Q&A: Questions and Answers


Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine

“I have a personal problem. My friend suggested that I should go see a professional counselor, but I feel I should go to my bishop. Which is right?”

Answer/Bishop Victor L. Brown

President Spencer W. Kimball, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave important guidance regarding this question. It is helpful here to quote from a speech he gave to a group of Latter-day Saint mental health workers on the subject of the bishop in relation to professional counselors:

“A bishop is ordained with an everlasting endowment, and it is lost only through unworthiness which brings to him Church discipline, possibly excommunication.

“By virtue of his call and ordination and setting apart, he also becomes a judge in Israel and has the responsibility of making many decisions for his people which affect their progress and development and their life. He has control over their spiritual activities so that he can give them opportunities for growth and judge their accomplishments. He decides as to their worthiness and eligibility for certain blessings and privileges. He holds the key to all temples in the world and it is he who must turn that key to open the doors thereof to his members and through eternal marriage to life eternal.

“It is not uncommon to find the spiritual leader of a ward in a trench with plumber’s tools, on the farm with his cows and pigs, in a bank at the teller’s window, or at an administrator’s desk. He may be the custodian for the school or its principal or president. The bishop may be collecting garbage or delivering mail, be a policeman, a painter, a teacher, a merchant, or a retired capitalist.

“We do things differently. Peter said, ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,’ as well as a ‘peculiar people.’

“Accordingly, bishops may lack much in formal training or they may be specialists high in academic circles. But both will succeed in proportion to their dependence on divine guidance and their humility, industry, love and consecration.

“I have been amazed on numerous occasions when I have joined with a bishop in a serious problem of a ward member to see the sagacity, wisdom, inspiration and judgment which some of these young bishops display in their handling of most perplexing problems of members.

“It would be unrealistic and untrue to state that all these young men are perfect men or perfect bishops. They are mortals subject to the whims and weaknesses common to their fellows. They are not all as personable as President David O. McKay. They are not all as kind as President George Albert Smith, but as I have known thousands of them personally through a half century and more, I again am astounded at the power and strength and dignity and goodness and ability of most of these young men. An occasional one must be replaced for improper conduct or for inability to measure up. This is rare. The great majority are most impressive. Stand these personalities up in their cloak of authority, and it would be difficult to get a comparable group of like numbers anywhere who would be so striking.

“It is said: ‘God’s ways are not man’s ways.’ This man, the bishop, need not be schooled in all the fields of education, for he has access to the fountain of all knowledge. There is revelation, not only for the prophet, but for every worthy and righteous man. He is entitled to divine guidance in his own jurisdiction: every man for his own family and himself; every bishop for his ward; the stake president for his stake.

“Therefore, the bishop may draw on this limitless reservoir of knowledge and wisdom if he is in tune with his Maker; whereas, if he relies on himself and his training only, he may miss. His source of inspiration is the Master Physician, the Master Psychiatrist, the Master Psychologist. He is not likely to get far astray if he is humble and on the beam.

“Numerous times the Church has been urged by certain of its members to train bishops in these special fields to make them efficient in handling of the social problems confronting them, but this has not been done, the feeling being that if the bishop is in tune, he may get his help from above.

  • “THE MALADY: Mental and physical sin

  • “THE CURE: Self-mastery

  • “THE VEHICLE: The Church

  • “THE MEDICATION: The Gospel

  • “THE TREATMENT: Constructive activity so full of good works there is no time nor thought for evil.”

This statement of President Kimball’s is my personal guide. It places the bishop where the Lord wants him, as the presiding high priest over the people of his ward.

What then, about the professional social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other counselor?

President Kimball, in the same talk, said: “The Church finds situations when the trained (mental health professional) is called in for assistance.” There is a proper place for these professionally trained specialists. The Church has an organization for this purpose. It is called LDS Social Services. There are also other faithful Latter-day Saints who are in public or private practice and who can be called upon as a bishop feels the need.

Determining the need is critical. My experience causes me to feel quite strongly that true and lasting problem-solving occurs only through living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Experience also indicates that many of our people become so confused, are so badly mistreated by parents or spouses, engage in sin, or become mentally ill to such an extent that the right professional person is necessary to help these folks stabilize their lives sufficiently to be able to take full advantage of the saving program and principles of the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, there is sometimes need for collaboration of the bishop and the professional, with the bishop in charge.

Thus, in subordination to and in cooperation with the bishop, I feel the professional helper is a valuable resource. At the same time, there are two grave concerns.

The first is that too many humble bishops relinquish their place to professionals. If the bishop completely turns his people over to any professional, whether they are with LDS Social Services or in another setting, that bishop is abdicating a responsibility that God himself assigned.

The second concern is about the professional person himself. Sadly, there are many, even active in the Church, who feel they know more than the bishop; or some of these professionals seem to harbor reservations about some of our doctrines or practices. These types of counselors are to be strictly avoided. They cannot be trusted. Only that person who recognizes and honors the primacy of the priesthood is trustworthy enough to be used to assist the bishop.

There are some wonderful mental health practitioners in the Church. They are characterized by superior professional skills, total allegiance to the Church, and true humility before the enormity of the overwhelming challenges of mental health today. These people are of the select group who can be called upon to assist the bishop.

One final thought: Any competent counselor knows that people change by exercising their own free agency. When we seek counseling help, either from the bishop or a professional person, the responsibility to change or improve remains ours. No one else should be expected to solve our problems for us. We appropriately seek wisdom, counsel, guidance, and other aid, but the power remains within us to change our behavior and, therefore, our course of life. This is why a personal relationship with the Savior is so crucial to a successful and happy life.

Presiding Bishop of the Church

“Should missionaries pay tithing?”

Answer/Elder S. Dilworth Young

The Church’s General Handbook of Instructions answers this question as follows:

“Missionaries on full-time missions are not required to pay tithing on money received from their families or others for their support. Additional personal income should be tithed.” (P. 102.)

of the First Quorum of the Seventy

“How can I help my parents get along better?”

Answer/Brother Elliott D. Landau

I think this is the most unusual, challenging, and creative question I’ve ever been asked. Let me tell you why. The wisdom of children has been the subject of adult speculation and scriptural assertion for eons of time. Consider the ancient Hebrew saying, “If the world will ever be redeemed, it will be through the virtues of children.” Or Matthew 18:2–6 [Matt. 18:2–6], wherein Jesus proposes that the humility of little children makes them splendid examples to adults. In verse 10 [Matt. 18:10] he says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.” Indeed, children can be instrumental in revealing adults to themselves.

I have never heard of a divorce that came as a surprise to the children. Similarly, children “know” when there is love at home. It isn’t a matter of intuition that tells children when their parents are happy or sad, it’s a matter of observation. Even very young children pick up the cues or the vibes that exist or don’t exist between their folks.

A young adolescent came to see me one day saying that he was having trouble communicating with his dad. In fact, he said, they never spoke but what they nearly came to blows. He went on to say that he thought his father was often behaving quite childishly. I was struck by the general level of maturity displayed by this 16-year-old. I vividly recall my reply to him, because when I finished one sentence, he looked at me and said, “I’ll do it.” His clipped response was in reply to this question: “Why don’t you become your father’s father and treat him the way you’d like him to treat you?”

There are two ways you can help your parents get along better. The first strategy is a very direct way. It is an overt, head-on approach. Allow me to put it into the form of a vignette:

Setting: It’s just after Sunday dinner.

You: Mom and Dad, I need to talk to both of you.

Dad: Both of us?

You: Yes, both of you.

Mom: Well, well, whatever about?

You: About the way you two are behaving toward one another.

Mom: What do you mean?

You: I mean what I say. We kids aren’t exactly sleeping. We think you two are at each other too much; you’re not communicating; you’re not happy, and we feel it, too.

Nothing could be more of a frontal attack than this. Such a confrontative, reality-based assault may shock your folks into taking a good look at themselves.

A less direct, yet confronting approach might be to, in the same setting, ask if they haven’t considered taking the Sunday School’s Family Relations course. This is not too subtle, but subtle or not, it just may give enough of a hint to your folks that you kids are quite aware of marital tension.

Before discussing the next, less combative technique, let me direct a warning to you. I have already said that children can detect parental behavior that suggests their parents aren’t getting on too well together. Be alert to the fact that many of the usually accurate signs of marital unhappiness—absent father, noncommunicating couple, out and out arguments, temporary separations, etc.—do not necessarily mean that a divorce is imminent or that your parents are terribly unhappy. Some folks only know how to show affection by battling. And some mighty fine children and families can evolve from what appears to be the embers of a marriage.

Second strategy. Select the parent you feel closer to and arrange to be somewhere together. (“Hey, Dad, pick me up from work—my car is being repaired.” Or, “I’m glad we’re alone for a minute, Mom. I’d like to talk with you for a second.”)

Once alone, unload gently but firmly. Let’s try another vignette:

Setting: Mom has gone to evening Relief Society and left something to eat for you and Dad.

You: Dad, can I level with you a minute?

Dad: Yeah, sure.

You: I’m worried. Maybe I’m wrong but you and Mom have sure been at it lately. Is it habit or are you sailing some rough seas?

It is a fact that one of the causes of marital tension is the difference in philosophy between husbands and wives regarding the resolving of discipline problems concerning their children. In other words, children are often the cause of parental problems. For example, going from one parent to the other after being refused permission to do something is a most common youth strategy. You can always say, “But Dad said it was okay.” If you are part of the problem, and you probably are, then you can be part of the solution. (There is sufficient data to show that husband-wife problems are not strictly between them; problem couples are living in a problem family where everyone concerned is part of the problem. The family triangle, mother-father-child, is more likely, in LDS families, to be the family octagon! The point is that more likely than not it is a bit unfair to only talk about parents getting along together. It is more nearly correct to implicate the family and to talk about the family not getting along.)

For problems that are too serious to be handled within the family, wards and stakes in the Church have many competent lay and professional family therapists who can meet with a family for a period of time to help them look at themselves. Adolescents can suggest to their folks that as a family they should seek guidance and counsel. If you feel comfortable about changing some of your own behavior to help the family get along better, so much the better. It is no disgrace to get a knee operated on. It is no shame to seek solutions to an acne problem. Similarly, there is no stigma that ought to be attached to those seeking help for family problems when all the family’s own resources have been used. In this Church I should think that family health is at least as important as physical health. Young people can talk this way with their parents and help heal family lacerations.

You have so often heard that we were never promised a rose garden. And we weren’t. A common rejoinder here has been, especially from families who hurt, “Yes, but neither were we promised a briar patch!” Making a family “work” is more than accidental. And it’s more than laying the blame on any one person or any one couple. Elder Richard L. Evans once said, “No marriage—no life—is free from problems. Always there are adjustments to make, things to work out, need for understanding.” (Improvement Era, Sept. 1961, p. 660.) Family happiness is a family affair. It is, indeed, a sacred obligation to help create family happiness. Everyone in a family is an architect, a planner for that family. You can probably guess what the last line of this article will be. Here it is—the answer to the original question, “How can I help my parents get along better?” is really the answer to this amended question—“How can the members of a family help the family get along better?”

Chairman, Child Committee, Sunday School General Board