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Cultural Shock

November 19, 2008

In an earlier entry, I wrote about how LDS vocabulary and term usage can lead to misunderstandings. Obviously, a deacon for Mormons does not really match up with a Catholic deacon, yet both churches use the term. But for us, it’s ok, because we like to be different.

Growing up in the church, you never really hear about these differences though. I mean, of course you learn *your* side of the story, but no one’s too interested in doing an in depth comparative analysis of the other guy’s. I guess you shouldn’t go to a church for that.

Maybe, if you know a convert to the church, then they might make a reference in passing about how things went in their own church or what their opinions of the LDS church was before they joined (you can hear some hilarious rumors in this vein), but this kind of stuff is relegated only to testimonies borne or anecdotes given to promote faith. There’s nothing official about how other churches believe (and as a result, nothing official about meeting common ground on some of these issues.)

One thing the church drilled in all of our heads when I was growing up was about this awesome power of having unpaid clergy. Because our priesthood, Relief Society, and all other extensions of the church work for free, or even pay for the privilege (missionary work), this is an obvious sign of our righteousness, right? Perhaps it was just a way to get us enthusiastic about doing a whole lot of work for nothing, but I’m not feeling too cynical at this time of day, so I’ll give the church leaders the benefit of the doubt in this case. But all those other churches? Their ministers had to be doing it for money! They didn’t truly care about the gospel!

Unfortunately, this is just one side of the story. So, imagine the cultural shock when a Mormon kid would talk to his friends about how their churches were obviously wrong for having paid ministers…and then those friends would become livid at the accusation!

Interestingly enough, outside of the church, it appears that paying clergy sounds like a good idea. People look at unpaid clergy as a more impoverished clergy. Ministers who are educated in the religion and who have a degree and minister as a job can devote their full time and effort into things. So it’s the best deal, so a non-member would say.

And really, with some of the Mormon folklore that seeps into doctrine occasionally because of informally educated callings, who has the best model?

The other churches seem to follow, in fact, a merit-based model that represents some of the same things we appreciate in our economy or in the job market. We want someone to have a degree because that lets us know that this guy is no fool. And we pay for the services people give us. We pay more for better or greater services.

The LDS church, upon closer inspection, doesn’t seem to be based on this kind of system. Ignoring any cynical possibilities (it could be possible the church has unpaid clergy just to minimize costs, but that’s way too cynical), it seems that the LDS model seems to be more about the improvement of the individuals. Even though the church generally chooses positions like the ward organist based on a general level of merit (has the member ever played an organ?)…just because one isn’t a CEO wouldn’t block him from taking a leadership position in a quorum. One might have no prior experience, but the point of the calling, in part, would be a test of if that member can learn to magnify that calling.

This system, of course, is at odds with the other. We don’t particularly feel too great about picking any guy off the street and putting him in the E.R. in the hopes that he learns to magnify latent surgery talents. We start with those who have proven themselves, and make it a very economic arrangement.

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