Out of Touch Leaders
It’s easy for Mormons to scoff at elderly, celibate Catholic bishops making decisions about birth control for married Catholics, but I’m afraid our own GAs are equally insulated from problems of average Mormons. Except for July and August, General Authorities rarely sit through a three-hour block in their home ward. Even then they are unlikely to be asked to substitute in Primary or to accompany Scouts to camp.
When GAs do attend their home ward, it is a homogenous group of white, middle class Mormons. I doubt many GAs live in lower income areas on Salt Lake’s west side. Those whose addresses I’m aware of live in middle or upper middle class suburban neighborhoods. Those with high income careers before their Church calling occupy the hillsides overlooking the valley. Do they have any idea how their policies affect members outside their circle of associates?
Sure, GAs travel the world, visiting stakes and missions. But who do they talk to? Not to the drop outs and less actives who skip their meetings. Brief visits to the field allow little time for meeting members not holding stake callings. Information GAs receive about average Church members and their problems is filtered through anxious-to-please Stake Presidents.
Another isolating factor is that General Authorities aren’t subject to problems many Church members face. They never have to worry about losing their jobs, health insurance, and retirement benefits. GAs also receive perks beyond job security. In the past GAs, their wives and children enjoyed discounts from ZCMI—and possibly other Church businesses. Apparently, they can be exempted from certain policies. DMBA, the Church-owned health insurance company, has long excluded birth control prescriptions from coverage. I know of one instance where the daughter of a GA was denied insurance coverage for her BC pills. She called Daddy, and DMBA picked up the tab for her pills. Nice for her, but unfair to other women on Church health insurance.
General Authorities do work long hours—spending nearly every weekend visiting stakes and missions and speaking at conferences. Of course, they are exempted from ward callings. Do they realize that many ward members work long hours, sometimes at two jobs, and still need to fit service to their wards into the remaining hours of the week?
Mormons are told that Church activity is a blessing—and it is—to a point. When I was teaching full time, working on a master’s degree, and trying to meet the needs of five teenagers at home, I hated to hear my phone ring. I knew it would be someone from the ward asking me to do something I had no time for—and I didn’t feel I could say no.
A few years ago, the Church added another duty to callings, home and visiting teaching, temple work, and assignments at welfare farms and canneries. When the Church announced that weekly building cleaning would be done by ward members, I assumed it was a temporary measure to offset losses suffered by Church investments in a bad economy. I also assumed that expenses were being cut in other areas, but I haven’t noticed any. The rate of temple building—surely a major expense—has not been reduced. A very expensive renovation of the burned Provo Tabernacle into a temple is currently underway.
Certainly temples provide spiritual opportunities for Saints in far flung countries throughout the world, as well as jobs for faithful members in those countries. Still, the cost to members who are expected to finance temple building and maintenance—including four in Salt Lake County and four in operation or under construction in Utah County—needs to be considered.
In a wonderful piece in this month’s Sunstone Magazine, Dana Haight Cattani outlines the burdens the Saturday cleaning schedule places on ward members. She quotes an exhausted ward member who confided to her as they finished their meetinghouse chores, “I’d rather pay 11% tithing.”
Each week has only 168 hours, and family budgets are finite. When the Church demands too much time or money, individuals and families suffer. I suspect some of the drop out problem which currently concerns Church hierarchy is not due to hurt feelings, loss of belief, or desire for a glass of wine with dinner. Some of it is just plain fatigue—physical and financial.
Since Church leaders are fallible human beings who can’t always distinguish inspiration from desperation or correlation, GAs at every level need to leave their ivory towers periodically, spend a year as a regular ward member, and feel the effects of their own policies. Alternately, callings for all General Authorities could have time limits.