This is a guest post by Daniel Ortner, who blogs at symphonyofdissent.wordpress.com.
As I recently read Kate Kelly’s letter to her Bishop as well as the “legal brief” submitted on her behalf by Nadine Hansen. As a current law student, my immediate first reaction was to attempt to write a reply brief critical of the arguments advanced therein. Yet, as I thought about the possibility of doing so, I realized how inappropriate such an approach would be in the Church.
I was reminded of Bruce C. Hafen’s timeless warning from a talk entitled On Dealing with Uncertainty:
I found myself wanting to tell our third-year law students that those who take too much delight in their finely honed tools of skepticism and dispassionate analysis will limit their effectiveness, in the church and elsewhere, because they can become contentious, standoffish, arrogant, and unwilling to commit themselves. I have seen some of these try out their new intellectual tools in some context like a priesthood quorum or a Sunday School class. A well-meaning teacher will make a point they think is a little silly, and they will feel an irresistible urge to leap to their feet and pop the teacher’s bubble. If they are successful, they begin looking for other opportunities to point out the exception to any rule anybody can state. They begin to delight in cross-examination of the unsuspecting, just looking for somebody’s bubble up there floating around so that they can pop it with their shiny new pin of skepticism. And in all that, they fail to realize that when some of those bubbles pop, out goes the air, and with it goes much of the feeling of trust, loyalty, harmony, and sincerity so essential to preserving the Spirit of the Lord.
If that begins to happen in your ward, in your home, or in your marriage, you will have begun to destroy the fragile fabric of trust that binds us together in all loving relationships. People may come away from some of their encounters with you wondering how you can possibly have a deep commitment to the Church and do some of the things you do.
Unfortunately, I saw many of the symptoms that Elder Hafen warned of as I read Nadine’s brief.
In it, I saw a total unwillingness to acknowledge any fault or wrong, a willingness to search for any possible ambiguities in language and wording, and attacks upon the motives and propriety of church leaders.
Such an attitude is absolutely vital in the court of law. An advocate would be engaging in malpractice were he not to zealously advance such arguments on behalf of his client. Our adversarial system depends on sides being vigorously defended. As a legal system, we have fully embraced the notion that such conflict and contrast will best result in truth.
Our church on the other hand is dedicated to a far different system. It is dedicated to the notion that inspiration rather than agitation or argumentation is what carries the day. It is not he who makes the most logical argument by stringing citations, but he speaks for the lord when moved by the holy spirit.
We learn in the scriptures that the spirit flees contention. If we are dedicated to finding fault in others and never admitting our mistakes, we cannot have the spirit to be with us. Thus, the same approach that held to bring about truth in courts of law cannot do so in disciplinary councils. When we covenant at baptism and in the holy temple to consecrate our lives to Jesus Christ and his church, we forsake the adversarial approach and commit to being humble, meek and full of love. The natural man whom we are commanded to put off thrives on pride and contention. The child of God seeks to be a humble peacemaker.
In the church, we give Bishops and Stake Presidents and immense responsibility. President Hinckley correctly described it as “a fearsome and awesome responsibility.” Nadine’s brief suggests that the system is inherently stacked against women, because an appeal to the Stake President will likewise we clouded with bias and prejudgment. It takes great faith in the power of God and his priesthood to see that this is not so. It takes a great deal of faith to trust that these imperfect men will be guided by the spirit of the Lord. It takes great faith to believe as President Packer noted that “the mantle is far, far greater than the intellect, that the priesthood is the guiding power.” It takes faith to accept that even though the Bishop is responsible for bringing about disciplinary hearings, that he is not to be seen as the opposing counsel or the opposition, but a fellow seeker of truth. Yet, this is exactly the faith we commit ourselves to having when we sustain our leaders.
As I served as a missionary, I saw the hand of the Lord work to inspire my Mission President. Before going to serve as a Mission President, he had worked as an actual judge in Utah. He had also practiced law for many years. As he started his mission, he at first relied upon his intellect to attempt to determine who should be called as missionary leaders, and what the priorities of the mission should be. He quickly came to realize that it wasn’t his mission and that the Lord was in charge. The Lord knew the needs of members and missionaries. He know how to organize his work to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The mantle was far greater than the intellect could ever be.
I am not Kate’s bishop. I do not know her heart. I am saddened, however, that instead of seeing the disciplinary council as a chance to speak candidly with one called as a pastor in Israel, she has chosen to see it as an example of persecution and patriarchy. Her choice not to attend despite many offers of aid evidences this. I am sorry to see the process played out through angry op-eds as opposed to spiritual dialogue.
Above all, I pray that those sitting in council will by led by the spirit. I pray likewise, that Kate and others will be touched by that spirit and draw closer to the Lord.