Saturday, July 14, 2012

How we do things

With the recent hullabaloo over how the finances of the LDS church are reported and dealt with, I thought it would be interesting to point out how much of this is a question of attitude, not actual behavior.

In the early history of the LDS church, there were problems with finances.  Elder's were assigned to collect money from church members for church projects, but there were rampant problems dealing with these Elder's not being reliable to get the money home where it belonged.  Sometimes they'd use it themselves or sometimes an associate would 'borrow' it from them.  Regardless of how or with how much intention of malice, the money was getting tangled in transactions it wasn't authorized for all along the supply chain to the church leadership.  So they had to change the rules and make certain all the church knew that only certain persons (I think it was the twelve) were authorized to receive money for these church projects.  There wasn't a good communication method so the message got repeated a lot at different church meetings as they were trying to get the message out so that unauthorized elder's couldn't collect from the faithful.

There was a scandal regarding the temple building committee in Nauvoo as well if I recall.  If my memory serves from when I read through that section in the history of the church, it was early on it was announced that since the members of the temple building committee were already designated as devout and good men that little effort needed to be spared to keep them honest.  Unfortunately there is a difference between honest and smart.  Eventually, some remaining member or members of this committee were called up before a public church court.  Strangely, a lot of early church court meetings were held during general conferences so we get a record of it from the history of the church. The good brother in question admitted to not knowing terribly much about book keeping and that he hadn't had the time to pay attention to it, so that there were most definitely mistakes in his record keeping that he wasn't afraid to admit.  More viperous steps were taken to protect the trustworthiness of the church funds in the temple building fund.

The essential point is that good men who were in their financially responsible roles as a result of church callings were capable of making mistakes, having their mistakes questioned, and submitting to public correction.  There was a degree of community participation in how this took place without anyone trying to necessarily question of whether Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Today the finances of the LDS church are pretty much hidden from public view.  A bishop might know what is in ward finances, but much beyond that everything is hidden.  The only glimpse of what is really happening is when the church gives its Conference auditing report, which in all honesty, is remarkably boring.  Or there are the glimpses from when a reporter tries to dig into the subject only to make a point.  Today, there appears to be a standard reaction that if we have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and there for of Joseph Smith all all his successors that there is a level of apostacy in calling for the church's money to be dealt with in any other way.  There is little functional difference between the members back in the early church triggered investigations and for a preference for  transparent book keeping today.  What is changed is the assumption of what attitude goes with the request.  There is nothing inherently doctrinally wrong with preferring that the church manage its finances in any particular way.  With little to no real information to work with Church members are left with a bad dichotomy of choices of supporting the bretheren and not questioning the finances or of questioning the finances and the bretheren together.  The history of bad financial skills and decisions being made by officially called individuals makes it clear these cultural behaviours don't have to match together, we just have made them do so in our minds.

Its kind of like women and the care of the physical needs of the family.  In the standard works there are plenty of references to women who participated in home projection.  I think in the Book of Mormon there are specific statements about gendered production of goods.  Women kept them from all being naked by spinning and making cloth I think is a typical example.  There is nothing questioned about how they might have been taking time away from their families to do so, it just exists.  Across many traditional world culture's women have participated in some degree in home production.  They may even arguably take time away from their families by arranging for communal child care or by aggressively swaddling the baby to make it so that they don't have to pay it any particular attention.  The roles are traditional and very gendered, so we don't jump to question it.  For explicit doctrine all we really have to go off of is a few scriptural versus where God gives Adam and Eve their gendered assignments and later quotes from Paul talking about how men who refuse to provide financial support are worse than infidels.  But that's it.

In our diversified economy, production has moved largely out of the home and into factories of varying types.  Women still participate in home labor and production, but the range upon which it might express itself is restrained by our specialization of labor.  Instead of having two producers who deal in non monetary commodities as part of farm life, we have the ideal family where the husband produces monetary value by exchange of labor and his wife... well... spends it and... ummmh... finds more and more creative ways of being creative within the confines of family needs.  Scrap booking as a highly developed social art form here we come and watch how cooking and cleaning can be made to take up as little or as much of our time as possible depending on resources available.  A meaningful female role in production in traditionally gendered relationships has declined.  But, since the two producer family arrangement has been undermined by our cultural application of the specialization of labor, two producer families can't exist without breaking down the highly gendered social roles we have carved for ourselves.  Not that there aren't social costs to women being out of the home.  Just like there are social costs to men being out of the home (although our traditional gendered interpretations of labor division only allow one of these to be voiced).

The point being, LDS culture has produced a grouping of assumptions that if women participate in production outside of the home they must be attacking the traditional gendered roles.  Even though the traditional gendered practice is for there to be two producers with limited child care devotion given, we can't acknowledge that tradition without appearing to attack the the grouping of social definitions we have in our mind.  Women in the work place=evil feminism and break down of society  blah blah blah.  The history of what kinds of production women participated in as part of agricultural home centered lifestyle shows that these groupings are in our minds, not inherent in reality.

We'd be better off flexibly allowing ourselves to examine what we really believe and what we really have simply practiced on accident.  They aren't always the same, but our desire to practice what we believe I think ends up with us believing what we practice.  We make doctrine out of accidents of history.  Not that you can easily take history apart and put society back together again.  They aren't the same things by that point.  But at least critical examination of the past can help us figure out what justifications should apply to our present.  The church would still be true with transparent financial records and women can still be nurturing and wonderful without being restricted to only social positions based entirely upon directing home consumption and raising children.  Presumably there's some good reasons you couldn't change it to be like that in either case without a lot of trouble, but that's not the same as black and white truth.

I wonder if the church's financial secrecy has been a way of avoid a Kirtland bank scenario where church leaders encouraged investments that turned out not to be sound and shook people's belief because they wanted to see God's hand in everything church leaders did.  Not that Joseph Smith adveritizing the bank with scripture quotes helped.  But by keeping the financial dealings more secret people can associate different kinds of impulsive belief with church expenditures.  It might not be any more true, but it will be less dangerous to their church membership.  Not that such scenarios couldn't be partially dealt with by selling off many business affairs that may only be tangentially related to church purposes.  Lots of other solutions could be found certainly.  But trying to make dogma out of practice will make it difficult to adapt to anything without someone mistaking a change in practice as a change in doctrine.  And that creates problems that shouldn't have existed in the first place.

1 comment:

Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

Thank you. This has a lot of truth, and I really appreciate your explanation of gendered roles, and our modern misunderstanding of their historical functions.