Wednesday, January 17, 2018

President Dallin H. Oaks on sustaining leaders and dealing with differences

President Dallin H. Oaks (born August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also 1st Counselor in the First Presidency in January 2018.
"Our Father in Heaven has not compelled us to think the same way on every subject or procedure. As we seek to accomplish our life’s purposes, we will inevitably have differences with those around us—including some of those we sustain as our leaders. The question is not whether we have such differences, but how we manage them. What the Lord has said on another subject is also true of the management of differences with his leaders: 'It must needs be done in mine own way.' (D&C 104:16.) We should conduct ourselves in such a way that our thoughts and actions do not cause us to lose the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord.
"The first principle in the gospel procedure for managing differences is to keep our personal differences private....
"Why aren’t these differences discussed in public? Public debate—the means of resolving differences in a democratic government—is not appropriate in our Church government. We are all subject to the authority of the called and sustained servants of the Lord. They and we are all governed by the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, and that Spirit only functions in an atmosphere of unity. That is why personal differences about Church doctrine or procedure need to be worked out privately. There is nothing inappropriate about private communications concerning such differences, provided they are carried on in a spirit of love."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," talk to an LDSSA fireside on 4 May 1986; see Ensign, February 1987, p. 68-70
Click here to read the full talk

This interesting talk was shared with a group of youth early in President Oaks' service as an apostle. In his various assignments over the years, he had likely been exposed to his fair share of criticism and disagreement, and the advice he offers is very valuable. He provides a very thorough analysis of situations when we might disagree with another, either a peer or a leader, and describes the inappropriate and appropriate ways to do that. He describes principles that apply not just to our response to Church leaders, but also to public figures and government leaders as well.

This acknowledgement of differences that will occur, as natural and expected events in life, is a good foundation:

Our modern tools of communication make it possible at times to be very public in our criticisms. But Preisdent Oaks suggests how inappropriate that is, and the kind of damage it can do. Instead, he gives five suggestions in his article about the ways we might react when we disagree with a leader or a Church position:

  • Overlook the difference, recognizing that God is in charge and men are not always perfect
  • Delay acting, reserving our judgement, since we may not have all the facts or the individual may be able to clarify or correct
  • Confront the difference privately and directly with the individual
  • Communicate with the individual's presiding authority to discuss the situation
  • Pray for resolution, leaving things in God's hands
President Oaks discusses these points in detail, along with other important aspects of the topic. I think it's a wonderful and valuable talk to review and learn from as we strive to support and sustain one another in our various roles, both in the Church and in society.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

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