Monday, April 30, 2007

What to do about "The Mormons"

I liked this thoughtful review on the PBS documentary, with some worthwhile suggestions about the opportunity this provides us to help others understand us. (Update: The link has several comments from Church spokesperson Michael Otterson.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Criticism of Church Leaders: Is it ever a good thing? (updated)

This was supposed to be a response to a recent comment on my blog, but got far too long, so I'm pulling it out as a separate post. Please withhold judgment on the post until you have read the whole thing. I think Elder Oaks gives us some really, really good insight on how we truly can make a positive difference in the Church.

p.s. This is one of those posts that deals with the "rule" not the exception. I know some people have their horror stories about leaders, but I think there is value in focusing on the rule, not the exception. And, you will note that Elder Oaks gives guidance about how to deal with potential problems or differences that can arise, so this isn't just a post about blind following 100% of the time. Again, it contains wise counsel about how to deal with differences in an appropriate way. Lastly, I think there are different viewpoints out there of what "criticism" means. I sense that Elder Oaks' use of the word as truly speaking evil of a leader, truly (and publicly) criticizing him/her. I think it's possible that there might be a different word he would use for "feedback." I think I can believe in the value of feedback without upholding criticism as acceptable.

I submit that there may be more than meets the eye on the issue of criticism and why it is discouraged in the Church. There is more to consider than just the process of "There is an idea out there that somehow our leaders will benefit from our criticism, but there is more to consider. Elder Oaks spoke clearly on this:

I have given the following counsel to Church members—those who have committed themselves by upraised hands to sustain their church leaders:

“Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,

“ ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)” (Address to Church Educational System teachers, Aug. 16, 1985.)...

The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. The Church leaders I know are durable people. They made their way successfully in a world of unrestrained criticism before they received their current callings. They have no personal need for protection; they seek no personal immunities from criticism—constructive or destructive. They only seek to declare what they understand to be the word of the Lord to his people.

Everyone will obviously take his or her own approach, but I think Elder Oaks' counsel is really significant. I have found that I don't feel the Spirit with me as much when I have a critical spirit. Of course that applies to criticism of anyone, but I feel it's particularly offensive to the Spirit when I criticize those whom I sustain and who are called of God. It affects my spirituality, without question. When I trust them, even when I don't agree or don't understand, there is a power, a confidence, that comes into my life. It becomes an anchor that makes a tremendous difference for me personally, for my family. I believe MORE good would come about in the Church if there was more sustaining of and following our leaders -- not because we think they are always right, but because we believe that sustaining them is right. Perhaps they don't need our feedback as much as they need our hearts. (Does this mean I think that everyone who ever says anything against them is an apostate? No. But I believe this is something that can and would make a difference at the individual, familial and institutional levels.)

I am particularly struck by Elder Oaks' comment that it doesn't matter if what we say is true; criticism of church leaders is always a negative.

But does that mean that feedback can never be shared, or that there aren't things to do when there really is an thought about something that can be improved? NO. Elder Oaks continues to help us understand the characteristics of appropriate behavior and how we handle differences in the Church:

Our Father in Heaven has not compelled us to think the same way on every subject or procedure. [This isn't about being cookie cuttered people, or blind followers!] As we seek to accomplish our life’s purposes, we will inevitably have differences with those around us—including some of those we sustain as our leaders. The question is not whether we have such differences, but how we manage them. [Emphasis mine.] What the Lord has said on another subject is also true of the management of differences with his leaders: “It must needs be done in mine own way.” [I think this is so significant!] (D&C 104:16.) We should conduct ourselves in such a way that our thoughts and actions do not cause us to lose the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord.

The first principle in the gospel procedure for managing differences is to keep our personal differences private. In this we have worthy examples to follow. Every student of Church history knows that there have been differences of opinion among Church leaders since the Church was organized. Each of us has experienced such differences in our work in auxiliaries, quorums, wards, stakes, and missions of the Church. We know that such differences are discussed, but not in public. Counselors acquiesce in the decisions of their president. Teachers follow the direction of their presidency. Members are loyal to the counsel of their bishop. All of this is done quietly and loyally—even by members who would have done differently if they had been in the position of authority.

Why aren’t these differences discussed in public? Public debate—the means of resolving differences in a democratic government—is not appropriate in our Church government. We are all subject to the authority of the called and sustained servants of the Lord. They and we are all governed by the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, and that Spirit only functions in an atmosphere of unity. That is why personal differences about Church doctrine or procedure need to be worked out privately. There is nothing inappropriate about private communications concerning such differences, provided they are carried on in a spirit of love."

Sustaining our leaders doesn't mean we won't have differences of opinion, but it does mean we will seek to handle those differences in the Lord's way.

Elder Oaks then lists five options we have:
1. Overlook the difference
2. Reserve judgment and postpone action, in a spirit of patience and trust [I like to use the phrase "benefit of the doubt"]
3. Take up differences privately with the leader (in a private meeting or a letter or other correspondence)
4. In cases of alleged wrong behavior, communicate with the person who is in a position could correct the offending party if that is needed (e.g., talk to a Stake President for issues with a bishop, etc.)
5. Pray. Pray that the Lord can correct the situation and pray for ourselves to discern if we are truly correct in our point of view.

Today's world is full of the idea that we are somehow obligated (and/or entitled) to voice our opinions: we protest, we write public letters to the editor, we rant and rave, we debate issues online, etc. etc. etc. But the Lord asks us to handle problems or perceived problems in the Church differently -- for the benefit of His work and also for our own benefit. This doesn't preclude the potential for feedback, but, can help prevent the spirit of contention, pride and unnecessary criticism from entering the situation, and keep us more open to the influence of the Spirit.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cheney and Criticism; Panel Discussion on Cheney and the War

There's a story on BYU's newsnet site that talks about a Q&A with Pres. Samuelson that was recently held. Not surprisingly, the topic of Cheney's visit came up, directly and indirectly. I was interested in the following:

One question prompted President Samuelson to clarify the appropriateness of criticizing university decisions.

Students commit, by signing the Honor Code, not to criticize those we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators, he said. But, he further explained, this doesn't mean students can't disagree with the administration.

"I think you need to understand that you can criticize the administration; that does happen regularly," he said.

Draw your own conclusions on that.

As an FYI, another story I read today says that there will be a panel discussion on Monday on “Vice President Cheney and the Global War on Terror” in the Varsity Theater from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend if interested.

The story I read says the following:

Each panelist will present a short statement, to be followed by panel discussion. After the panel speaks, the floor will be open for audience questions.

Jeff Ringer, director of the David M. Kennedy Center, will moderate the panel. Joining him will be Darren G. Hawkins, international relations coordinator; Donna Lee Bowen, Middle East Studies/Arabic coordinator; Ralph C. Hancock; and Scott Cooper.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Open Apology:
After all, words can hurt

I was touched by a recent example of humility on one of the open threads during Conference, while Elder Holland was giving his bold and powerful talk. A person who had made sharp comments simply apologized. It actually brought tears to my eyes, in part because some of those sharp comments had caused me some pain. I was touched at this person's willingness to simply, quickly, and publicly apologize. I felt a healing in my heart because of this simple action.

Elder Holland's talk, that person's example, and recent experiences in my life have all combined to make me want to just say, "I'm sorry" if I have ever said anything or engaged in a way that caused you pain. It feels a bit weird to do it in this general way, but it's all I can do at this point.

This realm is so very limited, and I'm sorry when I too easily forget how much pain people might bring with them when they choose to come here. As much as people appear to be strong and ready to engage in lively discussion, I am reminded that often people come online with "sorrow that the eye can't see." I realize not everyone does, but there are enough who do. And I fear somewhere along the way the past year, my words may have inadvertently caused pain for someone already struggling. Although I make a concerted effort not to comment out of anger, frustration, or a spirit of criticism, I realize that even without the intent to inflict pain, words can still hurt.

If this has ever been the case with you, if my words have ever caused you pain, I am truly sorry, and I pray you can forgive me.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reflections on Conference

While some thoughts are still fresh, I wanted to record some of what struck me from conference (with no order...more stream-of-consciousness)....

- (An addition to my original list): I am amazed at how simple the gospel really is. Just consider what kind of people we would be if we really put into practice what we have been taught: forgiveness, repentance, covenantal marriage, testimony, controlled communication with others, gratitude....) Really, sometimes I think we look for "some new thing" rather than realizing the power of simple gospel principles to bring us to Christ and to allow Him to change our minds and hearts.
- I noticed a lot on prayer, both directly and indirectly. I feel that improving my prayers, increasing quantity and sincerity is something I need to do.
- There were several wonderful and powerful testimonies about the Restoration.
- I loved Sister Parkin's talk on gratitude. I also appreciated how she began it, talking of how blessed we are as women in the Church (and now I read that she channeled Eliza R. example of a woman of spirituality, strength and perspective). [I recently wrote on a quote of hers.] I suspect that the more gratitude we have, the more we will feel that as daughters of God. I was humbled by her testimony and counsel, and feel I have a long way to go in being grateful, even in trials.
- That ties into Elder Holland's words about being "of good cheer" -- a commandment! I'm not so good at that when I don't feel good. Lately, I've been struggling with not feeling gloomy about feeling yucky day after day. I need to do better there. There is so much to be grateful for!
- And, along with that, I felt an urgency in the last session about repentance, and not procrastinating such. I felt the need to use every day to prepare to meet the Lord. (A side thought for me is how trials are there to help us with that, so I need to meet my trials head-on...which ties into the last two points for me). (My husband is reminding me of something Elder Eyring said a couple of years ago...that it is going to become harder, not easier, to keep our covenants. So we'd better be about figuring out how to better do that so we can be on firm ground as the world keeps ripening in iniquity.)
- I was tempted for a moment to zone out a bit on the talk on tithing...after all, I have been a full tithe-payer my whole life. I'm grateful I kept focused (felt a nudge to do so) because one of the most moving stories from Conference was that from Elder Kikuchi. I was reminded of the powerful story of the saints in St. George who were admonished by Pres. Lorenzo Snow to pay their tithing, and that they would be blessed in their time of drought. Here, we have a modern version of the same pattern. I felt the Spirit very strongly during that story.
- Elder Holland's words on words will stay with me for a long time. There will always be improvement in that area to be had, I'm afraid. After all, using scripture he said we could be perfect if we could control our tongues! I loved the way he ended talking of having the tongue of angels. If only I allow the Spirit to help me in the use of the tongue, I can be more perfect in Christ.
- Elder Anderson's talk was great: "The gospel's true, isn't it?" If that is the case, then nothing else matters! Reading someone else's notes from this: "The gospel is true, isn’t it? Then what else matters? We must simplify and sacrifice, distinguishing between what is nice, what is important, and what is absolutely necessary." Powerful, powerful stuff. Simple and powerful.
- Also from those same notes (thanks, Christian!): "Knowing what is right that others think is wrong, and what is wrong that others think is right, requires a testimony. Especially for those born in the Church, it may not be spectacular. One must respond to feelings from the Holy Ghost rather than nailing down every intellectual loose end." How often I would love to yell that from the rooftops when reading or participating in online discussions. :)
- Pres. Faust's talk on forgiveness was stirring. He has such a tender heart anyway, but I've never seen him fight with his emotions as he did today. The examples he gave were truly inspirational, and gave me food for thought. I sometimes have a hard time letting go of hurt and clearly I need to do better there. I've always loved the thought that he shared about leaving room for forgiveness, but I'm also reminded that the faster we get there, the better off we will be. I think it's really a worldly fallacy that we should hold onto bad feelings for some purpose. The Lord really can help us let go if we let Him, for I have experienced that. And yet, I still fight it! (What's up with that? That natural (wo)man thing....)
- When Elder Dahlquist gave his talk on "Who's on the Lord's Side, Who?" I and my daughters yelled out "I am!" I love the doctrine that if we stay on the Lord's side, the devil cannot have power over us. My children find comfort in the fact that the devil isn't more powerful than the Savior, and that our choices can determine how much influence he has in our lives. This talk reinforced that so beautifully, and it was fun to see them make that connection in their little minds (big spirits).
- Elder Nelson on repentance: "the prize is worth the price."
- I need to read the Bible more!
- I appreciated Elder Oaks' talk on divorce. I wept while thinking of loved ones in my life who suffered much in their marriages and waited on the Lord who led them to finally leave (those situations where abuse is continued and unrepented of). I know this happens because I have seen it. And yet, I think it's such an important message for most of us that covenant marriages require commitment. And that is also sometimes easier said than done. But I think "the prize is worth the price" can apply here, too. It's too easy to think working through a marriage is too hard, and I appreciated his solemn reminder that usually, staying in a marriage and working through that tough climb to marital harmony is a lot better than dealing with the fallout of divorce. (We listened to the talk again tonite. Those concerned about women staying in abusive marriages should really pay attention to how he comparmentalizes his counsel. He makes that exception first, but then spends the rest of the time on the rule, and that is important to remember, IMO.)
- I want to use the hymns more in our home.
- Pres. Packer's talk was stirring...such a testimony of the truth received from prophets (as shared in the tabernacle). It was moving to think of early church leaders testifying and teaching there. Imagine what they must think to see how the word of the Lord is spread today!
- I want to be a pickle! :)
- One of the thoughts I had is that it must be something else to have a church with such breadth as ours...internationally and also experientially with respect to the church. What may be an oft-repeated topic for me might be a first-time talk for someone who just joined the Church. And, as was reiterated to me with Elder Kikuchi's talk on tithing, there are things to be gleaned for all of us, regardless of how long we have been in the Church. Even though their words are for the whole church, with the help of the Spirit, they can be personal and meaningful.
- I've been thinking a lot about the role of history in our Church, and Elder Tingey helped show us that there is much in our history that is meaningful and useful. [On the other hand, there are aspects of our history that aren't as necessary for us to focus on. What matters most is to focus on that which inspires, edifies and changes our lives.]
- I can't wait to hear the concluding song of the priesthood session! Ron Staheli is a talented man. I will always be grateful for the chance to sing in one of the choirs at BYU way back when (I was in Women's Chorus, and had a couple of chances to sing under Drs. Staheli and Wilberg. I still get chills whenever I hear a Wilberg arrangement. It was great to hear his "Redeemer of Israel" which I got to sing in General Conference when Elder Holland (then BYU President) was first called to be a General Authority.)
- I have to say that I was so impressed with my children. I don't know that I really listened to Saturday sessions until I was well into my teenage years. They really paid a lot of attention both days. They really are like little spiritual sponges. I also just love being home and sharing this time together.

That's enough for now, I think. :)