In Praise Of Good Bishops

Shawn LarsenBloggernacle, Leaders, Mormon, Priesthood 73 Comments

Here’s the one lesson I learned from my 3.5 year stint as an Elders Quorum President:  never, ever aspire to be a Bishop.  Seriously, it is a thankless job. To put a finer point on it, being a Bishop is an honest-to-goodness, up-to-40-hours-per-week, full-time thankless job.  Not to mention the fact that the pay (-10%) is really lousy.

An evergreen subject here in the Bloggernacle, it seems, is the outing of “bad Bishops.”  I cannot begin to count the number of posts and comments I have read over the past few years in which people have complained about all forms of mistreatment at the hands of a Bishop.  These purported “bad Bishops” come in all forms, e.g., the ones who ask too many personal questions, the ones who don’t take time to get to know their members, the ones who visit too often, and the ones who don’t visit enough.  Boiled down to their essence, these complaints amount to a disappointment that the mere mortal serving in one’s local ward does not meet the member’s idealized version of what a Bishop should be.  When confronted with this dissonance, otherwise sensible bloggers across the ideological spectrum can whip themselves into a virtual lynch mob.

The purpose of this post is to bring a bit of balance to the discussion.  To be clear, I believe that real ecclesiastical abuse can and does occur  But I also wholeheartedly believe that truly “bad Bishops” are tiny minority.  By contrast, I think most Bishops are regular guys, trying their hardest to make the best of what everyone admits is just about the toughest calling around.  That has been my consistent observation throughout my 36 years as a proud wearer of the worker’s seal.  It’s time we give these guys their due.

Quantifying all of a Bishop’s responsibilities is much more than compiling the number of hours spent in the church building.  As an EQP, I attended hours upon hours of (at times, pointless) meetings.  Not only did my Bishop attend all of the same meetings, he went to dozens of others which I had the fortune of missing.

But even worse than the sheer boredom, Bishops carry a heavy emotional burden.  They are called upon to deal with every conceivable tragedy — ranging from flooded basements (which, in truth, constitute a “tragedy” only to the family under water) to job loss to death — that may befall any of the hundreds of families within their jurisdiction.  During my EQP service, my Bishops made time to visit patients wasting away from cancer in the hospital, struggling teenagers serving time in prison, and parents crying inconsolably in a nursery over the unexpected passing of a newborn.

In addition, they alone bear the burden of listening to their friends, family members and associates confess their most secret thoughts and desires.  Just imagine the toll that would take on your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being!  At the same time, Bishops, like any other father, must juggle the needs of their own families.   I’ve written elsewhere about my current Bishop, whose 4 year-old was killed in a sledding accident. Even while mourning, he kept about his ecclesiastical duties.

Perhaps the worst part is, no matter what is thrown at them, Bishops are expected to take it in stride, and come back ready for more the next day.  One Bishop I knew often joked, “other ward leaders aren’t allowed to have a bad Sunday; Bishops aren’t allowed to have a bad day, period.”

So, with all of that in mind, I think its high time to carve out some space to recognize the good work Bishops do.  Let me give you two short examples:

  • My brother has been inactive for nearly two decades.  A few years ago, he married a wonderful woman who, on her initiative, joined the Church.  She and my family have been gently nudging my brother in this direction ever since.  While he has warmed to the Church, he hasn’t quite jumped back in.  A new Bishop was called in their ward the week my sister-in-law was baptized.  Since then, this young Bishop (who has 5 little kids of his own) has gone out of his way to befriend my brother and keep watch over his family.  While reactivation certainly may be an ulterior motive (it hasn’t happened yet), that does not change the fact that, for the first time, my brother feels loved and valued by a Priesthood leader.  It was been a wonderful experience due this Bishop’s selfless service.
  • On a lighter note:  just this afternoon, my family’s brand new dog ran away for a few hours.  The Bishop, who lives relatively close, heard the news and drive by to see what was going on.  He was one his way out the door, but he volunteered his two oldest children to come help in the search.  (FYI — the stupid dog showed up on her own after we all spent hours combing the brush yelling her name)

These are just the first two that popped to mind — with a bit more reflection, I could rattle off dozens of instances in which a Bishop proved himself to be a truly inspired and inspiring leader.  At the same time, I would be hard pressed to come up with a personal “bad Bishop” experience.

Now it’s your turn.  Let’s hear your “good Bishop” stories.  I’ll bet you can come up with one much easier than you can a “bad Bishop” tale.

Comments 73

  1. “being a Bishop is an honest-to-goodness, up-to-40-hours-per-week, full-time thankless job. Not to mention the fact that the pay (-10%) is really lousy.”

    True, although once you get the hang of it its a part-time job of around 20 a week.

    “Seriously, it is a thankless job.”:
    I disagree with this statement. Although it can become difficult and lonely at times when you serve, the members one helps, truly helps, seem to always be thankful, especially members who one helps to repent from immorality. Having said that I personally think the current Bishop system is flawed, they should give much more managerial roles and responsibilities to both the counselors as well as elders quorum president and the relief society president. But when the church started to move that way, Pt Hinkley stepped in to stop it and reinstall the Bishop as the presiding high priest who oversees absolutely everything and runs everything. So I guess its the Lord who wants it this way.

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  3. Thanks for this post, Shawn. I’ve seen many good bishops, but the experience which stands out to me takes me back a dozen or so years. As a high school student, I ended up quite involved in a number of activities which I had to balance with youth activities. My bishop knew how highly I valued participating, especially in things like temple trips since the temples only allowed us to do baptisms a couple of times a year.

    So at one point, finding out that a school activity presented an unavoidable schedule conflict that would prevent me from being able to attend our scheduled temple trip, the Bishop called me personally and asked if he could take me to do baptisms on another day that week. The catch is that I was busy enough that it had to be before school. Normally, not an issue; however, I had managed to fill my schedule to the point of opting out of release time seminary in favor of early morning. So the Bishop picked me up in time to do baptisms prior to seminary and school.

    Just one example of how a Bishop can reach out in a way that he might have long forgotten but which lingers in this mind many years later and will always be an example of a “good Bishop.”

    Thanks again!

  4. “But when the church started to move that way, Pt Hinkley stepped in to stop it and reinstall the Bishop as the presiding high priest who oversees absolutely everything and runs everything.”

    Is Private Hinckley his new title? 🙂

    Fwiw, that hasn’t been stopped anywhere in my area. The Area Authorities and Stake Presidents here are begging the Bishops to focus on the things they can’t delegate and empower the other leaders to magnify their callings and do lots of what’s been dumped on them inappropriately.

    Perhaps the heaviest responsibility I have seen for Bishops is that, for many members, they are “the Church” – and that is a heavy burden, indeed.

    I also have experienced situations where certain men were called as Bishops because the Lord knew what was coming down the pike in a ward, and that person had the right personality to deal with it. Unfortunately, sometimes that meant that a Bishop who needed to be strong and unyielding in the face of some adults who were straying far from the principles of the Gospel wasn’t able to connect with the youth and their parents – or vice-versa. It’s BRUTALLY hard to be the right minister AND administrator for everyone in a ward, and those who are the best Bishops for some might not be the best Bishops for all – again, and vice-versa. Of all the calling in the Church, Bishop and Relief Society President are the two that would be stupid to covet, imo.

    So, yes, praise God for good Bishops. They pay a high price for their service.

  5. I’m grateful to see this post because I totally agree with you. So many of the bloggernacle blog posts concerning bishops are hyper-critical and leave me wondering (and grateful) that I’ve never been in this kind of situation.

    I think that without exception my bishops have been really great. I always try to strive to be a “high-yield, low maintenance” member of the church. So, there have been times when I’ve gotten to know my bishop, or other times when I didn’t really need to have much of a personal relationship – with the understanding that there are many other people in the ward that may require more of his attention. However close of a relationship I’ve had, I know that each of my bishops have been the right bishop for me at that time.

    One specific example would be a bishop I had when I was getting divorced. I did not know that my ex-husband had been involved in numerous extra-marital affairs. We were active in the church. We held callings. We went to the temple regularly. The truth of my ex-husbands life came as a shock. When I found out, I had just moved to a new ward – I had only been a member of that ward for about 3 months, so, obviously, I didn’t know my bishop well.

    When I found out about my ex-husband’s double life, I first called a friend, then thought to call the bishop. It was a Friday afternoon, he was in a conference that was in DC (while he lived in Philly). He happened to be on a quick break, and answered his cell phone. He listened to me, he comforted me. He said inspired words to me, and then promptly the next morning (after having been out of town all week) he met with my ex-husband and I. What followed were a few very emotionally taxing weeks, and he continually checked in on me, offered me inspired advice, gave me priesthood blessings, and set me on a course that has led to healing, miracles, and happiness.

    Throughout this time, My bishop was working/commuting between DC and Philly. Yet, he consistently made time to help me through my struggle. It was immensely humiliating as I had never wanted to be a person who would burden a ward leader. I knew that he had so many other things to worry about – 5 children, working in another city, an entire ward, and then I was demanding so much attention. However, he diligently served, and I will always be grateful for his loving sacrifice.

    Shortly after my divorce, He and his family moved to the DC area. My new bishop was equally amazing in my life. Because of his love, service, and time, I felt so much support despite being a single working mother of two. Because of His closeness to the Spirit, he was able to help me find my husband, go through the arduous task of cancellation of my first temple marriage, and then the amazing happiness of my current temple marriage. I know that the Lord has used both of these bishops as tools for miracles in my life. I came away from this experience thinking how much we take our bishops for granted – and their families! This is not only a sacrifice on the bishop, but also the wife and children who need to support their husband/father through such a taxing time.

    I know that no Bishop is perfect. No person is perfect. But I tend to think that they are people like me – trying their hardest to do their best. I know that there are many times when my best is barely enough to be considered failing; however, I’m truly trying. I feel like this is also the case for Bishops and probably most other people in the church. We need to love and support one another. We need to be charitable rather than critical. We are all in this together, and the love and service of our Bishops is a big part of this latter-day work.

    Thanks for the post. (and sorry this is such a long comment!)

  6. I’ll second Ray’s comment: the counsel given to bishops is to delegate everything they can and focus on those few core issues that only they can deal with. I’m not sure where Carlos is getting his information, but it’s not accurate (speaking as someone who was in bishopric just a few years ago, several years after Pres. Hinckley became Prophet. Also, note this discussion over at By Common Consent.) There are only a few things that a bishop can’t delegate — for example, moral issues, bishop’s courts, and certain interviews — and a few things a bishop is particularly asked to focus on, most notably the youth. A wise bishop will push everything else onto his counselors and other leaders in the ward counsel.

    I’ve been in the Church for nearly 42 years. By my mental count, I’ve been in 14 different wards, plus four different BYU student wards. Several of those wards (at least four) changed bishops while I was in them, so I’ve had at least 22 bishops, two of whom I served as a counselor.

    I’ve never had a “bad” bishop. I can’t remember all their names, but I can remember a surprising number of them. In some cases where I can’t remember their names, I can remember their faces. I’ve been closer to some than to others, but I’m hard pressed to think of a single bad experience that I’ve had. And this is from someone who has had a beard most of his adult life. 🙂 Even years later, there are some former bishops whom I remember with love and affections — not because they were perfect, but because they did their best to serve the ward, whatever their personal quirks and imperfections.

    On the other hand, I’ve known a few people who have had bad experiences with bishops. In some cases, there appears to have been a real error on the bishop’s part (at least from how things are presented to me); in other cases, though, the aggrieved persons appears to have a chip on their shoulders, since (a) they also complain about other ward members/leaders and (b) they repeatedly encounter these same problems in different wards.

    I meet alone with our current bishop (Scott Taylor) every week for about 15 minutes; I’m the ward mission leader, and we have a weekly PPI on missionary work. (I also happen to be his home teacher, so I get to visit him and his family in their home.) At the end of every PPI, Bishop Taylor expresses his appreciation for my service as WML; I always express right back my appreciation for his service as bishop. And every time I mention the load that he carries and the impact on his family and work, he dismisses it and instead talks about what a blessing the call is.

    There are 20,000+ wards in the Church; there are bound to be some bishops with problems or who mishandle certain situations. But I’m not going to be the one to judge or criticize them. ..bruce..

  7. “Seriously, it is a thankless job.”

    I will disagree with this statement as well. I have 2 uncles, and a cousin-in-law who served as bishop. All 3 said that it was their favorite calling, and would have served longer if they could have. There are often testimonies which thank the bishop for their service.

    Yes, it might be a thankless job for bloggernacle complainers, but not everyone.

  8. Re #7 — Wow. Even in a thread offering and soliciting unmitigated praise for Church leaders, I am accused of being a “bloggernacle complainer.” Talk about no good deed going unpunished! Well done, MH!

    Re being a “thankless job” — I agree that being a Bishop certainly has spiritual benefits. I’m not trying to minimize those. But looking in from the outside (as should be obvious from the post, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Bishop), it appears that, at least some of the time, the burden outweighs the benefit.

  9. Yes, Shawn, we all fall into the trap of complaining. I’ve been known to complain on the b’nacle about one decision of my current bishop, so some may think I have a bad view of my bishop. The fact is that I really like him. As membership clerk, he told me I have the tougher job than he does, because he’s terrible with computers. Whatever–I’d still never trade him places.

    As a way to show how cool my bishop is, he plowed my garden, and I didn’t even ask him. (He has a tractor and it took 5 minutes. My roto-tiller would have taken at least an hour!) He is my next door neighbor, but he is always doing really nice things like that. He usually plows my sidewalk with his 4-wheeler when it snows, and will do my driveway if I get home too late.

    It is good to focus on the positive, but it’s so hard to do that for b’naclers. Even my Positive black history post generated more negative comments than positive ones. Still it is good to accentuate the positive to keep things in perspective.

  10. On the light side, I know of a Bishop who had a widow with financial and family problems who went out of his way to find her a good, affordable place to live…IN ANOTHER WARD!!! 🙂

    I have to say the best Bishop story I can share is that a loving Bishop listened to my confession and helped me experience the joy of repentance.

  11. Thankyou Catania for sharing ,that has really put things in perspective for me,and thanks for this useful post.Unfortunately it can take only one painful incident to shake our trust when we are at our most vulnerable,and experiences like yours are rarely shared so there can be little scope for balance.God bless these dear and wonderful men just trying to do their best by their own lights,and God bless us when we are sometimes damaged by their limitations.It’s a miracle that they do what they do.

  12. >”Here’s the one lesson I learned from my 3.5 year stint as an Elders Quorum President: never, ever aspire to be a Bishop. Seriously, it is a thankless job. To put a finer point on it, being a Bishop is an honest-to-goodness, up-to-40-hours-per-week, full-time thankless job. Not to mention the fact that the pay (-10%) is really lousy.”

    These kind of statements really confuse me, especially when I hear them from Bishops themselves. The fact is, I’ve never met a Bishop who didn’t say it was worth it. Maybe there are a few of those out there–maybe you all know some of them–but the fact remains: A vast majority of the men who were called to serve as a Bishop would tell you it was a choice time in their life when they came to know the Lord more profoundly and personally than ever before(though maybe waiting a year or two after their release before asking would be wise!). As such, the fact that most of them, at one point or another, say “I wouldn’t wish it on my best friend,” or something like unto it, means that this is nothing but feigned humility.

    Ask me if I want to be an Apostle. Do I want to sit in church clothes every day for the rest of my life? No. Do I want to sit in meetings every day for the rest of my life? No. Do I want to to have the public scrutiny of my life and my family’s life? No. But would I gladly endure all of those things to have the kind of relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that Prophets, Seers, and Revelators have? Yep. Same story goes with any other “thankless” and “busy” calling.

  13. Add me to the list of people who has never had a bad Bishop. Grateful I’ve never had to do what they have to do in juggling family, work, and the most taxing calling.

  14. “The purpose of this post is to bring a bit of balance to the discussion.”

    The disappointing part of that is, there’s a lack of respect around for what so many good people in the church do. Call it idealist, but for once I’d like to see a discussion on the good that the church does go as long as one on the horrible things it does. But to be fair, I haven’t been around long enough to say it doesn’t exist

    “Boiled down to their essence, these complaints amount to a disappointment that the mere mortal serving in one’s local ward does not meet the member’s idealized version of what a Bishop should be.”

    In the case of the one bishop I really didn’t care for, this was what it came down to. Even more importantly, I didn’t exactly do all that I could have to be satisfied with the ward I was in. A learning experience, no doubt. The next bishop we had radically restructured the ward and, truthfully, helped my wife and I realize that our experience in the ward and in the church was as much up to us as anyone else. I like to think that we all control our fate as much as anyone else we try to blame.

    Thanks, Shawn, for giving the positive side of things a little bit of spotlight.

  15. I hesitate to add a comment to this thread, but your point about Bishops is core to one of my problems with Mormonism. First, let me say that I completely agree with the comment about the number of “bad bishops” being a small minority in the church. Most are well meaning, loving type men without guile. Having said that, the overwhelming majority of them are highly unqualified for the job. I served in several bishoprics over the years and found some common problems that most bishops share.

    1. As bishops are called from among the membership of the ward, the guy that was your neighbor yesterday can and will become your bishop tomorrow. He now has pastorale responsibilities for the members in his ward area. These responsibilities not only involve spiritual stewardship for the people, but temporal and a host of legal issues as well. To put it bluntly, these men are grossly unqualified to provide meaningful counseling services to members. Many bishops will simply refer serious marriage, depression, addiction, or related problems to a qualified counselor. He will then determine the financial ability of the member to pay for those services and decide if “Fast Offering” funds will be used to pay the provider.

    Here’s the rub as I see it; for families who are able, despite paying a full tithe and fast offering, they will now have to pay for the professional services needed. If they were a member of most any other Christian religion, their minister would have graduated from one of several very fine ecumenical universities which include at least three years of course work in counseling. Their pastor therefore would be highly qualified to counsel them at no additional cost and be intimately familiar with the people involved and the issues to be addressed.

    2. Bishops are not theologians. I’ve attended several other churches over the last few months and one of the most striking differences I’ve notices is how wonderful some of these ministers can expound the scriptures and truly inspire their members. Compared to your average sacrament meeting, the difference is astounding. I’m not throwing stones at mormon meetings, I’m simply stating that a well trained preacher who has a gift to teach and edify, makes for a different experience in sitting through a meeting. Although bishops and members of the congregation can on occasion give good talks, there just really isn’t a substitute for a good education in theology and a lifetime commitment to the gospel.

    Here again is my issue with the LDS model. The church takes in more money (on average) per member than any other Christian religion and yet has the smallest outlay. This allows it to become a multi-billion dollar corporation with very little risk. Most other religions feel blessed to have the amount of money collected balance with the expenses. If at the end of the year they have a surplus, the congregation will find a worthy cause to donate the remaining funds. To me, this model seems to better fit with what the Savior taught.

    The LDS model also allows the church to isolate themselves from most lawsuits resulting from a bishop breaking the law and causing harm to someone else. This is due to the fact that bishops are not employees of the church and therefore litigation in most instances can only be brought against the local leader, not the corporation. As a good friend (who happens to be a lawyer) told me, “it’s a great gig if you can get it.” Take in vast sums of money with few expenses and very limited risk, great model for a corporation, but is it something the Savior would be proud of? You may see that as inspired, but the majority of those outside the church see huge potential pitfalls for a religion to gain that much power and influence as result.

  16. I strongly feel that bishops are inspired and often have the spirit to help them.
    All the ones Ive known have be wonderful. I joined the church over 20 years ago.
    I was a teenager. Now Im married with children and a husband with a scout calling that takes
    him away from us at times. I know the bishops are not appreciated enough. It is NOT a calling
    to wish for. But I believe that blessings are given to them for it. I believe that sooner or later
    the principle of compensation comes in from the Lord. He calls them and He helps them.
    We are ALL blessed for it.

  17. “Is Private Hinckley his new title? 🙂
    Fwiw, that hasn’t been stopped anywhere in my area. The Area Authorities and Stake Presidents here are begging the Bishops to focus on the things they can’t delegate and empower the other leaders to magnify their callings and do lots of what’s been dumped on them inappropriately”

    Ray, yes he’s a private now in the spirit world since he just starting out 🙂

    GA were doing that in response to the poor average of 3 odd years service for Bishops worldwide but they stopped or rather lowered the intensity a bit after Pt Hinckley gave that church wide fireside for ward councils around 2000. Then Elder Hales also taught that Bishops oversee home teaching and others started to teach that elders R/S etc only recommend people for callings but Bishops call them, so then emphasis on delegating duties went down a lot. Today we are back to the ‘delegate’ but its a huge organisational culture shift which can’t normally be done via a few talks and interviews. They need to add that change into the handbook and spell things out in writing more than it currently is. If they keep writing: ward council= Bishop goes and presides, Youth council= Bishop goes and presides etc, not too much will change.

    Ah, while I’d say that most bishops have more better memories than not, one common regret is that they didn’t learn to delegate enough. Anecdotal evidence here but its what I hear whenever I talk to someone about their Bishop days. So seems to me, from this, that they have always had a hard time delegating things.

  18. “So seems to me, from this, that they have always had a hard time delegating things.”

    Yeah, I won’t argue against that as a general rule for many.

  19. “These kind of statements really confuse me, especially when I hear them from Bishops themselves.”

    Don’t know how old you are Scott, but wait until you have a mortgage, a 50 hour a week job, and 3.0 kids. The pressures of life are enough without adding a second job where just the hours are difficult. In this second job so many things are outside of your control. Trying to help people who won’t/can’t help themselves. Couples who just want a referee. Add in trying to carve out some individual self-fulfillment, enjoyment. etc.

    Not saying that there isn’t growth. But let’s face it, we are asking for super-human efforts. It takes a special person to not just simply endure the 3-5 years. I’ve been a counselor to three and a friend to many. For most, their private thoughts about the calling are way different from anything they will state either publicly or people outside their circle of real friends. It’s not that it is a bad thing, it is just so difficult.

  20. Good comments, Holden, I agree with you. Of course, according to Doug G, if they just went to school for 4 years and were hired by a committee instead of by God, they could handle it all better.

  21. Holden (19.),

    >For most, their private thoughts about the calling are way different from anything they will state either publicly or people outside their circle of real friends. It’s not that it is a bad thing, it is just so difficult.

    I’m not sure I’m following you. Let me work through it and see if we’re on the right page here: My point was that publicly, almost all Bishops/Stake Presidents/etc say something like “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone” at some point during their calling or later. However, I’ve never met a Bishop/etc who, in private conversation, didn’t say that it was, all things considered, “worth it” in the end. If it really is “worth it” in the end, why would these men say that they wouldn’t wish such a net-positive experience on others?

    (A) In sum, my experience:
    Bishops say it’s not worth it over the pulpit or at ward parties.
    The same Bishops say it’s worth it when asked in a more personal, intimate setting.

    (B) My understanding of YOUR experience:
    Bishops say it’s worth it over the pulpit or at ward parties.
    The same Bishops say it’s not worth it when asked in a more personal, intimate setting.

    Is this (B) correct (my understanding of your experience)? If so, we have truly met/talked with/served with a very different sort of Bishops; I’ve never met one like (B).

  22. Scott,

    I’d like a crack at interpretation;

    The burden of a Bishop who tries to do a good job is great because of the wide range of things he finds himself involved in, the burden of the confidences he must keep and the sorrow he feels for the ward members who struggle through their own choices or the circumstances they find themselves in.

    However there is also great joy to be found as those who have overcome their problems and their lives on the right track again. There is also great blessings to be had for the Bishop personally as he serves the Lord with all his heart, mind and strength. This is no different than any other service we can render.

    There are a rare few that really want the calling AFTER they have it. But, also a rare few that want to give it up once they have it as well. Most are ready to be released when their time is up.

  23. Jeff,

    Thanks for your response. I agree with everything you said (inasmuch as I understand what you said in the way you meant it). I think what I’m trying to get at is that, even if many post-Bishops don’t want to go through it AGAIN, very few would say it was a net-negative experience altogether. I am glad I went to high school, and wouldn’t trade some of the experiences for the world–but I don’t want to go again. The point is, these Bishops who says “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone” are saying they would not wish that “on the whole, positive experience” on anyone else–not themselves again.

    Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with Stake Presidents/Bishops/EQ Presidents/RS Presidents/Nursery leaders saying this sort of thing, even if it’s not true, because I think it’s clear what they mean: “Being a [insert calling] is hard, and I feel unqualified, humbled, and even a bit embarrassed that I am supposed to be considered a spiritual leader for y’all. Also, I’ve been told that no one should seek a calling, so I want to reinforce that I did not seek this, and think you shouldn’t either.”

    I just wish they’d say that.

  24. I absolutely agree with the first issue that Doug G brings up. Some men who are called as bishops have a natural ability to counsel with their ward members, and some do not. The problem is that when they do not, there’s rarely a backup option. My current bishop works at least 40 hours a week being bishop, and tries so hard to do it all. He is eager and willing to do anything for ward members. But he hasn’t learned how to delegate things like cooking a pancake breakfast for the Relief Society. He has his hand in everything, and while it’s admirable that he wants to be so involved, it leaves him little time to deal with some of the stuff that only a bishop can do.

    When it comes to spiritual counseling, he is so out of his element. He admits that there are areas he’s uncomfortable with, but who is going to help coach him along? He follows the handbook of instructions to the letter, and there’s little help in there for spiritual guidance. It’s assumed that he will somehow be inspired as needed.

    It’s been deeply disappointing to my wife and me as we’ve tried to work through a very serious issue in our marriage. (I’m the source of that serious issue, if you’re wondering.) The bishop has spent time with me whenever I ask, because I’m the one needing to repent, but he has never asked once to speak to my wife to see how she is handling her own pain and spiritual confusion. At one point we started asking around for references to a Protestant minister for spiritual guidance, because we were getting nowhere with the bishop. In the end we both backed away from the bishop, found a number of good books from many sources, and worked together on finding a renewed spiritual direction. I suppose the end benefit is that we have been educated in a deeper spirituality from many Christian and non-Christian sources.

    I realize this is not strictly speaking a positive comment, so let me say that I have known bishops who were right there for me and my family, who guided us along as we went through spiritual challenges. It is very disappointing to me that the church doesn’t offer even basic training to bishops in how to counsel members in their spiritual direction. It becomes a coin toss as to whether your bishop experience is positive or not.

  25. non-man, I understand that concern. Believe me, I really do. I also wish there was more direct and comprehensive training for Bishops and Stake Presidents, who are primarily responsible for training Bishops. The issue for me, however, is the impossibility of what you ask – and I mean that literally.

    Think about it from this angle:

    1) There really is no way to know who is going to be called as a Bishop prior to it happening.

    2) Therefore, the ONLY options within a Mormon context would be to establish generic training for all prior to the calling OR specific training for Bishops after the calling.

    3) Either way, that is adding even more meetings and training in the lives of people who, I think we all agree, are incredibly busy already.

    4) Doug mentioned the classes taken by those who study to become professional ministers. What isn’t mentioned is that they almost always pay (and pay dearly) for that training. The request to provide that type of training to Bishops seems to overlook the fact that such training is provided for ministers in a controlled, academic, classroom, paid setting – and I just can’t figure out how to do that within the context of a lay clergy.

    5) This leaves only one option: ditch the lay clergy and move to a professional clergy.

    If I lived in one ward for my entire life, and if I lived to be 80, I could expect to have 12-20 bishops during my life (and more than that many counselors) – or perhaps 3-8 ministers (and perhaps that many asst. minsters). Most importantly, the majority of the bishops and counselors I would have would have little or no real, active, participatory leadership experiences otherwise.

    When it’s all boiled down to the root issue, I would rather have the benefits of the lay clergy (especially the growth available to individual members of the congregation within the structure of a lay clergy) and lose the benefits of the professional clergy – especially when good counseling is available outside the option of clergy. I am fine with bishops providing “spiritual counseling”, but I wish we didn’t expect them to provide counseling outside that realm. There are professionals for that, and the Church can pay for that counseling when absolutely necessary.

  26. Re #15 “Here’s the rub as I see it; for families who are able, despite paying a full tithe and fast offering, they will now have to pay for the professional services needed. If they were a member of most any other Christian religion, their minister would have graduated from one of several very fine ecumenical universities which include at least three years of course work in counseling.”

    There’s advantages and disadvantages to both views, of course. Having someone counsel you who has worked in a profession outside of a religious setting (i.e. Bishop) “can” be helpful. Counseling with someone who is outside of your weekly congregation experience (i.e. professional psychologist) “can” provide more confidentiality and reassurance. Religious ministers who base their career in maintaining a certain post “can” succumb to the temptations of pride, lust, and greed just as the rest of us do.

    I make checks from fast offerings regularly for professional counseling for members of our unit. They receive professional help and are not having out of pocket costs at present. If individuals do have private resources to obtain services through a qualified professional, why not use them as opposed to obtaining them from someone who’s counseling experience–either bishop or minister–is only a portion of the spectrum of services they are able to provide.

    I’ve sent patients to psychiatrists who have gone to very fine universities and received 3 years of training in counseling and mental health treatment who have turned out to have bedside manner and quirks that made me rethink using them for referrals. Relying on someone because they have a degree isn’t always helpful.

  27. Ray, Jeff and Rigel

    I won’t argue the point you’re making about the advantages /disadvantages of a lay clergy. I think it’s fair to say that just as there aren’t very many “bad bishops”, there’re not very many “bad ministers” either. My perspective of thinking a professional clergy would better serve the needs of the church is just my opinion based on some rather hard knocks at the hands of one of those “great” bishops. I personally would rather the church use some of that multi-billion dollar bank account to fund a professional clergy as opposed to building a mall or other similar ventures. More to the point, there really is no good justification to tithe members at 10% if you’re not going to pay the clergy. Most other religions collect far less from their members, pay their clergy, and still find ways to help the poor. Now how do you think they pull that off and still survive? I fully expect most active LDS folks to feel differently about it, becuase that’s the culture that most grew-up in…

    Jeff, I’m sure you know this already, but most ecumenical universities require 6 to 8 years of education to obtain a degree. Couple that with a lifetime commitment to the profession and you start to see that those who actually complete such a program are, for the most part, very skilled and talented. To insinuate that this education is of limited value says a lot more about you then it does about education. For most, a good education in whatever profession they choose is invaluable. There is a reason people who complete BS, MS, and PhD’s get paid much better than those who don’t. Frankly, I’m amazed at your comment considering how even the church places huge amount of importance on education.

  28. Let me add my 2 cents of experience into this. My wife and I went to the bishop to discuss a serious marriage issue. He recommended we talk to a professional counselor, and even offered to pay for it. He did warn us that some other couples found the professional counselor unhelpful, and preferred to talk to him.

    The professional counselor from LDS family services was a complete waste of time and money. We went twice, and felt like “well, time’s up, sorry we didn’t cover whatever issues you came here for, but that’s all the time you paid for.” It was incredibly insulting.

    My bishop, not professionally trained in counseling, was a great help. I can’t say all of our issues were perfectly resolved, but he was able to get us through the rough time. A few years later, I found something that I think really works. It is expensive (like $500), and I did a review of it on my blog. Mort Fertel, the guy you does the program says marriage counselors don’t work, and I agree with him. We’ve made some positive changes, and our marriage is better than it has been in years. He basically says that if it took you years to mess up your marriage, it will take at least months to fix it, so don’t expect a quick fix. Anyway, I highly recommend it.

    Nonetheless, I found my bishop’s advice quite helpful, and I really appreciate his help. He was certainly better than the paid professional at LDS family services.

  29. I was reading a life history of a bishop that served for a rural town congregation in the early 1900s for 20 years. Imagine having those duties for that long. It was akin to being a minister, and some of the youth never remembered any other bishop but him during their entire growing years. Along with the typical duties needed to run the Sunday meetings, he had an amazing list of other responsibilities. He didn’t just conduct the funerals, he dressed the bodies and dug the graves. Many of the members didn’t have cars, and he would drive to their homes during all times of night and day to give blessings. The closest small town hospital was in another town and he would drive members there, wait for them, then drive them back. Sometimes, there wasn’t a hospital, just doctor that made house calls. He would pick up the doctor, take them to the members home, and then take them back. There is one grim story of how he held gas lamps in a home so that the doctor could see to amputate a leg that had been injured in a mending machine.

    I like to think about that when I complain about having to do my home teaching.

  30. Doug, this is another case where we simply will have to agree to disagree. Does that make you feel like we’re back on solid ground? 🙂

  31. I had the great fortune to have a remarkable bishop when I was a young man. I had long hair and a mustache as a teenager and would only wear black dress shirts to church. This was never a problem for my bishop when I was a priest blessing the sacrament. My bishop accepted my inner devotion as proof enough of worthiness, regardless of my external appearance. At the time, my testimony was a fragile thing and things could have gone either way – a heavy handed approach alienating me or (in this case) a genuine love leaving me feeling
    wanted, welcome, and worthy.

    I was also fortunate enough to have this bishop as my home teaching companion for several years, and he served admirably as a strong male role model for me
    in my teenage years, as my home was absent a father.

    Twenty years and many bishops later, I recognize the rare blessing that he was to me – the right person at the right time in the right place. I have had many good bishops, but he was one of the truly great ones.

  32. Ray,

    In actuality, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a matter of fact, when you agree with me I get nervous! 🙂

    MH and Matt,

    Antidotal evidence is not worth much to anyone except the person who experienced it. My antidotal evidence focuses on something to personal to write about here. I will say that a member of our family’s bishopric (2nd counselor) is now serving two life sentences in the state prison and if I had had my way the bishop involved would be right down there next to him. Experiences like that tend to make you reevaluate the church’s lay clergy stance. So much for antidotal evidence…

  33. Jeff—

    Sorry for the delay in getting back. Busy doing tax returns all day. I think the question of “worth it” is interesting. Another way to look at it–without outside pressures to say “yes” to the calling of a bishop (which are many) would a former bishop say “yes” to the calling if he had it to all over again. I know men who would answer both ways. I don’t think it comes down to commitment, either. There are personality types who can successfully handle the emotions of being a husband, father, breadwinner, bishop, home teacher, temple goer, counselor, etc., etc., etc., all at the same time. Others watch the calendar from day one, fulfilling their duty. My best friend and weekly golfing partner was a calendar watcher. He is a great guy. He didn’t want to be bishop but did a good job as far as I know. He would say it was “worth it” publicly, but I know inside he wished it had never happened. I listened to him talk about it all five years while we were on the golf course.

  34. The handful of bishops that I have known have been gossip kings. I don’t trust any lay clergy with any of my real problems. Give me a trusted friend, a person whom I have an established relationship, or a person actually trained on confidentiality as codified in counseling. I am sorry, the guy down the street imbued with a new spiritual title does not cut it for me.

  35. Holden,

    “He would say it was “worth it” publicly, but I know inside he wished it had never happened. I listened to him talk about it all five years while we were on the golf course.”

    Not all that surprised that some would feel this way. Its a hard job, that’s for sure. I agree with what you’ve said.

    Doug G, I am going with Ray on this one. i prefer the lay clergy without all its potential issues over the paid clergy simply because the same issues can exist. I don’t share your “idealized” view of “trained and paid” ministers.

  36. “Frankly, I’m amazed at your comment considering how even the church places huge amount of importance on education.”

    Doug G. My comment was that education alone does not qualify anyone for anything. I have worked with people, who have much more education that I, but are not able to hold a candle to my skills and experience.

    For most men becoming Bishop, they have had a “lifetime” of leadership training, gospel study and life experiences. For the right people, it is no different than being “trained for the ministry” through a university or seminary. I have nothing against education and tout its value to my children.

    But, it tain’t everything. One has to be talented in other ways besides book learnin.’

  37. “However, I’ve never met a Bishop/etc who, in private conversation, didn’t say that it was, all things considered, “worth it” in the end. If it really is “worth it” in the end, why would these men say that they wouldn’t wish such a net-positive experience on others?” That sounds a lot like childbirth. And like childbirth, many have more children (would actually choose to go through it again), but there are an increasing number of people who would not (far more “one child” households today than back before birth control was reliable). No matter the harrowing experience one has, it changes one’s perspective forever. It’s the nature of a difficult situation that makes people say they don’t regret it. Difficulty creates growth.

    I think the key difference between a church with a lay clergy and one with a professional clergy is the objective of that church. If you want to help people progress, put them in difficult callings so they have to rise to the challenge and let them work through their difficulties with poorly trained but loving therapists. Nothing can bond a struggling couple like their mutual dissatisfaction with a third party. A professional clergy is there to treat, soothe, and minister. A lay clergy is there to help people grow and develop into their godlike potential.

  38. Doug,

    The Catholic church has plenty of professional clergy in jail. I guess neither model is perfect. There are bad and good apples in every group. That was my point with my anecdotal evidence. Professional counselors still do stupid things, just like amateur ones.

    I will agree with you that bishops could benefit from a counseling program, and I think it’s a great suggestion.

  39. “For most men becoming Bishop, they have had a “lifetime” of leadership training, gospel study and life experiences. For the right people, it is no different than being “trained for the ministry” through a university or seminary. I have nothing against education and tout its value to my children.”

    Jeff, this comment alone shows how little you actually understand about the type of training a minister gets before being allowed to shepherd a flock. I’m sorry, but to say a bishop, who usually is in his thirties or early forties, has an equivalent education to say a catholic priest who spent eight years in school and has taken vows to do nothing else with his life is just absurd. By that logic, you’d say that I with my lifetime of experience in treating my kids’ illnesses should qualify me to work as a doctor in the emergency room of the local hospital.


    I’m trying really hard to leave my personal experiences out of this conversation because I realize just how polarizing what my family has gone through can be. To your point, I fully realize that all religions have a certain percentage of evil minded men who will do bad things. My issue with the bishop I referred to was his complicity in the felonies being committed and therefore allowing the behavior to continue. He naively thought that he could help this predator repent and thereby save his marriage. With good training he would have known that those kinds of people don’t stop until they’re caught. By hiding the crimes and trying to counsel the offender, he actually now was facilitating the abuse going on. Unfortunately, this led to the abuse of others.

    So here’s my point, if having a lay clergy endangers just one more child needlessly, than it’s not worth it. As I’ve acknowledged, there are bad people everywhere and bad things do and will happen. I get that, but when poorly trained bishops make huge mistakes out of ignorance because the church put them in a position of responsibility without the necessary training, that’s criminal. Even worse, this bishop called the church’s 1-800 number and was told, by the church attorney, that he wasn’t required to turn the perpetrator in because the laws in our state allow for ecclesiastical privilege. More insaneness!

    Of course, you’re entitled to your opinion, just as I am. Hopefully you will never have to deal with that side of the church, like we have. It’s amazing how fast the church goes from being a loving group of individuals who mean well into a corporation bent on limiting their exposure to lawsuits and intimating those who they feel threaten their way of doing business.

  40. Doug G,

    I confidently believe that you both overestimate the tithing income of the LDS church, and underestiminate the income of some of the non-LDS churches out there. My understanding is that bequests (leaving part of one’s estate) to their church is more common among non-LDS. Giving more than 10% is not uncommon among the wealthy of non-LDS churches. My understanding is that tithing more than 10% is uncommon among LDS, even among the wealthy, though with fast offerings, and other contributions, LDS members contribute up to 14% or so of their income.

    Basically, tithing equates to holding a temple recommend. So if only 1/3rd of the active members of a ward attend the temple, that means only 1/3rd of active members are paying tithing. In the US, only 1/2 the members are active, so that means that 1/6th of the members are tithe-payers. And since only job-holding adults pay any serious money, that means the number of money-contributing tithe-payers is likely 5% of membership in the US.

    On the expense side, the LDS church supports a huge overseas program. There is a huge transfer of LDS dollars into third world countries for chapel construction and maintenance, more so than other churches.

    Even with unpaid missionaries, running missions is expensive with the church paying for round-trip airfare for missionaries, and maintaining mission offices and mission homes. Building and maintaining temples is expensive.

    Even with the donated labor, the welfare system in the church is a huge sink of church funds, and fast-offerings come no where near meeting the needs of the cash-outlays nor the distribution of food and goods. My understanding is that over 50% of welfare expenditures are funded by tithing dollars.

    BYU-Provo, BYU-Hawaii and BYU-Idaho are also huge sinks of church funds.

    Paid Seminary and Institute teachers, directors, and staff, along with associated buildings also consume a lot of money.

    There is a great under-employed and unemployed segment of the church that most suburbanite members don’t see.

    I’m also tired of reading people put down the church for the investment in downtown SLC. The mall and other real-estate in that project are and will be _income producing_ assets. They are good investments, not expenditures. And for those buildings that won’t be providing direct income, they will be used in place of other properties that the church would have otherwise had to rent, purchase, or maintain elsewhere.

    A corporation the size of the church needs to have a diversity of investments of its “endowment funds” and reserves, like a university or an insurance company. You can’t count on continued future donations to fund current and future expenses. A certain percentage of your reserves or endowment in real estate is a good idea, especially if you have multi-use or flex-use of that real estate and can move your own space needs into it and out of it.

    From what I’ve read, the investment in downtown SLC is a smart move by the church. That income-producing investment is smart not only on its own merits, but has side benefits of protecting other church assets, and helping to provide income that funds church projects all over the globe.

    And if the church is or was sitting on a huge pile of cash (or liquid assets), so what? I’d bet that president Hinckley’s temple-building put a huge dent in it. And I’m sure no temple was built without the Lord directing that it be built. And if there is still “a huge pile of cash”, I can think of many things the Lord just might have in mind for it in the near future.

  41. Doug G: “Jeff, this comment alone shows how little you actually understand about the type of training a minister gets before being allowed to shepherd a flock.”

    Depends on which churches you’re talking about. Many ministerial accreditation organizations are pretty loose with their accreditation. And many churches don’t even require accreditation. There are a lot of people who think that the only authority that is needed is a Bible. “The Bible gives me/us authority” they say.

  42. Bookslinger,

    I’m not even going to dignify your speculations with an argument. Sadly, you don’t have one piece of actual data to backup anything you wrote. I know that because first, the church is very careful not to disclose its financial information to the public and second, because I have firsthand knowledge that you’re wrong.

    On your other note, I guess if your embarrassed about the mall in SLC, you might want to write the brethren and tell them you’re tired of hearing about how they spent some of the money in the coffers. I can’t think of another reason why this is bothering you so much. Care to elaborate?

    You’ll forgive me Mr. Bookslinger, but the kind of stuff your shoveling here is so grossly out of touch with reality, that it reminds me of all those things I got told in seminary about polygamy, Mountain Meadows, why blacks can’t have the priesthood, and alike. I don’t know why it bothers me so much for members to not know the truth about their church, but it does. Does it bother you that the church is extremely well off? If you find out that I’m right about its liquid assets, would you leave it? Just wondering…

  43. Doug

    I don’t mean to minimize your bad experience. If I had been in your shoes, I would be equally outraged. But I think this coverup has nothing to do with lay clergy vs professional clergy.

    You obviously have not been following the Catholic sex abuse scandals very closely–they have some real similarities with the experience you mention. Some of the abusers in the Catholic Church have been moved from parish to parish, jeopardizing more children in each new area. In every case, the Catholic Bishop (similar to the LDS stake president) has moved the priest, in an effort to avoid scandal, yet scandal has occurred in each new area. My point is that the professionals can behave just as bad as the amateurs, and I encourage you to look into the Catholic abuse scandals to see this. Since the Catholic church is larger, I am pretty confident their abuse problems are much larger, and involve more priests and children than any of the lay clergy in the LDS church. The lay clergy LDS bishops do not move from congregation to congregation, perpetuating the same problems, as the professional clergy in Catholic churches.

    Obviously, these situations are reprehensible, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I tend to agree with you–the LDS bishop should be in jail, along with the lawyer who gave crappy legal advice. I think we can agree about that.

  44. Doug G,

    “Jeff, this comment alone shows how little you actually understand about the type of training a minister gets before being allowed to shepherd a flock.”

    Not sure why you are defending minister training so hard, but in the town where I live, the capital of Evangelical Christianity, churches spring up every five minutes. There has been just as much or more “illegal” activity involving men “trained for the ministry” as you claim for LDS Bishops. It’s in the paper here constantly.

    I am sure that ministers and pastors receive a fine amount of training. All I was saying is that training and schooling alone does not make anyone good at anything. They have to have skill and aptitude for it. And, I would pit good LDS Bishops against ANY person “trained for the ministry.”

    BTW, Which University or Seminary did Jesus attend? I seem to have forgotten.

  45. #45 – Jeff, in all fairness, Jesus never had to worry about being a Bishop. 🙂

    A better question would be which University or Seminary Peter, James and John attended – and the comparison between them and the extremely compassionate and liberal (**cough**) Paul, who was the ultimate trained theologian and “minister”.

  46. MH,

    I think you folks failed to read my posts! Honestly, if we’re going to have any kind of productive discussion, you’ve at least got to understand what I wrote. Perhaps it’s my fault in failing to put into words what I’m getting at. You see I fully acknowledge that bad people will do “bad things”. This includes covering up crap that happens and every other kind of evil there is in this world. My point was that bishops make horrible mistakes, not because they’re evil or intentionally wanting to cause harm (as with your catholic example), but out of sheer ignorance of what they’re calling entails. Tragedies happen all the time, I’ve acknowledged that, but good training could prevent many of the ones that occur from well meaning bishops who just don’t know what’s going on.

    Jeff, of course I realize there’re many forms of religions with all types of ministers. If you re-read my original post, you should be able to deduce that I’m talking about mainstream religions. Has much as you don’t seem to want to hear it, education is key to success in all professional type careers. Do you really not get that? If you do, why don’t you think it should be applied to religion as well?

    Ray, you’re a smart fellow my friend. So let’s be honest and look at how the early Christian church actually made its mark. Most of the New Testament comes from Paul. (Either his letters, or Luke’s writings about his missions) A let’s see…oh hey, he was the guy with all the education! It’s probably fair to say that without Paul the early Christian church would have died on the vine shortly after the Savior’s exit. Just my opinion… Many Jews believe that Jesus was a great rabbi and Paul took his teachings and made a church out of it. Of course you probably have a different take on it, and that’s fine. The real discussion here is whether the church’s bishops would be more effective with a good education and theological training. If you really believe it wouldn’t make a difference, then I give up. Not that I haven’t tried… 🙂

  47. Doug, I agree 100% that the growth of the early church was to Paul’s credit. (See, it’s not as rare as you think.) 🙂

    I’m just saying he wasn’t a “Bishop” in any real sense of the word. He was a professional missionary. There’s a HUGE difference between those two.

  48. Doug G.

    “Has much as you don’t seem to want to hear it, education is key to success in all professional type careers. Do you really not get that? If you do, why don’t you think it should be applied to religion as well?”

    Ok, last time here with this. Education is a toolkit, just like a set of tools for a mechanic, plummer or other tradespersons. How one uses that toolkit is the important thing. Not the education itself,. Some of the dumbest people I know from a common sense standpoint are Masters and PHd degree holders. And some of the smartest people I know are as well. And some of the most intelligent people I know have no degree. I’ve interviewed hundreds of advanced degreed people, some we have hired. some I wouldn’t trust taking out the trash.

    Education is a toolkit, not an end-all, be-all for anything. Certainly not as a compassionate minister, trying to emulate Jesus.

    That is my point. Your point seems to be that university/seminary-trained ministers are better than LDS Bishops just because they are university/seminary-trained.

    I reject that notion.

  49. Also, I agree, as well, that Bishops need and should receive better training – and even religious education. I’ve said that. I believe “the real issue” is how to do that, given the fact that we don’t have life-long clergy, and we can’t ask them to pay thousands of dollars to take college level courses throughout their tenure.

    I would support (gladly and immediately) efforts to make it practical to provide more comprehensive and in-depth training. I just don’t support ditching the entire system and replacing it with paid local clergy. (and I’m not sure most of the denizens here would celebrate the training being provided by CES or LDS Social Services)

  50. Ray,

    “I just don’t support ditching the entire system and replacing it with paid local clergy. (and I’m not sure most of the denizens here would celebrate the training being provided by CES or LDS Social Services)”

    That made me smile, well said and point taken… 🙂

    I think the only point I would make concerning your statement is that the church decided long ago to have a lay clergy and therefore won’t consider the alternative. I won’t buy the argument that they can’t afford to pay one, as Bookslinger seemed to be implying. If the church was not so well protected by laws governing who can be held responsible for misdeeds of its leaders, I think the whole lay clergy think would go right out the window. As it is, they have no reason to change…


    Next time you need some surgery, give me a call! I’m told I have a natural ability to heal and my bedside manner is pretty good too. Don’t worry about my lack of education; I’ve known some real idiots with doctor credentials. I, on the other hand have never had a failed operation or lost a patient. I can save you a lot of money… 🙂

  51. Doug, I think you’ve just nailed the heart of our differing perspectives. I just don’t think it’s a financial issue at heart. I agree there are massive financial implications, but I don’t see those as primary to the underlying issue of a full-time, professional clergy.

    I also believe strongly that many of the same people who complain now would complain just as much if Bishops became full-time employees of the Church – and, in fact, probably complain and blame the Church even more when devastating issues didn’t disappear (or even go down all that much). For that reason and others, I favor a more aggressive training program within the current system – and the extensive use of outside professional counseling.

  52. “Perhaps it’s my fault in failing to put into words what I’m getting at.”

    Yes, that might have something to do with it Doug.

    You’re right, I’m wrong. Does that make you feel better? Is that the kind of productive discussion you’re looking for?

  53. MH & Jeff, in all fairness to Doug, aren’t we all seeking that same result to one degree or another? Aren’t we all trying to find someone to agree with us? Just because you agree with each other, that in and of itself doesn’t invalidate Doug’s perspective.

    Also, he does bring up some legitimate points in his comments. Even if we three don’t agree with his ultimate solution, it’s important to consider the truth in what he is saying – and there is a lot of that, imo.

  54. Ray,

    If you are saying that Bishops could benefit from further training, then yes, I would agree. That some Bishops do a less than good job, Yes, I am sure that is true. In fact, I know it is true.

    But, What was at issue with Doug was this obsessive notion that those people “trained for the ministry” are light years more qualified than a LDS Bishop. And just because they had a gazillion year of school. That is my only point of disagreement.

  55. ditto.

    Doug seems to be advocating that a paid clergy will get rid of abuse, and lead to better marriage counseling. Nice idea, but it doesn’t eliminate abuse, or bad advice. Doug’s made the implication that replacing lay clergy with paid clergy will fix the counseling and abuse problems in the church. “If they were a member of most any other Christian religion, their minister would have graduated from one of several very fine ecumenical universities which include at least three years of course work in counseling.” If that’s not what Doug’s saying, then Doug, please correct me.

    Training is great, and I think the LDS should train bishops better. But Doug seems to prefer talking about where he disagrees, and doesn’t even try to talk about where we agree. LDS Bishops should be better trained–some do a bad job. Doug’s bishop probably should be in jail. I’m not disagreeing with Doug at all here.

    I too have enjoyed some great theological discussions with jewish rabbi’s, and lutheran priests. They do have more theological training than LDS bishops, and can have wonderful insights. It would be great if LDS bishops could get more theological training. No disagreement here.

    I’ve also endured dreadfully boring services from highly trained clergy, and found that some clergy speak over the heads of their congregation, precisely because they know so much, and can’t convey it properly.

    Apparently Jeff and I aren’t engaging in “productive” dialogue, because we dispute some of his points. I don’t understand–he complains that I “failed to read [his] posts, and then says perhaps he “fail[ed] to put into words what I’m getting at.” So who’s really at fault here? I think Doug could have been much more diplomatic.

    We’ve all been to good and bad doctors, good and bad counselors, good and bad bishops, and some of us have engaged good and bad professional clergy. Training certainly helps, and all of us agree here, but somebody still has to finish at the bottom of the class.

    If this was a catholic website, I’m sure there would be plenty of people like Doug, complaining about the bad marriage advice of the catholic clergy or the catholic priests involved in sex abuse. Mormon bishops don’t hold a monopoly on goodness or badness, neither do catholic priests with all their training.

    I attended a ward in Georgia with bishop who was a retired sheriff. He was a full-time minister, and it was wonderful. I don’t even think it would be a terrible thing if mormons did have a full-time paid bishop. But it’s not going to eliminate all the problems that he presented either.

    I think Doug and I agree on most of his points. It seems to me that Doug didn’t like the fact that I took exception with his paid professional clergy endorsement, and prefers to emphasize that disagreement. I just think he could disagree more agreeably by acknowledging that someone might be able to honestly disagree. Resorting to “you didn’t read my post” seems inappropriate, IMO.

  56. Gentlemen,

    I fully acknowledge my less then tactful approach on certain subjects and MH is right, I certainly could be more diplomatic about many of my posts. In the past I have resisted the urge to talk about why I find myself on the outside looking in and being so critical of many LDS beliefs. As much as I hate to admit it here, I’m one of those who probably fit the model of being offended and then studying my way out of the church. I realize this point’s lots of fingers at my own weakness, but I can’t change the past.

    My family, most unfortunately had to learn the hard way about child abuse. As the children involved are now adults, and with their permission, I can tell you a little about who I am and how I got here. Several years ago two of my boys were molested by the 2nd counselor in the bishopric. Unknown to their mother and I, the bishop knew of the abuse and decided to help his counselor rather then turn him in or let us know. The abuse continued and finally the younger of the boys worked up enough courage to tell us what was going on. At the time, his older brother was in the MTC and what followed was an unbelievable series of events where our young missionary son was threatened with being sent home if he decided to talk to the authorities about what happened. Only after the county prosecutor threatened the law firm who represents the church and the MTC leadership with witness tampering did they finally yield and let our son talk with the police. During this horrible time, the church refused to let us talk with our son and threatened us with being forcibly removed from the MTC campus if I tried to go get him. The detective for the police department (not LDS) called the MTC a cult compound and couldn’t believe what the church was doing to try and protect one of its leaders.

    For my family and I, the next year was hell. We hired an attorney and sued the church, only to find out that the laws on our state make suing the church for the wrong deeds of one of its leaders nearly impossible. Despite a lifetime of paying tithes and offerings, our new bishop decided that helping our boys with counseling was not going to be done as we had hired a lawyer. In the end, the bishop’s counselor was sentenced and our attorney eventually dropped the lawsuit because the costs incurred would be too great in relation to the chance of beating the church in court.

    I’m sorry if I’ve come across here has harsh and unbending with respect to a lay clergy and training. I fully realize that my children could have been molested in any religion, but with most of those my attorney would have been able to show that the minister violated his training and hold the religion itself financially liable for what happened. That’s the way positive changes occur in corporations and religions. If I and other like me could hold the church financially accountable for bishop misdeeds, I believe the days of calling untrained men would be over.

    I also would love to see the church change its 1-800 service for bishops to get help. They are probably more responsible than the bishop, in our case, because they told him he didn’t need to report the abuse to anyone. It seems this service’s only mission is to keep the church out of legal trouble instead of guiding bishops to do the right thing. When children are involved, the church’s first priority should be to protect them, not itself.

    I’m not asking for your sympathy here nor do I tell you my sad story to try and make a point on this thread. I do think that awareness may be the first step in seeing the church change. As I said before, even if we could help one child not go through what my guys have gone through, it would be worth the effort. Please forgive my personal story; I know this probably isn’t the right place for it…

  57. Doug G. – that is a terrible story, but thank you for sharing something so personal. It does raise some important questions (in a non-theoretical way) about the downside of a strictly volunteer clergy.

  58. Doug, it also points out the danger of seeing any issue in a purely academic way – divorced from real-life, practical considerations. That’s why I have appreciated your comments on this thread, even though our ultimate conclusions differ. I understand why you see the solution as you do – and I respect that perspective. I really do.

    Please understand, your experience is one of the reasons I support much more intensive training for Bishops and Stake Presidents AND a change in all laws to make ecclesiastical leaders guilty of facilitation of CERTAIN criminal activity they do not report (especially sexual abuse and murder), as well as religious organizations that assist in that non-reporting of those specific activities, but I still don’t want a professional clergy. I want to maintain general ecclesiastical immunity, but I support FULLY exempting specifically delineated offenses – and what happened to your boys is a prime example. Those laws need to be changed, imo – and changed ASAP.

  59. Ray and Hawkgrrrl,

    Thanks for understanding and support, whether you realize it or not, you’ve both helped me. All the best!

    Jeff and MH,

    I could go back on this thread and copy all the statements you’ve directed at me. In fairness, I haven’t been the only one guilty of not being very diplomatic. Take a look, perhaps we all can do better in the future.

    No hard feelings? 🙂

  60. Well, Doug G, in light of what you’ve told us, it sheds a new level of understanding to the situation as you’ve been discussing it. Not that I agree with your overall premise about lay clergy versus paid clergy, but I have been concerned that the 1-800 number for Bishops was in fact, a legal avenue rather than a victim help avenue. This comes from one of my friends who has told me in general terms about some situations that he finds himself in as a Bishop.

    My sympathies are with you and your family and I hope that your boys will be able to find peace and reconciliation.

    I don’t hold any hard feelings toward you for the discussion. The blog medium is not a very good vehicle for open discussion and I know a face to face one would always be more civil.

    Thanks for sharing your story, as hard it was.

  61. Doug,

    Thanks for sharing–I know it’s a tough thing to go through, and I can certainly understand why you feel the way you do. I agree with Ray–I think the laws absolutely need to be changed to protect children first. Mormon and Catholic churches both act in ways to protect the leadership, instead of protecting the most vulnerable, and I suspect they always will. I think the only real way to get them to change is through the law. If the 1-800 number is correct that there is no law about reporting, that absolutely should be changed. I’d heartily support your cause.

    I don’t know if you live in Utah–if so, I’m sure there will be LDS lobbyists opposing efforts to change the law, but the law ABSOLUTELY must be changed to protect the victims, rather than ecclesiastical perpetrators. It is horrible what your family went through. A real miscarriage of justice has happened, and it is a shame that it took so long to uncover. Leaders acting in the church’s interest, rather than your sons’ interest should be ashamed of their actions, and I think should be disciplined by both the church and the state.

    I know that I am not diplomatic all the time either, and I am endeavoring to improve.

  62. Doug, having had our local JRCLS provide an outline of what Bishops need to know, it is really sad you were treated the way you were. May the people who did it be forced to stand between Heaven and Earth.

    From my experiences with trained ministers with graduate experience who then went on to become hospital chaplains, I would disagree with you about many things.

    A good book to pick up at your library, for some perspective, is Ethical Dilemmas in Church Leadership by Milco.

    Wish you well.

  63. I haven’t done much yet to try and effect change in the law. In the past I wanted to protect my family from the public spotlight. Now that they’re older, it’s not as big of an issue. I have tried to maintain a certain amount of anonymity here but you are correct MH, it is Utah law that should change. As it sits right now, ecclesiastical privilege exists between the perpetrator and church leaders. (If a victim tells a Bishop or Stake President, then there are mandatory reporting laws in place.) The church’s 1-800 number puts bishops in touch with a church attorney who tells him what’s required in the area where he lives. (In many states, ecclesiastical privilege is not allowed for crimes involving children, rape, or murder.)

    One other very disturbing part of this story was the church’s protection of the abuser. I served on a High Council for several years and therefore been involved in many disciplinary counsels. If say a sister confessed to her bishop that she had had an affair with neighbor “X”, then neighbor “X” would be called before the council in very short order. Depending on the attitude of Brother “X”, the Stake Presidency would either dis-fellowship or excommunicate him. Not so with child abusers. In our case, the Stake President was given the police reports detailing the abuse of this church leader from two different victims (both older teens). He proceeded to quote Book “1” of the General Handbook of Instruction (page 116) which states that if the member is involved in legal prosecution, then the church will wait until all legal recourses have been exhausted before holding a council. I asked the county prosecutor if they had a problem with the church taking action against one of their members before the trial started. I was told that they could care less what the church decided to do. When I pushed the President he said, “the policy is in-place incase the perpetrator gets found not guilty.” In other words, if you cheat on your wife and we find out from even one believable witness, you’ll be disciplined speedily and removed from fellowship with the saints. On the other hand, if you like to rape children, then not only will we not believe the witnesses against you, but we’ll leave you in full fellowship unless the state convicts you of a crime. Most of you are honest people. Who do you think is more of a threat to the church and its members, the child abuser or the one guilty of adultery?

    Thanks for all your comments and kind regards for my family. It is appreciated…

  64. Doug,

    I’m on your side here. It is obvious to me that the Bishop’s handbook should be changed. It sounds like the Bishop should be considered a credible witness, and I can’t imagine why the perpetrator wouldn’t be disfellowshipped at minimum, pending trial. (I have to chuckle–apparently disfellowshipped tripped my spell-checker, and one of the suggestions was “horsewhipped”, which may be a more appropriate punishment.) 😉

    I’m trying to understand why the handbook would want to wait until the trial. I suppose that if a church member is falsely accused, then it may seem premature to impose church punishment. I suppose false accusations could be a problem, and we could end up with some sort of Salem Witch Hunt. But in your case, it sounds pretty convincing to me that the bishop and church attorney were probably convinced of a crime, and I would think that would be a pretty reliable witness in a church disciplinary council. I know I’m hearing only your side, and there are always 2 sides to every story. But, if we take your information as fact, it seems the bishop and church attorney acted inappropriately. It would seem that the church handbook should be updated to better protect children. The law needs to be changed–I can’t imagine church would want to be known as uncaring to children.

  65. MH,

    Horsewhipping pedophiles might slow them done a bit! I realize you’re only getting one side of the story here. The fact that the church leader is now serving two 5-life sentences at the state prison (sequentially) I think speaks for itself on guilt part. You should be able to see page 116 of the GHI if you have a good relationship with your bishop or Stake Presidency member. Perhaps someone here who is currently serving could look it up and validate what I’m saying about not taking church action until after a conviction is obtained. The fact that I know by sad experience what the church’s 1-800 number thing is all about should show some creditability as well.

    In fairness to the church, the MTC presidency thought they were acting in the best interest of the church as they were advised by the church attorney not to let our son speak with the police. Apparently they’ve had experience before in being required to fly missionaries back and forth from their fields of labor to testify at the different hearings, so they weren’t willing to get in the middle of that. Therefore the threat to my son, “If you give a statement to the police, then you’ll be sent home from the MTC”. I don’t think they realized how difficult it is for a victim to testify, so threatening him with being sent home was pretty strong inducement not to talk. (I personally think it was criminal to make him choose.)

    I don’t know what else I can give you to show the other side of the story. Horrible things were done by several leaders who meant well, but caused great harm. As for the church’s attorney, I have no sympathy for him what-so-ever. If Oscar McConkie ends up in the Celestial Kingdom, then heaven will turn into ninth hell for many of us…

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