These Guys Are Just Men

These guys are just men. Give them a break.

In 2004, I lived in South Carolina for a few months while my military husband attended training at Fort Jackson. I’d just graduated from BYU and moved away from Utah with him for this temporary assignment. While there, I met a very friendly woman who was part of the housekeeping staff where we lived. She’d had a rough life and I came to love her very quickly after she helped me use my room to conceal a starving, lost kitten I found in the parking lot for several months. I adopted that cat and he was with me until he passed away in 2019. She brought all kinds of goodness to my life.

At the same time, I attended the local institute class with a very engaging teacher. A regional conference was planned while I was there for the members in South Carolina and Georgia, and the teacher told us, “President Hinckley decided this past year to hold all regional conferences over satellite broadcast systems – but as he sat down to go over the list of locations he said, “All of them will be broadcasts except for South Carolina. The Lord has told us we must go in person to that one.” The class was abuzz with excitement that the prophet (accompanied by the apostle Elder Russell M. Ballard and then seventy member Elder Todd Christofferson) was directed by heaven to physically travel to our location, and I was more enthusiastic about this news than anyone.

I wanted to invite my housekeeping friend to the regional conference. I just knew that Heavenly Father sent that kitten to bring us together so I could share the gospel with her. And now the opportunity arose to bring her not just to a regular church meeting, but a meeting in-person with the prophet, an apostle, and a seventy?! There was no way she wouldn’t feel the Spirit and know the church was true and join.

This is a very young me in South Carolina with my newly adopted kitty Romeo (RIP, 2004-2019), right around the time I went to this regional conference meeting.

I invited her, and at first she agreed to come – but then she changed her mind and said she couldn’t. I don’t remember exactly why she backed out, but I remember it was with a questionable excuse when I reminded her about it the week before (like a family member might be coming by for lunch that day), and I couldn’t believe she was going to miss a once in a lifetime experience for something so meaningless! I was bummed, but I knew God had a plan and trusted she’d still hear the gospel another way.

The morning of the big meeting finally came, and I showed up very early to get a good seat – only to realize that President Hinckley wasn’t at the building I was in. He was at another one, and they were broadcasting it to a screen where I was. (I thought, “How is this different for the majority of us than a satellite broadcast from Salt Lake City?”) Then the speakers all spoke, and it was…underwhelming. It had a very heavy focus on missionary work, and I was suddenly relieved that my friend wasn’t there. It would’ve felt awkward to hear my leaders talking about recruiting new members as I was trying to recruit her as a new member. I had told her it was going to be an amazing message from God’s mouthpiece on earth, and they were saying less than groundbreaking things like, “New members of the church need a friend and a calling or they’ll stop coming after they’re baptized.” Elder Ballard talked about the new Preach My Gospel manual and emphasized needing more missionaries to go out and preparing the young men better. It wasn’t anything new or revelatory, and it would likely have been very boring to an outsider. Because I’d been trying to bring my friend along I imagined viewing the meeting through her eyes, and what I saw was a very slow moving and not particularly interesting meeting presented by really old men. I read a glowing report afterwards in the church news where a young woman said she’d never felt the spirit so strongly, and I wondered what meeting she had attended. (HERE is the church news report where I read that in back in 2004.)

Another close encounter with an apostle came in late 2010 when I was invited to attend a special fireside with Elder Dieter Uchtdorf for military families right as my husband was about to deploy for a year to Iraq. I was going to be right in the actual chapel with an apostle this time (not broadcasted!), and he had a message crafted specifically for someone like me. I couldn’t wait.

I’m on the left, waiting excitedly for the fireside to start next to two of my military wife friends.

But as Elder Uchtdorf began to speak, I immediately felt confused and weird. He told airplane stories and I sat there kind of stunned that I was sitting in a chapel within baseball toss distance of an apostle, and I felt… nothing. No big spiritual confirmation or anything. Just… oh look, there’s a guy up there talking.

My enthusiasm for his apostolic message waned even more as (against my will) the thought “He’s just a man – just a totally ordinary man” intruded into my mind. By the time he said “amen”, I was overwhelmed with (and hiding) my alarm that I’d felt zero inspiration from his perfectly acceptable talk and was instead inundated with feelings of his humanity and ordinary-ness.

A press photo of Elder Uchtdorf at this meeting.
I covered my feelings and joined those around me oohing and awwwing over the experience as we got up to leave, and by chance walked out at exactly the same time as Elder and Sister Uchtdorf themselves. I quickly took the opportunity to shake their hands and requested a photo so I could show my primary class the next week that I MET AN APOSTLE! I smiled but felt inwardly tormented that meeting an apostle had been so unexciting.
I noticed on the digital camera screen that my photo with Elder Uchtdorf was blurry and for a split second considered asking him for a second one, but decided not to because I was sure he wanted to head home.
My friend and I with the very sweet Harriet Uchtdorf.

If you are interested in the Deseret News coverage of this military-only fireside, you can see it HERE.

A couple years later in March of 2013, another general authority spoke at my stake conference when my husband was out of town. (Try as I might, I can’t remember who the speaker was, but my memory tells me it was an apostle.) I asked around for a babysitter for my young kids during the adult session, and was surprised when a friend offered to watch my kids for me since she wasn’t attending the session anyway (only her husband was, and she was staying home with their kids). She didn’t seem bothered by this situation, and just shrugged and said, “Eh, at least one of us gets to go.” I was bothered though – how could she so nonchalantly just skip a meeting with such an important church leader coming right to her stake? He was coming to speak God’s will directly to us!

But the meeting came, and I had a similar experience as in the past. I don’t remember much of what this general authority said when he spoke, but I remember how I felt about it. He didn’t seem to have anything prepared or particularly important to say and seemed almost irritated to be there. He said something like, “People always expect me to come and have some great answers, but…”, and then his words trailed off and he just shrugged his shoulders without finishing the sentence. It was so out of character from every talk I’d ever heard from a general authority that I was confused and disappointed. He did not seem interested in being there and did not have anything particularly special to tell us. He kept pausing and sighing, and his remarks seemed flippant. It was a huge letdown. (Afterwards, I heard people fawning over how great it was to have him speak unscripted and unfiltered – that he’d brought no notes whatsoever and just talked off the cuff to us. Again I thought, “What meeting did you go to that you thought was so great?”)

The only reason I know the date of that conference was because I found the online post I used that day to find a babysitter. I just wish I’d written down who the general authority was that I was going to hear!

These and other experiences with general authorities eventually led me to stop seeing apostles and prophets as perfect all-knowing beings who spoke only the words of God. I know not everyone learned they were flawless growing up, but I did. It took many years to see them as human leaders, who (just like the rest of us) were trying their best to figure things out as they go. They are tasked with running the church, but there’s nothing that necessarily makes them any better at it than any other church members, male or female, anywhere else in the church.

I believe church leaders should be allowed to make big mistakes, say the wrong thing, be in a bad mood the night they have to speak at a stake conference, say things they later regret over the pulpit, ask for forgiveness without being criticized for it, and get embarrassed or hurt feelings over the way they are talked about and responded to. I think most of them would appreciate everyone else ending the unnecessary pressure to be perfect and always have the perfect answers. One of the most freeing things in my own life is my ability to say, “I’m so sorry. I was wrong. Can I try again to do better?”

Last month Elder Renlund gave his widely discussed talk about Heavenly Mother in Women’s Session right HERE. As I listened to him deliver this talk, I felt the exact same disappointment I’ve felt in the past. His reasoning didn’t make sense to me when he said we should never demand revelation but instead must wait for it to come on Heavenly Father’s timeline. (His exact words were, “Demanding revelation is both arrogant and unproductive. Instead, we wait on the Lord and his timetable…”.) I mean, I understand he believes we can’t demand it, but can’t we at least *ask* for it? What about “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God”? Why does he think the only options are to arrogantly demand it or sit on our hands and do nothing? It honestly seemed like such a dumb thing to say when I heard it. But hey, that’s what humans do – they say dumb things.

I’ve been disappointed by the talks of many general authorities in the past, but the difference now is that I no longer expect to hear anything life changing from these men’s talks. I assume I’ll hear their opinions on a topic, and whether I decide it’s good advice for my own situation or sparks some heavenly inspiration is up to me. All of the leaders will make mistakes – and I believe forbidding Latter-day Saint women to ask for revelation about their own eternal destiny as mothers in heaven is a HUGE mistake.

But go easy on them. They’re just men.


  1. Thank you for sharing these oh-so-relatable experiences. I was raised LDS and trained from a tender age to worship these men as God’s infallible mouthpieces. It took a poignant encounter with an apostle for me to realize he was a human guy, not the deity I had been raised to believe he was. That truth was life-altering yet very empowering for me as a woman, since there are no female general authorities.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more common for women to think priesthood leaders are perfect (and thus not question their advice) than men do. Men can relate to being in a leadership position at church and not knowing exactly what to do because they rotate in and out of those positions, while women never get that same opportunity to humanize the leaders by relating to them.

      (That said, I’ve definitely dealt with local male priesthood leaders who believe general authorities walk on water and talk to Jesus personally every day, so I could be wrong!)

  2. I love imagining what it would be like to have a general authority say what you wrote – I was wrong and want to do better. It opens up possibilities to end bad policies, both past and current, to end general authority worship, and to hear peoples’ stories of spiritual journeys in sacrament meeting instead of endless quotes as talks. I remember times when I didn’t feel particularly inspired by a GA but felt I had to say it was awesome because otherwise wasn’t there something wrong with either me or the GA? Now I know I wasn’t the only one and it feels nice to not be alone with that. Thank you

  3. Should we go easy on people who are just men but claim to be God’s actual mouthpiece on earth and that what they say are the words that Christ would speak if he were here?

    To be clear I have low expectations so in that sense I am “going easy” on them.

    But I don’t think it’s ok for them to use their positions of authority to tell me what my queer kiddos can and can’t do, tell me what underwear to wear, ask me to give them 10% of my income, accept their views on the feminine divine and all manner of other issues that run counter to what my own heart / intuition / spirit tells me.

    They should be held accountable for that.

    • I agree with what you said about accountability for all of those issues. In the context of this post, I interpret ‘go easy’ as you described – low expectations. I don’t think most members of the church have low expectations though. I was raised to have incredibly high expectations of general authorities and basically any man with a church leadership position. In high school my parents had a neighbor my mom despised because he would rake leaves and dump them over the fence into my parents backyard. I came home one time during college and was surprised to hear endless praise of this man. He was now stake president. Still dumping leaves over the fence but now he was revered by parents because….stake president.

      Thinking of the general conference hype the past ten years – the 30+ pages of a primary packet – plus an endless loop of sacrament meeting talks and lessons all about the general conference talks. Ug. We do need to go easy on them by stopping the culture of turning leaders into demi-gods and expecting something fabulous and saying that what we hear is fabulous even when we feel otherwise. They are just….men.

    • You know, from my limited perspective I feel like giving more sympathy to some of the top leaders than others. The ones who are more humble and kind are the ones I want to practice forgiveness towards, and the ones who are more arrogant and seem to really enjoy having people bow down to their authority I want to punch. So it’s some of each for me.

  4. I’ve no doubt the apostles would be the first to admit that they’re just as human as anyone else. Even so, the Book of Mormon gives us this chilling reminder at the end of 1 Nephi 11. After Nephi witnesses the down fall of the great and spacious building the angel tells him:

    “Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

    That suggests (to me) that even though the apostles may be human–the Lord is serious about whom he choses to be special witnesses of his name. And so it’s probably in our best interest to be slow to resist their counsel–even if their words don’t resonate with us as much as we’d like them to.

  5. It’s interesting how these men are viewed as so infallible. People actually recommend following them against your own council. What’s the point of personal spiritual authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then? I believe God wants us to be critical thinkers in all things.

  6. Abby your posts have proven to be the most problematic, wow. You have every right to believe what you believe about the Apostles and Prophet but then YOU DONT BELONG IN THE CHURCH. This is so confusing. If you don’t think these men have been chosen. Y God, and if you are just gonna shut down if they say things you don’t believe in, then what are you doing here??? You seem to prophet emotionally, at least, on playing the victim and staying in the LDS community. It is your intention, just like Kate Kelly, to change the church to your opinion and then leaving us anyway: you are evil: please seriously stop.
    It will not change and you clearly don’t believe it. What are we talking about here ??

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