A few years ago my family moved from an area with a large cadre of able Priesthood leaders to an area where the leadership is spread much thinner. I found myself being called to more central ward leadership positions, which has been a great opportunity for growth. Our Bishop is nearing the end of the typical Bishop term and I find myself concerned that I could be on a list of potential candidates for a future Bishop calling. I am not saying that I am on the top of the list, by any means, and certainly have faith that the right man for the job (not me) will be called.
If I was ever called, I wouldn’t turn the calling down unless my wife asked me to do so. (Of course, she never turns down a calling.) I would be willing to learn all those things about ward members that I would rather not know in order to sit in the office as Judge in Israel. I would be willing to sacrifice that personal time to give service in behalf of a Savior who has done far more for me than I could never repay. I would read statements from the First Presidency in Sacrament meeting and humble myself to support the counsel. What I couldn’t do is be a political organizer to turn my congregation into a crew of campaigners and neighborhood canvassers.
It’s fairly likely that the state in which I live will have its own version of Prop 8 in the next few years. It’s not that I am enthusiastically pro-gay marriage, although I believe gay couples should have property rights, inheritance rights, and parenting rights. I do not believe that anyone’s gay marriage will affect my marriage. I don’t, however, believe that legalizing gay marriage will have no effect on the way that my descendants two generations from now will be socialized. It’s just that I display my political civic duty by voting, and am not one to be a political activist. If I wanted to be a political activist, there are any number of opportunities where I could get involved. I don’t interpret a calling to God’s service as meaning that one is, by default, called to marshal ward members into politics.
So, if a calling to be a Bishop is ever extended to me, should I make this view known to the Stake President at the time of calling? Is it dishonest to withhold that attitude from the person whose authority you will be under? If there is no active political campaign in progress, is it better to accept the calling and have faith that it just won’t come to that, and if it does, do whatever is expedient at the time to be true to yourself? (I would be the weakest ward leader of such an effort that has ever been, if I was in that situation). Does the mere self-admission of this dilemma speak directly to the answer of my question?
Brother from Another Ward
And am I ever proud to call you brother. My father served three stints as bishop, and I recognize in your query the traits I admire so much in so many Mormons who accept callings of significant responsibility: willingness to serve, willingness to sacrifice, discipline, and deep respect for the sanctity of pastoral responsibility.
I can’t really advise you on how to answer your priesthood leaders: that’s between you, them, and God. But as I was mulling your situation over, two bits of wisdom came to mind.
“Line upon line, precept on precept” . . . . important words of wisdom from 2 Nephi, and Acts, and Isaiah. Brother, slow down and take it one step at a time. An infinite number of factors come together to shape each step of our spiritual lives. With every day, circumstances shift, new information comes to light, and unexpected turns happen. We don’t know that you will be called to serve as bishop. We don’t know that the Church will embark on a full-board Proposition 8 style campaign in your state. But we do know that if you are attentive, discerning, receptive, and precise, you will be prepared for whatever comes next in your spiritual life.
“The best plan is to have no plan.” Those are words from Old Man Nanapush, the wisest of the many wise characters in the great Native American author Louise Erdrich’s novel Tracks. In Tracks, Nanapush is a wily survivor of situations (like anti-Indian genocide) even more demanding than Proposition 8. Take it from Nanapush: don’t try to second- guess outcomes. Don’t overthink. Have no expectations. Just keep your eyes on the road. If your Stake President asks you to be bishop, you’ll answer the question. If in that interview your Stake President asks if you are prepared to lead a Proposition 8 style political campaign in your ward, you’ll answer the question. And if you turn out to be a lousy bishop-political-organizer, well, then, that’s just the way it is. It’s all going to be okay. It may even be inspired.
Now, a few closing observations. The intensity of the 2008 LDS Yes on 8 campaign depended to some degree on local leadership, and local leaders demonstrated a range of styles and approaches. There were bishops who refused to have conversations about the campaign on LDS Church property. And there were bishops who used ward email lists to promote not only Proposition 8 but other anti-gay rights campaigns (like efforts to keep the state of California from honoring Harvey Milk Day). And there are local priesthood leaders like those in the Oakland Stake who have done wonderful work fostering reconciliation and understanding in the months after Proposition 8. (Visit clpearson.com for details.) The great archives of Mormon oral history are replete with stories of bishops who have by small but gentle, honest, and discerning individual actions made their wards and our Church a more loving and compassionate place even at moments of political tension. And dear Brother, faithful Brother, that’s a responsibility we can all aspire to, whether or not we ever hold the office.
And readers, now it’s your turn. Talk to Brother from Another Ward. If he’s getting a sense that there may be a calling in his future, how should he prepare?
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