Exhumator Esoterics

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

Identity, Beliefs, And Organization
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

In 2002, the official Church website, www.lds.org, listed four documents under "Basic Beliefs." After the Articles of Faith and an edited version of Joseph Smith's account of his First Vision were two nonscriptural documents that show recent Church developments and are notable for emphasizing contemporary concerns. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" is discussed in Chapter Three. The other, "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," is undated, but was issued on 1 January 2000 and signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the fifteen highest Church leaders. This reaffirmation of faith in the mission of Jesus Christ features such comments as "We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world." The document quotes significant scriptures and ends with this paragraph: "We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles-that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son." The document may have been created to strengthen LDS Christian claims.

How do insiders feel about the Church? Responses range from the cool to the lyrical. One person says that the Church is the "fountain of hope, comfort, grace, courage, and blessings!" Through its doctrines and programs she has found purpose and help, the world's truest friends, and worthy models to emulate. A law student considers the Church God's true councils on this earth. His faith resides in spiritual answers to questions through prayer. Another feels that the Church requires her to follow Christ. Whatever has been commanded by Him or His servants, she is bound to do. Another person considers the Church an inspired vehicle, something God works through. He notes that the Church has sometimes tested his patience, but not his faith. Another said that the Church is an alternate source of meaning, apart from academic learning, a complex place where his secularism is uncomfortably incongruous.

When asked to comment on some of the Church's doctrines, this same group identified the promise of forgiveness through the Savior's atonement, which allowed a person to endure and strive for perfection. Another valued the concept of the eternal family and that of Zion-a condition where evil was overcome by love. Another said that the LDS conception of progression toward godhood makes him focus on life as a place to learn "how God thinks." Another marks the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity as areas of struggle in Church life. She thinks that the health of future Church life depends on the successful navigation of these issues by young people. Another sees the Word of Wisdom as kosher law, accidentally right about tobacco. He thinks that the lesson is not really about health but about defining a community. He is moved by the notion of eternal personality and the literal childhood of humanity to God.

The LDS Church is a lay church. No one at the congregational level is paid. Bishops, leaders of congregations, are called from the laity, keeping day jobs while serving in church office. After about five years, a bishop is rotated out and another man called from the congregation. Leadership is generated by an established priesthood hierarchy involving most boys and men. All LDS males are expected to be ordained into the priesthood at age twelve. Women work as Church leaders but are not ordained.

Mormon organization is shaped in the "wards," or local congregations, a term originating in early American voting districts and reflecting the original gathering into cities of Zion. Smaller groups are called branches. A ward, similar to a Catholic parish, includes members who live within a geographical area. Wards range in size from about 150 members to upwards of 800, several hundred of whom may actively participate. Some wards are organized thematically for unmarried adults, for speakers of certain languages, or for those with physical challenges such as deafness. When the ward outgrows the chapel, the boundaries are redrawn, creating two workable units. The bishop and his two counselors supervise and manage all the social, religious, educational, and cultural functions of the congregation. These include teaching classes, monthly visits to ward members, organizing programs, concerts, sports, dinners, plays, service projects, and other miscellaneous chores. The bishop oversees the welfare of his flock, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, as the saying goes. He "calls" individuals to take on specific tasks and "sets them apart," that is, gives them blessings to carry out the tasks. Members have "free agency" to decide whether to accept the positions. Everyone is moved around. A teacher may work with the young women, then be moved to the nursery, and then be named drama director. The Relief Society president may become the pianist for the children's organization, the Primary. A man may go from bishop to Boy Scout leader.

As a young man noted, "I've heard a couple of bishops who have Ph.D.'s and master's degrees say they have never learned as much anywhere as they have in the church. You learn a little bit about accounting because of financial problems. You learn about psychological problems. You get drawn into everything that's involved in life." Another young man, before joining the Church, had always felt left out of religious activities. "I always pictured in my mind that ministers and pastors, who had never, ever had their hands dirty, never committed any of these sins, were the only ones who would be able to go to heaven. It was a real comfort to me to know that the bishop and the people giving talks in sacrament meeting or teaching classes are just like me. They work every day, supporting themselves. What they stood up and said, they said because they believed it-not because someone was paying them."

This sharing of power is Joseph Smith's legacy. He gave priesthood power to all converted males, assigning out leadership positions. The Church often operated without his direction. He called himself "prophet, seer, and revelator," and gave the administration to others. That the Church is demanding, there is no doubt. Members are sometimes told to "magnify their callings," to do more than they are told. But others complain that we try to create "too many supermen," browbeating people into doing their jobs. A convert, who left the Church, was surprised at the expectations of membership. "There are a lot of things that I admire and think are great about the Mormon church and the Mormon religion. There are a lot of things that I think our society needs and that I need as an individual. I also think there are an awful lot of expectations that are hard. I wasn't used to the whole idea that you have to do all these things or you're not going to be sent to [heaven]. Having come into the church at twentyfive and progressing from there, I feel it is insurmountable-to the point of feeling, 'I'm never going to get there so why should I even try?' I do think there 's a lot of love taught in the Mormon church. Besides the belief that God cares about each one of us, we were impressed by the concern of the people for each other."