Unrighteous Dominion: How They Do It in Draper

Top40I’m a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will tell you now and tomorrow that I believe the gospel to be true. However, you will never convince me that the “church” is perfect or “true” in any real sense of the word, because the church is made up of people and people (including and especially me) are inherently weak and flawed. People (including me) are made up of their prejudices, their foibles, their misguided opinions and their preconceived notions. Lots of people are put into leadership roles in the hope that they will grow into them. Some do, but others … not so much. And think about it: half of everyone you meet is below average.

It’s a global church, and (at least in theory) every “unit” is supposed to follow the same rules, procedures and guidelines. Yes, ward and stake leaders can receive revelation specific to their unit, but if that revelation includes ideas that run counter to all other revealed knowledge (5% tithing, for example) lots of people are going to wonder where the “revelations” are coming from. The handbooks and materials are translated into dozens of different languages so that everybody around the world will be on the same page—at least, in theory. But every once in a while you hear about a particular church unit (ward, stake or region) where things are done a little bit differently. Sometimes it’s no big deal. Other times it can be distressing.

A perfect example is the “Aloha ‘Oe” in Hawaii. In most places in the world, when a family leaves a ward, it’s primarily a matter of paperwork. You transfer the members’ records to their new ward, and you release them from their callings. (In theory, this is supposed to be done before they leave.) You may call out the Elders Quorum to help them move.

In Hawaii, there is an additional “requirement.” After sacrament meeting on the last Sunday a family attends a specific ward, the whole congregation stands up and sings “Aloha ‘Oe” and drapes leis around their necks. I’ve even known members to arrive at church, find out that a particular family or person is going to be “Aloha ‘Oed” that day, and then duck out during the talks to gather flowers and quickly make leis.

Yes, it happens. It’s nowhere in any handbook, or in any of the rules for conducting ward meetings. Every ward does it, and it’s not a problem at all.

This past January we ran into another provincial peculiarity that caused us some grief. Two of our good friends, a husband and wife, serve as the chorister and organist in our congregation. They’re from Pennsylvania, so like us, they’re not exactly “Utah Mormons.” As part of their job, they are in charge of choosing the music for worship services. They submit their selections to the bishop, who approves them (or not) ahead of the meetings.

Fine so far. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.

One Sunday this past January, our ward’s bishop shot down one of the song selections for a particular meeting. Again, that’s his prerogative, and his responsibility. It wasn’t the fact of his veto that became an issue for us, but the reason he gave for rejecting the hymn that caused Melanie and me to scratch our heads in disbelief.

According to the bishop, it was official stake policy that only the “top 40” hymns should be used in sacrament meeting. When we heard this, Melanie and I both went: “WHAT?!

The ward music chairman parroted the bishop’s explanation. He said that very explicit direction had come from the stake presidency that only certain hymns (the unspecified “top 40”) should be allowed in sacrament meeting. I asked whether he had a copy of this list. Who compiled it? Who maintains it? No answer to any of those. “It’s just the popular ones,” he told us. I reminded him of the guidance in both the church handbook and the hymnal itself: “Music leaders should try to achieve a good balance between familiar favorites and hymns that are not as well known.” He just shrugged and said he was following directions.

I told him: “I don’t want to be a member of a church that can only sing 40 hymns.” I stand by that statement today.

There are right around 300 hymns in the LDS hymnal. Some are choir or men’s/women’s arrangements, and others are patriotic songs or seasonal hymns. But the rest are fair game—or should be.

Later that evening, I was still having trouble believing that someone in a leadership position would unilaterally decide that only 13% of the hymns in the official church canon were to be allowed in Sunday worship services. Melanie finally convinced me to send an e-mail to “President Whatshisface,” the member of the stake presidency with whom we had had the most contact. He had always seemed to be a reasonable sort of fellow, pleasant and unassuming. I sat down and composed a message to try to get to the bottom of what just had to be an honest misunderstanding. Right?

Wrong.

Subject: Music in Sacrament Meetings
Date: Sun, Jan 12, 2014 8:23 pm
From: David Baker
To: [Counselor, Stake Presidency]
Cc: Melanie Baker

Dear [Counselor]:

I wanted to contact you regarding a difference of opinion that occurred this afternoon before and after our sacrament meeting. Apparently a hymn selection that had been chosen by the chorister and organist was nixed by the bishop. Our ward music chairman said the song was changed because it wasn’t one of the “Top 40” songs sanctioned for use in meetings. I had always understood that any hymn in the official church hymnal was appropriate for Sunday services, so it was surprising to hear talk about a “Top 40” list. The ward member in question said the direction had come through you, directly from a member of the area Seventy.

Here are my questions:

1. Is there, in fact, a “Top 40” list of songs to be used in sacrament meeting?
2. If so, where is this list available, and who compiled it? Was it the Seventy in question?
3. Is this official church-wide policy, or something that has been decided within our particular stake?

I have no dog in this fight, but was curious because it sounded very much like we were getting into urban legend territory with talk of a “Top 40” list. But the ward member I was speaking with insisted that it was true.

Thanks in advance,

David Baker

Pretty straightforward, right? Just a simple request for information. No murmuring here. The next morning, I got the following (redacted) reply:

Subject: Re: Music in Sacrament Meetings
Date: Mon, January 13, 2014 7:44 am
From: [Counselor]
To: David Baker
Cc: Melanie Baker, [My Bishop], [Ward Music Chairman]

Brother Baker,

I hope you and your family are doing well. Please excuse my slight delay in getting back to you. I’m currently [travelling on business, so] my schedule is a little off.

Let me first say that I’ve copied your good Bishop, [Bishop’s Name], on this email so he has visibility to my response. I’ve also copied Brother and Sister [Ward Music Chairman] as well, as I believe they are both still involved in music for your ward.

Before I answer your specific questions below, let me take a few moments to give you some background regarding where the phrase “top forty” comes from with relation to our stake’s usage of the sacred hymns in sacrament meeting. When we were called and trained as a new stake presidency back in 2009 by Elder [Area Seventy] … one of the many things he invited us to do throughout our ministry concerned the topic of what hymns to sing in our sacrament meetings. In the spirit of ensuring that the most appropriate hymns were sung, he put it to us this way, “Brethren, only the top 40”.

As you know, music is one of the most important ways we can invite the spirit into our meetings. As a presidency, along with our good bishoprics, we’ve seen a greater and richer outpouring of the spirit in our meetings as we’ve tried to follow Elder [Area Seventy]’s wonderful counsel. While there are probably several reasons why he felt so strongly about teaching us this principle, below are two that I believe play a large part as to why:

Not all hymns are created equal

As I’m sure you would agree, not all scriptures are created equal, even though they’re all found in the standard works. The doctrinal teachings, richness, depth, and the associated spirit felt, certainly vary verse by verse. This is also true for our hymns. Each hymn carries with it a different spirit, some clearly being more powerful than others. To help you know that I’m not biased regarding my feelings about this, you should know that my Great Great Grandfather, [Old Dead Dude], penned the words to two hymns in our hymnbook…. Both of these hymns have special meaning to me personally, however, I know better than anyone else in the Church, that the spirit associated with these good hymns pales in comparison to other hymns such as #134, I Believe in Christ, and hymn #27, Praise to the Man.

To truly worship together in singing, it’s helpful if all members are familiar with the hymn.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught in October 1994 General Conference, “When a congregation worships through singing, all present should participate.” This, however, can prove difficult if we sing hymns in sacrament meeting that a majority of the members don’t know.

Therefore, in short, when Elder [Area Seventy] said “only the top 40”, he was essentially counseling us to sing hymns that are both powerful in spirit and also well known to our members. Based on this, please allow me to answer your specific questions below:

1. No. The “top 40” list we live by is in principle only.
2. N/A
3. This decision was made by us as a stake presidency based on counsel we received from Elder [Area Seventy].

Brother Baker, please allow me to give you, and the other music leaders in your ward, some counsel. As outlined in the Church Handbook of Instructions, “The bishopric approves music for sacrament meetings.” (Book 2, 14.4.4). It would be helpful going forward if this approval was sought long before each Sunday arrives. Doing this would give these busy brethren more time to prepare, and allow for changes to be made in advance rather than last minute, which I can imagine would be somewhat frustrating for those involved in leading and accompanying. If I can be candid, sometimes I think music leaders worry a little too much about trying to match the hymns sung with the topics spoken, when what’s most important is to sing hymns that are well-known and carry a wonderful spirit. I once served in a bishopric where the music leader recommended hymns for the entire upcoming year. We actually found this to be incredibly helpful and I never once felt like the spirit in our meetings was diminished because the hymns were chosen long before the speaking topics were. In fact, quite the opposite occurred, and all felt the wonderful spirit music brings because in part, the bishopric was able to ensure that the most appropriate hymns were sung. As I’m sure you would agree, I think we’d be hard pressed to find a sacrament meeting, regardless of topic, where hymn #6, Redeemer of Israel, didn’t feel like the perfect hymn for that meeting.

Let me know if you have any additional questions regarding the above.

Faithfully Your Brother,

[Counselor]

O … kay.

So let’s go to the handbook. It says, under the heading, Planning Music for Church Worship Services, “Members who serve in ward music callings work together to select appropriate music for worship services. When feasible, the bishop and his counselors choose meeting topics well in advance. This allows the music chairman, music director, and choir director to plan hymns, special selections, and choir performances that complement and reinforce the meeting topics. This also allows time for the bishopric to approve the musical selections in advance.” But according to President Whatshisname, the people in the music callings are supposed to choose hymn selections that “complement and reinforce the meeting topics,” but at the same time are cautioned not to spend too much time doing this or be too diligent in trying to make it happen?

I was especially entertained by the two hymns he suggested as perfect examples of songs with a “wonderful spirit.”

If I have a least favorite hymn in the current hymnal, it has to be “Praise to the Man.” For starters, the tune of the hymn was stolen from “Scotland the Brave,” and I think it’s the ultimate indignity to co-opt another nation’s national anthem (official or not) for a completely unrelated song. Also, I think the lyrics of the song reinforce the common belief by non-members that Mormons worship Joseph Smith, and that we’re weird and fringe-y. (“Mingling with gods,” anyone?) I cringe every time this song is sung in meetings.

“I Believe in Christ” is a lovely poem by a lovely man. But it’s one of my least favorite hymns to sing. The darned thing goes on and on forever, a problem that’s exacerbated by the fact that choristers tend to direct it waytooslowly. It’s really two—two—two hymns in one. Melanie and I groan whenever we see this song printed in the program because we know we’re in for a heck of a dirge.

I would be totally happy to never again sing “Praise to the Man” or “I Believe in Christ” again in Sunday worship services. Your mileage may vary—and that’s exactly my point. If a stake or ward decides to disregard any sense of balance, preferring some unspecified list of “familiar favorites” over “hymns that are not as well known” in direct contradiction to what the church handbook states, who determines which ones are “favorites”? What if I have favorites that you have never even heard before? And how can unfamiliar hymns become favorites if they’re never introduced (or reintroduced) through Sunday services?

I made passing reference to these points in what I thought was a reasonable and measured reply:

Subject: RE: Music in Sacrament Meetings
Date: Mon, Jan 13, 2014 8:43 am
From: David Baker
To: [Counselor]
Cc: Melanie Baker, [My Bishop], [Ward Music Chairman]

Dear [Counselor]:

This answers my questions. Thanks.

I understand that the handbook indicates that the bishopric approves all hymn selections for sacrament meeting. On the other hand, the handbook also states that “Music leaders should try to achieve a good balance between familiar favorites and hymns that are not as well known.”

When I was a teenager, my bishop was also the head of the music department at BYU-Hawaii. He would specifically choose some of the more unfamiliar hymns for sacrament meeting in hopes that the newer ones (or older, forgotten ones) would take root in the hearts of the members. He would also take 5-10 minutes between sacrament meeting and Sunday School to teach new songs to the congregation.

I think it’s interesting that you singled out hymns #134 and #27 — two of my least favorite hymns. I guess we all have our personal preferences.

Again, I appreciate your detailed response.

David Baker

I know, right? That sounded all humble and everything!

This should have been the end. I wish it had been, because I wouldn’t be writing this now. Instead, I was caught totally off guard by this man’s sanctimonious and completely unnecessary follow-up:

Subject: Re: Music in Sacrament Meetings
From: [Counselor]
Date: Mon, January 13, 2014 10:21 am
To: David Baker
Cc: Melanie Baker, [My Bishop], [Ward Music Chairman]

Brother Baker,

One final thought. From language used in your original email (“I have no dog in this fight”), I’m guessing this topic caused a small stir among some members in your ward and maybe even within your own family. I also take from your most recent response, that although I answered your questions, it appears that your mind and heart still question whether our stake’s approach is right. I can assure you Brother Baker, the counsel we received from Elder [Area Seventy] was not only inspired but absolutely right with regards to our stake. I would hope, and frankly expect, that all members involved would simply sustain this decision and not push back.

Sustaining is a wonderful word, one that means to lift up or support from underneath. When we are sustained, the scriptures say we’re “upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer[s]” of those that sustain us. (D&C 107:22). I must confess Brother Baker that in this particular situation, based on this past Sunday and your emails below, I sadly can’t say I feel sustained by you. Remember, sustaining doesn’t mean that you perfectly agree privately with our decision, however, it does mean that you go forward living by the decision, not expressing your own personal disagreement to others, especially publicly, thus destroying the “confidence” mentioned in vs. 22. and most importantly praying for the Lord’s help to soften your heart on this decision. It’s been my experience that when I follow this patten, my heart always softens, I learn more as a follower of Jesus Christ, and I become a better person, leader, and follower.

In closing, I would add that while we may have our own personal preferences in hymns, that is not what causes all hymns to be unequal, and therefore not the principle I was trying to teach.

We love you,

[Counselor]

At first Melanie advised me not even to respond to this particular e-mail, since any response from me would probably have ended with the phrase, “and the horse you rode in on.” After much toil and revision (and approval from my beloved wife), I eventually squeezed out something that was civil, a reply that showed that I knew my place in this man’s church:

Subject: RE: Music in Sacrament Meetings
Date: Mon, January 13, 2014 10:59 am
From: David Baker
To: [Counselor]
Cc: Melanie Baker, [My Bishop], [Ward Music Chairman]

Dear [Counselor]:

“I have no dog in this fight” = I don’t have a music calling, I am not a member of the bishopric nor the stake presidency and have no authority to make a decision one way or another.

Honestly, I thought the idea of a “top 40” list sounded too much like a rumor to be true. The very idea just seemed antithetical to everything I had ever read or been taught about the role of music in church worship.

Now that I’ve been informed that it’s the stake’s official policy, I have no choice but to assimilate this teaching into my understanding — regardless of what my personal opinion might be. Obviously, I have no personal control over whether you feel sustained or not.

Hope that clears things up,

David Baker

OK, maybe there was a little snarkiness in there, but you have to kind of squint to see it.

I always say that I’m the amateur musician in the family, and Melanie is the professional. She’s held music callings basically since she was a zygote. She’s even moonlighted at times as organist for other denominations, where they actually (gasp!) pay their music professionals. Like me, she had a real problem with both the message and the condescending/corrective tone of what we got from this stake counselor. Since she was the one who had encouraged me to send the original e-mail, she felt it was time to jump into the dialogue:

Subject: RE: Music in Sacrament Meetings
Date: Mon, January 13, 2014 1:49 pm
From: Melanie Baker
To: David Baker, [Counselor]
Cc: [My Bishop], [Ward Music Chairman]

President [Counselor],

My name is Melanie Baker, I’m David’s wife. I was the one who told him to email you about the hymn situation, so I feel as though I should give some explanation/background on the whole thing.

First of all, David’s email(s) were in no way meant to give the impression of not sustaining you and our other church authorities. It really was just a question. That being said, let me give you some personal examples of why David and I had the original question of the existence of a “top 40” list.

But first, some background on me…

I’ve been a member all my life. I grew up in Thatcher, AZ (just around the corner from President Kimball’s childhood home). Almost everyone in Thatcher was a Mormon. I saw the church in the Gila Valley grow from 2 wards in Thatcher, 4 wards in Safford and 1 ward in Pima to its current state where each of these small towns is its own stake and we now have a temple.

I have played the piano since kindergarten. I was called to be the Primary chorister when I was 14. I was called to be the ward organist when I was 15. I truly can’t count how many times I’ve had one of the following callings: ward music chairman, ward chorister, ward organist, ward choir director, ward choir accompanist, primary chorister, primary accompanist, and so on and so on. Needless to say if there is a calling dealing with music, I’ve held it more than once 🙂

I am also a professional musician. I have a masters degree in Choral Conducting from BYU where I studied with Ron Staheli and Mack Wilberg. I have been teaching music in public schools for over 15 years. In that time, I have had to defend myself many times for teaching the kids songs with the word “God” or “Lord” or any thing else religious in it. I have always been able to explain to parents/administration the importance of sacred music in a child’s education.

I have also had to defend my music choices for church meetings. When David and I lived in Farmington, NM, I was the ward music chairman and ward organist, David was the ward chorister. One Sunday after I had finished the postlude and was heading to Sunday School, a woman stopped me and said, “You might sing those hymns where you come from, but we don’t sing those hymns here!” She was extremely rude, loud and in my face. I responded, “I figured if it was in the hymn book, it was fair game.” And I turned and walked away. This experience has stuck with both of us.

There have been many times in my life where I was told something was church policy, only to find out later it was a local policy or tradition. When David and I were first engaged we spent a lot of our free time together attending different temples along the Wasatch Front. I had never been to the Salt Lake Temple before, or a live session and was anxious to attend a session there. We were sitting in the chapel holding hands and quietly whispering and talking about our upcoming wedding. The officiator came up to us and asked us if we would like to be the witness couple. Of course we said yes. But there must have been a look on our faces or something, because he then asked if we were married. We said, no, just engaged. He said we couldn’t be the witness couple then. I was shocked to say the least. I had been the witness couple a few times before, including on my mission with an elder. I said, “I’ve been in the witness couple before, even as a missionary.” He bent down close to my face and said, “Well, that might be true other places, but here in this temple, the Salt Lake temple, you have to be married to be the witness couple.” Then he straightened up, looked around and selected an older couple. I was so upset I couldn’t attend that session with him officiating because I knew my upset feelings would ruin my spiritual experience. All I could think of was how my mom, a widow, would never be in the witness couple again. And David’s mom, who had been divorced for over 20 years, would never be in the witness couple again. I took it upon myself to do some investigating and found out that it is up to the individual temple president to decide this policy.

Another example of a local policy occurred with my sister. A few years ago she was in a temple recommend interview with her bishop. He was proceeding through the questions and came to the one on chastity. He asked her if she was faithful to the covenants she had made in the temple regarding chastity. She said yes. He then started asking her about very specific sexual practices. She refused to answer his questions. He then proceeded to tell her that she could not get a temple recommend because she must be doing something that violated the chastity covenant if she wouldn’t answer his questions. She immediately left the interview, went home and picked up her husband and they both went directly to the stake president’s house and told him everything that had happened in the interview. It was investigated and the stake president found out that it was this bishop’s policy to be very specific because there were many members in his ward who had sexual addiction. Again, a local policy.

That is why I asked David to email you. I wanted to know if this “top 40” list was true, a rumor, a local policy, a local tradition, part of the “Draper bubble” phenomenon, etc.

I have given many lessons to adults and YM/YW about music: how to lead the music, how to play the music, how to choose appropriate music. I have been a very strong advocate for special musical numbers in Sacrament Meeting only being hymns or hymn arrangements. I truly love the hymns. As every one does, I have my favorites. My favorites to sing, to play, to lead, for choir, for special numbers, etc.

When the opening hymn was changed because it wasn’t one of the “top 40”, I was stunned. I had heard rumors of such lists in various places, but had always assumed it was a Mormon legend. After speaking with the ward music chairman, I felt that David and I would take the matter directly to you. Not because we don’t sustain you but because we truly did wonder if such a list existed.

As you pointed out, everyone has their favorite hymns. The opening song that was chosen by the chorister and organist on Sunday was hymn #65 “Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth.” I happen to carpool with the chorister and asked her why she had picked that particular hymn. She said when she was investigating the church in Pennsylvania when she was 17, that hymn was one of the first ones she heard that helped her feel the Spirit. She said they sang it all the time when she lived in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

I guess the point I’m trying to get across is that we are a world wide church. In just our ward, we probably have members from over 10 different countries and probably over 30 different states. What might be the “top 40” to you, might not be my “top 40” or Sister [X] or Sister [Y] or Brother [Z]’s. And I think that any hymn, sung in the right spirit, will help you feel closer to our Heavenly Father.

Again, please do not feel that David and I do not sustain you and [our bishop]. We do. But we also have the agency to disagree and even question a policy. In fact, I feel it is my duty to ask questions about things so I learn the truth, and can grow as I understand the truth behind a policy, rather than just listening to rumors and Mormon legends. I believe that you feel this stake policy has, and will continue to be, beneficial to our stake.

It all comes down to just asking a question, not questioning. There is a big difference between the two.

Melanie Baker

Of course, she nailed it right there at the end. I have come to understand that some “leaders” truly can’t understand the difference between questioning and asking a question. Neither of us got a response, by the way. Maybe President Whatshisface figured he put the whole thing to rest when he told us he didn’t feel “sustained.” Or maybe he just didn’t have any response to honest, factual reasoning.

Here’s what I think. I imagine that the member of the area seventy probably did say something about a “Top 40.” Was it just this man’s opinion, or an off-handed remark, or was it carefully pondered counsel that was made specifically for the welfare of this particular stake? I have a real hard time believing that anything that clearly contradicts the general guidelines of the church would ever fall into the latter category. I could be very wrong—there could be a very good reason that the residents of this particular stake need to focus on a very restrictive but undefined number of hymns. I suppose that’s possible.

Also, if you’re trying to justify your curiously contradictory decisions to people who politely choose to disagree, there are probably better ways to stake out the moral high ground than by “reproving with dullness” and petulantly claiming that you don’t “feel sustained.”

I guess I should be more faithful in my blind devotion to seemingly arbitrary decisions by people I barely know, but for some reason I still have a difficult time with this one. Luckily, due to a recent move, we no longer live in this stake—or in Draper, for that matter. I guess I can breathe a sigh of relief as we sit in our new ward and sing from the more scandalous pages of the LDS hymnal.

If anyone has actually read down to this point, I ask you to pray for divine help in softening my heart to be able to suffer people so full of their own priesthood that they feel justified in calling a person to repentance for asking a few simple questions about a dubious policy.

Posted in Personal, Religion Tagged with: , , ,
15 comments on “Unrighteous Dominion: How They Do It in Draper
  1. Back Pew Mormon says:

    I wonder since Kasey Kasem just died if the demand for the “Top 40” died with him;-0

  2. Sara says:

    I just have to say that you have the coolest wife! One thought I might add is that, as my ward’s chorister, it would make it mighty tough to magnify my calling when I have little room to choose thoughtfully and prayerfully hymns that might help members of my ward to catch a spiritual insight that they haven’t felt before or to be reminded of one. In general we try to stick to hymns that are at least familiar in tune, but I’m grateful that our bishopric has been enthusiastic about our efforts here and there to share a less familiar hymn. We will choose one and sing it a couple weeks in a row as a congregational hymn, taking a moment before singing it to introduce it and ask the congregation to at least read along with the lyrics. Then we consider it a little more familiar. I’ve received positive comments on this approach from both the bishopric and ward members. So I guess compromise is achievable? Keep keepin’ it real, David!

  3. Brandon says:

    I don’t know where to start, except that I’ve written and deleted several non-printable things about your Bishop and Stake Presidency Counselor. I am amazed and blown away by their drone-like following of what is clearly a local, off the cuff remark that goes 100% against the church’s direction from the top. As in, comes from revelation-from-the-top.

    If Area 70 ‘what’s his bucket’ feels inspired to constrain every congregation to only sing from an unlisted Top 40, I would ask him to take that to the Brethren at the top (the real Brethren, the Apostles, not some local GA who obviously isn’t aware that his remarks go against church policy) and ask that this inspired statement of his be pushed out to the entire church. And if he really stands by the Top 40 Revelation, then he should ask the Brethren to reissue the hymnals with only approved Top 40 songs in it.

    You may send this to him, and he may contact me via email if he has any questions or wants to discuss.

    • David says:

      That’s actually why I published this. I think people need to know what kind of nonsense is going on in individual wards and stakes.

      Oh, and I wrote lots of things that couldn’t be printed as well. Much, much, much revising. 🙂

  4. Richard says:

    Come back to Laie! We have no problem with hymns…. I think we have sung all of them at one point or another in sacrament meeting ( besides the special arrangements of course).
    I learned a long time ago in high school (after my personal apostasy – invoked by people I didn’t care for at church), that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect. It’s we the people who are not. We don’t even always understand what God says to us directly, or, personal wants or interpretations get in the way. Joseph Smith petitioning HF over and over again regarding showing off the gold plates/BoM manuscript is a good example. Can you imagine the eye-roll that God did at that point?

    Anyway, I went back to church after that knowing in my heart that I could still dislike people in the church and still be part of it. That’s like me having some progressive liberal friends whom I truly love, but I digress.

    My point is that Melanie’s letter should have really put the fear of God into the stake presidency. They need to eat their crow and let the chorister have some time to teach new songs to the congregation. The end.

    G’donya Dave and Mel.

    P.S.

    I guess it’s a skill that came throughout our growing up, but Dave, you always had a knack of getting under people’s skin.
    That’s why we love you…

  5. Kristine says:

    Wow–it takes some chutzpah to be pissy about enforcing a policy that directly contradicts Church policy as stated in the handbook. Are Mormons allowed to have chutzpah?

    I encountered a similar issue many years ago, and convinced the bishopric that it was a) desirable and b) possible to expand a congregation’s repertoire. Here’s my method: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/07/14/a-modest-proposal-making-more-hymns-familiar/

    • David says:

      Well, we do believe that we’re adopted into Israel when we join up, so I guess chutzpah would be a result of that. But only if you’re a mensch and not a putz.

  6. Julie says:

    I had a very similar experience here in North Idaho. My Stake President told me that they had been counseled by the Area 70 to only sing the “hymns of the Restoration” which meant the first 60 or so hymns in the Hymn Book. I honestly thought he was joking at first. I showed him all of the information in the handbook, but he was unwaivering. It turned a calling I normally love into pure misery. Thank you for printing this – it makes me feel like I am not the only one who loves ALL the Hymns and think they should be sung.

  7. Sara R says:

    I ran into a situation today where the musical number I arranged for Stake Conference, We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet, had to be cancelled because the Stake YM and YW organizations asked if they could perform prelude music. It was approved by the Stake President,mand the music Chairman was informed it would be happening. However, she was not asked to coordinate it, so the youth choir took all the rehearsal times that we needed for the combined Stake Choir. Now we have to cancel the piece we felt inspired to do because her stewardship was bypassed. I found this page looking to see how other people deal with a lack of respect for music callings and stewardships.mi commiserate with you. I would have asked the Stake President if he sustains the General leadership who wrote the handbook and hymnal. Every hymn is new to you until you have sung it a few times. . .

    • David says:

      I actually waited until I no longer lived in the stake before posting this piece, so unless I specifically reached out to the man, it’s likely I’ll never speak to him again. And that’s fine by me.

      I happened to notice that, a few months after I posted this, my LinkedIn profile was viewed by someone from the church’s legal department. Coincidence? Paranoia? 🙂

  8. Katie says:

    This Top 40 crap is now happening in our stake/branch as of last week when our poor widdo members found themselves singing an unfamiliar hymn. Boo-hoo! We have to stretch and grow?! Waaaah, don’t make us change! I have difficulty with Elder Big-Britches Seventy overriding Handbook 2. Basically it is saying that the authority of a Seventy trumps the authority of the First Presidency and the Twelve, who approved every page of Handbook 2. So, therefore also it is saying that three guys riding the stake scooter, waving around the Top 40 edict essentially trump the Top 15. 🙁 By the way, Seventies are not gods. A former stake pres of mine is now a Seventy, and persecuted our family terribly about homeschooling, and our inability, in our poverty, to send our daughter to seminary to a location 40 minutes away every weekday, when we could not even afford a tank of gas per week. We were denied permission to home-study, too. “She belongs on the bus, and in public school, like everyone else.” Then in his inaugural GC talk, HE lectures the entire Church about light and dark tunnels. What are today’s public schools but the very tunnels he was frothing at the mouth over?

  9. Dee says:

    What a refreshing piece to find. I think, only think, our Stake has introduced something like that here in Australia because our Ward music chairperson selects hymns, and I go, “Ah, sigh, now a hymn I enjoy singing and I can at last feel like I’m worshiping when I sing it” only to find the Brother presiding changes the hymn number to one of the drone hymns. It ruins the spirit of the meeting. If only I could move elsewhere!
    By the way, Melanie and David could have made good use of the following article by Joseph Smith in their question.

    “Priesthood,” Millennial Star 14/38 (13 November 1852):

    Because of…the apparent imperfections of men on whom God confers authority, the question is sometimes asked,—to what extent is obedience to those who hold the priesthood required? This is a very important question, and one which should be understood by all Saints. In attempting to answer this question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God, who seeks for the redemption of his fellows, would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty (!) authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions.
    When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong; or else because they have done wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with, lest it should be discovered by their superiors, who would require an atonement at their hands. [1]
    Joseph Smith

    • David says:

      Nice quote. And I’m sorry to hear this attitude is making the rounds. I can only hope the small-mindedness is just temporary, attributable to people who really do think they know what the Lord wants—even if they’re deluding themselves.