Dealing with Offense in the Church

Oh, now ain’t this a great little topic that we could all just go off on for hours on end? 🙂

Today during priesthood opening exercises, I was approached by a friend who pointed me to a single sister in our ward who has been struggling to find a car and needed help with the actual process; A relatively simple assignment, but she kept being put off and put off because, well… life happens. Finally, though, we had all the bodies in the same immediate area, and we took the opportunity during the opening hymn to quickly gather the needed information, figure out how we were going to solve everything, and get it done so to speak.

I honestly would have felt she were justified had she chosen to ream me and others for our inaction, but she was completely patient and even very grateful for our assistance. I distinctly felt humbled by her patience and forgiveness even though our inaction caused her a great deal of trouble and discomfort. Again, it’s not something we meant to do, it just got lost in the shuffle of all the new people moving in at the start of the semester.

But I was grateful for her attitude and feeling very good about the results, so it was with great surprise that immediately following opening exercises, I was asked by the priesthood pianist to step out into the hall where I was rebuked by him for talking during the hymn. I won’t go into details except to say that I immediately felt a great sense of frustration in return. Didn’t he recognize, after all, that I was doing my calling and trying to help others? Didn’t he notice that we actually stepped into a corner of the room to conduct our business as quietly as possible? Didn’t he recognize how rude and offensive he was being?

And then it all hit me….

Right before the reaming, I witnessed a great example of how NOT to be offended. What direction would I choose to go?

At the time, I admit that my defensiveness and instant frustration was such that handling the situation maturely was limited to me needing to just walk away, which I did. Staying there would not have been productive for either of us, but later this afternoon–after I had the chance to really ponder the situation and be calm–I drafted a brief e-mail to the pianist in which I expressed my apologies, my own discomfort with his actions, and my hope that nothing that had happened would continue to affect either of us. It was not easy to write, and I spent a long time carefully crafting it so that it would be interpreted with the gentle love in which it was written.

So here’s what I think I’ll pull from the experience:

  • We are all different–Duh, right? Well, it’s important to recognize that you and I come from different backgrounds, have different interpretations of what is appropriate, handle things differently, and even have different expectations. I’m reminded of an older sister in our ward who rebuked a friend for walking through the chapel in jeans. That friend handled the situation by respecting this sister’s respect for the chapel. He even thanked her for the reminder. What a classy act. He disagreed but was willing to recognize and respect her own beliefs.
    Differences are those great things that make us each individually special and interesting, and we should remember that what we see or think isn’t what another might see or think.
    Another example that comes to mind is Nosurfgirl and a lady I used to work with. Both are more liberal in their political persuasions, but where my coworker responded with rebukes of “you’re stupid,” Nosurfgirl responds with a “why do you feel that way” and “help me understand why you feel that way so that I can learn from you.” It’s a wonderfully open and pleasing way for two very different people to live in wonderful harmony, and it encourages mutual respect and growth for both of us because of our differences.
    As part of differences, we especially need to recognize that we respond to things differently. For the pianist, the rebuke was probably appropriate. For me, it was not.
  • Patience is not just a virtue, it’s a requirement–If we would live in peace and without offense, we would do well to recognize that many of our frustrations are brought about by singular events that need no correction. I keep thinking about that rebuke today. While the pianist probably felt highly justified in rebuking me and probably even struggled with questioning whether it was even important, how much simpler life would have been for all of us had my mistake been looked over as a singular event? I’m also reminded of the patience of that sister with her car. She probably didn’t recognize how busy I have been, but she was still patient. My miss wasn’t intentional, and her patience allowed me to recover and continue working for her.
    Even then, however, patience does much more for our ability to live without offense than most other attributes. And that patience extends both to those who would offer offense (rebukes, criticism, or otherwise) and those who would receive.
  • Let it go–It’s not nearly as simple as some make it seem, especially for me. I hold on to grudges like no one I know, and they have a terrible effect on me. Today left me frustrated for a long time after the event, and I struggled focusing the rest of the day. I finally had to write that e-mail simply because that’s how I respond to this kind of situation (see, we are all different), and now that it is done, I can and will let it go.
  • Forgive–Another duh, but along with letting it go, we need to offer forgiveness quickly and completely. And remember to include the expectation of doing well. A person who is expected to behave badly often behaves, well… badly. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but when everyone stands around waiting for the proverbial failure to happen, it often does.
    Forgiveness, in my opinion, includes the expectation of improvement.

And one final thought… I read an article from Jeff’s blog on a fairly similar topic. He doesn’t post as often as I wish he would, but I find his thoughts rich and full. This one particularly caught my eye as a good reminder to each of us. I tried to sum it up, but his thoughts are so well defined that any summary would do a gross injustice to what he has written.

Our young and new bishop said as a joke once that if he finished his calling offending less than half the ward, he would be satisfied. That burden, however is not on his shoulders. It rests in our ability to understand our differences, be patient, let the offenses go, and forgive. Similarly, our own ability to make it through our religion, and even our lives, without offense relies on the same. When it comes to our spiritual age, we are all young and new. We are all inexperienced and learning and growing. We’re all in danger of both giving and taking offense.

Here’s to hoping we can, as I so offensively said to someone once, get over it. 🙂

All my love, my friends.

**************

A little post script I wanted to add: When it comes to offense, even the worst kinds of offense, would you really allow someone else to dictate any response you may make regarding your testimony or activity in the Church?

**************

Another post script? Maybe call it an update? Since writing this, I’ve talked more with the pianist, and all is well. I know many people don’t go that route, but I always seem to find relief in talking and figuring it out. Nothing serious here, of course, but I wanted him to understand that I did not mean harm and he wanted me to understand that he did not mean to cause harm in return.

Overall a good experience I think. One from which we are both better people.

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3 Responses to Dealing with Offense in the Church

  1. Sarah L. says:

    No, I wouldn’t leave the church or decrease my activity because someone offended me. If it were a very serious situation, I would change wards with permission (example: if someone in the ward abused my child).

    I see situations like yours as opportunities to practice forgiveness, charity, and patience. It is pretty overboard what that guy did, but some people see a hymn as being equal to a prayer. Most people frown on chatting during prayer, so that might be where he’s coming from (but I wouldn’t chew anyone out for talking during prayer either – I would just kindly ask them to stop doing it). I am a music lover, but I wouldn’t feel bothered by that. I was bothered when I was singing a solo and this lady thought it was the perfect time to walk to the front of the chapel and start talking to another woman who looked really annoyed.

    And I just deleted a long rant about what it’s been like going to church with that complete dingbat who borderline stalked me for over six months. I don’t really feel angry at her because I think she just doesn’t get it, but I was very angry for a while that I had to deal with that situation. I felt a lot of guilt because I was one more person who was no longer willing to deal with her, but it did get her into therapy (at least briefly).

    I also had a bizarre chewing out at church not too long ago. I’ll tell you about it sometime. I tried to diffuse the person and explain why things happened the way he did, but he continued to treat me like I was an idiot. I’m still kind to him, but I lost a lot of respect for him.

  2. JeffreyD says:

    Patience and long suffering are hard, very hard. That’s a good topic for a followup post on my blog. Thanks for the reference, by the way. I’m motivated to keep writing by participation.

    I’m glad to see that you handled the situation—both situations— appropriately. Amusingly, most people wouldn’t know the internal struggle and turmoil you were in. Funny how that is.

  3. Sarah B says:

    I think one of the biggest helps I’ve had in dealing with getting reamed by people is the realization that it’s not me, it’s them.

    This recognition also helps me to control my frustration as I realize others have no idea how I’m feeling. I can say what is bothering me tactfully without (hopefully) offending.

    …Or in the case of yesterday, lol, I just stop playing the piano. If you want to have a full on 10 minute conversation, please don’t stand in my line of sight; I can’t follow the music director if you stand there. Thanks.

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