You just moved into this branch 3 months ago and last Sunday they made you the branch president. During the week sister X(*), a woman in the branch whom you barely know, made an appointment with you and shared some sad, shocking news: her husband has been unfaithful to her and broken his marriage vows. She offers as evidence the fact that she observed him entering a “house of ill repute” (her words) twice during the past week. She even has the dates and times written down.
You are righteously indignant that a priesthood holder would do this and contact brother X immediately. You make an appointment for the following evening where you expect to lower the boom and explore the various options for church discipline, which you anticipate will be dispensed with a liberal hand.
Br. X appears promptly for his appointment but he delivers another shocker. When you ask him if he went to the brothel at the dates and times his wife wrote down, he answers affirmatively and forthrightly. He goes on to explain that the reason he went to the brothel on those occasions was to speak to his wife, sister X, who works there. Sister X denies this charge.
What do you do? Is this marriage worth saving, or do you conclude that a marriage is pretty well shot when people start accusing each other publicly of participating in prostitution? How do you get to the truth of the matter? You can’t interrogate people in the style of detective Andy Sipowicz or even Jethro Gibbs. You can’t enter the establishment in question to determine whether sister X really is employed there as a vendor of goods and/or services. And there is still the big question about church discipline. How would you approach that? Of course we would expect a branch president to try to seek answers through prayer, but what kind of preparatory work do you think should be done in order ensure that prayers are effectual?
* This incident is a true story. It is recorded in a copy I have of the handwritten notes of branch presidency meetings from the New Orleans branch in 1844. X is a stand-in for a very common Mormon name of Scandinavian origin. BCC is just like Dragnet; we change names to protect the innocent, and maybe the guilty, too. There is a good chance that a reader of this blog would recognize the names of somebody in the family genealogy. I’m assuming that we really don’t want to know how great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother made her living.
I think we also need to recognize that even though this is an unusual situation, it illustrates the nature of intractable, difficult problems our bishops are called to handle. It shouldn’t be surprising if your bishop were over at the church right now, dealing with something just as off-the-wall and unsolvable. Next time you see him, thank him. And this incident also serves as a good illustration of the quirky combination of mixed motives, weakness, depravity, and nobility of which our fellow beings are composed, and whom we are obligated to love and help.