I want you to know that when it comes to dealing with feeling betrayed by the watchmen on the wall, by the leaders of the Lord’s restored Church, I have been there, and experienced that. What I want you to know even more importantly, is that, unlike Asa in the story from part 1 of this series, I eventually realized I was in the wrong. I was the one off track and on the wrong path, not my leaders. That did not magically solve my problems, but it saved my life.
I was unfortunate to experience divorce after four children and about sixteen years of marriage. I moved my children down to a small farming community where I thought they would be safe, and we could start over as a family. We were devastatingly poor, and needed the help of the Church. I had no family, and almost as many friends.
I had started back to school, and the ward was helping me make ends meet while I tried to get scholarships and grants together so I could pay the bills and we wouldn’t have to live off the Church. I had one more month of assistance and all my money would come in. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I would be able to finish my education and get a job that would allow me to support my family, and all would be good. Then I got a summons from my Stake President.
I went in and had to sit in front of the entire Stake Presidency as they dressed me down for being a horrible provider, a bad father, and so forth. They told me they were pulling all assistance from that moment on, and that I was not to try to educate myself or to “improve” myself until my children were grown and moved out of my house. I begged them not to do this. I only needed help for one more month and I would be able to pay my own way. They told me I was no longer welcome in their community. Like Asa in the story, my local leader had not heard my plea and had turned his back on me.
I was so angry. THE Church, MY CHURCH had turned its back on me. I was an outcast. (I knew just how Asa felt!) This was more painful to me than the actual divorce had been. I was furious with the unjust nature of the accusations and the treatment, but where could I turn and what could I do? Where could I go? As it happened, it was time for General Conference. During that General Conference there were multiple talks about following the counsel of your Church leaders, even if I felt that counsel was wrong. Everything inside me screamed injustice and raged against the humiliation and unfair treatment, but the Brethren were saying that the Lord would bless me if I submitted to their counsel. Like Asa, my focus was on my personal Pomfrey, and they were telling me where to put my focus for my own welfare.
They were asking me to step off the cliff’s edge and into the void. Intellectually I knew that step would result in my fall and complete destruction. How could I step where I had no sight. It took much prayer, tears, and pondering. Like Asa, I had to decide if I was going to deal with the counsel I had received or rally the troops and make a public spectacle of what I considered to be unjust treatment.
Eventually, I decided that leaving the Church was not an option, nor was going over my leader’s heads to try to speak with the leaders in Salt Lake City. I realized there was nothing that could replace what the Church offers, and I was taught to leave the Brethren alone with my personal problems. I had no choice but to exercise my faith and step into the unknown, live or die. I absolutely felt it was that drastic of a choice. We spent the next four months homeless, moving from house to house, empty apartment to empty apartment, wherever someone would let us lay down our heads.
Eventually the Lord worked miracles in our lives. Obviously I didn’t die (you are still reading this, right?). I learned, like Asa, that local Church leaders are fallible. Sometimes they aren’t even nice, but that does not change the nature of their calling. I learned to show respect for the office, even if the one filling that office was someone I was not all that fond of. As long as I follow my Church leaders, the Lord’s blessings attend me. This I know. Of this I testify to anyone who will listen to me. Unlike Asa, I listened to those with the better vision, and it saved my life, as unpleasant as it was at the moment.
Life is not easy. Sometimes we have situations arise that we feel are unfair and unjust. Sometimes we feel that those who lead the Church just aren’t paying attention or must somehow be so insulated from the realities of the world we, the little people live in, that they simply are not aware of how unjust things are at our level. This is where Asa got off track. He made assumptions about his leaders he was not in a position to make.
There seems to be a growing trend in the Church of people who think that the Brethren are out of touch, “in a bubble” so to speak. They feel abandoned and afraid that we at the bottom of the Church hierarchy are being left to fend for ourselves. Sometimes we see social issues being addressed outside the Church but see no evidence of it being addressed inside the Church, and like Asa, we begin to feel cheated when the watchmen on the wall are not helping to solve our problems for us. Somehow we transfer the responsibility for reacting to perceived social injustices onto the leaders of the Church, instead of trying to listen to the counsel of our leaders and follow that counsel in faith, no matter what the Asa’s of the world argue to the contrary, and there are many, many Asas in this world.
Are there things that need to change in the Church, yes, there are. Will they change? Yes, they probably will, in the Lord’s own due time. Not my time, but the Lord’s time. In the meantime it is my responsibility to listen to the watchmen on the wall. Neal A. Maxwell said,
Since the Lord wants a people “tried in all things” (D&C 136:31), how specifically will we be tried? He tells us, I will try the faith and the patience of my people (see Mosiah 23:21). Since faith in the timing of the Lord may be tried, let us learn to say not only, “Thy will be done,” but patiently also, “Thy timing be done.”
I strongly suggest that before reading part 3 of this series that you read or listen to the rest of Elder Maxwell’s talk. It has valuable information for those who are worried about whether those who are leading the Lord’s earthly kingdom are still in control of that kingdom. And yes, if you think for a minute that the Brethren are not aware of the problems we face, then you are already in the camp of believers that are saying the Lord’s servants have lost their vision as watchmen on the walls.