Friday, January 19, 2018

Are We in a New Era of the LDS Church Leadership?

I saw something really significant this last week. For the first time EVER, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held an open press conference, where its newly called President and counselors stood in front of the Press taking open, live questions translated live into most of the major languages. Never in the Church's history, since early pioneer days pre-David O. McKay (who instituted "correlation" to control the messaging of the Church), has the LDS Church opened itself up, unfiltered, without Correlation. For the first time since Hinckley (who stayed, with his wife, with my grandparents, very nervous, the night before his infamous CBS Mike Wallace interview) the LDS Church has a leader, speaking to the public, unfiltered, truly representing the Church. This change is HUGE, and should be noted, whether you like the man or not!

I mentioned on Facebook that for the last decade or more Thomas S. Monson has been "sick". Some say he had dementia. It was enough to prevent me from getting anyone in the 12 or First Presidency (the top leadership of the LDS Church) to directly participate without correlation on social media. I used to preach, when I worked there, that the advantage of this "New Media" era was to "open up the covers" and bring back the times, like in the days of Joseph Smith, when members of the Church could talk to its leaders and those leaders could talk back, unfiltered.

I remember ordering copies of BJ (one of the premiere authorities on user interface design in a social media era) and Linda Fogg's "Facebook For Parents", and Robert Scoble (A man who eats, breathes, and sleeps the idea of "opening up the covers", sometimes quite literally! He's also a good friend.) and Shel Israel's "Naked Conversations" for each of the 12 to teach them this concept. I used to share stories of a man in the Book of Mormon named King Benjamin, who would preach as far as the ear could hear and they'd share it to their friends (you can see my presentation at LDS Business College where I shared a portion of this story here), and how social media now allowed the LDS Church's leaders to do this, having a true conversation with its members, one-on-one, unfiltered as in the days of Joseph Smith.

So this press conference was significant. And they messed up in how they responded on the issue of women and gays. Of course they messed up. It was unfiltered. I expected that when I shared these ideas with the Church. And that's okay. That's the point - there will be mess-ups. Now the responsibility of the LDS Church will be to listen, reiterate, and keep responding, one-on-one, unfiltered like they did at this press conference in as many places as possible. This move was unprecedented, and I'm absolutely tickled to see it happening. This is what I was waiting for when I had that really scary conversation with Michael Otterson about 6 years ago. So that event was huge. Especially for me.

There's one more really significant thing I've noticed however.

Since the changing of the guard in Public Affairs in 2016 and Richard Turley taking over the reigns from Michael Otterson (I actually adore Michael - he had a huge responsibility ahead of him during the Romney era, post-Prop 8, and other situations, despite some of the ways he ran Public Affairs that I disagree with), there have been no notable excommunications of public members losing their membership as a result of the Public Affairs department investigating individuals in the Church. When I worked there under Otterson I knew of several under investigation. I provided notes to Public Affairs about John Dehlin, JoAnna Brooks, Mike Norton, Helen Radkey, and others in that administration. And we know of very public excommunications like John Dehlin (they even responded publicly here) and Jeremy Runnels and Kate Kelly happening as a result of those Public Affairs investigations. I sometimes wonder if my own issues with my local leaders squeezing me out were a result of top brass at the Church talking to them (my Stake President wouldn't say where the screenshots came from).

I think this move as well is significant. Is the Church opening up more? Is it being more okay with disagreements from local members? Is it starting to allow open conversation and disagreement and handling it better? There are some very open conversations happening right now that I think are very healthy for the Church. Many around women and the Priesthood. Questions like the one Peggy Fletcher Stack, an active Mormon, asked the top leader of the Church just this last week. And frankly while I don't like the full answer, I like the love he tried to show, and that he at least attempted an unfiltered answer.

Side note: President Nelson knows my family as well and something like the response he gave to Peggy would mean a lot to me - he and my grandfather were friends, and served in the General Sunday School Board together. President Nelson if you're reading this, "Hi! Leave a comment or give me a call - always happy to chat and recollect about my grandfather!" (Now this will be an interesting test...)

I think something major is happening. Will they dig in their heals deeper on issues like gay marriage and women and the Priesthood? I can almost guarantee it based on my experience there (maybe I'll write more about that later). But one thing I think we can count on - they'll do these things openly, boldly, and there will no longer be any doubt on the LDS Church's position on these matters. No longer will the Church messaging come from the Gospel of Mormon Newsroom. You'll hear it from the top person's and First Presidency's mouths themselves, in real time, unfiltered. And you can also guarantee you'll see more listening as a result.

In the end that's HUGE, and a really good thing! Transparency always wins.

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