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Addressing Leaders Openly and Compassionately

                                                               (Influence by Chidi Okoye)

by Caroline

There’s a variety of ward Mothers Day gifts out there. From potted petunias to See’s candy bars to controversial booklets, Mothers Day gifts from the bishopric to the women of the ward run the gamut.

Here’s a hypothetical situation. As a ward Mothers Day gift, you have received a GA talk in booklet form that you find problematic. Rather than focusing on inspiring stories of women, it goes off on anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-working mother, and anti-birth control tangents.

What do you do?

I’ve spent some time thinking about situations like this. I’ve recently resolved to openly but compassionately address my leaders when I’m particularly distressed by something. I feel like this is an important way to sustain and respect my leaders. But I still wonder what the very best and most compassionate way to do this is. Do you talk in person? Do you write? Do you spend a lot of time affirming and thanking them for the time they spend on their callings before delving into the problem? Do you offer alternative suggestions? 

I don’t think I’ve got it all figured out yet, but here are some ideas:

1.) Realize that it’s not within my ability to fix my leader, but it is within my ability to let him/her know how I feel.
2.) Remember to be humble. Just because something bothers me, it doesn’t mean that it bothers everyone
3.) Even if the leader has really dropped the ball on something, try to give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Assume he or she had the best of intentions. Realize they’ve got a lot on their plates.

Do you approach leaders when something is bothering you on a ward level? Why or why not? How do you do it? Leaders, do you appreciate it when people come to you with concerns? How would you like people to approach problems like this?


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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No Responses

  1. SilverRain says:

    I love your thoughts and solutions. That is why leaders are there. Granted, you may not be able to change them (they are human, too) but realize they are working things out, and are there because the Lord needs them there at that time. Maybe THEY can learn and grow by hearing your concerns, you never know.

    One of the leaders I look up to the most was one who I vocally disagreed with. Turns out, we both needed to change in that situation.

  2. Justathough says:

    The way you present your case says a lot about your attitude.

    “1.) Realize that it’s not within my ability to fix my leader…

    Your very first step starts with the idea that the leader is broken and you can’t fix them. Perhaps you are the one that is broken.

    I think you might need to re-prioritize how you approach what you consider to be wrong.

  3. Justathough says:

    To add to my first comment, I do agree with you that your concerns should definitely need to be voiced and discussed. I just thought your frame of reference was perhaps a bit skewed.

  4. Matt W. says:

    About Mother’s Day Gifts, keep in mind, that 90% of the time, THe Bishopric asks the RS president of their Ward what should be done, and then do that.

  5. sarah says:

    My ward just didn’t give out mother’s day gifts this year…first time. I was surprised, but at least the gift wasn’t a booklet. Candy would have been nice, however.

  6. ESO5 says:

    I guess I’m stuck on the hypothetical gift; it sounds appalling. I assume that it was distributed because of the writer or title which someone preceived to be appropriate, and perhaps without closer scrutiny.

    I think you should highlight offensive passages, make an appointment, and sit down calmly with bishop. State that you felt the gift was problematic for a, b, and c reaons (show them to him), and ask if he needs any further guidance on why this was an inappropriate gift. Ask that in the future more thought be given to something distributed as a gift (even offer some ideas) and your job is done. Walk away and get over it.

    I would like to think your concerns would be passed on to appropriate parties (whoever is in charge of such gifts and RS presidency as they may need to address specific concerns) but I don’t think you could hope for an apology or retraction. I think it is helpful to leadership, though, to be offered perspectives they may not have considered.

  7. SingleSpeed says:

    I think we need to make sure we aren’t shooting the messenger. Church policy/doctrine is what it is, and it’s not determined by your local leaders. Local leaders can choose to emphasize or not emphasize whatever they feel is in the best interests of those over whom they have stewardship, but you can’t fault a local leader if they choose to emphasize something different than you might have. In this hypothetical situation, it’s not fair to your bishop to hold him responsible for something Boyd K. Packer said.

    But I think it can still be important to provide the bishop with feedback in a way that makes it clear you don’t expect him to do anything about it. I think sending letters is a good idea because it respects his time. The letter should clearly state that you just want to bring something to his attention – not that you necessarily want him to do anything about it. Especially in a situation like this where he clearly can’t do anything about problematic statements from GA’s.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    Love these questions and the responses so far…

    I will approach a ward leader, generally through email. In the email, I’m pretty self-effacing, “Maybe others don’t have a problem with this, so I don’t want to make a big stink, but…” even if it’s something I know others have a problem with. I don’t want to start off confrontational, and truly, it could be just my issue.

    I always make sure that when I do this, I offer to do something that I think might make things better. As a leader, it bugs me when people complain but don’t offer to do anything to help.

  9. Maria says:

    Here’s what I had to say on the topic from the perspective of a bishop’s wife: http://exponentblog.blogspot.com/2007/05/sleeping-with-bishop-one-wifes-wish.html

    If you must criticize the bishop, do it the right way. I’m under no illusion that my husband does things perfectly. This job has a sharp and lengthy learning curve. Most bishops don’t really “get” how to be a good bishop until right around the time they are released. Therefore, it’s inevitable that he’s going to make some blunders, or even serious mistakes, along the way. If one of those errors has significantly affected you, let me make the following suggestions:

    1. Before you bring your concerns to the bishop, ask yourself a couple of tough questions: What is the real issue here? What are my motivations for speaking with the bishop? What do I hope to accomplish by discussing this? What part might I have played in the problem? Have I done everything I can to resolve the issue from my end?

    2. Address the issue as soon as possible. If, after asking yourself the questions above, you still feel that you need to speak to the bishop, call the executive secretary and make an appointment. Now. Small wounds can get infected and turn into gangrene rather quickly.

    3. Do not send your criticisms via email. Tone is too easily misread; words both spoken and unspoken might be negatively construed. Speak to him face to face so that he can gauge how upset you really are, focus in on the most important issues, and immediately start working with you on a solution. [If you are too intimidated to speak face to face, or if it just isn’t your style, you should be cognizant of the disadvantages of written complaints. Do all that you can to make your letter clear, fair, and solution-oriented.]

    4. Do not criticize your bishop in public. Public means with your friends in the ward, even if it’s a “private” conversation (who else would you talk to about this stuff?). While venting to your friends might feel good at the time, your words are damaging on many levels. First, I can promise you that it will get back to us. This is difficult for the bishop on a personal level, and, as a wise anonymous commenter in the last post said, “Criticism deeply, deeply wounds [bishops’] wives and children when we speak ill of them. Their families are making incredible personal sacrifices to enable them to serve, and we should shield them and their loved ones from our judgments.” Second, your words will have an effect on the listener and the listener’s relationship with the bishop. If you have an issue with the bishop, please recognize that this is your issue, and not necessarily anyone else’s.

    5. Before you walk into the bishop’s office, remind yourself that you are probably not the first person who has criticized the bishop today. Imagine what it would feel like if you were sacrificing all of your free time (and a significant amount of your family, school, work, exercise, and sleep time) toward your calling, and that no matter how hard you tried, there were always people who were upset with you—telling you what a jerk/how incompetent you were. Take a deep breath. Play nice.

    6. Speaking of playing nice, start off the conversation by specifically recognizing the many sacrifices that the bishop and his family are making on behalf of the ward. This will take a little bit of the sting out of what you say next. As the discussion progresses, the bishop will feel less like “I’m doing everything I can but people still complain!” and more like “This person can see I’m working hard and is willing to work with me to help me become better.” This will help the bishop feel less attacked, which will help you achieve your goals in the conversation.

  10. Jana says:

    I seriously doubt that he even read the booklet before it was handed out. On the DB website it’s promoted as a gift for women/mothers, so whoever did the purchasing just assumed that it would be inspiring. I’m sure it was just a practical decision.

    And just think, it could’ve been Beck’s talk or the Family Proclamation, instead. 😉

  11. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    This sounds like a the booklet was a compilation of President Benson’s talks. I know now why most Bishops have flowers handed out.

    The first thing a bishop needs to learn is that no matter what they do, someone will complain or take offense. “The Bish wore a blue tie, he must be supporting the Democrat running for office.” “The bishop didn’t announce that my Billy won the 3rd grade spelling bee.” “The bishop is letting he hair grow out, what a bad example he is setting for the youth.”

    The members also need to learn is that everything the bishop does is not a well thought out personal snub.

  12. Caroline says:

    Like Emily, I’m enjoying your responses.

    My inclinitation would be to write an email. Probably because I express myself better when I can think about things and take time to word things conscientiously.

    But Maria, I take your point that speaking in person is probably optimal since tone is so important. And I love your other points too. It’s good to keep in mind how barraged a bish generally is with negativity. That does make me feel really bad for him and makes me want to be extra compassionate.

    Steuben, wow. thanks for the link.

  13. ItNeverEnds says:


    I’m with you. When the Bishop assigns Sister or Brother X to get something for the women on Mother’s Day, and then Sister or Brother X messes that assignment up, the first thing I find myself called to do is write to the Bishop and tell him what a chump he is. Hopefully my Ark-Steadying message will get there just in time for him to set aside some of his more trivial duties – like helping someone repent – so he can deal with this emergency

  14. Caroline says:

    It never ends,

    In my hypothetical situation, it is the bishop himself who chooses the gift.

    I take it from your response that you don’t think even then it’s worth bringing up the issue. Fair enough. Too bad you couldn’t just say so.

  15. madhousewife says:

    Before you address anyone openly and compassionately, you should bear in mind first and foremost that this pamphlet was a gift. If a friend gave you this pamphlet, with a similar (and similarly inaccurate) assumption that you would find it uplifting, would you still feel a strong need to tell them how inappropriate the gift was? Or would you maybe suck it up and say, “Thanks for thinking of me” (with or without clenched teeth)?

    It would be a different situation if the bishop (or some other leader) had personally made anti-gay, anti-birth control, anti-working women statements, even if he (or she) were just quoting Boyd K. Packer. But this pamphlet was a gift, not a call to repentance. I don’t blame you for not appreciating the gift. I’ve never appreciated it when the ward gives me a plant on Mother’s Day–because for me, as a mother, the last thing on earth I want is responsibility for yet another living thing. I would welcome this pamphlet over a plant, because at least I could summarily recycle it without feeling like a failure.

    I think the best defense against inappropriate gifts is a good offense. Next year–around, say, March (depending on how organized your ward/bishopric is)–just start walking around saying casually but loud enough for everyone to hear, “You know what would be an awesome gift to give all the moms on Mother’s Day? [Insert awesome gift idea here]. Wouldn’t that be great?” You might go so far as to volunteer to spearhead the Mother’s Day Gift committee yourself. Or volunteer your husband for it. Or whatever you have to do.

  16. Caroline says:

    Madhousewife, good suggestion about taking the offensive position next spring. I like that.

    As far as the gift aspect, I agree that that makes it trickier. If a friend gave me something that I found offensive in its message, I would be more likely to suck it up and smile. (Though I might also sit down and have a thoughtful conversation about the item with her – would depend on the person.)

    But this situation is not about a personalized gift, it’s about a pamphlet that was distributed to all women in the ward. So that makes it a little different in my mind.

  17. G says:

    I wonder if it would be more efficient to write a letter to DB about the problematic aspects of billing a anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-working mother anti-birth-control book as the perfect mothers day gift (or “gentle message of support”, as the promo goes).

    many of the lds women I know (sisters, mother, MIL, ward members, etc…) would be completely thrilled and ‘inspired’ to receive such a apostolic book.

    it is written by Boyde K Packer, right?
    you might as well write him a letter.

    that might sound snarky, and I don’t mean it that way… it just seems that your bishop shouldn’t be blamed for handing out a book written by a general authority billed as a mothers day gift.

    okay… now all that said, if you really are disturbed, write your bishop an email. It will be much easier to contact him than DB or pres Packer. And you can at least get if off you chest. But I wouldn’t expect a response.

  18. deborah says:

    I am scared of you. The thought that you need to “fix” a leader, scares me. I have always assumed that members of our church believed in the doctrines of the gospel as given to us by our leaders: prophets & apostles.
    If my opinions are different or in contrast to what they teach. I believe it is me who has to reconcile my opinions. through study, fasting, prayer, and temple attendance. These leaders speak for the Savior, and they are not off base. The commandments are not broken. It is us who are broken. Thank Goodness for continued revelation, but remember it comes through our prophet, not a blog site. This does nothing to help us come unto Christ, or our sisters. These are the seeds of doubt, and the scriptures are full of people who pull others away from Christ, this is just a new medium.

  19. Caroline says:

    Deborah, no need to be scared. We simply approach things differently.

    In my view, all of humans need to be fixed. Even my leaders. And certainly myself.

    I put less weight on what leaders say and more weight upon personal revelation and my own conscience. But each of us, as your comment alluded, balance these things out in different ways. I can respect that.

  20. Deborah says:

    Caroline — I assume you know that the Deborah who is scared of you is not this Deborah 🙂

    The teacher in me believes in lots of love and support + concrete, gentle advice. The latter is only “heard” when the former is believed. It’s not exactly the same formula in the church, but it’s not far off — whether we are in leadership positions or working with leaders.

  21. Caroline says:

    Yes, Deborah, I knew at once that wasn’t you 🙂

  1. August 13, 2008

    […] This is a practical dilemma that many grapple with. Here are a couple of threads that addressed this issue – one from a bishop’s wife on how to provide constructive help and one from Caroline on how to share concerns charitably. […]

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