‘Cornerstones of Responsibility’ — responsibilities of leaders in the Lord’s Kingdom
President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, delivered at a Regional Representative Seminar on Friday, April 5, 1991
May I again express to each of you my appreciation and gratitude for your faithful and effective service. Each of you, over a period of years, has demonstrated your faith and faithfulness, your unselfish devotion to the work, your capacity and ability to motivate the people and move forward the program.
We are not aware of all of the sacrifice you make. You never complain. You never speak of how hard it is. You never say anything of the cost of leaving your wives and families and you go forth to do the Lord’s work. You simple do it, quietly and effectively. Thank you for all the vast good you do.
You come to know the stakes where you have responsibility better than General Authorities know them. You become well acquainted with the officers. They are not afraid of yo. They know that you come as friends. They need someone to talk with concerning their problems, and they appreciate your availability and your willingness to listen. They look to you as towers of strength and as men of understanding in whom they can confide.
So very much rests on your shoulders. With an ever-growing number of stakes there is a consequent ever-diminishing number of the people who have the opportunity to see members of the Council of the Twelve at close range. Even with an enlarged number of Seventy, they cannot always give the personal scrutiny and attention which are needed. You must be the watchmen on the tower, the trainers, the sources of direct information and inspiration to whom local leaders may look.
With all that depends upon you, I wish to remind you of four cornerstones of responsibility which you and I and all of us have. They are, first, to keep the Church doctrinally pure; second, to keep the Church morally clean and ethically straight; third, to keep the Church financially and temporally strong; fourth, to keep the Church organizationally efficient. Let me treat each of these briefly.
I am grateful for these four remarkable and wonderful books which we call ‘Standard Works’. They are the reservoir of our doctrine from which flows the waters of the gospel light. They provide the standard by which all gospel doctrine is measured. All other books, manuals, and study courses should spring from the word of the Lord as set forth in these volumes. They have been presented to the membership of the Church in conference assembled as a constituent body, and have there been approved as binding upon the Church. No other writings have been so accepted and approved. There are a number of other volumes which are as treasures to us. But these do not occupy the same status as the Standard Works.
On the other side of the line are a number of publications whose major objective, it seems to me, is to question and criticize the teachings and activities espoused by the General Authorities. They seem to feed the critical natures of those who still have one foot in the Church while the other is out. Those who so write are highly resentful if their Church loyalty or membership is challenged. And yet, they seem to be constantly looking for faults, criticizing, and holding up to the light, in an effort to find flaws in that which is taught as doctrine of the Church.
At various times in our history, courses of study have dealt with the Great Apostasy. Any one who has been though one of these courses know that every error began in the ancient church in a relatively small way. Some scholar or otherwise came along with a new bit of philosophy that did not square with the pure doctrine. In some instances from that small beginning developed a climate of apostasy, and a long night of darkness followed, broken only partially by the imperfect light of the Renaissance. There is a tendency for such small beginnings of apostasy to be introduced in our time. We need to be alert to such, to raise a flag of warning and to make correction where necessary.
For instance, here and there, prayers have been offered to our Mother in Heaven. This started in private prayer, and is beginning to spread to prayers offered in some of our meetings. It was Eliza R. Snow who wrote the words, “Truth is reason, truth eternal, tells me I’ve a mother there.” It has been said that the Prophet Joseph Smith made no correction to what Sister Snow had written. Therefore, we have a Mother in Heaven. Therefore, some assume that we may appropriately pray to her. Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I consider it inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother In Heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ set the pattern for our prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, He declared: “After this manner pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” (3 Nephi 13:9)
While He was among them, He further taught them by example and precept concerning this practice. The record states that “He himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold, he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.” (3 Nephi 17:15). Further He said; “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.” (3 Nephi 18:21) On another occasion, “Jesus departed out of the midst of them, and went a little way off from them and bowed himself to the earth, and he said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world. Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.” (3 Nephi 19:19-21).
And so I might continue with other specific instances from the scripture. But, search as I have, I find nowhere in the Standard Works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven or where He instructed the people to pray other than to His Father in Heaven. I have looked in vain for any instance where any President of the Church, from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, has offered a prayer to ‘Our Mother in Heaven’. I suppose those who use this expression and who try to further its use, are well-meaning, but they are misguided. The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her. None of us knows anything about her.
I caution you to counsel priesthood leaders to be on the alert of the use of this expression and to make correction where necessary. Such correction can be handled in a discreet and inoffensive way. But it should be form and without equivocation. I use this only as an example our need to keep the doctrine pure.
The second cornerstone of our responsibility is to keep the Church morally clean and ethically straight. We must be constantly alert to serious infractions of the moral law. The scourge of pornography is all about us. Its titillating allure is attractive to the weak and undisciplined, and even occasionally causes the strong to falter and fail. Unfortunately, it reaches out and occasionally ensnares some who occupy positions of high and sacred responsibility in the Church. In such circumstances, appropriate action must be taken. The administration of Church discipline can be a wrenching experience, tearing at the very heart of the one disciplined as well as at the hearts of those administering the discipline who become judges, when they themselves are human and not entirely without weakness or fault in their own lives. Notwithstanding this, there are times when we must face into the wind and go forward.
Almost universally, he who has offended will confess with contrition when properly rebuked. The action of disciplinary councils need not be widely publicized. We do not try people before the world. Our accountability in these matters is not to the world, but rather to the Lord, to the Church, and to those immediately offended. We follow the principles set forth in the 42nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Dishonesty seems to grow apace. Too many Church officers and members become involved in so-called Ponzi schemes and scam operations of various kinds. These are basically dishonest in concept and should be dealt with, again with kindness but with firmness. Church offices, of all people, and particularly those carrying such responsibilities as bishop and stake president, must never take advantage of the trust placed in them as Church officers to entice members, within their wards or stakes to invest with an expectation of high returns. The temptation to do so reaches right to the top. Only last Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee was confronted with such a case. We needed a property in an overseas nation. One was found which fit all the requirements. The government had passed an anti-speculation law which set a price ceiling which was below what the seller was willing to take. Lawyers and others found a devious way under which the law could be technically satisfied and the seller could get his full price. Although we needed the property, we turned it down. Our people in that area will be disappointed, but both they and we well know that the correct decision was made. We cannot be a party to any kind of dishonesty in conducting the affairs of the Church.
Cornerstone three, to keep the Church financially strong. I am profoundly grateful that the Unit Budget Allowance Program with which we have had experience for more than a year now, has worked so well. Many doubted that it would work. But experience has shown that there can be adequacy in activity programs without the expenditure of large sums of money. In fact, there can be an increase of faith in simple activities that will not result from more elaborate and costly activities. Many stakes have discovered that they could get along with far less than they were previously spending and have returned funds to the Church. Bishop Hales will report our decision to extend the program effective July 1 to stakes throughout the world. All of this must mean increased emphasis on the payment of honest tithing as well as the payment of a generous fast offering. I read an interesting report in the Wall Street Journal some months ago. It stated concerning donations to churches that “…people making less that $10,000 annually give most (2.8% of their gross incomes) to church and other charities… People making $50,000 to $75,000 give only 1.5%.” (Wall Street Journal, October 22, 1990).
I stand in reverent awe and appreciation when I see what our people do in the payment of their tithes and offerings. I am confident that the Lord is pleased with them, and I know likewise that He opens the windows of heaven and showers down blessings upon them. It is imperative that the Church be kept financially strong. We are growing in such numbers that we must build an ever-increasing number of meetinghouses, temples, and other facilities to accommodate this growth. The construction and maintenance of such properties and the funding of Church programs through the world, require very substantial sums of money each year. Tithing is the Lord’s law of finance, and if our people observe it, the Church will be financially strong and the people will be blessed. It is imperative that we teach the revealed doctrine in these matters. We need not be involved in any fancy schemes, any games playing, any complicated graduated system of taxation. We need only teach the simple law of the Lord. We need to teach faith because when all is said and done, the payment of tithing is an expression of faith.
I come to my fourth and final cornerstone, that is, to keep the Church organizationally efficient. I confess that there is constant pressure in the Church, bolstered by persuasive argument, to increase the regulations emanating at headquarters and to complicate the program throughout the world. Looking at the size and complexity of our organization, I am inclined to ask, “Is all of this needed to help our Father with His work in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man?” I am satisfied that all of it is not needed, but perhaps in our stumbling human ways, we may feel that is is essential. Sometimes we hear the expression used with reference to organizations and people that they are “lean and mean”. My expression is that we ought to be “lean and clean”. I urge you to move the Church forward insofar as you have responsibility within the parameters of the organization presently established without seeking to add to or complicate that organization. When all is said an done, our goals are relatively simple and straightforward. Our procedures in achieving those goals ought likewise to be simple and straightforward.
While I was still a young man, I was called to the Sunday School general board. I was then 26 or 27 years of age, and had served as Sunday School superintendent in one of the large stakes of this city. In those days, the Sunday School general board was relatively large, with about 35 members, as I recall. Our program called for an annual convention in every stake of the Church. Board members went out then just as General Authorities do now. I think we did some good. I hope we did some good. But I think we have learned that we do not need a large board of this kind, with its own magazine, and its own convention in each stake of the Church throughout the world. The fact of the matter is, it would be difficult to carry such a program today with so many more stakes. Our organization has become learner and cleaner. I hope it is more efficient. I feel we must constantly work on the matter of keeping our entire organization efficient and productive, lean and clean, if you please.
You might ponder these words of Peter Drucker, dean of American Management Consultants: “It is always amazing how many of the things we do will never be missed, and nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”
There are the four cornerstones as I see them. I believe it is imperative that we constantly work at this. I believe that there is unremitting pressure in the other direction. Much of it comes from the adversary of truth who would like to see this work fail. It will not fail. It cannot fail. It is the Lord’s work, and He will see that it does not fail. We may fail. If we do, we will be removed out of our places and others will be installed who will do what we should have done.
Now in closing, I believe that you are doing your part in accomplishing all of this. Again, I commend you and bless you in the great service which you are giving. I pray that in the giving of that service, you are not neglecting your wives and children, but that you stand in your households as men of goodness and virtue and love and example. I hope that you are not neglecting your employment, but rather, that you stand there as men whose skills are appreciated and whose honesty and loyalty are unquestioned. May the Lord bless each of you. May there grow in your hearts an increasing love for God our Eternal Father, and His Only Begotten Son, the Redeemer of the World. May there grow in your heats an increased testimony of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith, of the priesthood and its powers restored in this dispensation , of the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ, of the eternal reality of covenants and ordinances, and of the fact that we have a mission, as servants of the Lord, to build and strengthen our people wherever we go and in whatever capacity we serve.
Brethren, I leave with you my testimony of the truth of this work. I have been associated with it now for a long time. I have never felt better about it than I feel today. There is every reason to feel encouraged and happy. I so feel, and hope that each of you feel similarly. It is true. God our Eternal Father is at the helm. He lives. We can reach Him in prayer. He hears and answers prayer. Jesus is our Lord and our Savior, our King and our Friend, I invoke upon each of you choice blessings as you serve with faith and diligence, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.