One of the most frightening parts of being a non-orthodox BYU student is being outed as such, and interviews from a bishop would appear to be the greatest threat to exposing one’s inner-ideologies. In actuality, bishops interviews are not the most likely source of being ousted: friends are (but that’s another topic that will be covered in more detail elsewhere).
Here are some things to note about bishop’s interviews:
1. They can not read your mind.
It’s as simple as that. Even though they and various points of doctrine may claim that they do have the ability to see into a person’s soul and tell if they have something they “need to confess,” all the methods I’ve heard of that promote this sort of ability align directly with those of “cold reading.”
Cold reading is a type of trick or con designed to fool the mark into believing the performer is able to contact spirits, feel energy, read minds, etc. in such a way that the performer is able to divine information that could not possibly be known about the mark.
The most common form of cold reading that that bishops and stake presidents (and even mission presidents) use is the shotgun statement.
shotgun statements [rely] on using a lot of general information so that something is bound to hit someone. Much like how a shot gun fires lots of pellets instead of a single projectile.
The point here is to be quite vague but general so you get a hit from the audience.
Consider that in context with this statement:
I feel like there’s something you might want to talk about… Is there anything you feel that you need to repent of?
The spirit it telling me that you are struggling with something and I wanted to reach out to you.
Each of these phrases is going to apply to everyone. Try it out yourself. If you have a position of authority, and the person you are talking to has reason to believe that you can “sense” this kind of disturbance in the force, that person will likely search out any possible struggles in his/her life to fill the gap even if there’s not a pressing struggle that person is dealing with. This sort of falls under the category of Shifting Blame in cold reading, but we’ll deal with that later.
Sometimes, bishops can express seemingly more specific statements such as:
[Addressing a young man]: I feel as though you may be struggling with pornography and masturbation.
[Addressing a young woman]: I feel as though you may be struggling with self-worth or feeling fulfilled.
Both of these are going to apply to their respective groups ninety-five percent of the time. Young men dealing with masturbation and pornography “addiction” is not uncommon at all, especially within religious communities that emphasize abstinence and shame pornography use. It’s not uncommon for young women to deal with a crisis of defining self-worth in a community that is classically patriarchal and even went so far as to alter sacred covenants to make them more “women-friendly”. Each statement is going to be accurate for most of the people that hear them. Then, if the statement is not accurate about them, I’ve also heard of bishops resorting to Shifting Blame, another method of cold reading.
Shifting Blame is the practice of refusing to “admit [being wrong] and [wording] it slightly different or [working] in a slightly different meaning.” Then, if that doesn’t work, “tell them they are wrong [and instruct them to] sit down and think about it, then move onto the next subject.” This one is most frustrating to me because of the psychological damage it leaves on the individual being told to take the blame. Maybe the young man says, “No I’m not struggling with pornography or masturbation, but thank you for the reminder.” This doesn’t reflect well on the bishop’s ability to discern truth and it doesn’t make sense to him because the bishop believes he can discern truth by the power of God. The only way he can reconcile this is to blame the young man by suggesting that he is either lying or the young man is commiting those sins in other areas of his life and he better take the time to seek out the Lord and find how he can become closer to Christ. This is damaging to a kid: to go home and think for hours about what he might be doing wrong so that he can seek out his own punishment for it after by talking to his bishop.
It’s not mind-reading. It’s not the gift of discernment. It’s an abuse of power and authority that damages people young and old alike.
2. Never Admit Anything:
Social and authoritative pressure is a bishop’s only tool. If you don’t explicitly say that you are guilty of committing one sin or another, a bishop can not in good conscience impose punishment. Keeping in mind that while bishops can expel a student at their own discretion, in general, a bishop will want to help you and cater to your specific needs. It’s a very rare case when a bishop feels comfortable applying punishment to a person who hasn’t confessed.
Keep anything remotely incriminating to yourself.
This would include anything about breaking the law of chastity, word of wisdom, associating/supporting groups that are critical of the church or its leadership, any details on a faith crisis/transition/instability etc. Anything that would warrant an investigation or closer scrutiny on the part of the bishop or other ward leadership is going to create more problems than it would solve. As well, take into account the impact you may have on those you associate with. Your main goal is to distance yourself as much as possible from any sort of “honor code violation” or “spiritually illegal activity.”
3. How to Subvert Investigation:
The most effective tactic I’ve seen to avoid examination is diversion. To successfully distract from any actual incriminating acts, all you need to do is act as if you’re so overly fundamentalist that even Coke needs to be repented of.
For example, if a bishop asks you if you have been obeying the law of chastity, a good response might be, “I think so bishop, but does it count if I have looked at a girl too long or wanted to hold her hand before dating?”
That perfectly encapsulates the naivety that places one above suspicion in the minds of the general LDS membership. The bishop is most likely to assume that if you are concerned with holding hands and are confessing that to him, he doesn’t have to worry about any sort of masturbation or pornography. Of course, this example may be extreme. Maybe don’t be sooo overt. Assess your bishop as best you can, then act accordingly.
4. Befriending Your Bishop:
This is the least likely strategy to be effective; however, when it is successful, it can be the most beneficial. This is the highest risk, but also the highest payoff.
Depending on your bishop and your current relationship with him, there is an opportunity to present yourself honestly to him and to simply “abide by the honor code rules.” Most people don’t want to manage the extra scrutiny that comes along with such a tactic, but there are benefits:
- You won’t feel as disingenuous toward people
- It just feels more honest and open
- You have the possibility of you bishop being ok with your current faith position and stance on church attendance (likely not attending)–THIS IS EXTREMELY UNLIKELY, but it has happened so take that as you will.
Personally, I would avoid this option due to the high risk, but if put against a wall where this turns out to be your only choice, it’s not a bad Hail Mary when you have no moves left.
**Ex-Mormon is out of moves! Ex-Mormon used STRUGGLE!**
I wish you the best in your efforts to avoid, befriend, or manage your interaction with your bishop. The best way to do it (as with most things as a non-orthodox believer at a CES school) is to play it by ear. Carefully weigh the possible successes and failures of your plan, then adjust accordingly as you execute it. If anything, err on the side of caution simply because of the tremendous unpredictability of bishops and the level of power they hold regardless of their training and mental stability.