Demystifying LDS Hierarchy & Corporate Politics

Demystifying LDS Hierarchy & Corporate Politics

In this final post about the podcast’s recent guest, Dr. Greg Prince, we’ll discuss the complex politics and hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was intellectually inspiring and stimulating to talk with Dr. Prince about so many relevant and impactful topics surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

George Santayana’s famous words echo in my mind as we talk about the complex time in church history during the presidency of David O. McKay, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” You see, as a prominent voice in the realm of Mormon history and church dynamics, Dr. Prince provides expertise and discussion that centers on the complex politics and hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, specifically during David O. McKay’s presidency.

Covering McKay’s contradictory views on race, priesthood policies, and interracial marriage, his work interrogates the balancing act between church growth and social progress, a place we find ourselves again, although with new topics. McKay’s leadership qualities, the influence of figures like Harold B. Lee, and the church’s resemblance to a corporatized institution. His work addresses the broader themes of leadership fallibility, abuse of power, and the importance of individual faith ownership within the church.

Understanding the Organizational Dynamics within the LDS Church

Unveiling the intricate dynamics within the organizational structure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) presents a compelling case study on the interplay between divine guidance and human imperfection. At the heart of this exploration is the church’s hierarchical framework, which, much like the structures found in corporate organizations, showcases the complex relationship between bureaucracy and power. This parallel not only highlights the mechanisms through which religious institutions govern and disseminate their doctrines but also sheds light on the ways in which such structures influence policies and practices within the church.

The LDS Church, with its structured leadership from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles down to local congregational leaders, epitomizes a blend of spiritual guidance and administrative governance. This duality fosters a unique environment where divinely inspired directives coexist with human decision-making processes, mirroring the corporate world’s blend of visionary leadership and practical management. As we delve into historical precedents, such as the presidency of David O. McKay, we gain insights into how past leaders have navigated the challenges inherent in steering a vast and diverse religious community. McKay’s tenure, marked by significant growth and doctrinal shifts, serves as a pivotal example of how leadership within the church has evolved in response to both internal and external pressures.

Examining Leadership and The Human Impact

This discussion inevitably leads to broader questions about the nature of leadership in religious settings. By examining instances where LDS Church leaders have had profound impacts on the church’s direction, as well as moments of human fallibility, we can engage in a more nuanced conversation about the role of authority in faith communities. Such a dialogue encourages members of the church to critically evaluate their relationship with doctrine and the ways in which they contribute to the collective narrative of their religious community.

Furthermore, acknowledging the potential for human error among church leaders invites a deeper consideration of faith, authority, and personal responsibility. It prompts members to reflect on how they can actively participate in their religious community while maintaining a critical awareness of the fallible nature of those in leadership positions. This awareness does not diminish the spiritual authority or the divine inspiration attributed to church leaders but rather enriches the faith experience by allowing space for personal growth and understanding within the framework of collective religious life.

A Candid Look at LDS Leadership and Governance

Dr. Greg Prince’s work tackles the complexities of LDS leadership and governance by examining the nuanced and sometimes contradictory positions held by David O. McKay during his tenure as president of the church. His book, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism provides an in-depth look at how McKay’s liberal views on black men and the priesthood starkly contrasted with his conservative stance on civil rights and interracial marriage. McKay’s approach to compartmentalizing the priesthood from civil rights issues, insisting on a revelation to change policy, is laid bare.

Additionally, Prince’s insights into the church’s gradual approach to changing policies on race, driven by the need for growth rather than an immediate response to human rights concerns, underscore the practical considerations that govern church decisions. A reading of this book encourages a candid reassessment of the portrayal of LDS leaders as infallible by acknowledging their vulnerability to mistakes and susceptibility to flattery and power. The dialogue further delves into the parallels between the church and corporate power structures, exploring themes of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and the universal potential for the abuse of power. By discussing McKay’s influential role and the challenges that arose during his time, Prince invites readers to thoughtfully engage with the complex history and governance of the LDS church, reflecting on the human elements that shape its leadership and policies.

Navigating the Complexities of Hierarchy and Decision-Making in the Latter-day Saint Context

Navigating the complexities of hierarchy and decision-making within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for both leaders and members alike. The church operates under a structured authority system deeply rooted in the belief that its leaders receive divine guidance. This foundational principle shapes the way decisions are made, policies are implemented, and teachings are disseminated throughout the global congregation. For members, this creates a dynamic interplay between personal revelation—individual insights and inspirations believed to be from God—and the official doctrine as articulated by the church leadership.

This intersection often becomes a fertile ground for reflection and sometimes tension, particularly when members find themselves trying to reconcile their personal beliefs with the institution’s teachings. The LDS Church, like many religious organizations, faces the challenge of addressing contemporary social issues. These issues, ranging from gender equality and sexual orientation to racial justice and environmental stewardship, demand a delicate balance between maintaining traditional values and incorporating progressive insights. The hierarchical structure of the church, designed to ensure unity and coherence across its global membership, sometimes struggles to be agile and responsive to the diverse experiences and needs of its members.

Hearing the Unheard

The church’s approach to decision-making within this framework highlights the emphasis on unity and coherence. Leaders seek divine inspiration in guiding the church, aiming to present a unified front on doctrinal and policy matters. However, this can lead to tensions, especially when individual members or groups within the church feel that their experiences, insights, or needs are not fully addressed or acknowledged. The challenge lies in fostering an environment where open discourse is not only allowed but encouraged, enabling members to express their views, ask questions, and seek greater understanding.

Efforts to navigate these complexities involve a continuous process of dialogue, prayer, and reflection, both at the individual and collective levels. The church has mechanisms in place, such as general conferences, local congregation meetings, and church councils, where issues can be discussed and guidance can be sought. Yet, the effectiveness of these mechanisms in addressing the nuanced and often deeply personal concerns of members varies, highlighting the ongoing need for adaptability and sensitivity within the church’s leadership structures.

Fostering an environment that accommodates meaningful changes without compromising core principles is an ongoing journey for the LDS Church. It requires a nuanced understanding of doctrine, a deep respect for personal revelation, and a commitment to engaging with contemporary issues in a thoughtful and compassionate manner. This journey is marked by efforts to balance tradition with progression, unity with diversity, and leadership with personal conscience, reflecting the complex but rich tapestry of faith and community life within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Why the LDS Church Might Be Losing its Future Leaders

Why the LDS Church Might Be Losing its Future Leaders

In the wise words of Nelson Mandela, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” For almost 200 years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) has enjoyed the comfortable place of generational growth of LDS Church membership where young people grow up to be the “strong, faithful, and devoted” Bishops, Elders Quorum Presidents, Relief Society Presidents, Primary teachers, and Mission Presidents. Paralleling the growth and expansion of the church has been the growth and expansion of science and worldwide communication and the ability to easily disseminate information–leading to the growing pains that we now see within the church and its future leaders.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been known for its conservative stance on many social issues, rooted in strong traditions and hierarchical leadership. While these attributes have historically been a source of strength, they are also contributing to a growing concern about the Church’s ability to retain and inspire its future leaders.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of talking with Dr. Greg Prince, scientist, church scholar, and author of many books, including his latest Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences. One of the topics we discussed in depth was how the LDS Church might be losing its future leaders. We were able to break it down into three reasons why the LDS Church (the Church) is at risk of losing future leaders, and I want to share those with you for the remainder of this article.

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3 Reasons the Church is at Risk of Losing Future Leaders

1. Disconnect Between Leadership and Younger Generations

In today’s rapidly evolving world, there seems to be a growing disconnect between the aging leadership of the General Authorities of the LDS Church and the values of younger generations, especially concerning issues like LGBTQ+ rights.

Many young individuals within the LDS Church community are increasingly advocating for a more inclusive and equitable approach, particularly regarding LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality. This perspective often contrasts with the more traditional views of the Church’s older leadership. These young members are seeking a faith environment that aligns with broader societal shifts toward acceptance and diversity.

Traditional Doctrines and Moral Landscapes

As they navigate their spiritual journey, they are looking for leadership that not only acknowledges but also embraces these changing social values. This clash of ideologies is not just about differing opinions; it’s about a fundamental shift in how younger generations view equality and human rights within their religious experience. This growing discord highlights the challenge the Church faces in bridging the gap between preserving traditional doctrines and adapting to the evolving moral and social landscape.

The fascinating observations made by individuals such as Dr. Greg Prince include insights into the marked decline in baptisms and an increase in the number of young members departing from the LDS Church, underscoring a significant issue. These trends suggest that the disparity in values between the Church’s leadership and its younger members is not just a matter of differing opinions but is having a tangible impact on Church membership and engagement.

The decline in baptisms can be seen as a direct indicator of the Church’s diminishing appeal to potential new members, particularly among younger generations who often prioritize inclusivity and progressive values. This decrease might reflect a broader perception that the Church’s doctrines and practices are not in harmony with the more liberal social attitudes prevalent among young people today.

Modern Day Exodus

Similarly, the rising number of young members leaving the Church points to a deeper sense of alienation and discontent. This exodus is not merely about doctrinal disagreements but is also rooted in a feeling of disconnect with an institution perceived as not evolving or responsive to contemporary social issues. Young members seeking a faith that resonates with their understanding of equality and social justice may feel compelled to look elsewhere when they find these values in conflict with the Church’s stance.

In essence, these observations indicate a critical crossroads for the Church. Adapting to the changing values of its younger members while maintaining its core doctrines presents a complex challenge, one that has significant implications for the future composition and character of its membership.

2. Lack of Diverse Voices in Church Leadership

The hierarchical structure of the LDS Church is characterized by decision-making processes that are centralized within a small, often homogeneous group of leaders. This structure typically involves a top-down approach, where authority and guidance flow from the higher echelons of the Church down to the local congregations.

At the top of this hierarchy are the General Authorities, including the President of the Church, his counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These positions are typically held by older men who come from similar backgrounds, both in terms of their long-standing involvement in the Church and often in terms of cultural and life experiences. This homogeneity can lead to a uniformity of perspectives and approaches in decision-making.

Homogenous Leaders and Narrow-Lived Experiences

The impact of this structure is significant in terms of how the Church responds to and addresses various issues, including social and moral questions that arise in an ever-changing world. Decisions made by this small, homogeneous group can sometimes reflect their collective experiences and understandings, which may not always align with the diverse perspectives and experiences of the broader Church membership, especially among younger generations or those from different cultural backgrounds.

This system can also mean that changes in Church policies or doctrines tend to be incremental and carefully considered, adhering closely to the established beliefs and traditions of the Church. While this can provide a sense of stability and continuity, it also poses challenges in rapidly adapting to societal changes or in adequately addressing the varied needs and concerns of a global and diverse membership.

In essence, the hierarchical structure of the LDS Church, with its decision-making concentrated among a small group of leaders, plays a pivotal role in shaping the Church’s direction, policies, and its ability to respond to the evolving landscape of its members’ beliefs and societal values.

Bringing People of Color into the Quorum of the Twelve

The issue of diversity within the leadership of the LDS Church, particularly in terms of race and global representation, is a topic that has garnered attention and discussion. This conversation has notably included the possibility of appointing a man of color to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a significant governing body of the Church.

Historically, the leadership of the LDS Church, especially in its highest echelons like the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has predominantly consisted of white men, most of whom are from the United States. This lack of racial and ethnic diversity has raised questions about the Church’s representation of its global membership, which is increasingly diverse. The LDS Church has a significant and growing presence in regions outside of the United States, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where the demographics of the membership vary greatly from those of the Church’s leadership.

Incorporating leaders from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, particularly in high-ranking positions like the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is seen by some as a step towards reflecting the Church’s international membership. It’s thought that such a move could bring varied cultural perspectives and experiences into the Church’s decision-making processes, enhancing its ability to cater to a diverse global community.

The Importance of True Representation

The discussion around including a man of color in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is not just about symbolic representation. It also encompasses broader issues of how different cultural and racial experiences can inform and guide the Church’s policies, teachings, and outreach efforts. Leaders from diverse backgrounds could provide invaluable insights into the unique challenges and perspectives of members from underrepresented groups, leading to more inclusive and effective ministry and policies.

This conversation underscores a growing recognition within the Church of the need to bridge the gap between its leadership and its diverse global membership. Addressing this lack of diversity, especially in its higher levels of governance, could help the LDS Church to become more attuned to the varied experiences and needs of its members worldwide.

3. Unwillingness to Compromise on Modern Social Issues

The Church has been criticized for its slow response to social changes, including civil rights for black members and support for same-sex marriage. During my discussions with Dr. Greg Prince, I have realized that he so skillfully brings much-needed attention to the complex history of the LDS Church’s stance on racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights. The intransigence, or refusal to change one’s behavior, on such social issues could be costing the Church some of its most empathetic and progressive members who find themselves morally at odds with Church policies.

What are Your Thoughts?

The beauty of the way that Dr. Greg Prince has approached these issues, and the way that we at Latter Day Struggles approach issues, is that it is rooted in sound scientific principles given to us by a loving Father in Heaven. The discomfort is found in the “in-between, “and the “messy middle” of deciding how to go from struggle to solution. Retaining future leaders in the LDS Church may require addressing the generational disconnect, embracing diversity in leadership, and adapting to modern-day social issues. As ‘Latter Day Struggles’ continues to explore these challenges, the Church faces tough decisions that will shape its path forward.

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Science, Faith, and LGBTQ+ Advocacy

Science, Faith, and LGBTQ+ Advocacy

Science is based on the idea that you take all of the information that you have, create a hypothesis, and then, taking what you know, you test your theories and learn what fits and what doesn’t. It’s a beautiful pursuit, and the best and most successful scientists are those who work with open minds, letting the data guide them.

With this in mind, it goes without saying that throughout human existence, information has been gathered, hypotheses tested, and theories debunked or confirmed a million times over. One of the most simple examples of this is the concept of what our earth is shaped as. Did you know that many ancient cultures shared the idea of a flat Earth, but each had its unique twist? For instance, in ancient Greece, famous poets like Homer and Hesiod and thinkers like Thales and Democritus all talked about a flat Earth. It’s interesting to note that Thales is often considered one of the first philosophers, and Democritus is known for founding atomic theory.

Even in more isolated cultures, like the Mountain Arapesh people in Papua New Guinea, there were unique ideas. They believed the world ended at the horizon, where giant clouds gather. Each of these cultures, while sharing the flat Earth concept, had their own fascinating stories and explanations about the world and the universe. It really shows how diverse human theory can be!

We take for granted now that we have copious amounts of information, satellite images, and first-hand experience of the reality of Earth’s spherical shape. There was a time, however, when the information we have now wasn’t available. But, now that it is, we adjust our knowledge and theories.

The God of the Gaps

It’s easy for us to accept that the theory that the Earth is flat is a bygone system of thought. But what happens when new scientific discoveries and developments upend the ways we’ve been taught to think, especially in a religious setting? Jamie L. Jensen addresses this very quandary in her BYU Speech, Faith and Science: Symbiotic Pathways to Truth. She explains it like this:

“This brings me to another important principle I would like to discuss that, if understood correctly, can help to save your faith. This principle is to avoid a “God of the gaps.” What is a God of the gaps? It is when an individual inserts God as an explanation for anything that science cannot currently explain. For example, the ancient Greeks created gods to explain weather patterns for which they had no current explanation (for example, Zeus was the god of lightning, and Poseidon was the god of earthquakes and hurricanes). However, once science became advanced enough to explain these phenomena, their gods disappeared.

It is dangerous to believe in God because His existence resolves uncertainty, or His existence explains things that you cannot explain. (For example, How can lifeforms be so complex? They must have been created in their present form by God.) What happens when science comes up with a reasonable and even testable explanation for this “gap” in our understanding? (For example, evolution has led to the great diversity of life we see.) Does your faith disappear just because something you attributed to God can be explained by science? It shouldn’t, and it won’t if your belief is not based on gaps. A paradigm shift must occur such that your belief in God is for an entirely different reason—not because He can explain the gaps in your current understanding but because He gives you spiritual understanding and you have felt His presence in your life (again, this is spiritual evidence, not scientific evidence).”

Synergy of Faith and Science

The interplay between faith, science, and LGBTQ+ advocacy is a multi-dimensional discourse that necessitates a delicate balance of respect, understanding, and empirical inquiry. Faith, often guided by millennia of tradition and deeply held beliefs, can sometimes exist in tension with the scientific method, which relies on evidence and reproducibility.

However, when addressing LGBTQ+ advocacy, a synergy between these domains emerges as vital. Science provides a framework for understanding the complexities of gender and sexuality through biological, psychological, and sociological lenses, grounding advocacy in the realities of human diversity.

Meanwhile, faith communities are increasingly called upon to reconcile doctrinal interpretations with the imperative for compassion and human dignity. An inclusive perspective that honors both spiritual and empirical truths can foster a more accepting environment in which individuals are free to express their authentic selves without fear of judgment or rejection.

This intersection of faith and science enriches LGBTQ+ advocacy, empowering voices that champion equality and love and illustrating that belief systems and knowledge can co-evolve toward a more enlightened and empathetic society.

Intersecting Paths: The Science of Faith

As I spoke with Dr. Greg Prince, I learned of his relationship with science and faith and how it represents a unique intersection where rigorous academic inquiry meets deep-seated religious heritage. As a 7th generation Latter-Day Saint, Prince grew up in a family deeply rooted in the LDS Church. His professional journey in pathology and research science, however, endowed him with a cognitive skill set that empowered him to adopt a data-driven approach to Mormon studies.

Prince upholds the value of following the data where it leads and emphasizes both deductive and inductive reasoning—a methodology derived from his scientific background. This approach has led him to address complex questions within the Church, emphasizing the importance of tackling challenging issues with empirical evidence and scholarly rigor. Despite the resistance that intellectuals like him sometimes face within religious communities, his contributions aim to stimulate ethical growth and understanding within the LDS Church, bridging the gap between faith and reason.

Challenging Traditions: Intellectuals in Religion

As someone with a deep background in dentistry and pathology, Prince brought a scientific approach to Mormon studies, emphasizing the importance of following data and utilizing both deductive and inductive reasoning. Despite this rigorous analytical perspective, he recognized that many religious institutions, including the LDS Church, are often in tension with their intellectuals, showing resistance and a lack of appreciation for their contributions.

Intellects like Prince, who tackle thorny issues and carry a lot of water for their church, face the irony of their vital work being at times resisted and at other times begrudgingly acknowledged long after their findings and efforts have proven to be beneficial. This paradoxical relationship between the church and its scholars signifies the complex dynamics that intellectual members like Greg Prince navigate within their religious communities.

Beyond Prop 8: Progress and Pitfalls in LGBTQ+ Advocacy

The progress and pitfalls of science in relation to LGBTQ+ advocacy within the LDS Church are a tale of complex interplay between advancing knowledge and institutional resistance. On the one hand, the progress of scientific understanding, particularly in the fields of psychology, biology, and gender studies, has provided emerging data supporting the inherent nature of LGBTQ+ identities.

The work of individuals like Greg Prince, who leverages his scientific background to inform and challenge discussions around LGBTQ+ issues, reflects this progress. Prince’s articulation of the biological underpinnings of homosexuality, for example, offers a more nuanced and compassionate perspective that urges the LDS Church toward greater acceptance and inclusiveness.

However, the journey has not been without its pitfalls. The LDS Church’s historical involvement in political measures against LGBTQ+ rights, such as Proposition 8 in California, highlights a discord between emerging scientific consensus and the Church’s doctrinal positions. While the advancement of science has shed light on the natural diversity of human sexuality, the Church has often exhibited a reluctance to integrate these insights into its policies, leading to significant challenges for LGBTQ+ individuals within the faith community.

As you listen to the discussions between Dr. Prince and I, I hope you’ll see that there remains hope that continued advocacy and dialogue, informed by robust scientific research, will encourage a more reconciling approach in the future.

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