Michael Quinn on Benefits of Correlation

By: Mormon Heretic
February 20, 2012

Michael Quinn gave a fascinating interview on a wide range of topics on Mormon Stories.  There are a lot of topics I could discuss, but I was surprised to hear Quinn defend correlation.  In response to a question about correlation, Quinn said (at about the 29 minute mark of Part 2),

In correlation’s defense, it’s not a threat but it is a challenge.  The church, ever since the 1960′s has faced a fundamental challenge of centrifugal growth.  With that massive growth in the hinterlands of the church, in particular for different cultures where English is not the common language, it was a question of losing the identity of Mormonism that it might become what the Irish Church was to Catholicism and Rome, what the French Church was to Catholicism and Rome–national churches with their own way of doing Catholicism, sometimes in opposition to the Holy See in Rome.  Well, the leadership of the church didn’t want to re-live that experience, and that’s a major reason why correlation came into effect was to standardize the manuals, the instruction, and I”ve often said that–and this is unfair but I’ve said it–this is to make the General Authorities feel at home no matter where they are in the world.

But it’s also to make sure that Mormonism is the same, and that you don’t get a Mexican version of Mormonism, which happened in Mexico in the 1940s.  Some of those–they don’t have living memories because they have most of them are too young, but some of the much older men do remember that.  They remember that what was called the Third Convention in Mexico.  They built their own chapels, they gave their own lessons, they ran a parallel and rival church, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Third Convention.  So Correlation is one defense against that happening, and for that reason, I don’t think they will ever give up the idea, philosphy, and the engine of Correlation.  But I am hoping that it will be more adaptable to the differences that are inevitable in the multi-cultures that the Church enters.

I don’t know–it may not, because there are many people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, who are happy to be Americanized, and they are very happy to become a part of an American religion.  Other–I think a vastly larger population in those areas– do not want to be Americanized, and resist the American trappings that are offered by missionaries to the gospel and by mission presidents.  That’s a tension and I expect that’s going to remain a tension.  My hope is that Correlation is going to loosen it’s grip. But like I say, historians are terrible as prophets.

This made me want to find out more about this “Third Convention” church.  Apparently, between 1925 and 1933, all foreign clergy were expelled from Mexico, leaving the church in Mexico quite isolated for many years.  Because of these restrictions, Mexican saints asked for a local leader as their mission president, however the request was not granted.  After their third request (giving name to the Third Convention), Mexican members broke away and were excommunicated.  However, in 1946, President George Albert Smith traveled to Mexico for 10 days and changed the punishment to disfellowshipment. Church members eventually reconciled and came back into the church.  For more information, you can read about in in this 1972 Ensign article, as well as the Orson Pratt Brown website, which gives more biographic information on the men involved in this episode in history.

Except for Fundamentalist Mormons, I wasn’t aware of other schismatic groups, or their reconciliation.  I guess Quinn sees this as a way to prevent national churches, and to that end, it does seem that Correlation has prevented that.  What do you make of this?

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17 Responses to Michael Quinn on Benefits of Correlation

  1. whizzbang on February 20, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    I think it’s F. Lamond Tullis’book on Mormons in Mexico that has great stuff on the third convention

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  2. dba.brotherp on February 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Correlation has made me realize how little doctrine we have as a church. There’s lots of speculation, but not a lot of official doctrine. Maybe this has prevented national churches but I think one could argue that members inside the Mormon corridor stress different items than the members outside. This could be perceived as a “different” church although leadership wise it is the same. Of course all of this is just my own anecdotal observations.

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  3. reed russell on February 20, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Thanks for the link to the Orson Pratt Brown site. The interactive list of biographies is fantastic.

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  4. Mike S on February 20, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    McDonalds is great if you want a predictable and cheap meal to fill your stomach. However, there are 2 main issues with McDonalds:

    1) If I really want to enjoy a fine meal where I can explore different flavors and textures, etc., I won’t find it at McDonalds. I seek out a restaurant with charm, a thoughtful chef who is free to experiment, and color. The blandness of McDonalds just doesn’t do it, and because of the franchise model, the local owner isn’t even allowed to try to meet this need for flavor.

    2) Some people don’t like McDonalds because it just doesn’t work for them. If it was presented as the only way to get nutrition, it could cause issues.

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  5. MH on February 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    Whizzbang, I notice that the Pratt Brown website seems like it is quoting from a book, and it also references F. Lamand Tullis. Is this one and the same?

    dba.brotherp, Daymon Smith did an interview last year on correlation and the death of speculation in the church. Smith says there is way less speculation than there used to be, and that is an unfortunate byproduct of correlation. He says that correlation didn’t set out to kill speculation, but rather speculation was a unwitting casualty because it is quite hard to correlate speculation. So, it’s funny to hear that you think there is a lot of speculation now.

    Reed, you’re welcome!

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  6. whizzbang on February 20, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    @5-it has been some years since I read Tullis on Mormons in Mexico but I think it is one and the same, phenomenal book!

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  7. Heber13 on February 20, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    Mike S– McDonalds is a fair analogy, like you said, if you value quantity over quality, and you don’t mind teenagers running the grills.

    But you don’t find McDonalds on the top 100 list of best employers…companies like Google and SAS have very different approaches to develop talent.

    I think the Church will change its old 80s style of correlation, realizing there are better ways to attract and develop people, which is more what church is about then selling a commodity.

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  8. FireTag on February 20, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Interesting post. I’d never heard of the Third Convention. Interestingly, the CofChrist is moving TOWARD giving National Conferences MORE doctrinal authority to express overall principles in the context of more local issues.

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  9. Jeff Spector on February 20, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    What many people who do not travel outside the US or spend any amount of time outside the US is that many countries like American culture. You can see it every where you go, the movies and the TV, the reading materials, and the food, at least the fast food.

    While we should not as a country or a Church force ourselves on these others countries, they are happy to at some level embrace us.

    Where you really see the dichotomy is in this country where our immigrants all of a sudden don’t want to give up their culture once they are here and try, at some level force us in the the US to embrace it. While I am all for learning about other cultures, sometimes it goes a bit too far.

    BTW, McDonald’s purport to be anything other than what it it.

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  10. Heber13 on February 20, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    Jeff, I don’t travel outside the US or Canada much, but I have a hard time believing the majority of the world wants to adopt American culture as a lifestyle, more than an interesting flavor or clothing style that youth are interested in.

    I also have a hard time believing “eternal truths from heaven” happen to require America cultural norms, so why make other regions embrace more than they have to?

    Aren’t there lessons from the 7th Day Adventists about comprising with local authorities that we can learn from?

    This Third Convention story is interesting to look at. Thanks MH!

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  11. whizzbang on February 20, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    Also of note Byron McNeill wrote a MA on the Mormons in Mexico at San Jose State University, it has online access

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  12. Andrew S on February 20, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    I was reading a post about the Catholic Church’s ousting of a popular (but deemed unorthodox) Australian bishop, and in the discussion after at MetaFilter (where the article had been linked), someone eventually pointed out how the Bishop in question had been replaced with a more conservative African counterpart.

    This person pointed out that this is symbolic of something larger: when people talk about how liberal-progressive-secularizing western religious adherents are becoming turned off by religions that are too conservative, what they fail to realize is that much of the growth and vitality for these religions is in Asia and Africa, where populations are more conservative and traditional.

    This also, BTW, is something FireTag has written about with respect to the CofChrist’s international issues.

    My feelings upon reading the Catholic article were that maybe they did need national churches to be officially recognized, so that different populations can appeal to different demographics (which would basically look like the Catholic church looking more like Anglican and Uniting Churches, at least in Australia, whereas in Asia/Africa, not so much).

    And maybe Mormonism needs the same. To realize that it really can’t appeal to all people with just one message.

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  13. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 21, 2012 at 7:51 AM

    Ah, Andrew, the orthodox model where each country gets it’s own brand — though the model has somewhat failed in the US.

    Or why the various Anglican communions have disenfranchised the African churches to sidestep the commitment to majority votes on liberalizing doctrines.

    Correlation has real value, all in all, glad to see someone who recognizes a part of that.

    The alternative begs the question of just what is doctrine and does a church really have any if it is redefined country by country (or, to be honest century by century).

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  14. Andrew S on February 21, 2012 at 8:21 AM


    To any extent which any religious model has failed in the us, that’s more because we can secularize faster than religions can respond with any relevant response. The solution hardly seems to be to retrench into worldwide conservatism

    The Anglican example really fits in to what I’m saying…it doesn’t make sense to try to put a worldwide church under one policy when different parts of the world believe different things.

    To rephrase your question at the end, the real question to address is what is the core offering of these religions as opposed to what is the situational, culturally bound, era specific offering of these religions? What I think churches are realizing is that a lot of what they had been saying is a universal value…really is becoming less and less relevant to the lives of certain congregants…however, since they have other congregations completely, they can’t throw everything out.

    In other words, they have to tailor to individual needs. What a concept!

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  15. Jeff Spector on February 21, 2012 at 11:14 AM


    “but I have a hard time believing the majority of the world wants to adopt American culture as a lifestyle, more than an interesting flavor or clothing style that youth are interested in.”

    You’d be surprised.

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  16. Tom D on February 21, 2012 at 11:03 PM

    dba.brotherp, In my opinion we as Latter-Day Saints don’t have lots of official theology because:
    1. The gospel of Jesus Christ really is simple (John 17:3 anyone?),
    2. Most “theology” is just the speculations of Men,
    3. Active revelation for dealing with day to day problems is way more useful,
    4. Most LDS including intellectuals have felt the gentle, comforting, and majestic touch of the Spirit in their lives and know that God really is a *person* who has an individual relationship with them,
    5. Somehow it doesn’t seem polite/reverent to speculate endlessly :-) or perhaps most folks are just too busy,
    6. The fine details of true theology seem to be revealed individually as we keep our covenants and serve others.

    That last point may be the most important, but I’m just speculating :-D

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  17. [...] of the reason why I brought up a quote from Michael Quinn (who is hardly “correlated”) discussing the benefits of Correlation.  Yet Correlation can make church extremely boring.  A few weeks ago, I discussed with my bishop [...]

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