My son is very naturally fond of power, if given so much as control of the gum he squeezes every last morsel of clout out of it….I can’t help but think that all the entreaties in the world ‘to lead with persuasion, gentleness and meekness,’ will not be nearly so powerful to a personality such as his, as being in the giddy possession of a power to which his sisters and I have no access.
Of course, some members cried out that if you exercise your priesthood unrighteously, you will lose the powers of heaven, but the more pragmatic members also reminded that when a bishop exercises his priesthood unrighteously, though any spiritual power departs, he can still wield his authority in a tyrannical manner. For example, a woman disagrees with the bishop on how to run a program and is released for having a confrontational attitude towards “the Priesthood.” In the end, the woman has lost her calling, and the bishop is still in power. Such is the way the fallen world works – comeuppance often arrives late (if ever at all).
As the stories of men thinking the Priesthood made them somehow superior, better, or more in control than women trickled through in the comments, my heart dropped. I was horrified. For me, personally, the Priesthood is rarely ever a boon; it’s a Ring of Power, a heavy burden I carry around my neck, constantly beckoning with its seductive power which I can abuse at the risk of my soul.
It all started on my mission when, to get back at some elders who wielded their artificial titles like some kind of weapon of argument. The most infuriating thing I encountered on my mission was the “I love you” tactic. A missionary in a leadership position would chew you out (sometimes in front of others) in a most embarrassing, confrontational, humiliating way. After such abuse, they would smile, hold out their arms for a hug and say with false cheer in their voice, “But remember Elder, I love you.” This particular behavior stemmed from a most unfortunate misinterpretation of Doctrine and Covenants 121:43, which reads:
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.
Perhaps they thought such a paltry “I love you” would ease the burning sting of humiliation? In the end, it only made missionaries angrier that their leaders thought such a trick would work. More importantly, this rarely worked to motivate or inspire missionaries because often the Holy Ghost was notably absent. Whenever you feel like reproving, the scripture reminds us if you can feel the Spirit of God. If you can’t, hold your tongue. Trust me, 99% of the time, you should be holding your tongue. the Spirit is rarely present in times of anger.
I knew that this was a horrific butchering of an exceptionally beautiful passage of scripture, and so I memorized all of Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-46. I wanted to, at will, recall a passage which I would start reciting whenever someone began to use that technique on me. I ended up memorized it thoroughly, and with each new recitation, insights would flood my head about what Priesthood authority was really about. I began to see that sometimes, it felt that the mission was a giant party of Priesthood abuse (I later told my brother this observation while on his mission and he replied in the affirmative). When someone began to tell me what to do by virtue of their “authority” I would simply just recite the passage I wanted. In reality, I memorized the scripture to get people off my back, but in the end, I accidentally internalized it.
My religious experience hasn’t been the same since.
Within this incredible passage of scripture is the most beautiful and accurate depiction of God’s power – it is the power to save, but only through love and persuasion, not compulsion. And embedded within the scripture is the most potent warning ever about authority and tapping into God’s power:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, so they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence, many are called, but few are chosen.
Like reproving, the requirements for using the Priesthood are harsh and exacting, and in my life, the stars rarely ever align:
No power of influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge.
And let’s not forget the warning that Priesthood authority is in no way a guarantee for anything:
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Of course, all of this only means anything to anyone if they’re a believer. So despite my really liberal (and sometimes sacrilegious) attitude towards my religion, it’s obvious to me that I take this section of my faith very, very seriously. To me, abuse of power is bad enough; when you’re abusing God’s power, you’re playing with lightning, kid, and your’e going to get burned. I cringe. I don’t want to be there when they have to own up to what they’re doing. It’s going to be awkward and painful to watch.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t had good experiences using the Priesthood. There have been times when I’ve given blessings, and I can feel pure intelligence surging through my body. To inject geek into the subject, thinking back to those times I’m reminded of Zuko teaching Aang lightning redirection in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Zuko tells Aang that as the lightning surges through your body it’s exhilarating, you never feel more alive. But at the same time, it’s terrifying, because you know one wrong move can kill you. Sometimes, wielding the Priesthood feels like that.
I’ve been blessed by parents and youth leaders who taught me to take the Priesthood as seriously as possible. And the more I learn about the Priesthood, the more I start to take it even more seriously. This is not a paltry token of authority given to us, and honestly, the fact that I “hold” it as a male member of the Church scares me. For one, many are called, but few are chosen – which means statistically, I’m more likely to succumb to unrighteous dominion than not. This pushes me to work even harder in tempering this power that supposedly lies dormant within in me. I’d rather only unleash it when I absolutely have to, and when I do, I can only hope I am strong enough to control it.