Disagreeing Is a Way to Sustain Our Leaders

(Conflict by Eileen T. Berets)

A few months ago, I wrote my first email ever to a local Church leader in which I honestly communicated (i.e. complained) about something that was bothering me. In the past, I have held off from doing this. First, most of the things that really trouble me in the Church are not things that can be changed by a local leader. Second, local leaders have so much on their plates, I hesitate to burden them with more. Third, I often am just not confident that my leader will be able to understand where I’m coming from, so what’s the point?But this thing that came up – having the whole RS recite the YW’s theme once a month when the YW come in – really got my goat, for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here. So I decided that rather than just griping about it to my friends, I would actually do something proactive and communicate my disgruntlement to the source. I would show my RS president, of whom I am quite fond, that I respect her enough to honestly tell her how I was feeling about this new policy.

And how was the whole matter resolved? My RS president was kind and conversed with her counselors about the situation, and in the end decided to uphold the new status quo. The YW theme would remain in RS, though from now on they would be careful to ‘invite’ the women to stand and join in.

I was somewhat disappointed in the end result. But I’m still glad I wrote that email. While it was the first time I’ve openly disagreed with a leader, it was also, I think, one of the first times I’ve fully, proactively, sustained a leader too. Let me explain.

In her essay “A Need For Nourishment” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich tells us that the word ‘sustain’ means to support (i.e. accept callings, do what it takes to help keep a ward going) but that it also means nourish, “to feed our leaders ideas, reactions, and feelings. I am convinced,” says Ulrich “that every bit of honest communication received from members sustains and enriches the Church.”

This resonates with me. As I commented in a RS lesson a couple of weeks ago, I remain committed to the idea that disagreeing with our leaders is indeed one way to sustain them, to nourish them, to show trust in their abilities to empathize and understand. If I had no faith in a leader, or little respect, there is no way I would even try to engage with them in a meaningful way.

While contention may be of the devil, I think that honest loving communication can be of Christ. As I look back on my one fruitless attempt to sway my leader, I reflect that my email of disagreement was a moment of pure Christian charity. In mentally imagining myself in her shoes, I did as I would have done unto me. I told her about my concerns to her face, rather than just complain behind her back.

In conclusion, I don’t intend to start whipping off emails to every leader whenever something they say or do bothers me. I still know that I need to pick and choose my battles. But the next time something troubling does come up which is within my leader’s authority to change, I will carefully consider talking to them. To do so, for me, is a mark of respect. It’s taking that idea of sustaining to a deeper level.

Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.


  1. Caroline-

    And what you did was exactly the right way to do it, too. You weren’t responding in anger or pride –you were mature and kind.

    I think the church members who believe that there can be no disagreement are the ones that react in anger or offense. And then, when they are ignored or “vetoed”, their anger rises and it can cause dissent and desertion.

    I love the obvious result that although you were disappointed in the end result, it hasn’t changed your outlook on the RS presidency, or the church.

    Great post!

  2. Cheryl, thanks!

    This is all a part of me trying to be less anguished/angered and more Christian when it comes to certain Mormon things.

    So far this approach has made me feel better.


    My problem in not necessarily with the YW theme, but with having adult women recite it in RS. Much more to say, but I’ll leave it at that.

  3. Whats the big deal. All the priesthood holders stand and recite the “Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood” Every week before we separate in our ward.

    I think its a good idea.

  4. Anon-
    It’s not so much that it’s a “big deal”. If Caroline was bothered by it, then she was bothered by it. The post was to show how she reacted in a positive way to something she disagreed with –at least that’s what I got from it.
    And by golly, if you’re going to be all snarky, at least use your real name…

  5. In my ward, the men all stand and state the Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. The only part I feel comfortable saying is showing respect to women. I don’t know what the women are asked to say, but the first thing the boys say is “To become converted to the gospel.” I find it a little strange that this is a purpose of the aaronic priesthood and not something already required to be a holder of the priesthood. It also implies that they do not have a choice – this is what you will do. Good psychology says that it is difficult to disbelieve the things you say and do – but how do you have authentic faith based off going through the motions?

  6. Yes, we are encouraged to ‘council’ with our leaders. And in the spirit of respect, even reverence. I think that means we are willing to share responsability with them and not blame.

    The general authorities council together and it is not easy. These are diverse men. But they love and respect each other and share responsability.

  7. I know this isn’t the point of the post, but I find the recitation of a theme or motto or whatever in church to be just the wrong side of creepy. But that’s just me.

    I like the bit about “sustain” encompassing nourishment as well as support. Not that I’m the type to fire off e-mails whenever something bugs me, but if I ever got a wild hair to e-mail about something, I could feel good about myself. 🙂 Actually, I once wrote a long letter to my stake president about the singles program in our stake (back when I was single). He never responded. But I felt better afterward. (I was totally respectful, of course. The man was my bishop before he became SP, and I liked him.)

    Actually, most of what bothers me these days does not come up in a forum where I can respond to it. That is frustrating.

  8. I’ve been single almost six years, and in all that time our stake has never run a single adult programme.In the last quarter of 2007 I travelled hundreds of miles to attend a SA convention, and gained so much from it in terms of being with others who understood. As luck would have it, the very next Sunday the stake presy counselor responsible for SA’s spoke in our ward, so afterwards I spoke to him, as positively as I could, and asked why those SA’s who didn’t have the time/ resources to travel were being deprived of a programme that would help them. He immediately admitted neglect; this year we have two activites planned for 2008, including a weekend convention. It’s a start, and an example of what can happen if issues are addressed in the correct manner.

  9. green Mormon,
    I don’t think it has changed our relationship much. I imagine she might be a little more wary of me and worried about doing things that offend me.

    But overall I think she probably still likes me. I do a pretty darn good job with my calling as Humanitarian person, so I know she is grateful for that. And when all is said in done, my liking for her is not changed. I think she’s a great woman. We simply have different ways we would handle this particular situation.

  10. When I was an RS president, I really appreciated ward members who took me aside and shared their concerns and suggestions with me directly rather than behind my back. Especially those who did so in a way that felt like it was supportive and validating of my own imperfect efforts and intents.

    While we didn’t act on all feedback, we made several changes on things that I didn’t even realize were having unintended consequences until someone brought them to my attention. Inspiration and revelation were helpful, but I was also relied on and felt grateful for people who followed their personal revelation to directly tell me of issues.

    It also really helped when they gave alternate suggestions that the presidency could consider and build on, since coming up with ideas is at least as hard as identifying the underlying problem!

  11. I think you did the right thing also.
    So just curious, how else does your relief society make the YW feel at home when they join your meeting?

  12. anon,

    Our RS has the YW conduct and lead the music and pray every other month. And every month one of them stands up to give their YW announcements. I think there are also words of welcome to the YW when a RS person conducts.

    I personally think it would be great if we also have a YW play the piano every other month, but I’m not sure if we’ve got a girl who is ready for that.

  13. I think that the theme recitation isn’t that big of a deal. I don’t want to offend you but truthfully I think there are more important things to worry about. I was one that would never complain or voice my concerns about anything at Church. Then one year the Boy Scout leader was released and a new one called. I was a single sister (recently divorced) and the new BS leader had said somethings to me that I felt was a bit strange. I never told the Bishop but I did go to the Bishop and voice my opinion that this brother was not qualified to be my son’s Boy Scout leader. The Bishop listened and did not release the brother. about five years later the brother’s wife divorced him and I found out that he had had an addiction to pornography for years. If I were to have the whole situation to do over I would have listened to my promptings and if the brother was not released I would take my son out of scouts.
    I support my leaders but they are not infallable.

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