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What harm are we doing?: A guest-post by fMhLisa

October 28, 2007

by fMhLisa

When I look at the way the church is organized and the way priesthood authority is implemented in the modern church (as discussed by Steve on Friday) it seems to me miraculous that our church isn’t a cesspool of corruption and unrighteous dominion. Lots of power in the hands of a few men, few checks, no transparency. And members constantly beaten over the head with lessons on obedience (but never ethical disobedience).

But the fact remains that in my experience, it actually works out pretty well.

Racking my brain at the moment, I can’t think of one personal example of butting up against unrighteous dominion. I could tell you other people’s stories, some silly, others deeply disturbing. Friends and relatives who’ve been lucky enough to have their spiritual welfare in the hands of the clueless, the selfish, the proud, the hypocrite, the idiot. But I personally have had predominantly good experiences with the priesthood and those who exercise it. Further, I think my experience is a common one. For every one unrighteous dominion story, there are likely hundreds of righteous dominion ones.

Now I do understand the temptation to look at this system and say, this makes no sense but it seems to work anyway, it must be the hand of God. And on one level I do agree with that. I mean how could this system work, without a powerful force for good at work in the lives of the men who exercise priesthood power and authority? I honestly don’t think it could. These are good men, who exercise the power of God with faith, wisdom, mercy, and love.

On the other hand, in my opinion,things work out despite the system rather than because of it. The gospel inspires these men to be good, the system tempts them with power. I think most men to varying degrees resist these temptations. But how much stronger could we be, if both the gospel and the system supported them? And further how do we measure the harmful effects of these constant temptations? It is easy to point at the egregious examples of unrighteous dominion and condemn. It is far harder to understand the subtle effects on good men who try to resist. I believe most men fight the good fight, with the cards stacked against them, but I also believe that it’s a rare owner of authority who does not in many subtle ways “immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” How many men swell with false pride under the (false) status of their (real) authority? Most of them probably. How many can *always* put their personal desires and opinions completely aside to see clearly the inspired needs of their family/dominion? Very few, probably.

And with much power, few checks, no transparency, and with followers intent on obedience, with so much temptation to cave-in to authority’s quiet corrosive power, what harm are we doing to men’s souls?

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23 comments

  1. What kind of temptations are there? I’ve never been a bishop or anything like that, but I can’t imagine that if I was I would have to fend off huge temptation to use unrighteous dominion. What would I do? Teach everyone to give me money? Perhaps there’s something more subtle than that, such as teaching my own opinion as doctrine or something like that. Still, that doesn’t really benefit me in any way, so if I did that it would be more because I am mistaken, rather than giving in to some power trip.

    I think we’d have a lot more corruption if we gave authorities more power to benefit themselves, such as if they were paid. That’s one thing a lay ministry guards against.


  2. In order to understand just how corrosive this can be, you really need to serve a mission. It’s on a mission that you find people who are exercising unrighteous dominion to the furthest extremes.

    Every missionary and RM that I have talked to in any depth, and my own experiences, show just how crazy these experiences are. It’s a open joke in missions that if you piss off the mission president or the APes you get transferred to undesirable areas with undesirable companions. Serious illnesses are passed off as a lack of faith, to a point in which serious damage. Extremes of ‘Baptize!’ are emphasized, look to John Dehlins story and the saga of the baseball/soccer baptisms in Europe, South America and Australia.

    I’d suggest you get a story of a few sister missionaries as well. The distain with which they were treated on my mission was legendary. I had one companion talk about his ‘bitch district’ in which he was the district leader over 3 sisters companionships.

    I now, after my disaffection brought on by my mission, consider the mission field the ‘real church’. It’s where all of the ideals of control, ‘right thought’ and unthinking obedience are fully expressed. The compassion and love that one finds there are almost wholly individual, the system is unpleasant, militaristic and destructive. The main reason why it is successful is the good will and the innocence of the missionaries. The reason the church survives? The goodwill and innocence of the people.


  3. I understand the temptation to say that ‘most’ priesthood leaders are good, which means the gospel must be good and the church true, and that it is a good system.

    But lets take the church out of it. Most PEOPLE are good. I’ve had more good bosses than bad, I know more good parents than poor ones. In fact, I know a ton of really wonderful people who don’t subscribe to any theology at all. MOST people aren’t child molesters or swindlers. Most people don’t beat thier wives, or go around claiming to be gods.

    So what does this mean? That probably, this has nothing to do with gospel or priesthood, but that the majority of people really aren’t interested in harming others for thier own gain. With or without the influence of LDS.

    Would actual checks and balances and transparency help the system and weed out the bad leaders? Without a doubt. In the meantime, it’s lucky that most people aren’t inherently evil.


  4. I wonder what people think checks and balances would look like…ones that would even make a difference.

    What about in the home? I still think that so much depends on us checking ourselves. Unrighteous dominion can happen anywhere, anytime, by anyone.

    I look at the government with supposed checks and balances and I’d take the church organization any day! So I still remain skeptical about what checks and balances and transparency would really make a difference.


  5. I guess some of what I am thinking is that there is little to keep me in check, for example, in my home. I have exercised unrighteous dominion with my children. No one else but them is around at lots of times in our home. At some point, don’t we each need to check ourselves and strive for the Spirit so that HE keeps us in check?

    That said, I think there are things that do help already, such as the council system in the Church and the family. If we really used that as we should, I think we would find things even better.

    What other kinds of systems do people could/should be put in place?


  6. That should be ‘do people think could/should”…


  7. Great post, fMhLisa.

    I think angrymormonliberal made a wonderful point. In my opinion, unrighteous dominion is more common and apparent in missions than anywhere else in the Church.

    I wonder what people think checks and balances would look like…ones that would even make a difference.

    As I alluded to in my post, making the CHI available to the general membership would equip them to guard against ecclesiastical abuses. They could then know for themselves whether their bishop were following the guidelines, rather than having to simply take it for granted that their leaders aren’t overstepping their bounds.

    Another possibility would be to have firmly established and well-protected grievance procedures, that would allow members to voice concerns through appropriate channels without the fear that they will be looked down upon or chastised for questioning their leaders.

    Just a few ideas.


  8. As I alluded to in my post, making the CHI available to the general membership would equip them to guard against ecclesiastical abuses. They could then know for themselves whether their bishop were following the guidelines, rather than having to simply take it for granted that their leaders aren’t overstepping their bounds.

    OK, Steve, I can see that, for a second. There are times I wish I knew more what was in there, not to check up on my leaders, but just because I like to know how things work.

    But this is what I was trying to get at, too…and not trying to be a pain here, but then I would be worried about abuses the other way. I think most people who think things are fine with their leaders now would think things were fine even if the CHI were available. I also think that most people who think things are fine wouldn’t really feel the need to have grievance procedures because they aren’t looking for faults. I’m just thinking that it’s possible that it’s close to the same group who are complaining or giving feedback now (not all whiners, not all negative, but it seems to me very likely that certain personalities are gonna be the ones either wanting changes now and trying to give feedback now, or using changes in the future that could be made. Dyathink that’s possible?

    I also am interested to know if you really think that a person who talks to a stake president about his/her bishop in sincere concern is looked down upon. A leader worth his salt will listen, no? And if not, how are we to know that the feedback-giver isn’t the one out of line? Do you see my concerns about bottom-up abuses? You say you think that’s a long shot, but I think it’s already happening in some situations, and changes in the policies and procedures could just make that kind of unrighteousness worse. Might it be robbing Peter to pay Paul? I’m asking honest questions for your thoughts, because I have sincere concerns about what you are suggesting.

    Should I just shut up? 🙂


  9. If someone has a real grievance and not a mundane whinefest, there exist measures of complaint now. I find it hard to believe that someone with a real grievance would be unable to find the courage to say something about it. If they are, it seems to rest squarely in their laps, not in the lap of The System.

    It sounds like a bit of an excuse to me. “I can’t complain because I’m too intimidated by what people will think of me.”


  10. FWIW, the general membership can usually get access to the CHI/GHI by asking the bishop. Oftentimes, they don’t much care if you want to look something up.


  11. If someone has a real grievance and not a mundane whinefest, there exist measures of complaint now. I find it hard to believe that someone with a real grievance would be unable to find the courage to say something about it.

    Besides going to the next leader up in the hierarchy, what are those “measures of complaint”? How widely known are such procedures? Doesn’t the culture of obedience discourage someone from taking advantage of such measures, as it might be construed as being disloyal to the leader(s) in question? Also in light of the culture of obedience, what prevents the higher-up leader from calling into question the member’s loyalty, unless there is some procedural or policy-based guarantee of security? And, getting back to the CHI issue, if the member is unaware with policy to begin with, on what basis could she even judge whether the leader in question was acting out of line (unless the leader were engaged in some behavior that is clearly wrong)? Because of this ignorance, members may lack the knowledge and confidence that would be necessary to approach the higher-up leader with a complaint. It seems more likely that members, who already give such a high degree of reverence and deference to their leaders, will just keep their mouths shut. In practice, this seems to be what happens, for the most part.

    It sounds like a bit of an excuse to me. “I can’t complain because I’m too intimidated by what people will think of me.”

    That’s not what I said. I think it’s imperative that members can approach their authorities with complaints or grievances with some assurance that the mere act of questioning will not be grounds for charging them with disloyalty or unfaithfulness. Under current policy, I know of no rule or guideline that would prevent a stake president from disregarding a member’s valid complaint regarding a bishop’s conduct on these grounds. There is, or there should be, a distinction between voicing complaints or grievances and fault-finding, disloyalty, apostasy, etc.

    I also think that most people who think things are fine wouldn’t really feel the need to have grievance procedures because they aren’t looking for faults.

    So…only fault-finders might have grievances?


  12. FWIW, the general membership can usually get access to the CHI/GHI by asking the bishop. Oftentimes, they don’t much care if you want to look something up.

    While the contents of the CHI may not be as closely guarded as, say, temple ordinances, the fact that the Handbook is only given to leaders to begin with is an indication of the institution’s hesitance to make its contents widely known or freely accessible.

    Oh, and in the interest of avoiding a threadjack of Lisa’s post, M&M has wisely redirected this discussion back to my Friday thread.


  13. I disagree with you post, Lisa, on a very fundamental level.

    Lots of power? I am not really sure that is the case. The only power they really have is the power we choose to give them.

    A few men. Again I disagree. What little real power in the church, organizationally speaking, is spread very thin over lots of people. There are a lot of general authorities. It is hard to keep straight how many quorums of the 70 there even are. And this voluntary power is spread down to local levels. We should also not forget the power of the family and the home as the basic builidng block of the church. As I see it watever power there is is srpead WAY out, almost alarmingly thin.

    Few checks? Again I totally disagree. All the scriptures serve as checks. The entire history of apostels and prophets serve as checks. Every current general authority serves as a check. Our own conscience serves as a check. I see things as a complex web of checks that spread out over the entire church. Few checks? I am not sure I could disagree more.

    No trasparency. Because I think we are all part of the system, we are all inside. I see things as being nearly completely transparent. A what you see is what you get system.

    Sorry, I completely disagree at the most fundamental levels with every aspect.


  14. Well, Steve, evidently enough people know of the procedures to inundate GA’s mailboxes on a regular basis. People are always free to escalate complaints until they reach someone who hears them. The entire “you haven’t given us enough tools to feel free to complain” is, generally, hogwash. Complaining is a natural human trait. It doesn’t need to be cultivated.

    The sorts of people who don’t use communication lines now wouldn’t be likely to use them if they were encouraged to. By that, I mean the sorts of people without enough self-worth to think their complaints are valid.

    The answer to this “. . . on what basis could she even judge whether the leader in question was acting out of line?” is fairly simple – the same basis on which that leader should be relying to not act out of line. We are never, anywhere, asked to sacrifice our connection to the Spirit.


  15. The entire “you haven’t given us enough tools to feel free to complain” is, generally, hogwash. Complaining is a natural human trait. It doesn’t need to be cultivated.

    Given my recent post and (far too many) comments, I think it’s fairly clear that I’m not talking about petty complaints. I’m talking about grievances, such as ecclesiastical abuse, which, believe it or not, happens in the Church. And if inundating GAs’ mailboxes is the best option we have, then I think that’s proof enough that some other procedure ought to be put in place.

    The sorts of people who don’t use communication lines now wouldn’t be likely to use them if they were encouraged to. By that, I mean the sorts of people without enough self-worth to think their complaints are valid.

    I beg to differ. That’s far too broad of a generalization. Also, were we to teach that members had a right to question their leaders and voice potential grievances without the threat of ecclesiastical discipline, then perhaps confidence wouldn’t be an issue.

    The answer to this “. . . on what basis could she even judge whether the leader in question was acting out of line?” is fairly simple – the same basis on which that leader should be relying to not act out of line. We are never, anywhere, asked to sacrifice our connection to the Spirit.

    While I’m all for following spiritual promptings, I can’t help but feel that answer is sometimes a cop-out. It doesn’t justify withholding knowledge of general church policies from the membership. It’s a way of putting the blame for institutional shortcomings on individual members. A leader might as well say, “If you were really in tune with the Spirit, you should have known that my adding additional questions to the temple recommend interview was against policy.”


  16. I think a lot of the problem is that people look to the Church organization for salvation, and, it ain’t there. Regardless of what my Bishop might do or say, it has no bearing on my own personal worthiness or how I feel about my Savior. The Church can guide, direct, and inspire, but, it won’t be the end-all-be-all for my personal salvation. That, in the end, is up to me.

    While this poses another temptation: to be a buffet-Mormon, choosing the doctrine/advice that I want to follow, it helps me make it through those not-so-pleasant meetings or Sundays. As soon as I accepted that the church is not perfect, that its leaders are just like me, struggling to find their own way in the universe, life became much simpler and better. Do I have complaints? Of course. What do I do with those complaints? Think about it, and make up my own mind.

    As one who has dealt with tithing, I could see how that might be a temptation for a financially-struggling Bishop.


  17. No trasparency. Because I think we are all part of the system, we are all inside. I see things as being nearly completely transparent. A what you see is what you get system.

    I’m hip to your other points, Eric, but on this one I disagree. You may feel you’re inside the system, but I don’t feel that I am, and neither do a lot of women, regardless of how content (or not) they are with the status quo.


  18. madhousewife:

    Fair enough. But I think many of us underestimate how much influence RS presidents, YW and Primary Presidents have on important local leadership bodies like the ward council. I also think we underestimate how much influence any individual can have.

    I am simpathetic to how some might feel. I have seved for many years as an EQP, and also as a primary teacher. There were times as a primary teacher I felt a bit left out of the loop. Once I got a chance to be a bigger part of the loop, I found that the loop was not all it was cracked up to be. There is often much less going on than meets the eye. So, I feel that I was not so much left out of the loop, but there really was not much of a loop.

    The gospel is so much bigger than the puny decisions that are made in a ward council or bishopric meeting.


  19. I think it’s fairly clear that I’m not talking about petty complaints. I’m talking about grievances, such as ecclesiastical abuse,

    FWIW, this wasn’t at all apparent to me.


  20. M&M,

    I’m sorry, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. That’s my fault, and maybe this clarification will help alleviate some of our misunderstandings.

    When I mentioned “grievances” (in this thread and my previous post), I was referring to legitimate concerns that would be deserving of leaders’ attention and which might need correcting (such as violating church policy). I thought the word “grievance” implied that meaning. I certainly did not have in mind petty complaints.


  21. I guess, Steve, if you are talking only about real grievances (which wasn’t obvious to me, either) that I’m then left wondering what sorts of tools you think should be given. As currently stands, you complain to the bishop. If you don’t feel comfy with that, you go to the stake president or Relief Society president (if you’re a woman) or Quorum president (if you’re a man.) If the problem is still there, you contact regional authorities. If you ask for those contacts, they are not hidden or withheld. You continue up the line until you reach an apostle or the prophet, if necessary.

    If all you think is that people should be encouraged to air their grievances, I have to heartily disagree. You start teaching that, and all the leadership will be doing is dealing with petty problems that the complainer thinks are serious. The Handbook isn’t withheld from anyone wanting to read it, it’s just not freely distributed.

    And the Spirit is not a cop-out. That is often the only way I gain enough courage to bring problems to the appropriate person. But then, I don’t see an institutional shortcoming or knowledge being withheld the way you do. Compared to most institutions, especially privately-held ones, the Church is quite transparent and quite open to complaint.


  22. Whenever I have begun to exercise unrighteous dominion at home, my wife and two daughters mock me to scorn and mentally beat me back into line. That’s enough checks and balance for me. I’m trying to learn to be a loving patriarch in our home.

    Whenever I have begun to exercise unrighteous dominion in my church calling as young men’s president, the young men first roll their eyes and then end up making me the butt of their jokes. I get the message quickly. That’s enough checks and balance for me. I’m trying to get my calling right by learning to love my young brothers.

    As a former soldier, avid athlete and attorney by profession, I’m not one to back down from a good argument and rough and tumble wrestling match when need be. But I know my place in the world . . . I’m thankful for my family and friends in the gospel who (from time to time) remind me of my place. I suppose most folks in the church exeperience something similar.

    If a bishop or relief society president or anyone in the church starts to esteem themselves as something more than they are, then their brothers and sisters around them need to get to work, and in an appropriate way, remind them that we’re all just servants in the kingdom.


  23. SilverRain pretty much summed up my thoughts.

    And I think Mark brings up a good point…that a lot of this system can be self-regulating. We can help each other stay in line. 🙂



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