One way or the other, the same plot is acted out repeatedly on the stage of history: every religion seems to begin with mysticism and end up in politics.
– David Steindl-Rast
My wife and I continue to be active in the Church. We were doing our “Come Follow Me” scripture study this morning and read John 6.
This chapter contains a teaching that Elder Ballard used in his October 2016 Conference talk “To Whom Shall We Go?” His talk was one in a series admonishing people to remain in the “Old Ship Zion” along with warnings about leaving the church.
Elder Ballard said: As these disciples left, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?”
Peter responded: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68-69)
In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ.
But the next verse John 6:70 has a sobering message.
“Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?”
I am NOT saying that any of the “Living Oracles” is a devil. But there are evil spirits who at times manifest themselves through leaders at various levels in the church. This can result in “unrighteous dominion” among other consequences.
Maybe some of these leaders have a generational curse. One bishop who abused me was the son of father who had been abused by his own father. Other abusive leaders may have the misguided idea that they need to “toughen up” members through harshness and overbearing.
And others may be control freaks imprisoned by their own fears that everything is on the verge of spiraling out of control without their intense intervention and micromanagement.
Still others derive their identity largely on the basis on their “callings” and are seeking to advance their status by impressing their superiors by keeping their flocks inline, even if that means enacting measures not much different than “Satan’s plan.”
Anyway, I continue my church membership on the “Levi Savage” plan. But I wish Church leaders would humbly admit their shortcomings, seek forgiveness and make amends, both individually and as an institution. In the meantime, I sympathize with those who have left the “Old Ship Zion.”
Doctrine & Covenants 121
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
What I wish I could have said to so many of my church leaders and work bosses… But Father forgive them they knew not what they did.
One of the dangers that Pope Francis regularly singles out as most threatening the Church is “clericalism.”
Clericalism could be defined as a false or sycophantic respect and esteem for clergy. It lends to the persons of priests, in view of their clerical office, an excessive deference and acquiescence. In a clericalist culture, the clergy often stand above and aloof to their flocks, to which distance the faithful can respond in a childish spirit of obedience and false reverence.
Francis points out that clericalism can be a sin for both clergy and laity: for clergy, if they demand to be treated as superior to the laity; and for laity, if they resign themselves to the status quo—“Let Father do everything”—and shirk the responsibilities proper to their own vocation as baptized Christians.
“There is that spirit of clericalism in the Church, that we feel: clerics feel superior; clerics distance themselves from the people. Clerics always say: ‘This should be done like this, like this, like this, and you – go away!’” It happens “when the cleric doesn’t have time to listen to those who are suffering, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned: the evil of clericalism is a really awful thing; it is a new edition of this ancient evil [of the religious ‘authorities’ lording it over others].” But “the victim is the same: the poor and humble people, who await the Lord.”
~ Homily in Casa Santa Marta, December 13, 2016
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient. In fact, a man convinced of his virtue even in the midst of his vice is the worst kind of man.”
― Charles M. Blow