Every week my Catholic grandmother drives 20 miles to the next county in order to go to Saturday mass with her sister. Both are elderly widows, and the routine has been ongoing for over twenty years. I think their little tradition is really sweet, and it means a lot to them. Whenever I go to visit I go along with them because it’s such an important part of their lives and I like to be a part of it, even if it is only once or twice every few years.
Of course if they were mormon this wouldn’t be allowed. As a missionary I spent almost a year in our mission office. One of the other elders was responsible for transmitting all the baptismal data to SLC every week. One of the things he told me was that the church has the whole world mapped out, and every inch of it is in one ward or another. When we needed maps of every unit in the mission Salt Lake was more than happy to oblige.
As mormons we were assigned a ward and we had to go to it. No excuses no exceptions. Indeed if we had dared to attend somewhere else we would have been barred from holding any callings. So why when most churches allow parishioners to choose their congregation are the mormons different? Why don’t they allow you to choose?
Well, what if you want to attend a different ward, not for social or familial reasons, but because the new bishop is really cool? Or there’s a great sunday school teacher? The fact is that different church leaders tend to have slightly different views and pet topics.
When I lived in UT I had an Institute teacher who’d been a Presbyterian minister for 30 years. Unsurprisingly he taught from the bible more than any other book. If mormons could choose which congregations to attend there would be movement according to belief. Where there was a socially liberal bishop, socially liberal members would follow, and where there was a hardcore Ã¼ber TBM bishop, the Ã¼ber TBMs would follow.
Over time congregations with a distinct take on doctrine would develop just as they have within Anglicanism for example, with its’ high church/low church split. Such a move would deal a fatal blow to the last 30 years of top down correlation of materials and teachings. There are different and distinct brands of mormonism, the mormonism of Spencer W. Kimball and the mormonism of Hugh B. Brown are different. Congregations of brand adherents would start to campaign for their beliefs to hold overall ascendancy within the hierarchy.
Wards would become more vibrant and the members more passionate, but the church would cease to be homogeneous and cease to speak as one with the same cultish manner that they do now, and there could rise a congregational style movement. The brethren realise this would lead to democratisation and a loss of power and control. Instead of General Conference there would be a General Synod.
What seems like a small and innocuous little rule buried within the Church Handbook belies the the controlling nature of the church. It exposes their authoritarian tendencies and desire to protect members from themselves. The limitations of freedom to associate within the group may seem innocuous, but in reality it is a key indicator of some of the cultish and controlling practices of the LDS Church.