The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Powerby D. Michael Quinn
The Mormon church today is led by an elite group of older men, nearly three-quarters of whom are related to current or past general church authorities. This dynastic hierarchy meets in private; neither its minutes nor the church’s finances are available for public review. Members are reassured by public relations spokesmen that all is well and that
The Mormon church today is led by an elite group of older men, nearly three-quarters of whom are related to current or past general church authorities. This dynastic hierarchy meets in private; neither its minutes nor the church’s finances are available for public review. Members are reassured by public relations spokesmen that all is well and that harmony prevails among these brethren.
But by interviewing former church aides, examining hundreds of diaries, and drawing from his own past experience as an insider within the Latter-day Saint historical department, D. Michael Quinn presents a fuller view. His extensive research documents how the governing apostles, seventies, and presiding bishops are likely to be at loggerheads, as much as united. These strong-willed, independent men-like directors of a large corporation or supreme court justices-lobby among their colleagues, forge alliances, out-maneuver opponents, and broker compromises.
There is more: clandestine political activities, investigative and punitive actions by church security forces, personal “loans” from church coffers (later written off as bad debts), and other privileged power-vested activities. Quinn considers the changing role and attitude of the leadership toward visionary experiences, the momentous events which have shaped quorum protocol and doctrine, and day-to-day bureaucratic intrigue from the time of Brigham Young to the dawn of the twenty-first century.
The hierarchy seems at root well-intentioned and even at times aggressive in fulfilling its stated responsibility, which is to expedite the Second Coming. Where they have become convinced that God has spoken, they have set aside personal differences, offered unqualified support, and spoken with a unified voice. This potential for change, when coupled with the tempering effect of competing viewpoints, is something Quinn finds encouraging about Mormonism. But one should not assume that these men are infallible or work in anything approaching uninterrupted unanimity.
Read an Excerpt
From the 1830s to the 1990s, LDS church finances have experienced many significant transitions.1 This is an overview of highlights during 160 years of tithing, salaried ministry and voluntary service, business activity, revenues, personal use of church funds, church indebtedness, and public disclosure. This chapter shows that LDS finances have not always functioned as they do today and that the financial sacrifices of Mormons have been great, indeed.
To begin, by divine injunction since ancient times, God’s disciples have seen themselves as “not of the world” (John 17:14). This has resulted in various religious communities regarding themselves as outside the ordinary definitions and expectations of society and of the world’s leaders.2
Theologically, Mormonism has never accepted the “worldly” distinctions between secular versus religious, civil versus theocratic, mundane versus divine.3 An 1830 revelation declared: “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither [unto] any man, nor the children of men . . .”4
In reaction to hostile critics, the First Presidency issued this formal statement in 1907: “The charge that the Church is a commercial rather than a religious institution; that its aims are temporal rather than religious; that it dictates its members in their industrial activities and relations, and aims at absolute domination in temporal affairs,all this we emphatically deny.”5 The difficulty with such a denial is that LDS leaders were stating criticisms of their church in the categories and assumptions of non-Mormons, but answering them in the categories and assumptions of Mormonism. In Mormon terms the LDS church is not “a commercial rather than a religious institution,” but the LDS church is commercial because it is religious. Likewise, Mormonism’s aims are not “temporal rather than spiritual,” but its aims are temporal because they are spiritual. And all questions of dictation and absolute dominioneconomic or politicalare based on the Mormon view of the supremacy of free will. In other words, whether it is the political dictates of Mormon leaders or the prosperity of an economic institution of the LDS church, Mormonism has dominion only insofar as Mormons choose to allow it (see chaps. 7-10).
Mormons have always been irritated by complaints and hand-wringing about “Mormon power” (whether financial, political, or social). In 1984, for possibly the first time, two non-Mormon writers declared the LDS perspective of the hierarchy’s financial power: “These are money managers, but unlike any other kind of money managers. . . . The wealth and power, in the end, come down to the essentials: The church is in the business of expanding the church. . . . a temporal structure whose major goal is spiritualthe building of the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for the millennial reign of Jesus Christ.”6
There are both continuities and discontinuities in Mormon financial history since Joseph Smith, Jr., organized a new church on 6 April 1830. The most significant difference involves the definition of tithing.
Meet the Author
D. Michael Quinn (Ph.D., history, Yale University) is an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Southern California’s Center for Feminist Research. He has been a full-time researcher and writer, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, and a visiting professor of history (2002-03) at Yale. His accolades include Best Book awards from the American Historical Association and the Mormon History Association.
His major works include Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Elder Statesman: A Biography of J. Reuben Clark, the two-volume Mormon Hierarchy series (Origins of Power, Extensions of Power), and Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. He is the editor of The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past and a contributor to American National Biography;Encyclopedia of New York State; Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education; the New Encyclopedia of the American West; Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past; and others.
He has also received honorsfellowships and grantsfrom the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Henry E. Huntington Library, Indiana-Purdue University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, he has been a keynote speaker at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, the Chicago Humanities Symposium, Claremont Graduate University, University of Paris (France), Washington State Historical Society, and elsewhere, and a consultant for television documentaries carried by the Arts and Entertainment Channel, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the History Channel, and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
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