Years and years ago I was the Stake Librarian. My first job was to bring order to the Christchurch Stake Library which was straining under the weight of decades of junk. In order to make sense of what I was to do with a dusty room full of layers of stuff I cracked open the librarians handbook and discovered that the library was entitled to a photocopier.
I pointed this out to the Stake President who sent through a requisition for said photocopier to the Auckland office. In due course the photocopier arrived. It was a sad excuse for a photocopier but it was the only one in the Christchurch Stake at the time and was regularly eyed greedily by those with leadership or administrative responsibilities who would sometimes stop by just to watch it shudder and click its way to a fuzzy copy of a hymn.
It didn’t take long for the photocopier to wheeze to a stop, flashing a solitary but alarming red light at me while doing little else. I sought help. Now, regular Mormon women don’t make calls to church offices. Its not allowed. We need to ‘go through the proper channels’. And so I waited for the Stake President (who is allowed) to follow up the case of the broken photocopier, only to report back that the only technician available, authorized and set apart to fix our broken photocopier was located 760km away in Auckland. So we waited for travel arrangements to be made for said savior/technician to resuscitate our most beloved little machine. In the course of events he successfully revived the photocopier but we were informed that we needed to be cautious about further use because it was expensive to fly the technician in to Christchurch every time it packed up.
The thing is, we had photocopiers in Christchurch back then! We even had photocopier technicians! We are a sophisticated little city and can, surprisingly, source locally most fittings, parts, and equipment necessary to run the church in Christchurch. We even have trestle tables here. But that somehow made no difference to the church ‘Trestle Table Division’ who flew in our Stake Centre trestle tables from Utah. That’s a 7470 miles or 12021.8 kilometre journey. We could have sourced them from Tubefab around the corner in Addington which is only 3.8km away and probably a lot cheaper.
I’m still scratching my head as to why it took a mountain of paper work and a series of permissions to replace a broken basketball hoop. A process that resulted in weeks of basketball deprivation, requiring the Young Men’s presidency to actually plan their activities. Yesterday I attended church in Oakland at the very large and monstrous multi-ward centre on Temple Hill where I learned that the large commercial refrigerator happily used by those who regularly cater for hundreds of peckish Mormons was replaced with a small domestic refrigerator because church offices wanted to reclaim that space to store trestle tables and chairs.
I wouldn’t be so cross about this if I didn’t know for a fact that most of the money we contribute to the church goes toward the salaries and operational costs of those in church offices in Salt Lake City and around the world. We actually pay for the gross and outrageous inefficiency of our church who seem incapable of taking advice locally. One former bishop I spoke to yesterday, a successful business man, summarized the work of the church offices as a ‘conceit’, and those running the affair as having a contemptible ‘insensitivity to wasting our time and our money’.
This wouldn’t smart so badly if the church was so flush that nobody under our watch care was in need. But that isn’t the case. The Liahona Children’s Foundation (a charity unaffiliated with the LDS church) estimates that 120,000 LDS children around the world are malnourished. The Foundation’s data show that 76% of LDS children in Cambodia and 50% of LDS children in Guatamala don’t get enough food for their needs. The work of the Liahona Children’s Foundation is outstanding and necessary, but while the Church building department is erecting a wholly unnecessary $2USD million church building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the children on the other side of the wall that protects said building project are going hungry. When the church centre in the DRC is completed the local LDS community will have to leave their community gardens, planted around their temporary buildings that they now inhabit, in favour of Fortress Mormon where it is likely that no such projects that feed their community will be permitted.
What is it about our church that we have become so highly regulated, over managed and policed by a faceless, sometimes mean spirited and arrogant corporate structure that consistently wastes our monetary sacrifices on thoughtless projects and processes that often lack any sense whatsoever? How is it that they unfailingly evade scrutiny or accountability from those who pay their operational costs and salaries? Mormon Corp. has a lot to answer for, for a series of inexplicable and outrageous decisions that make our church look more and more irrelevant, out of touch, selfish, grasping, morally bankrupt, fearful and incoherent. We are literally groaning under the heavy weight of a business structure that has no formal mechanisms for listening to its donors except through a narrow chain of ecclesiastical command that is designed to feed down, not up.
I don’t know what the organizational mission of the bureaucratic arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is but I can say with absolute assurance that what I know of the shenanigans that surround the development of the former Church College of New Zealand site is evidence of some serious spiritual slippage. Everyone involved in the deception, the coercion, the manipulation and the spiritual blackmail to turn this property over to developers while running rough shod over the feelings of good people who care about their community should be deeply ashamed. I will be writing about the CCNZ debacle shortly, but let me say now that the weight of evidence from the public records indicates that I (as are others) are justified in our concern.
All church’s have an administrative arm. Its inevitable. But when the ecclesiastical, pastoral, missional work of the church is held ransom by the bureaucratic arm there is a serious imbalance that needs checking. And this outrage will only be relieved;
- When my ward gets to retain more money than it sends away to serve our community, my people.
- When more decisions are devolved to the local units of the church to handle independently
- When people are considered more important than property.
- When the corporation is transparent about its operations enough that donors can see where the money goes.
- When the names, jobs, contact details of the Mormon Corp. managers are published so that they can be contacted directly.
- When a management tier is scrapped off the top and the business organization becomes flatter, collaborative and less hierarchical.
- When the Salt Lake City Offices learn to take advice from its worldwide members because locals generally know better than petty religious bureaucrats in America what is better for them.
- When Mormons stop seeing the corporate, paid, employed, bureaucratic arm of the church as an extension of Jesus Christ.
- When the bureaucracy stops using the ecclesiastical arm of the church to front for its failed policies and procedures.
- When Area Offices cease mimicking Salt Lake City and stand up to them on behalf of the local communities.
- When our generosity and service as communities aren’t used as a publicity tools for the PR department.
And lastly – but most importantly: When the LDS church can quietly attest to their central role in relieving the hunger of 120,000 malnourished LDS children – then and only then will we have retrieved the church’s operational arm from the ditch.