Signs of a True Church

Infuriating. Intriguing.

Why did I find this sign intriguing, even endearing, when I saw it on a church in the Cook Islands last week … but would find it frustrating if I saw it on my LDS church building back at home? 

Why would I feel a sense of loss if this church in the Cook Islands decided to be more inclusive and modern but cringe when my own church gives any indication of non-inclusivity or traditionalism?

The blue arrow shows where the sign hangs, by the front door of the Cook Islands Christian Church, the predominant church in the Cooks with 49% of the population. Approximately 4% of the population belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Without church correlation, what kind of sign would my branch create for our church building?  Based on some of the signs I’ve seen in the foyer and the Relief Society room over the years, I can imagine that our sign would be clumsy and outdated. But we’d all be so accustomed to our sign that we wouldn’t notice it, unless we invited a friend to church.

What kind of sign would your branch or ward council create for your building?

Maybe the sign by the door of your church might not prohibit women’s pants or flower eis* or smoking, but what would your sign prohibit instead? Looking at cell phones during sacrament meeting? Casual clothes in the chapel? Beards? A dress code for youth participating in youth camps?  

*A Cook Islands woman wearing a flower eis. Wearing a flower eis at church is prohibited in the Cook Islands Christian Church, the predominant church in the Cooks (photo credit. – Louise Hawson)

Or maybe your ward council would make a sign prohibiting political references in testimonies and fizzy drinks at youth activities?

If I could make a sign for my home church using the Cook Islands template, I’d ban chewing gum while sitting on the stand. I’d prohibit commenting more than twice in Sunday School. My sign would also require Relief Society presidencies to sit on the podium and plan every other month’s sacrament meetings. That sign already hangs inside my head, and I’m perpetually annoyed when other people ignore it.

Signs for Superbowl Sunday 

Some time ago, I followed an online discussion about a US bishop who hung self-printed signs around the church building on Superbowl Sunday. If I remember correctly, the bishop hung the signs on all the doors of the church and on the pulpit in the chapel. 

I couldn’t find the online discussions, so I recreated the poster based on my memory.

Most of the online commenters seemed infuriated about the Superbowl signs. The term “unrighteous dominion” surfaced.

Especially coming from overseas, I like to think I’d find a Superbowl sign interesting and intriguing, similar to how I viewed the sign in the Cook Islands. 

It’s all fun and games until…

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. I can imagine that I’d feel less equanimity toward the Superbowl bishop if I saw my kids or fellow members taking the bishop’s posters too seriously. 

Is the bishop exercising unrighteous dominion? Or are offended ward members giving the bishop too much power? Do the previous two questions set up a false dichotomy? Whose fault is it if some people are gullible or guilt-prone? 

Are Getting Hurt and Hurting Others essential parts of our mortal schooling? Is this one of the functions of a true church, just as important as Getting Loved and Loving Others? 

When have I set up rules – a sign in my head – for judging another person’s goodness? When have I let myself get angry because I’ve given authority figures too much power? When have I been gullible or guilt-prone? 

More Intriguing Church Signs

I saw a couple more intriging church signs while in the Cook Islands last week. 

“Royal Nephite Lineage: All Polynesians Descend from Wakea and Papa, who Descended from Anianiku (Lehi): Lehi is the Father of Polynesia”

“The Ancestry and Origins of Polynesia”

The signs that caught my eye are entitled:

(1) “Royal Nephite Lineage: All Polynesians Descend from Wakea and Papa, who Descended from Anianiku (Lehi),” and 

(2) “The Ancestry and Origins of Polynesia.” 

The signs claim that a female descendant of Lehi (Papa or Papanui-hanau-moku) married a male descendant of the Jaredites (Wakea) in 89 AD, and the couple founded all the Polynesian ancestral lines. 

The blue arrow shows the placement of these signs in the Family History Center.

I asked the family history staff on two different days about the signs. Both times, the volunteers told me that the posters were from church headquarters. However, on personal inspection, I saw a 2001 copyright at the bottom of one poster along with a private name, address, and telephone number in Orem, UT.

detail from the second sign pictured above

In this instance, I’m happy to see the speculative, non-correlated signs on the walls.  The signs provide insight into local priorities. I found these posters more intriguing than infuriating:  I didn’t want to travel to the Cook Islands and have everything be just like at home.

The Family History Center in Avarua, Cook Islands

Conclusion

It’s worth mentioning that several Latter-day Saint women wore flower eis during the LDS service that I attended on Sunday, something that wouldn’t have been allowed in the mainstream church in the Cook Islands. This observation corresponds with observations I made while conducting field work with LDS women in Fiji. Fijian women told me that, because of their LDS church membership, they felt more freedom in choosing their clothes and hairstyles as compared to Fijian women who don’t belong to the church. They also felt more free to decide how they would interact with men compared to women who don’t belong to the church. 

Women wearing flower eis (photo source)

On a more personal note, could I be more curious and amused – less mad – about traditions and cultural artefacts embedded in church systems? Or, should I be MORE mad? After all, even the Cook Islands sign, which I initially found endearing, is an example of male authorities policing women’s bodies (among other things). The Superbowl Sign and the Polynesian geneology charts have their own set of issues, especially if an observer were to believe that the signs came directly from an authority who speaks for God.

Can I be frustrated and intrigued at the same time? Is there a word for that? 

What if the function of the true church (or of a family) is to create situations in which we commit ourselves to complex, contradictory situations? Is the combination of Intriguing and Infuriating one of the signs of a true church?

July 22, 2021

East Cape, North Island, New Zealand

Comments

  1. Signs do help with boundary maintenance. It’s quite possible that the Lord doesn’t want us watching the Super Bowl on Sundays. I believe so. On one hand the Lord doesn’t command in all things, on the other hand having examples of how our leaders have applied the gospel in their lives is also very helpful in our determining how we can do likewise.
    When I walk into my local YMCA, I get the impression about what the YMCA is (probably) all about. Inclusiveness, a safe place, a place for growth, etc. Now it could all be a lie, but I suspect they’re not. My local YMCA might not be able to constantly live up to the ideals in the signs, but they’re still good reminders for everyone as to what the YMCA is striving towards. I have looked at these and have occasionally felt envy, in that I wished I could see the same signs in my local ward building. By going off of just the signs in my ward building I can see the covid-19 restrictions are enforce, and that we believe in Jesus, and that’s it. The minimalism is probably a good thing, but going off of just the things on the wall, I don’t get the feeling one way or the other that the church wants me there, but I do get the feeling that the YMCA wants me there, and wants me to improve in some way while I’m there.

  2. Several years ago I was in a UCC church and there were a variety of signs/posters in the halls, but the one I remember said, “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” I thought it would be cool if our church had messages along these lines in our halls. I like to see things that show the character/personality of the local congregation, but I would also like to see things that make people who might feel like outsiders feel welcome.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    This is a really thoughtful post, Holly. Thank you. And it has given me a lot to think about. I too am sometimes more charitable to those outside than inside.

  4. Chadwick says:

    I frequent our local community’s farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, held in the parking lot of a very large non-denominational Christian church. They have banners in the parking lot attached to the light posts. These signs say “We are so glad you are here.” I love it; I wonder if I would really feel that way if I ever attended their worship meetings.

    I know our signs say visitors welcome, but if I don’t feel very welcome most Sundays as a lifelong congregant, I don’t normally feel that we really mean it.

  5. John Mansfield says:

    A sign of the times encountered encountered one Sunday in Waukee, Iowa, a place I stopped for a few hours in the middle of a drive from Washington, DC to Washington state:

    http://www.jrganymede.com/2015/09/01/sign-of-the-times/

  6. Justagirl says:

    Does anyone find it ironic that the Super Bowl sign is only seen by the ward attendees since everyone else is out watching the Super Bowl?
    DNA will tell you what you need to know about the migration of Islanders, or the local museums.
    I lived in a ward with at least half of the members being from the Marshall Islands. My heart sunk when president Oaks made a statement about cotton skirts and flip-flops being too casual for church. I looked at my islander brothers and sisters and held back tears. I very much respect their culture and appreciate a multi-cultural society.

  7. Roger Hansen says:

    I don’t know if photos count as signs, but I recently attended church in Kampala, Uganda. In the entry area were framed individual portraits of the Q15. The display was strangely out of place since Uganda is in Africa, and the Q15 are white, with apologies to Elder Gong. Couldn’t they put up photographs of local leaders?

    As for posting slogans and the like, I’m not in favor. It reminds me of the novels of George Orwell. Too much propaganda, too much black and white thinking. Let’s minimize signage and post art instead.

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