William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Criticizing Lay Members For Poorly Prepared Sermons

The question was put (August 2007):

"I recall once going to a wedding recpetion and the bride and groom gave a talk. The groom mentioned that, "prides himself on his Church talks". He then told everyone that a ward member wrote him an anonymous letter stating how bad and terrible and whatnot his talk was. I do not know if I could write an anonymous letter to a member stating what I felt about their talks or whatever. Would you?"

To which I responded:

In most cases, I can't see myself doing something like that. I don't think I would personally criticize a person for a talk being poorly delivered or prepared in itself. However, if the content was in my view extremely offensive or extremely off-base, I could imagine a situation where I might anonymously convey to that person my disagreement. Most of the time, I would not take the risk, for fear of being found out and labled a dissident/apostate.

To which one person responded:

"Seems like ark steadying to me. There are people called who's assignment it is to see that correct doctrine is taught in meetings. That is the presiding authority. Just like they don't give the average citizen the right to pull somoene over for speeding, you should tell someone who DOES have the authority to do something about it (police officer) if there is a danger and it doesn't appear that they authorities know about it. If the "proper authorities" are sitting right there, I would think it would be fairly evident that they would know about it unless their eyes are closed and loud ZZZZZZ's are issuing from their general vicinity.
I would not presume to correct someone's talk (although I have corrected incorrect or false doctrine in a class, but that addresses the point of doctrine, not the person giving it), but rather point it out to the presiding authority and let them deal with it or not.
If it is about the MANNER of their presentation (i.e. you talk was really boring and put me to sleep!), you should ask the person if they would like some feedback on their talk and with gentleness, brotherly love, kindness, meekness, etc. convey that your care for them is more important than your need to be right or appear "I know better than you." If you can leave feedback with their permission and do it in a Christ-like way, and prompted by the Holy Ghost, then I say go for it. If you just need to "get it off your chest" or can't build them up to do it better rather than a negative comment (i.e. "Have you thought of adding a humerous story or personal experience to spice up your talks before?"), then I would say leave it alone and just get over it they way you hope others will leave you and your personal shortcomings from being picked at by everyone.
If you have to do it anonymously, I don't think it is being done in a Christ-like way and would really steer away from it. It can only promote contention, suspicion (who sent this?), hurt feelings; in other words, they don't come from the source we want to be tapped into. Fear of being discovered and "ratted out" I don't think should even be a factor in deciding what to do to fix something that appears broken to us in someone else. Judges in Israel are called to do that - I say let them do their job and leave the rest to the Lord."

To which I responded:

To use your analogy, while it may be that only the cop has the legal right to pull someone over for speeding, there is no law against me rolling down my window, giving the speeder a dirty look, and telling him he's a jerk. We need not be transformed into silent sheep just because leaders in the church are charged with certain responsibilities.

As a general rule, criticism about a person's talk should be directed towards the content, and as a general rule, it should also be done in a very loving and careful manner. As I said before (or tried to), I don't want to destroy the confidence of talk-givers who are just trying their best innocently to give a good talk and fail in their manner of delivery. But suppose someone were to give a talk about how we should follow the prophet's counsel of discouraging interracial marriage. I might just get up the gumption to let that person know that someone, even if it is an anonymous someone, strongly disagrees.

You are suggesting that all anonymous criticism is un-Christlike? Certainly anonymous criticisms can hurt when they are done in a malicious fashion and with the intent of picking on someone who is behaving justly and in good faith. But not all anonymous criticism falls into that category. Anonymity alone does not establish that the anonymous person is in the wrong. There may be just reasons for remaining anonymous, as many people on this board who choose themselves to remain anonymous in their posts know full well.

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