If the devil's usual tactics do not work to make Mormons lose their testimony or go inactive, I think he tries to destabilize local units from within. From my observation, I think this is happening more and more.
Okay, what do I mean?
I think he targets the units' social dynamics. This can take many forms. I'll give you some examples both old and new:
- Thomas B. Marsh's wife's disagreement with another sister over milk strippings that resulted in him apostatizing and leaving the Church for years.
- Controversies over people's children can infect unit dynamics. For example, if one member's child jilts another member's child in a romantic relationship.
- Personal dislike between members can affect whether some individuals are fully included in the unit's activities or in the unit's communication system.
- Letting personal political differences affect how we act at church and how we treat members we disagree with.
- Older members of the ward alienating new members. I've addressed this on this blog before.
- Letting our personal feelings over something interfere with our voting to sustain a church leader or not sustaining a church leader by our actions.
I was once in a ward where some people opposed sustaining a new Bishop. I don't know all the details but it had to do with his professional position and an action his company was taking. The members disagreed with it so they voted not to sustain him as Bishop.
I once saw a man oppose sustaining a young boy to be a Teacher in the priesthood because the man's own son had his ordination delayed because he had not completed something. So, in protest, he opposed the next boy's advancement.
These circumstances are undoubtedly more complex than how I've presented them. They are used solely to give you an idea of what I'm referring to.
However, I still remember vividly the fear on the boy's face when the man opposed his ordination and how carefully he scanned the audience the next week when his ordination was voted on again, this time unopposed. I'll never forget his countenance and I was very young at the time.
I hate to use more specific examples because they would be real life ones from my experiences and could inflame the issue all over again if someone reads them here.
Units are populated with people. People are imperfect. Throw immaturity and pride into the mix and you may well have an explosion.
I don't have a lot of advice to offer on this issue. We've been cautioned to school our feelings. That is about the only thing I can recommend.
Even when we have been treated unjustly by church leaders the only real option we have is how we will react to it. I've been lied to by local church leaders. I've also been lied about by local church leaders. I know of multiple incidents that involved misbehavior towards others by both leaders and members.
It can happen. It has happened. It is happening and it will happen again in the future.
I would suggest the following:
1. Avoid knee jerk reactions and carefully think through how you choose to "act" to what has happened. It will have implications for you and others.
Anger is a knee jerk reaction and an all too common one. If you delay acting you will probably avoid anger.
2. Avoid acting in a way you know will be harmful or immature.
I'm going to strike hard at the women on this one. It is my opinion that women who have not advanced beyond high school generally retain a high school maturity level and often the social dynamics that go along with it. This often encourages cliques and affects social interactions in units.
The high school model tends to be exclusionary rather than inclusive. I've not noticed this being a problem as much amongst more mature women. I think women cause a lot of the social problems at church.
I've watched some unit incidents get wildy out of control because of immaturity. More mature behavior could mitigate it or even end it entirely.
3. Don't talk about the incident with others and don't encourage others to discuss it either.
One good way to avoid inflaming the situation is to get your information from a qualified source, like the people directly involved, for example. Don't accept or encourage hearsay or second-hand information from anyone.
If you can't get your information from a qualified source, retain your ignorance. Believe me, it is worth it.
Shut down the gossip network by refusing to be a part of it.
4. Admitting you were wrong, or may be wrong, is not a sign of weakness.
If you are a church leader it won't reduce your authority or your power to admit error. It may be agonizingly hard but it will be the right thing to do.
Christ never erred, but we aren't so lucky.
5. Remember, the Atonement covers everything.
If someone who was disciplined is back in the church, in full fellowship, then what occurred in the past is entirely irrelevant. Let it go -- completely!
6. Accept your church leaders decisions gracefully and acknowledge that they have the authority to make the decisions even if you do not personally agree with them.
On occasion, I've had the audacity to question leaders personally over why they did something. This was usually in a church interview for something else. The leaders have ALL explained what they could to me. Every time, I have been convinced of their righteous decision making usually because there were caveats I knew nothing about.
7. Recognize that you have responsibility for your own actions and that your actions may well affect someone else's activity whether you intend it or not.
Not intending to hurt someone does not excuse you from doing so. Actions are not always consistent with intent.
Enough said, at least by me, and this post is already longer than I intended as well as later than I intended.