People are still trying to digest the consequences of the Kate Kelly trial. Just today FMH posted dozens of reports showing how arbitrary the LDS disciplinary process can be and Exponent posted on the feasibility of bringing some level of informed consent to the worthiness interview process. At T&S, we have recently posted and discussed in comments shortcomings of the Kelly trial and problems with apostasy trials in general. Let’s take a step back and ask a more general and hopefully less contentious question: Has the Church outgrown the lay leadership model? Are there any practical alternatives?
We ask a lot of our bishops. Probably too much. But this is about the system, not about this or that bishop. Plainly there are problems with the whole interview and disciplinary system. What can be done to make the system better?
First, consider how other “systems” in the Church have changed over the last century. Local chapels were once constructed largely by the donated labor of the local membership. Now we hire professional contractors. Missionaries were once sent directly into the mission field, even for foreign language missions. Now they get from three to eight weeks (or more) of missionary skills and language training at one of our MTCs. LDS Social Services now provides professional counseling to ward members referred by their bishop. There is nothing wrong with upgrading the services and activities of the Church. So how can we make the bishop system better?
It’s not like I have a ten-page proposal sitting in my drawer. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:
- Establish a Bishop Training Center. If we give missionaries a month or two of full-time training at the MTC, couldn’t we give new bishops a week, or at least a weekend, of full-time training at the BTC? That would sure help those new bishops with no training in counseling get some idea of how they should or should not do LDS pastoral counseling and interviewing. And courts.
- Separate counseling meetings from discipline meetings. I think the “common judge in Israel” role sometimes overshadows the kinder, gentler duties of the bishop. Here is a simple rule that would help separate the two. If a member asks for an appointment, it is 100% pastoral counseling, period. If the discussion rings the bishop’s common-judge-in-Israel bell, do *not* immediately move into disciplinary mode. Stay pastoral. Reserve informal discipline discussions and the topic of formal discipline for bishop-initiated appointments.
- There is a problem with our quality assurance program. And the problem is: there isn’t one. Granted, it is difficult to do QA in a service environment as opposed to a production environment. But right now, there is basically no mechanism for supervision or review of bishops and no mechanism for feedback from members who interact with bishops. Feedback to senior leaders is, in fact, actively discouraged. You can’t improve the system without some sort of monitoring and feedback.
Any other ideas? Or is any change going to do more harm than good? I’m not really after more anecdotes about bad experiences with some bishop from your past, but if you feel impelled to leave such a comment keep it brief and don’t name names.