An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Failure Not Allowed

Many, possibly most, American Mormons espouse market-value economics. Freedom of choice. If an idea or business isn’t up to snuff, the market will sift it out. Some even extend that view to social programs. A person who doesn’t earn enough money to feed, clothe, and shelter self and family should do without.

Paradoxically, in church callings Mormons not only lack freedom of choice—no one volunteers for a calling and no one is supposed to resign—but no one is allowed to fail in a calling. In Protestant religions, anyone who wants can start a church or apply for a vacant position in an established church. A self-appointed minister who fails to attract a crowd will soon be looking for other employment. Same for a hired minister who doesn’t satisfy.

In Mormon Church structure, members are assigned to a specific ward based on where they live. Mormons stuck with a bishop they dislike must suffer, preferably in silence, until his term expires—usually five years—or pack up and move. Same thing with church classes. When more than one Sunday School class is offered, members are assigned to attend a specific class in order not to create an imbalance and hurt the feelings of the teacher who attracts smaller numbers.

Certainly the Mormon system of church organization has benefits—the church generally functions smoothly with most quietly accepting direction from above. And after all, no one wants to be perceived as a failure. Still, I’ve had callings where I wouldn’t have minded in the least if one or more of the class members had felt free to attend another class

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