A Member’s Right To Privacy


A number of years ago a favorite nephew from out of town visited me for several days. We spent many hours talking, laughing, and reminiscing. He was and is married with a family of six that he and his wife are raising. During the course of our conversation, he told me this insightful story. As a young man, he had returned home early from his church mission due to medical issues. As he sat in the office of his Bishop and they discussed that he probably wasn’t going to be returning to the mission field, he disconcertedly asked his Bishop, “What do I tell people when they ask why I am not returning?” The Bishop leaned forward and very forcefully replied, “Tell them it’s none of their business.” It has been many years since my nephew received that advice, and it was clear to me that my nephew had not only been surprised by his Bishop’s advice, but he had learned one of life’s great lessons. We do need to mind our own business.

Now clearly there are times when we have direct responsibility through our church callings to minister to those who are under our stewardship. In those circumstances, we are charged to care for and look after them. Yet, even under those conditions, we don’t have the “cart-blanche” privilege to impose ourselves into others’ lives. We need to be careful that we give privacy to those who so desire. There is a fine line between caring and imposing. There is also a difference between showing concern and simply being curious. The latter is more on the level of “gossiping.” Most of us sense when others show concern and are just “inquisitive.” Many years ago,  Marvin J. Ashton said this:

“How damaging is a habit that permits… the sharing of malicious rumors! Gossip and caustic comments often create chains of contention. These chains may appear to be very small, but what misery and woe they can cause!” (“Shake Off the Chains with Which Ye Are Bound”, GC, Oct. 1986)

It is a beautiful thing to know you have been missed when you haven’t been at church for a while. However, at the same time, it is not such a wonderous feeling if you think you are being “questioned” as to your whereabouts upon your return. Being “missed” fosters a sense of love, while being “questioned” fosters the opposite.  It is our “business” to show love and concern for our “neighbor”. The scriptures teach us so. But it really is none of our business to simply inquire into others’ lives.

Showing genuine love for others is the way of the Lord. But when Jesus was presented with the adulteress, he didn’t ask her any details regarding her behavior. Not one question! He said, “…Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Due to the nature of our lay ministry, we live in a very public church, but there are some things that all of us would rather keep within the confines of our families.  As far as I know, it is not against the commandments to be a private person. Let us be wise in how we conduct ourselves regarding the privacy of others. Some of our members are very private about the way they grieve. I once spoke with a member who temporarily stopped going to church, not because of loss of testimony, but because discussing their grief and sorrow with others was so painful that staying away felt better. Fortunately they recognized that separating oneself from the body of the saints can be spiritually dangerous and is not the way of the Lord. They have since returned.

All of us need someone to lean on from time to time. It is wonderful to have good loving members of the church available to help out when needed. But when we are the ones helping, remember, it is divine to care, but unwise to share; meaning, we shouldn’t share others’ confidences. May we remember the wise counsel that a good Bishop gave to my nephew! Let us be there for others in their time of need but may we have the wisdom to stay out of places in which we have no business.

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