Meeting with the bishop

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Meeting with the bishop

Post by jhp33 » 08 Jan 2014, 15:53

I informed the bishop on Sunday night that I would no longer be teaching seminary because I didn't feel comfortable at this stage teaching about the BoM.

He did not respond. Instead, I got an email from the Exec Sec yesterday saying the bishop wanted to meet with me. I'm going in a few hours.

Not really sure what to expect, so we'll see what happens.

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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by mom3 » 08 Jan 2014, 16:37

Keep us posted.

Also - take some supporting documentation with you. I don't know where you stand or what area bothers you, but if some of the new pages help, or other documentation helps your point, you may want to consider having it with you.

Good Luck
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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by Curt Sunshine » 08 Jan 2014, 16:47

Don't get into an argument, and don't try to justify anything.

Also, realize that you probably put him into a very difficult situation, since trying to find another Seminary teacher in the middle of the year can be brutal. If he is stressed, and if it manifests itself in any way, understand.

If it helps you any, read Elder Holland's statement in the PBS documentary about the Church. I posted it on my blog just yesterday:

"Mormons Can View Things Differently - Even Things as Important as the Book of Mormon" ( ... ently.html)

If your Bishop can accept you teaching what's in it but not teaching explicitly that it's a historical record (and not teaching explicitly that it's not such a record), would that make it easier for you to continue to the end of the school year?
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Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by Daeruin » 08 Jan 2014, 17:11

When you say you informed him and he didn't respond, how did that go down? Did you send an email or something? If you talked to him in person, what impression did you get?

I have never wanted to talk to my bishop about anything, and I've gone through several already due to frequent moves. I already know what they are probably going to say, and I don't feel like being pushed or preached at. And I definitely don't want to cause a big conflict and maybe get myself kicked out, which could happen if I had a hardline bishop who tried to force me into being totally honest about what I do and don't believe. I need my space to think and figure things out on my own terms. I just don't react well to being pushed. If you're in any kind of similar state of mind, I would recommend not saying anything at all. Be polite, be vague, but be firm about what you do and don't want right now.

Maybe none of that applies to you, but it's the best I've got. :)
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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by DarkJedi » 08 Jan 2014, 20:41

I was Gospel Doctrine teacher when I reached the point you are at - I couldn't in good conscience teach what I either didn't believe to be true or had enough questions about that I wasn't sure were true. At the time there was more that I didn't believe or doubted than there was that I did believe. I told the SS president I needed to be released, and gave some notice (over a month), I didn't just quit - until the date came. I was likewise then summoned by the bishop and I explained to him my concern and reminded him I had given him plenty of time to find a new teacher. You are a volunteer, there really isn't anything he can do to stop you. My bishop thought he could talk me out of it, but that was futile. In the end he did understand my point of view and did agree that I needed releasing, and interestingly enough there was a new teacher called the following week. Seminary teacher is a bit more involved (I'm assuming you're talking early morning), and Ray is right, it is difficult under the best of circumstances to find someone willing and able to do that job. Be patient, but firm, and I know I may be telling you to close the barn door after the cow is already out, but don't tell him too much about your questions/doubts/disbeliefs. In the meantime be vague in class and do the best you can. Maybe some parents might take some turns teaching until someone is called? Sometimes missionaries are willing and are given permission to do so. Keep us posted.
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Post by ihhi » 09 Jan 2014, 01:40

It was almost a year ago that I was in a similar position with the deacons. I asked to be released and was summoned the next Sunday. FWIW it was a good experience for me. My bishop listened for a long time, let me share everything and never tried to convince me of anything. He showed love and support. As a result I shared way more than I expected. It's a roll of the dice, hopefully all is well with you.

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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by Eric Merrill » 09 Jan 2014, 09:52

@ihhi funny...I was also teaching deacons when I started having too much cognitive dissonance to continue teaching and asked to be released.

My advice echoes that already said. Be vague and refuse to go into details. Absolutely don't get into a debate or bring up issues. When I had asked to be released I also was asked to speak with the bishop. He kept asking what issues, and I replied vaguely "there's not just one, just a bunch of small things I need to work trough." I refused to go into detail. I did tell him that I had always had certainty about many things and now I felt uncertain. I told him I was just learning to be comfortable with uncertainty.

In retrospect I'm really glad I didn't go into detail. Had I voiced some of the concerns I had then, I would have shaped his opinion of me in a very negative way. Several months later I felt okay teaching again. Now I love it. Gives me the opportunity to bring my unique perspective to the group while at the same time avoiding a boring lesson. :)

So just keep in mind that your perspective will continue to change. But whatever you reveal to others will likely persist in their mind long after it has left yours.
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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by nibbler » 09 Jan 2014, 10:06

Eric Merrill wrote:But whatever you reveal to others will likely persist in their mind long after it has left yours.
Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.
— Hippocrates

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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by On Own Now » 09 Jan 2014, 10:15

Echoing what Eric Merrill said, the issue is that you don't believe the things in the manual anymore, and you think it would be better for both you and the students to make a change. That is all that needs to be said, and shows that you have integrity and care for the kids. Conversely, if you say you don't believe in polygamy, you can get into an argument about Abraham. If you then say that you don't believe the Gold Plates existed, the response will be to talk about the 3 and 8 witnesses. If you then say that you don't believe xyz, then it just looks like you are negative. In other words, getting into a discussion involving the 'why' will likely lead to disagreement.

But being a non-believer, or a not-all-the-way believer, is indisputable. Nobody can argue about what level of faith or belief you have.

What you want is agreement... agreement that the kids in seminary deserve someone who believes what they are teaching... agreement that you can't in good conscience continue in the calling.
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Re: Meeting with the bishop

Post by jhp33 » 09 Jan 2014, 11:10

(Warning, this is going to be long)

All in all, I think it was a pretty good meeting. It was over an hour long, so I can't really go into great detail, but I'll try to hit the high points.

First some background, based on some of your comments/questions:

Here in our area, we have three teachers who split up all the students that comprise the two wards that meet in our building. So, while my resignation was indeed abrupt and causes a significant hiccup for the other teachers, I knew when I resigned that this would not cause an actual disruption in the teaching of the students. If it had, I wouldn't have done it like I did. I have apologized profusely to both of the other teachers and the bishop and explained that I wish very much that I hadn't had to make the decision that last minute, but it was a huge wrestle for me and I just came up to the deadline and had to pull the trigger based on how I felt.

I emailed the bishop on Sunday night, probably around 7 p.m., but kept it very vague. Just said that for personal reasons, I would not be able to teach seminary anymore. He emailed back early the next morning and asked why (naturally) but that he would work on finding an arrangement/new teacher. I responded and said, again, trying to keep things very general, that I was confused about a lot of things with the church, and that because of that I didn't think it was a very good idea for me to be teaching the youth every day about the BoM.

He didn't respond to that email. I didn't hear anything from him until I got an email from his Exec Sec Tuesday afternoon, saying that the Bishop wanted to meet with me Wednesday night.

So, as for last night...

His first question was just "What's going on?"

I laid out to him how we all have doubts and questions and things that don't make sense, and since I was a missionary, I've just always swept many of those doubts and questions aside because I think we kind of have in the Mormon culture the sense that it's bad to explore them. So I had never really explored them all that much.

But then, I said, the church's involvement with Prop 8 and same sex marriage always just made me uncomfortable, and I couldn't understand why. I mean, I understood the doctrine, but it just all still gave me a feeling that I identify as being opposed to the spirit. But, again, I pushed that aside because I was determined to "Follow the Prophet."

I then explained how I had read the church's statement on race and the priesthood, and a light just really clicked on for me. I said "It was then I realized that prophets -- even modern prophets -- are fully capable of preaching and teaching and promoting false doctrine." I told him that was never a concept I had really considered before.

That, I told him, just threw the doors wide open. I felt now obligated to open up myself to the possibility that ANYTHING I had been taught by the mouths of the prophets was essentially false doctrine. This point really threw him. He wanted to get into a little bit of a side debate over whether it really was "false doctrine" that BY taught, but I was having none of that.

The conversation then turned to what I believe. He wanted me, essentially, to bear my testimony. I told him, the way I see things RIGHT NOW, is I can kind of put things into three buckets.

1. Things I know
2. Things I believe/have faith in/hope for
3. Things that really just don't make sense to me

I told him that the one thing in my life I know to be true without a shadow of a doubt is the love I have for my family. That can and will never change. I don't know if you want to call it a cosmic power or force or principle, but the concept of love and compassion and humility is something that is very very very real to me. I can feel it inside my soul. That also is real.

There are some things that I believe and have faith in. I told him I don't know for a surety that God exists, or that Jesus really was the Son of God and executed a sort of Atonement for me and that it is through him that I am "saved" (whatever that means). But I have hope for those things. I hope they are true. But do I know them? Absolutely not.

He seemed very surprised at this, but not in a bad way. He didn't really say anything, but kind of just had a "that's an interesting way of looking at it" kind of look on his face.

Everything else, I said, just doesn't really make sense to me. The Book of Mormon? I mean, I know I feel good when I read parts of it, and parts of it point to that cosmic/eternal sense of love and charity, but does that really mean it is an actual historical record and that Lehi and Nephi and Alma were real people who lived and breathed? I really don't know and I don't really know that right now I have a hope for that. I don't know that it's that important to me right now.

I said basically the same thing about the structure of the church and the prophets and apostles. This is when, for some reason, I began to feel a sense of defensiveness from him. Around this same time, he also asked me if I had been reading the scriptures lately. I told him I had "Okay, let's talk about some of the things you've read."

I told him about how I pulled out the scriptures the other day and I kind of just opened up to Matthew 23. Now, I've always read that chapter and felt the impression, naturally, guiding me toward looking inwardly at myself and the hypocritical things I do. But when I read Matthew 23 the other day, I had the very distinct impression to pay attention to WHO the savior was talking to. He was talking to the pharisees and scribes "who sit in Moses' seat." And I told him that I began to read that chapter and I got the very distinct impression that, were Christ to visit the earth today as he did in the bible, he would have some of the very same things to say as he said in Matthew 23 to the leaders of the church.

At that point he got really defensive. "So you're saying the prophets and apostles are hypocrites?" he said. Well, in some ways, yes, I responded. I believe that there are many ways in which they follow God, but like all flawed mortals, there are ways that they sin, and sin very publicly, we just turn a blind eye to it.

He then said "Well I just think you don't know them like I know them. I've met several of them and that's just not the men I know."

"I've met several of them too, and I have to say that my interaction with them has not necessarily been the best, so I think you can't hang your hat on just one person's impression." (This is a story for another day)

But, I told him, that doesn't mean I don't sustain them (in the sense that I recognize that they are the ones that lead the church...that's my personal definition of sustaining).

He then asked me what questions I had for him. I realize now that he was expecting me to come into his office and ask him all these questions I had and have him pull out his scriptures and resolve them for me.

Instead, I told him there was only one real question I had for him. And it's a question I stole from John Dehlin's podcast in which he recounts meeting with an Apostle and being invited to ask a question. I asked the bishop "Is there room in the church for someone like me who won't stand up in sacrament meeting and say 'I know the church is true' or who doesn't necessarily believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon or doesn't really give an incredible amount of credence to the specific words of the prophets? Am I welcome here? Do you want me here if I think/feel those things?"

His response kind of disappointed me. I mean, I don't mean to nitpick, and I don't mean to judge, but I guess I expected the kind of reaction Christ would have given, a very compassionate "of course you belong here, we want you here, we need you here."

Instead, he scoffed. And kind of laughed, and said "Why on earth would you think that?" I understand what he was trying to communicate, but the delivery was still a bit off-putting, and I told him that.

We talked about a lot of other stuff, and I think I helped him understand that I'm not really looking for him to resolve my doubts or bring back my testimony. I just need him to understand why I am different now, and what implications that has on my calling as a seminary teacher. He agreed that it's probably best right now that I not teach the BoM, so I thought that was good. He also asked me why I've been going with my wife to Primary lately, instead of to HPG. I told him simply because I don't feel comfortable in HPG. There are many times I have to bit my lip and keep my mouth shut, and I'm the youngest one in there (by a long shot) and I just don't feel right when I'm in there. Plus, if you had to pick an auxiliary that comes closest to teaching the pure doctrine of Christ, it's the primary, so that's where I go. He laughed and agreed with me on that one.

Last thing, before I left he told me "Don't wait too long before you come and ask me another question." Not really sure what he meant by that, because I don't really have any more questions for HIM, but I guess we'll see.

Anyway, I hope that was helpful. Appreciate you all providing some insight and thoughts as I was preparing for this.

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