Upgrading Our Lay Clergy Model

People are still trying to digest the consequences of the Kate Kelly trial. Just today FMH posted dozens of reports showing how arbitrary the LDS disciplinary process can be and Exponent posted on the feasibility of bringing some level of informed consent to the worthiness interview process. At T&S, we have recently posted and discussed in comments shortcomings of the Kelly trial and problems with apostasy trials in general. Let’s take a step back and ask a more general and hopefully less contentious question: Has the Church outgrown the lay leadership model? Are there any practical alternatives?

We ask a lot of our bishops. Probably too much. But this is about the system, not about this or that bishop. Plainly there are problems with the whole interview and disciplinary system. What can be done to make the system better?

First, consider how other “systems” in the Church have changed over the last century. Local chapels were once constructed largely by the donated labor of the local membership. Now we hire professional contractors. Missionaries were once sent directly into the mission field, even for foreign language missions. Now they get from three to eight weeks (or more) of missionary skills and language training at one of our MTCs. LDS Social Services now provides professional counseling to ward members referred by their bishop. There is nothing wrong with upgrading the services and activities of the Church. So how can we make the bishop system better?

It’s not like I have a ten-page proposal sitting in my drawer. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Establish a Bishop Training Center. If we give missionaries a month or two of full-time training at the MTC, couldn’t we give new bishops a week, or at least a weekend, of full-time training at the BTC? That would sure help those new bishops with no training in counseling get some idea of how they should or should not do LDS pastoral counseling and interviewing. And courts.
  • Separate counseling meetings from discipline meetings. I think the “common judge in Israel” role sometimes overshadows the kinder, gentler duties of the bishop. Here is a simple rule that would help separate the two. If a member asks for an appointment, it is 100% pastoral counseling, period. If the discussion rings the bishop’s common-judge-in-Israel bell, do *not* immediately move into disciplinary mode. Stay pastoral. Reserve informal discipline discussions and the topic of formal discipline for bishop-initiated appointments.
  • There is a problem with our quality assurance program. And the problem is: there isn’t one. Granted, it is difficult to do QA in a service environment as opposed to a production environment. But right now, there is basically no mechanism for supervision or review of bishops and no mechanism for feedback from members who interact with bishops. Feedback to senior leaders is, in fact, actively discouraged. You can’t improve the system without some sort of monitoring and feedback.

Any other ideas? Or is any change going to do more harm than good? I’m not really after more anecdotes about bad experiences with some bishop from your past, but if you feel impelled to leave such a comment keep it brief and don’t name names.

73 comments for “Upgrading Our Lay Clergy Model

  1. Excellent question, Dave. Same problem exists in the realm of the Authorities: a preponderance of business types. This is great for managing the portfolio, but not-so-great in a garden of souls. Thus, also, the tone-deafness to nuance so often evidenced from on-high, most especially during the recent OW dust-up. Maybe develop an MMPI for prospective bishops and if you don’t meet a benchmark you can’t be the bishop. Empathy skills would be #1 on my list.

  2. When the public relations department kept saying the church doesn’t get involved in these matters…my thought was “Why not?” Why do they think that is a good thing to not be involved? In fact for the reasons mentioned above, they should be involved at the very least to assure the bishop understands the standards by which he should be acting and other procedural processes are properly followed. The fact that the definition of apostacy came out from church leaders right after Sister Kelly’s disciplinary decision seemed odd…wouldn’t that have been useful to her Bishop before the court?

    It seemed that the “we don’t get involved” statement was an effort to distance themselves from the negative connotation of the punishment aspect of excommunication. But if they really believe in the importance and value of the disciplinary process they should not be afraid to be involved.

    I think another telling statistic would be how many appeals to higher authorities result in a reversal? Is the appeal process robust, rigorous and fair? When they say “we aren’t involved” it seems to diminish their role in appeals. Don’t they get involved every time there is an appeal?

  3. #1 and #3 happen already with stake leadership, etc. as to #2, it has been my experience, only as an indirect observer to several bishops and my mission president who visited many island branches to conduct disciplinary councils, that in most situations an extremely longsuffering pastoral effort is made, including during the disciplinary council.

    I don’t think your title fits the content of the post. I don’t think you’re suggesting we start paying bishops. =)

  4. Great post Dave – really appreciate the constructive approach. The other examples of “upgrades” is for me the most compelling part of your discussion (and I’ll throw in that the int’l humanitarian wing – and in particular the service missions in places like Jordan – are in desperate need of a professional upgrade).

    We ought to mention what there is currently: the handbooks and “priesthood training” meetings, including meetings of bishops, stake presidents, and general authorities (its not at all clear that Sis. Kelly would’ve been excommunicated if not for the interchange in one such meeting). The church has also taken to video broadcasts from Salt Lake for various training purposes. It seems to me like it would be a very small step from these to a 3-day training by various folks like professional counselors, which could broadcast. The church could even get fancy and create interactive video with “live” roll play without having to invest much.

    Additionally, it’s easy to imagine a “Feed My Sheep” analog to “Preach My Gospel” focusing more in depth on pastoral care, discipline, legal issues, and other such things, littered with illustrative (real) anecdotes.

    I’ve no idea what would work best. But I’ve never seen a bishop who failed in the “genuinely wants to be a good shepherd” dept. I think they’d jump at the opportunity for more rigorous and professional training.

  5. It is my understanding that area authority seventies serve part-time and keep their day jobs. Perhaps they should become full-time Church officials and dedicate the additional time to training bishops and stake presidents.

    As for your second suggestion, it doesn’t strike me as a real improvement. Knowing that the meeting I am in will be strictly pastoral doesn’t help if I know a second meeting can be quickly convened for disciplinary purposes.

  6. More training is never a bad thing; but it’s interesting to see the Liahona wing of the Church advocate forcing the Church’s bishops into an iron-rod paradigm.

    Are LDS bishops entitled to and capable of receiving revelation/inspiration, or are they not?

    Are we more interested in “consistency” (which apparently means that the subjects’ own descriptions of their offenses, their councils’ procedures, and results of each action are pleasing to us as third-party observers); or in giving local leaders the latitude they need to determine the presence or absence of a broken heart and contrite spirit?

    Professionalization of the LDS clergy might be interpreted as a tacit admission that receiving personal revelation–even (especially!) very important ones–is so difficult as to be effectively impossible for the hoi polloi of the Church. I don’t think that’s a statement the Church wants to be making. Revelation isn’t supposed to be rocket science.

  7. Completely agree that there needs to be more systematic thinking about this. We rely heavily on Stake Presidents to do on the job training but that I think has been shown to be highly sporadic and unreliable. They have day jobs and an entire stake to run. If we are to have a professional class somewhere I think one that trains both stake presidents and bishops one on one would be where you would want to put the time and effort.

    Another idea is to expand and create a counseling hotline for bishops that allows them to get advice from outside their chains of commands and could be staffed by professionally trained counselors. Bishops need access to those types of resources especially for the most difficult cases they see. Such as a system would protect the clergy-parishoner confidentiality. We already have something a bit like it for cases of abuse (not sure how well it is working).

    There absolutely needs to be an omnibudsman or other system for parishoners to confidentially report bishops that goes outside the SP and Area Authority. While most disputes and issues should be taken through the existing system, clearly the existing system still has systematic problems dealing with certain classes of problems.

    FInally, and I can’t help myself here. We need women somehow worked into the real governing structure of the local wards. RSP should be given legitmated, supported roles as official pastoral counselors. Women need to be involved in the disciplinary system with real checks and balances power. The fact is that most systematic problems with bishops and training manifest themselves in the way counseling to women/couples and discipline are carried out. The best remedy for that is give women power within the system in some form.

  8. Aren’t stake priesthood meetings supposed to function as training?? That is 2x a year instruction, plus any meetings face-to-face with Stake Presidency, meetings with Area Authorities, a CHI to check with, and the ability to call and talk to someone in the stake or above if you have a question. That seems like a lot of opportunity for training. I”m sure not everyone takes advantage of all opportunites though.

  9. I think applying a secular (and obviously breaking) system of government to the Church would be a grave mistake.

    Fortunately, I highly doubt it will happen.

  10. JimD, I’m concerned you are advocating for the idea that something is more inspired if less information sought, but perhaps I’m mistaken. I can see that training can help people to study out in their minds. Your understanding of revelation seems narrow to me, and your imposing of your definition on someone else’s ideas seems misguided. Training does not negate revelation!

    SilverRain, training is by definition secular? I see nothing in the post to merit your concern. ‘Obviously breaking’? I see too many assumptions in your comments to be well understood, or even helpful for that matter. You can disagree with the idea that more training would be a good thing, but platitudes don’t help me to understand why you feel that way.

  11. Brian Larsen,

    To your first point, I think training opportunities are sufficient as mentioned above.

    My only experience with church discipline is with stupid things as a juvenile, but all meetings with Bishop were pastoral. Every meeting was always focused on repentence and the love of the Savior. I wouldn’t want to have to have a meeting about something stupid I did, make a confession, and then have to come back later to be told not to take the sacrament, or to give up a temple recommend, or to be told to contact the Stake President… (pick a disciplinary action).

    Your third point seems odd. “You can’t improve the system without some sort of monitoring and feedback.” What is the improvement you want? Consistency in discipline? More formality? More leniency? “But right now, there is basically no mechanism for supervision or review of bishops and no mechanism for feedback from members who interact with bishops.” I talk with my Stake President… last time I had an issue with a Branch President’s decision (totally disregarded CHI) I talked with the Stake President. SP said to follow the BP’s decision. I disagreed with the SP and asked him to ask the Area President about the CHI passage in question, and got I feedback from the Area President. Seems like the process worked fine. The “mechanism” is to talk with people.

  12. Brian, you needn’t be concerned because such is not my position. I’m not denigrating training per se. I am suggesting that at some point, the law of diminishing concerns is going to kick in. I am further suggesting that the core issue, where Church discipline comes into play, is whether someone’s heart is right before the Lord.

    The OP seems to believe that a major change is needed to the status quo. The basis for that belief seems to be that in a significant number of disciplinary councils, the local leaders are arriving at the “wrong” result. And I would ask: How can you even know something like that, unless you’re making an independent judgment as to the spiritual state of the accused? And if your assertion that the accused is innocent is not an improper judgment, then what makes it morally superior to mine (or the council’s) judgment that the accused is guilty?

  13. Which is greater, the mantle or the training seminar? From someone with a career in education/social services, “professionalism” is highly overrated. And I do believe that local leaders generally do seek and gain revelation on tough issues. Excessive training can get in the way and result in an over reliance on bureaucracy.

  14. Best Bishop I ever had was a farmer with a high school diploma. But that man knew God, and thankfully for me, he knew teenaged boys.

  15. Jax,

    I can’t speak for Dave, but the improvement I would like to see is for things like this to happen a lot less often. Monitoring and feedback help reduce ecclesiastical abuse and negligent harm to members receiving pastoral care.

  16. Nate W.

    I think we’d ALL like to see those things happen less often (or not at all!!!) I assume the improvement you want is to see those people excommunicated as well? More consistency being the improvement then… that if act X gets you exed in one ward it should get you exed in anywhere? If all you want is those things to stop happening, then I’m not sure more Bishopric training helps that – not sure we can train bishops to the point where their congregation doesn’t sin.

  17. In Michael Otterson’s open letter back in May, he stated the following (emphasis mine):

    Serving as a stake president or bishop is demanding and exhausting, and by and large they do a remarkable job of it. Likewise the countless men and women who serve at various levels in wards and branches. But we are all human, and occasionally we say things clumsily or we lack sufficient sensitivity or language skills or experience. The Church is a place where we make mistakes and then hopefully learn to do better. It is also a place where we allow others to make mistakes and improve.

    What this argues for is better training of leaders and members, and more patience, more long-suffering, more sensitivity and Christlike behavior on the part of all of us.

    If the Director of Public Affairs thinks leaders need better training (and remember, “Public Affairs…does not freelance”), who am I to disagree with him. The question is simply who will provide the training and how will it be provided.

    And yes, I recognize he said that members too need more training. He gets no argument from me on that either, but it is not the subject of this thread.

  18. More consistency being the improvement then… that if act X gets you exed in one ward it should get you exed in anywhere?

    Consistency in punishment would be great. But what most of the FMH cases in that post lacked was consistency in concern for victims. In the one Bishopric training session I attended back in the early 90s, concern for victims over perpetrators was emphasized very strongly. But the message hasn’t gotten through to everybody.

  19. “Old Man,” you say you’re thankful for a bishop who knew teenage boys. I’m sure we’re happy for you, but you do realize you’re speaking from a position of privilege? How did the teenage girls, especially those who were victims of all those teenage boys, fare with him? Do you know?

  20. Lady here. What kinds of training do they normally dispense at priesthood training meetings? I guess I always just assumed they were just the same as all of our other meetings with a different name attached. I don’t see how it could be bad to focus at least some of those meetings on practical training about sensitive topics directly related to pastoral care. After all, we (inconsistently) do practical training for other church positions, like teaching. It surely wouldn’t prevent all insensitivities or abuses, but for bishops and stake presidents who are trying their best it would surely be helpful. I definitely believe in the power of inspiration, but the spirit works through our increased knowledge and empathy in many cases.

  21. I sympathize with those who see a whole new host of problems that could come about due to implementing the changes mentioned in the post. However, there does seem to be a sense among various members (mostly from the progressive side) that there are problems with the current structure. So I would say that we can at least try something to help them, even if it causes other problems, because there will never be a perfect solution, but that shouldn’t keep us from trying a good one!

  22. Amaryllis,

    Training depends on stake leaders obviously. But most stakes I’ve been in do very specific training with the leaders during Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting (not necessarily the stake general priesthood meeting). Often they break apart into Bishops, YM Presidencies, Mission Leaders, Clerks, etc and they all get training specific to their calling from the Stake level personnel. Some times it is specific (how to hold a PPI) or a Q&A. Also, the Stake Presidency is supposed to do training (yearly?) with their EQ Presidencies and I supposed their Bishoprics (never been in one, so that is a guess). Everytime there is a visiting authority (like Stake Conferences) they nearly always have a special meeting with Stake Presidency and Bishops where counselling is done with them.


    Why do you assume the YW have been “victims” to those YM? That seems rather sexist to assume.

  23. Thanks, Jax. I really had no idea. When I was in the RS presidency, it was pretty much “here’s your binder,” sink or swim. Sounds like some good effort is being made.

  24. I really would like to have a model where I can offer a review of the youth programs, or scouting, or primary, etc. There is no way to provide feedback, even positive feedback.

  25. The Stake Relief Society Presidency didn’t give any training to you??? That’s terrible!! But it is probably like that for some EQ’s. Bishops outside Utah at least get visiting authorities once a year for training. In Utah (Mountain West) they might be at the mercy of a good or bad stake presidency. But 1-2x a year they should have preisthood leadership meeting that gives them training – quality varies.

  26. Standardization of the disciplinary process will make it punitive and less pastoral.

  27. Oh, there was a training, it just wasn’t practical. Lots of warm fuzzies about the importance of sisterhood, but just basically another session of any given Relief Society lesson or conference. I do remember there was a particularly delicious pasta salad that I got the recipe for though :)

  28. I’m with Last Lemming. I am not sure why we would ever be resistant to better training for both leaders and members. As a convert and a woman, many of the things that seem obvious to many of you are completely unknown to me. I have discovered a lot the hard/awkward way. And many things that we assume are “the way it has to be” are really “the way I have always seen it done”. More training, support, and resources would help us all as we strive to work together with love and charity.

  29. Amarylis,

    Some priesthood “training” meetings are that way too. So better training would be great. Not sure we need more training, just better training.

  30. Don’t play naive, Jax. You can look up the statistics yourself, but much of the burden of physical and sexual violence is carried by the women of the world, including the women of the church. A third or more of the women in any ward may be victims of sexual abuse, rape, or incest, usually perpetrated by a family member, friend, or acquaintance.

    So how did Old Man’s bishop deal with all these girls and women who undoubtedly needed help and counseling? It’s a valid question, given the topic of the post.

  31. Don’t play naive Anon, You know that physical/sexual violence isn’t the only way to victimize someone. Girls/women are just and prone and capable of demoralizing, ridiculing, abusing, embarrassing, …etc as boys/men are. And boys/men can be just as easily a victim of this as girls/women. And in my large Utah ward growing up, we never had a YM hit any YW, though we had the opposite happen a time or two.

    To be honest I wasn’t even thinking of physical abuse or sexual crimes (and you are talking about crimes, not just sins) because then the police had better be involved and not just a Bishop.

  32. And I ask because Dave’s post was in response to the content and comments at FMH. Gender disparity in church discipline, often in cases involving sexual crimes and infractions, is exactly what is being discussed there.

  33. Yes Anon, I did. the point being what? That wasn’t a comprehensive list of crimes done in the church. Nor were all of them physical or sexual crimes. Most of them were very short on specifics. And some of them were stretching it, like “he told homophobic jokes, but they excommunicated KK??” or

    He didn’t pay the government money for decades and used women and children as a human shield.

    What does that mean?? He didn’t pay taxes?? SHOULD that be excommunicable??

    was critical in designing US torture techniques, was appointed a bishop.

    He did his job? For the CIA?? An excommunicable offense? I think not.

    Or this ridiculous one

    He’s on the Board of Directors of a hate group that helped influence the anti-LGBT laws in Russia and Uganda. And he’s an Apostle.

    When they are using this kind of garbage, why trust anything they put up??

    The OP states that the FMH link shows “how arbitrary the LDS disciplinary process can be”… but the FMH post thinks it appropriate for the church to ex someone because they worked with the CIA? Or to ex an Apostle??? Get real !!!

    IF true, then there were some troubling things on there that should never happen again. And there are some issues that I’m sure better training could fix. But what does any of that have to do with Old Man’s bishop relating well with the YM??

  34. What the KK excommunication did for me was make me realize that this is a dire need. “We need women somehow worked into the real governing structure of the local wards. RSP should be given legitimated, supported roles as official pastoral counselors. Women need to be involved in the disciplinary system with real checks and balances power. The fact is that most systematic problems with bishops and training manifest themselves in the way counseling to women/couples and discipline are carried out. The best remedy for that is give women power within the system in some form.”

    Women don’t need the priesthood (perhaps) but they need to be full adults within the system.

  35. official pastoral counselors – what do you mean by that? Don’t know that they should be receiving confessions? There have been a few times that I urged people to speak to the RSP for counsel/comfort/etc for issues they were facing. There is nothing that stops this from happening now is there?? other than perhaps people perception that they shouldn’t??? CHI doesn’t say that members can’t comfort/counsel members, right? I had a good Bishop that did almost no non-repentence counselling and referred everyone to the EQ and RS and everyone seemed to be just fine with that. I think it should be recommended everywhere.

  36. “But right now, there is basically no mechanism for supervision or review of bishops and no mechanism for feedback from members who interact with bishops.”-Dave Banack 17 July 2014. Dave, if you will take this quote of yours and write it down and hand it to your stake president, he can explain to you how he is responsible to oversee the bishops of the stake. For example, if a bishop does something that is against the basic teachings of the Church, the stake president is responsible to deal with it. If the the stake president does not, then it would be your duty to take the issue to the stake president’s file leader which would be a regional leader…

    I find it odd that the name Times and Seasons is being used to bad-mouth the Church when the original (the real) Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo did the opposite. Please use your gifts and talents to build-up the Lord’s Church, and if you have an issue with your priesthood leader go have a sit-down with him. If that doesn’t work, you have a right to work your way up the chain of their file leaders. You don’t have a right to frog-leap to the President of the Church- that is part of what got Kate Kelly in trouble (especially considering the fact that she did it in a very public way after having been warned to not do it in a public way).

    Does this blog have any bishops contributing their point of view on a regular basis? If not, why not?

  37. Jax, maybe Dave didn’t mean to make the FMH discussion a central point of this discussion, but whatever he meant, the first point of his post was about women being treated differently.

    Men saying that they don’t have a problem with the system or that their experiences have been uniformly positive or seeing this as an interesting academic discussion is part of the problem.

    To women reading this, especially women with concerns, certain comments including yours could be a slap in the face. Salt in a wound. You may want to ask yourself if your goal is to alienate and drive people out of the church.

  38. Men saying that they don’t have a problem with the system or that their experiences have been uniformly positive or seeing this as an interesting academic discussion is part of the problem.

    To women reading this, especially women with concerns, certain comments including yours could be a slap in the face. Salt in a wound. You may want to ask yourself if your goal is to alienate and drive people out of the church.

    Why is just men saying it a problem? What about the many, many women who also say they don’t have a problem with the system or who have had uniformly positive experiences? Why isolate and single out that the men are a problem?? My guess is that you don’t want to hear from those women either; or from anyone who thinks things are pretty good. I guess only men who agree with Anon are allowed to comment. All other men are part of the problem and are alienating/driving people from the church.

    You may want to ask yourself if your goal is to alienate and drive people out of the church.

    Hmmm… FMH wants to show how gastly the church is, which would make the less likely to want to be a part of it. Mine, is to show how good the church is, attempting to help them be happy being a part of it. Who is driving people away? The one highlighting negatives, or the one highlighting positives?? I agree things could be better, that better training could take place, and that abuses need to be fixed. Why is that salt in anyone’s wound?

    Our conversation here started with you accusing the YM in Old Man’s ward of victimizing the YW (post #23) and seem to be complaining that the Bishop related well with the YM. Do you discount the idea that the Bishop could relate well with the boys AND with the girls? Why jump to the conclusion that those YM were abusive?? Did ANYTHING Old Man say suggest that??? Or do you just assume that all YM abuse YW??

  39. What about the many, many women who also say they don’t have a problem with the system or who have had uniformly positive experiences?

    #1 I don’t think the Pew survey means what you think it means

    #2 Women are often just as persistent in perpetuating sexism as men are for myriad reasons (you know there were lots of women who fought against women getting the vote, right?)

    #3 Don’t forget, YOU don’t think it’s matters what people think. Right?

    Who is driving people away? The one highlighting negatives, or the one highlighting positives?

    It depends on whether the things being called negative are really negative and whether the things being called positive really are positive.

    Inflaming and nitpicking don’t help. But neither does sticking our heads in the sand and gerrymandering all sorts of craziness to defend the status quo. I’ve seen both. A lot.

    Anyone who’s been remotely involved in apologetics has tried to (either during or after) defend the black priesthood ban, to make sense of it, to make it seem palatable to those who had grown up OUTSIDE of an inherently racist culture. To make it NOT seem like a horribly misguided or at least inappropriately culturally prompted response.

    I actually felt sorry for Randy Bott when he got thrown under the bus. Why? Because he’s an older guy who was just saying the same stuff he’d always said — and that WAS backed up by authoritative sources — to try to make sense of that ban.

    After all these decades we (the church) finally says we really don’t know how it all got going. AFTER Bottgate kind or branded the guy for life. When he was TRYING to be an apologist.

    I think (and hope) that one day we will all see how harmful sexism is and how little purpose it serves. Both out of the church and in. And I think we’ll be baffled by how we defended it for so long.

  40. I think (and hope) that one day we will all see how harmful sexism is and how little purpose it serves.

    This thread wasn’t talking about sexism at all Alison. Are you pointing out how Anon’s having singled out men in post #43 was sexist and “how little purpose it serves”? Agreed then, because that is what I was doing.

  41. If experience has taught us anything it is that church leaders are human and as different as the snowflakes that fall from the heavens. Anyone wishing to push the envelope for a particular cause, if he or she is halfway intelligent, will take into account as fully as possible the personalities of their church leaders from bishop all the way up to president of the church. Some church leaders will give you more slack than others. If it’s not a good slack time, the wise man or woman will put their cause on the back burner for a while, or better yet, think of a more effective way of pursuing it. Storming the barricades is not usually a good tactic.

  42. Dave, I really like this suggestion in particular:

    Separate counseling meetings from discipline meetings.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t be better ultimately to separate these functions into separate people entirely, but of course that would be a fairly large organizational change that’s not likely to happen soon. Your suggestion could be done tomorrow, and would be a great first step.

  43. Jax:

    The Stake Relief Society Presidency didn’t give any training to you??? That’s terrible!!

    The stake RS is a weird thing. They do have responsibility to “orient” new presidencies and “providing ongoing support,” but really have no decision-making authority with regard to the ward Relief Societies. RS presidents report to the ward bishop. The stake is kind of another odd appendage, out of the line of authority.

  44. The saddest part of the absence of lay control and participation is the loss of the concept of requiring common consent before a teaching, opinion or public statement becomes officially considered doctrine and therefore “binding” upon the membership.

    Revelation is supposed to be obtained by the Prophet, presented as revelation to the Quorum of the Twelve who then receive their own confirming witness (or not) as to whether the revelation is in fact from God, only then is it presented to the priesthood body for confirmation, then the general Church body, and if confirmed through this process of common consent, the revelation becomes “binding” on the members. However, I find a COMPLETE absence of this knowledge from almost every member I have ever met. Instead, what I hear is a mis-applied and mis-understood version of D&C 1:38, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

    The vast majority of people I know in the Church hold D&C 1:38 to mean anything the President, Apostles, or other General Authorities speak is “doctrinal” and cannot be questioned and absolutely MUST be sustained. It’s for this reason that members seem to throw around the word “apostasy” like they are passing out concert flyers at a college campus. Disagree with the Church’s position on Prop 8? Apostasy! Point out that there is not revelatory or scriptural reference to a priesthood restriction denying women the priesthood? Apostasy! Disagree with President Packer’s views on evolution or the Big Bang theory? Apostasy! Host a podcast where you explore historical issues? Apostasy!

    We see this from all sides as well. Orthodox Mormons calling heterodox Mormons apostate, scriptural literalists calling non-literalists apostate, conservatives calling liberals apostate, liberals calling conservatives apostate, so on and so on. To me, it’s not just the lay priesthood and leadership structure of the Church that I find beautifully Christlike, it’s also the principles that teach us a bottom up, community wide revelatory process for defining what is official doctrine. Without this, I just see confusion and contention everywhere, everyone wanting to do their part to rip up the percieved tares among the wheat.

  45. Alison,

    I assume you used “orient” and “providing ongoing support,” in quotations to highlight that they don’t “train” them?? Which would seem odd. Wouldn’t the Stake RSP be the best person to train the ward RSP?? Any ideas on why?? Is anyone currently told to train the RS presidencies in the CHI?? Is “training” a specified duty to the bishops??

  46. Anon,

    I have been away from technology for a few days. The Bishop of my youth was revered for his depth of understanding and empathy. I was shielded from adult issues back then, so I only remember one serious case that involved child abuse. He personally called the police on the issue. Stood in the front yard during the investigation. That took a lot of guts back then, when the tendency was to look the other way. He later said it was the duty of every priesthood leader to protect women and children from violence. This was a long time ago…

  47. Jax:

    I assume you used “orient” and “providing ongoing support,” in quotations to highlight that they don’t “train” them??

    No. I use them because I’m quoting the handbook.

  48. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Amaryllis (#24, 28) and Jax (#27), I have never seen any of those trainings address bishop’s interviews or counseling. In the 2010 worldwide training broadcast, President Monson specifically stated (see here) that disciplinary councils were often performed improperly, but I have not heard of any follow-up training addressing that problem.

    Jax (#39), stop being obtuse and arguing with other commenters.

    Sterling (#42), we’re trying to have a serious discussion here; go wag your finger at someone else. Here is a bishop’s comments relative to discipline, although it is probably not what you’re looking for. http://janariess.religionnews.com/2014/07/14/mormon-bishop-wasnt-going-excommunicate-anyone/

    Ziff (#48), thanks. Anything that would slow down the rush to judgment that some bishops see as their primary duty (common judge in Israel) rather than leading with pastoral care, concern, and encouragement (shepherd of the flock) seems like a good idea. This one is easy. And no, Jax, I am not saying that describes how most bishops operate. But it is the system failures that are the biggest problem, so that is what those of us interested in improving the system have to talk about. Despite your optimism, we do not live in the best of all possible churches.

  49. we do not live in the best of all possible churches.

    And which possible church is better? I think this IS the best of all possible churches, but I think this church could be better because the people in it could be better.

    And the only person I’ve argued with is Anon. If my last post adressing Alison was taken as argumentative, then something was wrong. I was asking a question to gather info. Who has been tasked with “training” the ward RSP’s if the stake RSP is only to “orient” them?? I’ve never been in RS so I don’t know.

  50. Jax, as James Madison noted, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” It is easy to blame shortcomings in church organization or functioning on the membership not being perfect but that simply denies the relevant question (namely, that there are changes to the institution and its programs and policies that can make it function better that we ought to consider). Men are not angels. The Church is full of imperfect but well meaning people (although we have been warned that a little bit of institutional power often goes to people’s heads). That is not going to change.

    Senior leaders regularly tinker with programs and policies — obviously they don’t think the Church is the best it could be because they keep trying to improve it. So we are back to the initial question: What changes could be made to avoid some of the negative outcomes that are evident at the linked FMH post (and other prior posts and in Facebook discussions and in the Mormon Alliance reports, etc.)? The Catholic experience shows having a professional clergy is no straightforward solution. But a Church that can design an airtight accounting system that sweeps every penny of Sunday tithing money off to bank accounts in Salt Lake City before the clock strikes twelve on Monday night can surely design a clerical system that avoids some of the bad outcomes we hear about. This is a positive inquiry: we are looking for improvements.

  51. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

    And yet, somehow we understand that there is government in heaven.

    there are changes to the institution and its programs and policies that can make it function better that we ought to consider

    Who is the “we” that should be considering changes? I am happy to be a member trying to grow in the church and trying to grow with the church — I have no desire to change the church. I am very glad we have a lay ministry, where a neighbor is called and sustained to be a priest — I would not want a professionalized clergy. If we tried, it might look like CES — that’s a scary thought — CES has its place, and I support it in its sphere, but I wouldn’t want bishops and stake presidents to be mass produced by or professionalized like CES. To me, we’re better off like we are. People who want a professionalized clergy think the result will be “progressive” and consistently liberal but I’m not so sure that would be the outcome. Be careful what you ask for.

  52. “We” is all of us. It is our church too. Slothful servants want to be commanded in all things. Put your shoulder to the wheel of inquiry.

  53. Dave,

    I agree things could be better. I’m all for better training. I think we have plenty of training opportunities, but that those opportunities could consist of better training, especially on issues not normally covered. If, as you say, meetings between Bishops and SP’s don’t cover things like bishop’s interviews or counseling, then that should be changed. I’ve never been a bishop, so I don’t know if it does or doesn’t happen. If I were a Bishop I’d want that training/instruction/counsel from my SP and Area Authority. Why aren’t they asking for it??

    Also, I’d like to know why everyone thinks that Bishops are the only ones they can get counselling from?? Why don’t we utilize the RSP? EQP? Home/Visiting Teachers? Bishops must be involved with discipline and confessions… everything else can be with anyone, right?? And why does anyone think they have to go to talk to the Bishop alone??? take a friend/family/RSP with you to talk with the Bishop if you aren’t comfortable with him alone… All of these could/should be addressed with Bishops, and a myriad of other problems. We can do better as individuals and as an organization.

    So, Dave, I guess my issue with the statement “we do not live in the best of all possible churches” is that it sounded like, “of all the possible churches a person could join, this one isn’t the best” . You clarified that you meant that this church isn’t it’s best possible organization – that it could be better. With that, I agree completely. I have no issue with your inquirying into how to make it better. As I said in posts #9 and #12, I think training opportunities are plentiful (though probably not utilized), and that my experiences with the feedback system have been positive. I think we could use our training times better, to cover important topics (like some covered by the FMH post).

  54. D&C 107
    99 Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
    100 He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen.

    Small as my office is, I’m content to work therein — I hope I’m not a slothful servant if I limit my work to my own office. I suppose, Dave, you are in favor of the “every member a mission president” approach? There are lots of members who are, I am told.

    I heard tell several years ago of a story — I suppose it is true — a number of stake presidents in a certain area wrote a letter to the President of the Quorum of the Twelve asking for some consideration of a temple in their area. The President’s reaction was one of disappointment, in seeing stake presidents gathering together to lobby the general church — such assemblage and lobbying and petitioning are contrary to the Lord’s way of doing things, as a stake president’s calling is to minister within his own stake and to counsel with his counselors and high council and stake council, not with other stake presidents in matters that are outside their stewardships. That understanding helps ground me in my own calling, small as it is. Yes, it’s my church, too, but I don’t approach it in a sense of democracy. Just another way of looking at things.

  55. To Jax, with love, from President Uchtdorf (April 2014):
    “Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now…. When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work?”

    President Uchtdorf seems to be hinting here that the restoration of the gospel is a function fulfilled by the entire membership of the church. Such an idea seems incongruent with the popular top-down model, but I think we should think hard about what President Uchtdorf was trying to teach there. It is not simply working within the machine, but it’s sometimes helping to work on the machine itself. There is a balancing to be done between 1) humbly focusing on serving and 2) suggesting structural innovations.

  56. ji, I will match your anecdote and raise you a scripture. Anecdote: all those grass roots programs started by local initiative that then become church-wide programs, like Fast Sunday. Or, more recently, the public comments made by the OW crowd and friends asking the question why women don’t pray in General Conference. And now they do. I know there is a slice of leadership that thinks Mormons should just sit down and shut up and keep signing checks. I just don’t think that view is in accord with Church leadership as a whole, the gospel principles we are taught, or the events of church history.

    Scripture: the importuning widow in Luke 18. We should be persistent in requesting what we genuinely are in need of (all those “please bless” prayers we Mormons address to God). The flip side is that God will grant persistent righteous prayers. Likening that unto us, members should be persistent in requesting and leaders should grant sincere, righteous requests.

  57. Ceejay… I agree things can improve and that revelations will continue to come. I think you meant to address this to ji. But even so, I’m not sure that the reference to “our own contribution to this significant period” should be taken to mean that each of us should be making petitions to the COB “suggesting structural innovations.” Within our callings we should all be trying to improve, and thus contributing and growing.

  58. Funny, but during the 25 years my husband worked for the Church, he seemed to have done a lot of New Bishop Training sessions. Don’t they do that anymore? I’ve had a lot of bishops in my time, and, where there have been some I’d rather not have spent a lot of time with, there are a lot more I’ve felt quite confident that I could go to for a fair hearing on any issue, and the others were probably superb with other kinds of people. While we are building this great work on the foundations of those who have gone before, let us not be too hasty to throw rocks at one another.

  59. Jax, allow me to clarify. My comment is in response to your comment (July 21, 2014 at 3:31 pm “…this IS the best of all possible churches, but I think this church could be better because the people in it could be better.”) But it’s easy to see why you thought it could also be a response to ji (on July 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm).

    Now, to your comment #63: I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that President Uchtdorf’s talk means that we should all be constantly petitioning the COB, as if that is the sole means of participating in the continuing restoration. But I can’t agree that President Uchtdorf’s talk teaches that such petitions are always negative. Why? Because President Uchtdorf goes out of his way to draw a parallel between Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement and the continuing restoration of the gospel (he notes that MLK also used the story of Rip Van Winkle to inspire action). If he wanted us to simmer down and stop trying to innovate, why would he evoke imagery of revolution and great social justice movements?

    So here we have President Uchtdorf following a pattern of MLK. He is asking everyone in the church to wake up and help in the marvelous work of restoration. But, like I said before, there is a balancing to be done between 1) humbly focusing on serving and 2) suggesting structural innovations.

  60. Ceejay, I thought you were suggesting “that President Uchtdorf’s talk means that we should all be constantly petitioning the COB.” If you weren’t, then I’m wrong. Though I agree we still have revelations to receive and progress to be made. I think most of us agree with that, but disagree with what we “think” those revelations will contain and in what would constitute “progress.” For instance, Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk could be taken as a green light to agitation for changes. But many who are doing that agitating totally disregard Pres. Packer’s repeated pleas toward “conservative” values (I hate using political terms in religious dialogue BTW, but I think everyone understands the topics it covers here). Why is it okay to selectiving listen to Uchtdorf’s counsel and disregard Packer’s?? Can’t they work in tandem, where we have revelation and progress towards traditional values?? Why use one to argue against the other??

    I don’t mean to accuse you of anything Ceejay, I don’t know you positions on those things, I’m just asking these quesitons in general.

  61. Jax:

    If my last post adressing Alison was taken as argumentative, then something was wrong.

    Maybe it’s that you bring up an issue and when someone responds you say it’s off topic. Maybe it’s jumping to conclusions. Maybe it’s incessant use of double and triple question marks for emphasis. Maybe it’s the volume.

    Hey, I don’t mind argument, but let’s at least not pretend.

  62. Alison,

    No where in my post to you (51) did I say you were wrong about something, disagree with you, or offer any contrary points to you. I asked questions about things I don’t know. I don’t know who, if anyone, is assigned to train a ward RSP. So I asked. That wasn’t argumentative. I have argued on T&S threads many times with you and your position. But that post wasn’t one of them. I truly thought you were emphasizing “orient” to say that they don’t even trust the stake RSP to train the ward RSP, she only gets to “orient” her, while the training is left up to the men. I thought that seemed really odd/wrong/silly, and that the stake RSP was the best person to train a ward RSP, but asked who was given that task. That is why I “jumped to conclusions” and tried to clarify what I thought it was you were saying, and then responded to what I thought that was. My response was on topic to what I thought your point was, and my questions were a sincere attempt to gather information.

    So if my attempt at getting info was taken as argumentative, then something was wrong!!

  63. Jax #65: “I thought you were suggesting ‘that President Uchtdorf’s talk means that we should all be constantly petitioning the COB.’ If you weren’t, then I’m wrong.”

    Unfortunately you were didn’t understand me quite right, but on the bright side I think you may be realizing the true nature of my suggestion. I’ll chalk it up to the recent OW controversy that caused you to believe that my purpose was to defend any and all criticisms of church leaders.

    “Why is it okay to selectiving listen to Uchtdorf’s counsel and disregard Packer’s?? Can’t they work in tandem, where we have revelation and progress towards traditional values?”

    I’ll state an even broader principle I believe in: all expressions of God’s will can and do work in tandem. Now, looking more narrowly, it’s not okay to disregard the counsel of Elder Packer or Elder Uchtdorf; we should try to understand all their counsels and balance the priorities they preach. We won’t do it perfectly but we can avoid the extremes. There are tempting pitfalls to be avoided at the extremes: we shouldn’t constantly indulge in the thrill of rebellion (extreme # 1) and we also shouldn’t sleepwalk towards the soft pillows of conformity (extreme #2). Both would be succumbing to appetites of the flesh. Like I said twice before, there is an active balancing to be done between 1) humbly focusing on serving and 2) suggesting structural innovations. I’m not claiming that I’ve found the balancing point, but it’s something I’m striving toward.

  64. Well put ceejay. I’m sick of the cherrypicking of both sides. Just like scripture study, we must collect all the statements on a topic to help triangulate the center of gravity. At least 8 of the apostles have addressed OW in one way or another, however indirect and gently they may have done so.

  65. I serve as a Bishop right now (4 years now) and I can tell you I constantly feel unprepared even though I try. Part of it is the nature of the work: One day someone tells you they had an abortion another time an old man reveals he had a physical relation with a Boy 40 years ago, another time someone is heartbroken about a cheating wife or an estranged son. The next week someone is in desperate Need of Money for their rent and someone else is short on Food and starving but sits there with a new tablet toy.

    The pastoral care and disciplinary work is just so varied, it makes training challenging. But not impossible on some Counts. My big Beef is with the issue that the training that is given is not practical. Maybe it is my stake, but the leadership meetings are always very theoretical and feel like another sacrament Meeting. The world wide leadership training and the following book to read are about as helpful as any Standard General conference address. We Need some specific and practical training on subjects that reoccur. If you have an awesome stake president and super experienced leaders who also have plenty of time, mayber you get lucky, but otherwise you are on your own.

    Here are some of my possibilites:

    1) Other churches have had great experiences with leadership magazines- something like an ensign for Bishops with stories and experiences related to pastoral care and activities and how to train other ward leaders. Other churches are way ahead in that department especially some of the mega churches (eg Rick Warren)- I’m not a fan of the church style, but their training is usually very well organized.

    2) Also we could use simple Technology to share ideas- we use MS Onedrive to share and store activity plans, choir Music and Meeting agendas. The stake finally got on board to share Mission plans and I hope they will share their activity ideas and maybe even best sacrament talks and Topics. No use to reinvent the wheel everywhere.

    3) I would advocate a handbook for training and some System Guidelines on it. So far they dont (really) exist. The General Handbook is super short on those subjects.

    4) And what really would be needed then is some language Translation (I live in the non english speaking world) The Little that is available to English Speakers is not even available for anyone else. Every stake has incredible language Translation Talent however. A System Needs to be put into place to get English training materials (because it’s just not going to be translated into 100 odd languages) into the right Hands to dissiminate it to the locals. The MLS program actually allows you to track skills such as language, but I yet have to see someone use it.

    I also like the idea of a Bishops training center- would be similar to the “Seminary” that pastors of other church types Need to go to, yet much shorter. I believe all the Bishops I know would give a week of their vacation each year to attend a seminary of that type.

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