Apostle Fan Protocol: Is there one?

[ 29 ] Comments

by Nick Galieti

Rock stars, pop stars, and even some sports figures garner attention from their fans in a very perplexing fashion. Some fans hang a poster in their room, or wear a t-shirt declaring their allegiance or support for the particular band or artist; others faint or cry in some irrational form of adulation upon the mere sight of their favorite star.

In the LDS faith, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and The First Presidency are sometimes seen and treated by members as rock stars. In a recent visit from a member of the Quorum of the Twelve to my ward in West Valley City, Utah, some members of the ward treated this Elder with what appeared to be reverence for his calling, while others seemed to dote on him, relating stories of how they saw him speak once and it was “so amazing,” how he is their favorite Apostle, or offering unsolicited information about how they met once, or know someone related to him. In some ways he was mobbed and treated far differently than other members.

I’ve reflected on this and I am left wondering what is the appropriate protocol, if there is one, of how to approach someone who is a special witness of our Savior Jesus Christ, in a way that recognizes his noteworthy office and position, while understanding that these are just men? These are men who make mistakes, men who want the focus to be on the message, not the messenger.

  • Is asking for an autograph appropriate; if so, where?
  • Do we take pictures with them? If so, where?
  • Do we offer compliments on a particular General Conference talk or is that simply inappropriate adulation?
  • Are questions appropriate or are we to simply shake hands, and help them feel welcome, in the same way that we would any other member, or non-member, of the church?

29 Responses to Apostle Fan Protocol: Is there one?

  1. ji says:

    A handshake and a kind word of appreciation are almost always appropriate. Asking for an autograph is almost never appropriate. All of this is my understandig for myself, and how I will teach my family. Asking questions in the hallway is not appropriate; but asking questions in a proper forum is alright. We need to think of ourselves as being citizens of Sardis or Ephesus or one of those places when Paul came to visit, and acting as we might think they would have.

    Yes, we in the Church have fallen for the cultural approach of idolizing our stars, and yes, we sometimes treat the general authorities of the Church like stars. It was this willingness of the people to be so led that allowed Hitler and Stalin and others to build their cults of personality. This willingness is dangerous.

    Far better for us to see all men as equal — really — and as fellow servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  2. Sheila W says:

    With the daily quotes, quotes on pictures, video clips that run through my newsfeed on Facebook daily, I can see how this can easily happen. And the part of the country where I live in we rarely, like in I can’t even remember the last time, we had a member of the Quorum of the 12 who came to physically talk to us. (We’ve had a couple of General Authorities who, sadly, I didn’t even recognize at the time, but it made me more aware of them the next time I saw them speak in GC) Anymore they are regional conferences that look like mini general conferences from Salt Lake in a studio. So if one were to actually physically show up, I can really see how people going overboard could happen. My hope would be the majority could restrain themselves and be respectful, but you’ll always have those few who can’t.

  3. Tamara says:

    My limited experience tells me this: Autographs, no. Pictures-are more rare now in the social media age in order to prevent posts to FB and other sites. Compliments-I remember Elder Oaks, I think, explaining that someone once told him, “I enjoyed your Conference talk.” And his response what something like, “I didn’t give it for you to be entertained.” Also, Elder Bednar has said, “If you want to thank someone for their talk, tell them what you are going to DO differently because you heard it.” As for questions, ditto what ji said. Setting is everything.

    My other thought is that even though I’v seen fawning that has made me a little uncomfortable, I think it is far better than the alternative of too casual of conduct or even disrespect. Good reminder though about how they are men that want the focus to be on the message.

    • Nick Galieti says:

      I’m going to use that response from Elder Oaks from now on when people say that they enjoyed my Gospel Doctrine class.

      • Tamara says:

        Ok, I found the exact quote and I’m thankful I did. It is Elder Oaks but he is quoting an unnamed friend in the Quorum of the Twelve. Taken from CES fireside, May 2005, The Dedication of a Lifetime. Here is what he said, ”

        “See That Ye Do Them”
        “Last week I was talking with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve about comments we had received on our April conference talks. My friend said someone told him, “I surely enjoyed your talk.” We agreed that this is not the kind of comment we like to receive. As my friend said, “I didn’t give that talk to be enjoyed. What does he think I am, some kind of entertainer?” Another member of our quorum joined the conversation by saying, “That reminds me of the story of a good minister. When a parishioner said, ‘I surely enjoyed your sermon today,’ the minister replied, ‘In that case, you didn’t understand it.’ ”
        You may remember that this April conference I spoke on pornography. No one told me they “enjoyed” that talk—not one! In fact, there was nothing enjoyable in it even for me.
        I speak of these recent conversations to teach the principle that a message given by a General Authority at a general conference—a message prepared under the influence of the Spirit to further the work of the Lord—is not given to be enjoyed. It is given to inspire, to edify, to challenge, or to correct. It is given to be heard under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, with the intended result that the listener learns from the talk and from the Spirit what he or she should do about it.”

  4. Jeff Spector says:

    Nick, this is a very thoughtful post. Seems to me, that our General Leadership deserves the same level of respect that we give to local leaders. After all, there is nothing super-human about them. Hopefully, they were called by God, same as a Bishop, Stake President or Primary President.

    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few GAs over the years and even had a member of the 1st Q of 70 in our home, home Teaching with his son while visiting. You come to find out, they are the same as we are. I also had the honor in one of my callings to meet the Young Women’s General President and found her a very nice person, knowledgeable about the programs and problems and a good listener. but I also find that about many of our local leaders as well.

    I wouldn’t see why we wouldn’t show appreciation for a conference talk or something that helped us from that person.

    I am against the “rock star,” movie star treatment that some members give to all leaders. Some might call them “brown nosers.”

  5. Paul says:

    Good questions. I’ve noted that authorities who come to our stake conferences behave differently from one another, and differently over time. In a years-ago visit, Elder Eyring stood on the stand and shook the hand of everyone who wanted to greet him after each session he attended. In a more recent visit, he exited through the “funeral” door and avoided the crowds.

    When Elder Oaks visited our stake very recently, he went through the chapel for the minutes before the meeting, shaking as many hands as he could. He greeted each member with a smile and “Welcome to church!” or “Welcome to conference!”

    I think most of the brethren are anxious to be “among” the people as much as they can be. When I lived in Venezuela, Elder Hales came for a regional conference and I was his driver while he was there. After the conference, he had a tight timetable to get to his flight. While we waited in traffic to exit the arena where the conference was, he noticed a disabled member standing about 20 yards away. He asked me if I knew the man, who happened to be in my ward. Elder Hales got out of the car and walked over and spoke briefly with the man and shook his hand, and the hands of the few people around him before getting back in the car.

    That said, I agree with ji — photos and autographs seem inappropriate (in fact, I think Handbook 2 might actually counsel against them, but I don’t remember). A quick friendly greeting, and even thanks for the man’s service seems appropriate and polite.

  6. Bonnie says:

    We had a conference in which Virginia Pierce came to speak to us. I was very excited, because I genuinely like her writing and speaking, but for some reason this cult of personality has been very uncomfortable to me of late. The discussion before she came was that we were going to have a “big name important person” come speak to us. I went anyway (!) and she said something that has stuck with me (below) but during her whole talk I kept thinking over and over and over: there are people here who could do every bit as good a job as she did encouraging us forward or teaching us. Unfortunately, it would not have been as well attended if Jane Shmo had done the Relief Society fireside as it was with a “big name.” That says something about us as saints.

    What she said was crucial to me, and I think it could have been like most Sacrament meetings and stake conferences I’ve attended, where there was a point that was huge to me. She said that one day she was going through “her dead husband’s papers and her dead parents’ papers and her dead in-laws’ papers” and she finally had to call her friends and go to lunch from her empty house because she was fried. She said she’d always thought there was a stage where life was easy, but there isn’t. Each brings its own difficulty. Now could someone in my ward have said that? Absolutely. Many times I’ve heard things there that were worthy of writing down, and I did.

    This cult of personality Mormons have makes us weird. Not peculiar, just weird.

  7. Angie says:

    I grew up in the same stake as several congressmen and a senator or two over the years (living in DC suburb Virginia). Their children went to primary and YW and girls camp with me and I found them to be nice or irritating as was individually the case. I also grew up in the same stake as the son of one of the Quorum of the Twelve. His family was just who they were for the most part, with their virtues and warts like the rest of us. Then I moved to Provo for school and eventually to the desert outside Vegas where we’ve been for the last decade or so. The cult of personality seems far far worse here in the west. I have watched the granddaughter of an apostle be fawned over at playgroup (gack!) and had people jockey to be BFFs when it seemed her grandfather would be attending baby blessings and baptisms. It is very distasteful.

    Perhaps when we listen to messages, we have (hopefully) intimate and spiritual reactions that we transfer to them directly and somehow confuse our intimate experience with the Spirit as some level of intimacy with the speaker. Perhaps our culture is infected with the cult of personality on such a deep level that it isn’t much of a leap to transfer that giddy “Beatles” reaction from entertainers on screens to apostles on screens, if that is already the bend of your personality. I do think it is the opposite of reverence for the calling.

    That said, my husband’s mission president was Elder Andersen and that relationship of intimacy has afforded us the opportunity to attend special firesides and bring our children to meet him. And that’s been important to us, not to fawn or seek paparazzi experiences, but to feel the Spirit a special witness of Christ has with him.

  8. Jeff Spector says:

    It kinds of like the blessing thing. Some people would never ask their Home Teacher for a Blessing but instead would run to the Bishop to get one.

    I think the cult of personality is not just a Mormon thing.

  9. Bonnie says:

    Oh, absolutely Jeff. It’s actually a sociological and historical term (although it does nuance toward the individual’s tendency to create it for their own gain), and refers to the very human desire to make individuals into popular gods. If we use the term carefully, which I don’t always, we apply it to people like Hitler, who used mass media to consolidate his power. It’s unfortunate that we would do that to the Lord’s messengers. They certainly don’t give us any reason at all to.

  10. jendoop says:

    How uncomfortable must that make our leaders when we treat them in this way? They are asking us to turn to the Savior and we laud them for it and then turn to them instead. Not on purpose, but we do, because we can see them, we know what their voice sounds like, what their face looks like, how tall they are, what color tie they like, who their wife is, and their children. These are things we wish we could know about the Savior but right now we don’t, we’re asked to walk by faith. (Although I’m pretty sure Christ would prefer the Looney Tunes tie I gave to my husband for Father’s Day.) But because of our human tendency to rely on our physical senses we find the closest thing we can to a golden calf.

    That said, I had a wonderful experience meeting Sister Dalton and interacting with her at a series of intimate meetings. At the time I was a new stake YWs counselor and had so many questions. Her optimism and surety in the Lord’s ability to help me, and the young women, was a powerful force. She didn’t have all the answers but she assured me that the Lord did and he would help me. I wanted to be with her more, to feel that way more, to soak up as much of that spiritual power as I could. One day because of the atonement I hope to be a beacon like her, and because she is just a woman I know it is possible.

  11. Diana says:

    This is from Pres. Uchtdorf in the Priesthood session of the 2010 General Conference:
    When I was called as a General Authority, I was blessed to be tutored by many of the senior Brethren in the Church. One day I had the opportunity to drive President James E. Faust to a stake conference. During the hours we spent in the car, President Faust took the time to teach me some important principles about my assignment. He explained also how gracious the members of the Church are, especially to General Authorities. He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”
    They are aware of it, and it can be a challenge for them, too.

  12. Liz C says:

    My oldest has had a series of very neat encounters with one particular YW General Presidency member; this lady attended the Girls’ Camp Eldest attended, and Eldest was very inspired by the fireside encouragement she gave. Eldest approached her with her journal and did ask for an autograph.

    The response she gave was so kind! She told Eldest, “Well, we don’t give autographs because we’re not celebrities. I’m just your fellow sister in Christ. But you know, I’d really like for us to work on something from the Personal Progress program together, and we can sign each other off on the assignment.” So, they did… and chatted back and forth by email now and then for a few months, encouraging one another to work on the value experience.

    Then this General Presidency member emailed me, and asked if I would have Eldest meet her at the lunch break during some meeting she was attending near us. We re-arranged a little, and the two of them met, finished their value experience, and exchanged Personal Progress books for the signing-off, Sister to Sister. She gave Eldest a little theme bookmark as a gift; Eldest gave her a small “pixie” in the value colors as a gift. They hugged, and off we went.

    Fast forward two full years. Eldest had a piece of art accepted for the Youth Art Competition this past summer, and it was selected for the exhibition this fall. We were able to travel down for the gallery opening and recognition ceremony. At the ceremony, this General Presidency member’s name was mentioned as she was thanked for attending. I told Eldest, “We should keep an eye out so you can say hello! Be prepared to remind her how you know each other; she’ll meet thousands of girls every year.”

    Eldest felt a little shy about it, but really wanted to greet the Sister who had encouraged her so well, so we kept our eye out during the gallery reception. We finally spied her… just as she was having her husband take a snapshot of herself in front of Eldest’s work! When we walked up, she said, “OH! When I got the list of exhibitors, I saw your name, and told my husband, I have to go have my picture taken with her piece, and send it to my young friend to let her know I’m so proud of her growth and hard work! And now you’re here! I’m so glad to see you! Okay, squish in… more pictures!”

    What started out as a bit of a fan-girl moment for Eldest, way back at camp, has become a very sweet and real, very appreciative mutual friendship. It’s the exact opposite of “Celebrity”… it’s Sister to Sister. And I really think the mutual fondness they have enjoyed boils down to the way this particular General Presidency sister handled an initial fan-girl request, in a spirit of love and compassion and enthusiasm for the Gospel. The prolonged experience has been so much more encouraging that just an autograph might have been.

    All that to say: yes, we can run into some problems with “cult of personality”… we’re also pretty fortunate to have leaders who refuse to be forced into that mold, and who are determined to keep that spirit of humility that allows them to serve and witness so well.

    • Angie says:

      In the rest of the world, this cult of personality is definitely cultivated by the celebrity. And therein lies the difference, our world church leaders “don’t inhale it,” they are kind and tender and intimate and personal and humble. I love this story Liz C and Diana’s quote from above.

    • WoozleMom says:

      What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. “Sister to sister” — that’s what it’s all about.

    • Paul says:

      What a great story, and a wonderful way to teach — not with correction or scolding, but with positive action. Thanks for sharing this.

  13. Ray says:

    I agree with everything that has been said thus far – but, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I have a bit of a man crush on Pres. Uchtdorf.

    • MSKeller says:

      I love it Ray. Way to be a man.

      Really though, I think that they get that because they have the opportunity and the exposure to be heard. Joe Everymember doesn’t. Most wards and stakes have that one guy/gal whom everyone wants to give a fireside.

      I have been setting up Singles Conferences for years, and I know that when I have a name that folks recognize, more people come. When I have others, I often hear that they are some of the most spiritual meetings folks have attended, but only about half of the people who would have been there, are there. So you end up preaching to the choir in good measure.

      There are pros and cons of course to name recognition, but I’ve found that most great speakers earn their ‘stardom’ from many well-crafted talks and lives well-lived.

    • Bonnie says:

      I have a man-crush on Pres. Uchtdorf. (Can a woman say that?) Everyone does. He’s just likable.

  14. Dan says:

    I used to work in the salt lake temple and would see the general authorities all the time. Often in very casual settings, and we’ve occasionally run into a few at a local park. My experience with them, I’ve noticed, have always been more focused around family. Let me explain:

    I have yet to run into one of the 12 or presidents when they didn’t want me to hugs their wife or other family close by. Once that happens, we have very casual and loose chatter between all of us. The same that they immediately introduce to my wife.

    The real moments of more “celebrity idolizing” is when my kids want to meet them. When you hear the young kids loving and looking up to these leaders, you remember how powerful their presence is.

    Often, we tend to offer them the same casualty they seem to prefer. We don’t hint them down, but we greet and meet with them like long-lost friends.

    A friend once told me that Elder Holland said to him, “brother you look overwhelmed by me standing here. But I assure you, I am more honored to stand in company with you and your beautiful family!” (I think they were at the store at the time)

  15. h_nu says:

    Really great post, Nick, but I also felt like I understood it as well ;).

    So I don’t know if “cult of personality” is the best descriptor, “objectification of individuals” fits better.

    When we treat a GA as a celebrity, instead of a fellow-servant of Christ, and a leader-called-by God, we treat them as an object, rather than as an individual. When we ingratiate ourselves with their families in order to get closer to them, we treat their families as objects … means to the end.

    I’m really against it.

    I know some children of GA, one was a roommate, one is in my ward. We have great discussion. We’re friends. I could never imagining trying to use them to get closer to their parents.

    It disgusts me.

  16. Rick says:

    I have to admit at the Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert, My wife and I sat real close to the front and I was on the end. Who happened to walk up the aisle not 4 feet away from me? Elder L. Tom Perry and Elder Neil Anderson.

    Like a tourist I sprang to my feet and shook Elder Anderson’s hand.

    And another time, I was up giving my tithing to the Bishop when all got quiet and who comes in to our Ward Sacrament? President Monson! I also shook his hand.

    Did I feel shame? Nope. Was it appropriate? I don’t know. :)

    • Liz C says:

      Rick, I think if you weren’t fawning, obsequious, or actively blubbering on them while you shook their arm out of its socket, you were likely fine. It would be weird to *not* greet someone warmly. :)

      Maybe that’s the trick of it: if we’re excited to meet someone because we have come to love them for their service, we’re simply warmly greeting a sibling we’ve never met before. It’s loving, not “fan-girl”. It’s genuine joy to meet someone who has touched our hearts. Letting them know that they’ve done so, and then letting them get on with the things they need to do, doesn’t strike me as overboard. It’s the slavering and drooling that wreck the nice dress shoes that should be avoided, eh?

  17. Here are some thoughts that occur to me in no particular order…

    The thing that occurs to me is that scripture that says “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” It seems to me that the best way to show love and respect for the apostles would be the same way that we show love and respect for Christ–by doing what they ask of us. This is, I think, at the heart of the issue.

    Now, on the other hand, how will our children understand the awesome-ness of having apostles if we don’t get excited about seeing them and hearing them? And too, we’re Saints, so we are going to appreciate people that the world doesn’t appreciate. There’s the scripture that says, “He who receives a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

    In terms of compliments, I imagine the best kinds of compliments for apostles (or anyone, for that matter) are ones that describe how one’s life was changed for the better because of what the apostle said or did that was good, how the apostle inspired positive change, and so forth. Those are the kind that apostles (as men) probably most need to hear. I’m sure they yearn to know they are making a difference.

    Yes, there is nothing super-human about them as men, but the office they hold is divinely established. When I got in line to shake Elder Cook’s hand at a meeting a few years ago, I was fully focused on shaking AN APOSTLE’S hand. I didn’t care whether it was Elder Cook’s or Elder Bednar’s or whatever. I just wanted to be able to shake an apostle’s hand so that I could tell my children someday that I had done it.

  18. Sarah says:

    A close relative of mine works in security for the LDS Church, and he is often on the phone with an apostle or two, daily. He assures me that they are just men, with a special calling of course, but full of foibles and flaws like all of us.

    Apparently, one of the apostles “taps” his slushie cup in order to fill it right to the brim! That makes me giggle.

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