Years ago a bishop told me that our Stake President shared an insight with him when he received his calling. The president said, “There will be people who will stop coming to church because you’re the bishop. And there will be people who will start coming to church because you’re the bishop.” And my bishop saw both happen.
It’s as old as the church itself, this notion of sizing up one’s bishop and deciding if he’s a good enough guy or not. I used to joke that the Bishop’s Storehouse is actually a giant warehouse filled with bishops sitting on shelves, where disgruntled members could roll by with a shopping cart and pick a new one.
And we’ve all heard the complaints. One is too young and inexperienced; another is too old and doddering. One is too bossy, one doesn’t take charge enough. One has a weak handshake. One is too friendly, another isn’t warm and fuzzy enough. Fault-finding is the easiest, most cowardly pastime on the planet. And none of us are exempt from its darts; anyone whose calling puts them in charge in some way, can expect the criticism wheels to start turning, and the busybodies to start whispering.
Did you know that the term “busybody” is in the New Testament? That’s how old the habit is. In 2nd Thessalonians 3:11 Paul talks about both men and women who are disorderly, “working not at all, and are busybodies.” In 1st Timothy 5:13, he speaks about women who are “not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.” Peter is even stronger in his condemnation of busybodies, grouping them with murderers, thieves, and evil-doers in 1st Peter 4:15.
And so they babble, spreading rumors that chip away at a ward’s morale, undermining a bishop’s best efforts, and poisoning the unity of a ward. Sometimes these members justify their negative speech because a bishop somehow offended them. Maybe that bishop gave stern advice to a teenager, failed to help enough in a dire situation, or overlooked them for a particular calling. It doesn’t take much. But, sadly, these people cannot move on and forgive. Worse, they call this man’s inspiration into question by sharing their side of events with their friends.
It’s serious business to tamper with another person’s testimony, and harsh consequences await the casual critic who disregards the sanctity of another’s faith. But it’s also spiritually dangerous to harbor quiet dislike or disrespect for our leaders, “mentally stoning” them, as President Kimball described it.
So what of people who say they’re simply expressing their opinion, something they have a right to do? Joseph Smith said, “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.”
Harold B. Lee concurred, saying “those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed” speak from impure hearts. And “those who criticize the leaders of this Church are showing signs of a spiritual sickness which, unless curbed, will bring about eventually spiritual death.”
If you, or someone you know, has fallen into this trap of negativity, always looking for flaws, be sure you note the hope of repentance included in both of these prophets’ quotes. It is always possible to recognize one’s mistakes and make correction.
But know, also, that this free-wheeling notion of fault finding applies not only to our prophet and apostles, but to our local leaders as well. Boyd K. Packer said, “The man who will not sustain the bishop of his ward and the president of his stake will not sustain the President of the Church.” Nowhere in the handbook, nor in scripture, does it say we can treat our leaders as offerings at a smorgasbord and pick the ones we like, leaving other ones behind.
David O. McKay spoke of the great harm done to the church by these grumblers. He said, “The Church is little, if at all, injured by persecution and calamities from ignorant, misinformed, or malicious enemies. A greater hindrance to its progress comes from faultfinders, shirkers, commandment-breakers, and apostate cliques within its own ecclesiastical and quorum groups.”
Many members are careful not to publicly condemn their bishop, yet within the walls of their home are much more blunt and candid. They can be sure that their children will copy their example of disrespect, and will challenge one church directive after another that doesn’t sit well with them, rather than obeying in humility and trust. On the other hand, if you honor the office, and you believe these men are called of God, your children will do the same, and will form the lifelong habit of not judging their bishop by his mortal imperfections, which all but Christ have, and will gladly sustain him in what has to be one of the toughest assignments on the planet.
Part of this pledge to sustain our bishops is to try to lighten their load whenever we can. In Stake Conference I once heard a Stake President urge members to “take your name off your bishop’s worry list.” And what a great goal that would be, to realize how much he already serves and sacrifices, and to do our best to make sure we aren’t heaping a greater load onto his already burdened shoulders.
I began this article by asking if you like your bishop. But I want you to know it’s the wrong question. Whether we like him or not shouldn’t even be part of the equation. The real question is, do wesustain our bishop? And if the answer is yes, well, alright, then. We’re on safe footing. Let’s keep it that way.
Joni Hilton’s latest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores.
Check jonihilton.com for upcoming book signings.
She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music &The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.