous excommunications known as the September Six. This appears to still be done based on anecdotal information from dissidents who were excommunicated; the so-called Strengthening the Members Committee appears to be alive and well. That Arrington was specifically concerned about the targeting of liberal members, not heretics and apostates, is concerning if we wish to maintain the semblance of political neutrality. We have recently seen, though, that fundamentalists are also tracked with actions taken against their membership. I wrote an OP about the conservative bias against liberal tactics back when Kate & John were excommunicated.

4. The insistence on unanimity among the Twelve, which means that the most obstinate member, the one holding out against the rest, wins.

I have blogged about this before, the fact that in group dynamics, when unanimity is required, the inflexible person carries the day; rigidity is rewarded.

5. The insistence on choosing a new president from the senior member of the Twelve. This means we’ll always have a president far beyond his energetic, creative period of life. We should retire persons from the Twelve at age 75 and never choose anyone over that age to be president of the Church.

Interesting that he wrote this when he was 75. I have often thought we should do 72. Church leaders continue to get older and older thanks to advances in medical treatments and our practice of always choosing the most senior member. If we retired the current Twelve based on Arrington’s suggestion, the only ones who would not have already retired are: Bednar, Christofferson, Anderson, Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund. Even Uchtdorf would be sipping virgin mojitos on a beach somewhere.

6. The First Presidency and Twelve should call a person in to talk with him/her before putting that person on the blacklist, not to be cited, his/her books not to be sold in Church bookstores, not to be allowed to speak in Church, etc.

I believe he’s talking about Mormon authors and other Mormon speakers and writers rather than lay members undergoing church discipline. I agree that this suggestion sounds reasonable and would probably result in fewer allies being made into enemies. I’m not sure what the current practice is.

In the Wikipedia entry about Arrington, we find that the Twelve reacted to criticism of the new “open” approach to history and quashed some of their publications:

A copy of the paper reached the Quorum of the Twelve via Mark Petersen, and as a result of the ensuing discussion, several LDS historians were barred from publishing in church sources.

One example of an objection:

After the publication of Dean C. Jessee’s Letters of Brigham Young to His SonsBoyd K. Packer, then an apostle, wrote a letter to the first presidency objecting to the inclusion of Young’s tobacco use and the fact that his descendants were unhappy with the way Young’s will was carried out. Packer preferred that a sanitized version be published and believed that the History Division’s work ought to be sent through the Correlation Program.

Several authors instead published through other presses without the pressure to sanitize their materials.

7. The Church should allow historians to present “human” material in biographies of presidents and General Authorities.

This is clearly a theme for Arrington’s life’s work. As a historian, he was aware of the warts and all versions of the lives of Mormon figures, but he often felt constrained by the quorum of the Twelve not to share information they felt was embarrassing or unflattering. This has clearly backfired all over the place now that Google exists.

8. We should allow women to be associates to the Twelve and sit in on their meetings. The Relief Society president should sit in on bishopric meetings. Mothers should be allowed to stand in the circle to bless their babies, confirm newly baptized persons as members of the Church, just as they now can open and close meetings with prayer.

There are now women in the Ward Council meetings which many wards favor over male-only meetings for decision-making. I’m not aware of women being routinely included in meetings with the Twelve, however, and female input is an obvious blind spot for this group. Women are only for the first time being invited into councils at the highest levels in the church, but to do so they had to add “and Family” to the names of these groups as if that’s the only way women can be invited to contribute, a very limited perspective. The church’s prohibition on women holding their babies during a baby blessing is very hurtful and has been rigidly enforced in the handbook despite how nasty and exclusionary it feels to women who just gave birth. Arrington’s suggestions go beyond what many women have even asked for themselves.

I also note that in all his writing, he uses gender neutral pronouns–even when he’s talking about strictly male positions! He’s very inclusive.

9. The manuals used in adult Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society classes are absolutely hopeless. Using the same gospel doctrine manual every fourth year; the same with Priesthood manuals. Hopeless. Why can’t they assign a skilled and experienced writer to do a new manual every year?

I can’t say these have gotten better since he wrote this in 1992. The manuals need a serious overhaul. Hopefully, E. Uchtdorf will make headway on these with the right talent being appointed to rewrite them. Arrington made this criticism in his diary 26 years ago!

There were a few other choice quotes from Arrington’s biography in this same section. He talked about temple attendance in a letter to his children:

I have not yet come to feel the necessity of frequent attendance at the temple. I think I get as much inspiration watching birds, or looking at the mountains and the wilderness, as participating in the rituals there.

I have to agree with him there. He also wrote the following to his children, a few months before his death in 1999:

There are LDS families in which loyalty to Mormon doctrines, practices, and leaders is so strong that the children feel they have to conform in order to assure the love of their parents. The parents love the church more than their children. Children sense that the parents would choose the church over their children if there was that choice. Young people are sometimes brought up to idealize church leaders, both past and present. But no human being is perfectly benevolent and wise. Leaders have their own life stories, complete with biases, fears, and needs as well as unique strengths and gifts. They can seek for the Spirit–for the Light–but they are still human.

Clearly someone who saw the very human side of church leaders could easily see that too much fealty to humans was unwise and would have some unforeseen negative outcomes. I’ve only just scratched the surface of the book, but so far, I can tell Leonard Arrington and I are kindred spirits.

  • What do you think of his nine points? Are some more relevant than others?
  • Do any of them surprise you? Are there some you dislike?
  • Have you ever made your own similar list? What’s on it?
  • Do you think Leonard Arrington would approve of the current improvements being made in openness about history or would he still be disappointed at the lack of openness?



  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with his list. I understand why some of those things exist, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal or that I like them. For instance, absent a Pope Benedict there is essentially no chance whatsoever of changing who becomes president and the ideal of unanimous decision making; the succession crisis was just too traumatic and looms large in the collective memory of leadership. But organizationally, those are terrible practices. (Ask yourself how many leading corporations or other groups run their affairs that way.) These things are not mandated by heaven; they developed historically, but have existed for so long that they have the patina of revelation and no one is going to feel free to try to modify them.

  2. I will be thinking on this all day today. These are not the rantings of a heathen. This comes from intimate understanding and wanting things to be better.

  3. My list would be similar to Arrington’s. However, it is at least sometimes not true that “In choosing stake leaders, the General Authority comes with a list of the 15 or 20 highest tithe payers and starts down the list to choose a stake president and high council.” Here the initial list generally includes current stake leaders, high councilmen and bishops and some former holders of those positions. It is clearly not a matter of being the highest tithe payers. There are, however, some reports I cannot verify of high tithepayers and donors being “rewarded” with position or even with pressure from SLC for disciplinary action against folks they want to hurt. I wonder about the source of Arrington’s belief on the high tithepayer list, but, of course, a diary entry is not footnoted.

  4. Reading the book last year, I felt a sense of relief in reading the referenced list. I am not alone, I thought. I still feel that way and was happy for the reminder in this post.

  5. I have participated in several stake organizations/reorganizations, and have never seen any hint that a list of the “highest tithe payers” were singled out for consideration. As JR says, the usual list of persons to be interviewed begins with the current stake presidency, high councilors, and bishops and branch presidents, and may expand to include others that the current stake presidency feels should be included. The men in that group are typically asked whether they are full tithe-payers, but no questions are ever asked about the amounts paid.

  6. “The men in that group are typically asked whether they are full tithe-payers, but no questions are ever asked about the amounts paid.” Devils advocate: maybe because the authority already knows that information?

    Though, I agree, I don’t believe the “highest amount” thing is the current practice–as evidenced by a family member called to be SP.

  7. Yeah, the high tithe payer thing may have been a thing when Arrington was writing, but I’m reasonably confident, based on second hand knowledge of those involved in many stake reorganizations, both from the general authority side and from the stake leadership side, that it’s not part of the process.

    I don’t doubt that generally only full tithe payers are considered, but the amounts aren’t part of the process.

  8. whizzbang says:

    My current Stake President is fairly broke, he has 7 kids and is okay but he’s not financially better off by a long shot than many others in the Stake. One of the highest tithe payers was my former Bishop, he was too put it mildly, awful. I think my current Stake President is the most balanced one of those who were interviewed.

  9. I read the book last year. So much great stuff. Much pain and disappointment too.
    The tithing correlation to certain callings bothered me as well because, although, in my experience Stake Presidents are always successful in their field, I can think of a couple I’ve had who were definitely not the highest tithe payers in that stake but they among the highest, no doubt. It’s clear a man called as SP must have also demonstrated the highest level of loyalty to the institution.

    But Arrington must have had a legitimate reason for arriving at that conclusion; he didn’t make stuff up.

    I love the list. Yes to a 2 hr block. I’ve heard that members outside the U.S. like the 3 hrs because they have fewer opportunities to mingle with each other. I understand; I joined in a foreign country as a youth and couldn’t get enough time with the members. But that’s where Arrigton’s “multiple patterns” option comes in.

  10. > I’m not sure who out there is clamoring to keep church at three hours…

    I’m not clamoring. But I have two thoughts:

    (1) In a two-hour block, Sunday School would get the axe. No big deal? Maybe, but Gospel Doctrine is the ONLY formal opportunity to actually talk about the Scriptures (sometimes), and the ONLY formal opportunity for men and women together to talk about anything.

    (2) Let’s be honest: I’m very selfish with my time. I have so little truly self-directed time that it’s easy for me to resent being in Church for three hours, or three more hours of leadership meetings, or not having two Saturdays like the rest of the world. I’d love cutting an hour off church time, and two would be even better. And maybe it’s for just that reason that it shouldn’t happen. Appealing as the Catholic church schedule seems, making it so flexible as to seem unimportant is I think one reason why there are so few practicing Catholics. I feel that in many ways we’re not the LDS *community* we once were, and that’s really the purpose of the institutional church.

    >the General Authority comes with a list of the 15 or 20 highest tithe payers

    Oh, I SO hope this isn’t true! But I’ve never been in a stake where it *couldn’t* have been true. My full tithing is probably barely a tithe of my SP’s tithing. And there’s not a single member of a bishopric in our stake except in our Hispanic ward that wouldn’t be considered affluent by any reasonable standard–myself included, even though I’m likely the lowest paid of the lot. It bothers me that a bishop, let alone an SP, let ALONE a GA, seems to be rarely a full tithepayer from humble circumstances, at least in the US.

  11. Eric Facer says:

    A couple of thoughts.

    1. I, too, I think unanimous decision making is a bad idea, but not for the reason you mention. In a setting such as the quorum of the twelve, dissenters, especially if they are junior members, are under tremendous pressure to abandon their objections and conform. Group cohesion at the expense of independent thought often produces group think. Let the dissenting opinion stand, for the record, but allow the majority (or a super-majority, if you prefer) to implement their decision. Knowing that not everyone is convinced that it is a wise decision may make them more willing to make course corrections, should the need arise. Besides, our jurisprudence is replete with instances where the principled views of the lone dissenter later became the majority view.

    2. Though Arrington’s views regarding the wisdom of abandoning dumbed-downed, homiletic church history in favor of the “warts-and-all approach” have been vindicated, Prince’s book reveals that Arrington was a political naif when it came to getting the institution to change its approach. He didn’t grasp the need to build a supportive coalition among select members of the quorum. In other words, he was terrible at office politics. As a result, his opponents easily outmaneuvered him and quashed his initiatives.

    Thanks for the post, Angela. Good stuff.

  12. Since the arguments against requiring unanimity are directly contrary to the instructions contained in D&C 107, we’re faced with a tough choice: either conclude that D&C 107 is in fact not the will of the Lord, which might just leave us out with the folks who, as Gamaliel said, might “haply . . . be found even to fight against God,” or admit that whatever principles apply to corporate board rooms or political caucuses might not apply to the councils of the Church.

  13. “he was terrible at office politics” always sounds like a compliment to me, and I say that after navigating them successfully for over two decades myself!

  14. Mark B: D&C 107 says decisions are to be made in “unity and righteousness,” not “unanimity.” Unity is defined as “the state of being united or joined as a whole” and unanimity is defined as “agreement by all people involved; consensus.” Perhaps it is possible to be unified while not being in total agreement on a specific vote. But we are also forgetting that little caveat “in righteousness.” Not every decision a voting body makes is driven by inspiration or revelation. Sometimes it’s driven by personal agendas and politics. People are human and therefore limited in their scope of vision.

  15. Thanks for the post. Re: #1, I have now been involved in 3 stake reorgs. I can promise you that in each instance, some of the 15-25 interviewed were some of the lowest tithe payers in the stake and some where of the highest, with most in between. And I do know how much they all paid.

    Angela C, I think Mark is referring to DyC 107:27. “Unity and Righteousness” is only used in the section heading.

    Long-time reader and very infrequent poster here, but I’ve found myself posting now on all the blogs I frequent. I appreciate all the research and thought you all put into your posts. Thanks.

  16. I agree with most of these, but two that I don’t agree with:

    I have not yet come to feel the necessity of frequent attendance at the temple. I think I get as much inspiration watching birds, or looking at the mountains and the wilderness, as participating in the rituals there.

    My personal experience doesn’t accord with this at all; this is the difference between a more generic spiritual-type religion and the religion of the living God. Nice classical music and waves crashing in the background bring their own kind of soothing, but it’s fundamentally different from standing in God’s holy place and being instructed about the things of the eternities. I’m always skeptical when people try to equate the two. Of course, Joseph Smith himself said that mountains in some ways act as temples, and there’s a long world tradition of equating the two.

    The First Presidency and Twelve should call a person in to talk with him/her before putting that person on the blacklist, not to be cited, his/her books not to be sold in Church bookstores, not to be allowed to speak in Church, etc.

    This kind of assumes that people whose books are being put on the blacklist are acting in good faith towards Church leadership, when there are cases when they clearly are not. An informal chat could be easily framed as pressuring or an attempt to manipulate free discourse, and this, in turn, would play into the martyr narrative being tried before the authoritarian ecclesiastical inquisition. The conversation could be recorded and a moment on non-perfection on the part of the GA posted online, etc. I see the function in keeping some distance between people trying to corner the Church on some issue and high Church leadership.

  17. Angela, D&C 107:27 does require unanimity to make a decision of the Q12 equal in authority to that of the First Presidency. Perhaps that’s what Mark B. had in mind. But then vv. 28-29 modify that principle without defining the circumstances might make unanimity of the full Q12 “impossible” so that a smaller group can act as the quorum and still have its decision equal in authority. Then, of course, in support of the “in righteousness” caveat of the unsigned introductory blurb in the printed scriptures, v.32 acknowledges the possibility that a decision of any of these quorums (First Presidency, Q12, Seventy) could be “made in unrighteousness.” That little acknowledgment is, of course, a scriptural basis for the doctrine of fallibility that some may wish were not a thing. It is an acknowledgment that mere unanimity among the Q12 does not define the Lord’s will, however, binding it is on the Church as an organization, unless and until changed Of course, if Section 107 were changed or deleted from the D&C, it would not be the first time the D&C were treated that way.

  18. Tiberius–I suspect that second item doesn’t happen anymore. The author of the CES Letter had multiple resources to publish his text, and a church “blacklist” would have done nothing to slow Internet distribution or publication through non-church avenues. Back in the day things might have been different.

  19. Well, there’s unanimity and there’s unanimity. A system where losing parties have a veto is different from a system where losing parties expresses disagreement, but recognize that the majority is against them and agree to support the decision even though they disagreed with it initially. I don’t think section 107 necessarily means that everyone has to enthusiastically agree with the substance of the decision if they agree to support it.

  20. Anonymous: I think the blacklist (which I agree, I doubt there’s an official “blacklist”) inasmuch as something like that might exist via word of mouth, would apply specifically to publishing things in Deseret Book, giving a fireside, etc., Basically, anything that involves Church-sponsored mechanisms for information distribution, and in that case I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of protocol in place for vetting the orthodoxy of authors. As far as just publishing something somewhere, you’re right; that boat sailed once the railroad and miners came into Salt Lake.

  21. @Abbey

    I believe in wards that have done the 2-hour block, Sunday School and Relief Society/Priesthood rotate so that one week you have one, and the next week you have the other. That way, neither gets the axe.

    As far as one-hour church goes, it is not only the Catholic church that has one hour services, but nearly all of Christendom. While it’s true that many Christian churches have seen declining membership, some have not, and among those that have, it is unlikely that having a one hour service was the causative effect in that decline.

  22. John Mansfield says:

    Arrington, in giving the example of the 3-hour block of meetings, was probably not wishing for a 2-hour block. Likely he wanted to go back to the pre-1980 pattern of a stand-alone priesthood meeting in the early morning and a 100-minute sacrament meeting in the mid or late afternoon, with the option of the 3-hour block for units where most of ward has to travel most of an hour each way to their building. Or maybe I am projecting. The variations I do see allowed are beginning time in single-unit buildings (9 AM for some, 10 AM for others) and whether sacrament meeting starts or ends the block, which I suppose ward/branch and stake leaders arrive at by consider what works best for their units.

  23. Cody Hatch says:

    Great post, Angela. I like Arrington’s suggested changes but don’t hold out any hope of any real change on these issues.

  24. John Mansfield says:

    The Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake now has three buildings that each house a single ward, and those three wards all start their meetings at 11 AM. Interesting choice.

  25. littledick1956 says:

    In complete agreement with the list. Particularly with regard to familial love. I am going through a faith crisis and currently do not hold a temple recommend. My wife has told me her faith is stronger than her love for me. Divorce is the likely outcome if I don’t get a recommend. So much for a family focused church.

  26. I can add to the comments about the SP being one of the top 20 tithe payers in the stake. Having been a clerk and stake auditor I know this is not the case. Of the past 6 SPs I have had, 1likely was, 2 maybes, 1 had a small chance, and 2 definitely were not on the top 20 list.
    All new SPs were called from those in the callings mentioned above.
    Maybe the list was to supplement the usual suspects.

  27. I don’t see that anyone has responded to the question about openness regarding church history. Having done a fair amount of research at the CHL, I can say that the openness and transparency is far greater now than during Arrington’s tenure, and I believe he would be very pleased. President Hinckley recognized that if we didn’t get a handle on our own narrative, others with less scrupulous motives would dominate. So instead of online searches displaying three or four pages of anti-Mormon related hits before the church’s own information, official church items generally are in the first few hits now. That’s how it was fifteen to twenty years ago.

    There are a handful of things that are known to exist that are not open to research. Those mostly seem to be records and journals where confidentiality concerning finances or disciplinary councils are concerned. That is to be expected, and I understand that. Specifically, the Joseph F. Smith journals from his time in the First Presidency are there somewhere, but not available for research (or barely acknowledged). On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised when I requested access to James Bleak’s records of the Southern Utah mission, which were restricted at the time. I had indicated what I was looking for, and for what purpose, and I was allowed to look at the originals with the provision that I was not to publish any of those financial or disciplinary entries that Bleak had recorded. They were all in there, and I was allowed to see whatever I wanted. I do believe now that Bleak’s record has been digitized, and those confidential entries are rightly redacted in the digital images.

    There was speculation for decades about the Council of 50 minutes; now they are out there, and while there are some interesting items in them, I came away thinking “I’m glad I didn’t have to sit through that particular meeting.” That’s real transparency for you.

  28. Great post. I’m gonna have to read the book now. I agree with Arrington on every one of his points. For years, I’ve been telling people–as if they wanted to hear it!–that the emeritus age of 70 should be applied to apostles, lowered to 65 for seventies, with even lower emeritus ages applied throughout the stakes and wards (wherever possible, anyway–syncing up with Arrington’s #1 point), with maybe 35 being a ceiling-level age for bishops and Relief Society presidents. It would give young people more meaningful opportunities to serve. (We have so many young people languishing in my ward. All these strong, impressive young men and women come home from their missions, get married (or not), then get shunted off to the nursery or Primary or don’t get callings at all. By the scores. And up at the top, in SLC, all the 80- and 90-year-olds wonder why young people drift away, and they invariably blame it on external factors, or on the young people themselves, or on their parents.) We old fogies, men and women both, could perhaps serve as second counselors in presidencies; or we could form permanent Reactivation Committees, and be the ones who track down mystery people; or we could invent a Council of Elders, where we’d be on-call and available to advise the young leaders of the ward as they feel the need, or serve as a ready reservoir of substitutes or interim leaders, similar to full-time senior couple missionaries.

    Per Brother Arrington’s #8: In our ward–though it’s FAR from the most progressive unit in the church–the RS president is a regular, permanent presence in our PEC meetings. It’s a small step toward sense and wisdom, but If I could have my druthers, we’d do away with PEC altogether, and just have ward council, expanded ward council, welfare meeting, and missionary correlation (with the same makeup as ward council, but with a missionary/reactivation focus).

  29. It’s a really good list — from a person acting entirely in good faith and privately, in his diary. As such, it seems like the list should be persuasive and give serious pause for consideration to those currently in positions of authority.

  30. Oh! I said I agree with all of Arrington’s points. Mistake. Like Tiberius, I disagree with Arrington’s the-temple-ain’t-no-thang idea. I love the mountains. I love the ocean. Still, the temple is different. It’s not six of one, half dozen of the other. I need nature, and I need the temple. They feed me in different ways.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with others’ dubiousness about the highest tithing thing. Looking back even to that time I doubt that was literally true. I suspect that was a kind of shorthand for (a) tithe payers who (b) were in some sense professionally successful (so as to suggest an ability to lead and manage an organization like a ward or stake).

  32. Brazil girl says:

    @Michael-I really like your ideas on energizing the younger members and age limits, etc.. Not sure if 35 should be a ceiling (it would severely limit some places) but the ideas in general are great.

  33. Brazil girl says:

    Regarding the disagreements with Arrington about regular temple attendance: I agree with the sentiments of others that the temple is necessary in my life and it is much different than standing on a mountain looking at pretty flowers. Perhaps Arrington was referring to what might have been an expectation to attend regularly as in, perhaps, weekly. I’ve felt pressure when living near a temple to try to attend weekly.. Sometimes even monthly is difficult. With full time work, two small kids, a time consuming calling, three hours more of church in a week sometimes is the difference between my being able to spend time with the kids or not. So, the word “regular” can and should mean different things to different people depending on the stage/situation of their lives.

  34. It is unfair to characterize Arrington’s letter to his children as a “the-temple-ain’t-no-thang idea”. He wrote “I have not yet come to feel the necessity of frequent attendance at the temple. …” This clearly leaves open the idea that he may someday come to feel that necessity and experience a difference between spiritual sustenance in the temple and spiritual sustenance in nature. He is far from the only one who could claim intense spiritual experience/revelation in non-temple settings or whose temple experience has been so far dominated by negative experience with the form and language of the rituals and/or with negative interactions with some of the temple staff. His statement of the then current state of his own experience is hardly something to disagree with based on someone else’s experience.

  35. Brazil girl, What I’m talking about has nothing to do with standing on a mountain looking at pretty flowers. Take Joseph’s first vision for a well-known example.

  36. I honestly don’t understand the rants here about the 3 hour block of meetings.

    If you don’t want to go to one, don’t. Refuse the calling. Get a sub. Say no. Go to Sunday School but miss Relief Society. Take a nap in your car during Sunday School and then attend Priesthood if you like it. No one has a gun to your head.

    Some weeks I appteciate all 3. Other weeks I take a break from one or all. Yes, I have a calling. If you don’t like church, then do something about it. Take your life back…or figure out what you want out of church and get it.

  37. ^ Haha what glasscluster said. I personally pilot the two-hour block all the time.

    Unfortunately, Sunday School, easily the least worthwhile meeting for me for years, is always in the middle.

  38. @Michael- It bothers me when people say “shunted off to Primary” or suggest the bishop or Relief Society president are more “meaningful” callings. I’ve long advocated (in my own ward and stake) that the best and brightest (however you define those): the ones we want to be bishops, stake presidents, dynamic gospel doctrine teacher, or strong Relief Society president, should be the very people to serve in Primary! We need strong, confident leaders teaching and guiding the children. It is not a third-class calling, and we need to stop treating it as such.

  39. @Michael

    As someone in the 25-40 range, and whose peers are in that range, I don’t know any who wish they were in the “big” callings; they in fact don’t feel at all like they’d be able to swing such callings at this stage in life. Your kids are young; your career is accelerating; you feel like you’re running on all gears already. When people in this age group are offered big callings, I know a lot who feel, “Why can’t they call older people to these callings, those who don’t have children at home anymore, and/or are retired, and don’t have as much going on.” Even the fathers bemoan missing out on time with their young children. I have to agree that taking a young mother or father out of the home for 20 hours a week is not a great idea. Certainly, mothers of young children bemoan being left alone for almost all of Sunday when their husband is in the bishopric.


    Whether you regularly attend RS/Priesthood meetings is one of the temple recommend questions. Of course, I always point out to others that attending Sunday School is not part of that question….

  40. Brazil girl says:

    Amen on the need to treat primary as a more important calling. Who shouldn’t be going into primary are newly baptized our new motive-ins as primary can feel rather isolating.

    With my own children at a critical stage of faith development, I’m so grateful for the women and men who are faithfully serving them and teaching.

  41. I’m sure this isn’t anywhere approaching a rule of thumb and maybe this only applies outside of the Mormon corridor, but I often see the calling of bishop go to a man in the ward that has the best/highest paying or one of the better jobs.

    The doctor or lawyer in a ward full of blue collar workers often (note: didn’t say always) gets the job. High counselors are often people the stake is grooming to become bishop and ex-bishops. When they’re looking for a new stake president they start by interviewing the people in the various bishoprics and the high counselors. If those people are typically the men in the ward that are among those with the best jobs and if they are all full tithe payers then it could appear as though the new stake president comes out of the top 20 tithe payers in the stake.

    I’m not saying this is the rule, but I’ve seen it happen often in practice.

  42. Re: “I have not yet come to feel the necessity of frequent attendance at the temple. I think I get as much inspiration watching birds, or looking at the mountains and the wilderness, as participating in the rituals there.”

    There’s a big difference between going to the temple because I want to go to the temple and going to the temple because I feel compelled to go to the temple. If I want to go to the temple it’s an uplifting experience. If I attend because I feel compelled to attend, it’s not as uplifting of an experience.

    There’s a designated night each week for our ward to attend the temple and we’re expected to fill the sessions on those nights. Local leaders set goals for everyone to attend the temple at least once per month and we talk about that goal often. I’ve sat in on far too many meetings about how we need to repent because the temple sessions aren’t as full as leaders would like them to be and how it’s an indication that we are taking the temple for granted. We do a lot of compelling people to attend the temple in my area.

    But I’m a big boy. I can ignore the near constant insistence that I go to the temple, I can ignore all the guilt trips, I can attend when I feel the need to attend, which for me equates to about once a year or once every other year. I could say, “I have not yet come to feel the necessity of frequent attendance at the temple.” and still feel like the temple holds value in my life. I think our culture often mistakes quantity for quality.

    Taking things at my own pace is seldom deemed adequate by my spiritual community but I’ve carved out a nice little place for myself among the second class citizenry.

  43. These 9 points plus a little inclusiveness (10) and the willingness by church leadership to actually implement these things would go a long way toward retaining moderate to progressive members. Of course the fact that they are ignored sends an unmistakable message in the opposite direction.

  44. nobody, really says:

    I used to have a boss who turned down a couple of callings to be in the Bishopric, one to be the Bishop, and one as Stake YM president. Highly successful guy – not just financially. He explained to me that the assumption, especially in Salt Lake City/Provo/Ogden, is that the Lord rewards righteous people with success and wealth. Since they want righteous men to fill these key callings, they use success as a shorthand method to determine righteousness. That is why he and his wife started making a point of dressing in next to nothing and going jogging past the Stake President’s house at least three nights a week. He had specific goals for his career, but having a 30+ hour/week church calling was going to derail his plans. His personal time was limited, and he preferred to spend what time he could with his family, not stuck in yet another meeting where only one person had the authority to make a decision. I don’t fault him at all, because he never did anything halfway and any calling that gave him that kind of authority would have eaten every last minute of his time.

    My next job put everything into perfect perspective – my boss was the CFO of a really prominent regional bank, but it made national news when his girlfriend found his daughter passed out from booze and drugs in the basement party dungeon. Sometimes success is a result of talent and hard work, and not because a person makes it to all their meetings and cries on cue when bearing testimony.

    We also need to stop treating “major” callings as a reward. If my boss came to me and let me know I was going to be managing 300 people, but there would be no pay raise and I’d have to do that in addition to my normal job, I think I might have some highly uncharitable things to say. Anybody who wants to be a Bishop probably deserves it, but their ward certainly may not have done anything sufficiently bad enough to deserve them. Some callings come with a lot of respect and honor, but respect doesn’t pay the bills, and honor doesn’t allow me time with my family.

  45. Bro. Jones says:

    Trevor & Michael: because I am filled with charity, I want my brothers and sisters to be freed from the three-hour yoke, and not just myself. :) Seriously though, I think the primary kids get the worst of it. If we spent a third hour on fellowship, service, letting the kids just play (so many other churches have playgrounds at their buildings!) or some other tangible activity, I wouldn’t mind so much.

  46. Bruce Hanks says:

    I absolutely LOVED this book!!! I devoured it! It has been very helpful in helping to reconcile many feelings I’ve had with the LDS Church. I highly recommend it!

  47. Loved the post and looking forward to reading the book. The selection of SPs item was disturbing to me, but I was heartened by those who shared personal experiences that laid that mostly laid that worry to rest. Thanks!

    Re: temple attendance. The idea that has made a difference for me has been focusing on being a proxy for a person who desires a stronger covenant relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This in itself is enough to make it valuable to me. Personal insights and inspirations are a bonus. Looking back, I wish my husband and I had attended the temple more regularly (we had awful temple attendance for years). My husband and I were both working and busy with 5 children. Now I wonder what family blessings we traded away because we weren’t willing to make the sacrifice to attend more frequently. Hindsight.

  48. My experience has rarely been that the most affluent person in my ward is called to be the bishop. Never, now that I think back on it. But as it relates to comments about how doctors and lawyers are sometimes called over blue collar persons, while I haven’t seen that myself, I would just hasten to add that among several other talents, a bishop and/or stake president has to be able to organize and run a large and dynamic administration. No doubt very faithful, loving, charitable people have sometimes not been picked because they lacked that organizational ability. Whether it’s fair to use occupation as a proxy for that skill, I’d probably say no, but I suspect *some* higher earners might be seen to correlate with it–e.g., if he can run a business/agency/law practice/doctor’s office, he can run a ward.

    But of course, 1 Corinthians 1:27.

  49. Thanks for the post! I’m fantasizing about what it would be like for ward members to bring their “lists” to the first Sunday council meeting to discuss and to make goals from.

    Bro. Jones: I love the playground idea. I also hope we someday spend at least one of the hours (or entire blocks sometimes) in actual community service. Perhaps I should just be proactive as suggested by someone else in this tread and start doing that myself. Another’s comment about Mormons being last to the party of interfaith service is unfortunate–I’d like to see us shift away from our intense focus on proselyting to others (and even to each other) and channel that energy toward down-to-earth community building–going about “doing good.”

    nobdoy, really: I agree “we need to stop treating ‘major’ calling as rewards.” I think the core tension between callings is decision-making privilege–the simple fact is that executive power is held by very few people in wards (and stakes, and at every level of the church) which I believe unavoidably sends the message that those outside leadership positions are somehow less qualified or worthy to make decisions.

  50. “Re #9. “The manuals used in adult Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society classes are absolutely hopeless.”
    “I can’t say these have gotten better since he wrote this in 1992. The manuals need a serious overhaul. …. Arrington made this criticism in his diary 26 years ago!”
    Yes, he did make this criticism 26 years ago, and the manuals were all changed shortly after, 1995-96 or thereabouts. We’ve had the teachings of the Presidents manuals, a new one every year, and more recently, Come Follow Me for the youth. Maybe things have not gotten better, but they are different now than what he was talking about.

  51. “I think the core tension between callings is decision-making privilege–the simple fact is that executive power is held by very few people in wards (and stakes…”

    When a new stake President was called last year in our PG Utah stake, he stated over the pulpit something to the affect of “this is so nice because now I can do whatever I want.” Later when he and I were discussing an upcoming disciplinary council issue he told me, regarding the council, “it doesn’t really matter what the others (stake council members) think. Ultimately the decision is mine, and [Bro so-and-so] will be excommunicated.” I don’t know about his tithe paying, but his control issues seem to need some refining.

  52. Regarding the tithing list, I join the apparently unanimous skepticism of this practice (at present, at least – who knows what happened in the past). However, I can’t help but to recall an experience I had as stake executive secretary, which you can derive your own conclusions from. About two years ago a General Authority came to preside at our stake conference, but not to reorganize the presidency. The authority asked that a form be filled out which was to list all of the stake presidency, stake clerk and secretary, high council members, and bishops and branch presidents. Along with the full names of these individuals was a space to identify the individual’s occupation and to mark whether they were full, partial, or non-tithe payers. I can imagine that a similar form would be used for a reorganization of the stake presidency.

  53. The one thing I’d add immediately is that the hyper-focus on Family has been a mistake. It has led to half-baked doctrinal explorations and a lot of tension (especially on the liberal end, but also on the ultra-conservative). And has boxed the Church in. In my opinion it’s a dead end in a ‘history of religion’ sense.

    With respect to Arrington’s list:

    1. The imposition of one pattern for everybody
    >Still a big issue, even though I don’t feel any personal stake in the topic.
    >I would pay a lot more attention to cultures, demographics, and transportation issues outside North America.

    2. Appointing the highest tithe payers to positions of leadership
    >If this was ever true, I believe it is not now. My impression is that the Regional and Area structures have introduced enhanced local knowledge and experience, and that the lists going in are a better cross-section of the qualified men.

    3. The maintenance of a disloyalty file on liberals
    >Probably still happening, although probably not limited to “liberals” and probably structured differently in this internet age.
    >I’ve always viewed maintenance of files as ‘business-as-usual’ and don’t expect it to change. It’s what’s done with the files that matters to me.
    >Used as a way to filter the next generation of church leaders it’s probably inevitable and not too troubling (to me personally).
    >Used as a way to filter Church Education employees (including CES and the BYUs) there are long-reaching negative consequences (and I viscerally shudder).
    >Used as a way to ‘discipline’ members it’s just wrong.
    >[Bracket the issue of appropriate response when somebody develops a following. That’s a discussion, not a one-liner.]

    4. The insistence on unanimity among the Twelve
    >In my opinion the group dynamics are damaging (to the people involved, to the work product, to the belief systems of observers, to our interest in God’s will being expressed).
    >I think this has gotten worse (if that’s possible) since Arrington’s time.

    5. The insistence on choosing a new president from the senior member of the Twelve.
    >There’s a lot I would do differently, but if I were given just one shot to change just one thing, it would be this. The long-term consequences of a predetermined presidency are telling (meaning the process, and without intending any criticism of the people who have actually occupied that seat).

    6. The First Presidency and Twelve should call a person in to talk with him/her
    >I think Arrington was reacting to particular instances and particular people. I agree with the principle, but I’m not sure how much it is happening or not happening.
    >On the other hand, there are numerous hints and rumors that individuals within the highest councils have taken upon themselves witch-hunting activities. That is very troubling if true. It’s an area where I would like a move in the direction of unanimity (that I otherwise decry).

    7. The Church should allow historians to present “human” material
    >Done. Arrington himself had a lot to do with that.
    >But there are still a lot of issues that can be chalked up to Correlation. Depending who’s in charge and how it is run, Correlation can be a tyrant (including all the negative connotations).

    8. We should allow women . . .
    >How many women, how many callings for women, are the Q15 concerned with? They pay attention to men in a completely different way as they are engaged in a constant search for Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, Temple Presidents, and every variety of Authority. But in their every-day assignments, they may never need to think about women.
    >A lot of good things would happen very quickly if “local option” was opened up. The Handbook of Instructions (or read Correlation again) is a major impediment to ground up change.

    9. The manuals used in adult Sunday School, Priesthood, and Relief Society classes
    >These have all been updated and completely changed since Arrington’s time. I don’t know that they are any better, but I’m not in a good position to judge.
    >The rate of change in this area is incredibly slow. Inexplicable, considering the talents of the people who have and who could write manuals, and the Church’s translation capabilities.
    >The Essays are a big move, and ought to be credited in this discussion.

  54. Decision-making may be a key factor in some people’s evaluation of callings, but it is hardly universal. For me — and I can’t believe I’m the only one — it’s whether or not a calling really demands anything substantive from me, or allows me to contribute anything of myself. If your assignment is to pick up hymnbooks, or shovel church sidewalks a couple of times a winter, great — there are a thousand tasks like that needing to be done and we should all be willing to do our part. But some of us crave other callings that require time and commitment and effort and thought and planning and stewardship and whatever our special talents might be. Doesn’t matter whether I get to tell anybody else what to do, or whether I can have my own way when there is a difference of opinion. Leadership and teaching and perhaps some of the music callings, even some of the committee assignments that call for you to implement a decision that is made by others, usually have that quality. Most other assignments do not. And worst of all are the make-work callings, the things that don’t really need to be done or the callings that are split among three ward members — anything to be able to say that a high percentage of ward members have callings, meaningful or not — the pointless assignments that let you know nobody thinks you can contribute anything — are the creators of dissatisfaction and alienation.

    Maybe not for Arrington — he had a truly significant assignment, not a make-work one, or one that could be done by just anybody. but I don’t think he always saw things as clearly as he should have — some of these nine points don’t seem grounded in reality.

  55. FWIW, I had mixed feelings about the Arrington book. He wrestled with a Church that was transforming into a large bureaucracy, but there was so much more to his faith than the nine points or other complaints. I wonder what he would think of this discussion.

  56. Ardis: I don’t think everyone feels the need to be in charge of other people or make executive decisions, but I do speculate that there are many more than just me who want to be part of the process of decision making, even when they successfully find meaning in non-leadership callings. There has been an increased focus on discussion, but until discussion members actually have a vote, per se, I think it’s inadequate. I realize my hope for leadership isn’t terribly compatible with the way the church currently conceptualizes leadership, but my wish would be that leaders would simply be people that others identify as particularly great at ministering and personifying love–and would not be decision-makers for the rest of the body of the church.

  57. Anonymous: That’s a frightening example. I know that may not be the norm and that most leaders are significantly more sensitive, but under the current structure, is it avoidable for leaders (and “followers”) to believe leaders call the shots? Do we have to define leadership that way? Perhaps that sounds like a stupid question since leaders lead others, but I think how people lead is highly variable–I don’t think we have to lead the way we do now–I think we could lead by precept and example instead.

  58. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    CJ, I wonder if we aren’t saying virtually the same thing after all. If you have a gift for leadership, and talents for ministering — I lack both — then having an effective role in decision-making could be the substantive use of your talents that you need in the same way that I crave a calling that makes use of my skills. Sometimes people assume that the desire for a leadership role is nothing more than a power-grab — that assumption even came up in the 1P press conference, although I can’t remember the wording — but the idea probably needs a lot more nuance. Even somebody like me without ANY urge “to be in charge” has often felt voiceless, and wished that my opinions and ideas were welcomed and taken seriously.

    I suppose this side discussion has strayed too far from the OP, but I’ve appreciated it. Also, while I have a policy of never agreeing with Steve Evans abou5 anything, I kinda sorta — almost — agree completely with his comment just above. Much as it pains me to admit that.

  59. Ardis: “I don’t think he always saw things as clearly as he should have — some of these nine points don’t seem grounded in reality.” I think this comment is consistent with the one made above that Arrington was not great at navigating the inter-office politics. Not seeing all the picture makes that difficult. It doesn’t shock me if that’s the case. Many academics are better at understanding history and theory than reality and the water they swim in. It sounds like his second point is not accurate, for example, and his sixth point is certainly biased based on specific situations with authors he respected.

  60. @ Katie M.

    Indeed, whether you attend your meetings regularly is a temple recommend question.

    But I don’t define “regularly” as attending every single meeting, every single week. And I can’t define that for anyone else, since I only know my own life circumstances.

    Ironically, despite my liberal definition of “regular attendance,” I love attending church. But I love it because I allow myself breaks.

    If I secretly (or not secretly) hated attending 3 hours on a Sunday, why would I give a damn if I lost my eligibility to sit in the temple for 3 hours?

    Of course, I know lots of answers to that question. Maybe I’m a person who hates going to the temple too. Maybe I make sure I’m “worthy” by the Recommend Interview questions in case my cousin is getting married there, and I need to show up.

    Thank heaven I’m not actually that person.
    I don’t have to force myself to do anything, just to please the people in a close-knit Mormon fam.

    I go because I want to go. I attend meetings to hear what God is trying to teach me. But some weekends, God tells me to do whatever I need to refuel…and some Sundays that is staying home and being alone.

  61. In other words, if I don’t like something about church, I say hell, no for myself.

    But I don’t have to say hell, no for everyone else.

  62. christiankimball: I’m concerned about the hyper-focus on family as well. I’m probably in the minority, but I think we would be better off if the proclamation had never been. It is used not only to enshrine traditional families, but also traditional gender roles. I am flabbergasted when people say it is is their favorite “revelation” ever. I’d like to swap it for a proclamation emphasizing how we are all spiritual siblings of the Divine family who are designed to learn and speak the language of love and integrity. That would give us all kinds of breathing room to learn, minister, and receive.

  63. Ardis, I’m going to print out your comment for my book of remembrance!!

  64. It seems to me that there is a lot of speculation and anecdotal “evidence” for people denying Arrington’s point on tithing, but from what I can discern, no one really knows for sure. What I would like to see regarding that issue (and maybe this is just my naive still-in-college and trying-to-apply-what-I’m-learning mind acting up) is a real statistical study. And at what point does Arrington’s become significant to us, as members? Would it be a 60-40 breakdown of highest tithe payers to lower-tithe payers? Or 80-20? Or perhaps 20-80, which would be more statistically representational of the tithe-payers as a whole? Unfortunately, I can’t see an avenue to do such a study without being subject to intense scrutiny and bureaucratic roadblocks and appeals to “confidentiality”. Point is, if it *were* possible, I would trust that more than just anecdotes.

    @nobody, really: I loved your point about the reasons for success not necessarily being “righteousness”, etcetera. You said that some leaders were possibly using success as a yardstick to measure righteousness, because success is supposed to result from righteousness. I don’t know if anybody else here has ever studied the logical philosophy, and will even understand what I mean by this, but that thinking is a simple instance of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. In order to make a logical argument using Modus Ponens, you need to affirm the *antecedent* of the conditional statement in order for the consequent to be true. And you need to *deny* the consequent in order for the antecedent to be not true.

    “If you are Paris Hilton, then you are rich.”

    In this conditional statement, “you are Paris Hilton” is the antecedent, and “you are rich” is the consequent. You can reverse this but still retain the truth value of the statement by denying the consequent:

    “If you are not rich, then you are not Paris Hilton.”

    However, when you try to affirm the consequent of the original conditional statement, this happens:

    “If you are rich, then you are Paris Hilton.” This is obviously not true, because Paris Hilton is not the only rich person in the world, and you can be rich without being her. (And to any possible trolls out there who may nag me at the semantics of “being Paris Hilton” or “rich”, there is a plethora of examples I could give regarding the fallacy of affirming the consequent/Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens. Google it. Or I can give you the email of my BYU-Idaho philosophy teacher and you can bug him about it. Or just pray? Lol.)

    Point is, if this is true: “If a LDS lives righteously, then the LDS will achieve worldly success” (original conditional statement), this is also true: “If a LDS has not achieved worldly success, then the LDS has not lived righteously” (Denying the consequent=okay), but this is false: “If a LDS has achieved worldly success, then the LDS has lived righteously” (affirming the consequent=fallacy).

    And as we can see, that initial conditional statement leaves something to be desired regarding truth for every LDS, because there are many LDS who live righteously who have never achieved worldly success, but hey, that’s just part of the “trials and blessings” the Lord sends them, right?

  65. On being “shunted off to nursery or Primary.” I agree with idea that Primary may be the most important auxiliary/quorum in the church. But . . . In every unit I’ve been in–and obviously other people’s experiences can vary ridiculously–when a fresh-faced young couple moves in the ward, they almost automatically get sent to nursery or Primary. And sadly, Primary and especially nursery are places where the grownups get forgotten. Even among the best bishops and branch presidents, in my experience, the attitude seems to be, “Thank God we don’t have to worry about THAT for another year or two.”

    And I appreciate that many of us DO like being forgotten and neglected, perhaps on a permanent basis, or perhaps for a period of time now and again–a kind of sabbatical. (Been there a few times.) I just hate seeing it IMPOSED on these young returned-missionary couples, of which we have so many in my part of Las Vegas. I’d say that at least 75% of the adults in my ward are under the age of thirty, and so many of them languish and fade. I confess I’m biased: I have a son and daughter who both served missions and married in the temple. I know my son drifted out of the church–in part–due to neglect, to not being known or appreciated or utilized. My daughter was a dynamic missionary and leader in her mission, and–as her very biased dad–I know that her wards have missed out. She got shunted off to this big made-up committee and that big made-up committee. She’s still strong in the church, but not as fresh-faced and optimistic and gung-ho as she used to be. I can’t help but see my kids in a lot of these young people. Meanwhile, the older people take up more and more room at the top and keep not dying (I won’t name names) and forcing greater and greater numbers of young people into callings where they get forgotten or they don’t get callings at all. Again, fine for some of us who are fatigued in one sense or another, but not fine for many or even most of these young people.

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