Church vs Corporation – Part 2

07 Nov

Alan Waterman of “Pure Mormonism” blog recently posted his thoughts on “How Corporatism Has Undermined and Subverted The Church of Jesus Christ“. Many Latter-day Saints might disagree with his conclusions, but the issues he brings up are interesting ones, and are worth us studying and coming to our own conclusions about.

Although some might find the commentators language to be disrespectful, the story below is an interesting insights in to how some programs and policies are created.

… if you harbor the happy illusion that all Church policy is the result of prayerful consideration by the general authorities, be prepared to have those illusions shattered. Much of what has been handed down to us in the way of “inspired” Church programs originated in Marketing or some other department of the Church Office Building and was later approved by the G.A.’s.

I’ll give you two examples.

Remember when the church trotted out the new scriptures back in 1981? Someone at the COB thought it would be helpful if all the standard works could be coordinated with matching fonts, then tied together with footnotes and cross references. So amidst much fanfare, the Church announced a new era of personal scripture study. The diligent LDS reader could now find prepackaged scholarship on every page.

But as most of us know by now, anyone hoping to actually learn anything by following those footnotes soon finds himself going in a circle. That’s because what they did at the COB was mostly just feed the scriptures into a computer (this was the late 1970’s, when computers were magic), and whenever the computer found a word in the Bible that also appears in the Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants, that word is footnoted and cross-referenced, no matter how irrelevant or inaccurate in its meaning. Inaccuracies also abound in the chapter headings, which summarize concepts not always found within the scriptures they are describing. These chapter headings were written by a committee headed by Bruce McConkie. As if I need say anything more about that.

You’re way better off with a copy of Strong’s Concordance by your side and a good set of commentaries.

But the COB really pulled out all the stops in the marketing of this new Quad. Articles appeared in the Church News and The Ensign, and speakers at general conference touted all the reasons you just had to have a copy of your own if you were going to be in with the in crowd.

The problem, though, was that for most members, this new set of scriptures was prohibitively expensive. Depending on which size volumes you chose or the color of fine leather cover you picked, your desire to walk into the chapel toting the latest in up-to-the minute must-have accessories could end up costing you as much as a hundred bucks.

Less expensive editions were available, of course, but the guy in charge of Deseret Book, the chain of bookstores owned by the Church, didn’t want the membership to know about the availability of the cheaper volumes because Deseret Book -that is, the Church- didn’t make any money on those. If the corporate Church was going to skin the rubes – excuse me, I mean “serve the membership,” they were going to have to downplay the availability of the cheaper editions.

Which is what they did, talking up only the super-duper deluxe editions and keeping the others hidden in a back room of the store.

I recall paying $90.00 for my bible and Triple Combination back in a day when I used to have that kind of money to throw around. Still, I remember that we couldn’t really afford to get a second set for Connie at the time. We could only afford new scriptures for one of us, and since I was the priesthood holder it wasn’t even up for discussion which one of us was going to get them.

After the Church pulled in a couple of million dollars selling the books to the more affluent members, they finally let it leak that you could buy a less extravagantly bound set for around fourteen bucks. Today if you’re a new convert, the bishop will just hand you a set for free.

Flooding The Warehouse With The Book of Mormon

About this time Church headquarters also sent an announcement to all the mission presidents that a new improved edition of the Book of Mormon was being readied for handing out to investigators. It was going to have more features and be more attractive, and therefore hopefully be a better conversion tool for use by the missionaries.

But first they had to figure out a way to get rid of those millions of old copies of the Book of Mormon just sitting in warehouses. They tried to palm these off on the mission presidents, but unfortunately marketing had done such a good job of promoting the new editions that the mission presidents said, “No thanks, we have plenty. We’ll just wait for the new ones to come out.”

This lack of cooperation by the mission presidents created a dilemma because of the weird way things are done at Church headquarters. The various departments of the Church are constantly shifting money back and forth to each other, so the way accounting takes place at the COB is completely kooky, if not downright incestuous. Even though departments spend the Church money on each other, each department wants its bottom line to look good to the higher-ups, so the Church has a way of conducting business that would make no sense to an outsider.

For instance, from the money the Church collects in tithing, it doles out some of that money to the various missions around the world to finance the operations of those missions. The mission presidents then turn right around and spend a good chunk of that money purchasing materials from the Church, which is the very same entity that just gave them that money to begin with.

Why doesn’t the Church just give the materials to the missions? Because then the printing department would show a loss. They would not have gotten “paid” for the materials used by the missions. And the printing department of the Church would not look good to the general authorities who review their books at the end of the year if their books showed they had lost money for the Church.

(You may be catching on here that the corporate Church is a hopeless bureaucracy. Let’s just say it’s worse than you can possibly imagine.)

So Church headquarters had a problem with its excess inventory. Before they could even think about printing millions of new missionary editions of the Book of Mormon, they had to get rid of warehouses full of the old ones. They couldn’t sell them to the missions, because the missions weren’t buying. The missions would accept the books for free, of course, but that would reflect a loss to the Church. They couldn’t throw them away or even give them away to members for the same reason.

Hold on a minute. What was that about giving them away to members?

Some hot shot genius in the Marketing Department came up with an idea. What if we could get the members to actually buy all those books from us?

And so was born the Family to Family program. And it was a corker. Here’s how it worked.

What you did was purchase a quantity of the books from the Church, then inside the front cover you would place a picture of your family along with a short note containing your testimony of the Book of Mormon and how it had enriched your life and the lives of your family. Those books would then be given to your local missionaries, or sent back to Church headquarters which would send them to foreign missionaries, and you would have a direct hand in bringing the gospel to people you never met. It lent a personal touch to missionary work, and well, you never knew what effect your testimony might have on some far away family in say, France or Minnesota.

The program was a resounding success. The Church promoted the program with an extensive campaign of ads, letters, fliers, and articles in the Ensign and the Church News. Talks were given in conference encouraging the membership to “flood the earth with the Book of Mormon,” and that phrase became the promotional tag line for the program.

By 1990, 6.5 million Books of Mormon were sold to the membership of the church, a total, reports Smith, “that approximates the same number of Mormons on record that year.”

Not all of those books ended up in the hands of missionaries and investigators. Cases of the books still sit today in the backs of well-meaning member’s closets. Many books ended up years later donated to D.I. There was such a glut of them at some of the mission offices that they ended up just stored in the basement and forgotten until the new editions arrived and were given out instead.

But the guys at the COB got all of those unwanted books out of the warehouses, and that was the point of the whole thing, after all.

Our family participated in the program, and I remember thinking at the time how inspired it was. But the Family to Family program wasn’t inspired from on high in the way I was conditioned to think these things occurred. The idea had come because the Church needed to rid itself of a bunch of unwanted inventory, and some mid-level employee came up with a way to do it while making a buck off the membership.

It was a brilliant con. I had paid for the printing of those books originally when I sent in my tithing money. Now the Church got me to pay again to buy them back. Somebody at the Church Office Building was patting himself on the back.

Inspired? It was inspired alright. Inspired in the same way Old Spice was inspired recently to come up with that suave new Man on a Horse campaign to move a lot of old product nobody wants because it makes you smell like your grandpa.

Another excerpt from this entry will be posted tomorrow.

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Posted by on November 7, 2010 in History


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