Americanisms in a Global Mormon Church
As an American, when you travel to another country, you notice—at least in my experience—that almost no one will celebrate your citizenship. When you move to another country you discover that everyone has an opinion about your homeland. Suddenly, you become a Hermes figure to the common people who opine about gun laws and obesity and loud tourists and Donald Trump in a poor, nasally imitation of your own accent. You are then expected to flutter back to Mount Olympus and relay the message to the statesmen who occasionally mix up Australia with Austria.
Similarly, Mormons abroad are sometimes left scratching their heads regarding the Americanisms in the global Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so, here from the messenger’s mouth, are a few things to ponder.
Scouting and the Duty to God Program
It is baffling to many Mormons around the world why the Church clings to Boy Scouts of America. The program excludes “fully one half” of LDS youth as it is only in America and only for boys. There are, of course, non binary scouting programs in over 200 countries, but they are private programs with no affiliation to the Church. In some instances when the Church and a separate scouting unit have come together, it has been an excellent missionary tool, but this collaboration is not consistent world wide. The Church may have a long history with BSA, but why not make more of an effort to include those valued skills into the Young Men and Young Women programs?
Boy Scouts of America has also weaved its way into the Duty to God program, which is intended to be an international resource to strengthen Aaronic Priesthood holders.
This video is one reason why some Young Men leaders find it difficult to capture the vision of the Duty to God program. The underlying message by Pres. Monson, “It is far better to build boys than to mend men,” is noble, but the rest of the video’s emphasis on Scouting is lost on those outside the reach of BSA. It is neither applicable nor relatable to the leaders and boys. The video suggests that BSA and Duty to God are the same when only one program is available to the entire Church.
Tithing Settlement on a US Calendar
Within the past two years, Church offices asked the Australian wards and branches to conduct tithing settlement according to the US fiscal year. Previously this and other yearly reports were completed in June at the conclusion of the Australian financial year as opposed to December. This adjustment did not lead to an exodus from the Church, but it continues to be a slight annoyance for members who wonder at the purpose of the change. And mostly, Aussies do not like extra meetings crowding their Christmas holiday beach time.
Patriotic Music in the Hymnbook
The 1985 hymnal is a solid contribution to Church meetings around the world. Some people do protest that there are too many songs about mountains and moving west to Zion (cough, cough Utah), but they miss the point that those hymns are often singing of God’s natural creations or the symbolism of the temple (mountain of the Lord) and a Zion that is established wherever there are saints. At least the editors agreed that “Land of the Mountains High” (now known as “Utah, We Love Thee”) was “irrelevant to many Church members around the world.”
No, the real need for a revision is not at the front of the hymnal, but in the last few pages at the back – the patriotic section. Starting from hymn number 338 we have “America the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Two questions have been asked here. Firstly, why do Americans need to sing so many songs about themselves? And secondly, where are the other anthems?
“God Save the King” (or Queen in today’s circumstances – the hymnbook often carries an insert) was kept to content the Brits and others in the Commonwealth realm, but what about the Mexicans, Italians, Samoans, and the other 90 countries listed in the 1985 Church statistical report of sovereign countries with organized wards and/or branches?
Since including every country would turn the hymnbook into a series of volumes and distract from its purpose to worship the Savior, perhaps it is time to cut it out. When the 4th of July rolls around, print the lyrics in the program or save some paper and use your smart phone.
Checks and Cheques
Blame the US or the Church, either way the banking system is behind. Finally, the US LDS community got online tithing, and the ward clerk just might be able to have dinner before eight o’clock. Now how about moving on from checks? This is another Australian example, where all aspects of banking are done online. Seriously, you queue up for the teller only to have them refer you to an iPad. And yet, Church reimbursements are given in check form. Everyone under 30 years old calls their mum, not sure what it is or what to do with it.
Women Wear Pants
Outside of the US, women wearing pants to church is not a big deal. They have been doing so long before it became a symbol of feminism. There are different cultural standards around the world just as the US holds its own traditions, and so women wear pants and men wear lavalavas. Most often we hear church attire described as “Sunday best.” Men and women wear clothing that is in accordance with cultural customs and encourages personal worship of the Savior while in a dedicated house of the Lord.
Perhaps “Sunday best” is more about an attitude than a pair of trousers. Recently, a woman greeted me after the conclusion of Sacrament meeting. I had met her the week before when she was tailing the missionaries, feeling bashful for not having attended a meeting in years. This week, she was confident as she chatted with me. She was dressed casually in jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flop sandals (or ‘thongs’, as the cheeky Aussies like to call them). The best thing about her appearance was her face. Her Sunday best was her smile, and I was just happy she was there with the rest of her ward family.
Everyone says that the Church is the same all around the world. In some ways that is true. The gospel is the same happy gospel and the Church organization is basically constant. But the people, the cultures, the languages, and customs that influence the Church experience are all different. The beautiful thing about being a global church is that we celebrate that unity and diversity. While we share the same message and ordinances, we are still congregations of very different people.