A Public Service Announcement for Bishops and Stake Presidents
Dear Bishops and Stake Presidents,
You’re just trying to help. (I think.) You don’t want to push people out of the church. (I hope.) Maybe you haven’t even realized that your well-intentioned efforts at soul-saving are going awry. It’s understandable. You’re just following the Handbook. If you’ve never had the uncomfortable experience of having opinions that clash with those accepted by most Mormons, it may be hard to empathize with people who do. And if you have never experienced doubt, how can you possibly know good techniques for managing a faith crisis?
I have insider information that may be useful to you. I have been talking to people in your stewardship—you know, those souls you have been trying to save. And you’re doing it wrong. I know I’m being blunt but someone had to tell you! I figured you would want to know. After all, your intentions are (probably) good and you wouldn’t want to continue these self-defeating tactics if you only realized how much harm you’re doing (assuming that the harm is unintentional). I’m here to help.
People have told me about you—how you have been releasing them from their callings, taking away their temple recommends, giving thinly veiled talks in which you encourage ward members to ostracize them under the guise of “avoiding bad influences,” maybe even going so far as to forbid them from taking the sacrament or contributing to Sunday School class discussions.
I think you think you are doing this for their own good. Maybe you believe that somehow, striving your hardest to make church a completely hostile and punitive experience for these folks will inspire them to conform and take on “better” opinions, repent of their thought-crimes, and merit Celestial glory.
But let’s be rational here! You want them to come to church, right? You want them to have uplifting, spiritual experiences? And yet, you’re not facilitating spiritual experiences! You are making LDS Church participation the least uplifting activity they could undertake. If they go to another church, or to the mountains, or stay home, they are more likely to be spiritually fed than if they continue to present at your ward. You are going out of your way to deprive struggling people of spiritual nourishment.
When your parishioners talk to me about you, they don’t say, “Now that my priesthood leaders have made church such a Hell for me, I feel much better about the Church! My concerns are resolved and my testimony is renewed!”
What they actually say is, “Now that I can’t even [serve in my calling/go to the temple/take the sacrament/whatever else you’re depriving them of] I am wondering if it is time for me to leave the Church.”
Maybe a woman in your ward is concerned about the patriarchal structure of the church. Maybe she even wants the priesthood. It’s a position you’ve never found yourself in, since somebody just went and ordained you when you were 12 and you never even had the opportunity to want the priesthood before it was thrust upon you. Of course you can’t understand her point of view! But you want her to be happy with the Church as it is…so you punish her?
Repeat after me: “Being grounded by a male priesthood leader does not make a woman feel better about patriarchy!”
Let’s say you take away her temple recommend for having the “wrong” opinion. Up until now, she has met all the temple worthiness criteria, but now she realizes that even if she complies with the rules, she will not get the spiritual reward granted to other members of the Church. She might reasonably wonder, why should I continue to a pay tithing to a church that only lets men count and distribute funds? Or wear the masculine undergarment that men have mandated that I wear? Or attend weekly meetings presided over by men? Her compliance may slacken.
That’s when you may feel justified. You might say, “See! I knew it! She is spiritually weak!” If she were really righteous, she would have stood firm. She wouldn’t have run, just because you chased her out.
Now stop yourself and think again. You have an important stewardship. Will you use it to chase people away? Remember that Christ said, “Come unto me.”