You wanna step outside?

By: Bonnie
June 10, 2012

With all this discussion lately about men and women and the church, let’s talk a bit about how they get along in church.

A friend recently called me to check on #4, over whom she has a church stewardship. Another parent was upset and had called her. Needless to say (and I won’t) there were a lot of their issues playing into the conversation outside of the ostensibly primary concern regarding my daughter, which we decided was just a smokescreen. My friend was trying to sort out how she goes on from here.

Because this will. never. end.

Recently a situation evolved with another of my kids in Sunday School (I know, we’re like the ward “problem family” huh). A couple of months ago a new couple was called to teach the class and I began getting weekly reports from all over that #6 was having some difficulty. He’s 12. I wasn’t exactly clutching my chest in shock.

After weeks of talking to the teachers, who could not understand who was complaining and were at their wits’ end because they adore my sweet, innocent, freckle-faced redhead (no, really, that’s what they said), I finally figured out the tangled web of tales. One of the older boys in the class, who was understandably annoyed by my sweet freckle-face, was correcting him constantly because his younger brother was a friend to #6 and he felt a sort of big-brotherishness toward #6, and he liked the new teachers so he didn’t want #6 to mess everything up, so he was going to the SS president and expanding the tale a bit to ensure something got done about #6.

How do I know this? Before the recent fathers and sons campout I pulled #3 aside and told him that something was going on in SS and would he just keep an eye on #6 during the campout (I’m sure it’s never a free-for-all at those, but you know, just a precaution). Apparently, #3 decided to pull said boy aside, stand up tall (and over said boy) and ask him what the heck he was doing picking on his little bro.

(mother forehead slap)

Said boy looked like death, denied everything, then went to #6 and said, “Your brother is going to mash my face because he thinks I’m bullying you. Do you think I am?” #6 replies, “Well, it’s kind of pain how you ride me in SS.” Said boy is silent for a second and says, “Hey man, I’m sorry.” Then they go fishing.

I ask what happened at fathers and sons, and #6/#3 tell me.


So. Add in here all the appropriate disclaimers and legal language about these being specific instances and not indicative of the experience all teens (or, ahem, adults) have, no claims about gender-based character traits, yada yada yada, let’s talk about dealing with conflict in church.

Since we can’t just go fishing.

  • When you have a conflict with someone in church (I know, you can just barely remember that ever happening), does it matter whether that person is male or female when you consider how to resolve it?
  • Are you more inclined to talk with them to determine the problem and solution, or to not worry about it and figure that’s the burden of being a saint?
  • Do you approach problem resolution differently with church members than you do in your work or other relationships?
  • What do you think we should do differently in our church relationships?

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16 Responses to You wanna step outside?

  1. NewlyHousewife on June 10, 2012 at 3:23 AM

    Solving conflict with church goers, it’s not so much the gender more the personality that I take into consideration. I recently felt insulted by a comment a man made but decided not to pursue the issue simply because he has that “Future Bishop/SP/Apostle” thing going which is intimidating and his wife just had a baby. Last thing I want to do is get into a discussion about feelings with someone who makes me feel like a mouse.

    I approach problem resolution vastly different with church members than others simply because if the church member with issue goes to the bishop I then have to wonder whether or not I’m getting my temple recommend taken away.

    I think we need to take out the “we’re all brothers and sisters/latter-day saints” out of it. By inclining that we are family because we know the gospel makes our actions towards each other worse. Every research report I’ve ever seen has stated we treat our family worse than we do strangers.

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  2. ji on June 10, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    That’s a great story, Bonnie — there is a lot of material there to teach correct principles!

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  3. Stephen Marsh on June 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    Ah, an ADR discussion. Wow. Well. Mostly I try not to make other people feel like a mouse.

    I’ve written some blog posts here about being heard when you complain. But a straight up face to face problem with another person? Been a very long time since I’ve had one of those.

    I’m really interested in what others have to say here though.

    Though the “we are all brothers and sisters” is more “we are committed to solving this rather than killing each other or walking away” than anything else sort of thing.

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  4. FireTag on June 10, 2012 at 7:01 PM

    I don’t know the correct principles (I obviously never had it in me to be called to Teacher), but I really LIKE #3! :D

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  5. Liz C on June 10, 2012 at 7:40 PM

    I just recently figured out the root of one of my biggest, most frustrating personality conflicts at church; one of my leaders does not like *any* questions, ever. (He’s a convert, so this puzzles me doubly, but it’s just him, I guess.) I was raised to question, and it was okay in my house to ask for clarification. My parents would gladly listen to me, then provide additional information to clarify their decision, or sometimes, change their decision after hearing my position on the matter. It was never adversarial. I teach my kids to do the same–I think of it as basic reasoning and resolution. This leader? Not so much.

    So, when the leader makes a pronouncement that affects my household, and I feel something is off, I ask questions to clarify. He feels I’m being fully rebellious and horrible and persecuting him, and I feel he’s being silly and obfuscatory to not just let me know the background of the pronouncement, so I can more specifically pray for confirmation.

    Then we go rounds; I ask, he refuses. I ask differently, thinking maybe I’ve not been clear? He gets offended. I make observations and ask again. He gets defensive. And then he caves entirely and reverses his pronouncement, and that leaves me thinking, “Okay, so he was just being a bully, since he ended up changing his mind in the end.”

    LOVELY conflict dynamic right there.

    My normal course of action would be to talk face to face about it, but since he gets defensive when he sees me coming? Might not be productive. Ideally, we could resolve this just by him changing the way he makes pronouncements (or by him sticking firmly to what he claims was inspiration!) Real world? I’m just biding and trying to keep a low profile until his inevitable release, and taking comfort in the concept of “And It Came To Pass.”

    Huge agreement on the “we’re committed to solving rather than bloodshed.” :)

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  6. Bonnie on June 10, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    NH – I completely get where you’re coming from. Personality involves our reactions to conflict and resolution and there’s such a wide range. People seem especially vulnerable at church (although I do find women more so) and don’t seem to expect that conflicts are going to arise and will need to be discussed. I’m amazed that a simple problem-resolution session with someone could jeopardize your temple recommend – is either the problem or the backbiting in your ward so serious? Good point about behaving worse with family than friends – I hadn’t thought about that!

    Thanks ji.

    Stephen, I can’t imagine you making anyone feel like a mouse. I also agree that our connections give us incentive to work things out, but I don’t think we often do. I think we push things under the rug and call it charity.

    FT – you would LOVE #3. Once he wasn’t 13 and driving everyone nuts anymore, he turned into a really likable, hard-working guy. SO out of his nature to get big on someone, though. Ugh.

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  7. Bonnie on June 10, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    Oh my gosh, Stephen’s troll, go away. There wasn’t anything in there worth disliking.

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  8. Bonnie on June 10, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    Liz, that’s a really tough problem, but I imagine not an uncommon one. Okay readers, how common do you think this is and what do you think causes it? How can we communicate effectively without having to wait for people’s release? Or is it in our best interests to simply let people grow in their own time?

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  9. Stephen Marsh on June 10, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    I think that what is going on is that Liz C’s leader does not understand the difference between having a question and challenging.

    What he is doing is getting defensive and if she holds to the questions, he is backing down because he is unwilling to deal with what he considers a high level of resistance.

    Getting through that is hard. It is made harder by the fact he always backs down in the end. Some one who closes down and withdraws in the face of perceived conflict is very hard to communicate with.

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  10. Becca on June 10, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    My dad (a therapist) used to say “Jesus was the perfect communicator and they crucified him.”

    I took that to mean, “You can communicate the best you can, but in the end, there are two humans involved and you can only control one of them – yourself.”

    So, in Liz’s case, if she has tried her best to communicate effectively then he might just be a trial for her.

    I had a Primary president I felt that way about. But I was the lowly pianist, so heaven forbid I make suggestions about how to increase reverence in our primary… We eventually moved from that ward, but it was really hard for me, especially because the previous Primary president welcomed my suggestions (that particular primary was hard for a LOT of reasons – with BOTH presidents).

    I think it is in both our best interest (in MOST cases) and the best interest of others to let people grow in their own time. I think that our propensity to correct people is what leads to a lot of conflict in the Church (that’s what led to it with your #6, after all).

    Reminds me of something President Beck said about not being the modesty police.

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  11. NewlyHousewife on June 10, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    The ward I’m in right now is actually really cool. It’s my last family ward experience prior to getting married that’s scary. Actually, it was the entire stake but the problem seemed to be worst in our ward for some reason.

    The SP was a rigid guy, and by rigid I mean “it’s an unspoken rule because I know it” type of guy. Which is funny because he’s now an area 70.

    Needless to say I’ll always be cautious of leaders and church members thanks to his hard-handling. Who knows, maybe it’ll keep me sane when eventually I move into a not-so-cool ward.

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  12. Liz C on June 10, 2012 at 11:37 PM

    I would love to have a conversation with the leader; from the past five years of experience, it would go very poorly, so biding seems to be my best option. Though, I’m still praying about what to do, because some of the conflicts have caused a regrettable incident with one of my kids (to do with the kid feeling accepted and welcomed–he just doesn’t anymore).

    Even with the regrettable situation, we’re finding ways to work around the conflict… my kid attends YM/Scouts in another ward, with his best friend, and that has strengthened the companionship between the two boys in a very lovely way, so even stormy things can have a bright edge. :)

    It’s difficult for me to LET GO and not push, nag, etc… seeking a clear “truth point” is part of my nature, and I have to recognize that not everyone is that way. :) Heck, I think I’m the Permanent Substitute Teacher in our ward just because the Sunday School president is afraid I’ll heckle the sub, otherwise. (I tend to think a *lot* and I’m pretty chatty… it’s been a learning process to really *listen* to the Spirit, and just *shut up* sometimes. :) )

    “Letting people grow in their own time”–my Mom is really good at that, and it’s something I can learn to do more fully. Or rather, I guess, “let them grow in God’s time.”

    Gotta say: one fellow in the ward, whom I’ve always considered kind of a goof, gave an absolutely lovely sermon in Sacrament meeting today, and I was highly edified–a full page of notes! Being willing to revise my opinion of him has benefits. :)

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  13. Paul on June 11, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    Liz, your last sentence is key: “Being willing to revise my opinion of him has benefits.” Stephen M has written before about the Arginer Institute; one of Terry Warner’s key questions for those in conflict is “could I be wrong?” Asking that question helps me to enter those conversations with fewer hackles up and more likely to find solutions that are more acceptable to all parties.

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  14. Paul on June 11, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    Sorry — Arbinger Institute, not Arginer — I don’t know what my fingers were up to…

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  15. Geoff-A on June 12, 2012 at 1:48 AM

    First Bonnie do you always call your children numbers or is this for anonymity? I have 4 daughter who I always refer to by their sequence number.
    We have a bishop who has been there for 7 years now. His wife wears the pants and has whichever calling she chooses. She was the Gospel Doctrine teacher for a year or so, but she believed that anything a P’hood leader said was not to be questioned, and for that matter she wasn’t to be either.
    She invairably brought this concept into the lesson and when someone questioned it we would have a talk from the bishop supporting his wifes concept, the following week.

    After my questions were dealt with in this manner 2 weeks in a row, my wife and I walked out on his talk. He had spoken in support of his wife 6 weeks in a row.

    When we came for temple reccomend interviews we had an hours talk with the Bishop before the questions. Basically his wife believed by questioning her assertions I was attacking her, and through her the Bishop.

    I agreed to talk with her and try to make peace, but it failed because in her view I was not entitled to an opinion different to hers because, anything she said had the support of the Bishop, the Prophet and the Lord. So you agree with me or you are apostate.

    We got the recommend that time but next time the Bishop refused to give me one and it took 3 months of meetings with the SP before he prayed, fasted and realised he should give me a recommend in spite of my attitude.

    There is some tension and they very rarely even speak to us but they recently moved house and we make a meal for them which one of their children collected. The next day the Bishop thanked us.

    My HP group leader has a similar view of the world.

    We have decided to try and live the Gospel and fulfill our callings and wait for a new Bishop. It’s got to be soon.

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  16. Bonnie on June 18, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    Geoff-A, I just noticed that I hadn’t responded to your question. I only call the kids by numbers or Child 1-6 on the internet. They have nicknames at home, or often it’s just the same one for all of them because for the life of me I can’t get the right name quickly enough to prevent the irritation of geriatric brain.

    Your story about the bishop and his wife reminds me of one of my sisters’ wards. The new bishop was called and the SP spent seriously 10 minutes talking to the congregation about how he could be trusted to keep their concerns confidential. After the meeting his wife could be heard in the back loudly saying, “Oh, don’t you believe that for a SECOND! I can weasel ANYTHING out of him in no time flat.” Yeah.

    That sure does make it hard. Sorry for the waiting. I don’t minimize how hard that is.

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