"Follow the prophet, don’t go astray."
We have all grown up hearing it, singing it, and internalizing it.
However, I worry that this well-meaning moniker may unintentionally be creating a false sense of infallibility in our church leaders, whether it be our bishops, stake presidents, or the prophet. “Follow” is certainly the right message. But that doesn’t message does not claim infallibility.
In the grand tapestry of our faith, there's a thread that members either don’t pay attention to, or ONLY pay attention to—the imperfections of our leaders.
Let’s try to unravel this thread and explore the profound wisdom in embracing the humanness of those who guide us.
When it comes to faith, it is easier to believe that our leaders (who we believe to be called of God) could not make a mistake, or else God would not have called them. Or God is not leading them.
This mindset makes it easier to initially put our faith in these leaders, unfortunately, the strength and durability of this faith is unlikely to hold up when these individuals inevitably make a mistake.
When we have the expectation of perfection from our (mortal) leaders, we are essentially setting ourselves up for disappointment at best and at worst, a faith crisis.
Rather, we need to see the humanity and imperfections of our leaders as a natural part of God’s plan and our journey here in mortality.
It's a truth that seems to be universally acknowledged by the leaders themselves, but one that does not always penetrate into the hearts and minds of the members.
In the words of Elder Holland, "Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we."
Being part of a Church led by volunteer, mortal men, and women means acknowledging our shared imperfections and extending grace to ourselves and to those who lead us.
This is one of the main reasons why I love many of the stories of prophets from the Old Testament. It shows them as real humans, with real problems and real defects of character.
David and Solomon are some of the most obvious examples but I think that the story of Jonah is one of the greatest demonstrations of God working through a clearly imperfect person.
Most people know that Jonah was called to preach repentance to the city of Ninevah (which at the time was the capital of the Assyrian Empire) and that he ran away on a boat, was subsequently swallowed by a whale, and eventually ended up going to Ninevah and had success in preaching repentance to the people there.
However, what a lot of people may not know is that Jonah took serious issue with God for being so merciful and forgiving to the people of Ninevah, whom he wanted to experience the full wrath and fury of God’s divine justice.
Seeing these imperfections in prophets of old doesn’t diminish the divinity of their callings in my eyes, in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s times like these where we see the humanity and sometimes even the natural man poke through that helps me to relate more with someone like Jonah than with a figure like Nephi.
I love the words of Moroni on this topic: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father…; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."
Our leaders, like Moroni, acknowledge their imperfections. They are not exempt from the trials and tribulations of mortal existence. They are navigating the same unpredictable seas, striving to stay true to their divine calling while bearing the weight of human frailty.
We need to understand that the road to perfection is a journey, not a destination. And it’s a road that we are all traversing while here on Earth.
To be clear, the reference to Jonah and Moroni is not an excuse for or an embrace of shortcomings but rather a call for self-introspection and growth. Imperfections are not stumbling blocks but stepping stones on our collective journey of discipleship. They become opportunities for us, as a community, to foster understanding, compassion, and wisdom.
Nor is it an excuse not to sustain the Brethren. Sustaining is about leadership and the organization of the Church. When you cut off the head you kill the whole body. Sustaining the Brethren, outside of gross sin, is a must for the health and vitality of the Church.
I have found that by viewing leaders as people who are honestly trying their best but who will still make mistakes, I am able to simultaneously respect and have faith in the inspiration of their calling while also being empathetic to any faults of theirs that may get exposed along the way.
Imperfection doesn't diminish the divine nature of our callings or the callings of our leaders, nor does it invalidate the truths we hold dear.
Rather, it magnifies the mercy and grace extended to us by a loving Heavenly Father. As we navigate the complexities of discipleship, let us make sure our journey is marked by gratitude for the lessons learned through imperfection.