This is a summary of the message (in my own words) that I’ve been hearing at church (and in some social media circles) for the last few months, in sacrament meeting, inspiring newsletter messages, Sunday School comments, and Relief Society and Young Women lessons:
While it is possible that some Church leaders in the past may have been fallible, it falls to us now to follow our current Church leaders unfailingly. After all, we don’t want to be like some of those women in the news that are protesting against the Prophet. Anytime a person disagreed with a leader in the past, even about something small, they had to repent, because it is wrong to criticize our leaders.
First: to offer criticism and to criticize are two different things. One can be very helpful, pointing out unseen flaws or deficiencies so that corrections may be made and all can be edified. Don’t forget that with all that talk of motes and beams, we all have something in our eyes. We can and should help each other out, and graciously accept the help that others offer us. But inasmuch as being critical is just cover for insults or insubordination, it is in no way helpful or productive. If we all strive to be generous and charitable, we’ll only have the first and not the second.
Second: While we have an obligation to sustain our leaders, they have a matching obligation to serve us. Open and honest communication is imperative if this system of support and service is to be sustainable. Our leaders need us to communicate with them our cares and concerns so they can do their work effectively. But if voicing a concern is conflated with criticism, then few people will be willing to speak, to the detriment of us all.
Third: External forces act to throw off this sustainable balance. These forces include shifting cultural norms and social pressures. We all need to adjust to these forces in order for the system to remain sustainable. It can be hard when it seems that the ground is shifting beneath our feet, but if we hold to the Rock that is our foundation, to the very fundamental principles of the Gospel, we will be fine. The tricky part is recognizing what is that solid foundation, and what are the sandcastles that we and our forebearers have built up on top of it.
In all these lessons I’ve had on sustaining our church leaders, I find myself coming back to this word, sustain. To uphold or carry. To bear or suffer. I should hope that we are supporting our leaders more than we are suffering under them.
One illustrative story was the widow sustaining Elijah. He was able to carry on because her substance became his sustenance.
Sustain. Sustenance. Sustainable.
It’s what we do, what we need, how it all needs to be.