A link to a March 1990 address by Boyd K. Packer to the Regional Representatives expressed a poignant frustration with the office of General Authority: “I have felt . . . that we were losing the ability to correct the course of the Church.” While not a GA, I do feel this kind of frustration with Church policies and programs myself.
Elder Packer’s talk explained a change in local financing as well as a retrenchment from centralized direction over ward and stake programs. The “budget allowance program” replacing ward building and budget offerings with monies from the general tithing fund was a blessing for families of small means. Implemented ten years earlier when we were struggling to raise five kids on a single income, it would have been a real blessing to our family. Paying 10% of our gross income for tithing, then adding on1% for ward budget, another 1% for building fund, plus fast offerings hurt. We did without some necessities in order to meet these church obligations. Yes, I know the Lord blesses us when we sacrifice to pay tithes and offerings, but He apparently reserved our blessings for the next life.
Almost twenty years later, I would evaluate the attempt to rein in the “over-regimentation of the Church” caused by “too many programmed instructions” as less than a success. One result of simplifying programs was the recycling of lesson manuals. The result, of course, was mindless repetition and probably an attendance drop in the second and third hour of the block. Gospel Doctrine standard works study was also put on a four-year cycle. No longer did the Old and New Testaments each merit a two-year in-depth study. Studying the background history of the scriptures was no longer deemed necessary for understanding. Bible study was replaced by doctrinal lessons with supporting scriptures from the book of the year.
“Milk before meat” was the theme. Two decades of skim milk have left me feeling spiritually starved when I attend Church classes, but maybe I’ve missed the point. Perhaps repeating standard lessons over and over does promote more family time—one of the goals of the streamlining program. Once the lessons are memorized, perhaps members are expected to skip irrelevant portions of the block.
For a program that was supposed to “teach correct principles and let them govern themselves,” a heck of a lot of regulations still emanate from headquarters. Teachers in auxiliary classes are now instructed not to supplement lesson manuals with any materials except the scriptures, Church magazines and personal experience. Auxiliary teachers have no leeway to use materials that meet the needs of their students. The Course 4 teacher in my ward found the Primary manual, designed for children ages 4 through 7, incomprehensible for the 4-year-olds in her class and substituted a Course 3 manual which had stories and activities her class enjoyed. The Primary president informed her that she must use the designated manual.
I can’t help wondering how many of the General Authorities were totally on board for this streamlining program introduced during Howard W. Hunter’s brief tenure as Church president. The idea of decentralizing control and lessening financial and time obligations on families flies in the face of Church involvement in Prop 8 last year. How does the pressure placed on members to donate time and money in support of a political proposition meet the 1990 goal, “let them govern themselves.”
Reading Elder Packer’s 1990 address is like hearing a voice crying from the dust. Most of the benefits he foresaw have not happened. And I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of “local leaders [who] have been effectively conditioned to hold back until programmed as to what to do . . . .” The General Authorities do have a tough job, but the buck stops at 50 North Temple.