Mormon Church Satellite?

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This one comes from Kassie, who blogs at Fat Athlete? Here’s her question:

I’ve been wondering this for awhile, but now have someone to ask. Why do most (all?) Mormon churches have HUGE satellite dishes?

Well, that’s pretty observant of you. Good Question! In case anybody doesn’t know what Kassie is talking about, here’s what the Mormon Church on Nicollet Avenue in South MPLS looks like (I’ve highlighted the giant satellite):

Nicollet-Chapel

Huge Satellite Dish at Mormon Church on Nicollet Avenue

Ok, well here’s what I know:

The LDS church is using the satellite system to brainwash everybody. WE’RE FRYING YOUR BRAINS!!!

JOKE.

The LDS church uses the satellite system to broadcast a bunch of different meetings, including Semi-Annual General Conference, Christmas Specials, Temple Dedications, Priesthood meetings, and other general meetings.  They’re usually broadcast out of Salt Lake City, and each building has a satellite to receive the transmission.

As near as I can tell, the church embraced the satellite system during the 80’s and 90’s while the church was under the leadership of Ezra Taft Benson.  Benson is best known for his lifetime of leadership and dedication to the LDS church, including serving as an Apostle of the church for 51 years, and President of the church for 9 of those years.

However, Benson was also US Secretary of Agriculture during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration and a supporter of the John Birch Society, and it was well known that he adamantly opposed Communism and Socialism.  In the church, this led to a substantial emphasis placed on “self-sufficiency,” although I believe this had been a well-embraced principal of Mormonism for many years previously.

[EDIT 5/31/2011: see the comments below to see why my attribution to Benson is probably way off.]

It is likely that satellite system was embraced as a method to help the church achieve a level of self-sufficiency, and it was probably viewed as simply the easiest and best way for church headquarters to communicate with the rest of the church without relying on private service providers or other national governments to facilitate that communication.  Now that the internet is what it is, much of what the satellites do is probably excessive in places like Minneapolis, where access to the internet is easy and affordable, especially when everyone with DirecTV can tune in to BYUtv and see exactly the same thing. But no doubt the satellites still help aid communication in parts of the world where access to the internet or consumer-level satellite isn’t as readily available, and it probably adds an element of reliability where it is.

Any More Questions?

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17 comments to Mormon Church Satellite?

  • Ren

    Even with a satellite, they have to subscribe to a service right? Or did they launch their own satellite?

  • Yea, they have to subscribe to some kind of service I would guess, which I think is what is described here. Maybe they felt like it was more reliable for the church headquarters to handle maintaining the subscription service than to have each individual building try to maintain a subscription?

  • Also note: I think the reason the satellite dishes are so big is because that’s just how satellite dishes were in the 80’s. I strongly suspect they’d be smaller if they weren’t so old.

  • Ryan gardner

    Dishes that size are still used for c-band stuff, and if you look by most cable companies they have a bunch of them.

    as far as each building needing to subscribe to some sort of service, the answer is “no”. its similar to how antenna-tv works – the signal gets broadcast and anyone can pick it up who points their dish at the transponder.

    For some things, the church will scramble the signal (such as when temple dedications were broadcast for nauvoo and winter quarters, and probably for priesthood session as well) and each building has a dedicated box to descramble the signal.

    The church doesnt own the transponders in orbit, so when they broadcast stuff they pay for the satellite time but they dont have to pay at each building.

  • Ryan, thanks for the info. I think that is what Ren intended with her comment – that the church has a central subscription so that each building doesn’t have to have their own.

  • Kassie

    Fascinating. And expensive I imagine. It is just so weird to see those huge dishes around still. I knew were some others were as a kid, but now it seems only TV stations and Mormon Churches have them.

    But the tie in with the John Birch society makes it a little creepy. I didn’t know that was where the self-sufficiency stuff came from. I always assumed it was from Mormons’ history of being on the frontier and being pushed from place to place in the early history of the church.

  • @Kassie – well, like I said in the post, I don’t know exactly when the self-sufficiency stuff started, but I suspect it pre-dates Benson and the John Birchers. I suspect you are right that it goes way back, probably to at least the Brigham Young years.

  • Michael

    The self sufficiency stuff definitely goes back to Brigham Young. President Young was intent on self sufficiency (though more on a communal than individual level) and on the western saints producing everything they could which they would otherwise import/buy from non Latter-day Saints. It went as far as building a whiskey distillery and calling some people on missions to Southern Utah to grow tobacco. (Critics like to point out the hypocrisy in doing so, defenders often claim that both were used medicinally at the time- mostly it just looks like the Word of Wisdom was still in the “just good advice” category at the time.)

  • Michael

    http://lds.org/ensign/1981/09/news-of-the-church/satellite-hookup-approved-for-us-stake-centers?lang=eng&query=Satellite

    June 1981. President Kimball, not Benson. Although I can’t find it, I seem to recall President Kimball saying that the Lord inspired men to invent the satellite to further the work of the Lord and to spread the gospel to the whole world.

  • @Michael – thanks for the info. It was Latayne C. Scott’s assertion in his book The Mormon Mirage (of which I have only read snippets) that the Satellite system was widely deployed during Benson’s tenure as President. Clearly that link to lds.org is far more reliable. Likely there is truth to both… Kimball’s watch saw the initial installation of satellites at Stake Centers, and deployment probably continued in phases well throughout the 80’s and 90’s (that’s just a guess).

    It’s also worth pointing out that Benson is generally considered to have been mostly senile by the end of his time as Church President. I probably gave President Benson too much attribution in my original post.

  • Michael

    Reuben, you are right. Benson was so senile by the time he took over that most of what happened during his presidency can be attributed to Hinckley, who was basically running the show. Scott’s assertion may be interpreted as Kimball started it, but it really went world-wide with Benson (Hinckley). That kind of makes sense because Hinckley was one of the greatest PR people the church has ever had in its leadership. (For good or bad. You choose.)

  • Art and I were walking by the Mormon church in South Minneapolis yesterday and I got to drop all of this satellite dish knowledge on him thanks to you!

  • Chris

    If they did not launch a satellite to what company do they subscribe for their services?

  • Greg

    What about the Mormon beliefs regarding personal planets, etc. I always assumed they might be communicating with far off regions, thus the need for the larger (higher gain) dishes. But I could be wrong now. g

  • William

    The satellites the LDS church uses are owned and operated by Bonneville Communications. The first satellite was launched in 1981, as noted in Michael’s reply. Bonneville’s system now consists of 16 satellites with world-wide coverage.

  • i love to go to chapels /// and i do have a testimony that this is the true church of Jesus Christ /// i love to see the temple too.

  • The reason the dishes are so large is because the system primarily still runs on a analog signal. Analog is less likely to get lost in a rain or snow storm and is a much more stable signal. Some chapels have digital, smaller dishes and are more likely to have a less stable signal.

    The reason that the church continues to have satellite dishes because it is the most secure way to broadcast. Until the internet can provide a secure enough way to broadcast a temple dedication, it will stay as a satellite only broadcast.

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