Thursday, June 25, 2009

He Said: Church Correlation

When everything is said and done church correlation comes down to two things: doctrinal orthodoxy and money. In dealing with doctrinal orthodoxy a committee of the church made up of very conservative people usually Church Educational System employees that are trusted by the General Authorities approve and/or edit material that is disseminated to the various organizations or printed officially by the church under its publishing arms such as Deseret Book, BYU Press etc. Money is involved because the manuals are printed and so there is a factor involved in how many pages they are and how much does it cost to print them. I once overheard the conservation of a general authority while visiting the Church Administration Building with another general authority concerning the printing of a church manual, he was telling the vendor he was eating lunch with that by limiting the pages to under 200 that the church saves millions of dollars in cost.

For much of my lifetime Daniel Ludlow was in charge of the correlation department of the church. Back in the 1990s I submitted my manuscript of Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord: LDS General Authorities Speak on Missionary Work. The committee read over my manuscript and felt that doctrinally it was acceptable. However Sheri Dew at Deseret Book didn't want to go to the trouble of getting special approval to publish my work. At that time they discouraged any non-general authority from compiling a teachings book. The irony was that Clyde J. Williams a member of the BYU Religion department was able to publish several books without much trouble. So I have personal acquaintance with this department. I spoke to Dan Ludlow about my manuscript when he came to a Know Your Religion talk in El Centro, California where I was living. He suggested to me that I get a general authority to co-compile but I could never interest one in doing that. I finally got Intellectual Reserve to let me put it up on my blog since it was not for sale and a private compilation just for research purposes.

I frankly did not have a problem with this group and found Dan Ludlow to be helpful and honest in his comments. I don't have any trouble with correlation looking over material and suggesting possible inclusions and exclusions. I have worked with editors for many years in publishing in the Multicultural Review. Although I think the committee is a bit narrow in who is on it and could use a few more progressive scholars it does make sure to protect the church. However when you select people including CES types there is the problem of bias. What one considers to be sensational or questionable doctrine is very subjective.

I personally feel they should use the faculty at their church universities and go beyond more traditional CES people. Even though many of these professors might have one time been CES they are a little more connected to the research since many of their former students bring the stuff to their attention or generate it. I am not questioning that a few CES types occasionally are on the scholarly side I am just saying that in comparison most aren't cut out of the same cloth as the Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, the Bruce Van Ordens, or even the David Seeley. Although many of them get graduate degrees they aren't as rigorous as the ones who end up at the universities. I don't want to name the names of the ones I am thinking since kindness is better than blunt honesty. In addition they tend to be more insular in their approaches and more easily controllable. However their scholarship or lack of exposure to all the new stuff coming out actually is a detriment to their making informed decisions on content or eliminating new content. They didn't get to work in SLC in the CES by not being politically correct.

My best example is the new Joseph Smith Papers. I don't doubt that some of the CES types might peruse such works but it takes a person with a certain mentality to really analyze the implications and debunking of earlier stories. Correlation tends to whitewash and give a faith-promoting spin to history and doctrine. They look at different things like the perceived level that the general member is at.

It is kind of like when I was a school teacher in Tennessee. One day the assistant superintendent came to talk to me since my lowest level 5th graders had passed the highest class in reading. He told me that my fellow teachers were not happy that my students were doing as well as their students and that I was to slow them down and give them one day of writing out the definitions of the spelling words. The superintendent told me that I was to teach to the middle not to the top. Correlation assumes it knows what a member can handle that they need milk before the meat. Just like my students needed to not excell beyond the top group since they had been tested and assigned the lowest level members should not be given the mysteries of the kingdom. They need to stick to the basic principles of the gospel and correlation's job is to insure that.

Another important function that correlation provides is to make sure that the church is not embarrassed by any doctrines or stories that could hurt our advances in getting along with people in the outside world. They check to make sure that we don't cover negative aspects such as Mountain Meadows Massacre history or polygamy or blacks in the priesthood etc. Correlated history is more apologetic or revisionist in nature. A guy like Will Bagley writes an uncorrelated version while a guy like Richard Thorley writes a correlated version. Most authors who publish through Deseret Book have their material looked at by the correlation committee.

Personally I think correlation is a good process and anything they look at is closer to the what we as members should believe. I don't like the sensational stuff that a lot of times is subjective. Orson Scott Card said "history is a creative reconstruction of the past." In terms of history and some doctrine not everything said or written is totally accurate so correlation sanitizes it by getting a committee of trusted people together who can communicate with the general authorities and get their arbitration on what can be problemmatic.

It keeps imperfect authors from making mistakes that could hurt the church by revealing things that may or may not be true. I think writers don't always consider the implications of ripples that can be made if they clash with viewpoints, practices and doctrines that inspired men of God have already officially said or written. Correlation doesn't hide the truth it just disseminates it in the right time and the right setting.

1 comment:

  1. Correlation has been pretty effective in removing space doctrine from Mormonism. At the same time, I am wondering if the collapse of the missionary program (we are now losing members faster than we can convert them) is ultimately to blame on correlation.

    May be, I am just sentimental. But Church used to be more vibrant, less dogmatic, and more relevant.

    Be that as it may, a ward with worthwhile programs and an open minded membership will never have trouble to recruit and retain converts. That is not happening anymore.