Of Perfect Organizations

“No other organization is so perfect as the Mormon Church, except the German army.” [1]

We still occasionally hear variations of this statement (e.g., here), although nowhere nearly as frequently as we used to hear it:

1910: “It is conceded that we have one of the most wonderful organizations in the world. It has been said that it is second only to the German army, and while we are pleased with that comparison, we are willing to go them one better, and say, not even the German army can compare with the organization of our Church.” [2]

1914: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is conceded to be an almost perfect system, even by men outside its pale. Such a one has said of it: ‘It is the most perfect organization in existence, except the German army.’” [3]

1925: “It was said a number of years ago that the two most perfect organizations in the world were the German army and the Mormon Church, and as I have said to my friends rather jocularly of late, ‘We know what has happened to the German army; I presume we have a pretty clear claim to the title.’” [4]

1956: “I wonder, well organized as we are (years ago when the German Army was regarded as the best drilled and best officered and best organized army in the world, we used to hear an appraisal of us to this effect) whether we are as well organized as the German Army.” [5]

1958: “In the olden days they used to liken this Church to the German army. You know what happened to that, but the Church is still going on.” [6]

1959: “Some time ago there was a statement had among us to the effect that the German Army and the Mormon Church were the two most perfect organizations in the world … the German Army failed … That leaves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the most perfect organization in the world.” [7]

It is clear from these citations that Mormons accepted the remark as flattering. Oh, we might argue our true ranking as being above that of the German army, but there was no question that the remark was received as a compliment, and that our “perfect organization” was being praised.

I’m not so sure it was intended as praise.

The original statement at the root of all these paraphrases is this:

So far as I can judge from what I have seen, the organization of the Mormons is the most nearly perfect piece of social mechanism with which I have ever, in any way, come in contact, excepting alone the German army. The Mormons, indeed, speak of their whole social organization as an army, the reserve being those at home, and the fighting force being the missionaries in the field. We have faith, authority, obedience, operating through this marvellous social mechanism, and touching life at all points, inasmuch as the Mormon creed recognizes no interest as external to the Church, and regards church and state as actually one. [8]

Ely’s article summarizes the co-operative movements of the church, including the United Order, Z.C.M.I., the teamwork involved in crossing the plains, the selflessness of those who labored at irrigation and road-building and the raising of schools and churches. He notes that industry and thrift were taught as virtues, and that the Church promoted musical and dramatic arts, as well as general education. When he makes his obligatory examination of polygamy, he lists what he sees as both positive and negative economic outcomes, and while he cannot refrain from rejoicing “in the prospect that the blot of polygamy will in time be entirely removed, and that it may no longer serve to suppress the better feelings and emotions of those who are under the influence of Mormonism,” he avoids the most extreme anti-polygamy rhetoric common to his time.

All in all, the article comes across as upbeat and complimentary, chiefly because Ely writes more nearly like a modern journalist striving for objectivity – his positive tone comes not so much from enthusiastic praise as it does from an absence of the nastiness so often prevailing in any article describing Mormonism.

Still, I have the nagging feeling that “perfect organization” is not intended as a compliment.

Ely lists the economic successes of Mormon cooperation, but notes that they are possible only because individuals put group interest ahead of individual interest. He describes Mormon geography as being fully divided into functioning wards – there is no place in Mormondom for the rugged individual to plant his feet. He dwells on the training of children, both in public school which, before statehood, he reports as teaching religious values, and in church classes and activities that fill up a Mormon’s leisure hours from childhood to old age. By “perfect organization,” does he mean “best possible government,” or does he mean “total control”?

Certainly non-Mormons found the comparison of the Church’s “perfect organization” to that of the German army as reflecting a sinister reality. Only days after the appearance of Ely’s article, the Presbyterian General Assembly meeting in Los Angeles cheered the speech of Dr. Charles L. Thompson of New York: “No speaker … has aroused so much enthusiasm … and brought out [such] great applause from his audience,” reported the wire service. Thompson said:

This describes Mormonism: Its empty promises deceive. Relentlessly, inexorably, it fastens its victims in its loathsome glue. It has one vulnerable point. It is not to be educated; it is not to be civilized; it is not to be reformed. It is to be crushed. Dr. Richard T. Ely has declared that there is nothing comparable to its system except the German army. Quietly it moves to the eastern coasts, to foreign capitals. It strangles communities; yet with what easy indifference we regard it. If 2,000 men afflicted with smallpox were turned loose upon a community, the nation would rise in a panic. We would flee or would grapple with the danger. But to be told there are 2,000 men abroad trying with deathless art to infect a nation with a religious system that is blasphemous and with practices that are subversive of social morality and destructive of the national conscience, is to awaken a mild protest here and there. … Mormons send missionaries to us far faster than we send missionaries to them. Beware of the octopus.

There is one moment in which to seize it, says Victor Hugo. It is when it thrusts forth its head. It has done it. Its high priest claims a Senator’s chair in Washington. Now is the time to strike. Perhaps to miss it now is to be lost. [9]

Ely was writing, and Thompson speaking, at a time when the philosophy of Herbert Spencer was much in vogue. Spencer taught that social organizations (like Mormonism, although I have found no specific reference to Mormonism in his writings) evolved much as biological organisms were believed to do. Societies, like biological life, began as simple units, which joined and combined and grew and became more complex. As biological entities evolved, units within the organism began to perform specialized functions – i.e., organs developed. Likewise, as social entities evolved, subdivisions within them took on more specialized tasks. The more “organ-ized” a body became, the more sophisticated it became – but at the same time, the units composing those organs became less and less able to function except as units within the body. Just as a heart or a stomach cannot function outside the body that sustains it, individual humans within a highly organized society lose their ability to function as individuals. They lose their autonomy, their free will, their very humanity.

So was Ely complimenting Mormonism by saying that its unity led to achievements which individuals could not have made? Or was he saying that Mormonism so perfectly organ-ized its members into a mass – turned us into unthinking, dependent units of a whole – that freedom and individuality were lost? Or was he going even farther, to say, as Dr. Thompson did, that Mormons were toy soldiers, tools ordered about by the hierarchy, for sinister purposes? [10]

[1] Nels L. Nelson, Scientific Aspects of Mormonism, or, Religion in Terms of Life (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 1. Epigram to Chapter 1.

[2] C.W. Sorenson, Conference Report, October 1910, 106.

[3] Orson F. Whitney, Gospel Themes: A Treatise on Salient Features of “Mormonism” (Salt Lake City: The Church, 1914.

[4] Adam S. Bennion, Conference Report, October 1925.

[5] J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, April 1956, 82.

[6] Legrand Richards, Conference Report, April 1958.

[7] Edward L. Clissold, Conference Report, April 1959.

[8] Richard T. Ely, “Economic Aspects of Mormonism,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, vol. 106, no. 635 (April 1903), 668.

[9] “Mormon Church Must Be Crushed to Earth, Presbyterian Minister Says It Cannot Be Educated, Civilized or Reformed,” Ogden Standard, 26 May 1903, 1.

[10] This is the “J. Stapley Memorial Footnote,” entered to beef up the footnote count solely for J.’s pleasure.

30 comments for “Of Perfect Organizations

  1. When I consider that Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane was that we would all become “one,” it seems an organization, i.e., Church, is necessary to help create that unity. And it seems to me that the better organized that Church is, the more likely it will be to produce the unity and oneness that Christ prayed for.

    Of course, achieving that oneness will require each of us to individually perform some self-sacrifice and consent to follow directions with which we might not agree or that we might not understand. That notion might upset those who are focused on their individual identity–i.e. their separateness from the whole–but it seems necessary when one considers Christ’s prayer for unity and an avoidance of contention.

    Christ’s ultimate example was that we need to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the whole, and that we will paradoxically find ourselves–our real selves–in that process. So I when I’m asked to sacrifice my time, talents, energies, and even my ego for the sake of creating that oneness and unity that Christ prayed for, I don’t see that as being deprived of my freedom, individuality, or humanity.

    Rather, the organizational aspect of the Church has enabled me to associate with many, many people whom I truly admire for their goodness. It has given me innumerable examples of pure Christian service and opportunities to serve.

    Frankly, other than showing up at Church on Sundays with a colored dress shirt or a couple days’ worth of stubble on my cheeks, I can’t think of anything I want to do that the Church’s organizational structure discourages me from doing.

  2. Fascinating, thank you Ardis.

    Everyone wants the hierarchy when there is a natural disaster; no one wants it when they think they should be an exception to the rule.

  3. That was really interesting. I wasn’t familiar with this German army comparison. We are preternaturally disposed to interpret ambiguous commentary like this as complimentary, even when it may in fact not have been.

    I have to confess that I’ve never been fond of the saying that “the Church is perfect but the people aren’t.” I see no reason to surmise that the Church in its organization is “perfect”; if it were, there would be no room for development and change, which clearly has happened over the years.

  4. The German army was known (and succeeded as wildly as it did) because it pushed all decision-making to the lowest possible level; giving individual units broad goals and letting them determine how to fulfill them. It worked quite well. Rather quite well. However, it was the antithesis of the organization of the Mormon church for reasons we can all determine on our own; in fact the author, poor thing, got both 180 degrees wrong. You may all now return to your regularly scheduled blogging.

  5. Ardis: This is not one of my “Say sometime stupid days”. So I am going to sit back and enjoy reading this well prepared post.

  6. I’m afraid I was somewhat unclear. The German army (not unlike Walmart) did hit upon the perfect combination of elements that others seem to be unable to replicate. For a very very very very very dark end. This is not a good thing. Efficiency is not everything. There is something beautiful in muddling, messily, through. I have come late to the bloggernacle; the, dare I say it–muddling–both institutionally and individually–is beautiful. Why should we be so efficient? Way overrated. Having said that, there is, yet, something to empowering lower levels of a hierarchy, assuming something of beauty — delicate–flexible (other than the horrors we all know by heart) is the goal–thus, the bloggernacle.

  7. I think you can make a good case that the German army did not, in fact, fail. Read the maddening accounts of Hitler’s interference with Generals Rommel and Arnim in North Africa. Refusing to let them retreat or withdraw, in spite of the fact that they literally had nothing left to throw at Alexander and Montgumery. Or Hitler’s horrific madness that refused to countenance sane military advice while thousands of German and Soviet troops tore each other to pieces in Stalingrad. Or the desperate pleas of German generals to surrender to the Americans to avoid being steamrolled by the Russians – pleas that went unheeded as the Red Army murdered, raped and pillaged its way across eastern Germany.

    The German army was always a first class job. It was it’s top leadership that was lacking.

    Of course, if there is any blame to lay at the door of the German army, it is that they allowed Hitler to rise to power in the first place. And once he was firmly in place, and his madness was plain to all, they lacked the courage to stand up and thwart him. That is the great shame of an otherwise amazing human organization.

  8. #4, How is your description of the army the “antithesis of the organization of the Mormon Church”? I have been involved in that organization at most levels for decades, and I just don’t see it.

  9. To be more direct, to follow-up on Seth’s comment, the Church has succeeded in many ways specifically because its top leadership allows its local leadership to operate almost independently with published guidelines and doesn’t resort to constant micro-management from the very top. It establishes a chain of command with multiple layers between the global and local leaders, and >90% of the practical decisions the local leaders make are made either independently (based on the published guidelines and inspiration) or in consultation with the layer immediately above.

  10. In the early 1960s, when I went to work there, it was common for the country’s business press (“Wall Street Journal”/”Fortune Magazine”) to describe General Motors as “second only to the Vatican in efficiency.” I have not heard such comments in recent years. The fact is that many American organizations — especially manufacturing ones — took their organizational structures in the late 19th century from the model of the German army’s general staff (so did the U.S. Army in 1903 after considering the debacles of the Spanish-American War), hence the structures that the really old companies like Du Pont and GE lugged into the early 20th century. When GM came along before WWI, experienced, meteroic success, and then nearly collapsed in the recession of 1921, it righted the ship by kicking out the entrepreneurs and risk-takers (Billy Durant) and by adopting the structure of its Du Pont owner-rescuer,which Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. articulated as decentralized operations [divisions] with coordinated policy-making and controls [central staffs]. After WWII, with Ford on the brink of collapse, officers who migrated to Ford from GM installed the same system or structure. The problem is that this structure became sacred without thought to its origins or the conditions around it. Hence a problem that began in the 1970s when other, more entrepreneurial enterprises (some outside the U.S.) started tinkering with unconventional structures such as self-directed work groups and teams. W.L. Gore & Co. (the GoreTex people) adopted Bill Gore’s philosophy after he quit Du Pont by which “you shall know the leaders by their followers” as he took a product that his DuPont peers didn’t know what to do with and made it a terrific success. In the early 1980s GM let Saturn create a structure that was corporate not divisional and that had an organization depicted as a series of concentric circles rather than the old German general staff hierarchy of boxes and lines, but after a fewv years was unable to tolerate this unconventionality.
    What a church does to cope with radically changed circumstances when its “structure” is derived from scripture is a somewhat different and difficult matter, but I suspect that there have been some changes and adaptations in the LDS Church’s organization to reflect a need to deal with a mushrooming size, especially outside of Utah and the U.S. (The church didn’t have the management consulting firm of Cresap, McCormack & Paget in there at great cost for no reason during the 1960s.) The role of the Regional Representatives might be an example of the LDS Church’s limited change/adaptation in its organizational structure, notwithstanding its retention of its Biblically-inspired basic organization. I note that before it was disbanded by federal requirement in the 1870s that the Nauvoo Legion quit talking about military units that it had earlier dubbed (Biblically) “cohorts” and companies of “10s” and “50s.”

  11. In response, I’m, I confess, a girl, aging, but still blessed (hindered?) with only X chromosomes; so I am not privy to the interior decision makings of the church. But yet, but yet, we have a very centralized organization; viz; we all teach and learn the same lessons on the same day – week – month be we in Utah, New York, Brazil or Timbuktu. We also follow the same organizational plan as to meetings, home – visiting teaching the whole wide world. Missionary work? Same everywhere–where, pray tell, is decision making pushed down to a local level? I’m not sure this isn’t a good thing, don’t get me wrong; we may chafe locally, but there may be greater good (the beauty of obedience, p’rhaps) in plan. I just didn’t like seeing the German army and the church mischaracterized. Facts, y’know. Plus, as a personal bias, I don’t remember the Bible, the BOM, etc, extolling the glories of efficiency (did I miss a verse?) Let’s all muddle together.

  12. A question: Your footnote 1 and the article at LDSLiving that you link to both refer to a work entitled Scientific Aspects of Mormonism, but you give the author as Nels Nelson, and LDSLiving calls him Nels Anderson. Did somebody err, or did two people named Nels both publish a book/article in 1904 with the same name?

    If there’s just one book, by Nels Something-or-other, it seems obvious that the comparison was intended to suggest that the Mormons were just as odious, just as threatening as the German army. Why else suggest that there is no remedy except to crush it?

    Frankly, it’s hard to imagine any American or English or French writer in the 1st half of the 20th century making a comparison to the German army that was not intended to be odious.

    But, we’re not very good at irony, are we? How often we quote “Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life” without ever stopping to ask what the second clause says about the apparent command in the first!

  13. The pleasure is indeed great! This is a fun post and Bill’s comments are equally enlightening. To follow on his comments, our church is a regular revolution. The changes in the priesthood reform movement at the early portion of the century, correlation in the 60’s and 70’s and the empowerment of Stake Presidents in the 90’s.

    Mostly, I like understanding the sources for our colloquialisms, and this hits the nail on the head.

  14. I wonder whether the author wrote that original comparison the way he did knowing that some would take it as a compliment and others as evidence of Mormons’ evil ways? He knew quite a lot about Mormons, and I assume quite a lot about the generic American audience who’d read his work; I doubt he thought Mormons would see it as criticism. We have evidence that they didn’t, after all.

    And anyway, the people who were worried about Mormons corrupting the world like a virus were looking for ways to portray us as a threat: you don’t want a threat that’s well-organized and efficient, even if you think those are good things to be in general. For example, you may want those dirty illiterate rural boys living in that shanty town on the West side to be scrubbed up and taught to conform to an industrialized, clock-centered, incredibly authoritarian work environment — or at the very least, how to become “proper” Americans. (*) But you can still talk about that scary army of Mormons efficiently corrupting the souls of humanity every Sunday, and with a clear conscience. Heck, that preacher was urging his flock to become more efficient in countering us!

    I mean, see the state’s arguments in 1925’s Pierce v. Society of Sisters, for example. Ironically a case precipitated by people freaked out about a supposedly authoritarian religion damaging society, and a clear sign that organization and community control are only damaging when it’s “their” organization — in the first person, “our” organization, they’re good things no matter what our expressed attitude towards individualism might be.

    (*) Henry Brown, quoted in Katz (Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools, 1971) thusly: “No one at all familiar with the deficient household arrangements and deranged machinery of domestic life, of the extreme poor, and ignorant, to say nothing of the intemperate — of the examples of rude manners, impure and profane language, and all the vicious habits of low bred idleness — can doubt, that it is better for children to be removed as early and as long as possible from such scenes and examples.”

  15. I had never heard this before. Really interesting, especially put into the context of 1905, both in European and church history.

  16. This is new to me, too. Very interesting. And, of course, well-written.

    Julie, your #2 is a classic.

  17. 12: Mark B. — It’s “Nelson.” I hadn’t noticed that the linked article misnamed him. Thanks for noticing, so I can clear that up.

    Nelson was paraphrasing the remark as it had been filtered through Dr. Thompson; he cites his source as an “eminent divine” without actually naming the man, and uses the statement not as an endorsement of its sentiment but as an example of the way Mormons were typically treated by Christian clergy. Nelson himself was LDS.

    “Not to be ignored or forgotten is Nels L. Nelson, an English professor at Brigham Young University who during the early years of the twentieth century enjoyed an unusual relationship with church president Joseph F. Smith. President Smith was known to send drafts of his speeches to Nelson for editing and suggestions, and it was Nelson who produced Mormonism’s first book on that most controversial of issues: science and religion.” [Trent D. Stephens and Jeffrey Meldrum, with Forrest B. Peterson, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001)]

    I’m enjoying and appreciating the comments but don’t want to steer the conversation yet. Keep ’em coming!

  18. Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, Chief of the Army High Command, who oversaw the composition of the 1933 German manual on military unit command …

    I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities.

    Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments.

    Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy.

    The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations.

    But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!

  19. re # 6 and 7, dates matter. The German army quote was from a book published in 1904 — long before the Nazis and even a decade before the Imperial German army’s involvement in World War I. The reference is likely to the Prussian Army, which had a reputation since the late 1700s for its tight organization, effective leadership, and discipline among the ranks (a reputation only enhanced through the events of the 1860s and 70s).

  20. Adding on to 20, one might note that many Americans in the period found the German/Prussian state to be quite progressive (first introduction social security, etc.), and its army was an outgrowth of that–wide middle-class participation, reserves training a focal point for most communities, etc. British discomfort with the Germans was not serious until the naval race began, mostly in 1905, and there was minimal-to-no American discomfort with them.

  21. we all teach and learn the same lessons on the same day – week – month be we in Utah, New York, Brazil or Timbuktu.

    I’m willing to be my life’s savings that we don’t teach the same lessons every week. We may, in fact, share common manuals with common outlines, but there’s an tremendous amount of leeway given to instructors, even when they are asked to stay within the guidelines. First and fifth Sundays (and many fourth Sunday), as well, are left up to individual stakes to decide for themselves for RS and priesthood.

    We also follow the same organizational plan as to meetings, home – visiting teaching the whole wide world.

    Not true. There are many stakes and wards (at least in the US) who are experimenting with different home and visiting teaching models.

    Missionary work? Same everywhere–where, pray tell, is decision making pushed down to a local level?

    There are some Church-wide standards, indeed, but the basic process for teaching is a local matter.

    I’m not sure this isn’t a good thing, don’t get me wrong; we may chafe locally, but there may be greater good (the beauty of obedience, p’rhaps) in plan. I just didn’t like seeing the German army and the church mischaracterized. Facts, y’know.

    Yes, but it’s unfortunate when you’ve missed them

    Plus, as a personal bias, I don’t remember the Bible, the BOM, etc, extolling the glories of efficiency (did I miss a verse?) Let’s all muddle together.

    You’re obviously confusing the gospel with the Church. They are two separate things. I’m quite sure that Mormon and Moroni, in the effort to edit the BoM for our times, stripped out all of the minutes of meetings and focused on the gospel. Our modern prophets have the charge to drive efficiency in our time.

  22. I think we far under-estimate the effect that the Priesthood Correlation movement of the 1960-70’s has made on the organization of the church. #13 above mentions it. Correlation had a much larger impact on the church, I believe than the recent empowerment of Stake Presidents. Pre-correlation Mormonism was anything but an effecient army.

    Before Priesthood Correlation the 5 most powerful auxillaries (Sunday School, Primary, Relief
    Society, Young Men, Young Women) were all lead by Boards that were more effective and influencial than the Quorum of the Twelve. These organzations each functioned quasi-independently within their own internal hierarchy and to various degrees had their own finances, generating money with their magazine sales and fund raising events of every sort. David O. McKay was on all the correlation committess from the beginning of the movement. He was a correlation minimalist and only wanted to insure that the independent auxillaries did not teach conflicting doctrine or compete with each other in unhealthy ways.

    One way to view the correlation movement is to think of it as pruning the auxillaries back so that the Priesthood could function as the leadership at every level. This pruning made the church organization far more simple and easier to transplant and encouraged converts to stay in their native lands and not migrate to Utah. Harold B. Lee was a correlation zealot to the point of giving consideration to the elimination of the auxillaries and their replacement with age and sex specific new organizations all under close Priesthood supervision. What we ended up with was a compromise between the two views, perhaps leaning more towards Lee than McKay, in my opinion.

    President McKay was forced to adopt increasing levels of correlation aka Lee when the church was nearly bankrupted in the late 1950’s by over zealous building projects along with a growing BYU, both high priorities for McKay and both supervised by men outside of direct apostolic supervision. And Mckay’s health began to decline shortly after that so he concentrated his efforts on what he loved most, going out and meeting with people.

    He left to Lee the internal wrangling to push through Correlation. Lee was his apparent successor anyway, since Joseph Fielding Smith was almost as old, allied to Lee and his time as Prophet would be short. Lee was about 20 years younger than them and in his 70’s when he became the President of the church. The untimely death of Harold B. Lee after presiding only a few months may have tempered Correlation from some of its more extreme initiatives under consideration. But Spencer W. Kimball kept Lee’s counselors and carried on pretty much in the same direction with the notable exception that Kimball did not possess Lee’s hard-line view of never giving the Priesthood to the Blacks.

    One final controversial question that ties this chain of ideas back to the articles under discussion: How did all these auxillaries in the Mormon church get to be so powerful? I believe the answer is polygamy. The auxillaries are a product of a societal shift from subsistance farming and ranching characteristic of the Pioneer era to a more industrial economy characteristic of the late 19th and 20th century with more free time. When the auxillaries either emerged or were growing and gaining influence, the Mormon Priesthood leadership was hiding from the Federal Marshalls. Don’t forget to include post-manifesto polygamy in this equation which consumed quite a bit of time and energy.

    The people who wrote the article comparing us to the German army probably didn’t have a clue about any of this. Mormon leadership sneaking around with plural wives, auxillaries growing to become too independent and powerful. They were probably looking no further than at the organization of the missionaries within the missionary department which was pretty much like a well-run army.

    In 1904 Joseph F. Smith issued the Second Manifesto ending polygamy “officially” again. Two Apostles were disciplined for not going along with it. He had yet to face a Congressional Inquisition on the subject. BYU kicked out 3 professors for teaching controversial ideas like Evolution around that time. James Talmage was a decade away from publishing his book Jesus The Christ which really defined our Christ doctrine. It was only 5 years after Talmage published the first edition of Articles of Faith which really was the first work to attempt to squeeze Mormon doctrine between two book covers. B.H. Roberts was active and probably starting to think about his pre-Adamite theory. Heber J. Grant had not gotten us serious about the Word of Wisdom yet. This was hardly a militaristic time in our history. Quite the opposite.

  23. Great synopsis of Correllation. Reading it the way you’ve stated it, it is hard to conceive of how the international church could really function without the elimination of the separate semi-automonous boards in favor of a single centrally organized hierarchy under a leadership structure with direct and transparent chains of command.

  24. Mike, your comments are interesting. Can you please list the sources of the information contained in your comment so that those of us who are interested can do some further reading?

  25. There are elements of centralization and decentralization in the Church structure, but, particularly since correlation, in my view, centralization has dominated .

    Yes there is plenty of “room” for differences in style of presenting a lesson in the inner city from presenting it on the east bench of SLC or Provo, but the cultural expectation (unless as expressed by many traditionalists in the Bloggernacle) is that a teacher not diverge from the manual, and permissible bringing in of “outside” resources for a lesson means bringing in other correlated materials published by the Church.

    Even stake conferences are becoming more “centralized” in the sense that the substantive portions of many of them are broadcast from SLC. The same is true of leadership training.

    There is a tension between autonomy and control–too much autonomy could lead to a balkanization of the Church, too much control could lead to a sapping of energy at the local level (which tends to happen when a person’s sense of “ownership” in an organization is decreased).

    We could be sure that all gospel doctrine lessons fit comfortably within correlation guidelines if the lessons were broadcast (a la many stake conferences) from SLC (frankly, that would not be a lot worse than some of the lecture style or the “guess what answer I am thinking of” lessons I have attended).

    I do not see that happening, for the same reason that, surprisingly to me, the Church has formally and officially moved away from rote presentation of missionary lessons. (When I served more than 30 years ago, the official requirement was the lessons be presented word for word, but almost all missionaries with whom I served had modified the lessons anyway to be presented in their own words, often with different examples and questions. One could say that we were all “rebels” then, or one could say we were simply ahead of our time.)

  26. Yes there is plenty of “room” for differences in style of presenting a lesson in the inner city from presenting it on the east bench of SLC or Provo, but the cultural expectation (unless as expressed by many traditionalists in the Bloggernacle) is that a teacher not diverge from the manual, and permissible bringing in of “outside” resources for a lesson means bringing in other correlated materials published by the Church.

    I’m really curious as to what most people think by the term “diverge from the manual”. I think there’s a definite disconnect between what is expected and what most (bad) teachers actually do.

    Do people just not know how to teach from the material and yet inject local issues and personality? Do we really suffer from such bad teaching in the Church that we don’t know how to teach properly?

    (Wait, don’t answer that.)

    Any good teacher tailors the material to the circumstances and knows what “don’t stray from the material” really means. Just because a majority of the Church is looking at Chapter X doesn’t mean that there is a quite a bit of variety.

    I think the request to stick to the material is a good one, all things considered. It’s that the average teacher in the Church doesn’t know what that means.

  27. Amen, queuno. I see it as a problem of application quality, not inadequate material. The Church tries to provide “minimally acceptable” resources to its teachers (not meaning bad or even mediocre, but not excellent oration if read or relied on too heavily), since few of its members who teach are professional teachers. Frankly, some of the most uninspiring lessons I have encountered have been well-organized but lacking in the edification of the Spirit – and I have never had a “bad” lesson from a teacher who understood the basic guidelines of the materials (use as foundation documentation, don’t stray topically, choose from provided materials, pray for guidance throughout preparation and presentation, follow Spirit during class if inspired to deviate from prepared text). It’s a two-edged sword.

    Also, I attend various wards on a regular basis. I can attest that the same lesson does not mean the same lesson – and often it means radically different lessons. I have heard the same numbered lesson on consecutive weeks quite often, and they often are different in significant and interesting ways.

  28. I can hardly wait to drop that quote at an appropriate meeting. Like in Sunday School during a pregnant pause. Just to see who laughs. Call me perverse, but laughter was my first reaction to the comparison of the church and the German army.

    Julie, also a good point. Not unlike my own attitude.

    As an aside to that, Julie, it makes me think of people who have no use for the church until they need something, sometimes it’s for a funeral, sometimes it’s for financial help.

    We’ve had three inactives who requested that our ward handle the funerals of their loved ones, not members of our ward, in the last couple of months. We did it, and served them a nice luncheon afterwards.

    My sister’s kids, who were raised on her anti-Mormon propaganda, have all gone to the church for financial assistance (they are still members). She was almost bragging about that and I told her it made me mad.

    I’m ranting and uh, what’s the term, thread jacking. Sorry.

    Good post, Ardis. well done.

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