If you have ever lived inside the faith, you know it’s true.
For an active Mormon, the local ward bishop holds a great deal of influence in your life. In many ways the bishop becomes part authority figure, part parent, and part friend. A bishop is even referred to as “the father of the ward” in Primary songs:
The father of our ward
Tends with loving care
Each member’s needs
With kindly deeds
Our bishop’s always there.
Children's Songbook, p. 209
Sometimes this is a good thing. The bishop can become an integral part of the lives of his ward members.
But sometimes it can be a bad thing.
With that influence and authority comes a lot of power.
In her memoir Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, author Ingrid Ricks describes the abusive step-father that made her home life a living hell for the few years he was married to her mother. His abuse was enabled and even sanctioned by the local bishop.
She writes about how the bishop scolded her older sister Connie and herself for “causing problems at home” despite the obvious abuse noticed by other ward members. During the meeting the bishop went on to tell Ingrid and her sister that they had no right to love their father any longer.
He continued his verbal lashing. “You girls are lucky your mom found Earl, and you need to start loving and respecting him. After everything your dad’s done, you don’t even have the right to love him.”
Later in the book, Ingrid describes another bishop who told her he would have chosen differently than the first bishop.
By design bishops are considered “judges in Israel” and hold strong ties with the members of their ward. But just as there are stories of those bishops abusing their power, there are also cases of some amazing men who serve as bishops.
So I thought maybe it would be nice to talk about that for a minute.
Very early in my marriage I was haunted by memories of some not so great stuff in my childhood. I was confused and torn by the knowledge of what had happened. During a temple recommend interview I hedged on the question “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord's house and participate in temple ordinances?”
It must have been all over my face. Somehow the bishop knew and without asking any prying questions he quickly pulled out of me what I had been concerned over. I was wondering about the abuse in my past and whether it made a difference to the Lord.
I will never forget that bishop, who squared his shoulders and looked at me full on. Normally he was a tall and gruff military type of man. Few questioned him, though I never remember him making demands in his office as a bishop. He really didn’t have to. With his eyes kind, his voice was firm. “I command you from this moment on never to hold yourself responsible or to blame for the abuse perpetrated on you as a little girl.”
I saw tears in his eyes as we concluded the interview. He hugged me tightly and I felt the love and support of a father freeing me from the needless guilt I felt over something that had occurred while I was still in elementary school.
Over the years I have witnessed the capacity to serve and bless the lives of ward members by bishops who love their congregations. Two separate bishops and one branch president allowed my father, who was never a member of the church, stand behind the circle when each of my three children were blessed in a place of honor. He did not hold the priesthood, but he was given a special place that made him a part of the ritual naming and blessing of his grandchildren. Even to the dismay of some of the ward’s loudest clucking tongues these leaders saw to it my request was granted.
I love those men to this day for that.
All over the world there are LDS bishops who work more on the service side of their callings than they focus on the preside part.
Recently an LDS bishop came to the attention of the world when he spoke openly in support of the LGBT members of the Church. In early November Bishop Kevin Kloosterman spoke at the Circling the Wagons Conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kloosterman told the large gathering of people that he was “sorry” for the wounds suffered by gay and lesbian members of the Church.
“…if you leave here not remembering anything I have to say, remember this: I’m sorry. Deeply, deeply sorry,” Kloosterman said. He called the wounds that gays and lesbians had received from others in the Church an atrocity.
I love this bishop.
I tend to think that Bishop Kloosterman is one of a kind, but I hope he just might become a bit of a trendsetter.
I want to express my gratitude toward the good bishops I have had in my own life, and the many who serve in the office across the globe. Thank you, those of you who love your wards as if they were your own families. Thank you for serving in your office with humility and a servant’s heart.