Before I was a teenager my best friend’s dad was my bishop. It was he who initially defined what I understood as the role of a bishop. I figured his family was more righteous than ours because he didn’t let his sons watch the Seahawks on Sunday (my wicked father and I watched football every Sunday together). They were the perfect Mormon family. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that the entire time as bishop he was living in an adulterous relationship.
This sort of thing isn’t uncommon. I recently found out that a counselor in the bishopric of a friend of ours was just arrested for nine years of child molestation. I’m only two or three degrees away from a few other such unfortunate incidents. But when I found out my bishop had been committing adultery I was forced to ask “if God knew, then why would He call him as bishop?” I’ve since learned that this is a natural question for almost everyone involved and it has been asked about pretty much anyone who has been in a prominent position who has become unworthy*.
(Now to be clear, I’m under no illusions as to the process of how people in the Church are called. I’ve been a part of that decision-making process and am very clear that we/they often make mistakes. However, I also know that many, if not all callings are made with at least some degree of inspiration, whether that be “feeling good” about a decision to a clear impression of “She’s a good choice, go ahead” to the well-worn “stupor of thought.”)
Of course, each incident is different in nature and Agency makes the question very tricky. But I see four possible circumstances that could force this question:
1) Unworthiness at the time of calling, then the person changed.
2) Unworthiness at the time of calling and continued unworthy while serving.
3) Worthy at the time of calling but became unworthy while serving.
4) Worthy at the time of calling, worthy through the duration of the calling, after release becoming unworthy.
We can generically answer numbers 1, 3 and 4 (#1 because God knew he’d change, #3 because he has agency, #4 because he has agency). Number 2, however, is much more difficult. For instance, how do we hold the belief that the Stake President recieves revelation for our ward as well as the belief that God wouldn’t give us an adulterer (or whatever) for a bishop? And if we need to drop one of the two it’s much easier to believe the Stake President screwed up than it is to believe God would give us an adulterer for a bishop.
This issue makes me want to embrace Geoff’s views on God’s character (He doesn’t perfectly know our future acts) over my dad’s (He knows everything we will do). But either way, can we really answer this question with any degree of certainty? Doesn’t the answer differ depending on the person involved (“to test me”, “accountability”, “as a warning”, etc)?
And then there’s the problem that our answers to #1, 3 and 4 aren’t very good at healing our emotional scars. It’s an easy thing to say “well, he screwed up but hey, that’s agency!” but an entirely different thing to feel/believe that that’s all it is.
How would you answer this question?
*Unworthy is the general term I’m using to suggest sins which could cause the person to lose their membership such as adultery, spousal/child abuse, child molestation, apostasy, homosexual acts and so forth.