The controversial 9-story MTC building in north Provo looks like it will move forward after the LDS Church basically muscled its members in the surrounding neighborhood into submission. (For more background, read this past Daily Herald article.)
A new story written by my colleague Genelle Pugmire explains that the neighbors opposing the building — including a community leader who works for BYU — were recently “invited” to sustain church leaders and drop the issue. Because many of the neighbors opposing the building happen to be LDS, the “invitation” is something close to an order or, if you’re cynical, an ecclesiastical threat.
Most saliently, however, this tactic represents a fairly significant change for the church:
That represents a shift in what church leaders had maintained was a purely secular matter.
The shift to an ecclesiastical appeal in a formal church meeting — including the invitation — is in sharp contrast to Randall’s earlier statements to numerous residents. Earlier, he said repeatedly that building height on the MTC campus was purely a secular matter and that people were free to act according to individual conscience without fear of repercussions on their church standing.
Johnson said while it is extremely emotional for individuals on both sides she is willing to continue to ask to be heard by church decision makers in Salt Lake City.
“That’s all we’ve ever wanted, is to have a say in what happens around us,” Johnson said.
She asked whether the neighborhood could now ever oppose anything proposed by BYU or the church.
“It is critical for the Pleasant View neighborhood. We are surrounded on three sides by BYU,” she said.
In other words, this incident suggests that Mormons will no longer be able to formulate their own opinions about land use and planning issues. At least in Provo, it’ll be an unhindered, development nirvana for the church.
For the record, I’m not personally opposed to 9-story buildings, but I think the LDS Church — my church, by the way — was being a bad neighbor by refusing to work with the community. I also feel that if the church can come into one neighborhood and do whatever it wants, it could come into another neighborhood with equally disruptive plans in the future. If the church tried to build, say, a parking lot in my neighborhood, I would fight tooth and nail to oppose it.
And yes, developers do this all the time, but a church that professes to believe in Christian values gets held to a higher standard than the average mega corporation.
For those reasons, I’m supportive of the residents efforts to create civil discourse and potentially stop the building.
This new turn of events, however, shows that instead of rising to a higher standard the church actually sank to a lower one. They basically forced the residents to choose between their “faith” — which encompasses generations of tradition and, in Provo, most of their social and cultural environment — and opposition to the building. Faced with losing my heritage and becoming a pariah in the community — a reasonably likely outcome of rejecting an “invitation” to sustain church leaders — I might have caved too. And that’s not to mention that the man leading the charge is employed by the church and consequently could have lost his career for failing to “sustain” church leaders.
Ultimately, this issue perhaps is settled by each person’s attitude about the LDS Church’s leadership. If they’re inspired, falling into line must be a good thing; if they’re not, it’s not.
But that explanation actually falls apart because the ecclesiastical angle didn’t become a part of the discussion until the residents began showing signs of success. If this building was “inspired” from the get go, why did that fact only come up when the church started to lose the debate?
In reality, this is a land use issue and what alarms me is the prospect of a single interest group having free reign to do whatever it wants, where ever it wants. Any other private interest group would have to address this issue via public discourse, but the church has chosen to lean on its members faith to accomplish a secular developmental goal. That’s not the way a democratic society is supposed to work. At best, it’s a theocracy. At worst, it’s a mafia.