Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Believing Blood Versus Nepotism: Calling of Mission Presidents and Area Seventies

In calling men to be mission presidents, or area authority seventy many times it is because they have believing blood rather than nepotism. You can put a negative spin on the fact that some of the best prepared people for calling are the relatives of LDS General Authorities.

When I was a young missionary in the Canada Toronto Mission under M. Russell Ballard back in the mid70s Elder Ballard used to tell us about how his grandfather Melvin J. Ballard would talk about how the noble and elect were born in to the homes of LDS families of noble heritage. He personally was the grandson on his father son of an Apostle Melvin J. Ballard and on his mother side of Apostle Hyrum Mack Smith, son of Joseph F. Smith and brother of Joseph Fielding Smith. As missionary I was convinced one day he would be an Apostle. I remember his sense of humor on the day he found out he was called to be an apostle. He said to my wife and I who were visiting him "Pay attention tomorrow in conference and you will see the Lord has a sense of humor. Will wonders never cease?" The next day he was called.

Elder Ballard used to tell us that he had believing blood and that a descendant of LDS general authorities knew a lot about church governance and how things operate so they made natural leaders. He grew up around his grandfather Melvin J. Ballard. His relatives were apostles. I never really disputed this because it made logical sense to me that the Lord placed men like Russell Ballard in the homes in which they were born for a reason so they could learn leadership.

As a convert I didn't really have any frame of reference. It seems to me lifelong members take more offense with this practice than most of us converts. It also stands to reason I was born in a nonmember home because most of us were screw ups. I might have helped thousands of people get their temple work in the last thirty-five years but being a Mormon suck-up is not my idea hence I am not leadership material.

Bruce R. McConkie in A New Witness of the Articles of Faith defines believing blood as: "What then is believing blood? It is the blood that flows in the veins of those who are the literal seed of Abraham-not that the blood itself believes, but that those born in that lineage have both the right and a special spiritual capacity to recognize, receive, and believe the truth. The term is simply a beautiful, a poetic, and a symbolic way of referring to the seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made. It identifies those who developed in preexistence the talent to recognize the truth and to desire righteousness."

J. Golden Kimball is well-known for his colorful phrase "Some people say a person receives a position in this church through revelation, and others say they get it through inspiration, but I say they get it through relation. If I hadn’t been related to Heber C. Kimball, I wouldn’t have been a damn thing in this church.”

James E. Faust poked a little bit of humor at believing blood in his autobiography In the Strength of the Lord: "In reflecting on the "believing blood" that he descended from, Jim says, "I feel heavily the responsibility of living up to the heritage of the people who paid such a great price in leaving their homes and giving their very lives for the Church that had been restored. At the same time, I do not claim any preferences or consequences as a result of my heritage, as I'm mindful of the old saying that those who are always talking about their ancestors can be a little like the potato-the best part of them is underground."

In April 1913 General Conference Joesph E. Robinson, President of the California Mission followed Melvin J. Ballard in speaking saying: "With Elder Ballard, I sincerely rejoice in the fact that I, too, have been born of "believing blood." Sometimes, in the mission field, I have been confronted with the thought, and with the statement that, "this alone accounts for your position as a member of the 'Mormon' faith, or Church, the fact that you were born a 'Mormon.'" At first blush, to some it may appear that there is no particular virtue in one's birth, yet through all time I have learned to have respect to that "believing blood" spoken of in the scriptures, and recognized by the Master Himself when He said, "My sheep know my voice and the stranger they will not follow." I have learned too, from observing not only men of different nationalities, and their predisposition to do certain things because of prenatal influences and training, and different traits of thoughts and living, that in the animal world about us, those who were born to a certain end achieved it more readily than any can be trained to do so; that the bloodhound will follow with unerring scent the trail that is lost to the pampered and petted pet of some lady of high degree. And so I rejoice in the fact that I, too, have been born of believing parents, of the third generation, and it has been my prayer that there shall be no untoward act performed by me that shall turn back the tide of progress set by my ancestors toward the goal of truth and righteousness."

M. Russell Ballard also taught us as missionaries that we called the right man to the job not the best man. He explained that in a church that operates on revelation that the right person for a calling wasn't always the best qualified but they were the person whom the Lord wanted and the person calling them wanted them. He used to tell me in my personal life that if I wanted to get ahead in the LDS church I needed to get along with people. He also told us as missionaries that if we kept our noses clean and got along that we would be leaders one day in the church. I am still waiting for that day. I owe being a high priest myself to a man hearing of my love for Ezra Taft Benson and my love of temple work. He called me to be a high priest group assistant. Turns out he was a cousin of ETB. Otherwise I would have lived and died an elder (Bruce R. McConkie would have chastised me in his talk Only An Elder). The truth was I read over and over in the scriptures that you couldn't be a god unless you were a great high priest. So I desired that priesthood so I could have exaltation in the life to come.

Jeff Spector on Mormon Matters gave an insightful chart of the relationships of current general authorities with mission presidents and other general authority Seventies that are their relations. I knew that Jon Huntsman the in-law to M. Russell Ballard was an area authority Seventy. I wasn't aware that Peter Huntsman my old mission president's son-in-law had been called as an area authority Seventy but Spector has him listed. Peter is a fine man with a good heart. Even if he has limited experience in his church callings the Lord will qualify him like he did his other relatives.

I do know that his father-in-law Elder Ballard thinks highly of him and gave him a leg up when he had him speak at several missionary related-meetings when he was a high priest with no substantial callings when he first moved to Texas. I actually gave Peter a plug in a strange way in a pseudo-calling I had. I was the special assistant executive secretary to the stake president where Huntsman lived in Texas doing special projects like reactivation for the stake president. In a strange way I repaid Elder Ballard for some of the things he has done for me over the years when I spoke up for his son-in-law one day.

I had an interesting experience when I served as assistant stake executive secretary of the Houston North Stake under Richard Page, who is the son-in-law of Graham Doxey formerly of the Seventy. During the time when three men were released as stake executive secretary I operated for a few months as the stake executive secretary and was involved in the calling of a few people.

Not being shy I offered my opinions on matters from who to call to be bishop of a particular ward to selection for the high council.I actually suggested Peter Huntsman when he moved down to the Woodlands to serve on the stake high council. The stake president and his counselors said he was a fine man but that he was probably to busy to serve in that capacity since he was out of country a great deal of the time.

The stake president was unimpressed by people because of their money or position and only impressed by their spirituality and service. There was a heated discussion over whether or not with his business interests he had the time to serve in that capacity since he would be going abroad to chemical plants all over the world. I said what is the difference between him and a couple of other bishops that traveled widely and held firm that they should consider him since we had bishops that worked for oil companies and I said we should consider him. They were both gone a couple months a year. A short time later he was called to the high council.

I asked the same counselor in the stake presidency why he was called and he said he suggested him. I had to laugh. Now I see he has gone on to be an area seventy.I think if a person has the potential it shouldn't matter if they are related or not. It should only matter if they are the person the Lord wants. The Lord qualifies whom he calls.I don't argue that many times relationship can help a person to get a calling or on the track to being a general authority.

In fact Jeff Spector at Mormon Matters clearly points out some of these relationships. I have found in my experience in the church that there is less nepotism on the top than in the middle levels such as the Church Educational System and the Church university system. Try getting a job at BYU where the son-in-laws and children of the professors seem to have a lock on jobs even in the library.

I also later had an experience in the same stake presidency where the two counselors argued about the calling of the stake president's wife as a president in one of the ward organizations. They told him he shouldn't do it. He himself was opposed to his wife serving in that calling because people would accuse him of nepotism.I related to them the calling of Hyrum Mack Smith because I had read the diaries of Anthon H. Lund and shared it with them. When Joseph F. Smith suggested his son be called members of the Quorum of Twelve said that people would accuse them of nepotism. President Lund spoke up and said if President Smith said the Lord wanted him and he wanted him then we should sustain him and he felt his fellow brethren should do so. I said if the bishop felt she should be called and she could do a good job then we shouldn't care about what people say as long as she was the right person for the calling. She was subsequently called.

I am not a firm believer that in every case the person called is the right person or the best person but if they spirit says so we should call someone why should we worry about family relations. One time I was aced out of a job at BYU Hawaii when a VP hired his sister-in-law and I was asked to leave since I had a temporary position. She was no more qualified than I was for the job. He husband actually riled up the students when he was cussing in the classroom at the Samoans who wanted to beat him for his rude behavior. I even wrote an editorial about cussing in the faculty dining table in the Seasider called my star and little fishes a phrase my wife's grandmother would say instead of a four letter word. I find that intellectual pygmies have to resort to profanity while those with a better vocabulary can get the same effect by using words to their advantage. I don't think that editorial made me very popular. I haven't been able to buy a job there since I did that and also squealed out someone for tithing abuse that was at the top of the heap. There is no way you can beat out someone’s relative when you are equally competent.

No one said life is fair so why belly ache. I sucked it up and went to work for the Methodists for a while at a Methodist College in Missouri. I learned to respect them for their beautiful prayers and devotion to chapel similar to our BYU devotionals.

The only down side I can see to calling general authorities relatives is that it limits the opportunities for some of us that are converts or of less noble families. However with the growth of the Seventies quorums and the expansion in to new areas of the world there might be more opportunities for internationalization so the few that are called don't eliminate opportunities since there are so many vacancies for mission presidents and seventies. I only see a small minority among those called of their relatives.

Melvin J. Ballard's dad Henry was a bishop. Maybe if I ever become a bishop my son Michael would have a better chance one day become a church leader but unfortunately for him I doubt at this point in life I will ever be called.

In my church experience I have learned a lot from relatives of general authorities that I have passed on to my children and readers of my blog. Reed Benson was an inspiration to me and he did have the opportunity to be a mission president but he was passed over for higher callings despite his devotion to his father. You can get screwed over even if you are related to a general authority. I am not sure they have it so easy.

No one disputes that there is nepotism in the LDS Church. Michael Quinn clearly shows in his book Mormon Hierarchy Extensions of Power and his doctoral dissertation that there are some pretty close ties during the last hundred years between mission presidents and the calling of general authorities.

When you deal with a lay ministry in any group you will have to deal with relationships. I have a problem breaking the ranks because I move every few years so I can’t be buddies with those who are secure in an area. I think Elder Ballard explanation is the best rationale for answering critics of the practice. If a general authority's son, daughter, nephew or niece is the right person for the job why should blood relations matter?

It doesn't faze me when someone is called that is a relative to the current living authorities. I personally wouldn't call my own relative but if the Lord impressed me to do it I might change my mind. The bible is replete with people related to each other. I am sure every time a Mormon GAs considers a relative they know they will be accused of nepotism. I think we should remember believing blood can trump nepotism when the Lord wants a certain person.


Bored in Vernal said...

Very thought-provoking. In my opinion, "believing blood" may be a propensity or special spiritual capacity to recognize, receive, and believe the truth. But I hesitate to connect it to descent from a General Authority. To me this definition of believing blood is problematic because if some are qualified for positions because of their blood or foreordained to come to these families through some sort of righteousness in the preexistence, it opens the door to believing that others do not receive callings because they are unworthy in some way. This view seems incorrect.

S.Faux said...

Dr. B --

I have spent many, many hours studying this issue.

I am going to avoid a long response in this forum. But, something important was happening to which we do not have all the answers.

For example, the Cof12 of the 1830s were taught by Jos. Smith that they were interrelated.

In fact, they were. There were complex genealogical connections between JS, WR, BY, HCK, and of course J. Sr., John, and Geo. Albert.

A second group of genealogical connections existed between JS, OC, FGW, OP, PPP, and WW. It is fascinating that most "non-related" members of the "Twelve" dropped out or were dropped. Most of the "related" individuals endured to the end. The difference was statistically significant, meaning that durability appeared to be nonrandom.

Interpret these findings how you may.

Hayes said...

first of all: use HARD BREAKS and paragraphs...there were some interesting ideas in there, but reading them was quite cumbersome.

Secondly, of course there is nepotism in the church. When callings are issued, they are going to be given by revelation, but normally require the person to work it out in their mind first. And, when we are looking for people to serve, we are going to go through a list of people with whom we have had some interaction. Most of us interact with our family frequently. That's not to say that the callings are uninspired and lazily assigned, it's just a fact of human nature. Could the spirit direct an authority to look beyond the Zion Curtain? Sure. But, it ain't the normal way of operating.