Benefiting from the Keys

January 25, 2005 | 110 comments
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Way back in the dawn of time, we had a rather lengthy discussion about the appropriate role of criticising Church leaders. Apparently this topic is still interesting enough to prompt comments, so I thought I’d put my two cents in.

Actually, I thought I’d try to put in Elder Eyring’s two cents.

While preparing for a lesson, I watched Elder Eyring’s talk from last fall. I quite enjoy Elder Eyring’s talks. He is pretty much guaranteed to get choked up while presenting them, but I can’t really hold that against him. In any case, Elder Eyring started off with the following point about the Apostasy, which he learned from Elder Faust:

“…if the Saints who heard Paul had possessed a testimony of the value and the power of the keys he held, perhaps the Apostles would not have had to be taken from the earth.”

He then went on to note that the same idea applies to us today. That we will benefit from the keys our leaders hold only to the extent that we have the faith needed that Christ can act through these leaders:

“But just as in the time of Paul, the power of those priesthood keys for us requires our faith. We have to know by inspiration that the priesthood keys are held by those who lead and serve us. That requires the witness of the Spirit…And we must have an assurance through the Holy Ghost, refreshed often, that those keys have been passed without interruption to the living prophet and that the Lord blesses and directs His people through the line of priesthood keys which reaches down through presidents of stakes and of districts and through bishops and branch presidents to us, wherever we are and no matter how far from the prophet and the apostles.”

Now this is basically the same point that Moroni made in Mormon 9:20, that if we see no miracles, it is because we lack faith. Elder Eyring then noted that Satan is fully aware of this dynamic, and so “Satan will always work on the Saints of God to undermine their faith in priesthood keys. One way he does it is to point out the humanity of those who hold them. He can in that way weaken our testimony and so cut us loose from the line of keys by which the Lord ties us to Him…”

Furthermore, when we emphasize the humanity of our leaders, we help Satan destroy our faith and that of others:

“The warning for us is plain. If we look for human frailty in humans, we will always find it. When we focus on finding the frailties of those who hold priesthood keys, we run risks for ourselves. When we speak or write to others of such frailties, we put them at risk.”

In effect, we get self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t have faith in the keys held by leaders, they will no longer be able to help you. At which point, sure enough, you feel justified in thinking that the leaders don’t help you. We call this a bad move.

Elder Eyring is fully aware of the humanity of the leaders, as he stated above. But before we start criticizing leaders or talking up their humanity and mistakes, we should ask whether it is worth the cost of the risks that Elder Eyring has pointed out. Sometimes it might be. Typically, it is better to hold our tongue publically and take up the issue privately. I would add that Elder Eyring’s phrasing of “speak and write” seems to be geared not towards quiet conversations with our leaders. But rather towards public dissension and private backbiting. It seems, in fact, to fit pretty nicely with the forum we have here.

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110 Responses to Benefiting from the Keys

  1. Jed W. on January 25, 2005 at 10:28 am

    Frank: Nice post. I too agree with the premises of Elder Eyring, but I want to interrogate the innerworkings a little further. He says:

    “When we focus on finding the frailties of those who hold priesthood keys, we run risks for ourselves. When we speak or write to others of such frailties, we put them at risk.”

    Here the word “focus” intrigues me. Often when we use the word focus, we are talking about a point of emphasis, an intensification of message, as in “the parable of the Prodigal Son focuses on God’s love for the sinner.” The focus overwhelms everything else. The implication is do not emphasize the frailities, do not build around a world (or a talk) around them, do not magnify attention upon them.

    But the second half of the quote seems to go further, to do not speak or write” about the frailities. Do not mention them. The risk is too great.

    Is this what he is saying?

  2. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 10:29 am

    Defining disagreement as faithlessness seems like a pretty good way to ensure that church leaders never get any negative feedback. It also seems likely to ensure that members who have a problem with a leader will just leave, rather than seeking redress.

    I agree with Elder Eyring to the extent that I think an excessive focus on leaders’ faults is virtually guaranteed to produce an unhappy existence in the church.

  3. annebg on January 25, 2005 at 10:41 am

    Wonderful, sort of going with that other thread. If that’s what you call it.

    Elder Eyring’s father wrote a wonderful book called Reflections of a Scientist, which reflects my point of view. Sort of amused, but faithful.

    His bottom line, in my opinion, was that differences of opinion or personality don’t really matter in the long run. In the meantime, enjoy life.

    Which I know sort of goes against my EEYORE type attitude. go figure.

  4. Steve Evans on January 25, 2005 at 10:42 am

    Interesting post, Frank.

    To what extent do you feel there is a converse danger — that of deification of our leaders?

  5. Steve on January 25, 2005 at 10:43 am

    When I heard that particular talk I was struck by the fact that President Faust’s interpretation of what would have happened had the people during Paul’s time understood the value of keys seems to contradict what we know about God’s economy. He implies that the apostasy was avoidable; if this is true, why was Joseph Smith foreordained to restore the true church and stand at the head of the last dispensation? Just in case?

  6. Grasshopper on January 25, 2005 at 10:46 am

    I think Elder Eyring’s comments are a little problematic. It seems to me that he conflates the person with the office. I do not think noting human frailties says anything about priesthood keys, and I think the “risk” he speaks of comes precisely from making this error. Those who conflate the person with the office are the ones who are likely to lose faith in the office if they learn about the person’s frailties. Not speaking or writing of any human frailties perpetuates the myth that, at least in certain aspects, priesthood leaders must be perfect.

    None of this is to say that there are no standards of personal conduct required for leadership. There clearly are, but they do not typically include the “frailties” Elder Eyring seems to be speaking of, and there is a process for dealing with these in the Church. And while Elder Eyring’s comments may have some sway on Church members, it is hardly likely to influence critics of the Church. Hence, the information he is afraid of will likely come to light, and if we have conflated the person with the office, we are still “at risk.”

    I do agree that undue emphasis on human weakness can lead to declining faith in a leader. But I see this in the same light as saying that too much of a particular vitamin can make us sick. This is not to say that we should never eat that particular vitamin — in fact, some amount of it may be good for us, or even necessary.

  7. Nate Oman on January 25, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Steve, Grasshopper, Kristine: I am curious as to what your response to the following thought experiment would be. Ask yourself the question, “Do I think that there are times when discussing ‘human frailties’ of leaders is spiritually dangerous?” If the answer is no, then the discussion is boring. You just think that Elder Eyring is mistaken.

    If the answer is yes, then ask yourself a further question, “How would I respond to the counter argument that the refusal to discuss ‘human frailties’ leads to deification of leaders and all the other nasty things that I worry about?”

    Finally, ask yourself the question of how the circumstances that you describe differ from those described by Elder Eyring.

    This is not an “examine your souls ye sinners” set of questions. I am just interested in whether it is possible to refine the thinking on this beyond knee-jerk reactions against “don’t criticize the Brethren” speeches.

  8. SFW on January 25, 2005 at 11:32 am

    Kristine, Grasshopper: Amen.

  9. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 11:39 am

    Nate, of course there’s a balance to be achieved. It can be spiritually dangerous to criticize leaders, and (as I acknowledged in my “knee-jerk” response) it is fruitless and painful to obsess about their faults. Similarly, it can be spiritually dangerous to “trust in the arm of flesh” by putting too much faith in church leaders and never saying anything about their bad decisions.

    Elder Eyring’s talk emphasizes one side of the balance, Grasshopper’s comment (and mine, less carefully) points to the other side. I don’t understand why you think that’s simplistic. (speak slowly to me, Nate, use small words, and remember I haven’t been to Harvard Law School)

  10. Steve Evans on January 25, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Nate: “If the answer is yes, then ask yourself a further question, “How would I respond to the counter argument that the refusal to discuss ‘human frailties’ leads to deification of leaders and all the other nasty things that I worry about?”

    Dude, that was my question. Poacher. And it wasn’t knee-jerk, either.

    But, in response to your inquiry: no, I don’t think it’s really practical or worthwhile to refine the thinking on this, as it will likely come down to case-by-case inquiries that should be determined as the Spirit directs. So, ultimately you might be right about one thing: the conversation could be boring.

  11. Grasshopper on January 25, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Nate,

    I would answer your first question with a “yes”: sometimes it is spiritually dangerous to discuss human frailties. For example, see my post, Idealization and correcting falsehoods at Let Us Reason, where I “passed up a opportunity” to point out “human frailties” in a Sunday School class.

    To your second question, “How would I respond to the counter argument that the refusal to discuss ‘human frailties’ leads to deification of leaders and all the other nasty things that I worry about?” I would answer, “I agree that a blanket refusal to discuss ‘human frailties’ does lead to these things. I am not advocating a blanket refusal; rather, I am advocating discrimination of context. In some contexts, it may be harmful; in others, beneficial.”

    How do the circumstances I describe differ from those described by Elder Eyring? I don’t see him acknowledging any benefit to discussing “human frailties” or the important difference context can make. I read his statement as a blanket statement cautioning against any discussion of “human frailties”. Perhaps his own statement was taking context into consideration — offering a general rule without discussing exceptions, because that was what was appropriate for general conference. And if so, that’s fine, as long as we can understand it that way, rather than as a blanket statement covering all discussion of leaders’ “human frailties”.

  12. annebg on January 25, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Ya gotta have common sense, isn’t that what you’re saying?

    For instance: I know my bishop is a moron (hypothetically speaking), but maybe it’s not the smartest thing to point that out to the rest of the ward.

    They probably know it anyway.

  13. Will on January 25, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    Frank, you said: Typically, it is better to hold our tongue publically and take up the issue privately. I would add that Elder Eyring’s phrasing of “speak and write” seems to be geared not towards quiet conversations with our leaders.

    I agree that the best way to resolve any issues I have with local leaders is to discuss it privately with the leader. But what if the problem is with a general authority? What are the odds of being granted an audience with an apostle? I’m sure all of us would love to sit down with various general authorities and seek clarification on some of the things they’ve said. What would you recommend in these cases?

  14. Jed W. on January 25, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    Nate asks an interesting set of questions. The questions point to the need to define the words like “criticism” and “frailities.” It seems as though the definitions are not stable; much depends on context. Here is an example:

    Joseph Smith’s early education, or lack of it, from one point of view, is a fraility. He went to school only a few years, he was not a reader (the least inclined of the Smith children towards books, says Lucy), he spelled poorly, and so on. He lacked the wordly learning we esteem so highly today. If we were to say about one of the modern apostles, as Emma said about Joseph, that in his 20s he could not write a well formed letter, we could not get away with it. We would be acused of criticizing the Lord’s anointed.

    But for anyone who has spent much time in the church knows, Joseph Smith’s meager education is not usually seen as a fraility, but as, in a curious way, a compliment. It is part of a larger miracle. The miracle is that God could use such an uneducated person to do His work. In fact, Mormons go out of their way to show JS’s deficiency of learning, because in our minds that makes the Book of Mormon and D&C look even more miraculous.

    I think the issue of context points to the didacticism inherent in the act of mentioning “frailities.” What is the point of our act, we might ask? Voyerism, shock value, curiosity, breaking the story–all these fall short in the largest sense. Elder Eyring says don’t forget the big point: building faith. JS’s life shows frailities can be put within the larger context of faith without harm.

    But it also helps, it seems, that JS lived 200 years ago. The living are much more prickly about their public image. Peter’s argument with Paul is in the book of Acts for all to debate in Sunday School; present-day arguments are to be mentioned in hushed tones.

  15. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    Jed,

    Elder Eyring seems to be saying the danger is a pretty big deal. He doesn’t say you should never speak of the frailties, only that it should be resevred for cases where the benefits are exceptionally high. Apparently he is concerned that people are treating the costs as lower than they actually are.

    Steve,

    I have not heard any talks on the dangers from deification of Priesthood leaders. Thus I guess the danger is far less for us, at this time, then the one Elder Eyring felt was worth talking about. I say this because I believe the words of the Apostles and prophets are the best available guide to what we need to work on.

    As for the Apostasy, God knew who was on the Earth at the time of Paul, so the Apostasy can be both foreordained and based on individual’s actions. But Elder Faust, as you can see, doesn’t go all the way. He leaves himself some wiggle room.

    Kristine: “Elder Eyring’s talk emphasizes one side of the balance, Grasshopper’s comment (and mine, less carefully) points to the other side.”

    And should we give those three views equal weight? Not by a long shot. Let’s use Grasshopper’s excellent vitamin analogy, Elder Eyring says that we should avoid emphasizing errors of Church leaders publically because the costs are high. He is saying that the amount of the vitamin we currently take has too many side effects and is too risky at our current level of consumption. From where we are now, Elder Eyring is implying we need less of the “vitamin” of Church criticism. It is fine to say that there shouldn’t be none. But there should be less than there is.

    Obviously this advice will not affect Church critics, but when we, as members, spread those criticisms made originally by critics, their criticisms become far wider heard. I hear at least as many criticisms of the Church from members than from non-members. This is true for many other members as well. It is certainly true for children.

    Also, private criticism is totally different than public criticism. Church leaders can still receive contrary views, but it should be done privately. A letter is private. A website isn’t.

  16. Christian on January 25, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Frank: In effect, we get self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t have faith in the keys held by leaders, they will no longer be able to help you. At which point, sure enough, you feel justified in thinking that the leaders don’t help you. We call this a bad move.

    In effect, we get self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t do have faith in the keys held by leaders, they will no longer always be able to help you. [Even if they take your wife, or you're led out to suffer and die in the wilderness, you will have Blessings and Eternal Life.] At which point, sure enough, you feel justified in thinking that the leaders don’t do help you. We call this a bad move.

    If, of course, the leaders in question here are the likes of Osama bin Laden or David Koresh.

    Sorry if that’s, er, boring. Just wondering if by chance the only ones that see the picture are those that step outside the frame (plagiarizing Rushdie there).

  17. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Will, write a letter.

    Grasshopper, Elder Eyring never says that we should never criticise. He says that it carries risks. By saying that in General Conference, he is implying that we should do less of it. The blanket admonition to never mention human frailty is a straw man commandment that no one is suggesting.

  18. Christian on January 25, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    Sorry, the tag didn’t work, which was meant to cross out “don’t”, “no longer”, and “don’t”, so that it would read:

    In effect, we get self-fulfilling prophecy. If you do have faith in the keys held by leaders, they will always be able to help you. [Even if they take your wife, or you’re led out to suffer and die in the wilderness, you will have Blessings and Eternal Life.] At which point, sure enough, you feel justified in thinking that the leaders do help you. We call this a bad move.

  19. lyle on January 25, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    surely when Elder Eyring talks of speaking or writing to others re: human frailities…he excludes blogs?

  20. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    Christian, in your examples you are parroting William Law and Laman. You needn’t use Osama and Koresh. Joseph and Lehi were accused of the same things.

    More generally, it is true that you must have a testimony for all of this to work. I think we are all quite well aware of the required “frame” of faith in the gospel that holds the arguments together. Faith is not the first principle of the gospel for nothing. The nice thing about T&S is that we can actually talk about what that faith implies.

  21. Ben S. on January 25, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Since the Church has spread from its early days, few members know the Apostles on a personal basis. We don’t know of their personality quirks, etc. becusae we haven’t encountered them personally.

    In that sense, the only way we come to know of their personal “failings” is by 1)published “criticism” or 2) a good biography or biographical sketch. I recall that when President Hinckely became POTC, there was a brief film about his life (between conference sessions maybe?) in which his children were interviewed.

    One of his daughters related her extreme surprise at her Dad being called as an Apostle, but figured the Lord would simply have to make do with what He had.

    In teh absence of personal knowledge, I think many do place unreasonable expectations or assumptions upon the nature of the man, without going so far as to call it “deification.” The following counsel from George Q. Cannon is perhaps a modern reflection of Jesus’ observation in Mark 6:4 (“A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”)

    “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle, or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. . . . Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men.” (Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, 2nd ed. (1957; repr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 249 (15 February 1891). Originally published in Millennial Star 53 (October 1891): 674.)

  22. Will on January 25, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    I’m pretty sure that if I wrote a letter to an apostle, it would end up on the desk of my stake president. I’m not criticizing this policy. I realize that apostles don’t have time to deal with everyone’s gripes. But it seems that the Matthew 18:15 method is impossible in this case.

  23. Steve Evans on January 25, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    “I have not heard any talks on the dangers from deification of Priesthood leaders.”

    You haven’t? There are plenty of them out there — from Joseph Smith’s clarification that a prophet is not always speaking as such to Pres. Hinckley’s repeated iterations that our leaders are fallible. Indeed, it seems to me that the fallibility of our leaders and the human element in church leadership is a mainstay of Church doctrine. Now, you’re right that these have rarely been framed as “beware of deifying us” discourse, so maybe it’s worth wondering why (and I agree that their words are a good indicator of what we need to work on), but the doctrine is clearly established nonetheless.

    When you say “I hear at least as many criticisms of the Church from members than from non-members,” I think that’s a red herring. Of course you hear criticisms of the church mostly from members! It’s the same for any organization, I’d wager, the Church in particular because no one outside the Church has any clue as to our organization’s workings. I mean, what non-member is going to come up to you to complain about some GA’s boorish mannerisms?

  24. Steve Evans on January 25, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    “in your examples you are parroting William Law and Laman.”

    Boo! Hiss. Follow your own policy guidelines, man!

  25. Sheri Lynn on January 25, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Ben, thank you for the Cannon quote. I really appreciate that…hadn’t heard it before.

  26. Steve Evans on January 25, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    er….. unless you didn’t mean that as a personal attack, in which case I shall return my head to the ground, ostrich-like.

  27. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Steve,

    Oh yes, I agree absolutely that we believe in this doctrine. Just look at Elder Bednar’s ralk. In fact, Elder Eyring’s talk takes this into account. He is just saying that we need to emphasize it less.

    As for the red herring, I was responding to Grasshopper’s comment about critics of the Church making the point moot. But I’m glad you agree with me that internal criticism is far more commonly heard than external!

    Will,

    I imagine you are right. And so private criticism will not be coming from you to the Apostles. It will have to come from someone who knows them. Of course, many people do know them and interact with them. This may be one of the reasons two of the Apostles are currently living abroad, in order to gather that private information that is unprofitable to share publically.

  28. ed on January 25, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    Here’s a quote from Elder Eyring’s November 2002 conference talk on church callings:
    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/2002.htm/ensign%20november%202002.htm/rise%20to%20your%20call.htm

    And so, to everyone, man or woman, girl or boy, who has been called or who will yet be, I give you my counsel. There are a few things you must come to know are true. I will try to put them in words. Only the Lord through the Holy Ghost can put them deep in your heart. Here they are:

    First, you are called of God. The Lord knows you. He knows whom He would have serve in every position in His Church. He chose you. He has prepared a way so that He could issue your call. He restored the keys of the priesthood to Joseph Smith. Those keys have been passed down in an unbroken line to President Hinckley. Through those keys, other priesthood servants were given keys to preside in stakes and wards, in districts and branches. It was through those keys that the Lord called you. Those keys confer a right to revelation. And revelation comes in answer to prayer. The person who was inspired to recommend you for this call didn’t do it because they liked you or because they needed someone to do a particular task. They prayed and felt an answer that you were the one to be called.

    I found this puzzling, because my own experience and conversations with bishops and former bishops leads me to believe that, while some callings are inspired, it is also not uncommon for callings to be extended based on personal judgement or even desperation. I’m not sure what to make of this, but it seems relevant to the discussion of how Elder Eyring would have us view our leaders.

  29. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Ben S.,

    I think President Cannon’s quote is true and that we must put our trust in God. But we must also trust that God works through the keys in order to bless us. Perhaps in 1891 they had a problem with too much faith in the brethren. Whatever the case, Elder Eyring’s talk suggests that currently the problem is too little faith and too much criticism, at least by some people. Presumably by the critics!

    Furthermore, it is perfectly possible for an individual to recognize the faults of leaders and still not dwell or speak of them. President Cannon certainly does not say that we should go around criticizing our leaders.

    The argument is not that we should think our leaders are infallible. But that we should refrain from emphasizing those flaws. Much like we should offer praise and encouragement to our family members, even if we occasionally have disagreements with them or must chastise them. We certainly don’t think our family members are infallible. The praise must outweigh the criticism. The praise can be public. The criticism is private. If you are not in a position to offer those criticisms privately, than you can always offer them to God and let Him handle it. These men do listen to God. Sometimes it may even be worth making criticism publically. Off-hand I certainly don’t know what those circumstances would be.

  30. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Frank, this is a completely sincere, non-hostile question: is there, in your mind, any difference between publicly criticizing a policy and publicly criticizing leaders?

  31. ed on January 25, 2005 at 1:08 pm

    Frank says: “The argument is not that we should think our leaders are infallible.”

    The quote I posted above in #28 suggests that, on the issue of church callings, we should think our leaders are infallible.

  32. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 1:14 pm

    Krstiine:

    Sure. But as we well know from hanging out around here, the two are often difficult to disentangle. If I say someone’s idea is brilliant, they take that as a compliment to them personally.

    Laman and Lemuel thought it was stupid to leave Jerusalem. By this, they were saying they thought their father was wrong. Maybe I don’t like Enrichment as an instituion. Is there some benefit in saying that loudly all the time? I think the cost is obvious, since one is undermining the policy and by extension saying you find the leader to be out of synch with what should be done.

    If your son vocally disagrees with every decision you make, does it really matter if he prefaces it with “I know you’re pretty much always right, but…”

  33. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    “If your son vocally disagrees with every decision you make, does it really matter if he prefaces it with “I know you’re pretty much always right, but…”

    How did you know?

  34. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    Ed, I think Elder Eyring is saying that you should treat your callings as coming from God. I am fine with that. Alternatively, Elder Eyring may be teaching the rule instead of the exception. As a rule, callings are inspired.

  35. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 1:20 pm

    Kristine, I read your post.

  36. ed on January 25, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    Frank, he didn’t say “you should treat your callings as coming from God,” he said they actually did come from God.

  37. Ben S. on January 25, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    “It’s easier to imagine that those farther away from you, whose human foibles you don’t see, are somehow involved in something more mysterious [ie. inspired or infallible though I don't think those are synonyms] than what you’ve seen.”

    Kristine has vocalized part of what I meant to say above in her recent post, http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=1885

  38. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Ed, you are saying that they didn’t? And you know this how? Are callings only inspired if they come with an audible voice? Elder Eyring is saying that:

    “…you are called of God. The Lord knows you. He knows whom He would have serve in every position in His Church. He chose you. He has prepared a way so that He could issue your call.”

    He then says that that call came to a leader in response to prayer, wich I think is a pretty accurate way to put it.

    you say– “while some callings are inspired, it is also not uncommon for callings to be extended based on personal judgement or even desperation.” But I don’t see why “personal judgement” cannot be guided by the Holy Ghost.

  39. Dan Richards on January 25, 2005 at 1:42 pm

    Q: What’s the difference between Catholics and Mormons?

    A: Catholics teach that the Pope is infallible, but practically nobody believes it.

    Mormons teach that the prophet *is* fallible, but pratically nobody believes it.

  40. ed on January 25, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    Yes, Frank, this is one possible interpretation.

    In quoting me you left out the important part where I said “my own experience and conversations with bishops and former bishops leads me to believe.” Of course, I may be mistaken.

    I’m merely pointing out that Elder Eyring seems to be saying that our leaders are infallible when it comes to callings. You seemed to say that nobody was claiming that. You yourself seemed to question whether Elder Eyring meant what he said.

  41. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    Ed, Sorry for leaving out your front clause. I don’t think it changes the argument though.

    Elder Eyring is saying that when you get a calling, it is because it is God’s will that you have that calling. Is that infallible leadership? I don’t know. Also, I do not rule out the possibility that Elder Eyring was teaching “the rule, not the exception”.

    I don’t see how that changes what he said in the talk I quoted, since there he is just saying that certain actions are “risky”.

  42. Nate Oman on January 25, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    What exactly do people mean when they use the term “infallible” in this context? What counts as an error or a mistake?

  43. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    “Laman and Lemuel thought it was stupid to leave Jerusalem. By this, they were saying they thought their father was wrong. ”

    Well, maybe. But if they were just wishing aloud that they had better tents and could have brought a few favorite things with them, is that wicked or “risky,” or is that just human beings doing what humans do when things are hard?

  44. john fowles on January 25, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Ben wrote Since the Church has spread from its early days, few members know the Apostles on a personal basis. We don’t know of their personality quirks, etc. becusae we haven’t encountered them personally.

    This is only partially true. Many people dislike Elder Packer because of his views. These are part of his personality, so we don’t necessarily need to know these people personally to criticize their words and deeds, and even their personalities.

    This reminds me of an experience I had that could have provided ammunition for me to shoot at our leaders. President Hinckley came to Berlin in 1996 to speak at a regional conference for the Dresden and Berlin stakes and their associated districts. As he spoke in Berlin’s ICC (International Conference Centre), he became visibly agitated at his interpreter (simply a stake member standing next to him at the podium translating his talk sentence by sentence as President Hinckley spoke. At one point, his interpreter had to ask him to repeat what he had just said so that he could translate it. President Hinckley turned to him and, in a very frustrated tone of voice and with arm movements, repeated the word loudly several times. It was a very uncomfortable situation to observe. This was an interesting insight for me that reminded me that our leaders are indeed fallible–just human beings who get annoyed and frustrated at the same types of things that I get annoyed and frustrated at. Where this turns into a license to criticize, however, is still something I’m not sure that I see.

  45. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    Kristine,

    I did a search in the scriptures on “murmer” to get a feel for the context used in the scriptures. You might enjoy doing the same. In any case, here’s one usage that is a little related to your question.

    “Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.”

    It doesn’t actually say “favorite things”. But it does say “their precious things”. Certainly to act that way was very human of them. But perhaps it does more harm than good. The risk is separation from God and decreased faith. The benefit is that perhaps the policy was a mistake and it gets changed. Weigh the costs and benefits after considering the probability of each and you have the optimal solution. Elder Eyring is saying that the cost is bigger than some of us think, so perhaps some of us should redo their calculations factoring in the higher cost.

  46. annegb on January 25, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    you guys have managed to do something I thought could never happen to me: talk a subject to death.

  47. Rosalynde on January 25, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    I don’t envy Elder Eyring his rhetorical task in this talk. At the present time, in which all forms of authority (except perhaps the cultural authority of celebrity) are subject to challenge from every side–though this is not to say that authority is powerless–it’s very difficult for an authority figure to buttress his position without appearing self-serving, defensive, or oppressive. This is especially true in a context like General Conference–from the great pulpit, in the heart of Zion–in which authority appears to be unassailable to begin with, though of course General Conference is the proper rhetorical occasion for this kind of discourse. Elder Eyring deflects potential charges that his argument is self-serving by emphasizing the costs of criticism *to the critic him- or herself*–and I agree that those costs are real and high. But criticism exacts another, unspoken, cost from the institution of the church itself: criticism weakens ecclesiastical structure as much or more than it weakens the faith of the critic. This is especially true in contexts where the ecclesiastical structure of the church is most vulenrable to begin with–that is, in areas beyond the Wasatch front. On my mission I served in several branches that were racked and stretched nearly to the breaking point by backbiting and criticism of leadership. Ironically, those contexts in which ecclesiastical structure is most vulnerable to unrighteous criticism are also the contexts in which *legitimate* criticism is most necessary, since local leadership can be untrained and inexperienced.

    I will be forever grateful that I was made aware of the *very* human failings of some priesthood leaders on my mission (failings of local leadership, not of other elders or mission leadership, in case Ryan–my AP– is reading!), where I was not only blessed with an extra measure of the Spirit to bolster my faith, but where I was also so invested in the ecclesiastical structure of the church that I could see things from the perspective of authority–a perspective that is so often unavailable to women.

    Frank, your post seems to constitute a gentle rebuke to T&S for hosting discussions that engage in the kind of personal criticism and backbiting that Elder Eyring discusses. I’m not familiar with any discussions of that nature here. Is that what your post was intended to communicate?

  48. Ben S. on January 25, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    Are we equating inspiration with infallibility, or inspiration with “everything works out perfectly”?

  49. Jed W. on January 25, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    No one has yet mentioned that the impulse to criticise, to speak freely as individuals, to become watchdogs for personal liberties, is very much a democratic impulse. America today, as Rosalynde suggests, is hyperdemocratic. EErying is invited us into a different space, one less American than our ears are attuned to recognize. Zion should make us a little uncomfortable.

  50. Ryan Bell on January 25, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for that disclaimer, Rosalynde. If you’d left that out I would have thought you were accusing me of having actually been flawed on my mission, as 20 year old kid. Obviously not an easy allegation to swallow.

  51. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Frank, is there anything a person can say to or about a leader besides “yes, how high?” that isn’t “murmuring”? How should people respond when a church policy or a church leader hurts them?

    As was pointed out above, the one solution you’ve offered–writing letters–does not have particularly satisfactory results. In fact, it usually has no result at all except that the letter is forwarded to local leadership and the person who has a problem is branded a troublemaker. Where there is no effective mechanism for addressing a grievance, is there *any* appropriate way for a member to deal with it? My sense is that you’re saying a faithful member will remain silent and just absorb the hurt, and while I can see how that would have institutional benefits, it’s hard for me to imagine that there are all that many people tough enough to do that.

  52. Jim Richins on January 25, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Kristine,

    I have noticed that you have occasionally, in several different posts, asked a very similar question: “How should people respond when a church policy hurts them.” I think it is difficult for me to empathize with a person who feels justified in murmuring because of some policy that has hurt them, because it is beyond my limited abilities to imagine a policy that causes more harm than good.

    I suppose that IIF there was such a hurtful policy, then the deleterious effects would be felt by a group of people, not one or two individuals. Certainly this is true on the general leadership level, if less so on a local level. But, by the principle of the greater good, if a policy was harmful to a few in some significant and authentic way, but was helpful to a greater number of others, it still would not be sufficient justification to murmur.

    However, assuming that a harmful policy A) existed and B) was sanctioned by regional church leadership, so that an appeal to higher authority was not possible, C) universally had at least a neutral, if not negative, effect on at least one group of people, and D) after each individual who has been unfairly treated has prayed, even fasted, and are certain he/she has no way to comply with the policy or otherwise has no cause to repent, then I think I could understand some murmuring.

    Unfortunately, I just can’t imagine that such a situation could arise. Perhaps one or two concrete examples of a righteous, lawful policy that does not assume repentance on the part of an individual but is nevertheless harmful, would help me to better empathize.

  53. Will on January 25, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Kristine said: My sense is that you’re saying a faithful member will remain silent and just absorb the hurt, and while I can see how that would have institutional benefits…

    Actually, I think that would be to the detriment of the institution.

  54. Will on January 25, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Jim, I would say that policies that benefit everyone are the exception rather than the rule. That’s an ideal that can rarely be achieved and shouldn’t be expected.

    I think the policies that are at issue are those that are overly discriminating, otherwise unrighteous, or whose overall effect is negative. If you need an example, I would cite the priesthood ban.

  55. Kristine on January 25, 2005 at 6:29 pm

    The priesthood ban is a pretty difficult example to discuss.

    To take a less loaded one, what about the policy prohibiting women from praying in Sacrament Meeting?

  56. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Rosalynde, my comment was not about any particular person or posts. But I think there is general room for improvement. At least, I think that is the point Elder Eyring is making.

    Kristine, If one is having trouble with a local policy, then one does have direct access to those leaders. So I suppose you are talking about a general policy. If that is the case, then are you postulating a general policy that hurts only this one member, or one that is a bad idea for many members? If one member, I’m not sure what this policy might be. If many members, surely some of them are in the position to offer their concerns to the leaders of the Church. If not, a policy that inspires many local complaints to local leaders does make its way to the Brethren as causing problems, and so meeting with local leaders can fulfill that purpose.

    Lastly, God hears your prayers and has direct access to the Church leaders, all of whom are striving very hard to listen to what He wants. Alma noted that the Word of God was more powerful than the sword. Perhaps our prayers can be more powerful than our complaints. Certainly if God tells them to change, they are more likely to listen to Him than you or me.

    So I think there is always a legitimate channel for institutional crticism by the injured group. But even if there weren’t, especially if there weren’t, God can and will set right what needs to be set right in His Church.

  57. Frank McIntyre on January 25, 2005 at 6:45 pm

    Women praying in Sacrament meeting. As I understand it this was because the Sacrament meeting was felt to be a Priesthood responsibility and so only Melch. Priesthood holders prayed at the opening and closing. Was this a general Church policy or one in some localities?

    Either way, do you think I missed something in #56 as far as tools for dealing with that rule?

  58. Mark B. on January 25, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    If Paul could describe his experience as “see[ing] through a glass darkly”, isn`t it the same for those who bear that same mantle today? Sometimes as I recall the clarity with which I knew decisions should be made when I wasn`t charged with the responsibility of making them, I only wish it were so easy when the burden was mine. I think D&C 42 sets forth the pattern that we should follow when we are offended–have a difference with another–in the Church, whether a leader or not. Take it up “between you and him alone“. Among other things, this allows both parties to understand just how dark the glass may be, and how both parties may well in good faith be striving to see the light in that glass.

    Regarding calls made by inspiration or desperation–I can understand the challenge (both of making the decision, and of accepting a decision as inspired). I remember one case when the confirmation of the inspiration of a call (of a bishop) came well after the call was extended–one does the best he can, struggling to understand the will of God in the matter, and praying: Ì believe; help thou mine unbelief–and, if the help for one`s unbelief comes in a year, that doesn`t mean that He who knows the end from the beginning didn`t will it from the beginning.

  59. Nate Oman on January 25, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    Is it emperically true that if you register some sort of formal complaint no one responds and you are labeled a trouble maker? I have heard variations on this claim before and they get backed up by antecdotal evidence. However, I wonder as a practical matter if this is true. I have complained to my bishops before about policies or programs that I thought were rather bone headed, e.g. pushing temple trips with addressing the issue of families with small children in need of nursery. I have no idea if I was labeled as a trouble maker or not, but my bishop didn’t seem particularlly offended or defensive. Perhaps, however, we are only talking about complaints about really big things, e.g. The Proclamation on the Family was a bad idea, etc. etc. I wonder, however, to what extent the perception of Kristine (and it is a common one) is based mainly on the rumor mill and a certain paranoia and to what extent it is actually true. Kristine may be right for all I know (It isn’t beyond the realm of possibility) but I can also imagine sending a letter of complaint to my bishop or stake president and getting a respectful, non-defensive hearing from them.

  60. Will on January 25, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    WRT church-wide policies, I hasten to add that in most cases we’re not in a position to judge whether a policy is good or bad, and we’re seeking answers rather than an audience. We want to know if a particular decision is the result of revelation or if it was made for some practical reason.

    Frank makes a good point — if enough members at the bottom of the hierarchy make a fuss about something, the issue could percolate up to the top. I’m afraid, though, that our “don’t steady the ark” culture doesn’t lend itself to this process. The impression I get is that most bishops try to handle complaints and questions on the spot, without involving higher authorities.

    I’m impressed that President Hinckley has made himself available to the press. I think Mike Wallace and others have asked him questions that many of us would have loved to ask him ourselves, but there’s never been a channel for doing so.

  61. Eric on January 25, 2005 at 11:39 pm

    In reading the discussion about our not being able to get to know the general authorities as well now, as in times past, I am reminded of a statement attributed to J Golden Kimball to the effect that some people are called to positions to try the faith of those whom they are called to serve.

    Sometimes, “disagreements” with our local leaders simply cannot be resolved. Our family had a situation where we were a trial of our branch president’s faith, and to a similar extent, he was a trial of ours. Long story short, neither of us did very well with that trial, and we had to have our records moved from his branch for my wife’s spiritual and emotional safety.

  62. Kelly Knight on January 26, 2005 at 12:58 am

    Kristine,

    Women in my ward pray in Sacrament meeting everyweek. In fact, going back to the argument about the CHI and its usefulness, it clearly outlines that Priesthood holders should open sacrament meeting as a priesthood function, but that sister should be called upon to close sacrament meeting, and that the leaders of the ward should avoid calling husbands and wives to offer opening and closing prayers in the same sacrament meeting in order to allow single sisters and brothers the opportunity.

    So, if you are under the impression that women are not to pray in sacrament, you might have a talk with your bishop and ask him to explain his reasoning in light of the direction found in the CHI.

    Just a thought.

  63. Jim F. on January 26, 2005 at 1:01 am

    Kelly Knight: I believe that Kristine was referring to a past practice, not to the present one. And it isn’t clear to me that the past practice was a practice mandated by the Handbook, even though it was very common.

  64. Keith on January 26, 2005 at 4:18 am

    I recall the practice of women not praying in Sacrament meeting being officially rescinded in about 1978. Whether it was responding to a widely accepted practice or one mandated by the Handbook, I can’t say, only that the official word was sent out saying women could pray in sacrament meeting.

    I don’t believe the practice of men opening a sacrament meeting with prayer is mandated in the Handbook. Maybe there’s a letter somewhere, or perhaps this falls under what some will see as an unwritten order of things, but some I know (who are very aware of what’s in the Handbook) tell me they don’t know of anything in the Handbook along those lines. But maybe Kelly has an exact page he can point to. If so, I’d be very interested to know.

  65. Kelly Knight on January 26, 2005 at 8:54 am

    Jim, if I was mistaken I apologize. It does sound to me as if she is writing in the present tense, however.

    Keith, having been released as a bishop and serving now as a Sunday School teacher, I no longer have direct access to the CHI. However, if I remember the next time I am around someone who does have one, I will look into it. I do recall once, however, when I was first called as a bishop, that I asked a sister to open sacrament meeting and was scolded (politely, or course) by the stake president for doing so.

  66. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 9:03 am

    Kelly,

    This is not the first time Kristine has brought up the policy about women praying in Sacrament meeting. From those earlier discussions, I can assure you that she is, as Jim and Keith noted, referring to an old policy, not one in her ward.

  67. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 9:13 am

    “In September 1978 the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve…clarified for Regional Representatives that “it is permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend, including sacrament meetings…”

    Prior to that time, the handbook did not specify whether or not women could pray, but it was common practice to allow only men to pray in sacrament meeting (the unwritten order of things, I suppose).

    In the early 90′s, there was a directive from some Regional Reps (or were they already Area Authorities by then?) that Melchizedek priesthood holders were to say the opening prayer in Sacrament Mtg., but that sisters could be permitted to say closing prayers. I don’t think that anyone has been able to document this policy or determine whether it was independently undertaken by some regional authorities or if it came from higher up. I was moving around a lot then–I saw the letter to California stake presidents and bishops, and my father confirmed that he had receive a similar letter in Tennessee. However, my branch president in Michigan was unaware of the directive, as were friends in other parts of the country. In any case, the instruction seems to have been widely ignored in practice, and the current handbook says only:

    “Men and women may offer prayers in Church meetings.”

  68. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 9:16 am

    Sorry, the source for the first quote is Derr, Cannon, Beecher, _Women of Covenant_ (Desert Book 1992). They are quoting from Marvin Gardner’s “Report of the Seminar for Regional Representatives” in the November 1978 Ensign.

  69. Jim Richins on January 26, 2005 at 9:32 am

    Ahh… I was also stuck only in the present tense. I had not considered any number of policies that may have been harmful in the past, but are no longer practiced. The examples given work even better, also, because they were general policies, and not something cooked up by some local crackpot. I had expected some current examples of flawed local policies.

  70. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 9:38 am

    Jim, I wouldn’t discuss a flawed local policy here–I would talk about it with the leaders who made it.

  71. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 9:39 am

    So Kristine, you have provided an excellent example of a case where Church policy was modified. Do you think this modification required more than the channels I mentioned in #56?

  72. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 9:53 am

    Frank, the point is that the policy needed modification for a very long time before it was clarified. If you’re a Melchizedek priesthood holder, the hurtful implications of the policy just aren’t going to bother you enough to put it anywhere near the top of the list of things to seek inspiration about. There’s no structural mechanism for the people who are affected by the policy (or lack thereof, or confusion about) to say, ‘hey, this is a painful way to be excluded.’ So they either wait for years and years, silently lamenting the lessons being taught their daughters about second-class citizenship in the kingdom, or they write about their frustration in the Exponent and get labeled feminists, heretics, troublemakers, and worse.

    The woman whom Kelly asked to pray, and then was uninvited by the SP, has absolutely no place to go with the embarrassment and hurt that such a situation would cause her. Kelly and the SP can have a nice theoretical discussion about what’s in the handbook or not, but she has neither access to the handbook nor any way to participate in their deliberations.

    Yes, she can go home and tell the Lord, who “lives to hear [her] soul’s complaints,” and hope that he’s able to inspire her Stake President to go read the handbook, but that seems awfully inefficient. When your kids have a dispute, do you prefer that they talk it out amongst themselves, or come separately to you and ask you to mediate? While I trust that revelation is the best way to get lots of things done in the church, I’m not convinced that the Lord is happy to help us solve the problems we could solve ourselves if we’d think hard about the structure of the organization and our interactions as siblings.

  73. Randy B. on January 26, 2005 at 9:59 am

    Amen, Kristine.

  74. Jed on January 26, 2005 at 10:24 am

    So Kristine, what do you suggest? In an ideal world what is your plan of action.

  75. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 11:14 am

    Kristine, I was going to reply, but I think it might save a lot of confusion if I just wait until you answer Jed’s question.

  76. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 11:18 am

    Frank, you can’t have it both ways–telling me that revelation is the way to do everything and then waiting for me to come up with solutions that you will label presumptuous and uninspired!

  77. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 11:23 am

    I’m just trying to be a listener! :)

  78. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    Aw, how warm and fuzzy.

    Coyness aside, I think the biggest problem is our working assumption that people called to positions within the hierarchy are more righteous than “mere” members. We say all the time that the hierarchy exists to serve members, and that it is the office, not the man we revere, but in practice, we act as though the office makes people’s opinions more worthy of consideration, their perceptions more accurate. (If you doubt that we behave this way, I point to the number of times on this board that people point to their church administrative experience to buttress their arguments). The result is that a stake president is likely to identify more with a bishop than a rank-and-file member if the two of them come to him with a problem, and to begin with the assumption that the bishop’s assessment of the case is more likely to be correct. This comes in part from his natural, personal identification with the bishop–they are likely to be similar in interests, skills, etc., but also partly from a structural reinforcement of this inclination. This means that members who, for whatever reason–femaleness, lack of apparent leadership ability, poor social skills, whatever–find themselves locked out of the hierarchy, are doubly unlikely to receive an unbiased hearing from their leaders.

    I should emphasize that I don’t think this power inequity matters much in some overwhelming percentage (90%? 95%) of interactions between members and leaders. And maybe it doesn’t make sense to try to build a solution for the exceptions into the system. But if you’re in the 5%, it feels pretty important.

  79. Jed on January 26, 2005 at 12:12 pm

    Kristine writes: “Coyness aside, I think the biggest problem is…”

    More problems. Where are the solutions?

    I am reminded of the critical theorists whose most admirable skill is critique. Desconstruction is much easier than construction.

  80. Jed on January 26, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    Ahhem, Pardon me–”Deconstruction.”

  81. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Well, if I’m right that the problem is an assumption people make about leaders and “mere” members relative righteousness and accuracy of perception, the solution would be to simply stop making that assumption and making policies and pronouncements that entrench it.

  82. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    I also think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make reading Elder Ballard’s _Counselling With Our Councils_ mandatory.

  83. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Kristine: I should emphasize that I don’t think this power inequity matters much in some overwhelming percentage (90%? 95%) of interactions between members and leaders.

    So we are already 95% in agreement? That seems pretty good.

    “the solution would be to simply stop making that assumption and making policies and pronouncements that entrench it.”

    Are you saying that Elder Eyring was wrong to give this “pronouncement” in Conference? He does not talk about relative rightesouness, but I think there is a rather strong doctrine that there are keys of knowledge that go with callings. These men are called “watchmen on the tower” exactly because of a doctrine about the “accuracy of their perception” when acting in their calling. Should we not mention that anymore? That will help out sometimes (not always) with the 5% of cases you mention. But it will have some rather large other costs for the Kingdom. Keys matter.

    Elder Eyring is actually suggesting that we need to go the opposite direction and be less interested in emphasizing how leaders get it wrong. The very fact that he has keys makes me inclined to side with him.

    I am all for people reading Elder Ballard’s book. I quite liked it.

  84. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Frank, I’m not at all interested in emphasizing the fact that leaders get it wrong sometimes. I just want there to be a way for them to hear about it as constructively as possible when they do get it wrong. The current avenues for that kind of communication (backbiting, publishing in unofficial journals, whining on the internet) are lousy; I’m not convinced that just telling people to shut up will work, and I’m wondering if it’s possible to open better channels.

  85. Melissa on January 26, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    I really can’t get into the fray here because I’m in the middle of writing my prelim exams, but I have to say that I think the following optimistic comment by Frank is wildly unrealistic.

    Frank”
    “God hears your prayers and has direct access to the Church leaders, all of whom are striving very hard to listen to what He wants.”

    I just don’t believe that ALL Church leaders are striving very hard to listen to what God wants. I think it is quite possible that many leaders are stumbling along the best they can. Others may actually be living contrary to the Gospel.

    Case in point: the bishop of my ward growing up, who happens to be from a very wealthy and prominent family in Salt Lake, told me in no uncertain terms not to go on a mission. He told me that I should stay home and get married. I couldn’t really explain it, but I knew tha tmy bishop was giving me counsel that was contrary to God’s will for me. In short, I knew he was dead wrong. Since I had had a spiritual confirmation about serving a mission, I ignored his counsel went to the Stake President who pushed through my mission papers at my insistence. Years later it turned out that this bishop was having an affair with his secretary the whole time he was bishop of our ward. Needless to say, I’m glad that I didn’t listen to his advice.

    I’ve had other experiences in which another SP sided with my bishop (a different bishop) simply because he assumed that my bishop knew more about the situation than he himself and must be correct in his interpretation of things. My concern, complaint and personal experience of the situation had no weight and were not taken into consideration. When the bishop’s mistake became public knowledge, the SP asked to meet with me again. Although his dismissal of my testimony had had real consequences for me, he didn’t apologize for his behavior (which is why I has assumed he had called the meeting) . Instead, he counseled me to turn this into a learning experience and respond in humility. As we spoke it became clear that the SP was more interested in covering for the bishop and himself and in trying to get me to go along with them. He showed no interest in helping to heal the wounds he had caused.

    What is the “legitimate channel for institutional crticism by the injured group” for women, Frank?

    Frank writes,
    “I think there is always a legitimate channel for institutional crticism by the injured group.” I disagree. I think there are many (especially women) who get injured who have no institutional recourse. What are the “legitimate channels for institutional criticism” for women, Frank?

    I think it is interesting that the policy about

  86. Melissa on January 26, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    Sorry, about the fragment and repetition above. I thought I had deleted the last several lines.

  87. Melissa on January 26, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    Kris,

    I think the first step in trying to find a way to open up better channels (any channels) IS to emphasize that leaders get it wrong sometimes. If this fact is overlooked than the need to find better ways to solve the problem won’t seem very real and pressing.

  88. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    If what you are saying is that it is important for leaders to be willing to talk to members and listen to their ward and stake councils; and further, to emphasize as Elder Perry did in Conference, when he quoted President Richards, that revelation often comes through counsels and quorums all working together, I completely agree. This seems to be something the Church works on pretty regularly. Elder Ballard giving the same talk two times in a row being a pretty strong message. Are these the channels to which you are referring?

    If you are saying that we should de-emphasize the “differences in perception” between leaders and members, I completely disagree. There is a difference in perception and it is the power of the keys. To de-emphasize that is to go in exactly the wrong direction from what Elder Eyring is teaching.

    Melissa,

    I’m sorry, I was pretty much thinking of the 12 when I made that comment. I was discussing the problem that it can be difficult to have a one on one meeting with the Apostles. Some Bishops are losers. Even more members are.

  89. Jim Richins on January 26, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    Please allow me to regroup, then, so I can be sure to understand (sorry for being so dense):

    1. membership access to channels of institutional feedback is not uniform, and for some marginalized groups (e.g. “troublemakers”) may not exist at all

    2. the single universal channel for registering grievances – performing an end-run on the Bishop and going straight to the Lord in prayer – is not guaranteed to provide resolution, if for no other reason than the Bishop who did not listen to the Lord when implementing flawed policy X is likely still not listening to the Lord when being told to repeal policy

    3. an appeal to higher authority via established methods, assuming such an appeal is even possible, is not likely to be effective because the SP identifies personally with the problem Bishop, whether from sharing leadership experience or just from being male, and so is likely to cover for him

    4. perception of members who are serving (or have served) in leadership positions is biased toward an assumption of righteousness which is not justified by revelation nor common sense but nevertheless is enacted in actual practice and/or rhetoric.

    Is this OK? Have I missed/glossed anything?

  90. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    Jim, I’d quibble with using “troublemakers” as your example of marginalized groups. All women are to some extent marginalized by the patriarchal structure of the hierarchical channels, but they’re not all troublemakers.

  91. Jim Richins on January 26, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    Yes… “troublemakers” was provided as one example of potentially many marginalized groups, especially because I expect that you would agree that this marginalized group would be least likely to have any recourse for grievances.

    But, it seems perhaps you are really thinking primarily of women in the Church, which really isn’t a minority group at all.

  92. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    No, I’m thinking of people who are not members of the priesthood hierarchy. They’re not a minority, but can be called marginalized by virtue of their lack of access to decision-making power. If I could think of a less loaded word than marginalized, I would use it.

  93. Jim Richins on January 26, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    OK, so restating my #1:

    membership access to channels of institutional feedback is limited nearly exclusively to men who currently (or recently) held positions of leadership

    how’s that?

  94. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    Kristine,

    I teach EQ once a month. I also am in charge of one of the EQ committees. Does that make me part of the priesthood power hierarchy? Am I more a part of the power hierarchy than the Relief Society President?

    Also, I am still unclear as to how you think the Church should emphasize the importance of the keys and whether you think it is more important to emphasize a “level playing field” over the importance of keys. Is paying attention to ward councils and private interviews what you are looking for? Because certainly I agree with those mechanisms.

    Melissa,

    From your examples of human error, what exactly are you saying? That the leaders are typically wrong and the followers right? Surely not. I agree there will always be disputes about doctrine and policy, as well as the typical frictions of any organization. We have a structure to determine whose stewardhsip it is to make “the final call”. It is not perfect, but it is pretty good. Those with “the final call” are given keys to help them do their job.

    You think we should put more emphasis on the humanity of our leaders? If so, how do you square that with the talk by Elder Eyring (and Elder Faust, Elder Packer, etc.)?

    On the other hand, if you wish to avoid the whole discussion and study for exams, power to you!

  95. Geoff B on January 26, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    Kristine, is it possible that your faith to the church is being tested by these problems you apparently have with authority? The church has made many apparent errors since its founding — not giving blacks the priesthood, polygamy, not having clear policies on the word of wisdom, etc. etc. Over the decades, people have fallen away because of these “errors” (including some close family members of mine, btw). We all know somebody who has become inactive and blamed his bishop or home teacher for not being attentive enough — or used the excuse that the church is too right-wing, hates gays or is racist. But, if the church really is God’s true church, then at the end of the day, the most important question is not whether the church policies are correct or if the prophets and apostles are inspired (that question has already been settled) — the most important question is how we react to the church and its leaders. If we spend a lot of our time thinking about and mulling over and worrying about and, yes, murmuring, about various church policies — no matter how wrong they may appear to us at the time — then we are on the wrong road, imho. If we acknowledge that the church or a leader has a policy that we don’t agree with — but say to ourselves we simply don’t know the reason why and keep on chugging with our callings and try to support others in the church and keep ourselves from murmuring — then we are on the right road, imho. This is the true test — where our energies are spent. I would much rather spend my energies building up the church and setting aside things I don’t understand or don’t agree with. But that’s just me.

  96. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    Um, Geoff, you might notice in my bio. that I have several callings in my ward, I’m staying home with my kids despite some strong desires to do other things, etc.

    But, in any case, I’m not speaking particularly about my own situation–I like my bishop a lot, and I think I’m lucky to be in a really amazing stake. And while I’d love to have a long conversation with the Powers that Be about the Proclamation on the Family, I’m reasonably content being the standard Mormon stay-at-home mom. It’s a position of privilege I don’t take lightly; my interest here is mostly theoretical.

  97. Grasshopper on January 26, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    Frank wrote:

    When you say “I hear at least as many criticisms of the Church from members than from non-members,” I think that’s a red herring. Of course you hear criticisms of the church mostly from members! It’s the same for any organization, I’d wager… I was responding to Grasshopper’s comment about critics of the Church making the point moot.

    Here’s why I don’t think my point is a red herring at all: “You”, who hear criticisms of the Church mostly from members, are active members of the Church. But how many have left the Church because they heard or read something from critics that didn’t match up with their expectations of how prophetic leaders should act? Judging from the extent of ex-Mormon activity on the internet, it’s a significant number. I would much rather have these kinds of “revelations” made in the friendly context of Church discussion than glossed over completely within the Church and left to the critics to expose. This leaves many Church members completely unprepared for the eventuality that they will be informed of “human frailties” by someone outside the Church, whose actions will not be swayed by Elder Eyring’s talk. These members are then far more likely to leave the Church.

  98. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    Grasshopper,

    I was quoting Steve for most of that passage. Apparently Steve and I agree that most criticism we hear is from members. Steve thought my statement was a red herring because he didn’t know I was actually responding to you and so misunderstood.

    I understand your argument. I think the question you state becomes an empirical one about costs and benefits. You have reminded me that there are costs, I am fine with that. We make decisions by comparing those costs to the benefits. Do you know how to evaluate both the costs and the benefits for al lpeople for all eternity? If so, how? Presumably, you are making an informed guess. Well fine, but wouldn’t you rather take the informed guess of an Apostle?

    Elder Eyring implies that, based on his assessment of the costs and benefits, it would be optimal to move to less criticism. Only God really knows the all the costs and benefits. But Elder Eyring has the keys and responsibility to get this knowledge from God. You and I just have informed guesses.

  99. Jim Richins on January 26, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    Kristine,

    Assuming I am understanding your points about member access to grievance-lodging-channels so far, I wonder now what you think about the channels that are in place. Is the established method for grievances/appeals adequate for members who are privileged to belong to the hierarchy, or do you feel it is still insufficient?

    If it is adequate (and in my experience it is, although my experience is likely to be discounted because I am a member of the hierarchy), then the solution would seem to be to ensure that every member has improved access to this channel. This would be managed by both removing obstacles (e.g. the false doctrine that leaders are more righteous?) and providing new methods of empowerment (perhaps a committee/council composed entirely of sisters that has the power to register grievances in the same way that hierachy members are able to?)

    If the existing methods are inadequate, then what might you suggest?

  100. Steve Evans on January 26, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    Frank/Hoppy, I am speaking of a different sort of criticism than the kind of anti-mormon smears you hear outside the Church; I am thinking of more casual references to habits or criticisms of individual policies. That kind of stuff I hear much more within the Church. Now, if you’re talking about criticisms from the Journal of Discourses or screeds about Joseph Smith’s wives, most of that is external.

  101. Mark Martin on January 26, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    This is jumping way back (#55, #67) regarding women and men praying in sacrament meeting. Sometime while I was in a position to read the Priesthood Bulletins (late 2001 to 2003) there was a bulletin from SLC *recommending* (but not requiring) that a man be asked to offer the invocation, and a woman the benediction. It also directed that spouses should not be asked to pray at the same meeting. It did not expound on the reasons.

    My personal interpretation (not backed by any authority) was that this would be a simple and quiet way to prevent feelings of exclusion. Single members wouldn’t feel singled out. And without making any fuss concerning the gender of the person praying, having a woman offer the benediction makes it clear that the women can fully participate in our worship services, and even end them. (In meetings where a high councilor or the presiding officer is the concluding speaker, a man speaks last. But it’s still okay for a woman to pray last.) I have not seen or heard any instruction or teaching that a *priesthood holder* needs to open or close a meeting with prayer.

    As Kristine mentioned earlier, the Church Handbook only says: “Men and women may offer prayers in Church meetings.”

  102. Grasshopper on January 26, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Frank:

    You have reminded me that there are costs, I am fine with that. We make decisions by comparing those costs to the benefits. Do you know how to evaluate both the costs and the benefits for al lpeople for all eternity?

    No, but I don’t need to. I just need to evaluate the costs and benefits for a given person or set of people in a specific set of circumstances.

    If so, how? Presumably, you are making an informed guess. Well fine, but wouldn’t you rather take the informed guess of an Apostle?

    Nope. I’d rather find out from God for myself, no disrespect to the Apostle intended.

    Elder Eyring implies that, based on his assessment of the costs and benefits, it would be optimal to move to less criticism. Only God really knows the all the costs and benefits. But Elder Eyring has the keys and responsibility to get this knowledge from God. You and I just have informed guesses.

    If you are speaking of Elder Eyring’s comments as a general rule, I agree. He has the keys and responsibility to make general statements. But I have just as much responsibility in my own sphere of conduct as he does, and I am responsible for determining for myself, by seeking personal revelation, whether his general comments apply in a given situation.

    I certainly don’t have the same perspective as Elder Eyring, so I can only give my own. My perspective may be somewhat skewed because of my online interaction and apologetics, as well as having had several recent discussions with local church members struggling with encounters with anti-Mormon material. My experience generally over the past several years leads me to believe that it would be a good thing to introduce people to some of the information about leaders’ “human frailties” in a Church-friendly context.

  103. Frank McIntyre on January 26, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    “No, but I don’t need to. I just need to evaluate the costs and benefits for a given person or set of people in a specific set of circumstances.”

    By this I take it you mean the set of people that you influence. Apparently you feel comfortable guessing at how your local and online activities eternally affect all those that see them. Certainly that is your prerogative. Or maybe you have received some personal inspiration to that effect. OK, fine. But we can still agree that those of us without your calling would do well to be guided by Elder Eyring’s _general_ counsel. Your inspiration doesn’t extend to anybody else on this blog.

  104. Kelly Knight on January 26, 2005 at 9:32 pm

    Kristine, just clarifying your statement in post #72, the sister was not “uninvited” by the Stake President. Rather, I was “chastised” after the meeting for allowing it to happen. The fact is, the sister I called on happened to be the wife of the 2nd Councillor to the Stake President, and although she was faithful to my request, it seems to me that even she made a comment after the meeting was over that she thought it was inappropriate for me to have asked her (its been a while and my total recall button is broken).

  105. Kristine on January 26, 2005 at 10:09 pm

    Well, Kelly, perhaps you’ll have a chance to remind your Stake President (and his 2nd counsellor’s wife) of the correct policy. It’s on page 152 of the CHI.

  106. Kelly Knight on January 26, 2005 at 10:18 pm

    Kristine,

    In all honesty, I am not necessarily on great speaking terms with my stake president. Perhaps on a private level, I can share with you my experience.

  107. Grasshopper on January 27, 2005 at 12:12 am

    Frank:

    By this I take it you mean the set of people that you influence.

    Yes.

    Apparently you feel comfortable guessing at how your local and online activities eternally affect all those that see them.

    Actually, I don’t even try to guess at all of that. Rather, I seek to be inspired as to what I post or say and let the consequences follow. Risky? Sure. But so is getting out of bed in the morning. Who’s to say that I’m not going to unintentionally offend a co-worker tomorrow who knows I’m Mormon and will, as a result, never consider talking to the missionaries? Hmmm… maybe I shouldn’t go to work. After all, I’m just guessing at how my activities will eternally affect everybody around me.

    Anything I do or say (or don’t do or don’t say) carries risks with it. The best I can do is the best I can do, which includes taking into account the counsel of Elder Eyring, giving it serious, thoughtful and prayerful consideration, and following the inspiration I feel to the best of my judgment. And I’ll probably make some errors in judgment along the way. So be it. Better that than paralyzing fear of risk: never say anything that could possibly have an adverse effect on somebody else.

    But we can still agree that those of us without your calling would do well to be guided by Elder Eyring’s _general_ counsel.

    Yes, as I said above, I think this may be good general counsel — as long as we understand it to be exactly that — general and not specific.

    Your inspiration doesn’t extend to anybody else on this blog.

    I recognize that and never claimed that it does. But while my inspiration doesn’t apply to anybody else, I think the approach I take can be useful for many, who will then receive their own inspiration for their specific situations.

  108. Frank McIntyre on January 27, 2005 at 7:45 am

    GrassH.,

    I’m not sure if you caught the part of my last post where I talked about you receiving personal inspiration. In any case, I think I hit that base :)

    Additionally, your discussion of dealing with risk seems to be based on some rather strange idea about what I was saying. So I guess I wasn’t clear. Everything has a risk, this is true. But I don’t think I ever implied that we don’t act because of that. We should just be cognizant of the risks and the benefits of our actions and so adjust our actions appropriately. Don’t climb onto the ledges of buildings unless there is some benefit to doing so, because the risk is obvious.

    Sometimes the risk is not obvious. Elder Eyring is saying, from what I gather, that the risk is greater than most people think. That the risk is large and important and we should not treat it as a samll thing. From this, I gather that he is saying we as a people should be doing less speaking and writing of frailties (the typical implication of finding out that an activity is riskier than thought). Your response seems to be that you will listen to that counsel. “…taking into account the counsel of Elder Eyring, giving it serious, thoughtful and prayerful consideration, and following the inspiration I feel to the best of my judgment.”

    Well that would seem to be the point I was advocating. Here is the relevant part from my post:

    “But before we start criticizing leaders or talking up their humanity and mistakes, we should ask whether it is worth the cost of the risks that Elder Eyring has pointed out. Sometimes it might be. Typically, it is better to hold our tongue publically and take up the issue privately.”

    I think that is exactly the point Elder Eyring is making. Is there some disagreement between us here there that I missed?

    Of course, as a general rule, it is always convenient to say that “this counsel does not apply to me”. But it sounds like you do plan on trying to apply the counsel by giving it “giving it serious, thoughtful and prayerful consideration”. Sounds good to me.

  109. Grasshopper on January 27, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Frank, you’re right that we’re closer than it appeared to me at midnight last night. That’ll teach me to post so late.

  110. Floyd the Wonder Dog on January 27, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    I feel that at times our respect for our church leaders approaches hagiolatry. We need to recognize that our leaders are still human and make mistakes. And at times we may run across a leader who we find especially trying. The Lord warned about unrighteous dominion because it is so common. For the past five years, my family, our ward, and I have been tried mightily by a bishop. I took comfort in the fact that bishops typically only serve for five years. I took comfort with the following quote from Brigham Young,

    “Brother Kimball said, today, when he was speaking, if you suffer yourselves to find fault with your Bishop, you condescend to the spirit of apostasy. Do any of you do this? If you do, you do not realize that you expose yourself to the power of the Enemy. What should your faith and position be before God? Such that, if a Bishop does not do right, the Lord will remove him out of your Ward. You are not to find fault. As brother Wells has said, speak not lightly of the anointed of the Lord. Yet many rise up and condemn their Bishop. Perhaps that Bishop has been appointed expressly to try those persons and cause them to apostatize. A great many will not apostatize until they arrive here; and who knows but what the Lord has prompted a Bishop to do so-and-so to cause somebody to apostatize. One of the first steps to apostasy is to find fault with your Bishop; and when that is done, unless repented of, a second step is soon taken, and by-and-by the person is cut off from the Church, and that is the end of it. Will you allow yourselves to find fault with your Bishop? No; but come to me, go to the High Council, or to the President of the Stake, and ascertain whether your Bishop is doing wrong, before you find fault and suffer yourselves to speak against a presiding officer. I want you to have faith enough concerning myself and my counselors for the Lord to remove us out of the way, if we do not magnify our calling, and put men in our places that will do right. I had the promise, years ago, that I never should apostatize and bring an evil upon this people. God revealed that through Joseph, long before he died; and if I am not doing right, you may calculate that the Lord is going to take me home. He will not send me to hell, but he will take me home to himself. ‘I will take you up here, Brigham, and give you a few lessons.’ I am going where He is, for I have that promise, and so have many others. I am telling you these things for your comfort. In all this there are no new principles and doctrines, though it is new to many of you. You must have faith in God that he will lead his people right, in a way to preserve them from every evil.”
    -Brigham Young , JD, Vol.9, p.142-143, July 28, 1861.

    My prayers have been recently answered through the release of this bishop who seemed to be doing his utmost to drive my family and I from the church.

    I’ve heard that J. Golden Kimball that there are three ways to get a calling in the church: inspiration, relation, and desperation. However, I learned when I was bishop that the Article of Faith is true, “a man (or woman) MUST be called of God”. When they are called otherwise, it can lead to suffering among the saints.

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