My Buddy, the Bishop

Rusty - October 10, 2005

During the priesthood session of General Conference President Faust related a story about his father’s respect for the office of bishop. He told of a church party at which they set up a dunking machine (you know the kind where you throw a baseball at a lever which, when hit, the dunk-ee falls into a receptacle of water). According to President Faust the members of the ward encouraged the bishop to be a dunk-ee (a bigger draw to raise more money). After a few dunkings the bishop began to shiver. President Faust’s father then said to him that he was offended because the office of bishop was belittled and held in contempt.

Now, my initial reaction was that his dad needs to chill out. They’re just having a little fun and apparently the bishop was too. I mean, at the same moment President Faust’s dad was telling him that he was offended, how many other dads were telling their sons how cool it is that the bishop’s playfulness reminds them of Joseph Smith and that he respects him for the lengths he goes to raise money for the ward.

But I don’t want to come to a conclusion based on an initial reaction. Perhaps we do need to have more respect for the office of bishop. The problem is that I’m just not sure what that means. And when I say this I’m talking about a bishop with whom I am friends with, not one I barely know, like those from college. (It’s easy to “respect the office of bishop” when all he is is an office, not a person whose interests, passions, humor/sarcasm, talents, etc. I’m familiar with.)

Allow me to use an anecdote: Bishop Williams (Chris Williams who posts here occasionally) is a good friend of mine and isn’t much older than I. Our regular exchange of sarcastic banter consists of self-deprecating jokes, each other-deprecating jokes, and a good poke at our commonalities for good measure. Something he recently told me, “Hey man… Though I will admit that I am in fact too good for you…” made me laugh (partially because it was funny banter, but mostly because I, in fact, am too good for him). This is all fun stuff.

But the question is whether this increases or decreases my respect for him. In my case it’s the former because I am able to see the man behind the office. I’m able to see how he comes to decisions, how he struggles with issues, how much he truly sacrifices to serve, and how he can do all this and still be a really cool guy. I wish most/all members of the ward could get to know him on this level. And if that were the case, I would imagine an activity of bishop-dunking would raise literally thousands of dollars for a good cause (even if that cause is to see Chris get dunked which is a good cause :)

Now that I’ve had a some time to think about President Faust’s point I’ve decided I agree with him, that it’s very important to have respect for bishops, but I guess I just don’t agree with him on how he defines “respect for a bishop.”

9 Comments »

  1. I had the same thoughts when I listened to that talk. How do we respect the office of Bishop properly?
    I think of Bishop Jensen in this case. Although he wasn’t a good bishop to some people, to a lot of the youth, they thought he was great. He went to every youth function possible, knew more kids in the stake then I did, and had a playful banter relationship with most of us. Did we disrespect him or his office when we made fun of his rock hard, fat gut? Is it disrespect when he pretends to moon us after a raft trip?

    I think I agree with your last statement. As long as I am obedient to the counsel and/or commands from the Bishop and sustain him and those he’s put into office, I’ll be respecting him.

    Comment by Bret — October 10, 2005 @ 6:49 pm

  2. I sometimes think we confuse respect for the Bishop and respect for the office/calling of a Bishop. When you talked about the respect you have for “how he comes to decisions, how he struggles with issues”, that I think shows respect for the office as well as the man.

    Just because we become familiar with the person, doesn’t mean we decrease our respect for him. It may very well lead to an increase in respect.

    Personally I think a Bishop should be more like Joseph and not a prude. Our current prophet certainly isn’t disrespecting his office because he has a sense of humor.

    If we hold these guys up too high calling it respect, we forget they are men and we can have real problems when they fall.

    Comment by don — October 10, 2005 @ 8:47 pm

  3. Don,
    You mean, “…if they fall.”

    Comment by Rusty — October 10, 2005 @ 9:13 pm

  4. My understanding of Pres Faust’s comments was that initially it was all in good fun, and that his father didn’t have a problem with it, but that the whole situation just went on a bit too long and got out of hand.

    Comment by tb — October 10, 2005 @ 9:22 pm

  5. The idea I got from Faust’s talk was that the appeal of the dunking was the chance to knock the bishop down a peg, and that is a problematic attitude. The point of the dunking was the indignity of it. In our age of relentless casualness, we have a hard time believing that an aversion to creating undignified situations can be anything other than pompousness.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 11, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

  6. The funny thing about that story is that Elder Faust’s father seems to be criticizing his bishop. The bishop made a decision–pressure from ward members notwithstanding it was the Bishop’s choice–and then Faust pere calls the bishop’s actions degrading to the office the man holds. So, by implication, Faust’s former bishop is a bad bishop because he is participating in something degrading. Or, Faust’s former bishop is a bad bishop because he is so weak-willed that he lets a few boneheads talk him into degrading himself. But shouldn’t we have our bishop’s backs, even when we disagree with them? Or at least not tell our children that the bishop is disgracing himself? I am confused…

    Comment by Boris Max — October 11, 2005 @ 4:09 pm

  7. It has been a while, but I seem to remember something in the CHI about Bishoprics not participating in bafoonery. I think that bafoonery changes with time and place. While some activities might be poor in somewhere, it might be proper elsewhere.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 11, 2005 @ 4:49 pm

  8. I keep thinking of several examples of Joseph Smith. He seemed to enjoy pulling sticks, getting down and dirty with the kids, jumping to the mark and other activities that some would certainly consider degrading to his office as prophet. I wonder what Pres. Faust’s dad would say if he saw Joseph’s actions?

    The office should be respected. When a person acts in his (her) calling they should be given the respect that office/calling deserves.

    But, lighten up! If Bishops etc. can’t be themselves, have some fun, and goof off a bit sometimes (within reason and I think a dunk tank is within reason) then what a rotten job they’re saddled with. If you don’t do that people get the feeling that Bishops are better than the rest of us, they are high and mighty, they even become un-approachable.

    I’ve said enough, I think Faust was wrong.

    Rusty, you’re right I mean “if” not “when”.

    Comment by don — October 11, 2005 @ 8:23 pm

  9. Rusty, thanks for posting this. I did not hear President Faust’s talk, but I’ve heard the sentiment expressed before.

    When I was called to be bishop, I was shocked. Shocked, because I was young and didn’t feel worthy of the calling. I didn’t even feel like someone like me ever could be a bishop. I have always been and continue to be a religious doubter. Faith has never come easily to me. How could such a person with this and other problems become a bishop?

    In five years as bishop of the Park Slope Ward, I never felt disrespected by anything anyone ever said or did to me. Granted, I was never dunked, but even if I had been I think it would have been done in a spirit of friendship and camraderie.

    I think we too often put our church leaders and the offices they hold on pedestals. A bishop is still a man, even when he sits in the bishop’s chair. A bishop brings to his experience his own humanity and weaknesses and history. And it is often because of those things that he is a good bishop. We respect bishops when we recognize their humanity and weaknesses. I think it is profoundly disrespectful of their humanity when we place them on pedestals and ask them to behave in ways that might feel unnatural or inauthentic.

    So I’m in agreement with you, Rusty. We should respect our bishops. But like you, I don’t define that respect in the same way President Faust does.

    Comment by Chris Williams — October 12, 2005 @ 10:16 am

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