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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : “If God Knew, Then Why Would He Call Him As Bishop?” » “If God Knew, Then Why Would He Call Him As Bishop?”

“If God Knew, Then Why Would He Call Him As Bishop?”

Rusty - May 25, 2006

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.


  1. In the process of selecting a bishop, don’t general authorities (perhaps even the First Presidency) play a role?

    I have to think that the Lord allows people to lie and deceive their leaders sometimes. Even when the leaders are supposed to be inspired or in fact are inspired. The Lord has allowed much worse things to happen – thinking along the lines of mass-murder or genocide.

    Having a bishop who is an adulterer is terrible of course. Not that I would know.

    Comment by danithew — May 25, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

  2. What about the shortage of good help issue?

    I know that in my company, many of our more “elite” employees are often frustrated by the fact that the company routinely hires idiots. Unfortunately sometimes the idiots are all we have to choose from and we need a warm body. What if the Lord is working with what He can get?

    Comment by Ryan — May 25, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  3. I think agency can play a big part in the process of selecting a new bishop. I’m not convinced that there must always be only one person who will fit the bill. No doubt there are instances when we are left to use our own best judgement when issuing calls to serve. And sometimes, well, we fall a little short of the Lord’s expectations. Se la vi.

    Comment by Jack — May 25, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

  4. “In the process of selecting a bishop, don’t general authorities (perhaps even the First Presidency) play a role?”

    The selection of a Bishop must be approved by the 12.

    Comment by Tim J. — May 25, 2006 @ 3:20 pm

  5. Rusty,

    Where did you grow up? I think I might know your bishop.

    Comment by jimbob — May 25, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  6. I suppose the same question could be asked with respect to any person holding any calling “unworthily” (even full-time missionaries (called by the president of the Church) who have serious unrepented sins), or with respect to unworthy holding of temple recommends for that matter. Or how could Mark Hoffman have fooled the Brethren?

    In my mission, some elders believed (and told me) that our mission president, a great man for sure, knew what all of us were doing at all times almost through some kind a vision mechanism. I did not believe it then, and do not believe it now.

    Perhaps sometimes God intervenes to prevent the issuance of callings to individuals who have serious unrepented sins (I have heard occasional stories to that effect). But most of the time, I believe, He leaves it to the sinner to make the confession, without pre-revealing to the priesthood leader that a serious sin exists or what it is, even when an important calling is involved.

    Comment by DavidH — May 25, 2006 @ 3:37 pm

  7. Tim: The selection of a Bishop must be approved by the 12.

    This policy clearly is left over from the old days where the church was small enough that the General Authorities would have enough personal connections that they either knew the bishop personally or knew somebody who knew the bishop, etc. Nowadays, there are so many bishops that it seems impossible that any real investigation could take place…

    Comment by A. Nonny Mouse — May 25, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

  8. One other option might be -

    The Lord called Y as Bishop, knowing Y was unworthy, with the hopes that this might be the opportunity for Y to finally confess instead of accepting even greater responsibility for his sins. Y chose not to repent and confess, thus the condemnation is even more severe.

    I ahve had similar experiences in my life with leaders called, etc… One that I admire is a man that was called to a Stake position, and instead of fulfilling that calling, he confessed of a grievous sin. He was soon excommunicated and now he is back in the church, forgiven by his family and on a right path. Had he not recieved the calling, he may never have looked at his life. That’s where his agency led him. In the case of your former bishop, the agency led to continued sin and the consequences effect not onlyu him now, but every member that he may have influenced.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — May 25, 2006 @ 3:46 pm

  9. I think that the Lord allows and might even confirm a decission in order to let the unworthy indavidual either reform or be condemned.

    Whatever form of foreordination we believe in, there is the possibility that someone is destined for certain opportunities and that they have to be judged about how they handled them.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 25, 2006 @ 4:03 pm

  10. “This policy clearly is left over from the old days where the church was small enough that the General Authorities would have enough personal connections that they either knew the bishop personally or knew somebody who knew the bishop, etc.”

    It’s still policy. They pray about the given name and then give approval/disapproval.

    Comment by Tim J. — May 25, 2006 @ 6:12 pm

  11. I’d go with #3. We can all be tempted. Things happen in life that aren’t right, not only in faulty bishops. Which all of them are.

    I know a guy who had an affair as a bishop. He was excommunicated for seven years, rebaptized and is in a bishopric again. He stayed with his wife, who forgave him.

    I actually like him very much. We all are sinners, guys.

    Comment by annegb — May 25, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

  12. A man was called into a stake presidency where I lived by a member of the 1st quorum of the Seventy. Said Seventy made it very clear that he had personally selected the entire stake presidency, with the advice and consent of the new SP. (I was at the meeting when he said this) Within a few months, the man was ex’d.

    Apparently, he stole from people, rich and poor alike. He’d been doing it for years. People had complained about it to their leaders, and complained about it again, but the complaining was spread out among different units, and the responses had always been, “Hey, it was a bad investment/it didn’t work out/you risked a lot for the potential for high gains.” But when this man went into the stake presidency, people came out of the woodwork.

    I think it was the only way he was going to be held accountable for what he had done was for him to be put in a position of enough authority that it couldn’t slide under the radar any more.

    Last I knew, he was in Huntsville, and not because he’s enjoying the lovely spring weather (he moved to Texas after he was ex’d).

    Comment by Ann — May 25, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

  13. Good post Rusty.

    My opinion, especially as of late, is that in this organization there is an owner — God (read: the Godhead) — and everyone below God is middle management (including the top middle management in SLC). Everyone knows middle management screws up at times so I just don’t get bent when they do. If I have a real concern I take it directly to the owner. (I posted on this some time ago)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 26, 2006 @ 2:20 am

  14. The process of working it out for ourselves and then approaching the Father for confirmation rests on the ability of the person making the decision to discern between their own thoughts and wishes and the prompting of the Holy Ghost. I know one sister who feels that her every thought is a prompting. Highly unlikely. Also, knowing some of the rude things she has been “prompted” to do, I doubt the source of her inspiration.

    Wasn’t it J. Golden Kimball who said there were three ways to get a calling in this church: inspiration, relation, and desperation. I served in an Elder’s Quorum presidency with Dan Rector (Hartman Rector’s son). He said he wished he could move into a ward and not be called to a calling just because of who his father was, but on his own merits.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — May 26, 2006 @ 7:23 am

  15. A woman from my former ward said that her old bishop told her she had to sleep with him because Heavenly Father revealed it to him.

    I go with J. Stapely’s thought that it allows the individual to fulfill a calling (foreordained?) and prompts them to repent or suffer the condemnation.

    This is so disturbing though. Bishops, Stake Presidents. Where does it stop? Would HF allow an unworthy 70? Apostle? First Presidency?

    Comment by meems — May 26, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  16. meems, when you look at the first presidency during Joseph’s last years, you will find the disturbing answer to your question.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 26, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

  17. Rusty, you’ve opened a can of worms that goes far beyond just the bishop.

    That Bishop gave some very bad “counsel” more than once, I know I was one of his counselors. When the two of us questioned his actions…on more than one occasion…he had us both released.

    How far does God go in allowing an unworthy Bishop to effect other people’s lives? (not mine from being released…but the others along the way)

    Comment by don — May 26, 2006 @ 1:39 pm

  18. How far does God go in allowing an unworthy Bishop to effect other people’s lives?

    Apparently pretty far. That is another good reason to get in good with the Owner… (the reasons to do so are seemingly endless, of course)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 26, 2006 @ 1:46 pm

  19. Yes, J., you’re right of course. I wasn’t thinking historically — it all seems so far removed from us.

    And Geoff, I know we need to get in good with the owner, but take the case of the woman from my old ward. She was a fairly new convert. Her BISHOP said HF revealed it to him through revelation that she was to sleep with him. (She didn’t.) That can set up some pretty confusing emotions when the priesthood authority you trust says that he also is “in with the owner,” and this is what the owner told him. To further the analogy, she and I are workers, the Bishop is middle management. Even if a worker talks to the owner, and then the mid-mgmt boss says that he also talked to the owner and the owner told him something different, who are you going to believe? Aren’t we usually told to obey authority?

    When I was a teenager/young adult, I was under the impression those popular “Question Authority” t-shirts that were so popular were “evil.” Heh.

    Comment by meems — May 26, 2006 @ 8:08 pm

  20. And look at Elder Richard Lyman, an apostle in the mid 1900s who was ex’d for adultery–he’d been in a “polygamous” relationship (after the days of polygamy) for decades as a church leader. But I like to remember what Elder Oaks said referring to Mark Hofmann, something to the effect that the apostles can’t do their job if they suspect everyone, it’s better to trust that people are good and be disappointed occasionally than the other way around.

    Comment by hmmm — May 26, 2006 @ 10:10 pm

  21. Rusty and Don,

    I know who you’re talking about, of course. I’ve had arguments with my father in the past that sound exactly like Rusty’s post….in no small part because, theoretically at least, my father should have been one of those receiving revelation to tell him that some members of his stake were being lead by an unworthy, deluded, abusive man. As Don suggests, the ramifications of having tolerated his presence for so long in our midst–even after many other leaders and their wives had picked up on the fact that something was dreadfully wrong–have spread far and wide.

    He showed up at Grandma Edra’s funeral, by the way. None of us had seen him for years. I was seriously tempted to organize some effort to toss him from the room, but decided not to make a scene.

    Comment by Russell Arben Fox — May 27, 2006 @ 9:08 am

  22. Russell! So happy to see you posting.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — May 27, 2006 @ 11:45 am

  23. Russell, so what were the conclusions of your talks with your dad about this Bishop? He affected some ward members in an eternal perspective!

    Comment by don — May 27, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

  24. Meems: When I was a teenager/young adult, I was under the impression those popular “Question Authority” t-shirts that were so popular were “evil.” Heh.

    Hehehe! Nice comment.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 28, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  25. We were talking in church Sunday about how God called Eli, Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon.

    The issues come up over and over again, don’t they?

    Though, having been an executive secretary to a stake president, I can note that sometimes there just isn’t anyone else for a position. It is interesting to see people struggle with trying to find someone to serve, and since then, I’ve seen it replay over and over again.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — May 29, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

  26. I of course, also know this situation and had almost the same relationship Rusty did with their family. (Rusty’s best friend’s younger brother was my best friend at the time)

    J. Stapley is right. It reminds me of Alma telling Amulek that God won’t allow them to save the saints being burned for their belief because God is using it to justify His later acts of condemnation upon them.

    Also, perhaps he was put into the Bishop position for reasons that affected some for good. Even though secretly he was ruining a few people’s lives, the facade he put up could have helped others. I can attribute the influence of my friend’s lifestyle, his knowledge and excitement for the gospel and the conversations we had about it, even at that young age, had a lasting effect on the foundational building of my personal testimony.

    Comment by Bret — May 30, 2006 @ 6:18 pm

  27. Bishops, SPs, GAs, “The Prophet”, whatever, none of this should surprise us. They are all people like us and in equal need of redemption. Given that the GA house is rarely cleaned out today, just by law of averages, there are likely a number of in-the-closest gay or adulterous GAs. So what?

    Comment by Steve EM — May 31, 2006 @ 4:25 pm

  28. God knows me and He puts me in a lot of callings I don’t think I’m fit for, either. I wish He would just consider me a distant acquaintance.

    Comment by annegb — June 3, 2006 @ 11:59 am

  29. But still.

    How could God choose Saul, or Eli, or Samuel or David?

    But he did.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 11, 2006 @ 8:06 pm

  30. What is wrong with Samuel?

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

  31. To me, it isn’t a question of God choosing someone incorrectly, but perhaps the one “receiving” the information incorrectly. And then again, who is to say that putting in screwed up Bishops and Stake Presidents etc isn’t in the plan for all of us to learn from.

    I think as LDS we are so willing to trust authority without question… that perhaps God wants to get our attention sometimes and say, “HEY! How ’bout you check this out for yourself, guys? You might learn something!”

    Comment by Lianne — June 13, 2006 @ 6:29 pm

  32. A similar event occured with a friend of mine, who during his service as bishop, was caught in an affair that long predated his calling of bishop. Tragically, he died shortly after before he managed to get his life back in order. Although this was surely disturbing for many in the ward, he apparently was an outstanding bishop without any obvious complaints.

    I think, as others have mentioned above, that we are given chances to sink or swim. The interviews for the calling allow you a chance to get straigth with Heavenly Father or rope to further hang yourself spiritually.

    Comment by dan — June 17, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

  33. What is wrong with Samuel?

    Gee, he let his children work as judges in Israel, lining up prostitutes by troops at the temple doors and taking bribes?

    That is why he felt that when Israel wanted a king they were rejecting him. It is interesting that God responded that it was Samuel who was being rejected but God.

    The difference between Samuel and Eli, as far as I can tell, is that Samuel did not turn a blind eye to the sins of his sons and Eli did. But how would you feel if your bishop’s sons ran graft, prostitutes and corruption?

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 25, 2006 @ 11:59 am

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