403 Forbidden

403 Forbidden

403 Forbidden

Nine Moons » Blog Archive : An International Church Indeed » An International Church Indeed

An International Church Indeed

Christian J - September 9, 2008

With General Conference in sight, I am reminded of the recent group of newly called Apostles. With the last four, I enjoyed watching the related introductory press conferences on byu.tv. One question that came up with the most recent two was related to their relative Utah –ness or American – ness. In fact, with Elder Cook, I found Elder Eyring defending his non -Utah-ness by pointing to his many adult years in California. So, apparently it’s a fair question. Indeed it seems that more than one member of the church is pining for some International flavor in the FP and Q12. And while I fully sustain whoever is called with listening ears and an open heart – I admit having thoughts similar to these.

I suppose these thoughts come from a desire to see the members of the Church represented in the leadership. But my own observation is still that the Church is not as international as we think. A little over half the membership does not live in the U.S. but that statistic has always been misleading. I guess you could look at it this way –

I was making a smoothie this morning and a little over half the ingredients were a mixture of peaches, oranges, kale and milk. The remaining 40% consisted of ripe strawberries. The flavor was overwhelmingly strawberry in spite of the great texture and consistency that the other ingredients provided. I think the Church has the same kind of dynamic.

It’s true that a number of Seventies and Auxiliary Leaders are from outside the U.S. – as it should be. But I think when you’re talking about a group of 15 individuals, the probability of them coming from that 40-45% group is pretty good. (somebody else wanna do the math?) Of course this is based on an assumption that calls in the Church are from God – but that they also come from a pool of individuals. So I suppose what I’m essentially talking about here is baptisms and growth. The more international members – the more probability of the FP and Q12 becoming diverse.

So I’ve asked myself, how can we speed up the process? How do we create an international reality in the Church without waiting for the converts? In my line of work, the process starts with the crazy, pie-in-the-sky ideas. Sometimes they’re superficial and sometimes they’re completely unrealistic. But by spitting the outrageous out now, we can potentially find some hidden gems and worry about cost and feasibility later. Here is a list of some similar ideas, though I wouldn’t call any of them gems. Feel free to add your own.

1. A Mormon Constantinople
A big reason for Constantine’s relocation of the Roman capital to Byzantium in the 4th century was consolidation and unity. The results were tremendous for him and the growth of the empire. So while I’m not advocating a Mormon relocation, I do think it would be helpful to see one or two sub-capitals somewhere else in the world. There are already temples dotting the earth with a few international MTC’s here and there. I suppose you could add to that by building a distribution center or even holding a General Conference. The most important purpose would be to better connect members in other lands while solidifying the Church’s influence.

Here are some suggestions based mainly on Mormon population or location in the world:

Mexico City, Mexico

Seoul, South Korea

Sao Palo, Brazil

Frankfurt, Germany

2. Hymns for all
Full disclosure – I’ve never been out of the U.S., let alone attended church internationally. But I have known Mormons from a number of locations throughout the world and it seems apparent – they sing many of the same protestant/restoration hymns that we do. I could be wrong about this and would love to hear from anyone who knows different. But while international members being able to sing more of their own sacred music is a step in the right direction, I am thinking of an even bolder move – give the American/English hymnbook an overhaul. Keep all the hymns we love (about 80%) and replace the ones we never EVER hear with a sacred hymn from another country. I recently saw the MoTab sing some ancient Chinese music with a Chinese choir (during the Olympics). This is the kind of thing I have in mind. We don’t really believe that all the sacred music the world has to offer is found in a little green book – do we?

3. We should all be wearing head phones
From now on, all General Conference speakers will address the church in their native tongue. I know – it’s a logistical nightmare but the pros would far out-weigh the cons.

There it is – fire away.


  1. I like the metaphor and the first two suggestions a lot, but not necessarily to make a more diverse GA group. I really don’t care either way about that at all.

    Remember the original 12 were not only from the same Roman province and ethnic group. They were from the same region IN that province: Galilee. They did a pretty good job of spreading the Gospel with those limitations I think:)

    Though I like/know more than 60% of the hymnbook and would have trouble giving many up, though course there are some! I don’t see why we don’t expand the hymnbook in general. The United Methodist hymnal is over 700 pages. What’s wrong with that? Let’s just add a bunch!

    Comment by Bret — September 9, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  2. CJ I love your ideas.

    Comment by JA Benson — September 9, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  3. Bret-
    I’m guessing it’s because 99% of our congregations only know about 20% of the hymn book we do have. 700 songs? Yikes! But yes, musical diversity is awesome and I’m totally a fan of an overhaul, and even cj’s idea of bringing in international hymns. Of course, this is coming from a musician, so…you know…

    FWIW, I actually think your ideas are kind of fun. The Constantinople idea is intriguing, and I can see it actually kind of happening; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were to happen; not necessarily another SLC, but another place of “Mecca”, I guess. But still –isn’t Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri? Hmmm…

    Comment by cheryl — September 9, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

  4. Diversity… for diversity’s sake???

    I really hate it when my workplace seeks diversity (because of some supposed government regulation). I want competence, I don’t care about gender, race, height, weight, gayness, body manipulations, etc. If you aren’t a competent engineer get out!

    Don’t get me wrong I enjoy seeking out other cultures and learning their customs and so forth, but on my terms.

    Now that I reread your post I think we seek the same. Your quest, it seems, is how do we create the possibilities of competent (but non-Utah, non-U.S) G.A’s

    Comment by ed42 — September 9, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  5. In the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s way…

    The Lord calls whom He calls when He wishes to call them. If the Lord wants diversity, then the Lord will ensure that it happens in His own time, not yours. If the Lord wants the smoothie to taste like strawberries, then it is going to taste like strawberries.

    Comment by Some random person — September 9, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  6. ed42,
    Just to be clear – I’m not advocating any sort of quota policy in the church. And I don’t want to see diversity so I can show my friends how cultured and tolerant I am as a Mormon. I simply want to better tap into the existing cultures, backgrounds and experiences in the Church to enhance our unity as fellow citizens in the household of God. I think a diverse crop of GA’s will only be a natural result of this.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 9, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

  7. Meh.

    Most of these seem designed to make Americans feel the internationalism of the church more, not to actually serve the non-North American members of the church. The cost and effort of holding General Conference in Mexico City, for instance, seems to outweigh its symbolic significance, and most of its significance would be symbolic. Linguistically, the church needs a lingua franca, and English does the job. We have an Area Authority from Norway. When he visits, for him to speak Norweigan would be impossible. He speaks English, and we have people who can translate in Finnish, although most of our members can and prefer to follow things in English.

    From my perspective, members outside of North America already feel too much influence from Utah, and would like less centralization rather than more diversity in centralization.

    Much more significant has been the practice of having members of the Q12 living abroad for extended times. Elder Oaks mentions his time in the Philippines so regularly it seems to have had an impact. Elder Perry in Europe made a difference in some aspects of how missionary work is done here.

    The other issue is native mission presidents. Most mission presidents are still North American, and until that changes, the glass ceiling will remain in place.

    Comment by Norbert — September 9, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

  8. CJ and Norbert – Just another thought about the “internationalization” of the church. A former member of our stake presidency here in Northern Virginia, Paul Pieper, was recently called as an area president in Eastern Europe. He grew up just a few miles north of my hometown in southeastern Idaho, he obtained a law degree and moved to the Washington DC area and then he moved to Kazakhstan to work for an international trade firm. He and his wife played an intrumental role in opening up that country for church membership. Elder Pieper later became the president of the St. Petersburg, Russia mission and then became an area authority. As mentioned above, he now presides over the Europe East area of the church.

    So here we have young Mormon boy from sourtheastern Idaho growing to lead the expansion of the church in an area far from home in a distant, and somewhat mysterious land. Isn’t that as much about internationalism as calling native Russians to move to Utah and become general authorities there? Yes, Elder Pieper is bringing his culture to that part of the world but in the process he is gaining an understanding of their culture and hopefully through this process we will all obtain more understanding about each other, and that seems like our ultimate goal. I’d be interested in your thoughts about this issue.

    Comment by lamonte — September 10, 2008 @ 4:36 am

  9. #8: But when President Pieper returns to the States, possibly as an apostle or GA, will he teach the greater Church membership about Kazakhstani or Russian culture? Or will we hear more stories about growing up on the farm, keeping pigeons, or playing baseball? I love and sustain all my leaders, but I’ll be the first to admit that many speakers at General Conference just don’t resonate with me because they speak to a shared experience that, well, I don’t share.

    I love hearing from Elders Eyring and Uchtdorf not just because they have some commonalities with me (science background, international background), but because they frequently add new, interesting perspectives to their talks that I haven’t heard before.

    And if I’m only 30 and grew up in Utah and feel out of touch with farm stories and pigeons, I can only imagine how the youth feel–both in the U.S. and overseas. So here’s hoping that Pres. Pieper will share his vast, interesting experience to teach all of his flock, and not just retread the same old stuff.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — September 10, 2008 @ 6:35 am

  10. Oh, and I wanted to post to say that I’d love to see at least one General Conference talk in Portuguese or Spanish, with subtitles and/or voiceover for the rest of us. Not for the sake of “diversity”–but just so that us English speakers get a chance to see how a huge percentage of the Church sees conference.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — September 10, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  11. By insinuating other cultures/languages in General Conference doesn’t that alienate the rest of the membership even further while serving the fractions? I’m with Norbert on this one. English probably serves the greater part of the Saints. I mean, aren’t the hoop-dancing Lamanites and BYU Klingon linguists all the culture we need? That isn’t to say I wouldn’t appreciate the MoTab to break out in an arrangement of Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles for Brother Uchdorf and his compatriots.

    Comment by David T. — September 10, 2008 @ 7:05 am

  12. lamonte,
    thanks for the reminder about Paul Pieper. I’m not sure how I feel about it though. On the one hand, he and his family have become part of the Mormon experience in that part of the world and have been given a tremendous opportunity to help the church grow there. On the other hand, Norbert seems to suggest that members outside North America want less influence from Utah(and I would suggest America too). You know well how different the church can be even within the U.S. alone. I wonder if they would rather see their own lead them locally. Of course many are not able to.

    (of course I remember Paul to be an extremely humble man and I’m sure the Saints in Russia love him and his family dearly)

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 10, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  13. Constantinople marked the beginning of the end of the Romans.

    I doubt ancient Chinese music possesses the theology necessary for use in Sacrament Meetings. The same can be said for many of other music, too. Not all, of course, but a lot.

    I imagine that the money necessary to outfit all members with headphones and the translation problems involved, (translating from a variety of languages into a variety of languages, rather than translating from one language into a variety of languages), could be better spent in humanitarian services. “Sorry Pedro, we can’t provide you with your food order this month, but you’ll get to hear Uchtdorf speak German this October.”

    So, basically, I think your idea is impractical. Let the Lord decide how his Church will be managed. Political matters should have no sway.

    Comment by SAM — September 10, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  14. ..the process starts with the crazy, pie-in-the-sky ideas. Sometimes they’re superficial and sometimes they’re completely unrealistic. But by spitting the outrageous out now, we can potentially find some hidden gems and worry about cost and feasibility later.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — September 10, 2008 @ 8:31 am

  15. Bro. Jones – Your points are all valid and I totally agree with them. I love the fact that Elder Uchtdorf was called to the Quorum of the Twelve and then was called to serve in the First Presidency and I agree with CJ that our leadership – at the very top – should reflect the membership of the church – but like comment #5 says, “If the Lord wants diversity, then the Lord will ensure that it happens…” I just hope it will happen soon. But I also agree with the comments elsewhere citing the benefit of the Q12 spending long periods of time in disparate parts of the world. I think we can all benefit from the diversity we are promoting.

    Comment by lamonte — September 10, 2008 @ 8:33 am

  16. Define diversity.

    Comment by SAM — September 10, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  17. SAM,
    I’m just curious, where do you live? How many races or cultures are represented in your ward?

    Comment by Rusty — September 10, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  18. I live in the South and there ain’t nobody but men in my ward. White men, that is. The black man that tries to get himself baptized, we just make him clean the church, tell him that he only needs to do it one more week and then we’ll baptize him. He’s been gone on like that for dang near a month now! Ha! Well, we’s got some women, too, but we don’t count them on the attendance. We all bring our guns to church and shoot ‘em out back between meetins.

    Honestly, now. Come on! “How many races or cultures are represented in your ward?” Well, to play your game, we’ve got Germans (even fought for the Nazis in WWII), Argentinians, African-Americans, Mexicans. … Is that good enough? Are we “diverse” enough to be taken seriously? Do we have enough of the “right types?” I used to have a good friend who fled Liberia, served his mission in Ghana, and immigrated sans wife and kid to America. He moved out of ward boundaries, so I guess I can’t include him, huh?

    But, I still would like to hear a definition of diversity, one that doesn’t just assume diversity is based upon skin color. Because, you know, that is kind of offensive. “Wow!! You are (insert skin color)! You must have a depth of experience that I could only dream of! Come, play with us. We can benefit by your differences.”

    Comment by SAM — September 10, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  19. One small nit, historically speaking. Constantine didn’t move Rome’s capital so much as he decided to rule from there while greatly improving the city. Several emperors before him and after him decided to do the same from different locations–a surprising amount from the Balkans, in fact. By the the time of Justinian, though, most of the emperors had chosen to rule from Constantine, in no small part because the Goths, Visogoths, errant Huns, etc. which had been assimilated into Rome were largely running things in the west (still in the name of Rome). As a result, Constantine became the de facto center of the empire, while Rome retained its nominal status as the “capital.”

    And I’d be alright if the same thing happened to SLC.

    Comment by jimbob — September 10, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  20. SAM – Of course diversity means more than a difference of skin color. It can be a difference in culture, in political thought, in language, in personal interests (the arts, music, literature, sports, etc.), in occupations, and yes, in racial mix and a thousand other elements. Hopefully all of these elements make up the diversity of our lives and we purposely seek to expose ourselves to them.

    Comment by lamonte — September 10, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  21. Elder Cook served in the same mission as Elder Holland, and Elder Scott was Elder Christofferson’s mission president. So, what we need to do to have more international presiding quorums is: make sure the future non-international church leaders have lots of international companions, and promote measures to keep those men in contact with one another over the decades.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 10, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

  22. lamonte,

    I think having church leaders with that kind of experience has the potential to be incredibly meaningful for the church. President Pieper has a great reputation and I’m sure he’s a credit to the church and his calling.

    However, there are those who spend their time in a position and don’t really get it. To have American GAs visiting from Frankfurt telling ‘what’s wrong’ with the culture because it isn’t easy to do missionary work, for instance, isn’t really appropriate. Elder Hafen was really good about at least trying to show his appreciation of the culture as he visited; as an alternative, when I was in London the area president at the time presided at a meeting at which he constantly confused England with Great Britain, and at one point included Ireland as part of Britain. When his error was pointed out, he laughed it off. There were audible grumbles from the congregation.

    Comment by Norbert — September 10, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  23. Norbert

    I’ve had Utah Mormons, working for CES and living near D.C. visiting and speaking at my home ward in Maryland. They apparently forgot that they crossed the Potomac River, because they kept confusing us with West Virginia!

    Comment by SAM — September 10, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  24. But, I still would like to hear a definition of diversity, one that doesn’t just assume diversity is based upon skin color.

    Silly, silly SAM. It looks like you are the one who is assuming. I never gave a definition, only asked a simple question. And you will note that I used the words “races or cultures”, neither of which necessarily means “skin color.”

    But I didn’t ask the question to see if your ward was “diverse enough.” In fact, I don’t expect most wards in the world to be diverse (at all) relative to their community demographics. The reason I asked it was to get a better understanding of what you consider diverse. Getting a dictionary-like definition of diversity is different than getting an account of how someone sees those around them. And now I have a better understanding of what you think qualifies as “diversity.” Thanks.

    Comment by Rusty — September 10, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  25. I think we should encourage diversity in levels of capability, too. We should have at least 75% of our GAs be totally incapable of their calling. That would more fully reflect the situation within the general membership.

    Comment by SAM — September 10, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  26. And now I also have a better understanding of what you think of your fellow saints. Very nice.

    Comment by Rusty — September 10, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

  27. I think having a rotating location for general conference is an outstanding idea. Renting out an arena in a different city is not that hard. We already see that sometimes when Hinckley would go to other countries just by himself. Most arenas or stadiums I’m assuming have infastructure for broadcasting programming that goes on there. The top GAs would have to be flown from SLC to the location, but we fly MoTab all over the world and it seems like there are more of them than the GAs. Again, in the grand scheme of things, a minimal expense. (We wouldn’t need to actually fly MoTab since a local choir could fill in.)

    October conf can be in Utah and April rotate. Sounds good to me. It’s such a good idea, I don’t know why we aren’t already doing it.

    Comment by sister blah 2 — September 10, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  28. kale?

    Comment by KLC — September 10, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

  29. Let the Lord decide how his Church will be managed. Political matters should have no sway.

    The problem with this attitude (and it is not an isolated one) is that this is not at all the way the church actually works. The Lord largely leaves the day-to-day management of the Church to his servants and declines to command in all things. This should be no surprise to anyone who has actually run anything in the church, from an elder’s quorum to a mission to the Church itself, the Lord expects us to study the issues, make decisions and seek his guidance as to whether we are correct. We don’t just leave it all to him and expect him to make the decisions for us. Therefore, if we never have any discussions or ambitions toward diversity or multiculturalism, it won’t happen.

    Comment by MCQ — September 11, 2008 @ 1:49 am

  30. I appreciate the thought. I think that why so many GA’s originate from the Mountain West area is that’s where most of the active members were, say, 50 – 80 years ago when they were born. In fact, that area and California still account for a huge share of temple-attending LDS.

    But we’ll be seeing more Asian, South American and European GA’s as these areas start having the critical mass, and assumably Africa comes at some time, too.

    I think many of us Europeans do feel to a certain extent that the Church is still Utah-centric, but I have also seen efforts to bring about some change to that. I agree that while we should let time do its job it’s okay to talk about it now.

    And as far as I’m concerned, I learned English early in my life and I have always been advocating for people to learn at least English, preferably some other language, too. You get so much more out of it when you hear, say, elder Holland (perhaps my favorite speaker for now) in his own words.

    Comment by Velska — September 11, 2008 @ 3:11 am

  31. I’m sort of split on the native tongue vs. non-native tongue in conference debate. On one hand, I think I agree with the notion that the church needs a “lingua franca” and that it should be English (for a variety of reasons, some of which may be more obvious than others). On the other hand, I think it would be really neat to let GAs speak in the language that is most comfortable to them. I think there is a power that comes from speaking in your own tongue that is very difficult to replicate in another. (I have seen this when local latino saints, whose English is not great, struggle to give a talk in English and then switch over to Spanish and give general conference-caliber discourses.) Surely, it couldn’t be too hard to do subtitles or voice-overs for this.

    Comment by WMP — September 12, 2008 @ 5:49 am

  32. I think there is a power that comes from speaking in your own tongue that is very difficult to replicate in another.

    I heartily agree. Having lived in Japan for a while, I was never able to really be myself when Japanese was coming out of my mouth. Had I spoken in English, that would’ve been totally different. Then I could’ve communicated my message, my personality, my wit, my wisdom…EVERYTHING!

    But no one would’ve understood me. Ah! There’s the rub. Even had someone translated for me, they still could not have captured the nuances of what I was saying.

    So, point is, it doesn’t matter whether the GA’s speak in their native tongue or English, these meaningful nuances will not come across through translation to the audience.

    Comment by john — September 12, 2008 @ 7:14 am

  33. I think the church is already doing it right.

    All over the world:
    1. Building/growing local leadership.
    2. Native missionaries, and continuing to build up RM’s after they return, and keep them active.
    3. Temples.
    4. MTC’s.
    5. Temple-sealed marriages.
    6. Children born in the covenant, raised with a full set of church programs, and groomed from childhood to be missionaries and leaders.
    7. Area presidencies living in the area.
    8. Perpetual Education Fund.
    9. Retired-couple service missionaries training local leaders.
    10. Church printed-material in the primary local dialects. (Currently there are 164+ languages which have some church material.)

    When that first generation of raised-in-the-church boys return from their missions and take their places as leaders, that’s when growth turns exponential. When you just rely on American elders, growth stays arithmetic.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 12, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI