One of the most comforting aspects of the gospel for me, or at least the aspect that I most identify with, is the idea that all area equal in the eyes of God. In other words, “God is no respecter of persons.” Acts 10:34 Here in our mortal lives, we each come from a different station. Some are wealthy; some are poor and some are in between. And, of course, wealth is a relative thing for all of us. Some have acquired education and some have been educated in the school of hard knocks and so our individual lives are unique according to our circumstances, our choices and our efforts.
But we are taught that in the life to come, the trappings of this life will be left behind and we will establish our place in the kingdom based on who we have become, or to what extent we have accepted the Lord’s invitation to follow Him and act accordingly.
This concept of equality is perhaps illustrated no better in this mortal life than in the temple where we all gather in similar white clothing as we serve as proxies for the deceased. I live close to the Washington DC Temple and I attend there as a patron and serve as an ordinance worker. My uniform as a worker, which includes a suit jacket, hard soled shoes and a named tag, in addition to the standard white shirt, pants, socks and tie that others wear, would seem to make me appear more important than the temple patron. But, in fact, just last Thursday night I was reminded in prayer meeting that our main function as ordinance workers is to enhance the experience of the patrons and to make them comfortable. Living in this community we occasionally see well known church members from the political or business world at the temple. I also find it comforting that regardless of their respective positions in the world, once they enter the ordinance room they are the same as everyone else.
Likewise, our experience at the local ward and stake level is much the same. We do not have a paid clergy and so we don’t have a life long leader. Of course the bishop and the stake president are the leaders of the congregations and they hold a special position for a time in their lives but their tenure is temporary and the day will come when they will be amongst the general membership. Having served as bishop in the past I can tell you that most of the ward members relate to the bishop with love, support and sometimes empathy but not adoration. And as the demographics of a ward continue to change the position of “former bishop” holds no prestige – which is just the way I think it should be.
There are those who we are told were foreordained to positions of leadership and prophecy in this life, but we know from history that those individuals were not without flaws as well and so while we may revere those historical figures, or even those who lead our church in the modern day, we are told that we have as much access to the blessings of the Father as anyone from any station in life, if we live accordingly. In his book “Jesus the Christ” James E. Talmage reminds us that anyone can obtain the pearl of great price because “the cost of … the pearl, is not a fixed amount, alike for all; it is all one has. Even the poorest may come into enduring possession.” I find great comfort in that statement even though it asks for a great sacrifice on our part.
Having said all that I wonder about a concern I have had in recent years. I’m sure my social beliefs are patterned after (or tainted by) my political beliefs. I was raised by a couple of new-dealers who grew up in the midst of the Great Depression. My father has always said, “The New Deal was a Fair Deal” and that is the whole basis of his life. I believe the Gospel to be completely in line with that philosophy – The Gospel is fair to us all. It requires the same – no more and no less – from each of us. And yet I am concerned that there seems to be some sort of Mormon Pedigree that makes some people want to feel superior to others in the church. Whether one is a direct relation to a current church leader or a descendent of a leader from the early days of the church; whether one has a family name that is synonymous with a legendary family who crossed the plains under adverse and terrible conditions; or whether one grew up on the east bench of Salt Lake City with General Authority neighbors, it seems to me that the Mormon Pedigree issue exists.
A friend of mine is a first generation Mormon – the only one of her immediate family in the church. In her former ward lived a direct blood relation to one of the modern day prophets. The first meeting of these two women came at a Relief Society luncheon when they ended up sitting next to each other. The “blue blood” (sorry of the sarcasm) Mormon introduced herself and then asked my friend, “What is your family history in the church?” to which my friend answered, “I’m the first member of family to join the church.” The first women then turned to the woman sitting on her opposite side and never spoke another word to my friend for the rest of the day. Their relationship in the ward remained on those same terms until the first woman finally moved away.
There are other such stories I could relate but I fear I might be getting too petty. I guess the real reason for this post is my feeling that this impression is perpetuated by something that happens each April. In April Conference, Michael Watson, the Secretary to the First Presidency, stands to give the statistical report of the church and before he sits down he says, “Prominent Church members who have passed away…” and then begins to read a list of names that include some General Authorities but also includes the wives of those same GAs as well as other members holding church wide callings. My family can tell you that as we are watching conference on cable TV, I usually stand up and leave the room at this point because I am incensed but what is happening. Now, I am certain that each one of these “prominent members” are wonderful, caring and dedicated people who devoted their lives to living as disciples of Christ but don’t we all know people of the same caliber who have served their whole lives in the anonymity of the ward structure without having a “prominent” calling? What is it that qualifies one’s name to be read in General conference before millions of watchers?
And so I would ask your response to a couple of questions.
- Do I have a legitimate beef here or is this just the insecurities of a farm boy from rural Idaho coming to the forefront? (By the way, my ancestors crossed the plains as well.)
- If I am wrong, can anyone describe what a “prominent church member” is and how they are differentiated amongst the general population of the church. What qualifies them for special recognition?