United Brethren has retired.

Ethics and Values in Orem

In my never-ending quest to avoid bankruptcy (financial and spiritual), I am teaching a class for which I have no previous training. It is an ethics class in which I am to take a philosophical approach. Having never even taken Philosophy 101, I am somewhat surprised at the ease with which I have begun swallowing all the big words whole.
Why is this worth discussing on a Mormon issues blog? Well, remember how we are a world church? Recently, I gave the students an assignment in which they had to make a choice between going to war to defend their country against an impending invasion or staying home and taking care of their ailing mother (Sartre's ethical dilemma). The students could choose to answer as a Utilitarian or as a Deontologist (in other words, they could pretend to be Mill or Kant). Both philosophies explicitly demand that you consider everyone in the world when considering a problem. All my students but 2 (so, 22 students) failed to do this. As far as they were concerned, universal application of their actions ended at the nation's borders. So, they, in almost all cases, felt that these ethical systems would encourage them to go to war. After all, it is a matter of duty.
Should I have been surprised? No. The professor who gave me the idea told me that this is exactly what would happen. This is a "Republican" state in a war-time election year. Any attempt to think that our boys may be wasting their lives out there is not to be tolerated.
But here is the thing, we are supposed to be a world church with a world view. I have, as a representative of said church, flown to distant countries in order to bring people from all cultures into this church. The majority of the people I am teaching have served LDS missions or will serve them. So, why did I make the same mistake as all of my students when I first considered the ethical dilemma?
How much, as an American, can I get away from my own ethno-centrism, even in a Gospel context? As a member of a worldwide church, why am I inordinately proud that we finally have a European on the Twelve in my lifetime? It wasn't meant to be a symbolic gesture, but I found myself counting the days until Elders Helvecio Martins or Yoshihiko Kikuchi were called to the Twelve. Why do I care about this if I believe in the worldwide church? Because, in spite of my vast worldwide experience (remember, I travelled to Missouri over the summer), I still have my doubts. Why does the Big Guy care so much about this bit of land that he inserted a fairly detailed discussion of its colonization into a Standard Work and prophecied about at least a couple of political events within it (civil war, constitutional thread hanging)? I remember that, while I was in Russia, people told me it was great that Christ visited America, but what did that have to do with them? I guess that I sometimes wonder the same thing.
For the record, I am not questioning the relevance of the Church, gospel, etc. to all people, but rather I am asking how can we really consider ourselves to be a "world" church, when we seem more interested in the politics of one country than in others? Shouldn't the Brethren be addressing the social issues on the other sides of the Atlantic or the Pacific with equal interest as they are those of the Northern Western Hemisphere? I am NOT saying this as a criticism (I support the Brethren, they can write about whatever they want, far be it from me to give them counsel). Instead, I wonder how we deal with this aspect of worldwide gospel life? Speaking as an American member, all too often my universe ends at the border. I often have to remind myself that there really are people over there living lives that don't relate to mine at all and that I have just as much responsibility to them as I do the people who live within my circle of influence (whether I listen to Kant, Mill, or (I'm pretty sure) Christ).
I realize that this, by its nature, may not be the best blog on which to admit to having these issues. Most of those who read think of people in far -off countries more than I do, which is precisely the reason I bring it up. What might cause the inordinate gospel interest in the United States of America in scripture and revelation? Is it too obvious to say that it is because we are based here?

I've never done this before and don't know the etiquette. Is it wrong to end a post with a question?

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Blogger Ronan said ... (October 22, 2004 4:57 PM) 

You're going to have to explain words like Deontologist for me to get the philosophy.

As for the worldwide church issue.... It's a tough one, and as a non-resident alien in this fine country, you might guess where my feelings lie.

I wish that Utah (and even American issues) could be treated as Area issues. The whole church is divided into Areas which are supposed to govern local matters. SLC is in Utah North, right?

I speak from experience: in England the Area Presidency has been rallying the members against the Gender Recognition Act. It's a local issue for the local church to deal with.

It should be the same in Utah and America in general. For members in Thailand and Tanzania, "marriage amendments" atc. are "foreign issues" that should be dealt with locally. The First Presidency ought to be able to concentrate on global issues.

Of course, the FP is much more visible in the US than are the respective Area Presidencies (why don't the AP's in the US live locally?). So newsrooms are more likely to pay attention to press releases from the FP than some GA no-one's heard of. So there's a practical side to.

But still...


Blogger Ronan said ... (October 23, 2004 2:07 PM) 

I see Orem is now famous because of Mr. Michael Moore's visit. Ethics and values? Free speech?


Blogger Rebecca said ... (October 24, 2004 10:03 AM) 

Your post is quite timely for me, as this is something I've been pondering recently. It started with this months Ensign, and a mini article on the church's non-partisan stance. It starts "in this election year.." This is sent to all English-speaking countries in the world, but I'm only aware that it's an election year in the US. So next year when the UK general elections come up are they going to post something similar?? I doubt it. In England when you get your copy of the Ensign there is a 4 page insert giving local news etc, but we still get US news through the general publication. Why can't the US edition be ther same?? I have become increasingly aware how American the church really is. Of course, this is where it started and grew, but now when it's proudly stated that there are more members outside of the US, why I do feel this is just lip-service??
I was horrified to hear of an article in a recent church news where a couple on a mission in Africa had their ward send white shirts and ties to the local members, to make them presumably 'suitable' for church. But by what standards??? Maybe they have they're own cultural dress that is considered smart. Why is this not good enough?? We are encouraged to embrace our culture, yet when all's said and done don't we really mean the pre-dominant American culture?
I too was really excited to hear a non-American was called to the quorum of the twelve. It seems too long, and un-representative of the demographics of the church.
I hope this is not taken as being anti-american, because I'm not. I am enjoying my time in this lovely land, but as a non-american mormon, I often feel second class in the church. The church's way seems to be the American way.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (October 24, 2004 10:38 AM) 

I agree: African Priesthood holders should be allowed to wear whatever is considered "smart" in their culture. Of course, years of European colonialism probably mean that shirt and ties are considered smart.

As for Elder Uchtdorf...Hooray and doubly hooray! But we are approaching this calling as if it's a long overdue recognition by white Americans that the church needed a non-American (albeit also white) Apostle. Did God play any role in this....? How do you think Apostles are called? Is it pure revelation from the divine, or do the Brethren take a name and ask for confirmation? I suspect the latter, but what do I know?

There's plenty of room for cultural bias, even subconcious, in the choice of candidates that the Brethren make. But, again, if one believes the basic claim of the Church (that it operates under divine guidance) what is God doing in the face of all this supposed cultural chauvenism?


Blogger Rebecca said ... (October 24, 2004 12:59 PM) 

Anonymous- a point I'm glad you raised since I refrained from saying something on this point in my last comment. Of course I believe in inspiration, but I also believe it's who you know, and that probably accounts for the unbalance. I don't believe they pull anmes they've never heard out of thin air, but I'm sure they get reccomendations.


Blogger Ronan said ... (October 24, 2004 8:39 PM) 

johnfowles,Mr. lawyer, help! What exactly is Amendment 3 all about and should John C. vote for it?


Blogger HP said ... (October 24, 2004 8:45 PM) 

May I bring up the hymnal? Why must we translate every hymn into some foreign language when they must have hymns of their own that invite the spirit just as well? We use "How Great Thou Art", a famous protestant hymn, and most of our Christmas Hymns were appropriated from other faiths. Why don't we ever do the same in other cultures?
Admittedly, some cultures don't have a rich tradition of Christian belief and hymnody to rely on. Also, some songs, although inspiring, are probably inappropriate for the LDS hymnal (eg. Ave Maria). But surely if O Divine Redeemer gets sung every Easter and the Messiah every Christmas, there must be sufficient hymns in the French, German, Russian, and Spanish canons to fill out a hymnbook.
I also understand the value of a unified hymnody in terms of international meetings. Everyone can sing along to "Praise to the Man"'s tune, every in different languages. Couldn't we operate with a catalog of 100 or so tunes (probably the most we hear in any given year anyway) that are mandatory for international meetings and then allow local Area Presidents and saints to pick and choose local favorites to fit into a hymnal?
Again, not criticizing. Just wondering.


Blogger john f. said ... (October 25, 2004 12:27 AM) 

Ronan, the text of Amendment 3 is very simple:

Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.The controversy over this text is not simple at all. This is a proposed amendment to the state constitution to define marriage constitutionally so that judges cannot define it from the bench under the Federal Constitution's penumbral rights that emanate from the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. What I mean is, those who have proposed this amendment have said that this is the reason for the amendment. After the situation in Massachussetts, the fear is not that states will have to recognize other state's marriages under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Federal Constitution, but rather that the courts can force a state to recognize marriages from other states under the doctrine of Equal Protection and Due Process.

For information that criticizes the amendment, search in the Salt Lake Tribune under Amendment 3, e.g. here.

For information that favors the Amendment, see this website which is run by two BYU Law Professors.


Blogger john f. said ... (October 25, 2004 12:32 AM) 

John C. wrote there must be sufficient hymns in the French, German, Russian, and Spanish canons to fill out a hymnbook.

Although none of the hymn books in those languages are completely filled out with regional/cultural specific hymns, each of those hymn books does have songs that are exclusive to those hymn books (i.e. which are not found in the American hymn book).


Blogger Rebecca said ... (October 25, 2004 8:39 AM) 

John F - I'm really interested by what you said on the 3rd amendment that says no others should have the same legal rights as a married man and woman. It seems very clear to me, but don't commom-law heterosexual couple pretty much get the same legal rights as if they were married?? Next of kin issues, inheritance of property and assets etc??


Blogger Ronan said ... (October 25, 2004 10:05 AM) 

I left Austria at about the time the new German hymn book came out. I think there are some Germanic songs in there. Not many though. Of course, all my favourite hymns are the old fashioned Protestant ones. Can't escape my Anglo-Saxon Reformist/Anglican blood.


Blogger HP said ... (October 25, 2004 7:26 PM) 

Another excellent point destroyed by the crass ignorance of the one making the point. When the first "official" Russian copy of the selected hymns came out, there were only standard translations of US Mormon hymns. This may have changed with the addition of newer, better hymnals.

Tana, my wife, has told me that there are a few local French hymns in the French hymnal also. So, the Brethren may have outthought me on this point. Curse those inspired leaders and their inspiration! (said whilst curling long, black moustache about my fingers)


Blogger john f. said ... (October 26, 2004 1:07 AM) 


In response to your comment following my brief explanation for Ronan of Amendment 3, I can direct you to a short comment I left on times and seasons last week as my speculation as to one possible meaning/result of that language.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 07, 2004 11:54 PM) 

On the Elder Uchtdorf issue... there is an excellent anecdote in the Heber J. Grant manual, the lesson on Revelation, i believe, which i paraphrase: President Grant approached the naming of a new apostle fully intending to name a close friend to the Quorum. however, when he got to the actual act of announcing his choice, a different name came to him "out of thin air"- a man he says he barely knew. So i'll weigh in and say that God does the choosing. If mortal men's bias plays a factor at all, it has already been accounted for in God's grand plan. It may be "who you know", but God is the one who put you in the position to know them in the first place, so He is still the one doing the choosing.

As for ethnocentricity, I feel it is pretty clear in the Scriptures that North and South America are the "promised lands" for the descendants of Joseph, and are regarded in the scriptures and the writings of the prophets as having special geographical and spiritual importance in the eyes of the Lord. No, i'm not saying that Father loves his American children more than he loves his British or Polish or Uzbeki or Malaysian children. But just as spiritual (not political) Israel is a chosen people, just as Ephraim is a chosen tribe with a specific mission, in this same way, the Americas are a chosen land, and it is natural for the Church (which originated in that land and from thence spreads to the rest of the world) to comment on America-specific issues.
As for whether other cultures are being thrown out in favor of American culture, Elder Richard G. Scott gave a talk on this a few years ago in Conference (April 1998). In a nutshell, he said, some elements of other cultures are good, some are bad... use the Spirit to judge. A bit later, Elder Holland gave a talk in which he emphasized the importance of men wearing a white shirt to church... a talk which he gave fully knowing he was speaking to an international audience. My point in bringing this up is: some things we regard as culturally specific to America or "ethnocentric" may in fact have a spiritual basis that transcends culture. 

Posted by Rob


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 08, 2004 7:46 AM) 

Rob:some things we regard as culturally specific to America or "ethnocentric" may in fact have a spiritual basis that transcends culture.It's just coincidental, then, that most of said things just happen to be "American". I would believe this more if I saw evidence for cultural "things" that were blantantly non-American.

Posted by Anonymous


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 08, 2004 7:47 AM) 

Rob:some things we regard as culturally specific to America or "ethnocentric" may in fact have a spiritual basis that transcends culture.It's just coincidental, then, that most of said things just happen to be "American". I would believe this more if I saw evidence for cultural "things" that were blantantly non-American.

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 08, 2004 10:46 AM) 

Careful Ronan, your evil anonymous twin seems to have gotten to the keyboard. 

Posted by Anonymous


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (November 08, 2004 1:04 PM) 

My husband can only remember a national anthem ever sung once at church in England - it was the Star Spangled Banner!!

Posted by Rebecca


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