Read Doctrine and Covenants 121
I generally try to not partake in finding fault with local priesthood leaders. I don’t have a general problem with authority figures, so unless something is glaringly wrong, I don’t go looking for trouble.
Have I ever personally had “issues” with either a priesthood leader or something they said or did? Of course, doesn’t everyone at some point, isn’t that part of AGENCY? So how did I handle it? With my usual panache…I either followed their counsel because the Spirit witnessed to me that I should because it was the right thing to do, I pondered the counsel a little first and tried to gain a testimony of it if it didn’t come “naturally”, I didn’t follow the counsel and did my own thing fully knowing and accepting the consequences. (I am never an exception to the rules.)
Basically, I try to do what the Spirit encourages me to do. I try to listen and be receptive to its counsel. I’m not always in the position in my life to do so. There have been times in my life when I was avoiding the Spirit like the plague (and it was definitely avoiding me) because my actions where not in line to receive that sort if personal revelation or direction. It seems to me that those times were probably the times when I was most resistant to priesthood counsel as well, including that of my own father.
Fortunately, I have never had the experience of a priesthood leader asking me to do something that was contrary to the Spirit. I have disagreed with counsel on a personal level, a cultural level, or a personality level, but never on a doctrinal/spiritual level. I mean it happens, I don’t deny it. Occasionally, people, humans, put in leadership positions have personal struggles and do bad stuff. Hopefully, the people being led have enough sense to recognize it and do something about it, like tactfully take the issue to the proper “authorities”.
I read something recently in the biography of Hugh Nibley that really resonated with me and my personal view of Church leaders:
“Hugh’s testimony of contemporary Church leaders has been a result of his personal association with them from an early age, beginning with his grandfather…[who] frequently visited Hugh’s family…usually accompanied by other Church leaders. During those visits Hugh witnessed first-hand their imperfections: how they would sometimes cheat at golf, how their political beliefs occasionally overruled their religious duties, and how they sometimes disagreed with one another. Hugh could not be disillusioned by the actions of the Church leaders because he was never illusioned to begin with. He knew they were human.” (Boyd J. Petersen, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, pg 127)
Let me reiterate: “Hugh could not be disillusioned by the actions of the Church leaders because he was never illusioned to begin with. He knew they were human.”
I listened to one of my favorite radio shows yesterday, This American Life. A woman wittily detailed her decline in faith, from believer to total non-believer, as it unfolded starting with a chance visit from two Mormon missionaries. She went from “God is there, he loves me, and is my friend” to “there is no one there, I am totally alone, and there is no life after death…” While this sounds depressing, she made (or attempted to make) it funny, or at very least bitter sweet.
What irritated me was that she became more and more disillusioned with the Bible as she read it because she read it like a story; like one of Aesop’s fables, expecting some great and obvious moral statement at the end. She tried to apply her sense of modern ethics, civility, and manners on men and women who lived thousands of years ago.
If we read the Bible with that sort of literal attitude, the attitude of “just lay it all out for me so that I don’t have to think about it or make a personal judgment call using the Spirit on my own…just give me a list of stuff to do and not do”, all you’re going to get out of it is the feeling that it’s one MESSED UP story.
You have to see past the murder and the incest of the Old Testament to understand the layers and layers of teachings that are contained in those often strange stories. It takes faith to understand how it can possibly be applied to your “modern” life; faith and a healthy does of the Holy Ghost which cannot be present if you are not inviting him, nor relevant if you don’t listen to him or know how to.
Following priesthood leadership is sometimes similar. You have to see past the limps, the seemingly inhuman façade of unemotional mechanics, the speech impediments, the cultures, the accents, the schizophrenic wives who beat their grandchildren out in front of the chapel where the whole world is driving by, the criers, the bad joke tellers, the singers, the cursers, the verbal diarrhea-ers, the ones who look like Dick Tracy, your dad, and use the Spirit to understand the leadership beyond the packaging.
I have been blessed to have been associated with some great leaders and with the ability to accept the counsel of those who rightly preside over me. I can recognize this if and when I am in tune with the Spirit. If you’re not “rightfully presiding over me” then you’d better step off, because I know it, and I’m not gonna do it…good luck all.