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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Compartmentalization and Mormons

In a prior posting, I talked a little bit about how we Mormons compartmentalize. I want to address that more here.

Since there is no paid clergy and all local leadership positions are held by volunteers, these people have other jobs and identities in the community. Therefore, we tend to make distinctions on what basis we are interacting with them.

For example, when I worked as a professor, my local church leader (Branch President and later Bishop) of my congregation was a fellow professor who worked down the hall. I was also close friends with his wife, children and with him. I was constantly a visitor at his house. I adopted his children as my nieces and nephews. I'll call him John Smith to avoid identifying him directly.

When I was at work I referred to him as Dr. Smith or Professor Smith. When I was at church I referred to him as President Smith or Bishop Smith. When I was a visitor at his home I referred to him as John. If I needed to discuss something with him as a church leader I would phone his house and ask for President/Bishop Smith. This also alerted the children as to what kind of phone call it was. They recognized my voice of course but reacted to my call accordingly -- as official and confidential. These careful delineations are characteristic of Mormons and something we do almost without thinking about it.

I do not allow anyone to use my title of "Dr." or "Professor" at church or at a church function. My title is always "Sister Cook."

Different norms govern our behavior when we are operating in our various capacities. For example, any individual serving in a leadership capacity would be careful not to invoke church title or church authority when engaging in the political realm. Encouraging someone to vote for a particular candidate should never be done when acting in an official church capacity.

There seems to be an assumption that if a local church leader endorses a candidate then that will automatically benefit a candidate. This is not always true. Usually, it backfires badly, even if the endorser is operating in a personal capacity.

For example, in Utah in 1992, our stake president, on his own personal stationary, NOT in his stake president capacity endorsed Joe Cannon for Senate and encouraged us to vote for Cannon via a flyer delivered to our door. I was enraged. Just because he did not invoke his church position, we all knew he was the stake president and I thought he crossed the line. Many others did too. The contest between Cannon and Bennett was a close one. Knowledgeable political analysts in the area thought the letter pushed people to vote for Bennett instead. I agree with that analysis. It played into my decision making in voting for Bennettt. Senator Bob Bennett is still in office and recently announced his bid for reelection.
I do not believe that there is any way the stake president could have endorsed Bennett without crossing a line of what we consider to be appropriate versus inappropriate. Perhaps if the stake president's name had appeared in a list of endorsers without his stake president title it would have been viewed as benign. But, Mormons are very attuned to these things and it is difficult to say.

The Church gives leaders guidelines on what they should and should not do in their personal and official capacity, but cultural mores are strong as well. These mores are in line with Church guidelines but probably a lot stronger and stricter especially in Mormon culture.

(Note: I do not like Senator Bennett and wish there had been a better alternative then and now.)

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