The confluence of Kaimi’s post and a well-written article by Jeffrey Toobin in the latest New Yorker, as well as a recent discussion with a local church member, have led me to wonder: What principles should the Church apply when gerrymandering ward boundaries?
First, some background: Two months ago, we relocated from Brooklyn, New York, to Oakland, California. We bought an apartment near downtown Oakland because we liked the neighborhood, its proximity to San Francisco (where I work) and because it was a (comparatively) decent deal.
When our first Sunday rolled around, I looked up on the internet where the closest church was. It turns out we are in an Oakland branch that meets at the gorgeous Oakland Temple site. I noticed that although there are many wealthy members of the Church in Oakland (well, in the Piedmont section of Oakland), the branch consists mainly of lower income people and a disproportionate amount of ethnic minorities.
Over lunch with one of the more wealthy local members, he told me that there was severe middle class white flight when the Oakland public schools were integrated in the sixties (school districts were redrawn so that each included some of the hills (wealthy) and some of the flatland (poor)). As a result, the Oakland church demographic is now very polarized — there are the wealthy in Piedmont (where they have their own non-integrated school system) and those that could not afford to move out.
To make a long story short, I was told that in response to this situation the Church decided to carve up Oakland in the opposite way as the school system did. That is, Piedmont and the surrounding, wealthy neighborhoods make up one ward, and everyone else is in the branch. According to my lunch companion, this was done so that the poorer members “could have more leadership opportunities.”
Which brings me to my question. In political redistricting, whichever party has control of the state legislature can draw the boundaries basically however they wish (within the confines of the one person/one vote principle). The only real restriction is that they cannot be drawn based predominantly on race. Now, I don’t know who draws ward boundaries, but I suspect it is a combination of stake and regional authorities with guidance from general authorities. What principles guide these decisions? What principles should guide them?
Obviously there are often very natural borders, and in these cases leaders can just cut at the joints. But these decisions may often involve real choices, choices that will create a ward which will be the only contact with the Church institution for many families. Kaimi’s post makes clear the impact that ward demographics can have on a family. Does it make sense to have a du jure “poor ward” and a “rich ward” in the same city where it could be divided up more evenly? Is it a boon to the less established members to be able to run their own ward without domination by more established members? Or is it hurtful to them because there is a lack of stability and resources?