Robert Kirby: When the mighty fall, you need not go with them

Robert Kirby

A former Kaysville Latter-day Saint bishop is off to prison for possessing thousands of images of child pornography. In addition to nearly four years in prison, he’s required to pay more than $5,000 in fines.

Worse, he’ll have to bear this shame for the rest of his life. It’s a spectacular fall in status. Who knows the extent of the damage it will have on the faith of those who venerated him as a spiritual leader?

This story broke just as I was pondering the news of my high school LDS seminary teacher being sentenced to federal prison for wire fraud.

Being Mormon myself, I should probably feel something about these two meltdowns. But the truth is neither of them has any impact on what I believe at this point in my life.

I was more troubled by the recent deaths of Uriah Heep band members Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake. I got more out of their albums and concerts than I did from seminary.

Back to leaders of faith. For some, such plummets from grace are enjoyable because, to them, it’s further proof that the gospel the men purported to support is false. Others just get off on watching the high and mighty suffer.

There’s a word for this in German: schadenfreude. It refers to the pleasure derived in another person’s misfortune.

And guess what? We’re all guilty of it. It’s natural to revel in the misfortune of others, especially those we don’t like, even if it’s just for a minute. The trick is in not letting it last too long. Unless you’re a jerk, of course. Then it becomes a major hobby.

I’ve been arrested, suspended, sent home, fired, expelled, demoted, ejected, placed on administrative leave, thrown out of clubs, and once even pushed out of a moving vehicle for something I said.

Although some of these moments of personal suffering occurred decades ago, I’m still occasionally reminded of them by people who delight in what happened.

On the bright side, unless those people are my wife, mom, kids and grandkids, or close friends, I don’t care. Their opinion and feelings about these incidents have no bearing on where I am today.

The same is true when people we esteem fall or get knocked off the pedestals we put them on, particularly in a religious context. What happened to them or was brought on by their behavior shouldn’t shake our faith or the meaning of our lives. If it does, we had it placed erroneously.

In November 1943, Salt Lake City Police Chief Reed Vetterli sent a slew of officers to assist Latter-day Saint apostles Harold B. Lee and Joseph Fielding Smith in breaking into 401 N. Center St. for the purpose of arresting a “big shot.”

They kicked in the door and discovered fellow apostle Richard R. Lyman and Anna Sofie Jacobsen in bed together. Lyman was quickly excommunicated.

This was an occasion of great sorrow for Latter-day Saints and a celebration for anti-Mormons. After all, Lyman’s behavior proved … what?

Well, that he was human. And all humans fail at some point. It’s just a matter of degree and timing.

Something important to remember about our fallen icons is that the mistakes they made do not necessarily negate the good they once did or taught.

When church leaders prove to be fallible — and they always do — the important part is the takeaway for yourself.

For me, it will always be that I shouldn’t have given away my Uriah Heep albums.

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

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