Robert Kirby: Church authority vs. the blessing of being yourself

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Kirby

I’m not exactly sure when I realized that authority didn’t mean the same thing to me that it did to others. Best guess is probably around the time I started Sunday school.

The boredom I experienced there defied description. Some kids found validation in mindless obedience. I much preferred to go my own way, even if it meant disapproval.

Kid • “You were ’posed to fold your arms for the prayer.”

Me • “Mind your own beeswax, fart head.”

Kid • “You said ‘f-a-r-t’ in Sunday school.”

It was an education — I didn’t fold my arms and nothing happened.

Regular school was different. That’s when most of us are introduced to “official” forms of authority — teachers, principals, crossing guards, even cops, etc.

Somewhere in there I discovered that authority had every chance of being deeply flawed, and thus just as capable of being empty-headed as those it presumed to govern.

I couldn’t have articulated it this way as a kid. Instead, I studied the matter by doing whatever I wanted as long as the consequences were somewhat of a fair exchange.

Typically, the ramifications weren’t all that severe — sit in a corner, get my hams flogged, attend summer school, receive stern lectures, listen to professed disappointment. Meh. It was worth it for the freedom to decide for myself — which Latter-day Saints believe is a cornerstone of the plan of salvation.

It’s probably just me — and others with the same problem — who doesn’t find much validation in the approval of other people. It’s not wrong that others do, but it doesn’t work the same for me.

Today — and recently — leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have made some pronouncements that haven’t been received well by others. They bemoan their inability to get with the program, or the program’s failure to understand and accept them. It’s all so terrible.

• “The stake president was stern with me.”

• “The bishop told me to stop talking about those things in class.”

• “Why can’t the brethren be more accepting of [insert your favorite gripe]?”

Really? It bothers you that someone in a presumed position of authority doesn’t see the utterly unknowable quantity and quality of an omnipotent being your way?

I believe the worst thing you can do in any religion is to seek elevated status in it. In Mormonism, there are various forms of accepted special validation — returned missionary, elders quorum president, Relief Society president, bishop, deacon, etc.

We all require some sort of acceptance from our chosen (or assigned) tribes, but you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go along to get along. And that says a lot more about you than it does them.

I’ll go along right up to the point where I either get bored or I figure out that I don’t agree, usually arriving at both about the same time. Then I do things my way.

And I accept the fallout for it because, as Mark Twain said, “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”

If you are going to the effort of believing in a loving God, what point is there in filtering his or her value of you through the minds of people who just might not have one that works any better than yours?

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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