Today, I’m studying the talk Honoring the Priesthood, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the April 1993 General Conference.
Maybe I have more pride and “feminism” in my heart than I want to admit. Sometimes these priesthood talks make me feel a bit anxious. I haven’t read this talk before now, and I don’t remember how I felt when it was given (in 1993 – I lived in Houston still. I was 14 years old.
My relationship with the priesthood is complicated sometimes. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that it is God’s power on this earth. And I know that it is a miracle that He has bestowed it to us – even though we are imperfect people. In my life, I’ve had great priesthood leaders, okay priesthood leaders, and bad priesthood leaders.
Additionally, the climate of our culture tends to look down on things like “the priesthood” – as if it is a boy’s club and not an organization instituted by God.
With that in mind, I’m trying to be very open minded so the Spirit can teach me as I study this talk.
One – God’s Kingdom
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, is neither a democracy nor a republic. His is a kingdom—the kingdom of God on earth. His is a hierarchical church, with ultimate authority at the top. The Lord directs His anointed servants. They testify to all the world that God has again spoken. The heavens have been opened. A living linkage has been formed between heaven and earth in our day.” – Russell M. Nelson
So, first of all – it is a good reminder to me that God’s Church is not a democracy or a republic. Which means that we don’t “vote” in our leaders. We sustain them by common consent, but it isn’t a vote.
As I think about this, I realize that I’ve been raised as an American. The idea of independence, freedom, and choice is so deeply ingrained in me, I truly can’t imagine any other cultural practice. It’s hard to imagine a king or a queen or dictator. I can’t imagine not having a voice or a choice of some kind.
All of that being said, I am also somewhat disappointed with our current system of government. There is so much corruption that when we had our last presidential election, I felt so hopeless with our choices, I felt like we Americans were being asked to choose between poop and vomit. (Sorry…but it’s truly how I felt).
Despite my love for choice, I’m also an idealist. If only we could have the Savior here now! I would never trust any old person to be a ruler over me or my country. Like a good American, I don’t trust my government (they are instituted among men (and women) deriving their just power from the consent of the governed!), companies, or anything that tries to exercise power over me. I am always willing to submit to anything that is good, but I’m not trusting just because. Unless, it is Heavenly Father. I have learned that He is trustworthy. He is good. And I trust Him completely.
***Quick aside…why do I trust Him?
“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39
“Hearken and hear, O ye my people, saith the Lord and your God, ye whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings,…” – Doctrine and Covenants 41:1
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
Honestly – why I trust God could be a series of blog posts, so I’ll stop with the scriptural references. I’ll say one more thing, though. I’ve experimented. I’ve put my trust in God before, and I’ve learned for myself that He is trustworthy. He is a living and loving Father in Heaven. He is omnipotent and omniscient. He is both powerful and humble. He is a perfect leader and for this reason, I rejoice at knowing that God’s kingdom is not a democracy or a republic! I rejoice at knowing that His is a kingdom.
So – on to the next point that President Nelson gives.
His kingdom is hierarchical.
I think that this is where I start to feel a bit troubled. When I think of a hierarchy, I think of a situation where people may feel like they are better than others because of their position. And we know that it is the nature of most men to do this. We are prideful little dummies sometimes.
President Nelson teaches:
“In contrast, the kingdom of God is governed by the authority of the priesthood. It is not conferred for honor, but for a ministry of service. Priesthood titles are not created by man; neither are they for adornment, nor do they express mastership. They denote appointment to service in the work of the Lord.” – Russell M. Nelson
Though there is a hierarchy in our church – it is not based on honor or supremacy. This hierarchy just tells us what jobs people have to do. The church is an organization and God is a God of order, so there are positions – and they are hierarchical.
But this doesn’t mean that the worth of souls is in any way related to the “position” one might hold.
It helps me to think of this like a team. We have a purpose. God has a purpose (Moses 1:39). We have one united work to do, but we are a bunch of different people. So, we each have our positions and we need to do it well, then we all win. If we are all fighting to be pitcher, then we would lose the game.
Two – Priesthood Leaders are Normal People
President Nelson states:
“May I offer counsel of a general nature, first with comments about General Authorities. We recognize them as instruments in the hand of the Lord, yet realize that they are ordinary human beings. They require haircuts, laundry services, and occasional reminders just like anyone else.” – Russell M. Nelson
I like this. I think we (me included) make a mistake of putting our priesthood leaders – both general and local – on a pedestal. This usually results in a few problems.
It’s a problem and a disservice to our priesthood leaders when we mythicize them. They are normal human beings.
When I was a kid, my dad would say this thing, “At the end of the day, their poop still stinks.” (I realize that I have mentioned doo doo twice in this blog post. Sorry.) I think that this shaped the way that I think about any of the people that we humans (primates!) worship. We are all equal. We are all both beautiful and ugly (mostly beautiful, if you ask me!). We are all human. We don’t need to worship our church leaders because at the end of the day, they are just like you and me.
Of course, President Nelson puts it a lot nicer – they need haircuts, they need to wash their clothes, they forget stuff. They are normal people!
For most of my life, the general authorities did seem mythical. They were these spiritual giants who spoke and testified of Christ at least twice a year during general conference. They need haircuts?! No way! They forget things?! Inconceivable!
Then I moved to the Heber Valley. In fact, right now I’m staying with my in-laws who live just houses down from one of the apostles. This proximity has given me new light. A few years ago, I met this apostle while shoveling snow. (You can read about the experience here.).
One thing that I didn’t share in that post I would like to share here.
It was winter when I met an apostle for the first time (obviously, we were shoveling snow). And if you read that post, I kind of felt disappointed with the meeting. There was nothing inherently special about him. He was a totally normal dude – wearing jeans, a jacket, a beanie. He looked older in real life than he does during conference.
There was nothing wrong with him either. I felt sympathy for him – he lives in a fishbowl because of his calling.
But the experience, in general, was just like any time that you have talked to any neighbor while shoveling snow. We introduced ourselves, found common ground, and had a chuckle. We talked about all the snow and all the elk that were in the neighborhood the day before. We talked about living in Arkansas (he had lived there, too). And it was just a simple and nice experience.
The heavens didn’t part. He didn’t give us some kind of apostolic blessing or witness. It was just a normal day with a normal person. Good, yes. Mythical, no.
A few days later, I was going to the library. I was about to drive into the entrance, but there was a little old woman crossing through the street to go into the library. Across the street from the library is a senior center, which is where she was coming from.
Because it had recently snowed a lot, not all of the ice and snow was cleared from the road. As I waited to turn left into the parking lot, the woman fell!
Luckily I’m in a very small town, and this road into the library is a dead-end road, so it was not busy. I turned on my hazard lights and jumped out of my car – leaving it in the middle of the road. I picked up this old woman, brushed the snow off of her, asking her if she was okay.
Then, I proceeded to walk with her into the library.
The heavens (metaphorically) did part. I felt, so intensely, the love that Heavenly Father has for his children. That his heart ached to see her experience the cruelties of life (age…and winter!). That He had let me be there at that moment so I could help her.
We got into the library. I ran out to park my car, then I found her again. When she was ready to go back to her home, I walked her back across the street, through treacherous ice and snow.
I realized that the feelings I was having were what I was expecting to feel when I saw the apostle.
Are the apostles special? Yes they are. They are sons of God. And they are just as special as a nameless old woman crossing the street.
They hold a special office and must perform a special duty, but this doesn’t mean that God loves them more. They are not more important. And their duty isn’t more important than our duties. Heavenly Father needs apostle who can travel the world and speak to people. He needs normal moms who drive to libraries that can jump out of their cars to help old women. He also needs old women who fall down so that they can teach a lesson to younger women who need humbling.
We are all part of the team. Whether we are starters, or in the bull-pen, we are all necessary. If we start fighting over position or over the ball, then we all lose.
Just as it is a problem when we mythicize our leaders, I think that it is also a problem if we demonize them. I actually think that this usually happens as a result of mythicizing them, then when they are normal, we are let down, then we demonize them. But enough philosophizing on how it happens.
I know that I have been guilty of being overly critical of my local leaders. I have been guilty of the same thing that the people of Nazareth were when they asked, “Is this not Joseph’s Son?” The prophet was not accepted in his own country. (See Luke 4:22, 24.)
I’ve been guilty of thinking, what kind of man can he be? Have you seen his yard? AS IF A YARD ACTUALLY MATTERS!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have to remember – for both local and general leaders – that they are men. They are ordinary human beings. That, for the most part, they are just doing the best that they can. Many make mistakes. And sometimes their mistakes may even hurt me or my family. I can extend charity, love, kindness, and help to these people who are serving in callings that they neither sought nor did they deny.
God’s is a House of Order
I’m going to wrap this up because it is getting pretty long.
President Nelson relates:
“That order also defines bounds of revelation. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.” That same principle precludes receiving revelation for anyone outside one’s defined circle of responsibility.” – Russell M. Nelson
This quote makes me think of the metaphor that we are all on a team, and that we need to worry about our position and doing our duty – rather than trying to do the duty of another.
You know, trying to do the duty of another is a pretty prideful thing, when you think about it. Not only that, it messes everything up.
I also love the last part of this quote…that same principle precludes receiving revelation for anyone outside one’s defined circle of responsibility.
We need to make our own decisions. Our priesthood leaders often don’t have the responsibility or right to make decisions for us. Sometimes there is overreach, for sure, and I’ve experienced that. But our local priesthood leaders don’t have the position or authority to come into our homes and tell us when to give father’s blessings, what to study for family home evening, where to live. This is our responsibility.
We have direct access to Heavenly Father for revelation that pertains to our circle of responsibility. It’s so easy to want to micromanage – again – we are prideful little dum dums and we think that we might know better than someone else. But, if we will just do what we can to strip ourselves of pride, then we will learn to trust one another – that families are probably making the best choices that they can for themselves, that our leaders may have some inspiration and insight. The pride in our hearts is so destructive – both top down and bottom up.
The real way for the priesthood to work is through our choice to expel pride from our hearts and to love, trust, and support one another. Bishops and leaders should be supporting those whom they serve. Members should support their leaders. If it is working both ways it’s a beautiful thing – like watching a well-executed play in a sporting event. Elegant and effective.
There’s so much to say. I hope that what I’ve written makes sense and actually helps to inspire people to have faith rather than justify anyone for cultivating feelings of resentment towards others.
The Priesthood is here to bless all of us. As President Nelson taught:
“Remarkable! He chose to honor us with His priesthood. So we honor Him by honoring His priesthood—both its power and those who bear it. By so doing, men, women, and children throughout the world will be blessed.” – Russell M. Nelson
I’m grateful to know that we are led by a prophet who understands the priesthood and honors it accordingly. I have personally witnessed Him in sacrament meeting, reverently closing his eyes during the administration of the sacrament – which sacrament was administered by young men – nearly 80 years younger than him. He reverently sat next to the Bishop – without “taking charge” of the meeting. He encouraged each of us to read the Book of Mormon. He testified of Christ. But we, members of the audience, still knew that we had our agency to see how his instruction should be applied in our lives.
I’m grateful to know that President Nelson respects the authority that he holds. He is a trustworthy servant of God. He isn’t perfect, but like nearly every else I’ve met in all of the wards I’ve lived in – he’s doing his very best. I’m grateful to know that he really personifies what so many of us are doing – joyfully striving.