I’ve been pretty vocally critical recently about some of the negative things going on in the church. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of contention, a lot of questions and chaos and processing and trying to sort everything out.
As a lot of us have been sorting through everything that has happened in the last week, we are also trying to buoy each other up, to restore our faith in an organization we love.
Sometimes we get very focused on the problems and lose sight of all the truly good people within the church. Sometimes we need to be reminded of all the good around us. To that end, we have been sharing stories of good experiences with (male) priesthood leaders. Many of these stories are from people who are outside of doctrinal or cultural orthodoxy whose Priesthood leaders (mostly Bishops) addressed their unorthodoxy with love, kindness and respect. I share these stories with you with their permission.
I was [recently] pulled into the bishop’s office regarding comments I had posted [on Feminist Mormon Housewives] which someone had brought to him. We discussed and he said something along the lines of “What it seems to me that you are saying in all these comments is that you have a problem with hypocrisy, and that’s something I think we agree on. Carry on.”
When I was about 20, I realized I was losing my testimony — I was unhappy and uncomfortable at church, felt like I was lying about who I am because I WAS (I kept quiet and didn’t say much at church bc I didn’t want anyone to think I was Weird or Out There — which was a huge problem in my tiny home ward in a small town, so even in Seattle I was sure I’d be ostracized) — and I finally knuckled down and went to speak to the bishop. For a good fifteen minutes, I just expunged all of my negative feelings and fear of alienation/difference/etc. to him.
And my bishop was quiet through the entire mess, laughed quietly once I’d finished and said, “Well, that was a lot,” and then looked at me straight in the eye and asked me how I felt about it. I said I was confused, and hurt, and didn’t know if I belonged at church anymore, and he said, “How do you feel about what you’re doing specifically?”
I was taken aback. I was so used to having judgment passed down on me from authority figures. I had no idea how to respond to an authority figure in the church asking me to analyze my own behaviors and determine my own judgment for them. And that’s what he did. At no point in the conversation did he call me to repentance, or tell me any of what I did or thought was wrong or a sin. He simply asked me if I’d prayed about any of it (I had), and what answers I’d gotten. At no point did he tell me that I had to wait for my opinions to fall in line with Heavenly Father’s (as future bishops have done) — he asked me about the revelation I personally had received for myself, and then he told me he loved me and that he was there for me.
I’m still a member because of the unyielding Christlike love that bishop. I have an intensely strong testimony of the power of personal revelation, and he helped cement for me that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is personal and, though sometimes mediated through the church, that I am in control of my own sphere of personhood and spirituality. I love him.
From that moment on, I opened up. I taught an RS lesson about living with doubt — not overcoming it, as seems to be the only avenue given to us by talks, but actually identifying and acknowledging your doubt and being okay with its being there. I talked a lot more. I got friends. I found out that there were LOADS of other women in my ward who felt the same way I did about many things, but were equally afraid to open up about it for fear of being judged.
To this day, I’m grateful to my YSA bishop. He is such a good, good man.
My temple recommend interview was Sunday, and I’ve barely talked to our bishop before (I moved into the ward recently). In the “do you affiliate…” question I jokingly responded “Well, I am a Mormon feminist, but I don’t consider that to be contrary to the teachings of the Church as defined by that question; historically that question was designed for polygamists.” The Bishop smiled and said “discussion is healthy and your perspective is welcome.” He then pulled out a postcard of a patchwork quilt of the Temple (full version was hanging in his office) that the ward had made a couple of years ago to celebrate diversity. “My goal is to have a ward that celebrates our diversity” he said. “Everyone belongs in this quilt.”
My Bishop is not someone I knew very well before he got called to be Bishop (about 3 months ago) and I gave a talk 2 or 3 weeks ago in which I talked about my doubts. I didn’t talk in specifics, but I did say that finding out about the uglier, not known aspects of church history is what caused me to doubt. I went from idolizing Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (like many LDS people do) to really not liking them much at all and questioning whether they really were prophets. These doubts led me to understand the atonement of Christ a little bit more and to realize just how important it is… if Prophets of God make mistakes and need the atonement that everyone needs it. I have had people tell me before that I need to keep quiet about having doubts so I was very happy when my Bishop thanked me and said (with lots of sincerity in his eyes and voice) that he knew there were people who needed to hear what I shared. Since then I have ‘come out’ to my bishop as a Mormon feminist and he has been nothing but understanding and encouraging. My Bishop even emailed me to see if I was ok after the news broke yesterday about Kate Kelly’s “court of love.” I believe he is a good man who cares about me.
When I was 19, I felt strongly that I needed to get endowed, even though I had been a member for less than a year and there was no mission or marriage on the horizon. I went to talk to my bishop about it, and while he was not in favor of it at first, he felt an impression that he should let me. Then he went down to talk to the stake president, a man whom I’d never met. The stake president was staunchly against it until they knelt together to pray over the matter. When they finished praying, the stake president did a complete 180 and agreed to see me for a recommend interview. It was a strong witness to me about priesthood leaders receiving inspiration for those they preside over, and a wonderful example of righteous men who listened and prayed instead of just going with what they knew to be true.
When my brother came out, my mom … insisted he see the bishop. Thank goodness we had a very kind and gentle man for a bishop. He said ” I am just a regular guy, I have no training to help you with this, the church has some brochures I can give you, but they are inadequate for this. The church has no good help or counseling that I would recommend. I do know that God loves us and we don’t have all the answers.” He was very honest and he did not lecture or condemn. It was more honesty than a lot of gay members get. …This was one man who didn’t judge, and we are grateful for that.
On Sunday, I asked a member of the stake presidency how to deal with the treatment I get for being a home birth midwife, as most think it’s “weird”, when it is a calling that my husband gave me a blessing and set me apart for.
He said “sometimes we have to be Zion in Babylon”
Back when I first started homeschooling, I had two preschoolers, and one school-aged child. We were also building our home, and doing a lot of the work ourselves, so homeschooling was suffering. Very few people in the ward even knew we were homeschooling. And certainly not the bishopric. During this time, I was called to be the ward music chairman. When I got set apart, my sweet Bishop set me apart for my calling, and then proceeded to give me a blessing to ease my mind about teaching my children, and to give me strength as their mother. I still get a little teary thinking about it. I knew that he was listening to the Spirit as he gave me that blessing, and gave me the exact blessing I needed at that time.
Our bishopric [recently] facilitated a combined RS/PH discussion on same-sex attraction. It was an open, beautiful, and loving discussion. Their sincere desire to help both us and those around us feel loved was palpable. They emphasized giving and receiving Christlike love, and they practiced that love as they listened to our varied thoughts, painful experiences, and concerns without judgment. It was amazing. They helped us navigate a very difficult, sensitive subject with compassion, and proactively initiating the discussion took a lot of courage on their part.
I recently had a conversation with my Bishop regarding my thoughts about Ordain Women and the cultural attitudes in Mormonism. I was feeling very battered, frustrated and confused. My bishop really took the time to listen to me. He also encouraged me that when I heard others speak negatively about my sisters that I take courage and speak up, correcting them. He said that he would have a discussion with the ward council about addressing controversial issues withing the church and how important it is that we love each other. I walked out feeling more confident, more loved and safer than I had in a while. His care really helped rejuvenate my spirit.
Every year, our ward combines with a couple of other wards in the area and rents out the local water park for one night. Each year, starting when he was our bishop, our former bishop goes to the water park. He probably weighs about 400 pounds. With no shame, he puts on his swim suit and makes a big production of repeatedly going down the biggest water slide and spraying all of the kids who wait at the bottom. He creates a tidal wave! I served as a Relief Society president under this bishop, and he came to every correlation and welfare meeting with an agenda and a purpose. Once he had discussed what was on his agenda, he went around the room to each individual and asked if we had anything that we would like to discuss. I felt that he made special efforts in my case to make sure that he was getting the Relief Society point of view from me.
My bishop and I were discussing personal prayer. I told him that I included Heavenly Mother in my prayers. I told him I wasn’t leaving Heavenly Father out, just praying to both of them now. He was fine with that (but also asked me to be sure to only do so in private because the current direction for the whole church is to pray only to Heavenly Father). There’s so much light in my Bishop, it’s amazing. I feel safe with him.
— If this was helpful to you, and you would like to see it become a regular feature, let me know. I’d also love to receive more stories of wonderful church leaders. This has been one of my favorite projects. We definitely are navigating a difficult place in Mormonism right now, but it’s so important to remember all the wonderful leaders and good things about our church! —