The Church of what?

IMG_1816In October 2010, in a fit of pique with our increasingly banal church publications, I wrote the following  to The Ensign:


From: Gina Colvin
Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 8:19 PM
To: Ensign
Subject: The Tabloidification of The Ensign

Please accept this feedback with the good grace that is intended.

I have long been a happy recipient of The Ensign.  However over the last ten years I have been sadly  underwhelmed by both its format and its content.  It appears now to be written in sound bites which work to engage its readers with more emotion than information.   Is there room in The Ensign to consider more complex, doctrinally engaging copy or will I have to rely on the Bloggernacle for something more robust?

For your information I have received similar unsolicited comments from numerous of my church acquaintances.


Today, 18 months later, I got the following, most surprising, reply:

Thank you. You have an excellent point that the Ensign is working to address.


The Ensign Staff

While I’m thrilled that there is somebody actually out there receiving, thinking about, and responding to emails I can only imagine how many suggestions, letters of complaint, or queries The Ensign must receive to have taken this long to get back to me.    I’ve done some rudimentary arithmetic and have figured out that if it took 2 minutes to write this email (and I’m being pretty generous  here), based on an average working day of 7.5 hours, and one person alone responding to such feedback, taking  an average of 2 minutes to reply to each email,  I have calculated that they must get about 54,000 emails per year!!

I can only imagine the pressure The Ensign staff and other ‘Cobbers’  (church office employees) must be under to respond to a membership who, from all accounts seems to be assiduously concerned with petitioning, questioning, second guessing, providing suggestions for, and criticizing the machinations of the ‘Holy SLC’, (an affectionate play on the term the ‘Holy See’ – the Catholic seat of government).  A woman I know was a telephonist at the COB for a brief time and can confirm the huge volume of nuisance phone calls they receive from a disgruntled public.  I’ve heard that front line staff are issued a book which describes what to say in certain events.  Perhaps it looks like this:

Its, Sister … here.  I have a question for President Monson.

[Code Monson: page 3,  note 1]  Thank you for your call, please direct your query to your unit leader.

But I don’t want to talk to him, I want to talk to President Monson.

[Code Monson: page 3,  note 2] We encourage all queries to go to your unit leader in the first instance.

But this doesn’t concern my bishop, it concerns President Monson. He’s asked me to do something, I’m supposed to follow him,  but I just want a wee chat to figure out some specifics.

[Code Monson: page 3,  note 3]  Our apologies Sister… President Monson is unable to answer questions of a personal nature.  Please seek a response from your unit leader.  If you are unsuccessful in this instance then you should pursue the matter with your Stake President.

It’s a slick operation, the Holy SLC, the COB.  And it’s very difficult to find anything out about them without leaning on an insider to give you the skinny.  The ex-employees are the best people to tackle with questions.   If they are mid-career ex-employees chances are they’ll be peeved about something, and from my experience it doesn’t take much to winkle it out of them.

Despite the intriguing investigations of Daymon Smith, the inner machinations of the COB remain somewhat of an enigma.   In fact I still remain puzzled about the role, influence, and authority of the COB in ecclesiastical affairs because I have a sneaking suspicion that it isn’t insignificant.   Which leads me to ask the question   (which I won’t direct at President Monson because he’s clearly to busy for the riff raff ),   ‘Who is the church?’

In a previous post I posited that ‘we’ are the ‘Church’.  We are the body of Christ.  This would be the answer if we were to conduct a thorough scriptural exposition.  Through the blood of Christ he claims us through our offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  We are his, a community of worshipers who have come together in the faith to work out our salvation and to build a people fit for the Kingdom of God on earth.

That’s all well and good in theory, but I’m puzzled by the Mormon usage of the term ‘The Church’  which has become something of a trope to refer to an entity that exists outside the collective members.  ‘The Church’ it would appear is an inscrutable body corporate who exercises a degree of control over us, to whom we have an obligation to align ourselves with, irrespective of our inability to entirely apprehend  ‘The Church’.   Enough has been said to me about ‘The Church’s’ position on this or that, the way things ought to be done in ‘The Church’, ‘Church Discipline’ etc. to feel reasonably assured that those who talk in this manner are referring to something apart from me, or us.  They are referring to an external force with coercive and disciplinary powers and functions whose ‘reality’ I need to be reminded of if I attempt to interrogate and question the ‘authorized’ version of ‘The Church’.

Take for instance last Sunday.  I was asked at the last minute to teach the Relief Society lesson. As this was a text conversation I said ‘yes’ before I found out that the lesson was ‘Sustaining our Leaders’.  I have no problem whatsoever with the notion of ‘sustaining’ our leaders – I’m entirely in favour of them doing a good job and will offer any advice they might seek from me to do so (said tongue in cheek).  I do however have a problem with the conflation of ideas such as obedience, deference, and conformity with the notion of ‘sustaining’.   I study ideological tyrannies for a living and feel very comfortable and at peace with resisting what can end up being deeply problematic social arrangements.

However,  I agreed to teach this lesson, beginning with an examination of  the holy writ in order to identify the desirable attributes of spiritual leaders.  We decided in the discussion that these are:

a) an acknowledgement of Christ as our head

b) an absence of spiritual hierarchy

c) humility

d) a service and servant orientation

e) an eschewal of dominion

f)  above all demonstrable charity with the primary role of the spiritual leader being that of one who directs us to seek out, know, love and serve Christ.

Having arrived at a consensus, and having used the  canon as a basis for our continued discussion I then asked how the class understood ‘sustain’ in this context. It began well as we talked about being yoked to Christ and thereby to each other in the pursuit of a Zion community.  Then the predictable Mormon fascists began brandishing their books at me to remind me to look at the manual which states:

Those who oppose and find fault will not find joy in their opposition. Those who criticize and seek to destroy the influence of the leaders of the Church will suffer the result of their wrong-doing.6


How our previously engaging discussion about Christ was thrown into the ditch with some pointed remarks referring not obliquely to my own, errant, and un-cultural Mormon like practices I can’t quite pin point.   But I concluded the class with some disappointment that an opportunity for us to be thinking about Christ was displaced over wranglings about our disposition with respect to an expected deference to authority.  We could have talked about leadership and sustaining in the context of being first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ.  But we didn’t – at least not to my satisfaction.

But, once again, that  notion of the ‘Church’ and its concurrent discursive slippage into being popularly constituted as a coercive entity outside of the general membership has caused me to ask a number of questions:

If I would rather talk about and from the scriptures, than The Ensign, the Laurel’s manual, the ‘Teachings of the Prophet’ series, am I undermining Christ, the President of the Church,  the Correlation Committee, or the COB paid employees who had the primary responsibility of cobbling the lesson material together in the first place?

If I’m appalled at the hierarchies of power in the church that run through all of its institutional operations and creates boundaries, exclusions, silences and disavowals that protect those in the upper echelons of ecclesiastical authority and corporate power,  am I undermining Christ, the President of the Church, or the COB employees who have manufactured these corporate arrangements in the first place.

If I am disgusted by the access to no limit  no accountability credit cards to certain church leaders, first class travel, corporate sized ‘stipends’ for ecclesiastical leader’s, the payment of GA children’s tuition fees at BYU, special GA family seating at conference, special dinners, a hierarchized car fleet with Ghia models for those at the top, a building where power relations are reflected in the floor arrangements, am I undermining Christ, the President of the Church, or the COB who sanctions, arranges and physically directs tithe payer money to support these arrangements in the first place?

If I feel uneasy about the role of the PR department in their not insignificant ‘production’ of an ‘image’ of the church which discursively bleeds into how we are supposed to understand ourselves and our doctrine, does that compromise my relationship with Christ, the President of the church, or the COB who have saturated the message of Christ with feel gooders, photo ops with the ‘who’s who?’, emotionally charged sound bites, and woozy tear jerker music?

If I feel utterly saddened by the vilification of good, good people who love the LDS church profoundly but are censured when they seek to bring their ‘unauthorized’ and ‘uncorrelated’ voice to discussions about our faith because nobody at the COB has ‘Code Monson, page 3, note 4:  “Patch them through to the President, he loves to talk to the people as much as he is able”’ in their telephonist response manual, does that make me disloyal to Christ, to the President of the church, or the COB?

While I feel reasonably sure that there are those who will argue that Christ is the Prophet is the Church is the COB, I am emphatic about parting company with you here.  If you could provide me with a scriptural exposition on how each of the above are indeed each other, then I might reconsider my position.  In the meantime I will continue to disaggregate them. –I’ll devote my life to Christ,  I’ll listen attentively for the  Prophetic messages which leads me to Christ, but I’ll refuse to accept the role of the COB as anything but a spiritual liability who have entangled themselves, their B.Coms, and their grasping corporate, post-Fordist, neo-liberal ways  into  matters sublime and transformative.      Jesus didn’t put them there, tithe payers, and a passable CV did.


PS:  I’m off to SLC next week and plan to take tour of the COB.  If I can break through some doors I might just ask them myself!!

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  • Michael

    Thank you so very much for this posting. It is just how I feel.

  • Jeff


    As is often the case, almost all of what you write is awesome but a portion begs clarification. The Apostles and full time 70′s fly first class for two reasons: first because they spend more time in the air than even the most travelled business executives and they are often older men for whom international travel is difficult, travelling at the front of the plane takes the sting out of the undeniable inconvenience of frequent long haul flights. Secondly – and I learned this working in the Australia Sydney Mission office, the church is the single largest user of international air travel in the world. It pays for the return airfares of 52,000 missionaries so it has a reputation with almost all the major airlines that is second to none. Our Mission President had to fly to NZ for a conference and we had to send a missionary home for medical issues – both flights on Air NZ were free. The church essentially pays an economy class airfare for the GAs and they get the 1st class upgrade for free. Few people wouldl have a problem with that.

    The “corporate sized stipends” also requires clarification. A friend used to work in the audit department. He told me a good percantage of the full time GAs (Quorum of the 12 and 1st 2 Qs of 70s) received no stipend whatsoever because they are independently wealthy. The ones that did gave up successful and well paid careers to do their calling. Permanent GAs actually are the Heads of Departments and Directors of the Church for want of a better term and when you examine their span of control, the budgets they administer and the staff they effectively manage and compare what those that are paid a stipend are paid, my friend told me that what these GAs that were paid was paid a half sometimes a third of what they might earn for equivalent work. Equivalent high level private sector executives enjoy a vast array of perks – the perks (like subsidized fees at BYU and seating at conference for families) they enjoy serving the church are a fraction of what senior executives enjoy. They give their lives 24/7 to the church until they die essentially – letting their families sit on the front 10 rows at conference seems a small concession to make.

    The Catholic Church resrticts common Catholic members access to the Pope because he can’t possibly be available to the hundreds of millions of Catholics. Whilst the church is considerably smaller it is still impossible for Pres Monson to be available to chat to you personally because it would mean he’d never get any work done. In decades past when the church was small, the Apostles and Presidents were accessible in the way you seek. To expect to be able to call Pres Monson is unrealistic and to moan about the church passing enqiries down the line is churlish.

    Many of your criticisms are the same railings you make against corporations in general. Your overall objection is to the church being run like a company. Put simply the church could not do all that it does globally (build dozens of multi million dollar temples, build the 500 odd chapels it builds a year – can you begin the imagine the infrastructure needed to do just that task alone, run 350 Missions, print the millions of manuals, BOMs and pamphlets etc etc). If the church ran like the Green Party as an anarchalistic commune it would not only be chaotic but it would get done 1/100th of the tasks the Lord wants it to achieve. The maligned PR Department has helped bring the church out of obscurity and in increasing parts of the world, the church is seen as a force for good as opposed to the view held for many years that we are a dangerous cult. Most churches that have a national or international presence use PR people or companies – what’s the problem with us doing the same? For crying out loud a number of left leaning charities use PR people – almost all institutions want to present themselves in the best possible light – you make the church’s attempt at the same to be somehow underhanded when it isn’t.

    If Jesus didn’t approve then I’m sure He’d have a chat to the Prophet about it. He doesn’t just talk through the scriptures you know.

    • kiwimormon

      Aww Jeff! I’m just not buying this eh? I understand that you clearly believe in the ‘logic’ and religion of the free market and the efficacy of the rational use of these organising paradigms in the church – but that’s just all ideology mate! You are just as much a product of a received consciousness as anyone and that you enjoy fiscal and corporate hierarchies and their constituting influence on our religious and social organisation does not make your endorsement of it any more ‘true’ than my vilification of it.

      • Jeff

        But Gina just as I see things through my free market lens so you see things through your socialist anti capitalist lens. Truly socialist countries can’t organize their way out of a paper bag. If the church used a Cuban, North Korean, Albanian (in the day) or Soviet Russian model to achieve its global construction and outreach it would only get a fraction of its work done for all the same reasons why the ideology in action produces such significantly lower levels of GDP, construction activity and overall well being of the general populace compared to capitalist countries. I’m not saying the one is divinely inspired just that a more capitalist structure of the COB as you call it gets us more bang for tithing buck than its socialist equivalent. The corporate church is being pragmatic rather than ideological IMO.

    • ozpoof

      Any payment, no matter the size or ratio of former earnings, makes “The Brethren” a paid clergy by definition.

      • kiwimormon


  • Michael

    “They give their lives 24/7 to the church until they die essentially…”

    Jeff, your statement above is exactly what is disconcerting. They are not to be giving their lives 24/7 to a corporation (i.e. the church). They are supposed to be giving it to the Lord. The point that Gina is making is that we have substituted the church as a corporation for the true Church which is the Body of Saints.

    All the perks (and the justifications you cite in your comment) may be compared to a secular corporation and the compensation provided to executives and senior management BUT (and this is a big but!) the Lord’s Church is not meant to be a secular corporation.

    “Corporatism” (which is what many others in the Bloggernacle have referred to as this disease (see Rock Waterman’s blog – Pure Mormonism)) has become rampant. Combined with the weaknesses of correlation, this corporatism is threatening to subsume the pureness and glory of the unadulterated Restored Gospel.

    When we start to think of the church as a separate “other” from the Body of Saints, we place ourselves in slavery to an organization instead of gaining freedom through Christ.

  • Jeff

    The ‘corporatism’ of the church is what enables the Church to fufill its mission. We know so very little of the ancient church because so much material was suppressed and it was so quickly changed after the death of the apostles. The whole notion of continuous revelation is that the church maintains its core of doctrine but adapts to modern times. The white Mission Handbook and For the Strength of Youth pamphlet for example have both been re-written a few times to reflect the changes in society, the impact of social media, new technology and the rise of additional tempations attendent with these technologies. You propose a static church perhaps even some carbon copy of the small diffuse organic church in the Meridian of time with likely a fraction of the members the brethren must now minister to. That’s not how the Lord operates. He’s perfectly capable of working through and achieving His means through something like a corporation. If these structures were bad then the Lord would tell His prophet to cease and desist. All modern churches are corporations in the legal sense. They have to be in order to preserve their tax free status but also they, like us, have worldly matters to attend to like building or maintaining buildings and running missions. The Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists all have corporate offices with paid professionals that have some degree of heirarchy. All their lower level clergy are paid and have health benefits and pension plans. Our mid and lower level clergy remain unpaid lay ministers. The percentage of tithes spent on the administration of the church compared to the vast cost of the huge array of global tasks the church undertakes is miniscule. I go back to my earlier comment – if the church ran as you suggest, it would be chaotic and unable to do even a fraction of what it now does.

  • Michael

    Hmmmm…interesting paradigm. But you do know the Lord does not instruct the Prophet in the intricacies of structuring the actual church corporation, its departments, the creation of manuals, the budget, and all the other attendant functions, don’t you?

  • Jeff

    D&C 58:26 – 29. If I follow your logic and reasoning then we have an inspired prophet presiding over a runaway apostate church because the GAs are using a naughty corporate structure to get the work of spreading the gospel to all the world done.

    • kiwimormon

      Now there’s a thought I didn’t have – that’s worth pondering!

  • Michael

    Jeff, with all due respect, do you always think in terms of such dramatic binaries? Your either/or descriptions of how the church functions as an organization are very black and white.

    • kiwimormon


  • Jeff

    No Michael I don’t but when I read your denunciation of the corporate structure of the church (“a disease” – “the Lord’s Church is not meant be a secular corporation”) you make it sound as if it is aberrant in some way so I was taking your characterisation to its perhaps extreme conclusion. If you beiieve the prophet to be inspired and yet the church over which he presides to not be as the Lord wants it, you leave little room for any other conclusion.

  • Michael

    I strongly beg to differ. There are examples of many Prophets in the scriptures who were faced with church structures that were diseased or corrupt. John the Baptist being a prime example. So was Jeremiah. And Alma. And Moses. And Ezra. And Isaiah (he was a big one). I could go on and on. The corporatism of the church is a major problem. Separate out the Gospel (and the Holy Priesthood of which our Prophet is the key holder) from the church as a delivery vehicle for the Gospel.

    • Kassie

      I’m glad you brought up those instances when the church was corrupt! Some members tend to believe that if the Lord didn’t want it that way, he wouldn’t have let it happen. While this is true, the Lord also wants and grants us our independence and agency. We… and the church… are allowed to make mistakes, and the Lord will correct them in his own time.

  • Michael

    So by your logic, it is not possible for the church to ever be corrupt while a Prophet resides upon the earth? By that logic, it was impossible for the Scribes and Pharisees (who were running the church in the meridian of time) to be working in a diseased church because Jesus and John were living at that time.

    Or do you mean that our church, in our dispensation, is an exception to the rule observed throughout all the dispensations?

  • Mitch

    Much of this resonated with me–from having experienced many of these same things and having seen others grapple with them as well. I’m an openly gay Mormon. The only way I got “okay” with myself is to truly grasp that there simply is no spiritual hierarchy among humans. The only opinion of me that matters more than my own is that of my Savior. Period. Thanks again for throwing a spotlight on areas we can (and should) improve as a faith.

  • Jeff

    So my characterisation was correct – if you see the church’s corporate structure as diseased and aberrant then my description of your position as “we have an inspired prophet presiding over a runaway apostate church because the GAs are using a naughty corporate structure to get the work of spreading the gospel to all the world done” is not a dramatic binary but actually a succinct summary of your position.

    This then begs several questions:
    1 – Is the prophet inspired but just too gutless to do anything about his diseased church?
    2 – Is the prophet not inspired and the church has completely gone astray – ie apostacized and in need of rescue from those that run the Bloganacle?
    3 – If 2 is corrent then who chooses a new non apostate prophet – a vote on Rock Westerman’s blog?
    4 – Does this render the BOM and D&C untrue or merely imperfectly followed by greedy corporate types?
    5 – If 2 is correct then which ‘corporate’ prophet lost the faith? Brigham Young? Heber Grant? Gordon Hinckley? I ask the Community of Christ and the Church of Christ Temple Lot this same question regarding Joseph Smith and the former said “sometime in Nauvoo” and the latter “on the Zions Camp march”.
    6 – If 1 is true then are you proposing the Sidney Rigdon approach – that the church now needs a “Protector” to get it back on track? If so what is to be done with Pres Monson? Release him? Who releases him? Are you proposing a revolution or coup within the church or a breakaway from it?

    Enlighten us on how to correct this diseased church of ours.

    • kiwimormon

      Wow – how did the validity of the prophetic call get caught up in this conversation about the COB? The question to ask is:

      1. If I sustain the prophet does this mean I am also sustaining the employees of the church as well?

      2. Are the employees of the church also the leaders to whom we are required to defer?

      3. If the employees of the church, in response to the political economy of their host nation, discursively organise a corporate structure in similitude of their secular counterparts – are we required to accept that as ‘revelation’ from God?

      4. If we are to imagine the Prophet and other ecclesiastical leaders as inseparably intertwined with the corporate machinations of the church are we to imagine Jesus as similarly pre-disposed to a corporatized religion with all of its benefits and concessions for ‘the brass’? Because, like Michael – I just can’t find any scriptural justification for it.

      • Jeff

        See my post at 1012am

  • Michael

    Jeff, it seems we are talking past each other. I don’t conflate the inspiration or revelatory ability of the Prophet with the corporatism of the church. You seem to hold both of them inseparable.

    I don’t expect that my gospel doctrine teacher is correct in all things because the Prophet is inspired and is micro-managing her lesson preparation and presentation. Just like I don’t expect the correlated manual for Sunday school to be correct in all things because the Prophet is micro-managing the full-time employees that wrote it. And I don’t expect that Area Authority to be correct in all he teaches in stake conference because the Prophet is inspired and is micro-managing his talk.

    Brother Dan Peterson of BYU provided some interesting illumination into the writing of correlated manuals when he was working for that church department.

  • Jeff

    But Michael the prophet is the head of the corporation of the church – they are inseperable. The corporate departments of the church are ALL headed up by the Q of 70 and then super departments headed by the Q of 12 Apostles who in turn report to the 1st Presidency. If the corporation of the church is diseased then the General Authorities are an integral part of the disease. My auditor friend told me that they would uncover rare abuse of church credit cards by lower level professional managers (say an architect or lawyer on the payroll) and the offending party was dealt with depending on the severity of what happened by either removal of the card privilege, demotion or dismissal. So is the disease just these minor low level abuses that of course the prophet won’t know about or is the disease the fact that the church runs itself as a corporation. Try as you want you can’t escape the fact that the inspired revelation receiving prophet fully runs and operates at the head of the corporation of the church at the same time as admiistering the ecclesiatical heirarchy and has done so since the time of Joseph Smith (his untimely death caused huge issues with his estate because Joseph failed to deliniate in his will what property technically in the name of the Corporation of the President was actually his and Lucy’s that he merely donated to the church).

  • Jeff

    Michael – Im off line for a bit but I am enjoying the dialogue – I’m trying to drill down to the precise location of the disease in the church as you see it. Catch up later.

  • JohnnyS

    This is a great thread. My two cents:

    The fundamental question that resonates with me is the one that Gina asks about whether one is undermining the church and its members/leaders if one notices/expresses dismay or disgust at the “hierarchies of power,” as Gina puts it. This question is answered perhaps somewhat, though not directly by Eugene England’s piece “Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel,” however, I find myself in a similar situation in my ward. As a temple recommend holder who attends the temple at least quarterly, does his home teaching, tries to be the best father he can, fulfills his callings to the best of his abilities, etc., I don’t think of myself as on the margins as far as level of church activity goes, but, because I also express opinions regularly at church about how women ought to hold the priesthood and how I don’t believe polygamy was inspired doctrine, I find myself falling afoul of church leadership. I don’t mind if other members steer clear of me because of my outpsokenness; we’re all trying to do the best we can to emulate the Savior and if folks find that associating with me makes that more difficult, I have no problem with it. However, I am continually puzzled by a church that seemingly emphasizes so much the power of personal revelation (Hello, the First Vision, anyone?) while simultaneously requiring a kind of lockstep groupthink attitude in which no-one is really allowed to ask serious questions about important doctrinal issues. Since when did expressing an opinion about a doctrine or a practice or a hierarchy automatically equal open rebellion against God? Saying that I think we should spend less time/money building temples that, outside of the Mormon corridor, are often not even close to operating at capacity, and more time building wells in the third world or getting more retroviral AIDS medication to the African subcontinent is not heretical; it’s an opinion about how we are doing things, not about whether the gospel is true or whether Christ is our savior.

    Gina’s question and the discussion between Michael and Jeff illuminate the difficulty of separating hierarchy and organization from the reason for the hierarchy and organization in the first place. If, in the end, the hierarchies in question are not serving to maximize our efforts both to treat everyone as the Savior would and to spread His gospel, I think it’s fair enough to point out that fact.

    And BTW, to Jeff, I agree with some of what you say, but the most disturbing think you point out is that many of the Apostles are independently wealthy. That agitates me to no end. If it’s harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle, why aren’t more plumbers and high school shop teachers apostles?


  • Michael

    Sorry guys, it is evening here in Orlando and I have to go to dinner over at Downtown Disney. Talk to you all later.

  • tennesea

    Stumbled upon these surprising gems from Bruce McConkie tonight:
    “With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances…Thus the opinions and views even of prophets may contain error… if [fill in the blank] writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it.”

    • kiwimormon

      Suddenly, I think I love McConkie!

    • Kassie

      This is wonderful! And will definitely be brought up in the near future as I discuss the topic of sustaining our leaders with my friends/family. Thanks for the quote!

  • Jeff

    Not all the Apostles are independently wealthy in fact a few of the 12 are decidedly humble – its in the ranks of the 70 where there tends to be more of the business ownership related significant wealth. Three spring to mind as earning modest salaries: Gordon Hinckley spent a good chunk of his adult life working for the church which, despite characterisations by critics of corporate Mormonism, is well known for paying below market salaries, Thomas Monson was a printer and Boyd Packer was a seminary teacher. A big chunk of the 12 could be classified as being comfortably off coming from the professions or academia: Henry Eyring worked in the Church Education System (was head of BYU Idaho as was David Bednar and Commissioner for Education), ditto Jeffrey Holland who was the head of BYU Provo and we all know about Dieter Uchtdorff’s career as a pilot with Luthansa. Tom Perry was an executive in retail store management, Russell Nelson as many know was/is a heart surgeon, Dallin Oaks a lawyer finally rising to the Utah Supreme Court, Richard Scott was a nuclear engineer, Robert Hales was a senior executive in the cosmetic industry, Todd Christopherson was a senior attorney for banks and Neil Anderson was a VP of a hospital. Only 2 apostles could be classified IMO as really wealthy: Russell Ballard took over the family new car dealership and Quentin Cook capped a career as managing partner of a large law firm with being President of a large health insurance company.

    There is nothing at all sinister in men in the service of God making lots of money. I know a number of very wealthy LDS. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil not the money itself. Most (not all) of the wealthy LDS leaders I know have served faithfully in the kingdom and have used their wealth to bless many many lives outside of the sizable donations they make to the church beyond the 10% tithe. Their altruism and kindness has been rewarded 10 fold as in the parable of the talents. Wealth or otherwise is no prerequisite to such a calling – it just happens to be that those who are wealthy have no need to call on the church should they be called to full time lifetime service. I also know crooked Mormons who have screwed people to get rich – funnily enough some get negative payback for their greed even in this life – a disproportionalte number of dodgy members who were wealthy lost everything (or almost everything) in the global financial crisis. Some crooks made it through but their wealth is as it says in the BOM will become slippery to them and they will get their punishment in the next life. There is a special place in hell for crooked Mormons IMO!

    It is also important to point out no tithing funds are ever used to pay the stipends of General Authorities. They are paid from the profits that the church makes from its various businesses.

  • Michael

    A church delivers three products:

    1) A doctrine / theology (Eternal Truth)
    2) Opportunities for communal worship (worship is not the same as teaching).
    3) A community in which to find acceptance and love.

    Jeff, please tell me which of these three items are the responsibility of the corporate church and which are the responsibility of the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God?

  • Jeff

    Of course the Priesthood takes the responsibiluty for the 3 tasks you list but the Church of Christ has always been tasked by the Lord to take the gospel to all the world. The Lord instructed Joseph and then the 12 to call and go on missions which they did and the growth and spread of the gospel bringing those 3 tasks to millions has now gone on. That effort costs money and that is why we have the law of tithing and the fast and over its history the church has had other funds to achieve crucial aims: the Perpertual Emmigration Fund to assist people moving to Zion in the 19th century and of course its modern equivalent the Perpetual Education Fund. The church has undertaking complex and costly building programmes since its inception beginning with the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples and culminating in the vast building programme of today. All these efforts are administered by the priesthood. You haven’t responded to my post at 1012am yesterday – it outlines how the temporal and the spiritual tasks are administered together and by the same people – certain key temporal tasks are delegated to the professional hired staff (the COB as Gina calls it) but I emphasise the word DELEGATED – these employees act always under the direct supervision of the 12 and the 70. I also refer you to my reply to Gina’s reply up the thread but made at 723pm.

  • Michael

    Simple question for you – The physical facilities person in my ward building is in charge of 12 meetinghouses in Central Florida. Does she “act always under the DIRECT supervision of the 12 and the 70″? Do they call her on a regular basis to manage her duties? Do they visit her to check up on her management of the buildings?

  • Jeff

    She reports to her Area Physical Facilities Manager who reports to the Area Manager of Temporal Affairs who in turn is hired by and reports directly to the Area Presidency over your Area – the temporal ‘hired help’ report to the ecclesiastical 70s called to preside over that Area. If she’s not doing her job her the Area President wont handle her performance review but if her bosses aren’t doing their job then their performance in the temporal realm will come to the attention of their Area Presidency.

  • Michael

    EXACTLY!!!! There is no DIRECT supervision! It is only indirect through temporal, CORPORATE lines of authority! Thank you for finally acknowledging there is a difference!

    You have made progress today.

    • kiwimormon

      Laughing so hard I can’t ready for work!!! Love ya Jeff!!

  • Jeff

    If the Lord has a problem with this structure He’d change it. If the regional levels of the church have gone rogue then where/when does the roguishness begin? Is the members of the Q of 70 who are the Area Presidents for letting their DTAs run temporal things day to day? Is it the 12 for even setting up the structure in the first place? You seem to think that there is a runaway corporate arm that is entirely independent and unaccountable. I’m trying to isolate precisely where you think the problem lies. The decision to allow hired professional managers to supervise the temporal affairs of the church was made by the prophet. Is HE the problem? At the level of the Q of 12 and Q of 70 the temporal and the spiritual juristictions merge. Are you asking for the 12 and 70 to themselves do all the temporal work of the church and dispense with every paid manager? Is that what you are really seeking here? You/Gina are saying there is a problem but not specifying precisely where the problem lies nor are you proposing how to fix it just muttering about there being nothing in the D&C about the COB. So do this for me Michael – assume you have a magic wand and YOU get to restructure the church exactly how you want it (lets assume that the Lord comes to you and says mate – the church has run amok and I need YOU to straighten it out) – tell us how it should be done.

    • kiwimormon

      Some ideas:

      1. Most importantly – we start with transparency and see how things evolve from there? So we see the books, find out where the money is going, who is doing what job? What are the departments? How are they organised? We find out the terms of reference for each department, how performance is reviewed (ie. how one ‘progresses’). This is not to say that we cease our economic activities but we make them visible – Just like the church used to – until it got lots of money.

      2. We re-balance the emphasis on ‘temporal affairs’ with an investment not only stock piling food reserves but in robust discussions on our social doctrine and the practical ethics of a Christian.

      3. We have a theological college which, over and above apologetics, acts as a rotating, inclusive, non-hierarchical think tank providing discussion about our doctrine beginning with the job of disaggregating doctrine from mythology, principles from culture etc.

      4. We become a voice for social justice and critique social, economic and political institutions which are antithetical to a Zion community.

      5. We provide opportunities for leaders to have some theological training.

      6. Allow tithing to stay local but send a levy to HQ.

      7. Church employee salaries are at parity with each other but specialist services could be contracted out to private business.

      8. ‘Special treatment’ for those at the top of the ladder is stopped.

      9. Re-think the physical arrangements at our meetings so people feel they are talked with rather than talked to. Take the many men of the stand, and leave the presiding officer there.

      10. Move the church headquarters to South America or Poland.

      • Jeff

        Young Men’s encampment duties plus a very busy last 2 days have prevented a response Gina. Glad to see you’ve arrived safely in the US of A.

        1 – The church is actually quite transparent about its lack of transparency over tithing. You have posted frequently on this topic claiming that the NZ law requires the level of disclosure that you seem to desire. In a previous post I asked you to refer us to the actual clauses in the Charities Act 2005 that require the church to do any more than it does already which is send the Charities Commission its annual accounts that are put on the CC’s website. I repeat my comment in “I had a look at the Deed of Trust which is enshrined in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Trust Board Empowering Act 1957 – a carryover of the Trust Deed that was registered in May 1921 under the previous Religious Charitable and Educational Trusts Act 1908. There are no provisions in the Deed or its attached Schedules or in the 1968 Amendment Act that expands the Board to incorporate the fact that Stakes were now operational in NZ (that weren’t when the 1957 Act was passed) that suggests any obligation for the Board to report to the church membership. I’ve scoured the Charities Act 2005 to find any statutory obligation that the Trust Board owes to the church membership other than the obligation to publish on the Charities Register its Annual Financial Accounts and could not find any.” If you can point me to any statutory obligation under NZ law that the church has that requires it to disclose more than it already does then please let us know.

        2 – I believe some of the talks given in Conference and by authorities in other settings at times cover this material

        3 – Great idea 100% support it and long overdue.

        4 – Your progressive ideology is shining through again – the church maintains mostly (with the exceptions that they place prominently in their HandBook 2) a non political non partisan stance. Agitating for social justice would get the church banned in some countries or never invited into others. The church encouraged obedience to the repressive East German state in the years of Communism – it led to trust and the extension of privileges including that of the temple to East German Saints denied to social justice oriented religions.

        5 – Absolutely

        6 – Mostly agree however the transferring of revenue between countries is not the preserve of the LDS Church – all churches with an international reach do versions of it.

        7 – So janitors and accountants are paid the same? You’d never hire an accountant on that salary. Contracting out – oh dear a most capitalist of concepts but one I agree with mostly. Doubtless the church has tried this and perhaps found it wanting. It would actually cost more. The church is notorious for paying below private sector salaries for its professional employees touting more its generous benefits to attract and keep staff. One of your beefs has been the cost of the NZ head office workforce (whose staff must cover all the administrative functions for the entire Pacific Area including Australia and yet it can only disclose tithing income from NZ) – if the church followed your suggested path those costs would go even higher.

        8 – I get your sentiment but in reality I believe the numbers in the church who would oppose the perks would be few. Suppose members were granted voting shares in accordance with their annual donations total (akin to the votes granted in public companies based on the shares owned) – I’d venture to say that if you asked the tithe paying membership whether the brethren should be able to seat their families in the reserved front rows of General Conference and have free or subsidized student fees at BYU, you’d be surprised at the level of support for such things. The thinking of the majority would be along the lines of – well they spend many long hours in the service of the kingdom some for the remainder of their mortal lives, let’s not begrudge them a few perks.

        9 – No real problem with that either – when I was on the Bishopric I couldn’t have cared less to sit on the stand and when visiting as a High Council speaker ditto.

        10 – Hehe

    • Kassie

      “If the Lord has a problem with this structure He’d change it.”

      What happened to agency? What about the scripture you mentioned before, D&C 58:26 – 29? If you read carefully, it’s saying that the Lord does want us to think for ourselves… but that does not necessarily mean what we think is correct! He wants us to be agents unto ourselves so we can make mistakes and fix it ourselves! That’s how we learn. If the Lord is constantly correcting us and changing our minds for us, we don’t learn our lesson. You see? So maybe there is a problem in the church, or maybe there isn’t. One thing is for sure…Why would the Lord miraculously change it when He has intelligent and gospel-loving people ready to accept that we have made a mistake and work to change it?

  • muerknz

    If the Lord has a problem with this structure He’d change it.

    Hmmm. I’m Catholic, so our Church thinks we are doing it God’s way as He instituted in the beginning, and we think we’ve kept up doing it for the last few thousand years as well. We believe that the Catholic Church is the mystical Body of Christ, with Peter at the helm holding the Keys of Heaven given by Jesus Christ, and that we are guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Obviously you disagree and think that LDS is God’s will. We can’t both be right. Determining God’s will isn’t always easy, and I think that accepting a status quo on a structural (as opposed to doctrinal) matter may be a case of overlooking the work of the Holy Spirit.

    How do you know that God is not trying to change the structure of LDS through people such as Kiwimormon? I’m not asking that rhetorically btw because I don’t know how LDS governs and deals with new issues. Catholicism has quite a set way to deal with things and structural changes have happened over time, such as the College of Cardinals which I think is only a thousand years old, but don’t quote me on that.

    At one point in the Church’s history the Pope was in France and St Catherine of Sienna visited him, gave him what for and told him to get back to Rome. Sometimes the voice of a single person can herald the Will of God.

    • kiwimormon

      Thanks for that! Actually I think the Catholic church can offer some guidance to the Mormons with respect to the Vatican arrangements. If you look at the Roman Curia they seem far more transparent about the inner workings of the church at the level. I also appreciate the breadth and purpose of the congregations, tribunals, pontifical council and commissions. In particular your social doctrine is really impressive!!

      • muerknz

        Don’t get too rose glasses about the Vatican :) The Roman Curia works very slowly and it’s full of politics, however the direct authority in each diocese is the bishop himself. Each bishop runs his diocese pretty independently of Rome, and each parish is also independent below that. The Church believes in subsidiarily which means that the smallest/lowest authority closest to the issue should be in charge.

        What this means in practice is that if a parish held an educational program then the priest and the leaders would choose the books/media for it. Each parish is as autonomous as possible with their own council for governance. Then it steps up to the diocese. Somethings are needed to be global, for example the liturgy or the divine office, however even then a lot is left to the local diocese and parish, for example music choices.

        There’s a catholic-ness (ie. universalness) globally, so I would be comfortable in any Catholic Church, but it also leaves space for worship to be culturally contextual as well. The bishop knows his people, and I really mean that. I can email a NZ bishop and I get a direct reply within a few days and not from a secretary, from the actual bishop; OTOH if I sent a letter to Rome it would months before I got a reply.

        So the Church is both top-down with a Pope at the head, but it’s also utterly grass roots with local people making local decisions. It’s a balance really.

        The other thing is that bishops are usually quite poor. They’re parish priests first and thus have lived on low wages for all of that time. Sure they get a roof over their head and a car, but it’s no luxury. There are some priests who earn money, but they are rare, I don’t know of any in New Zealand. Fr John Corapi was one and he went completely off the rails if you want to google it. Obviously the Vatican is full of wealth in terms of assets (not everyone has Michelangelo decorated chapels) but I don’t think the average person living in the Vatican lives a luxurious life. The Vatican is very asset rich, but it’s not cash rich, and there have been years when it’s been in the red. Financially dioceses are independent, except for Peter’s Pence we don’t give to the Vatican and that’s onle once a year.'s_Pence

        Maybe if the LDS wants to be more global, then it might have to ease up on the direct control from the top and have more authority devolve to those in smaller geographic areas. Yes, some continuity will be lost, but then cultural differences can be enjoyed. It’s a balance I suppose.

  • Melanie Riwai-Couch

    Jeff 7, Michael 3, Gina 5. Look forward to hearing the magic wand proposal…

  • Wonderdog

    I agree with your comment about the Ensign. When I was a kid, Mom was the Ward Librarian. I remember sitting on the floor and reading articles by Nibley in the Church magazine.

    I fear that, if left unchecked, corporatism may be to the latter day church what Hellenizatiion was to the Early Church. It does pose a problem when business acumen is a qualification for a church calling. The problem being that a plumber called as bishop needs training in the organizational and human relations aspects of leading a ward. But few Stake Presidents are willing to train. It’s easier to call an MBA.

    Flip side is that too many see the church organization as just another ladder to climb. So, numbers become more important than people. Are we caring for the needs of the members or just increasing our HT and VT stats? Some climb the ladder because they feel it is necessary for salvation. Recently, my Stake President mentioned that although he has been a Mission President, he had not yet received his Second Annointing. Privately he said that he had heard that MPs and SPs received this blessing. Then what of the humble Sunday School teacher or Primary Teacher? How will they be noticed and receive this blessing?

    • kiwimormon

      We have a leader in our stake who is always banging on about getting your calling and election made sure. I understood that this used to happen as part of the ordinance of second anointing which occurred by invitation in the temple but that it which ceased in the 1950s.

      Yes, the mythology of ecclesiastical status is something I don’t appreciate either. I can’t figure it out really. It happens at the ward and stake level with aspiring career Mormons performing Mormonism to be noticed by the brass. Well, as it happens the church ‘rewards’ loyalty and conformity these days more than it does christianity. Why, I have to ask, is exactness in tithing the only thing truly measured in the TR interview? If my testimony of Christ is only partial I would get to the temple before someone who is fully converted to Christ but only pays a partial tithe. How did that become a really scrutinized marker of ‘worthiness’?

      Great comment – thanks!

  • reb

    I was recently introduced to your blog. Love, love, love this. . . . and so many more of your posts. Thanks!

  • kiwi57

    You used the term “riff-raff” to [mis]characterise the attitude of Church leaders and employees towards regular members who send in letters. That seems to me to be more than a little bit mean-spirited. The simple fact is that, given the number of members the Church has (even if one uncritically accepts the attempts by hostile voices to minimise that number, and I won’t be at all surprised to learn that you do) the brethren could easily receive more letters in a day than could be read, much less answered, in a month.

    So if there is an exaggerated sense of personal importance anywhere in view, then it is unlikely to be located in the COB. It seems more plausibly found among those who imagine that out of the thousands of letters received each week, theirs are uniquely significant enough to warrant the Prophet’s personal attention.

    • Gina Colvin

      You might have missed the point here.