The Limits of Ecclesiastical Authority

I have realized from time to time over the past three years that my views on ecclesiastical authority differ greatly from the views that many of you hold.  This is a cause for some concern, because I have a lot of respect for many of you who participate here.  This blog post is an attempt to sort out my thoughts and to allow those of you who think I’m off my rocker to say so. 

In tenth grade Civics class, we studied the U.S. constitution.  We learned about the doctrine of separation of powers, and that the document which forms the basis of our law is meant to define the limits of what civil authorities can or ought to do.  It is essentially a device for blocking a government that is seeking to overreach(“Congress shall make no law…”), and it both limits and enumerates the powers that the people can grant to those who govern them.  By setting powerful interests at cross-purposes with one another, and by placing boundaries on the extent to which government may intrude into the lives of citizens, the people who wrote the constitution expressed a fundamentally negative view of civil authority.  They didn’t trust it, and they thought it bore constant and careful monitoring.

I suppose I could blame it all on my tenth grade Civics teacher – much of what Mr. Peterson taught me about civil authority has colored my attitude towards authority in general, including church authority.  Is that attitude justified?  A quick glance at the evidence would say that it is not.  I belong to and believe in a religion that claims God cares about what I eat, drink, wear, and think, not to mention how I spend my Monday evenings.  And if we consider the idea of consecration, there does not appear to be much room for the setting of limits on the church’s authority over my life.

And yet, the limits are real, and they are in place.  If the bishop asked our family to read the scriptures for thirty minutes a day, we would very probably do it.  If he asked us to read Leviticus 4:18 over and over for thirty minutes a day, I would laugh in his face.  And if he told me that he was inspired to make that request, I would laugh even harder.  Here is a short list of the things I have seen bishops require of their wards over the years:

1.  Only white bread, with crusts removed, may be used for the sacrament.

2.  Only homemade wheat bread made with honey (no refined sugar!) may be used for the sacrament.

3.  The American flag must be placed directly behind the speaker, not off to the side.

4.  The chapel doors are closed when the meeting begins, and those who arrive late are not admitted.  They may sit out in the foyer or hall, but the deacons are not allowed to pass the sacrament to them. 

Each of those practices lasted only a few weeks.  Why?  Because ward members realized that the bishop was overstepping his bounds and told him so.  Each of those bishops was an outstanding person, worthy, called of God, and doing his very best.  I continue to admire each of them and consider them to be my friends.  But I do not consider every decision they made to be inspired. 

When we take into account the warnings in D&C 121, I feel safe in concluding that my suspicion of ecclesiastical overreaching has some justification, but if you disagree, please say so in the comments.  

Bonus question:  What is a mantle?  When a leader acts in a manner we don’t immediately understand, we often attribute his actions to this mysterious object.  I’ve been unable to locate a definition, but I gather from the way I’ve seen the word employed that a mantle is meant to describe the rights to inspiration associated with a calling.  We appear to reserve it for high callings, like bishop and above.  Has anybody ever heard anyone talk about the mantle of the visiting teaching supervisor, or the mantle of a scoutmaster?  If anybody needs inspiration, it is a man who goes off into the woods with twelve year old boys for a week at a time.  

Comments

  1. Mantle – IMHO = infrequent, yet sacred divine inspiration to help those that you preside over. I stress the infrequency aspect of this. Like all revelation, it comes at specific times and unfortunately not as often as we would like.

  2. Let me set aside Sunday meeting administrative practices and ask a few more:

    – Is it any business of the bishop what night I hold family home evening, if not on a Monday? (Suppose my graduate program holds classes on Monday night.)

    – Is it any business of the bishop that I’ve turned down a job that would pay 20% more but also require 40% more travel? (Suppose that money is tight anyway.)

    – Is it any concern of the bishop our general financial situation, as long as I’m not going to him for welfare assistance?

    – Is it any business of the bishop to be informed regarding my children’s extracurricular activities, provided that they are attending their other meetings?

    – Is it any business of the bishop to know my personal interests and hobbies, as long as I am attending my meetings, magnifying the calling, am temple worthy, and striving to raise my family the best I see fit?

    (All of these are actual cases from bishops I’ve had.)

    One of my age-old struggles is how much I should pull back the curtain. I’m a fairly social person, but I’m also incredibly private about certain things. I think there are some things that are between me and the Lord and while I’ll mention them to other people, I don’t expect them to have a say in them.

    I might rephrase the whole question is where does a bishop’s stewardship end in my personal life?

    Back to the Church administrative issue — I don’t have a problem with a leader making strange decisions like you’ve described. Frankly, a bishop has a right to decide those things. Does it mean he should? At least for the cases you’ve described, maybe not. But those are extreme examples. How much feedback should a bishop request before making a decision? What if he decides to alter the meeting time of Cub Scouts without consulting with all of the parents? What if he decides with his counselors to alter the night for YM/YW? Should he poll all of the parents ahead of time?

    Elder Packer is not a popular figure on the Bloggernacle, but this was a question he was trying to answer with his comments about “which way does revelation flow?” Then again, how much revelation is involved with deciding to only use certain breads for the sacrament?

    It’s a difficult question for me.

    I’m forwarding this email to a bishop friend, who may or may not provide some thoughts.

  3. it always thought mantle was associated with priesthood keys, therefore it is only those who are called in priesthood leadership positions like bishop that would have a mantle. True?

    I had a friend who was once at the temple on ward temple night. In the celestial room the bishop approached her and another sister and said he was giving them a bishop’s blessing. He then proceeded to tell them as their bishop he could do this (like an apostolic blessing). He said they would be blessed because their sacrifice of leaving their small children to attend the temple. Besides the fact that I am bothered because I believe the sacrifice would be the other way around, does anyone know, do bishops have eccleseastical power to invoke “bishops blessings”. This was years ago and I’ve always wondered about it.

  4. Mantle as I recall refers to Elijah’s passing his prophetic mantle to Elisha. Mantle is a reference to prophetic clothing, itself I suspect tied to high priestly dress, which LDS recapitulate in their current and historic practice.

    I see authority structures within the church in a relational mode, which allows both for hierarchy and respect to leaders but also recognizes the harmony of all participants and the ability we have to talk about what we want and need.

  5. marjorie conder says:

    Our bishop, who was also our bishop 30 years ago, has periodically pronounced a blessing on our ward. While these have not neccesarily been times of obvious stress or disstress, the influence of these blessings has always been powerfully felt, at least by me. He has pronounced these blessings always in response to the promptings of the Spirit. I have also received inspired blessings and counsel from this bishop. He is one of the few people I would trust, unquestionably, with my life.

  6. queuno,

    Maybe none of the things you mentioned are the bishop’s “business”, but maybe as a concerned individual, possibly new to his calling, he was genuinely concerned. Maybe not, I wasn’t there.

    By the way, I always thought a mantle was what the Christmas stockings hang from!

  7. I think mantle most usually represents the prophetic responsibility that passes from one prophet (president) to another, but I just looked up mantle at lds.org and it is also used in other ways. For example, the General YW President was talking to YW leaders about the mantle of their callings.

    Pres. Hinckley said, “The yoke of Church responsibility, the burden of Church leadership become opportunities rather than problems to him or her who wears the mantle of dedicated membership in the Church of Jesus Christ.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘It’s True, Isn’t It?’,” Ensign, Jul 1993, 2)

    Pres. Monson said: “Each of us can be a leader. We need to remember that the mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but the robe of responsibility. ” (Thomas S. Monson, “In Quest of the Abundant Life,” Ensign, Mar 1988, 2)

    Just some examples to suggest that the mantle of responsibility can rest on any of us in our various duties.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    The mantle is a metaphor for authority, which we derive from the accounts of Elijah in the OT, in particular the passing of his mantle to Elisha in 1 Ki. 19:19.

    The English word mantle derives from Old English mentel, which in turn comes from Latin mantellum (probably not native to Rome but from a Celtic source). In English, a “mantle” is a loose, sleeveless cloak. (The use of this word to describe a layer of the earth between the crust and core is late, only dating back to 1940 or so.)

    The word “mantle” appears in the KJV OT 13 times, as a translation of Hebrew ‘aderet. This word is a feminine noun formed from the adjective meaning “wide,” and was used principally for a cloak (from a cloak being “wide”). From the usage vis-a-vis Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings the word gets the developed meanings “prophet’s garment” and even “splendor, magnificence, glory.”

    In Jewish tradition the aderet is related to the tallit or prayer shawl. The corollary to this in the LDS tradition would be the temple garment, but I don’t think we go down that road. Rather, we see the mantle simply as a symbol emblematic of divine authority.

  9. Will Schryver says:

    I’ve heard these kinds of horror stories quite often, and I have no doubt that they are true – although it never ceases to amaze me that people can sincerely ascribe such importance to seemingly insignificant things. Fortunately, I can’t recall having had any such experiences in my various wards and stakes. It seems like the bishops and stake presidents with whom I’ve had contact have always been pretty easy-going and disinclined to place much importance on the “outward” elements of spirituality.

  10. Bonus Question first.

    SMB addressed the source of the “mantle” reference. I also tend to think that stewardship is a similar concept, but that mantle usually is used in reference to someone in a more public vein. As a result, we usually refer to the “mantle” being taken up by a new bishop.

    Certainly a scoutmaster, or YW leader, has as much right to revelation in their calling or “stewardship” as a bishop has in his.

    Fist question(s):
    Having had that mantle of bishop not many years back, you do have a great sense of responsibility for your ward members and their welfare.

    – Is it any concern of the bishop our general financial situation, as long as I’m not going to him for welfare assistance?

    Queuno, the answer to this is no, unless it is obvious to outside observers that a family is not being taken care of, or if the wife comes to the bishop to complain that her husband is overly controlling of the finances, money is not available for basics, and he is not sharing that responsibility.

    Similarly to the other statements that you made. It’s not a bishop’s business, unless other circumstances make it so.

    Sometimes, bishops do get promptings about families or individuals. My biggest regret is that I did not act on some of them, and was grieved that bad results came as a result of that inaction. Other times, we reacted to promptings, and good things came about.

    I always tried to be extremely respectful of ward members privacy, confidentiality, and the limits of what I as bishop could and should do.

    I have also experienced bishops who, in my opinion, perhaps overstepped their bounds. However, my own experience has lead me to be much more reticent about ever publicly complaining about them. A private word is much better received. And in my experience, it is by far the exception.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Like Will, I’ve had exceptionally good luck with the bishops I’ve had. I can’t recall a single one who had a big head and threw his weight around with silly proclamations just to show that he could. They’ve all been humble, devoted servants. But certainly bad apples do exist. I would have no problem ignoring some ridiculous edict promulgated by a bishop if I thought it was stupid or he was out of line, as in the examples cited in the post.

  12. “First Question”. Good grief.

  13. And “has led”. I cant tipe et al 2day

  14. Will Schryver says:

    In all honesty, I’ve probably felt so sorry for the unfortunate soul that got called to be the bishop that I’ve probably been willing to overlook just about any faux pas he committed. It’s the BHTM principle. Anyone willing to take the job deserves at least 100 mulligans over the course of his five years.

    Me … I’d just say no.

    With a smile on my face and a firm resolve in my heart. There are some experiences I simply don’t need nor desire in this life, and being a bishop is one of them.

  15. A friend of mine while on his mission was refused the use of the local meetinghouse to perform a convert baptism. A phone call to the mission president helped resolve the situation. The localstake president and bishop who refused to allow the Elders to use the font were promptly released and replaced. A member of the 12 also placed a call to the Bishop and advised him to surrender his keys to the Elders. NICE!!! :-)

    On another note, while attending a stake leadership meeting Sunday night, our stake president was speaking about reverence and the interruption caused when the overflow doors are opened during the administration of the sacrament. He said the thought crossed his mind to refuse the passing of the sacrament to the overflow, but said he realized that would not be right.

    Bottom line: our leaders are human, have feelings like anyone else and are prone to make mistakes.

  16. kevinf: I was really curious about the fist question as applied to bishops!

    I was trying to think of someone using the mantle concept to explain the trappings of authority and couldn’t … but it probably doesn’t translate very well.

    It seems to me the council system, if applied, would diminish some risks … but it is the bishop who decides how rigorously councils will be consulted and to what degree their input will be implemented, so the actual limitation of power isn’t really there. I like your examples and think that is how it usually goes — I’ve told bishops with whom I’ve been friendly that I think they’ve crossed a boundary, and it has been well-received and taken in the spirit of concern and love as intended, not criticism or accusation. But in the end, the authorities need to be aware of their own temptations to power and monitor them, just as good parents and teachers should.

    Out of curiosity: What’s up with the flag thing? Did the bishop string it up like a scene from Patton? Do US chapels usually have a flag? I can’t remember having seen one.

  17. One specific experience from my term as bishop. Previous bishops had been pretty adamant about closing the folding doors to the overflow before the meeting to direct people to the front of the chapel. Invariably, we would have to open the doors to the overflow sometime after the meeting began, usually just about the time the sacrament was being passed.

    When I became bishop, I decided with my counselors that it was disruptive to the spirit of reverence, especially during the sacrament. So we kept them open, knowing that some people choose to sit in the back.

    Our SP, after visiting our ward, suggested we go back to closing the folding curtain again before meetings, and after some struggle internally, I did. For one week. Turns out that one family came late, sat down in the overflow, and stared at the folding curtain throughout the meeting, listening only to the audio.

    I exercised my mantle, and kept the folding doors open for the rest of my term as bishop.

  18. The administration structure within the Church is abso-freaking-lutely fascinating to me. The clearcut hierarchical structure that promulgates core, universal doctrinal teachings combined with the local structure that truly runs the Church and comprises how so many members truly view and experience it – that is so complex and close to the constitutional “division of power” (in a practical sense) that I am blown away by it time and time again.

    kevinf’s #17 illustrates this tension perfectly. The global leadership has no “policy” – so different Bishops handled it in different ways. A SP advised a Bishop to change what he has decided to do; said Bishop followed his direct PH leader’s counsel – then turned around and disregarded it the very next week – without censure or “punishment” or a fight with the PH leader who had made the initial request.

    From the High Council, that was my experience too many times to count. I would see something in a ward that concerned me, mention it to the Bishop or other PH leader, sometimes propose what I thought was a good solution/change, then sit back and watch the Bishop or PH leader make his own decision about what I had said. I made the recommendation based on my own PH responsibility for that unit – on assignment from the SP – knowing full well that, ultimately, the Bishop had the “mantle” for that unit and the right to follow his own promptings for it.

    Abso-freaking-lutely amazing.

    Anyone who covets the “mantle” of Bishop is nuts – or simply naive.

  19. Maybe none of the things you mentioned are the bishop’s “business”, but maybe as a concerned individual, possibly new to his calling, he was genuinely concerned. Maybe not, I wasn’t there.

    True, but sometimes, there was an overt attempt to provide specific (and un-asked for) guidance. In some cases, the guidance was intended to be more of a commandment as to how to conduct certain affairs that didn’t seem to be anyone’s business.

    Somewhere the idea crops up in some bishops’ minds that it is their *right* to ask about “Well, why are you studying for that particular degree?” “Why wasn’t your family at the ward campout?” I’m OK with casual conversation. But there’s a difference between casual conversation in the hallway and getting called into the bishop’s office for a one-on-one meeting to discuss my dissertation. I’m usually willing to answer the bishop’s questions and not stonewall them. But my natural man is bothered by the desire to *know*. This isn’t any one bishop – it’s the composite of many bishops I’ve had.

    That said – I’m not a whiner. I’ve openly supported bishops on these threads. I know several very good bishops. And I fully admit to having a private streak that perhaps I should relax. I don’t publicly complain about bishops to other ward members.

    Two of the better bishops I’ve ever had are my current bishop and SP. And I know of the struggles of a bishop from coworkers and friends who’ve had that mantle. I’m willing to give bishops significant leeway in the exercise of their callings. Like I said, I struggle with how much of my private life to pull back.

  20. John (#6): That’s mantel, not mantle.

    Will: careful, it’s exactly that attitude that gets you called. If you really don’t want to be a bishop, you should go around telling everyone that you should be the next one.

  21. Mark, you are off your rocker.

    I read as far as that stated purpose for this thread, and thought to myself, “Finally!”

    Maybe I’ll read the rest later.

  22. #21 – That might just be the most focused comment dealing directly with an aspect in the original post that I have read on the Bloggernacle. Oh, that all of our comments, this one included, were that focused.

  23. Ray, # 18

    Ditto what you said! (I owed you one).

    It was amazing to me that my SP pretty much left me alone regarding the running of our ward, and never second guessed me on that part of my responsibilities. In areas such as potential disciplinary actions, I never made a move without consulting him first, and he kept pretty close tabs on the progression of those cases, but again, never did I feel that he wasn’t backing me up.

    We did disagree on some things, and butted heads over stake/ward missionary efforts, but the ultimate burden of being the decision maker always came back to me.

    I make jokes about correlation, but the organization of the church is really amazing. Except the FM group, That is still a complete mystery to me, in the most elevated sense of mystery possible.

  24. kevinf,

    The FM group runs the church. But they allow Gordon B. Hinckley to think that he is in charge.

    Spud, you are very likely to be correct. At any rate, my kids agree with you.

  25. Mark,

    I always suspected. Resistance is futile. You will be correlated.

  26. What’s an FM group? not ringing any bells.

  27. Matt W.,

    FM group = Facilities Maintenance group.

    They can change the locks on your building without telling the stake president, as my SP found out early one Sunday morning.

  28. Of course the FM Group runs the Church.

    My father was an elementary school janitor for over 20 years; my mother was an elementary school secretary once the kids were all in school. I know beyond a shadow of doubt who *really* runs the schools, so, of course, it simply has to be true objectively that the same is true for the Church – right?

  29. #27 – They also can fix or ignore a broken toilet or drinking fountain or Primary Room microphone – which is much more important than the SP’s keys.

  30. Or they can order, without consulting anyone, bright orange plastic chairs for the overflow area, adjacent to the muted blue fabric and brown wood pews of the chapel.

  31. They still have those bright orange chairs? I thought they died a horrible, but well-deserved, death!

  32. I thought they were a sign of apostasy (or that some local leader’s brother had a bunch of mistakenly colored extras in his warehouse) – something that was corrected years ago. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen uglier items – and I’ve seen some ugly items in my time.

  33. When I heard about the order, I got our SP on the phone, who somehow appealed successfully to a higher authority, and got the order quashed. We ended up with wood and fabric that almost matched the rest of the building. But the image of those orange chairs that our FM group leader showed me that day 6 years ago is permanently burned into my brain, the stuff of eternal nightmares.

  34. As a bishop I never give counsel without defining “I really feel to tell you…” versus “As Dave, not your bishop, I think…”. I luckily did that from the start, because about eight weeks later I had my first experience of someone quoting me back to me. “Well bishop, a couple of months ago you said….” And they would start reciting verbatim what they had heard, written down, and pondered in journals and prayers for two months.

    Bishops and other leaders need to be very careful to demarcate what is them and what truly is inspired. But at the same time, I’m not shy about saying what I’ve been specifically directed to say and note its source. If it’s important enough for God to put it in my ear and confirm it by the Spirit, the recipient needs to know not only the content by my testimony of its truthfulness. Of course, when one testifies of truth (even individual revelation) the Spirit should confirm it to the user. That should be the goal of a priesthood leader who imparts such information. The only times I might withhold my testimony of the source is when dealing with those who might not understand or support that principle.

    As for the mantle, here are my thoughts: There has been an interesting extension of the spiritual gifts utilized in gaining my testimony to those who are around me. I feel, think, hear, and know things that I otherwise would have no clue of.

    -“This person is having financial problems”
    -“This person is involved in something untoward (usually pornography)”
    -“This person will soon die, and you need to prepare the family.”

    I know that will all disappear one day. Or more accurately, I’ll transition back to where I once was: a member trying to be faithful in my own testimony.

    I think “mantle” means mysterious way that my neighbor Phil became this ‘bishop-like figure’ without any real change in his life.

  35. But my natural man is bothered by the desire to *know*. This isn’t any one bishop – it’s the composite of many bishops I’ve had.

    I’ve had the complete opposite experience, fwiw.

  36. Ditto to m&m’s #35. I was raised in the Church, so I have a multiple decade history in it. I’m trying to remember a bad Bishop – or even one whom I wondered why he had been called, and I just can’t think of one. The same thing is true of my Stake Presidents.

    I can think of one counselor in the Stake Presidency whom I could support in his calling but in nothing else. Other than that . . . nothing. I know there those who let the authority go to their heads, but I just haven’t known any of them.

  37. StillConfused says:

    I did have one bishop call me in his office to discuss my son playing outside in our yard barefoot. I frankly said that I play outside barefoot too and there was a concern to report it to social services but this was not an ecclesiastical matter. I wasn’t rude about it; just making sure proper boundaries were set and maintained.

    Never heard the mantle thing.. guess I don’t pay enough attention in Church.

  38. I’ve been a member of the Church for 40 years and have served in two bishoprics — and I’ve never had a ‘bad’ (or ‘wacky’) bishop. But I don’t doubt that it happens — we’re all human, and most of our training for callings is ‘on the job’. But, as other folks have noticed, the problems tend to be self-correcting.

    By the way, and again echoing some of the earlier posters, I am in awe of how well the Church works — an international organization of 13 million members run almost entirely by untrained volunteers with constant turnover in all callings. I took it for granted until several years ago, back in Washington DC, when a recent convert who was doing graduate work in organizational management pointed out to me that by all OM standard and principles the Church just shouldn’t work — it should have splintered and collapsed long ago.

    His comment started me thinking, and I believe some of the explanation has its roots in complexity theory. I plan to write a post or article on this sometime soon. ..bruce..

  39. Well, this brought to mind something J. Golden Kimball may or may not have said in regards to leaders of the Church on all levels:

    “Well, it seems some are sent to lead us, and some are sent to try us.”

    I tend to subscribe to that idea. Some leaders even do a little of both.

  40. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    One week after I was called as bishop I had my mantle experience. A sister came to my office and was extremely reticent to talk. Suddenly I knew why she was there, what was wrong, and what the Lord wanted her to do about it. It was as though the mantle of bishop descended on me at that moment. I started telling her what the spirit had told me and she began to cry. She admitted that she had wanted to repent but didn’t know how to begin, but since the Lord had already told me, it made it much easier for her. This was a very complicated case and so I consulted with the SP as to make sure that I was handling it correctly. He said that my decision in the matter was something that he would expect from someone with many years of experience as a bishop, not one week. The next week a sister in the ward was running around telling people that I shouldn’t be bishop because she had prayed about it and this sister was supposed to be subjected to public confession and made to live with the humiliation of the situation.

    My current bishop has directed brothers in the ward to wear white shirts and ties (no blue shirts here!!) and other items of personal grooming (z.b. instructing a middle aged brother to remove his 4” long braid). I think he’s overstepping his bounds, but that’s the SP’s decision to make, not mine. Our last bishop didn’t like the noise of opening the dividers and so he left them open all the time. The ward shrunk under his leadership. It was funny to see his family sitting up at the front of the chapel, empty space back to about ¾ of the chapel, and then packed. The last year he was bishop, the SP asked me every HC meeting how long the bishop had been in. The bish was released 5 years to the day he was called.

    Ray #18- The HC is assigned as a liaison to the MP quorums, not to the ward. They may be assigned to handle stake business in the ward, but they do not have authority to give direction to the bishop. That’s the SP’s duty. The HC however does have a responsibility to report and council with the SP concerning what they see in the stake including their ward. For example, we had a bishop who directed a brother in the ward to remove a wall in the church building. I counseled the bish that he didn’t have authority to do that and communicated it to the SP immediately. The SP didn’t act quickly enough. The brother removed the wrong wall. What a mess. At least it wasn’t load bearing.

  41. I think the issue of respecting the Bishop’s mantle but learning to realize they are human is something I struggle with sometimes.

    My husband was our Bishop a few years ago. He shared a few experiences with me that were amazing in terms of his ability to discern what was happening in the lives of the some of the members of the ward. To be able to literally see and know things they had been doing, but were too afraid to talk with him about, was nothing short of miraculous to him. Particularly because my husband is not a spiritual giant. He’s very smart, and studied, but he’s never relied a whole lot on his spirituality to make decisions. This was a huge testimony building experience for him to have. So I absolutely do know (at least a close second-hand) what the ‘mantle’ of Bishop is about.

    But….

    Although I agreed with almost every decision my husband made as Bishop (and to be honest, probably because I had a lot of pull in the ward at that point too) – I have strongly disagreed with a lot of decision the current Bishop is making.

    He’s aliented a few young men with long hair. He’s not making announcements in church because he thinks they detract from the spirit. He’s got severe ADHD and he can’t conduct ward council in any kind of linear way, which makes me rather insane. Sometimes I sit and watch decisions being made in that meeting and I think to myself “you are ruining this ward!”. It’s especially tough for two additional reasons: 1. My husband had the ward running really well and it actually grew in both number and activity during his Bishopric and 2. The current Bishop is one of our really good friends and we often go out with he and his wife on the weekends.

    I know there is a mantle, and I try to think that sometimes, there are moments I don’t see, where this current Bishop is experiencing the same kinds of things my husband did.

    It’s tough though, when you see things that you think are big mistakes happening.

  42. Latter-day Guy says:

    I think that there are definite bounds to a Bishop’s authority, but even egregiously overstepping them will not yield immediate results from church hierarchy (mills of god and all that, wot).

    For instance, a bishop I know, when giving an almost-8-year-old an interview for baptism, asked questions like the following:
    Do your mommy and daddy fight?
    What do they fight about?
    Do they yell when they fight?

    There is also a couple in the ward that works with troubled youth in a group home setting. In that process some of the youth become interested in and join the church. One of these boys, a priest, was seen by the bishop going into a counseling center during the week. When that priest was on the stand about to bless the sacrament, the bishop hauled him off, saying, “You’re not worthy to be here…” etc. Later, one of the group home leaders spoke with the bishop and brought him some literature, explaining that just going to see a counselor is not the same thing as being unworthy. Within days they had pulled the leader’s temple recommend, citing–I’m not joking–insubordination.

    In any case, this bishop has driven many inactive and made many move out of the ward.

    Here’s the question then: what do you do as a member if you don’t want to go inactive, it is unfeasable for you to move, you live in an area where the wards/branches are far apart, and repeated pleas to church hierarchy have yielded nothing?

  43. A friend of mine while on his mission was refused the use of the local meetinghouse to perform a convert baptism. A phone call to the mission president helped resolve the situation. The local stake president and bishop who refused to allow the Elders to use the font were promptly released and replaced. A member of the 12 also placed a call to the Bishop and advised him to surrender his keys to the Elders. NICE!!!

    I think the above experience might demonstrate the difficulty of the position. I’ve had a similar experience with very different results. I was in a meeting once where my branch president explained to an overzealous elder that if he wanted to baptize the clinically delusional, currently substance-abusing investigator into our already struggling branch, he was welcome to do so, but the branch president wasn’t going to open the building to let it happen. The elder protested profusely and threatened to call his mission president. He did, and, rather than call SLC to have the branch president released, the mission president transferred the elder (could be because no one existed to replace the BP). The next week the investigator got up in church, bore testimony while stoned that she had seen Jesus that morning and that he was black and had dreadlocks. We never saw her after that. So, while I can’t speak for Brian D.’s friend, I was pretty glad that that baptism never happened in our branch.

    I guess my point is that we give bishops a lot of leeway because there’s a lot of variation in problems presented to a unit. I know a few sometimes overstep their bounds, but the vast majority are trying to keep the church running as best as they know how.

  44. Floyd (#40), you are correct about the direct assignment to the MP leadership. That’s why my suggestions to the Bishops were just that – suggestions made in private, knowing it was his decision ultimately to make – not “direction”. The counsel to the MP leaders was different.

  45. I wish more people understood how ecclesiastical authority works. A leader starts 95% of their decision making process – for a calling, a lesson, any decision or action in their calling – with the knowledge they have at the time. Most leaders I’ve known “study it out in their mind and then ask if it’s right.” And, yes, that receiving inspiration to a question. The other 5% of the time is when inspiration has the leader do or say something when they weren’t planning on it.

    When someone feels their leader is over-stepping or under-stepping their bounds, my suggestion to everyone is to privately ask their leader why do they want to know or do something. It will usually get sorted out then.

    As a Branch President, I once referred a sister seeking assistance for her home heating oil to the local HEAP office first. (Home Energy Assistance Programs assist low income households to meet their heating needs.) I told her to let me know if they could help and if not, the Church would help. They helped her immediately. I later got an irate phone call from another sister who thought I was heartless and mean because I wouldn’t help Sister X when her furnace had stopped working when she ran out of fuel. Sister X didn’t tell me the furnace was turned off and out of fuel… I would have done things differently. But irate Sister Y told me I should have been inspired to know the immediacy of the problem. I’ve found that some people expect me to know everything about everybody. It doesn’t work that way. The Lord only inspires me when He wants to, not when Brother Z or Sister Y think I need it.

  46. Amen, Matt.

  47. As some of you have noted, sometimes bishops will overstep their bounds, but that, fortunately, has been a rare exception in my experience.

    One of the truly interesting things about the church’s lay leadership is that I think we as members not only get to serve with amateur leaders who serve temporarily but also we get to take our turns as well. Don’t like the new primary presidency? Guess what, you may get your chance to struggle with parents and children in that organization.

    The end result is that I think we learn lot about tolerance, patience, and the role of inspiration in the church. I have served extremely well in some callings, and clearly failed in others. We learn and we grow as we serve, and we learn and grow by serving under those who sometimes are inspired, and other times just try our patience. I have seen the miracle of the mantle falling on others in their callings, and seen them grow, while others have benefited from helping them along the way. One of my choicest experiences was to watch the atheist husband of one of our ward members start coming to church to be with his wife, and begin to feel a sense of belonging in our ward. He later recalled the reaction of suddenly gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and the crisis that set off with his non-belief in God. He was baptized, served in an EQ presidency, and then moved to another ward where he is now bishop, certainly wishing he’d had more experience along the way.

    As Ray said, it’s abso-freaking-lutely amazing.

  48. Latter-day Guy # 42,

    I have been a member all of my life and never saw a truly renegade bad Bishop until a few years ago. I developed a strong witness of how important the calling of Bishop is. I won’t go into details of what went on, but the effects of this individual on the growth of individuals, families, and the Church in our area.

    When he took over as Bishop the ward was growing, functional, with a sufficient number of members of the Church. During his tenure (4 years 10 months), the ward shrunk to where it was smaller than some of the branches in our Stake. All of the wards surrounding our ward grew and were even spilt once or twice. He would systematically go after certain individuals/families and do a clever character assassination attack on them (he is a lawyer). People either reacted one of three ways: they moved (most people did this); they went inactive, either temporarily or completely (a lot of people did this); sucked it up and stayed active (we did this, but very few did this).

    If you choose to do what we did; my recommendation is to get as far away as you can from him without going inactive. I saw some people be called to leadership positions and then do everything he asked them to do; and now they are greatly disliked by other members of the ward. Don’t have a leadership calling. Get into Primary, or SS where you will not call attention to yourself and lie low. Do your HT, make sure you go to the Temple, pay tithing, and attend your meetings. Most importantly mourn with those who mourn and comfort those that may come into your path. Stay faithful. Do not allow someone to take away your eternal blessings. This too shall pass; eventually the Lord will hear your cries and circumstances will change.

    God Bless,
    Joanna

  49. In my mission, we heard a lot about the mantle of the full-time missionary. I think it is that figurative robe of responsibility that Pres. Monson mentions. You wear it as long as you have the calling. Any spiritual outpouring of revelation while you wear that mantle is a bonus. When I assume the mantle of a calling, I’ve accepted the responsibility and whatever spiritual rights and privileges go along with it. The “mantle” is not priesthood-specific. I’ve experienced it (in different, significant ways) as a missionary, Relief Society president, activities committee chair, and Sunday school teacher.

    I still think the most important of all mantles is this:

    “And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” (D&C 88: 125)

  50. LDS Anarchist says:

    Concerning the limits to ecclesiastical authority. Well, they are clearly defined:

    CHURCH-BOUND BY SCRIPTURES

    The Lord said, “And if you know that they are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.
    • • •
    And they are they who are ordained of me to baptize in my name, according to that which is written; and you have that which is written before you; wherefore, you must perform it according to the words which are written.” (D&C 18: 3-4, 29-30)

    The Lord said, “Any member of the church of Christ transgressing, or being overtaken in a fault, shall be dealt with as the scriptures direct.” (D&C 20: 80)

    The Lord said, “For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants. For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.” (D&C 28: 12-13)

    The Lord said, “Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church; and he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue.” (D&C 42: 59-60)

    The only way to check unrighteous dominion in the church (meaning that the leaders are going beyond what is written or are not abiding by the written word) is through the law of common consent. At the law of common consent, as currently practiced, is nothing but a rubberstamp, the current group of ecclesiastical authorities have no limit on what they can do.

  51. A mantle, as we commonly refer to it in the church is more of a symbol or metaphor. It is not a physical object, nor related to the priesthood or priesthood keys for specific callings. It is a metaphor for gaining and magnifying divine power to act in your calling.

    Elder Scott came to my mission in 2001 and talked about the “mantle”. He drew a little stick figure on the board, and said that was us as missionaries. Then he drew a a large, cape-like object coming off of our shoulders and said (paraphrasing), when you were called as missionaries the mantle of this calling was placed upon you. It was much to big for you and you had no idea how to act in it. As you go through your mission, though, you learn and grow spiritually and eventually fill the mantle.

    So in a sense, it’s like buying a shirt 10 sizes too big, and then growing to fill it.

    Some mantles are probably smaller and take less time to fill. (ward greeter vs. bishop, bishop vs. apostle)

    Another way we commonly refer to the “mantle” is that it’s ‘lifted’ when we are released from a calling. This is also metaphor for the lifting of the burden and responsibility of the calling. Also, it is the cessation of having the spirit strongly with you to minister in that calling. It is common (as in missionaries) to feel a ‘cliff’ effect after being released as you are no longer feeling inspiration for that calling and for the people you were ministering to.

    As for the bishops thing…
    We have to remember, there is doctrine and procedure. They are two seperate things. The bishop has almost free reign to make procedural decisions. Problems come when bishops make these types of decisions outside the limits set by the Handbook, by common sense and reason.

  52. I definitely agree that there is a mantle that people receive. Years ago a friend of mine was ordained a high priest and put in the bishopric as a counselor when I was out of state. When I returned he looked physically different to me.

    As far as bishops reaching past their bounds, of course that happens. They aren’t popes, they aren’t infallible. I think it is like failing to file a tax return. The penalty is a percentage of what you owe. If you owe nothing, the penalty is a percentage of nothing. And failing to obey a bishop who is wrong is no problem. But how sure are you that he is wrong? Like Clint Eastwood says “How lucky do you feel?” Oftentimes it is easier to support the bishop, rather than bet that you are more inspired than he.

    Talking about following what is written, the handbook says bishops are not supposed to give advice, rather they are to give counsel. Bishops don’t tell them you what to do, rather they help members analyze their own problems in the context of the gospel and discover their own options and go to the Lord and receive guidance directly from Father. Bishops help them learn how to make inspired decisions, but they make their own decisions. Obviously bishops counsel adulterers to repent, but they don’t tell people if they should divorce, marry any particular person, accept a job, etc.

    “The stake president or bishop should avoid making decisions for those he counsels. Instead he helps them make their own decisions with the Lord’s guidance.

    The stake president or bishop should also avoid immediately offering solutions to those he counsels. To the extent possible, he helps them analyze and resolve their own problems or questions in the context of the gospel and plan of salvation. Ideally, he teaches members how to find solutions and strength from the scriptures on their own.

    When counseling, the stake president or bishop asks questions to help him understand the member’s situation, though he should avoid unnecessary probing. Questions should bring out feelings and thoughts rather than yes or no replies. Members should do most of the talking.” (Church Handbook of Instructions, page 26, book 1)

  53. Regarding the bread in the initial post, a lot of old folks can’t digest certain types of breads and ingredients and will make sure that the Bishop knows it. Bishops often have their ressons for what they do, even if they don’t disclose it to the congregation.