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RS/MP Lesson 24: “Leading in the Lord’s Way” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on December 10, 2008

The introductory section to this lesson deals with Zion’s Camp, an event that is, I believe, more or less familiar to most Latter-day Saints. I will leave the introductory section off, then, and turn directly to the teachings sections. The last section of the teachings portion of the lesson, it should be noted, is also dedicated entirely to the theme of Zion’s camp. For whatever unjustifiable personal preferences, I’ll ignore that section as well in my comments and notes this time: I think the Zion’s Camp episode is straightforward enough on its own. On, then, to Joseph’s other teachings about what leadership is.

Leaders teach correct principles and help those they lead learn to govern themselves.

Without trying to implicate anyone on the committee who designed this manual, I think it important to point out how the title of this first section completely misunderstands and so ultimately misrepresents Joseph’s teachings within the section. Joseph indeed teaches that “leaders teach correct principles,” but he does not teach that leaders also “help those they lead learn to govern themselves.” No, he teaches simply that the people to whom the leader teaches correct principles govern themselves. While one could of course make the argument that it is necessary for leaders to “help those they lead learn to govern themselves,” it nonetheless is not the case that Joseph teaches this here.

I think this is a vital distinction, in the end. I hope to show why in my comments.

The first paragraph in this section (on p. 284) is John Taylor’s famous recollection about the visiting gentleman, “a member of the Legislature,” who asked “how it was that [Joseph] was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order.” Joseph’s justly famous response was simply: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

This teaching is expanded and clarified in the second paragraph on the same page, a recollection of Brigham Young’s. He attributes to Nauvoo’s visitors the same question, essentially, to which President Taylor referred: “How is it that you can control your people so easily? It appears that they do nothing but what you say; how is it that you can govern them so easily?” Joseph’s answer, according to Brigham, is beautiful: “I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days. . . . [T]he principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.”

These two stories about Joseph—one from John Taylor, and one from Brigham Young—make very clear how Joseph conceived of leadership: it was not management. That is, Joseph here does away once and for all with any kind of management approach to Church leadership: the leader’s task is not to ensure that certain things get done, but to announce the truth(s) of the gospel. The leader teaches, and the people govern themselves, the people control themselves.

This evidences a remarkable trust of the saints on Joseph’s part. He only announced to them that certain events had taken place, that he had translated certain documents or received certain revelations, that he had learned certain truths in the course of these several endeavors; and he left it entirely to the people to decide how to make sense of the world in light of these truths. Joseph apparently did not see it as his task to help the saints see how to “apply” what he taught “to their everyday lives,” but instead spent all of his effort making sure that the truths he had taught was clear and readily accessible.

In the end, then, I think it is not only a slight misrepresentation but a profound misunderstanding to suggest that Joseph here teaches that leaders must “help those they lead learn to govern themselves.” Indeed, Joseph sometimes manifested what was interpreted as a remarkable lack of charity because he refused to provide practical advice about how to realize the truths he had given to the saints. Joseph never took it as his work to govern the Church; only to be a prophet, a seer, a revelator, and especially a translator for it.

Joseph himself clarifies and confirms all of this in the remaining two teachings from this section. In the third paragraph on p. 284: “I relation to the power over the minds of mankind which I hold, I would say, It is in consequence of the power of truth in the doctrines which I have been an instrument in the hands of God of presenting unto them, and not because of any compulsion on my part.” Again, from the last paragraph beginning on that page: “I told him I obtained power on the principles of truth and virtue, which would last when I was dead and gone.” Truth is all that Joseph could wield—not compulsion—and it was this truth precisely that made Joseph immortal, that would persist even after he was “dead and gone.”

Leadership, it would seem, must be completely divorced, in its essence, from management: leadership is not a question of getting certain things done, but of announcing certain truths.

Leaders receive the wisdom they need from the Spirit and acknowledge the Lord’s blessings to them.

The second section of the teachings in this lesson builds on and clarifies the above greatly. It opens with this brief snippet from Joseph, one that almost seems a platitude, but one that I think deserves a great deal of attention: “A man of God should be endowed with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, in order to teach and lead the people of God.” (p. 285)

The question I think we need to put this simplistic-sounding statement is this: Why? This is not to question that a leader needs to be endowed with “wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, in order to teach.” Rather, it is to ask what purpose these attributes serve in the leader’s work of teaching. That, I think, is a bit more difficult to root out than it might at first appear.

The “obvious” answer would be something like this: One must know, in essence, what to teach. That is, the teacher-leader needs wisdom, knowledge, and understanding because it is the task of the teacher-leader to communicate to her or his followers precisely that wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. But: the remainder of this section of teachings opens the possibility of a very different interpretation of what it means to lead/to teach.

Take the next teaching, made up of three paragraphs and taking up the remainder of page 285. It comes from a letter Joseph wrote to the Quorum of the Twelve while they were serving in Britain. In the second paragraph, it becomes clear that the Twelve have written with a list of questions about practical matters that they would like Joseph to answer for them. Joseph’s response: “There are many things of much importance, on which you ask counsel, but which I think you will be perfectly able to decide upon, as you are more conversant with the peculiar circumstances than I am; and I feel great confidence in your united wisdom.”

Now, there are two ways to approach this statement, two ways of answering the question: “Who is the leader in this passage?” On the one hand, one can take the Twelve as being the leaders from whom we are to learn. On the other hand, though, and I think more richly, we can take Joseph as being the leader from whom we are to learn. If one takes up the former reading, then the teaching is little more than a platitude: the leader, Joseph lets the Twelve know, is the one who uses wisdom. But if one takes up the latter reading, then something quite profound and too easily missed is being taught here: the leader, Joseph puts on display by essentially refusing to answer the Twelve, forces his or her followers to figure out practical matters—“application” or “everyday life” sorts of things—entirely on their own. Joseph essentially refuses to put himself in an intellectually superior position with regard to the Twelve: his job is not to manage them or their work, but to be—as always—a prophet, a seer, a revelator, and a translator.

In other words, I think it is worth considering the possibility that in this letter Joseph is not describing so much as modeling what it is to lead: the leader needs wisdom and knowledge and understanding so that she or he never gives into the temptation to take his or her position as one of intellectual superiority, instead recognizing that the leader preaches truths without assuming the task of managing the fidelity of the follower.

If this paragraph is read in this way, the third of the three paragraphs that are drawn from this letter can be read in a very interesting way. Joseph mentions “the need . . . of support from above, and wisdom from on high” that he has in order to “lead [the people] agreeable to the will of Heaven.” It may be that he does not mean that he needs wisdom from on high so that he knows what counsel to give, but so that he knows how not to impose his own intelligence on that of others, instead preaching just the truths revealed to him through his high office.

If all of this amounts to a somewhat strained reading (I do not think it does), the next page of the lesson bears it out. There we have a letter from Joseph (and other Church leaders) to the saints in Thompson, Ohio, letting them know that they are to trust the leader they have called among them, and that are essentially to sort out there own problems without making constant appeals for counsel to Joseph. The reason, according to the second full paragraph on page 286, is so that Joseph and the others in Kirtland with him could “be enabled to do the work whereunto we are called, that you may enjoy the mysteries of God, even a fulness.”

This picks up on a theme that is quite consistent in the Doctrine and Covenants: Joseph’s task is to be a prophet, a seer, a revelator, and a translator. His task is not to wait tables, to manage the saints, to ensure fidelity, or anything like it. But, unfortunately, he was so constantly barraged with practical nonsense that he seldom had the opportunity to do the work he had been called to do. Here he is almost pleading that the saints let him alone to do the work he had to do: “Use your own intelligence, your own ability to sort out the local meaning of the universal truths I am revealing!”

So it is that the following paragraph presents Joseph clarifying the work of leading and teaching as one solely of “throw[ing] light upon the subject [at hand] rather than spread[ing] darkness.” To be a leader is not to offer one’s opinion, but to preach truth where truth is known, and to shut up about the rest, allowing people to do their own thinking about how the work should be done. The work of the leader is thus NOT charismatic! In order to hold charismatic sway over the people, one must have a kind of mystical air, a sort of transcendent aura, one that is best achieved by obfuscating a little, by spreading just enough darkness over things while claiming oneself to see the light perfectly such that the people see the charismatic leader as having a “special” gift. But to be a genuine leader is never to obfuscate or to self-transcendentalize: the true leader only provides light, offers up truth and says she or he doesn’t know when he or she really doesn’t know.

And of course, as the last teaching in the section makes clear: when one does shed light on something, one must never attribute that light to one’s own power. It is God and God alone who has provided us with whatever light we can offer up.

Leaders in the Lord’s kingdom love those they serve.

This rather short section offers up, I think, a single but vital point of clarification of all of the above: what it is to give light and to refuse to give constant counsel is essentially to love. Management, the attempt to make sure that others do what I think they should do, is always a betrayal of genuine charity. Charity is manifest in that we preach the truth in all its weakness, in all our weakness, and then that we let the people be so that they can govern themselves. Anything else comes, as it were, of evil, and can be said to be motivated by a kind of hatred (a willingness to despise others so that we can ourselves muster whatever power we would like to have).

So it is that Joseph tells us on page 287: “Sectarian priests cry out concerning me, and ask, ‘Why is it this babbler gains so many followers, and retains them?’ I answer, It is because I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and good hand.”

Might we offer nothing more than this as well!

24 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 24: “Leading in the Lord’s Way” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. Lisa F. said

    Thanks, Joe. This was good reading. I am currently a Primary president, and have been thinking about the kind of leadership that I provide. Sometimes, a certain amount of follow-up (management) seems necessary, particularly in working with teachers who don’t show up to teach. How do you think Joseph’s principles apply in attempting to motivate people to do the work they have been called to do?

  2. joespencer said

    Because I’m currently serving in an elders quorum presidency—and because elders quorums are notorious for being a gathering of the less-than-fully-committed—I found myself asking exactly the same question. Indeed: I found myself asking that question again and again as I worked through the lesson, as I wrote up the above notes, and as I’ve reflected on all of this (on my own, with my wife, and with my father-in-law, who is a bishop) in the days since I posted it. I don’t know that I’ve yet come up with anything like a real answer. But a few reflections follow, for what they’re worth.

    Joseph seems not to have addressed these “practical” questions because the auxiliaries of the Church were not yet in existence, and especially because they were not yet correlated through the priesthood. Really, much of the work of motivating people is a consequence of this centralization of these organizations. (Even, I think, for the priesthood quorums: as the auxiliaries became increasingly correlated, the priesthood quorums assumed a kind of equality (organizational equality, at least) that began to crowd out the frequency (and eventually the possibility) of taking away an individual’s office.) The centralization of these organizations has made all activities in these organizations a matter of “being active.” The result, unfortunately, is a lot of half-engaged people taking callings in the auxiliaries (and, by extension, the quorums).

    But none of this is to say that something is wrong with the correlation of the auxiliaries (I stand behind Joseph F. Smith as a prophet!), nor is it to suggest that a major overhaul of the organizational structure is needed to fix the problem. Rather, it is just to paint a picture of what the problem really looks like.

    So how do we deal with it? I think we will have, if we really want to overcome the problem, to begin to pare down our organizations. Activities, events, programs, and the like may have to be cut back and simplified drastically, the focus being shifted from what we organize to what we teach. I wonder whether we don’t have to take a look at who will genuinely do the work of teaching truth, give them very specific tasks and callings to go about, and then just get to work at that relatively simple level.

    In short, I wonder whether it isn’t time—in fidelity to what Elder Ballard taught a few conferences ago as much as to what Joseph teaches in this lesson—to begin to construct a “post-custodial” attitude in our callings and organizations.

    Perhaps we need to stop putting out fires and starting building one. :)

  3. joespencer said

    Lisa,

    Rereading your question after posting my meandering response, I think I ought to respond more directly.

    To translate what I said at length into a direct answer: I personally wonder whether it would be profitable to start releasing people who won’t fulfill callings, to let them know in a friendly way that that is why they are being released (don’t let them just wonder about it), and then simplify and focus the organizations so that the fewer people who are willing to do the work can handle what remains to be done.

    It is worth an experiment somewhere, at least.

  4. Lisa F. said

    Thanks, Joe. I have also thought about taking time to teach correct principles more often, via e-mails or quarterly inservice meetings (we still have those), talking about the “why” of Primary and the power of good teaching. When people don’t show up, I do try to let them know, in as neutral a way as possible, who had to fill in, and how much the children need consistency and preparation.

    Thanks for both of your responses.

  5. hawkgrrrl said

    Another great installment, joe. I’m one of your biggest fans! I have to agree wholeheartedly and add that the majority of criticism I hear leveled at the church (in the b’nacle, especially) is related to one of two things: 1) the tendency of the church today to be more managerial (like a corporation, organizing to thwart SSM, etc.) or 2) because some would like to church to be more managerial (e.g. shift focus to more service but to manage everything much more in detail). Personally, I think your overview of this lesson is a great reminder that less can be more: 1) less activity, 2) less oversight, and 3) less management can lead to more personal spiritual growth and more meaningful service.

  6. stargazer said

    I like your analysis of this lesson, joe. I listed the things you pointed out for what it means to be a good leader/teacher: announce the truth, seek support from on high, teach correct principles, give credit to Heavenly Father (not self), throw light on the subject at hand, love those you lead/teach, offer a ‘good heart and a good hand’.

    Having just taught Chapter 23 “How Good and How Pleasant It Is…to Dwell Together in Unity”, I still have in mind the chalkboard illustration I used for John 17:6-26 (that they may be one, as we are one). I drew 4 boxes on a horizontal line, and a blob to the right of them. In the first box I wrote “Heavenly Father”, in the second, “Jesus Christ”; in the third “Prophets/Apostles/Disciples”; in the fourth “Saints”. In the blob I wrote: “World”. As we read each verse of this scripture carefully, I pointed out that Heavenly Father gave the word, or the truth, to Jesus Christ, who gave/gives it to prophets, apostles, disciples, who gave/give it to us, the saints. An announcement of truth from God is also an invitation to unite ourselves with the Giver of truth. To decline the invitation is to put ourselves in the world.

    One of the class members said, “So, the real test is whether or not we are trying to do what they are teaching us.” We then had a lively discussion, along the lines of “The real test is not what a great visiting teaching lesson you give, but how you react when they tell you who your partner is, and who is on your route.” “The real test is not how nice the R.S. Christmas party turns out, but how well I got along with the pianist during the pre-party rehearsals.” We talked about being unified as a Relief Society; and in our marriages and families. This illustration helped me, at least, to better see a more spiritual approach to human relationships. “I want to treat you the way Heavenly Father wants me to treat you, so I can be one with Heavenly Father.”

    I think this idea of unity applies to primary teachers who do not show up. Sometimes we will be sick, or have family problems, or life problems. If I can’t come teach my primary lesson, but I are “one” with the primary–I arrange for a sub to take my place (from that list of possible subs provided by my leaders). I care that the children and the leaders will be affected by my absence.

    I think that as a primary leader, the challenge is to invite the organization members to become one with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. You do all those things mentioned by joe, listed in my first paragraph. This is not management, is it?–this is leadership. And the “real test” is, can we really love someone who makes our life so hard by not showing up?? How can we help them feel that love? How can we find ways to announce truth to them?

    This is very much my challenge right now, as I have inactive adult children–perhaps the ultimate in not showing up. If I can be a good leader, I will put my efforts to trying to unite myself with truth; to working towards “being one” with God myself. I struggle with loving those who disappoint me. I find I frequently need a change of heart, and I need to turn to Christ for help with that! One scripture that touched me this week was: “A new heart…will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). If all Joseph Smith could offer was “a good heart, and a good hand”–well, that was passing the real test with flying colors.

  7. Julie said

    I LOVED this lesson! And I LOVED your insight! This is exactly how I feel about things! Thank you, thank you.

    Ironically, here we are presenting an interpretation of the truths provided by the manual….

    However, I disagree about charisma. I don’t believe charisma is necessarily a selfish thing promoting one’s own beliefs. I think it is often used as such but doesn’t have to be. I think charisma is more of a motivational and energetic characteristic of an individual that is contagious. I think it’s a GOOD thing.

  8. joespencer said

    Julie, I should clarify that I use the word “charisma” in the Weberian sense (the sense in which Max Weber, the sociologist, uses it), where it means a single leader who gains followers simply because s/he has a powerful personal character that wins them over. This cannot be separated, in Weber’s thought, from what happens after the death of the charismatic leader: the followers, unsure of what to do after the charismatic figure disappears, eventually form a bureaucracy to stabilize or systematize (and hence kill) what the charismatic leader put in place.

    It is that I am suggesting needs to be gotten rid of.

    But charisma itself is inevitable. Indeed, the word appears in the New Testament: the “gifts of the Spirit” are the charismata, the charismas. The difficulty from the outside, of course, is deciding whether the charismatic figure is of the Weberian order or the genuine order.

    I definitely think we ought to be of the second order. :)

  9. […] Upon The Word blog for the Joseph Smith lesson on leading. Check out the post and the responses at: https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2008/12/10/rsmp-lesson-24-leading-in-the-lords-way-joseph-smith-manu… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)them’s good eatin’Run To Get A […]

  10. deweyolsen said

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  11. Robert C. said

    deweyolsen, thanks for the link–I’ve read a fair bit of Gileadi and I quite enjoy his work. I have a few differences of opinion regarding his overall hermeneutic approach, but he definitely has a lot of interesting and insightful things to say.

    Joe, nice diatribe against management—this esp. helps me see how you read Nibley and Badiou. Any thoughts about the “crisis” following the charismatic lack following Joseph’s martyrdom? The reading of history I’d like you to respond to is the “charismatic Joseph died, and this is why there was an aporia, until charismatic Brigham stepped in….”

  12. Andrew said

    Joe
    For the past year, I have been a silent reader of your lesson blogs. I am sure that I will not be the only one. I just wanted to express my gratitude. You have helped me every week in my teaching. Your insight is fantastic. You always have a fresh perspective that I have not seen as I have studied. Your observations this week were so good that I had to write to say thank you
    I really hope you keep it up.
    Thank you
    Andrew
    England
    (the place that even Joseph didn’t want to try to understand, with our “peculiar circumstances”.)

  13. Dan said

    What he said…. (#12)

    Also, am I missing something, or doesn’t D&C 58:26-29 fit with this subject along the lines of your analysis?

    26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
    27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
    28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
    29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

  14. joespencer said

    Sorry I’ve been silent the past few days: being without power at Christmas is awful, especially when (after five days straight without power!) the temperature in the house gets down to 45 degrees! (I’m now writing from a Christmas motel.)

    Robert, I’d be more than happy to flesh this question of succession out a bit when I’ve got a chance (i.e., am not writing from a “Christmas motel”). In brief: cf. Andrew Ehat’s BYU dissertation on the subject (an entirely non-charismatic reading of the situation, and one that has become, to some extent at least, standard). It can be downloaded for free from the HBLL site (BYU’s library).

    Andrew, thanks very much. It’s nice to know that I can reach out to my home country: England! Though I’ve spent most of my life in the United States, I was born in “peculiar circumstances” myself.

    Dan, I think D&C 58 is very relevant. Very relevant indeed.

  15. […] again, Joe Spencer provides an excellent recap of the lesson here.  He specifically makes a great point that the correlators of the lesson manual seem to […]

  16. Douglas Hunter said

    Joe,

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to question you a bit on some of the points here, I am presenting this lesson this week and don’t have time to post my own notes but yours touch on some things I find challenging in the lesson. Frankly I have yet to find the lesson in the lesson. So I am going to work through some of my own misunderstandings / question here.

    you write:

    “Leadership, it would seem, must be completely divorced, in its essence, from management: leadership is not a question of getting certain things done, but of announcing certain truths.”

    This is an interesting way of putting it. It opens up a can of worms that might not best be opened in class, but that is fine to open on the web. One of the aspects of Mormon power structures that is so challenging is the frequent encouragement to receive these certain truths as absolutes. So there is the question of what role individual agency is to play in governing the behavior of those who follow. Does it govern the expression of the following, are there other possibilities? Prop 8 provides a good example in that the statements from the highest levels of church leadership used language encouraging members to “do all they can” which seems to be a match for what you describe in that the individual would be given autonomy to decided what that “all” should be. But on the local level the criteria of individual participation was spelled out in rather exact terms. So in that example is was both an announcing of certain truth (or homophobic politics, take your pick) and at the same time it was completely managerial in nature. On a related topic one might be tempted to examine the nature of announced truths in terms of there ideological content in relation to management. This is an area that historians and feminists within the church have explored repeatedly with results that make many uncomfortable. I am glad that you put it in terms of management but it seems necessary to include all the implications of management, including the management of ideological orthodoxy, and the management of power structures which are as much managerial tasks as is building a temple or collecting tithes.

    you write:

    “Now, there are two ways to approach this statement, two ways of answering the question: “Who is the leader in this passage?” On the one hand, one can take the Twelve as being the leaders from whom we are to learn. On the other hand, though, and I think more richly, we can take Joseph as being the leader from whom we are to learn. If one takes up the former reading, then the teaching is little more than a platitude: the leader, Joseph lets the Twelve know, is the one who uses wisdom. But if one takes up the latter reading, then something quite profound and too easily missed is being taught here: the leader, Joseph puts on display by essentially refusing to answer the Twelve, forces his or her followers to figure out practical matters—”application” or “everyday life” sorts of things—entirely on their own. Joseph essentially refuses to put himself in an intellectually superior position with regard to the Twelve: his job is not to manage them or their work, but to be—as always—a prophet, a seer, a revelator, and a translator.”

    How is the latter reading less of a platitude than the former? In leadership training etc this sort of thing is entirely commonplace. In any organization those in lower leadership positions (or any position really) need to be given enough autonomy to do their work properly. Lack of autonomy -specifically over day to day or pragmatic tasks- has negative effects and tends to foster distrust of leadership or so the corporate manuals tell us. It seems completely unremarkable that JS wold encourage the Twelve to do their own practical decision making. I guess this is one of my frustrations with the lesson. There does not seem to be a lot of meat on the bones, I am straining to find something in the lesson that does not have the flavor or a corporate HR manual. Also, why do you say that JS refuses to put himself in an intellectually superior position? Why intellectual? What makes the kind of decision making eluded to here more intellectual than spiritual, emotional, pragmatic, or otherwise? In the end is your point here to just emphasize the division of labor?

    you write:

    “This picks up on a theme that is quite consistent in the Doctrine and Covenants: Joseph’s task is to be a prophet, a seer, a revelator, and a translator. His task is not to wait tables, to manage the saints, to ensure fidelity, or anything like it. But, unfortunately, he was so constantly barraged with practical nonsense that he seldom had the opportunity to do the work he had been called to do. Here he is almost pleading that the saints let him alone to do the work he had to do: “Use your own intelligence, your own ability to sort out the local meaning of the universal truths I am revealing!””

    But he was consistently working to manage/ensure the fidelity of the saints wasn’t he? The narratives Joseph created around trials, oppressions, and suffering form a strict theodicy. The kind of theodicy that is present in every lesson in the JS manual strikes me as a powerful effort to manage or ensure the fidelity of the saints, whatever else it might be. JS constructed a dramatic narrative of good Vs. evil, and the necessity of going through trials to prove faith to God, etc. as an active part of the daily life the early saints. The implications of this narrative are very clear regarding fidelity, the specific forms it should take, and the consequences of lacking it. It strikes me that he was consistently telling the saints the local meaning of universal truths and folding them into a grand narrative of redemption. Or at the very least he was using local meanings, experiences and events as examples or individual manifestations of universal truths. Thus showing the community how to fold their local or subjective meanings into a universal narrative. I imagine that you might say that you are addressing material and pragmatic issues such as those concerning the daily actions and teaching of those in the mission field. But religious organizations are always concerned with both material and ideological administration in a ways that other organizations may not be.

    You write:

    “The work of the leader is thus NOT charismatic! In order to hold charismatic sway over the people, one must have a kind of mystical air, a sort of transcendent aura, one that is best achieved by obfuscating a little, by spreading just enough darkness over things while claiming oneself to see the light perfectly such that the people see the charismatic leader as having a “special” gift.”

    But isn’t this one of the challenging aspects of JS? wasn’t he charismatic in both the first Weberian order and also the second NT order? I don’t think we are being honest about JS (at least what I know of him) if we say he wasn’t or couldn’t have been charismatic in the Weberian sense. In writing that, I should add that JS obviously was mystical in the truest sense of the term! The man conversed directly with God. he is the only person to see God, and Jesus together. JS stands at an apex of history, his individual experience ushers in a new dispensation of time. How could early saints have NOT seen him as having a special gift? I don’t share your assessment concerning “spreading just enough darkness . . .” But JS. He was a challenging figure. How are we to take statements about people living on the sun, or his confusion about “mummies” found in a southern cave, or his occasional misreading of scriptures, among many other examples? It’s easy to see how such things could be characterized as “spreading darkness”, but there are other ways of describing them as well.

    Sorry to be such a pain Joe, but I guess I do find your reading of the lesson a bit strained, but this gets at my own frustration, as I try to organize my thoughts in a positive way I am without question creating contrived and strained readings. I find there is a serious mismatch between the title of the lesson and its actual content and I am straining to connect them. Sorry for using your post to express some of my own frustration.

  17. joespencer said

    Douglas,

    Don’t apologize! It is for this sort of thing that I continue to post!

    Re: ideological orthodoxy. Though I’ve seen some problems with this in personal experience, I’ve never witnessed what is described in the fringe literature. Either I’ve had a privileged experience, or there is a bit of paranoia at work in the descriptions of the oppression. I imagine that, in the end, there is some of both. But this concern does not, at least for now, have much purchase with me.

    Re: the platitudes. If I haven’t seen so much management of ideological orthodoxy in the Church, I have a good deal of micromanagement of practical affairs. I’ve sat through ward councils and PEC meetings where a group of people make whole lists of decisions for other people who apparently “can’t do things on their own.” I’ve heard leaders on many occasions give detailed instructions about practical matters they know nothing about. And on and on. While what Joseph is doing is in some sense the obvious approach, it is hardly the most common method in the Church. If it is a platitude, it is one that needs more attention.

    Re: narratives as management. Narratives are preached, not imposed. I’m not clear about how you see the weaving of a narrative to be a kind of management. There is no question that narrative creation can be used to determine the contours of an ideology, but Joseph did not manage each individual person’s beliefs. Each person could accept or reject that ideology, create another, or whatever. I don’t see Joseph managing beliefs at all. Though he constantly attempted to articulate what shape fidelity ultimately must take, the saints—then and now—seldom follow(ed) him on that point.

    Re: charisma. I don’t see Joseph as having been charismatic in Weber’s sense at all. I don’t believe Joseph was a mystic. His experiences were material, announced emphatically as material, not mystical. Joseph seems to me to be the opposite of a mystic: a thoroughgoing materialist.

    Re: Joseph’s oddball statements. How do we take them? Seriously, I would contend. That is, we should take them seriously enough to get to the bottom of them. Who reported them? How were they transcribed? What was actually said? How do they play into beliefs at the time? Etc., etc., etc. There is too much a tendency on our part to dismiss statements from Joseph without having worked through them, and to accept statements attributed to Joseph without having sorted out their actual origins. I think much more needs to be done on this subject. But my own reading of Joseph finds him much less a mystagogue than a thinker.

    In a word, I don’t know that I share the same concerns that seem to be surfacing in your response. My concern about the overarching presence of management in the Church is, one might say, primarily pastoral, rather than ideological. I’m concerned about the (to borrow from Jacques Ranciere) stultification that occurs through the employment of managerial method much more than I’m concerned about the imposition of an ideology (especially of an ideology I’ve never in my life felt I’ve had imposed on me).

    Thoughts?

  18. NathanG said

    Something about the last two comments jogged a memory that relates to the post. I don’t know for sure how it fits (positive example of leadership and poor self-governing followers or a poor example of leadership and worse self-governing followers). I was a ward missionary and a new bishop was called. This new bishop was fantastic in every way. He was very thoughtful and came up with a fantastic vision for the ward and the ward mission. The trouble is, it was so detailed in his plan that at subsequent coorelation meetings (which included the quorum leaders and auxillary leaders, amazing) we could no longer come up with a decision on our own. Questions such as, “Who would be good for fellowshipping this new investigator could not be answered in our meeting, it had to go to Bishop.

    So where did we go wrong? I hate to fault the Bishop, but was he too detailed in his vision that he paralyzed people in their callings, so they didn’t dare do anything without talking with him first. Or, was the problem just with us not trusting ourselves enough to hear the vision and run with it in our assigned callings?

  19. Douglas Hunter said

    Joe,

    Thanks for the additional thoughts. Its funny though, I’m impressed by the significant conceptual distance between the terms in which we frame the discussion. I’m not sure what to do with ideas such as fringe, paranoia, oppression, and imposition, among others. Be that as it may, there is one significant point of agreement, (if I am reading you correctly) and that is the linking of leadership or management to the pastoral in a positive sense. If you are concerned with stultification I take it that we would agree that we should be striving for a high standard of pastoral care within the church; and in saying so we signal the unique form such care can, would, should take in the Mormon church due to our lay administration / priesthood. Our current institution is both radically hierarchical and at the same time horizontal in a way that other churches are not. Can we seize on the horizontal aspect and say that as individual members we have unique opportunity / responsibility for pastoral care that we would not have if we were Catholic for example? Nonetheless, I find it very difficult to distinguish between the pastoral and the ideological. The latter infuses the former in ways that make an exacting description difficult.

    Re Narratives: While context matters a great deal, I’m uneasy with a dichotomy between preaching and imposing. Imposing is not the best term. The kind of dynamics present in a community and between individuals, leaders, and a community are so complex, and multifaceted it’s hard to put them in such simple terms. Think of it in terms of competing psychological stimulus for any given individual in relation to leaders and community rather than an just an overt desire for enforcement and you’ll have a better idea of where my comments are coming from. I’m not exactly a cynic. That being said once an individual is within an institution or community they certainly are not free to embrace or reject a spectrum of ideological ideas. This is as much the case for the church as it is for other institutions. The lesson contains this quote “I ask, did I ever exercise any compulsion over any man? Did I not give him the liberty of disbelieving any doctrine I have preached, if he saw fit?” I’m not sure how it is that JS (or any individual) gives liberty to another concerning belief. More on point though what does the liberty, belief, or disbelief eluded to here consist of? What are the implications and consequences? That’s the real question. From a psychological point of view its one thing to say that people can believe what they see fit and quite another to create a narrative in which certain forms of belief are condemned by God, lead to expulsion from the community, to eternal isolation, and to punishment. But here is where the psychological and the theological differ significantly right? For in a certain theological view this is obviously a positive. It’s the presenting of a warning, telling the truth, telling people how to be happy or saved etc. For me its alright to say that such narratives are designed (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) to pressure, even manipulate the listener or reader into a certain form of belief or action, since the question is again, what are the emotional, material, social, and spiritual consequences? Perhaps I’m too influenced by psychology but I can’t take the theological claims at face value without thinking in terms of the kind of emotional dynamic they create. Joseph’s narratives may well have been innocently constructed but they have profound psychological, ideological and institutional implications & power, that extend beyond the theological.

  20. joespencer said

    Nathan,

    I’m less than comfortable with a plan that is that all-embracing. But I suppose I’d have to see it in action to make much more sense than that of it.

    Douglas,

    Thanks for the further response. This helps.

    If your “fault” is your commitment to psychology, mine is my commitment to psychoanalysis, especially as it is inflected (subverted?) by Alain Badiou (or maybe even Jean-Paul Sartre?). The result is that I find myself concerned, whenever there is a claim that someone genuinely compels another (in whatever, even attenuated, way), that what is really at the core of the issue is the “bad faith” of the one who is supposedly compelled. In other words, I wonder whether all compulsion isn’t in fact chosen by the compelled.

    That said, I agree for the most part with what you have to say here: the dynamics of compulsion are indeed complex, and it is difficult to draw lines (between, say, the pastoral and the ideological). At least, it is difficult to do so from the perspective of knowledge, of science (etymologically speaking). But I don’t know that it is difficult to do so from the perspective of faith: faith supplements the ideological situation, effectively subtracting ideology itself from the situation by translating every element of the situation into a new language.

    Hence, one could say that my primary concern about the use of managerial method in the Church is that it crowds out the possibility of faith, or at least fails to promote it. Leadership, however, is defined by its attempt to promote faith.

    Or, so I’m reading things at present.

  21. douglas Hunter said

    Joe,

    “If your “fault” is your commitment to psychology, mine is my commitment to psychoanalysis, especially as it is inflected (subverted?) by Alain Badiou (or maybe even Jean-Paul Sartre?).”

    It’s seems you might mean psychoanalysis as a theoretical discourse. I am thinking in terms of the interpersonal / therapeutic realms when I use the term psychology.

    “The result is that I find myself concerned, whenever there is a claim that someone genuinely compels another (in whatever, even attenuated, way), that what is really at the core of the issue is the “bad faith” of the one who is supposedly compelled. In other words, I wonder whether all compulsion isn’t in fact chosen by the compelled.”

    This is a type of thinking I suggest should be avoided. The specifics of the relationships and immediate community in question need to be examined before we can make such a strong assertion. Not that bad faith doesn’t exist, but to go into an interpersonal situation with that as the starting point is problematic.

    What you write about drawing lines between the pastoral and the ideological is interesting. I think it’s key that you contrast knowledge / science to faith. What happens if we replace the idea of faith with that of theology? I’m not sure that ideology is subtracted in way you describe. This may be one of the significant challenges of leadership in the church. The ideological is ever present and functioning as such, but it is understood as an aspect of faith by those who embrace the ideology and is taken as something else by those who do not. I admit that I would need an example to understand exactly what you mean.

    As for management crowding out faith. I think I see where you are coming from here. (we conceptualize management very differently but I am starting to understand your perspective) This is why the idea of pastoral care is growing on me. If the model of how we work in our callings or as priesthood holders etc. is one that emphasizes care as an aspect of horizontal (egalitarian) relationships, that provides the opportunity to base leadership on faith and to encourage the faith of others.

    Maybe one of my problems with the lesson is that it holds JS up as a leadership example but really no one else can lead that way because everything he did and said was contextualized by his position as inspired prophet and the leader of his community. There is no aspect of his example that isn’t directly effected by that. In every aspect touched on by the lesson there is the idea that he knew what was best because he was the prophet. None of us can lead that way. The notions of authority, of love, or relation to community have to be very different for the rest of us. On a more personal note there is nothing in the brief descriptions of his methodology that the lesson presents that I can identify as specifically belonging to the Lord as in the title of the lesson. We can find similar idea expressed in a variety of leadership contexts.

    • BrianJ said

      “…it holds JS up as a leadership example but really no one else can lead that way.”

      Excellent point! You could say that same about Brigham Young too. At some point I think our prophets “lost” that kind of position among the Saints (i.e., I don’t think Pres Monson is viewed in quite the same way as Joseph, but then again maybe that’s just because Monson doesn’t make the kinds of demands Joseph and Brigham made). At any rate, it’s an interesting comment because we hold Jesus up as an example of how to act but in his case I think we really can look to him as an example. I suppose I’m saying: Joseph is not example because of his position; Jesus is an example despite his position.

  22. joespencer said

    Douglas,

    You say: “It’s seems you might mean psychoanalysis as a theoretical discourse. I am thinking in terms of the interpersonal / therapeutic realms when I use the term psychology.”

    I respond: Actually, I mean psychoanalysis as a practice, not as a theoretical discourse. Freud identified neurosis as being at bottom a question of (repetition) compulsion, and so my ever-present concern might be stated this way: wherever someone expresses the feeling that s/he is compelled or is under compulsion, I worry that s/he is really just pointing out that s/he is neurotic. But—and this is why I say that this is a question of practice, not of theory—I do think that there are therapeutic possibilities for uprooting neurosis (and this is why I may well follow Badiou or perhaps even Sartre out of the traditional Freudian/Lacanian approach to analysis). Indeed, my conviction on this point is vital to what I will say below.

    You say: “This is a type of thinking I suggest should be avoided. The specifics of the relationships and immediate community in question need to be examined before we can make such a strong assertion. Not that bad faith doesn’t exist, but to go into an interpersonal situation with that as the starting point is problematic.”

    I respond: If we have to choose only between modernism and postmodernism, I entirely agree with you. But I don’t think those are the only possibilities. Alma 32, for example, seems pretty straightforwardly to be an embodiment of this type of thinking: faith is effective indifferent to the differences put in motion by compulsion (the difference between master and slave, for example). This is not to say that the differences aren’t real; rather that they are immaterial. Faith, for its apparent abstract nature, is more material than the hopeful/despairing announcement of infinite difference, etc.

    You say: “What you write about drawing lines between the pastoral and the ideological is interesting. I think it’s key that you contrast knowledge / science to faith. What happens if we replace the idea of faith with that of theology? I’m not sure that ideology is subtracted in way you describe. This may be one of the significant challenges of leadership in the church. The ideological is ever present and functioning as such, but it is understood as an aspect of faith by those who embrace the ideology and is taken as something else by those who do not. I admit that I would need an example to understand exactly what you mean.”

    I respond: Does the assertion that ideology is ultimately inescapable amount to the assertion that there is no such thing as truth? Speaking from within the postmodern condition, one can only speak of the responsible, not of the true: I can responsibly admit that my ideology is ideological, but I can never say that my beliefs are true. But if I do not axiomatically announce their truth, do I really believe them in any serious sense? I (perhaps with a bit of wishful thinking?) take Mormonism as the most thoroughgoing materialism on the market, and hence as eminently anti-idealist (equals anti-idolatrous, equals anti-ideological). In a word, I wonder whether a Latter-day Saint confessing that his or her Mormonism is an(other) ideology amounts to a Latter-day Saint suggesting that there is no such thing as grace (a common enough phenomenon, but an unfortunate affair nonetheless).

    You say: “As for management crowding out faith. I think I see where you are coming from here. (we conceptualize management very differently but I am starting to understand your perspective) This is why the idea of pastoral care is growing on me. If the model of how we work in our callings or as priesthood holders etc. is one that emphasizes care as an aspect of horizontal (egalitarian) relationships, that provides the opportunity to base leadership on faith and to encourage the faith of others.”

    I respond: Are you familiar with Jacques Ranciere? I highly recommend his The Ignorant Schoolmaster. It nicely articulates how I understand the play of the horizontal and the vertical in the Church: the vertical that is in place is necessary to the horizontal; without the vertical, the horizontal wouldn’t be horizontal. But there is much more to be said to make that point clear.

    Finally, you say: “Maybe one of my problems with the lesson is that it holds JS up as a leadership example but really no one else can lead that way because everything he did and said was contextualized by his position as inspired prophet and the leader of his community. There is no aspect of his example that isn’t directly effected by that. In every aspect touched on by the lesson there is the idea that he knew what was best because he was the prophet. None of us can lead that way. The notions of authority, of love, or relation to community have to be very different for the rest of us. On a more personal note there is nothing in the brief descriptions of his methodology that the lesson presents that I can identify as specifically belonging to the Lord as in the title of the lesson. We can find similar idea expressed in a variety of leadership contexts.”

    I respond: This is a great point, very well put. Though I’m not sure I buy the idea that “None of us can lead that way.” Why not? Why can’t we do what Joseph did? Joseph was bold enough to claim that he had the right to do what Jesus did. Should we not be bold enough to claim that we have the right to do in turn what Joseph did? That is, of course, a genuine question.

  23. […] again, Joe Spencer provides an excellent recap of the lesson here.  He specifically makes a great point that the correlators of the lesson manual seem to […]

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