Thursday, January 30, 2014

When Church Leaders Are Wrong

With the recently released study topic on race and the priesthood in the LDS Church, there is predictably a flurry of praise for the Church's efforts and criticism that it wasn't enough. And, naturally, questions are being raised about the significance of the Church disavowing past explanations for the Priesthood ban and discussion of the racism that caused it, and what that means for following current leaders now. The racial ban could not have been any part of God's will, an argument often runs, because God would never cause so many people so much pain. Therefore, policies which currently cause pain cannot be of God's will, either, so there is no obligation to follow the prophets in matters which cause people pain.

While I am not black, I have been a victim of others' bad choices before. I know what it is to feel pain from the perspective and opinions of Church leadership, as well. It is from that experience and the things I have learned about the nature of God that I now address some of my feelings on this topic. It isn't meant to tell other people how to think or feel, but only to share my personal reaction to fallacy in my priesthood leaders which affects me. I, obviously, have no right to demand the Church leaders repent on the issue of blacks and the priesthood. I am not the injured party. But what I can do is liken the situation to myself, and what I have experienced, so that I can learn from it. With that in mind, although blacks and the priesthood is a parallel, it is not the whole point.

Apologies are tricky things. On the surface, they seem to show a concern for the injured party from the one who has done wrong. Making an apology is often seen as a step in the repentance process. But one thing I have learned as I processed my feelings regarding certain injuries done to me is that, to the victim, apologies are essentially meaningless. They don't help soothe hurt feelings. Not of themselves, anyways. As I'm trying to teach my children, "sorry" means nothing if you don't change your behavior.

There is a process of repentance I have had to go through as someone who has suffered because of the decisions of others. I have felt anger, frustration, depression and despair. And I had to repent of that. I know some people say that victims don't have to repent, and while I agree that they don't have to repent of the act, there are inevitable feelings and behaviors that stem from that act that do have to be repented from. But I don't see repentance as a bad thing. Repentance is reconciling one's will to God's. It is learning to want what He wants.

Because of my repentance process, I have learned that sometimes God "wants" us to hurt. Not because He wants us to suffer, but because suffering so often represents an opportunity for our hearts to be humbled, for us to turn to Him. Pain is not evil. Neither is sorrow. But what we choose to do with that pain and sorrow can be either evil, or unprecedented good. By suffering, we can learn to minister to others. Suffering, allowing our hearts to break, also allows us to offer those broken hearts to the Savior. And by so doing, we are purified in refiner's fire.

Not all metals survive the refining process. But it is worth that risk, to me, in order to realize the potential God sees in me. So the claim that pain can never be God's will falls short to me. Anyone familiar with scripture ought to see that those who are the most faithful are often subjected to the most suffering. It is not those behind the lines who suffer the most pain, it is those who are at the front, fighting to be better and closer to God.

If we demand an apology from the Church for past behavior, we must ask ourselves who is apologizing for what? The prophets who instituted the ban are gone from this earth. To me, one person cannot apologize for another. They can empathize with the pain, they can minister, but how could they possibly make restitution? There is only One man who can pay for the mistakes of another. So long as we demand restitution from the wrong place, we will only continue our suffering. Even if an apology is made, it is hollow and meaningless...except as a weapon to attack those who didn't perpetrate anything to begin with.

As a victim, I have no interest in an apology. Asking for forgiveness is not the place of someone who has done wrong and hurt someone. A victim does not owe the perpetrator anything, so it is not the place of the wrongdoer to ask for anything from the wronged. But there was One who suffered of His own free will and choice, so that He could be a bridge, not only between us and the Father, but between us and each other.

True repentance and forgiveness is a process between ourselves and the Savior. I have completely forgiven those who have done some pretty awful things to me. But that forgiveness is not saying "it's okay." It is saying "I no longer concern myself with what you have done. What you may or may not owe for your wrongdoing is between you and the Savior." Let the Lord judge between me and thee.

Such forgiveness allows us to let go and concentrate on our own healing, on our own relationship with God. On our own repentance. The Lord God is great enough, He can handle your anger. He can handle your pain. He can handle the nights of pointless raging at the situation, at others of His children, even at Himself. I know this because I have held my young daughter as she raged against me. It didn't make me love her any less. In fact, that she allowed me to hold her while she was angry with me forged an even deeper bond of love between us.

So it is with God.

Prophets and Apostles are imperfect mouthpieces. But they are the mouthpieces the Lord has chosen. Bishops, Stake Presidents, and Home Teachers are unprofitable servants. But so are you. We are all in this together. Just as we hope that the Savior might cover the effects of our sins and mistakes, we must allow Him to cover the ill effects on us of the sins and mistakes of others.

Sometimes Church leaders are wrong. But asking whether or not they are right is the wrong question to be asking. Ask, rather, how you might help them and yourself come closer to God. That is the point of the Church, after all. So that we might be shepherds of each other, our brothers' keepers, that the love of God might grow in our hearts, change us as individuals, and knit us into Zion.

Pain is passing. No matter how deep it may be, it is but a moment. But love, especially love that you choose while in the midst of pain, is eternal and without end.

I don't say this to victim-blame. I say this as another person, hurt deeply by others, struggling along the very same path. If there is anything I can testify to, it is that holding others accountable for the pain you feel will never buy you the peace and healing you want. Leave that up to the One who knows all. You can trust Him to judge righteously.


  1. Well said.
    One change I'd make. My experience isn't that God "wants" us to hurt, but simply that he understands that 1) it is a part of growth and growth is good, 2) he can, in the end, heal, erase and fully undo all sorrows if we will allow him to, and 3) he is able to sustain us through that pain and feels it, completely, with us. His bowels are full of mercy and he sees the end from the beginning.
    That doesn't take away the pain at the time of wounding. I do not wish to diminish the depth of wounding and sorrow that occur from the sins of others. Just clarify the depth of God's com-passion, "suffering with us", and his power to carry and heal. A long and careful process, but a real one. As I sense you know.

  2. There is an interesting post at about the fallibility of our leaders.

    About pain, I wouldn't say that God is the cause of the pain but that he allows us to experience pain. I think our pain is often just a result of living in a fallen world with mortals that have agency. Still, as much pain as we experience, I think we will be surprised to see some day the unseen help and protection that we received in this life.

    I also like this quote from Orson F. Whitney on the subject of our pain and suffering:

    "No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven."


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