Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Worldwide Church

This story in the sidebar was interesting. It discusses the growth of the church's perpetual education fund and how it is laying the groundwork for the future leadership of a worldwide church. 27,000 loans have been made so far, and in some areas of the church that have received loans (Northern South America was mentioned as a main beneficiary) more than 10% of the bishops and stake presidents were recipients of loans. Considering that the program only started in 2001, even though 10% is a large number it surely is only the beginning and is bound to swell in another 6 years.

An interesting remark was made by John Carmack, the emeritus Seventy who heads the program:

The church is at a stage, Carmack said, where it is time to trim the parts that are peculiar to the United States and not relevant to the international church.
"We simplify and find what is essential for salvation and church government and what is unessential," he said.
As the church grows to be an international church rather than a Utah church, what are some of those things that are peculiar to the institution and culture (and even doctrine) of the church that will drop by the wayside? Obviously the leadership of the church will begin to be called more and more from members outside the U.S. (all five seventies who were called this last conference were not from the US), but what else might change? Some might argue that the 1978 extension of the priesthood to all males regardless of color was the first major thing to change, being that the old policy grew out of the general attitudes of Americans in the 1800's (ignoring the question of why the Lord would wait until 1978 to inspire the church leaders to change the policy). Looking through the archives of Brigham Young's papers and sermons, it is rather obvious that the policy was culturally based rather than having been received as a direct revelation. It is safe to say that if the church had been restored in say, Nigeria, there would have been no ban (though there might have been a ban going the other way).

What are some other aspects of the church peculiar to the U.S. that might change?

24th of July celebrations?
A new hymn book that does not include patriotic music (or at least one that has a whole section of patriotic music from many, many countries)? Or even locally produced hymnbooks that have (doctrinally appropriate) music unique to the culture they will be used in?
A change to the three hour block?
An activity for the men that is comparable to enrichment night (how to take apart an engine night, how to cook a nice meal when your wife is gone(or even when she's there)night)?
Conferences based somewhere other than Utah? (If in 2050 there are three times as many mormons in Mexico as in the US, why not?)

What else?

(This was just a short brainstorm, and I don't think all these things will change or are even connected to North American culture, but its a place to start the ensuing catty fight where Randy accuses me of apostasy for daring to suggest that the priesthood ban was culturally based rather than divinely inspired. Bring it on Randy.)


Nick said...

(Just for the record, I don't KNOW that the priesthood ban was not divinely inspired. From what I've read, it just seems from all the primary sources I've come across that it was more culturally inspired than divine, though I could very well be wrong. The point of the post, though, was to look at what aspects of the church ARE derived from American culture that might change)

Warren said...

"24th of July celebrations?"

I didn't even know what the 24 of July was until I went to Utah for school. It's celebration hasn't reached Kentucky yet.

randy said...

Nick, I'll let you in on a little saying, borrowed (and adapted) from an old co-worker:

-- Never argue with an apostate. People might not be able to tell the difference.

The original word there was 'fool'. But I think it aptly applies in this case.

In case you're wondering, I do believe that many things are done because of the 'stiffneckedness' of the people. Is it fair that the blacks couldn't get the priesthood before 1978? I don't think so. Is there spiritual, concrete doctrine as to explain why? (along the lines of Alma 13, they weren't faithful in the premortal realm, yada yada) I really don't feel that there is (although there could be).

Was is fair to the righteous Hebrews to keep them out in the desert living a lesser law?

There is always a bigger picture to look at, a different angle from which to approach, or even the famous more-souls saved idea.

Do I think it was necessary to forbid blacks the priesthood in order for the church to gain critical mass in the US in the 1800s. Yes. Do I agree that it should have continued until 1978? No idea--it was changed right about when I was born.

However, I don't think there's a problem with doing the temple work for any deceased blacks who were baptised, desired the priesthood, but were unable to attain it in this life.

So Nick, how does that alter your perception of me? [sticking tongue out at you]

Nick said...

I fart in your general direction, you silly texan kanigget.

Your Hebrews in the desert analogy would imply that the blacks before 1978 had been sinning as a people, which is not true (at least not sinning any more than other people). The hebrews deserved it (one could argue), but the blacks did not.

Again, I don't claim to know the reason that it happened, but it just struck me as an example of a superfluous (american based) doctrine that was dumped as the church became more of an international organization.

Another one that Jenny's comment reminded me of: the white shirt as the priesthood "uniform". In some cultures, white does not necessarily mean poor, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that thinks that wearing a white shirt is necessary for salvation. (That seemed to be one of Elder Carmack's criteria for dumping something- whether it is necessary for salvation or church governance)

randy said...

That's why I qualified 'Hebrews' with 'righteous'. Were they all wicked? I don't think so. Were all blacks prior to 1978 righteous? Tampoco. But those that were righteous did lose blessings because of those that weren't. The blacks prior to 1978 lost blessings not because THEY weren't righteous, but because 'the others' weren't righteous enough (humble) to accept a church that let it be led by blacks.

Stop trying to make me look bad by twisting my ill-conceived and badly-worded logic.

Cabeza said...

I'm lightly troubled by a few things in this post and in its comments.

I'm particularly troubled by the non-debate going on about blacks and the priesthood. While I think Nick's original comment on it may have some merit, I really, really, really don't that there is ANY value in speculating further. It should be dropped--there is no value in debating topics on which we are certainly never going to receive actual, authorized revelation in our lifetimes.

What I find less troubling, but troubling nonetheless, is the narrow scope of what the commenters here seem to think applies to church practices and culture outside of American culture.

First and foremost: Pioneer Day. This is NOT a Utah holiday only and it is certainly not applicable only to Mormons within the United States. The sacrifices made by pioneers to leave their homes and make a livable place in the desert where they could practice the true faith of Jesus Christ, thus preserving the organization of the Church, is part of all of our spiritual heritage. This is regardless of whether you have "pioneer stock," regardless of whether you're a convert to the church, and regardless of whether you come from the United States or not. To discount Pioneer Day and say we shouldn't celebrate it anymore as a church is like claiming that the Exodus has nothing to do with us. I believe that our shared spiritual heritage has a lot to do with who we are and where we are going.

Before I go too far, I think Nick was mostly just musing and throwing things out there, but I really think that A) we should not apply a narrow scope to what is "essential" and B) we shouldn't take what Elder Carmack said too far (when he said "essential" was he implying that that would eliminate things that might be merely "beneficial?").

White shirts certainly aren't Essential to salvation, but they're a simple and useful symbol (I think more of purity and worthiness than of being poor) and they do serve the purpose of a uniform when participating in ordinances--they don't distract.

Enrichment isn't Essential. Singing Time in Primary isn't Essential. Ward activities aren't Essential (believe me, I know). Having Testimony Meeting isn't Essential. You can pretty much go through the church and cut out hundreds of non-Essential things until we're left with a few saving ordinances, but that's never going to happen. We've built a church culture, based largely on tradition (which I would argue IS essential in building a Zion society (or any society for that matter)) and on symbolism--a tool that God has always used.

Let's not be too quick to throw things out just because we may not recognize the immediate relevance of them. I don't think we're going to see too much change too quickly. The Church has always adapted to meet the needs of the people of the current hour, but it hasn't sacrificed all of the past to do it.

Nick said...

Oh, I didn't see 'righteous' in front. Still, I'm not sure what you mean by:

"The blacks prior to 1978 lost blessings not because THEY weren't righteous, but because 'the others' weren't righteous enough (humble) to accept a church that let it be led by blacks."

Do you mean the ban existed because of a few unrighteous blacks, and they all were lumped together under the ban whether they were righteous or not? If thats what you're saying, then why didn't that happen to whites, or american indians, or what have you? Every race has unrighteous people. Why blacks?

Reading Brigham's letters and speeches on the subject (and every other early church leader (except, oddly enough, Joseph Smith, who ordained a few blacks to the priesthood and didn't seem to think it was a problem)), it seems pretty clear that they were just following the norms of the culture at the time, which discriminated against blacks- even most abolitionists didn't really think blacks were the equal of whites. There was no direct revelation on the matter (none that were published or announced)- it just sorta creeped in after Joseph was killed.

Even if a few church leaders back in the 1800s were a little racist, its not scandalous- EVERYONE was racist back then. They were men of the times (though it seems Joseph was a little ahead of them all). No prophet ever claimed they were infallible.

An interesting part of the 2nd official declaration that leads us back to the original idea of my post (remember that?) is the statement:

"As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords."

Which suggests that the priesthood ban was one of those american cultural oddities that needed to be stripped away to make way for the international Church of Jesus Christ.

Don't worry Randy, I still love you, sock dust and all.

Nick said...

Jared- You're right, I was just throwing things out there more as a brainstorm than anything else. I found Elder Carmack's remark interesting and wondered what policies or culture he might be referring to.

As to your suggestion we shouldn't discuss the priesthood ban, I strongly disagree. Sure, we shouldn't dwell on it, or let it affect our testimonies, but discussion and understanding is warranted. We might not want to do it in sunday school, but why not try to understand what happened? We may never know for sure (until we can interview Brigham Young, or God, for that matter), but discussion can't hurt anyone- I would even say that unwillingness to discuss it can be damaging- some people born after 1978 don't even know about it, and when they hear it for the first time from an anti, it can be jarring to them. Now, if I were to start saying that the church is not true because of that issue, then that's a whole other story, but discussion (and even good-natured debate) is a-ok.

So Jared, as to the point of the post itself, you say I was being too narrow in interpreting what constitutes policy and church practice in an international church, what would be something a little broader that would fit into what Elder Carmack was talking about?

Nick said...

oh dear, I realized that I typed to fast in a comment above: "white does not necessarily mean poor" should be "white does not necessarily mean pure"

(for example, I think many asian cultures associate white with death)

Cabeza said...

Gosh, I should really go to bed, but I've been sucked in.

I didn't mean to say that we should not ever discuss the history of the church pertaining to blacks and the priesthood. I meant that it doesn't warrant too much discussion. First of all, a discussion on, say, the first principles and ordinances will 99.89% of the time be more beneficial to both the individual and the group. Second, uninformed and overly speculative things are nearly always eventually said. Such talk can often be more harmful than helpful.

As to what may be under the scope of what Elder Carmack was saying, I think you may have been on track with a few of the things you suggested. The hymnbook for one. I wouldn't be too surprised to see the next English edition either A) surreptitiously omit American patriotic hymns, or B) include "Waltzing Matilda." Seriously, the hymn books will likely either reflect a broader diversity of nation states and cultures, or they will probably need to do without the particular hymns. Speculating further, I would guess that if such were the case, the General Handbook of Instructions would slightly modify its instruction on music, stating that it is appropriate to sing arrangements of local patriotic songs and hymns in observation of state holidays. Seriously, I would be surprised if the Church stopped its endorsement of loyalty to national and local leaders and if it stopped encouraging members to be patriotic.

Scouts are also expendible/flexible. We could see the Aaronic Priesthood organization go solo on its own activity/leadership-building program. Or we could see the Church work together with the Boy Scouts to extend the organization to more countries. Or we could see the Church seek out similar organizations/programs in other countries. All-in-all, I wouldn't be surprised to see the program adapt to fit more youth in more countries.

There may be more, but again, I hesitate to approach the topic with a narrow scope. Like I said, there are a lot of non-Essential things we do, but things that are beneficial, useful, or community-building nonetheless.

P.S. To accomodate Asian cultures, are we going to change Isaiah 1:18 and all other scriptural references to the purity symbolism of the color white? There are lot of symbols that don't come from American culture. We've assimilated our symbols from Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Nordic, Germanic, and many, many other cultures. That's the way the world works.

Nick said...

Ok, Jared, I reread your comment, and realize I may have been unclear in what I meant about throwing out "non essential" things in the church. I want to emphasize the "non essential things that are unique to american culture and that would have little value elsewhere". I think my hymn book suggestion is probably the most applicable out of all the ones I haphazardly threw out. Why would Argentines need the star spangled banner in their hymnbook?

(Yes, I know that is still a VERY narrow example, and I am curious as to what others may think about some examples that are broader)

Nick said...

Oops- posted at the same time. I'm glad we agree on the hymnbook. I'll have my contacts in the church office building start work on that one right away.

randy said...

Nick, Nick, Nick. Let's just stop with the misunderstanding. I have agreed with everything you wrote in this thread. I never said that the blacks' ban was because of the unrighteousness of 'some' blacks. I just meant, exactly what you said, that it was necessary because of the prevailing attitudes of non-blacks at the time, albeit those attitudes were far from celestial. The "Hebrews in the desert" analogy obviously didn't go the right way.

JonnyF said...

I suppose I won't wait any longer to dive into this brouhaha...
Do the Argentines have "The Star Spangled Banner" in their hymnbook? I am relatively certain the German hymnbook does not contain it. I do know that the German and French hymnals contain hymns unique to their language (at least they are not in the English hymnbook).
As far as what Elder Carmack meant... Think about what kind of innovations the church administration has made in response to the ever more international membership. In 1955 the Swiss Temple was dedicated and started using the temple film instead of a live session so recorded translations could be used. Even since President Hinckley has been the prophet we have the new smaller temples which make building temples in areas of less membership concentration (including many places outside the U.S.) practical. (Yay Detroit!) Wasn't it just a few years ago that the Church got rid of its stake in ZCMI? In my opinion, these are the types of things Elder Carmack is talking about. Maybe even Official Declaration 2, to some degree, falls into this category. Like Jared said, "The Church has always adapted to meet the needs of the people of the current hour, but it hasn't sacrificed all of the past to do it." I think that what Elder Carmack said was imprecise. I think that the church has contantly been at the stage where it needs to decide how to do things to be more relevant to its international membership ever since it has had international membership. I don't think he was intending to foreshadow anything specific, like the changing of the hymnal or demise of Pioneer Day. What could be next? I don't know, maybe scouts; I won't have too much confidence in any speculation.
I do have something to say about white shirts as well as the traditional church clothes for women mentioned by Jenny in another post, but I will have to save that for later.

Warren said...

You just wanted to say "brouhaha"