The standard reply to every bad-bishop or awful-ward story is well known by now: “The church is perfect, but the members aren’t.” Your interaction with an awful leader or member or ward — hypocritical, sexist, gossipy, unrighteous dominion, Red Sox fan, or otherwise unpardonable — is due to the humanity involved. The church itself is just fine, and please bear in mind that hide-bound church individuals are hide-bound only in their individual capacity. Why, the scriptures even tell us that unrighteous dominion is sadly inevitable.
How exactly do we reconcile that line of reasoning with Matthew 7?
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Now, maybe good members are not the real fruits of the gospel. Maybe those fruits are other things (spiritual experiences, teachings, and so on).
Maybe our fruits really are better than the alternative fruits out there, even if we’re a little fruity ourselves. This argument would be that yes, we’re hypocritical and sexist and exercisers of unrighteous dominion — rotten fruits, really — but we’re still the best fruits that the produce aisle has to offer. (How’s that for a ringing endorsement?)
Or maybe the verses in Matthew really do undercut the rhetorical force of the oft-heard argument that the church is fine, even if the members aren’t. Maybe we should be quicker to try to make ourselves a little better as fruits, and less quick to write off others’ bad experiences as only a problem with “the members.”
Maybe the only fruits of the church that really matter are the actions, good and bad, of its members.