It is rather presumptuous to call someone to repentance, don’t you think? The act implies at least two things: that the caller knows better than the called, and that the caller has the authority to issue the call to repent.
In a world of increasing moral relativism, many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that one person can or ought to impose his or her standards on another. This discomfort illegitimizes the call for repentance by not only undercutting the moral authority of the caller, but the very standards by which a call may be justified.
But the call for repentance has always been a call away from the world. It is a beacon that returns us to the Lord’s standard, a corrective guide.
In our church today, we accept that our leaders, especially the prophet and apostles, have the authority to call us (and the rest of the world) to repentance. And in part because of the cultural moral relativism mentioned earlier, many of us are content to leave that responsibility to them. We are happy to support them in making that call, and even echo it ourselves, so long as it is clear that we are not the ones leveling judgment.
Interestingly enough, in the scriptures, the call for repentance often comes from outside of the authority of any institution, including that of the church. Over and over, in both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, the church, as well as its people, are called to repentance. After all, the Nephites, whom Samuel the Lamanite called to repentance, were at least culturally members of the church. (See Helaman 13:26 for a nice self-referential statement by Samuel that emphasizes his role as an outsider prophet.)
As direct and harsh as Samuel the Lamanite was, he is no match for Ezekiel, who condemns the leaders of the church as clearly as Abinadi did Noah and his priests (especially at Mosiah 12:25-27).
Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
The diseased have you not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:2, 4. But read the entire chapter. Zeke did not mince his words.)
Walter’s recent post about forgiving our church leader was a faithful and generous piece that acknowledges the suffering of sheep at the hands of shepherds without issuing a call to repentance to those shepherds. Forgiveness is necessary for personal healing, regardless of the offense. Despite his delicacy, many commenters felt justified in condemning him for the perceived attack on our church leaders.
Can we say that our leaders have wronged us and still sustain them, still be faithful?
If we cannot discuss the pain that leaders or policies have caused us, how can our leaders succor our suffering? How can they serve as they are called to do if we don’t sustain them enough to give them the dignity of being as honest with them as we are with our fellow man?
Perhaps we have forgotten that the everyone needs a call to repentance at some time or another, including our leaders. It is no accident that the story of the lost 116 manuscript pages is included in the Doctrine and Covenants. Our leaders are fallible, and God will let them make mistakes. He does not deprive them of agency any more than he does us. As President Uchtdorf said “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine” (October 2013).
I believe our leaders are well-intentioned, and act according to their faith and understanding, and strive to fulfill the the great responsibility they have been given. I also believe that they are fallible, acting at times out of fear rather than confidence, and so I forgive and support them in their calling.
As I am not a prophet, I cannot issue a call of repentance anyone, much less to our leaders, but I testify that many of us are either sick or broken or driven away, or we are trying to minister to our loved ones who fall into those categories. If we adopt Walter’s attitude of forgiveness, we may keep the flock together and protect the most vulnerable among us. (I acknowledge that this is insufficient in many cases, and that it is much easier to forgive someone who is not longer actively causing you pain.) I trust that the Lord God will require his flock at the hand of the shepherds (Ezekiel 34:10), and I pray that our shepherds will see our pain and minister to us.