Should members feel entitled to correct their Priesthood leaders, based on their own understanding of higher authorities?
For example, let’s say your Bishop adopts a policy of some sort. And you realize that this policy goes against some statement in the Handbook, or in a First Presidency letter. (How do you know this? Perhaps you read the Handbook online. Perhaps your cousin’s wife’s aunt’s neighbor is a bishop in a ward in Poughkeepsie and you’ve ended up with a seventh-generation-xerox copy of something official. Perhaps you used to be an Elders Quorum President, and looked it up in your old Handbook that you’re still hanging onto. However it happened, you’re absolutely sure that you know the official rule, and your Bishop isn’t following it).
Is it your place then, as a member, to go wave your seventh-generation-xerox copy at your bishop and say “Bad Bishop! You need to start following the correct church policies! Get with the program!”?
I suspect that there are some reasons not to do this.
1. Lack of proper channels. It’s not the place of the general membership to correct the Bishop. Members in general do not have stewardship over the Bishop.
2. Lack of ward-specific guidance. The Bishop is entitled to guidance regarding members of the ward, while general members are not. Members may not know whether the Bishop made his decision to disregard an official letter saying “don’t talk about the deceased person too much at a funeral” because the Spirit instructed him to make that change. He’s entitled to the guidance of the Spirit as he tries to help his ward members.
3. Unclear status of directives from higher leaders to the Bishop. To put it into legal terms, it’s not clear that a letter from the First Presidency to a Bishop grants a “private right of action” for enforcement by local members. How many times do we see this lesson in the scriptures? If the Bishop is disregarding counsel from his own leaders, then those leaders may need to correct him. But it’s not at all certain that a letter to Bishops gives the general membership a private right of action.
4. Lack of knowledge of the whole record. There may be later missives that we don’t know about, as we bandy about our seventh-generation copy, that alter the Bishop’s instructions.
In addition to direct overruling, there may be implied overruling of prior directives. The church doesn’t really make clear the intended shelf life of some internal directives. It’s not clear that every Handbook statement or letter to bishops is intended to go into a permanent, canonical record of some kind. Some policies are quietly allowed to die a natural death. If the topic is one that the First Presidency hasn’t addressed since that 45-year-old letter, then perhaps the policy is expired.
This applies doubly to comparisons between a Bishop’s counsel and older published statements by former church leaders. There are thousands of statements made in the past by now-deceased prophets and leaders. Many of these can still be considered good doctrine, but many occupy a sort of doctrinal limbo.
I’m sure that there are other good reasons to refrain from using our own knowledge of the Handbook, or First Presidency letters, or prior statements of prophets, to presume to correct our Priesthood leaders.
And of course, there will be instances where correction is entirely appropriate. If your Bishop calls you in and says that you’ve been commanded to become his second wife, the time for obedience is past and the time for correction (and a quick call to the Stake President!) has arrived.
But as a general matter, I think that we should hesitate to presume to correct Priesthood leaders based on our own perception that they have not properly adopted official rules or policies.