Chapter 2
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Sam Marchant

SAM MARCHANT is currently the In-Service Leader in his ward. He has taught many Sunday School classes, taught the deacons, priests, and elders quorums, taught family relations, teacher, and served in the presidency of the ward and stake MIA, in the stake Sunday School presidency, as a full-time missionary abroad and on a regional mission (in Salt Lake City), has been an assistant ward executive secretary, and also served in a bishopric. "Sam Marchant" is a pseudonym, as is "Robert Johnson," the name assigned to the stake president.


In the spring of 1980, I was elders’ quorum secretary in one of the Orem, Utah, wards. When the presidency was assigned to speak in sacrament meeting, I was asked to talk on the spiritual and temporal needs of others and what ward members could do to help the elders serve fellow members. The emphasis was on being Christlike. I had earlier read an interesting dissertation by a Ph.D. candidate at BYU that dealt with, among other things, members who had become disaffected from the Church. It contained a story I used in my talk. The husband was an active, participating member who diligently paid his tithing and served in church callings. But he sympathized with plural marriage, though he did not practice it. When his family was having financial difficulties, he asked his bishop for Church welfare. According to the interview in the dissertation, the bishop refused because of the husband’s professed sympathies. I posed the question, "What would the Lord have done?" and was about to conclude with a quotation from Elder Boyd K. Packer concerning how we treat others.

My stake president, Robert Johnson, a member of my ward, was sitting in the second row in the middle of the chapel. Immediately after I asked the question, he rose to his feet, raised his right arm to the square, and loudly announced, "I object to your line of reasoning, and I command you to sit down and say no more." I could hardly believe my ears. I was stunned, then a wave of anger washed over me. After a long moment of silence, I closed my talk in the name of Jesus Christ and sat down. The faces in the audience showed mixed reactions; some who had not been paying attention were obviously wondering what had happened. A sister on the front row had a look of disbelief on her face and sort of rolled her eyes. A brother sitting directly behind President Johnson patted him on the shoulder as he sat down. (Incidentally, this man’s son moved to Independence, Missouri, with Roger Billings to be "one of first" to welcome Christ when he returned.)

The last speaker in our quorum presidency, obviously shaken, went to the podium. He did not give his talk. He simply read a few scriptures, and then sat down. The member of the bishopric conducting the meeting announced the closing song and prayer. The meeting was over about 10 minutes early. President Johnson came immediately to the stand before I had even gotten to my feet and said, "I want to speak to you in the bishop’s office." I replied, "And I certainly want to speak to you too."

Rather than going to Sunday School class (which was the next meeting in our schedule at that time), I sat down next to my wife in the foyer of the chapel across from the bishop’s office, and we talked quietly. President Johnson came out of the bishop’s office in about twenty minutes, found me, and said, "I want to speak to you in the bishop’s office." My wife and I both stood up and moved toward the bishop’s office. President Johnson said, "No, this is between you and me." I replied, "This is between you and me and my family." He did not answer but wheeled around and led the way to the bishop’s office (my wife came with me) where the bishop was already waiting; I don’t remember him taking any part in the discussion.

President Johnson had us sit down, then announced, "Your comments were not appropriate for church. You implied that the bishop in that story you told didn’t get inspiration because his actions might have been different from what Christ would have done. You’re a master at playing the devil’s advocate and that is not good. For example, your comment about the Book of Mormon in gospel doctrine class" —I describe this incident below— "could drive people from the church."

I explained, "I did not mean to imply that bishops do not receive inspiration. And even if I had said something that you did not agree with or thought inappropriate, there is an order in the Church for dealing with problems like that. There is a difference between being seated in the audience or on the stand and being one who is conducting or officiating. If you feel that something said is so important and so wrong that it needs to be responded to right there in the meeting, you should come up to the podium, announce yourself, be recognized by whomever is conducting or presiding, and explain your argument at the conclusion of the talk or of the meeting."1

President Johnson maintained that it was his right as stake president to "correct" me in the fashion he did. I thought some sort of apology was in order, especially to my wife and children and said so. The meeting ended with considerable stiffness on both sides. He has never apologized. Some of my children do not even remember the details of the incident today, seventeen years after the event. A curious incident was that a member of my ward who was in attendance related the event to a family member, a Church official of high position in Salt Lake City. The response was, "That sort of thing just can’t happen." Two months later, a colleague of my wife’s told her that he had heard someone ask his handball partner, "Did you hear what happened to ol’ Sam Marchant in church?" The person asking the question was not a member of our ward—not even a member of our stake. I could only wonder what versions were circulating that I would never hear about.

I believe that President Johnson may have been "pre-programmed" to find me a trouble-maker who would challenge authority, as suggested by the events related below—even though he could not possibly have thought that I had prepared my talk with the purpose of irritating him. One can only guess what preceding or immediate events in his life caused his reaction, but some of our earlier interactions could have certainly added to it. Before President Johnson had been called as stake president, he had been our ward bishop, and I had served as his assistant executive secretary. He once overheard me asking the other secretary if the procedures we were using were "the right way to do things" and I remember the "harsh" look he gave me. I do not even recall what the circumstances were other than my remark and his look. My question was an honest one, however, and I simply wanted information.

Then two or three years later he asked the elders’ quorum president to tell me that he, the bishop, wanted to talk to my thirteen-year-old son, whom he had seen standing on the corner with kids who were smoking. "Tell Sam to bring him to my office," he instructed. When the elders’ quorum president delivered this message, I commented that I thought it inappropriate to use the elders’ quorum president as an intermediary in a personal matter that involved my son. I suggested that if the bishop wanted to talk to me or my son he could simply ask us and that I would bring my son in to talk if that was what he wanted, but I would not sit in the office with the two of them to discuss problems my son might be having. I had already been through that issue with my son, and I did not want him to feel ganged up on; that would do nothing for my relationship with him. I explained my position in what I thought was a perfectly calm and cordial manner and was surprised to later learn from the elders’ quorum president, both a neighbor and a colleague at work, that Bishop Johnson took my remarks as a "slap in the face to his authority." There was never any follow-up request to have an audience with my son. As a third incident, the same son was found in the chapel up in the organ pipes (we had a small edition of the Tabernacle-style organ) and that did not set well with Bishop Johnson. Apparently my son had taken a three-inch pipe, although he did return it.

Finally, just two weeks before my sacrament meeting talk, President Johnson and I were participating in our Gospel Doctrine class. In the course of the discussion, a class member asked why the Joseph Smith Translation was not part of the Church’s formal scriptures. (This event occurred before extensive quotations from the JST were included in a new edition of the scriptures.) Our instructor, a member of the BYU religion faculty, said there were some "problems" that were still being worked out. (He did not elaborate.) Then there were other random comments about other parts of the scriptures. My family and I had just returned from a year in Washington, D.C.; there we had had a discussion with my elders’ quorum president and he told us of his mother’s recent return from Salt Lake where she had had lengthy discourses with friends in the Church Office Building about "corrections and changes in wording and syntax" to be made in the Book of Mormon. I thought this project was interesting in showing the evolving nature of scripture, and I made the casual and nonauthoritative remark that I understood that the Church was working on some corrections in the Book of Mormon. (These corrections appeared the 1981 edition.) President Johnson was sitting a couple of rows in front of us; and although he made no comment, he was visibly angered at my remarks, as the back of his neck flushed red and he made a half-completed glance at me over his shoulder. This incident was apparently fresh on his mind before my sacrament meeting talk and he seemingly had some conclusions about my personality and the threat I posed to other members without ever discussing his concerns with me.

Although I never deliberately challenged President Johnson’s authority and never reacted with hostility during our conversations, all the information suggests that he saw the mere act of raising questions or offering another perspective on a situation as rebellious and challenging.

In later years the ward was divided, and President Johnson went into a different ward but within the same stake. I was called into the stake Sunday School presidency; President Johnson had been released and was called as a Sunday School teacher. Whenever I conducted a stake meeting, he would never stay in the meeting but would get up and walk out when I took the podium.

I do not want to overstate the situation. The sacrament meeting incident was embarrassing to me and my family and could have been handled in an appropriate manner. It certainly did not contribute to good feelings between President Johnson and myself. But things could have been worse. President Johnson made no attempt to punish me or limit my service.

Still, at the same time, things could have been much better. I did not let these events dampen my testimony in the gospel nor affect my commitment to it. Perhaps it was no great loss to me or to my family that we didn’t have a priesthood leader we liked or trusted. We could endure it. Did he treat others this way? I have not tried to find out. Should I have gone to him and tried to work toward better feelings? Perhaps. That is certainly the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 42. But I literally could not visualize a good outcome from such a meeting, and I was not anxious to add yet another bad experience to the tally. We did meet once in an ice cream shop a few years ago and exchanged cordial greetings.

At the moment, I chalk it up to experience. It wasn’t as bad as some cases of misuse of power by leaders in the Church. But this implicit demand for such complete deference was still inappropriate and unfortunately, and apparently, not uncommon. And after seventeen years, there’s still a sting.


1Such procedures are clearly described in John A. Widtsoe’s Priesthood and Church Government, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 202-4