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One thing all Church members need to understand is that any church organized to worship God and Jesus Christ must be staffed by human beings. This means that the prophet, stake presidents, bishops, and Primary teachers must all be humans. There are absolutely no exceptions. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but it has some serious ramifications.
The Lord must choose men and women to serve in the Church, despite the fact that mankind has so many faults. Some our greatest thinkers have been the most critical of our species. Albert Einstein said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former.” Mark Twain stated, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” Jeffrey Holland was a bit kinder when he explained,
So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.
I have talked to numerous people who were angry at God because they were first angry with their church. A leader in their ward, congregation, or stake has somehow offended them, and they have stopped attending church because of that offense. The logic of these people is that members of the Church of Jesus Christ should be more sensitive to giving offense. Because they are Church leaders, these men and women should be exceptionally humble, organized, educated in true doctrine, well-spoken, spiritual, and inspired. After all, such requirements are taught in the scriptures (Titus 1: 7–9).
With this presupposition, we should be able to look at religious history and encounter a string of good decisions and wise management. Instead, we find that the Lord allows the leaders of His Church to make poor decisions. The following review is not meant to be critical of those leaders.
In 1820, Joseph Smith received a visit by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that eventually led to instructions to reestablish the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. Joseph did his best to teach the gospel, baptize converts, and establish a church. On April 6, 1830, the Church was officially organized in Fayette, New York. Of course, there were problems. Even the restored Church had to be staffed by human beings. In 1828, Joseph gave 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript to Martin Harris—who immediately lost them. The Lord was not pleased (D&C 10:1–2).
In early 1837, the Kirtland Safety Society opened for business.8 Joseph, perhaps not fully appreciating the conflict of interest in being a religious leader and a bank official, encouraged Saints to invest in the Safety Society.9 On Joseph’s assurances, Church members both invested and borrowed money, often to speculate in land. But it was very poor timing.
Due to actions by the federal government, the “Panic of 1837” made a shambles of the national economy. Enemies of the Church worked to bring down the Safety Society. By June, faced with certain collapse, both Joseph and Sidney resigned from their positions in the business. All investors lost their money, including Joseph. The collapse plunged the Church into a financial crisis. Lawsuits and criminal charges followed. Once-faithful Church leaders apostatized and began working for the downfall of the Church.
By January 1838, Joseph and Sidney had to leave Kirtland with their families to try to make a fresh start in Missouri.10 The Church had lost much money and, worse, many faithful Saints. It was a blow from which it would take years to recover. Though his intentions were good in trying to provide his people with financial resources, Joseph had made a poor executive decision that had serious repercussions.
So we have established that Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders were human, with human frailties and mistaken perceptions. With 20/20 hindsight, we realize that they made some poor decisions. But if you are angry at Joseph Smith or other Church leaders in history because of the polygamy issue or some other reason, you must answer one question. If you consider Joseph Smith to be a poor prophet and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ, of all the people who have ever lived, who do you think was a great prophet and leader? Moses? Before Moses became the prophet, he was a murderer (Exodus 2:12). King David? As we know, David was an adulterer and the murderer of Uriah (2 Samuel 11). Peter? The Savior continually had to chastise Peter for mistakes. Peter tried to persuade Jesus to not go to Jerusalem for the Atonement, did not want Him to wash His feet, lopped off the ear of Malchus during the arrest, denied Christ three times, and then returned to fishing instead of taking over the presidency of the Church! The Savior Himself?
Your choice must be 100 percent human. Joseph Smith made mistakes as the prophet and leader of the Church, but they rather pale in comparison to mistakes made by other Church leaders over the history of the world. If you hold an individual to a standard that has never been met by anyone else in the world, one must look at your level of expectation. If your standard is a mythical person who doesn’t make mistakes (or exist), then your critiques may merit a review.
If you are angry at a present-day Church leader, such as your bishop or stake president, to whom would you look as a replacement? As noted, you are looking for someone who is responsible, humble, generous, and kind. They must have a good memory for names, have time to dedicate to the calling, and be willing to be awakened by calls in the middle of the night (and speak gently when answering the phone). Are you confident enough in your selection to be willing to take personal responsibility for your candidate’s poor choices, offenses, and mistakes?
Finally, by the same measure, if you are angry with the Church for its actions, to what organization should we look as our standard? Do we look to a political party? A labor union? A law firm or large corporation? Each organization is staffed by fallible human beings, and I can guarantee that, with a simple investigation, we can find mistakes, abuses, and individual acts of selfishness, greed, and pride. To what standard do you wish to hold the Church? The organization you suggest must actually exist on earth.
If you can’t find a person or organization that can be our gold standard, then maybe your anger should not be directed at the Church but rather at people in general. Church members are, after all, just a subset of the human population on earth. Each one of us has emotional weaknesses, pride, anxiety, insecurity, and anger issues. Church membership and weekly attendance at church are designed to make us better people, but it is a lifelong process to learn to control our natural tendencies. I look at my own emotions and reactions to others in social situations, when driving my car and at church, and I am continually disappointed in what I see.
Usually, I am able to tamp down on those reactions before they are verbalized, but if you could ever witness my emotions from where I see them, you would probably be appalled. An old quote illustrates this reality: “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for Saints.” At least as members of a church, we are trying to become better people.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!