Second Crack: Serving in a Bishopric
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
Things really came to a head when I served in the bishopric in my old ward. I had a very negative experience. There were a lot of people that taxed my patience and emotional energies, but the worst offender was the bishop I served with. He had a very juvenile, mean-spirited sense of humor. He would always tease me. Often when I was doing finances (my least favorite part of the calling), he would come into the clerk's office and harass me. He had a very "gotcha" style of humor where he would wait for me to trip up or make a mistake and then loudly call attention to it and encourage everyone in the room to laugh at me. I recognized his techniques as the same type used by the bullies that I met at grade school. I'm not going to kid you, it was a bit of a trigger for me.
Here's the approach I take to dealing with bad behavior: I express my irritation, but I start the volume knob at 1. If they persist, I turn it up to a 2, then 3, and so on. I start with subtle things like an angry glare, then I speak with an angry tone, then I speak louder, etc. I repeatedly expressed my anger to the bishop over his rude teasings, but I learned to my chagrin that he is incredibly thick-headed. I had to make a scene in a bishopric meeting one day. I shouted at him in the clerk's office when he came in and started making fun of me while I was doing finances, but nothing got through his thick skull. I had the volume turned all the way up to 9 and he still couldn't hear me. (In D&C it says that a bishop has the power of discernment. I don't think this bishop I served with could discern anything if his life depended on it.)
Well, one day, he harassed me again while I was doing finances and it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I didn't want to make a scene at church, so I silently went home, but I stewed on it for hours. Finally, I decided I couldn't hold it inside anymore, so I went to his house and spoke to him on his porch. I told him I had a problem with him and his behavior. He didn't know what I was talking about. I had to remind him about how he had harassed me. After blinking for a moment he said, "Oh, yeah I think I remember that."
I was livid. Here was something I had been upset about for months on end, and he was completely oblivious. I came unglued. I yelled and screamed at him. He looked terrified and stumbled about, barely able to form coherent responses to what I was saying. Did I go a little over the top? You bet I did, but I had months of suppressed rage (and a mind already clouded with depression and anxiety) and it needed an outlet, so I just let it out. I gained some experience standing up to bullies in grade school, and I'm not going to kid you, it was pretty satisfying to stand up to the school bully again.
He kept saying he was sorry to me. I finally walked off. The next morning, he sent me a text saying he was sorry again. I replied: "It's okay. Let's just have a few good weeks in a row and we can put this all behind us." I was disappointed that I had to resort to such extreme forms of communication to get through to him, but I was pleased to see that I finally had.
Well, about a week and a half later, I got a call from the Stake Executive Secretary saying that the Stake Pres. wanted to meet with me for a PPI. Fine, I thought, sounds pretty routine. So that night, I went into his office and much to my surprise, I found the bishop sitting there. Apparently, he had given the Stake Pres his (highly biased) side of the story and had won him over to his side. The look the bishop gave me was one of "You're gonna get it now, mister." I was ambushed. Funny thing, when I saw the bishop at mutual earlier that night, he was all smiles with me.
I did my best to defend myself amidst the cloud of depression and anxiety that darkened my mind. I told my side of the story. The bishop became visibly embarrassed when I talked about his bad behavior. He got defensive and started leveling accusations at me. I did my best to try to mend fences: I apologized. I told him I didn't hate him or anything, but his bad behavior was driving a wedge between us. Even after all he had done, I said, "I am willing to make amends, put this behind us, and move forward." He shook his fist and answered, "Oh, no, I think we need to make some changes in this bishopric!" Obviously, the "changes" he was referring to was kicking me out. The Stake Pres. backed him up on that, insinuating that what I had done was beyond the pale.
I felt really let down. All I ever tried to do in that calling was serve the members of the ward and support my bishop. In return, I was treated like crap and stabbed in the back. I stewed over things for a week and then finally went to the bishop and told him I was resigning. To my utter shock, he replied, "Why?" I was stunned. I couldn't believe that he could be so dense. I answered, "Like you even have to ask!" He closed his eyes and sighed at me like I was some sort of unruly teenager and said "Fine, don't tell me."
I didn't know what to say. I was riddled with anxiety. (I actually missed a day and a half of work, just because of feelings of anxiety.) Every instinct I possessed screamed at me: "Get out of here, Mark. Just say anything. Tell him whatever he wants to hear and just get out." Finally, I blurted out "I've been suffering from depression and anxiety. The stress of this calling is really crushing. I can't continue. Find someone else." He said, "Okay, thanks for being my counselor." He then followed with, "Can we be friends?" I was reeling again. I simply stammered "Um, maybe", and added, "I really need some distance from you for awhile," and then I raced out the door.
Adding insult to injury, after I was released, when he saw me at church in the weeks that followed, he would approach me with a big, plastic, smile and a big ol' handshake and try to act like we were all buddy-buddy. I was really upset about that. He completely rejected my offer of reconciliation in the Stake Pres' office, but now he wanted to put on a face in front of the congregation and act all chummy with me. Well, where I come from, we call that being two-faced, and I didn't like it.
I went into a fair amount of detail, but I think it's necessary backstory to help explain where I'm coming from. The whole ordeal left me with a very bad taste. I really felt betrayed by my local church leadership. Seeing the stupidity, immaturity, and questionable ethics of the bishop (and the complicit Stake Pres) made it very hard for me to believe that God would call men such as these to high offices. It really shook my faith. For that matter, why would I be called to be a counselor? I mean, I was a basket case.
A believer might say: "He isn't perfect", or "The Lord has only imperfect people to work with", or even "The church is perfect, but the members aren't". All of these types of statements are a form of blame reversal; an attempt to put the blame on me for his bad behavior. For the record, I wasn't expecting perfection. I would expect someone serving as a bishop to try his best to behave in a Christlike way, but I didn't get that. Shoot, I would've been satisfied with basic human decency, but I didn't get that either. So, no, he wasn't perfect, but he was a few miles south of where he should've been.
If our behaviors had been swapped, in other words, if I had been picking on him for a year and a half and he finally blew up at me, would the reaction of the stake president have been any different? In other words, was the SP's reaction to the situation based on our behaviors, or was it simply based on the leadership pecking order? My guess is that he would've sided with the bishop over me regardless. And if that's the case, was the SP's judgement based on any kind of objective standard of behavior?
The song 'Imagine' by John Lennon has a personal meaning for me. Growing up, I really disliked this song because it conflicted with my deeply held religious beliefs. While I was serving in a bishopric, I really started struggling with doubts / depression / stress. I remember one night sitting down and listening to this song... and I liked it for the first time. I thought to myself, "If this song is real, all of my problems would go away." Shortly after that night, I quit that calling.
I was pretty upset about this when it happened, and for awhile after, but in hindsight, I'm actually grateful that it happened. This experience helped me to break my emotional ties to the church, which was a vital step that I needed to take to move forward.