Thursday, September 06, 2007

On Forgiving Leaders Who Sin

I remember an unexpected spiritual experience in a grocery store. I saw a small shelf of books for sale and noticed among their number a book by Hyrum Smith, of Franklin Day Planner fame. As a young man, Hyrum Smith had come to our stake to do a fireside and workshop for the youth and had given us all Franklin Day Planners and taught us how to use them.

At that event, I felt uncomfortable with Smith for some reason, though I was very excited about the principles of prioritization and time management he was teaching. We heard about what a great church leader he was and his many positions in the church and business. Something about him seemed hard to me, though.

A few years later, I found out about his excommunication from the Church. According to rumor, the roots of his excommunication stretched further back than the time I met him. I wondered if my spiritual "radar" about him had been right all along. I felt, I'm ashamed to admit, a certain smug superiority over this man.

Years go by, and I find myself in the grocery store staring at a book by this same man. "Why are they still carrying books by this guy?" I pick it up and notice a relatively recent publication date. I start reading eagerly.

He talks about the pain of sin and the difficulty of repentance and the road back to the fold, culminating in his rebaptism and restoration of blessings. The shame is hotter now as I read of how God had forgiven this man. I knew it was true and that I hadn't been a very good Christian while I had been judging his heart.

I was reminded of that incident when I read the following[1] story, told by Boyd Packer, in the expanded version of the recent biography of President Kimball.
A few years ago, it was my sad privilege to accompany President Kimball, then President of the Twelve, to a distant stake to replace a stake leader who had been excommunicated for a transgression. Our hearts went out to this good man who had done such an unworthy thing. His sorrow and anguish and suffering brought to my mind the phrase “gall of bitterness.”

Thereafter, on intermittent occasions, I would receive a call from President Kimball: “Have you heard from this brother? How is he doing? Have you been in touch with him?” After Brother Kimball became President of the Church, the calls did not cease. They increased in frequency.

One day I received a call from the President, “I have been thinking of this brother. Do you think it is too soon to have him baptized?” (Always a question, never a command.) I responded with my feelings, and he said, “Why don’t you see if he could come here to see you? If you feel good about it after an interview, we could proceed.”

A short time later, I arrived very early at the office. As I left my car I saw President Kimball enter his. He was going to the airport on his way to Europe. He rolled down the window to greet me, and I told him I had good news about our brother. “He was baptized last night,” I said.

He motioned for me to get into the car and sit beside him and asked me to tell him all about it. I told him of the interview and that I had concluded by telling our brother very plainly that his baptism must not be a signal that his priesthood blessings would be restored in the foreseeable future. I told him that it would be a long, long time before that would happen.

President Kimball patted me on the knee in a gentle gesture of correction and said, “Well, maybe not so long. . . .” Soon thereafter the intermittent phone calls began again.

[1] Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Working Draft) by Edward L. Kimball, chapter 4 page 5. This version of the book is available on the CD that accompanies the printed version of the book and was also distributed to BYU Studies subscribers.


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  • These are really good points. Regarding Hyrum, from what I understood at the time, he himself asked to be excommunicated. From the rumors I heard, it was more of a spirit of the law not letter of the law thing, but still wrong, and when he awakened to this he felt the need for this measure to be taken, though it wasn't absolutely necessary. Rumors are rumors, so who knows.

    I remember not long afterward hearing a talk in conference mentioning that we should not try to punish ourselves for our sins, but go to the Bishop and go through the steps of repentence as guided by our church leaders, and I immediately thought of Hyrum.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/08/2007 10:10 PM  

  • Hyrum Smith was my neighbor's mission president. A few years ago he attended a big mission reunion at Smith's ranch in St. George. At that gathering, Smith candidly told them about his mistakes. It seems that this was not merely a matter of violating the spirit of the law.

    Smith had not had his priesthood blessings restored at that point. The group went to the temple. Smith greeted them as they went in, but he could not go in with them.

    This D-News article describes an interview with Bro. Smith. It's worth reading. He says that Mormon culture ostracizes people that are excommunicated rather than reaching out to them and drawing them back in. That's why 97% never return to the church. Is there something we ought to be doing here?

    My neighbor has a great deal of respect for his former mission president. He says that Smith's sins and excommunication are part of him, but that so are his repentance and forgiveness by Jesus Christ. Nothing is more apparent than the latter. My neighbor says it reminds him of Alma II's discussion about his sins and repentance.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 9/10/2007 11:49 AM  

  • That newspaper article really touched me and I am pretty sure this will end up in a priesthood quorum lesson in the future. Thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 9/10/2007 12:17 PM  

  • The title “Forgiving leaders who sin” really bothers me. Why is it up to you to forgive this or any leader? And why is this acceptable to be gossiping about a person on a blog.
    When you stand before your creator and he asks you how you faired in your life. He is not going to ask you if you had forgiven your leaders for their sins.
    Maybe you should look up seven fold in the scriptures.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/31/2009 11:08 PM  

  • I shared Brother Smith's name in my post because he published a book about his experience. It isn't gossip any more than it is gossip to read the account of Alma the Younger. Their sins were eclipsed by the power of the atonement and their example is valuable to us.

    To forgive is one of our greatest duties in this life. As you noted, the Savior was pretty emphatic on that point in His mortal ministry. However, forgiveness can be very, very hard. When the people we must forgive were once our leaders, there is an extra dimension of betrayal. Nevertheless, to forgive them is essential for our own sake. Will the Savior ask us if we forgave them? I believe he will. "Of you it is required to forgive all men."

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 9/01/2009 8:11 AM  

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