Integrating Elites into the Church

April 9, 2008 | 91 comments
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While watching last weekend’s General Conference, with the sustaining of President Monson and the calling of new people into Church leadership, one of the things I felt is how fortunate the Church is to have as its leaders men and women who have achieved significantly in many walks of life. This is in contrast to most other denominations, where people with these skills would be excluded from formal church leadership. For example, what other church has attorneys in its most senior leadership?

Any organization in America, business, government or non-profit, would love to have on its board of directors men like those in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. The Church is still small and intimate enough that most of us have had personal experiences with one of the general authorities or auxiliary leaders, and can confirm the quality of these people.

For example, Elder Lyn Mickelsen of the First Quorum of the Seventy has a home in my ward in Idaho Falls. He is a native of this area and anticipated he would soon be retired into emeritus status, so he bought a home here and started attending my Sunday School class several times a year. However, the Church has assigned him as the Area President for Mexico, so he still only gets here occasionally. When he does, he speaks to our High Priests Group about some of the matters he works on for the Church and invites our comments. He is both an astute leader and a highly spiritual teacher.

The general quality of Church leadership extends down to our stakes and wards. Most of those who serve in these callings are achievers in their personal careers as well as in their Church service.

We Mormons tend to accept this very capable amateur leadership as normal, but it is in fact highly unusual among most religious denominations. Most churches think that the fundamental prerequisite for a quality church operation is to have a highly trained pastor or priest who centers the power and ability to guide the congregation on himself (or herself in certain churches). We are taught in the Book of Mormon that having a professional clergy is “priestcraft” that must be avoided, but it is embraced by most of Christendom as the only legitimate form of church organization and leadership.

The difference this makes for the LDS Church was highlighted for me by an interview reported in Christianity Today (a leading magazine of Evangelical Christianity) with Professor Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University, about his new book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.

Lindsey interviewed scores of Evangelical Christians who were high achievers in business, academia and government, and assessed their relationship with the Evangelical churches. He found that they were often deeply involved with “parachurch” organizations like World Vision, but that they were often poor fits with the formal congregations they attended. Lindsay said:

“Parachurch board members told me, ‘I relate more deeply to the people on this board than I do to anyone at my church. We live in the same world and we face the same kinds of problems. That’s usually not true of the members of my church.’

“Most evangelical elites continue to attend a local congregation, but they’re often not involved or engaged in the way they are with parachurch ministries. They get impatient with what they consider incompetence. They go to a committee meeting that may be poorly run, and they can’t stand to waste so much time getting so little accomplished. They realize that for some committee members, just being there is a high point of the week, a real source of stimulation. But for them it’s mostly a waste of time. So they engage elsewhere, where things are run with a higher degree of professionalism.

“I was also surprised to find many who feel considerable tension with their pastor. This seemed particularly true of some business leaders I interviewed. Sometimes it’s because the pastor is not a good administrator or a good leader in the same mold as the corporate world’s leaders. And then too, most felt that the pastor just doesn’t have any idea about the world they inhabit. Sometimes, in fact, he or she is downright hostile to it. I talked to one CEO whose pastor preached against Christians who owned second houses and enjoyed perks like personal drivers. Well, this CEO was the only one in the church who had a second house and a driver. Why didn’t the pastor come to talk to him, instead of preaching about him to the rest of the church?”

By contrast, the “elite” members of the LDS Church, those with the best educational credentials, with the greatest achievement in their chosen line of work, with the greatest number of ties with professional and civic organizations in the larger community, are more likely to BE the “pastors” who lead congregations and stakes, as well as the general Church. In this way, the Church harnesses the best talents of the membership in the service of all.

It also invites those who get ego stroking in their professional lives to practice humble service, in a way that hopefully bleeds over to affect the way they lead and treat people they work with. Humility is also taught through periodic turnover. People like Mitt Romney transition from being the stake president for Boston to teaching Sunday School or Primary.

This strikes me as a distinct advantage for the LDS Church in comparison with other denominations. Not only do we pay nothing for ministers’ salaries and parsonages, allowing “more bang for the buck” from our tithes and offerings, we are getting the services of some of the most capable leaders in all walks of life.

Even in the largely blue collar neighborhood where I grew up, where most of the people worked for Kennecott Copper or the Postal Service, our stake presidents included a mining engineer and an architect for the Church (who later served in the Second Quorum of Seventy).

The other side of this coin is that the experience of being called to Church leadership stretches people into accomplishing things they did not think they were capable of. It is often the case that Church leadership is the catalyst for a person seeking to gain more education and achieving more in a professional context. That is especially the case in areas where the Church is small and its members short on experience of all kinds of leadership. The requirement to staff a branch or ward with volunteers in every position is an opportunity to train 60 or so people at a time in teaching and leadership roles.

Protestants often cite the assertion of Martin Luther that they don’t need the formal priesthood of Catholicism because they have a “priesthood of all believers”. Yet the typical Protestant congregation operates essentially like a Catholic parish with a priest. By contrast, with its amateur “clergy” and positions of responsibility widely disseminated among the men, women, and youth, we Latter-day Saints demonstrate what a “priesthood of all believers” would actually look like.

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91 Responses to Integrating Elites into the Church

  1. larryco_ on April 9, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    “What other church has attorneys in it’s most senior leadership?”

    I don’t mean to offend, but is some of this said tongue in cheek? Personally, I’d be perfectly happy with simple fishermen (and fisherwomen) if they are filled with the Spirit of God.

  2. ned on April 9, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    “We Mormons tend to accept this very capable amateur leadership as normal, but it is in fact highly unusual among most religious denominations.”

    Ha! and highly, highly, highly unusual in the Mormon church outside of the US too.

  3. Tiffany on April 9, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Ned, I must respectfully disagree with you. I lived in Sweden for 5 years. The Stake and wards were run by very capable leaders who were Swedes. There were a few Americans in the Stake, but by and large, the leaders were locals and did an outstanding job.

    I imagine that this varies depending on the area in which you live.

    Raymond, that was an interesting perspective and has given me some new insights.
    I don’t necessarily agree that the most educated or most successful person is called to lead. I also think that the church really strives to develop great leaders.

    I have been at home caring for my children since college and have minimal experience in the business world. But I have served on various presidencies and have served in my ward. I recently attended a PTA meeting and was appalled by the lack of organization, structure, and initiative in the meeting. I have learned a lot about delegation, organization, meeting agendas, etc. from serving in leadership positions in the church.

  4. manaen on April 9, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Service in the Church also prepares us to function at higher levels. This is particularly true for those of us who have the experience of giving youth talks, serving in quorum/YW presidencies, serving a mission (as zone leader at age 20, I was responsible for 34 people in 6 cities), and then adult callings.
    .
    Several of us LDS students decided to become involved in student government at the local college one year. We ran effective campaigns and ended up with about 1/3 of the student council’s seats. This put us on most of the committees and in many of the leadership positions. Although many of us hadn’t been in student government before, the LDS training kicked in we naturally worked in committees, had planning meetings, followed-up on assignments, and did this in the spirit of service instead of self-promotion. Faculty advisors and the other members of student government commented frequently on how well we worked within this environment, especially for what they assumed were newcomes.
    .
    This training also has helped me in my professional career as I give assignments, have “stewardship reviews” that feel like PPIs, and try to keep focused on serving rather than bluster.

  5. john f. on April 9, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Wow, this is really a half-full, half-empty perspective.

    I know scores of people who find the corporatism and elitism among the General Authorities to be the one main drawback of the Church — the fact that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles looks and appears to function like the “board of directors of IBM circa 1950s” (this is often the way it is described by people who dislike how the Church is run like a huge corporation). These people identify knock-on effects that result from this corporate characteristic of the Church, including what they describe as an overemphasis on certain business attire for Church attendance, e.g. a business suit, white shirt, and conservative tie for men and the general equation of such style preferences with personal righteousness, the exact preference for professionally successful people in Church leadership callings that you extol in this post, and often what can be described as a corporate sterility to how the Church is run.

    On the other hand, you view the same characteristic — the preference for successful professionals in Church leadership position — from the perspective that the glass is half full and commend this system. I sense that a lot of members share your view but I also think that what larryco wrote in comment # 1 nags at many at the same time. I know it nags at me and I hope not to invent subconscious requirements in my mind for what background will make for ideal Church leaders. I hope that my current unemployed former auto-mechanic bishop is just as competent in caring for our flock as the high-powered CEO who is our stake president.

  6. Steve Jones on April 9, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I enjoyed your perspective concerning the qualities of many of our leaders and their outstanding accomplishments in their professional lives. I also see the point in #1 and #5. That is the true beauty and genius of our amateur “clergy”. The first branch I served in on my mission had an air force master sergeant as branch president and a local farmer as 1st counselor. The second counselor was an air force colonel. The first bishopric I served in the bishop was a painter, the 1st counselor was a partner in a large CPA firm and I was a lawyer. It is wonderful how people accept calls from all walks of life without considering position or prestige. My daughter’s former stake president was called as ward nursery leader the week after being released.

  7. TT on April 9, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    “This is in contrast to most other denominations, where people with these skills would be excluded from formal church leadership. For example, what other church has attorneys in its most senior leadership?”

    Most other churches actually have people trained in the field of ministry, theology, and the study of religion. I would hardly consider any of these people as not having skills or a high degree of achievement. I am not sure that we can claim some moral or intellectual superiority because we have attorneys, or doctors, or businessmen. In fact, sometimes I wish we had people who had at least a little bit of formal training on the topics on which they are now supposed to be experts. It is somewhat akin to saying how great the American Medical Association is because it were run by a bunch of accomplished theologians.

    FWIW, I really think most LDS “elites” don’t fit very well in local congregations either. They spend most of their time getting out of going to SS and PH by being involved in leadership roles that prevent them from having to form close bonds to regular congregants.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 9, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I was mainly focused on contrasting the way that other denominations tend to lose the full benefit of the talents of their members of high personal achievement, structurally making it impossible for them to give all they have to give, whereas the LDS Church system of dispersed amateur leadership gives those people an opportunity (if they are otherwise faithful members) to use those talents in the service of God and other Church members.

    The primary beneficiaries of this are the “elite” themselves, in that they are taught by this experience that they are NOT better than other Church members in the eyes of God. They learn how to get down on their knees and weed beets with the rest of us.

    The secondary beneficiaries are the rest of us, who can learn from their example how to reconcile the demands of careers in the world and the needs of our families and brothers and sisters in the Church. The Church is a great mentoring and training project, one which at its best can help us develop all of our talents, whether great or small, so there is more to give to the Lord and the Saints.

    My personal experience has been that, no matter how unorganized we may find the Church sometimes to be, the average Church activity is better organized than the average activity in other denominations. In the military, a random collection of LDS service members who find themselves together on a Sunday can organize and conduct a meeting, lead hymns, administer ordinances, and offer sermons, providing a spiritually strengthening experience to those present, in a way that amazes the chaplains of other faiths.

    Please note that I am NOT saying that those with more humble resumes cannot be inspired leaders as well. The genius of the amateur system of Church leadership, which seems to be lacking the professionalism prized by the rest of Christendom, is that it gives all of us the opportunity to give our best. In my parents’ blue collar ward, I have seen neighbors who thought of themselves as truck drivers and mail men become confident, inspiring leaders and teachers.

  9. john f. on April 9, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    re # 7, excellent points TT.

  10. Ray on April 9, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    The beauty of what you are describing, Raymond, is the *mix* we have in our congregations. Face it, “The Church” IS a multi-national corporation, but the global leaders got there NOT because of their business acumen but simply with it in tow.

    On the local level, the mix is striking. The best example I have ever seen was not in a presidency but rather in the ward organist calling in our ward a few years ago. The HP Group Leader (*VP of a large coporation in the area*) played the prelude music for Sac Mtg, then went back to the congregation while a 13-year-old deacon took over and played the hymns for the actual meeting – because he was better on the organ. It never occured to the HP Group Leader/Corporate VP to feel slighted or embarrassed to be “replaced” by a 13-year-old boy – and it was a wonderful lesson to the rest of the ward.

    That is the genius of the Church’s organizational structure – and the best example of “integrating elites into the Church”, imo. Also, I agree that the “priesthood of beleivers” is more pronounced in the LDS Church than in most Protestant churches – based on what I personally have observed.

  11. Ray on April 9, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    TT, they aren’t supposed to be experts in those fields.

  12. warno on April 9, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    “The Church is still small and intimate enough that most of us have had personal experiences with one of the general authorities or auxiliary leaders, and can confirm the quality of these people.”

    Have to take issue with this from the outset. Perhaps this reflects the centralized power structure as opposed to the congregational structure of Evangelicals. None of my Baptist friends feel a need to mention a connection to Pat Robertson nor do my Catholic friends name drop cardinals. In my experience, Mormons are different. Many want to have some connection to the Mormon aristocracy, no matter how tangential, to reinforce our wish that the Church is still small and intimate (or perhaps to feel that we are insiders ourselves).

    As to the assertion above, I disagree that most Mormons (or even most active Mormons) have had personal experiences with a general authority. The definition of personal experience should not be construed so broadly as to include sitting in on a very spiritual meeting with hundreds of others because you really don’t gain any deeper insight into the quality of the leaders than by watching conference.

    To be clear, I don’t question the quality of our senior church leadership but for me, and the vast majority of other members, the confidence in the men leading the church doesn’t come from personal interaction.

  13. Matt Evans on April 9, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Looking at the bios of church leaders, both local and general, it’s obvious that “talent” counts for a great deal. It appears that those responsible for extending callings seek to identify the most talented person who’s worthy, or the most worthy person who’s talented.

    The problem with the “but Peter was a fisherman” example is that it forgets that historically (even as recent as WWII), there was little correllation between intelligence and occupation. Egalitarianism, public schooling and intelligence tests are the reasons occupations now correllate with intelligence. Christ’s apostles were on the right tail of the bell curve.

  14. TT on April 9, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Ray, what are they supposed to be experts in?

  15. MAC on April 9, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    While I would agree completely that there shouldn’t be a level-of-secular-success requirement for any calling in the Church, the Church most certainly benefits from the administrative/managerial/leadership acumen of the professionals who serve.

    Some may bristle at the perceived business-likeness of it all, but I would guess that the alternative would not only be less effective in accomplishing the missions of the Church but would also create an environment that would alienate a much larger percentage of the Saints.

  16. z on April 9, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    On the other hand, some “elite” women are used to a lot more integration into leadership in the non-church environment than they are offered in the LDS hierarchy, and it’s a very unpleasant experience to be excluded in what is supposed to be one’s spiritual home. Let’s not pretend all “elites” are being included in leadership to the same degree, or at all. I appreciate your effort to include women at least in theory, but the serious limitations on their actual leadership participation are an elephant in the room here that you’re failing to address. If you’re making an argument that leadership by elites is a positive thing, wouldn’t that extend to leadership by elite women as well as elite men? And who are the high-achieving women leaders to whom you refer in the first paragraph of the post?

    I also think you’re conflating high-level and local leadership. What arguments are you making about each?

  17. Kevinf on April 9, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    TT, you said in # 7,

    “FWIW, I really think most LDS “elites” don’t fit very well in local congregations either. They spend most of their time getting out of going to SS and PH by being involved in leadership roles that prevent them from having to form close bonds to regular congregants.”

    In my current calling, I am only in my home ward about once a month, and I look forward to being in SS and PH with my fellow ward members. Not to mention my family.

    I look at our HC and SP, and while some are accomplished in their professional careers, many are pretty ordinary, worker bees if you will. The diversity of experience brings great insights into different problems, and everyone learns from everyone else. The mix is what makes it interesting and, in the long run, so successful.

  18. Frank McIntyre on April 9, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    TT,

    “Ray, what are they supposed to be experts in?”

    I’d start by looking here.

  19. Frank McIntyre on April 9, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    z, oh, hey, there’s a new topic…

  20. TT on April 9, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Frank,
    What do you think that article means with respect to General Authorities?

  21. Ellis on April 9, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Oh how boring and overly long some leaderships meetings are. Oh how unqualified some people newly called to any position are. Callings are not made on the basis of merit or talent or training we are told they are made so that the person who is called can have the opportunity to grow.

    Raymond, the perspective of leadership by lay persons here presented a completely different than I have every encountered during my very long life in the church. Now that my children are gone and it is possible to socialize with members of the High Council, and the High Priest group leadership rumor has it we (my partner and I) are part of the elite. How strange. There isn’t supposed to be any elite.

  22. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 9, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    To TT (#7): My reference to attorneys in senior leadership positions was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, in the context of the general public attitude toward lawyers. For example, at the end of the animated film “Bee Movie”, we are introduced to a mosquito (voiced by Chris Rock) who is practicing law. When asked if he’s really a lawyer, he answers “I was already a blood-sucking parasite. All I needed was a briefcase.”

    On the other hand, as Elder Lance Wickman pointed out in his remarks at Monday’s conference of the International Society at BYU, lawyers have a lot to keep them busy in a church that is constantly expanding into new nations, where it must gain legal recognition and acceptance to the extent of being allowed to meet, to own meetinghouses and other property, to employ necessary local people, to proselyte, to import literature, to collect tithes, and to send in missionaries from outside the country.

    The point of this post is NOT that LDS Church leaders have better resumes in a one-on-one comparison with the leaders of other churches. I am sure Pope Benedict XVI could talk theological rings around President Monson. It is rather that people in fields of work where they would never actually perform pastoral service in other churches are often fully engaged in such service in ours. This is certainly one place where there is a contrast between the desire expressed above (#1) for leaders who are inspired, no matter what their education, and the desire for leaders who are highly educated in religious matters specifically (#7). A corporate attorney (which I happen to be) can potentially be just as spiritually qualified as a fisherman, or a tax collector. Neal Maxwell was trained in political science and academic administration, and Henry Eyring in academic study of business and academic administration, yet both have been skilled in presenting messages that are both intellectually meaty and spiritually nourishing.

    We are all familiar with the fact that Saul/Paul was able to support himself in the trade of crafting sails and tents, in addition to his extensive training in the rabbinical school of Gamaliel. Being skilled in practical pursuits does not prevent someone from also being a person with a deep knowledge of scripture. There are arguments for believing that Saul had obtained a substantial education in the Greek rhetoric of his day, as displayed in his presentations to the Areopagus or before Agrippa. On the other hand, we don’t have as strong a reason to think that Peter or John had such training. Yet all were effective and inspired leaders of the Church in their day.

    There are a number of bishops, stake presidents, and general authorities who have varying levels of sophistication in the study of the formal disciplines of theology and ancient languages and religious history, especially in the area around the various BYU campuses. They usually pursue those studies in the context of academic work, and they have just as much opportunity to serve in the Church as an attorney or a truck driver. But the Church does not give them a priority over others, and they are not per se better bishops than people who bring other skills to the job, and who have applied themselves to personal gospel study and service through experiences like missionary work.

    For example, LDS military chaplains have to have at least a master’s degree in some field related to pastoral work, a requirement of the armed forces, and they are often conducting the generic Protestant services on a given Sunday, but they are not necessarily called to the bishopric or stake presidency where they live.

    The other aspect of the Church’s system of amateur leadership is that it takes the Church out into the world. Russell M. Nelson has in many ways been an ambassador for the Church to the profession of medicine. Having leaders from all legitimate professions means that they can translate the Restored Gospel into the language of those professions. As a matter of philosopphy and the classifications of human knowledge, it breaks down the divisions that most people think exist between the way a minister thinks and the way a scientist thinks.

    Stephen Jay Gould, the popular science writer and advocate of the Punctated Equilibirum variation on Darwinian Evolution, proposed that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria” that can operate as independent intellectual systems without direct conflict. Basically, you ministers do your thing, we scientists will do ours. But Mormon scientists who are also leaders in the Church break down that barrier. Henry Eyring, the internationally famous chemist and father of President Eyring, advocated for science to Mormons and (sometimes to their irritation) advocated for Mormonism to his fellow scientists.

  23. LRC on April 9, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    “the Church harnesses the best talents of the membership in the service of all.”

    except for the fact that it doesn’t even think about harnessing the best talents of most of its members in the vast majority of its leadership positions: Women.

    There are hundreds of male General and Area Authorities, and, even if you include the general auxiliary board members, there are still less than 100 women serving. Not to mention the fact that NO women are called to the service of “all”. Their stewardship is to other women, teenage girls, and children under 12 – sure, their work is valued and appreciated there, but by keeping potential doors of service closed to more than half of its membership (and closer to 2/3 of its active membership), the LDS church tends “to lose the full benefit of the talents of their members of high personal achievement, structurally making it impossible for them to give all they have to give,” at least as much, and in some cases more than, many other denominations.

  24. JimD on April 9, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Not to mention the fact that NO women are called to the service of “all”. Their stewardship is to other women, teenage girls, and children under 12 – sure, their work is valued and appreciated there, but by keeping potential doors of service closed to more than half of its membership (and closer to 2/3 of its active membership)

    Umm, you’ve never had a female gospel doctrine teacher? No females sit on ward council? The Relief Society never ministers to anyone other than women?

    Women in the Church have plenty of opportunities for service. It’s power that they don’t have.

  25. JimD on April 9, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Oops–forgot there’s no “blockquote” feature here.

  26. LRC on April 9, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Ah, yes, JimD, but Raymond is extolling the fortune of the LDS church in having “as its leaders men and women who have achieved significantly in many walks of life. This is in contrast to most other denominations, where people with these skills would be excluded from formal church leadership.”

    Raymond further says that these skilled, educated, “elite” members “of the LDS Church, those with the best educational credentials, with the greatest achievement in their chosen line of work, with the greatest number of ties with professional and civic organizations in the larger community, are more likely to BE the “pastors” who lead congregations and stakes, as well as the general Church. In this way, the Church harnesses the best talents of the membership in the service of all.”

    To which I repeat, “Unless they are women.” Clearly, the LDS equivalent of pastors leading congregations and stakes are never female, despite their credentials or ties with professional or civic organizations.

  27. Ray on April 9, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    #14 – The testimony of Jesus and the whisperings of the Spirit, first and foremost – organizational leadership (in all its iterations) second.

    #7 – If you define “Mormon elites” as those who serve in stake or area or general and are gone from their own wards on a regular basis, then define “not fitting in in their own wards” in the same way, of course “elite don’t fit in”. That’s circular reasoning at its finest.

    If, however, you actually look at any given ward and realize that many of the most educated, professional members serve every week in their own ward, your definition falls flat. Our YM Pres. is a college dean; our HPGL is a corporate VP; our bishop is an accountant; his counselors are a teacher with a doctorate degree in educational administration and a retired military officer. They serve alongside others ranging from high school dropouts to college grads – with absolutely no distinction made. None. If they aren’t “integrated elite”, nobody is.

  28. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 9, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    The concern over the participation of women in leadership and service in the Church goes way beyond the point of my post, namely that there is much greater opportunity for people of talent to participate in Church leadership roles than is the case in the formal structure of many other churches. It is left as an exercise for the reader whether the opportunity to exercise leadership is greater in the LDS Church or in those churches that place leadership in the hands of male professional clergy. Even in churches that accept women as pastors, the great majority of women are still outside the structure of significant leadership.

    Besides the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary (where women get to lead male teachers), organizations covering well over half the membership of the Church, and roles in Sunday School, women are also essential partners in the ordinances of the Temples. When women preach and teach in General Conference, stake conference, and sacrament meetings, when they serve as missionaries, when they serve with their husbands in the leadership of temples and missions, they perform functions that are reserved primarily for ordained ministers in many denominations.

    Having been married for over 35 years, and with a very headstrong daughter, I can understand the desire that many women have to receive the affirmation of a significant role in the Church. On the other hand, whenever I heard another male member express his ambition to be a bishop or stake president, I have thought they had a screw loose.

    Lobbying for power and prestige in the Church is an expression of pride rather than humility. If you in fact have a selfless desire to serve as a bishop, then you can exercise that desire to serve in any calling.

    My hypothesis here is not that the Church adds to the secular glory of those the world regards as “elites”, but rather that it brings them into a system of service with and on behalf of the rest of us, sanctifying their talents in the service of the Kingdom of God, and that this is something that many other churches cannot do as effectively because of their dedication to a professional clergy.
    Even though the reasons we do it this way are religious, it has a distinct organizational and social benefit that is an advantage over other denominations.

  29. mpb on April 9, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Raymond, a bit off topic, (but actually goes to your point) I thought I would share an anecdote about Elder Mickelsen. I was a ZL in my Mexican mission roughly ten years ago. Elder Mickelsen visited at a zone conference, and put me on the spot something terrible–I was petrified and felt inferior in his presence.

    He came back later towards the end of my mission. I had become an AP–at the airport, he mentioned he remembered our conversation at the zone conference, which left me even more terrified of him. During his visit, my companion and I had to drive he and my mission president a very long distance. At the outset of the trip, we stopped at a gas station. Elder Mickelsen handed me some pesos and asked me to go in and buy him a snack. Speaking to me in English for the first time, he said “Do you know what General Authorities like to eat?” “No,” I said. He grinned, “The same things you missionaries like to eat–just get two of whatever you like to get.” That cut the tension in a big way, and immediately made him seem extremely human and likeable to my twenty year old self. As we continued on our trip, we carried on a fascinating conversation about botany and how it can relate the gospel. He quized my Mexican companion on the Mexican words that represent the sounds animals make (ie spanish for “quack” and “ruff”), and to my amazement stumped the native Mexican several times. Later that night I eavesdropped as he and my mission president rode in the back seat, discussing some of the more serious issues our mission and local members were facing. I’ll never forget any of those experiences; they have endeared him to me in a lasting personal way.

  30. z on April 9, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    If it’s beyond the scope of your post you ought to have said so at the beginning, rather than pretending the issue doesn’t exist. I just don’t see how you get around the fact that elite men’s talents are being integrated to a much greater extent, and using plural pronouns doesn’t change that fact. If you “understand the desire” so well, you would have written your post differently.

    Nor is it appropriate for you to characterize women’s call for respect and equal treatment as “lobbying for power and prestige.” It’s equally an expression of pride for men to attempt to keep “power and prestige” for themselves and exclude women from it, no?

    Who are the high-achieving women to whom you referred in your first paragraph? Can you think of any?

  31. Adam Greenwood on April 9, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    What about the derivatives of Elites?

  32. Jason J on April 9, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    I am often guilty of elitism in my secular pursuits and interests (studied law, big law firm, classical music snob, etc.), but I have never seen elitism in the Church as a particularly good thing. While in law school, I attended an East Coast ward comprised almost entirely of graduate students at one of the top universities in the world, and I found the hubris of the members pretty off-putting. Just about every priesthood meeting, the instructor or a member of the quorum felt a need to congratulate the rest of the men present on their future positions of power and prestige in the Church. “Best and the brightest of the Church,” “general authorities to be,” “future world leaders,” and on and on and on. On my good days, I simply smiled. In less charitable moods, I really had to bite my tongue.

    To be clear, I have a great deal of love for these people. They are good members and mean well. I just have a hard time stomaching the assumption that an MBA or JD from a top flight school is somehow a prerequisite for spiritual service. And to see how many of these otherwise good members would look down on the musicians and artists in the quorum was quite saddening. It wasn’t even enough to be accomplished by worldly standards; worth was entirely a function of future earning potential. (For men anyway. For women, worth was determined, of course, by tidy homes and skinny thighs.)

    I have also witnessed resentment in wards where members from the right side of town play musical chairs with the more visible callings in the ward and stake while the worthy blue collar members continually watch from the pews. I don’t think such resentment is any more appropriate than the pride I have perceived among more accomplished members of the Church, but I think both could be avoided if social status simply didn’t factor into the decision to extend a call.

    I marvel at the accomplishments of many of our General Authorities. I have also looked on with admiration as successful local leaders wield their worldly wisdom in their ecclesiastical duties. I guess deep down I too value the fruits of an elitist hierarchy. Still, I wish we didn’t value their worldly accomplishments so much. I wish we didn’t import our capitalistic values into Church so much.

    In the end, a man’s bottom line and a woman’s waistline are but poor yard sticks in the sight of a God whose course is one eternal round.

  33. Ray on April 9, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    z, I have made this point to you on other occasions, but not being Mormon is a high hurdle to jump when discussing women’s leadership roles in the Church. Not being a temple recommend holder raises that hurdle even further. It’s hard to understand Mormon women’s influence when you aren’t one and don’t see it from the inside.

    “Who are the high-achieving women to whom you referred in your first paragraph? Can you think of any?”

    Each member of each global Presidency in the Church that is made up of women – who speak in General Conference and other global meetings and who travel the world visiting congregations. Each General Auxiliary Board member. Each Stake leader and ward leader, many of whom are incredibly accomplished. The number might not equal that of the men, but it is MUCH closer as an overall percent than I’m sure you imagine.

    Fwiw, one of Truman Madsen’s daughters worked at the Harvard Freshman Dean’s Office. One day, a co-worker mentioned in her presence how oppressed Mormon women were. When she reminded him that she was the only Mormon woman he knew and asked if she was oppressed, he responded, “No, you aren’t, but you are an exception.” (She told this to me directly, shortly after it happened.)

    There’s a lesson in there – and it highlights the fact that there are real opportunities for meaningful influence within the Church that, as Raymond said, aren’t nearly as prevalent in most other Christian organizational structures.

    So we still have a ways to go to get to where we should be? Certainly. Are we, in general, structured to provide real influence and growth for the “average woman” in our Church than most, if not all, others? Yep. Is there a place for accomplished, “elite” women in the Church? You bet. Are there enough? Nope, but it’s getting better.

  34. Ray on April 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    z, one more thing:

    “If it’s beyond the scope of your post you ought to have said so at the beginning, rather than pretending the issue doesn’t exist.”

    Open discussion is one thing; rank hypocrisy is quite another. If Raymond shouldn’t pretend the issue doesn’t exist (which is an unfair charge, since he never pretended it doesn’t exist), then you should disclose your belief that Mormon Priesthood is a sexist and oppressive, uninspired power trip that should be completely abolished. You’ve said that before in other posts, so you shouldn’t “pretend the issue doesn’t exist”.

  35. z on April 9, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Ray, I’m going to ignore your accusation of hypocrisy, since it is completely out of line. My views on the legitimacy of the Priesthood have no bearing on the validity of my critique of Raymond’s post, and if every comment contained the disclaimer you demand, threads would be unreadable. I maintain that if Raymond really did understand how it feels to be shut out of most leadership positions because of gender, he would have written a much more sensitive post instead of lumping male and female “elites” together as if the disparity didn’t exist. Being ignored in the discourse *is* the problem, and Raymond’s post is just one more sting. Is it so hard to give a half-sentence disclaimer acknowledging the problem?

    I’m so glad you agree that the Church’s treatment of women is inappropriate.

  36. Ardis Parshall on April 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    z, when you’re invited to guest blog, you’ll have free rein to choose the scope of your posts and to direct the course of conversation. In the meantime, please accept my cordial invitation to find another discussion more to your liking. Thank you.

  37. z on April 9, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    As you wish, Ardis. Have a nice night.

  38. L on April 9, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    This is a fascinating and long overdue discussion on the need for greater leadership roles for women within the Church — and not just in Primary. I appreciate these very thoughtful and articulate comments.

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 9, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Jason J (#31): I am sorry that your ward and stake apparently has these problems. Have these issues been brought up with quorum leaders, Relief Society leaders, bishoprics, and stake high council and presidency? I would hate to think that Brother Archuleta on American Idol might be denied future opportunities to serve in the Church because of his probable career in music.

    One of the comments seemed critical of the fact that we often have leaders and others who are in their callings for on the job training, rather than because they already have the full skill set for the job. Yet you have pointed out that we all need opportunities to stretch ourselves, to magnify our callings, to invest out talents. That means that part of the service others render to us is putting up with our own less than complete competence.

    When I was a missionary in Japan, we got a similar pep talk about being future bishops and stake presidents and mission presidents. After 40 years, it has come true for a lot of us. A couple are Area Authority 70s just called, and a number have been in those other leadership levels, including serving as mission presidents. Given the gradual expansion of Church membership, and the usual turnover with time, it is a normal progression among people who have been active for a long time for a lot of them to be called to those roles.

    On the other hand, I don’t recall that Hugh Nibley was ever a Bishop or Stake President or even on a high council, even though he has had a significant influence on the combination of intellectual and spiritual development of a whole generation in the Church. It is hard to conceive of FARMS coming into being without his example and influence on the current generation of scholars within the Church.

    I have been in a branch presidency and on a District and Stake council, but my personal favorite calling is as Gospel Doctrine teacher. I have managed to get myself called to that position eventually in every ward we have lived in the last 14 years, usually by volunteering to fill in when the regular instructor was ill or out of town. Our bishop just released was a businessman, his counselors an engineer and a police officer. The prior bishop ran a family dairy business, and his counselors were farmers. Our ward runs from the outskirts of town some 40 miles out into the farms between here and the Idaho National Laboratory. We get snow days when there is a blizzard. I am more than happy to let someone else worry about motivating people to show up for assignments. My calling is one that can be done just as well by any sister in the Church, and some of the best teachers who have filled in for me have been sisters.

    I am serious about the point that the things that women do in our wards and stakes are often functions that are performed by paid ministers in large Protestant congregations, such as the music ministry and the youth ministry.

    Again, I am not saying that there are “elites” in the context of the Church, but rather that people who are “elites” in the terms that Michael Lindsay speaks of them are better integrated into church service through our system. Hopefully everyone in any leadership role in our church is a regular student of Section 121 of the D&C.

  40. Chance on April 9, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe how quickly this dissolved into a gender issue (a gap that in all honesty does not exist).

    Don’t you folks have a torch relay to go protest?

  41. Ben on April 9, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Larryco #1- the first Apostles weren’t simple fishermen.

  42. TT on April 9, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Raymond 22: “people in fields of work where they would never actually perform pastoral service in other churches are often fully engaged in such service in ours.”

    Raymond 28: “The concern over the participation of women in leadership and service in the Church goes way beyond the point of my post, namely that there is much greater opportunity for people of talent to participate in Church leadership roles than is the case in the formal structure of many other churches.”

    I think that these are two different points, and perhaps some of the tension in the comments derives from the tension in the ideas. The first one raises the point that “talented” people from many different professions are able to take leadership roles in the LDS church. The second claims that this leadership structure provides a net benefit for the quality of the LDS church. I completely agree that one of the most interesting things about our church is that people of all sorts of different professions, including “elite” ones, are able to serve in leadership capacities. What I think that is worth asking is does this make our church better than others? Or, more precisely, in what ways does this provide advantages and in what ways does it provide disadvantages? This post asserts that there are only advantages to such a system, and I think that it is worth investigating this. As mentioned above, “people of talent” does not necessarily describe CEO’s and lawyers when it comes to running churches, and many others have suggested here that capable LDS leaders come from all different professions.

    I readily concede that there are some advantages with having CEO’s as ecclesiastical leaders, but there is a great deal that is lost by not having “people of talent” who are trained professionally for their work as ministers. For instance, in my view the quality of preaching/teaching in the church is embarrassingly low when contrasted with professional ministers.

    I have no idea who ‘z’ is or his/her history on this or any other blog, but I completely agree with the validity of the point that she raises. Raymond raises the issue of the LDS church as a true articulation of a ‘priesthood of all believers,’ which is patently sexist. Inasmuch as this post raises the point that the LDS church is able to utilize “people of talent” to a better degree than other churches, the lack of utilizing some of the female talent in the church is directly relevant.

    Ray and others:
    With regards to the issue of whether or not Mormon “elites” are able to fit in and comingle with their local congregation, I was responding to Raymond’s reading of the study cited in the original post:

    “Lindsey interviewed scores of Evangelical Christians who were high achievers in business, academia and government, and assessed their relationship with the Evangelical churches. He found that they were often deeply involved with “parachurch” organizations like World Vision, but that they were often poor fits with the formal congregations they attended. Lindsay said:

    “Parachurch board members told me, ‘I relate more deeply to the people on this board than I do to anyone at my church. We live in the same world and we face the same kinds of problems. That’s usually not true of the members of my church.’”

    I think that my point is that these “parachurch” organizations are ways for “elites” to congregate with each other and take leadership roles in these parachurch organizations. I would suggest that LDS leadership analogously performs this same function for LDS elites, by giving them separate experiences not available to many non-elite LDS. The only difference is that LDS elites are running congregations, while non-LDS elites are running parachurch organizations. Structurally there is no difference, just different venues for the same need, and I don’t think that we should congratulate ourselves on this fact.

  43. Ben on April 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Is my comment in the spam filter?

  44. Ray on April 9, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    TT, highly educated and professional LDS members don’t have the choice of opting out of their local congregations to participate in a parachurch where they can choose to be a leader. That is a critical point you are not addressing. To equate a Stake President or High Councilor, for example, with someone described in the study is apples and carrots.

    One is asked to lead and can be sent back to the local congregation and end up eating crackers with 2-year-olds – with no perception of punishment or failure. The other? I think not. One is asked to attend multiple congregations, including one’s own (where he sits with his family as a regular member), while the other consciously picks one congregation over another – literally rejecting the original group. One regularly consists of laborers and farmers and average blokes; the other explicitly is a union of elitists who choose to disassociate with the average blokes.

    Apples and carrots, imho.

  45. Amy on April 9, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    It’s always a little bizarre here for me to hear people namedrop their GA connections. I live in the south, and I have never met a GA (besides having them speak at a conference), I am not related to anyone high in church leadership, and I went to a FL university so I didn’t room with so and so’s kid. I adore my church, I raise my hand high to sustain each and every leader and I do believe that they are a divinely inspired leadership, so please know it is not my intention to complain. Really, I am only curious, why is it that it seems that the only place leaders come from are Utah, Idaho, etc? Is it mainly because there are just so many more dynamic Mormons to choose from there, or because it’s just hard for the people who make the decisions to know who is out there in the rest of the country? I mean are they really going to go looking for the next mission president in Kentucky, or Florida, or Alabama? It also seems like all the women leadership are usually wives of or somehow related to the GAs. Is that true? Am I making assumptions? Do you ever read the Church News and think that it’s the same names and places? Am I threadjacking? I’m totally threadjacking, arent I? I’m so sorry, it’s just this post got me thinking about this!!

  46. ben on April 10, 2008 at 12:58 am

    I challenge the assumption of comment #1 that the earliest apostles were simple fishermen.

  47. Howard on April 10, 2008 at 3:16 am

    Proverbs 22:2 The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.

    Bruce R. McConkie: Either God treats all men the same or he is not God. If he respects persons and shows partiality, he does not possess those attributes of perfection which make him the exalted being that he is. (The Promised Messiah, p. 286)

  48. Sarah on April 10, 2008 at 6:19 am

    Amy:

    I’ve shook the hand of one general authority one time — I was impressed, and I’m still not sure I should have been. But, I can’t remember his name offhand, mostly because it’s 6am here in Ohio.

    But I’m mostly replying to point out that it’s kind of funny to say that leadership in the Church only comes from the intermountain west a few days after we all sustained a 2nd counselor in the First Presidency who was born in Europe, and got to hear him try and say at least fifteen or twenty Spanish names properly when reading the list of new 70s. And honestly, I can’t remember the last time we had two auxiliaries presidencies in the Church populated with obvious immediate relatives of general authorities, but two out of nine still doesn’t seem all that weird to me. But, living in Utah/Idaho/Hawaii/California/Arizona is, it seems to me, a major contributing factor to being called to one of those auxiliaries, probably because stake auxiliary presidencies are much more likely to be visible to the general authorities. If nothing else, those ladies won’t have to ask for a map to get to that resource center (which I WILL find the next time I’m in SLC… I hear they have Primary stuff you can’t get anywhere else.)

    Oh, and I like that having a PhD or making $200,000 a year is no more of an impediment to getting a calling (in general) than having a GED and making $15,000 a year. I also like that choir directors don’t generally quit to get better pay from the congregation down the street (which I’ve seen happen in other denominations.) Being Mormon often rocks, even for us poor oppressed females.

  49. Rob G on April 10, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Amy:

    D. Todd Christofferson, the latest apostle, is from the South. He was my stake president here in Nashville prior to becoming a GA. His replacement in the Presidency of the Seventy, F. Whitney Clayton, was my seminary teacher in So Cal. Yes, I’m name dropping horrendously, but only to show that these people are from where I’m from, and I’m not Utahn or Idahoan. And, of course, President Uchtdorf from Germany, and Elder Didier from Belgium are very high up in the hierarchy. Naturally, only those whom the Brethren know will be called to high leadership positions, and the closer you live to SLC the more likely the Brethren will know you, but that stereotype is no longer as true as it once was, and is likely to be less true as time goes on.

  50. TT on April 10, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Ray,
    I don’t understand what you think is the relevant difference here. I did not “equate” LDS leadership and parachurch leadership. In fact, I said specifically that they were analogously related. Our church utlizes its “elites” in one way. Other churches utilize them in other ways. I have yet to see the argument for why one model is inherently superior to the other.

    I think that your assumptions about how LDS males perceive status as not in any way related to callings and that LDSs don’t make any selections about which congregations, or which subgroups within congegrations, they associate with based on perceptions of status is a little naive.

  51. lamonte on April 10, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Ray – I’m sorry for this late comment. I see some strong disagreement to your premise but I find it quite accurate. There is, however, one point I would like to make about the qualifications of the church leadership. Certainly business skills and professional training are an asset when trying to find leadership that will organize and direct a congregation in the right paths. But I find that diversity of thought is what brings strength to our church. As an example, a friend of mine was serving as stake president when I was called to serve as bishop. He took me aside and told me that there are two kinds of bishops – the touchy feely kind and the down to business kind. He suggested that I had to identify which kind I was and then find counselors who were the opposite. The ward leadership needs both.

    I am a white collar professional living in the Washington DC suburbs and my ward is filled with mostly white collar professionals. But I’m not sure my professional experience had as much to do with my abilities as bishop as did the skills I learned at home while growing up and while raising a family. It turns out I was the touchy feely type but I had counselors (a total of five over the course of my term) who were all down to business types who helped me to organize and manage the operation of the ward while I went out and tried to reach people on a personal basis.

    I’m reminded of a story that Elder Packer told in General Conference several years ago. It was during the time that I served as bishop so it was especially meaningful. It discusses the dedication required of bishops and their counselors. A small snippet of the talk is as follows:

    “Lucille told me that one spring morning a neighbor called at her door and asked for Emery. She told him that he was out plowing. The neighbor then spoke with great concern. Earlier that morning he had passed the field and noticed Emery’s team of horses standing in a half-finished furrow with the reins draped over the plow. Emery was nowhere in sight. The neighbor thought nothing of it until much later when he passed the field again, and the team had not moved. He climbed the fence and crossed the field to the horses. Emery was nowhere to be found. He hurried to the house to check with Lucille.

    Lucille calmly replied, “Oh, don’t be alarmed. No doubt someone is in trouble and came to get the bishop.”

    The image of that team of horses standing for hours in the field symbolizes the dedication of the bishops in the Church and of the counselors who stand by their side. Every bishop and every counselor, figuratively speaking, leaves his team standing in an unfinished furrow when someone needs help.” April 1999 General Conference

    Professional qualifications certainly aid in keeping our wards and stakes organized and efficient and we certainly are blessed to have a diversified population in the church with many skills and assets to bless our members. Your points about someone like Mitt Romney, with all of his successes, using them as Stake President, but then eventually serving in the nursery or the Young Men’s organization are also well taken. But it is simple dedication of duty that ultimately makes the difference and that is available to all church members.

  52. Nat on April 10, 2008 at 9:56 am

    You lost me right after you used the word \”lawyer.\”

  53. SmallAxe on April 10, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Most churches think that the fundamental prerequisite for a quality church operation is to have a highly trained pastor or priest who centers the power and ability to guide the congregation on himself (or herself in certain churches). We are taught in the Book of Mormon that having a professional clergy is “priestcraft” that must be avoided, but it is embraced by most of Christendom as the only legitimate form of church organization and leadership.

    I’m not sure why your argument leans so heavily on comparison with other denominations. Do you really want to say that “most of Christendom” is implicated in “priestcraft”? I think the advantages of integrating the talents of people from various walks of life (in the case of our church) works very well in many respects, and may make us superior in some regards, but not in any ultimate sense of the term. I think Michael McBride’s recent article “Club Mormon”, in Rationality and Society , Vol. 19(4): 395–424, looks at this pretty well; and argues that organizations which demand higher levels of participation of all members to bring about mutual benefit, tend to have better levels of what we would call “activity”.

    At the same time though, I think we have much to learn from other denominations. As mentioned earlier, generally speaking they have far better “talks”, and their pastors are far better counselors (having actually been trained as such). IMO, we tend to disparage this “professional training” they receive, but we at the same time don’t recognize the “training” necessary to be a leader in the church (I’m talking primarily GA here). The same “traits” that make successful business people, are the traits that most leaders possess, often naturally having those traits or gaining them from their profession (add in of course “spiritual” elements such as belief, kindness, etc.). I’m sure we could come up with counter examples, but generally speaking lacking these traits (which I imagine we would all agree are not a prerequisite for exaltation), often disqualify people for leadership roles despite possessing other spiritual elements. Don’t get me wrong, I think that we as a people value things such as ‘charity’, ‘faith’, etc. higher than all other things, but we also believe our leaders should be able to “sharpen the saw”.

  54. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 10, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I would like to thank everyone who has commented on my post, even those who did so critically. Feedback always help me understand a topic better and to see where I could improve my explanation of what I am trying to say.

    On the one point of GAs being known out in the hinterlands of the Church–As pointed out, there are members of the Church in Germany who know Dieter Uchtdorf. There are a lot in Japan who know Elder Kikuchi. The area presidencies do get around within their areas. And even if we don’t have first hand contact of some kind with a GA, we have close connections through our local leaders, who do get more opportunities for such contact. The game of “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” could be played within the Church to see how long the string of contacts is to President Monson, and my guess is that it would be more like 3 to 4 through the chain of Church leadership. Out here in Utah, people in the nursing homes know him pretty well from his visits to the sick and elderly.

  55. Ray on April 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    #51 – lamonte, I agree completely.

  56. jnilsson on April 10, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Raymond,

    Nice post. I agree with much of what you say.

    For Amy, let me add one piece of information passed to me by an “insider”, a Church employee I know. According to him, 1/3 of all ACTIVE church members globally live in, you guessed it, the state of Utah, U.S.A. I have noticed the phenomenon you mention but I think relationships with other Church leaders is the determining factor, not geography. Hence, if General Authorities form relationships with Church employees and others while serving in South America, we should not be surprised to find an increasing number of internationally-born General Authorities called each year. We saw an incredible number sustained last weekend.

    And General Board members meet in Salt Lake City weekly I think, so living nearby is as much of a prerequisite as it is for members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! The Choir is the least representative Church body I can think of for that reason.

  57. Martin Willey on April 10, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Rob G: Elder Christofferson lived for many years in the South but was born and raised in Utah. I am quite sure (though not entirely certain) that the same is true of Elder Clayton.

  58. gst on April 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    So, Jason J. (comment #32), this school you went to–was it any good?

  59. J.A.T. on April 10, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Amen to Jason J!

    Ben in #41, haven’t we all forgotten about the plowboy who became the Prophet? We often cite Joseph Smith’s lack of formal education, as evidence that God, not man brought about the ‘marvelous work and wonder’. Now, we’ve flipped to the other side. Can we have it both ways? Perhaps another question would be: What’s the deal with our fixation on profession and worldly achievement? God has shown to us ENOUGH times that His servants can come from *anywhere*.

    Also, there are many tie-ins to this discussion to topic in the New Testament. Look under “Sadducees”.

    I personally find that the church’s PR about newly called GA’s resumes is more of a stumbling block to me than a support. It adds static. I also feel like it ROBS me, by wasting precious time on inconsequential information. For example, I’d much rather hear the testimony of President Monson of the spiritual promptings that helped him to issue the calling, and about accepting that mantle than about his professional life. Spending time (in the Friend, New Era, and Ensign) on a professional biography and worldly accolades just doesn’t do it for me. Yes, they mention being humbled by the calling, blessed, etc. , but what is special about being a Special Witness of Jesus Christ for you?

    For years now, we have highlighted the professional life and professional preparation that the GA has gone through as THE miracle of God’s preparation of that GA. Aren’t there others? Seriously, I think that Heavenly Father must have helped prepare these people in more ways than just one. I want to know what they have learned from more personal or spiritual paths such as: illness, loss, challenges, missions, family, service, etc. etc.etc. When I don’t want to get close to someone, I’ll talk about my job. Focusing on the job first seems cold and distancing to me, not warm and introductory.

    Whether you are a plowboy, carpenter, tax collector, doctor, Egyptian prince, musician, fisherman, car salesman, lawyer, or MBA, it *shouldn’t* matter. God is no respecter of persons. We sure struggle with it though!

  60. J.A.T. on April 10, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    That question . . . “What is special about being a Special Witness of Jesus Christ for you?” seems to me like the real ‘meat’ of having a new GA called. Hearing about their professional preparations as ‘the testimony’ seems like milk. I am tired of getting sick of so much milk.

  61. gst on April 10, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I am often guilty of elitism in my secular pursuits and interests (studied rocket science and brain surgery, practiced brain surgery while on a rocket, atonal classical music snob, etc. etc. and so forth), but I have never seen elitism in the Church as a PARTICULARLY good thing. While in rocket brain surgery school, I attended an East Coast ward comprised almost entirely of graduate students, international diplomats, piano prodigies and chess grandmasters at one of the top universities in the world (did I mention that? more of that below), and I found the hubris of the members pretty off-putting. Just about every priesthood meeting, the instructor felt a need to suggest that home ownership was probably in the cards for all of them, and I really had to bite my tongue.

  62. a random John on April 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    z,

    Knock it off or I’ll be forced to come and beat you with the cardboard tubes that hold my wife’s elite degrees.

  63. gst on April 10, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    arJ, didn’t you go to Stanford? Up against the wall, pig!

  64. Frank McIntyre on April 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    TT, I missed your comment earlier. I don’t know of an equivalent article for GA’s. Is your concern limited to GA’s? If so, the best guess of what they are supposed to be experts in would probably be to see what they are, in fact, experts in (if we grant that on average their calls are the will of God).

  65. gst on April 10, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    To be clear, I have a great deal of love for these miserable and miserably wealthy wretches. They are good members, don’t actively embezzle from the fast offerings account, and mean well. I just have a hard time stomaching the assumption (that somebody must be making somewhere, I guess) that an MBA or JD from a top flight school, like the one I went to, is somehow a prerequisite for spiritual service. And to see how many of these otherwise good members would look down on the lowly musicians and artists in the quorum, cowering in their dung huts, was quite saddening. It wasn’t even enough to be accomplished by worldly standards; worth was entirely a function of future earning potential. (For men anyway. Don’t get me started on the fat chicks.)

  66. lamonte on April 10, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Just a bit of a snide and hopefully amusing comment not meant to downplay any of Ray’s excellent points about highly qualified church members. The mission president’s home for the Washington DC South Mission happens to be within our ward boundaries. Consequently our ward members have a better opportunity to get to know the mission president and his wife – and sometimes their family. One of the mission president’s who served in the past was speaking to our youth group about the experience of being called to serve. He said President Monson, then a counselor in the First Presidency, extended the call and he said something interesting during their meeting. He said there are many men qualified to serve as mission presidents in the church. He said the reason they know this is because the FP has received letters from these men telling them so. Then he said, “These men will never be mission presidents.”

    Just something to think about if we ever got full of ourselves..

  67. lamonte on April 10, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    oops! I meant “…get full of ourselves.”

  68. gst on April 10, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I have also witnessed the seething, uncomprehending rage just below the surface in wards where members from the right side of town play musical chairs with the more visible callings in the ward and stake while the worthy blue collar members stand by, furrowing their thick, sweaty brows in a vain attempt to decipher the polysyllabic language coming over the pulpit. But surely this murderous resentment is no worse than the current practice in my East Coast Elite Second Ward to only call C-level executives or better to serve on the Activities Committee.

  69. a random John on April 10, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    gst (#63),

    I fail to see how that is relevant to the matter of z and my wife’s tubes!

  70. a random John on April 10, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    lamonte,

    That is an excellent idea! What’s the address again?

  71. gst on April 10, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I marvel at the accomplishments of those of our General Authorities that didn’t come up through CES. I have also looked on with admiration as successful local leaders wield their worldly wisdom and Mont Blanc pens in their ecclesiastical duties. I guess deep down, believe it or not, I too value the fruits of the elitist hierarchy that allows me to talk like this. Still, I wish we didn’t value their worldly accomplishments so much. I wouldn’t mind letting some of our noble savage beet farmers attempt to read the CHI without moving their lips.

    In the end, a man’s bottom line and a woman’s waistline are but poor yard sticks in the sight of a God whose course is one eternal round. But you’ve got to start judging somewhere.

  72. bbell on April 10, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Hey GST. Quit talking about the 5-6 guys they keep moving around the stake that you used to live in when you were in school.

  73. Jason J on April 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Very funny, GST.

    I was actually attending a reputable school, but not the same cream of the crop institution as most of the members of the ward. And I don’t see why you should be bothered by my candid confession that I’m guilty of elitism on some level too. I simply didn’t want to pick too much at a beam without confessing the mote in my own eye.

    Not sure why you wasted some half-dozen comments mocking me, but perhaps I should appreciate the attention. I’m sure you had something wonderful to add, but you were too concerned with what I had to say to share your own insights.

  74. Steve Evans on April 10, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    FINISH HIM!!!

  75. a random John on April 10, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Jason J,

    You went to Wellesley?

  76. a random John on April 10, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Jason J,

    You went to Wellesley?

  77. a random John on April 10, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Twice?

  78. Steve Evans on April 10, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Double posting ftw.

  79. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Let me say that part of why I think about the personal academic and career accomplishments of leaders in the Church, including the GAs, is that much of the description of Mormons by observers such as Helen Whitney (PBS’ “The Mormons”) and Richard and Joan Ostling (Mormon America–see my review in the FARMS Review, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2001) portrays LDS men and women as generally uneducated and, worse yet, boring boobs who are able to lead only by virtue of the even greater ignorance of their followers. Therefore, they tell us, scholars are excommunicated (in strange and severe venues that look nothing like an LDS meetinghouse in Whitney’s TV show) because Mormon leaders are too uneducated to appreciate the scholars’ intellectual achievements. So, in light of the false impression inculcated by people who are presenting books and four hour TV shows as definitive treatments of Mormonism, I think it is good to balance the record by giving some basic information about our Church leaders.

    And what is given IS pretty basic, nothing near the kind of resume that is typical for someone running for political office or being selected CEO of a corporation. For instance, the entire professional biographical information for Dallin Oaks on the Church web page is as follows:

    “Elder Oaks is a graduate of Brigham Young University (1954) and of The University of Chicago Law School (1957). He practiced law and taught law in Chicago. He was president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980, and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1980 until his resignation in 1984 to accept his calling to the apostleship.”

    That is pretty bare bones, basically answering the question, Was he gainfully employed prior to becoming an apostle? My own resume is many times longer. There is enough information here to let the reader know that Elder Oaks was gainfully employed, but omits many of the things that a lawyer would put on his job application. Compare the additional information on Wikipedia:

    “Elder Oaks graduated with honors and earned the opportunity to serve as a clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the Supreme Court. At the completion of this internship, Elder Oaks and his family moved back to Chicago, where he entered into a private law practice.

    “In 1961, Elder Oaks was called to be the mission president of the Chicago stake and was also offered the opportunity to teach at the University of Chicago. Two years later Elder Oaks accepted a calling as second counselor in the Chicago South Stake Presidency. Along with his responsibilities in the Church, Elder Oaks had many responsibilities in other areas of his life. He was well known in his profession, and had served as the assistant state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois, as the acting dean of the law school, as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, as a legal counsel to the Bill of Rights Committee for the Illinois Constitutional Convention, and as an executive director of the American Bar Foundation.

    “In 1970, Elder Oaks was asked by the Church to be the new president of Brigham Young University. While serving as the president, he focused on academic excellence and became a spokesman for private colleges and universities nationwide as the president of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities.”

    Attorneys know that the gold standard for law school graduates is serving as a clerk for a member of the US Supreme Court. But these additional bits of information are not presented on the Church web site. It should also be noted that the little information that IS given is buried down in the area intended for the news media, not for routine reading by members of the Church. There is enough information to let reporters know that these guys are not dummies, but it doesn’t hit them over the head with it. It does not brag.

    Even so, the fact that many LDS members and leaders are just as intellectually qualified as those telling stories about them still does not come out in the popular portrayals of the Church, because people outside the Church would much rather be able to say “I need not take Mormonism seriously because no one of intelligence does.” That assumption was the basis of much of the criticisms of Mitt Romney in particular and Mormons in general over the past year or so. In Mormon America, whose authors talk about their own graduate degrees, and which criticizes Mormons for being anti-intellectual, the barest academic credentials of the Twelve are left for a footnote at the end of the book, avoiding the conflict between the book’s thesis and the fact of the graduate degrees held by several apostles.

    I can’t remember being in a meeting where a new bishopric or stake presidency was called where anyone read their resumes. Occupational references come up usually for the purpose of humor, such as James E. Faust saying when he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve that he had been a lawyer for many years but that he was now working on repentance. Leaders in the Church do not rely on their educational and work resumes for authority to lead us, in the way a politician asks for our votes. As has been noted above, we get a mix of leadership that represents the mix of membership.

    Having an impressive resume is not a prerequisite for a Church calling. But it is also not a disqualifier. And in a world where people in the chattering classes are trying to classify Mormons and other active religious believers as intellectually deficient, being able to point to the active participation in the Church of people with credentials as good as anyone at the New York Times or NBC or Harvard is a refutation of that classification.

    As is, for that matter, the operation of this blog.

  80. Ray on April 10, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Fwiw, sparring with gst is like challenging The Man in Black to a duel using only Bonetti’s defense.

  81. Darrell on April 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Right or left handed?

  82. Steve Jones on April 10, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Not all GA’s went to top flight schools. Elder Clayton went to a mid level law school UOP McGeorge in Sacramento. We went to school together and our school’s only claim to fame was that Anthony Kennedy taught night Con Law while serving on the Ninth Circuit.
    #49, #56 Not necessarily must you be known to be called. Late In Pres. Joseph F. Smith’s administration a vacancy in the twelve came and he asked for suggestions. Heber J. Grant felt strongly about an individual and made the suggestion. Pres. Smith chose someone else. Pres. Grant was upset and said the man he had suggested was the most qualified and that if he was ever in positon to call someone to the twelve he would be the person called. Later when Pres. Grant was president of the church he filled the vacancy in the twelve with a man he barely knew, who had been away as mission president in the north west for many years. Pres. Grant was asked why he did not call the man he had championed earlier and he responded that it was not his church and had called who the Lord wanted. The person called was Melvin J. Ballard grandfather of M. Russell Ballard.

  83. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 10, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    I am not asserting that Mormons outclass everyone else in America or the world academically or in any other professional measure. And please note that I have never asserted that I am in any way an “elite” person myself. I just know a few people who meet the ordinary definition of “elites”, the one that Michael Lindsay uses, such as my friends who attended Harvard Law.

    Rather, I am arguing that the Church is able to incorporate into its membership and leadership not only blue collar workers like my Dad but also people from the full range of education and professional experience, not only as members, but in useful leadership roles as well. We have places within the Church where anyone can be stretched, can use the talents they come with, while they develop their spiritual strengths. And I believe the Church as a whole and all of its members benefit from the inclusiveness of its membership and its widespread, and ever-changing, distribution of responsibilities.

    We all make ourselves available, and God sorts us out.

  84. Richard O. on April 11, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Leaders share their talents. CEO’s tend to have very good organizational skills. Perhaps this is one reason that the general organization of wards and stakes, and even the entire Church, run relatively smoothly. But what if more people with other skill sets like artists filled more leadership slots? Would the quality of our Church architecture and art improve as well? What if scholars and writers filled more leadership roles? Would the quality of lessons and talks improve?

    However, this may be a little hypocritical on my part. Because deep down, actually not so deep down, I really don’t want to attend lots of coordinating and planning meetings that absorb so much time of dedicated Church leaders. I appreciate those that enjoy, or at least are willing, to attend lots of those sorts of meetings because then I don’t have to.

    But what if there was a Church calling to design and craft a really niffty pulpit (or any other piece of furniture) for our chapel? Now there is a thought that really warms up my blood! Perhaps if their were more artists in positions of Church leadership, I would be able to receive such a call. Sigh…..

  85. rowish on April 11, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Elder Christofferson lived for many years in the South but was born and raised in Utah. I am quite sure (though not entirely certain) that the same is true of Elder Clayton.

    I would venture to say Christofferson’s more Southern than Utah. Don’t hold where someone was raised against him. That was a choice his parents made. Elder Christofferson’s own personal choices suggest he’s a Southerner at heart.

  86. AF on April 12, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I’ve never had a poor bishop or stake president, and the Twelve are all from elite fields, so I”m not exactly sure what you’re talking about (caveat: I have no idea what Christofferson did prior to becoming a GA).

  87. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 12, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    #86 AF–Elder Christofferson is an attorney who worked as a corporate counsel in a number of states. He attended Duke University Law School with a former coworker of mine, who says Christofferson was always an outstanding student and member of their ward.

    Given the story of the pulpit in the Conference Center, it seems clear that President Hinckley was a person who appreciated a well-crafted pulpit (he insisted on the beehives). He has been insistent on having unique art in the construction of each of the new temples, such as the murals in the “world room” of the Rexburg Temple that show scenes of wildlife with the Grand Tetons in the background. The reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple was an exercise in maximizing the use of hand-crafted components, from the windows to the individual hand-carved sunstones. Given the need to house congregations in third world countries, concentrating our art in the temples, and making our meetinghouses functional but pleasant, is a reasonable compromise.

    We should not forget that President Packer is a skilled artisan, creating lifelike sculptures of birds out of metal and paint. He could probably make a living at it. Many of the GAs have been noted for their appreciation of the art of literature, including President Hinckley and President McKay.

  88. Ray on April 12, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    AF (#86) – I have, many more than one. I also have known poor branch presidents, high councilors and counselors in bishoprics and stake presidencies. Plenty of them – and they were viewed as peers and equals by the rich ones by whose sides they served.

  89. AF on April 12, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    88: Cool. Good to know.

  90. Lawrence Anderson on April 20, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    In my ward, instead of being referred to as Bro or Sis, physicians are called Doctor, and the college Pres. is called President.

  91. Lawrence Anderson on April 20, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    In my ward, instead of being referred to as Bro or Sis, physicians are called Doctor, and the college Pres. is called President.