The Friday firestorm took place elsewhere in the bloggernacle this week. I have no desire to rehash the main issues, but instead want to explore a question that occurred to me as that thread developed. Is it possible to be excessively deferential to our church leaders?
Suppose that Monday morning Norm Al Mormon, a well-known figure in the Blogga Nostra community, announces that he is launching a business that will be open on Sundays and will sell alcohol and pornography, among other things. He also intends to provide partnership benefits to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals as part of the standard company benefit package for employees. How would you react? How do you imagine the bloggernacle would react? Here are some possible responses:
- Since I am not his ecclesiastical leader, his actions are none of my business.
- Since he is a public figure, his actions are detrimental to the church. He needs to be publicly challenged.
- I disagree with his business model but recognize the competitive nature of his industry and appreciate the need to maximize revenue in any possible way.
- I would assume he isn’t familiar with the Proclamation and talks by the brethren. I would insist that he hear and heed the words of the prophets.
- I would boycott his enterprise and encourage others to do so as well.
- I would assume that I don’t have the full story and withhold judgment until more facts are known.
- I would be sympathetic to his obligations to his lenders and investors. He must provide ROI, and even if he wanted to follow his conscience, his fiduciary responsibilities must take precedence.
- I would think less of him. He needs to shape up.
- I would call him to repentance. If that didn’t work, I would contact his bishop or stake president. They need to make him accountable for his transgressions.
I can think of scenarios where any one of those reactions would be appropriate. But what happens if Norm Al Mormon is sustained as G. A. Mormon in the next general conference? Do your reactions remain the same, or do you judge him less or more harshly? If you think G.A. is still in the wrong, are you guilty of unwarranted ark-steadying?
A good case can be made that a general authority is more deserving of the benefit of the doubt than the man sitting next to me in priesthood meeting. We assume that callings are inspired, and that the formal vetting process that precedes the calling weeds out the bad apples and pretenders. Although that process isn’t foolproof, anyone who is called is entitled to the presumption of worthiness.
However….a case can also be made that we are entitled to expect a greater level of righteousness from the general authorities that we do from the members of our ward. Norm can watch questionable movies and guzzle Coke by the gallon while gawking at the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, but we would be shocked if G.A. did the same things. Leaders must set the example, and they cannot ask others to meet a standard of behavior they themselves are unable to meet.
I have decided that Norm and G.A. both deserve more or less the same treatment. Leaders deserve our loyalty, but so do the people who share the pews with us on Sunday. As my friend and co-blogger J. Nelson-Seawright has observed, the group of people who fit the description of the Lord’s anointed includes not only apostles and stake presidents, but also the rank and file members, even the back row sitters. How can we prevent the respect we rightfully show to the offices our church leaders occupy from becoming a sickening, fawning obsequiousness that the brethren themselves probably heartily despise?