When Pres. Bush was re-elected in 2004, he talked about having gained â€œpolitical capital.â€? He chose to â€œspendâ€? it on Social Security reform, which didnâ€™t work out so well for him. I want to offer a few thoughts about us gaining and using â€œspiritual capital.â€?
First, what do I mean by spiritual capital? Capital is â€œaccumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods.â€? So spiritual capital is â€œaccumulated spiritual goods devoted to the production of other spiritual goods.â€? In some sense what Iâ€™m talking about here is karma â€“ â€œthe [spiritual] force generated by a personâ€™s actionsâ€¦â€? (thanks m-w.com). While we usually think about this in eternal judgment terms â€“ i.e. the good things I do now will produce good results later â€“ here I want to talk about spiritual capital in terms of our membership in wards.
Moving into a new ward is always a strange thing. On the one hand, thereâ€™s the much-ballyhooed experience of â€œhaving familyâ€? wherever one goes in the Church. As clichÃ©d as this can be, I find that it is true; I generally have a stronger connection with Mormons, wherever they are, than I do with my neighbors or other people of similar racial, class, gender, and even professional backgrounds (hence I like the Mormons-as-ethnic argument, but thatâ€™s for another time). But we all know that not all family members are entirely equal, at least in terms of their functionality (i.e. my crazy Aunt Bev). So when you move into a ward, youâ€™re checking it out for how comfortable youâ€™ll be, and everyone is checking you out as to whether youâ€™ll fit in and, perhaps more importantly, contribute.
Based on my personal experience and various conversations, the type of people who are suffering through this post might be the type of people who have some angst about fitting in in most LDS wards. This is not because the people who are reading this (i.e. â€œyouâ€?) are bad people, or even as weird as my Aunt Bev, but generally because you have a somewhat different intellectual makeup than the majority of Mormons (and the majority of people, period). You think about slightly different things, and you think and talk about things in a slightly different way. Perhaps neither better nor worse, but different. You probably think of yourself as an intellectualâ€”or informed, or thoughtful, or whatever-adjective-having-to-do-with-higher-brain-function-you-chooseâ€”and other people generally see you the same way.
You know that many Mormons are a bit suspicious of “intellectuals,” not because Mormons are dumb, but because “intellectuals” sometimes talk in ways that are unfamiliar or challenging or seemingly heterodoxâ€”in short, different. And to be labeled as â€œdifferentâ€? when you move into a ward creates some problems for you, both for your social life and in terms of what callings you receive, etc. This is not ideal, we would probably agree, but I think it is generally true. You know you have interesting things to say, and interesting ways of looking at things, and you want to contribute your perspective and experience to your new ward. But youâ€™re also afraid of being labeled â€œdifferentâ€? if the first words out of your mouth are â€œdifferent.â€? What to do? Hereâ€™s where spiritual capital comes in.
I think that if youâ€™ve built up enough spiritual capital in a ward, then you can spend that spiritual capital in contributing your unique perspective. Spiritual capital is built by participating in all the â€œordinaryâ€? aspects of church life, which people generally recognize as virtuous within the church: you serve in callings, you home teach and visit teach, you volunteer to help people move or to take meals, you show up pretty much every week, you act friendly, etc. You donâ€™t have to pretend youâ€™re someone youâ€™re not (so here Iâ€™m talking to someone who values the behaviors I just listed). Before too long, youâ€™ve built up enough spiritual capital that you can start to spend it.
Let me talk in more personal, concrete terms. Iâ€™ve been in my ward for seven years, serving in all kinds of callings, and generally trying to be a contributing member of the ward. Over that time, Iâ€™ve built up a fair amount of spiritual capital that I can choose to spend as I wantâ€”in other words, Iâ€™m able to say some pretty â€œhigh-costâ€? things in classes because I know my comment wonâ€™t be seen as having â€œinsufficient fundsâ€? behind it. For instance, a few months ago, my wife & I were having dinner with an established family in the ward (heâ€™s in the bishopric, she was stake YW pres, their sons all serve missions, etc.). I donâ€™t know how it came up, but we started talking about Joseph Smith & the Book of Mormon, and before you knew it, I was blabbing about seerstones and folk magic. This was the first they had ever heard of such shocking details, and they had plenty of questions. I put these details into a faithful perspective, and shortly thereafter, I was asked to give a ward fireside about the translation of the Book of Mormon, with a specific request to talk about seerstones. Then, in a Primary activity a couple months ago, this same member of the bishopric taught the kids about how Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by staring into a hat.
For me, this was spiritual capital well-spent, as I think there is real spiritual and pedagogical value to telling our story correctly, and in wrestling with the truth rather than a sanitized or fabricated version of it. You may spend your spiritual capital in other ways, whether it is talking about womenâ€™s issues or whatever. But I am convinced that if I did not have sufficient spiritual capital, my â€œdifferentâ€? notions of BofM translation would have been marginalized or seen as destructive, rather than seen as a means of nurturing faith, even in the young.
I should add that I think our capital is only well-spent, and will only â€œproduce additional goods,â€? when it is done with pure intent, in the service of the Kingdom, not in the service of our own intellect or ego.