Category Archives: Church administration

Mormon “mega-projects”?

Matthew Crandall has a provocative column over at Real Clear Religion on what he terms “Mormon mega-projects”: the Church Conference Center, City Creek Mall, the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign, and the like. I haven’t quite decided yet if it’s a serious column or tongue-in-cheek.

The analysis and exposition through the first part of the column appears straightforward, at which point he sets forth his three suggestions for future mega-projects:

  • BYU-England: a metropolitan-style university aimed at providing a BYU-type experience for LDS students from Europe.
  • A “Waters of Mormon” chain of water parks.
  • A “Grand Nephite” flagship hotel in Salt Lake City.

The first idea was intriguing, though given the free or near-free college education available throughout much of Europe, I’m not sure how it would work. Beyond that, if the Church were to invest in a project like that anywhere, it would be in Latin America — and there the Church is going in the opposite direction, having just closed down its venerable high school in Mexico to convert it into a missionary training center.

The “Waters of Mormon” theme park is just too silly for words, whereas the “Grand Nephite” suggestion ignores the fact that the Church for nearly a century had a semi-luxury flagship hotel in downtown Salt Lake City — the Hotel Utah — which it closed and converted into the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. As someone who travels to Salt Lake City several times a year, I don’t think that the city needs or could support another large semi-luxury hotel. It also ignores the fact that the Church has had a decades-long trend of divesting itself for-profit businesses.

Beyond that — and aside from the City Creek investment, which was done to halt the urban decay setting in around LDS Church Headquarters and Temple Square, not for revenue purposes — the LDS Church’s financial focus is primarily outside the United States. That is where the Church’s growth is taking place and where its infrastructure needs are.

I have a good friend who works full time for LDS Church property management on a regional basis here in the United States. He says that the Church has made it clear that infrastructure spending in the US and Canada — including upgrades to existing chapels and buildings, as well as construction of new buildings — will be held to a minimum in order to use that money elsewhere in the world.

In other words, if we see any future “mega-projects”, they are far more likely to be outside the US, and they will likely be tied closely to the Church’s mission statement: proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy. No universities, no hotels, and certainly no water parks.

Changes in missionary age: a brief observation

Like most wards here in North America, we’re seeing more of our young men and women leaving on missions; I help my wife lay out the weekly sacrament bulletin, and the list of missionaries serving keeps growing longer.

Beyond that, though, I’ve noticed an increased seriousness and maturity among our priest-age young men, especially those in their senior year of high school. We’ve been in this ward for eight years now, so I’ve watched most of these young men grow up, and I can see those changes as the weight of their mission calls — impeding or actual — settles on them.

It will be very interesting to see the long term impact of this change. I think it will be significant and very positive. ..bruce..

My $0.02 on the Big Announcement

I’ve been doing some thinking about the announcement made today regarding the lowering of ages for young men and young women to leave on full time missions. I think this change will have some significant changes beyond the obvious.

First, it ups the ante in Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women classes, particularly in the former. There’s a well-established pattern in which young men make it through high school and then spend a year or so deciding whether to go on a mission and to get themselves ready to do such. Now that young men can leave on missions immediately after turning 18 and graduating from high school, they will have serious decisions and preparation to make while they are still in high school. Likewise, having young women leave at 19 will, I think, make mission preparation a growing theme in the Young Women’s organization. And for those in both groups who are considering serving a mission, Seminary will take on an additional importance.

Second, and somewhat contradictory, the statements made by Pres. Monson at General Conference and by Elder Holland at the press conference afterwards indicate an official Church observation that there is no single age at which young men should leave on a mission — merely that 18 is the earliest age at which they can leave on a mission. For several decades, the “go-on-a-mission-at-age-19″ meme has been a strong cultural milestone within the Church, at least in the US, and young men who choose not to leave on their mission at that age are often looked at with some concern or even disapproval.

But the statements by President Monson and Elder Holland made make it clear that while a young man can leave at 18, he may for various reasons choose to wait longer. The consequence may well be a general acceptance within the members and local leadership of the Church that there is no one set age at which a young man should leave on a mission, but that it is up to him to make a decision on that timing based on his own circumstances, choices, and inspiration. So, for example, while many may choose to go right after high school, others may choose to complete college, vocational training, or military service first, and then serve a mission.

As for the impact on young women in the Church, I can do no better that to repeat the comment made by Becca over at By Common Consent that said, simply, “Fewer child brides; more sister scriptorians.” A glib remark, but one with weight behind it.

[UPDATE -- 10/07/12, 1009 MDT]

Reading some of other posts, tweets, and news reports about this change raises a related thought, one echoed in some of those sources: this will cause significant upheaval in long-established and heavily entrenched social patterns and mindsets among LDS youth in high school and college. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next decade or so.  ..bruce..

Well, that answers that question

Some 39 years ago, as a group of (mostly) freshmen at BYU, a bunch of us on the same dorm floor (3rd floor, T Hall, Deseret Towers) had a discussion going in the commons room about majors. Finally, one of us — I’m pretty sure it was Greg Zippi — said, “Yeah, what we’re all really wondering is: what should you major in so that you end up as a General Authority?”

Well, that question has now been answered, at least for our group. Gerrit Gong — one of our 3rd floor gang — was just called to the 1st Quorum of the Seventy (assuming I heard things correctly; I’m listening to General Conference over the internet from my hotel room in Richmond, VA). Way to go, Gerrit! ..bruce..

P.S. Uh, as I sit here, I’m not sure what Gerrit’s undergraduate major was, though I suspect it was International Studies.

The Second Quorum of the Twelve

The Nephite Apostles

[Note: this is a follow-up to the discussion in the comments to this post some months back.]

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church . . . .
– 6th Article of Faith

Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
– Mormon 3:18-19

“[The Book of Mormon] tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent . . . ”
– Joseph Smith (from the Wentworth Letter, 1842; cf. History of the Church 4:538).

Back during the ‘Primitive Church’ era, it appears that there were 24 apostles on the earth, organized into two separate quorums: the Twelve in the Old World (led by Peter) and the Twelve in the New World (led by Nephi3). While it is true that the New World Twelve were never specifically called apostles within the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith referred to them as such, and Joseph Fielding Smith cautiously agreed.

Mormon’s comments, cited above, indicate that the New World Twelve were subordinate to the Old World Twelve. In modern-day LDS parlance, we could refer to the Old World Apostles as the First Quorum of the Twelve, and to the New World Apostles as the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

Nowadays, however, we only have the (one) Quorum of the Twelve. Given the 6th Article of Faith, the question comes up: what are the chances of the Church setting up a Second Quorum of the Twelve, as existed in the Primitive Church? And if the Church did so, how would it work, particularly given the tradition of succession in the modern Church?

First, let’s see why the Church might organize the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

When I joined the Church in 1967, Church membership was around 2.6 million, with about 450 stakes and 4,200 wards and branches. The large majority of that membership was in the Western United States, Western Canada, and northeastern Mexico. Apostles and even First Presidency members would visit stake conferences on a regular basis; I got to shake hands with Pres. Hugh B. Brown and Elder LeGrand Richards as a teenager that way. Back then, each bishop was set apart by an Apostle.

Today, Church membership is approaching 14 million, with 2,800 stakes and nearly 25,000 wards and branches (roughly a 5x growth in all three categories). Over half of the Church membership lives outside of the United States. And we still have just twelve Apostles.

The gap has been filled by the Presidents and Quorums of the Seventy (not to mention stake presidents). They really are the eyes and ears and legs and hands of the Apostles throughout the world. But the collective Seventy still have to feed into just twelve Apostles. I suspect that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve carry tremendous administrative, spiritual, and ministering burdens — and yet in all that, it is the core of their calling to be special witnesses of Christ.

Imagine, then, how that burden would be lifted if there were a Second Quorum of the Twelve, another set of 12 Apostles among whom to share the load at that level of Church administration.

How might this work?

Let’s follow the model in the meridian of time and assume that the Second Quorum of the Twelve is subordinate to the First Quorum of the Twelve. Seniority in the Second Quorum would work just like, but be independent of, the seniority in the First Quorum. There would be no automatic succession from the Second Quorum to the First; instead Apostles in the Second Quorum would be put on emeritus status when they reached 70 years of age. However, the Second Quorum would provide a fertile ground for candidates to fill vacancies in the First Quorum upon the death of an Apostle.

In other words, it would work pretty much just like the Presidency of the Seventy works right now. In fact, I could argue that the Presidency of the Seventy fills the function of the Second Quorum of the Twelve, except that there’s only seven of them and they don’t have Apostolic authority.

Now, what if that were to change? What if the Church dissolved the Presidency of the Seventy, organized the Second Quorum of the Twelve, and then organized the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Quorums of the Seventy, with an Apostle over each Quorum? Church government and organization is flexible as the times require; I was once a Seventy myself, and was even a President of Seventy (it was a stake position some 25 years ago — there were seven Presidents of Seventy in each stake). So it wouldn’t bother me in the least if the Church were to do this kind of reorganization. (I will admit being startled for a second when the Church organized the Eighth Quorum of the Seventy, though I believe a close reading of D&C 107:95-96 allows that interpretation.)

As an alternative approach, what if the Church left the Presidency and Quorums of the Seventy just as they are now, but called an entirely new Second Quorum of the Twelve? This second Quorum could truly act as a “traveling presiding high council” throughout the Church, going as a quorum, in pairs, or individually to various parts of the world to help strengthen the church. In fact much like Elders Oaks and Holland, members of the Second Quorum could live outside of the United States on a permanent or near-permanent basis, providing resident Apostolic authority throughout the world, while traveling back to Salt Lake on a regular basis to meet with the First Presidency and the First Quorum of the Twelve (though I suspect the Church would use two-way, satellite-based videoconferencing to reduce actual travel).

Given this second approach, I suspect that the Second Quorum would largely comprise Apostles whose native language is something other than English and/or whose native country is outside of the United States and Canada.

This approach would allow Church members throughout the world to hear in person from Apostles speaking their native tongues on a regular basis. At the same time, these worldwide Apostles could work more actively and directly with the governments of the countries over which they preside to help see to the Church’s interests in those countries.

This approach would, I believe, tremendously strengthen the Church worldwide, especially in those areas (Latin America, Africa, the Philippines) where Church growth frequently outstrips the leadership pool. And for those keeping an eye on the Last Days, it would also ensure Apostolic authority distributed throughout the world in the event of major war and/or natural catastrophes.

Any thoughts?  ..bruce..

A sticky wicket: the Church and illegal immigration

From the Salt Lake Tribune comes this, well, awkward article for the Church:

The arrest of an undocumented immigrant returning last week from his LDS mission has sparked discussion at the highest levels of the church about how to limit such exposure in the future.

“With the known realization that those risks exist, then we want to do better, or at least learn more,” LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, said Friday during an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune . “We want to be more precise, if we can, about how to help, how to make [a mission] the calmest, most spiritually rewarding experience for everybody.”

Early last week, a missionary was detained at the Cincinnati airport for “lacking necessary documentation to board his flight home,” according to Michael Purdy, LDS Church spokesman.

That triggered fears in the undocumented LDS community in Utah, and already prompted a change in how one Utah missionary returned home. The young man, a Salt Lake Valley resident, completed a mission in Oklahoma and was scheduled to return home two days after church leaders heard of the unrelated arrest in Ohio. The mission president contacted local Utah church leaders, and it was decided the missionary’s uncle would drive out to Oklahoma to bring the missionary home, which he did.

The travel department of the church has to rethink everything. Things have changed, and they need a whole new policy,” said a local church official who was aware of the situation. “With ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] hitting them at the bus terminals and airports, this opens a whole new discussion. I don’t know how many undocumented immigrants we have serving missions, but I’m sure this is going to repeat itself.”

The subject of the Church and proper immigration documentation comes up on a regular basis, given that the Church has missionaries in roughly 150 countries. But this is here in the United States, and it involves calling young men and women who are here in the US illegally to serve missions.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this practice. My own mission (Central America Mission, 1974-74) covered four countries — Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama — plus the Canal Zone, then US territory under lease from Panama. (We couldn’t actually proselyte within the Canal Zone itself, though we could teach Zonians who were referred by members, etc.). If I had been found without the proper visa at any time in any of those countries (outside of a few days’ slack when leaving), I would have at best been deported or escorted to the border. At worst, I would have been thrown into jail or prison — and believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted to spend time in any Central American jail or prison in the early 70s.

The varying laws in those countries limited how long missionaries could stay in a given country. For example, in Panama, my visa was only good for three months. So at the end of three months, I had to take an all-day bus ride from Panama City to the Panama-Costa Rica border, get a short-term visa to enter Costa Rica, walk across the border, spend the night in Costa Rica, get a new Panamanian visa in the morning, walk back into Panama, and then take an all-day bus ride back to Panama City. In at least some (and I believe all) of the countries, you had to show an outbound airline ticket before you were allowed to enter the country. And in Nicaragua, before you could leave the country you had to go to a police station and get what was called a paz y salvo – a document that showed you still had a valid visa and weren’t currently wanted for any crimes or lawsuits.

I know that all this juggling was a headache for the mission president. In addition to all the various visa length restrictions (3 to 6 months), some countries had restrictions on who they would let in. Honduras wouldn’t allow any missionaries from El Salvador because the two countries were still technically at a state of war with each other over a soccer game. (No, really.) Panama would only allow missionaries from the US; Panama was far and away the richest country in Central American, and they didn’t want missionaries from nearby countries to stay behind when their visas expired and, well, immigrate illegally.

Still, our mission presidents (Pres. Hunsaker, followed by Pres. Eager) worked carefully to stay within those laws and to act quickly when a problem arose . I spent the last three months of my mission in the mission office, during the transition between presidents, so I was fully aware of all the immigration problems and issues, and the efforts to deal with them.

Back to present day and circumstances: I think the Church is creating a difficult legal situation for itself by continuing to call illegal immigrants to serve missions within the US. This is far more than a problem with a missionary having a lapsed or perhaps questionable (e.g., student) visa; this involves young men and women who are here in the US illegally from the get-go and who are subject to arrest or detention (and possible deportation) at any time.

Thoughts?  ..bruce..

Yet another cautionary tale from other churches

In the LDS Church, we sometimes chafe at the strict control that Church HQ imposes on what individual wards can do or buy. Among other things, this often leads to a slow adoption of technology; less than 10 years ago, the ward I was in was still using a computer that ran Windows 3.x and was hooked up to a dot matrix (not laser) printer. In fact, around the same time frame, the print edition of the Sugar Beet (think: LDS version of the Onion) ran an article to the effect of the Smithsonian recognizing LDS ward computers as being the oldest continuously operating personal computers in America. Of course, in the past 10 years, the Church went through a significant upgrade, moving to Windows XP, laser printers, and dial-in membership/tithing updates, but still, that was years overdue. (On the other hand, if the Church currently mandates that all new ward computers run Windows XP instead of Vista, that could actually be a good thing.)

On the other hand, this story from today’s Washington Post suggests just how much trouble individual LDS wards could get themselves into without those controls (emphasis mine):

The District government has filed a lawsuit alleging that five companies defrauded at least 30 Washington area congregations of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a computer equipment scam that has spread to at least 20 states.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, in a 16-page affidavit, alleges that agents for the companies offered the churches free computer kiosks to enhance their outreach. What the churches actually received was inexpensive computer equipment that often did not work. The kiosks, located in church foyers, were to serve as electronic bulletin boards for announcements and community activities and would pay for themselves through paid advertisements.

But the suit alleges that congregations unknowingly signed leases obligating them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for faulty equipment. After the kiosks were installed, Nickles said, church accounts were drained by unauthorized withdrawals and unlawful collection practices.

Read all the details, then reflect upon the LDS tendency to trust LDS entreprenuers and professionals, even when said trust isn’t warranted. I could easily see something like this happening. Something to keep in mind next time you’re inclined to grumble about Church policies and restrictions.  ..bruce..