“I won’t be doing that…”

I’ve mostly laid off of reading RfM lately. I’ve had other things on my mind and, quite frankly, since my husband’s daughter finally started speaking to him again, I find myself less angry with the Mormons. I mean, I still don’t like Mormonism, but I am less obsessed with reading about it now than I was. Still, I like to visit RfM sometimes because it’s a nice community full of intelligent people and sometimes the stories there are just flabbergasting. Ex Mormons are still some of my favorite people.

Yesterday, I read a thread written by a guy who complains that his bishop ordered him to cut his “locs”. My guess is that the dude has dreads and that doesn’t go with Mormon culture. So the bishop, perhaps a little drunk on his own perceived “power”, tells the church member that he needs to always be ready to pass the sacrament or give blessings if he’s “called to” service. The “locs” are reportedly not appropriate for the “priesthood”. Because the bishop has been bestowed “power” over his ward, he thinks he has the right to dictate how church members style their hair.

The poster reports that now he’s “depressed” because it’s taken him a long time to grow out his locs and he likes them. Moreover, he’s intimidated by the bishop and doesn’t want to confront him because the bishop can get kind of “mean”. I’m sure being “mean” is one way the bishop consistently gets people to do his bidding. Being an overbearing asshole has probably worked very well for the bishop. People tend to do what works. Unfortunately, a lot of people would rather cave in to other people’s demands than tell them to pound sand.

I think this is the kind of thread many RfMers live for reading. I’m sure a lot of former church members have found themselves similarly “directed” by church authorities. More than a few of them probably felt the same way the poster felt: intimidated, depressed, powerless, and defeated. However, just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you always have the power to “go home”. Most of the time, another person’s power over you is an illusion that exists only for as long as you allow it. Being assertive is hard, but being someone’s doormat is ultimately much harder in the long run.

The dreadlocked poster got plenty of supportive responses, mainly from people telling him he needs to develop a spine. I have to agree with the other forum members. Um… hello… I get that religion can really do a mental number on people, but when it comes down to it, the bishop has no right to demand that someone cut their hair. It’s a church, not a prison, although some people might feel like they’re in prison when they sit through a sacrament meeting, especially on fast and testimony Sunday. Faithful members tolerate sitting through hours of boring church meetings, expectations of how they should dress, wear their hair, and even what underwear they put on. They put up with bishops asking them about their sexual habits and preferences, or worse, they let the bishops ask those questions of their children. And if you have any free time, church leaders are liable to ask you to give it up for the church, so that you get no rest, no time to think, no extra money to use for making your own life better. Too many people are willing to tolerate it so that church leaders are emboldened to ask for more.

One person related the story of a guy he knew– former military– who had been really stressed out to the point of exhaustion and illness working at a high powered job. He decided he needed to stop working so hard, so he eventually stepped down from his stressful job and took an easier position with fewer hours. The bishop, noticing that the member had a lot more “free” time on his hands, tried to demand that the guy take on a very demanding calling that would eat up as many as twenty hours a week. Keep in mind, callings are not typically paid. The guy, no doubt bolstered by his years in the military, told the bishop to back off. He said he’d quit taking orders when he left the Navy and that he was a volunteer in the church. The bishop needed to treat him like a volunteer and stop issuing orders. Like most bullies, it turned out that the bishop was, deep down, a coward. He backed off, and the guy got to enjoy his downtime.

So take that, Bishop Asswipe.

I was heartened to read all of the helpful responses to the dreadlocked guy’s dilemma. He seems young and inexperienced and, if he grew up in the church, he’s probably been conditioned to accept bossing from purported authority figures. One thing that should happen when a person comes of age is learning how to say “no” to people and recognizing that if you’re an adult, you have every right and responsibility to act like one and chart your own course. I liked that another member, a long time nevermo poster like me, advised the guy to look his bishop in the eye and said, “I won’t be doing that.” Other people told him to simply leave, which is always good advice when one is dealing with an abuser.

I was fortunate enough to grow up going to a church that didn’t make a lot of demands of its members. My parents were involved because they wanted to be involved. My dad enjoyed being in the choir. It was a source of great pleasure and pride for him. My mom played organ, but she was paid to do that job. Anything above and beyond their service was appreciated by church leaders and not expected. I was never forced to have one on one conversations with church leaders about private subjects like my sexual habits. I never had to wear special underwear, avoid any substances, visit other people in their homes or let them visit (and spy) on me. Some people might be perfectly fine with allowing these intrusions, but I’m not. I’m just glad I was never in a situation where I felt forced to allow them, particularly if I was paying for the privilege.

Frankly, if it were me, I think I’d be tempted to look the bishop in the eye and say, “You should see my pubes!” Then, when his mouth drops open and his eyes widen in shock, just walk away, never to return to clean toilets or pay 10% on my gross income. Unfortunately, I never seem to come up with these zingers at the right time. Such is life.