TWO of NINE: Words

Posted on August 9, 2010


Part Two: Economy of Words

An obsession over ritual precision in sacred spaces like temples and chapels has long characterized Mormons.  Yet in the early 1960s apostle Harold B. Lee, with the insights of other churchmen recently returned from educational service among Native Americans, converted the ritual concerns into administrative obsession.  With large charts and organizational diagrams at hand, Lee constructed a list of “concepts” which would be taught to Mormons throughout their sojourns in mortality.  In effect a list of words, phrases, and valued vocabulary, his “concepts” were used to revise church curriculum.  In addition, he formalized the corporate hierarchy that had informally developed around the model of GM.  This new hierarchization of corporate power came to be called “The Priesthood,” and “Priesthood” would be applied like a trademark to every newly authorized curricula, project, congregational obligation, and personal expectation.

Lee’s concern over words had three interrelated elements:

First, that learning “true principles” would follow repetition of words, in church-owned spaces, as read from church curriculum.  The readers would begin with the “highest” in authority, namely apostles, and then trickle down through quotation and recitation among the rank-and-file meeting in ward-level Sunday Schools or similar “auxiliary” groups.  Churchmen were concerned that teenagers, in particular, and adults in general would abandon their religion if not “indoctrinated” to the Mormon gospel.  This concerned coincided with a fixation to cut costs, costs associated with running the now indebted religion: curriculum being the primary recipient of Lee’s attention.  Other apostles offered plans to finance the growth of the religion through a new strategy of deficit spending, wherein massive financing of missionary efforts would result, it was thought, in lifetime converts soon able to pay the real debts incurred in those efforts, and also to finance future proselytizing schemes.

Second, that curriculum must be more efficiently produced if the Church is to meet its end-of-century goal of twelve million members.  New markets in Latin America would supply the majority share, and Lee and others surmised that these new converts would need a religion much reduced in complexity, theology, and history.  (Let’s call its “ethnic-ready” doctrine.)  Lee’s aim to reduce curriculum, both in raw pages produced and in the “quality” or “complexity” of the content thus created, dovetailed nicely with more nuts-and-bolts concerns among the money managers (in the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop).  A single word, say, “faith,” could be made to carry the hopes and dreams of many a department in the Corporate headquarters.

Third, authorized curriculum distributed through authorized channels would create, according to men charged with instituting Correlation across all levels of LDS Mormonism, an efficient flow of “priesthood power” that ran from the mouth of the president of the Church to the minds of fathers charged with presiding over their homes; homes now regarded as a “unit of the Church,” no less.  The overall effect of administrative, financial, and discursive Correlation would be the descent of the mythical City of Enoch and the culmination of history with the opening of the Millennial epoch.

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