You’re the Bishop: Poll #2

guestMormon 34 Comments

Bishop Bill back with your next installment of “You’re the Bishop.”  Just to be clear, the examples I am using have been changed enough that not even my wife or former counselors in the bishopric would recognize who I am talking about.

There is a young man in your ward who seems to push the limits on the clothes he wears.  Both his parents are active, but they seem to be struggling with him.  He is worthy to pass the sacrament, and he even wears a white shirt to church on Sundays.  But sometimes he wears loud rock band tee shirts beneath his white shirt (like “Led Zeppelin”) that are plainly visible.  His belts have spikes all the way around them.  There is a chain that hangs from his pocket that connects to his wallet.  One Sunday while passing the sacrament, he wears a very large skull buckle.  It is very large and obvious to everybody what it is.  Another Sunday he wears a Confederate flag belt buckle.

[poll ID =”96″]

Would your answer change if he lived with no father in the home?  Would your answer change if there was a black family in the ward who noticed his Confederate belt buckle? Discuss.

Comments 34

  1. Rather than focus on the one boy, as the Bishop in the ward you could make a policy that says “No distracting clothing / hairstyles” to pass / bless the sacrament. Make a point of saying this has nothing to do with worthyness. Ban things like Mickey Mouse ties too. Everyone gets treated fairly. Compare it to missionary grooming standards. The ordinance requires a certain amount of dignity and reverence while being performed.

    Again, don’t make it a worthyness issue, simply a dignity / reverence thing for the ordinance.

  2. Unlike with the YW from your previous example, I think this would be easy — no creep factor, no male imposition on female, just priesthood holder to priesthood holder. Just talk to him about it, ask him why he does it, explain how it could make people feel uncomfortable and therefore isn’t appropriate for passing the sacrament, and ask him not to do it.

  3. How about a hard one? Like dealing with the clique of women who don’t like the RS president, or dealing with the wife who doesn’t want her husband (from whom she’s separated) to baptize their child, or the welfare case who can’t seem to hold a job and lives off fast offerings and storehouse orders?

  4. I would be glad he came to church, but would not consider his attire appropriate to pass the sacrament (BTW, I would do this in my current calling as YM1C and let him appeal to the Bishop if he felt it necessary).

  5. I said I would talk to him about it, although I wouldn’t be too confrontational. I don’t like the idea of comment #1 – making a blanket pronouncement always causes a flurry of gossip and misunderstanding. Everyone tries to guess who caused the statement. I think you can be direct with the kid, if you have a good relationship. I would also not go to his parents for the same reason – if you are direct with the kid he will feel like a grown up and might take more responsibility, but the key is to make it clear it’s not about worthiness.

  6. I agree with JM #1. Teach a correct principle to the entire group about respecting the House of the Lord and the sacrament and let it go at that. It would be intersting to see the kind of comments you got from the YM.

  7. Obviously, some of you were never the boy with the skull belt buckle. “Teach the correct principle,” no matter who you target, and in a week he is going to show up with a bigger belt buckle. #2 is closer — trust me, if you are going to talk to him at all, you tell him you admire his self-expression, it’s a cool skull belt buckle and you don’t have a problem with it; but there are some in the ward who probably find it distracting, and as a favor to them, he might want to consider toning it down some. Go further than that, and you are going to find out how far this kid will go to be as obnoxious as possible while wearing a white shirt (and possibly teach you a “correct principle” or two while he is at it).

  8. I would congratulate him on having good taste in music and the foresight and awareness of a society in decline to secure his wallet to his belt which can also be used as a weapon.

  9. I would side with 7. When dealing with young people, sometimes you need to pick and choose your battles. Also, young people should have at least some room for self expression. They’ll have conformity jammed down their throats enough when they enter the MTC.

  10. Re #2,

    [E]xplain how it could make people feel uncomfortable and therefore isn’t appropriate

    Beehive hairdos and prairie dresses make me extraordinarily uncomfortable, but no one’s doing a dang thing about it.

  11. Well, when I was bish, I pulled the young man aside and we had a heart to heart. He understood and repented that his actions might lead others to think that he did not care about God and took their minds off the sacrament. He cut off his blue hair. I let him bless the sacrament. I caught holy heck from ward members who were offended at his blue stubble (should have shaved it off). I informed them that he was morally clean to administer the sacrament, unlike other young men in the ward who dressed appropriately, but were unworthy.

  12. Oh, BTW, tell him that the Confederate belt buckle is making the African-Americans in the ward uncomfortable. Really.

    Wonder if he’d wear a big beehive belt buckle? Tell him it will offend the Utah haters. (It’s called a joke, people. Jeez!)

  13. I vote do nothing. Just last Sunday I was visiting with a lady who told a story of how she came to the USA as a young child, converted as a young teenager (none of her family joined) and how her mother sewed all her clothes. Her mom sewed her some coulottes (I have no idea how to spell that) which came below her knee, and she thought were darling. She wore them to church thinking that was fine. At church a leader told her that was inappropriate. She immediately left church and felt embarrassed. She didn’t return until she was a married woman.

    I just wouldn’t risk offending someone over a non-issue.

  14. As a long time YM leader this is a difficult issue. I would only speak to him about it if you have a really strong relationship with the kid and his parents. We are talking like years and years. Kids listen to leaders that they know love them.

    Most of the time these types of battles are not worth fighting. Eventually he will outgrow this time in his life.

    My attitude is that if they are coming to church and want to participate let them.

  15. A discussion with the Young Man might be in order. However, it needs to be done in the correct spirit and by the correct person. I do not recall as a youth a Bishop who I had a good enough relationship with that could approach me about this type of topic and pull it off. I had several advisors who could have done it well and with small chance of negative fallout. Too often Bishops feel that they need to be the one to do it and need to be the authority on all topics. The best ones understand what they don’t know. Since this is not a worthiness issue it really is something easy enough to punt to a leader with a better report with the YM in question.

  16. Well, Bishop Bill, you’ve already tipped your hand with the YW example, haven’t you? So we’ll assume you have a positive relationship with this young man and can have a conversation with him.

    The real question is what you do the next week if he doesn’t change.

    BTW — my son was the blue haired kid for a while, while I was bishop. He happened to be teacher age, so he neither passed nor blessed in that state, but he did help prepare.

    My experience is that there are several principles that are key:

    1. Far more important than what they wear is what relationship they have with their bishop and other adult leaders. If the relationship is strong, they’ll eventually find their way (though not always quickly).

    2. Listening to the spirit is crucial; some youth can take a discussion of their clothing and be willing to change (happy, sometimes, that someone noticed), and others will crumble at the confrontation. In the broad scheme of things, losing a kid over a belt buckle seems short-sighted.

    3. Teaching correct principles consistently (eg to the whole group and following up in regularly scheduled interviews) is valuable, too.

  17. #7 has got it right – if you talk to him, you better choose the right words.

    #10 – Darned right! Most everything about Mormon culture made me uncomfortable when I was in Utah…

  18. (1) Ignore the skull buckle entirely.

    (2) Chat with him one-on-one about the Confederate flag buckle, but don’t make it about how “wrong” he is to wear it. Instead, make it clear that you’re concerned about his well-being, and in a ward full of imperfect people, there’s a good chance that someone will “mistakenly” think he’s a racist, and judge him for it. Make it clear that you know better, based on your interactions with him, but you don’t want him to be subjected to the words and actions of those who jump to the wrong conclusions.

  19. There have been more than enough conference talks from the Brethren about appropriate attire for those passing the sacrament. Elders Oaks and Holland set the standard as not distracting to others. There is no need to set a ward “rule” when the direction has already been given to the Church as a whole. Having said that, if I were the bishop I’d make it a matter of prayer and approach the situation as directed by the Spirit.

  20. I’m really glad you are doing this, Bishop Bill. I’m sure other, more difficult things will be coming our way. I’m assuming that this one either turned out differently for you or you approached it differently than the YW issue or you wouldn’t have brought it up. Since this one doesn’t have the possible pervy Bishop factor, I’d discuss the whole what is/is not appropriate dress with him, getting his ideas first and then discuss the standards that have been set. The difficulty of this is what is to be done if he refuses to change. I always ask my wife what to do in those circumstances and she’s not here right now.

    I remember when one of my boys bleached his hair and the bishop was out of town. One of the counselors didn’t let him bless the sacrament. Right after sacrament meeting, I had a face to face (face in face) with the counselor.

  21. I would teach the youth respect for the sacrament, reverence for the priesthood, modesty in our dress and clothing to invite the spirit and the service to others in the ward by the examples we set.

    I would want the Spirit to teach the youth what that means to specific circumstances so their conscience guides them for good and they know why they wear or don’t wear things, and let that bless their lives forever on future choices.

    This process will take longer to get results, but will get better results (not just belt buckles).

    I would specifically NOT avoid a necessary confrontation and instead just make general comments to all the youth that “some of you don’t dress appropriately when passing the sacrament” which then leads to judging and everyone knowing who you are talking about except the person who you need to talk to about it. I hate it when everyone has to be scolded for one person’s lack of judgment because the leader doesn’t have the spine to confront someone.

    But I don’t think this one needs confrontation, IMO. Better to teach the families correct principles (including love and acceptance) and let them govern themselves.

  22. We have a cowboy in the ward who wears a HUGE belt buckle. Seriously, it must be 4 inches tall by 8 inches wide, and looks incredibly uncomfortable. While I think it’s distracting, I wouldn’t dream of saying anything to him about it.

    Now the Confederate belt buckle would be a different story, whether there were black members in the ward or not. I like Nick’s approach.

  23. I find this a fascinating problem because it is one that I can’t imagine in the Community of Christ. Ordination to a priesthood office of teacher or priest before a boy (or girl) had passed beyond the typical youthful assertion of self-identity stage of rebellion would be seen as akin to baptizing someone before the age of accountability.

    I guess this is another way that the connection between priesthood and family roles plays out differently in our denominations.

  24. FireTag – “Ordination to a priesthood office of teacher or priest before a boy (or girl) had passed beyond the typical youthful assertion of self-identity stage of rebellion would be seen as akin to baptizing someone before the age of accountability.” Good point and very interesting.

  25. I loved this poll where is #1?

    This is so our family in some ways, but as Mom, I would have drawn the line at the belt buckles, but so would the kid . . . he has an African American auntie. Skulls, well I just don’t find them very offensive, the kid, however, thinks they are stupid. Diagonally stiped tie, with contrasting striped shirt, black slacks, and black tennies-no problem, I’m just glad he’s there. Besides, he and I both share that slightly punk/emo/mod what have you fashion outlook. Which is probably why talking to Mom is low on the list or responses.

  26. Na…he’s just a kid going through that phase. #18 and #7 are good ways to do this but simultaneously saying ‘I like that Led Zeppelin t-shirt’…etc ”

    One needs to build rapport with youth to then later teach them something. And what he wears isn’t all that important in the overall scheme of church do’s and dont’s unless its clearly racists or sexual.

    I know of youth who have left the church entirely because a bishop told them rather bluntly to take off their earrings because they were ‘for girls only’. And they left before they had a chance to gain a testimony of any church practice or doctrine. In the end the Bishop just chased them away needlessly because of a dumb earring. And they kept wearing them so no one won.

    Its hard enough trying to keep youth in church nowadays without pushing them away because of their odd clothing, which they will probably get over eventually on their own.

  27. I think Nick Literski’s approach is extremely important. Let me tell you all a little story.

    I was an innocent boy once, and knew very little (nor did I care much) about the evils of the world. Walking home from school one day I saw an interesting figure spray-painted on a cinderblock wall. There wasn’t much graffiti around, so it caught my eye. I noticed it had a very interesting geometry. It was kind of a neat little symbol, and fun to draw. So I added it to my collection of fun things to doodle on papers, textbook covers, etc. It was a swastika. I unfortunately thought that particular symbol was so neat that it became my favorite thing to draw. Some of the kids from school saw what I would draw it and they’d call me a funny name that sounded something like “Yahtzee”. I was like, “Huh? Whatever.”

    Then my teacher saw me with my swastika-laden textbook. I think she may have been Jewish, but I really can’t remember, it was a really really long time ago and I didn’t even know what “Jewish” fully meant either. She had the worst possible reaction. She started screaming at me and going off into some weird and terrible historical lesson about some very awful people and telling me that I was taking upon myself all of this evil. I, an innocent, unknowing boy, was made out to be a heartless murdering Nazi that day. I was devastated. The strange combination of shame, embarrassment, and increasingly anger, haunt me even to this day (but only a little, don’t worry about me). I had never heard the term “Nazi” before, and knew nothing about the evils of the Holocaust. I never once connected that fun little symbol to hatred before that day, and the hatred and disgust in my teacher’s eyes aimed at me was all the explanation I needed.

    Don’t ever, ever, ever do this kind of thing to a kid. Charges of racism, hatred, bigotry, murder, etc should be applied with extreme care, especially when it comes to children and even teenagers. Please reach out to them and understand them instead.

    Oh, and make sure your kids are at least a little clued-in about basic societal taboos. It will do them a favor.

  28. Bishop Bill here with comments to this weeks (#2) issue. Growing up in the church, I never had a bishop that was my “friend” Bishops were always stern, older men that I avoided spending time with. Mine were never much fun. I kept this idea into adulthood, that bishops weren’t like the rest of us. Then at 34 I was called into a bishopric as 2nd counselor. I then learned that bishops were indeed just like everybody else. I also learned from the bishop I served with that they could be friends with the YM/YW, while still being their leader.
    With this example, I started my calling as bishop with a resole to not be like the bishops of my youth. I attended as many YM/YW activities as possible, and took them to the temple almost monthly, where I was able to baptize them regularly.

    So when this issue of the wildly dressed YM came up, I had no trepidation in talking to the YM personally. I had just been on a weeks hiking trip with him the summer before, so I knew we could talk. I didn’t call him into my office, but just caught him one Sunday in the chapel after Sacrament meeting after everybody had left for SS, and he had just finished cleaning up the Sacrament table.

    I told him that the sacrament was for some people to most sacred time all week. I reminded him of the several elderly widows that sat on the back row together each week, and how it would take very little to distract or upset them (I said this in a way that we both got a chuckle out of it). I then said in a more serious tone that God did not care how he dressed, or what his belt buckle looked like, God knew what was on the inside. But I added that sweet sister Jones and Smith on the back row could only see what was on the outside as he passed the sacrament to them, and his appearance could disrupt that sacred time of the week for them. I asked him if he could just wear something lees distracting to the elderly in the ward. He agreed, and from then on wore plain belt buckles and belts. He still wore some t-shirts that showed up under his white shirt, but that didn’t seem to bother anybody.

    Bottom line for both these first two cases is the relationship between the bishop and the youth. For case number three next week, I’ll tackle a more complicated issue with an adult.
    Bishop Bill

  29. #30 “would take very little to distract or upset [the older ladies] (I said this in a way that we both got a chuckle out of it). I then said in a more serious tone that God did not care how he dressed, or what his belt buckle looked like, God knew what was on the inside

    Good point.

    I think also now I’d be able to trust you as the Bishop of my daughters or son. Cheers 🙂

  30. I would talk to him. I would probably take the tact that it’s best to not have our appearance be a distraction to others. I would tell him there is nothing wrong with the way he is dressing. No sin. However, some people find it distracting and makes the sacrament less spiritual for them.

    I was asked to work in the temple as an ordinance worker. I met with a member of the temple presidency. I asked him if there was anything about my appearance that I would need to change when I work at the temple. There are a lot of guidelines but I didn’t really understand where the line was. I’m a guy and at the time my hair was like 6 inches long but curly so it wasn’t hanging down and I thought he might have a problem with my hair. He replied by saying I should trim up my sideburns when I work at the temple. I was surprised because I hadn’t thought anything of my sideburns because I think they fit within the BYU dress code. He said the principle was that a temple workers appearance shouldn’t be distracting to patrons. I complied because it wasn’t a big deal to me and I understood the principle.

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