Monday, July 13, 2009

Predictions of Globalization of the Church

A few days ago, or as President Monson would begin a talk, "Many years ago...", I was chatting with Jeremy over IM at work about random thoughts that we were having. Such occasions are what helped start The Seer Stone. This post is a product of some of the ideas generated during that discussion.

Jeremy and I were discussing some cultural norms about the church and even the LDS blogosphere, where a majority of participants are within a small geographical area. I think that being in Texas as we are makes us a minority in a way. This is even more true when one heads south of Texas and abroad. I think that the church's history can be roughly divided into two parts: 1) The foundational period, roughly 1820-1890, which includes the Restoration as well as an attitude of seclusion from the outside world; 2) includes the modern period (1890 to present) where the church as a whole decided to participate in society and has helped us to a certain extent become mainstream. I understand that I am oversimplifying but it you want to make it easy, then I suggest these dates.

I believe that at some point, it may have happened already or may yet arrive, we will hit stage 3, massive globalization. Yes, I know that numbers of members in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have grown exponentially recently, but ultimately have we seen the influence of this boom yet? I think overall the answer is no. Yes, we did have our first 70 called from Kenya recently, and there are many 70's from Latin America, yet the overall feeling I get is that is that we are still an Anglo-American organization whose cultural norms (not doctrine) still clash with the background of many of our converts from successful conversion areas.

Let me highlight a few conclusions I have come to. Some of these thoughts were sparked by a T&S post recently but I apologize as I don't remember when or by whom. Acknowledgement is appropriate but I unfortunately don't know who to provide it to.

1) Whether we like it or not, we are a de minimus Protestant religion. Yes, we are unique and did not break off from any other sect thus making us Protestant in the conventional way, but the young church inherited Protestant cultural baggage and ideas that existed in the 1800's. We still see them today. Common justifications for the priesthood ban were very much in line with Protestant ideas at that time. What instruments do you hear in church? The piano, harp, flute, etc. You don't hear drums or sacred instruments of an indigenous tribe of the Amazon, right? Our depiction of Jesus is the stereotypical fair skinned Caucasian. Obedient LDS males dress as if they are on the board of a Fortune 500 company. Men should be clean shaven; even the leaders of the church who are foreign are those who appear the most Western/American. (President Uctdorf is almost more American than me sometimes. I swear he told a story about being a young boy on a farm in South Eastern Idaho...). Politically we line up as a whole with Evangelical Christians to a large extent.

If the church continues to grow, and we know it will, I predict that this model will be unsustainable. Yes, there are already many members in these countries, but their influence is minuscule to what Western LDS cultural is producing. What if in a country wearing a white shirt is not considered respectful but disrespectful? It's as if we force converts to confirm to an American standard for church, which is cultural, when they are already conforming to gospel doctrines, which is spiritual. What if the wearing of facial hair is part of the cultural norm as is common in many places? Are priesthood holders who wear something that would be considered business casual going to become the norm when LDS in the US are vastly outnumbered?




2) I predict that it will take more time that when General Authorities are called from other countries that will really begin to influence the globalized church's norms. This leads me to believe that many of our current practices are as they are because it reflects the ideas of our current leaders. It just seems that the leadership doesn't reflect the make up of the membership...yet. I don't mean this as a criticism, just as an observation. When the time comes that 5 apostles are Latino, 1 is Philippino, 1 African and the remainder have never lived in Utah, I think that a global LDS culture will strongly be in place. We will focus less on the handcarts of American ancestors and more on the pioneers in Ecuador, Mongolia, and other places that reflect the true composition of the church and the sacrifices of all and not just the original pioneers.

Will this mean that I can wear a blue shirt without feeling guilty? Will this mean that a member of the bishopric can wear a beard without "special" Stake President approval? I don't know. But I do know, or at least predict, that what Joseph Smith said about the babe on its mother's lap and not knowing anything about our destiny has not come to pass yet, though sometimes we like to think so. In 50 years, the make up of the church will be so vastly different and diverse, that we cannot comprehend it now and it will influence the way that we think as a whole, instead of as Conservative Western Americans, speaking as a whole generally.

One final note, this is not a criticism of leadership, just a commentary on where culture, not doctrine, dictates our practices. I whole-heartedly support the Brethren and believe the Lord guides them to lead us appropriately. I do recognize, however, that sometimes their personal views can seep into our cultural understanding of Orthodox Mormonism, and that is what I expect to see change. Yes, I was referring to Elder McConkie.




The handlbar mustache could make a comeback, no?

25 comments:

Jeremy said...

Hans wrote: "This leads me to believe that many of our current practices are as they are because it reflects the ideas of our current leaders."

I think you are quite correct. Nate brought up the idea of tattoos and earrings as an example. In cultures outside of the United States, these things are quite common, and in some respects, as sign of devotion to their Creator. However, here in the U.S., those can be seen as signs of rebellion or general disregard.

I too am anxious to see how the cultural norms of the Church evolve over time. All can agree that the Church must accommodate other cultural practices at some point.

Nate said...

Hey Seer Stone readers: Aloha.

Jeremy said...

ALOHA!!

Evgenii said...

I take it this means that Nate is on vacation? Why are you reading the blog? You should be enjoying your vacation.

Joseph in Brazil said...

From a point of view from someone outside the U.S., I think the church has to grow more culturally. There are many rules in the Church handbook that leaders complain about because it is hard to apply in their culture.

For example, in the handbook it says that young men and young women should not camp together (I’m going off the top of my head so I could be wrong and don’t have a reference), but here the leaders say it’s too expensive for this to occur (just to rent a place to camp is around 1000 to 2000 BRL or 500 to 1000 dollars which takes a big chunk of the stake budget).

In the recent years, a numerous amount of GA’s have been called from outside of the U.S., but I still haven’t seen someone work with Stake presidents to talk about cultures and administration procedures. I’m kind of anxious to see this happen so that there is a more general handbook.

At the same time, the church is a little weak due to the culture. People do not want to let go of their father’s traditions and therefore have a hard time living some gospel principles. Elder Stanley Ellis of the Seventy wrote a column about this in the local part of the Liahona, but it continues to be a problem.

What is good though, is that there are more and more apostles who have spent time outside of the U.S. either on missions or as area presidents. Many of the people were glad to see Elder Anderson called, since he was a leader here in Brazil.

Nate said...

Nope... Jeremy gets the joke.

That was my example of cultural differences. You need to go to church in HI Hans.

Good post Hans, it is an interesting thought. I would think the church would develop multiple local cultures rather than one big world culture that is inclusive of all customs. I wonder how Catholics do it...

I for one can't wait for an apostle that has a beard and comes from a place where it is wrong to wear ties.

Trevor said...

I'd like to contribute a somewhat different viewpoint...

Left to ourselves any tradition, even correct traditions, can degrade into apostasy. "The natural man is an enemy to God" and we would create traditions and norms that put us gradually further from God, without a doubt: just look at American value degeneration in the last 50 or 100 years, or the Maya and Aztec fall into human sacrifice ritual instead of correct ordinances and godly worship. In Taiwan on my mission, there were priests/elders who refused to bless the sacrament unless a bowl of water and washcloth was in between the bread and water trays. A case of "adding" to the word of God in a seemingly innocent way but that changes the ordinance and opens the door for further changes and incorrect doctrine. Unchecked, that simple practice/tradition could have led the whole branch into apostasy. (Their reasoning for the additions were so that the angels that assisted them would have holy water to clean their hands with! As if their priesthood was not sufficient for the task.)

Anytime an existing culture meets a new culture change happens. But, in a church with revealed knowledge and correct principles we have an accurate measuring stick to evaluate whether or not a new culture has traditions that should be adopted (ALOOOOOHA!) or rejected (Hail Mary) and eradicated by teaching correct principles to the other culture (Mary is not our intercessor- Christ alone is).

I think the big picture and what the Apostles are leading us towards is the adoption of norms consistent with the City of Enoch. Tattoos and multiple piercings will never be acceptable because it violates the principle of respect for the bodies we have as gifts from God. Any nations or cultures that use tattoos or piercings in their present worship will be taught a more correct principle and practice consistent with God's practices and will, not our own or their own. Right?

New Testament, BoM, and D&C all mention wearing clean, plain(not expensive) but nice clothing and the people as groomed in a comely fashion. Brigham Young taught that we should strive to look beautiful as angels but not follow the fashions of the day.

Also, I hope the day never comes when we stop talking about the original pioneers in favor of modern pioneers. Both are revered and held up as examples of faith and courage for us by the General Authorities in talks every conference. The Liahona is full of such stories. Alma says we have to keep a "remembrance" of the "captivity of our fathers and their deliverance" by the hand of God. Right?

Camping is definitely a tradition that doesn't need to be "exported" to places were it doesn't make sense, economically, geographically or whatever. Coed camping is just dangerous. Principles of chastity and modesty are paramount! Surely other activities could be done in its place.

Evgenii said...

Trevor, on the whole, I agree with you for the most part but take issue with only a few small points.

You said:

"Tattoos and multiple piercings will never be acceptable because it violates the principle of respect for the bodies we have as gifts from God. Any nations or cultures that use tattoos or piercings in their present worship will be taught a more correct principle and practice consistent with God's practices and will, not our own or their own."

This is assuming that having one earring is God's will and two is not. These are great examples of subject interpretations of scripture based on our current American culture.

You said:

"Brigham Young taught that we should strive to look beautiful as angels but not follow the fashions of the day."

Like wearing a Delaware sized beard? My overall point is not to be flippant about what the leaders say or doubt them, but to recognize some of these things are not doctrinal nor the will of the Lord, but personal opinion backed by a high position.

You said:

"Also, I hope the day never comes when we stop talking about the original pioneers in favor of modern pioneers."

Nor do I, I just want to focus more on sacrifices of the saints in Estonia, Uganda, etc. as much as we do Faith in Every Footstep.

You said:

"Both are revered and held up as examples of faith and courage for us by the General Authorities in talks every conference."

You mean General Authorities who grew up in the region that the Pioneers ended up migrating to. The last three Apostles grew up in the Salt Lake area. Would you expect them to focus on something else?

You said:

"Alma says we have to keep a "remembrance" of the "captivity of our fathers and their deliverance" by the hand of God. Right?"

Of course. I just want to focus more on the captivities of other pioneers as well. An Ensign to the Nations from 10 years ago is good. My post simply predicts that we will start seeing a shift that none of us expected. The early pioneers shouldn't be de-emphasized, but others should be emphasized more. That's all. President Hinckley was on the right track and so are our current leaders. Practically it will take a little longer.

Nate said...

No, seriously, how are we going to ban the necktie? I've never seen an angel to my knowledge, but I doubt they wear them.

***

Trevor/Hans point out the problems well. There are potential dangers for blatant apostasy when we let culture in, but then we also might get hung up on the small stuff by keeping it out (what logic would make 1 earing okay and not 2?). Either action is adding to doctrine.

The first is clearly dangerous. I think getting hung up on the small stuff is also dangerous because of its potential to turn people off.

Even I get unreasonably bugged by some small stuff (e.g. don't tell me that shaving the goatee that I've had for half of my life will somehow have a spiritual impact on me/my calling/etc.). I imagine if it was an important cultural aspect, there is even more potential for harm.

What is the solution then?

Joseph in Brazil said...

Trevor, when you said: "But, in a church with revealed knowledge and correct principles we have an accurate measuring stick to evaluate whether or not a new culture has traditions that should be adopted."

I agree with you that the principles and revealed knowledge should not be changed, but there are a lot of administrative practices that should be.

Maybe camping was not a good example, but I can give you this one among a lot others.

In the U.S. when my mom passed away on a saturday, her funeral was held on a Tuesday. But when my wife's grandmother passed away on a Saturday evening, the funeral was scheduled for Sunday morning because it's very expensive to preserve a body down here.

The grandmother was a pioneer in this area, and a lot of people wanted to attend her funeral, but couldn't because the leaders said that the church handbooks states that meetings should not be canceled because of funerals. My wife's family was very distraught because of this and the number of people who were in attendance (they didn't like the fact that the stake presidency was there but other members who were close friends were tied-up with callings).

There is a great need for globalization of administrative procedures.

Joseph in Brazil said...

Evengeli, I agree with you that we shouldn't forget the original pioneers, but there is a need for stories of recent pioneers.

Here I've heard of families who had sold most of their possesions, just to travel to the U.S. and be sealed before a temple was considered to be built here.

There may have not been any casualties, but they did end up in poverty to receive spiritual blessings, which are great examples of sacrifice that motivate us to live the gospel more.

Evgenii said...

Joseph, your point is exactly what I am trying to say. Yes, let's not forget the orignal pioneers, but let's also start paying attention to more pioneers in Brazil, Uganda, Philippines, etc. I think all agree about that.

Trevor said...

Wow. This is a very active blog. You guys are really on top of things. I've never had a comment I've made dissected so thoroughly! Impressive and scary at the same time. I hope I didn't cause any hard feelings. I'll try to respond to a few of the points raised.

Most importantly, I think that church policy is a very different animal than doctrine or culture. The three interact significantly, but cannot be treated as interchangeable or equal... yet. When Christ reigns personally, and all the wicked are burned leaving the more righteous part, then maybe doctrine will equal policy will equal culture. (D&C 38:21-22, 11-12)

Evgenii: I appreciate you're remarks. Only one thing stuck out as a concern that I have. I don't understand how you can make the judgment: "My overall point is not to be flippant about what the leaders say or doubt them, but to recognize some of these things are not doctrinal nor the will of the Lord, but personal opinion backed by a high position." I totally get where you are coming from about the opinion backed by high position. I don't think that is necessarily wrong though. I have two examples to illustrate.

1. I had a bishop in Provo that pulled me aside one day and asked me to shave my beard (this was after my mission by three or four years). It was a full beard and I wanted to keep it. He was following the stake presidency's direction in "raising the bar" for all priesthood holders in the stake, not just missionaries. I thought about it most of the following day and after praying about it decided that I didn't like the policy, I thought it was trivial, and more than a little like the Pharisees in NT. I knew also that I was in a state of mild apostasy and starting to criticize my leaders over a trivial matter. And knew that if I rebelled against the counsel, I risked falling away from God further than I already was at the time. Much better men than me have stumbled and fallen over similar trivial complaints. So I shaved my beard. It was a small act/sacrifice to sustain my leaders and exercise faith in their calling by God to the "high position."

2. My mission president was a very rule oriented man. (The previous president was much more loose and the mission suffered for it while elders dated local girls and left area and mission boundaries at will.) Anything went wrong in the mission with any elder and a policy/rule was instituted to prevent the thing from happening elsewhere in the mission. It made for a lot of inconvenience and seemed like nonsense. But it served a necessary purpose for the mission as a whole.

About the church meeting times... as far as I understand the Bishop has authority to alter times of meeting schedules to meet the needs of the ward. Something probably could have been worked out. It sounds like a very unfortunate circumstance. Maybe the bishop was following policy direction without realizing the ability to fulfill both needs with a creative or inconvenient solution to the ward as a whole. Either way, in an eternal perspective the matter is still a trivial one. If the family was there for the funeral then that is probably the most important. I can't decide that though, Joseph, only your family can decide what is most important and whether or not the church policy effect on their funeral will affect their faithfulness to God and his church, even with all the imperfect decisions of people around them. Members of my family have passed away and sometimes people can come for the funeral and sometimes they can't no matter what day of the week it is. I'm glad we have prayer and revelation from God to solve some of these difficult situations since no policy can encompass all circumstances. Everybody's learning though, we all make mistakes, right?

Nate: For myself, I don't button the top button of my shirt ever, even when wearing a tie. Makes me feel like I'm choking. I figure we'll trade in our ties for white seamless robes someday, but it just is what it is for now. :)

Nate said...

Good perspectives Trevor.

This is why this blog is here...to try and spark these types of discussions. We usually pick each other apart (there are lots of evil lawyers here). None of us take offense or mean offense. It's a good way to learn.

Joseph in Brazil said...

Trevor - Of course this is a learning process, and the family was not offended by what happened. To me it's just an example of how the church can progress.

The principles of the church cannot change (that's what I especially love about the church), and that is why the church is not as strong as it should be here down here.

But I believe that maybe some procedures should be evaluated in order to gobalize the church.

BTW - The Seer Stone - I love y'all's blog. It's something that I'm able to read to get away at work.

Jeremy said...

Good explanation, Trevor. That is interesting that a Bishop would request a shave from a member. Were you a Bishopric member or EQ pres at the time?

You mission sounds a lot like mine in Ecuador. Same dichotomy happened with the mission presidents that I served with.

Trevor said...

Jeremy: I was just a member. I'm not recalling if I had a calling at the time of the request, I don't think so. Shortly afterward though I was called to teach the Marriage and Family course (my wife and I had just married and I guess he thought we needed to learn a few things! He was right of course). I've had facial hair off and on throughout the last 15 years or so and he was the only Bishop that ever requested I be clean shaven. After two years of military service, two years of mission and three years at BYU I was sick and tired of shaving everyday! I recall he even mentioned that I would be more presentable at work. Which at the time was ironic to me since I started growing the beard partly to look older at my work- illusion of experience and authority (I was working at the Utah State Hospital in mental health as a psych tech).

Evgenii said...

Hi Trevor,

Not hard feelings, I didn't take it that way. I hope I didn't come across that way as well. Jeremy, Nate and I went to law school together so we are used to picking each other apart. Usually it was me that they were easily picking apart, so I got used to them being better at it than me.

Let me reply to your two points:

1) I think we have all had some situation were it is slightly annoying to be told what to do. I think that we can disagree with our leaders, local or general authorities, with falling into the critising category that can lead to apostasy. Do I think that your stake president was wrong? Yes. Why? Because it is a cultural element that is enforced differently at a local level. Is it something to go and say they are wrong to everyone? No. But if I disagree, don't say anything about it, and then still continue to wear the beard, am I on the road to apostasy? I'm not sure if I have a good answer for that. I just fear that we end up with relative "truths" enforced at the local level differently across the world based on culture. For example, if a stake president in the Kiev Ukraine stake doesn't mind if you wear a beard to church, and your stake president does, would that mean that a bearded member in the Ukraine is in good standing with God and the bearded man in your stake was in apostasy? That standard doesn't make me feel comfortable.

2) I agree that these are necessary for certain purposes. I want to avoid cultural mormonism that sneaks into the process your new president instituted.

You said:

"Nate: For myself, I don't button the top button of my shirt ever, even when wearing a tie. Makes me feel like I'm choking. I figure we'll trade in our ties for white seamless robes someday, but it just is what it is for now. :)"

I would love to see Nate in white robes. It reminds me of Luke Skywalker circa 1977.

Evgenii said...

Sorry, Trevor, one more thought. Regarding your thoughts about sacrificing when you didn't necessarily agree with shaving, I wrote a post on this a few months ago. It was rather raw in that I didn't really review it, I just posted my feelings without editing. It's located here:

http://theseerstone.blogspot.com/2008/11/conscience-vs-loyalty.html

Jeremy said...

Hans, I may have to partly side with Trevor on this one. You wrote:

"[I]f a stake president in the Kiev Ukraine stake doesn't mind if you wear a beard to church, and your stake president does, would that mean that a bearded member in the Ukraine is in good standing with God and the bearded man in your stake was in apostasy?"

It's not a matter of whether the beard takes the member out of good standing, but whether the member follows the counsel of his priesthood leader who specifically counsels the member to do something and he subsequently decides against it. We all know from Joseph Smith's life that not following but criticizing our leaders is one of the first steps to apostasy (i.e., turning from truth once truth is known and understood). Whether the request was Pharasaical or not, it still was received/requested from a priesthood leader.

HOWEVER, I think Trevor did the right thing by pondering the issue and praying about it. Although he later decided against what he received as personal revelation and what his gut told him, he still took a proactive approach rather than blindly following the leader. If I were in his situation, I too would have respectfully questioned the leader to at least understand why the request was made.

More members need to take matters of this sort into their own hands; personal revelation will be the key to a lot of the tough decisions we will have to face soon.

Evgenii said...

Jer,

You assume that the required shaving of the beard is "turning from truth once truth is known and understood". I would say this isn't so clear cut, as it is inconsistently regulated in the church. I have gone to the temple many times with different degrees of facial hair. Do we really know that keeping a shaved face My concern is that we are accepting a cultural norm because our priesthood leaders tell us to. And because it's a priesthood leader, well...we have to do it, right? And if I disagree, don’t shave but don’t criticize the leader, am I “on the road to apostasy?”

For a situation like polygamy where the church had a divine mandate, I can see your point. Sometimes it does require faith. But where do we draw the line when following priesthood leaders' advice? I'll go to the obvious extreme first. If a priesthood leader tells you to kill someone, you will not do it, right? Ok, we established one extreme. We know if a priesthood leader asked you to shave, you would do it, right? Now, somewhere between these two extreme examples, the line has to be drawn where you will cease to do what the leader asks. Where do you put it? Is the priesthood ban not bad enough that you would disagree (assuming we live in pre-1978)? Do we use a standard where the request is unconscionable or “shocks the conscience”? It's just a thought experiment I have been thinking of and I am curious to see what other commenters think.

One last question for Nate: If your priesthood leader asked you to shave the goatee, would you do it? I don't mean to be too personal, but I am curious as I have only seen you with it and not without.

Nate said...

Good question Hans...

Not sure. I have to admit the prospect of that sort of request would bug me. Maybe unreasonably so.

Facial hair was good enough for people in the past. There is no reason why it would detract from my ability to fulfill a calling, etc. I fully believe such requests are pharisaical in nature.

I imagine that I would express that idea to the PH leader and ask him to give it thought...and ask me again if he thinks the request is proper (while I undertake the same exercise). I bet that most leaders that would ask that question have never give it thought. If he comes back and requests it again, I probably would lose the hair.

Trevor said...

Jeremy: i think I may have been misunderstood and I want to clarify. You posted "HOWEVER, I think Trevor did the right thing by pondering the issue and praying about it. Although he later decided against what he received as personal revelation and what his gut told him, he still took a proactive approach rather than blindly following the leader."

I should re-write my previous comments to say this :

I thought about it most of the following day. I didn't like the policy, I thought it was trivial, and more than a little like the Pharisees in NT. After praying about it I realized that I was in a state of mild apostasy and starting to criticize my leaders over a trivial matter. And I learned through prayer that if I rebelled against the counsel, I risked falling away from God further than I already was at the time. Much better men than me have stumbled and fallen over similar trivial complaints. So I shaved my beard in accord with the Bishop's council and the confirmation I received through personal prayer. I didn't need to ask the Bishop for further explanation. It was enough that God had let me know sufficiently enough through the Spirit that, for me and me alone at that time of my life, this was truly the word of God from an inspired leader, or at least a well directed leader. It tried my faith just enough to give me an adequate chance to repent of self-will and put my trust in God and his called and ordained servants.

I have no idea if the Bishop made the request of other brethren or what their response was.

Santos said...

Man I hope I'm not to late to leave a comment on this interesting topic. I can say that I'm a pioneer because I'm the first member of the Church in my family. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I never dreamed of wearing a suit and tie to a Church :) I converted wile I was a student in college here in the US. Since I've been here in TX and attended a Spanish speaking ward and stake, I lived this issue a lot more (especially as a priesthood leader in these units). I know for a fact that the Church Leaders are concerned about the issue of cultural differences and how it affect the unity in the Church. I feel what the Brother from Brazil is saying because the manuals are specific for the diverse cultures and practices of people around the world. The manuals give 3 main things 1) doctrine, 2) norms or policy, 3) guidelines. The doctrine and revelations can't be changed. Norms or policies better be followed, but guidelines are mostly suggestions to have a more uniformed Church across the world.

There were times that a family wanted to use the cultural hall to have a QuinceaƱera (a big deal for a lot Latin cultures). I the Spanish manuals it says that that is not an approved activity. Then they would go the the English ward and ask for the cultural hall for the same activity and it was given to them because the leader didn't know :)

A lot of the Spanish speaking members feel as if this is not there Church also. That because it is mostly administered mainly by Anglo people, that they are just visitors borrowing a space.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for stopping by again, Santos. Out of most of us, you probably have a more directed view of this topic.

You wrote: "A lot of the Spanish speaking members feel as if this is not there Church also. That because it is mostly administered mainly by Anglo people, that they are just visitors borrowing a space."

That's unfortunate that it feels like that. I wonder how the ancient Church dealt with this. They were converting thousands from diverse cultures across the Middle East and western Europe. This may have been one of the reasons they sank into apostasy - each branch following the doctrines according to their own cultural norms.

On another note, that's pretty funny about the Quincanera party. It's like going to Dad after Mom told you "No."