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18 June 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

The blessed gift of organisation

Tom Quinn, the New Statesman's token Mormon, explains the organization of the LDS Church in the thir

By Tom Quinn

Every religion seems to have its own specialty, that one aspect of worship it just seems to perform better than anyone else. Gregorian monks have their chanting, Southern Baptists have their choirs, and we Mormons have the blessed gift of organisation. Not since the fall of the Soviet Union have so many committees, subcommittees and sub-subcommittees been organised, disbanded, and subsequently reorganised in order to complete simple, day-to-day tasks.

The most important aspect of the LDS Church’s organisation is the prophet and the 12 apostles that sit at its head. Not since the days of the New Testament has a Christian church been governed so, a fact in which Mormons take great pride.

Another aspect of Mormonism that sets it apart from many other Christian denominations is the fact that the Mormons employ a lay clergy. In other words, those calling the shots within the LDS Church are not pastors, theologians, or anything of the sort. In fact, most Mormons lack even the instant ordination certificates that one can get via the internet with nothing more than a few clicks and a printer. In the time it took you to read this paragraph, however, I became an ordained minister for one such online organisation. I now have the authority to assist you in all your interfaith needs. Oh yes.

Each Mormon congregation, or ward, is headed by a Bishop, an ordinary man who assumes responsibility for the well-being of the members in his area in addition to his previous professional and familial commitments. Due to the stressful nature of this job, Bishops are typically serve in 5-year terms, and almost always have more grey hair at the end of their stint than they had at the beginning.

The upside of utilising a lay clergy is increased member involvement in the day-to-day workings of the church. Giving every member his or her own responsibility creates a sense of equality and worth among those in the congregation. More importantly, this practice puts nearly everyone in a position to be able to serve someone else, which is a key facet of Christianity. Some of the best experiences I’ve had as a member of the LDS Church have come as a direct result of this quasi-symbiotic relationship that exists between members, though I’m almost positive I’ve taken much more than I’ve given back.

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Of course, utilizing lay clergy has its drawbacks as well. Because the requirements for serving in the LDS Church require only that the individual be A) Mormon and B) breathing, not all members are capable of performing the task(s) to which they are assigned. Nevertheless, almost everyone will ultimately get his or her chance to be a leader of some sort, and some of their regimes will almost certainly end in disaster.

Truth be told, the websites and blogs of former Mormons are overflowing with complaints about Mormon leaders that are incompetent, ill-informed, or just plain crazy. Furthermore, I’d wager dollars to doughnuts that the vast majority of practising Mormons have had at least one encounter with a leader whose staggering inability to think critically makes the ramblings of Candide’s Dr. Pangloss seem perfectly reasonable in comparison.

Oh well. Considering the purpose of religion is to help imperfect people, a certain amount of human error is to be expected. While you’re meditating on that, I’ve got to be off. I’m the Second Deputy Assistant to the Undersecretary in charge of Falling Celestial Bodies, so I’ve been charged with the responsibility of protecting the Bishop’s car from meteorites. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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