Loosely Coupled – An n-tier Religion

July 20, 2011 | 53 comments
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One goal in computer programming is to build “loosely coupled” systems. A loosely coupled system isn’t tied down to a specific platform. It makes it easy to take a program written for Macintosh and turn it into a program that can run on Windows or Linux or whatever other system you want. When a new platform appears (like the iPhone), a loosely coupled system makes it so that you can just swap a few parts around and make your program work on that new platform.

Loose coupling is achieved by separating a system into “layers”. Take this blog, for example — timesandseasons.org (or most any website you visit) consists of three layers: the presentation layer, the data layer, and the business logic layer. Here’s a quick overview:

  1. The presentation layer is what you see on your screen right now. It determines what the site looks like, things like “put that picture montage at the top of the page” or “put this article in the middle of the page, with “Recent Comments” to the left and “Notes From All Over” to the right.
  2. The data layer is what stores all of the content for the site. It’s a database that contains all of our blog posts, all of your comments, and the various links that you see on the sidebars of this page.
  3. The business logic layer is what connects the presentation layer to the data layer. You come to this blog because you want both presentation and data. You don’t just want a pretty page with no information in it, and you can’t look in the database to see the blog posts directly. You want the data from the database to be displayed on your computer page where you can see it. The business logic layer handles that.

You’re probably reading this post on a laptop or desktop computer. You have a monitor with plenty of space, so your presentation layer can show you lots of stuff. But now imagine that you’re viewing this same page on an iPhone (my apologies if you actually are viewing this on an iPhone!) There’s a lot less space on an iPhone screen, so the page would need to display information more efficiently. To use the terms above, you would expect a change in the presentation layer. You wouldn’t want the site to act differently (that would be a change in the business logic layer), and you wouldn’t want to get different content (which would be a change in the data layer) — you’d just want it to do all the same stuff but on a smaller screen.

Loosely coupled systems make that (relatively) easy to do. If you did, in fact, visit this site on an iPhone, you’d see that is already set up to provide a different presentation layer. There’s no extraneous information, just posts and comments.

Could the church be organized to work in the same fashion — a “loosely coupled” church organization, where the various functions of the church are separated out into various layers?

As a starting point, I see the church organization as providing essentially four distinct functions — social support, theology, moral standards, and charitable service. I’m sure we could cut things differently, but for discussion’s sake, I’ll use these four.

  1. The social support layer covers the temporal benefits the church provides to its members: a place to build friendships, gain practical life skills, receive financial support in times of need, and the whole Provident Living program.
  2. The theological layer is about faith-based teachings — the nature of God, the plan of salvation, priesthood orders, etc.
  3. The moral standards layer addresses ethical teachings — what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable, how we should live our lives, and the identification of worthy goals (e.g. education and family as opposed to fame and fortune).
  4. The charitable service layer covers the church’s role as a contributor to human welfare to people outside of the church organization. This includes disaster relief, community service projects, and humanitarian mission work.

For many church members, these are already separate layers. There are members who reject the theological layer, but continue attending because they like the social support or moral standards layers. Conversely, other members don’t find meaningful social support or charitable service layers in their wards, but continue attending because they have a deep commitment to the principles of the theological layer.

If the church were a loosely coupled organization, members would be encouraged to swap out the layers that aren’t working for them. Regarding the social support layer, members who have a hard time with individuals in their wards would be allowed to attend their meetings in other wards. With the charitable service layer, members who feel that the church’s charitable service arm is somewhat anemic might be “called” to serve through a more proactive church or charitable organization in the area.

The other two layers — theological and moral standards — are stickier, since they feel so much closer to the heart of our identification as Mormons. While possible, any attempt to provide a loose coupling with those two layers would be controversial. However, church history might hold a key: there we see how even those two layers have changed dramatically over generations.

Ultimately, the goal of a loosely coupled church organization would be the same as for a loosely coupled computer program: to allow a system to be dynamic enough to meet the unique needs of individuals while still being solid enough to provide a reliable set of services. So what do you think — could (and more importantly, should) the church be loosely coupled into layers? And if so, what layers would you suggest?

53 Responses to Loosely Coupled – An n-tier Religion

  1. Michael on July 20, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Good post but I think you may be missing a couple of functions. In addition to the four layers you mention above I would add “The Nature & Structure of Communal Worship Services” and “Cultural / World Paradigm” layers. Both of these layers are very important and have created some consternation amongst members that can easily accept the first four layers you mention above but have been put off by our boring, non-worshipful, non Christ-centered services or our cultural fixation on Republican politics and patriarchal worldview.

  2. Paul on July 20, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Your question assume it is not presently so organized, yet you cite examples of people who already swap out layers that don’t work for them. So you’re look for more overt decoupling?

    The other thing I note with your four proposed layers (which make sense to me, by the way), there seems to be overlap in the layers. For instance, the charitable service layer may also facilitate the social support layer as members serve together. As you point out, the moral standards of layer 3 grow out of the theology of layer 2.

  3. Paul on July 20, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Sorry — first paragraph should end with, “So you’re looking for more overt decoupling?”

  4. Sam Brunson on July 20, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I like this, Dane. Notwithstanding the fact that people do swap things out, we’re not super-open to it (see, e.g., discussions of white shirts, which certainly seems to be a comfortable target for swapping out).

    The trick, as you point out, is determining what is important and needs to stay, and what is inessential. Although we all do that analysis on a personal level, this is one of the first attempts to lay it out systemically I’ve seen, and there is certainly value in moving to the systemic.

  5. Dane Laverty on July 20, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Paul, you touch on something that I feel is important: even in loosely coupled layers, the relationships are not equally independent. For example, in a computer system, swapping out the presentation layer or data layer is relatively easy, while swapping out the business logic layer would be a major undertaking. The reason for this is that the business logic layer the “core” of the system — it defines the system’s function. To use your term, the presentation and data layers “grow out of” the business logic layer. In the same sense, if you swap out the theology layer of the church for a different theology layer, a person might question whether the resulting construct could still count as the same church.

    Also, Paul, yes, I’m interested in more overt decoupling. Currently members swap out layers that don’t work for them, but it’s generally done quietly and without approval. Going back to the theology layer, imagine that the church offered four valid theology layers — a pre-Nauvoo Joseph theology, a post-Nauvoo Joseph theology, a Brigham Young Utah theology, and a Bruce R. McConkie Mormon Doctrine theology. In a loosely coupled church, these competing theologies would be publicly recognized (perhaps a separate Sunday School class for each theology), and church members would be allowed to subscribe to the theology that best met their needs.

    Sam, if I were to expand this post (and maybe I will), I would talk about the difference between interfaces and implementations. In a computer system, each layer possesses an interface which describes what that layer will do. Swapping one layer for another is possible because both layers share the same interface. However, each layer implements that interface in a different way. I suspect that when you talk about determining “what is important and needs to stay”, the outcome would be an interface rather than an implementation.

  6. Dane Laverty on July 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Michael, I agree that my four-layer model is probably pretty lacking :) I think that the layers you suggest touch on some of the gaps, although they might also be sub-layers of the “social support” layer.

  7. TMD on July 20, 2011 at 10:19 am

    At which point of decoupling does the system not work–i.e., the church is no longer true to the will of the lord?

  8. Mike S on July 20, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Great post. I’ve programmed professionally and have an engineering degree, so this really appeals to my way of thinking.

    I actually think the first model represents the Church and the majority of the dilemmas that we encounter in living as Mormons. Here is how I see the model as working:

    The DATA layer represents the essential part of the gospel. This is the revealed doctrine of the Church. It is the core how the Church can help our relationship with God. It includes ordinances, etc.

    The PRESENTATION layer is our day-to-day living at Mormons. It includes Sunday meetings, VT/HT, reading scriptures, and all of the hundreds of big and little things that it means to live as a “Mormon”.

    The BUSINESS LOGIC layer is what ties these two together. It includes a lot of the policies of the Church. It attempts to take doctrinal things and turn them into how we should live. And this is the most problematic level.

    The problem is that the LDS Church was started in what was essentially a IBM DOS environment, for example. As things modernized, some people clamored for Windows, but the people in charge with comfortable with DOS. After much kicking and screaming, a version of Windows that ran on DOS was available. Over time, people wanted to do the same tasks (ie. word processing, spreadsheets, etc) in different environments (ie. Apple, tablets, phones). But this can be hard to “port”. And then game changers came along – the internet. Etc.

    This is the major problem in the Church today. For example, at the DATA layer, we are told to be modest. Historically, this meant things like one-piece swimsuits (+/- going to wrists and ankles), white shirts and ties, keeping a woman’s shoulders covered once garments were shortened, etc. People have confused these things with the DATA layer, but really they are the BUSINESS layer or even the PRESENTATION layer and are NON-ESSENTIAL to the gospel.

    In my opinion, for the gospel to truly flood the earth, we need to move it to the “cloud”, for lack of a better term. We need to focus on the core DATA layer and jettison all of the PRESENTATION layer things that some people misinterpret as the DATA layer. We need to let people live LDS teachings in their own context. For a young person, this might include having a tattoo or a second set of earrings. For another person, it might include something else.

    As long as people are forced to use Windows/MS Word to write a paper, when a Mac or a smart phone or a tablet or Linux or anything else would also allow them to write the same paper, we are going to continue to have stagnant growth. Especially if we have to dress like we work at IBM in the 1960′s :-)

  9. Bob on July 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Great post!
    Or, you can do as I do. I have several websites and write on different blogs. On each, I use a different voice. So I can pick where I want to be sweet, or where I want to be mean.

  10. Ray on July 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    There also is a natural decoupling in many places between the global level and the local level – with the differences being more easily visible in units where the local leadership is more isolated, homogeous and, therefore, generally more rigid in its views. It’s an interesting thing to watch a global leadership that generally is much more diverse than the dominant culture that drives local leadership trends. I believe the local Church tends to be most representative of the global leadership in areas that classically are seen as “the mission field” rather than in the “Mormon Corridor”.

    Many members won’t understand that, perhaps – since those in Mormon-dominated areas tend not to see the diversity at the top (which is bolstered by the top’s hesitancy to air disagreements or differing viewpoints publicly), and those in “the mission field” tend to assume the global leadership is entrenched in the Corridor mentality. It’s an interesting paradox, but I do think it’s a real example of decoupling – especially since many members tend to de-emphazise either their local culture OR what they perceive to the dominant global culture, whichever one causes them angst.

  11. Dane Laverty on July 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    TMD, I have no idea.

    Mike S, that’s a interesting direction to extend the analogy. I think it’s particularly apt because we can’t “see” doctrine any more than we can “see” inside a database — there must always be a presentation layer, because we humans lack the ability to interact with abstract truth directly. But an effect of that is that the presentation layer will always be, at best, an approximation of the data layer. The engineers of the presentation layer do their best to determine which pieces of the data layer should be emphasized and which should be hidden.

    Bob, I’m glad that you’ve decided to be sweet here :)

    Ray, I hear the bloggernacle emphasize the diversity of global church leadership, but I don’t see it. If there are different interpretations among them, they are kept in private (private vs. public variable scoping would make for another fun computer-science–related post…hmmm…) For all practical purposes, global church leadership is a homogeneous bloc.

  12. Mike S on July 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Dane:

    Another analogy to explore comes from object-oriented programming. The Church provides the base class with various functions, which is instantiated in different branches/wards. There becomes the issue as to what functions are virtual, overridden, etc.

    What is the minimal “core” base class that could still be considered Mormon? And if there are additional functions that obscure some people’s vision of the base functions, should they be jettisoned?

  13. Michael on July 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Mike S.,

    Please note that in the LDS Church there is no authority given to override the core programming. All functions are to be implemented as downloaded from Salt Lake unless specific permission is granted by the Lead Programmer in the Church Administration Building.

  14. Dane Laverty on July 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Mike S, that goes back to my response to Sam in comment #5. The problem is that the base gospel class isn’t a class — it’s just an interface, an API. No, it’s actually worse than that. It’s a spec, and like any spec, it’s sometimes ambiguous and contradictory. None of the methods are implemented. We don’t even know what the methods are. And so we do our best to write interfaces and implementations to bring our lived experience in line with the spec.

  15. chris on July 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    To the extent I understand what you’re saying I sometimes see this as a bug and not a feature. I think your 1-4 reasons should flow out of the principles of the #2 reason (theology). Basically, charity, service, sociality, etc. should flow if we understand and internalize the doctrines of the gospel. I think often we end up with people teaching 1,3,4 without understanding the interplay of the #2. Often, it seems to me, it’s not even in cases where people don’t agree with or like the theology, but often the conclusion that gets internally formed based on the teaching is the church just teaches you to be a good person. Hopefully true! But also true is that you can become a good person out of the church, and indeed if you don’t even grasp the important of the doctrines from within the church it’s likely you could become an even better person out of the church if you just focus your life serving others without worrying about doctrines.

    But when we align the doctrines, the ordinances, with the charity, etc. then there is something real that happens — it’s called power in the priesthood and it can bring miracles to pass.

    So I would suggest these things should not be loosely coupled where people can come and get a little bit of something even if they don’t agree with something else, but there should be a more tight connection between our actions and the gospel principles from which they stem.

    If a person doesn’t have or want to have a testimony of the theology, there are a lot of fine places to go. I’d really hope/wish they’d stay and try to gain one rather than shutting out the prospect of it for whatever reason. But I think a decoupling of charity from theology, for instance, is a really bad idea within the church.

    It’s one thing to do that for interfaith relationships (cooperation with muslim groups, etc.) But within the faith, we should be building up the relationship and tight coupling of them all, while at the same time being flexible enough that we can recognize the contributions members of other faiths make.

  16. chris on July 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    And just to add… I don’t think you can understand #2, without understanding and practicing 1,3,4.

  17. chris on July 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    At the same time, I think you’re intent (presumably) would be to have them loose so someone attracted to #4 for instance, could eventually recognize the great worth of 1-3 also. I don’t think having them tightly coupled prevents that… for instance, in discussing service and before a service activity, tying in various doctrinal concepts seems like a worthwhile thing to me if we were aiming for a tighter coupling. If we wanted it loose, what would you do different? No mention of theology, just a come and serve and go our separate ways approach?

  18. Ray on July 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Dane, there have been some major differences in theological interpretations over the years from differing apostles – and I don’t have to go back multiple decades to find them. Elder Wirthlin’s messages often were at odds in some ways with Elder Packer’s – and Elders Holland and Oaks (just like to say those names in that order) offer differing (and, in some cases, even contrasting) opinions in their talks quite regularly. Elder Uchtdorf has said some things in the last few years that appear to contradict (or, at least, clarify greatly) some of elder Packer’s former statements. Those are some quick, easy example, but there are many more.

    The further back we go, the more pronounced the differences are, but there are plenty of examples within the last 5 – 10 years.

    My main point, however, is that there often is a real, practical disconnect between what is said at the global level and what is implemented at the local level. That often is because different local leaders hear and remember different things – placing emphasis on those things that match their pre-existing perceptions and inclinations. If that were not the case, we would have more homogeneity at the local level than we do – especially in “outlying areas” that are not shaped nearly as much by the dominant culture that arose in demographic isolation.

    I know I have to work hard not to let that happen to me (hearing only one thread of thought), but I also know it still does happen to me on a regular basis – especially in what sticks in my memory. Much of the reason I am aware of the varying statements is that I consciously force myself to look for them – and I am surprised quite regularly by what the apostles actually say and what I see implemented at the local level.

  19. Al on July 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Well the Church is One and not just one or two layers. Everything is tied together Indivisibly. It’s the Whole thing.

  20. Ray on July 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    If you are interested, Dane, I wrote something in the middle of the October General Conference in 2009 about the general topic:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/10/paul-v-john-oaks-v-andersen-why-we-need.html

  21. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    How would your model describe the relationship between the typical Protestant, his congregation, his denomiination, and the doctrines that distinguish it from others? How about for Catholics? Eastern Orthodox?

    One of the questions that your model does not answer is whether looser or tighter coupling is desirable or not. It is one thing for computer systems, which are tools, and tools have a quality of usefulness that includes their flexibility (like and adjustable wrench or power driver that can be a drill or a screwdriver/socket wrench). However, I would suggest that in the Church, WE members are the tools, and the User is God. This corresponds to Paul’s comparison of “members” as hands, feet and eyes of a unitary body. The goal of the Church is not to be flexible for OUR use, but to be effective in the hands of God in achieving God’s purposes, namely the eternal life of mankind.

    All the emphasis on unity in the scriptures and in the teachings of the prophets about establishiing Zion seem to call, in the context of your model, for a more tightly coupled system. The emphasis in our meetings is not “How can the Church serve YOU better?” but on asking us “How can YOU serve the Church–the orgaization and your family and neighbors–better?”

    If I am correct, then software upgrades need to be made, but with the goal of increased unity, simplicity, and usefulness to God in his work and his glory. The user interface needs to be reviewed and upgraded periodically–the way the missionary lessons were replaced with the more adaptable “Preach My Gospel”–but the goal is not to adapt the system to more varieties of people, but to make it more effective in performing the core functions.

    The story told by Hugh B. Brown about “The Currant Bush” is echoed in the writings of C.S. Lewis about the way God wants to NOT prettify our cottages, but tear them down and build mansions out of us. Clearly, the Church is not created to adapt to OUR preferences about options. Instead, it is meant to modify our personal programming so we interface more effectively with God’s system and are more effective modules in bringing all of mankind into unity with God. we must put off the “natural user” and become a humble servant in God’s algorithm for reprogramming us into celestial beings that have finally “gotten with the program,” God’s program.

  22. Dane Laverty on July 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    chris, you take for granted that the theology layer is the root of the other three. I don’t necessarily think that is the case. Oftentimes our lived experience informs our theology more than our theology informs our experience.

    Al, my answer to you is the same that I give to Raymond below.

    Ray, I hope to take a look at your link when I get some time later and give you a worthy response.

    Raymond, you bring up more points that I have time right now to respond to (for example, I disagree that God is the user in this analogy), but there’s one I particular I want to touch on. I agree that a goal of the church is to achieve unity among its members. I also see a loosely coupled organization as more inclined toward unity than a tightly coupled organization. If I follow your logic, then the church would be the most united if we all followed the exact same mannerisms — wore the same clothes, sang the same songs, told the same stories, etc. But in practice, that kind of demand for conformity creates division more than unity. It unites a small core group who agree with the practices, but it puts off the much larger group who might have otherwise been included. The way I read your depiction, the most united church is a church of one individual…and while that may be true, it’s not very useful.

  23. Steve on July 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Raymond, Al, and others, I think what Dane is getting at is that the LDS church has a deep enough history and heritage and a strong enough structure to accommodate members of diverse backgrounds, lifestyles, and worldviews. The leadership does not need to further tighten the criteria for member recognition, or hawkishly enforce strict policies. Rather I think he is saying that the church leadership may need to loosen up in some areas, but only as a means of acquiring and keeping more members. I think that by and large the fully active true believing LDS members, such as you, believe that it is the full package or nothing: the leaders’ words are in essence God’s words and their policies His policies. There is no pick and choose in the gospel. But picture yourself as a high-ranking leader in the church and you are up against staggering inactivity rates. Sure it is important to take a stand on some matters and stick to criteria that would exclude some types of behavior and beliefs. But too much austerity may end up being counterproductive and may make people who would otherwise be fairly upright members feel alienated and decide to leave.

    Personally I am not strongly convinced of the literal reality of much of the church doctrine, especially with regards to historicity matters (and I certainly do not share Raymond’s worldview that everything the church leaders say and command reflects God’s will). But I continue to show up at church every week and pay my tithing, nonetheless. I suppose the church leadership could launch an inquisition as to my belief in certain things and proclaim me a heretic and tell me I’m no longer welcome at the meetings. However, I do see that that would do them much good. I’d be just yet another of the sixty-five-plus percent of the Mormon inactive population. And they would have one less tithing check. If the church were to loosen its membership constraints a bit further, and even liberalize its policy a bit more, (perhaps even trying to phase out some of its antiquated doctrinal and historical positions) you and other true believing members would more than likely still be around. But it could potentially attract more fence-sitters to regularly attend church meetings.

    So, no, Raymond, I see loosening as very desirable.

  24. Dane Laverty on July 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Steve, my vision with this architecture would be to go one step beyond what you’re talking about. It’s not about moving from conservative to liberal — it’s about moving to an organization that is simultaneously conservative and liberal (or whatever other term a person might like to use).

  25. Jax on July 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    If I follow your logic, then the church would be the most united if we all followed the exact same mannerisms — wore the same clothes, sang the same songs, told the same stories, etc. But in practice, that kind of demand for conformity creates division more than unity. It unites a small core group who agree with the practices, but it puts off the much larger group who might have otherwise been included.

    Yes I say, away with all white in the temple, and a hymnal at all. Just sing what you want, wear what you want, do what you want, believe what you want. As long as you fill the pews and give us a monthly check, then that is what matters!!!

    OH Wait! Maybe the idea of a church is to help people control their behavior within certain bounds the LORD has set and then expect them to conform to them. The goal is NOT to increase numbers, but to save souls. We might as well baptize bags of sand as to baptize (or retain) members who don’t want to ‘follow the prophet’. I don’t think that the program is so strict now that it needs loosening to accomodate people on the fringe. There will always be a ‘fringe’ element that wants appeasement – someone who wants just ‘one thing’ to change and then they’ll be happy to be active members.

    Rather I think he is saying that the church leadership may need to loosen up in some areas, but only as a means of acquiring and keeping more members.

    .
    If the church were to loosen its membership constraints a bit further, and even liberalize its policy a bit more, (perhaps even trying to phase out some of its antiquated doctrinal and historical positions) you and other true believing members would more than likely still be around. But it could potentially attract more fence-sitters to regularly attend church meetings.

    I think the church wants more active people, even tithe payers. But they want them through repentance and because they have faith, not just to fill out the pews and as a revenue source. The Lord did not say “be diverse, and if you are not diverse you are not mine.” Loosening of the ‘strict policies’ will not fill the church with faithful people, but rather with people who critcize and complain that the Lord has any standards at all and should expect them to be willing to mold themselves to His will. Efforts should be made to bring them into the church, but through a change of heart, not a change of policy.

  26. Ray on July 20, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    “I also see a loosely coupled organization as more inclined toward unity than a tightly coupled organization.”

    I agree, Dane. Unity does not have to mean everyone thinks alike.

    I LOVE Elder Wirthlin’s talk, “Concern for the One”, and his analogy of the orchestral music being most beautiful when every instrument is played and are not overpowered by the piccolos. Ideal unity, to me, is not when everyone plays the same melody using the same instruments; rather it is when all musicians play innumerable harmonies and counter-melodies with their own unique instruments under the direction of the same Master conductor – who is skilled enough to take those otherwise disparate offerings and create an orchestral masterpiece.

    I have lived in wards where such complexity is honored and encouraged (including my current ward), and the result is astounding. It is possible to approach Zion in this life, but I believe it requires redefining unity in the manner in which Elder Wirthlin did in that masterful talk.

  27. Bob on July 21, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Oh Ray-Ray: The jazz band! Take it Satchmo!!

  28. Steve on July 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Jax (# 25),

    I think you, like Raymond, are conflating God’s will with institutional policy. I am all for people following God’s will, but people have to do that in their own individual way. There are principles that people must follow, but no check list that they can be given which leads them to salvation. Institutional policy may often overlap with God’s will, but sometimes it may not.

    Here are some examples of what I mean by liberalize policy:

    Not take political stands such as on political issues such as Prop 8.

    Include more female speakers at conference, and allow more females in decision-making groups, such as ward council, or instruct bishops to even have more females give closing prayers and closing talks at church.

    Change its Sunday school manuals to favor a more literary-based approaches of scriptures, and not treat them so much as literal histories. E.g. stop promoting the notion that the book of Isaiah was written by one person, or that the Pentateuch was written entirely by Moses, etc. In other words leave these to be more open-ended questions.

    On the whole focus more on charity, service, and togetherness as the uniting agents of religion and less on theology, history, and politics.

    Dane,

    I don’t see how to make the church more simultaneously conservative and liberal without it liberalizing. Conservatives are already well accommodated in the church structure. Liberals, not so much. It is all about getting conservatives, not to espouse liberal ideas, but just accept many of them as legit and not take such issue with them.

  29. Jax on July 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

    . I am all for people following God’s will, but people have to do that in their own individual way.

    You ever see the movie “The Restoration”? Remember when young Joseph was in the church talking to the pastor? Joseph asks about all the contradictory doctrines and the pastor says something like, “people have to find their own ways…” which is what your saying, right? Joseph responds, “but shouldn’t there be one way that is right for everyone?” I don’t know if that was a historically accurate event, but the premise is the same. One Lord, one doctrine, one path (which is straight and narrow). Not different paths and not a wide one that allows for everyone to reach the goal. Follow that one strict, narrow path, that is easy to understand though hard for some to accept, or do not reach the goal. THERE IS NOT MORE THAN ONE PATH, unless you have new scripture that the rest of us don’t have.

    Not take political stands such as on political issues such as Prop 8.

    It wasn’t/isn’t a political issue, it is a moral one. And if churches don’t have positions on moral issues, what good are they?

    Include more female speakers at conference, and allow more females in decision-making groups, such as ward council, or instruct bishops to even have more females give closing prayers and closing talks at church.

    Do you want Conference to last longer or do you want to pick your least favorit apostles to leave off the schedule?

    Our Branch Council has 3 females and 7 males…I assume same positions and and therefore same ratios everywhere… not a 50/50 ratio, but not bad IMO. Do you want just a random woman picked from the ward or do you want a new calling created just so she can have a place?

    Are bishops instructed to NOT have them pray? I thought anyone could pray and is left to the bishoprics discretion. Are bishops not trustworthy enough for even that decision without a policy? Must they be commanded in all things? Do we need an affirmative action style “you will have 50% of prayers done by women” scenario?

    On the whole focus more on charity, service, and togetherness as the uniting agents of religion and less on theology, history, and politics

    Agreed that our charity work at local levels is pathetic. I’ve never been in a unit that is truly involved in community affairs and service projects. Though I also see theology as very lacking as well. Most LDS people I meet are happy with “I know the church is true” and don’t even try to understand anything much deeper than that. Politics can be dropped though, that is certain!

  30. Dave R on July 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Dane, great post. Creative way to think about this issue.

    Steve, Amen and Amen. Can I add to your list the way we approach member missionary work? I think there are a variety of ways to share the gospel, and since (at least in the U.S.) the current one isn’t working that well, we should be open to alternatives.

  31. Ray on July 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    #27 – I have no idea what that comment means, and I believe it wasn’t meant to be as offensive as it might be taken (and I wonder if you even realize how offensive it can be as worded), so I won’t take offense and instead laugh it off as an attempt at humor that just doesn’t work at all for me – but, seriously, ?????

  32. Bob on July 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    @ Ray, I am sorry for any offence to you__none was meant.
    I know you to be a man of music. I read your analogy of orchestral music. I am only saying a jazz band works opposite of this. Benny Goodman would often play over the rest of his band. He would also point to persons within the band to stand and play as an individual. The jazz band also makes beautiful music.
    Louis Armstrong ( Satchmo), was often called forward to blow away the band. You can have strong individual playing within a band without it lossing it’s balance.

  33. chris on July 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    22 – Dane:
    Yes, I do take theology as the root. Now, I make no claim to say that theology is fully 100% expressed and understood and that we do not gain further light and knowledge of it as we carry out various actions. I would say that many times, going through certain actions help us as individuals understand and have doctrines revealed to us. But this has rarely happened to me if I was not studying the doctrines/theology in the first place while at the same time carrying out whatever practice at the moment (from service projects to temple work to attending church).

    In none of the examples I’ve described have I seen a benefit from decoupling doctrine from practice. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you. I think in a case where someone may have a problem with doctrines, the goal should not be to just focus on practice and ignore the doctrine, but to focus on both and look for the areas where the two are connected.

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Steve: I think you are basically describing the Community of Christ Church (nee RLDS). Though my understanding is that the liberalizing it has done over the last few decades has resulted in greater disunity.

  35. Steve on July 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Raymond, the RLDS liberalized indeed. But that isn’t the reason they have floundered. Disunity can be attributed to a weak leadership structure, which never gained much solid grounding. I praise the leadership structure of the LDS church and hope that it continues to be strong. I simply want them to continue to implement (I think they have gradually been liberalizing for the last few decades) more liberal policies. After all it was feared a number of decades ago that if the church gave blacks the priesthood, that it would alienate the conservatives and divide the church. But had they held onto that policy in this day in age, I can only imagine that the church membership would be even more reactionary and the inactivity rate would be even higher. I agree that too much liberalization may lead to greater disunity. But failure to liberalize in the wake of a larger population of Mormon liberals, could also lead to similar disunity.

  36. Steve on July 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Jax (29)

    Joseph Smith and the Pastor in “Restoration” touch on an important epistemological question: what is God’s way? How do we know it is His way? There may be one God, and we may be able to feel His spirit and influence guiding us. But what we infer from that spiritual experience is completely different. So I ask you the question, if there is one God and one way, and this way is so clear, as you suggest, why have the apostles disagreed on policy-related or even doctrinal matters? I like to think of the church as “scaffolding” (referencing a 1969 Harold B. Lee talk, also cited by M. Russell Ballard in 1996 and 2005). It provides structure for us to build ourselves and our families. But it doesn’t do the building for us. Ultimately we are the ones who have to do it. It may work different ways for different people. But God will accept those who have made a valiant effort and contribution to His children.

    I’m not sure how you don’t see Prop 8 as a political issue. There are lots of moral-cum-political issues that the church could involve itself in. There are, I believe, a lot of immoralities wired into law today. For instance, I see the Supreme Court’s recent decision block bans on corporate political spending as immoral (because it gives the business and financial elite even more leverage over the public in politics). But I’m not writing letters to my Stake President bidding him to encourage the church to campaign against that.

    In a talk some 30 years Boyd K. Packer identified the three main internal threats to the church as intellectuals, femininsts, and the gays. He was right. They are threats to church based on its policy then and now. But I believe that the church can blunt the force of internal opposition by giving in a little bit and moderating its policy vis-a-vis intellectual (scriptural/doctrinal) questions, women’s issues, and attitudes towards gays. (Hence the suggestion to include women in more leadership roles). This will not be brought about by immediate big steps, but by small things. In fact a lot of church liberalization has already gone on without its faithfuls even noticing all that much. I just want more of it.

  37. Ray on July 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    #32 – Got it, Bob. Thanks. It’s all good.

  38. Jax on July 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Steve,

    If we are really talking about letting women pray, than I agree that it is only reasonable that they say as many as the men do. If we’re talking about loosening so that women have the priesthood then we part ways. If we’re loosening to say that having homosexual feelings is just as wrong as having adulterous ones, then that is fine as well – just don’t act on any of them. If loosening means we allow homosexuals into leadership roles or have temple recommends, then we part ways again.

    According to Elder Oaks, who knows a little something about the law, he said that the entire set of US laws are established upon moral principles. Just because something moral has become politicized doesn’t mean it is no longer a question of morality. You would have to argue just as vehemently that the Church has no place in condemning murder (an issue of law) as to say it has no place in condemning homosexuality or gay marriage (an issue of law). I am not comparing them, I don’t think gay marriage is akin to murder. But the church is just as justified in making statements regarding murder, or theft, or adultery, …. and condemning it, as they are in taking a stance against gay marriage.

    It seems that if you think those 3 are the biggest threat, and I don’t disagree, that you think the best way to protect the church from them is to give in to them, not wholly, but at least in some degree. Where I would say that in order to protect yourself from their “internal opposition” is to remove them from being ‘internal’. Keep them at the “external” until they can be trusted to be let back in. In the case of the church I don’t ascribe to the premise of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer – I don’t like the idea when dealing with sacred things.

  39. Jimbo on July 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    “If loosening means we allow homosexuals into leadership roles or have temple recommends, then we part ways again.”

    Jax, you have me confused by this statement. I am a homosexual and not only have a temple recommend but am also a temple worker. I also have a leadership calling as the Family History Center Director. Prior to my current calling I was in the EQ Presidency. There is nothing in Church standards that prohibits me from serving as such.

  40. Jax on July 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Jimbo….. I meant to imply practicing homosexuals. I assume you are not. If you have homosexual impulses but don’t follow them, then you are just as clean to me as the man with impulses to sleep with women he isn’t married to but doesn’t follow them. But someone in a homosexual relationship, even in a monogamous one, shouldn’t have a temple recommend any more than the man in a monogamous relationship with a female he isn’t married to. Homosexuality isn’t MORE wrong than adultery – that is the point I wanted to convey. I hope there aren’t any issues with that phrasing?

  41. Steve on July 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Jax, I think that already we disagree significantly in our worldviews and would part ways over many issues, but that is OK. You say:

    “It seems that if you think those 3 are the biggest threat, and I don’t disagree, that you think the best way to protect the church from them is to give in to them, not wholly, but at least in some degree. Where I would say that in order to protect yourself from their “internal opposition” is to remove them from being ‘internal’. Keep them at the “external” until they can be trusted to be let back in.”

    When I say that threats I mean, inasmuch as the church makes them out to be threats and maintains policies that externalize them. I do believe that intellectuals, feminists, and gays are threats in the church’s current capacity, but not in and of themselves.

    Your second sentence assumes that when people are externalized that they will come back in. Its not happening. If the church externalizes someone, most of the time they don’t come running back to the church, they leave it and sometimes make enemies of it. Now I agree that the church should externalize flamboyant gays and radicals. But I think that the church, in its current capacity, has externalized some more moderate folks who would otherwise be valuable members.

    Lastly I am seeking a sort of optimal policy whereby the church can maximize its retention of liberal members while minimizing the loss of its conservative members. So while giving the women the priesthood (which I would personally welcome) may result in greater damage to the base than can be compensated by the gain of liberal followers, lighter policies in that direction may work, and could be more effective.

    Anyhow do some research on inactivity stats for the church. It is rather depressing.

  42. Jax on July 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Steve,

    Agreed, not threats in and of themselves!

    Retention stats are VERY depressing. I wouldn’t change it by changing standards though. If I were to desire any policy changes to ‘fix’ it, I would change the way we baptize people and would raise THAT bar much higher. I’m our branch mission leader and I’m quite frankly sick and tired of the missionaries baptizing people we’ve never met, who barely know what the BoM is or who Jos. Smith was. We’ve had 2 this year that I met for the first time on the day they were baptized – and they’ve never been back. How are we supposed to fellowship and nurture them? Where were the ‘fruits’ of their faith that warranted baptism? I’d raise that standards for baptism to be much much higher in order to keep retention high, not lower the standards to include them later.

    I’m just as familiar with the poorly named ‘parable of the sower’ as I’m sure you are – where the sower throws seed on different ground. I’d like to see that we make sure we get more seed in the good ground, rather than call the crop that burnt up because it had no root “good” just to make ourselves feel better and improve our numbers some.

    As for women and priesthood….I hear that alot from people, that they would like to see it, and I don’t understand why. I guess I’m an old fashioned believer in the Articles of Faith, in this case in number five particularly. “We believe that a man MUST be called of God to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” Well if God doesn’t call them, then we can’t really give them the priesthood and allow them to administer the ordinances, can we? Wouldn’t that be just as a presumptive authority sham as the Catholics/Protestants/etc who assume authority where it doesn’t really exist? Maybe it would be nice to have God call and authorize them, but I don’t want the Church doing it until then.

  43. Meggle on July 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Ooooh! I love this! I haven’t even read the comments yet, but this is something I could really get behind. Take scouting, for example- I believe in a loosely coupled church, we could offer well- organized scout troops for those who are interested or even(gasp!) support our local troops, and no longer make ym who are not scouters feel as though they have little or no reason to show up to weeknight activities (or worse yet, that their testimonies are somehow lacking because they don’t love scouts).
    In general, people would be able to really make church work for their individual circumstances much better. Now to go back and read- hope I haven’t just been talkin crazy in my haste to post. I’m tired and doing this on my iPod.

  44. Meggle on July 22, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Okay, so I read the comments, and I’m out in left field. Fascinating conversation, thanks. Hope I don’t kill the thread with my petty comment.

  45. James Olsen on July 22, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Dane this is a fascinating discussion, one well worth having. I’m not sure, however, that your post even begins to lay out the assumptions behind your model/metaphor and whether or not it’s appropriate to a thing like our religion. Computer metaphors dominate our current imagination – they are the dominate metaphor through which we understand ourselves and society, and have been for the past several decades. I think there are serious problems with this model (some of the problems are being hinted at by chris and Raymond above), but don’t have the ability to go into detail now.

    For now, let me ask you about this phrase:

    Ultimately, the goal of a loosely coupled church organization would be the same as for a loosely coupled computer program: to allow a system to be dynamic enough to meet the unique needs of individuals while still being solid enough to provide a reliable set of services.

    Is this a good articulation of what the church as an institution is and is meant to do?

    Also, you’re very American above in articulating a sort of plucky optimism that embracing as much diversity as possible ultimately creates a greater sort of unity and a morally more desirable scenario. I’m also very pulled by these basic American values, but the historical jury is very much still out on this.

    At the end of the day, one important question that ought to be asked here is, are we the sort of radical individuals that your model and its goals presupposes?

  46. Steve on July 22, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Jax, agreed that there is need to sow seeds and gain more converts. But I’m talking about it from the retention side. That is the second half of missionary program: reactivation.

    Women in the priesthood is part of another discussion. But I will say briefly something about that Article of Faith. Does it mean “man” as opposed to woman, or “man” in the sense of mankind or humans? If it is the former, as you suggest, then are women also forbidden from preaching the gospel? Of course I believe in scriptural abrogation in creating church policy. The scriptures may help legitimize a particular policy decision or establishment of a doctrine. But they aren’t the end-all. Church policy is determined mainly by collective agreement between leaders and followers.

  47. Dane Laverty on July 22, 2011 at 10:07 am

    RE: #38 – #41 — I’m in favor of “externalizing” or marginalizing no one…and flamboyance (or homosexuality at all) isn’t even on my radar of things the church needs to be cracking down on.

    Meggle, your comment’s not petty at all. I imagine that many share your feelings on Scouts, and it’s a good example of a layer that could be more loosely coupled.

    James, in answer to your last question — by God, I hope so! May the fiery spirit of the Restoration never be quenched.

  48. Jax on July 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Steve, man as in mankind. When women are called to preach, then they do so, and they do a marvelous job. I wish we had a higher female/male ratio in our mission. When called, they do wonderful in all callings at all levels. If and when they are called into holding the priesthood I’m sure they will do a wonderful job as well. Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies. Until that call comes though, they are NOT qualified. For us to call for women to have the priesthood is inappropriate in my view – it isn’t for us to tell the Lord how to run His church. I know He is good and kind and wants what is best for me. Knowing that, and that He knows more than I do, I’m willing to trust that His ways and reasons are better than mine.

  49. Dave R on July 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    On the retention subject, I’m just as worried about retaining our youth as our converts. Despite a prolific birthrate, we haven’t grown the Church as a percentage of the US population in at least 20 years (Still at 1.4% according to ARIS surveys). If our birthrate ever moves closer to the average, I’m afraid we won’t even be able to maintain that. Unlike those of many other faiths, Mormons who leave tend not to self identify as LDS. I wonder if part of that is the way we tie culture and policy to our definition of Mormonism.

  50. Bob on July 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    @ Jax: “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies”. And how is this done Jax? I am as much of a “loosely coupled system” as you can get and always have been. But I have had Church callings and felt welcomed in the Church by it’s leaders.

  51. Jax on July 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Bob, and since you were called you were qualified….. ‘and how is this done’ seems like an odd question since your description of youself doesn’t seem to indicate that the conversation you were quoting has anything to do with you.

  52. Mary B. on July 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    As a senior citizen and church member, I find this discussion very interesting. Over the years I have seen many instances where what you describe as “loose coupling” has happened in my wards. For instance, when my husband served as Scoutmaster, an assistant was called specifically to provide activities that would address the needs of boys not interested in Scouting activities. The Relief Society enrichment program is geared toward being flexible enough to meet the differing needs of the sisters. My current Bishop solves the problem of members hanging out in the halls during Sunday School, by creating a class for them, smaller in nature that meets their needs to visit and find emotional support, somewhat less doctrinally oriented. These things can happen when there seems to be a need and this seems to me to be the original intent of the post, not to challenge major doctrinal issues, but to let the church be flexible enough to reach out to human side of its members. The church structure is not as broken as some posts seem to imply. I think it is too bad that this conversation has delved into areas where “loose coupling” could lead to apostacy.

  53. Gary McCallister on August 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Ah, but people, and organizations of people are not theoretical constructs and do not work like computers. Computers have an architecture that is linear and tree-like. Human architecture (and behavior) is parallel and approximate. Interesting discussion but more or less useless in the real world.