Nope, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t perfect…yet. Why? Because it’s made up of all us imperfect folks. From the get-go, detractors have pointed to the fleshly weaknesses—actual or contrive—of leaders and members of the Church as evidence that the Church as established through Joseph is not true.
I suggest that the very humanness of its members is, in fact, proof of both the Church’s divine origin and its consistent overseeing by the Lord. That the Church is what it is in spite of being operated on a day-to-day basis by us very flawed folks is, in every sense of the word, a miracle.
I had a watershed experience with a general authority that underscored this truth for me.
Many years ago I served as a young missionary in Australia. Because of the media contacts I had made through our proselyting, I was asked by the mission president to handle the press and publicity for a general authority who would be visiting our mission. My charge was to obtain as widespread coverage of his arrival and purpose for coming as I could. Since this man was an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, not an apostle, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wasn’t exactly a household name in Australia, it was doubly hard to convince the media that this was a worthwhile news event. But we succeeded to the extent that half a dozen reporters from a couple of radio stations and a few newspapers agreed to meet with him at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Sydney where he would be staying. The time for the press conference was set, and all seemed to be going according to schedule.
That is until our visiting authority arrived at his hotel.
At the front desk he was given his room key and asked if he wouldn’t like to freshen up after his long 19-hour flight. Struck by the opulence of the rather ostentatious lobby, he turned to the desk clerk and asked, “What’s the cost of my room?” The answer ignited an explosion! “I just wanted to stay two nights, not buy the place!” he boomed. And with that, turned to the elders escorting him and said, “Let’s get out of here and find a motel close to the mission home that has a reasonable charge.” And off he went, ignoring his press conference that was to be held at the Sheraton in just one hour.
I was taking care of last minute details for his interview with the press when I heard what happened. Mortified is an apt word to describe how I felt, and that was joined by a few other not-so-positive thoughts about our visitor. I notified the participating reporters (not an easy task), apologized, and asked them to meet our guest at his motel many steps down in quality from the Sheraton and a 45-minute drive away. Only one or two even said they would try. With resentment and anger, I drove with my companion to the motel to inform the general authority that he still may be contacted by a reporter or two (no cell phones back then).
I was told by one of the elders escorting him that our visitor got upset with the motel management because they put him in a room right by a staircase. “I’m not going to be kept up all night by people running up and down the stairs!” he curtly told the manager. “Put me in a quiet room!”
“Crotchety old man!” I muttered. “Nobody should behave like this!” That he was a general authority made it even worse, and my anger bubbled and animosity toward him simmered.
Then my lesson about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the meetings he held with the members in Sydney and with us missionaries, the Spirit was there. Powerfully. He spoke and acted like a man of God. I was affected deeply. Following the last meeting, the mission president told him I was going into the hospital the next day for an appendectomy.
“Would you like a blessing?” the general authority asked me. My negative feelings toward him had now dissipated, and I eagerly told him I would. He laid his hands on my head, and a great sensation flooded my body from my head to my feet—like warm, soothing water. I had never had an experience with the Spirit like that before. I wept. I knew I would be healed.
He then asked for the phone number of my parents who lived in California. “I’ll call them when I get back to the States,” he said.
Well, guess who felt like a flawed-human now?
Awareness of my own faults, including being judgmental, was nearly overwhelming. Yet with that came an understanding that the Lord works through his imperfect sons and daughters. Obviously, being and acting human does not disqualify one from serving God—nor being a vehicle through whom God works His purposes. We are all He has here!
So, as I looked at the Church in this light—including the less-than-perfect-but-inspired general authority and me—I saw the extraordinary miracle the Church was. Its success, organization, temples, family history work, missionary program, latter-day scriptures, focus on serving in the name of Jesus Christ, ordinances of the priesthood, lay ministry, and on-and-on, was literally incomparable with any other organization on the earth. And all of this, in spite of the collective and individual weaknesses of its members and leaders.
How is this possible? Because Jesus Christ is at its head. He is perfect . . . and His Church is getting there.