I was recently reading someone’s comment in an online forum about having been asked to meet with the Stake President (as a couple), but no information was given as to what the meeting was about. This person was suffering from depression and anxiety and did not want to be put into a pressure situation that would make it hard to say no to supporting their spouse in a high commitment calling. However, and I think we all know where this is going, nobody was willing to say what the meeting was about.
The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported about two professors at BYU-Idaho who were terminated despite having received an endorsement from their bishop. They were told to call a department to find out more, and when the female professor called, they told her they would only speak to a priesthood holder. She finally had to have her bishop call to ask why she was being fired. Even so, they would not discuss the termination, claiming that it was an ecclesiastical decision.
A few months ago, my back was really hurting me. There are some padded folding chairs at Church, but not as many as there are hard metal chairs. At some point, the Relief Society took back all the padded chairs, leaving Primary teachers like me with only the metal chair options. As I sat there in pain, on a freezing cold metal chair (in a freezing cold building), it occurred to me that in a Church flush with capital, it’s kind of ridiculous that we can’t manage to have more comfortable chairs.
I have known many women in the Church who have shed tears over the prospect of being relegated to someone’s second wife status in an eternal polygamous marriage. There are single women whom Mormon men will not date because they’ve already been sealed to someone else. There are divorced women who feel shut down when their repeated requests for a sealing cancellation to their abusive ex fall on deaf ears. When E. Oaks made a joke in general conference at the expense of the women who have these fears, I gasped at the insensitivity of the remarks, and at the courtesy laugh that followed. Was that joke really worth it? Was the price of that mean-spirited laughter greater than the very real dread most women in the Church feel about the prospect of eternal polygamy?
According to psychologists, contempt in relationships is the leading indicator that divorce will follow. Some signs of contempt:
- Sarcasm and making someone the butt of jokes
- Constantly being corrected and interrupted; redoing work they’ve done
- Being patronised
- Being dismissed, ignored or avoided
- Non-verbal disregard (eye rolling, sneering)
- Being blamed and compared negatively to others
- Constantly being put down
Now obviously, being at Church isn’t just one relationship. There are Church leaders at HQ, there are local leaders, and there are fellow ward members. It’s more like a work environment, but instead of being paid, you are paying 10% of your income for the privilege to be there. And doing all the work. And sitting on uncomfortable chairs. And putting on activities with a ridiculously small budget. And expected to be the janitor with no training and mediocre supplies. And told to come to meetings with leaders without knowing why. And being occasionally interrogated about your thoughts and beliefs. And if you are a woman, sometimes being spoken past in favor of your husband.
There are some things that can tip the scales from feeling valued, supported and cherished to feeling used, taken advantage of, and held in contempt. In a high demand religion (or even a lower demand one), a particularly oppressive or micromanaging leader can very easily push you over the edge. A lack of positive personal connections can do it. A lack of friends, appreciation or understanding will do it. Feeling ignored or like an outcast will do it. Being a part of a marginalized group, particularly in our current LGBTQ backlash environment is a sure way to feel you are treated with disregard. That applies to any individual who perceives they are slighted by the organization: women, people of color, singles, divorced people, new move ins, childless couples, those whose children have quit the church, Democrats, and so on.
It’s also important to consider that Churches, unlike other institutions, are often a one-way relationship by design. They often only function because of the commitment and contributions of the membership, even if there is a paid clergy, and those contributions are freely given by those members of the community who may or may not have the requisite skills (including social skills). But when something is freely given without appreciation or while being demanded or told it’s never enough, it brings whole new meaning to enduring to the end.
- Have you ever felt that you were treated with contempt by the Church? Was it local or in general? What happened?
- Have you ever felt truly cherished and appreciated by the Church? What happened?
- What would you do to avoid poisoning the well of good will among Church members if you were in charge?