Mormons - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The Mormons emphasize close relationships among church members and social distance Between themselves and nonmembers. The church sponsors a number of social groups and social occasions for its members. Particularly important groups are the church auxiliary Organizations such as the Women's Relief Society, the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association, and the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association. These organizations combine social, recreational, educational, and religious functions. Although a formal class structure is absent within the church framework, wealth differences between Mormons or between families are noted, and those among the very wealthy enjoy access to the leaders of the church. Although Mormons, in a general sense, are part of the American class system, their self-identity as Mormons is far more important and takes precedence in social situations. The place of American Indians and African-Americans in the church for some time has been equivocal. Both groups are represented in the Membership, but not in the church hierarchy. Similarly, the leaders have always been men.

Political Organization. The organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both lateral and Hierarchical and exceedingly complex. Laterally, the church is organized territorially into wards and stakes (called respectively branches and missions in areas where membership is too small to warrant full-scale organization). Wards are locallevel units, roughly equivalent to a parish, with an average of about six hundred members each and presided over by a ward bishop and his two counsellors. Wards are organized into stakes, with an average of about five thousand members each, which are governed by stake presidents, his two counsellors, and a stake Council. Above the stakes are the general authorities of the church, who include the First Presidence (the first president and his two counsellors), the Quorum of the Twelve (the Apostles), the First Council (the Council of the Seventies), the presiding bishopric, and the patriarch of the church. The first president is the apex of religious and administrative authority within the church. He is considered the successor to Joseph Smith, Jr., bears Smith's title—"prophet, seer, and revelator"—and holds office for life. When the office of the first president falls vacant, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve succeeds to the office which he holds until he dies. Since the founding of the church, authority has rested with White males, a source of discord today, particularly among some women and African-American members.

Mormons have always been involved in local, state, and national politics and are a major force in Utah politics. They have usually managed to achieve a workable balance between loyalties to the state and to the church, both on the group and individual levels.

Social Control and Conflict. As noted above, it was not until about 1900 that Mormon conflicts with Gentiles and the federal government were resolved. Mormon relations with Indians (the Ute in Utah) were generally friendlier than Between Indians and other settlers. This arose mostly from the Mormons' belief that American Indians are of Hebraic origin and that one goal of Mormonism is to reconvert Indians to Christianity. The Mormons and the Ute were also allies in conflicts with non-Mormon settlers. The Mormons emphasize work and personal development and discourage activities such as alcohol and tobacco consumption that might interfere with that goal. Drinking coffee and tea are also discouraged. As marriage and the family are key social institutions, divorce and birth control are also discouraged, although neither is uncommon. In general, internal social control is achieved through lifelong involvement in Mormonism.


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