Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Callings, Part 1

Okay, this is the entry I said I was going to make "tomorrow"...three weeks ago. Uh, yeah. Okay, things have been busy for me, and it's not just this blog that's getting neglected; I'd barely updated my LiveJournal in the last few weeks either, and I said a few entries back that I had my own webcomic? Well, I haven't gotten around to updating that since August, though I plan to try to finally do that this weekend. (I think I can say that without too much fear of revealing my identity, since three-month hiatuses are, alas, not all that uncommon in the webcomic world.)

So. Anyway. First, a little background to this post. One of the things that the LDS church prides itself upon is its lack of paid clergy. From activities directors to Sunday School teachers to bishops and beyond, all of those who serve within the church do so without pay, generally while also holding down a regular full-time job. (I'm not entirely sure how it works for the upper echelons, the General Authorities for whom church service essentially is a full-time job, but my guess is that they're retired and living off their savings and pensions--though I'm sure the church pays their travel expenses, and wouldn't be at all surprised to find out it gives them some sort of cost-of-living compensation that isn't officially considered a salary.) Moreover, most of the positions--with certain exceptions, such as the church presidency, the apostles, and stake patriarchs--are only for a limited duration; bishops, for instance, generally only serve for about five years, and lower positions can be of much shorter duration. I think the common assumption among church members, though it's seldom explicitly voiced, is that the fact that positions in the LDS church aren't careers eliminates, or at least reduces, the venality and corruption that's likely to taint ecclesiastical service when money is involved.

I'm not so sure that's true. I've heard stories of corrupt bishops embezzling the tithing money from their wards, or funds that were earmarked to go to humanitarian aid or other causes--I don't know how often it happens, and I don't really think it does happen that often, but it does happen. And even without money being involved, there's still plenty of politicking and jockeying for position from people who apparently just want the power of the positions, or just want to feel important, or have similar stimuli--money's certainly not the only motive for misconduct (1 Timothy 6:10 notwithstanding). Maybe the fact that LDS church positions aren't paid does reduce the amount of corruption, if not eliminate it entirely--but I'm not completely convinced that even that is true. There's a famous maxim, sometimes believed to have originated with political scientist Wallace Sayre but now usually repeated in the wording Henry Kissinger used, that "academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." I wonder if the same might apply to politics within the LDS church.

Even if it doesn't, though, and even if the lack of paid clergy does reduce corruption--and maybe it really does; I'm not really convinced one way or the other--it most certainly brings other problems with it. The thing is, people don't achieve church positions by their own choice. They're always assigned to those positions by their ecclesiastical superiors. The usual terminology used is that the person has been "called" to the position in question, and the position itself is referred to as a "calling". When a person is dismissed from a position, he's said to be "released from his calling". The idea, of course, is that it is God who really chose the person for the calling, and that the bishop or stake president who "extended the call" is merely acting on divine inspiration; the right person for every calling, however lowly, is ultimately determined by God Himself. Almost any duty or office related in any way to the church is considered a calling, though sometimes the line can be fuzzy--on one occasion I was released from a calling (as the editor of the ward newsletter for the student ward I was a member of as an undergraduate) that I had never been called to in the first place, because apparently the bishop hadn't considered it a calling at the time I was first asked to do it.

Now, obviously this isn't to say that people don't aspire to certain callings, and even try to manipulate their church leaders so that they'll get them. I'm sure that happens. But it also very frequently happens that people are given callings they don't want, or don't have time to fulfill, or (supposed divine inspiration aside) simply aren't suited for. It's possible, of course, to turn down a calling; if the bishop asks you to serve as the ward financial clerk, he's not going to force the issue at gunpoint if you say no, and it's not even going to make you considered unworthy to take the sacrament or attend the temple. But turning down a calling, while permitted, is highly deprecated. After all, God is behind the calling, so if you turn it down you're not just saying no to the bishop, or whoever it is who's extending the calling to you; you're flouting God's will.

Um...okay, well, all that was supposed to be just some background information prefatory to some description of my own callings in my current ward, but it's late enough that in the interests of getting something posted I think I'll go ahead and post this as is as Part 1. Part 2 of this post will be forthcoming...well, I won't promise it'll be tomorrow, but in less than three weeks, anyway.


At 11/13/2006 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking back in later years I realized I should have been suspicious when I was called to be Teacher's Quorum president. I had only the weakest of testimonies -- the kind borrowed from those around me. I came to church because my parents would not let me fail to. I actually asked my father how this made sense, and he answered in that typical way which eventually helped me step away -- he told me that behaving as if I had a strong testimony would help me develop one.

All I can say now is that having learned some behaviorism, it is in fact true. Express a belief which you do not in fact have often enough, and it becomes not much different from actually having that belief.

At 11/13/2006 4:36 PM, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Huh. That reminds me of some novels I read years ago, in which one of the women characters was told to stay with the husband she'd married thinking her true love had died in the war - and to act as if she loved him. That way she would, in time, come to.

It also makes me think of Pascal's damned wager.

At 11/13/2006 11:10 PM, Blogger An Anonymous Coward said...

Oh, the church is definitely quite aware of that idea, and makes extensive use of it--there's a conscious effort made to make sure that everyone has a calling, especially new members and those whose testimonies seem a little shaky...the church leaders know how to get behaviorism to work for them. I've heard many an "inspirational" story of someone who didn't seem to be firmly established in the church being given an important calling and becoming a devout and utterly faithful member because of it. (I'm sure it also happens sometimes, however, that such members when given important callings remain just as lackadaisical and faithless as before, or disappear entirely--but somehow those stories never get retold.)

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