Thursday, October 23, 2008

Filthy Lucre

I know this post is not going to be a popular one, so feel free to click on that single star or roast me to dust in the comments. Or hate me in your mind and cast hexes from your living room. I’m fully aware that by criticizing a byproduct of the church, miniscule and unimportant as it may be, I’m eliciting strong emotional responses. I ask that you keep in mind that I am an intensely proud member of the LDS faith. I just happen to have a problem with parts of its culture.

Many of you may be familiar with Mormons Exposed, the controversial steamy calendar depicting former LDS missionaries in proselyting gear on one page, and then posing in their waist-up buffness on another. I use the term “former” simply because they are not CURRENT missionaries laboring in the field from 9 to 9 with occasional breaks for lunch, dinner, scripture study, and oiling up their abs for that evening’s photo shoot. I don’t mean to suggest that they are no longer members of the church in perfectly good standing. They’ve simply been released as missionaries.

The calendar is the brainchild of one Chad Hardy, a BYU student at the time of the calendar’s release. He was excommunicated from the church and also had his diploma put on hold from BYU until he is reinstated in good standing, all as a result of the calendar. He allegedly holds no ill will toward the church and feels they did what was best for everyone. He must have really felt strongly about what he was doing.

At this point you may be wondering how this calendar could possibly be considered a “byproduct” of the church. Clearly it’s not.

My own personal opinion is this. Mr. Hardy’s calendar filled with half-naked missionaries is not much of a stretch from Michael McLean’s latest CD on sale at Seagull Book and Tape. The ONLY thing, in my opinion, that makes Hardy’s calendar wrong is how it so closely relates the missionary to the boy toy. In all honesty, the pictures in the calendar are quite tastefully done. Long pants and shirtless…that’s all. I’m 99% positive that there are LDS models all over the world that do work in magazines, possibly swimsuit models. We’ve had Mormon Ms. Utah’s that compete on a national stage in a bathing suit. My studly younger brother has a friend at BYU that is the reigning Mr. Hong Kong. Michael’s parents are 1st generation Chinese and he himself served a mission in Hong Kong. He got to parade around in a Speedo and do choreographed dance steps and martial arts with his pecs and lats flanging for 2 billion raving Chinese folk. Why is that different than some LDS “models” posing for a calendar? In my not-so-humble opinion, IT IS NOT. Again, the only thing that makes the calendar filthy is the close tie to sacred things and the obvious attempt to advertise it as something pure becoming not-so-pure-anymore.

That said, I have a problem with it. I have a problem with ANYONE that abuses the LDS community to make a living. Yes, this is a capitalist country; a place where men are free to increase their wealth using their own wit and power. I believe in free enterprise. I also believe in having access to spiritually uplifting media. I enjoy The Forgotten Carols as much as the next guy. But I don’t think the CD should be sold at $18.00 a pop so Michael McLean can get rich off of my spiritual uplift.

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:2)

I interpret that passage on a personal level and I see it thus… If you have a talent, a skill, a story, or a thing that can benefit a soul then that talent, skill, story, or thing should be made available to society. I’m not saying that it should be GIVEN away, but it should be made available at low cost. No one should “get gain” from the transaction. Your mind should be ready to “feed the flock of God” which is clearly among us, and your mind should not be racing to figure out how to make a buck off of the flock.

My favorite band is Phish. Part of the magic behind Phish is that they are “taper friendly.” Anyone is encouraged to bring his audio equipment and record a Phish show. That taper can then transfer the data in a high quality digital format to a CD, then make the CD(s) available to the community. There are only two rules. 1) Do NOT encode the data to lossy formats such as MP3. Offenders will have the hands cut off at the wrist and will be shunned as pariahs wherever good music is heard. 2) DO NOT SELL FOR PROFIT. Phish doesn’t care if they make money on the show or not, as long as no one else does.

Something can be done about filthy lucre. The official church organization can easily get involved. There are 13 million members of the church, a good majority of which pays a 10% tithe. That’s a lot of freaking money. If Janice Kapp Perry has a new album that she thinks will spiritually edify, then she could submit the product to the church. The church could then contract with Janice to purchase the product and make it available to members of the church at close-to-cost prices through the church distribution centers. BAM. Instead of selling out Abravanel Hall at $45 per ticket, Kurt Bestor could submit his plan to the church who could then arrange for the show to be given at The Conference Center, free of charge or at $8 per ticket to cover operating costs. That, my friends, is tithing funds well spent.

I don’t know that there is a magic bullet. But I just don’t believe that the gospel message was intended to be sold. Joseph Smith didn’t sell first printings of the Book of Mormon for personal profit. He inflated cost for the sole purpose of growing the church and printing more books. I believe that if The Big Man himself were on the earth today, he would be saddened at the profit centers and weasels that take advantage of the oft-gullible LDS culture. If you have a talent that can improve people spirituality, share it. Don’t sell it. Or the next time my bishop asks me to play that joke of a Fisher Price keyboard in priesthood; I’m putting a Dixie cup on top for tips.


Anonymous said...

First off, the majority of church members aren't full tithe payers. The actual numbers vary from ward to ward, but I don't think there's anywhere where it approaches even half of those who are active. Ask a bishop about it sometime if you can get one to open up.

Nit-pick aside, I mostly agree with you... until the part where the church becomes the official distribution channel of all things spiritual. The problem with that is two-fold.

First, it's a bureacratic nightmare. The number of things they'd need to vette is huge and that means relying on staff members instead of ecclesiastical leaders to make the decisions of what gets published and what doesn't. That means that cultural effluvia will inevitably get through the filter, which leads to problem number two.

Second, if the church officially vettes all "artistic" material, those materials take on the imprimature of holy writ. That means that you can say goodbye to artistic license (along with a good deal of analogy and most similies). Also, say goodbye to exploration and developing individual judgement.

The church is very careful about what it lets leave official channels. If you look at our official doctrine, you'll find that it's pretty basic at heart and includes lots of room for divergence on the details. This is deliberate. Not only do we want to be very careful that our teachings are in line with actual revealed truth, but our purpose on Earth is to learn to find answers ourselves. That means having room to explore and make mistakes--which is hard to do if you have to submit all your artistic endeavors through official channels.

Tyler said...

Great insight Jacob. As I mentioned, I don't think there's a magic bullet. I certainly never suggested having spiritual entertainment become church doctrine. The church has a number of businesses built under the umbrella of the "official organization" of the church. As far as I'm concerned, the change could be transparent. It would be great, call it a wish, if the church could somehow regulate prices charged on the retail side.

I'm sure you agree with the broad concept of the post, "nit-picks aside." It's actually implementing a process to eliminate the lucrists that is the challenge.

Wherever there is carrion there are vultures. Period.

jasnjan said...

Just for the record, I completely agree with you on the "former missionary" calendar. It is wrong due to the association of the sacredness of the calling and the body.

On the music issue I also mostly agree with you. However, it is a slippery slope as Jacob eluded to. There are people that go to school to become professional musicians and should be paid as such. If they were not, we wouldn't have professional musicians. At least not very many... However, I agree with the spiritual aspect of what you are saying.

I have been known to write an arrangement or two for various ward and stake functions but I make my stuff available to anyone that wants it - for free. I feel like each of those was a gift from God and it wouldn't sit right with me to charge for them. To me, personally, it would feel like being a patriarch charging for a blessing but perhaps that's because I'm not trying to support a family with it. However, I know that there are other musicians that agree with me. (
On the other hand, the directors and organists for the MoTab are paid positions... talk about working on Sunday a lot!

I think it needs to be up to the conscience of the musician at best. Oh, another point... apostles write books and they are sold for $18 a pop... If it is scripture, shouldn't it be free or, as your Joseph Smith example, near on to free? Just some more food for thought.

Talbot Family said...

I believe that he was not just excommunicated for the calendar, but had very strong issues with tithing. If you aren't a full tithe payer then you aren't in good standing and this dude declared himself that he has an issue with tithing and won't pay it.

That tells me he doesn't have a testimony of the church. You can't just say I believe in this, but not that. In our faith it is all or nothing.

You might want to do a little more research into the whole story as to why this dude got exed. Although I must say that it just being the calendar does add a dramatic flare.

I really like K.D Lang. What are your thoughts about her music, not her manliness?

Tyler said...

A) I did my research. I don't care about dramatic flare.

B) You are wrong about it being all or nothing in the church. There are many people that choose not to pay tithing. That might make you unworthy to attend the temple but it WILL NOT get you excommunicated. Further, there are millions of members worldwide that pick and choose what parts of the church work for them and have no threat of losing their membership. Look at grandpa for example.

C) As far as I know, there is no requirement to pay tithing to receive a diploma from BYU. There are hundreds of students that attend the school that are not LDS. I'm pretty sure they don't pay tithing to a church they don't belong to and wouldn't join.

In my opinion, tithing was thrown out as a supporting reason for the actions taken on calendar guy. I have no doubt that the church would have been willing to work with the guy on tithing if he weren't mass-producing calendars of half-naked Elders, which incidentally is a huge hit on many gay websites as I learned while doing my research. This guy got in trouble for the calendars, period.

I don't like KD Lang.

De-Rail said...

Actually, to attend BYU there are 2 things you must do 1) get an ecclesiastical endorsement every year from your church leader and 2) sign the Honor Code. Non members get endorsements from their church leader, an LDS bishop or the non-denominational BYU chaplain.

One section of the Honor Code states:

Involvement with pornographic, erotic, obscene, indecent, or other offensive materials, expressions, or conduct which, in the sole discretion and judgment of the university, is inconsistent with the BYU Honor Code. . .

This is separate language from the viewing pornographic material, key word is "involvement". Clearly the calendar could be considered erotic, indecent or offensive. This could clearly be interpreted as a violation of the Honor Code.

And as for your main point. Let the lemmings line up to purchase the next Mormon fad. Entrepreneurs are only making money because there are enough people that "must have" the latest Mormon thing. And with regard to music the market price is dictated by demand. So save your money for our Phish tour in 2009.

Mandy said...

Wow, this evoked quite the response. That's all.

Mandy said...

I don't like KD Lang either.

momcani said...

If Janice Kapp Perry and Michael Mclean should surrender their rights to their music to make it more affordable for you to listen to, why did I just pay 75.00 a ticket to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As a friend of a musician who spends hours and hours writing music, I believe the little he makes from "high priced" CD sales he well deserves.. and if I want to hear more music from him I have to pay the price or take the chance that he wont produce more music. ggeeeeezzz mormons are cheap.

Tyler said...

If you paid $75.00 to see the choir then you got soaked. There are literally a cajillion opportunities to see Motab FOR FREE every year.

See it how you'd like. I personally believe it is morally reprehensible to mass produce music that is DESIGNED to build faith and testimony, and charge double what you would pay for mainstream music at the record store. Clearly my OPINION isn't always popular, but I really don't care.

I have no problem supporting art. I do it all the time. I regularly go to live shows and buy CDs of artists I enjoy. So please don't confuse me with someone that doesn't understand and appreciate the effort musicians put into their work. You aren't the only one that happens to have a musician friend. But the ONLY time I feel like I'm taking it in the rear from a musician is when I walk into Deseret Book or Seagull.

"ggeeeeezzz mormons are cheap." What a terrible generalization. Would you care to blanket Mormons with any other unfounded, vague terms that are impossible to quantify, based entirely on the opinion of one cynical 30-something that doesn't feel like paying through the nose for kitsch lemming music?

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