Over 130 years ago, my great-great grandfather Anderson and his family helped settle Idaho’s upper Snake River valley. He was a member of the LDS Church . . . and was an obstinate Swede. His daughter married and, as was the custom, to celebrate the event he provided a wedding dance at his log cabin home. The bishop had established a rule about dances. He said there could not be more than two round dances (slow dances) in an evening. The rest were to be lively square dances. He apparently felt slow dances gave couples too much opportunity for intimacy. Whatever the reason, that was the rule.
And the rule was about to be broken!
The bride chose a waltz for her special bride’s dance with her father. Two other round dances occurred that evening as well. A member of the bishopric was in attendance, and he was counting. Three round dances! He dutifully reported the transgression.
The next Sunday the bishop pulled Grandpa aside. “You broke the rule, Brother Anderson. I want you to apologize to the ward members in sacrament meeting and ask them to forgive you.”
That raised Grandpa’s Swedish dander. “I didn’t do anything wrong! I have nothing to apologize for!” And with that he left and went home.
As each Sunday rolled around, he stayed home and watched sullenly as his family got ready for church. Finally, after six months of stubbornness, he broke down and cried. His wife said, “Come on, Pa. Do what the bishop asks and apologize to the ward. You are so miserable and unhappy.”
He put on his Sunday clothes and went to church with his family. After some hem-hawing, he said to the bishop, “I’ll apologize.” Then added, “But I still can’t see any harm in having three round dances.”
When, as a young man, I first heard this story, I was upset at the bishop and proud that Grandpa had stuck to his guns. I was as wrong as my grandpa. Grandpa’s perception of the bishop’s no-more-than-two-round-dances rule as being plain dumb had nothing to do with what Grandpa should have done. And with a few years of experience under my belt, I finally began to see this episode in a whole different light.
My grandfather had raised his hand to sustain his bishop and to obey his requests. He went back on his promise twice: Exceeding the two-round-dance limit; and, refusing to apologize to the ward. And to make matters worse, for six months he refused to go with his family to church and partake of the sacrament. His disobedience (didn’t matter what the rule was) brought both him and his family six months of misery. And how did it make the bishop feel? What effect did Grandpa’s acts have on the members of the ward in this close-knit pioneer community? What did his example teach his children? Yep. Grandpa was wrong!
Some years ago, a close friend of mine was a bishop in Salt Lake. He told me that his stake president had requested that all bishopric members and priesthood leaders wear white shirts and ties on Sunday. A member of his ward council, who was affected by the request, said, “He can’t tell us how to dress! That’s going too far. Wearing a white shirt has nothing to do with my priesthood responsibility, and I’m not going to do it!”
My friend replied, “Brother, I kind of look at it this way. There are so many of the commandments that are hard to keep consistently that when an easy one like wearing white shirts comes along, I willing do it all the way—hoping I can make up some points that I’ve lost as I struggle with some of the hard ones!”
In an admittedly tongue-in-cheek way, my bishop friend summarized the importance of obedience: The very act of obedience develops self-control and strengthens and increases our ability to keep even the most difficult commandments.
I’ve discovered another reason to obey my church leaders. They are almost always right! They may be no smarter than the average member. They may have even less experience than many of those who they have responsibilities over. But they have something that sets them apart—they have been set apart to serve where they are serving and given a commensurate priesthood blessing of wisdom and inspiration. Thus, they are entitled both to receive revelation and possess good judgment regarding their duties and seeking the well-being of those in their care.
So, I obey because I’ve made a promise to do it. I obey because my leaders are almost always right. And I obey, because that is the way I learn the kind of self-mastery that puts me on the path to becoming one with Jesus Christ.
I believe that my commitment to obey is my foundational covenant. My ultimate standing before God, and my proximity to Him, depend on my willingness to keep it.