On LDS.org, a search for the term “Accountability” produces a huge number of results. It is a central topic discussed by leadership in the church. For example
This feeling of accountability, which is encompassed by the first great commandment to love God, has been described by some as “obedience to the unenforceable.” 3 We try to do what is right because we love and want to please our Father in Heaven, not because someone is forcing us to obey.
Mostly tied together with a feeling of the importance of agency and the concept of Stewardship, one would think that tracing the accountability of any action of the church would be a piece of cake. And on the surface, that would be true, but peel back a layer or two and suddenly the accountability vanishes.
For example, if one asks “Who is accountable for Johnny’s behavior”, we might answer “His mom”. When his mother is unable to prevent Johnny from kicking the primary president in the shins, Johnny’s father; the priesthood in the home, may be called in. Johnny’s father would answer to a bishop, who would answer to a stake president, who would answer to a regional authority seventy, who would answer to the presidency of the seventy, who would answer to the Quorum of the Twelve, who would answer to the first presidency, who would answer to God, right?
It’s a neat pattern and is how most of us in the church were trained to think about accountability and stewardship.
But let’s say that Johnny, instead of kicking his primary teacher in the shins, creates a major advertising campaign on behalf of the Mall the church built:
Who should a member report Johnny’s mistake to? Who authorized the ad campaign? Where is the accountability?
Let’s say the Johnny wants to needlessly kill for pleasure and excitement. In the JST rendition of Genesis 9:13 it clearly states this is forbidden, but if Johnny goes hunting on the Lord’s Elk ranch for sport, where is the accountability? Should we report it to a bishop, or a stake president? Is there an authority in the church who has the responsibility for guiding individuals to follow this commandment of God?
What if that same Johnny were to take the fast offering fund, and instead of giving it to the poor and the needy; used it to spin off interest for his personal projects and then changed the tithing slips so that this was a legal practice
What if Johnny did some shady business deals and was later called to be a General Authority? What accountability is there to the members and non-members that Johnny hurt?
What if a certain bishop really disliked a member in his congregation and wanted to show her who had the power by having her excommunicated. One might assume that this would have a lot of oversight, and yet time and again, the PR department insists this is solely a local matter.
What if a General Authority started spending more and more of his “Modest living allowance” and taking his family on trips via first class flights on the member’s dollar. Who would members go to in order to hold him accountable?
What if the church stated it had an independent auditing firm counting its financials, how can a member find out who is on that auditing firm, to know if they are actually independent?
“We are stewards over our bodies, minds, families, and properties. … A faithful steward is one who exercises righteous dominion, cares for his own, and looks to the poor and needy.” –Spencer W. Kimball, “Welfare Services: The Gospel in Action,” Ensign,Nov. 1977, 78.
The answer, is of course, they could sue the church via the legal system, or go to the media, or write a general authority and hope that he notices and does something. That, for the most part, injustice in Zion must be redressed by Babylon should give members pause.
And with the recent excommunication of members for being vocal about perceived injustice (Such as Rock Waterman asking about inflating tithing demands) everyone who comes in contact with the LDS church should be asking “Where is the accountability”?
That there is almost no structure for accountability of leadership to members, but there is a rigorous and thorough system of accountability of members to leadership indicates that they are not “Servants of all” but consumers who do not wish to be monitored. That should give us pause to contemplate.