When I was around seven or eight, my mother was driving down the road near my Grandma Joy’s house. She passed the farm buildings and approached the intersection at the bottom of the hill. There was a man walking along the edge of the road, trailed distantly by a wheezing dog. My mother recognized him; it was my Uncle Curtis, her brother-in-law.
Without even thinking, she gave the universal symbol of greeting in my family:
As was both customary and expected, Curtis returned the gesture.
This happens quite regularly in my family. We flip each other off as a way of greeting, farewell, congratulations and love. There were a couple of hitches Mom had forgotten about, however: she was the adult leader of the Beehives (12-14 year old girls) in the local LDS ward…and they were all in the car coming back from an activity.
It caused quite a sensation. Several of them still like to mention it around Mom, who was highly embarrassed. I don’t doubt that several parents were willing to go talk to the Bishop about this unacceptable behavior on a church activity from a leader and role model. They never did. Why?
My dad was the Bishop.
While I was in third grade I went through a phase where I would explain the definitions of various swear words to my friends. In each case, I would insist I wasn’t swearing, because the words were being used in their proper contexts.
My friends got increasingly upset with me, until finally one of them snapped.
Words cannot describe how much I hated that line. I had only done what a million other kids on a million other playgrounds had done, but because my dad was a Bishop that magnified both my stupidity and wickedness in the eyes of others.
When I was ten I was running rampant through the church and Mom grabbed me by the arm and hissed in my ear:
I responded with a typical ten-year-old’s logic:
Two years later, Dad had been released, and a new Bishop (who makes a cameo in my blog here) had been installed. One particular day, I saw his son running wild through the corridor at church, and I thought:
I bring all this up now because my dad was recently called as the second counselor in my hometown’s Stake Presidency. Where a Bishop and his two counselors are over a congregation of 200-300 active Latter-day Saints, the Stake Presidency is over many of those congregations.
The new Presidency, flanked by two members of the Seventy.
We have a lay clergy in the Mormon Church. A Bishop serves for a few years, and is then released, while another regular member of the ward becomes the Bishop. The old Bishop can be conducting meetings one Sunday and be playing the piano for the Primary kids the next. So it is with the Stake Presidency; any higher in the church and it becomes your full time job.
This was my dad after his first presidency meeting.
They aren’t men with any kind of degree in religion or deity. They are, by and large, regular people with regular jobs; Dad works with emergency services, the current Stake President is a pig farmer, the last President ran the buses for the local school district.
Because they are the only people entitled to revelation for their wards or stakes, because they sign temple recommends and hear confessions, and because they have the priesthood keys for their assignments we tend to put them on a pedestal. It’s natural, and sometimes needed; you can’t very well listen to your Bishop if you think he’s an idiot.
Sometimes that bleeds over into the families as well. The night Dad was called to be in the Presidency, Mom went through Facebook and deleted posts thought to cause embarrassment or awkwardness.
They represent the church, but they aren’t the church. The church is found in the scriptures, the revelations, the ordinances and the lives of its members. These men hold offices of the priesthood, but they are still human. People see President Larsen or Bishop Larsen, and I see my dad:
I suppose the point of my post is this: don’t confuse the messenger with the message. No one is perfect. Just because the Stake President swears occasionally doesn’t mean he wasn’t called of God; just because the Bishop’s wife flips off her brother in law doesn’t mean that the church isn’t true.
God put them there for a reason. Respect their office, listen to their counsel and follow their direction, but allow them to be human and make mistakes. Don’t base your testimony of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ on them; base it on the Savior.
And, finally, from a former member of that club, don’t look to the Bishop’s son as an example.