As I’ve said previously, in a church with 32,000 bishops, they can’t all be winners. The term leadership roulette refers to when you encounter a bad leader, someone who does what folks on the internet call “ecclesiastical abuse” like manipulating you with threats or taking unwarranted actions against you. Especially for those who feel insecure about their doubts or their position in the church, running into a bad leader can be a fatal move.
Why is it called Leader Roulette? Whenever you interact with a leader, the outcome could be good, bad or neutral. In the church, local leaders are given a lot of latitude in how they handle issues like temple recommends, tithing settlement, reactivation efforts, issuing callings, marriage counseling, providing pastoral care, and welfare support.
- Casino Roulette. Casino roulette is a game that has the worst odds among common casino games with a 47:1 payoff. It is extremely unlikely to hit your number, but if you do, the payoff is really big. If this metaphor is used ironically, it would mean that while your chances of running into a “bad” leader are slim, the payoff (punishment) is big if you do.
- Russian Roulette. In this “game,” a single bullet is placed in one of the six chambers of a handgun and then participants take turn firing the gun at their head. Odds are 1 in 6 you die.
In online communities we’ve learned that there is a range of “normal” experience as members interact with their local leaders, and then there are outliers. It’s one of the great values of belonging to internet discussion groups, the ability to assess whether one’s experience is normative or unique. All over the internet, people share stories that can be described as Leader Roulette, situations that most bishops or leaders would treat differently, but that are so bungled and mishandled that the comparison to being shot in the head may be apt. Consequences could be having your TR revoked or not signed despite answering the questions satisfactorily, someone divulging confidential information about you, allowing domestic or sexual abuse to continue unchecked, or actually committing some sort of abusive action. Here are a few examples of stories people shared:
- A bishop policing Facebook status updates and taking action against someone’s membership based on the same.
- A YW leader being released and shamed for breast-feeding while in the YW room.
- A bishop taking a temple recommend because of someone’s political views, stance on gay marriage, or asking sincere questions about church history despite that person being able to answer the “behavior” temple recommend questions satisfactorily.
- A relief society president threatening to take someone’s temple recommend away for asking not to be a visiting teacher.
- A bishop accusing someone of not paying tithing based on amounts reported and asking to dig deeper into the person’s finances.
Not all leaders are good at it or experienced to handle every situation. Sometimes someone is just the best available or they need the calling to help them grow or they are just a mistake! What can we do about leadership roulette before you make a mis-step?
- Don’t confide in someone you don’t know. Trust first, then confide. Sounds trite, but follow the spirit. Some leaders are just not ready to deal with you or your situation. That’s OK. Use discernment. It’s why you have the Holy Ghost, right?
- Beware of power trips. How do you know if someone is on a power trip? Follow the spirit. Ask friends you trust. Notice how the leader talks about authority and how well that person listens.
- Check your own ego at the door. Obviously, it’s not right for a leader to use “unrighteous dominion.” There’s a reason the Doctrine & Covenants warns about it and predicts that most people fall prey to it. I’ve learned from experience that fighting ego with ego doesn’t work at all in a hierarchical organization.
Too late – now you have a bullet in your head. What do you do?
- De-escalate the situation if you can. Can you defuse the problem with a reasonable conversation? That’s always the best place to start. Perhaps this person has misunderstood you, not listened well, is applying the wrong solution, or has otherwise jumped to a wrong conclusion. Remember that they (like you) are looking for the best outcome.
- Know what you want. Now that you are in this conflict, what is the outcome you desire? To have your temple recommend restored? To be treated well in future? Be clear about what you want from the situation, and then you can find out what the leader wants. Hopefully you can find a win-win.
- Listen closely to find out what the leader wants. Do they want to protect the flock? Explain how you want this too (if you do). Do they want you to explain something to them? Is there a misunderstanding or lack of information? Do they want to see you are humble? Ask probing questions and listen well (and as unemotionally as you can – a tall order at times) to find out what they want. If it’s reasonable, you can find common ground. If it’s not reasonable, you can explain calmly why it’s not.
- Know your rights. What is actual written church policy? Consult others to find out what is normal and reasonable if you aren’t sure. Then you have grounds to open a dialogue with the leader. You can calmly explain what you understand the correct procedure to be and let him or her reply.
- Escalate if you have to and think it will help. Start with the SP, but go to the Area Authority if you need to. The problem is that many will refer it back to the offending bishop (if indeed it is the bishop). Be aware that could happen, and be ready for it.
Have you ever lost the Leader Roulette? How did you handle it? What are your recommendations for those that lose the Leader Roulette?