by Stephen Marsh
Jan Shipps recently spoke at the Legacy Chapel in Plano, Texas to a capacity crowd — chapel and overflow filled. She had a lot to say, much about her own history and why she is comfortable as a Methodist and what she sees as her calling to explain the LDS to the outside world and how that came about. She also confessed that the LDS entry in Encyclopedia Americana was written as a way to explain the Church to reporters and other outsiders and save herself the 30 minute introduction she had been forced to generally give them.
She also had some interesting perspectives that gave me pause.
For example, the LDS Church as a religious tradition flowing from what was, somewhat, also an ethnic and cultural group.
Polygamy as the driving force behind creating an ethnic group (for a time — long enough to prevent assimilation and to create a foundation) out of the “Mountain Saints.” Correlation, changes in funding local congregations, correlation and standardized buildings as tools that prevented the Church from fracturing and that instead provided a home for LDS anywhere they can be found.
Or seeing the Church as originally presenting in four layers:
The Blood of Israel
The Restoration of All Things
With the restoration having faded away into the Temple, the Blood of Israel having been subsumed into the Church as the Restored Church of Christ and the two layers that now face the world being the restored priesthood and the restored Church of Christ, which leaves the LDS Church as having one real layer at this time: The Restored Church of Jesus Christ.
She obviously had a lot more to say. But she was very positive about correlation and about standardized architecture. She had a completely different view of plural marriage and its place (she saw it as creating an ethnic group out of a people in a time span of scores of years instead of hundreds of years). She saw non-fragmentation as an important success (and I wonder what she would have said about the fragmenting power of same sex marriage as it tears other churches apart, sundering American branches from the rest of the world).
Most importantly was the completely different perspective she had on many things. I’ve mentioned plural marriage above, or standardized architecture as not only saving money but creating a sense of home anywhere a member goes and muting the dividing line between wealthy and poor congregations — as she saw it, a thing of grace and beauty. I dare say few discuss it in those terms.
It makes me wonder what other insights one gets from having an outsider’s eyes and values looking in at the Church, with its dual layers of being a separate culture and speaking a separate language. How many members appreciate the Church as much as she seems to have, or find it as fascinating?
Hearing her made me wonder what I needed to hear from myself and to wonder what others heard from themselves once they had heard her.
Stephen Marsh is a 49-year-old litigator living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area. He and his wife Win are the parents of five girls, two of whom are still living. He blogs at http://ethesis.blogspot.com and is otherwise on-line at http://adrr.com. He currently serves as the co-chair of the activity committee in his ward.