Are we good at community-building? How well does the Church equip us with the skills we need to build a righteous society?
Occasionally I hear people praising the Church for the way its members create such strong communities filled with casseroles and covenants (as if it's our trademark).
Umm. Hold on. Let's back up.
What Is "Community?"
Communities come in all kinds of flavors:
1.Community of Place. This is a group of people who are united by geography, like our wards.
2.Community of Action. These communities seek to make changes in larger society, like Black Lives Matter and the Red Cross.
3. Community of Interest. This is a gathering of people who share a common interest, like fly fishing or videogaming.
4.Community of Circumstance. Sometimes we find ourselves belonging to communities based upon a situation or challenge we face, like the Cancer Society.
(Seefeverbee.com for more examples.)
If you're reading this Blog, then chances are you belong to a very special sort of community ― a community we call . . .
5. Churches are Communities Comprised of People Who Follow a Particular Authority Figure
There's a lot of ways to define a church. One way we could do it is to see who the members of the Church follow. The Pope? Mohammad? President Nelson?
What's the difference between a Church and a Political Party? Both are comprised of ideologies and fundraising and Sunday picnics.
- When a community forms around a common religious authority figure, we see religion being born.
- When a community forms around a common political authority figure, we see a Political Party being born.
- When a community forms around a person who is BOTH a religious AND a political authority figure, then you get an authoritarian community like the Holy Roman Empire, or Jihadists, or Mormonism.
Crusaders have a romanticized notion of being on God's errand while slaughtering those belonging to different communities (if not literally, then figuratively) ― striking down those awful intellectuals (infidels!) or whatever the enemy-du-jour is.
A theocracy is when men govern in God's name.
Like Moses. (He was a good guy, right?)
So what's wrong a theocracy? What's wrong with the LDS Church wanting to operate like a theocracy?
Well . . .
(1) Earthly theocracies (as history shows) can only reach a terrestrial level of glory (at best).
(2) Zion, on the other hand, is aiming for a celestial glory.
What's the difference between a theocracy and Zion?
In Zion, the Lord dwells among His people. Whereas in a theocracy you've got to burn incense and hold fast to your rosary beads.
If I could make an appeal to authority (yes, I said it), I think Mosiah knows what he's talking about when he said:
Because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
Get it? Got it. Good!
Too Much Presiding Makes Jack a Dull Boy
When I hear people say the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is good at "community-building," I wonder what they mean.
I guess our Church is good at delegation. For example, the Relief Society President delegates to a Compassionate Care specialist the assignment to delegate to a Ministering Sister the assignment to take a meal to a family in need.
When you think about it, we really have mastered the art of delegation.
"Return and Report" Much?
I mean, our whole religion is centered on the idea that God delegates his authority to Christ who delegates his authority to men who delegate their delegated authority to certain women delegates (see, e.g., "Area Organization Advisors" at https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/new-international-area-organization-advisers-strengthen-global-church).
But . . . if we're talking about the community of Zion, then that's something totally different. Zion is a:
(1) fellowship of equals (2) who are precious to each other (3) living authentically in grace and love (4) following Christ in all things.
I want to suggest that we are terrible at building that sort of community. We just don't have the skills necessary to build a Zion community.
Because the LDS people do not build communities ― they build hierarchies.
The Pharisee Problem?
Hierarchies depend upon authority and social control to smooth out the wrinkles of a community (you know, the obnoxious friction that arises from diversity of thought).
Members of a community governed by a high demand hierarchy find it difficult to live authentically because obedience to the hierarchy's leadership devours freedom and personal autonomy.
We see this whenever religious authority figures place greater importance on appearance than they do on real intent; when they value obedience over love; when they require orthodoxy instead of faith.
So we are left with communities that appear outwardly like a 1950s toothpaste commercial advertising white teeth ― but inwardly those teeth are full of rot and decay.