Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Administrative Gospel

Yesterday in church my local nemesis said something along the lines of, "I have a cousin who is a very strong member of the church. In fact, he's served as a mission president in [exotic location]." This statement made me realize that there is strain of Mormonism dedicated to this idea that the level of the calling determines the strength of the member. It is like the prosperity gospel (the rich must be righteous because otherwise how'd they get so rich/the righteous must be rich because riches are a blessing from God and righteous people get blessed), but for people who love bureaucracies and climbing the greasy pole.

In this view, the strongest church member in each stake is the stake president, by definition. Each calling can be ranked in importance from there. Any able-bodied returned-missionary member serving as librarian must be a secret drinker or an OW sympathizer.

Of course, this is easily shown to be false. Compare, if you will (and you will!), Thomas B. Marsh and the feeblest survivor of the Martin or Willie handcart companies. Which had the higher administrative position? Which was a stronger member of the church?

I thought of the story recently shared in General Conference by President Eyring of the calling of a temple sealer. The man's wife expressed an inclination towards the administrative gospel when she said "that now she felt that she should not go with him because God had chosen him for so glorious and sacred a trust." In response, President Eyring "assured her that her husband would be honored by her company in the temple because of her great spiritual power." This couple were strong members, and not because the husband was set apart to so important a calling. The calling came in part because of their strength of membership. I say "in part" because otherwise we're just running the administrative gospel backwards. "Okay, fine, not every strong member has a great calling, but everyone with a great calling is a strong member." Not necessarily. The problem with that view is that it can lead those with higher callings to rest assured of their strength, which no one should ever do. The apostle Peter, one of the strongest church members there ever was, was warned to watch always lest he fall. If Peter needs to doubt his own awesomeness, I think the rest of us could stand to be wary, also.

Someone reading this could say with a sniff, "Sounds like the sour grapes of someone who's never had a higher calling." Yeah, probably. This administrative gospel viewpoint is so widespread that I don't doubt I'm touched by it. The point here isn't that I'm so great that I don't see the gospel through the same false prism that you do (that would be a different false prism called the hipster gospel). The point is that we all, to some extent, look through these false prisms, but we'd do well to try to stop.

1 comment:

Alanna said...

There was a branch in my mission (Japan-- cuz where the most righteous missionaries serve, obviously) where EVERY SINGLE branch president when inactive as soon as he was released. This was a perfect storm of what you're talking about here and the Japanese obsession with rank and status. It was so sad.

But I love the idea of a hipster gospel.

And yes, the above parenthetical statement was meant to be ironic. Or at the very least, amusing.