Church on Saturday

January 12, 2004 | 35 comments
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On Saturday I went to an LDS stake leadership meeting via satellite. I soon realized that I wasn’t too interested in the two major messages, the importance of trying to preserve the family and the subordination of all Church auxiliaries to the priesthood. I’ve heard those a few times. I remain unconvinced that Jehovah and Joseph Smith were advocating marriage and the family as we know them, and being an old auxiliary leader, I know that it is unwise to expect much help from the priesthood.

So what else was going on? The single stake Primary president next to me counted all references to individuals–as apart from families, as she always does–and found only one. I waited for any condemnation of gay relationships and found it conspicuously absent. The reference to women working was grudging, but positive. Are we evolving here? I was interested in the “quality of the teaching,” assuming that this must be the absolute ideal, as I watched Elder Oaks speak on and on to an attractive group of leaders from the Philippines allowed nary a response.

President Faust’s statistics on the dissolving and disappearing nuclear family showed this to be a dramatic and international phenomenon, not likely to be turned around by sermons about buying pleasure boats and paying for music lessons. On the way home, Richard, who always has good things to say, proposed that the problems of the contemporary family stemmed from buying into three major systems: capitalism, democracy, and science, all anti-God and anti-family and so deeply ingrained they can never be countered.

So the sub-text of the meeting had much to offer in the way of LDS cultural commentary. But, of course, I didn’t get it all. By accident I attended two RS meetings the next day and heard two lessons on how all listeners were responsible for what they got out of meetings and how they must pray, fast, and prepare to get all the important messages. I also heard many heartfelt testimonies about how rich and valuable the leadership meeting had been, how prevalent the spirit, how much they had learned. Isn’t it a wonder that we communicate at all, let alone love and value each other?

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35 Responses to Church on Saturday

  1. Russell Arben Fox on January 12, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    “On Saturday I went to an LDS stake leadership meeting via satellite.”

    I loathe leadership meetings–ward, stake, mission or church-wide. 1 1/2 years into my local elder’s quorum presidency, and I’ve managed to dodge them all so far (knock on wood).

  2. clark goble on January 12, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    “…the problems of the contemporary family stemmed from buying into three major systems: capitalism, democracy, and science, all anti-God and anti-family and so deeply ingrained they can never be countered.”

    How interesting. I’m not sure how science is “anti-God.” Some try to make it that way, of course. (Dawkins, for instance) But I don’t think it comes off that well, especially for Mormons. But perhaps the problem is more religious people who keep pitting religion against science (and losing?) I don’t think the problem is science.

    Capitalism I’m not so sure about. The non-capitalist systems of marxism have done a fairly good job of killing religion too.

    Perhaps the bigger problem is that religions have evolved in the context of an ancient world whose values and conceptions are so difficult to reconcile to the modern world. Even our organizations and frameworks don’t have much relevance to those ancient texts. (Democracy? Even in the Book of Mormon there never appears to have been anything like democracy)

    Perhaps the world has changed so much the past 100 years that the world need new revelations in the new language so that people can understand better?

  3. Matt Evans on January 12, 2004 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Claudia,

    I have many opinions about many of the topics you raised, but for now I’m mostly curious about your resignation that auxiliary leaders can’t expect much from the priesthood.

    I’m a counselor in a bishopric that tries to understand and meet the needs of our auxiliaries. We try hard but have much to learn. What kinds of needs went unmet? And were these unmet needs peculiar to auxiliaries, or did the priesthood fail to meet the needs across the board?

  4. Kristine on January 12, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    Claudia, I missed the meeting (my husband outranks me, calling-wise, so I got the babysitting chores), but Steve mentioned that there was a fairly serious attempt to present the current post-Correlation structure of priesthood/auxilliaries as The Way It Has Always Been. Care to comment on whatever revisionist history was happening?

  5. Logan on January 12, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    What fascinates me, Claudia, is this statement of yours:

    “I remain unconvinced that Jehovah and Joseph Smith were advocating marriage and the family as we know them. . .”

    I’ve never heard anything like that, but the notion intrigues me. Are you mainly referring to the “subordination of all Church auxiliaries to the priesthood”, or is there more? I’d be interested in hearing you elaborate on that.

  6. clark goble on January 12, 2004 at 3:09 pm

    Logan, at minimum we have polygamy as taught by Joseph Smith. We also have the patriarchal order. Those are two rather major differences from the modern view of marriage or even the Victorian… They appear an attempt to move back to a more primitive view of family. I think Brigham Young’s attempt to make Utah into an agricultural utopia also fits into this. (Something I always thought was naive of Brigham, given the unending march of science and technology – but perhaps that wasn’t as clear to him)

    I mentioned a bit on this in the excellent post by Nate on contracts vs. covenants.

    BTW – unrelated, but is it just me or are most church leadership training meetings rather lacking in the training bit? They seem just the same old talks you hear at sacrament. I always wish they were more hands on *training*. It seems LDS love meetings but not effective meetings. It seems as if meetings are what is valued rather than any utility to the meetings. Or am I alone on that. It often appears similar to our criticisms of the Rabbis. They had this law and missed the point of it. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in meetings that we forget why we have them.

  7. clark goble on January 12, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    Kristine, you use the term “post-correlation.” I’m intrigued. Exactly when did the correlation era end? And what marks the post-correlation era? Perhaps you can blog an article on that? It seems like a topic of interesting discussions.

    BTW – I don’t tend to see these things as revisionist. Rather I think they simply bring out or emphasize lines of influence and power that were always present. Even if we compare Nauvoo to the correlation era it seems the seeds of correlation were always present in Mormonism. It is just a change of ordering rather than some absolutely new way of doing things…

  8. Logan on January 12, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    Okay, I guess I can see some of the things you mean. I’m intrigued by the “less primitive” concept of marriage and family. I haven’t ever really thought to consider how they might be different in the past. I’ve been feeling annoyed at what seems to be institutionalized patriarchy in our church. I just blogged about women conducting meetings on my blog: http://bobandlogan.blogspot.com/2004_01_01_bobandlogan_archive.html#10737642221680597

    I’m definitely with you as far as feeling like very little “training” goes on at training meetings. How about some leadership skills?

  9. JWJ on January 12, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    “Richard…proposed that the problems of the contemporary family stemmed from buying into three major systems: capitalism, democracy, and science, all anti-God and anti-family and so deeply ingrained they can never be countered.”

    I think that we need to distinguish between the nuclear family which has risen and fallen in the last two or three hundred years (and which only in the last 100 we have come to embrace) and family values (in the simple, un-hyped sense). The latter includes seeing the family rather than the individual as the basic social and economic unit, putting children and their welfare on a par or above individual fulfillment, and accepting some form of division of labor within the home for the sake of the unit.

    I agree somewhat that capitalism works against these values–but then again it seems to do that to all values that are not instrumental. But on the other hand one can also see counter-currents: the very individualism of civil society seems to drive many of us to seek refuge within the home. So it should come as no surprise that many Americans simultateously act in ways which undercut the family and then unianimously agree on its indispensibility. For heaven’s sake, the gay marriage movement has all but wrapped itself in the banner of the family life.

    As for capitalism and democracy being anti-God, I don’t know about that one. My first shot at it is that capitalism loves God insmuch as he can be bought and sold. As for democracy, I would admit that as a class the demos makes itself (or its distinguishing feature) into a god (which comes into conflict with alternatives), but no more than do other ruling classes, such as the few rich, the few well-born, or the one king. But if by democracy we mean pluralism, then the facts tell a different story–people in a pluralistic society talk, live and breathe God more than any other.

  10. Nate Oman on January 12, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    One might also note that the pluralism that Jeremiah lauds is not really a result of democracy per se. It is a result of liberalism, which also is the generator of a market based, commercial society.

    (For a variety of reasons, I dislike the word “capitalism.” See more here http://goodoman.blogspot.com/2003_01_12_goodoman_archive.html#87650985 )

  11. Brent on January 12, 2004 at 6:13 pm

    Clark, it seems like Mosiah set up a sort of representative government with democratic principles. Thus he warned that once the majority chose evil, destruction would follow soon thereafter.

  12. Kristine on January 12, 2004 at 6:17 pm

    Clark, probably nothing interesting there, just slipshod usage. I guess I’m just meaning after the big push in 1960-61 and the establishment of the Triune committees.

    I do think it’s revisionist to suggest that the auxiliaries (heck, it’s revisionist to use that word!) were as firmly under the control of male holders of the priesthood in, say 1900, as they are now. This summer, for instance, I read Louie Felt ‘s (1st General President of the Primary) diary account of Eliza R. Snow coming to call her to the position and setting her apart on the spot. That’s a far cry from auxiliary leaders having to wait for appointments with their rotating advisors from the Seventy so that they can clear their travel plans.

    I might, if pressed, have to agree with you that it is a change in emphasis, or a change in degree of the exercise of power, or something like that. But at some point the change in degree becomes a change in kind. (yeah, I know, cliche and incredibly sloppy logical formulation all in one–let it go for now :))

  13. JWJ on January 12, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    Good point, Nate. This underlines how complex the situation is. The whole set of instititions, rights, and legal structures which you put under liberalism (more appropriately than putting them under democracy, both conceptually and historically) should indeed be called aspect of a liberal society. But what we now call liberalism (with its accompanying philosophical defenses, ethical life, and personal dispositions) wasn’t what was arising when all of its political, legal and constitutional components were arising even in the Middle Ages. You can trace the legal components into feudalism and even Roman law. In one sense society was paving the way for liberalism by producing some of its basic components (e.g. a certain set of contractual arrangements) but in another sense society was not becoming more “liberal” (i.e. open, individualistic, pluralistic, etc.) at all, but in many cases less so.

    This is unrelated to this post but is important, it seems, for discussions we’ve had off and on. It’s a somewhat small distinction, but I think that it holds up and makes a difference.

  14. JWJ on January 12, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    I had read your post on “capitalism”, but I just read it again. I’ll have to respond to it at length some time. Yes, the term was popularized by Marx. But it has been used coherently by other social scientists fruitfully. Weber is the most important example, mostly in _Economy and Society_. It would be foolish either to deny Marx’s influence on Weber, or to call him a Marxist. But in Weber’s understanding of capitalism (or *capitalisms* as there seem to be several), the state is not necessarily a tool of capital, there is no assumption of historical inevitability, and the market is understood as a legal creation. However, class is an important category in Weber. I happen to agree that class–as produced by how humans work and get the basic goods of life–is an important social scientific category, but this is not an exclusively Marxist idea. The objective reality of class is disputed by some today (e.g. in political science, Sartori), but the idea is as old as Aristotle.

    Like the term liberalism (which is itself of relatively recent vintage), capitalism refers not only to the long-established basic social arrangement, but also all the accompanying moral, psychological, and social side-effects. One can defend these basic arrangements (even if partially) and still decry and try to remedy some of their ill effects. And you don’t have to be a Marxist to make such arguments. You can just as easily make them as a Burkean, Madisonian (!), Tocquevillean, Hegelian, or Rawlsian.

  15. Nate Oman on January 12, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    I agree that the social arragements that “capitalism” gives rise to are open to criticism and that not every critic is a marxist. On the other hand, I tend to think that the generally the best way of amerliorating these problems is to conceptualize them in terms of market failure and find solutions to them that rest of individualistic assumptions. I am conflicted and skeptical when it comes to social theories. On the other hand, I think that a case can be made that legal regimes that are largely based on supra-individuals social concepts (e.g. class) have tended to be more pernicious than those based on individualistic assumptions. Also, while I am more than a little skeptical about modern economics, I think that the formalization of “folk psychology” has proven to be more epistemically valuable — from the point of view of policy perscriptions — than has sociology or other approaches that take supra-individualistic categories as social facts that can provide a vehicle of explanation. That said, I think that it makes sense to think of class as a concept informing individual preferences, e.g. I tend to like to hang out with middle class, college educated folks. On the other hand, I don’t have much faith in social theories that require me to conceptualize classes as independent agents of history. This, of course, does not deny the possiblity of collective action, but if you look very carefully at collective action in history, it has generally suffered from free rider problems and the like.

    OK. I am babbling now. I will stop.

  16. clark goble on January 12, 2004 at 8:11 pm

    Kristine, I’m not sure I buy your thesis. While the auxiliaries were allowed more freedom it seems that just meant that the Presidents of that era were too busy to micromanage them. If you look at Brigham Young he distrusted the Relief Society so much, because of Emma Smith, that he wouldn’t even allow it to be formed for quite some time. He and both Eliza and Zina had rather fiery debates as I recall too.

    It seems to me that the Relief Society was *always* under the control of the Priesthood. Just because someone doesn’t micromanage you doesn’t mean they don’t control you.

    Perhaps that seems like a minor point, but if we are looking at a power analysis we can’t ignore it.

    It certainly is true, however, that women had much more of a role in Mormon public life up to the beginnings of the correlation era. But I think one has to keep that public role separate from the structural power of auxilaries.

  17. Kristine on January 12, 2004 at 9:00 pm

    “He and both Eliza and Zina had rather fiery debates…”

    Exactly! They had access, they had influence, even if they didn’t have power. And not being micromanaged counts for a lot to the subject minority, I’d say. As does having your own money.

    (Not to mention the teensy-tinsy complication inherent in the example of a woman performing what is today both an executive function and a priesthood ordinance–you glossed over that pretty quickly, I’d say)

  18. clark goble on January 12, 2004 at 9:08 pm

    Kristine wrote: “He and both Eliza and Zina had rather fiery debates…” Exactly! They had access, they had influence, even if they didn’t have power.

    But that power come because of the auxilary or because they were married? In a similar manner a Relief Society president married to the Bishop probably has more influence than a Relief Society President not so married. I’m not sure we ought to set that up as the model for the future…

    I didn’t think I discounted the other matter. I think most here know for example of Joseph F. Smith’s wife assisting him in giving blessings. (Well the history buffs anyway) Clearly there are fewer options open today. The big change of correlation was to devalue individual initiative – partially I think to the more international character of the church and in part due to the ever present conflict between priesthood authority and individual charismatic leadership.

    It’s actually an interesting topic as women could subvert the usual lines of power through charismatic means. Thus you had in 19th century Utah as well as earlier with Joseph Smith “visionary women” who would draw people to them as wise women. In part Brigham tried to undermine such things and correlation also fundamentally finished it off. But I also think there were other cultural issues – such structures work best in small communities where people are respected. Today our wards are fairly volatile in content and most of us have most of our friends outside of a ward. Also “wise women” tended to be older and experienced and the cult of youth and relative lack of respect towards older generation contributed.

  19. brayden on January 13, 2004 at 1:28 am

    Nate,

    You should be skeptical of any theory that sees classes or any other social entity as acting independently. I don’t think that’s what Weber or other macro-cultural social theorists are saying though. For them, as JWJ notes, class is socially constructed and may persist because it is self-reinforcing. Individual agents may benefit from a system that distributes resources differentially, and if those individuals who benefit most are also those who have the most power, they are likely able to enforce the mechanisms that reproduce class structures. I guess what I’m trying to point out is that classes and other macro-structures are dualistic. They are bound to and shaped by the action of agents, who are similarly bound and shaped by the institutions in which they are embedded.

    Where are we going with this sub-thread anyway?

  20. Adam Greenwood on January 13, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Pardon the digression from the general trend of remarks.

    I think it ill becomes us to dismiss preaching because it’s aimed at a trend that will not be changed. If we can’t tilt at the windmills of human nature, then what’s a gospel for?

  21. Brent on January 13, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    Taking it a step further, I think it “ill becomes us” to dismiss preaching from those we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. Regardless of what Jehovah and Joseph may have been doing, from one’s perspective, much more relevant for us is what Jehovah and Gordon are trying to do.

  22. Gordon Smith on January 13, 2004 at 1:51 pm

    Brent: Thanks for the vote of confidence, but really that is a bit over the top. ;-)

  23. Brent on January 13, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    Um . . .

  24. JWJ on January 13, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    Brayden: the subthread is from Claudia’s report of Robert’s comment about capitalism, science and democracy. It got large because of a continuing discussion Nate and I have been having. Though the exchange has been very friendly, it reminds me of the fight in that John Wayne movie–it starts in the bar but then they go into the street and all over the place.

  25. Brent on January 13, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    Clark, following your point about the Priesthood has always overseen the Relief Society. My recollection is that sisters in Nauvoo got together to form the organization but the Prophet felt that it should be organized under the direction and supervision of the Priesthood authority and thus it was set up originally that way.

  26. clark goble on January 13, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    Yes. Many have noted the numerous parallels between adoptive masonry and the Relief Society as well. And indeed many of the masonic attacks on Joseph were tied to his opening masonry to women, or so I’m told — but there were rites that did this in an adjunct fasion. There are numerous other parallels as well that are quite interesting. You can get a lot of the texts on Amazon. (Search for “adoptive rite”)

    The big debate is what being a priestess means. The assumption is that this entails identity with the priesthood role of men. (At least by some) But I don’t think this can be supported. (For good or ill, depending upon your view)

  27. Kristine on January 13, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    What Joseph said was that he would organize the RS “after the pattern of the priesthood.” This is, I think, not at all the same as Brent’s “direction and supervision,” although that formulation does accurately reflect later policy.

  28. clark goble on January 13, 2004 at 7:13 pm

    The key issue with regards to the Relief Society and Joseph is the meaning of “turn the key in your behalf.” That phrase has been debated although the surrounding comments by Joseph are also interesting. In the DHC it reads:

    “You will receive instructions through the order of the priesthood which God has established, through the medium of those appointed to lead, guide and direct the affairs of the Church in this last dispensation; and I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessings on your heads” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:607).

    I don’t have the original (my _Word of Joseph Smith_ is missing in action) I believe Quinn reports it as “I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.” So there was some editing going on, although I don’t know when these modifications were made.

    Unlike Quinn (and Oaks who discussed this issue) I don’t think the keys are really the significant issue. Rather it is under whom the keys are exercised. This then gets into the debate about the Holy Order and whether those so elected and called can act fully independently or not. As some might recall, after 1890 this became a thorn in the side of the church since many polygamists claimed *independent* authority because of being so sealed. That was also wrapped up in the succession crisis following the death of Joseph.

  29. Kristine on January 13, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    heh-heh, Clark, I knew you could be goaded into typing in the whole thing. “…turn the key to you” is the now generally-accepted-as-most-accurate phrase (it’s not just Quinn’s gloss), though there have been editorial issues as you point out. And, yeah, sorting out what it means/implies/allows is difficult. (which is precisely why I object to the pretense this past Saturday and at other times that the organizational structure we now have, with quorums and auxiliaries of the Priesthood, was just dropped out of the sky sometime before the mid-19th century.)

  30. clark goble on January 13, 2004 at 7:54 pm

    What I’m interested in Kristine, and perhaps I can goad you to look this up, is whether the preceding sentence in the DHC is also in the original sources. It seems that, more than the addition of “behalf” is far more key. (If you can excuse the pun)

  31. clark goble on January 13, 2004 at 7:57 pm

    BTW Kristine, I notice that the GAs have tended to quote the version from the Words of Joseph Smith rather than the DHC of late. i.e. Elder Faust:

    http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-14-38,00.html

  32. Kristine on January 13, 2004 at 8:29 pm

    The minutes of the first meeting have it this way: “This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God has established–thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead–and I now turn the key to you in the name of God…” The whole bit about “lead, guide and direct the affairs of the church” would appear to be a later addition. Since the context in which the original appears is Joseph Smith suggesting that the Relief Society elect a Presidency (!), it would seem more likely that he was referring to those appointed to lead the RS, but it’s ambiguous.

  33. clarkgoble on January 13, 2004 at 8:46 pm

    Kristine, thanks for the quote. That original appears to be referencing the Holy Order. That suggests that the RS is under that order. But that’s not that surprising given that the Holy Order and the Council of the 50 in theory represented the true government of the church. (I believe all the twelve were members of the Holy Order and that all are today, although clearly they don’t talk about this stuff)

    That implies that the keys in the Relief Society were under that order. The election doesn’t mean that much, given views on common consent in the era. The issue is under whose authority the keys are exercised. I’d sumbit that even with the Holy Order there was an order to it, that one is always exercising stewardship under an other. (This gets into Nate’s comments on covenant) However clearly the order was interpreted as giving a sense of autonomy. And some might read Helaman 10 as implying that. i.e. you can do what you want because I know you won’t go against me. However clearly members of the Holy Order *did* have conflicts. Added to all this was the fact that the nature of the order was always secret and thus we don’t really have many clear sermons on the subject.

    I’d say though that the key way to view the order and thereby auxilaries is in connection to the events surrounding the manifesto. Did the President have the keys to remove keys from others? I think the mainstream church must say yes. The various polygamist apostate groups that date to that era say no. If we say yes then even members of the Relief Society who have had their second annointings are under the direction of the President of the High Priesthood. Those who haven’t been so annointed are more obviously under their direction. Obviously I don’t know how many of the female auxilary heads have had their second annointings, but I think the discussion implies that at a minimum that must be considered.

  34. clark goble on January 13, 2004 at 8:50 pm

    I should add that I think the DHC is still important, depending upon when the editing was done. It may reflect mid-19th century understanding. Certainly Brigham Young had a very distrustful eye towards auxilaries and spent much of his time as prophet centralizing his authority. The same volume that has Quinn’s essay (which I disagree with over the last two pages as I recall) also includes an essay on women seers in Utah which is probably the best essay in the volume. There we find some parallels to what was going on during Joseph’s life and shows the conflict between charismatic authority and heirarchal authority. For all its flaws I think Quinn’s book on _Extensions of Power_ in both volumes shows this move started fairly early with Joseph. It moved from a more Methodist like position to something more like today. The trend was always there.

    When we examine questions of the Relief Society we must do so in that context of change and centralization.

    Of course the Holy Order does throw a few wrenches into that debate, and thus is key for many issues in Mormon theology.

  35. bemusedreader on January 13, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    “I remain unconvinced that Jehovah and Joseph Smith were advocating marriage and the family as we know them.”

    Certainly, the concept and theology of the family has developed as the restoration has progressed. For example, the latter-day saints of 1843 could have echoed the sentiment above about the teachings of Joseph Smith just 10 years earlier. This fact seems to be disquieting to many, but is inherrent in the concept of a restoration.

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