Bashing the General Authorities: Can You Pass That Test?

Over the past week or so, I have had the pleasure (using the word in the original Greek sense of “Why did I do this to myself?”) of reading scores of comments regarding my post on “Yeah, but” discipleship.  Many of you were very kind, which I appreciate.  Heck, I appreciate anyone thinking it is worth sacrificing ten minutes of their lives to read anything from the likes of me.  But there were others (some of which I approved for posting; many of which I didn’t on grounds of extreme nastiness) that left me stunned.  I had no idea that there was that much hostility directed by purported members of the Church towards our General Authorities.  Honestly, there are bullies in high school that beat me up weekly that I bear lighter grudges against.

I’m reminded of my favorite scene from Hill Street Blues.  This probably isn’t the most appropriate example to use for a religious-themed post, but it has been on my mind all evening. Detective Belker (my favorite character) is working undercover at a butcher shop.  An elderly lady comes in demanding a fresh chicken.  He pulls out a whole chicken, which she picks up, spreads the drumsticks, and takes a mighty sniff of the cavity.  She throws it back at him, grumbling “This chicken isn’t fresh.”  She goes through two or three more chickens in the same way, reaching the same conclusion.  Frustrated, Belker scowls at her, and asks “Lady, could YOU pass that test?”

I have had the same reaction to some of the comments I have read about the General Authorities, as I have been accused of espousing blind obedience to misguided, corporate, out of touch, old men.  Now, I have had my moments in which I have been overzealous in my criticism of local or general authorities over some pet issue.  Most recently, I had complete apoplexy when “ponderize” became confused with “merchandize.”  But eventually, in all of these cases I’ve ultimately decided to give my leaders a break and not allow my brief trip into grousing turn into a ride on a bullet train to apostasy.

Here’s why.

Sometimes, I say stupid things.  But only when I’m awake.  I’ve been known to make entirely inappropriate comments in church.  I’ve taught doctrines that I later understood to be incorrect.  I’ve challenged people for offenses that they did not intend to give.  And maybe once I offered to beat up a bishopric member.  I regret lots of stuff that comes out of my mouth or that gets banged out on my keyboard.  I’m grateful for the principal of repentance, which allows my words to be recorded on white boards with dry erase pens, rather than engraved on brass plates.  So I don’t hold people to every word that comes out of their mouths.  I couldn’t pass that test.

Sometimes, I have a hard time understanding the scriptures.  Aside from the crazy stuff that pops up in the scriptures (that whole talking donkey thing in the Old Testament remains a head scratcher), even relatively simple stuff like the Gospels can be fairly perplexing.  I’m sure that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were wonderful guys.  They just weren’t the best writers.  And don’t even get me started on Paul.  But sometimes the very words of Christ appear to be recollected sayings all jammed together that can be interpreted in any number of ways.  I think the scriptures are supposed to have some wiggle room, so that we can liken them to our own lives.  There are times when I think I have a clear understanding of things, only to find contradictions upon closer inspection.  So I don’t expect anyone to be able to explain the scriptures perfectly.  I couldn’t pass that test.

Sometimes, I confuse my own emotions for spiritual promptings.  I can get worked up about things, and sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing between strong emotions and promptings from the Spirit.  I frequently tell my  children and students about the direct revelation I had when I was 13 about a girl at school that I was to marry (conveniently, she was the prettiest girl in the eighth grade).  My revelation was “confirmed ” about 8 years later, when I returned from my mission and discovered that she had joined the Church.  I was just about to share my revelation with her when she introduced me to her fiance.  Oops.  False prophet.  Moses would have stoned me for sure.  But that doesn’t mean that the Lord never has or never will reveal things to me.  So I don’t assume that because a person says something I don’t like, or that I think is foolish, that I can discount anything else that they say.  I couldn’t pass that test.

Sometimes, my prejudices get the better of me.  We all have our prejudices.  It is one of the coping mechanisms our brain uses in order to not have to think about everything we see.  We use visual cues to jump to conclusions that sometimes are accurate, but more often are not.  Those prejudices color our views, no matter who we are.  We are all the product of our culture, our society, our traditions, and that stuff seeps in no matter how educated, progressive, or enlightened we think we are.  So I don’t condemn people for reflecting the notions of their times or backgrounds.  I couldn’t pass that test.

I don’t expect church leaders to be perfect.  I couldn’t pass that test either.

So why bother following our priesthood leaders anyway?

Because the Lord has always chosen to work through the weak things of the earth, and He expects us to be sufficiently humble to trust Him in His choices.  It isn’t about putting blind faith in our leaders.  It is about trusting that the Lord knows what He is doing.  If we believe that He is behind the Church, then we have to believe that He has an understanding of who He calls to lead it.  He knows their weaknesses better than we think we do, and He has determined that He can work with the material He has chosen.

None of us is immune from feeling at times that we know the way better than those placed in positions of authority over us.  I’m no more inclined to unquestioned obedience than anyone else. But I don’t assume that because I can find fault with a general conference talk, or a press release, or something my stake president says to me, that I am justified in questioning their calling from the Lord.

Sure, Noah got drunk.  Moses took credit for a miracle and was a bit of a mushmouth.  Aaron built that golden idol.  Jonah ran from his mission call.  Peter didn’t have enough faith to walk on water (no surprise for a guy named after a rock) and denied Christ three times.  He and Paul fought like cats and dogs over doctrine.  Joseph Smith could be arrogant and rude.  Brigham Young had some patently goofy doctrinal ideas, and Ezra Taft Benson was a John Bircher.  But in each of these cases, the Lord found a way to work with each of them, and in every instance, things ultimately worked out okay.

I trust that the Lord is behind the selection of our leaders.  If you don’t, that is your right.  Not quite sure why you would be a member of a Church that teaches that, but whatever floats your boat.  I also trust that He is fully capable of correcting His chosen leaders, and that He doesn’t need my help to do so.  I trust that we are still working under our Father in Heaven’s plan, and that He hasn’t suddenly found Himself on a runaway train.

If I have a disagreement, I’ll express it.  But I’ll be respectful in doing so, and if I don’t get my way, I hope that I have sufficient humility to reserve judgment and wait on the Lord.  If I’m right, then things are going to work out my way eventually.  If I’m wrong, then I deserved to be ignored.

What I’m not going to do is hold my leaders to standards I cannot meet.  I’ll work on getting myself straightened out before I reach out to balance the ark.





“Yeah, but” Discipleship

Salt LakeIn recent months, the Church has issued statements on three issues of public concern.  The first dealt with Syrian refugees, the second with handling same-sex marriages involving Church members, and the third with the occupation of a federal building in Oregon by an armed militia composed partially or totally by members of the Church.

In each case, the Church’s statements were unambiguous.  And in each case, some Church members were rubbed the wrong way by what our leadership had to say.  I’ve spent some time (more than the situation merited) reading comments online from purported members of the Church regarding all three of these statements (one a letter, one a change in the Church handbook, and one a press release), and I’m surprised at the level of “Yeah, but” discipleship that those responses reflect.

The Church says to love and support the refugees.  “Yeah, but, I think Muslims are all terrorists, and I can’t support this invasion of America.  The Church leaders are being naive.”

The Church reaffirms that same-sex marriage is inconsistent with Church doctrine and puts rules in place for handling children of such marriages.  “Yeah, but, I think Church is behind the times on this.  I think people have a right to marry who they want.  The Church leaders are being homophobic.  And this isn’t consistent with how I think the atonement works.”

The Church unequivocally states that an armed takeover of a federal building is contrary to revealed scripture and inconsistent with Church teachings.  “Yeah, but, I only need to support Constitutional governments, and I don’t think that the federal government is complying with its own laws.  Besides, the federal government was nasty to the Church in the 1800s, so they should be supportive of what these patriots are doing.  The Church leaders don’t understand their own scriptures.”

There is nothing new about “Yeah, but” discipleship.  All of us engage in it at some level or another.  “Yeah, I’m supposed to love my neighbor, but that guy is such a jerk!”  “Yeah, I’m supposed to pay my tithing, but I’m broke.”  “Yeah, I’m not supposed to cheat on my wife, but this is only pornography.”

Or, my personal weakness:  “Yeah, I’m supposed to go to high priests, but those meetings drain my soul like a dementor’s kiss.”

All of us doing it, however, doesn’t make it right, and “Yeah, but” discipleship is a particularly dangerous form of doctrinal diversion.  It amounts to a rejection of core elements of what makes us Latter-day Saints.

First, it demonstrates a distorted view of our relationship with God.  The Plan of Salvation is our Heavenly Father’s gameplan by which we have the best (and only) opportunity to become like Him.  The rules of the mortality game are well-established by our Father, but our arrogance and pride elevate our self-image to the point that we believe we know a better way.  We are wiser, more modern, more progressive, more compassionate, more “whatever” than our Father in Heaven, and consequently we demand that He conform to our expectations of Him.  It is the equivalent of Christ entering the room and us demanding to see his driver’s license.  But our progression in this life is determined by our following the path that the Father has set out for us, not by blazing new trails based upon our limited view of the landscape.

Second, it rejects what we teach about priesthood authority and acting within the scope of our stewardship.  Too First presidencymany well-intentioned members of the Church believe that they have had more relevant revelation on certain topics that the established priesthood leadership.  They invoke overused hypotheticals (what if the prophet claimed to have a revelation that you should jump off a cliff/kill your neighbor/marry a monkey?) and conclude that not only should we seek personal confirmation of what priesthood leadership tells us, but if we don’t get such confirmation, we need to convince our leaders of the error of their ways.  Church leaders are too old, too white, too stodgy, too bald, and too male in order to really know what they are talking about.  I, on the other hand, am educated, enlightened, and good looking.  Therefore, I know the way.  Such is not the “wisdom and order” that our Father in Heaven has established for His church.  While asking questions, even challenging questions, is wholly appropriate, imposing our own answers on the Church is not.

One of the interesting things about “Yeah, but” discipleship is that expressions of its dogma are almost always followed with the word, “I.”  It becomes, “Yeah, but. I” discipleship.  I think differently.  I don’t agree.  I have had more relevant experiences.  I understand the scriptures better.  It is an unequivocal announcement of our own pride, in which our views, thoughts, and opinions are placed higher than the expressed word of the Lord.  It is a declaration that we have written and intend to follow our own preferred plans of happiness and expect to get the same result (or better) than we will get from the Plan set forth by an all-knowing and all-loving Father in Heaven.

GethsemaneNo mortal ever has been faced with a more difficult celestial chore than  Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  If ever there were a time for “Yeah, but” discipleship, this was it.  “Yeah, but there has to be another way!”  Instead, our Savior demonstrated perfectly how to respond to difficult directives:  “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me:  nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”  Even the Great I AM placed His will second to that of the Father.  If Christ was unwilling to overwrite God’s instructions, we should be far more hesitant to do so.