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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ethical Issues That Aren't Overt: Moral Decision Making in Mormondom #9

(This is an occasional series that discusses normative questions. Too often we do not consider the inferences and implications of what we do. In short, we fail to realize when a moral decision is necessary. This occasional series will do so. Readers are encouraged to pose their own questions and views in the comment forum.)

Sometimes we wander into ethical quandaries that aren't obvious. I could cite numerous examples, but I'm primarily concerned with one category: priesthood power.

Local leaders are often under intense pressure to perform, whether it's imposed by themselves or by other leaders. Usually it is an effort to improve statistics. Sometimes their answer to this dilemma is to impose requirements on those underneath them. It can often take the following forms:

  • Assigning people to accompany the missionaries in their activities.
  • Requiring people to provide food for an activity.
  • Pulling rank and telling members they should obey you, because you are their priesthood authority.
  • Usurping responsibilities of someone else's calling.
The last example has a business equivalent, it's called "doing an end run." People that allow others to pull an end run around another person are assisting in unrighteousness.

For example, if a local leader starts instructing the missionaries directly, bypassing the Mission Leader, this is misuse of priesthood power. If the missionaries, or others, allow this to happen, they are assisting in unrighteousness.

What do these examples have in common? Answer: force, compulsion, loss of agency, etc.

Often, it doesn't occur to people that they are being little dictators or that their methods mirror Satan's plan (D&C 29:36Moses 4:1–4Abr. 3:27–28). However, they are and it does.

Priesthood power should only be exercised under the conditions made explicit in Doctrine & Covenants 121:41.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
This is further explained in the Handbook of Instructions, 2.4.3 Exercising Priesthood Authority Righteously:
The priesthood should be used to bless the lives of others. Effective priesthood leaders preside in love and kindness. They do not try to force their will upon others. Rather, they counsel with others and try to come to a consensus through revelation. The Lord has said that the power of the priesthood cannot be used except in righteousness (see D&C 121:36). The proper use of the priesthood is by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, sincere love, and kindness (see D&C 121:36, 41–42). If a man tries to abuse priesthood power, “the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).
Whenever a leader over you says, in essence, do this because I said so, you can be sure that person is exercising unrighteous dominion. If a leader tries to force you to do something, or somehow takes away your agency, that is unrighteous dominion. We all know this is a common tendency. See Doctrine & Covenants 121:39:
We have learned by sad experience that 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.
Stop thinking that you are an exception and start evaluating what you are doing, what you have done and what you will do in the future. Don't let these problems creep into your behavior without you noticing. If they already have, then reverse course, FAST.

If you have used priesthood power unrighteously, you need to repent. That includes apologizing to those you alienated, dictated to, forced something on, did an end run around, etc. If others witnessed your action, you need to come clean with them too, not just those who were directly injured by you.

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