I’m reading Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It is basically Friedman’s love letter to globalization. In the book, he includes a conversation about the flow of information and how that has changed for countries and organizations. He creates a parallel between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the walls around these countries and organizations that used to be able to control the flow of information. Top-heavy organizations, as he calls them, begin to topple as they struggle to maintain balance in the world after their walls fall (think the Soviet Union and IBM). Organizations that successfully navigate the flow of information in the new system do so by rethinking where the information comes from and who has access to it. Shapiro, who was CEO of Monsanto during this era of change in the 90s, put it like this,
“In the past, I could justify my leadership by the fact that I had the broadest scope of information, and therefore I had a perspective that no one else in the company had, so I was adding value to the process by making decisions by myself. But now, with e-mail, intranets, and the internet, everyone on the front lines has much of the information I have, and often more. Even if I wanted to, I could not deny them the information. So any hierarchy that bases itself on denying information to its citizens or employees is not going to work. Now it has to be much more of a team effort. I suspect I listen better to more people all the time now because I know that they have much more information and therefore have a better basis for their point of view now – better than they used to have and better than I used to have.”
This discussion felt very familiar to me, and if you’ve been following the shift in religious culture over the last several decades, it probably seems familiar to you too. People are leaving religion in droves. This isn’t just a Mormon problem, but it *is* a Mormon problem. Leaders of the church see it, and I believe they know that they have an information problem and that this is causing them to hemorrhage membership. I don’t think they understand the way things need to be reframed in order to fix the problem. You can’t just warn people about the dangers of information on the Internet and tell them to keep the Sabbath Day holy and expect things to turn around. What leadership needs to understand about the flow of information is what Shapiro emphasized: “I suspect I listen better to more people all the time now because I know that they have much more information and therefore have a better basis for their point of view now – better than they used to have and better than I used to have.”
Our leaders need to do a better job of hearing what members of the church know. They need to understand that our biases and points of view are based on information that we have gathered and studied. There was a day when all the members of the world would gather in their stake centers twice a year for General Conference; they would retrieve their Ensigns from their mailboxes once a month, and they would attend church on Sunday. This was where they gained information about Mormonism, their faith, and their beliefs. Their resources were limited to materials that the leaders of the church had complete control over.
Those days are gone. Now our understanding of Mormonism, faith, and beliefs is based on a plethora of information that we are inundated with after the push of a button. There are thousands of members that are no longer satisfied with declarations from the pulpit. We have too much information, and we are too well versed in history and doctrine and a global worldview of religion and people and diverse ways of approaching life. We are passed the point when the majority of the church will believe something just because an apostle said it. Until (unless?) the leaders of the church begin to grapple with this new age, and with the way the flow of information works for us now, our top-heavy church will continue to topple.
Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the olive tree. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. I can’t give you page numbers for what I’ve referenced here because I’m listening to the audio book, but I can tell you it is Chapter 5.
Great post. Thank you. As a member of 50+ years I’ve certainly seen the differences in communication techniques over the years. The church never quite catches up to the flow of info out in the public. Even with their various internet sites they still can’t seem to address the major concerns voiced out there amongst the many members that post on line etc. We know they troll these blogs to try to catch us and possible ‘ex’ us if need be, but they still can’t stay on top of the questions, The church tries to keep up with this by continually saying “follow the prophet…..”, “this isn’t a smorgasbord church, you can’t pick and choose what you want to believe”, ‘yes, it’s ok to question within the church’ but….etc., instead of addressing what the members are finding out via the Internet regarding church history and policy truths. The ‘church essays’ are a joke, in my opinion. They actually bring up more questions for me than answers.
I’ve also had several experiences with communicating with the “church” via LDS.org and that’s been interesting. What I end up receiving from them after weeks of waiting for a reply is some regurgitation of past church policy and then the admonition at the end of their reply encouraging me to meet with my local authorities for more clarification. That’s a.joke. They know less than I do and care less as well about our questions. Especially in a largely LDS community. They just want to spout the company line. It’s easier that way. They don’t have to think so much.
I’m not interested in leading people out of the church, etc. I’m just interested in getting my questions answered and hearing some sort of explanation for why things taught in the past are no longer true, etc. I thought truth was “eternal”.
Fortunately I like many aspects of the church. And I will continue to go to Sacrament meetings and socials. But I’m done with Sunday school and RS. They just spout out the correlation committees blather and so on. Why can’t the committee just tell the truth in the Teachings of the Prophets? I’d love it if people only knew the good things about me and not the bad as well. Why don’t the prophets get the same treatment? Oh I guess it’s because some truths aren’t practical to know?!
You are so right!!!! I love your article.
I perceive there is somewhat of a bifurcation occurring in the LDS Church.
There is a core of good and honorable men and women who want and need to be led by a prophet, correlated lessons materials, the Church Handbook of Instructions, etc. These people have a keen appreciation for the chain-of-command and reflexively show deference to authority. “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over.”
Then there are the thinkers, dreamers, scholars, artists and other assorted misfits, who deeply study scripture written by ancient prophets who “saw our day.” They actively search for truth in what Elder Hugh B. Brown called the “market place of ideas,” including the Internet, world religions, etc. These people seek to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, knowledge, etc. They listen to the current church leaders, but weigh their words with respect to the standard works scripture. Many seek inspiration from the Holy Ghost. Some have dreams and visions.
Well count me as uncorrelated misfit.
I just wrote a comment in SUPORT of your comment and when I tried to submitted, I list the comment because I did not wrote down my email address. Is it a way that my comment can be retrieved from somewhere in the system? It was kind of long. Thanks
If you search you will find what ever you want!
Outstanding post, Leah Marie. This framing is so spot on for the Church. As has been observed so many times before, it’s really difficult for the Church to change its ways quickly when it’s run by men who are so old, and who typically don’t do anything without achieving unanimity. I particularly love the Shapiro quote and your discussion about who controls the information.
A better and more thorough treatment than the Friedman book of the information flow/power/control issue is “The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be,” by Moises Naim.
Apart from having lost control of its narrative, the Church must also regain the trust of those members who feel deceived by the misinformation and half-truths that permeate Correlation produced manuals. The homiletic accounts of its history and the hagiographic portrayals of its leaders are both inaccurate and incomplete. As the Mormon author Terryl Givens once observed: “[T]he problem is not information, the problem is betrayal. Nobody really leaves the church because there isn’t information to answer a question. And that’s one thing the church hasn’t gotten yet. People leave the church because by the time the question arises, its too late.”