Passive-aggression among the Latter-day Saints

By Michael J. Stevens

Stevens-figure-1I HAVE BEEN teaching higher education courses in organizational behavior, leadership, and group psychology for nearly 20 years, and the topic of conflict resolution has been a common theme in most classes I teach. As a way of introducing the topic, I often use a self-assessment exercise called the “Behavior Description Questionnaire” (or BDQ),1 which allows students to determine their preferred conflict resolution style2 (competing, compromising, collaborating, avoiding, or accommodating, see Figure 1). I then use this information as a platform for class discussion and introspective analysis. Over the years, I’ve taught at universities in the Midwest and the border regions of Texas, and have developed a general sense for how most students in those areas of the U.S. will typically score on the five styles, with collaborating and compromising being the most prevalent, and avoiding being the least common (see row one in Table 1 below).

In 2008, personal and professional circumstances brought me to Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. As I began to teach my usual rotation of courses using the BDQ, I noticed a striking trend with my students along the Wasatch Front—occurring with undergraduate and graduate (MBA) students, and with males and females. The preference for the avoidance style of conflict resolution was surfacing at a significantly higher rate than I had seen in the Midwest and Texas.

The first time this trend appeared, I was inclined to dismiss it as a mere statistical anomaly—an outlier unique to just one class. However, by the third semester, the pattern was clear and unmistakable. There was something different about this student body. So I began to systematically collect additional empirical data that would allow me to confirm and explore what leads my Utah students to prefer the avoidance style.

Descriptively speaking, the difference in the avoidance style was quite simple and straightforward to confirm, as can be seen by comparing rows 1 and 2 of Table 1. While the average avoidance scores for my comparison student samples from the Midwest and Texas was 4.0 (out of possible scores ranging from 0 to 12), the observed average score for my Weber State University students was 7.5.

Uncovering the potential factors behind these scores required some additional demographic data. I started asking students to include the following information with the BDQ test: (1) Whether they were born and raised along the Wasatch Front or relocated there later in life; (2) Whether they were raised in a strong religious environment (and if so, in which faith tradition); (3) Whether they would currently describe themselves as an actively participating member of a church or religious community (and if so, which one); and (4) Gender.

stevens-table1This additional data allowed me to separate out both religion and Wasatch Front regional influences on my students’ preferred conflict resolution styles. When this data was taken into account, the passive-aggressive avoidance scores showed meaningful changes. Specifically, when Weber State students were separated based on whether they had been raised in Utah or relocated later in life, the avoidance score went down to 5.5 for non-Utah natives, and increased to 8.3 for those who reported being originally from the Wasatch Front area (see rows 3 and 4 of Table 1). When Weber State students were further separated based on whether they self-reported as belonging to the LDS Church versus “other” (due to limited sample sizes, all non-LDS students were combined into a single group called “other”), the avoidance score went down to 5.6 for non-LDS students, and increased to 8.7 for LDS students. Finally, when the category of growing up in Utah was combined with being raised LDS, the avoidance score increased to 9.1, which is more than two standard deviations higher than the average scores of my comparison groups from the Midwest and Texas (compare rows 5, 6, and 7 in Table 1). In other words, the Mormon students who grew up along the Wasatch Front overwhelmingly trend toward passive-aggression in their response to conflict resolution.

Passive-aggression is the least common response option to conflict among the U.S. population at large and is typically viewed as an inadequate and unconstructive strategy (at least over the long term). It is generally used by those who would prefer that the conflict simply go away. One is passive in that one is unassertive in pursuing a resolution that addresses one’s own interests and concerns, while simultaneously being aggressive—or better stated, while simultaneously being uninterested in, dismissive, or contemptuous of the needs or concerns of the other (see Figure 1).

In its milder forms, passive-aggression will manifest itself merely as polite and innocuous attempts to steer clear of uncomfortable topics or encounters with others. However, in its more insidious forms, passive-aggression can rise to a level of interpersonal hostility and contempt that embodies a “whatever” response to the views and opinions of others. In this way, the passive-aggression label can be misleading; a more accurate description would be passive-hostility or passive-contempt.

A passive-aggressive person will generally deploy such behavioral tactics as: keeping one’s distance and remaining silent or aloof; hiding one’s true thoughts, feelings, or emotions; suppressing, setting aside, or ignoring issues that otherwise should be addressed; postponing or ignoring decisions; resisting change and otherwise championing the status quo; citing rules, policies, procedures, or higher authority as both a defensive and offensive tactic; and providing little meaningful or worthwhile feedback.

 

Sources of this Trend

 

The presence of significantly elevated levels of passive-aggression among the LDS population born and raised along the Wasatch Front deserves some analysis. Where did it come from? What fosters it? Is there a way to remediate it?  In an attempt to answer these questions, I present the following three working hypotheses as possible explanations that would account for high levels of passive-aggression among Latter-day Saints.

First, I often observe that mainstream LDS Church members along the Wasatch Front have a difficult time confronting any form of disagreement, even when they are clearly uncomfortable or unhappy with what’s being discussed or decided. It’s as if they were conflating all forms of disagreement or conflict with contention. This would be consistent with an overly simplistic reading of 3 Nephi 11:29:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

If all conflict is viewed as the functional equivalent of having the “spirit of contention,” what options are left to a person who disagrees, or sees things differently, or who has goals and interests different from the rest of the community? How can one raise objections or question and challenge others, or raise unpleasant topics, if doing so is tantamount to being in league with Beelzebub? If one’s view of all conflict is that it must be avoided so as to avoid contention, then there is no direct, healthy, constructive strategy available for resolving conflicts and disagreements.

However, 2 Nephi 2:11, which states that there must be “an opposition in all things,” provides important nuance when brought into conversation with 3 Nephi 11:29. Apparently there is room for conflict, but how to handle it well is a question that seems to be mostly unexplored within the LDS community.

A second possible source for the elevated rates of passive-aggression among Latter-day Saints is its strong culture of obedience and submission. A simple search of general conference talks for the past decade shows obedience to be a constant and recurring theme. For example, search queries at www.lds.org for variations of “obey/obedience,” and “submit/submission” returned over 500 hits in general conference talks since 2002, and Mosiah 3:19 (which encourages the reader to be “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things”) was quoted at least once in 17 of the preceding 20 general conferences—and more typically by members of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

While the scriptures clearly teach that Jesus was an example of submission to the Father in all things, it is important to recognize that submission can come in a variety of forms—and not all of its possible forms are created equal. For example, there is submission that flows from the unrighteous dominion of others, which can result in ungodly submission. On the other hand, there is submission that flows from the voluntary, authentic and willful act of choosing a better path. In the case of Jesus, his submission to the Father’s will involved an unwavering and unyielding commitment to embrace charity, compassion, and social justice as the foundational ideals of those claiming to be God’s people. In this sense, Jesus submitted freely and with uncompromising strength to the wisdom of God’s path—a path that stood in stark contrast to the prevailing views, attitudes, and customs of the Mediterranean culture of Jesus’ day: a culture that embraced violence, hierarchy, intimidation, oppression, and male-dominated authoritarianism as the primary means for resolving conflict and advancing one’s interests.3

This contrast between choosing compassion over violence was clearly the basis for Jesus’s teaching to “turn the other cheek.” Jesus was not advocating that we be empty and opinionless disciples, capable only of being acted upon. He was not calling us to invite abusive and demeaning treatment and wear it as a badge of godliness (a la Dora the Doormat). Rather, he was calling his disciples to stop the proliferation of violence by refusing to respond to others in kind, and by refusing to perpetuate the never-ending cycles of hostility, violence, abuse, and contempt.

Another way of framing the LDS obedience and submission culture is embodied in the Pharisaical philosophy, which emphasizes rule-based obedience. The Pharisees believed that by observing as best they could all of the ritual purity rules in the Law of Moses (that is, by keeping kosher) God would be so impressed with their voluntary obedience that he would have to send the Messiah.4

Modern Mormonism’s difficulty dealing with any response other than Pharisaical compliance and submission can be seen clearly in the recent furor engendered by the Wear Pants to Church Day on 16 December 2012. This simple act of solidarity encouraging women to wear pants to Sunday church meetings violated no formal LDS Church rule or policy, but simply deviated from strongly held social norms. Nevertheless, it incited vitriolic censure—including death threats—from many orthodox members of the mainstream LDS community.5

If we consider modern LDS culture to be an anthropologically “tight” culture (that is, one in which there are many strong norms proscribing behavior and conduct, along with a low tolerance for deviance from those norms),6 then it’s easy to see how norms favoring conflict avoidance are combined with very strong social pressures against the expression of contrary opinions, views, or preferences. To state such differences openly means that one should anticipate the strong sanctions and social ostracism that will inevitably follow. The message of an obedience and submission culture is clear: No Devil’s Advocates allowed! Quit asking questions and challenging things—just nod your head and say “yes.”

And finally, the third possible source for the elevated passive-aggression among the LDS can be found in the culture’s deference to Church leaders. The idea of rendering deference to leaders is aptly captured by the concept of “high power distance.” This term originates in cross-cultural psychology and refers to the size of the gap between people who have high status, power, and authority within the culture, and those who have low status.7 High power distance cultures require high levels of deference to people in positions of power, often translating into restricted rights for the average person to question or challenge the status quo or the decisions made by high-status persons.

To observe Mormonism’s high power distance tendencies, one need only attend any LDS church meeting where a sustaining vote is called. Rather than serving as a referendum by members on the actions and decisions of church leaders, such votes function as little more than member loyalty tests. In all cases, uniform deference is clearly expected, and when such deference is not given—such as through the act of casting a dissenting vote—the non-acquiescing members are invariably brought before the very church leaders who held the vote. It is not the leader and his actions that must be justified to the member; rather, it is the non-deferential church member who must provide explanation for his or her decision to cast an opposing vote.

 

Consequences and Implications

 

What does it matter if the LDS community has an extraordinarily elevated avoidance approach to conflict? Doesn’t this simply mean that Mormons are just nicer and more polite to each other? What could possibly be the downside of following the advice proffered in the highly prescient Book of Mormon musical that we just “Turn it off, like a light switch! Just go click! It’s a cool little Mormon trick! We do it all the time.”

While your mom’s advice (“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”) may have worked on a limited, short-term basis on the playground, research on the long-term mental health and well-being of adults8 has shown that in real life, this approach is more likely to lead to unhealthy response patterns and behaviors. These may include: sulking; convenient forgetfulness; excuse making; obstructionism and intentional acts of inefficiency; artificial and superficially disingenuous relationships; long-term feelings of alienation and resentment that can build to the point of physically and psychologically violent eruptions (to wit: church basketbrawl, Utah road rage, and the anonymous vitriol unleashed in online chat forums); perpetuation of victimization and abuse—even with the complicity of the abused; self-reinforcing downward cycles of co-dependency between those who impose solutions and those upon whom solutions are imposed; abdication of personal responsibility; complacency and stagnation of personal growth, development, and maturation; festering of unresolved conflicts; manipulation of bureaucratic rules and policies (e.g., “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission”); and the stifling of creative and innovative solutions to problems.9

 

Recommendations

 

Given the costs, how can we move toward more constructive approaches for resolving conflicts and disagreements? First, we need to acknowledge the reality of our situation. The presence of high levels of passive-aggression among Latter-day Saints is an empirically observable and objectively measurable phenomenon. The influences of this aspect of LDS culture works on us like the tide—repeatedly and unremittingly, year after year after year, in subtle and subconscious ways, making it difficult to ever spontaneously develop healthy coping skills for managing conflict and disagreements. It also undermines our capacity to use power ethically when we have it at our disposal, or to respond effectively to abuses of power when we are in a subordinate position. I would argue that few people who are raised Mormon are provided with good examples of what healthy disagreement and conflict management looks like or with methods of how to foster constructive, collaborative problem-solving and negotiation. Failure to see this phenomenon and to acknowledge its presence among us means we can have little hope of remedy. As virtually all 12-step self-help programs emphasize, recognizing the problem is always the first step toward recovery and healing.

Second, we need to be aware of the array of response options available to us (see Figure 1). Not only do we need models showing us how to respond constructively to conflict, but also more systematic and deliberate strategies for developing the skills, techniques, and emotional intelligence necessary to make healthier approaches a more natural part of our responses. If we think our only options are either competition or passive-aggression, then more constructive approaches (like collaboration) will be impossibly beyond our reach. Left to our own devices, few of us will stumble upon, much less master, collaborative skills and techniques.

Many of us can easily see the value in a collaborative approach when it’s described to us. However, seeing doesn’t necessarily lead to doing—especially in the case of conflict resolution. We need time, practice, and good facilitation. And there is much to learn: how to accurately size up the conflict resolution behaviors that are presenting themselves in a given situation, how to organize our interactions for a constructive response, how to foster a collaborative problem-solving and decision-making environment, how to communicate honestly yet respectfully, how to genuinely address the needs and concerns of others, and how to avoid employing manipulative rewards and incentives to get what we want. And we need to be able to do all this while maintaining our own integrity and objectives precisely when we are in the pitch of emotional distress and the tumult of the conflict itself.

Learning how to resolve conflict effectively is a lot like learning to play baseball. Reading and study can help lay a useful foundation, but real mastery comes only through active practice, usually under the guidance of a skilled facilitator or coach. The good news is that such learning and instruction is possible, but typically require proper modeling and one-on-one coaching, along with extensive, detailed, and meaningful feedback—often referred to as social learning feedback loops. However, if formal programs are unavailable, we can nevertheless seek out remedies and information to educate ourselves through many available resources, such as Bolton, Bradberry & Greaves, Goleman, Fisher, Ury & Patton and the like.10

Finally, we need to start creating healthier approaches to managing conflict and disagreements in our culture. For the most part, LDS culture is subject to the law of gravity—it flows from the top down. This happens because, with or without knowing it, our leaders delineate the values, norms, and mental models we adhere to as they establish budgets and otherwise deploy community resources; set rules, policies and procedures; champion and proscribe the details of certain rituals over others; hold up particular stories as being either worthy of emulation or cautionary tales; decide which behaviors are rewarded and which are punished within the community; and decide which rules and norms will be embraced and reinforced as part of the “unwritten order of things.” If you doubt the scope and influence of Church leaders to shape all aspects of modern Mormon culture, just think of what the net effect would be if general authorities started delivering all general conference talks wearing spritely colored polo shirts and khaki slacks. We must let Church leaders know that we are watching  them in this regard, and that we will hold them accountable for the ways in which they shape LDS culture and tradition.

While I acknowledge the tight control Church leaders have over LDS norms and culture, there are still ways in which rank-and-file members can personally and collectively promote healthy cultural change, especially when the issues are matters of convention and policy, rather than fundamental gospel principles.

This can be done on an individual level as opportunities present themselves, but it can also be done in a concerted and collective way through organized grassroots campaigns. Two recent examples are the Wear Pants to Church event,11 and the What Women Know online statements and petitions.12

We should also look for respectful ways to challenge the validity of the myriad elements constituting our culture’s “unwritten order of things” such as the practice of addressing Church leaders by office or priesthood title, or the assumption that being an ordained priesthood holder is necessary for a given Church calling or responsibility. For example, the positions of ward clerk and Sunday School president do not require that one hold the priesthood, yet, without exception, males are called to fill them. And if you really want to turn up the introspective heat, consider this: If women and nonpriesthood-holding men and children are allowed to pass the sacrament trays up and down the pews to each other, why could we not have the 12–18-year-old young women of the Church join the young men in passing the sacrament trays up and down the aisles between the pews? Why is it that non-priesthood bearers are allowed to pass the sacrament trays while seated, but not while standing? Though the first reaction to such a question might range from dismissiveness to outright contempt—such as what we saw in many responses to the recent Wear Pants to Church event—I would predict that many mainstream Church members will be moved to greater compassion by such questions. And if such questions are asked by enough of us with enough frequency, the institution will eventually have to respond.

Another thing we can do at the grassroots level is to muster the courage to reclaim the Law of Common Consent by exercising our right to vote “no” when we feel moved by the Spirit and/or common sense to do so. For example, we can decide that as a matter of principle and conscience, any time a male’s name is put forward to fill a calling for which women are by policy excluded, we should seriously consider registering an opposing vote. There is no formal Church rule or policy against exercising our franchise as members to cast an oppositional vote; we simply aren’t used to it. And after the meeting, when we are inevitably taken aside by church leaders and asked to explain our dissenting vote, we can share our reservations about the practice of staffing nonpriesthood callings only with males.

One final change to our culture that should be given serious consideration at the institutional level is the creation of formal mechanisms and safe spaces for questioning and dissent. Ideally, instead of just protecting dissenters within our culture, we should welcome them as essential agents for producing health-inducing cultural antibodies. Creating a safe space for dissent and debate within the LDS Church will likely do more than anything else to produce a vigorous immune system that can help address the challenges facing us.

Entities such as Sunstone, Dialogue, Mormon Stories, the bloggernacle, and others have claimed this space to raise questions and engage in open discussions—even dissent. In theory, though, a safe space for dissent could be an official church calling. This is actually something the Catholic Church figured out centuries ago when it created the official Vatican position known in common vernacular as Advocatus Diaboli, or the “Devil’s Advocate.” This office was held by a canon lawyer appointed by Church authorities. His assigned duty was to argue against the canonization of candidates put forward for sainthood. They were required to take a suspicious view of all presented evidence, and consider every conceivable argument for why a purported miracle might actually be fraudulent—all with the aim of showing that a candidate is thus undeserving of sainthood.13

However, a genuinely beneficial devil’s advocate is a rarity. Many of us have likely had firsthand experiences with individuals who loudly proclaim themselves to be a devil’s advocate, but whether they can perform this role in a healthy and constructive manner is debatable. Many of them simply seem to enjoy pushing people’s buttons. The goal of a constructive devil’s advocate is to engage with others and wrestle with the evidence in such a way as to promote the best possible decisions, insights, conclusions, and outcomes. A good devil’s advocate is able to intuit when enough challenging and questioning has been done and when decisions need to be made so that progress and growth may occur. A good devil’s advocate is capable of discerning between the dissent that edifies and the dissent that ravages. When this role is carried out effectively, the consequence is that insights and knowledge normally hidden from human view can come to light, showing that the glory of God is indeed intelligence. This was clearly understood when the Catholic Church settled on its official name for this role: though the lay term for this role is Devil’s Advocate, the official title is Promotor Fidei, or “Promoter of the Faith.”

 

AS WE SEEK to develop more constructive approaches to conflict resolution, we must constantly remind ourselves that our goal is to bring about healthy change in ourselves and in Church policies and practices, not to provoke the antagonism, resentment, or frustration of our leaders. Like the rest of us, our leaders are mortals—arms of flesh. They err, as do we all. Their capacity for sound decision making, for resolving conflict, and for accessing the divine is no different and no greater than it is for the rest of us. Although our leaders may “sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2), we must understand that an essential part of sustaining our church leaders is finding the courage to point out when all is not well in Zion. The goal must be to find empathy and compassion in our assessments as we wrestle against the unhealthy aspects of ourselves and our culture.

We must also recognize that the changes we desire will not likely happen overnight. As we see in the business world, changing an organization’s culture is invariably a long and vexing process. Changing a community’s traditions and one’s own personal habits require that we be prepared for the long game. We must be prepared for many unsatisfactory and inept answers along the way—and even no answer at times. We should be prepared to have our heartfelt questions hijacked in a way that not only ignores the original question but focuses instead on our worthiness or loyalty to the Church. We should be prepared to cultivate reserves of patience and compassion for Church leaders who are simply in over their heads but nevertheless have good hearts and intentions. And we should even be prepared to find forgiveness for arrogant and prideful Church leaders who honestly believe that their actions are the de facto will of God.

If we are not actively working to resolve the problem, we are passively allowing it to persist—much to our spiritual peril. And of course, as we question and advocate, we must do so in a constructive and collaborative manner. To do so with hostility and contempt would be to act with the spirit of contention. But to just avoid the whole mess would be nothing less than passive-aggression on our part.

 

NOTES

1.  Judith R. Gordon, A Diagnostic Approach to Organizational Behavior (3rd ed.) (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1991).

2.  Kenneth W. Thomas, “Conflict and Negotiation Processes in Organizations,” in Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2nd ed., vol. 3, edited by Marvin D. Dunnette (Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1992), 651–717.

3.  Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach Us about Jesus’s Birth (New York: Harper-Collins, 2007).

4.  Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (New York: Harper-Collins, 1994).

5.  Charlotte Cowles, “Mormon Women Get Death Threats for Wearing Pants,” New York Magazine, http://nymag.com/thecut/2012/12/mormon-women-get-death-threats-for-wearing-pants.html (accessed 17 January 2013).  Sabrina Franks, “Threats Shut Down Facebook Event,” The Student Reviewhttp://thestudentreview.org/threats-shut-down-facebook-event (accessed 17 January 2013). Timothy Pratt, “Mormon Women Set Out to Take a Stand, in Pants,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html (retrieved 17 January 2013).

6.  Michele J. Gelfand, et al., “Differences between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study,” Science 332 (6033), 1100-1104.

7.  Geert Hofstede and Gert Jan Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (3rd ed.) (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010).

8.  Martin Kantor, Passive Aggression: A Guide for the Therapist, the Patient and the Victim (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002).

9.  Tim Murphy and Lorriann Hoff Oberlin, Overcoming Passive Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness (New York: Marlowe & Company, 2005). Theodore Millon, et al., Personality Disorders in Modern Life (San Francisco: Wiley, 2004). Scott Wetzler, Living with the Passive–Aggressive Man: Coping with Hidden Aggression from the Bedroom to the Boardroom (New York: Touchstone Publishing, 1993). Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam, 2006). George Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People (Little Rock, AR: Parkhurst Brothers, 2010). Neil Warner,   Guerrilla Tactics against Passive Aggression in the Work Place (Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Creative Conflict Resolutions, 2011).

10.      Robert Bolton, People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others and Resolve Conflicts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979). Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (San Diego: TalentSmart, 2009). Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, & Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (New York: Penguin Books, 2011).

11.      “Wear Pants to Church Day” Facebook Event Page,  www.facebook.com/WearPantsToChurchDay (accessed 17 January 2013).

12. What Women Know website, http://whatwomenknow.org/ (accessed 17 January 2013).

13.      The Devil’s Advocate position was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

44 comments

  1. McKay Allred says:

    I really appreciated the effort you went to in order to bring up important topics in an objective fashion. And I really do feel edified/thoughtful after reading your article.

    I would like to highlight a couple of thoughts I had that might have been what you presumed went unsaid. The most important one being that there is an underlying presumption that some things do need to change. I agree that passive aggression is not an ideal conflict resolution style and that is not what I’m referring to. Instead I’m talking about your concerns with the “practice of addressing Church leaders by office or priesthood title, or the assumption that being an ordained priesthood holder is necessary for a given Church calling or responsibility”. Whether or not these things need to be changed is a personal opinion unrelated to passive aggression. In fact one of the examples you give of the Sunday school president not needing to be male is in conflict with the LDS church hand book which states “Members of the ward Sunday School presidency are priesthood holders.” This is just one example with which I’m familiar.

    My point is that when our views are in conflict, that doesn’t mean that we’re right and they’re wrong, or visa versa. We shouldn’t deal with them in a passive aggressive way either, by letting them stew unattended. But we need to be prepared to act in faith when the answer we get isn’t the one we were looking for. Obedience is important even if we don’t understand why, but that should never stop us from trying to find out why. That’s how we grow. And to grow is a principle reason why we’re on earth.

    Anyways, I’d like to reiterate that I really enjoyed your article and I hope I didn’t come across as arrogant or argumentative. Thank you.

    Mckay

  2. I must say that you’ve conflated a diagnosis of a cultural norm with a need for social change in one direction.

    That is much like saying “there is too much hypocrisy in politics, we need to all become democrats.” McKay Allred had that point right, and it appears to be the focus of your writing rather than a method to improve conflict resolution in the Church, to change to consensus building as a method rather than avoidance.

    And passive-aggressive behavior is not avoidance, it is a method of conflict.

    Assuming that avoidance means passive-aggressive rather than deference I think comes about because of your presumptions about the needed leftwards social changes.

    The real problem, generally, is that avoidance =/ engagement. There is a real need for engagement. To draw people out of avoidance increasing the amount of discomfort and contention/conflict is probably not the most direct tool. At least in my experience of being involved in ADR since the 1980s.

    Instead, to draw people out of avoidance and into engagement, drawing them into collaboration is generally more successful. But that does not allow a focus on a specific agenda of elements of contention and challenge, which appears to be your goal, rather than solving the problem.

    That is my reflection.

  3. Jeff Spector says:

    I am a bit perplexed by this. On one hand, we have this purported scientific survey as a launching point for the author’s beliefs (titled Recommendations) on what the LDS Church should do, which has little to no connection to the results of the survey itself.

    Let me give two examples:

    The author says: “For example, the positions of ward clerk and Sunday School president do not require that one hold the priesthood, yet, without exception, males are called to fill them.”

    Really, where do you get that from the survey and it’s results? And where do you get the idea that these positions do not require one hold the Priesthood? Church policy IS that these positions do require the Priesthood. You may not agree, but to say they do not is an opinion. And does not have anything to do with the survey.

    Second: “… muster the courage to reclaim the Law of Common Consent by exercising our right to vote “no” when we feel moved by the Spirit and/or common sense to do so. For example, we can decide that as a matter of principle and conscience, any time a male’s name is put forward to fill a calling for which women are by policy excluded, we should seriously consider registering an opposing vote.”

    While I would agree that the Law of Common Consent is rather robotically adhered to these days, it is meant to approve people who have been called to positions in the Church. It is not a vote of popularity or to be used as a protest vehicle. If we know that a person is unworthy to serve in a position, it is our obligation to express an opposing vote. The fact that no one wants to do that is more of a personal responsibility than a “group-think” mentality, though I would admit anyone might find it hard to do it. But, in the end we have a responsibility and it is upon us personally to exercise it. Again, what does the survey have to do with that? And how is not opposing a person a passive-aggressive behavior?

  4. momofmany says:

    Interesting article.

    I have read about huge differences of opinions among the council of the twelve apostles. They tend to table issues when they can’t find unity. They continue to discuss and pray at a later date.

    Generally they don’t share a lot of those stories about who has what opinion or how that discussion goes. How can we encourage that kind of debate and discussion on every level….along with the patience and humility to wait and pray?

  5. Ben says:

    So, the answer to passive-aggressive behavior is… overt progressive activism? That’s completely non-sequitur. Would have been a great article without the last third.

  6. Anneke Garcia says:

    I agree largely with the above comments. The data and social science here is impressive and underscores impressions I’ve had of Utah culture since I moved there five years ago to attend graduate school. I was raised LDS but from a convert family outside of Utah and have been perplexed by the overwhelming passive-aggressive tendencies I’ve seen in people. At one point I was talking to my landlord, an older LDS woman, and told her that I felt that her ignoring my calls and messages about a problem in the house was very unprofessional. She hung up on me mid-conversation, wouldn’t answer subsequent calls, and complained to my roommate that I had “called her unprofessional” and hurt her feelings. I was dumbstruck that an adult woman would behave this way.

    That said, the conclusions and “implications” tacked on to this argument are completely superfluous. Does passive-aggression have some sort of role in Church culture and politics? I’m sure it does. But whoa, correlation-causation! Why are we suddenly implicating Church leaders, prescribing specific acts of protest, etc? This is a huge, complex cultural issue (as almost everything in the social sciences tends to be) and it’s not within the jurisdiction of a single study to start diagnosing causality and recommending “treatments.”

    And Mungagungadin, in case you’re wondering whether to lump my comment in with those you laughingly dismissed as passive-aggressive, let me say outright that I disagree with your initial comment and would love to hear more of your own thoughts on the issue. 🙂

  7. BenW says:

    Very thought-provoking article. I’d like to think of myself more as compassionate than passive aggressive, but maybe I appear as both at different times. I probably need a little more self-analysis before deciding.
    On another issue: The “Law of Common Consent” is not a matter of “voting” for an individual; but it is a means of saying “I give my consent to ‘supporting’ the individual in their calling.” The “vote” is not about the individual, it is about you as the “voter” supporting those who have called the individual and then supporting (helping if needed) the individual who has been called.

  8. Tiff says:

    I had professors at WSU in the early 90s who also picked up on some social norms that were a little odd or unhealthy, they too had taught elsewhere with a plethora of experience. They were some of my favorites. I’m impressed that someone would take the initiative to conduct a formal study and write the results. The outcome does not come at a surprise to me at all and the examples stated are true.

    I am a bit of an oddity myself among LDS women, in that, I am a college graduate with a masters degree and continue to work outside of be home not only to provide health care benefits for my family but also to contribute to society. I am not a meek, mild, or submissive person. Being proactive, taking on challenges, being the one to question has been beneficially in every aspect of my life; except my church life. My opinions stated in church meetings or informal gatherings are considered “offensive” to many when in fact I have simply questioned what is being done or why it is being done. In my early thirties I did not hesitate to question my bishop which in turn kept me from leadership callings in the church. I have felt stagnant in the church for many years now. It has become quite a chore to attend church and when I do it is less than enlightening. It is a challenge for me to not allow the social norms of the church alter my faith.

    In my experience, when someone has had a problem in the neighborhood with a ward member outside of church the bishop is somehow involved and tells everyone to ‘turn the other check’ when talking through a problem is never addressed. Bishops take on the role of managing conflicts when they have no background or training to do so. I’d like to see Bishops make more referrals to LDS Social Services to help members through emotional distress rather than giving out counterproductive advice, rarely do they even suggest members talk out their problems before running to the bishop. Instead, I think bishops enable unhealthy behavior by being at the beckoned call of those who use church leaders to quickly solve their problems for them. It is difficult o thrive in a prodominately LDS neighborhood when passive aggressive behaviors prevail consistently.

    The current feminist movement in the church does relate to the topic a bit. I would like to add some changes that could be made. First, the church should hire women to teach seminary in Utah, regardless of their age, marrital status, or how many children are still in the home. This would be an ideal full-time or part-time job for working LDS women and yet qualified women are denied if they have children under the age of 18 still living at home. Second, hire women at LDS Social Sevices without discrimination who qualify for the position. Third, increase the number of women in ward council meetings in addition to leadership callings. And finally, encourage and teach girls in the church to be educated, inpendepent, self-reliant, financially responsponsible, and contribute to society beyond what is passed around on a clipboard during Relief Society. I personally love my skirts as a Scot loves his kilts so I reflect upon other ways a women’s voice can be heard in the church.

    I commend the author for his observations, noting implications and adding in recommendations. I hope this article has already been sent to the first presidency of the church via email or a hard copy since its contents contain some merits within. There is always room for positive change in a thriving society.

  9. KT says:

    Wow, this was very insightful. I am not LDS but I work in an LDS dominated workplace. Helpful for an outsider to understand why his work day is the way it is. Thanks.

  10. Andrew says:

    Wow Ben, you think those examples were overt progressive activism? They looked extremely timid to me and I don’t see how the author could have possibly suggested anything smaller.

    Just look at the difference between what the paper suggested and what Tiff suggested. Tiff’s goals are much more in line with the kind of feminism that other Americans are so used to they take it for granted, yet I bet the independence and self reliance goal looks like radical and unreasonable change to you.

    Well no, they could have suggested one thing that was smaller: don’t change anything and continue to live in this way that most Americans think is unhealthy and that you already know breeds resent.

    BenW: So if the matter of women never being called to positions that they are eligible for is important to you, then not giving your vote of consent is exactly the correct course of action. Raising your hand in this situation is tantamount to lying is it not?

    Also: Reading through some of the posts I should point out that these suggestions for change are in what is commonly referred to as the discussion section. This comes after the results of the actual research and is for things like suggesting a general direction for follow up studies or the implications of the results, especially when they went against initial expectations.

    While you lot may not care about women being denied positions that they should be eligible for these are just examples of things that a fair number of members DO care about, and start to harbor a grudge against whichever entity they decide is responsible. When that entity is the entire church, well, I’m sure you can see how this contributes to the high rate of people leaving the Mormon faith.

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  14. Gordon Hayes says:

    Loved the premise of the article and that our culture has become that of submissiveness to avoid conflict. Something that is toxic – however you need to do your research previous to offering platforms for members to debate.

    The handbook establishes that Sunday School be of Priesthood and the President of Sunday School should be Melchizedeck were possible.

    Also the brethren do talk a lot about being submissive to the Father, but I challenge you to look beyond and research what the brethren have said about standing up for what you believe in. President Kimball’s definition of meek comes to mind.

  15. Fascinating! I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden and about half of our congregation is ex-LDS. Just this last Sunday i preached a sermon on anger. Here’s the link if you want to read it. http://wp.me/p3BiVX-aB Your article really made a lot of sense to me. Not being able to deal in a healthy way with our natural and normal feelings of anger can also lead to depression. Utah has extremely high rates of both depression and suicide, which I doubt is a coincidence. (The perfectionism in the culture doesn’t help much either) Your research could literally save lives if people pay attention to it. Thank you! Rev. Theresa Novak

  16. Jacob says:

    I agree with the author that we in the church need to talk about conflict resolution much more than we do. Consider, for example, how often we discuss the Lord’s counsel to “be reconciled to our brother” from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:23-24). A simple search of General Conference talks shows that not a single conference speaker quoted that scripture in the past ten years. Only five speakers in the past forty years have invoked the scripture (see https://www.lds.org/search?q=%22first+be+reconciled+to+thy+brother%22&domains=general-conference&lang=eng ). Yet conflict resolution was so important to Jesus that he counseled those who have conflicts with others to resolve the conflict first before participating in temple ordinances.

    I think a lot of our avoidance is rooted in our historical experience with conflict and how we frame conflict in church discussion. There was a time, for example, when there was opposition in the church when individuals were presented for callings. John Hicks, for example, was not unanimously sustained as elder’s quorum president in Nauvoo. Eventually, he was, in fact, removed because of opposition from Dimick Huntington, Brigham Young and others. Yet when we discuss conflict resolution of this type, we tend to villainize those who raise objections as apostates, or as sources of apostasy. The better way would be to focus on the process of conflict resolution and how to produce positive outcomes. And then to implement processes that facilitate it.

  17. Sarah P. says:

    Okay, hold up. I see a lot of untruths going around here.

    Not all Utah LDS are passive-aggressive and not all non-LDS are competent in conflict resolution. I think it has become more of a Utah thing then a Mormon thing. It also seems like the church itself is being blamed for said aggressiveness. The church has always encouraged members to stand up for what we believe is right. It’s the members that don’t know how to do that.

    Proper conflict resolution is not taught at home and it’s not taught in the schools, either. We don’t get it anywhere.

    When it comes to the arguments on the “voting in church” thing, I really wish that the author had studied the church more before putting this study out. We don’t vote someone into a calling as if it were an election. The vote is called a “sustaining vote” for a reason: We believe that, for the most part, callings come from the Lord via revelation to the Bishop. When the congregation is asked to “give a sustaining vote” in Sacrament Meeting, they are not being asked if they’re okay with the Lord’s decision. They’re being told that “this person is the Lord has chosen for this specific calling. Will you sustain (support) that person, or not?” That is what the “vote” is for. Now, I have been given callings in which I was told that it was out of necessity, not revelation. Sometimes that happens.

    When it comes to callings, the Sunday School presidency used to consist of both men and women, but stuff started happening when the genders were behind closed doors and a policy change had to happen. Policies change all the time. The doctrine doesn’t.

    But why are people calling discrimination against women all the time? Do you ever see a man called to be the Primary President? Nope. in the church, men do not preside (be in charge of) over the children.

    I’ve had a lot of “faith shaking” trials that include some of the issues that people have mentioned here. It took a long time of researching and asking questions, but I figured it out and I’m a very happy female member of the church. Please don’t call me a “brainwashed LDS women.” The ones who are confident are the ones who aren’t afraid to ask questions. For the most part, it’s the ones that are passive-aggressive (both male and female) that don’t know why they do what they do in the church and can’t answer people’s questions.

    I’m not seeing any rules that say that I can’t post a link to a personal site, so for those who have legitimate questions about the issues in the church, I’ve addressed a lot of those on my blog and I love to help people understand truth about the church instead of hearsay and beliefs that are solely based on tradition and nothing more. Here’s the link: sarahscrnr.blogspot.com Just go to my “previous posts” tab and then look under religion. If you would like me to answer any questions, please ask.

  18. Justin Gardiner says:

    The author misused the term “passive-aggressive” many times throughout the article.

  19. Rachel says:

    What if we lived in a society where leadership over primary-aged children was the most “esteemed” position in the Church (as a power to influence goes), and where women wore pants instead of gowns to their weddings and proms? Things would certainly be different, wouldn’t they?

    I moved to Utah and felt peer-pressured to apologize for my religion, from both members and non-members. I figure the real reason is that my peers were apologizing for being the religious majority in this state, which is not something to have to apologize for.

    There are a lot of untruths mixed in with good advice in this article, just like there are a lot of untrue people in leadership positions in the Church at times. Abuse of power happens. Sometimes leaders don’t feel ready to lead, but it’s their opportunity to try. Sometimes members don’t like following imperfect people, but then we’d all still be in heaven, wouldn’t we?

    If people want the Church to be more like a democracy, then they’ll be disappointed. Christ isn’t the president of the Church. He’s the King. It’s a monarchy.

    And for those who don’t see me bringing up Christ as a valid point in this argument: seriously? We openly believe that God is a living, breathing personage who takes active interest in how His church is ran. We’re embarrassingly imperfect, but when obedience to His precepts are done right, we meets the highest standard in this world. The Church leaders and members shouldn’t exclude that Christ has the final say in how He wants His Church ran. He has designated prayer and scripture as the primary venue of communication until the day He comes to govern His Church in the flesh. But until then, it’s a test to see how well we do when our physical sight is limited. And even when we finally do see, it won’t be our eyes telling us how real He is.

    Pretty much, all the good advice in this article is what I’ve been taught my whole life in church and at home.

  20. Jennifer Holmes says:

    I have read the word “untruth” now a couple times. The article is presenting results of a study, projecting about reasons why, and offering possible solutions or predictions as to how to improve the situation. This is a normal way to present findings from a study. The word “untruth” doesn’t apply here. Perhaps saying ‘I disagree that avoidance behavior is destructive’ might be more concrete (and less passive aggressive).

  21. Sarah P. says:

    To Jennifer Holmes,

    I don’t know if one of the comments you were referring to was mine, but since mine and Rachel’s were the only ones that used the word “untruth,” I do feel that clarification is needed.

    When I mentioned the word “untruth” in my comment, I wasn’t referring to anything you mentioned in your statement. I am an APA academically trained researcher. As such, I am aware of what the goal of a study is supposed to be. My point was that the author did not do enough preliminary research into the church itself before he decided to infer that the Mormon church was the culprit for avoidance behavior. For example, he took things like the sustaining vote for callings and, without understanding why do it, inferred that we enter into avoidance behavior when we disagree. He also assumed that we seem to believe that “turn the other cheek” mean that we just let anything go, even if it needs to be addressed. That it, for the most part, not true of members of our faith. Many of us just believe in picking our battles and that most battles aren’t worth picking.

    Anyway, my point is that correlation is not causation. Just because many of those who choose avoidance behavior in Utah are LDS doesn’t mean that this is what the church teaches. There are so many other things that the author did not take into consideration (many more than what I posted here) that factor into it.

  22. Jennifer Holmes says:

    Sarah P. –

    Fair enough. I disagree with your statement that the author has not done enough research before publishing this article, but I get your point. You are saying that Church members have many different reasons, a multilayered approach so to speak, when it comes to deciding how to deal with conflict. Understanding all the nuances and grasping those deeper levels of “why” is almost impossible if you haven’t spend a significant amount of time experiencing the religion. That said, the information presented in this study is pretty simple. Members of the Church exhibit a significantly stronger preference for avoidance style of conflict resolution than the rest of the country. The results of the study are not what you disagree with, but the ‘why’ and ‘how’ that he presents bothers you. If this is correct, what are you answers to the “why?” and “how is it displayed?” from your perspective?

  23. Sarah P. says:

    Jennifer Holmes,

    Please know that I didn’t say that the author didn’t do enough research in general. Regarding his study results, his research is perfectly fine. It was when he started to make causational inferences blaming church practices that I took issue with the amount of research regarding the church that he had done.

    This is a bit long. The beginning answers your question, while the latter part (if you’re interested) explains why I feel that the author did not adequately do his church research.

    Here are a few reasons why I believe that members might be more avoidant than non-members:

    1. Proper conflict resolution skills aren’t usually taught at home or at school. We’re just told “Well, if she bugs you again, just tell her to stop.” Right, like that’s ever worked. If you don’t know how to handle conflict confidently or if what you’re told to do doesn’t work, avoidance behavior becomes a default.

    2. Many of us have served missions, where we were attacked for just about everything, both church and non-church related. Most of us have even had experiences in which we were invited into someone’s home, only to see the pastor of their church with his Bible open, waiting for us. After so many of those unfortunate experiences, we’ve just learned to pick our battles, and that most aren’t worth picking. The same goes for those of us who live in places where there are not many members.

    3. (I think this one is the main culprit) We’re taught to always try to find the positive in everything. This causes many members to completely ignore the negative, even consistently excusing someone in the name of things like “having a bad day” and thus, do nothing about it.

    That concludes my answer to your question.

    Now, you are very correct when you said that “Understanding all the nuances and grasping those deeper levels of “why” is almost impossible if you haven’t spent a significant amount of time experiencing the religion.” What bothers me is that, throughout the latter part of the article, he made it very apparent that he has not had enough correct exposure to the religion. By “correct,” I mean that, while he may or may not have been a member his entire life, he was not exposed to church principles, doctrines, and policies in the way that the church itself intends. It is very obvious that he has fallen into the hearsay, rumors and tradition of a society that insists on political correctness, ex-Mormons, and current frustrated members, who, like him, are listening to anyone and anything other than the church itself. He used assumptions and calls to action (that are completely inconsistent with our beliefs) in an effort to show members how they can be less conflict-avoidant.

    If you’re interested, the following examples are what I was referring to when I said that he had not done enough preliminary research into the church itself (as opposed to said hearsay). These things may be the culprit of avoidance behavior for some members, but only because (I’m going to be blunt here) they lack the same understanding of the church itself that the author does

    “If we consider modern LDS culture to be an anthropologically “tight” culture . . . then it’s easy to see how norms favoring conflict avoidance are combined with very strong social pressures against the expression of contrary opinions, views, or preferences. To state such differences openly means that one should anticipate the strong sanctions and social ostracism that will inevitably follow. The message of an obedience and submission culture is clear: No Devil’s Advocates allowed! Quit asking questions and challenging things—just nod your head and say ‘yes.'”

    We are encouraged to be a question-asking people and always have been. If members felt ostracized for asking, that was not the church’s fault, but the fault of the member who did the ostracizing. Most who make members feel ostracized are actually just avoiding the asker because they realized that they don’t know, either (no research here, just personal case studies). We believe that the church itself was restored through a 14-year-old boy who dared to ask God a question that no one else wanted him to ask.

    Now, there’s a difference between asking a question and purposefully being a Devil’s Advocate. Asking because you really are confused is always okay. If you are purposefully challenging the doctrines of the church, don’t be surprised if everyone disagrees with you. The church has nothing to do with being politically correct. It’s doctrines won’t change just because you don’t like it.

    “The third possible source for the elevated passive-aggression among the LDS can be found in the culture’s deference to Church leaders. The idea of rendering deference to leaders is aptly captured by the concept of ‘high power distance.’ This term originates in cross-cultural psychology and refers to the size of the gap between people who have high status, power, and authority within the culture, and those who have low status. High power distance cultures require high levels of deference to people in positions of power, often translating into restricted rights for the average person to question or challenge the status quo or the decisions made by high-status persons.”

    It has nothing to do with a “culture deference” or a “high power distance.” If you honestly believed that your church leaders, although imperfect, were called and inspired by God, would you make it a point to challenge or disagree with what they say regarding church things for which they are responsible? That would be the same thing as saying “You know, I disagree with God on that one, Bishop. Maybe you should do something different than what God told you to do.”

    There are times, of course, when some things need to be reported such as serious sin committed by a leader. I had to report a bishop to my Mission President for that very reason. While he may have been doing a good job when he was first called, he had decided to start doing bad things that required him to be removed from his position. It happens.

    “Rather than serving as a referendum by members on the actions and decisions of church leaders, such [sustaining] votes function as little more than member loyalty tests. . . . In all cases, uniform deference is clearly expected, and when such deference is not given—such as through the act of casting a dissenting vote—the non-acquiescing members are invariably brought before the very church leaders who held the vote. It is not the leader and his actions that must be justified to the member; rather, it is the non-deferential church member who must provide explanation for his or her decision to cast an opposing vote. . . . Another thing we can do at the grassroots level is to muster the courage to reclaim the Law of Common Consent by exercising our right to vote “no” when we feel moved by the Spirit and/or common sense to do so.”

    To start, of course it’s the member who needs to explain why he/she disagrees with God. The Bishop does not have to explain why God chose the person. He probably doesn’t even know. He most likely felt a spiritual confirmation and said “okay.” If the person feels that whoever was called isn’t the right person for the job, then maybe it’s a chance for the member to watch and learn what God can do.

    In addition, Who is this “we” that needs to muster more courage to just say no? Is he just a member who has decided that the church isn’t politically correct enough for him? This appears to be complete inference based on upset Mormon/Ex-Mormon hearsay and is, obviously, extremely biased.

    Finally, the church has never gone by the Law of Common Consent when it comes to the sustaining vote. The author used the word “acquiescing” to describe a member vote. That word is synonymous with “cave in,” “submit,” “go along,” and “approve” (among other things). However, it’s called a “sustaining vote” for a reason. The word “sustain” is synonymous with the words “support” and “strengthen.” The vote is not to show agreement, disagreement, or submission. It is to show the person being called that you will support him/her in his/her new church responsibility. That is all.

    “Any time a male’s name is put forward to fill a calling for which women are by policy excluded, we should seriously consider registering an opposing vote.”

    Stating a disagreement with the bishop isn’t going to change the official policy of a worldwide church.

    “We should also look for respectful ways to challenge the validity of the myriad elements constituting our culture’s “unwritten order of things” such as the practice of addressing Church leaders by office or priesthood title, or the assumption that being an ordained priesthood holder is necessary for a given Church calling or responsibility. For example, the positions of ward clerk and Sunday School president do not require that one hold the priesthood, yet, without exception, males are called to fill them.”

    The prophet Joseph Smith preferred to be called “Brother Joseph.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Today, we call them by their titles out of respect for the responsibility that they have. I have no reservations in calling my Relief Society President “President Jones” to show her that I still support and sustain her in her calling. It has nothing to do with deference to authority.

    Actually, it’s not an assumption that the ward clerk and Sunday School president need to have a priesthood office. It’s in the official church handbook. (The handbook is online. It would have been very easy for him to have looked it up.) It used to be that females were called to Sunday School presidencies, but then things started happening behind closed doors between genders and that policy was changed. Sometimes, a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch. We’re imperfect. It happens.

    “Why is it that non-priesthood bearers are allowed to pass the sacrament trays while seated, but not while standing? Though the first reaction to such a question might range from dismissiveness to outright contempt—such as what we saw in many responses to the recent Wear Pants to Church event—I would predict that many mainstream Church members will be moved to greater compassion by such questions. And if such questions are asked by enough of us with enough frequency, the institution will eventually have to respond.”

    If you understand responsibilities within priesthood offices, then the “institution” responded generations ago. This treads on doctrine. If you are a 12-13 year-old boy in the church with a priesthood office, part of your duties in the office is to deliver the sacrament to the congregation. That is the way God (not the human church leaders) established it. Therefore, any argument against it is invalid and no change will happen.

    In trying to compare a reaction to this issue with the women wearing pants thing, he is comparing a doctrinal thing with cultural tradition, which is never going to work. The whole women wearing pants to church thing is a European tradition. In Polynesia, the men wear “skirts” to church, as do many of the men in Scotland. The policy is that you wear your best. If a woman feels that her Sunday best is nice slacks, there is nothing against any church…anything…that says she can’t wear them to Sunday meetings.

    I hope this has helped you to understand why I feel that he did not correctly undergo preliminary research into the church itself before releasing this article. As I said in the beginning, he appears to be trying to use this article as a way to attack the church’s lack of societal equality and political correctness, with little to no understanding of how members who understand the doctrine see things.

  24. Robyn Barnes says:

    I can count on a Mormon being passive aggressive more than I can count on the sun coming up in the morning. It’s in their culture, doctrine, maybe even DNA. Very interesting article.

  25. Nathan says:

    I don’t know if it really proves it. Does avoiding a fight while over the internet really constitute passive-aggressive? Plus, they’ve been fairly explicit in their rejections of some of the arguments of the original poster. They might not have outright said “you’re wrong”, but they did pretty much say that. Plus, a lot of points where we agree and disagree. For example, I agree that passive-aggressiveness is a part of our culture to a fairly large extent. I disagree that engaging in progressive activism will fix that (especially since not all church members desire the aforementioned changes in priesthood.)

  26. Mom says:

    The study reflects similar studies I have seen/read during my own education. It is unlikely that the LDS culture is larger in any other state, and the study certainly reflects that.

    I am a convert to the church from outside of Utah. It is serious culture shock to find chapels on every corner, home teachers and visiting teachers living within one block of each other and yet they can’t seem to make contact with their families, and NOT attending church today simply because you want to sleep in is frowned upon.

    I have a great example of passive aggressive behavior within my own ward. A situation that has happened more than once. I received a calling to be a teach in the Relief Society, was sustained by the congregation, and received a blessing (set apart) to teach the specific class I was called to. It only takes a year or so before something is said that offends one of the women. If we are truly called, then the spirit of inspiration is supposedly a “right” to me. Yet I was never approached by women, they always went directly to the bishop. And often, although not always, the bishop would ask my husband about it. Within weeks I would be released of the calling. In social sciences, this is a grand example of passive/aggressive behavior!

  27. Michael Stevens says:

    To Sarah P, you conclude a rather lengthy post (March 2014) by stating that your summary should serve to help readers “understand why I feel that [the author] did not correctly undergo preliminary research into the church itself before releasing this article, [and] appears to be trying to use this article as a way to attack the church’s lack of societal equality and political correctness, with little to no understanding of how members who understand the doctrine see things.”

    As it turns out, the author is a life-long active member of the church, has served four missions, been in two bishoprics, taught both seminary and institute classes for CES, and has been a high priest for the past 25 years.

    You really should consider doing a bit more investigation into your claims next time you are tempted to post such sweeping and thoroughly unsubstantiated speculations in an open forum on the internet.

  28. Todd Clevenger says:

    The author would have been way better off just stating his observations and some of his thoughts on how to better get people to engage within the LDS culture than to try and bring some sort of “scientific” analysis to the situation. To call samples from a couple of schools in other states representative of the US is ridiculous. To call samples from one school in one small area of Utah representative of the LDS community at large even more so. And if one is going to throw out numbers and tables at least do some rudimentary statistical analysis with sample sizes and an attempt to demonstrate statistical significance. Otherwise just tell us about your observations and opinions, which are way more valid than the presented table.

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  30. Michelle says:

    I found this article after googling “why are Mormon women passive-aggressive” . I rent a room in a house with four other LDS women, one of whom is the landlord. I’m also LDS, inactive. I had enough last night when I went to transfer my laundry to the dryer, and found them once again tossed, wet, on the top of the dryer so the landlord could do her laundry. When I came out of the laundry room, there was the landlord. I said “hi” and she got this smug smile on her face and said HI. I was so upset!! What could I say, I have to be “nice”, it’s even in the rental agreement, under “Household Rules”, “Conflict Resolution”…”Each housemate will strive to develop mutual cooperation and good feelings with all other housemates. Should disagreements arise, each shall try to resolve the dispute in good faith using clear communication. If disputes continue thereafter, the housemates agree to resolve the conflict by discussion with and resolution by (landlord’s daughter lol!)…

    So how do I tell the landlord to stop tossing my wet clothes on the dryer I asked myself. I woke up this morning and decided I was gonna do it, I was going to be assertive and write a note asking if “we” could please not do this etc.I realize my leaving a note is passive-aggressive, it’s the way “conflict” is resolved around here. I’ll be waiting for the repercussions when my landlord reads it. Either she’ll say something passive-aggressive, or start being passive-aggressive which is EXTREMELY hard to live with. She told me last week, how the telestial (lowest level of heaven) is promised to be so wonderful that if we saw it we would kill ourselves to go there, it’s that spectacular (can’t remember the exact wording)!! This was after I had just started drinking cold brew coffee, and putting the slim pitchers of coffee in the door of the fridge upstairs. I realized that may upset my active, temple recommend holding roommates and eventually the landlord when someone told her about it, but I’ve realized I can’t be kicked out because I drink coffee, that’s against the law. So I’ve been drinking coffee like I’ve been wanting to. Anyone familiar with the LDS culture knows that anyone that disobeys the Word of Wisdom is an outcast, even above someone who has cheated on their spouse or abused their spouse (I participate in LDS forums on Facebook, it’s very eye-opening). Well, I am facing the consequences of being a coffee drinker by some major passive-aggressive behavior directed towards me. So I in turn bought an espresso machine and put and use it in my room! Now after reading this article, I know, that I’m being passive-aggressive : D Not good, but the lattes are : ) Anywho, I know the responses (if any) of others already, that no one is perfect, that my situation doesn’t represent the behavior of all LDS (so therefore LDS should be taken out of the equation : / ), and/or that I deserve what I’m getting for disobeying the Word of Wisdom. I’m 42 years old, and I’ve finally realized, what has doing what others want me to do and cowering down to others needs getting me anywhere but miserable and walked on?? So, I’m getting a backbone again. I’m drinking coffee despite the passive-aggressive slightly hostile environment, because I’m not getting any younger and frankly, I’m done living my life so concerned about what church members think of me. I don’t care anymore, I’m going to learn how to let go of my own passive-aggressive ways, and have healthy communication, and not worry about “causing contention” like your article mentions. It’s true what you wrote, that any disagreement is seen as contention. Well, I only have one life to live, and I thank-you so much for your very insightful, inspiring article. It made me recognize that I have more passive-aggressive behaviors than I’d previously thought, and affirmed my thoughts that the passive-aggressive behavior of my landlord and two of my roommates is unhealthy for me (and them). I already planned on starting therapy soon, and I now know what to start with.

  31. JM says:

    Michelle,
    From what you’ve said it sounds like you are being the passive aggressive one in the house. I live with 4 other LDS girls and the thing with the laundry happens all the time. There’s nothing passive aggressive about it. When you are sharing one washing machine with that many people, you don’t have the luxury of putting your clothes in to wash and then forgetting about about them for a few hours until you get around to moving them to the dryer. Other people need to do laundry too. Leaving the wet clothes on the top of the dryer rather than putting them in is the most polite thing, since some people have delicates and things they would prefer to line dry. It is not the responsibility of your roommates to keep track of who is doing laundry or do detective work to figure out whose wet clothes have been sitting in the washer so they can go ask her to move the clothes when they need to do laundry. If it really bothers you so much, set a timer when you put your laundry in so you can move it to the dryer promptly.

    While I don’t doubt there is passive aggression in your apartment, none of the examples you give illustrate it well (except, as I said, coming from you). I also question if there is really passive aggression directed toward you due to the coffee or if you are over reacting because you’re expecting some and already feeling awkward about it, so what you are really feeling is your own insecurity about the situation that is coloring your interactions. The thing about passive aggression is it can be easy to read it into situations where it doesn’t actually exist. Try to evaluate the interactions with a fresh, unbiased eye and see how much of it is just your perspective.

  32. Michelle says:

    JM…I’m so glad I’m getting out of this “culture”. Your assumptions about me are based on the little information I put up, yet you took that info, twisted it around and actually stated that I was the only one being passive-aggressive??? Anywho, if it’s okay with you : ), do you think that it’s okay for me to be upset when I set a timer for my laundry and 10 minutes later when I go to move them, my temple-recommend holding landlady has tossed them wet, on top of the dryer…hmm?? Yes, that’s sarcasm, as I’m not going to explain myself to you…your biased assumptions are incorrect.

  33. dan says:

    About a year ago i moved to a heavily lds part of idaho from the midwest and one of the first things i noticed about the lds population is the tension in their jaws. When i see it (very common), i can be 99% sure the person is lds.

    I believe it comes from the constant pressure of trying to be good enough to meet other peoples expectations. Thatkind of life is not the light yoke and easy burden Jesus promised.

    Jesus came to set the captives free from a yoke of bondage, whereas the pharisees (who were more outwardly righteous than anyone in their day) laid heavy burdens on people but did not lift a single finger to help them.

    When i hear the testimonies of former members of the lds church, that heavy burdens/no help is a common thread.

    I believe that the phenomenon described in the article is not the product of a lack of learning or training. No, it is a learned method of coping with problems in a culture where leaders are preoccupied with keeping people in check through subtle but effective means of employing pressure.

    In the lds church, the individual is conditioned to assume that when a problem exists, it must be their own fault, and people are rewarded for thinking that way (as if it is a badge of honor of some kind). Over time, people become blind to the glaring problems within the organization which are so obvious to those who are not members.

  34. Kris Baker says:

    “In my experience, when someone has had a problem in the neighborhood with a ward member outside of church the bishop is somehow involved and tells everyone to ‘turn the other check’ when talking through a problem is never addressed.”

    We are non-LDS, Utah natives in a mostly-Gentile neighborhood. We’ve even been threatened with being “hauled in front of the bishop” by an LDS neighbor who was upset that he couldn’t drive over our property.

    It turned out that he and his family were NON-Utah raised LDS converts who hadn’t got the “avoid conflict” training 😉

  35. suzanne says:

    I think you’d find the same phenom in small towns where everyone is connected somehow. In these situations, one little conflict in one oarea of your life, can immediately have repercussions in ALL areas of your life. So the stakes feel high enough that you just try to make nice and never risk offending anyone by setting proper boundaries (which inevitably will offend some people). Thus, everyone’s walking around somewhat inauthentically and very easily fall into passive agression.

    For example, if there’s a pb. w/someone in the neighborhood, and that person is offended and confides in one other person, then pretty soon everyone in “town” can be poisoned toward you. Everyone in the ward, everyone at your employment, your kids’ school, etc … Thus, an otherwise confined or isolated issue (if living in less connected communities), becomes poisoned waters everywhere. It extends into your kids friends and school experience as well. I knew of a school principal who decided not to tell the PTA about a child abduction attempt in the area. Because the person who made the attempt was the stake president’s son, had been arrested anyway, and the principal didn’t want to bring shame on the stake president’s family and poison the waters in his community by letting everyone know what his son had done. The principal was wrong, and when people found out what happened, everyone was furious (now HE was the one with problems in all of his communities). I don’t agree with what he did. But, I can understand it. People are immature, and setting boundaries or asserting your rights will inevitably offend some–and when just one person gets upset with you–in a small town–the stakes are HIGH. Has nothing to do with LDS culture I believe.

    I agree there are also aspects of LDS culture specifically that feed into this. But, I’m pretty certain you’d find the same results in small towns with tightly woven communities.

  36. Ruth says:

    Read all the comments enjoyed all the different opinions. Was born and raised in Utah found I had to stand up for what I believe all through college since the minority was most often made fun of or challenged. Gave me a chance to learn how to disagree with what was said without injecting restraints on others. Like just saying. I don’t agree with that and letting it just be said. Empowered me. Raised my highly intelligent kids to use their faith to make highly intelligent decisions. We all seek validity what ever we believe! Not sure I like studies that try to determine or lump “us” or our faith or community into some kind of schism.

  37. S says:

    I went to BYU and now live in Utah. I find these findings completely true. There is a pride in emotional stoicism here in Utah. If a member is having a hard time and it has to do with the cultural “in” crowd, that member is not loved in a Christ like way, they are given the passive aggressive shunning till eventually that member is inactive or moves. I wish it would change.

  38. max curry says:

    Informative analysis . Just to add my thoughts , people want a UT Residential Rental Agreement , my business partner filled out and faxed a fillable version here https://goo.gl/0suWNd.

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