As I just explained in comments on a recent post, I know a thing or two about the pain caused by evil leaders in the Church. I know because I was one. In particular, during the years when I was Bishop, members of my ward had to deal with the following leaders, all of whom were me (this information came from the victims directly or indirectly to me):
a) a bishop who lied repeatedly and played devious mind games;
b) an ecclesiastical leader who micromanaged events and made people feel oppressed;
c) a calloused, insensitive leader who did not respect the sacrifices of others;
d) a bigoted male leader who made false accusations about good people that caused great grief and pain;
e) a wicked, corrupt person who made someone’s life hell for years;
f) a foul, deceptive leader who should be exposed for the fraud he is;
g) a self-righteous pig who tried to keep good people out of the Temple and cause intolerable grief and suffering through his lack of care;
h) an unfair and selfish bishop who improperly distributed items donated to help the poor;
i) a power-hungry, arrogant snot; and finally,
j) a sweet and really good-looking guy (thanks, Honey – it’s nice to get some balance).
They were probably the roughest but most rewarding years of my life. But it was often amazing just how easy it is to offend people. One person approached me by email me five years after I was released and told me I had made his life hell, that I had wrecked everything for him. I wanted to apologize, but I couldn’t remember ever meeting this person. I pressed for details. The most I could learn was that we had some brief encounter in a parking lot, and somehow something insensitive I did or said caused great grief that grew out of control and wrecked things for him. I apologized and wished I could know what he’s talking about – but I’m sure he’s sincere that I really did something wrong. The awful thing about all the responsibility put on a bishop is that there are so many opportunities to offend people. Every decision, every action, every word spoken will bother someone, especially when we are misunderstood or people are looking for faults. And for some of the most painful issues, I was unable to defend myself without breaking confidentiality or putting someone else at risk, or so I thought. There is much that I could say here that is best not said.
I made many mistakes, I offended many people (I hope only a small minority of the ward on any one issue), I opened wounds or created new ones, and I’m sure that I was every bit as evil as the typical evil stake president, mission president, or unnamed General Authority that are so often mentioned in anti-Mormon Websites (when there are real people behind those stories). From the perspective of my victims at the moment of pain, yes, I was pretty evil – but I was honestly trying to follow Jesus Christ and serve properly. Sounds easy in theory, but my practice was far from perfect. How easy it is to offend and to be misunderstood, and how easy it is to make true and sometimes grievous mistakes.
If you expect Church leaders to be infallible, you’re in the wrong millennium or on the wrong planet or – no, you’re just wrong. Inspiration and revelation are real, but those gifts do not take away human influences in what we do every day. Take it from me, a former evil bishop who has personally experienced the marvelous power of revelation from God and reality of the gift of the Holy Ghost and the great blessings that come with that wonderful calling. God can occasionally get through even to us evil leaders – and he can get through to you, too, if you’ll seek Him.
Please don’t let my words discourage you future leaders from accepting opportunities to serve in the Church. Yes, there may be pain and misunderstandings, but for each person offended, you have the opportunity to strengthen and heal and bless dozens, and even the people I sorely offended for a while often came back and became reconciled. In one case, one of the people I most offended and most feared became one of my most wonderful allies and friends. How grateful I am to people who understand the power of forgiveness – what miracles can be wrought by forgiving one another, even when we are hurt.