Monday, February 1, 2010

What do you do when your ward doesn't work?

First, a point of clarification: I don't intend to gripe, nor do I want to encourage griping.

But sometimes things don't go the way we'd like them to in our wards and branches. Maybe there's that member who gushes the same testimony each fast day. Maybe our home teachers haven't come in a year and a half. Maybe we wish the scouting program worked better for our kids. Maybe we worry that we need to talk with the bishop but we worry that he doesn't have enough time. Maybe we tire of poorly prepared and delivered lessons. Maybe… Well, you get the idea.

I think how we respond to these situations has a lot to do with how we feel in a particular ward. If we are constantly noticing the things that upset us, if we always have a better idea than those in charge, I suspect we're less likely to feel comfortable in the ward. On the other hand, it can be challenging to face the same issues week after week and ignore our own feelings.

I have an acquaintance who attends church in an inner city ward in a large US mid-western city. That ward is fortunate to have lots of converts. But that brings challenges as those new converts are invited to give talks or teach or serve in other ways. Often the opportunity to serve comes before lots of church experience, so sometimes non-LDS doctrine gets taught in sacrament meeting or in Primary. Sometimes people show up late and the order of speakers in sacrament meeting has to change on the fly. My friend is ok with all of that, saying that if we're going to be a missionary church we need to roll with the punches, and the fact that we have those issues is a great blessing because it means we have new members, and those new members will learn in time.

My own experience is that I need to be careful about how I share my views about what goes on at church around my kids. If they perceive that I complain, they complain. If they perceive that I'm judgmental, they are, too. If I find a more charitable way, they seem to, also. I'm sure they'll have plenty of examples of complainers in life, so I'd like to teach them a better way.

But having the more charitable attitude is helpful to me, too. When I have served in leadership positions in the past, I've been very grateful for the charity of members who looked past my flaws and saw my good intentions instead. And I was grateful for those who came and spoke frankly about concerns they had; sometimes I was unaware and needed feedback, and sometimes I was able to offer them new perspective that helped them understand differently than they had before.

I have an acquaintance who often uses the expression, "Assume positive intent." I think that's a good motto when it comes to fellow church servants. The church is remarkable in that one day you could be serving as bishop or Relief Society president and the next you can be leading the singing in Primary, or just the reverse. We fully expect people to rise to the callings they receive, and we believe that God will help them to do just that.

And faithful Latter-day Saints believe people serve because God has called them to do so. Griping about what so-and-so does as bishop seems to many to be taking God's role in the calling of so-and-so lightly. It is one of the wonders of the church in my mind that my normal good friend one day may be my bishop or quorum leader the next. And while he's still my good friend, I need to show him proper respect (and faith), too. Doing so helps me as much as it helps him.

And, of course, if there's egregious behavior, there are remedies. We can always appeal to presiding authority if we need to. I have done that in the past, having written about a particular situation to my stake president. In my letter I explained my concern, and I invited him to correct me if he needed to. He didn't contact me, so I assume he handled the matter. He mentioned the letter in an interview a year later, but only in passing, and we never discussed the matter after that.

In the end, it's probably not too pleasant to go to church where we feel uncomfortable. We ought to be refreshed and uplifted in church. For me, that process is easier when I approach others there with charity.


  1. A friend of ours gave me some really good counsel last night, about, as he put it, finding my "roar"--to use a "Lion King" analogy. I sometimes have a hard time standing up to other people, and tend to try to keep the peace, and understand where they're coming from, even when it's no longer really appropriate. In this particular case, we know someone who's reaching out in action only--her Spirit is in the wrong place. Rather than seeking genuine answers, she's seeking validation for her own negative opinions. When I, and others, respond to her, she doesn't do anything positive with it. His point was that, sometimes, the most loving thing I, or anyone, can do is show people the error of their ways--or, at the very least, disassociate from a bad situation.

    I try not to be judgmental, but the challenge is always, at what point is intervention required? In my limited experience, usually, so long as the intention is there, things go fine. It's when the intention isn't there--or, as I've experienced, people are actively working against the Spirit--that there's a problem. We've had both 1) someone going around disseminating anti-Mormon literature and trying to covertly "educate" the women of the ward about how "repressed" they are, and 2) someone going around telling other members that they weren't worthy to be members (e.g. "you drank coffee, I saw you at Starbucks, don't ever come back!")

  2. Ouch!

    Years ago I was in a ward where we had a wonderful black man who had joined the church. He was just outstanding in so many ways. Apparently someone in the ward (I was in the bishopric and we never could find out who) approached him and said to his face that we didn't need "his" kind in the ward.

    Not only did it devastate this man, who never returned, but several other new members were badly affected, as well, rightly feeling that it didn't seem like a very Christian place to be.

    Contrast that with my brother's ward in another city at the same time that was over 50% black and thriving.

    The collective embarrassment brought on by one person's ignorance was astonishing.

    The ward survived, but it took quite some time to heal.

  3. That's horrible! It amazes me how, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, sometimes it's the people who seem the most assured of their salvation--and of their superior relationship to Jesus Christ--who are the most mean-spirited and exclusionary toward others.

    I hope that man found peace, and was eventually able to return. I know what it's like to be told that you're not worthy to be a Mormon, and it really is devastating. I think the tough thing is--this was an issue for me--when the rank and file members are telling you to go away, it's very hard to drum up the courage to talk to your Bishop about the issue. In my own case, when I finally did talk to my Bishop (a good friend of mine in the ward marched me to his office and told me he was going to stand outside the door while I talked to him), I was surprised by his reaction: that I was doing just great, and of course I was worthy of a Temple Recommend.

  4. Yes, it was horrible. Sadly, I don't know what happened to that gentleman. I visited him in his home with our bishop, and he was a nice as could be, but refused to come back.

    The church is full of imperfect people, and some of them are jerks. I share your observation that some members seem to think having "the truth" gives them license to be insensitive and even cruel. I am surprised that it seems to take members longer to learn the lessons of charity than others. (No wonder some of my sons found friends outside the church sooner than in sometimes.)

    Good for your friend who marched you to your bishop! We have a young friend who is troubled by her student ward at BYU, and we've encouraged her to visit with her bishop (hoping beyond hope that he'll be sensitive and supportive). So far she's be reluctant, but I hope she will.
    I think especially in that settling, young people are not quite mature (some never seem to mature) or confident in their own position with the Lord, and that lack of confidence breeds all sorts of weird behaviors. It's so easy to judge others and improve ourselves by tearing others down. It seems so "high school" to do that, but my observation is that in some people that tendancy doesn't fade easily.

    But it's really amazing to meet someone who has grown out of it, and to be swept up in their love and kindness. I imagine that's what it's like to be around the Savior - to have someone who makes you want to be better than you are, but also helps you to know that you're loved right now in your less-than-perfect state, too. (Oh, wait -- that's what my wife does with me...)


  5. That's how Jim has always made me feel, too; I'm glad he's willing to be stuck with me for Eternity.

    One of the tough things with experiences like that, I think, is that the ex-Mo internet patrol is ready and waiting to tell you that every bad experience--especially those involving racism, I think--is because the church "isn't true". Some of them are really good at feeding on peoples' angers and insecurities, and legitimizing them. We were talking a lot about this issue last night, and my unsuccessful missionary efforts regarding certain people, and I got a really cool blessing. I guess (and I've noticed this on Brother Lindsay's blog lately!) I don't understand where all the anger comes from? It's like people don't want to open the door and actually listen...I wonder what they're afraid of?

  6. The Savior said the poor will be with us always. So will the "patrol". Here's where fish psychology works: Just keep swimming...

    And I guess we need to watch not to be caustic and angry, too. It's too easy for both sides of the aisle to turn into shrill screamers.

  7. Assuming good intent is such an important life lesson.

    It is too bad we don't emphasize it more.

  8. Hear, hear!

    Thanks for reading.

  9. Anonymous,

    I will delete your comment,but will respond to it.

    When one learns of potentially damaging information such as what you cite, I believe one should go to the bishop or to the stake president.

    It is not fair to you to feel that you need to carry the burden of the information, assuming it is correct. And it is not fair to yourself to feel you must either judge or protect the person involved. That task is better left -- from a church perspective -- to those who are called to do so.

    (I am deleting the comment only because although you are anonymous, you've listed a place along with the concern, so the object of your post is not.)