Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
154:  The Church as a Cultural Misfit:  The Scottish Case

154: The Church as a Cultural Misfit: The Scottish Case
Photo Credit: Moyan Brenn

In this episode I am joined by G. Campbell McNaughton, Roy Hann and Nathan McCluskey.  Together we discuss American Mormon cultural imperialism and its effects on the Scottish church (with the occasional nod to the New Zealand situation).

We originally gathered this group to talk about the effect on Brexit on the church in Europe but found our stride in discussing the way in which our own cultures and politics are ignored, invisibilized or made problematic in the wake of the superimposition of an unapologetic American brand of LDS culture that simply doesn’t fit into our countries, has little relevance to the gospel of Jesus Christ,  and makes us strangers in our own lands.

We discuss the declining church in Scotland, the problems with the Utah church’s intrusion into local civic issues, and the General Authorities preference for certain kinds of local leaders who mimic Salt Lake City leadership.  We end with possible fixes for a situation that is entirely fixable with a few wise adjustments.


      1. Lynne Anderson

        Ha ha let’s have a whinge off!

        But be warned it’s in my blood-something to do with the Gods my ancestors worshipped apparently! 🙂

        Ok let me try for something more insightful and intelligent as a comment…..

        …..leave it with me….

  1. clh

    Loved hearing your thoughts and your language. I recently visited my sister who has lived in Alaska over 30 years. Her husband, a former bishop and stake presidency member, was called as the stake public relations director while we were there. They are apparently taking a very different approach to it now in the church. His calling is to reach out to other organizations and churches to work together on community issues/service.

  2. Dominic Hudson

    Very insightful listening to this. I relate heavily as I served in NZ Wellington Mission from Scotland, and found some things said in this discussion quite relevant to my memories of being there in 09-11. People did assume that we were americans. A lot of people were much more receptive to me and my companions when they found out I was from the UK, and when my companion happened to be either an aussie, a kiwi, or a tongan. I put my successes down to having a relatable personality, political views, language, and personal habits. I found I’m not a very sales-persony kind of guy. I moved to Australia and tried door knocking for Foxtel and I was rubbish!
    I also have found that since my mission, and living life as a married adult with children in a church whose policies are increasingly american and sales-based that I feel at odds. I do not like our general area authorities. I find them out of touch with all of us, and positively arrogant. I think our current area goals are laughable and as equally out of touch as said area leaders. I find a lot of things talked about in church these days are all about sales… getting converts, or getting less actives back. I’m not a salesman!
    I hear very little about Jesus Christ or the gospel at church in Sacrament talks, in Sunday School, in Priesthood, or at Stake Conference. It keeps coming around in circles: Missionary work, temple, keeping the sabbath day-(rather oppressively)-holy, and paying tithing.
    And funding is a mess, I’ll say no more but that I agree with all the things mentioned in the discussion.

  3. Faith

    The nepotism is how the church also runs here in the USA. It is a broken system. Steven Christensen calls it the STP principle. The Same Twenty People in a Stake and the same Ten People in a ward. Bringing it up but isolates us more and they do not expand their horizons. This is not only a NZ, UK issue

  4. David

    Absolutely hate the idea of having a paid leader at the local level. While I do think we ought to do a better job of supporting grass root ideas so they can be implemented at the local level.

    $$$ is supposed to be requested when needed, but I can see that being a pain. Why should fast offerings need to go else where? Isn’t tithing enough?

    But members need to find more courage to voice their opinions, but usually having your spouse shoot them down is enough, you don’t need the church do that too.

  5. Peed off Pete

    So many topics in this podcast. In the UK the donations are not clearly visible, there are some general vague terms, which we can see, but they do not give any meaningful information.

    The church in Scotland is not likely to thrive anytime soon, it simply does not give a positive balance after a cost/benefit analysis. This is a high tax country, but we charge 10% on top of that. For that we get the privilege of cleaning the meetinghouse toilets and substantial callings spread between far too few people. The church has a great difficulty holding a claim on being the only true/best church with the advent of the internet. And we can’t even show how we are doing as christ would have us do in our communities, clothe, feed the needy etc.

    We make sawdust, we spend so much time telling each other how right we are, and spend nearly all our time trying to perpetuate the group. The only thing the church seems to offer is lessened likelihood of addiction, access to a network, and a friendship group(if you are lucky). These are all good things but you don’t need the mormon church to have them.

    I fail to see how the church can possibly grow here. Christ’s yoke was supposed to be light, this church feels burdensome. The relationship with the SLC based church feels bureaucratic and patronising.

    As for intergenerational growth, seems like at least half of the children go less active; therefore, members would need to have at least 4 children to maintain numbers.

    Feels very much like a sinking ship.

    If the church is to thrive, it needs to allow people to do more good, feel like they are doing good and fund people doing good, not just amongst the mormons but in their communities, this will involve changing the nature of callings. The emphasis on the mormon commandments should be altered, or a tolerance more greater afforded: word of wisdom, tattoos, white shirts, tithing,etc. The absolute obedience demanded by the church does not work in a situation where the church is not seen as having a monopoly on truth, but people will want to be a part of an organisation that does good and follows christ. Instead we have a church that preaches self-reliance while taking, at times, all the excess money off its members. And the the constant mantra of ‘I know the church is the only true church’ is an attendance deterrent for those who do not feel the same way. Can you imagine a seasoned member stepping up on open mike Sunday and saying the he or she believes or hopes the church is true, but does not know? What if someone got up and said they were going through a crisis of faith but were glad to have the acceptance of the ward? Yet more and more members are going through a crisis of their orthodox beliefs – this is not necessarily a crisis of faith, many will keep a faith in God, but find that the claims and works of mormonism are too narrow for those people to feel comfortable at church. The church needs to be far broader than it is right now if it hopes to prosper. An anti-gay, expensive, pious, rigid organisation that looks only after itself will not grow in Scotland, no matter how many missionaries and slick Internet adverts it has.

    Apologies if that’s more of a rant than a response to the podcast.

  6. Marie Black

    I am American. Both my my husband and I, most of our families and many of our friends are very uncomfortable with the salesman approach. We love the gospel, but find the attitudes sometimes hard to bear. Thank you for an interesting discussion. I agree that local leadership is most in tune with local needs and also that actual funds and service should be expended at the local level, obviously with a portion going to aid people around the world who do not have sufficient for their needs.

  7. Roy

    Perhaps someone with a deeper understanding of economic systems, and how they can either support or stifle human flourishing, will analyze the LDS Church’s institutional structure and behavior. On the face of it, it seems a lot like the old Soviet Union.

    “Thomas Monson, tear down that Wasatch wall!”

    1. Quentin

      I was a missionary in the former Soviet Union. Over time I came to be aware just how many bits of church terminology had very specific Communist party connotations when translated into Russian: “high council” (the word Soviet literally means council), “executive committee”, “meeting”, even the very formal usage of middle initials to refer to leaders was a habit of the Soviet leadership. Given how church leaders felt about Communism during the cold war, I find the parallels quite hilarious.

        1. Quentin

          I truly have no idea. When I was there they were still translating the scriptures and hymnbooks (let’s hope they eventually got better translations than some of the stuff we tried to sing), so they hadn’t got to the church handbooks yet (and no high council existed for another 15 years). People did occasionally remark about the political connotations of the word “meeting” and its association with the Communist party, but I don’t know what other word people would use. The people who have been members for nearly a generation now are probably used to all the terminology and don’t give it a second thought.

  8. Quentin

    There’s a name for the distinctly American idea that God gives wealth to those who have faith in him: the “prosperity gospel”. In its more egregious forms, it has been used by TV evangelists to truly take advantage of the poor for their own personal gain, but its ideas seem to have permeated much of American religious culture. One writer in the New York Times earlier this year ( pointed out that the present popularity of the term “blessed” and the way it is used comes from the prosperity gospel.

    I believe that anyone in the top of LDS church leadership would explicitly disavow the concept of the prosperity gospel, as they should, yet it is clear that some of the ideas from that movement have been subconsciously absorbed by contemporary American Mormon culture. I think a lot of that comes from the long standing alliance in American politics between conservative religious leaders and pro-capitalism types, although that alliance seems to be fraying a bit during the insanity that is the present election season, so I’m curious where things will go from here.

    1. Gina Colvin

      I agree Quentin. its not just a Mormon issue – its an issue with many religions who have a home base in the US. In New Zealand our major religions are catholicism and Anglicanism. Both have a real emphasis on social justice/liberation theology. Its what makes Mormonism such a misfit.

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