Friday, May 30, 2014

On Missing Context

The Church's public affairs department sent an open letter to mormon blogs yesterday.  You can read it for yourself.  There are parts of it I like, and parts of it I don't.

First, the part that I don't like.  Otterson describes a criticism from the internet community at "By not engaging with the more extreme groups, the Church – and Public Affairs in particular – is not acting as Christ would."  Let me start of by just clarifying that the argument "public affairs is not acting as Christ would" is just stupid.  I get that much.  Public affairs is an entity meant to help develop and distribute messaging from the Church.  They shouldn't be expected to "act as Christ would."

That being said, if you're going to claim that you're not meeting with extreme groups, then don't meet with extreme groups.  And yes, Mormon Women Stand is an extreme group.  In response to Ordain Women, they describe themselves as women who "unequivocally sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles."  That may seem perfectly harmless at first, but unequivocal doesn't leave much space for doubt and concern.  The expectation of unequivocal stifles innovation and creativity in solving problems the Church and local congregations face.

Mormon Women Stand and Ordain Women are the opposite extremes in the discussion of women's issues in the Church.  So let's not claim that we're not meeting with extreme groups.

The part I did like: in response to the question of whether women (or men) are ever demeaned or marginalized in the Church, "Yes, of course....What this argues for is better training of leaders and members1."  As it turns out, I just had a brief talk with my bishop about this on Tuesday.  And I can't tell you how relieving it is to have a bishop to whom I can speak of my wholly equivocal support for how the ward is being managed without him calling into question my commitment to the Church.  But we talked about how so many positions in the Church require strong leadership skills, and the Church does next to nothing to teach those skills.  I mean that quite seriously: the Church does next to nothing to teach its members leadership skills.

Sure, we have "leadership training" meetings pretty much every stake conference.  There's one catch to those training meetings, though--you're only invited if you've already been called into leadership.  And most of the leadership training meetings I've been to end up with a public speaking format (ie, usually no interaction between the speaker and the audience) and focus on how we need to "listen to the Spirit" and "ask for and follow inspiration."

I won't argue against those principles.  They are certainly true and valuable.  But how about doing workshops that teach interviewing skills?  How about workshops that teach leaders how to ask questions that get members to evaluate and express their own beliefs?  How about workshops that teach leaders how to build a common vision and inspire people to want to contribute; to do better than manipulate them with "the Lord is calling you and you don't want to let down the Lord, do you?"  When  you possess these skills, the power of inspiration and revelation are magnified many times over.  We should be teaching them routinely.  We should be teaching them to people before they are called into leadership.  We should be teaching these skills to our youth, our home and visiting teachers, and our Sunday school teachers.

Screw it!  We should be teaching these skills to anyone who walks through the door.

So yes, we need better training.  Can we please start by recognizing that our ability to lead is not completely determined by our ability to hear the Spirit?  Can we admit, already, that there are practical skills that we aren't teaching our current and future leaders that, if they developed, would make for a stronger church?  Can we start now?

1 I'm going to ignore for now the fact that the problem isn't really that local leaders sometimes demean and marginalize members, but that there are systemic and cultural forces in the Church's teachings and structure that enable and perpetuate these things.

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