Leaders with X-Ray Vision

by: hawkgrrrl

April 15, 2014

Who determines worthiness in the temple recommend interview? The bishop? The individual? The questions? Other methods of discernment? Can the bishop rightly withhold a temple recommend based on nothing more than a hunch or the Spirit even if probing reveals no wrong answers?

I recently read a blog post written by a group of ex-Mormon ne’er-do-wells who claim they snuck into a temple session in the Philippines. They cited their ability to con kindly octogenarians into letting them participate unworthily without detection as further evidence that the church has no special spiritual gifts or authority. To me it sounds like a pretty boring way to spend your time when you could be out boozing and whoring it up. Isn’t that the benefit of being an ex-Mormon? Perhaps their priorities differ from what my own would be. Yet their experience begs a greater question: can leaders discern worthiness just by looking at a person?

In Kirtland, the story is told that for daily admittance to the School of the Prophets that was held in the upper floor of the Newell K. Whitney store, Joseph Smith would shake hands and look earnestly into the face of each of the men invited to participate in order to ascertain their worthiness. Only if he was satisfied during this wordless encounter were they allowed to enter and participate in a contemplative and spiritual day of smoking cigars, using the floor as a spitoon, prayer, theological discourse and visions.

Later, temple recommends were issued by invitation rather than petition. Members as young as 12 years old who were in good standing and deemed worthy from afar (no interview questions at the time) would be invited by their bishop to attend the temple. The bishop’s discernment was initially the only requirement. Later, interview questions were asked of candidates to ensure they were also living a minimum of the standards. (Source: Mysteries of Godliness by John Buerger).

Which brings us to the present day. We are told that worthiness is something each of us must ascertain for ourselves. Bishops are strictly instructed not to elaborate on the questions, and participants are told to provide “yes” or “no” answers to the questions. There has definitely been a shift away from leader discernment as the means to determine temple worthiness. But is it completely done away with?

Sheriff Lamb giving Veronica Mars his infamous (and always wrong) “crime-buster stare”

In chatting with a good friend of mine who was a bishop for many years, he said that he considered it his responsibility to ensure that no one unworthy was able to obtain a temple recommend, regardless of the answers to the questions, if he felt that there was an impediment or knew their answers to be incorrect. Clearly, fishing bishops was something the church cracked down on a few years ago to prevent bishops from adding their own personal standards (about Coke drinking or card playing) into the interview. I know other bishops who would state that individuals are responsible to determine their worthiness based on the questions as they are written by church leadership and to the best of the member’s understanding.

Do you believe leaders have more discernment than regular members? More importantly, do they believe it? Is this belief unrealistic and dangerous? Or is it a spiritual gift that comes with the mantle of responsibility and goes away when one is released? Have you been the recipient of the soul-searching leadership stare?



**This is a reprint of an article I did at BCC in 2012.  Discussion here.

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30 Responses to Leaders with X-Ray Vision

  1. ji on April 15, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    It’s a recommend. The bishop and stake president “recommend” a member to the temple president. Times change, and emphasis changes, but I hope we never wholly lose the “recommend” concept.

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  2. Jace on April 15, 2014 at 6:09 AM

    If leaders could discern who should truly enter, how would freewill play a role? That being said, in certain cases I believe the bishop can receive inspiration to talk to someone about something, but the onus ultimately falls on the member. If they lie, they need to repent or be condemned. I like what ji said above.

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  3. Howard on April 15, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    I know a medical Dr. who uses the gift of discernment for diagnosis in her practice. I believe her. I know a ex-Bishop who said the mantel was palpable going on and coming off, in fact he felt alone for some time after it was gone. I believe him. But both of these people enjoy spiritual gifts independent of their callings and I know several other Drs. and Bishops who do not enjoy these powers. Access to spiritual gifts are dependent upon that individual’s personal connection with God not upon ordination. To the extent ordination seems to have anything to do with it it appears to be related to the change in stewardship.

    The non-Mormon Dr. with discernment mentioned above receives patient specific guidance within the first few minutes of the office visit. Btw she loves wine and has a part-time live in boyfriend of many years so she’s not particularly “worthy” by LDS standards. In contrast my worthy Bishop says he needs the spirit for less than half of his calling tasks but that is a 3-4 day effort and may require fasting to receive 1) no feeling at all 2) a weak feeling or 3) a moderate feeling that to him means spiritual confirmation. So the living in sin Dr. receives at least monolog divine instructions while my worthy Bishop plays 8 ball with yes or no questions!

    We’ve allowed spiritual gifts to get rusty and fall out of use, we are a church that is coasting in slow spiritual decay. I’ve set in priesthood meetings where the lesson was about the spirit and rationalizations were offered to support why today the spirit is barely discernible! Barely discernible? Boy that folklore doesn’t fit my experience at all! That the church has lost much of the strength of it’s spiritual connection is undeniable, just compare the accounts of SWK seeking OD2 with Joseph’s many thus saith the Lord revelations!

    Revelation is person skillset specific and a orderly seniority system of yes men “prophets” is unlikely to produce anyone approaching Joseph’s skillset or revelatory ability any time soon. This is why reveled meat tends to come from outside of church leadership even outside the church itself and is typically rejected by the (frightened) faithful who lack discernment to verify it’s truth or guide their own lives. This is why the church lags secular enlightenment preferring to retrench in the finger pointing, othering and one-downing of blacks, gays and women proof texted from a few verses of O.T. scripture largely unsupported by Jesus himself. It’s a lot easier to point the finger at minorities than it is to actually converse with God and fundamentalists love it.

    How many Bishops and SPs have spiritual discernment? A few, but not a lot. I suspect they depend more on our indoctrination of guilt and shame for clues relating to members hedging during interviews than they do spiritual discernment.

    If the leaders of the church still enjoyed the gift of discernment in some meaningful way, how did Mark Hofmann get as far as he did?

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  4. Jeff Spector on April 15, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    I think the gift of discernment is real and used when necessary. But, in the final analysis, discernment cannot trump one’s own agency. In other words, the answers to the Temple questions must be the final arbitrator. Even if the Bishop or SP discerns that a person might not be worthy, absent of any specific knowledge to the contrary if they answer the questions properly. They should be given a recommend. it is now on that person’s shoulders.

    As for the Hofman incident, i just watched a show called, “Who the Bleep did you Marry?” which had Hofman’s former wife on it telling the story. To me, this was a lot like the 116 pages incident. Church leaders were a little too anxious to have those documents, good or bad and lost a significant amount of perspective about the possibility that one person could find all that stuff and neglected to completely vet them and authenticate them properly.

    The Lord hopefully taught them and all of us a real lesson.

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  5. Howard on April 15, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    I agree something like you propose could explain the Hofmann incident, a humbling with a lesson but discernment didn’t seem to be effective.

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  6. Ziff on April 15, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Tangential to the post, but this–

    “Joseph Smith would shake hands and look earnestly into the face of each of the men invited to participate in order to ascertain their worthiness. Only if he was satisfied during this wordless encounter were they allowed to enter and participate in a contemplative and spiritual day of smoking cigars, using the floor as a spitoon, prayer, theological discourse and visions.”

    –made me laugh until I cried. Truly you have a gift, hawkgrrrl!

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  7. Jared on April 15, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    The revelation below was given to the prophet Joseph Smith. The gift of discernment is real, but our expectations regarding this gift are not well understood.

    37 But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 10:37)

    When Mark Hofmann sold documents to the the church that were actually forgeries critics had a field day pointing out that church leaders don’t really have the gift of discernment.

    My experiences with the gifts of the Spirit lead me to believe that we don’t own a gift of the Spirit and employ it at our choosing. The gifts of the Spirit come at the Lord’s will to accomplish his purposes.

    The scripture also teach that because we couldn’t live the financial law the Lord had for us that we have the lesser portion of the manifestations of the Spirit.

    14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 70:14)

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  8. Douglas on April 15, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    Good post all thus far, especially #1,#2,#4.

    I’ve had this experience with the man who is now my bishop AGAIN (sigh). Even better, he once “counseled” me about not wearing my garments…well, hello, I get “out of uniform” (pledge pin and all) if I elect to get into gym attire at home and then travel hence. Oh, I might stop off at the store on the way. So what is the big deal, other than at my age (mid-fifties) I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be captured “live” and have it posted on Facebook? I asked him that if in HIS opinion that’s a “deal-breaker” insofar as receivng a recommend is concerned, then I’d demand WHO is relaying this info back to him, and may we all meet to discuss my attire as it pertains to my worthiness? I also told him at the time the same thing Erin Brockovich told her decidedly corpulent office manager (Conchata Farrell, aka “Berta’ from “Two and a Half Men”)…”as long as I have one (hiney) instead of two I’ll wear what I like.”

    However, there is an account from SWK about him interviewing a prospective missionary who answered all the “questions” affirmatively, yet the then SP of the Gila River Stake didn’t get the spiritual “thumbs up”. So SWK asks the young man, “is there anything else we ought to discuss? This IS the FINAL interview”. The young man goes away, then knocks on Kimball’s door a few hours later, and confesses that’s he’s been decidedly unchaste. So in the round file goeth the missionary’s application, but, as is recounted in the book (either SWK’s bio or MoF), the young man changed his ways and became a stalwart in the Church. I’d say leaders DO have the “gift”, but I hope they know how to USE it. Church leaders, like GBH when he received the forget documents from Mark Hoffmann, are human as well, else neither would THEY be truly able to exercise free agency.

    I’d say that if one feels that he/she is being judged wrong by the bishop, to THEN elevate it. Typically just the declaration to do so will get the recommend signed, as neither man will likely have the time to deal with it.

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  9. Jeff Spector on April 15, 2014 at 12:23 PM


    “My experiences with the gifts of the Spirit lead me to believe that we don’t own a gift of the Spirit and employ it at our choosing. The gifts of the Spirit come at the Lord’s will to accomplish his purposes.”

    I like this very much and I agree. With regard to the Hofman incident, I am of the mind church leaders may have not had this gift for the reasons I stated above. Perhaps not even common sense about it…..

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  10. Howard on April 15, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    own a gift???
    No, we don’t own them we develop our skill at using them.

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  11. Robert M on April 15, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    So if the Bishop does have the power of discernment how about his councilors? In my time in the bishopric I probably did more temple recommend interviews than my Bishop. I always felt that if they answer the questions appropriately they get a recommend. I am unaware of a bishop ever saying, “The spirit has revealed to me that you are not worthy to enter the temple.” or however you would phrase something like that. It seems to me to miss the point. Temple recommend interviews for me were accountability sessions. I ask the questions so that you can be reminded what the basics are for temple attendance. How you answer and what you do with the recommend while you have it are between you and the Lord.

    I did have a bishop once that wanted us to look up Home Teaching numbers when doing a temple recommend interview. When I refused he moved on from that idea to looking at how much tithing a member had paid as you interviewed them to act as a gotcha if they didn’t appear to be a full tithe payer. I refused to do this as well.

    I have always felt that spiritual promptings are received proportionally to how much attention we pay to them. This has seemed to function accordingly in my life. There also seems to me to be a trend in the church\world to look down on someone acting through emotion or on instinct and I feel that the spirit inspires in this way most of the time. Thus you cease to act and your spiritual ear may not be as attuned to hearing what is being said.

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  12. Douglas on April 15, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    #11 – So WHY do I get the feeling that at THE Judgement, the Savior is going to have a stack of one’s tax returns?

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  13. Jeff Spector on April 15, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    Robert M,

    “So if the Bishop does have the power of discernment how about his councilors? In my time in the bishopric I probably did more temple recommend interviews than my Bishop.”

    This is an important point and speaks to the whole issue of this discernment. if Bishopric Counselors are permitted to issue recommends, Then this so-called power is not relevant. Counselors are supposed to stop and interview if the person says anything except a yes or no answer where there may be an issue for the Bishop. So that power of discernment does not ever enter the equation.

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  14. Porter on April 15, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    “fishing bishops was something the church cracked down on a few years ago”

    I was in a bishopric in the University of Utah Student Stake (I wont say which one) many years ago. At one point the stake president instructed us to ask one follow up question after the question on the Law of Chastity. The question was “what does the Law of Chastity mean to you?” Sounds pretty innocent right? Well, it changed everything — especially in a student ward where everyone but the bishopric was having sex (it seemed). The recommend interviews often evolved into detailed discussions about various activities and behaviors the interviewee had engaged in and whether they violated the Law of Chastity. I found myself having inappropriate, uncomfortable (and at times even slightly erotic) discussions with these kids. I hated it, and so did many of the other bishopric members i spoke to. Eventually somebody ratted out the SP and it was stopped.

    So I guess my point is that I understand why the church will not let interviewers vary from the set questions. But at the same time, there were times when follow up questions seemed appropriate because of an impression I felt in an interview. Was it discernment? I don’t know, possibly. So what can interviewers do when they feel like there is a problem, but the questions were all answered correctly? I think you have to issue a recommend. Which begs the question: is the church REALLY concerned about testing overall worthiness in these interviews?

    Some might argue that the only question that really matters to the church is the one about tithing. And tithing payments are the only issue that the bishop tracks independently of the answer.

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  15. Jared on April 15, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    #8 Jeff

    Kinda of like the Liahona. It was only a gift if the recipients exercised faith.

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  16. Nate on April 15, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    I had a stake president who had a great “chastity” stare. I think if you lied to him about it, you would think, surely he knows, so you have to just break down and admit it. But I don’t think there is too much harm in having a few unworthy folks slip through the cracks in the temple. I don’t imagine unworthy people really go very often anyway. They wouldn’t really like it. It already takes so much effort to get the worthy people to go.

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  17. hawkgrrrl on April 15, 2014 at 8:42 PM

    Porter: “And tithing payments are the only issue that the bishop tracks independently of the answer.” Well, no, not really because he doesn’t know what your income is or if you paid directly to the COB (as I do, via stock transfer).

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  18. Mormon Heretic on April 15, 2014 at 9:16 PM

    I think there are some bishops with questionable tactics. A friend of mine in the next town over said the bishop was thinking about calling someone to a position. But he wanted to know if the person went to the temple. The guy had a temple from somewhere else that didn’t have a bar code, so the bishop wasn’t able to determine if he was a temple attender or not. I thought that was way over the line. My friend did think the bishop’s actions curious, but wasn’t as outraged as I was.

    Hawk, I donate via COB with bill pay from my bank, so to my local ward it appears I pay nothing. But yes I do pay a full tithe. It’s almost as convenient as a payroll deduction. I really like it.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on April 15, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    In Singapore, I think my bishop was frustrated at times because we were mostly ex-pats being paid in the US for our jobs and not paid locally; therefore, our funds weren’t going into the Singapore ward, but to the COB.

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  20. jspector106 on April 15, 2014 at 10:29 PM

    We’ve paid to the COB for years except for the support of some of the missionaries in our ward and the usual camp stuff. Wouldn’t do it any other way now. I have ward members ask me all the time. i tell them send an email to donations at ldschurch.org and the instructions will be replied right back to you.

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  21. whizzbang on April 15, 2014 at 10:45 PM

    In the Church God is limited by what the leaders know. I know a guy that got caught poaching animals out of season but got a reduced charge/fine because he turned on his friend who had a tough row to hoe. He got a recommend, I asked my stake clerk bro how can you break the law and still get a recommend and he said that the ward and stake leaders probably didn’t know. I am SO done with the whole concept of inspiration to leaders, they are just unispired bureacratic managers trying to keep the boat afloat

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  22. Douglas on April 16, 2014 at 12:23 AM

    #21 – over THAT you’re “done”? Again, the Lord manages His Church with fallible “hew-mons”, and further works with a handicap by “vorking wit da males” as His bishops et al., (but thankfully He’s not posing as a transsexual with a Swedish accent), and STILL the work rolls forth. Yea, your friend is a snitch, and likely would be treated badly in the Joint. He probably got his case pleaded down to a misdemeanor which explains not being excommunicated.

    I could likewise complain about a certain situation, feeling that there’s very much a double standard being employed. But to what avail? Life isn’t fair. I’m certain of the bishop’s love and sincerity, but not necessarily his competence. Still, the Lord sees fit that this man serves. If the Savior can make do with him, then I should do likewise. It boils down to faith (in the system).

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  23. IDIAT on April 16, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    My training has always been to ask the standard TRI questions, but to probe a little more if I felt so inspired. Not to go on a fishing expedition, but to ask “who what how” types of questions. It was common when interviewing youth to ask “Do you live the law of chastity?” Yes. “Do you know what the law of chastity is?” No. So, sometimes TRI allow teaching moments, sometimes they allow us to share testimonies. All of us tend to rationalize our short comings, and fortunately, most people with any degree of spiritual maturity don’t try to go to the temple unworthily. I can’t say I’ve ever had the lightening bolt sense of feeling that someone wasn’t worthy, but I have felt uneasy at times and tried to encourage the member to be open with the stake presidency. I think the TRI process is in part to weed out problems, but our responses will also stand as a witness (along with two witnesses – the bishopric/stake presidency) at judgment.

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  24. Howard on April 16, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    most people with any degree of spiritual maturity don’t try to go to the temple unworthily It’s probably true that most don’t, I’m not sure you can factually argue it’s the result of “spiritual” maturity though.

    While doing some online LDS dating I ran into a few women who’s habits if known would have cost them their recommend. I get the sense that a number of people believe in the gospel but resent what they perceive to be the church’s unnecessary intrusion into their personal lives. The attitude seems to be if I’m good with God I’m good enough! They seem to just provide the answers required to result in a recommend.

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  25. Martin on April 16, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    The mantle of a bishop is a real thing, but it clearly doesn’t grant the bishop continual discernment. Bishops do hold the responsibility to judge a person’s worthiness to enter the temple. It’s become popular to believe that it’s really up to the person herself to decide if she’s worthy and that the bishop’s role is simply symbolic. That’s clearly not true. If the bishop says you don’t get a recommend, you don’t. The objective of the recommend isn’t so much to keep the temple pure as much as it is to bless the life of the person wishing to enter, and the bishop carries the burden of making the final decision. Counselors should be getting clearance from the bishop to give temple recommend interviews on an individual basis, and if any question arises, they’re to terminate the interview and turn it over to the bishop (per instructions in the handbook).

    Generally speaking, a bishop couldn’t tell if someone was lying or not. I think they might feel uncertain sometimes, but unless really constrained by the Spirit, they’ve got take a person’s answers to the interview questions at face value. Likewise, bishops are given a fair latitude to “bend the rules”, but they shouldn’t be doing that either unless really feeling constrained by the Spirit. I suspect the Spirit doesn’t intervene in the vast majority of cases, specifically because it’s far better for a person to voluntarily repent than it is for them to be caught in a lie.

    However, it does happen. I was talking with a young couple recently who were preparing to get sealed. They’d both been members all their lives, but before they’d gotten married, they’d slipped up a little. Their temple marriage was delayed to a new date, and their bishop worked with them for several months before issuing them a recommend a few days before their marriage date. When the stake president interviewed them, they gave all the right answers they’d given their bishop. The SP, though, just sat there for a few minutes and then said no, they weren’t getting married in the temple. He was known as a terse guy, and without justifying himself he ushered them out of his office for his next interview. They were quite upset by the experience because of his manner, but conceded that they hadn’t told him everything and that they hadn’t really been temple-ready at the time. So, they got married civilly and were preparing again. They loved their bishop who’d been working with them at the time, but felt he was so much their advocate that he hadn’t noticed when they weren’t completely honest.

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  26. Martin on April 16, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    I’d also say that because bishops and SPs are human, and because they know the Spirit doesn’t intervene in most cases, they might not be as open to that Spirit as they ought.

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  27. The Other Clark on April 16, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    I’m aware of a case where a bishop felt that a YM wasn’t worthy, but deferred to the SP. The SP agreed on the YM’s unworthiness–based on an impression, not the answers given–and refused to sign his recommend. Ironically, the boy’s dad was one of his counselors. In the end, the boy and his dad pulled some strings and arranged for a 70 to give him the recommend. In an act of protest, the SP was unavailable when the time came to set him apart, and the same 70 set him apart as a missionary.

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  28. Douglas on April 16, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    #26 – A bishop or SP still has to exercise his own faith and good judgement. It’s not common for some ‘greenhorn’ to be called to that important a calling. And you have to admire the fairly good job overall that gets done, considering:

    1) Though I’ve known a few bishops and SPs that could hold their own in the proverbial scripture-chase, most have absolutely no theological training. I could run circles theology-wise around most that I’ve known. Yet THAT skill makes me what I’ve been most, a Sunday School teacher or President, and most bishops I’ve considered to be far better at handling people than I am. The Lord knows which “tool” to take out of the chest…

    2) There’s not a lot of formal training. It’s like sales…”here’s your desk, here’e the phone, good luck, Pal, you’re on your own”. The CHI isn’t really all that comprehensive, and I suspect that’s intentional.

    3) These are men who typically have large families, and either very responsible professional jobs or businesses, or both. The same bishop that I’ve posted before as not seeing eye-to-eye with, I do have a great deal of admiration in at least this (but not limited to): He’s in his early 70’s, he’s still running a fulltime business, and he serves tirelessly w/o complaint. He considers himself blessed, at least outwardly. What more should anyone want? And this is why, whatever issues I might have with the man, why I’ll still sustain him.

    #27 – Again, picking even Area Seventies from the male portion of the human race. Just remember the late George P. Lee. Or, for that matter, how could Jacob deceive his father, Issac, to furtively gain his patriarchial blessing, and yet be the father of a great nation? The Gospel is for the PERFECTING of the Saints, and virtually all of us on this rock need some “perfecting” in some manner or another…I certainly have a lengthly list of faults.

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  29. whizzbang on April 16, 2014 at 11:58 PM

    What happens when you have this situation as described by Elder Samuelson? One Bishop denying someone a recommend only to get it from elsewhere? Or get conflicting advice from Bishops? Are you or are you not worthy? yes, according to Bishop X and no, according to Bishop Z

    “At least two of you in attendance have mentioned to me the frustration that occurs when you have felt it necessary to deny a temple recommend to one of these young people only to see them a few weeks later in the temple with a recommend issued from another unit. This ought not to be. We know that you who work with this highly mobile group of young people carry a tremendous load. We also know, and hope you know as well, that we have policies and procedures established for our use that would not make such an unfortunate occurrence possible. Please make the necessary calls and follow the essential procedures to see that we avoid these kinds of errors.”


    besides of which some Bishops gave those folks who put up the Temple video online a recommend-clearly something was amiss

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  30. ji on April 17, 2014 at 4:32 AM

    whizzbang (no. 29), What you have there is someone who goes shopping for a bishop (an error), and a bishop who doesn’t follow procedure (an error). The member’s error is the shopping — he or she should have been satisfied with the counsel of his or her own bishop. The bishop’s error is issuing a recommend to someone not in his own unit or not making the required phone call to the former bishop.

    This is humanity. It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t call into question the truthfulness or honor of the Church as a whole.

    I go back to my no. 1 comment above. It’s a recommend issued by one’s priest (bishop), not a right demanded by the member. And that relationship between priest and member seems to have less and less value or importance as time passes. That’s unfortunate.

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