I cannot help but observe that LDS Church President Nelson's leadership style is dramatically different from his predecessors. As I see it, not since Joseph and Brigham have we seen a leader who is willing to decisively declare that he is receiving revelation. And in all three cases, I find that many of these “revelations” are in fact, things they made up.
On November 1st, President Nelson tweeted: "We are witnesses to the process of restoration. If you think the Church is fully restored, you're just seeing the beginning. There's much more to come. Wait until next year, and the next year. Eat your vitamins, get your rest. It's going to be exciting!"
I am not sure I know how to process this. Or maybe, I'm quite sure I don't want to process this. Something seems amiss here, because if we are talking about a "restoration" to what Jesus actually established among his disciples as his Way, the past ten months have moved radically away from that.
When Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples, he demonstrated a different kind of leadership than the world had ever seen before. They considered him their Lord and Master, but to make a very important point, he removed his clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed their feet -- something that the lowest of all slaves would do, for to touch people's feet was to remove the excrement and filth that had gathered there.
This was not a sacred ritual, washing their feet from the blood and sins of this generation; as I understand the foot-washing ritual is in the second anointing of our Church and culture. No. This was an object lesson in divine, inspired leadership: the leader is not at the top of a hierarchy, but rather, at the bottom. A leader serves. A leader empowers.
Lao Tzu said, "The highest form of leader is the one people barely know about.... When such a leader does his work, and success is accomplished, the people all say, 'we did it by ourselves!' "
In one of Joseph Smith's most inspired moments while suffering in Liberty Jail, he contemplated the difference between being "called" to leadership, versus being "chosen" as a truly inspired leader. I sense that this was a time of self-reflection, for he had just experienced two years when his leadership style had become ruthlessly authoritarian. The result was that most of his original fellow Saints left the church, and both the Kirtland and Missouri communities had failed under Joseph’s authoritarianism.
In his letter from Liberty Jail (D&C sections 121-123), Joseph highlighted how it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise "unrighteous dominion". Dominion is a kind of leadership: the one where one holds power over others. Joseph then explained ten reasons why such dominating leadership often fails:
1. Heart set upon things of the world
2. Aspire to the honors of men
3. Covering of sins
4. Gratifying pride
There is bitter irony here. Joseph had just twice attempted to establish an order where the Church took over all aspects of community life -- the things of the world in a very controlled, dominating structure. A group of Danites formed to control, dominate, and compel Church members to conform or leave town. Olivery Cowdery and others pointed out Joseph's hypocrisy in the wake of the Fanny Alger affair. And a pattern of dissembling began to take hold -- guile -- attempting to cover the sins of this emerging practice of spiritual wifery.
Indeed, when we read this very long letter from Liberty Jail, Joseph is complaining about injustice, seeking revenge on his enemies, while the Lord is attempting to bring his mind and soul into peace. Joseph even wrote that a committee should be established to gather the writings of suspected enemies in order to cleans the church -- the origin of the "Strengthening Church Members Committee" of which Russel M Nelson was a founding member in our modern times. It's almost as if this letter is a dialog between Joseph Smith the man seeking power and revenge, versus a God who seeks to teach what love and leadership should be.
Somehow, in this amazing and troubling letter, the voice of God emerges, when Joseph writes: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood."
How can this make any sense in the modern LDS church? Priesthood authority was the key innovation introduced by Sidney Rigdon, and became the very reason that Kirtland and Missouri failed. "The Priesthood", as in the authority to engage in plural marriages, was the reason that Nauvoo failed, and Joseph was killed. And as "The Priesthood" became the literally dominating power in Utah under Brigham Young and his immediate successors, it also became the reason the Church was disenfranchised in 1889.
It would seem like they didn't pay attention to this phrase: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood".
Then, God speaks what the qualities of divine leadership should be, giving ten inspired leadership qualities:
5. Love unfeigned
7. Pure Knowledge
9. Charity towards all
When I compare these two lists of ten bad or good leadership qualities, when I look to my top LDS leaders, what do I see?
It's not good. Not good at all. I see almost none of the qualities of divine leadership, and lots of control, dominion, and compulsion. “It’s not negotiable” is the complete opposite of persuasion, gentleness, and meekness. By Wendy Watson Nelson's own admission, Russell Nelson is now unrestrained by anyone now that he is President of the Church: he can do what he always wanted to do, but couldn't. It’s as if we are seeing a fulfillment of Joseph Smith’s warning “As soon as they get a little authority”.
But now, as I find myself reacting to this behavior, my soul is troubled. Who gives me the right to judge? Why should I even care? If I judge my leaders for their failings in leadership, am I not also guilty of the same things? Paul puts it, "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things."
Maybe I need to look at it differently. Confucius said that we can find our teacher anywhere: even among bad examples, for therein we learn what not to do.
So I'm thinking about this, and realize that our current leadership in its authoritarian excess is an example of the male ego gone awry, and I often do the same.
But what is the answer?
As I look at the ten good and bad leadership qualities, I find a strong correlation between another list: the qualities of godly love Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Love is not:
2. Boastful (vautteth not itself)
3. Proud (puffed up)
4. Mean-spirited (behaves unseemly)
6. easily provoked/reactive
7. scheming (thinketh no evil)
8. rejoicing in iniquity (inequality)
1. Long Suffering,
3. Rejoicing in Truth
4. Always protecting (stegei - does no harm)
5. Always faithful
6. Always hopeful
7. Always endures
8. Always wins (never fails)
It seems to me that the correlation between good and bad love and leadership is nearly one to one in these attributes. Godly Leadership is Godly Love. Anything less than that is not love, nor is it godly.
I have a choice today. For me, the right choice is to observe that we now have a leader of our church who has taught that God's love is conditional, and has taught for revealed doctrine the commandments of men.
And in observing what kind of leadership we have, I also have a choice as to what do do with this observation. I could, and often do, let it bother me -- but this is to judge, and to get upset about that which I cannot control.
I can also ignore the situation -- and try to embrace the idea that the prophet can never lead us astray -- but I can no longer walk this path. To follow in the Prophet's footsteps is to practice the opposite of Godly love and divine leadership.
Instead, I choose to follow Confucius advice: learn from the example, even if it is a bad one.
I find myself realizing that divine, inspired leadership is entirely about love, and as such, I need to find in my heart the way that I can live in this culture according to God's way of doing things: through long-suffering, kindness, pure knowledge, and love unfeigned.
Every attribute of divine love and leadership applies to how I must address my involvement with this church.
1. To be "long suffering", in the original meaning, meant being enduringly compassionate and slow to passion; this, I need to remain engaged and not react to that which causes us anger.
2. To be "kind", in the original meaning, meant to be Christlike in giving a hand to others: it's true empathy, especially to those who don't seem to deserve kindness. Lao Tzu said,
To the Kind I am Kind.
To the Unkind, I am also Kind.
Our kindness, like our love, must be unconditional.
3. To rejoice in truth, is to embrace truth from wherever it may come, and never cover our sins. It means speaking truth to power, lovingly, respectfully, but completely honestly.
4. To always protect -- to "bear all things", means that I will stand and protect the vulnerable who are adversely affected by this church and its heinous policies toward some.
5. And I will be faithful -- always faithful -- or as the marines say "Semper Fidelis". I will stand by my brothers and sisters in this marvelous journey of A Thoughtful Faith.
I can do more. I can love. And I can love in the way God loves: unconditionally.
And you know? right now that's really hard.