The bishop of the Native Ward invited us into his office just after sacrament meeting, while people lined up to shake hands with Elder Larry Echohawk (The only Native American member of the quorum of the seventy). He quickly escorted us to his office, and he asked me if it was OK for him to respect the previous bishop’s opinion. I told him that I didn’t agree that it was fair for him to attribute guilt simply because he hadn’t heard the bishop’s story. Besides, I told him, I was honest about why he restricted me, and his reasons aren’t justifiable. So, I asked him, how can you attribute guilt, given the circumstances? The Native bishop justified the restrictions solely based upon the office. Sufficed to say, he believes that all members should follow the prophet. What it means is, having never met my previous bishop, the coveted keys his office holds is sufficient to respect, that a wrong judgement to revoke a temple recommend from a worthy member, disregarding the members honest declaration of being a full-tithe payer, ought to be respected by the Native bishop.
Although his initial inquiry was one sided and justified in his mind, my wife and I were dead set on having a non-offensive attitude about the unjust behavior. We have noticed within our own relationship everyone recognizes an “offender.” But, no one recognizes that a neutral comment can be perceived as “offensive,” simply by responding “defensively.” For example, if I say to my wife, “I disagree.” It’s a neutral statement, it’s not positive or negative. But, she can make it offensive simply by defending something that needs no defense by responding, “So you’re saying I’m wrong?” I disagree does not always equal you’re wrong. There should be clarification. But, by taking a defensive approach, it makes the other party into an offender.
The bishop asked me what my purpose was for coming to the ward. I said, “To teach the Book of Mormon to the Natives, outside of the institutional mindset, allowing the words intended for them to speak for themselves.” The bishop took the defensive, making me the offender, by restating what I said. He said, “So you’re saying that you are here to save us because we aren’t as smart as you?” I told him that I see myself no better than anyone, but I found his accusation to hold myself above others childish. Just because I play the sport better than the rest of the team shouldn’t make me a threat, it should make me an asset, perhaps even an advantage.
I promised him that if he would allow my records in his ward, not only would it be a license for me to teach the truth without generating contention with the father of the ward, …I promised that if the people came to understand it, the bishop would have more temple recommend holders, they would attend more regularly, and when they attended, they wouldn’t be taking a nap. The bishop accused me of judging the ward members for not having recommends, not attending the temple, and sleeping when they did attend. That wasn’t what I said, but that’s what he perceived, and his perception was all that mattered to him. We weren’t in a conversation. The bishop was in a conversation with himself, and pretending like he was talking to us, when he was only talking to his imagination of us (on the verge of schizophrenia).
I turned the conversation to the problem every bishop can never resolve, pornography. I said that allowing the truth of the Book of Mormon to be taught, unfiltered by the institutional parameters, established by false traditions, …that he would notice that their are real solutions to fixing the pornography issue, and not just hiding, burying, avoiding, and ignoring the problem. He responded telling me of his success rate for fixing porn issues. He said if they read the Book of Mormon, they stop, …but if they don’t, they never quit. Rather than tell him that people don’t just stop because they are reading a minimum of five minutes a day, as he suggested, I took a different perspective. I asked, “So, of those who did not read, …why did they not read the Book of Mormon if it solved the problem?” He shrugged his shoulders. I told him, it’s not because they don’t want to break the porn habit, otherwise they would have never told you about it. It’s because they don’t understand the Book of Mormon, and it bores them in the institutional program they have framed it in. I would give them a clean perspective, one they can relate to, and one written from their distant ancestor, directly to them!
The bishop’s response was appalling. He accused me of giving him a “Sales Pitch,” as if I were Satan fooling him into partaking of the tree of knowledge of good an evil. He claimed that I was coming to him like I was the savior himself. I told him that I was only attempting to offer repentance, to make the weakness within all of us strength, by pointing to the one being that is unchanging, by pointing to Christ.
I told him that he would be wise to repent too. I told him that I didn’t intend to embarrass him by asking questions about the scriptures that he didn’t know. I only want to discuss the scriptures. He said he had a problem with my opinions of the general authorities. I told him that had he not ever asked about my opinions, I would have never saw the need to divulge them. Why would I ever frame the light of the Book of Mormon in a pitch to disobey your leaders, quit the church, and rebel? I believe that if you speak the truth, they can govern themselves.
He then asked me, “Do you think you’re a prophet?” I responded, in every age, whether during the day of Lehi, or during the life of Christ, or during the reign of Nephi, …that was a question of pride and vanity. The value of a prophet is the light they bring, through the message of truth they bear. Self identifying as a prophet does no one any good, ever! But, …your discerning light will weigh on your judgment. If you failed to discern the light being offered you, that will be your accountability. I am here to offer more light, concerning the covenant written in the Book of Mormon. If I speak truth, you should receive it, whether or not I hold a recognizable office. Lehi was stoned. Christ was crucified. Nephi was attacked by his own brothers. Why would I expect better treatment for bearing the responsibility to teach the truth? He pressed, “Just say, yes or no, do you consider yourself a prophet?” I responded, “Just say, yes or no, are you going to transfer my records and allow me to speak freely?” He said, “It’s a simple question.” I said, “So is mine.”
Conclusion: The conversation never got heated, despite the sensitivity of the subject matter. I don’t believe that priesthood can be exercised in any other way, but by persuasion and pure knowledge. However, bridging the gap between persuasion and pure knowledge will require long suffering, gentleness, kindness, meekness, and unfeigned love. The bishop doesn’t know it, but I am willing to do just that if he chooses to permit my records without restrictions. How he chooses to judge, so shall he be judged.
Consider the arguments the bishop is making, and reflect upon your responsibility to recognize and receive light, from an unrecognized source. Lehi was not recognized as we see him today. Christ was crucified by his own people that He was in the process of redeeming. Joseph Smith was shot by disenfranchised members. All of them came as strangers. The method for identifying a prophet has nothing to do with their rank in the public eye. It is the message they bear alone. That makes anyone fair game. Doesn’t it?
The game is afoot. You’re in it. So if you’re going to be in it, be in it to win it. Familiarize yourself with the message of the prophets of old. Remove the idea of official public offices, since few, if any, came through that route. It was the message. Write the ancient message of the Book of Mormon on your hearts, and then trust your hearts to hear and discern the messages being offered you right not. And then judge wisely. For how you judge, so shall you be judged!
La Mai Ka’i (Have a good day!)