How Stake Presidents Are Chosen (More Musings from Bishop Bill)

December 18, 2011

 I always wondered how a General Authority could just show up at a Stake Conference and select a new Stake President (SP) in just 24 hours, most of the time not knowing anybody in the stake prior to his arrival.  With a Stake President selecting a new Bishop, he at least knows the people in the ward, attends as often as necessary, and gets input from counselors.  But how does a GA (usually a member of the Seventy) do this so quickly?

The answer is that they do their homework.  When I was bishop, we had a change of Stake President, so I was asked to “participate” in the selection process.  Two weeks before conference weekend, I and all the other bishops, high councilmen, and counselors of the existing stake presidency were asked to complete a short form with information about ourselves.  We were asked to put our name, age, how long we had been in our calling, our wife’s name, the number of children and their ages, and our occupation.  The last question asked each of us to identify three brothers in the stake that we thought would be a good Stake President.

On the Saturday of Stake Conference, the visiting GA interviewed each of us (the bishops, high council, and SP counselors) for about 5 minutes.  (BTW, the CHI specifically bars Stake Presidents from questioning ward members when selecting a new bishop).  When I was called in, it was my plan to make a low key entry, and just be as normal as possible.  Well, that didn’t last long as the visiting GA knew my father, and from my name deduced that we were related.  He asked how my father was doing, and we made small talk about mutual acquaintances.  Then he asked me why the three people I had written on my paper could be the new Stake President.  He then asked if I could only select one, who would it be.  As it turns out, the person I suggested was in fact called that evening as our new Stake President.  The other two names I had on the list were called as his new counselors.

So did the visiting GA run a tally of all the names and just call the one with the most votes?  He never told me, but I would hope that more spiritual input was used that just an Excel spreadsheet.   I’m also sure the outgoing Stake President is consulted and his opinion is weighed heavily. But what stood out to me is that a visiting GA does not just show up and expect the spirit to point out the new President. He takes the input from the people who know the stake and its leaders best, and then uses his own prayerful judgment to select the new Stake President.

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47 Responses to How Stake Presidents Are Chosen (More Musings from Bishop Bill)

  1. Stephen Marsh on December 18, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    Nicely said.

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  2. Jonn B on December 18, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    So much for being called from on high. Strange how the CHI bans stake presidents from doing the same thing.

    Why would they need to know the occupation I wonder?

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  3. Aaron L on December 18, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    GAs clearly their homework when making callings for the same reason that people go to the doctor when they are sick and don’t rely solely on prayer to solve their problems. Deep down they have real doubts that appeal to a god pragmatically accomplishes anything.

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  4. NewlyHousewife on December 18, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    I assume occupation is asked simply to see if a person’s line of work will have more than usual conflict with the calling (EX: The army guy that gets deployed every 6 months probably won’t be very effective), and to clear any presumptions of mental illness (EX: You don’t work. At all…Something must not be right.).

    Beyond that maybe the opinion of the Doctors and Lawyers have more weight than the opinion of a desk clerk.

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  5. Mormon Heretic on December 18, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    Very interesting. I always wondered how the process worked.

    Are we to assume that the GA picks the counselors, or does the Stake President pick them?

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  6. whizzbang on December 18, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    In our stake years ago the new Stake President wasn’t on any of the lists and so the two GAs had to start interviewing people and they found the one who served wonderfully. I have heard similar type stories. The Stake president picks his counselors

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  7. Bryan on December 18, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    30 years ago on my mission in Argentina I heard Elder Perry share an experience of how he felt a shock go up his arm when he shook the hand of the man he eventually called to be a stake president on oe such visit to reorganize a stake. I assume he had the usual research at his disposal also.

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  8. FireTag on December 18, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    You use of intellect and the inspiration of the Spirit should not be considered opposing means. The glory of God is supposed to be intelligence.

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  9. jacobhalford on December 18, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    I suspect that this process is echoed through the upper echelons of the church, in terms of how they find and chose who to call.

    The need for occupation is obvious. Only those who are wealthy are fitting to be a stake president, as we all know wealth indicates righteousness. So knowing their occupation helps them to figure out the rich potential SPs.

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  10. andrew h on December 18, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Bishop Bill – Can you tell me specifically in the CHI where this ban on a Stake Pres. interviewing potential Bishops is? I have been in interviews in the past were the specific purpose of the interview was to screen potential Bishops. I was thumbing through the CHI and could not see such a ban, but I may have looked in the wrong place.

    jacobhalford – There may very well be rich stake pres. but I have had a lot of middle-class and even low end middle class stake pres. I have had at least three High school or middle school teachers as stake pres (and we know how well they are paid), I had a stake pres that was a lineman for the phone company, very middle class, he went every where in a beat up pick up truck and decades old cow boy boots. I have had a farmer who was just making it by as a stake pres and my parents recently released stake pres was a newspaper reporter who was very middle class.

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  11. Will on December 18, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    “Only those who are wealthy are fitting to be a stake president, as we all know wealth indicates righteousness. So knowing their occupation helps them to figure out the rich potential SPs.”

    WTH?

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  12. Douglas on December 18, 2011 at 9:16 PM

    BB, your post can only describe how a particular GA calls a Stake Prez. Taking a poll and using a scoring system doesn’t imply that inspiration isn’t employed. Where is the evidence that the high scorer was the man selected? Be assured that whatever vetting process is employed that ultimately the recommendation that is set forth before the Lord is still confirmed with him. I’ve seen GAs of varying personalities but never have I seen one be either eccentric or frivolous.
    It’s also been my experience that most Stake Presidents (including my current one) are fairly seasoned, level-headed men, and tolerate little nonsense, but are often far more compassionate than usually given credit for.

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  13. Lorian on December 18, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    As a friend of mine pointed out, though, this just points up another way in which women in the church have no voice in the process. Let alone the fact that they cannot be chosen for most leadership positions, themselves, they do not even have any voice in which *men* are chosen for those positions (other than, theoretically, through their husbands).

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  14. dankrist on December 18, 2011 at 9:33 PM

    Like Lorian, the complete lack of of any female voices in the decision-making process of choosing a leader for, you know, everyone, really stood out to me. I’m not surprised, of course. But it is another note on the long sad list that details the way women are shut out of important decisions in their/our church.

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  15. jen on December 18, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    My last stake pres was a janitor so the wealthy comment made me laugh

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  16. Aaron L on December 18, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    Where the train falls off the tracks for me is the idea that God’s will is supposed to be done when it comes to callings no matter what we as people do or say, as long as we are approaching the situation righteously. We aren’t supposed to try to or be able to change what God’s will is, only try to understand it and live according to it, and thus call whomever he wants.

    So what is the point in checklists, interviews, background checks, deliberating and all the other homework that is done when choosing people for callings? If god reliably communicated his will to his righteous servants all of it would be superfluous. The much more likely scenario is that god doesn’t talk to GAs or anybody else, at least not in this manner. The interviews, background checks, etc… are all there is to go on to make sure that willing and capable people are called to the appropriate positions.

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  17. Aaron L on December 18, 2011 at 10:30 PM

    One other thing…

    There were multiple times serving as a leader when I “felt inspired” to call a certain person as a councilor or some other position only to find out that that person was already being considered for a stake calling, or couldn’t be called to the position I wanted for some other reason. Was god just messing with me? Why did I and my leader get different answers? What is the point of me asking if god isn’t going to give me a clear answer? The best answer in my mind is that god wasn’t answering anybody.

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  18. whizzbang on December 18, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    @16-God expects his servants to do his will and their homework. God has already called someone , the GAs just need to find him. I doubt God expects the 70 to go into an area where they don’t know anyone and sit back and just pray and God says “okay call Steve Sherbenovich to be the Stake President”. Rather if we are to be like God is we need to grow and gain further light and learn revelation and not just sit back and have God hand everything to us. So They do their homework and come to God with some possible candidates to confirm who God has called already-they might be right or they might be wrong, in which case they go back to the drawing board and come up with someone else

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  19. whizzbang on December 18, 2011 at 10:38 PM

    @17- I have had that too and you know sometimes communication becomes an issue and we need to ask who is available and then say this is what I think and who I prayed about

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  20. Vinniecat on December 18, 2011 at 11:02 PM

    “He takes the input from the people who know the stake and its leaders best, and then uses his own prayerful judgment to select the new Stake President.”
    No, he takes input from men that know the stake and its leaders.

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  21. Paula on December 18, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    Yes, not only no women, but not really anyone who’s not middle-aged, male, and already been id-ed as fitting in with current leadership. Probably no one single, or childless, or elderly, under thirty……….

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  22. Whitney on December 18, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Paula,
    Excellent point! This helps explain why change (of ANY kind) is so very slow.

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  23. nat kelly on December 19, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    #20 – “No, he takes input from men that know the stake and its leaders.”

    Exactly. It’s great that some local voices are included in this process, but given that they are uniformly male, and males who already rank in the hierarchy, I wouldn’t exactly call it representative.

    If he wanted input from the *people* who know the stake and its people best, he should ask the RS Presidents, certainly, as well as YW and YM Presidents.

    But this process just highlights for me how little hierarchical authority makes sense in this case. If we want to call someone the local people support….. why not just have it be a local decision on the part of the community? Why delegate the shaping of our own communities to some far-off stranger who doesn’t know any of us or our needs?

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  24. whizzbang on December 19, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    @23- I suspect to prevent favouritism or cronyism is why they have someone who doesn’t know the needs and people and who have a “hit and run” ministry.

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  25. Ray on December 19, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    I love the women at FMH, but I’m just curious why they are piling on here and never comment on any other post. :) (Just kidding; I know why, and I don’t disagree with the basic point.)

    Overall, I like the process. It allows the GA to “study it out in your heart and in your mind” before making the final decision. Intellectually, I get the cynicism of some of the commenters, but, seriously, I think it’s silly to complain about the process described in this post – with the exception, again, of the point made by the FMH visitors. The fact that women aren’t consulted is a big issue that should change, imo.

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  26. Vinniecat on December 19, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    While this may be the process, the vast majority of SPs chosen in my areas have been men that are business leaders in the community – not necessarily the best church leaders. There is nepotism involved, and visiting leaders tend to choose someone they know, if possible.

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  27. Cowboy on December 19, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    I acknowledge that there seems to be somewhat of a penchant for wealthy leaders, however I can also point to specific Stake Presidents who were far cries from the wealthiest eligible leaders in my Stake(s). For practical purposes a Stake President has to be financially stable if they are going to be successful in a demanding lay position. However, that does not require that they be extremely rich. Just rich enough to do the job effectively. Most middle-income Americans would qualify under those income standards.

    Firetag:

    I obviously don’t think that this inspiration really occurs, as something spiritual external to the observor. Still, I recognize that I can’t prove that, so I can accept the possibility of your argument. That being said, to debate the point for a moment, I could accept that hypothetically it would make sense for God to work that way. In other words, there would be little point to him doing all the work for us in the context of life being a mortal test of some kind. Where I struggle is in being able to distinguish God’s influence from our own. First, if life is a test, then I hardly see the value of revelation. Second, if the purpose is to come to faith (which I find problematic in its own right), then how does melding personal effort with God’s influence into a sort of intuitive collage help? If we can’t separate God’s effort from our own, how can we say that God had anything to do with it? From where I stand, the method outlined in this post makes sense from a standpoint of human decision making. I just can’t see where inspiration naturally fills in the gaps. It seems to me that the GA does their best to get as much information as possible, and then makes a guess based on their best perception of the information. Tingles, warm feelings, etc, don’t seem to be reliable metrics of unmistakable confirmations of deity, to the extent that I have experienced any of those sensations. Including those I once held as spiritual experiences.

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  28. Alice (alliegator) on December 19, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    I comment on other posts (not often, but I do…) :)

    I don’t think God really tells people what to do very often. I believe that he could if he wanted to. I just don’t think, in the grand scheme of thing, it matters if Brother Smith, or Brother Grueber serve as Stake President.

    I was talking to my Mister about this last night, and his comment was, “huh, I’ve never thought about that before”. Too many men don’t think about it, because they aren’t automatically excluded because of their gender. If anyone ever gets a chance to talk to a visiting authority, or has a husband :) who gets to, it might be something to ask- if it’s possible to include RS presidents at least, in the process, to give women a voice. It may not seem like a big deal, but it hurts a little, and makes me feel like I’m grouped in with children (in some areas anyway) in the eyes of the church which I love.

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  29. Bishop Bill on December 19, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    For Andrew h, you asked where in the CHI it says that SP is not to conduct interviews of ward members to find a new Bishop.

    It is in Book 2, which is online for anybody to read. It is in Chapter 19.6, 2nd paragraph

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  30. Douglas on December 19, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    (1) I don’t see why a visiting GA, if reorganizing a Stake, wouldn’t include,say, the Stake RS and YW Presidents in his interviewee list. Usually, most of these sisters are themselves quite experienced and proven in their leadership qualities and to neglect their input would be, IMHO, shortsighted.
    (2) It’s my understanding that a SP usually has a few months notice of his impending release (one the GA visit is set, which is likely his last duty to coordinate, then he knows the “when”). Has no one considered that he might be asked to provide a list of brethren that he’d feel would make a worthy successor?

    Lastly, if the Savior didn’t expect us to engage in some rudimentary skull work in our duties, then he may as well call a legion of puppets to run His Church. “But you can see…there are no strings on ME!”

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  31. Paul on December 20, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    BB, your summary is similar to what I’ve observed (though a prior survey is a new twist). A friend told me that when Elder Nelson and a new 70 came to his stake, the new 70 was going to created a spreadsheet to tally responses. Elder Nelson said, basically, “Put that thing away. They don’t know who the new stake president will be.”

    I have a friend who was one of those SP’s called after all the present leaders were interviewed and the SP was not found. He had not served as bishop. He was just a faithful guy who had to learn pretty fast.

    That the visiting authority seeks input makes complete sense to me. But it in no way suggests that he is not led by inspiration in extending the call.

    The notion that sisters might also have input that worth hearing is really compelling.

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  32. Henry on December 21, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Here comes Lorian with her feminist rantings. Lorian, if you are not a member, why do you spend so much time on LDS blogs? What do you hope to achieve? I hope I am asking this in the nicest possible way.

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  33. Alice (alliegator) on December 21, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Because she loves (some of) us!

    Gee, thanks for dismissing a valid concern as “feminist ranting” Henry. Way to be part of the problem.

    I hope I’m saying that in the nicest possible way.

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  34. Henry on December 21, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Alice:
    Feminists don’t want equality, they want it all. Period.
    Women seem to gravitate quickly to things like witchcraft (you see this throughout history) or goddess worship. This is partially why I think they are not fit for LDS ecclesiastical leadership. They also overwhelmingly support things like abortion and the gay rights movement.
    Then again, my opinion. We all have one.

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  35. Henry on December 21, 2011 at 7:26 PM

    If this is a thread hijack, please disregard. Feminists just get me hot under the collar. Feminism has gotten so out of hand.

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  36. Alice (alliegator) on December 21, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Henry.:

    Thank you for telling me what I want. I didn’t know I wanted it all.

    Men seem to gravitate toward patriarchal religions where they can maintain control and tell the women what they are supposed to want. This is why I think they would be better served by learning how to work with women. They also overwhelmingly support things like water boarding and the KKK. Then again, my opinion. We all have one.*

    *This is not my actual opinion. Apologies to the many many wonderful men I know in my real life and online.

    It’s a shame feminism has gotten so out of hand. How dare those women want equal treatment (whoops, I forgot that I don’t really want equal treatment, I want to squash men under my heel…)

    I’ll really try to stop commenting unless it’s on topic now..

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  37. Ray on December 21, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    Let me see if I can guess Henry’s next comment:

    “Alice, you’re an uppity, power-hungry woman. Can’t you see that and go back to your stove?”

    (I’m laughing as I type this, imagining what the reaction would be over at FMH to Henry’s comments. I’m not sure I could cook the popcorn fast enough to watch all the fireworks – and, fwiw, those fireworks would be as beautiful as the women [and men] who would be typing them.)

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  38. Stephen M (Ethesis) on December 22, 2011 at 5:44 AM

    Having just let our Vinnie the cat out for the day, it wss strange to see posts with that name …

    Cowboy

    I acknowledge that there seems to be somewhat of a penchant for wealthy leaders, however I can also point to specific Stake Presidents who were far cries from the wealthiest eligible leaders in my Stake(s).

    For practical purposes …

    You have to have someone who can devote a lot of time and who will devote the time. I’ve sat in as a stake president and the high counsel struggled to find a bishop for a unit who had the time it takes. Who would make the time it takes.

    Some bishops have been very poor (I remember a carpet cleaner) — but all had the time and some ability to handle a wide range of tasks. As long as we are at least a quasi-meritocracy in this country, there will be some correlation between ability, time and ability to earn a living.

    Now sometimes there is flat out skewing. When we lived in Germany, the stake was dominated by officers in the military. They actively sidelined older enlisted personnel. Which led to things like a visiting general authority talking about how he had interviewed every worthy high priest … and being interrupted by a number of temple recommend holding high priests he had not interviewed — but who were enlisted.

    But flaws will always be with us. And the flaws of others will always be easier to dislike than our own flaws.

    Anyway, Cowboy made some very good points.

    Some times it doesn’t really matter who holds a position, sometimes there really isn’t anyone available but a single person (or less, sometimes you move boundaries or call across boundaries), but many times it matters.

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  39. Lorian on December 31, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    Henry said: “Here comes Lorian with her feminist rantings. Lorian, if you are not a member, why do you spend so much time on LDS blogs? What do you hope to achieve? I hope I am asking this in the nicest possible way.”

    Ha!!! Just got back from vacation at my sister’s house and found that I had this late Christmas gift in my inbox!!! :D Thank you, Henry.

    I must simply reply: Here comes Henry with his anti-feminist rantings. Henry, if you are not a troll, why do you spend so much time trolling on feminist (and other) Mormon blogs? What do you hope to achieve? I hope I am asking this in the nicest possible way. ;^*

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  40. Henry on December 31, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Lorian
    It seems like all you ever talk about is lesbianism and feminism, all on LDS blogs.

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  41. Lorian on December 31, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    Well, Henry, it’s good to know that at least you’re not stalking me, or you’d know that I hardly confine my online activities to LDS blogs. ;)

    And of course, while I talk a great deal about feminism, I almost never talk about “lesbianism.” Rather, I tend to spend a fair amount of time discussing equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, which is quite a different topic. While I most certainly *am* a lesbian, that fact does not, in and of itself, define me. The fact, however, that I am a staunch crusader for equal rights and protections for women, GLBT people, and other discriminated minorities is no secret, and is certainly *not* something I reserve solely for the LDS blogs where I’ve found so many friends and compatriots.

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  42. Henry on December 31, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    Lorian:
    I guess I’m not meaning to make this a fight issue. Case in point. Right now FMH is talking about sex. Between men and women. Obviously you haven’t commented because you probably don’t have much to share. It seems like you go for every moment you can to put down the LDS church.

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  43. Lorian on December 31, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    Henry, actually, I haven’t been on fmh in a couple of days because I was driving home from my sister’s house in Oregon. Just got home this morning, and spent most of the day napping, after checking my emails this morning. But if you really want to make it all about you and what you assume are my motivations, that’s fine. It doesn’t surprise me one bit.

    I don’t think you’re adding much to this particular conversation about church leadership, however, by turning it into a little ad hominem-fest, so I’ll try to refrain from responding to future jibes from you on this thread. If you have something substantive to add to the conversation, I’ll be more than happy to engage.

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  44. Ray on December 31, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    Give it a rest, Henry, please. Lorian is a good person, and she has lots of LDS friends. If we can’t handle criticism from our friends, there’s something really wrong with us.

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  45. Bryan on March 13, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    This type of thread is extremely interesting to me. There obviously are those who have lost their faith and would probably be better served to go to exmormons.org and rant there but for the most part it seems that we are faith based members who don’t believe that every inch of decision-making is inspired but also don’t believe that there is no inspiration in the church.

    My 2 cents: I don’t know that the Lord cares most times whether Bro. Smith or Bro. Jones serves and thus he leaves us to use the grey matter between our ears. I also think that if He does care there are very few leaders who put in the spiritual work necessary to recieve His direction.

    I’m aware of a patriarch who served for many years and gave hundreds of blessings while he was having an affair with a single sister in his stake. Did the Lord approve of his actions. NO!!!!!!!! Was his stake president in tune enough to call his on it? NO!!!!!!!! There is action required on our part to recieve revelation…believe it or not. It’s not a free gift.

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  46. Justin on March 13, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    believe it or not. It’s not a free gift.

    Lol

    those that did belong to the church of God
    and had taken upon them the name of christ
    [...]
    because of their humility
    because they were not proud in their own eyes
    and because they did impart the word of God
    one with another
    without money and without price

    or

    come
    my brethren
    every one that thirsteth
    come ye to the waters
    and he that hath no money
    come buy and eat
    yea
    come buy wine and milk
    without money and without price

    Sounds “free” to me.

    Also, the Holy Spirit is the giver of revelation, is She not?

    [...]
    unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit
    [...]

    I’m wondering — is “yielding” an action required on our part — or is it the lack of action on our part? Can I actively yield?

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  47. Bryan on March 13, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    I envy you that humility doesn’t take work on your part. You’re way ahead of me.

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