As I sat watching Interstellar last Sunday with my roommate, as I often do, I turned to her toward and said, “Isn’t this such a great analogy for Heavenly Father? Whatever screw ups well intentioned men may have committed, he’ll come back. He will still come find us. He’ll fix it.” She nodded and smiled politely, but I’m not sure if she was in the mood for me to go off about the failings of General Authorities, so I left it at that. But the analogy none the less stuck with me.
Much of the church has moved into this area of lightly admitting the shortcomings of leadership, but it tends to be more like, “One time they ate cereal on a fast Sunday,” and not, “Their blatant biases mislead the entire church population for several generations.”
I get it. How are you supposed to reconcile the faith we all are supposed to stick with General Authorities with the idea that they could be a total screw up? That all the authority in the world doesn’t change the fact that they could be completely wrong?
The good news is you probably already have, and you just don’t know it. Let me ask, when you read about Judas, did you think, “Obviously Jesus isn’t really the Christ or else he would have better Apostle picking skills.” I mean, maybe, but I think the majority of us accepted his decision.
Judas isn’t the first called to serve that failed in a major way, and neither will he be the last. Johna hoped and pushed for an entire people’s genocide. Joseph Fielding Smith whitewashed most of church history because of family interest. Moses ignored God’s direction and did what he wanted. And Brigham Young’s racist views were definitely behind the delay in basic equality and doctrine being correctly practiced. All through God’s interactions with his own people, leaders have been major problems for the people they were supposed to lead.
Likely, you don’t have issue with all the Old Testament examples I brought up, however the same may not go for the idea of Latter-day prophets and apostles being a stick in the mud when it comes to the flow of continuing and accurate revelation. Not even just them, but the idea that the church fails sometimes. In February, a fluke in the Mormon Newsroom website caused this self-congratulatory article on how we deal with child abuse from 2010 to resurface and enrage many who had encountered leaders who were in fact not “the gold standard,” either in their personal conduct or even just how they handled cases.
This article isn’t unique. We’re quick to highlight our apparent successes and often try and sweep our failures under the rug. It’s normal human nature, and that part of the natural man has crept into our own structure.
Being critical of the church and its leaders, not just church culture, can be scary. One, people outside the church are judgey enough as it is about how we do things. Perhaps it feels like we have enough naysayers, so we just stay quiet. Two, it’s a fine line to walk. While we try and be critical, we have to watch our own biases, after all, it’s just as easy for us to carry them. And of course, no one wants to be labeled an apostate.
As I sat in the temple yesterday and pondered over this, I thought about the people who were perhaps in the wilderness when down came the Law of Moses. If perhaps there was someone who cried out, “Excuse me?! This is crap! What even is the point of some of these rules?” Were they wrong? No. The Law was indeed incomplete, and eventually the priests and other patriarchs became so obsessed with it they devolved into the pharisees that were so removed from its author as to not recognize Him in the flesh. But it was needed when it was first given.
Of course Christ fulfilled the Law. God has revealed, does now reveal, and He will yet reveal many great and important things. Things will be done in His time, and as His children we can rest assured that he will return to fix any mistakes or shortcomings. But that does not remove our own responsibility to use our own free will, the thing we fought so hard for, to honestly judge for ourselves. To abandon our own critical thinking is to fall where we have been warned not to go. “And others will [Satan] pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”
President Uchtdorf spoke a year ago on being genuine, and how we need to avoid hiding our faults in an attempt to appear better than who we are. “In our day, the Lord has similarly strong words for priesthood holders who try to ‘cover [their] sins, or to gratify [their] pride, [or their] vain ambition.’” It’s terrifying to think of letting everyone know that perhaps the church as a whole is not indeed perfect. What if people go inactive? What if outsiders make fun of us? To that I say, “WHO CARES?” Maybe they will, but at the end of the day, people appreciate honesty much more than feigned perfection. And more than that, they deserve it. They have the right to know about their organization and to have their voice heard. They should know that no one is above failure. Because “we have learned by sad experience that men, as soon as they get a little authority, will begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” I do not believe that our leaders seek to exercise unrighteous dominion. I believe them to be good men, with compassionate hearts and authority from God. I sustain them. But I believe that sometime sustaining means caring enough to say, “Are we sure this is right?”
It is not only ok, but rather our responsibility to acknowledge the Judas reality: that not only can individual members or church culture be wrong, but in fact the leaders themselves. It is true that no unhallowed hand shall stop the work, but we are not discussing unhallowed hands. It was not the gentiles that caused the pharisees to fall so far as to not see the Son of God when He stood before them. So let’s be honest. Let’s not be a Potemkin village of a church.