Nate’s thoughtful post inspired a great discussion. Andrew spoke up to say:
…even though Church leaders could and should stress their own imperfection before Church members, they don’t…but instead they play into this paragon of virtue imagery that people put on them.
Wm Morris responded with:
I have no desire to see more self-flagellation on the part of our leaders. And I don’t see the paragon of virtue imagery — when general authorities to talk about themselves as persons, they are very often self-deprecating and even talk about their imperfections.
“Self-flagellation” is is kind of a stretch. Exposing our own imperfections and struggles isn’t akin to beating ourselves silly in the town square. I think Andrew makes a good point. While I’m sure there are examples to support the latter position, I can’t think of many off the top of my head. The most vivid personal example from our general leaders I can remember is the recollection of of one of the general youth auxiliary leaders about lying on the grass in the summer, staring up at the clouds and thinking about Jesus. I remember the story because my thought was, “Wow. I remember doing the same thing at that age — but I was thinking about boys.”
I have seen the positive side of our leaders personal experiences so overwhelmingly expressed that I’ve concluded that either:
- These people really are far more perfect than any people I have ever known (OK, except two — my sister (yes, I’m the black sheep) and my stand partner in high school orchestra).
- They are explicitly told not to reveal personal failings and sin in public.
Of course there’s a third option, that these leaders are normal fallen souls who just instinctively withhold their juicy life stories, but I like the other two choices better. For the sake of discussion, I’ll assume #2 is correct (because if #1 is correct, then there’s juts not much to talk about). So here’s the question:
When does revealing personal failing or sin help and when does it hurt?
There is rather common sense research that shows how past history influences others. For example, when children know about their parents’ youthful misbehavior, they are more likely to engage in the same things — even when their parents tell them it’s a bad idea. I’m not an advocate of the idea that the principle of “honesty” requires us to tell our kids (or our journals) every single foolish thing we ever did. But there are times when it’s elevating.
Reading Sister Hinckley’s book a few years back, I was absolutely tickled by the story about Gordon, sitting on his porch with friends as a child, and directing the “n” word at a boy walking by. He was immediately disciplined by his mother, who overheard the unfortunate exchange.
Yes! He is human after all!
I wasn’t thrilled at the news because his bad behavior brought him down in my eyes, it was because it made me hopeful that sin and error didn’t completely disqualify me for being seen, by God, as good and worthy to serve.
When I was serving as Relief Society president, our stake Relief Society president asked the conducting member of each ward presidency to close each meeting with a confirming testimony of the lesson that had been given. Good grief. That was the last thing I wanted to do. Being honest with the other sisters meant that about half the time I was confessing that I hadn’t followed the given principle early on, suffered the consequences, learned the lesson the hard way, and then repented. The other half I had to confess that I was still crappy at following the principle taught, but had learned some reasons why it was important and why I needed to correct my behavior. The Sundays when I was able to give a glowing recollection about the benefits of my life-long dedication to the principle were few and far between. If that.
Much to my surprise, these revelations (obviously only revelatory to those in the ward who didn’t already know me really well) didn’t turn the women against me. Instead, it seemed to bring most of us closer. Week after week (after week) women came up to me and said something like, “I’m so glad I’m not alone in struggling with that!” or “I thought I was the only one who felt that way!” Being open about our utter humanness seemed to open up the channels to reveal our struggles and, in turn, to help each other grow and learn from them.
Please share your thoughts on openness and boundaries with regard to sharing past sin with others.