My recent article entitled “Put Down Your Stick” about not being judgmental toward people who are going through divorce inspired many comments. One suggested that most of the damage was done by those not in leadership positions, with the result being that quite a number of people responded with their own experiences about leaders being part of the problem. So now it would seem we are picking up the stick to beat the bishop over the head with it. While not denying that leaders can blunder their way through at times, one fellow stood up for bishops, being a bishop himself. He said it far better than I could.
“I do not normally respond to comments when I read such wonderful and insightful articles such as this one; however, I feel compelled to say a couple of things. First, I am a Bishop. It is a heavy burden having ALL your ward members expectations of what you should and shouldn’t do, say and shouldn’t say heaped upon you. LDS Church members have the capacity to be incredibility Christ-like; however, we also have the capacity to be incredibility self-righteous and downright cruel, and often without realizing how cruel we are. I clearly cannot live up to every expectation the members of my Ward have for me. I cannot solve years of marital problems in one 30-minute session. I am not experienced in identifying mental illness, or what a marital abuser looks like. And I cannot always tell when someone is sitting before me and telling me compelling bold-faced lies. I try to rely on the spirit of revelation and do my best to listen the promptings I receive. But in the end I’m just trying to do the best I can. Sometimes it meets the expectation and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t speak for all Bishops, or for all those men and women in leadership positions. I am only accountable for myself and I pray constantly that I’ll be able to do the work that only I can do at this time in my Ward. I would hope that as a Christ-like people that we can become more Christ-like and not be too quick to make judgments, whether it be about a divorce situation, or even about the clueless Bishops.”
After I read his comment, I wanted to write another column in support of our bishops who work so hard on our behalf, often with inadequate training and burdened with high expectations, fellow mortal beings who also, whether they want to or not, bring their own shortcomings and character traits to the assignment.
Yet another part of me wanted to be careful not to deny the experiences of those who wrote to share their negative experiences. Truth be told, when a bishop really messes things up, people feel as though they have nowhere to turn and can feel judged for even questioning a bishop’s advice or actions. I don’t pretend to have the answer to that, except that I would tell someone who truly feels wronged the same thing I would tell a child who is being abused. Tell someone you think will help you. If that person does not help you, find another person to tell. Keep telling people until you find someone who cares and who will do something.
A new young bishop was just called to lead our ward. I chatted with him recently across the table at a luncheon following a funeral. He told me he is very introverted and as bishop will now have to make a concerted effort to be more social and get to know people. He inquired about my husband’s health and I felt he genuinely cares and wants to know what is going on with the members of the ward. His wife leads our ward choir and last week while they sang, his two little girls came up and sat on his lap. I had warm fuzzy feelings seeing my bishop with a little girl sucking her thumb sitting on his lap, and I feel he will be a good bishop, because I think he has one of the important qualities for that calling—humility.
But because he is young, he does not have the life experience or the training to deal with some of the difficult issues that come before a bishop. The strength of having a lay ministry is that our leader comes from the congregation and is one of us, not some outsider assigned to our ward, hanging his parochial degree on the wall and serving for pay. However, the weakness of having a lay ministry is also that our leader comes from the congregation. I have had bishops whose outside employment ranged from attorney to delivering pizzas. (In hard times anything is possible.) He is one of us. He has friendships that may affect how he handles situations. He does not have special training in counseling. He may be an eloquent speaker or listening to him can be as boring as watching paint dry.
If we are lifetime members of the Church, we have it ingrained into us from an early age that the leaders of the Church and our local congregations speak for the Lord.
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of myservants, it is the same. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38)
There are those who interpret that quite literally to mean that every word spoken by a church leader (and taken quite literally anyone with a calling, i.e., anyone who “serves”) speaks for God and should never be questioned.
I read a quote recently that I thought was a keeper.
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."Galileo Galilei
Therefore, the way I interpret that scripture is to liken it to when I was young and my parents put a babysitter in charge and told us to obey her. In essence, they were giving their authority to her and whether it was her voice or the voice of my parents, it should be considered the same. However, one evening our babysitter had her boyfriend over after she had put us to bed and when I woke up to use the bathroom, I discovered this fact. She told me he had just stopped by to give her something, had him leave, and told me not to tell my parents. Even though I had been told to obey the babysitter and respect her authority, I told my parents.
So what I hear in that scripture is “These are the leaders I have called. Support them, listen to their counsel. But use your best judgment and discernment.”
So I have come up with a list of things we can do to support our bishops.