Counsel or Command? Listening to Church Leaders’ Advice

I struggled to understand how someone called of God could say something that hurt me as much as it did.

"Be kind regarding human frailty--your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women." --Jeffery R. Holland Photo by John Salzarulo

Photo by John Salzarulo

I’ll be honest. I used to really distrust Church leaders. I had been hurt, and I didn’t want reconciliation. When I was dating the guy I later married, I went to my bishop with a heart broken by sin, and instead of offering me peace and comfort he told me to break up with my boyfriend. Because we’d had some trouble with the law of chastity, my bishop told me that if I didn’t break up with my boyfriend I would end up a miserable teenage mother married to someone I didn’t love and didn’t want to be with. After all, my bishop had seen it happen to several past ward members. I remember leaving his office and sobbing until I thought I was going to throw up. My boyfriend and I had been planning to get married. We’d been praying for confirmation for the past two months, and I kept feeling like I was supposed to marry this man. Why, then, was I told by my bishop, someone supposed to be representing God, that my boyfriend would ruin my life?

I was confused and scared, and I felt even more lonely than I had when I’d walked into the bishop’s office. More than anything else, I felt like God was no longer with me and that he was trying to tear me apart. I felt shameshame that stayed with me for a long time after that conversation. Even though I knew that the bishop was called of God, I struggled for a while to understand how someone divinely called could be allowed to do something that hurt me as much as it did.

After a period of stubborn frustration, I started turning to the scriptures. That’s when I found Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” After reading this scripture, my heart softened and I slowly began to realize that just as the Atonement applies to me and to you, it also applies to Church leaders—bishops, mission leaders, Relief Society presidents, and all others.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said something similar in his general conference talk “Lord, I Believe”: “Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.” I learned that the Atonement means more than being personally forgiven; it also means having the power to acknowledge leaders’ imperfections and still know that they are called of God.

In “The Lord Leads His Church,” President Henry B. Eyring elaborated on this topic: “None of these brethren [or sisters] asked for [their] calling. None is perfect. Yet they are the servants of the Lord, called by Him through those entitled to inspiration. Those called, sustained, and set apart are entitled to our sustaining support.”

Although I still feel the pain of this experience, after a lot of prayer I was able to forgive my bishop. Though he was called of God, he is mortal and therefore imperfect. Knowing that imperfect people, like me, lead this Church is difficult but also gives me a lot of peace. I appreciate the insight I received from reading President Henry B. Eyring’s talk “The Lord Leads His Church” and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland‘s talk “Lord, I Believe”.

Source: LDS General Conference

Miranda Christensen, Mormon Insights

feature image by matheus ferrero

Find more insights

Discover what Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf says about imperfect people by checking out his talk “Come, Join with Us.”

Read “Do We Trust Him? Hard Is Good,” by Elder Stanley G. Ellis, to find out more about trusting Heavenly Father’s choices for us.

To learn what Elder D. Todd Christofferson says about leaders of the church, read “Why the Church.”


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