Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The International Church

The LDS Church prides itself in being an international church, with stakes and temples in many countries.  With large numbers of members in Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and the Philippines, and with stakes, temples, wards, and branches throughout most of Africa, Europe, Australia, and the rest of Asia, we are indeed an international church.  But the message sometimes has trouble getting through.

Being an international church requires adaptation.  Scouts is strongly touted as an important arm of the Young Men's program in the church.  But only in the U.S.  As this is an international church, how will the church deal with this?  I don't see enough interest internationally in young men joining their countries' version of the BSA.  Clearly they have working programs without involving the scouting program.  So why is it continued here in the U.S.?  How much longer will the international church continue its strong ties with the Boy Scouts of America?  Couldn't the church create its own program for both Young Men and Young Women that stresses life skills (cooking, first aid, etc.), outdoor experiences (camping, hiking, rafting, etc.), and introductions to different career paths?  Frankly, I'm not convinced the BSA is doing a great job here.  I think the church could create a better program and involve all young members of the church, regardless of their gender or country, in that program.  It would be great if young members in every country could have access to those same resources, tailored of course to the individual country.

Release time seminary is another issue.  Go a couple hundred miles outside the Mormon Corridor and no one does release time seminary.  So the question is, why does the church do it here?  In Cincinnati, seminary teacher was just another demanding calling, the seminary teacher was unpaid, and kids got up bright and early in order to attend before school.  There was no issue with potential priestcraft, no paid want-to-be-clergy.  (Well, excluding potentially-paid CES professionals, and I've only met one of those outside of Utah, and most of his students knew more about the gospel and about real life than he did).  Here in the Mormon Corridor, vast amounts of tithing money pays for teachers to teach your kids gospel subjects.  And quite honestly, professional seminary teachers don't have any more special gospel knowledge than unpaid seminary teachers in Cincinnati do.  The international church does things one way, and the Utah church does things another.  It would be incredibly easy to call volunteer seminary teachers from each ward and have them teach early morning seminary in a church building each morning before school.  Why the discrepancy? 

The other growing pain issue I've noticed is that those who speak to an international church often forget their audience and start to think that everyone they're speaking to grew up in small-town Idaho.  (For the record, my kids are growing up in small-town Idaho.)  Concepts like American football are referred to with the expectation that everyone knows what football is, and without even thinking of the fact that many listeners will become confused because many English speakers understand "football" to mean "soccer" and the speaker doesn't make himself clear by referring specifically to "American football."  Listeners are told to not delay marriage or lobby for women's rights when some of the listeners live in or come from countries where women typically get married before age 18 or where women don't have many rights.  Granted, remarks made in General Conference are more likely to make it to a wide international audience, but even university-level devotionals will include as their audience many international students, and in this information age devotionals can just as easily be listened to in Pakistan as in Provo.  Those speaking to a world-wide church need to remember they're speaking to a world-wide church.  Discussion of scouting and many other issues should be done at the local, and not the world-wide, level.  And if they're done at the world-wide level, by all means they need to be qualified by a statement like, "Here in the United States..."

We're an international church.  We're experiencing some growing pains.  But we need to get used to our new position and adapt if we truly want to be seen as an international church.


Jenni said...

Thank you.
I know you and I see eye to eye on a lot of these things anyway, but it's nice to hear it all the same. So much of the family (and other believers across the board) find it concerning that I am troubled by any aspect of church anything...
Yes folks, I can advocate for changes even while simultaneously believing (and holding a temple recommend). The world isn't perfect, and church culture isn't either. It's one reason I'm so glad to live *outside* what Joanna Brooks calls "the book of mormon belt." :)

Tim said...

I think the scriptures make very clear that prophets aren't perfect (in fact, far from it). That doesn't mean we shouldn't heed their counsel. It does mean we shouldn't hero-worship them (although I do consider many of them my heroes). It's silly to pretend that the church itself is perfect, when it's so clearly not.

Had no one been pushing for blacks to receive the priesthood, I don't think the issue would've been one President Kimball would have felt the need to pray for it. If Emma hadn't harassed Joseph about tobacco, I don't think he would've felt the need to pray about it. And I don't think many of the issues I mentioned in my post require revelation at all--just some thought and prayer.

Tim said...

This was just put up on the internet last night and I think it adds to the discussion:

Basically, not every program in the church is perfect. Need proof? Look at our history. Look at how frequently things change, and how frequently that change was driven from somewhere other than the top.