Things To Act
Monday, August 16, 2004
Unity and Division
The ideas in the this post have been processing for awhile, and still may not have reached a coherent conclusion, but what the heck...

So a couple of weeks ago I was having a long discussion with a roommate about various stuff, which touched on:

*A tension in the Church between adapting to the needs of the individual and maintaining unity in the Church as a whole. For instance, the home teaching message is supposed to be individually adapted to the needs of the person being home taught, yet it is also the same message churchwide. Go too far in adapting to the individual and the unity falls apart; if I ignore the HT message on divorce as irrelevant to single students and substitute something completely different, it's easy to fall into trap of never talking about what the 1P wants us to talk about. On the other hand, if I rigidly teach the divorce message without taking into account the needs of the home teachee (who might be distressed about marriage, or concerned with his own parents' divorce, or something), it would be easy to offend someone, or just alienate him by never teaching a message that addresses any of his concerns.

*The question of what the Church could do to more fully use the internet. One idea discussed was the fact that the internet allows virtual communities to form in ways not limited by geography. The standard ward unit of geographical focus unites people along one common element--where they live. This makes some things easier (almost anything having to do with face-to-face interaction) and some things harder (many special needs can't be met by many wards). The net could allow the formation of communities along other common elements. It already does in many ways--singles looking for eternal mates, apologists looking for the latest FARMS stuff, bloggernaclers doing what we do, etc. However, none of this (except some family history stuff) really takes place under the official direction of the Church. These virtual communities allow needs to be met that weren't being met at the ward level--but the danger is that the virtual community--with its unofficial status--might start to compete with and damage the official ward community.

CS Lewis points out that an effective tactic Satan uses to keep us from living our religion is to get us to make it "Christianity and" or to form into schisms within the Church. Eugene England points out the importance of the geographic ward in forcing us to interact with, serve, and be served by those who are very different from us. Davis Bell points to what he sees as a troubling tendency of some of us in the Bloggernacle to start condescending to non-internet junkies.

This is a hard problem. I think that real benefits can come from 'subgroups' within the Church. Subgroups can help us connect with people who understand our special problems, can give us access to information not available through other means, can allow us to pursue talents in settings in which they will be appreciated, etc. Subgroups also can compete with the main group, can fall into error, and can magnify their own importance out of proportion. A big reason, in my understanding, behind the centralization and correlation movement in the mid-20th century was that the official structure of the Church had become so complicated that different auxiliaries and organizations were competing with each other, and the Church couldn't act efficiently as a whole. On the other hand, the Church has experimented with subgroups with varying degrees of official or tacit approval (the Genesis group comes to mind, and even special units such as student, singles, or language wards are in effect subgroups outside the normal pattern).

About the only idea I can come up with to keep things under control is to be careful of excessive polarization. Restated, we should try to keep our subgroup affiliations limited to positive identifications, not negative. In other words, define our interests by what we are interested in, not by what others are not. I may be interested in textual criticism of the BOM, but that doesn't imply that others have to be as well. Plenty of people with be exalted without caring that the 'feeling' in 1N8 should be 'pressing.' My interest is not bad as long as it does not turn into criticism of others' lack of interest.

The worry I have with dichotomies such as liberal v. conservative or Utah Mormon vs. Better-Than-A-Utah Mormon (or whatever the opposite is) is that they quickly seem to degenerate into us-vs-them. Instead of 'how refreshing that someone approaches some of my concerns the same way' it seems to turn into 'look what those awful [Not Us]ers are doing now,' or 'why everyone should be a [Us].' The stereotype created by the dichotomy does have limited utility, but often such utility is drowned out by the damage done by the misapplication of the stereotype.

On many key points, essential right answers exist, and on these points we must be united. On other key points, right answers probably exist, but we lack data on how we should be united. On still other points, right answers probably don't exist, and we can celebrate our differences. Only in the first category do serious differences really rise to anything more serious than 'interesting,' and only those in authority are called to do anything about those differences.

As we sort through the other categories, finding the answers (to the ambiguous issues) that work for us and celebrating the way communities can meet our needs, I think we must be careful not to elevate the less essential over the more essential.

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