Reform Action #5 of 20 (see overview page)
Decentralize and pull down the power, which has become too lofty and autocratic for seasoned members. Church hierarchy needs to humble themselves monetarily and authoritatively. Restore the balance of power between Stake and central church priesthood hierarchy, according to the principles delineated in D&C 107, by bolstering stake influence and reducing centralization & institutionalization efforts from SLC for seasoned regions, and expanding the influence of the patriarchal order of the priesthood. D&C 107 describes a perfect balance of power between the Stake government and the central church government, this balance needs to be reestablished.
Imbalance in central & local government structures promotes social instability and religious apostasy. The Doctrine and Covenants specifies that the Stake or “Standing High Councils of the Church” are to be “equal in authority” with the “Traveling High Council of the Church” (or “twelve apostles” as we call them–D&C 107:24–37). This is meant to create a perfect “balance of power” between local and central church leadership. Our scriptures promote an ecumenical organization (christian union or democracy) as revealed to Joseph and early American statesmen (multiple but equal states/stakes united in a union by a scriptural constitution-see D&C 101:80, 109:54, 107) — not an autocratic state. The current over-centralized system which mimics Jewish & medieval institutional monarchies or the pre-reformation catholic system is expressly forbidden & forewarned in our scripture ( 1 Sam 8, Mosiah 23:6–9, Jacob 5:48, 2 Ne 28:12–14; 1 Ne 13:4–9, Acts 23:1–5, D&C 123:7). This over-centralization is causing a disconnect between LDS church leadership and the people.
The stake is a complete unit of the church and has the exact same power and authority (over its members) as the traveling twelve do over the church, but this balance is NOT currently maintained in the Church. Members universally have vastly more faith in the traveling “12 apostles” than the stake “12 apostles” (ie. the stake’s high council, see D&C 107 for clarification on our misuse of these titles). I dare say that currently stake High Council’s NEVER fulfill their “equal” role as a check and balance to centralized authority and autocratic dominion. The current general authorities of the church have been raised to celebrity and even demigod status. (Demigod: a person so important as to seem to approach the divine or be godlike in some way.) This leader-worship is a form of idolatry, which leads to apostasy. The current imbalance has members and local leadership expecting to be “commanded in all things” by Church Headquarters, which stems from an imbalanced emphasis on the source of spiritual power. In both political and religious hierarchical environments, when power structures become too lofty, cutting leadership off from equalizing human interaction with the populace— social instability, power mongering, leader worship and mass apostasy will always be the result. (This same political disconnect between leadership and the people is currently imbalancing the U.S. government structure as well.)
It can not be overstressed how detrimental the current idolization of the president of the High Priesthood (prophet), and traveling high council (12 apostles) is. Giving these men god-like status, and creating the idea in the mind of the people that the majority of their words and actions are “the mind, and will of the Lord”, causes many to leave our communion when they are confronted with repeated contradictions and episodes of church history with prove how completely fallible and human they are. When a church or nation humbly asks their people to respect their leaders best efforts, it preserves the people’s agency. When a church or nation (such as North Korea, historical China, Egypt, Babylon or Medieval Europe) manipulates a people into obedience by an impressed belief that their leaders actions are synonymous with divinity—agency is subverted. An increasingly large number of members are becoming sensitive to this imbalanced, disregard of D&C 121:41 and are leaving.
Great sacrifice engenders great respect. I believe the highest levels of heaven are rightly filled with those who sacrificed and suffered the most on earth (as symbolized by Christ). Although they are undoubtedly wonderful people, current church General Authorities (who receive quite generous church stipends and overwhelmingly live in large east-bench SLC and Bountiful homes, with above-average incomes; sitting in their large throne-like chairs in General Conference), are quickly losing the respect from outsiders for their increasingly lack economic and organizational humility. If these good men would monetarily and authoritatively humble themselves, their example would go a long, long way in gaining & retaining church membership” (D&C 24:18–19, Luke 22:35, Luke 9:58, Alma 39:11–12).
We need to find effective ways to balance local authority with centralized authority… people need to feel like their agency & inspiration matters. (ie. led by agency through personal group revelation, not autocracy or some kind of “divine dictatorship”).
Possible Reform Actions
Find ways to give Stake Presidents and their standing High Councils (the local twelve) equal status and authority to General Authorities in policy and in the minds of the people. Help all members to remember to take all the words of our leaders with a grain of salt (by re-emphasizing the importance and preeminence of personal revelation). Find effective ways to get more input from members and ex-members on how things can be done “by common voice”. Find ways to establish how doctrinally “mature” an area is, thus dictating how much power “the traveling high council” should wield (they need more power in new areas–but less in mature areas). This will be a very difficult reform to implement because the majority of those perceptive to this imbalance have left the church; and it is incredibly difficult to give back spiritual & political power once it has been centralized. Perhaps decentralization could be accomplished by using tactics similar to the following.
-invite more local leaders and even non-member guest speakers to speak at General Conference (so we hear a lot less from the 12, and a lot more from stake presidents and high counselors at General Conference). Continually stress the authoritative equality of a stake president to a general authority. We have got to find ways to stress the equality of local and church-wide leadership.
-tone down the blind obedience and groupthink rhetoric in church talks and curriculum.
-in the same way that mormon.org has put the stories of every-day LDS individuals in the hands of the investigator, lds.org/church curiculum needs to put more thoughts, revelations and writings of local individuals in the hands of the members. This problem of overcentralization has only began showing negative fruits since the advent of churchwide TV, magazines and internet… we need to use those same tools to balance over-correlation.
-just as is done withe the Ensign magazine, make lds.org more a forum containing the writings & works of every-day normal members (not just centralized leadership). Create stake versions of these media outlets–and encourage all members to submit material, in a way where they can receive valuable feedback from members and leadership. Have lds.org and the Ensign pull from the most popular stake articles–and invite these authors to give stake conference talks and even general conference talks.
-hang pictures of stake high councilors in seminary/institute classrooms, church publications and missionary discussion flip-books; not just the traveling twelve.
-somehow allow users to comment on general authorities (and local leaders) talks in forum in that they will read. This way they can have feedback as to those their talks offend, and ways which they are misunderstood or misspeak.
-stress the humanity and equality of general authorities. People know their neighbors are human and equal, but SLC authorities which few personally know are easily deified and idolized. Most LDS members believe these men have greater access to angels, God’s Spirit and God than a common member does. This type of idolatry can only lead to problems.
-allow general authorities to give talks in their native languages. (done!)
-the twelve need to go to far greater lengths to play down their own power. By believing it is OK to let people worship their “mantles of authority” they break God’s commandments (D&C 121:41), and create a system of inequality which eventually backfires; doing more harm than good.
-better teaching about the difference between priesthood and prophets is (see below for detail).
-create more and better tools to allow Stake Priesthood leaders to put messages into electronic forms of the Church Magazines (Ensign & Liahona) as well as stake email lists.
-Encourage Stake Councilors to rely on their own authority, and not use the words of “the brethren” to establish their authority. (Which actually lessens their authority.)
-Bring stake authorities together to vote on church policy.
-Effectively implement reform action #1, and reform action #3 will largely take care of itself…