Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Callings, Part 3

Okay, guess it's about time for Part III of the Callings post. I'm living sort of dangerously writing this in my parents' condo in Utah with my family in the room, but what the hey; they're all watching the BYU/UofU football game and nobody's really paying attention to what I'm doing, so I ought to be safe.

(I will probably have more to say later about my trip to Utah, but I'll wait till after I get back. First, I want to finish the now-three-part post about Callings.)

When there's a lesson in church about apostasy, there's always a lot of talk about people leaving the church because they were offended. There are inevitably a lot of examples brought up of people who stop coming to church, or leave the church entirely, because they felt slighted in some way, or because they took exception to something their bishop said. From all the discussion, you'd think that's the number one cause of people leaving the church. Maybe it is. But I can honestly say that has absolutely nothing to do with my own deconversion. For the most part, I've gotten along just fine with my church leaders, and I've liked most of the people at church. Of course there've been some minor disagreements, but there's been nothing that's given me any sort of personal offense.

Up until very recently, anyway.

But I'll get to that in a moment.

I said in Part II of this post that after a long stint as Young Men's President, I was released from that calling and called as choir director instead, a calling which I was very glad to be released from this September. One thing I'd meant to mention but forgot was that my time as Young Men's President is another part of the reason I'm reluctant to come out publicly as an atheist just yet. In my time as Young Men's President, I built up good relationships with the teenage boys in the ward, and while I'm no longer officially in charge of me I think they still like me and look up to me--and it's possible that I still have some influence over them. Now, I know, you could say that in that case all the better; my coming out as an atheist would be setting a good example for them--which may be true, but there's another side to the matter, too, which is that their parents put their trust in me as Young Men's President to lead the kids in the right way, and even if I no longer believe that the church's way is the right way, influencing the teenagers in a different way still strikes me, in a way, as betraying their trust. It's a bit of an ethical dilemma, and I'm not really sure what's really right under the circumstances, but it is another reason (among many) I'm reluctant to come right out and tell everyone I don't believe in God just yet.

So. Anyway. I was released as choir director. The following week, as it happened, was the first Sunday of the month, and that usually means "fast Sunday"--a day on which members of the church are expected to refrain from eating two meals, and to donate the money they would have spent on the meals (at least) as a "fast offering", which is put to humanitarian uses. (At least, that's the theory; I'm not completely sure what it actually gets used for, although I think the church probably is being earnest about that.) Also, on fast Sunday, the usual sacrament meeting becomes a "fast and testimony meeting"--in lieu of the usual talks, members are given the opportunity to come up and "bear their testimonies", proclaiming the personal spiritual confirmation they've supposedly received as to the truth of the church and its doctrines. At least, that's the theory; in practice, they usually talk more about their recent experiences than about their "testimonies", per se.

Anyway, having just been released as choir director, I figured I'd take the opportunity to say something--mostly because I didn't want people to feel sorry for my release; I wanted to make it clear that as far as I was concerned, this was a good thing. So I got up and said, essentially, that I wanted to thank everyone who'd supported me as choir director, but I didn't want them being sorry for my release; this was never a calling that I enjoyed, and I didn't think I was ever that good at it, and there was no reason to regret the fact I was released. I hoped those who had supported me as choir director would go on to support whoever was called in my place, I said, and ideally that some of those who didn't come to choir during my tenure would consider supporting my successor, as well.

(As a side note, when there was eventually a new choir director called, the same guy who'd objected to my changing the time of practice from 5:00 to 4:00 called for an immediate vote to get it changed back. He was, again, roundly outvoted, being the only one present who preferred the 5:00 time. "Oh, well," he said; "I guess people get set in their ways"--as if the only reason people weren't voting for 5:00 now was because they were used to 4:00, despite their having voted to change the time to 4:00 back when practice was at 5:00. Gaah. I think to this day he's still convinced that the 5:00 time is really best for everyone and that I changed the choir practice to 4:00 only for my own personal reasons. Ah, well. I don't want to seem too hard on him, though; despite his personal quirks and stubbornness, and his apparent conviction that his own preferences and opinions are always right, he's really not that bad a guy, and overall is generally fairly good-natured. No, there's someone else in the ward who's made a much worse impression on me...but I'm getting to that...)

So far, so good. Except that there was another change in callings coming up soon. It turned out that a week or two later the bishop was due to be released--he'd been in that calling for five years, so this wasn't much of a surprise. We'd find out after his release who was going to be called in his place.

The old bishop was an Argentinian immigrant who spoke less than perfect English--he mangled members' names enough that one of his counselors once joked (in allusion to a part of the temple endowment ceremony) that when you entered the ward, the bishop gave you a new name. He seemed forgetful and occasionally a bit confused about what was going on and who was supposed to do what, but overall he clearly cared about the members, and his heart was certainly in the right place.

I'm not sure I can say the same about the new bishop.

Oh, I've been told he's a friendly guy with a great sense of humor, far, I haven't seen any of that. So far, in everything I've seen of him, he's impressed me as an officious boor who cares more for his own importance than for the good of the ward members. Granted, maybe my opinion is a little colored by what he said in his first talk as bishop, but I think even if it weren't for that he's done nothing to show the wonderful personality that others have said he had.

What did he say in his first talk as bishop? Well...see, that's where that bit I said at the beginning of this post comes in. He talked about the importance of the choir, and how there should have been regular musical performances in the ward, and how he was going to make sure there were in the future. And he talked about how callings were inspired by the Lord, and how they were something you should enjoy, and if you didn't enjoy your calling there was something wrong with the way you were doing it.

Did he intend to direct this specifically at me? It sure sounded like it. Either of those things alone--about enjoying callings, and about the importance of choir performance--could have been just meant generally, but the fact that he said them both together like that certainly seemed like a direct response to my "testimony". Now, nobody else brought the talk up with me, and as far as I can tell no one else saw it as directed at me; it did occur to me that maybe I was being too sensitive. But on further thought, I really don't think so. Obviously I'd have my own recent experience more freshly in my mind than anyone else, so I'd see the connections better, and what he was saying certainly seemed to be responding directly to what I'd said. Maybe he didn't mean it that way; maybe he just happened to be talking about things that related directly to what I'd said a week or two before; but that seemed an unlikely coincidence.

But if he meant to prick my conscience and make me see the error of my ways...well, he was barking up completely the wrong tree, and not only because of my atheism. If this had happened when I still considered myself a faithful Mormon, I'm pretty sure his talk would have had about the same impression on me as it did now. Was he unaware that the lack of choir performances had been not due to my choice, but because the bishopric had told me to take the summer off? (Or was he aware of that, and was his insistence that there should have been more choir performances instead intended as an attack on the previous bishopric? Actually, that would have been even worse, so either way it was an ill-advised thing to say.) As for the claim that everyone should enjoy their calling--again, even when I still considered myself a faithful member, I wouldn't have bought that line of goods. I'd had callings before I hadn't enjoyed, and I certainly didn't think it was because I was doing them wrong; there were things people needed to do, whether they enjoyed them or not. I don't think the idea that you should enjoy any calling because of the spiritual satisfaction of doing God's work--which is what I gather he was trying to say--would have convinced me then either.

That's not to say that this bishop's unpleasantness would have turned me away from the church if I hadn't already turned away for unrelated reasons. I don't think I would ever turn away from something I really believed in due to personal affront. If he'd come along when I still considered myself to believe in the church, I would still have been a bit offended by his talk, but I think I would have chalked it up to human frailty, and the like, and I wouldn't have left the church just because of a boorish bishop.

On the other hand, now that I don't still believe in the church, he's certainly done nothing to make me want to rethink that.

(As for the BYU/UofU game...currently the score is BYU 14, Utah 17. Whoops...make that 23, and probably soon to be 24 (Utah got another touchdown just as I was typing that sentence). My family are all BYU partisans, and were fully expecting BYU to win, and they aren't really happy with this turn of events. I, not being a sports fan in general and not having any particular love for BYU anyway, really couldn't care less.)


At 11/25/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Lifewish said...

Do you think maybe the reason people believe that affront causes apostasy is because people in your position are able to use it as a convenient excuse?

"The Bishop is an asshat" certainly sounds less shocking than "I don't believe in God any more".

Regards the ethics conundrum with the teenagers, I'm having trouble seeing the problem. The parents placed their trust in you as Young Men's President, and if you'd used that role to promote atheism I could see your point - they were putting their kids in your charge at least partly on the basis of your Mormonism.

However, regardless of what created the opportunity for the friendships, their development occurred because the kids get on well with you - and that connection has nothing to do with the parents or the Church. How that friendship causes the kids to respond to your atheism is therefore no-one's business but yours and theirs.

At 11/26/2006 7:10 AM, Blogger Deacon Barry said...

The only ethical problem would have been if you were still a youth leader, and pushing athieism onto your charges. The parents would be quite rightly upset at their misplaced trust in you.
But, you are no longer a youth leader, you haven't abused your position, so now, if you do reveal your true position you have nothing to feel unethical about. It'll be beneficial to those boys to see that someone can stop believing in a religion, yet still be the same person that they like and admire.

At 11/26/2006 7:35 AM, Blogger An Anonymous Coward said...

Yeah...on further thought, you're right about the ethical issue. I guess I was just kind of clinging to that as an excuse; the truth is it's less about there being any real ethical problem than about my concern that the parents and church leaders might feel like I betrayed them--but I really ought to not be so concerned about what people think of me.

Still, realizing I shouldn't be concerned about it, and actually not being concerned about it, are two different things.

Do you think maybe the reason people believe that affront causes apostasy is because people in your position are able to use it as a convenient excuse?

Hm...I hadn't thought about it from that direction. A similar but different possibility had occurred to me, that believers liked to assume anyone leaving the church did so only because of personal offense rather than because of actual doctoral disagreements or loss of belief--but I hadn't considered that maybe some "apostates" onto it as an excuse for their leaving rather than admit to their atheism.

It's an interesting possibility, but I have my doubts. For one thing, it seems most people who leave the church do it not to embrace atheism but to join some other Christian sect instead.

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