On the Brisbane LDS issue - A Letter

...to the Samoa Observer
LDS: Latter-day Saints or Latter-day Samoans?

I am writing to share some thoughts on the Brisbane LDS issue with the Samoan language which, lately, has dominated the headlines here. The opinions expressed in this letter are my own and do not necessarily represent policies, statements or doctrines of the LDS Church or other churches.

First of all, the issue is not as simple as it seems, and it’s not a new or a unique one to the LDS Church. Other churches experience it as well, in one form or another.  More importantly, it is not exclusively a spoken language matter either.  The Brisbane case represents just a tip of a more complex issue, and so “language” is just a part of a convoluted and encompassing matter.  In fact, the issue is social, religious (of course), cultural, political, economic, ethnic, legal, etc. in its totality.

The broader issue involves “regulating” ethnic/minority congregations within a more mainstream church and society.  Therefore other forces are, and can be, at play as well.  Politically, for example, assimilation efforts of governments can reach far into other sectors of society including religion. In some countries, “English-only” laws and regulations have been passed and enacted.  And such can have a permeating effect which, in turn, influences the mindset and attitudes, if not policies, of some local religion/church administrators, even in spite of any religious freedom provisions of their communities, or more authoritative policies of their churches. Oftentimes, the dichotomy between church and state becomes the overriding issue.

I also think the use of the word “ban” is misleading and inappropriate. Those familiar with the operations of the LDS Church will know and understand that dissolving an ethnic unit does not necessarily mean that members of such units are banned from using their native language to worship - even in the new integrated units.  Furthermore, discouragement is not the same as a ban.  Local leaders may discourage the use of a certain language for social, political and economic reasons while a ban, if violated, entails punishment and redress.  The latter therefore is not in line with policies,  practices and protocols of the LDS Church.  Sometimes, ethnic units (wards - cf. parishes) are dissolved for a variety of reasons such as stake (cf. diocese) realignment/reorganization.  Other local needs determined by local leaders can be reasons for dissolution of these such units.

Having said that, I think (as a matter of opinion) that if a complete and comprehensive ban is real, and has been implemented and proven, then rest assured that the LDS Church’s main governing body will intervene and correct any mistakes or impropriety.  To the best of my knowledge, it is not in the comprehensive program of the Church to ban one’s native language in his/her right and privilege to worship, especially within a more mainstream society.

Throughout history the issue has also spawned a dilemma.  Churches have had to deal with ethnic/immigrant congregations, focusing on serving and accommodating  the immigrants’ ties and needs in connection with the motherland and cultural heritage. Though seemingly reasonable and desirable, the resulting segregation and separation have also been viewed as obstacles to the more universal and loftier ideal and goal of unity and integration.

Both views have merits, although unity through segregation seems a paradox, at least in the temporal sense. Conversely, unity in, and through, the abstract yet more important and enduring principles of the gospel (love, faith, compassion, etc.), can still be realized - and more desirable - despite differences in language and ethnicity.

The apostle Paul faced the same/similar challenges during his time in trying to foster unity among different ethnic groups in the early Church, hence the following admonition:

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the SAINTS, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the APOSTLES and PROPHETS, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:19-20 - emphasis mine)

Obviously, there are more important practices and principles that unite Church members than a spoken language.  Paramount among them is the language - albeit oft-unspoken - of love, faith, compassion, kindness, service, charity, etc.  In other words, it’s not a language of a Rosetta Stone but the language of the “Chief Corner Stone.”


LV Letalu
Lalomanu and Utah