Walter Mead Rants, and What This Tells Us About the Church

Gotta say, our elites have it coming.

Here in the early years of the twenty-first century, the American elite is a walking disaster and is in every way less capable than its predecessors. It is less in touch with American history and culture, less personally honest, less productive, less forward looking, less effective at and less committed to child rearing, less freedom loving, less sacrificially patriotic and less entrepreneurial than predecessor generations. Its sense of entitlement and snobbery is greater than at any time since the American Revolution; its addiction to privilege is greater than during the Gilded Age and its ability to raise its young to be productive and courageous leaders of society has largely collapsed.


I recently read a guy on another forum complain that none of the General Authorities were trained philosophers. In other news, I recently read a guy on another forum who was full-on gibbering-at-the-moon mad, stark raving crazy, a bug-eyed bedlamite.

You see, Meade is right with only a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is the leadership of the Church. The reason, I suggest, is the principle of lay leadership chosen on the basis of revelation. No credentials, no degrees, no self-important professional clique loyalty, no so-called “merit” drags us down. Three cheers for the inspired principle of lay leadership!

Or, rather, one cheer.

Democracy is the worst system, says Winston Churchill, except for all the rest. The Book of Mormon says something similar: a good king is a better ruler than the people ruling themsleves, but the people are a better ruler than a bad king, who tends to drag the kingdom down with him. Since kingships always go bad in time, the mediocre solution of popular self-rule is the best solution.

Lay leadership is like the people ruling themselves. I would even argue that it *is* the people ruling themselves. Myopia makes us think that our modern system of liberal democracy with frequent voting and elected leaders is the only form of democracy. But when the people ruled in the Book of Mormon, elections didn’t come into it much. The judges who replaced the kings usually ruled for life and were somewhat hereditary. The difference between the democratic judgeships and the undemocratic monarchy was the the judges weren’t special. They weren’t kings. Their job was to administer the law in the name of the people. So the difference between democracy and kingship is that democracy is the system where no one is considered to be apart from the people and entitled to rule by virtue of that apartness. Representative democracy is just one way of putting democracy into practice. Consider juries, for example. Juries are decisions made by a body of 12 unelected people. Normally, we’d call that oligarchical and undemocratic. Juries aren’t, though, because they are randomly chosen from among the people. Juries aren’t elected but they do embody the principle that the people rule. Similarly, in ancient times democracies often made decisions or selected leaders by drawing lots. The Church is democratic, because our leaders aren’t selected on the basis of wealth or heredity or credentials or merit or even superior spiritual power or charisma. God selects them, and to us his criteria aren’t meaningfully different from randomness. In a real sense, the bishop is just one of us, and so is the prophet.

But whether Church leadership is democratic isn’t the point. The point is that lay leadership, like democracy, is a flawed system which only looks good in comparison to the alternatives. The deranged guy was probably right that General Authorities often make huge philosophical bloomers over the pulpit. I could give a rip, but he’s probably right. We should not kid ourselves that our system of lay leadership isn’t full of big, gaping holes.

Take my hometown, for example. My stake president isn’t deeply trained or all that experienced in counseling, management, public speaking, administration, theology, pastoral care, church history, or anything else. He is, with all due respect, a goofy screenwriter. My bishop is a crusty mechanical engineer. My Young Men’s President is, well, me. No HR departments are salivating over our line-up. What we’ve got going for us is the firehose of direction from the Spirit, but then interpretation and, worse yet, implementation of that direction is left to us. The results aren’t bad. They aren’t that grand either. We’re doing . . . OK. Lay leadership is a lousy system, better only than all the rest.

I love the Church. I believe its the one-and-only. My heart can’t be persuaded that its not as fair as the sun, as clear as the moon, as terrible as an army with banners. But I also can’t quite shake my suspicion that maybe the Church is just a bunch of Mormons.

I read scriptures like this

And by the weak things of the earth the Lord shall thresh the nations by the power of his Spirit.

— or like this

The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh

and I realize I’d always inserted an extra clause where God takes the weak things and makes ’em strong and only then do they thrash the mighty. But that’s not what the scripture says. It says the weak, while still weak I suppose, are going to take on the great and win.

So one cheer for lay leadership. It isn’t a great system. Its probably not even a good system. Its a weak system. Its only advantage is that its going to win, we’re going to win, we’re going the distance with the devil and we’re going to overcome, not because of our weakness but not despite it either.

The sublime plan of our God is not to take the obscure and weak and make us potent, erupting from nowhere like a second Islam. His plan is to have an army of cripples–a three-man army, because most of us were too tired to show up, and some of us were too offended, and some were too scared–and the army is me, you, and that other guy; you have a bad back and bum leg and aren’t too bright; I’m clumsy and smarmy and cut corners; that other guy is a bigot and isn’t even sure he wants to be here. And the three of us topple the world.

Cross-posted from the Junior Ganymede.

7 thoughts on “Walter Mead Rants, and What This Tells Us About the Church

  1. The amazing thing to watch over and over again is how the weak are made stronger through the Spirit. I’ve had a bishop who was a complete mess before he became bishop, and as soon as the mantle was passed, he was amazing. He had insights and predictions and advice for people that could only have been inspired. I’ve also seen it on a “lower” level: the deacon’s quorum president who says and does surprising things. If you watch carefully, you will see the Lord’s hand directing and guiding the people in your ward.

  2. Adam,

    This was beautiful. I have never thought of lay leadership as a sort of democracy before either. (Well, I had noticed some similarities, of course, especially in sustaining and personal revelation – i.e. revelation to the people.)

    And the comparison to juries is ingenious.

  3. This isn’t that new territory of a subject when it comes to the makeup of the LDS leadership, but it is a good post. One problem I found, however, is that often the higher leadership is passed on down family lines. I am not sure why this is, but it happens often. Setting aside the idea of calling based on Revelation, perhaps its easier to pick from those you know than strangers ranging all over the world.

  4. I’d like to expand on Jettboy’s comments. I think that in addition to many familial lines in the General Authorities of the church, there is also a weeding out and loyalty-based selection from amongst the next level down in the heirarchy when GA’s are chosen. So, that the upper levels are not “lay leaders” per se, they are those who have proven loyalty to the church.

  5. Jettboy,
    The blood of the prophets produces people who are more spiritual and worth more than the others… or so the argument goes.

  6. re: familial lines. I believe Heavenly Father decided who would get born to who before the creation of Adam. He created the “line up”, of both families and prophetic callings, long ago; therefore it’s not random. And if He decided that many of His prophets would come to the earth in familial lines, so what?

    Somehow, our human-level understanding of agency (along with our understanding of genetic lines and birth-order) sometimes seems to drag along a concept of randomness. God’s foreknowledge of who would accept their callings (and who would live up to them) and who wouldn’t, does not negate agency. God’s foreknowledge and His pre-planning according to that foreknowledge does not negate agency, it encompasses it.

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