Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Encountering The Mormons
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

The Church is authoritarian, being run from headquarters in Salt Lake City. Yet within that hierarchical mold, it is also congregational and remarkably democratic, led by local volunteers. This lay church has no paid ministry outside of headquarters except for a small corps of employees stationed throughout the world. One of the Church's great strengths is its ability to meet the needs of large numbers of ordinary people who belong to and participate in a community through a complex network of lay offices and group obligations. Church work is seen as part of membership as well as an opportunity for service.

Virtually all "active" or participating Church members, men and women alike, take on short-term administrative and teaching assignments in their congregations. Each person who accepts a responsibility has jurisdiction or stewardship over that area. Leaders, having been followers themselves, and having no real sanctions over other people, try to lead with positive reinforcement rather than bossing people around or correcting them. Twenty years of Church service might bring a dozen different jobs to these amateurs. The high leadership of the Church, called "general authorities," tends to be made up of old men seasoned by years of service. The Church President and Twelve Apostles remain in office until they die. Of the ten deceased presidents of the Church in the last century, five died in their eighties and four in their nineties. The wards or congregations, however, are generally run by younger adults. Many ward leaders, called bishops, are in their thirties and forties. Youth also serve, and even children speak from the pulpit. A bishop will put in twenty or more hours a week counseling members, administering relief to the poor, and calling people to assignments in the congregation.

The current Church spends considerable effort strengthening and preserving the family against contemporary forces in a difficult world. Wary of the many things that can go wrong with family life today, the leaders preach a warm and sentimental message about family importance and longevity. Mormons believe that "families are forever." The Church takes a conservative stand on family issues, marriage, and all the aspects of human reproduction including child-rearing, abortion, and adoption. Leaders would like to consider polygamy or plural marriage a closed chapter, but this story will not die. The legacy remains in large Mormon families and in the schismatic fundamentalist groups that still practice "the principle." Although an estimated 20,000-50,000 people still live in polygamy, mainly in Utah, Arizona, and Idaho, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints repudiates the practice and consistently denies connection to any who do. The Church has redefined itself as a protector of the traditional family, a conservator of traditional values, reversing the role it played in the nineteenth century.

Missionaries are one of the primary points of contact with the greater culture. The huge missionary workforce is made up of about 45,000 mainly young men and women who search out people who are willing to change their lives to become Latter-day Saints. As important as the converts made by these efforts, the year and a half or two years in the mission field discipline the missionaries themselves, adding immense strength to LDS society. Although the convert yield varies from country to country, and different places are the focus of greater effort at different times, Church doctrine requires that the gospel be preached everywhere, to all persons in all places. "Go ye unto all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," Mark 16:15 KJV said Jesus. The Mormons add that the gospel must be preached "unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." Doctrine and Covenants 133:37 1981.

Dramatic growth of the Church at home and abroad is one of several dominant themes of the recent period. International growth has dramatically affected the Church's programs through simplification, standardization, and correlation, including the bestowal of Church authority on all nations and races. Whereas a major challenge of earlier years was the gathering of the converted Mormons to the Salt Lake Valley-leaving behind countries, families, and customs-the issue of the current day is the globalization of the Church in places where new converts are encouraged to build up congregations in their homelands. Besides training new members in Mormon ways, the Church is concerned with helping those new members, often converted from the poorer classes, to rise economically and educationally to become strong citizens and future leaders.

An unresolved issue is in knowing the extent to which international congregations should reflect the flavor of nineteenth-century Mormonism. Will vestiges of the American West remain? Will the Church adapt to local indigenous styles? Will American culture define the worldwide church? For now, the Church closely supervises its distant outposts by training local leaders and providing a basic curriculum translated into 175 local languages, casting its net ever wider. In 2005, the Book of Mormon was available in 104 different languages, seventy-four full editions and thirty editions of selections. Since its initial printing in 1830, it is estimated that more than 100 million copies have been distributed. The Book of Mormon is available from www.ldscatalog.com and from bookstores. The Doubleday company published a hardcover edition in 2004. The growth of the international Church takes on larger significance now that most Church members live outside the United States and as both the nation and the Church tilt toward Spanish-language dominance.

Temples, one of the most visible and exotic manifestations of LDS culture, continue to rise on the national and international landscape. After dedication, these building are closed to all but "temple worthy" Mormons who participate in ordinances they believe can link families over time. Activities in these buildings contrast dramatically with the wholesome and noisy family gatherings in chapels. In the temples, religion is pure and mysterious. The proliferation of temples in recent years is the surest sign that Mormons will not blend into the general Christian background but remain a distinct faith with unique beliefs.

Revelation, church service, families, missionary work, and temples all come out of Mormon beliefs and indigenous practices, but another set of issues are thrust on the Church by the society around it, which is made up of people diverse in race, class, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. These issues of cultural diversity are receiving a vast amount of historical and political attention these days. In each issue there is a distinctive LDS story to be told, one that illuminates stress and tension across a contested boundary. In the Church, all of these topics have been areas of tense interaction, and some of them have been resolved more successfully than others. In every case, future difficulties will force further negotiations.