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September 18, 2014
The Real Issue
Our Bishop Bugs My Husband
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My husband has trouble interacting with our bishop. He struggled in a previous calling and felt that the bishop did not support him.

Recently, a new problem has emerged: When the bishop sees my husband, the bishop makes personal comments about his hair, clothes, and so on. When he sees us together he said things like, "You two look alike. Sister Xavier, all you need is a beard.” My husband dreads going to church and sometimes won't go because of these comments. 

How do we break this cycle?


I have good news for you. Your bishop’s behavior is annoying. This is good news because neither you nor your husband are strange or out of line to dread the company of a person who makes unflattering comments about your personal appearance. Anyone would be bothered by that. No couple I know would be pleased if their bishop (or anyone) told them they looked just alike.

I have more good news for you. Your bishop is not trying to annoy, insult or alienate you, your husband or anyone else. His behavior is almost certainly the result of a misguided attempt to build a pleasant relationship through joking.

He probably senses that his relationship with your husband is strained, and he wants to improve it. Unfortunately, he does not know that joking about a person’s appearance is offensive, not charming.

Why doesn’t he know that joking about a person’s appearance is offensive? I have no idea. But you have to remember that bishops are people. Generally wonderful people, to be sure. But they have foibles and blind spots like anyone else.

Further, they don’t know everything. They rely on other people to tell them information they need to know. For example, your bishop does not know that your husband is skipping church because of his personal remarks. I guarantee that he wants to know.

The big question is who should tell him. There are three choices: your husband, you, or an ally.

The best solution would be for your husband to meet with the bishop and ask him to stop making personal remarks. The main problem here is between your husband and the bishop, and therefore the best solution is for the two of them to resolve it. I believe that if your husband met with the bishop and expressed his concerns, the bishop would respond respectfully and would adjust his behavior.

But suppose your husband cannot bear the thought of such a conversation. Suppose he is humiliated at the thought of admitting how much the bishop’s comments are bothering him. Or suppose he fears that the bishop will make fun of him for being too sensitive.

Should you then interfere and tell the bishop that your husband dreads church and is not coming because of these comments?

All things considered, I think you should.

Now, it is possible that your husband would be so humiliated to find out you had talked to the bishop on his behalf that he would never return to church or forgive you for it. If that describes your husband, you will have to think of a different solution.

But if your husband would be more relieved than embarrassed in the long run, I think you should say something.

There is a lot at stake here. If your husband is truly not attending church because of the bishop’s insensitive remarks, the simplest solution is to alert the bishop to the problem and ask him to stop making the remarks. I would be shocked if the bishop brushed off your concerns, or continued the jibes after your conversation.

If you decide to meet with him, lead with something positive. “Bishop,” you could say. “I appreciate how involved you are with the youth. Our son enjoys the musical numbers you have done with the young men.”

Then explain your problem, using specific examples. “But I’m having a problem that I think you can help me with. You see, you tend to make personal comments about my husband’s appearance. I’m not sure if you realize it, but every time you’ve see him in the past four months, you’ve ribbed him about his clothes, or his hair, or told him that he looks just like me.

“For example, last week you compared his hair to Shaggy’s in Scooby Doo. Two weeks before that, you said he looked like Boss Hogg in his summer suit. It’s really bothering me. I can’t take it anymore. And I’m afraid it’s why Brad has been missing church lately. Would you please not make any more comments about the way he looks? I would really appreciate it.”

Then pause and wait for the bishop to say something.

The bishop will probably be flabbergasted. It has probably never occurred to him that a person would stay home from church because of good-natured (he thinks) joking. He will almost certainly apologize and say that he feels terrible. He will reassure you that he will not make personal remarks about you or your husband in the future.

Then you say, “Thank you so much. I knew you’d understand. This is such a relief. If you just say, ‘Hello’ and ‘Nice to see you,’ it will help so much. And if I can ask a favor, please don’t mention this to anyone. I’d be so embarrassed.”

Your bishop, of course, has a duty to keep anything you have said to him during the interview completely private, including from your husband. He will assure you that he won’t mention it to anyone.

After this conversation, you have a choice to make. Do you tell your husband what you’ve done?

The advantage of telling him is that no one can ever surprise him with the information. You can choose a good time and a positive way to tell him.

“Honey, I did something crazy today. You’re going to think I’m nuts or a nag or a busybody or something, but I just couldn’t stand those comments anymore. So I had an appointment with the bishop and told him how much they bothered me. I’m glad I did. He was so embarrassed. He feels really bad. I hope you don’t mind that I told him.”

On the other hand, the advantage of not telling is that your husband won’t feel embarrassed because he won’t know. He will only know that the comments have stopped.

I polled some men to ask what they would prefer and, interestingly, opinions were mixed. Some said, “I would want to know. What’s done is done and it would be a relief even if it was embarrassing.”

Others said, “No way. Don’t tell. I would feel like a weenie, even though I would be relieved.”

None of these men were at all opposed to the idea of you talking to the bishop. And they all said that if the situation were reversed, they would talk to the bishop on their wife’s behalf. So, you will have to use your best judgment.

The third way to tell the bishop that his comments are bothering you and your husband is to enlist the help of an ally. This ally should be someone you trust completely. Someone discreet who has empathy for your concerns. Someone with good judgment who has a good relationship with the bishop.

And I think it would be most comfortable for the ally if he had some kind of stewardship over your husband or your family, or some actual responsibility to report on your well-being. For example, a home teacher, a quorum president, or a counselor in the bishopric.

In this case, the ally would approach the bishop to explain your problem. The idea is that his involvement would signal to the bishop that this is not just a case of overly-sensitive people who take offense where none was intended. His compassionate and serious explanation of the situation would focus on the fact that a member of the ward doesn’t want to come to church because of these comments.

Doesn’t want to come to church. That’s a big deal. And this ally would be able to communicate that without accusing the bishop of being a jerk. Because your bishop is not a jerk. He just doesn’t know that his comments are hurtful. Indeed, you may not be the only recipients of well-meaning but ill-considered remarks.

The disadvantage to asking an ally for help is that one more person will know about your problem. And even if you trust this person completely, information tends to leak out the more times it is shared. Finally, two last thoughts.

One, your husband may never relate well to this bishop, even if you solve the immediate problem of the insulting personal remarks. The only suggestion I can make is for your husband to adjust his expectations. He can find ways to support the bishop even though he is disappointed with the way the bishop treats him.

Two, if your husband does not conform to the common physical stereotype of a white-shirted, dark-suited, clean-shaven, short-haired Mormon man, it is possible that the bishop is using these remarks to nudge him in that direction. If this is the case, your bishop doubly needs to know the negative effect of these comments.

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