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Mormonism: Church or Ranking System?

I often wonder if I belong to a church or more of a ranking system.

I grew up BIC, TBM believing that the God had restored his one and only true church to the face of the earth, through a modern-day prophet Joseph Smith.  As I grew, I was taught that God is no respecter of persons, and that every soul is valuable in the sight of God.  I was also taught that God judged men on their heart and not on their outward appearance.  It seemed as thought God was really fair-minded, and as God's mouthpieces on earth, the church leaders were likewise fair-minded and true followers.  I grew up believing that the color of one's skin did not matter to God.  I was also taught that someone's weaknesses would become their strengths, with the help of God.  It seemed that everyone was empowered and considered equal in God's sight.  I was taught that we would not be judged for others transgressions, and that it was wrong to judge others.

Then I went on a mission.  I realized that those missionaries who were related to General Authorities, or "important" members of society, were given preferential treatment.   The preferential treatment was received by way of leadership callings, good companions and assignments to the most beautiful parts of the mission field.  One Elder I clearly recall was a grandson of Spencer W. Kimball.   He was an average guy without special abilities or missionary skills.   Yet, we knew about him.  Everybody knew about him, and nobody was surprised when he was called to be an AP and serve in the most beautiful zone of the mission to close out his two years of missionary service.  There were a number of other Elders in my mission who were sons or nephews of some of the Quorum of the Seventy, and likewise received great companions, great areas, and leadership callings.  At the time it was kind of an irritant, there was some cognitive dissonance involved, but I got over it.   It was pretty funny when this grandson of SWK,  and the son of a US congressman, were assigned as AP companions together, and neither had been an outstanding missionary.  It started the wheels turning.

Since those initial wonderings, I've noticed a clear effort on the part of the church to take care of its leaders and their progeny, as well as the high-society members and their progeny, while seemingly ignoring the rank-and-file membership, and their service.  Fame and fortune are worshipped by the brethren.  On a local level, Bishopric members sons serve as their quorum leaders, or in the Young Women's leadership.  The sons and daughters of members of the High Council are treated differently than those of the rank-and-file membership.   I've also noticed that our high profile members, professional athletes, and so forth who don't serve missions are not held under the same tacit condemnation as other members who do not choose to serve mission.  Indeed, if any member has any noteworthy position in society, once again they are treated as mormon royalty.   No one need go any further than the example of the Osmonds, who parlayed their 60's and 70's fame into a position of special treatment in the church.   As it turns out, a young man at BYU who wanted to date Marie Osmond had to have a special recommend from his stake president, to be considered for a date.  Not a temple recommend mind you, but a special "you are good enough for Marie Osmond" recommend.  I have no idea what questions were asked in order to receive one of these.

I have also noticed that those who are given leadership callings many times take it upon themselves to walk around with a chip on their shoulder.   Indeed, the higher ranking General Authorities of the church must be addressed a certain way by the membership, as "Elder" or "President" so they are afforded the proper respect of their high calling.  It makes me wonder if Jesus would want me to call him Elder, or bow and kiss his ring if I met him.  Local leadership such as Stake Presidents and High Councilmen ofttimes take it upon themselves to offer their "special" interpretation of a scripture, or to change the words of a scripture to somehow make it "more" relevant.  Most local members assume that these men are above them, and somehow score more points on some imaginary "righteousness" scale.

Is there an unwritten righteousness scale within mormonism that allows its members to self-righteousness judge one another?  I believe that there is.   I believe that many members assess one another on whether or not someone is wearing garments.   On whether or not they obey the Word of Wisdom.  Many times members judge one another on whether a priesthood holder is wearing a white shirt, or has facial hair.  Women are judged on how many children they have, and whether their children are active.  Men are judged on their profession, their financial accomplishments, their educational attainments, and their leadership position within the church.  If you are on the high end of the judging scale, then maybe a member will "allow" you to be their friend.  Certainly many members who employ these methods of judgment will not allow you into their social circles until they know more about you, and have judged you worthy.

I would dare say that many members of the church constantly look at others in order to make a thumbs-up or thumbs-down determination, in quite a few categories, depending on the ward and its particular viewpoints.   Some Salt Lake wards I lived in were very cognizant of which General Authorities you were related to, or which of your ancestors was prominent in church history.  If you had many ancestors in Nauvoo and Kirtland, who later became pioneers, your score would increase accordingly.  In other wards, financial position and possessions are the benchmarks.  What kind of car do you drive?  How large is your house?  Is it on the east bench?  Do you have a BMW?  Is your house over 5000 square feet?  Where do you vacation?  Where do your children attend school?  Who are your friends?  Are you connected socially?    Are you going to Italy again this summer?  How do like that private school?  Your family is friends with the Huntsmans?  Oh, you dated Marie Osmond at BYU?   

On the other hand, negatives are also seemingly sought out, and factored into the equation.  Are you divorced?  You are single at 34 and never have been married?  Your sister is gay? Your uncle served prison time?  Your father declared bankrupcy?  You declared bankrupcy?  You had a drug addiction?  Your brother was excommunicated on his mission?   You dropped out of college?  You don't shop at Nordstroms? You have examined anti-mormon material?  You used to get drunk as a teenager?  You didn't serve a mission?  Your spouse was layed off?  You don't have any foodstorage?  You don't go to a professional hairdresser?  Your credit is bad?  You cheated on your spouse?  Your son left the church?   Your father was never a member?  You're a convert?  You don't have any pioneer ancestry?  Your son was convicted of fraud?  Your brother-in-law is serving time in the state penn?  You don't pay tithing?  You can't afford a boat?  You never go on vacation?  You don't own a suit?  You won't shave off your beard?  You have three earrings in one ear?  You don't have a temple recommend?  Your spouse does not wear garments?  You only attend Sacrament meeting?  Did your sister really marry a black man?  Why can't you afford to go with us to Antigua?  What's wrong?  Have you lost your testimony? 

This constant barrage of nonstop judgmentalism takes a toll on the rank-and-file members who are simply nice people trying to do their best.  Many members are silent notes taking.   Do they really realize how intrusive and non-christian it is to judge others?  Why do they feel they can be  judge and jury?  It would be nice if all of the things I was taught about equality and non-judgmentalism were actually practiced within my religion.  Sadly, it is the exception rather than the rule.

Is mormonism a church, or a ranking system which filters out as many as possible so only the "cream" can rise to the top?  Does God love the annointed ones more than anyone else?  Is there a mormon "royalty" that can do no evil, and receives preferential treatment within mormonism?  Does God love the rank-and-file members too, or is he only concerned with the mormon royalty?

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!!!

-DV

Comments

Randy

It's worth noting that society generally has its status markers too. However, there does seem to be too much emphasis on outward appearances and status markers in Mormon culture. Moreover, more of the top GAs are related to one another than one would expect in an organization with so many members, but that does appear to be changing with the appointment of guys like Bednar and Uchdorf, who don't appear to be related to anybody else at the top. It's funny how some members boast about their ancestors or this or that GA they've met. My wife is a descendant of the first Ezra T. Benson, and her grandfather was a 1st cousin of the late prophet. She has brought up her family ties a few times in conversation with other members, but only to stop their boring name-dropping talk. It's like firing heavy artillery, and it's very amusing.

However, in spite of all the status markers and judgmentalism, there are still individual Mormons who are able to avoid falling into the trap of judging others based on outward appearance, geneology, economic status, or whatever. Those individual members should be commended.

Mallory

Wow bud...you need to go back and re-think your life.I am a "Mormon" and what you say about the whole ranking system is So Insane. Maybe you need to stop being so bitter about an incident in your life and get over yourself.
sincerely,
Mallory

Equality

Mallory,

What makes you think that DV has not already been "rethinking" his life? It seems to me that his reflective, careful re-evaluation of his life vis-a-vis his religion is exactly what has produced the observations you see him recounting here.

And which event in DV's life do you think he needs to "get over"? Do you know DV? I read his whol post and don't see any bitterness in it--he simply makes observations about prevailing Mormon culture. You may disagree that modern Mormonism places an inordinate value on status and personal connections to those in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but you haven't really articulated why you think one who disagrees with your assesment is necessarily "insane."

Thanks for reading and commenting, though.

DV

Hi Mallory,

I understand that some people choose to be offended by what I have said, but that would be their sin, not mine, according to Bro. Bednar.

I am a completely 100% active member of the church myself. I hold callings in my ward. Do you think I would make these assertions if I hadn't witnessed this behavior with my own eyes?

There are a hundred other stories I could have told to illustrate my point. I could have told the one about working at the cannery and listening to the brethen I was working with brag about their BMWs. Or the professional athlete from that would literally get mobbed from the ward membership when he'd come home in the off-season, and be given special treatment.

Come on. Are you trying to say that mormonism has a horizontal structure, where the leaders, the rich, the athletes, and the influential aren't given preferential treatment? Just take a look around you in your ward and tell me if the leadership structure doesn't consist of the well-connected, the white collar, the "rock-solid" members of the ward?

Have you read the stories of Brigham Young asking for Bill Hickman's prized race horse, just because he wanted it? Have you ever seen the rock-star status given to the GAs wherever they go? The crowds mobbing them just to get a peek, or possibly touch them.

I know its a lot easier to just say that my point is insane, without providing any backup documentation whatsoever, but you should really take a step back, and take an objective look at how mormonism works. You may be surprized to discover that there is a clear-cut preferred class (the leadership, rich, and influential) and a working class (those that hold the grunt callings, are never included in the social circles of the privileged class, and are the work horses of most wards).

I don't think a loving God would want to run things that way.

DV

Randy, I agree. Those individual members who are able to avoid falling into the trap of judging others based on outward appearance, geneology, economic status, or whatever, should be commended.

I agree that there are many people in the church like you describe. I just see the trend towards a judgmental ranking system where there are many good people who are not given the benefit of the doubt with many members, because they are not worthy enough, or rich enough, spiritual enough, etc. It becomees tiresome when the outward appearance becomes more important than what type of heart I have.

I can have tattoos all over my body, a tongue piecing, multiple eyebrow piercings, spiked hair, wearing a wife beater, and still be more spiritual and Christlike than the majority of members of the church. Thats the problem.

Texasguy

DV,

This post is the "gospel truth." Thanks for posting. I think Randy has a point that this is prevalent in society also. Although, I don't think society in general is quite so judgemental. It reminds of "Animal Farm." Some are more equal than others. I think you and many others in the DAMU feel like Boxer in the story.

wry catcher

DV -

I strongly agree with your points, and I don't think it's just down to availability bias either, or a need to "re-think your life" ;-). I used to think it was just a mormon church thing, but I then found another institution that is very similar in these cultural ways you describe. It's my current employer - and the only one with a culture like this amongst the several large and varied industries I've worked in. What do they have in common? An essential underlying conservatism, a patriarchal/paternalistic approach to people management, if you will, and pathological defensiveness (to the mormon list I would add a persecution complex and sense of entitlement that this company does not have; they make up for it with paranoid competitiveness). Lordy, it's challenging.

The mormons, and my company (leadership as well as middle- and front-line management [these groups include me]) both lack any real ability for self-examination or resulting self-awareness. I think mormons lack this because they have The Truth, which doesn't bear too much examination (and why should you if you're doing What's Right all the time), and my company because they've been successful for a number of years doing things the way they do them - so why should they change anything.

Sister Mary Lisa

I completely agree with this assessment made my DV about the underlying feeling in the Mormon culture of class and status.

In my ward, there is a community of large new homes that was started by an LDS contractor, and I am amazed by all the LDS people flocking to this overpriced subdivision to live in the "desirable" area. It got disgusting to have every conversation with new acquaintances in church end in, "Oh, you don't live out in _____ Subdivision?" always followed by a subtle but obvious judgement that I wasn't as good as those people.

And at BYU, the LDS novelist Jack Weyland's son lived in my housing complex, and the girls desired him above all others. It was disgusting. He wasn't even interesting, but behaved as if he was God's gift to women.

DV is not stating anything new here.

Doug Towers

There is a lot in the post that could be discussed as individual subjects.

I agree with you about what I term "Abrahamic Syndrome" within the church. God blessed Abraham with wealth because he obeyed God. Therefore all who are rich are blessed of God and must be righteous. If you are poor you must be unrighteous. A pathetically simple way of seeing a complex situation. Christ should have left Matthew as a tax collector, apparently. They understand nothing of Abraham. And while God blesses a righteous people, he condemned the rich.

I think you could have included the cheif seats in the synagogue. I can understand that for conference but otherwise leaders should be down with their families if not speaking or conducting.

I also agree that calling people by titles was clearly spoken against by Christ. It is irrelevant what the titles are. Titling a position is fine. But titling a person is wrong. Christ's statement, to me, says that you can say that Jim Brown is the president, but you don't call him President Brown.

When on my mission I discovered that it was common (but kept secret) practice to allow a retiring Assistant to choose his area and companion for retirement. So I wouldn't let that worry you. Also we had a nephew of an apostle who didn't appear to me to have received any preferential treatment.

I have seen a taxi driver in the bishopric. And 2 policemen as bishops. I have seen an electrician as bishop. A painter on the stake high council. Even a student on the high council. A guy on the stake presidency goes surfing for recreation. That isn't exactly a conservative passtime. But I know what you mean overall. I just don't know that it is always quite as extreme you have expressed.

Arizona Expositor

Great post DV, I lived in a ward with a professional athlete and while he was a nice guy and his family was nice too, I did see the attention paid to him when he attended. While living in DC a lot of attention is paid to who works for what senator, congressperson, or other governmental position. It goes in the church and in society.

The point you make about the attention paid to one's pioneer heritage is amazing to me. For some reason one's ancestory has more to do about them than what kind of person they are. So towards the end I started telling members I had a relative who died in the Martin Handcart Company, and through a miracle I converted and discovered this.

Doug Towers

Arizona Expositor

You gave me a good laugh with that last one.

John Hamer

I know I talk obsessively about our cousins in the Community of Christ, but your post reminded me of a striking difference I’ve observed. The difference in scale between the Utah and Missouri churches makes a big difference to one’s connection or access to “Mormon royalty.” Put simply, CoC folks are all directly connected to royalty --- and it’s not being connected to some local Stake President or area authority, it’s being connected to Joseph Smith himself, his stuff and all his heirs.

When I visited Kirtland last time, I stayed in Sidney Rigdon’s house and hung out in Joseph Smith’s house; same thing on my last trip to Nauvoo. In Independence, I stayed in the house of the Church Historian. I’ve gone to lunch with CoC Apostles. I’ve met the prophet several times. The close connection with their “royalty” means that CoC folks do not have the same kind of “awe” for royalty (past or present) that their western cousins have. It’s quite a natural thing for someone in the CoC to have direct access to Joseph Smith’s stuff --- and they’re very used to it, as a result.

DV

I am sure that the accessibility of the leadership, and their casual manner, has a positive trickle-down effect among the membership. Thanks for the insights.

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