If you are an active Mormon male. If you have no interest in seeing priesthood meetings improve. If you are only interested in judging the messenger (me). Then….
***DO NOT CONTINUE READING***
Hopefully, this post won’t sound too angry. Rather, I’m expressing disappointment, sorrow and sometimes disgust at what I often witness in my own priesthood meetings. Over the past couple of decades, I have worked to encourage change. No results. Over the past 5 years, I’ve talked to local leaders. Little to no results. Over the past 2 years, I have communicated numerous times about the issues described below. This past Sunday highlighted every single problem and more.
I have been a little nervous posting this critique in full view of the public eye. But, I figure I’m risking little. The issues I’m raising have been of slight or no concern to my priesthood brothers. So, talking about my concerns in the open shouldn’t give anyone pause.
Bullet Points for Last Week’s Priesthood Meeting
- A visiting high councilman gave a talk in Sacrament meeting. Pretty darn good. His message centered around this phrase: “Open your eyes to what’s around you. Then open your heart. Then open your arms and serve.” Love the sentiment. Badly needed. Over the past 2 years, my observation is that we are willfully closing our eyes to what is going on around us. Especially regarding those who most need open hearts and arms. And, to what goes on in priesthood week-in, week-out.
- Priesthood opening exercises, start 10 minutes late. I’m totally good with that.
- No pianist. Well…fine. But, why don’t we give this some forethought.
- We sing one verse. My favorite part of all meetings are the hymns and musical numbers. So, this is always a disappointment that we cut it short.
- No hymn books. Here’s where things start to go awry for me. This IS a big deal. Here’s why. It excludes anyone who doesn’t know the words. And just who are we excluding? 1) All the youth. That’s not cool. Don’t we want them to have a meaningful experience in priesthood? What are they left to do? Horse around, of course. 2) Investigators. Isn’t that just peachy? Start them out with a very mediocre and exclusionary experience. 3) New members. Five weeks ago, a 70 year old man was baptized. Great. During our 1 verse, hymn-bookless hymn, I scanned the room. There sat the fledgling member….all alone. He doesn’t know any hymns. He just stared at the front of the room. So happy are we when someone is baptized that we make sure they’re excluded from worshiping with us in song! Our ward has sister missionaries. Would they observe our disregard for their new convert with relish or with broken hearts?
- Quorum reports are called for. Only one was given. It was from the president of the deacon’s quorum. “I don’t know what’s going on.” Well, I know what’s going on. A clear complacence regarding the import of the priesthood and its offices. This has become the go-to report for our kids. Just eliminate the reports already! It demeans the meeting, the kids, and the priesthood. Frankly, I think it demeans every man sitting in the room. Why tolerate the degrading of something that should be so consequential?
- Off to high priest meeting. What happened next is truly heart rending for me. Our new 70 year old convert was ordained as a priest. At least, I think that is what happened. Damnit, it’s making me cry as I write.
Twelve years ago, I was the ward mission leader. One night the full time missionaries introduced me to a delightful inactive member. Here, I’ll call him Marty. He was always upbeat, humble and sincere. We hit it off. About 15 years my senior, Marty seemed amenable to coming back to church, but worked on Sundays. I asked the High Priest Group Leader to assign him and me as home teaching companions. For the next 5 years, we visited our families like clockwork. Retirement came and he started attending after 4 decades of absence. His age would have dictated attending with the high priests. Marty preferred the elders. The church knowledge and experience of those in his age group were a bit intimidating.
This brings us to last Sunday’s new member ordination. The recent convert is a neighbor of Marty’s. He was instrumental in the conversion. As a result, the ordination was performed by my faithful former home teaching companion. A circle of men gathered around and laid on hands. The ordinance began….and then an abrupt silence. The silence continued. Awkward silence. Whispers in the circle. Then louder whispers in Marty’s ear. He is coached word for every word. It reminded me of a parent and child during testimony meeting. Not in a good way. The blessing was mercifully short. My heart ached at the embarrassment Marty must have felt…my good elderly friend who I have spent so many hours with over the years. And what of the new convert’s thoughts? Alone in the opening. Left out during the singing. Confused at the ordination. Yep. I’m so glad we all take the vaunted priesthood so seriously.
I doubt that Marty will ever read this. But, just in case….I love you brother. You may not know this, but you have been a great inspiration to me over these past years. I marveled at how hard you worked to provide a living for yourself. Many a night, I sat in awe as you built relationships with the families we visited. Every time I see you at church my heart lights up….there’s my good friend, whom I love. You may not be happy with the ordination that you just performed. Don’t fret, my friend. Just your presence invited a spirit of love and humility into that room. What you did was pleasing to our Savior. Thank you for being my friend. I treasure our friendship.
- The priesthood lesson was centered around the concept that it is ok to serve in the shadows without recognition. Good message. Until I considered the scripture quoted in the manual by President Hunter: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
As I contemplated this scripture, a picture I’d just passed in the hallway, flashed like a neon sign in my mind. It was a photo of a large group of LDS men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They had traveled there to help flood victims dig their homes out of the mud. A wonderful and laudable service. And…their Mormonism was prominently on display. The now ubiquitous flashing neon yellow shirts, unmistakably trumpeting alms for the whole world to see.
I didn’t make a peep during the lesson. Priesthood leaders have instructed me to only make comments that support the teacher. My question would have been, “How do we square the contradiction of what we teach versus what we do with regards to trumpeting our service? What did Christ mean when he called people hypocrites that sought recognition in church and in the public square for their good deeds?”
- The lesson referenced some of our history from the Kirtland era. I won’t go into details. But, the material presented was a whitewashed and inaccurate version of events. Richard Bushman recently said that the “dominant church narrative is not true.” He hit the nail on the head regarding this part of our priesthood lesson. I bent over in my chair and looked at the floor. I didn’t want my utter disappointment and disapproval to be broadcast by uncontrollable facial features.
So, there you have it. An open and honest report of what commonly occurs in the weighty, serious and consequential gatherings of the priesthood. Fortunately, I have found that no one really cares about any of this…but me. Well….and a few others, who have decided to quit coming altogether. Oh, yeah…and a few others who don’t dare talk about it in the open, fearing our judgmental culture.
I dare talk about it because I do care. I care about my personal worship of Jesus Christ. I care about my priesthood. I care about our kids. I care about new members. I care and love my friends like Marty.
And this….I really care about my gay brothers and sisters, and their families. I love you guys!!
Finally, I really, really care about those who are questioning in lonely silence. I love and feel a great kinship with you.