Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Our leaders are human...

A few weeks ago on NL and other sites there have been discussions on the shortcomings and fallibility of the General Authorities of the Church. Additional comments this last week have flowed in regarding Elder Holland’s recent article in the October Ensign - some eager to learn from these men, others eager to criticise and pick apart their every nuance of every word.

I am reminded of a few occasions of personal encounters with or about Church Leaders I’d like to share:

STORY 1: When I was a kid in the stake where I lived, President Kimball came often to visit because his grandchildren also lived in my stake. When there was a special Primary or scouting activity or even the Bicentennial Celebration, Pres. Kimball would be there, sometimes as a General Authority, sometimes eventually as the Prophet, but most of the time as a proud grandpa. I remember several occasions where I, along with my friends, would shake his hand, sit on his lap, or give him a hug along with the other kids. It was this very human and grandfatherly relationship that endeared me to him and we had a connection of sorts that carried over to him issuing me my mission call.

STORY 2: A few years into our marriage, I served in an Elders quorum presidency. We lived in a stake where Richard Hinckley (President Hinckley’s son) was in the stake presidency. We invited Richard Hinckley to come speak to our quorum in a fireside setting and talk to us about his father, the man. I remember how candid he was with us about the “humanness” of his father. He spoke of him as “Dad did this” and “Dad did that” as if he were talking about our dads as well. I remember specifically he mentioned an incident when his Dad came home very frustrated from work (at the Church offices) and Richard hadn’t done his chores as he was supposed to, and his Dad exploded and took it out on him and started swearing at him for not being obedient. We were shocked that he would mention that his Dad had a temper and swore at him. Richard said: “My dad is a wonderful man. But he is human! Don’t make him out to be more than that. He is doing the best he can.” I will never forget that.

STORY 3: About a month ago, we attended a wedding reception of the daughter of our neighbors. It was in a gloriously landscaped backyard of a beautiful home a few miles away. As we approached the house and stood in line, we noticed that Elder Packer was standing directly in front of us in line with an assistant of some kind at his side. He was a bit stooped and stood with a cane. We instantly noticed who he was and respectfully shook his hand. Without time for dialogue, grandchildren surrounded “Grandpa Packer” and gingerly escorted him to the front of the line and eventually to sit down at one of the garden tables. Come to find out that he was the grandfather of the groom. After we had made our way through the “line” and extended our congratulations to the bride and groom, I noted how Elder Packer was sitting all alone at a table. Occasionally, I observed, a family member would come up from behind and give him a hug, but no guests would approach him. It was like he was “off limits” and “needed to be given his privacy”, but I couldn’t help but think that he was lonely and quite vulnerable and that we should have been more willing to engage him in conversation, but we didn’t. As I watched him, he didn't seem stern and rigid or authoritative. Instead, he appeared very human...

I, like many of you have had issues with these three men over my own personal issues. With Pres. Kimball, it has been the harshness of the words of the Miracle of Forgiveness regarding homosexuality (where I have to remind myself that he wasn’t addressing people like me as he couldn’t fathom – in his experience and mentality - of people like me existing at the time). With President Hinckley, to a minor extent, it has been to desire that he address personally his understanding and love for “my kind” in a sign of love and of encouragement (not sending Elder Oaks or Elder Holland to do the filtered talking for him). With Elder Packer it most certainly goes back to 1976 and that notorious General Priesthood address that shocked me into the deepest closet of my young adolescent confused life – that ended up taking me nearly three more decades even to be brave enough to unlock the door.

I must say, further, that I have also felt their personal love through their words and have drawn from their wisdom, spirit and strength over the course of the years, and have come to love each of them for the men they are and for the mantle they carry.

Now my point… As I’ve noted and reminded myself, these are very human men. They are family men. They are dads and granddads. They are fallible. They make mistakes. They are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given, just as each of us. They are products of their culture and their mentality, their time and their upbringings, just as each of us are. They learn line-upon-line as do we. The Lord works through them as imperfect humans just as He worked through Joseph Smith or the prophets of old. None of them are perfect.

Yet, I have a conviction of the mantle of the office. In my own sphere, I have felt the mantle change me as a person. I know they feel the burden of their office and the responsibility that comes with it. But, I am willing to accept and remember, even cherish, their imperfections and shortcomings – their “HUMANNESS” just as I hope others accept mine. I have enough faith that the Lord allows His time and means of “revelation” to come to the man in charge at the right time. To demand that things be “changed” in my timetable is not appropriate of me to say. I subscribe to the hope of "change" coming from within as I strive to live my life honestly and as whole as possible along with the rest of you - seeking to learn from the spirit and our common human experience.

I need to keep such things in mind as I prepare to be fed at their feet as conference time quickly approaches.


playasinmar said...

Isn't there something in the scriptures about "feet of clay" or something?


Foxx said...

What I hear and feel all to often in discussions like this one is that you can't blame the Church because the people aren't perfect; they're human, just like you, so don't judge!

Is it evil speaking of the Lord's anointed to extend their humanity, fallibility, and culpability to the policies they implement? To call them out on injustices they support like during the ERA movement or the Marriage Amendment? This is not an unholy or impure practice, but the moral responsibility of the individual.

I think it's important to accept that the Church as an organization can only be as infallible as its leaders, for the policies that govern the church's implementation are created by them. "They are products of their culture and their mentality, their time and their upbringings," and the Church they govern can't avoid reflecting that product.

Yes, we're all trying to do the best with what we've been given. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn't be responsible for the gigantic mistakes we make; king or peasant, rich or poor, bond or free, neophyte or prophet.

Chris said...

Amen, Foxx. Amen.

If we are too recognize the humanity and fallibility of church leaders, so should they -- in word and deed.

SSA said...

You can totally tell we're all gearing up for General Conference.

I think deep down there is always a hope that this will be the conference- whatever the conference is for you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing those stories...What a great reminder of the humanity of our leaders, especially as we are looking forward to General Conference. For whatever reason, this post really touched me today--thank you. (I am Geckoman's son-in-law and I try to keep up on your blog too)

J G-W said...

These are great, wonderful stories. And very interesting to me, as one who grew up far from the Great Basin Kingdom and whose only encounters with general authorities have ever been on radio or TV broadcasts or in the pages of a magazine.

OK, here's the amazing thing. The Lord works through ordinary, flawed human beings. And we honor them, not because any one human being is better than another, but because we love and honor the God who called them, and because we value the order, structure, and discipline of the Church that permits us to grow spiritually.

Here's the other thing that's amazing. Even when our leaders make mistakes -- and if we believe that free agency is real, and that leaders have it as much as anyone, then we must believe that our leaders will make mistakes -- even when they make mistakes, when we honor the order of the Church, we and the Church will be blessed. I truly believe that.

Max Power said...

I met a guy (non-member) on my mission whom we, through a series of random conversations, found out knew Ezra Taft Benson personally when he was a "young" member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He talked about how Ezra and a problem with excessive flatulence, and how he would sometimes let one fly in front of other people. It was horrificly embarrassing to Sister Benson, and she would get very angry with him.

Ahhh, I love humaness.

Beck said...

FOXX: I never said "Don't judge!" We should judge and be able to think for ourselves about what they say and do and how it affects us.

But sometimes we place these men on such a pedestal that we forget they are just human. I remember talking to my brother-in-law once about their infallibility and at that time I was convinced that the Lord would not allow them to be fallible in what that said or did. He wasn't so convinced. Now, as I've experienced my own shortcomings in callings and inspiration, and seeking the Lord's will in behalf of the mantle given to me, I put in perspective that the Lord allows his work to go forward THROUGH imperfect men and women. And when I struggle with feeling their shortcomings affecting me, I need to remind myself of that fact.

Beck said...

CHRIS: Don't you think they feel their own fallibility and shortcomings? You've been a significant and influential church leader holding spiritual lives in your hands. Did you always do the right thing? Did you always have the perfect answer to everyone's problems? Did you always feel inspired? Magnify that to the whole church - I think they feel it very much and we should grant them a bit of room to figure things out with the Lord, just as we do in our own lives and with each other.

Beck said...

SSA: I don't expect anything. If I expect something to happen, I usually get disappointed. For me, it's better to just listen and glean what I can to do better and realize "significant change" is not going to happen any time soon.

GECKO'S SON-IN-LAW: I am amazed and thrilled that you would comment, let alone, read my blog. I am thrilled with your upcoming experience of family closeness in the temple. Thanks for being out there and for following along in this MOHO corner of the universe.

JGW: Yes, there is power and strength in the humility process of recognizing the Lord's order in all things! As for other encounters, they are numerous... but with me, they are not so much the "gushing of seeing the celebs on the red carpet" as feeling their real human side. Frequent Stake and regional priesthood meetings with the 12 and First Presidency members where they really get off the podium and come down and roll up their sleaves and become "real people" and not professional scripted orators - those are the encounters where I really feel both their humanness and their spiritual gifts!

MAX: That's disgustingly human! :) I've been known to have let one go, to the digust and disdain of my wife... Wow, I have something in common with ETB!! :)

GeckoMan said...

I am so looking forward to conference: for just being there, for being with my family. For listening to the choirs, for singing the hymns. For feeling the witnesses of the Holy Ghost. For agreeing with faith to principles I've heard time and again. And For thinking about what I don't agree with. For talking it all over with family and Moho friends in spirited discussions. For going back to the written copy and analyzing for meaning and intent.

It's all going to be there in my experience, and I've already decided it's going to be wonderful.

Chris said...


Don't you think they feel their own fallibility and shortcomings?

Of course they do! I know from experience. But that's not my point.

Church leaders, particularly at the general officer level, don't talk about their shortcomings in anything but a self-deprecating I'm-one-of-you-too kind of way, usually at the beginning of a talk to inject a little levity into the proceedings. The culture of the LDS Church exalts these men, encouraging reliance on them in all matters of life. They do little of substance to discourage that kind of adoration.

Let's just try a little hypothetical here. Let's assume for a moment that the ban on priesthood for black men was not God-inspired, but driven by the thinking of men who were fallible and influenced by their times and culture. Would the LDS Church that you know and love ever acknowledge that? Would it ever admit that men sustained as prophets and who appealed to their God-given priesthood authority to justify their actions were wrong?

Beck said...

CHRIS: I understand your point, but that isn't my experience. Case in point, if Elder Packer were so "adored", why would he be allowed to just be grandpa in that backyard? There was no focus on him, there was no adoration, there was no mention of him. He was a family member and that was it. I like that. I don't think he expected exalted treatment whatsoever. That's what I like about the story.

Now, I believe that there IS a population with the Church that does "adore" and "exalt" these men and I concur wholeheartedly that they do NOTHING to stop it. Pres. Hinckley's birthday parties (90th and 95th) were huge bashes and I attended both - and though they were wonderful performances, there was an "adoration" aspect to both occasions.

And even further, the hideous and ridiculous PRIESTCRAFT that goes on with Deseret Book (sorry AtP)and the publications from the General Authorites makes me absolutely ill. Though intended for "inspired reading", it is nothing more than selling testimonies! And it encourages celebrity status of exaltation! And at conference time in SLC, it seems to continue to become a bigger and bigger marketing ploy for members to spend more and more and more in such priestcraft.

Would they every admit fallibility? Rarely. (They did make mistakes with the 18 month mission thing reversing their decision within a year of its implementation affecting countless lives of missionaries at the time - though this is a minor example of less significance than yours).

So, I get your point that they expect infallibility and adoration of sorts and don't discourage such behavior of the masses as much as they should.

As inconsistent as it seems, I'm still trying to see past this to respect the mantle of the office, while seeing the fallibility of the human servant in that office.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Beck, thanks for sharing these stories.

Thanks to others for their comments as well. This has been interesting reading and has gotten me thinking about stuff.

Very general comment, I know, but that's all I have to say at the moment.