As a Bishop, I was told I was a “Common Judge in Israel” This phrase derives from D&C 107. (Not sure what the Israel part is about, I don’t think they would have given me any deference if I had visited Israel while bishop)

73 And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, whom he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church.

73 This is the duty of a bishop who is not a literal descendant of Aaron, but has been ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek.

74 Thus shall he be a judge, even a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion, or in a stake of Zion, or in any branch of the church where he shall be set apart unto this ministry, until the borders of Zion are enlarged and it becomes necessary to have other bishops or judges in Zion or elsewhere.

D&C 107: 73-75

I was never given specific training on what it meant to be a “common judge”, and how that was different from an “uncommon” judge. The only clue is in verse 73 above, where it says a bishop is “to sit in judgment upon transgressors” My assumption as a bishop was that when people came into my office to confess transgressions, I was to judge them. The results of that judgement could be anything from “go and sin no more”, to excommunication (I believe the new word is “withdrawal of membership”: sounds so much more tame!)

When I was sitting in that chair behind the big desk, my most common response was the “go and sin no more”. My thought was I would rather error on being too lenient than being to harsh. If there is a God that is going to judge me on how I meted out judgment in my ward, I will feel much more confident looking Him in the eye and taking any punishment for being too lenient than the converse. I only had one church court in my five years, and that was a rebaptism of somebody who had been excommunicated years ago. Everything else was handled by what is now called “Personal Counseling

I often wonder what it would have been like being a bishop in the early church. Back when the church was new in Utah, the bishop did everything. He mediated disputes between neighbors over cows, water rights and fence lines. In a small town he was “judge, jury and executioner” figuratively, and sometime literally. I never had anything like that as a bishop here in California, but I’m sure in a heavily Mormon area like Utah County or Rexburg, bishops get drawn into neighborly disputes all the time.

What has been your experience with your bishop as a “common judge”. Did he stay in his swim lane, or did he venture out on non-religious judgments?

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