This is a saying I heard a lot growing up. It was typically used to excuse leaders and their mistakes. As a believer I found comfort it in it too, I figured I wasn’t perfect and that is ok.
These days I see this meme crop up and I consider it from a new perspective. I realized that the first half of the statement is a subtle insinuation that I hadn’t ever questioned before. I still agree with the second half, every institution ever conceived of by man is full of imperfect people making their way through life as best they can. My reasons for leaving the church were not because it is filled with imperfect leaders that make mistakes. Its the first part of the saying I have issue with.
The assumption that the church is perfect is what I no longer believe. Why do we have this saying in the church to begin with? It’s because of a doctrine of infallibility when prophets speak as prophets. Sure when they are speaking as a man we can ignore them but if they are speaking as a Prophet, then it’s God’s words and we’d better obey. Of course there are times when we aren’t really sure, like the number of earrings we should have or if we should play poker or not. Those might be opinions or commandments so play it safe and just do what they say. This is infallibility it stated in another saying I heard a lot, ‘when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.’ There is a problem with this idea that when the prophet speaks the thinking is done though. It means you have to stop thinking. Which is true because if you keep on thinking about it, you will soon see conflicts and things that don’t make sense.
We have assurances by prophets that people will never be led astray because God is at the head and guides the church the way he wants it to go. Yet from Brigham Young to Spencer Kimball black people couldn’t have the priesthood. They had it before and after, but not in the middle. Did God really want decent men to not have the priesthood? Is he racist? or did those prophets in the middle lead us astray?
Or first prophets taught that polygamy and polyandry was A-OK even a good thing for a nation. Yet we walked away from that doctrine so we could be a state in the union and not fight a war. God has been willing to go to war before, like when Israel took over cannon, so why not this time? Why do we look in disgust at prophets like Warren Jeffs spending time in jail for breaking the law and when we look at our founding prophet who spent time in jail for breaking the law and give him a free pass? Why is polygamy A-ok once you die, but not before then? That is what the church actually teaches and practices right now. Is that perfect?
Joseph Smith lied directly to 300 saints about his polygamy, this is well documented in the churches own history books. Was that because he was an imperfect man? Does it make sense that God would tell him to start this religion to marry other mens wives and then tell him to lie about it?
One could go on and one with examples like this. Either God is telling the leaders to behave dishonestly with their followers, or the church itself isn’t perfect. I never expected men and leaders of the church to be perfect. We all make mistakes. I did however expect them to not be conmen. I did expect them to respect truth and strive for it rather than hide it. I did expect them to come clean with troubling facts rather than create web search engines so members could avoid them.
Yeah they people in the church aren’t perfect. Neither are the people out of it. Maybe you need a scary being up in the sky putting the fear go god into you so you act like a decent person. Maybe you need a hope of eternal reward to keep you from being an evil degenerate in society. Maybe to make all that work you need to believe the church you go to is true and perfect, even if the people in it are not. Consider this. Maybe there there are people that do not need all the same beliefs you do to be good decent people. You might even recognize the fact that for them to be good and helpful without threat of damnation or hope of reward in the next life makes them even more altruistic than you.
Most people that I have met that lost their faith in what they believed didn’t do so because the people in the church weren’t perfect. They did because the figured out the first half of that saying was a lie. The church itself is not perfect.