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While We Are On The Subject …

of cultural pressure; let me ask this. Is accepting callings doctrine, or masterfully manipulative cultural pressure?

A lady once shared with me that she had declined a calling to be PP due to the Lord revealing to her, through fasting and prayer, that she should not accept it. Horrible things were said, and still are, about her and her family.

We are a large organization that needs participation in order to function and run smoothly. Some might argue that there are many units that do not run even remotely close to smoothly. I’ll give you that, but the more important point, rather question, might be; have we crossed a line in our zeal for fully staffed programs, growth, and “activity”? As a culture, do we allow room for individuals to act in their best interest or does cultural pressure to accept any and all callings overwhelm individual choice?

Is it doctrine to never decline a calling? The pressure is definitely there.

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • DB April 4, 2013, 10:57 am

    Of course it’s not. No where in the scriptures or in any church publication does it say, “Thou shalt not decline a calling.” Likewise, nowhere does it day, “Thou shalt always accept a calling.”

  • Angie Gardner April 4, 2013, 11:21 am

    I don’t think it’s doctrine, but I have heard it said over the pulpit several times that if you possibly can accept the calling, you should.

    I think this stems from the fact that we (most of us active LDS, anyway) believe that most (again, most) callings are inspired by Heavenly Father. It’s not nice to argue with God, right?

    Having said that, I once heard that church callings are 1/3 revelation, 1/3 desperation, and 1/3 relation. In other words, as leaders, we extend callings to those we:

    1. Are inspired to call.
    2. Can think of who can and will do a particular thing that really needs to be done.
    3. Are family or friends with so we know their capabilities and struggles perhaps more than other people in our ward.

    I hope most callings stem from #1, but fully acknowledge there are other factors involved. I think we do have to consider circumstances of people, while leaving room for inspiration (see my recent musings post…let’s not discount people just because they aren’t the logical choice).

    So where does personal revelation enter the equation? I would say it would be pretty rare to get revelation that you shouldn’t serve in a calling – although that is TOTALLY not for anyone else to judge. We all know our own limitations. On the other hand, we may be expecting more of ourselves than our leaders are if we really think we can’t do it. Usually, we can find a way to make it work and should if at all possible. My opinion.

    That being said, there is one calling (or I should say organization) that I truly would say no to and that’s scouting, because I’m fundamentally opposed to it being in the church. I think it’s great for parents of boys if they want their kids involved to go for it. But with my time and money, not so much. Start the stoning now!! :)

    I have a friend who told me that she would under no conditions serve in Primary or Young Women unless it was in the presidency. I just think that’s sad. Holding yourself back from a lot of potential blessings there.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 4, 2013, 11:44 am

    Amy, from your writings, my impression is that the wards you have lived in are awfully dysfunctional. Not that we don’t all have our issues (I write about them, too), but your wards seem filled with nasty people and not much charity.

    I just hope readers don’t think that’s the Mormon norm. In my experience, it’s not at all. People make mistakes and give offense, but in general do try to live good lives.

    In this example, “Horrible things were said, and still are, about her and her family.” Why do people even have this info in order to gossip about it?

    Now, to the question.

    No, it’s not doctrine that we must accept all callings/assignments/requests. Period.

    However, if you’ve been to the temple, you’ve covenanted to consecrate “both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the human race.” (Quoted from Talmage, “House of the Lord.”) So, what does that mean? Does it mean that you must do anything your bishop asks? You decide.

    For me, I don’t think it does. I haven’t ever turned down a calling, but I don’t rule that out at all. Once I was asked to be the Primary pianist and I said, “I will if you want, but I don’t play the piano.” The call was withdrawn. :)

    Yes, I do know stories of people who didn’t play piano and then took lessons and learned to they could fill the calling, but most of the time, that’s not what auxiliary leaders are looking for. They actually want some level of competence.

    So, for example, if I was called to be a Sunday School teacher, but I was in China every Sunday, I would tell the person extending the calling —and generally they’d rethink the idea.

    The first time I was in a ward council, I was a little surprised that we weren’t all sitting in a circle receiving identical inspiration. And the first time a bishop rejected a name I had submitted (literally after fasting and praying about it) I was devastate. But, I was young. :) God doesn’t poof the answers to us. He does inspire us, but also expects us to use our mind and common sense. That is NOT a travesty. :)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…100DC Day 94: Execution and ImplementationMy Profile

  • Amy Lockhart April 4, 2013, 1:17 pm

    Alison: “In this example, “Horrible things were said, and still are, about her and her family.” Why do people even have this info in order to gossip about it?”

    Because the bishop would air all ward dirty laundry at family dinner on Sunday; family dinner meaning grown children, spouses, and grandchildren, every Sunday. We were there 4 years and had 3 different Bishops. Only one kept his mouth shut, but then one of his counselors didn’t. You could here people chatting about the latest disciplinary court, callings, you name it, in the hall as you walked from Sacrament to your next class. *Nothing* was kept in confidence. It’s one big happy family, unless you are not a member of the right 3 families and then it’s a pretty tough place to be.

    Alison: “Amy, from your writings, my impression is that the wards you have lived in are awfully dysfunctional. Not that we don’t all have our issues (I write about them, too), but your wards seem filled with nasty people and not much charity.”

    We have lived in two uncharacteristically dysfunctional wards. One I would characterize as highly dysfunctional. To the best of my recollection, those things I have written about are all from that particular ward. It was a tough 4 years.

    Alison: “I just hope readers don’t think that’s the Mormon norm.”

    Point taken. It’s not the norm, but it does happen. The many experiences survived, witnessed, and participated in while attending have taught me a lot about gossip, cliques, self righteous behavior, passing judgement, and much else.

    Sadly, I was caught up in the judgement of this particular woman. She took a liking to me immediately and we formed a bond that had not been shared with anyone else in many years. The Bishop took notice and told the RS Pres. that I would be the perfect one to call her to repentance. I was made her VT and did not resist the constant messages received from “authority” that my job was to show her how wrong her choices and life were. Obviously not the right place to be. My participation in that situation causes deep regret.

    I learned a lot in that ward. I still have many questions as the experience was quite traumatizing. I suppose that’s why I write about it here and seek wiser counsel than my own to reconcile these dealings with what I believe to be true and right.

    Interestingly enough, we came from the best ward in the whole world and I was so nervous to leave it that I had my husband give me a blessing. In the blessing I was promised that things were going to be very difficult but that there were friends waiting there for me that would surpass any I had experienced thus far in my life, and they would be life long.

    The worst ward and most trying times in my life, church wise, brought me the 3 most loyal and supportive friends a person could ask for.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Getting AheadMy Profile

  • Amy Lockhart April 4, 2013, 2:13 pm

    Angie: “we may be expecting more of ourselves than our leaders are if we really think we can’t do it. ”

    This little nugget of yours knocked me over. In fact, it got me to thinking, how much is unrealistic expectation placed on us verses self-inflicted. And more to the point, how often are we overwhelmed and feeling inadequate causing resentment towards leaders and church in general due to self-inflicted perfectionist syndrome? This seems to be a particular problem with women, at least most of the women I know intimately enough to get that deep.

    In the particular case I referenced in my post. Lack of inspiration and respect on the part of the Bishop played the biggest role. She was still willing to consider it, but felt her personal revelation trumped the Bishop. Knowing both sides of the story very well, I concur. BUT I agree with you that those cases are not the norm.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Getting AheadMy Profile

  • MB April 4, 2013, 9:17 pm

    Bishops and their counselors are human.

    In the CES devotional in January Dieter Uchtdorf quoted Brigham Young:

    “I am … afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord.”

    So, it behooves me to ask the Lord. I generally do. Most of the time I get the message that I should accept the calling and that the Lord will assist me. A couple of times I have received the impression that I should not. The latter message can be harder to accept than the former as I prefer to be helpful.

  • jennycherie April 5, 2013, 5:42 am

    “No, it’s not doctrine that we must accept all callings/assignments/requests. Period.

    However, if you’ve been to the temple, you’ve covenanted to consecrate “both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the human race.” (Quoted from Talmage, “House of the Lord.”) So, what does that mean? Does it mean that you must do anything your bishop asks? You decide.”

    Well put, Alison! I completely agree.

    At the same time, it causes no end of frustration when callings are refused outright, without even giving it a chance. Our Relief Society board has been lacking several important members because we could not get sisters to accept the callings. In the case of our meeting coordinator, we had a series of wonderful sisters accept the calling and within a very short time, ask to be released. Once it was for serious health issues and was totally necessary. The other times, it was a matter of the sisters have unrealistic expectations of themselves and the other sisters. We tried mightily to help and offer counsel not to be hard on themselves or on their sisters but it wasn’t enough. And I can’t possibly know if their request for release was right or not – that is between the individual and the Lord – but it seems like the best way we have to get people to run for the hills is to extend them a calling!

    Another effective method to alienate a good, strong member is to give them a visiting teaching assignment that is outside of their immediate neighborhood. I had a sister email me with a complaint that she was assigned to visit someone who lived 6.1 miles from her house, when there were others who lived far closer to that woman. Such a great distance, 6.1 miles. . .

    So, I am frustrated, because I feel like many issues that seem problematic (in callings) can be resolved if we just give it a chance. It doesn’t bother me that their is pressure to accept callings because we need people to do the work, even if it is not our particular cup of (herbal) tea. ;)
    jennycherie recently posted…Update on the HateMy Profile

  • Amy Lockhart April 5, 2013, 7:17 am

    jennycherie: “even if it is not our particular cup of (herbal) tea. ”

    You have no idea how I appreciate the friendly sentiment and winking smile, thanks :)

    MB: Thank you for the quote!

    I think this is where I find myself struggling. And it is a direct result of cultural pressure, in my case. I have had leadership that clearly are not acting under inspiration and yet for the good of the group I decided to forgo taking personal responsibility. Not so responsible. I have grown and am somewhat better at accepting fully the agency that is mine. I do struggle mightily with wanting to please and help things run smoothly. Sometimes that comes at the cost of family and personal needs.

    It seems to me that the need to refuse callings (as in jennycherie’s examples) quite possibly comes from a place of rebellion that could easily be tied to the pressure one feels to accept without question. That of course is different from considering things with the Lord and then moving forward with the course He has shown to be best.

    I see great benefit in emphasizing careful consideration before acceptance of callings. A natural tendency to strive harder and do better would reside in our heart when true conviction accompanies our desire to consecrate our lives unto Him, His gospel and church.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Its All Your FaultMy Profile

  • cambendy April 5, 2013, 10:32 am

    How do you know they aren’t acting under inspiration? Pretty presumptuous if you ask me.

  • Angie Gardner April 5, 2013, 11:21 am

    cambendy brings up a good point. It’s just my opinion that generally, while not perfect, they are doing the best they can with what they have. I don’t think every calling is necessarily a voice from heaven saying, “the new CTR5 teacher should be….” but I think there is both logic and prayer/inspiration involved. We might be selling ourselves short or we might not know other circumstances in the ward that prevent “the logical choice” from serving. And sometimes they just need a skill that you have and perhaps others don’t. I have had a lot of piano callings simply because I’m the only who plays and who was available at the moment. Do I totally love it and find huge periods of personal growth doing it? No. But it’s not just about me. :) Sometimes we are asked to serve because there is a need and our leaders feel that we can sufficiently fill it. It doesn’t mean it’s always a perfect fit but it doesn’t have to be perfect to be right.

    Certainly there are times we just can’t serve. I have an acquaintance who was called as RS president about 6 months ago at a time when she was going through a lot of marital strife that was not public knowledge (or bishopric knowledge). She accepted the calling but has now asked to be released because they are going to be getting divorced and she will most likely be leaving the ward – but if not she just wants to focus on her family right now and helping the kids get through it. Totally understandable, and had she said no 6 months ago I’m sure God and the bishop would have understood that as well. There are times to say no. But usually, the answer can and should be yes. I don’t think we generally need a huge confirmation that God’s hand was in it. I know some people who pray about everything and that’s great, I’m just not one of those people. We know what we are capable of doing and not. I would say if you can’t feel good about an immediate yes, then take it to the Lord in private and get back with them. But please be open to something that may not be what you would have chosen for yourself – sometimes the things that make the least sense are the best fit, and sometimes what makes the most sense is not.

    Jennycherie, you should write a post about assigning VT routes. I have never been RS president, but I was VT leader in a ward where the RS president involved me a lot in this process. It’s pretty crazy!! Here again, I’m just going to give an opinion for what it’s worth, but I think geography is *a* thing to consider when making assignments. Not *the* thing, mind you, but *a* thing. If there are strong impressions that someone should be matched up despite a distance, then I would speak with the person and let them know your feelings on it so they are aware that yes, you did think about it and you know it’s a long way, but you feel it’s what this sister needs right now, and can she make it work?

    Having been on both ends of it (being in wards where VT was total inspiration and not too logical vs. wards where it’s total geography – like in Utah where most of us literally visited our next-door neighbors or someone across the street) I would take the inspired route any day…within reason. I recently had a route where I had 4 sisters to visit and they were literally on all 4 corners of the ward. Since we are quite large geographically, that meant the closest sister was about 3 miles from me, but the furthest was almost 10…and two of them were about 20 miles from each other. That’s a whole lot of driving going on, which is not only hard to manage time-wise but also tough on the pocketbook.

    I know you are very wise so I don’t worry about you. :) But I do think RS presidents in general need to consider it, at least.

  • Amy Lockhart April 5, 2013, 12:25 pm

    cambendy: “How do you know they aren’t acting under inspiration? Pretty presumptuous if you ask me.”

    There was no presumption. It was stated as fact by the Bishop himself.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Its All Your FaultMy Profile

  • cambendy April 5, 2013, 1:22 pm

    The same bishop who was the ward gossip was also telling everyone he wasn’t inspired?

  • Amy Lockhart April 5, 2013, 1:54 pm

    One of two, yes. They came from the same “stock”. It wasn’t so much that they told everyone they weren’t inspired, it was more that the office of Bishop made it so that everything they did was inspired and no one was “allowed” to question that authority. If you did it wasn’t pretty.

    I did and got, “I don’t need to be inspired, I am the Bishop. You need to obey your leaders.” And then started my prompt removal from the “inner circles”. I learned a lot while existing on the fringe.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Its All Your FaultMy Profile

  • jennycherie April 6, 2013, 2:22 pm

    ” Here again, I’m just going to give an opinion for what it’s worth, but I think geography is *a* thing to consider when making assignments. Not *the* thing, mind you, but *a* thing.”

    definitely – even a big thing! The issue we have in our ward with geography is the differing opinions on how far is too far. In my mind, 6 miles is a pretty small difference. I don’t know the span of our ward, but for being in a major metropolitan area, our ward is geographically larger than most of the surrounding wards. We also have heavy concentrations of less active members in areas where there are next to no active members to take care of their needs. It will always be a challenge, no question!
    jennycherie recently posted…Update on the HateMy Profile

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