Over at Sons of Mosiah, Bob Caswell shares Bob Millet’s theory on why some members of the Church get so darn hyper about little things:
“Millett had another story of a relatively new member coming to him and asking if it was normal for a bishop to require no facial hair in order for a person to be worthy to receive a calling. Millett suggested that the person meet with his stake president. Well, this person did so only to find out that is was his stake president who instigated it! Millett posed the question: What does a person do in that situation? How do you tell a stake president he is wrong? It’s not that easy, especially not in Utah County.
Millett gave more examples of Utah County issues he’s dealt with and continued to explain that when a population in a certain area is more than 80 percent Mormon, hyper-righteousness tends to occur, which eventually translates into self-righteousness (just look at those emails he got [about seeing The Passion]!).
What’s my point with all this? Well, Millett only has a theory, but it is apparently a theory that “the brethren” seem to have as well (at least according to Millett). This may be second or third hand information, but I think there is enough of it to suggest that the term “Utah Mormon” is not without some strong support. It may not be a very accurate use of words. And “Utah County Mormon” might not be the best choice of words either. But I tend to believe Millett’s theory that a heavily concentrated group of Mormons would develop these characteristics more so than other Mormons who were the minority somewhere else. Ironically, for being a poor choice of words, we all seem to know whom we’re talking about when “Utah Mormon” comes up in a conversation.”
I don’t want to dispute this theory so much as offer another one (or two). Here’s my take: let’s say you are a recently-called stake president or bishop. I would imagine that your primary feeling is Fear of Messing Up Big Time. (This may be exacerbated if you live in Utah, where a billion other people in the ‘hood know exactly what you should and shouldn’t be doing, which would nicely link my theory to the one above.) So you vaguely remember hearing once, maybe while dozing during a talk, something about beards. And you think, the last thing I need is someone on my case in shock that I didn’t read the transcript of the 1984 West Valley Regional Meeting where a Seventy clearly stated that people with beards shouldn’t get callings. So, to play it safe, I am going to play it safe. So you take the most conservative path, figuring that no one takes rabble-rousing liberals seriously in the Church anyway, so you can’t lose.
However, and here is where the conflicted part comes in, some of the ‘ridiculous’ examples of Fake Rules mentioned at Sons of Mosiah seem rather, well, reasonable to me. One was a stake that banned all choirs from singing anything that wasn’t in the hymnal. Overlimiting, you say? For those of us made queasy by Mormon pop even when we aren’t pregnant, I think that overlimiting the choir to the hymnbook in order to avoid having to listen to that drivel in Church may in fact be a fair trade-off. Another one was an over-emphasis on modesty. Well, I dunno that you can overemphasize modesty with the YW. As a feminist, I have huge issues behind the attitude that the female body should be displayed as if goods for sale or lease. (While I doubt this is what motivates others . . . the point’s the same.)
So I guess the conflicted part is this: I worry that local Church leaders make knee-jerk conservative decisions to avoid flak. At the same time, when looking at concrete examples, those decisions don’t always seem so terrible when you consider what the alternative is.
Now, wouldn’t this all be so much easier if we made all of our decisions under the guidance of the Spirit and assumed that others did the same?