Cammie Benson from Pasadena, California, writes:
How do you deal with members of the church who are dishonest with you?
Dishonest members. It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, until we remember that one of the purposes of Christ ?s church on earth is to strengthen the weak. Dishonesty is a weakness that is almost universal. I think truth is a rare quality, and one that belongs in the definition of a saint.
Is it dishonest to write a check the day before you deposit your paycheck? Is it a lie that the tooth fairy visits your kids? Is it quite fair to your prospective employers to list your volunteer work on your resume with impressive job descriptions? Those are easy questions compared to “Is it honest to speak generously of someone you truly dislike, if asked?” “Is it honest to give only positive feedback to a child you are called upon to adjudicate for a public performance?”
If we can agree that honesty is not only not universal, but actually rather rare, it might help us find the balance between compassion, forgiveness and support, and the other side of the mercy coin; justice. Justice might call for realistic skepticism and possibly even a confrontation.
I don ?t think many of our readers today will be able to look back over their years of membership and not think of at least one story of a member who was financially betrayed by another member. I would love to think that most of those betrayals were unintentional. The person who didn ?t pay up or the deal that didn ?t pay off were, in many cases, the result of terrific intentions and bad luck or inexperience (usually all three).
Unfortunately, we have some spectacular (but true) stories of church members, sometimes even leaders, who deliberately ran ponzi schemes until they were caught. If you examine that business model, at first it seems like hey! not a bad idea. Nothing illegal about it. Everybody gets what was promised. (Well; not quite. The scam has to sound like a legitimate enterprise to attract investors. Usually it sounds like real estate development or some other feasible business investment. The crook doesn ?t normally say As soon as we find another investor, we ?ll swipe his money and give it to you. ?) It takes two guys to double the first guy ?s money (assuming that was the offer), and four guys to keep it going another round, then eight and so forth. If the scammer is living large off his creative offer, it might take 16 new investors to pay the first few and finance the operator ?s lavish lifestyle. Looking at it now, you can see that it poses the same math problem as sponsor-centered multilevel marketing. Using the multiplication principal, you can calculate how long it would take before every man, woman, and child on the planet would have to be enlisted, to keep the profitability going for anyone other than the originators. Even if there were only one multilevel organization on earth, the model is not sustainable.
The true stories I have heard about members cheating members and landing in jail were, in every case, about faithful, kind, generous (to a fault) hard-working (nearly to death) people who truly thought they could make their business work, and wanted more than anything to make their partners wealthy. They just couldn ?t make it happen, no matter how hard they tried. They panicked and started throwing good money after bad, ? and couldn ?t turn it around. They had large, expensive families and didn ?t quite have the guts to explain to everybody, beginning with their wives, that they had made too many mistakes and now didn ?t know where else to turn. They kept trying, believing they could pull it out of the fire. They thought it was courageous and right to keep recruiting more investors; keep having faith.
There are worse examples of dishonesty. Pedophiles or undercover polygamists occasionally surface in our wards, causing untold heartache. The father of a molestation victim was the bishop of my ward at the time the criminal, his son ?s school teacher, was convicted and jailed. The bishop said, I have learned the hard way about the principle of forgiveness. ?
We can try to use our heads and not be lured into danger, either financially or personally, by charming, likable, charismatic members. We can seek advice from people outside the relationship before we make a commitment. But as long as we are mortals, we are going to have trials. Some of them will be huge. After the damage is done, restitution is made if possible, and the dishonesty is exposed, what is left but forgiveness? If you have been victimized by a dishonest member, feel free to contact Mormon Momma. We are a safe place for you to shed your tears and express your anger. We know you understand about love and forgiveness. We know it sometimes takes a while.
Dealing with someone’s dishonesty can be a very awkward thing, especially when it’s a fellow church member, whom we’d naturally expect to be honest!
The question gave no explanation or details, so obviously I can’t address the specific situation, but the most important thing I can suggest, is first, to be sure that this is a matter of dishonesty. Dishonesty is deliberate misrepresentation and deceit. Before accusing someone of being dishonest, I think it’s very important to make sure you know exactly what’s going on. Maybe it was a simple misunderstanding or lack of effort or ability to follow through with something.
One of the worst things that can happen to someone, is to be accused of something they did not do. Anyone who has experienced such a thing, will tell you how absolutely horrible a feeling it is. So my first suggestion is: always give a person the “benefit of a doubt,” and clarify whether the problem is actually dishonesty or some kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Once you’ve done that, and if the situation is clear cut, and you’re certain that someone is being downright untruthful and “dishonest in their dealings with their fellow men,” then I’d say ?call them on it! I’m not saying to be confrontational, but we are suppose to try and work these things out. Certainly, the Savior wants peace and friendship among His sheep! And as always, we can trust His counsel on the matter!
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Then come the verses about how many times we should forgive our brother ?”seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:15 ?17
So, let’s take this apart and figure it out.
Verse 15 says that you should discuss the matter with the person who offended you. Most of us are never really comfortable doing this, but it really is important to do so. I’ve always found that doing it face to face is the best way. It’s easy to be misunderstood over a phone, by email, etc., because you miss a lot without seeing body language and hearing tone of voice. How likely are you to get angry and lose control if you’re sitting across from someone, eye-to-eye? It’s also harder for the other person to get defensive this way. Touch is also important if the person is another sister (I wouldn’t suggest this if it’s a man!!) taking her hands in yours demonstrates genuine concern and love, despite a problem or disagreement.
Then, saying something like “Julie, I feel badly. You’re my sister in the gospel and I love you, but because of ‘yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah’ I feel like I can’t trust you anymore and I want to trust you. Did I do or say something that made you feel like you couldn’t be honest with me?”
Whatever the specific situation is, this kind of approach, with loving and gentle words, will generally get better results than “You LIAR! How could you stand there the other day and LIE like that?” One approach is done with love, the other is much more confrontational.
Hopefully, the person will confess their wrongdoing and try to make amends. If not, verse 16 says that you should bring in “witnesses” if possible. If that doesn’t work, verse 17 states that you should “tell it unto the church.”
Without a Urim and Thummim handy, I would interpret that to mean you should consult with the Bishop. (As opposed to standing up in Fast and Testimony meeting to ‘tell it to the church’ and saying “I’d like to bear my testimony, that Julie Schwarzenaggar is a liar!!!!“)
Personally, I wouldn’t go to the bishop with something like this unless it was really important. If you happen to have witnessed Brother Smith taking money out of tithing envelopes and shoving it in his pants pocket, that’s one thing. But, if an hour before he was suppose to arrive for a home teaching appointment, he called and said that he’s been vomiting and can’t make it, but then you turn on the TV to watch the BYU game and there he is in the stands screaming at the top of his lungs, with his picture on the Jumbotron screen yeah, he lied. But I don’t think it’s an issue to take to the bishop.
If after taking each step (if they’re all really necessary) the offending person still hasn’t apologized, then all you can really do is forgive their weakness. You probably won’t be able to have the same relationship with them after that, since one of the main factors of any relationship is trust. But, you can still be polite. Say “hi” when you pass in church halls, etc, and just pray that someday they’ll overcome their unwillingness to own up.
I know I’ve rambled quite a bit, but bear with me while I point out one more thing about the passage of scripture I quoted. The main topic of Matthew 18 is how to deal with our brethren who “offend” us or do wrong toward us. But before the chapter tells us how to handle an offense by someone else, it tell us what we should do about our own wrongs! Note how drastically the tone changes in the way the Lord tells us to handle our own offenses.
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Matthew 18:8 ?9
Isn’t that amazing? When your brother offends you, try to work it out, talk one on one, you might gain your brother back. If necessary, use witnesses and consult the church. Either way, forgive him over and over again. But, if you do something wrong with your hand, cut your hand off! If your eyes are wandering in places they shouldn’t wander, pluck your eye out! Better to be a blind and handless than to burn in hellllllllll!!!
It’s almost funny the way it’s written, but I think the point is pretty clear. We all do wrong. We all make bad choices. Moreover, we should be harsher on ourselves for our own shortcomings, than we are toward others and theirs. (My own lifelong struggle!) In the end, we’ll look back and realize that we weren’t entirely honest, either. And we’ll be grateful to those who loved us enough to forgive us, and thought our relationship with them was important enough to try and work things out.
One of my favorite quotes, from Joseph Smith to WW Phelps, who had betrayed Joseph horribly:
Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship ?Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, for friends at first, are friends again at last.
Good question, Cammie. Tough answer. And close enough to home at this juncture that I’ve resisted answering for fear of rambling on and on (and on) about it. Let me paint a picture for you.
Eagle Mountain has a propensity for electing the less-than-intelligent, less-than-honorable type. We are, in fact, infamous in this neck of the woods for it, being referred to as the “quirky burg” and “idiot voterville” in some of the kinder terms.
Last fall our fair city was in the process of choosing a new mayor. The main point of division was that one candidate (Brigham Morgan) proposed that the mayor should remain on part-time status, while the other (Brian Olsen) wanted the mayor to be promoted to full-time. My vote was undecided between the two candidates — until I received a flier from Brian B. Olsen.
I wasn’t really enamored with Olsen. You see, he had begun a run for city council the year before and I was leaning toward supporting him when, out of the blue, he dropped out of the race. Darn! Turns out another group of candidates felt he was one candidate too many and feared these similar candidates would cancel one another out. Olsen was to be the sacrificial lamb for the cause.
But within a couple of months after the election, Olsen had magically been appointed to the city planning commission. Appointed ahead of the sitting alternates, coincidentally, I’m sure, by the same people who got elected when he dropped out.
Magically, again, he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council just weeks later. Amazing how you can drop out of a race and so quickly gain the same position.
So, the political game-playing and deal-making was already sticking out of my craw when the fateful flier came, stuck inside the small-town newspaper that comes free in the mail.
In part, the flier said:
…having a full-time Mayor [sic] saves you $$$! It brings stable government. On 9/16/05, (on public record) during a City Council Meeting [sic], it was pointed out by one of the purchasers of the bond and Laura Lewis from Lewis, Young, Robertson, and Burningham that our bond rating was raised to a “AA” Rating [sic], which directly is connected to our having a Full-time Mayor [sic]. They explained that by our city having a consistent, stable, visible, and available Mayor [sic] increases [sic] the confidence of the bond purchasers, saving the city of Eagle Mountain an additional $400,000 per year in interest!
To oppose a Full-time Mayor [sic] will cost the city $400,000 per year, because the city will not be given their ‘AA” credit rating unless they have a Full-time Mayor [sic].
Overlooking the grammatical problems, the news was compelling. In spite of my distaste for maneuvering, I decided to throw my support to Olsen for the sake of the city. Then, I did something utterly incredible. I checked out his story.
As it turned out, Councilman Olsen (an active Mormon and returned missionary), had mislead the public.
- Having a full-time mayor does not save money, it costs money. Olsen stood to get a hefty little raise since the best job he could get in the real world was as a state trooper for Utah Highway Patrol (UHP).
- The bond rating was raised to “AA” before we had a full-time mayor, the raise had no connection to mayoral job status at all.
- Lewis said, repeatedly, that what helped the city was a stable administration.
- Lewis pointed out that elected officials come and go, but a strong administration was important.
- Opposing a full-time mayor would cost the city nothing, since the number of hours the mayor worked was not important.
- The city was not given the rate change “because” of a potential change in status, nor would it lose it’s rating if the change did not occur, since they were not connected.
Once I discovered these discrepancies and emailed Olsen with the list. He acknowledged that some were wrong, argued illogically about others. I came to the conclusion that the he was either dumb or dishonest. Neither appealed to me. So I chose the other candidate.
As the election proceeded, the misinformation continued. Even the information Olsen had admitted to me (in writing) was false, kept coming in his literature and debates. No correction was ever made, even though the misinformation was pointed out both to Olsen and to the council candidates running in lock-step with him.
Olsen won the campaign and all was well with the fiefdom.
A few months later, the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Daily Herald all caught wind of a little problem. Apparently Olsen’s campaign literature boasted a master’s degree in public administration. A degree he had forgotten to actually earn.
But Mayor Olsen wasn’t to blame. No, it was some incompetent campaign volunteer; someone who couldn’t understand the difference between a master’s degree from an accredited university and an after-hours certificate worth out 1.045 hours of college credit. (Boy, don’t you hate working with lemmings?) Some schlep on the campaign had made a big boo-boo without Olsen’s knowledge and the honorable mayor was steppping up to correct the error.
My husband could have sworn that he heard Olsen make the master’s degree claim in person at the debate. And about 400 other people remembered it, too. But good, Christian folk aren’t doubters, and Olsen said it was just a misunderstanding.
Anywhoo life goes on, until someone reads the story about the incompetent campaign volunteer. Someone who happens to have a copy of Olsen’s application to fill the vacancy on the city council way back when. Someone who happened to notice that this application says Olsen has a master’s of public administration. Someone who notices that the claim is in Olsen’s own handwriting. So someone goes to the press with the stained blue dress.
In a classic Jimmy Swaggart moment, Olsen gets religion, breaks down, and confesses the obvious and undeniable truth. More or less, anyway.
Yes, he said he had a master’s degree. Wah, wah. No, he doesn’t have one. Wah! But it’s only because everyone he spoke to during his campaign for mayor was too stupid to understand the difference (again) between his baby-sitting course and a real master’s degree. Wah, hah. He didn’t mean to mislead, but he was just trying to make it easier for all the idiots he associates with to understand. So he called the certificate a master’s degree to help remove the confusing fog from their brains. His intentions were good, it didn’t mean anything. Wah, wah, waaaaaahhhh!
But then some suspicious soul (who apparently has an obsession with out-of-date political paraphernalia) produces a door hanger that Olsen used in his first, doomed city council run. There, in black and white, was the MPA claim, again much earlier than he had admitted.
But wait, that’s not all. If you order now, you’ll receive yet another lie. He didn’t just inflate his CPM into an MPA. He listed both of them in his “qualifications”!
He still has not answered for that.
Olsen, who was on leave from the UHP while serving, became the target of an internal investigation by his employer. They had grave concerns about the inherent problems when someone in a position of authority and power lacks integrity. (If only other residents understood this concept.) Olsen resigned from the UHP, apparently hoping to bring the investigation to a close. But not before they discovered that he had been wearing a ribbon on his uniform indicating that he had a master’s degree. A distinction about which, when confronted by the press, he could only say, “I don’t have an answer for that.” Which, upon later reflection, turned into the claim that the ribbon just appeared magically in his box (apparently too great a temptation to withstand). Of course, this mysterious apparition theory ignored the fact that he applied for it before it magically appeared.
So, besides the fact that my mayor, an LDS, returned misionary is a proven, repeated liar, what’s my beef? It’s that residents of this city (majority LDS) seem utterly unable to discern between forgiveness and trust. Because they, generally speaking, believe in the commandment to forgive, they are falling all over themselves declaring that Olsen should not resign over this serious breach in trust, but should remain in office as he tries to figure out how to tell the difference between fact and fantasy.
Olsen’s LDS wife — whom one would presume knew the truth about her husband’s educational fabrications — never spoke up. One LDS council member said the dishonestly was “no big deal.” Another said, “It’s just a blip on the radar screen.” Many like-minded, LDS residents claimed “disappointment,” but continued to support his position. Olsen says he will not resign.
And this isn’t the first time. In 2003, Mayor Kelvin Bailey (another LDS, returned missionary) claimed to have been kidnapped and taken to Barstow, California. After the FBI got involved he confessed that he made up the story to appease his wife when he had a “breakdown” over the “stresses of his responsibilities as mayor” and took off to the hinterlands. Eagle Mountain residents also “forgave” him, as demonstrated by supporting his decision to remain in office and vilifying anyone who thought his mental health issues might require a hiatus.
Stay tuned! In tomorrow’s episode LDS, returned missionary, appointed mayor David Lifferth threatens citizens who ask questions, council member (also David Lifferth) places phone calls trying to “compare notes” on who might not pay a full tithe, whisper campaigns are started against opponents, and caucuses are highjacked! You won’t want to miss it!
Forgive the men? Absolutely, completely, immediately. Trust them? Absolutely not.
I suppose it’s wise to call an arsonists to keep an eye on the the matches or to ask pedophiles to baby-sit while you are out? It is equally stupid to support dishonest bullies in positions of authority, leadership, and power where trust is required, when they have proven themselves untrustworthy.
So, in answer to your question: Do you love and forgive them? Yes, absolutely, completely, immediately. Does that forgiveness require trust? Absolutely not! Forgiveness does not require that we abandon common sense.