Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Elitism in the LDS Church

Elitism is probably the single strongest natural (wo)man tendency that exists. Therefore, it probably is the single hardest natural (wo)man tendency to eradicate. Therefore, it is the single most deeply rooted "bitter fruit" that corrupts the vineyard. (Jacob 5)

On the other hand, self-esteem and divine potential are necessary, wonderful, empowering principles. They are the only way to fight the opposite of elitism - defeatism. (and that's not an intuitive juxtaposition of opposites) Therefore, we simply MUST be taught that we are of infinite worth.

Mormonism is a fascinating combination of foreordination and universalism (UNIQUE chosenness among the chosen ALL) - perhaps the most fundamental paradox that exists within its theology. We are special, but just like everyone else. There is great need for the Church and the Gospel in this life, but those who don't have it here will have a chance to have everything later.

I don't think "The Church" encourages elitism; I think mortality encourages elitism, and "The Church" is a product of mortality. I think "pure Mormonism" discourages elitism - but it's SO hard to get rid of that blasted natural tendency to separate us and distinguish us and lift ourselves at the expense of others.

It's motes and beams and pruning trees.


Bonnie said...

I love Zenos. I've always thought it was too bad the world that got the Bible didn't get him with it. The pride of that darned vineyard ...

We developed a family definition of humility that works for us. Humility means that God loves us infinitely, but he loves everyone else infinitely too. It works for us.

Howard said...

A system of underground hallways connects the Conference Center, the LDS Salt Lake Temple, tabernacle, Joseph Smith Memorial Building and church administration buildings. These allow the First Presidency and other General Authorities to discretely travel between the buildings and avoid crowds.

Howard said...

President Monson uses a Huntsman Jet. Elders Walker and Costa of the 70, Elder Holland of the 12, and President Eyring and Monson were all there and about 10 bodyguards


Papa D said...

I like that definition, Bonnie.

Howard, I'm not sure how those things relate to this post, when you look closely at them. One is a way not to get mobbed everywhere the leaders go in SLC, while the other one saves a huge amount of money for the Church. It's easy to take those things out of context and make them look like elitism, but I don't think they are when you look at the whole picture and consider the "why".

Howard said...

Well you can attempt to explain it away Papa D, but it is elitist behavior regardless of who is paying the bill. It's hard to imagine Jesus acting like this. Wouldn't Jesus just walk across the street like the rest of us or take a bus or fly coach?

elitism: The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

Sorry but your apology promotes elitism in the church.

Paul said...

Haward, it's hard to explain what Jesus would do in this circumstance. There were no corporate jets in His day. Further, he did not at that time minister to a flock of millions around the globe.

My observation of the brethren is that when they visit my stake, they take time to visit with real members -- some of them actually make home visits.

When Elder Hales visited a regional conference in Venezuela, I drove the car he and his wife rode in. As we were leaving the arena where the meeting was to get to a tight airline connection, he stopped me so that he could greet a handicapped member who was standing near the exit. I doubt anyone saw him do it but me and Sister Hales who was travelling with him.

Howard said...

Paul I loved your last paragraph! I wish this type of behavior were more apparent to everyone. I know that President Beck interacts with her audiences taking questions and even hugging them. But General Conference is set up more like a concert than like Jesus interacting with the people and it is all top down monolog yet the Bible is full of examples of Jesus mingling with commoners and teaching by answering their questions, it's dialog! The brethren are celebrities to many TBMs, with 21,000 pairs of adoring eyes on them and hanging on every word how can they not know it? They act like celebrities by using elitist trappings they set themselves apart rather than interact and they are very hard for commoners to access between shows. How many body guards would Jesus choose? I've searched google images for photos of President Monson shaking hands or in close contact with commoners, I couldn't find any that doesn't mean there aren't any but funny thing, there were plenty of him with various VIPs! So that appears to be who he publicly hangs out with!

The top down monolog show and use of elitist trappings make the brethren too aloof they should lay down their celebrity and relate openly to people on a personal level in dialog per the example set for them by both Jesus and President Beck.

Frank Pellett said...

The underground tunnels are also useful to the many missionaries and Church employees to get around in inclement weather.

Even Jesus had trouble with crowds. Was the man would could not walk being elitist when he was lowered through the ceiling to get healing? Was Jesus being elitist when He left the crowd by boat, or walked on water?

It is easy to call these things elitism. It does, however, ignore the many, many instances where there are no private jets, no bodyguards, and no tunnels. It ignores the many times when these men (and women) are doing simple work meeting people in their homes, in hospitals, and at funerals.

Howard said...

Frank wrote: The underground tunnels are also useful to the many missionaries and Church employees to get around in inclement weather. Okay let's open them to GC attendees during inclement weather then as well. Btw speaking of inclement weather, after months of observation I noticed the homeless are not welcome on Temple Square but I was welcome to use the buildings and restrooms for shelter and warmth while I was there. It does, however, ignore the many, many instances where there are no... True. Why is that? Why aren't we a part of these experiences? Don't these experiences and behaviors scale up?

Howard said...

Was Jesus being elitist when He left the crowd by boat? I guess that would depend on how ostentatious the boat was.

Frank Pellett said...

Um, why would GC attendees want to use them? There is already underground parking, open to the public, under the Conference Center and under the Church Office Building. Anyone using street parking would have to go out of their way to get to any of the tunnels.

As for the homeless, there's a big difference between your seeking brief shelter and use of the facilities and you living there and asking for handouts.

For your last point, I think I've missed it. There is no reason we cant visit our neighbors in their homes, or in hospitals. It is not uncommon for GAs to fly coach and share the gospel. We hear about these experiences all the time.

Papa D said...

Howard, I really dislike it when the "Jesus card" is used broadly in discussions like this for the same reason Paul mentioned in his comment: We are dealing with two totally different worlds and ministries - and the whole picture almost never gets addressed.

For example, Jesus relied on others to provide LOTS of things that were essential to his ministry. He ate other people's food; he slept in other people's houses; he said explicitly he had nothing of his own - so it would be very easy to call him a traveling preacher or, in Mormon terms, even someone who practised priestcraft.

That's easy to forget.

Howard said...

Having never been through the tunnels I have no idea where the entrances might be but I rode the train with many others going to GC and two stops put you very close to Temple Square.

...there's a big difference between... Yeah, that's my point. I don't think Christ was as worried about that difference as you are or as the church is.

Doesn't the same warm personalized interactive dialog format used for small gatherings scale up to larger gatherings for the brethren? I know it can, President Beck demonstrates that it does. Why don't they do it?

Howard said...

Okay Papa D, well Paul's right they didn't have private jets back then I looked it up but I'm not sure why we can't use our imaginations; how many imagine Jesus routinely using Huntsman's jet to get around or walking underground on a nice day to avoid the members or protestors? Anyway if you prefer I leave Jesus out of this discussion I hope you don't mind my using the President Beck card because she does a great job of what I am pointing out and suggesting here and I don't understand why that style can't work for the brethren as well.

Howard said... Mormon terms, even someone who practised priestcraft. Interesting. What does that say about Mormon terms?

Papa D said...

The thing is, Howard, I've attended multiple meetings that were Q&A and interactive with a GA, and I've attended meetings where an apostle stuck around for a while to shake hands and talk with people (one of which included some revelatory statements to a particular young man the apostle had never met), etc.

My only point is that the underground hallways and using rich members' resources they provide willingly aren't good examples of institutional elitism - and they aren't good examples of where the Jesus card is appropriate, since even Jesus got away from the crowds on a regular basis and used other people's resources when appropriate and offered freely.

Howard said...

Okay Papa D sounds like spin to me! but I'll let it be.

Papa D said...

I need to clarify something I wrote a couple of comments ago.

I don't see Jesus' ministry as a case of preaching to get gain, so I don't consider it priestcraft in any way. I just know people who stretch that term to apply to those who preach for a living, so I meant to say that Jesus preached for a living - so the top LDS leadership is like that in that particular way.

Yes, I know the limits of that statement, and, yes, I understand there is a HUGE difference in their financial situations, but the fact remains that they save as much money as possible by traveling as they do (including by using a donated private jet) - and saying Pres. Monson travels in a private jet without any other relevant info distorts the overall picture badly, imo.

Howard said...

Papa D,
Check my comment it was not misleading I said he uses a Huntsman jet and I provided a link. Saving money? What do you mean? Donations are donations and tithings are donations. It's a distinction without a difference.

Papa D said...

Howard, it was misleading in that it made it appear that Pres. Monson and all the top leadership travel in private jets everywhere they go. You mentioned the President, an apostle and two 70's - with no qualifying language at all. The picture your first two comments present is leadership who never mingle with the common members in any way and live lives of incredible luxury. Sure, their lives are vastly different than mine, but they are nowhere close to the lives of others who regularly travel in private jets - and the 12 and 70's generally do not travel in private jets.

A distinction without a difference? Tithing is no different than any other donations? Seriously?

One is required, but not enforced, for all. ALL others are not even required. One (tithing) is used for specific purposes, others are used for lots of other purposes. The Huntsman donation is a non-tithing, additional donation by a very wealthy member through which the tithing of poorer members doesn't have to be used for such activities as traveling by air - which, by the way, wasn't available in Jesus' time or he probably would have traveled by airplane (or, at the very least, the early disciples and apostles would have).

I'm going to make a very, very narrow point, since you are the one who brought up the comparison, but how is Pres. Monson using Brother Hunstman's private jet ANY different substantively than Jesus using James' and John's private boat for travel during his ministry? (Please note that their boat still was available all throughout his ministry of three years - which means that James and John weren't the poor fishermen people often paint them to be. They were successful merchants who could leave their company for three years and not have it collapse in their absence. My own guess is that they probably provided the main source of "income" for Jesus' ministry - along with Matthew, Luke and other "professionals" among the disciples.)

Papa D said...

Btw, Howard, I am completely willing to agree to disagree about the view the first two comments present. It really isn't critical to me, since it's much more subjective and deals with impressions.

I do care, however, about the distinction between tithing and other donations - and about the comparison you made between Pres. Monson using a private jet and how Jesus traveled. If you will focus on the Hunstman plane vs. sons of Zebedee boat comparison, I'd appreciate it.

Howard said...

The picture your first two comments present is leadership who never mingle with the common members in any way and live lives of incredible luxury.. My first two comments were simple statements of fact. You filled in the rest.

Huntsman could have paid more than a 10% tithe or made a cash donation instead of loaning the jet and the church could have chartered the jet. What's the difference?

Jeff Collins said...

This the unfortunate downside to a large growing church: a growing corporate presence and bureaucracy. Thirty, forty years ago the members were "closer" to the general authorities and had more access. That has changed with the times. I do long for those days. The Church seems more encapsulated with little outlet for discussion, suggestion, and opinion within the general membership. The area 70's may have been part of the process to avoid this isolation from the general authorities. I may be wrong, but it seems Salt Lake is getting farther and farther away from the rank and file in a personal sense.

Papa D said...

"What's the difference?"

Exactly, Howard, so why get worked up about it?

I can't argue with your comment at all, Jeff. It literally is unavoidable in a larger organization. For example, when I was a kid, apostles visited to split stakes - without exception. That just can't happen any more.

Howard said...

I used to fly a Cessna cabin class twin for business and a Bonanza for pleasure so I'm familiar with and love General Aviation. The advantages of a private jet over airline travel are less ground time, no TSA, leave when you want, go where you want direct (within the range of the aircraft and runway length required) and it's elite so you look cool and have your privacy. Depending on where you are going you can generally save an hour or three per day but it comes at a cost. Compare a coach or business class ticket to this; In general, a Heavy private jet such as the (Huntsman) Gulfstream GIV has an hourly charter rate of $4,000 - $5,800 before positioning, fuel surcharges, taxes and other fees.

Papa D said...

Sorry, Howard, but I'm still left asking, "So, why does it bother you so much?" - and, again, how is it any different in theory than Jesus using a disciple's private boat?

Howard said...

Papa D,
This is getting ridiculous! The routine use of a private jet and body guards is a very good example of elitism and it is not the equivalent of Jesus' boat ride.

How is it any different? It's very different across the board in magnitude. James and John were in the fishing business and a fishing boat and nets comprised what was probably the main tool of their trade it carried fish and the men who caught the fish. How elite would you be catching a ride on a tow truck? The boat's operating cost was probably limited to some labor as the boat must have been powered by wind or oars. There was no mention of body guards on the boat. The choice was probably a long walk, donkey ride or a much shorter boat ride.

A private jet is not the main tool of trade for any business unless your business IS general aviation sales, pilot training, charter, etc. The jet requires labor too at least a plot and copilot, maybe a cabin attendant plus body guards of course the church supplied those. The jet is not labor or wind powered as you know so it burns about $3,400 worth of fuel an hour and few trips are less than two hours! Engines ware out so an hourly reserve must be set aside for overhauling them and for airframe maintenance and depreciation. As I mentioned the charter rate ends up at $4,000 - $5,800 per hour or typically $8,000 to $12,000 per short trip! The alternate transportation choices are many including ground transportation and the coach through first class airline seats, tickets can be purchased at discount on the internet.

So Jesus saved a lot of time by accepting a little labor in exchange for his teaching and companionship. The brethren save a little time by routinely accepting very expensive trips but Huntsman doesn't seem to ride along with them and the pilots are busy so maybe they teach the cabin attendant in exchange for this.

Are you arguing that routine use of a private jet is NOT elite or that Jesus was practicing elitism by taking a boat ride?

Papa D said...

Howard, step back for a moment, lay off the "this is getting ridiculous" hyperbole and consider only what I'm actually saying:

1) There was NO other "more expensive option" available for Jesus to use in the course of his ministry to travel as he did than the boat owned by his disciples. They appear to have been quite well off merchants, and they "donated" a boat (almost surely not their only boat, given the details of the stories) for their religious leader to use when he needed it.

2) Using the Huntsman jet allows Pres. Monson and anyone else accompanying him to avoid having to use anyone else's contributions to pay for that type of travel. It allows a rich man to help shift the burden of travel costs away from poorer people. If Jesus' ministry covered the entire world, and if James and John had owned a plane, I have no trouble believing Jesus would have thanked them for allowing him to use it and accepted their generosity - given our actual Biblical accounts.

3) Ground transportation is not an option in situations where the Huntsman jet is used. Period.

4) With the schedule Pres. Monson and the Q12 keep, and the absolute mobs that would congregate if they flew commercial planes (coach or first-class), especially leaving SLC, having a private jet available is a godsend - and I use that term intentionally.

5) The brethren AREN'T "accepting very expensive trips" - at least not at all in the way that phrase implies. They are accepting the willing donation of transportation in the regular, routine course of their travel in the performance of their ecclesiastical duties. Those aren't "trips" in the frivolous way your wording implies; they are required as part of the global travel these men do.

Without all of the mitigating factors that would snowball out of control if they flew standard commercial airplanes all the time, I would agree with you much more readily. Given the totality of their travel and what they face in the course of that travel, I have no problem accepting the Huntsman donation and equating it with the Zebedee donation - as disciples providing transportation for their religious leader.

(Oh, and if you think Jesus didn't travel "with a bodyguard", re-read the betrayal scene. His disciples carried swords - at least one of them being mentioned explicitly by name - and who, in that case, attacked his enemies in his defense. If that isn't the classic definition of a bodyguard, I don't know what is.)

Yes, in the case you mentioned, I'm saying it's not elitism to use a private jet, in and of itself - and, no, I'm not saying Jesus practiced elitism by using his disciples' boat when he could have traveled by foot or horse or camel or donkey. I'm saying NEITHER of them was elitist in those situations but, rather, accepting the generosity of a friend and "disciple" (although I use that term very, very loosely in the case of Huntsman and don't mean to compare him to James and John in any other way).

Howard said...

Papa D,
There was NO other "more expensive option" available for Jesus I don't know, a caravan of chariots some carrying body guards would have been pretty impressive! Don't you think?

Huntsman could donate the value of the flights, the church could use airlines and save.

Mobs (I think you mean crowds?) or not LDS Presidents flew the airlines until they began using Huntsman's jets.

If body guards and flying by private jet do not meet you definition of elite, what does?

Papa D said...

Howard, again, this is why I don't like using the Jesus card in these discussions. I think your view of his ministry relative to this discussion is wrong, and you think my view of the current prophets' ministry relative to this discussion is wrong. It's my view of Jesus' ministry, ironically, that influences my view on the current situation so much.

1) Jesus didn't have a caravan of chariots available to him (and he very well might have ridden in a chariot if one had been available and wasn't associated so obviously and directly with the Romans) and he actually did travel with a company of bodyguards in every way that counts. Pres. Monson doesn't travel with a "caravan of private jets", either.

2) Jesus walked until he was able to use his disciples' boat when he deemed it necessary. I don't think that is disputable in any way.

3) Former prophets didn't have the travel schedule current ones do, just like Jesus didn't have to worry about constant world-wide travel. That changes everything in very real and practical ways, since the limitations imposed by commercial flying that are eradicated by private flying are enormous.

4) Yes, Huntsman could donate the actual value of the flights - but there is a need for the actual flights, imo, so using commercial airlines **given the schedules the leaders keep and all the other issues involved in using commercial flights** and saving the difference doesn't provide the necessary benefits of using a private jet.

5) Again, Jesus traveled with bodyguards and used a private boat owned by two of his disciples - even though he could have walked and refused to allow his disciples to carry swords, obviously for use in their own and his defense. It wasn't elitist for him to take advantage of those resources freely offered, and neither is the use of the Huntsman jet.

We obviously disagree strongly about this, so let's let it drop and mention again our foundational friendship and how much we do agree about other things - which probably includes the current post, ironically. *grin*

Howard said...

Okay let's go that way Papa D! *grin*