Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leaders Who Judge: The Loss of A Soul

Being a bishop or stake president is difficult when you must decide the worthiness of a missionary's worthiness for service. For the most part LDS bishops and stake presidents do a very good job. It is hard to fault them. With the adoption of higher standards of worthiness it must be increasingly more difficult for them to deny young men and women access to going on a mission. Many times it is clear cut when a person has a moral problem the reason for their not being able to go. However from time to time they face lesser more ambiguous or subjective reasons of denying a young person the opportunity to go on a mission.

When you have a leader decide a matter there are inevitably consequences to every decision. Sometimes a leader's decision can impact the eternal future of the person on whom they are deciding. My mission president M. Russell Ballard liked to tell us as missionaries that if you throw a rock in a pond that there are ripples that extend out and can affect a long way and that in life what we do can have consequences that we might not see but still are occuring. He told us we might plant a seed that might one day bear fruit and inversely we should always be examples so as not to affect investigators opinion of members or of the Church.

All of us whether a bishop or stake president is accountable for our stewardship to the Lord. Elder Ballard used to tell us that we will all have to report our stewardship to the Lord whether we be fathers or priesthood leaders. He also said that Jesus Christ himself is the keeper of the gate.

The story I am going to share is a cautionary tale that happened to a member of my family. When I joined the Church in 1974 at the age of eighteen my youngest brother was eight years old. He was a sweet boy who idolized me his big brother. I loved my brother who by nature was very loving. Having had eight children I know that each child has a unique personality and my brother was the type of person who was sensitive. When he was two years old I had a paper route which made me $5 a week. We were very poor and I overheard my parents talking about how there wasn't going to be much for Christmas this particular year since my dad was saving up to move to Las Vegas from Illinois where we lived.

Usually I was a selfish person but something possessed me that year to buy my two sisters and two brothers each a present. I walked all over the town and searched in the four or five stores until I found a present for each one. I am far from being a sentimental type but I went in to a toy store filled with hundreds of toys. I thought about what to give the little guy. I thought of guns that I might give him that I might like to use or a model plane etc. In fact I bought my other brother who was five years younger a model. But I saw a ridiculous green stuff frog with yellow eyes and a bright red tongue. I gave my brother a stuffed animal that he fell immediately in love with. He carried that animal around with him for years. That frog symbolized something in our relationship that was a bond between us.

As a young boy he would lay on the end of my bed and talk to me. I always treated him kindly and we developed a relationship where I would give him advice and counsel. When I joined the church he began to be interested in the church. When he was nine I went on a mission. He knew that his brother was out serving the Lord. He didn't attend any church at the time because my family were inactive Catholics. When I came home from my mission I was able to have my brother taught the discussions and I baptized him a member of the church when he was ten.

A week after coming home from my mission I went to BYU where I stayed for seven years completing a bachelor and master degrees. My father was difficult to handle since I had problems with his bad lifestyle of gambling and womanizing and would only speak to him once every couple of months by phone. I only went home for Christmas vacation and a couple of months in the summer. I stopped going home in the summer about the third year because of the abusive nature of my father. My older sister was also married two years before my mission when she was eighteen My brother was the only one left at home two years after my mission because my father threw out my sixteen year old non-member brother for smoking pot which he found in his sock drawer and my sister who was two years younger than me who became pregnant out of wedlock. My brother and I were the only members of the Church in our family. He went to church in a different ward than the one in which I had attended for the year before my mission. He didn't know anyone there.

He didn't have me there to take him to church. In fact for many years he walked the seven blocks from our house to the chapel. He became an inspiration to me that he was totally active going to church week after week year after year. He was the president of his deacon's quorum, teacher's quorum, and priest's quorum. He attended mutual and received 68 merit badges in scouting. He wasn't an eagle scout because he didn't have enough support from his troop leader but he was a life scout. In fact his optomistic attitude was never accusatory of the people he went to church with. He was always positive and upbeat. He adhered to high moral standards and did not commit any immoral acts prior to his putting in his papers for his mission.

When he was eighteen I finally got married at the age of twenty-eight. In 1983 there was a high degree of inflation and I was given gifts of around $6000 from my wife's family and our friends who were mostly religion professors and their wives from BYU. I placed the money in a savings and loan where it was accruing 12% interest. My brother began expressing an interest in going on a mission like my wife and I had. I told him to work as hard as he could and I would help pay the rest.

In his home stake many of the young men were given jobs by a couple of bishops who had construction companies and paid high hourly wages so many only had to work a summer or two at the most. My brother tried to get a job with them but he wasn't one of the more well-known young men since he was all alone. He got a very low paying job through the LDS employment agency and had about two thousand dollars.

When he turned nineteen I drove down from my ward in Provo and ordained him an elder in the Melchizedek priesthood. I was also with him when he received a patriarchal blessing that declared he would one day be a leader in the church and kingdom of God and that he would serve a mission. I spoke with him about his preparation for a mission and his plans for going to Ricks College after he came home.

Several months passed and I didn't hear back from him. Finally I talked to him. He told me that he was trying to save up for his mission but was having difficulty since my dad was now charging him rent and utilties. He said the stake president decided that he would have to pay all of his expenses or he could not go. He was very frustrated and felt it might take him a couple of years. I told him to go back to the man and tell him to call his brother who was going to pay for his mission.

A few weeks later I called again and he said he had told him that but the man was again insisting he either make it himself or he would never let him go. He also said the leader told him that he had reports that my brother had enuresis (bed wetting) on scouting activities up until he was eighteen. My brother said he was told that missionaries who had a problem like this weren't encouraged to go on a mission. He was shamed and humiliated. He assured me he didn't have the problem any more. I told him what was the big deal even if he had it since he could just get a plastic sheet to carry with him.

Shortly after this I was visiting with Elder Ballard in Salt Lake City. I told him of my brother predicament. He said even though he was not directly over the stake president that he would call him for me. He called the man in Las Vegas. The man told him that he didn't care if his brother had the money for his mission he was not going to send him unless he made all the money himself and that he had a bed-wetting problem. He also told Elder Ballard that it was his stewardship to decide which ended the matter. Elder Ballard thanked him for his time and hung up. He apologized and said he couldn't do anything about the matter and he couldn't force the man since he wasn't directly over him. I went away realizing that even general authorities couldn't exert control on those below them that everyone had their agency for good or bad.

My brother made a couple of more attempts to go on a mission until he was twenty-one. Finally he began gradually to stop going to church. He said the hell with the Mormons if they don't want me then I don't want them. A couple of years later he married a non-Mormon woman who was divorced with two children who was seven years older than him which ended his chances of ever going on a mission.

The influence of that stake president is now being felt in my family as my brother has been inactive for twenty years. His first wife ran off and left him never having had children with him. He remarried a woman younger than him and had a son. She is raising his son as a Lutheran. It really is true that everything we do has ripples that can affect us in to the eternities. That stake president literally destroyed my family as my father and mother also became disaffected over my brother's situation. I pray and hope that any leaders that read this will think long and hard abut why they are denying young and women opportunities to go on a mission. You never know the affect of your decisions. Some might argue he was inspired and must have known my brother would fall away. Others might argue differently. Who knows what Christ will decide?


Lucy said...

It has been my experience to find that there are Stake Presidents who prefer to consider their calling a power trip for their ego. Then again, I have had Stake President who are complete hand picked from God men...who are worth their weight in gold. I lived in Denver once with a Stake President who believed that only members WITH temple recommends should have callings. Hence, I never had a job in that stake. I was good enough to substitute, but not good enough for the actual job. And one in recent life (my stake now) that found out the missionary fund was going to help me pay for my mission. He threw an absolute fit at me and told me that I WOULD sacrifice...that I was NOT going to get a 'handout' from the church. Men like that do not belong in a God given office of that stature. Flip side again...a Stake President and his counselors in California. When I think back to him/them, it is with very fond memories and I'm so blessed that I got to know them.

Bookslinger said...

Doc, We're not getting the whole story from the SP in question either. Perhaps you're being a little too judgemental yourself concerning this issue.

You have even mentioned some other factors too.

The way I read the story, your brother still could have served a mission if he had just worked another year or so. Back then, you could go on missions up to age 26, and the upper limit now is still 25 for the age of starting a mission.

Who knows, maybe your brother's stake president was aware of your struggles on your mission, and saw the same potential for problems with your brother. Maybe the SP wanted your brother to use the extra time to earn more money himself as a means of making sure he could demonstrate a "do whatever it takes" attitude prior to starting out the mission.

In my struggles to get back in the church and back on the right track, I've learned that it's not productive to play "what ifs" and that it's not good to focus on perceived faults or mistakes of others.

When I was on my mission in 84-86, I saw something of a problem with missionaries who were on full-ride support from others. There really was an attitude difference between them and those who had earned at least a good portion of their mission financial support.

Getting missionaries to save up and support themselves was, and is, big thing, and it seems to make a big difference.