A few years ago, seeking a temple recommend from the Stake Presidency (in a Stake in which I don’t currently reside) I was refused an interview. Despite the fact that I had an unswerving love of Christ and God, and despite the fact that I have an abiding belief in the power of the scriptures, and despite the fact that I do believe it possible that people can and do speak to God, and that the church is theoretically and often (but not always) practically a great thing, it had been determined prior to my interview (that didn’t really take place), that my ‘testimony’ was not strong enough to merit a formal Temple Recommend interview. I think it boiled down to the way I answered this ‘pre-interview question:’
Stake Presidency Counselor: …Its great that you have shared your testimony of Christ, but do you have a testimony of the President of the church?
I was a bit alarmed by this question. It seemed to make no sense when what I wanted to do was to go to the Temple to think about God, not about President Monson. No offence intended but when I’m deep in meditation about how I can be more compassionate, and how I can animate my spiritual feelings so as to comprehend eternal possibilities, Thomas Monson doesn’t usually come to mind. And its not because I don’t believe he is a jolly good chap, but because it seems an odd thing to ask someone to testify that they know that someone else speaks to God. Because I don’t know – because he’s never, ever said,
“In my latest chats with God (or Jesus), He told me to tell you such and such…’
Or even better, “God has revealed to me that there is an earthquake due in Christchurch and I encourage you to get out now.”
Or, “If the US gets involved in this illicit war millions of innocent lives will be lost or affected. It will saddle the nation with extraordinary debt that the government/ corporate nexus will retrieve from the people at their expense, cause an escalation of conflict, and the only ones happy about it will be Haliburton, who will be laughing all the way to the bank.”
So I answered as anyone might who was slightly cheesed by this very odd and very ‘out of order’ interview – that wasn’t really an interview:
“Well, if you are asking me to share my belief in Thomas Monson as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator, to be perfectly frank, I haven’t heard him prophesy anything, he hasn’t to my knowledge seered anything, and he does more counseling than revealing, BUT I absolutely support and sustain his potential to do those very things.”
That is where he called things off because despite my informing him that his obligation was to actually conduct the interview, he refused telling me that it had already been decided that my testimony wasn’t strong enough to warrant an interview. Had he not been so weedy I may have punched him in the face or told him to stick his @)#$* up his tiny !@(!@(!
On reflection, maybe I should have. And if he ever reads this; I still feel very violent toward you – just so you know.
But the point is, there’s a strand of Mormon leadership out there that is truly, truly bad. Fortunately I have a very good bishop and a most excellent Stake President at the moment, the kind I wish for all to have. They are compassionate, understanding, and reasonable. Both of them also have a very good sense of humour which helps immeasurably when you are dealing with people who want to become Gods. But some are not so fortunate in this game of ‘leadership roulette’.
I’ve been in enough wards and stakes to have some idea about what constitutes good leadership. I’ve even been married to a Bishop and have been the daughter of a Stake President. I’ve met countless General Authorities, have dined with apostles and prophets and used to furiously snog the grandson of a member of a past First Presidency. I’ve also been in bad wards, awful wards, under oppressive and self-righteous bishops and Stake Presidents who could be mean or stupid or both. And so, for what its worth – here’s some uncorrelated tips for bishops and stake presidents to avert the possibility of a stroppy woman smacking you upside your face, or disappearing forever in a blaze of fury because you have been a twat:
- The measure of faithfulness is ultimately in the degree to which one knows, loves, serves and seeks the presence of God in their lives, not in their obedience to a line of ecclesiastical command.
- A person’s spiritual life and belief is literally the only thing that they have made from their own will. It is a work of deep spiritual creation, and it is not your right to try and man handle it in a way that makes sense to you.
- You’re not the man, Jesus is. Nobody in their right spiritual heart aspiring to Godly perfection thinks first and foremost of their bishop, their Stake President, General Authorities or even the President of the Church. They will always, always think of God first. And that is a good thing, a thing to encourage, and a sign of spiritual health.
- If you want loyalty, earn it. You won’t have it until you love, you won’t love until you know the people, you won’t know the people until you listen to them, and you won’t listen to them until you accept that you are not always going to be right.
- Say you are sorry. I haven’t met a Bishop or a Stake President who hasn’t stuffed up in a grand way and left their congregations shaking their heads in wonder. But I have yet to meet the Bishop or Stake President who is willing to admit it and directly apologise for causing the momentous messes that I’ve seen unravel in the wake of some serious stupid. And for a church that is big on repentance, that’s just bewildering.
- The church is going to be a very dull and uninviting place if you expect every one to behave like a clone of each other. Its actually kind of creepy if you think about it…
- Anglican Priests in New Zealand get a salary, housing, utilities, a parish office administrator, and one month’s paid holiday per year. They also get to keep most of their donations to do the work of the parish. I’m just saying. As a Bishop you don’t get paid or reimbursed, you don’t get any time off, you have a meagre budget, you aren’t trained and receive very little professional development, you aren’t that autonomous, and chances are your wife and children hate you just a little bit. Is it really that necessary to be so doggedly supportive of an institution that isn’t really that supportive of you when they could be?
- Understand that in your position the immeasurable good you can do a person is directly proportional to the immeasurable damage you can inflict.
- Sometimes Bishops and Stake Presidents need to step out of line and not be so concerned about impressing the hierarchy above. Sometimes Bishops need to stick up for members to the Stake President, and Stake Presidents need to stick up for members to the Bishops. Often it feels like you only stick up for each other.
- Get up to date with Mormon issues, doctrines, history etc. The best bishops know what disgruntled and confused members are talking about when they come in and rage about City Creek and polygamy; tolerable bishops are those who don’t know, but admit they don’t know and are willing to hear you out without panic or judgment; the worst bishops are those who know nothing and assume that anything they don’t know can’t be right, and anyone who talks about stuff they don’t know must be evil Satanic embeds who need to be chopped down and pruned out of the fold.
- Take every opportunity to involve the women in your ward and stake leadership decisions. Bishops can invite Relief Society Presidents to bishopric meetings, Stake Presidents can include the Stake Auxiliary Presidents more often than they do. Ensure women feel respected as leaders with an immense contribution to make. Put them out in front at every opportunity, be counseled by them, be chastised, and learn from them, because it might be that they have more experience, understanding and talent at leadership than you. Never make a woman feel less than, because she isn’t the man with the suit and the pen at the end of the high council table.
- Get culturally competent - particularly if you preside over ethnically diverse church units. There are courses for this (I don’t think the church offers them) so take one. Sometimes its not enough to say ‘but I love everyone’. Sometimes you need to understand how problematic your version of love can be for those who don’t share your culture.
We once had a Branch President, young and callow who made a poor call on a very sensitive issue in our branch. Despite my husband’s years of experience and intimate knowledge of the situation the BP felt that he must know best because he was the ecclesiastical leader, when in fact he didn’t know best at all. As tensions mounted and the ever-faithful Nathan stood his ground because of what this President’s mistakes might mean to a heart broken family, Nathan was quietly threatened with a withdrawal of his temple recommend for not ‘sustaining’ his leader. However, as time progressed things began to change so much so that when we left this unit the Branch President bade us farewell in sacrament meeting by admitting, ‘Sometimes the thorn you think is in your side is the stick you are scratching your back with.’ It was nicely resolved but very hurtful and traumatic at the time, and to my mind these experiences are not why we give up ourselves, our time, talents, and our means to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.