Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chapter Seven: Righteous and Unrighteous Dominion

Chapter Seven

Righteous and Unrighteous Dominion

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, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:39).

According to scripture, there are basically two approaches to leading or presiding. One is evil and detrimental to the organization, the other is good and beneficial. There are shepherds and there are sheepherders. Hugh Nibley contrasted leadership with management in a classic treatise many years ago. (See “Leaders and Managers,” commencement address delivered August 19, 1983, republished in Classic Speeches, Volume 1, 1994, by Brigham Young University). We can call it “style,” or we can call it “philosophy,” but there are really only two ways to go. Nibley observes:

Leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men and team players, dedicated to the establishment.
The leader, for example, has a passion for equality. We think of great generals from David and Alexander on down, sharing their beans or maza with their men, calling them by their first names, marching along with them in the heat, sleeping on the ground, and first over the wall. A famous ode by a long-suffering Greek soldier, Archilochus, reminds us that the men in the ranks are not fooled for an instant by the executive type who thinks he is a leader.
For the manger, on the other hand, the idea of equality is repugnant and indeed counterproductive. Where promotion, perks, privilege, and power are the name of the game, awe and reverence for rank is everything, the inspiration and motivation of all good men. Where would management be without the inflexible paper processing, dress standards, attention to proper social, political, and religious affiliation, vigilant watch over habits and attitudes, and so forth, that gratify the stockholders and satisfy security?
“If you love me,” said the Greatest of all leaders, “you will keep my commandments.”  “If you know what is good for me,” says the manager, “you will keep my commandments, and not make waves. . .”
Managers do not promote individuals whose competence might threaten their own position; and so as the power of management spreads ever wider, the quality deteriorates, if that is possible. In short, while management shuns equality, it feeds on mediocrity.
On the other hand, leadership is an escape from mediocrity. All the great deposits of art, science, and literature from the past on which all civilization in nourished come to us from a mere handful of leaders. For the qualities of leadership are the same in all fields, the leader being simply the one who sets the highest example; and to do that and open the way to greater light and knowledge, the leader must break the mold. . .
True leaders are inspiring because they are inspired, caught up in a higher purpose, devoid of personal ambition, idealistic, and incorruptible.
. . . So vast is the discrepancy between management and leadership that only a blind man would get them backwards. Yet that is what we do. . . I am told of a meeting of very big businessmen in a distant place, who happened also to be the heads of stakes, where they addressed the problem of “how to stay awake in the temple.” For them what is done in the house of the Lord is mere quota-filling until they can get back to the real work of the world. (Ibid., italics in original).

Nibley continues, by precisely drawing the distinction between the things of this world we seem to value so highly with the things money cannot buy:

But what exactly are the things of the world? An easy and infallible test has been given us in the well-known maxim, “You can have anything in this world for money.” If a thing is of this world, you can have it for money; if you cannot have it for money, it does not belong to this world. That is what makes the whole thing manageable -- money is pure number; by converting all values to numbers, everything can be fed into the computer and handled with ease and efficiency. “How much?” becomes the only question we need to ask. The manager “knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing” (Oscar Wilde, Lady Windemere’s Fan, act 3), because for him the value is the price. (Ibid., italics in original).

The Apostle Paul said those in authority over their peers must “Feed the flock of God which among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; [thus respecting the moral agency of their brothers and sisters] not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; [with pure and unselfish motives] neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

The Savior said:

Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be the servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-44).

To the Nephites he said:

Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants. (3 Nephi 12:1).

These are incredibly insightful teachings. To feed the flock is to lovingly teach the principles of salvation from the word of God, to spiritually nurture and succor the downtrodden ones, to lift the hands that hang down and to inspire and motivate by the power of the spirit through gentle persuasion and long-suffering. To take the oversight thereof does not mean to despotically lord over, but rather to lovingly watch over and to serve.

In Babylon the people serve the king. In Zion the king serves the people.

Righteous Leadership

Righteous dominion should characterize the ministry of every called, ordained, anointed or set apart leader in the Church. These leaders are not stepping above their peers from their place of equality among their peers to a superior station as supposed by many. Instead, they are temporarily stepping down, humbling themselves to the point of voluntarily becoming the least and the servant of all those they are called to serve. They are not called to lord over, but rather to watch after. They are not appointed as an Orwellian “Big Brother,” a witch hunter or a hired sheepherder, but as a loving shepherd who cares deeply enough to give his life in time, energy and talent to serve and feed his sheep.

A righteous leader will never constrain, coerce or manipulate those for whom he has stewardship, but will always work and sacrifice to serve and bless, to persuade and guide, to feed and protect with kindness and love, those for whom he has oversight. Watching out for their welfare will be his mission. Contrast the stake high councilor who stands at the pulpit, angrily shaking his fist at the collective body of the priesthood in the stake with a rock solid 70% home teaching effort and shouts, “Those of you who don’t do your home teaching will never inherit the celestial kingdom!” with the humble bishop who is constantly setting an example by ministering quietly with his counselors among his people in their homes as the spirit directs him.

Every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an equal with a right based upon the principles of righteousness to have full fellowship with the saints. However, in God’s house some must be called to preside.

Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head. . . (Ephesians 5:22-23).

Those set at the head in the Church to watch over the saints are called to be the least and the greatest servants of all. Paul draws the connection in the marriage relationship:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. (Ephesians 5:25).

President Marion G. Romney explains:

With the Lord, the man is not without the woman, nor is the woman without the man. Husbands and wives should never forget these basic truths. They should remember their relationship and the purpose of it
They should be one in harmony, respect, and mutual consideration. Neither should plan or follow an independent course of action. They should consult, pray, and decide together.
In the management of their homes and families, husbands and wives should counsel with each other in kindness, love, patience, and understanding. . .
Remember that neither the wife nor the husband is the slave of the other. Husbands and wives are equal partners, particularly Latter-day Saint husbands and wives. They should so consider themselves and so treat each other in this life, that they will do so throughout eternity. . .
The woman is not inferior to the man. It is true, of course, that the man holds the priesthood and in the righteous exercise thereof presides in the home. This he is to do, however, in the spirit with which Christ presides over his church. (“In the Image of God,” Ensign, March 1978, 2, 4).

The true doctrine of presiding is a principle of humility, a principle of service. All are commanded to love their neighbor as themselves. When one is called to preside in the Church, however, it is a call to serve and to put the interests of the flock ahead of his own. He is expected to emulate the shepherding skills of the Good Shepherd. These are nothing more than parenting and marriage partner principles at work outside the home in the Church setting.

In Babylon the children serve the parents. In Zion the parents serve the children.

In Babylon the mother works in the home so the father can succeed in the world. In Zion the father works in the world so the mother can succeed in the home. He will put her needs ahead of his own. They will put their children’s needs ahead of their own. Such is the presiding principle.

Presiding In The Home

In this true presiding principle what woman is going to envy the man being called to preside in her home? If a woman resents the husband being called to be the least and the servant of all in the home, it is for one of three reasons: 1) The true principle of presiding is misunderstood; 2) the true principle of presiding is not properly practiced; or 3) the woman is an aspiring spirit.

If this principle is not understood, it must be perceived this call to preside somehow makes the husband superior to the wife. We have seen this is not correct. They are equals. The man and the woman are full partners. He is in no way superior to her. His call to preside is merely a function of position.

We have had some sad experiences in our service in the Church as we have witnessed heavy-handed husbands who constantly keep their wives in an inferior subservient position. One extreme example was a handsome young fellow who demanded that his wife walk behind him whenever they were out in public. She never had access to the checkbook, he kept her on a strict budget and she retaliated with the only thing she had left -- she withheld her body from him to punish him. She could no longer give herself to such a tyrant.

As an orphan who joined the Church during his teen years he had simply never seen a husband-wife relationship modeled, and thought priesthood authority in the home meant he was the only, final, absolute lawgiver in the home. The story had a happy ending, as this young husband was able to see the folly of his ways and amended his views on presiding principles in the home, but not until after many tears were shed between them.

President Howard W. Hunter counseled the husbands on this wise:

Presiding in righteousness necessitates a shared responsibility between husband and wife; together you act with knowledge and participation in all family matters. For a man to operate independent of or without regard to the feelings and counsel of his wife in governing the family is to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Only through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage can they realize the fulness of eternal blessings (see D&C 131:1-4; 132:15-19). (Ensign, November 1994, 49-51).

Leading and following have nothing to do with the equality of people. Many people do not understand this fact, and therefore labor under some very serious misconceptions.

Positions and People

Leading and following have to do with positions not people. Positions in the outward Church are arrayed vertically. Some positions are higher on the organizational chart than others.  People in the kingdom are arrayed horizontally.

All are equal peers as sons and daughters of God, each having infinite individual worth. No child of God is higher than another so none are lower either. All are equal. As people in the Church and kingdom of God on the earth we are all horizontal peers. Nowhere is this more beautifully depicted than in sacred temple precincts. Regardless of title, position, rank, economic standing, race or political persuasion all are alike unto God.

We once attended a temple endowment session with President Benson and his wife. Though he was the highest ranking priesthood authority on the session he waited in line respectfully with Sister Benson, even when urged to go first because of his position in the Church. The higher they rise on the vertical organizational chart, it seems, the more deeply the General Authorities sense their positions as the servants of all. President Kimball was famous for his kisses and hugs. A handshake was never sufficient for him. 

President Thomas S. Monson was still ministering among the widows from his ward when he was a young bishop for many, many years after he had been released as their bishop.  Over eighty in number, he ministered lovingly to each of them until they died, then spoke at every single one of their funerals.  One of his most recent General Conference sermons amply demonstrated his encouragement for us to go and do likewise.  The greatest prophet leader among us today is not surprisingly the greatest example of the lovingkindness of a humble servant.

Because people are called to fill positions some get confused, thinking a higher or lower position makes a person higher or lower in stature before the Lord. This idea is completely wrong. Positions do not make people superior or inferior to each other.

President Spencer W. Kimball emphasizes:

Now, in some places in the world there are men who do not recognize their wives with full righteousness. The man and the wife are equals; one has to be in authority, and that is the man. That does not mean that he is superior. (In CR, Lima Peru Area Conference, 1977, 21).

Positions are merely assignments of duty, not price tags of personal worth.

Some people with aspiring spirits who do not understand true presiding principles seek for high positions in the Church. It caused no end of grief for Joseph Smith. Addressing the Relief Society on April 28, 1842, he spoke in part

. . . of the disposition of many men to consider the lower offices in the Church dishonorable, and to look with jealous eyes upon the standing of others who are called to preside over them; that it was the folly and nonsense of the human heart for a person to be aspiring to other stations than those to which they are appointed by God for them to occupy; that it was better for individuals to magnify their respective calling, and wait patiently till God shall say to them, “come up higher.”

President Smith continued by speaking of the difficulties he had to surmount ever since the commencement of the work, in consequence of aspiring men. “Great big Elders,” as he called them, who caused him much trouble; to whom he had taught the things of the kingdom in private councils, they would then go forth into the world and proclaim the things he had taught them, as their own revelations; said the same aspiring disposition will be in this Society, and must be guarded against; that every person should stand, and act in the place appointed, and thus sanctify the Society and get it pure. He said he had been trampled under foot by aspiring Elders, for all were infected with that spirit. (TPJS, 223, 225).

Satan has always been an aspiring spirit. He wants to be above others. He inspires the people of the lie to manufacture reasons to rise higher. He totally understands the human nature of fallen man and manipulates the true principle of presiding and tempts men that they may aspire to rise above others. We have seen this is all wrong. Righteous people have no desire to rise above one and other. The most unnatural act a bishop engages in is sitting in the judgment seat as required of his office, when he knows himself to be imperfect. Referring again to the basketball team analogy:

A basketball team consists of five important positions: One center, two forwards and two guards. The point guard position is assigned the duty of calling the plays, and the rest of the players must run the play he calls. The five players are individual people with individual personalities and abilities. If one of them has an aspiring spirit he will covet to be the point guard, falsely perceiving this position puts one person above the rest of the team. The person playing the position of point guard may have no such aspirations at all. He knows he calls the plays for one reason -- that is a duty of the position to which he is assigned. He might even be a personality who very honestly wishes the configuration of duties were different than it is, but he does his job because that is his responsibility. Another player with an aspiring spirit will always covet the point guard’s role, never seeing the truth that a position on the floor has nothing to do with the person playing the game.

The play-calling point guard does not think his duty makes him the best player or the best person on the team. When John Stockton of the Utah Jazz was inducted recently (2009) into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he taught this principle perfectly.  He told the audience in his acceptance speech that never once in over thirty years of competitive basketball had he ever been the best player on any of his teams.  He simply saw his role as a necessary duty that served the team in accomplishing its goals. He was never lifted up in pride by this duty. In fact, he was humbled by the responsibility, as he knew the team was counting on him to perform this function well for their mutual benefit. So humble was John Stockton that he said he never spent a nickel of his first year salary in the NBA because he figured he'd never be good enough to hang with the team for more than the first year.  An aspiring spirit would be lifted up and prideful in such a position and would look down on the others by virtue of his distorted perception of his role.  That was never John Stockton.


Aspiring spirits are sick. They are not right with God or man. They are affected by a distorted perception of truth and a selfish ambition perverting the way they approach life and interact with others. Righteous spirits see things correctly and approach life and their interaction with others with a righteous regard for the diversity of spirits with whom they labor. They do not seek to be above each other and they are happily content to be equals.

While God is no respecter of persons, his ecclesiastical organization of positions is very vertical in its orientation. Few are called to lead. Most are called to follow. All are called to do both, holding positions somewhere on the organization chart that place them ahead of some and behind some.

“Follow the leader” is a child’s game. It is also a fundamental principle in the kingdom we must never forget. In D&C 28:6 Oliver Cowdery is chastised and told by the Lord, “thou shalt not command him who is at thy head. . .,” referring to his file leader, Joseph Smith. Such is the order of the house of God. Joseph was constantly surrounded by more educated, wealthier, more sophisticated and more dynamic personalities. But he was chosen to lead.

We are also commanded to act in the office to which we are appointed (D&C 107:99), and we are admonished to “let every man esteem his brother as himself. . .” (D&C 38:24-25). Indeed, we are told we must be equal in both heavenly and earthly things (D&C 78:5-6), and if we are not one we are not his. (D&C 38:7).

These are not contradictory sayings. Once understood and accepted into practice by the saints they are perfectly harmonious. There will be vertical positions in the kingdom relatively higher and lower so there may be order in all things, but people are equals, brothers and sisters, all beloved children of God.

This is a grand key in our interpersonal relationships with each other as children of the kingdom. We must cherish our understanding of the difference between people and positions. Again, with people the interpersonal configuration is horizontal. With positions the interpersonal configuration is vertical.

When we get it wrong and start thinking positions make people more or less important or valuable, problems arise. These misunderstandings cause leaders to be puffed up and followers to envy. This is all wrong and only diminishes true respect and destroys effective interpersonal relationships. Positions do not, cannot, increase or decrease the value of people.

People need to understand the truth that positions are simply allocations of duties. Positions are not God’s appraised value of individual worth. Every soul is precious to our Heavenly Father as his beloved sons and daughters. People are the lambs of the Good Shepherd. People are peers.

Confused leaders who believe positions make people superior and inferior to each other are: 1) Puffed up; and 2) poor leaders, seeking their own, thinking evil and practicing unrighteous dominion. Confused followers who believe positions make people superior and inferior to each other are: 1) Envious; and 2) poor followers, being easily provoked (offended), thinking evil, and not being easily entreated. (See Alma 7:23). Poor leaders and poor followers do not make for good interpersonal relations, communication and effective teamwork within the Church.

Conversely, some people in the Church think all positions are evil and there should be no vertical designations of duty or lines of authority in the affairs of church and government. These are foolish notions. When it comes to positions and the allocation of duties, his kingdom is a very vertical priesthood organization and it works efficiently because leaders and followers are required to sustain and support each other.

Charitable People

It follows, then, there must be an order of vertical positions with leaders, followers and accountability, and people must be viewed and valued as equals. This true order of things requires charity, the pure love of Christ.

. . . none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (Moroni 7:44-45).

Only in charity will leaders cease to be puffed up and seek their own agendas, become respectful and kind, and come to genuinely see and treat followers with the kindness and respect proffered to equals. Only in charity will followers cease to envy, to be easily provoked, and to become easily entreated, by becoming respectfully cooperative with their leaders. Both leaders and followers will cease thinking and speaking evil of each other, and valuing each other as equal brothers and sisters, lovingly and respectfully cooperating with and supporting each other in their positions of duty.

By the way, we don’t just set a goal to become more charitable, kind and loving. We must seek this gift pf the Spirit earnestly and with real intent desiring to receive it. We love this magnificent scripture from Mormon’s writings in The Book of Mormon. He describes in perfect detail how to obtain this gift of love from God:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:48).

Each who receives this gift of love will come to understand it is not the person they are submitting to as they obediently follow but the position. The person in the position comes and goes, personalities change, some are better, more beloved and revered, but reverence and gratitude for the position as a divine channel inspired of God to bless our lives will always be required. With the gift of charity as our personality filter we will come to know the position represents God’s authority. In submitting to the position we are honoring and obeying the God of us all who is represented therein.

Only in this way will we become Zion, become one, and esteem our brother as ourselves. Only then as charity purifies our hearts will we be prepared to redeem Zion and truly become the people of God.

Equal Worth as People

To say we are all equal is not to say we are all equal in every specific talent. Each of us has infinite worth with valuable abilities and talents (though different) to genuinely contribute to the welfare of all. We want and need everyone. We should learn to rejoice in the diversity of gifts God has given. Every righteous soul is a priceless asset of infinite worth to our whole society. Each merits equal status through lineage and intrinsic worth, and makes a valuable contribution as a peer in the community of saints.

When we begin to ignorantly weigh and measure personal worth or contribution because of position, we have slipped back into the confused state and need to reevaluate our erroneous and hazardous perception. Perhaps an example will help:

Someone in the confused state may believe the stake president is the most important person in the stake, because he holds the highest position in the stake. Such a confused person would likely aspire to that position. These selfish aspirations would obviously be unrighteous. If this same confused person were the stake president, he would be puffed up and probably be exercising unrighteous dominion. This confused person might also be inclined to perceive other people in positions beneath his, such as a Primary teacher, as a lowly person because they hold a lower position. “After all,” he would reason, “Primary teachers are a dime a dozen in comparison to the one and only stake president, and the ecclesiastical power and prestige of a ward Primary teacher pales in comparison to the much broader authority of the stake president.” Ironically, this same confused person would be feeling great envy as he observed other people serving in positions above his own like the position of a General Authority. Aspiring spirits are never content. They are always seeking a higher position.

Such a confused person who mixes up persons and positions will forever be struggling with major spiritual challenges. He will struggle with pride and envy, he will see things as they are not and therefore judge things as they are not. He will exercise unrighteous dominion and be easily provoked. Becoming Christlike will never be within his reach as long as he clings to his illusions.

He will never come to appreciate that serving as stake president is no more valuable, superior or of greater worth than serving in the position of Primary teacher. He will fail to truly appreciate the Primary teacher’s contribution as just as valid and important as the stake president’s. The kingdom needs both! If they will both do their work with humility in the spirit of love, the kingdom will be blessed. At the end of the day if the stake’s Primary teachers and mothers do not do their jobs, it won’t be long before the stake president has no stake to watch over.

To further illustrate, it helps to have seen a living example of these principles. One of the authors had the blessing of serving on a high council with a wonderful stake president. It was no surprise to learn some time after being released from his position on the high council that his former file leader was now a ward Primary teacher.

The next time he met the new Primary teacher he found himself feeling just as much love and respect for this person as when the Primary teacher had served as his stake president. The person was the same noble spirit, only his position of service to the kingdom had changed. This great man happily served in either position, for he had the charity to see all people as peers and the wisdom to recognize the importance of all callings regardless of where the positions appear on the vertical organization chart in the outward kingdom.

For the enlightened disciple of Christ every position in the Church is a call to serve others with selfless love in a meaningful way:

. . .the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the leaner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. (Alma 1:26).

In Zion there are no poor or rich, but all are of one heart. There is no division between leaders and followers, teachers and students, for all are equal as people. They all dwell in love, even charity, the pure love of Christ.

The Pharisees (managers) of old prided themselves on their titles, their offices and positions in the hierarchies of Judaism. Theirs was a priesthood of outward forms and rituals as they lost sight of the true spiritual symbols and meanings in their worship. There are some alarming vestiges of these false traditions among us in the Church today. We believe where these realities exist it is not so much by intent, but as the result of innocently not knowing.

What follows in the next part of the book is our attempt to assist modern-day saints in putting away forever our false Pharisaic priesthood traditions.


  1. Very good blog article. Thank you for it! Although I'm not in the same denomination as you, I am a born again Christian and appreciate the point of this article, your wise insights and Biblical references. I found this article because I had a bad day at work and I googled "unrighteous managers in mississippi". I am so sick of unrighteous supervisors and managers where I have previously and currently work. I don't know if its just coincidence but since my husband & I moved here in 2008 for school, we seem to have both come across more "sheepherders" in our workplaces than "Shepherds" compared to where we previously came from in the northeast. I am wondering if this is some sort of leftover spirit, behavior or attitude from former past generations of slave/field masters (4-5 generations of kids later and these kids are now in positions of being callous, sometimes cruel/abusive and selfish management?). Just a theory. It's about to make my heart explode though - your prayers are appreciated - God help us all. Thanks again for your article. God bless you, your family and your ministry.

    1. Thank you my friend for your comments. I hope when we are the recipient of the unrighteous dominion of others it may help us quickly resolve to do better when it is our turn to lead. Christ was one who lifted and blessed, not one who was unkind and impatient. Developing his attributes is a lifetime work. While we must be patient with others, we must also be good stewards of the gifts and opportunities he gives us to "feed my lambs."