As usual I’m late to the party discussing the most recent Mormon revelation that legally married gay folks are automatically apostates and their children are ineligible for any sort of sacrament or ordinance. It was just a policy before this week and that gave level-headed progressive Mormons all the permission they needed to ignore it. I have several active Mormon friends who admitted as much to me.
Now with this latest announcement the policy has been elevated to “revelation.” In Mormons-speak that means all those progressive Mormons can’t rationalize away their complete dismissal of the policy. It was a very strong-handed chess move by Mormon leadership banking on the history that active members won’t remember any of the actual details of just a few months prior when it was just a policy hidden in a handbook update that was leaked and then was then clarified by an apostle and later the document was edited for clarification all without mentioning this supposed “revelation.”
Just to be clear, on a personal level I’m pissed that this didn’t happen 10 years ago when I was in a relationship and could have prevented my kids’ firm indoctrination into all things Mormon. That would have been awesome. I would have married the guy in a heartbeat, if that had been legal then, for that benefit alone. Now my oldest is on a mission and the other kids are left trying to process their own boredom with church, their father’s complete apostasy from it and their mother’s complete obsession with it.
But I didn’t even sit down today to talk about all that. I came to talk about a quirk of Mormon leadership decision-making.
Unanimity was revealed by god (D&C 107:27, 29). That’s how this policy/revelation was supposedly approved by the full quorum. Ignoring all the holes in that story and the plain fact that I don’t believe Nelson’s telling of it, let’s assume that it was indeed unanimous.
Unanimous decision don’t necessarily mean there was full consensus. My study and experience tells me that unanimity is a symptom of a lack of courage, creativity and a process ripe with coercion. I’ve seen it in action in Mormon bishoprics, quorums and in Japanese corporate meetings.
I lived and worked in Japan. It’s an understatement to say that they have a different way of doing things over there. One hallmark of Japanese committee meetings is this idea that they won’t make a decision until it’s a unanimous one. It sounds all pretty cool and cumbaya-like but the reality that I experienced is far different. I saw a lot of intimidation and dismissal of alternate voices in such settings.
The leader, or someone with power over the group, walks into the meeting with a pre-determined conclusion. They present the topic and invite discussion. This is where it seems very fair and democratic. Before winding down, everyone is asked for their conclusion. The catch is that this summary process proceeds from the top down. The person with higher seniority or more power, or whatever, states their conclusion and the effect of that is to tell everyone else present how things are going to go. And it’s amazing to watch, but the rest of the committee just falls in line and agrees even though their initial opinion may have been contradictory.
It’s called the Abilene Paradox and it happens in American life too, on juries, in boardrooms and church quorums.
Social experiments show that this process is especially true when there is a clear hierarchical structure to the group. In other words, those higher up have a greater voice. They intimidate those below them to agree with their predetermined conclusion. Thus unanimity is reached, but not necessarily consensus.
I’ve seen this happen during church disciplinary councils and bishopric meetings. Once the leader states his opinion you see everyone else lie down and agree with it. In Mormonism where members are taught to sustain leaders, and that leaders are inspired, then this is almost instinctual.
The unanimity myth is part of church lesson manuals.
Watch this video of Henry Eyring a current member of the LDS First Presidency describe this process. What he is calling a miracle is merely a sociological phenomenon of groups that require unanimity. Keep in mind that in a church setting no one is concerned about losing his job so the sharing of opinions portion is naturally freer than in a business setting. But the end result is the same…
Apparently, people conform for two main reasons: because they want to fit in with the group and because they believe the group is better informed than they are. So, just imagine that you are the newest apostle and the lowest man on the Q12 totem pole. You may voice your disagreement to a matter just to be heard and interject but when that last pass of voting happens you’ll more likely to agree to make it unanimous. That’s why the one guy in Eyring’s example gratefully whispered to President Lee. He knew the pressure would have been there for him to make the vote unanimous.
The more difficult the topic, the greater the likelihood of conformity.
Unanimity is really just a another way of describing Groupthink.
When I see Russell Nelson describe Monson’s “revelation” and the Q12’s unanimous confirmation, I process a whole bunch of thoughts…
- What other choice did a lessor member of the 12 have?
- Apostles seem like corrupt police or the mafia. They’ll back up their own regardless of the facts.
- I wonder what it’s like to be a newer apostle as they witness Nelson talk like this and know that he’s lying?
- The Policy thing was a legalistic corporate decision, not a theological one as he’s trying to pretend.
A lot has been said recently about the Quorum of the 12’s age and homogeneity and how that results in late, out-of-date decisions and slow moving changes. But I’d submit that the lack of progress in the LDS Church is also firmly rooted in the culture of conformity and the dysfunctional decision-making process.
Lastly, for gay LDS men and women this should only solidify the clear writing on the wall that it’s time to get out. Stop whining about “struggles!” Go live your happy and full life. Don’t be like the kid in this video.
THERE IS A WAY THAT THE STRUGGLE CAN END!
The caption reads:
Sometimes the problem is YOU
(After opening, you might have to scroll down a bit to see the video)