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.
Rise Of The Institutional Church
In 1961 Church headquarters announced a new program that it called “Correlation.” This new way of doing things was introduced in conference by apostle Harold B. Lee. It was described as a benefit, sold as a way to coordinate and unify all the various programs of the church.
What it ended up being was a stifling means of control, not only of individual wards, but also of many individual members. The policies of correlation took decades to fully implement, and most of us didn’t even notice the subtle changes. Although it was begun during the administration of President David. O. Mckay, it has since been learned that President McKay neither implemented nor controlled the program, and on at least two occasions he expressed concerns about it privately. Still, the Correlation juggernaut continued on for the next four decades.
Correlation represented a gradual and subtle shift in the way the church came to be governed at all levels. What it resulted in was top-down control of the church and its members. Like the frog in the pot, few members really noticed what was happening to their church until it was fully cooked.
Even I don’t remember the exact moment I realized the meaning of the word “church” had changed for me. But at some point, without realizing it, when I spoke of “the church,” I was no longer referring to the place I went on Sunday to worship; I was now subconsciously referencing a monolithic institution headquartered in Salt Lake City and controlled by an accordant group of men in dark suits.
Where previously friends and I might have perhaps wondered what the scriptures said about this question or that, now we found ourselves asking, “What has The Church said about it?” or “What is The Church’s position on that?” We spoke as if “The Church” was, if not God himself, some commensurate entity that existed on its own, separate from the Creator, but somehow equal in authority to Him.
Why They Canceled Roadshows
Gone by this time were the Roadshows, because the central authority couldn’t trust us hippie teenagers not to write some funny bit into the script that someone might find inappropriate. Gone also were the fun church bazaars, rummage sales, and pancake breakfasts. With them went many of the extracurricular activities, other than scouting and some tightly controlled dances.
Gradually there was not much to do outside of Church on Sunday, and those meetings were crammed all together into three hours of stultifying boredom that was so unbearable that as soon as church was over no one felt like staying around to visit. After church you just wanted to get home. Since ward members no longer lingered, they didn’t get to know each other well, and the sense of community in many wards began to weaken.
“The Church” whatever that used to mean, was now morphing into some kind of giant monolithic authority. “Church” no longer meant us, the aggregate community of believing Saints. The Church was now THE CHURCH. The Great I Am.
Bishops now tended to be chosen more for their administrative skills than for their deep knowledge of the gospel and love for others. It was no longer so important that such men knew how to shepherd the flock. What the Church needs today is someone who can “run the ward.” We need managers. Go-getters. High achievers.
Daymon Smith quotes a department head relating an odd inversion of charity occurring on the local level throughout the church. Rather than fulfilling their chief duty of tending to the poor and needy, these bishops believe “that they’re expected to keep expenditures as low as possible. There is a sense of pride among bishops and stake presidents who send fast offerings from their units to the general Church.”
The New Mormon Church
I may not have recognized the frog as it was boiling, but Dr. Smith gives us the exact date it finished cooking. January 1st 1990 was the day the Church dropped all pretenses.
From that day on, it was announced, all tithing monies collected from local congregations would be sent directly to Church headquarters, and the Church would then dispense a portion back to the wards. This was all sold as a more efficient way of running things. But it turned the traditional church of Christ on its head, requiring the members to send in their money to a corporate entity that was far removed from them and which became the sole judge on how contributions would be spent. Nothing about the doctrine of Common Consent was mentioned in the announcement.
President Hinckley and Elders Packer and Monson announced the news at a priesthood satellite broadcast. The details were sketchy, but the new program, said Monson, “eliminated the need for local units to raise budget money as their…expenses are now funded almost entirely from general Church funds.”
Now the Church would fund everything through a “ward budget” it dispensed, based in part on attendance at Sunday services.
“The Church?” Smith asks rhetorically. “Yes, the speakers were quite clear…They know by the Church they mean The Corporation.
You were not included in those decisions, because you are not a member of that Church.
At best you are a subsidiary of the corporation. Like those Mormons promised as human collateral to the banks at the turn of the twentieth century, It is upon the promise of your future tithes that the corporation counts you as an asset. You are a resource, a cow to be milked when the bucket runs low.
Daymon Smith says that over a three year period, his ward sent ChurchTM headquarters “a flat million in tithes.”
“In return for their generosity,” says Smith, “members receive an annual return held in trust by the ward accountants. For my ward it was $7 a head, officially.”
What does the Church do with all those billions? It “sends out materials (print, DVD, and so on), builds chapels, funds missionary efforts (partially)… and who knows what with the rest of the billions.”
“Rarely does your money feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or provide for other non-religious forms not published by the Church Office Building or sent forth from the COB.”
“By the time the money comes back from the COB, the Church has generously tithed to the needy from its multibillion dollar revenue stream something on the order of one percent, often in used, tattered clothing and rice and wheat and so on…For all its bluster and public relations about humanitarian aid, The Corporation, in other words doesn’t follow its own rule of tithing.”
“I would not be surprised,” adds Smith, “if more was spent on PR than on those good works which are PR’d before men.”
In 1837 Joseph Smith taught that tithing meant a mere 2 percent of one’s net worth, after debts were paid. That was back when we had a church.
Somehow over time the corporation has convinced us that we should hand over to it 10 percent of everything before expenses, and some believe that includes money received as birthday gifts. Corporate spokesmen have even hinted from the pulpit recently that some of us should consider turning over 20 percent to them.
“When instituted by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s,” writes Smith, “tithing wrought a very small revenue stream, and it was designed to be small in order to prevent just the sort of dominating “Church” that now governs and patrols, steals the very name, and surveys and takes and gives what it believes best to congregations.”
“Mormons are warned from the pulpit not to rob God, so they send their money to the bishop. Aware of poorer congregations, and of starving Mormons on some god-forsaken land, locals tighten belts and send as much as possible to headquarters.”
“And it all disappears, then suddenly we are handed another pamphlet, another manual, built another chapel or temple, beamed another satellite broadcast. The rest of the money just sits in banks and investment portfolios reviewed by money managers in Salt Lake City, who see in growing numbers the Lord’s General, Sacred Funds, and that means the Corporation’s, and they its priestly stewards.”
“Many Mormons who attend chapels,” Smith continues, “are good, kind, and decent; many are not. Mormons in these wards are often willing to sacrifice for others, to help, and yet these desires are turned, collectively, too often by the corporate interests against the works of light.”
The Mormon Stories Podcast has a series of Interviews with Daymon Smith