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.





I Believe in Christ…So Come What May

Every now and again, a line from a hymn will strike me even though I have heard it a thousand times before.  This is a fairly rare occurrence, probably because we usually sing our music so slowly that by the time you get to the end of a phrase, the beginning of that phrase is difficult to remember.  It’s hard to get much out of music if you are playing your 45s at 33 speed (for those of you too young to understand that analogy, there used to be these things called “records”….)

But today was one of those days.  I wasn’t singing along this morning, because my iPad was locked up on an update, and I have refused Hymnalto use a hymnal since my wife found a booger on one back in 2010.  So I was listening for a change, while the congregation was singing “I Believe in Christ.”  For a bit, I was distracted, because the meeting already was running 15 minutes over, and for some reason we were going to sing all four verses.  (Actually, that song has eight verses, carefully disguised as four, because ain’t nobody got time for an eight-verse hymn.  We don’t, for example, sing all of the verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” unless a speaker didn’t show up or the teachers forgot to bring the sacrament bread).

Anywhoo, the chances of me skipping Sunday School were looking pretty good regardless, so I wasn’t feeling too anxious about the long meeting.  I just sat back and listened to the congregation sing.  And in the middle of the hymn, one line actually stood up and demanded my attention:  “I believe in Christ/So come what may.”

I’m not exactly sure why this line lodged itself in my head.  I think it has something to do with the fact that, in order to write for this and my other blog, I read a fair number of news reports about Mormonism, many of which are as unfair as they are critical.  On top of that, my blog posts themselves sometimes expose me to more direct criticism.  Just this morning an angry former member of the Church who had “finally found Christ” (his words) demonstrated his superior spirituality by repeatedly calling me a “liar” and telling me to stop writing “crap” to defend Mormons.  For the record, I don’t tell any lies in my posts, but that second criticism is sufficiently subjective that I probably can’t deny it.  In any event, the fact is that I get a pretty steady diet of criticism of my faith.

ChristusAs I have said before, one’s faith in Christ is, ultimately, a choice.  The case for or against the divinity of Christ will not be closed in this life, and therefore at some point we choose either to believe that He (upper case “H”) was the Son of God or he (lower case “h”) was delusional or a fraud.  Whichever choice we make comes with consequences, and we can hardly claim to have made any choice at all if we have to reevaluate our position every time we face a new consequence.

Having chosen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the literal Son of God, that He atoned for the sins of the world, and was resurrected from the dead is not without consequences.  The same is true with the decision to believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and was directed through revelation to translate the Book of Mormon and restore the same church that Christ established when He was on the earth.   What are those consequences?  What was the “come what may” to which Elder McConkie referred in the hymn he wrote?  I can think of a few:

There is the uncertainty in times of trouble, when you feel perhaps no one, not even Christ, hears your anguished cries.

There is the frustration of being mocked by arrogant critics who insist that no rational person would believe as you do.

There are the nagging doubts caused by questions that you cannot answer and might not be able to answer during this life.

There is the difficulty of abandoning the less savory aspects of your character in order to harmonize more closely to the example of your Master.

There are the feelings of self denial as you sacrifice things you want now in the hopes of receiving something better much farther down the road.

There is the loss of family or friends who cannot abide your faith, or with whom you cannot safely abide while sustaining and nurturing your commitment to Christ.

Choosing to embrace and exercise faith is not an inconsequential decision.  If one’s faith is sincere, it means changing what you think, how you feel, and the way that you see the world.   It means adopting not just a world view, but a universal of view of the origins and meaning of life and the nature and purpose of the afterlife.  It can, and should, change everything.

While it is important to continue to study, to search, and to explore in order to enrich, nurture and deepen your faith, that does not mean that every time we encounter some new theory, new “fact,” or new idea, we reexamine our decision to believe.  To do so would mean that our testimonies would be forever tentative.  They would never take us anywhere, and instead we would just continue circling the board, hoping that if we land on Boardwalk, the atheists haven’t built a hotel there that is going to clean out our spiritual banks.

For those of you too young to understand that analogy, there used to be this game…