Sunday, July 6, 2008

Do Callings Make the Man

As a Latter-day Saint I have always been taught that we should respect a man in the position of Bishop or Stake President. For the most part I have tried to feel that men in those positions did God's will and provided selfless service. Most men in those callings realize that the day will come when they are released from their callings. One day a man is a bishop for five to seven years. He might then put in another seven to ten as a stake president. When I lived in Utah for twelve years I have encountered dozens of such men in my high priest groups or wards. I never had a problem with any of them until recently.

I moved in to a new ward where our Sunday School doctrine teacher preaches his lesson to us asking rhetorical questions. Very seldomly can a person answer a question with an opposing viewpoint. He always settles every argument by saying when I was bishop or when I was stake president we did this or we believed this. He believes his opinion is gospel doctrine that he acquired by virtue of his position and his opinion is the correct opinion. This week in our high priest group the concept of how should we be attired when we go home teaching was discussed. The high priest group leader handed out a copy of the manual he received as a leader. I asked him does it say anything about attire. He said it says vaguely that we should be appropriately attired to represent the Lord. Various brethren made comments about how they go dressed in a shirt and tie, some went in suits, some went in clean clothes that they would have worn to Church. One man said he was going in his jeans and work shirt to help him do some task around his house. The former leader trumped him by again reiterating he should go in clothes that represents the Church which is a shirt and tie. I suggested he could always take off his tie. A brother disagreed with us saying that we should go appropriately dressed for whatever task we are doing as a home teacher. This sounded reasonable to me. I said to the high priest group leader if you want us to go in a shirt and tie tell me and I will do so while you are the leader. While I am under you I will go however you say. He never would give an answer. The former leader on the other hand stressed to us all that we should go in a shirt and tie no ifs buts or maybes and that if we are going to an official home teaching visit that is how we are to dress.

I said I would rather a man go home teaching no matter how he was dressed as long as he went which is better than our consistent twenty to forty percent numbers. The high priest leader said there were 127 families and only about twenty men. The former leader pulled out his trump card and threatened us saying you will go as the bishop says he is the leader not you. I will talk to him about how you should dress. I said to him I am sorry sir but I don't want to be contentious but my point is that I would prefer a man going than not going. He said I'm your brother not your sir. I said sorry I am using to working in in the South and addressing people as sir. Afterwards he came up to me and told me he was willing to give me a break since my family was new in the ward and he wanted us to fit in. I told him that we are called and released in the church and we all have a right to express our opinions no matter what positions we have held. He said his opinions are based on practice and experience and he won't apologize for them. I find it fascinating that a man who knows nothing about my background can feel that only his opinions are valid and correct.

Howard W. Hunter talked about the fact that serving in visible ways can be an Achilles heel to those in these positions:

"I think we should be aware that there can be a spiritual danger to those who misunderstand the singularity of always being in the spotlight. They may come to covet the notoriety and thus forget the significance of the service being rendered. As students, you are at a crucial juncture in your lives when life-shaping judgments are made and future courses set. You must not allow yourselves to focus on the fleeting light of popularity or substitute that attractive glow for the substance of true, but often anonymous labor that brings the attention of God even if it does not get coverage on the six o'clock news. In fact, applause and attention can become the spiritual Achilles' heel of even the most gifted among us. If the limelight of popularity should fall on you during some time in your life, it might be well for you to follow the example of those in the scriptures who received notoriety and fame. Nephi is one of the great examples. After all he accomplished traveling in the wilderness with his family, his attitude was still fixed on the things that matter most. This is what he said: And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. [2 Nephi 4:19-22] The limelight never blinded Nephi to the source of his strength and his blessings. At times of attention and visibility it might also be profitable for us to answer the question Why do we serve? When we understand why, we won't be concerned about where we serve.

President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., taught this vital principle in his own life. At general conference in April 1951, President David O. McKay was sustained as President of the Church after the passing of President George Albert Smith. Up to that time President Clark had served as the First Counselor to President Heber J. Grant and President George Albert Smith. President McKay had been the Second Counselor to both men. During the final session of conference, when the business of the Church was transacted, Brother Stephen L. Richards was called to the First Presidency and sustained as First Counselor. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., was then sustained as the Second Counselor. After the sustaining of the officers of the Church, President McKay explained why he had chosen his counselors in that order. He said: I felt that one guiding principle in this choice would be to follow the seniority in the Council [of the Twelve Apostles]. These two men were sitting in their places in that presiding body in the Church, and I felt impressed that it would be advisable to continue that same seniority in the new quorum of the First Presidency. [CR, 9 April 1951, p. 151]

President Clark was then asked to speak following President McKay. His remarks on this occasion were brief, but taught a powerful lesson: In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines. I pledge to President McKay and to President Richards the full loyal devoted service to the tasks that may come to me to the full measure of my strength and my abilities, and so far as they will enable me to perform them, however inadequate I may be. [CR, 9 April 1951, p. 154]" (Howard W. Hunter, "No Less Serviceable," BYU Speeches of the Year 1990, Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 1991).

It has always stuck in my craw being a former Catholic that Mormons are a lot like Catholic priests they want you to 'kiss their ring." When I was a kid the monsegnier would put out his hand and insist I kiss his ring. I would just look at him and walk on. I never kissed a Catholic monsenier's ring why would I have a fear to express myself because some guy puts down every thing I say by trumping it with "when I was bishop." If it doesn't matter where we serve but how we serve we all should have the right to express ourselves freely on things that have no official answers. I feel that are many things in the church that are only done out of former practice. As a manager in my work I have come to find out there are multiple ways of arriving at the same result and that people do it in unique ways yet arrive at the desired result. We tell young missionaries they shouldn't care if they are district leaders or zone leaders or mission assistants. We tell them not everyone will be able to be a bishop or stake president or general authority. Do we tell them that to keep order or obedience and discontent down? When I meet guys like this former leader it raises concerns for me. I wish all men did things for the right reasons but like Ray Bradbury in Farenheit 451 in burning the books do we as Latter-day Saints push compliance in some unrighteous ways feeling we are protecting the lesser class who did not rise to our status.

If I could tell missionaries one thing learn to be a servant leader and don't lord it over your fellow colleagues or missionaries. Discussion doesn't diminish your position. When I was working on the Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Ezra Taft Benson asked me an Elder my opinion on many matters from scouting to how to use the Book of Mormon more effectively. He questioned and listened never feeling my opinion invalid. He knew I wasn't a leader just a general member in the Elder's Quourm. If all leaders could be like him we could do mighty things in the Church if we could listen and adapt in our missions, wards and stakes. If I ever should serve in a highly visible position I hope I don't go through the rest of my life seeking power based on the fact I once served in a calling. With the call comes the release. I respect the man for the prior service. But when we sit side by side in a high priest group we are equals, if not J. Reuben Clark's quote is just a bunch of rhetoric to keep us down. I think not.

1 comment:

Steven said...

One time our High Priest teacher wrote a list of prominent callings on the board, EQP, Bishop, etc. Maybe 10 of the upper level ones. Then asked everyone to come and put a check by each of the once they had held. You should have seen the mad dash to the board, everyone stood chest out as they enumerated their glorious service. I don't remember what the point was (it was something like don't turn down a calling) but I just sat there (the only one who did not go to the board--in protest) and he kept saying, "Common don't be shy." as I was too young to be a HP without having done something. But I refused. I was in fact horrified. It was a galling display of pride and I was embarrassed for them.