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.