Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Evil Church Leaders: My First-Hand Experience

As I just explained in comments on a recent post, I know a thing or two about the pain caused by evil leaders in the Church. I know because I was one. In particular, during the years when I was Bishop, members of my ward had to deal with the following leaders, all of whom were me (this information came from the victims directly or indirectly to me):

a) a bishop who lied repeatedly and played devious mind games;

b) an ecclesiastical leader who micromanaged events and made people feel oppressed;

c) a calloused, insensitive leader who did not respect the sacrifices of others;

d) a bigoted male leader who made false accusations about good people that caused great grief and pain;

e) a wicked, corrupt person who made someone's life hell for years;

f) a foul, deceptive leader who should be exposed for the fraud he is;

g) a self-righteous pig who tried to keep good people out of the Temple and cause intolerable grief and suffering through his lack of care;

h) an unfair and selfish bishop who improperly distributed items donated to help the poor;

i) a power-hungry, arrogant snot; and finally,

j) a sweet and really good-looking guy (thanks, Honey - it's nice to get some balance).

They were probably the roughest but most rewarding years of my life. But it was often amazing just how easy it is to offend people. One person approached me by email me five years after I was released and told me I had made his life hell, that I had wrecked everything for him. I wanted to apologize, but I couldn't remember ever meeting this person. I pressed for details. The most I could learn was that we had some brief encounter in a parking lot, and somehow something insensitive I did or said caused great grief that grew out of control and wrecked things for him. I apologized and wished I could know what he's talking about - but I'm sure he's sincere that I really did something wrong. The awful thing about all the responsibility put on a bishop is that there are so many opportunities to offend people. Every decision, every action, every word spoken will bother someone, especially when we are misunderstood or people are looking for faults. And for some of the most painful issues, I was unable to defend myself without breaking confidentiality or putting someone else at risk, or so I thought. There is much that I could say here that is best not said.

I made many mistakes, I offended many people (I hope only a small minority of the ward on any one issue), I opened wounds or created new ones, and I'm sure that I was every bit as evil as the typical evil stake president, mission president, or unnamed General Authority that are so often mentioned in anti-Mormon Websites (when there are real people behind those stories). From the perspective of my victims at the moment of pain, yes, I was pretty evil - but I was honestly trying to follow Jesus Christ and serve properly. Sounds easy in theory, but my practice was far from perfect. How easy it is to offend and to be misunderstood, and how easy it is to make true and sometimes grievous mistakes.

If you expect Church leaders to be infallible, you're in the wrong millennium or on the wrong planet or - no, you're just wrong. Inspiration and revelation are real, but those gifts do not take away human influences in what we do every day. Take it from me, a former evil bishop who has personally experienced the marvelous power of revelation from God and reality of the gift of the Holy Ghost and the great blessings that come with that wonderful calling. God can occasionally get through even to us evil leaders - and he can get through to you, too, if you'll seek Him.

Please don't let my words discourage you future leaders from accepting opportunities to serve in the Church. Yes, there may be pain and misunderstandings, but for each person offended, you have the opportunity to strengthen and heal and bless dozens, and even the people I sorely offended for a while often came back and became reconciled. In one case, one of the people I most offended and most feared became one of my most wonderful allies and friends. How grateful I am to people who understand the power of forgiveness - what miracles can be wrought by forgiving one another, even when we are hurt.

18 comments:

Clark Goble said...

I agree. I think we expect too much from Bishops. I think some people expect the Bishop to somehow be Jesus Christ, when they clearly are not. I don't understand where that attitude comes from. I've had Bishops do some odd things at times. One told my wife not to date me because I was just a player using her. It was pretty surreal. But it's not like I let it get to me. I just figured he was trying his best and blew that call pretty significantly.

I don't understand why people set up these unrealistic expectations I guess. That's not to devalue the great service they provide nor to suggest in the least we ignore Bishops. But surely there is some middle ground from treating them as innerrant and from backbiting or over focusing in on their every word.

AlexG said...

Jeff, you sound like the typical bishop. I do not know how was your time when you served as a bishop but I guess that members had the 'If I was the bishop' syndrome. Every one has the right answer and the bishop is just too idiotic not to see it clearly. Offenses can come in various disguises. I have know bishops that would rather stay for the 99 sheep that go for the one that is lost. Some are complacent, believing that X years in the Church would garantee them the required knowledge. But I also recongnise that the bishop has a mantle that exceeds all intelect and reason. I know that he will be judged for how he managed his bishopric. It is good that you have tried to mend fences with those that got offended, but I side with you in that some members can get easliy offended.

I believe that a bishop/stake president should know a bit of the people over which he presides. The cloack is not one of comfort but one of responsability. That is why I am glad that I have not served as a bishop. The above descriptions and possibly more could be attributed to me.

Anonymous said...

99.9% of what you say is inflated. You were the kindest and most concerned Bishop possible. The only negative i ever heard during your Bishop years was that you spent too much time working with the youth. Which I considered a complement to you.

You were a benevolent Bishop.

Mormanity said...

I know who that last commenter was. Thanks much!! You win a jar of my wife's super applesauce, made from our Jonathan apple trees using her dual-batch process.

I really didn't mean to imply that I was a bad bishop - I felt really good about the work we did - but in a small handful of cases, well-intentioned actions became grievous sins in the eyes of others. And in a few cases, I certainly made mistakes. So for those looking to find accusations to make, there are many to choose from. The list I offered could be lengthened considerably, I'm sure.

AlexG said...

I did not imply that you were a bad bishop. Haven't been in the ward were you serve disqualifies me to comment on what you did. The list that you describe could fit any bishop, provided that it was made by someone offended by a bishop. From snippets that you have stated through out your pages, it seems that you did your very best to serve the people who you presided. I did not want to criticise you Jeff. I apologise if it sounded like that.

The second part of my comment still stands, I think. People called to preside, bishops, stake presidents, elder's quorum, etc. should know the people that they preside. I like the story that Elder Harold G Hillam (he has just been released) told in a General Conference address about a stake president. I think that leaders as such are great. Just a thought. Leaders can be 'evil' if we want to see them as evil persons. The same comment made with a different mind frame can cause a great offence. Sometimes harmless remarks can make people feel bad. I guess that most comments that you posted about yourself were done by persons that possesed 'other spirit' in the soul.

Samuel said...

This is happening in my Stake; a lot of people consider the Stake President to be "evil" and are offended by everything he does. He came to our Ward and gave the Elder's Quorum a "come to Jesus" talk about Home teaching. Guess what? We needed it.

Besides, it isn't like he is making it up as he is going along. He is passing along standards set by the Brethren and passed down the chain. But because he has to carry it out, he is the bad guy. I think it is silly. When we sustain our leaders, that is what we should do. Stick by them, try to see the situation from their point of view, and keep our points of view to ourselves (I hate gossips.)

Complaining will do nothing (though I would love to see the loudest complainer put into the job next--that would teach them.)

Heck, I am only the Elders Quorum secretary and that is enough for me!

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but I am seeing a "quickening" it seems in the work. In the short time I have been a member of the Church, I feel like the pace of the three fold mission of the Church is being more and more stressed, like we are running out of time. Just my two cents.

Allen Wyatt said...

Clark Goble said: "I think we expect too much from Bishops. I think some people expect the Bishop to somehow be Jesus Christ, when they clearly are not."

Some people too easily forget that Jesus wasn't viewed by many people of his time as very nice. In fact, many people viewed Him as evil.

Bishops obviously aren't Jesus Christ, but people are people--they made misjudgments then and they do now.

Kimberly said...

Hi this is my first time at your blog and you made me realize that I might have been judging Bishops too harshly. I have only had one Bishop in my life who offended me and hurt me so much I actually considered leaving the church. The vast mijority of my Bishops have been great people in my mind and the Bishop in my last ward was so exceptional I expect him to be a General authority or translated soon.

The Bishop who offended me actually asked me not to come to church because of my depression. He said some things I thought were inapropriate and he did some very hurtful things to my family.

As I read your blog I was able to forgive just a little more and let go just a little more. I realize he most likely did not do these things on purpose, he did them because he is human.

Schuyler said...

Bishops represent the Lord in their ward. Yes, they make mistakes in judgment, in callings, and things they might say. But consider your responsibility to support your bishop. This is so important for two reasons: 1) Supporting your bishop will actually help him grow and mature in his calling. 2) The Lord will always bless you for supporting his anointed despite their short-comings.

When one is offended by their bishop, step back and walk a mile in his shoes. Consider the time commitment that his calling requires. He spends all day Sunday attending meetings and counseling with members; at least two nights each week meeting with members for temple recommends, welfare issues, personal counseling, meeting with young men and women, training, etc; performs other duties expected of all members such home teaching and attending the temple; and last but not least don’t forget his duties as a father. Of course, he also has a full-time job to provide for his family’s temporal needs. Don't forget about tithing settlement. While everyone in his ward is shopping, attending parties, etc he meets with every member in his ward.

Realize you bishop wants to magnify his calling. He gives and gives and is rarely the recipient. A card, flowers or a treat are always welcome, but most of all show your support by fulfilling your calling.

Anonymous said...

But, then, there are really evil leaders, too, not just those who innocently offend others by their actions. I can tell real horror stories about a current Bishop. I have never seen anything like this in my life. There has been a lot of iniquity in the Ward, and a lot of things going on behind the scenes that should not be going on in the Church.

Those who were witnesses and/or who knew of the iniquity and tried to tell the Bishop and other local leaders what they knew were silenced and/or punished in various ways. Some of these families are suffering to a great degree.

There is much more I could tell about this but other people have already received threats regarding their church membership just for saying anything about this stuff so I probably shouldn't say anything more. Maybe I should have said nothing at all. Then again, members of one family are beginning to wonder if being members is still worth it and I am beginning to wonder the same thing. The Ward literally is beginning to come apart at the seams because of the goings on but no one seems to want (or, be able?) to do anything about it because it just continues.

I agree that many times we can expect too much from Bishops and most just try to serve but offend people along the way, but sometimes there really are those who really can destroy a Ward and peoples' lives along with it. Thankfully they are far and few between. I had never known a truly evil leader before and I never thought I'd ever meet one. I suppose one should learn never to say never. Then again, maybe it's just a matter of perspective.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I hope never to be a Bishop! Looks like nasty business. Fortunately, I can prevent that from happening by refusing to shave my beard if ever a calling like that is extended!!!

Anonymous said...

Looks like Chris and Bill aren't finished playing games.

Anonymous said...

[i]I know who that last commenter was. Thanks much!! You win a jar of my wife's super applesauce, made from our Jonathan apple trees using her dual-batch process.[/i]

Oooh, I think you were a great bishop too. Can I have some applesauce?

Mike Parker said...

I don't think anyone would claim that there are no bishops (in a church of 14,000 bishops) that are less than equal to the task. The calling is demanding, and there are few in each ward who are up to the task spiritually and emotionally, and from time to time people are called who do not live up to the calling.

Fortunately that's why there is a line of authority above the bishop that goes from stake president to area authority seventy to apostle to Church president. If you have a serious problem with a bishop, and you are unable to resolve it with him personally, take it up the chain of command.

Jay Mortensen said...

I had a Bishop in my youth who once told me (as best I remember):

“Some Bishops encourage souls to come to Christ through divinely inspired wisdom and mercy while others challenge our faith due to their humanity." This Bishop said he had been both which had brought him to his knees in thankfulness for God’s mercy and in remorse for his weakness.

It seams to me that the challenge is to follow Christ’s teaching to forgive (not always easy or automatic). Besides, I hope for mercy, cause if I get justice I’m in serious trouble.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mormanity said...

I deleted the last two comments - sorry. I don't want a fight to break out here.

For the times when we are offended by Church leaders, forgiveness and charity are desperately needed. Grace and mercy in judgment may be something we all need someday ourselves!

Anonymous said...
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