The Lifeblood of the Church

Poor Wayfaring Man

In a previous post, I outlined the concept of the LDS Church as a living system. I’ve been thinking recently about what keeps a living system like the Church together. I think the general answer has something to do with the system as a whole being able to obtain and create things that the system components need (or want), but are unable to get independently.

This can be seen, for example, in an organism, which is a living system made up of highly specialized components (subsystems, cells, symbionts, etc.). These specialized components have certain needs that are outside the scope of the functions they perform themselves, and they must therefore rely on other components of the system to meet those needs. The paradigmatic example of this phenomenon is blood, a system component that performs oxygenation, nutrition, waste management, temperature regulation, immunological response, communication, and other functions for the specialized parts of the organism, enabling those parts to spend their time making unique contributions to the whole. Blood is a key part of the system, because most other components rely directly upon it for continued existence.

Higher-level systems, like business organizations or religions, are made up of individuals that aren’t as fundamentally dependent on the system as the specialized parts of an organism, but there are analogous “lifeblood” elements that keep individuals engaged in, and contributing to, the system.

A business organization’s lifeblood element is money. Money, like blood in an organism, is the key medium through which the individuals in the system are able to meet the needs they must set aside in order to participate in the system (e.g., they buy food instead of spending time hunting it, buy clothing instead of spending time making it, etc.). Money is also the central incentive motivating people to contribute to the system, because money allows them to eat better food than they could come up with on their own, wear better clothing than they could make on their own, etc. The top managers of a business organization perform the important function of determining how the money earned by the organization should flow through to the different parts of the system. More important individuals generally get more money, but everybody gets something–enough to keep the system intact.

The LDS Church (at least the religious wing of the organization) has a lifeblood element, but it is not money. The lifeblood of the Church is hope or reassurance about one’s eventual salvation in the Celestial Kingdom (I’ll call it “Hope”). Like business organizations, the top managers of the Church exercise control over how the lifeblood of Hope flows through the system to nourish and motivate the members of the Church. The strength of the Church system depends on how effectively Church leaders manage the distribution of Hope.

I started to see the Church in these terms during the early days of renegotiating my relationship with it. I noticed that the LDS apostles and prophets usually make sure to place themselves and the Church between God and Church members, in a position that allows them to meter out and control Hope, and therefore control the members. The more a Church leader’s personal interests are aligned with the interests of the Church organization, the more of an interest he has in controlling the means by which Church members can obtain Hope.

Church leaders at different levels of the hierarchy have butted heads over this issue. Sometimes a lower-level authority or academic will advocate for a view of salvation that allows for Hope independent of the Church hierarchy. Such populism-flavored views are usually corrected by the top leaders of the Church, sometimes in particularly nasty ways. I will give examples in future posts.


Leave a Reply