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The Last Mormon Freedom


Mortal Man

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Our bishop has been fighting a battle with the ward members.

He hates travelogues during Fast and Testimony Meeting and often commiserates with his counselors on how to get the members to stick to the standard testimony. In bishopric meeting, he's been bringing up talks by apostles about the proper way to bear your testimony and how it interrupts the spirit when you go off into your own personal experiences. If he had his way, I think he'd actually engrave the proper testimony words into the podium and require everyone coming up to the stand to read them verbatim, like the sacrament prayer.

A few months ago a lady in the ward bore her testimony on the danger that the recent near-Earth asteroid posed to mankind. Her testimony was unusual in several respects but I found it entertaining and thought that she made a valid point near the end. The bishop and his counselors, however, were so agitated by her remarks that they took the unusual step of calling her up and cancelling her appointment to speak in Sacrament meeting the following Sunday. Then, in response to her and several other "problem" members of the ward, they went a step further and arranged for a special joint Priesthood and Relief Society lesson on the DOs and DON'Ts of testimony bearing, wherein the First Counselor spoke very bluntly about inappropriate speech in F&T Meeting (it was hard to mistake who he was talking about).

Today things came to a boil.

Early on in this morning's F&T meeting, a lady, who has been completely inactive for many years, got up and related how her nephew was recently rushed to the hospital for a stroke and upon arriving at the hospital had a heart attack. The doctors wrote him off but the lady immediately contacted all her friends through Facebook, including some Buddhist friends who lit candles and chanted over their altars, and through many prayers from several different religions, her nephew recovered. Two other people who were admitted at the same time as her nephew were both given a >75% chance of getting better, but both died, allegedly from lack of prayers. The lady's daughter clung to her side while she spoke, which is something the bishop hates (but probably tolerated in this instance due to her inactive status).

Not long after this, one of the "problem" ladies in the ward made her way up to the stand with her usual gaggle of kids clinging to her dress. They went through their customary whispering and fidgeting routine, interspersed with comments about Jesus helping their friend get up off the floor and how much they love their cat, before the little assembly made it's way back into the audience. During their display, the bishop and his counselors stared at the floor, as they always do, with furrowed brows and grinding jaws.

At the end of the meeting another one of the "problem" ladies got up and caused a major stir. She related that she had been hurt by a derogatory email she had received concerning the manner in which she had borne her testimony about the Nauvoo Pageant (in which she had participated). She said that she could handle any sort of criticism from nonmembers, but that when a trusted member of this church condemned her for expressing her personal feelings, it was more than she could bear. (I have no idea who sent her the email.) She said that her personal feelings of faith were very sacred and precious to her and that it took great courage for her to express them and that it "was just too bad" if certain members didn't like her manner of delivery. She then named several other "problem" members of the ward, including the lady with the gaggle of kids and the inactive lady, and said that it also took courage for them to come up and that she didn't care if some people had a problem with it. Then she almost yelled, "Hey! This is my ward too! I'm not going to let anyone treat me, or anyone else, like garbage just because they don't like the way we bear our testimonies!" The second she was finished, the First Counselor jumped up and ended the meeting. After the closing prayer, the inactive lady made her way over to the "my ward too" lady (on her way, I told her how much I enjoyed her testimony.) They gave each other a big hug and began to sob a bit. Our former Second Counselor (who had been in the bishopric meetings where the issue of problem testimonies kept coming up) rushed over and began talking to them both (no, I didn't eavesdrop on their conversation).

It seems to me that, in an age where the slightest deviation from the lesson manual is strictly forbidden, a lot of members cherish their once-a-month freedom to express themselves in a manner not dictated by the Correlation Committee.

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Our bishop has been fighting a battle with the ward members.

It's a shame the members have to make a fight out of a servant of the Lord trying to apply counsel from the Quorum of the Twelve.

He hates travelogues during Fast and Testimony Meeting and often commiserates with his counselors on how to get the members to stick to the standard testimony. In bishopric meeting, he's been bringing up talks by apostles about the proper way to bear your testimony and how it interrupts the spirit when you go off into your own personal experiences. If he had his way, I think he'd actually engrave the proper testimony words into the podium and require everyone coming up to the stand to read them verbatim, like the sacrament prayer.

Or maybe he's just trying to apply the counsel he's been given.

A few months ago a lady in the ward bore her testimony on the danger that the recent near-Earth asteroid posed to mankind. Her testimony was unusual in several respects but I found it entertaining and thought that she made a valid point near the end. The bishop and his counselors, however, were so agitated by her remarks that they took the unusual step of calling her up and cancelling her appointment to speak in Sacrament meeting the following Sunday. Then, in response to her and several other "problem" members of the ward, they went a step further and arranged for a special joint Priesthood and Relief Society lesson on the DOs and DON'Ts of testimony bearing, wherein the First Counselor spoke very bluntly about inappropriate speech in F&T Meeting (it was hard to mistake who he was talking about).

Today things came to a boil.

Early on in this morning's F&T meeting, a lady, who has been completely inactive for many years, got up and related how her nephew was recently rushed to the hospital for a stroke and upon arriving at the hospital had a heart attack. The doctors wrote him off but the lady immediately contacted all her friends through Facebook, including some Buddhist friends who lit candles and chanted over their altars, and through many prayers from several different religions, her nephew recovered. Two other people who were admitted at the same time as her nephew were both given a >75% chance of getting better, but both died, allegedly from lack of prayers. The lady's daughter clung to her side while she spoke, which is something the bishop hates (but probably tolerated in this instance due to her inactive status).

Not long after this, one of the "problem" ladies in the ward made her way up to the stand with her usual gaggle of kids clinging to her dress. They went through their customary whispering and fidgeting routine, interspersed with comments about Jesus helping their friend get up off the floor and how much they love their cat, before the little assembly made it's way back into the audience. During their display, the bishop and his counselors stared at the floor, as they always do, with furrowed brows and grinding jaws.

When you use quotation marks on "'problem' ladies" do you do it because the bishopric called them that, or just for rhetorical flourish?

At the end of the meeting another one of the "problem" ladies got up and caused a major stir. She related that she had been hurt by a derogatory email she had received concerning the manner in which she had borne her testimony about the Nauvoo Pageant (in which she had participated). She said that she could handle any sort of criticism from nonmembers, but that when a trusted member of this church condemned her for expressing her personal feelings, it was more than she could bear.

I know from personal experience that it's also a lot to bear when a church leader is honestly trying to apply counsel he's received from the Council of the Twelve only to have members treat him like the enemy. No one should be sending emails like that, but using fast and testimony meeting to settle disagreements and proclaim offense is far more inappropriate than travelogues and whispering your child's testimony in their ear as they stand at the microphone.

(I have no idea who sent her the email.) She said that her personal feelings of faith were very sacred and precious to her and that it took great courage for her to express them and that it "was just too bad" if certain members didn't like her manner of delivery.

So she got up in fast and testimony to basically tell another member of the ward where to stick it? This person is being incredibly disrespectful to people who were hoping to feel the spirit and doesn't seem to at all grasp the point of fast and testimony meeting. Hopefully no investigators were there.

She then named several other "problem" members of the ward, including the lady with the gaggle of kids and the inactive lady, and said that it also took courage for them to come up and that she didn't care if some people had a problem with it. Then she almost yelled, "Hey! This is my ward too! I'm not going to let anyone treat me, or anyone else, like garbage just because they don't like the way we bear our testimonies!" The second she was finished, the First Counselor jumped up and ended the meeting. After the closing prayer, the inactive lady made her way over to the "my ward too" lady (on her way, I told her how much I enjoyed her testimony.) They gave each other a big hug and began to sob a bit. Our former Second Counselor (who had been in the bishopric meetings where the issue of problem testimonies kept coming up) rushed over and began talking to them both (no, I didn't eavesdrop on their conversation).

That's a shame that the members have hijacked fast and testimony meeting to air their grievances.

It seems to me that, in an age where the slightest deviation from the lesson manual is strictly forbidden, a lot of members cherish their once-a-month freedom to express themselves in a manner not dictated by the Correlation Committee.

But that's not the purpose of fast and testimony. Shouldn't the bishop's authority be respected when it comes to the format for a meeting over which he presides? Should the bishop abandon the counsel of the Quorum of the Twelve simply because a member uses emotional aggressiveness to try to bully him? Is this a church or is it a club?

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"The Last Mormon Freedom"

Right, because we aren't allowed to talk with each other in class time, in the hallways, at home, by emails, by telephone, our talks are written for us, and last of all we have no choice on whether or not to attend church.

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I won't pretend to know exactly how these ladies are. You've included but a brief description. However reading the story immediately connected my thoughts to some experience.

The ward where I grew up suffered from F & T meetings that were made into jokes by individuals who chose not (or could not?) adhere to basic council and rules of etiquette in their time at the pulpit. It drove far more people from the church over time than it would have to cut off these types in the first place. I'm not talking about mentally disabled people for whom the congregation generally has limitless patience, but individuals who just liked the congregation as a captive audience who had no choice but to listen.

Yes, we need long suffering and patience with individuals. But some people are unwilling to repent or change their bad habits that negatively affect others. If the ladies you refer to are like the ladies who had similar F&T issues in my old ward, then I think you may be having too much sympathy for them because of the harm they are doing to others. They are abusing F&T meeting for their own satisfaction and wasting the time and limited patience of other members and guests. What they probably really need is a therapist. If that is no help, and they are just stubborn, then they need to be rebuked and given the option to repent or leave lest they make themselves into an obstacle for others.

Are these same ladies the origins of most of the ward gossip as well?

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On my mission in Russia, the most dreaded day of the month was F&T meeting, especially if you had investigators. Travelogues, movie and book reviews, long-winded recollections on vague topics, cute little quotes from pentecostal pamphlets, bizarre diversions on the topic of cosmic intelligence or Japanese scientists insulting bottles of water which results in the liquid becoming cloudy, put downs and airing of grievances, you name it.

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I'm not talking about mentally disabled people for whom the congregation generally has limitless patience, but individuals who just liked the congregation as a captive audience who had no choice but to listen
And it is rare that this is the only time this type of individual chooses to talk about these experiences and others. Generally ime this type of individual (male or female) has no problem finding opportunities to speak whether or not their 'audience' wants to listen to them.
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If the ladies you refer to are like the ladies who had similar F&T issues in my old ward, then I think you may be having too much sympathy for them because of the harm they are doing to others. They are abusing F&T meeting for their own satisfaction and wasting the time and limited patience of other members and guests.

Part of the dynamic that's playing out here is the whole ward family issue. Where we consider one another actual brothers and sisters, and are willing to share our burdens, challenges, and successes with those who are supposedly willing to bear them with us.

That's part of sacrament meeting that I will miss. I see the reason for it - but it sterilizes/neuters the vibrant social interaction that used to take place in ward meetings. I'll miss it.

There are certainly new places to take such discussions: the phone, in person with a friend or visiting teacher, a web forum like this, facebook, etc. So it's not as if people have no outlets for such things.

It is something, however, that let people bear their souls and be real...for the briefest of moments.

Before we each retreated back behind our facades for the next six months.

What they probably really need is a therapist...

Or genuine friends.

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On my mission in Russia, the most dreaded day of the month was F&T meeting,...

lol, same here, though not in Russia. one F&T day, a person gave the most wonderful testimony about Jesus, it really could not have been any better. Unfortunately the last few sentences of his testimony was "But I just don't believe the whole 'Son of God' thing". immediately is started scanning the pews for investigators, luckily it was all active members that day.

i have been in other F&T meetings where the person at the mic thought it was their right to spew political views and gun rights, someone in the congregation actually yelled the person down from the stand. then the Bishop got up and gave a do's and don'ts of testimony meeting.

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I, too, think that the "open mic" mentality has gotten into some members.'

I come to testimony meeting to hear testimony of the Savior. I come to be edified. I come to feel the Spirit.

Inasmuch as people who were described in the OP take that time to come up with their own agendas and to speak of things that neither edify nor uplift, they are acting in an inappropriate manner.'

Just as this board is not the place for counseling or therapy, fast and testimony meeting is not the place to "let it all hang out". I fully support the counsel and direction the brethren have given concerning fast and testimony meeting, and I wish that more members of the Church would use it for that purpose, and not for their personal stage to "express themselves".

I fully empathize with the bishop in this case.

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I generally dislike F&T meeting. The same people seem to need to be at the pulpit every month and a lot of the time, they appear to be motivated by emotion rather than guided by the Spirit. Their stories ramble on and on without culminating in a testimony of anything. I pparticularly don't enjoy it when parents encourage small children to get up because it often starts a parade of 6 year olds to the stand and we end up hearing spitting sounds in the microphone for 20 minutes. The FP has encouraged families to give children opportunities to bear testimony at home in FHE rather than on first Sundays. That counsel rarely gets heeded.

BUT and this is a humongous BUT... as with every aspect of the gospel, we teach correct principles and allow people to gain a testimony of the principle on their own. I don't go into ward members' homes and check for R-rated movies among their DVD collections. I don't stop by on Monday nights to make sure they are having FHE. Neither do I monitor their scripture reading. We simply teach the principles and slowly they learn to govern themselves. The same should apply with testimony bearing. We gently and consistently present the ideal and let our members grow toward that. Those who understand set an example for those who are still learning. It's that simple. We shouldn't lambast them or embarrass them into meeting the standard. Similarly, I always feel bad for the convert who uses "you" and "your" in an opening prayer only to be followed by a lesson or talks on the proper form of prayer. Talk about getting set up...

I've known many people, even been one at times, who are so fixated on a rigid application of non-salvational practices and policies that they forget that the Lord's work is about people. Frankly, if contention is arising over an issue like testimony bearing, then it isn't being handled with the Spirit of Christ and true charity for the members of the ward.

I posted these quotes on another message board earlier today but they seem like something Mortal Man might want to slide under the Bishop's door.

How do you know when you are becoming a fanatic on a principle and getting things out of balance?

Rodney Turner,

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Thanks for sharing that Mortal Man. I think the underlying class tensions are fairly obvious, although not determinative. I understand why some people don't enjoy the spectacle of these open-mike events, but I think it is both charming and refreshing to see folks expressing themselves more freely. Hey, as long as I can remember they have always been like this. And, they should probably maintain a certain earthy flavor, at least I hope they do.

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BUT and this is a humongous BUT... as with every aspect of the gospel, we teach correct principles and allow people to gain a testimony of the principle on their own. I don't go into ward members' homes and check for R-rated movies among their DVD collections. I don't stop by on Monday nights to make sure they are having FHE. Neither do I monitor their scripture reading. We simply teach the principles and slowly they learn to govern themselves. The same should apply with testimony bearing.

There is a difference between private and public things.

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There is a difference between private and public things.

LOL - As soon as I posted I knew someone would make that distinction. However, we don't enter the primary classrooms ro make sure our teachers come prepared and are following the manual. My boys know from sad experience that cub scout leaders show up unprepared and try to bluff their way through their callings. We don't check up on those guys. We simply hold inservice meetings, teach people how to teach, and hope they get it.

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LOL - As soon as I posted I knew someone would make that distinction. However, we don't enter the primary classrooms ro make sure our teachers come prepared and are following the manual. My boys know from sad experience that cub scout leaders show up unprepared and try to bluff their way through their callings. We don't check up on those guys. We simply hold inservice meetings, teach people how to teach, and hope they get it.

If presidencies, both stake and ward, are not attending classes from time to time to see if teaching is being done properly, they are not doing their job.
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I generally dislike F&T meeting. The same people seem to need to be at the pulpit every month and a lot of the time, they appear to be motivated by emotion rather than guided by the Spirit. Their stories ramble on and on without culminating in a testimony of anything. I pparticularly don't enjoy it when parents encourage small children to get up because it often starts a parade of 6 year olds to the stand and we end up hearing spitting sounds in the microphone for 20 minutes. The FP has encouraged families to give children opportunities to bear testimony at home in FHE rather than on first Sundays. That counsel rarely gets heeded.

I can see you do not attend with Bluebell. They said it's been months since a child has given a testimony at their ward.

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At F&T meeting today, I thought a couple of times a testimony might have benefitted from having a little more testimony in it. After reading the OP, however, I have decided that I have an embarrassment of riches.

I am reminded of a story in which a brother asked Brigham Young over and over again if he could please give a talk during a particular meeting, only to be told "No" each time. Brother Brigham finally unbent enough to tell the brother he could say the opening prayer but that was all, to which he agreed. Then after the opening hymn, he proceeded to give an extremely long prayer in which he covered all the points of the talk which he apparently wanted to give. It is said that BY sat patiently all through the "prayer" and at its conclusion he simply closed the meeting.

Sacrament meetings are the particular responsibility of the Bishop. He is responsible for their conduct, and for their content. If a member giving a talk wanders off-topic to something inappropriate for the meeting, the Bishop has the responsibility and the obligation to bring the topic back, and in extremis, to correct what has been said. Fast and Testimony Meeting is a special Sacrament meeting when members may bear their testimonies. If what they are bearing is not testimony, but something else that detracts from the meeting's spirit, then the situation must be handled.

Unlike some Prostestant denominations, who hire and fire their pastors according to popularity or whether he (or she) makes the congregation happy with themselves, the Lord's model is to direct His affairs through inspiration and revelation. If a leader has been called to administer a part of the Lord's Kingdom, it seems unaccountably rebellious for a member of that Kingdom to start demanding his or her way, or the highway. How can you bear testimony of an organization whose directions you are unwilling to give some credence to?

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Our bishop has been fighting a battle with the ward members.

He hates travelogues during Fast and Testimony Meeting and often commiserates with his counselors on how to get the members to stick to the standard testimony.

Didn't we just do a thread like this a month or two ago? :P

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Didn't we just do a thread like this a month or two ago? search.gif

Maybe so -- I don't remember seeing it, but then again I was away from the board for a month or so, too.

And in the spirit of board nannying, I just can't help wondering why folks have to quote the entire OP only to say something that doesn't that nothing to do with addressing that same OP.

Sorry, HMX-1, it's just an itch I must sometimes scratch. rolleyes.gif

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If presidencies, both stake and ward, are not attending classes from time to time to see if teaching is being done properly, they are not doing their job.

Cal,

I've taught steady in one auxiliary or another for several decades and never had anyone sit in my class - unless they would have anyway (Gospel Doctrine, RS). The entire time I taught seminary, young women's, youth Sunday school, and primary, I never got a "special visitor" to check up on me. And I know I've posted this before but I've been in dozen wards as an adult in a half dozen states. I've never even heard of this happening and I certainly never did it when I was Primary president because I had other responsibilities at the same time as the classes, when I was the RS education counselor I worked with the teachers but I was attending the classes anyway. MnG

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Part of the dynamic that's playing out here is the whole ward family issue. Where we consider one another actual brothers and sisters, and are willing to share our burdens, challenges, and successes with those who are supposedly willing to bear them with us.

That's part of sacrament meeting that I will miss. I see the reason for it - but it sterilizes/neuters the vibrant social interaction that used to take place in ward meetings. I'll miss it.

It is something, however, that let people bear their souls and be real...for the briefest of moments.

Before we each retreated back behind our facades for the next six months.

I understand the need for individuals to have that opportunity to offer their burdens to others. Perhaps they simply need real friends who will listen and thus diminish their need to offer a confessional or long winded thankamony every month in front of an entire congregation. I think this would be the resolution for some individuals who make F&T a feat of endurance too hard for anyone weak in the faith to endure.

But I can't shake what I saw over the course of 20 years with a certain group of people who were unwittingly allowed to set the tone amongst the congregation through their ability to speak at F&T meetings. It has a culturing effect on the congregation.

mercyngrace makes a good point about teaching correct principles and their eventual adoption as people see good examples. Sometimes this takes a very long time. In the ward I have referenced many families moved away because of concern for their children's future in the church due to the tone set in the ward by certain individuals, not least among them the F&T 'problem' crew. The people who moved were solid but obviously they either felt helpless that their good example would not be enough to overcome the situation, or they simply didn't have the energy to endure it. Obviously the ideal priesthood holder and their family would work to transform the culture of the ward by their example. But it was too overwhelming a task for 3-4 families alone to do. They thus sought refuge in other cities and wards without the problematic individuals, where their gospel endurance was tested more from outside the church than from within. I think the 'problem' people in the F&T meeting also had a negative affect on the types of converts that were attracted to the church and not immediately turned off. Luckily after 20 years of waiting some stalwarts moved in and made a conscious decision to weather the storm and set a powerful enough example to overcome the previously established norm.

Anyways, for the sake of the hundreds of converts and thousands of investigators who passed through the ward over those years I wish there had been a way to keep the 'problem' people at bay. Now that I am old enough to know their effect I associate them with a cancer that would have been far better to eliminate early after its inception given the capacities of the ward members at the time.

Sorry MM if that is too extreme a comment to associate with the people you reference in the OP.

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When you use quotation marks on "'problem' ladies" do you do it because the bishopric called them that, or just for rhetorical flourish?

I don't recall their exact words, but the bishop and his counselors have referred to certain members in essentially those terms.

Should the bishop abandon the counsel of the Quorum of the Twelve simply because a member uses emotional aggressiveness to try to bully him?

No, and I'm not taking sides here.

But having participated in many of the bishopric discussions, in which my advice was ignored, I'm just trying to point out that there's a better way of dealing with this.

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mercyngrace makes a good point about teaching correct principles and their eventual adoption as people see good examples. Sometimes this takes a very long time.

ANd sometimes, it never happens but the rest of us learn compassion. Or in the words of the sacrament hymn we sang today, "teach us tolerance and love".

edit: Perhaps we should sing that hymn every F&T Sunday ;-)

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"The Last Mormon Freedom"

Right, because we aren't allowed to talk with each other in class time, in the hallways, at home, by emails, by telephone, our talks are written for us, and last of all we have no choice on whether or not to attend church.

Lighten up cal. smile.gif

I'm simply playing off Viktor Frankl's "The Last Human Freedom" from his book, Man's Search for Meaning.

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