Friday, May 07, 2004

Demographic homogeneity

Eugene England, in his book, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel, points out that the geographic organization of the Church puts us in contact with people we might not otherwise choose to serve or choose to serve with, and that this stretches and develops us. This practical aspect of the Church can transform us as much as the doctrinal beliefs can.

However, as the country has seen formal segregation change to informal segregation, with minorities concentrated in dense urban areas and the more affluent occuping the suburbs, it seems the Church feels the effects of this, and it lessens the potential England discusses. I lived just outside Baltimore, Maryland, for a couple of years, and the demographics of our suburban ward were very different from the demographics of the downtown Baltimore wards -- and the problems we had to solve were also very different. The impact of this kind of separation on the Church is likely strongest where there is a high concentration of Church members (and each ward is therefore geographically smaller). For example, my parents live in Lindon, Utah (about 20 minutes north of BYU). The few neighborhoods that comprise their ward are very homogenous, with a few minor exceptions as children inherit from their parents.

England's point still holds true to some extent. Unlike other churches, we generally don't choose the congregation we prefer to go to. (I say “generally,” but when we moved to Minnesota, the ward was a factor in our decision of which area of the city to move to.) This ensures that there will at least be some diversity in our approaches to the gospel. But we may miss out on other productive tensions as our wards reflect the relative homegeneity of the geographical area in which we live.

Should the Church try to find ways to mitigate this? Is the Church trying to do so? If so, how? What might be some good suggestions? Do we have an additional individual responsibility to step out of our comfort zone to serve those who are different from us?


  1. May I risk saying that homogeneity is not a bad thing, per se? See Michaeil Walzer's short study On Toleration.

      [Comment originally posted by: john fowles | 05.08.04 - 2:10 pm]

  2. Michael Walzer, On Toleration

      [Comment originally posted by: john fowles | 05.08.04 - 2:10 pm]

  3. Homogeneity and heterogeneity each have good and bad points. One issue that the Church has to take into account though, I think, is that as heterogeneity increases, administrative problems likely increase in complexity. A ward full of upper-middle-class pioneer-descended active families may not have as many challenges and opportunities for growth as more heterogeneous wards. But a ward in which no one has anything in common may be so dysfunctional as to not fulfill the minimum necessary functions of a ward [speaking of which, the concept of 'MNFOAW' might make an interest blog post...].

    As for what the Church is doing, I suspect only CHQ knows exactly. And while I'd love to see a 10 minute talk on "The Philosophy and Work of the Boundary Committee," somehow I won't exactly be holding my breath for next General Conference.

      [Comment originally posted by: BDemosthenes | Homepage | 05.08.04 - 11:32 pm]

  4. I believe that many weaker inner city wards, even in Salt Lake, have people called to serve in them. Also it isn't that uncommon now to have wards *not* follow geographic regions. Even in my ward the ward boundaries hop about half a mile to include some areas not geographically contingent to the main ward boundaries.

      [Comment originally posted by: Clark | Homepage | 05.09.04 - 1:34 am]

  5. Even in Orem UT, there is some effort made at this -- my stake has a geographic area comprised largely of appartments and a pretty transient set of tenants. At some point, there was a decision made that a number of individuals and families throughout the stake would be called to serve in that ward.

    It's true, though, that the rationale wasn't really based on an affirmative action style program designed to promote heterogeneity (rather, stability was the goal).

      [Comment originally posted by: Weston C | Homepage | 05.09.04 - 9:18 pm]

  6. Don't get me started on the dependent branches in Orem. Such a strange Church phenom could only happen in Utah.

    So you have a ward full 25-year-olds who live in condos (who have all grown up in the Church). Surely everyone knows that you must have a HOUSE before you can sustain a unit of the Church. Therefore, one must call 70-year-olds to come in and patronizingly colonize them in an effort to show how inclusive and enlightened the stake is being.

    The stake-missionary model is not what we're going for here. The point of it is not so the Saints "mingle" outside of their comfort zones; it's a matter of the unit's survival. E.g, my stake in the DC metro has some branches made up of 1st-gen converts living in the inner city. There's basically no priesthood. The stake-missionary model is valid here because it relates only to having enough priesthood.

    The model I've seen applied in Orem tho, seems simply to use age and $ as its indicator of priesthood capacity, which is ba

      [Comment originally posted by: Nick | 05.10.04 - 12:55 pm]

  7. Nick, I don't see it as an issue of mistrust of 20somethings (and hopefully, at a non-crusty single 32, I'm still qualified to make that judgement) or the poor. The membership really is transient in that area -- I understand 2/3 turnover is not uncommon in a year. The stake YSA ward (a seperate unit from the ward covering the area under discussion) is more stable than that.

    Much of the demographic does seem to be young couples/families and immigrants, though, so maybe it's possible to see other things at work here... but maybe the good news is that they are frequently moving out of some of Orem's less desireable housing.

      [Comment originally posted by: Weston C | Homepage | 05.10.04 - 8:58 pm]