Tuesday, June 15, 2004

How Does the Brethren's Worldview Influence Church Policy? 

by John H
I'll confess upfront I'm posting this for selfish reasons. I'm considering a paper for Sunstone and want to feel out some ideas. I'd even like to hear if people think I'm on to something or if I'm over-analyzing as usual.

This latest letter from the First Presidency announcing that garments can only be purchased with a temple recommend or a valid i.d. (to confirm one is an endowed member) seems to have added to a growing list of policy decisions that come from a very specific, narrow perspective. What I mean is, although the Church is a worldwide organization, many decisions are made based on the problems faced only in the Great Salt Lake valley. But those decisions are still imposed on the global Church.

For example, when President Hinckley announced changes to the missionary program, including the way farewells are handled, I was overjoyed. Growing up in Holladay (a suburb of Salt Lake), I felt like every other week we were hearing from weepy mothers telling stories about how their son or daughter drew all over the kitchen wall with markers when they were five and how they were going to miss them so much and so on and so on. But then I read an article by Peggy Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune that opened my eyes beyond my own Utah experience. A woman in a small branch in Wisconsin had recently had her home remodeled to host her son's farewell. He was the first missionary their tiny branch would have in some 25 years. She expressed disappointment at the policy but admitted she would obey. I can't explain how powerfully this story hit me. It felt like the whole Church was being affected because the east bench of Salt Lake City had more missionaries than the Sacrament meetings could handle.

This one example perhaps has the most negative ramifications. Others aren't necessarily negative or bad, but still seem to reflect the perspective of Utah Mormons, rather than a worldwide Church. Other examples include:

• Renewing Temple recommends every two years because bishops and stake presidents are spending so much time doing it, according to President Hinckley. Surely a branch president in Denmark (where the new temple has only 1,000 people in the entire district) isn't overburdened with requests for recommend interviews.

• The recent letter stating members should not quote from notes or statements made by Church leaders at regional or local conferences. This seems like a direct reaction to Elder Perry's comments in the Kuna, Idaho Stake conference, that spread over email and the Internet. Granted, the Internet is global, but I find it hard to believe it would have been seen as a pressing issue if the Brethren lived in Peru. Most of the emails and discussion seem to have been localized in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and California.

• The above mentioned letter on garments. Would this be an issue if the Deseret News weren't running stories on garments for sale on eBay, or if Lonnie Persifull weren't waving garments in front of General Conference-goers? I suspect members in Japan haven't heard anything about these issues that likely prompted the policy change.

• Rhetoric surrounding the media. Many times (including recent conference addresses by Elder Ballard and President Hinckley) Church leaders address movies, TV shows, concerts, etc. that are only available in Utah or the United States. Members in South Africa will be entirely unaware that there is a controversy surrounding these issues.

• Just as with above, the same is true surrounding the intense rhetoric about gay marriage.

What think ye? Are policies that are only necessary for the Great Basin unfairly being imposed on the whole Church? Is this an absolute non-issue? In what ways is the Church doing better in recognizing local customs and culture?
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