Muzzling the Wife

Like Kevin Barney, I sometimes bite my tongue at Church. A class member will make a bone-headed statement in Sunday School, or Elders Quorum, and I’ll look at my wife (or neighbor) and roll my eyes. But more often than not, I decide to keep my big mouth shut. After all, it’s just not worth it to counter every stray comment I disagree with. It might cause a lot of unnecessary contention to correct someone on a point that isn’t really that important at the end of the day. Or it might make the commenter feel stupid. Or it might make me look petty and combative for having uttered the correction. And yet, there are times when biting one’s tongue isn’t the correct tack to take, I think. Some comments aren’t just ignorant and silly, but downright pernicious if left unopposed. I’ve heard many a ludicrous statement in Church over the years that I know was recognized as such by the teacher, but that was met by a polite “thank you” rather than the tactful smackdown that it deserved. We don’t want to rock the boat, naturally, but we sometimes forget that when we acquiesce to nonsense being taught in our classes, we may well be sending the inadvertant message to some that noxious comment X, Y or Z is doctrinally kosher, or at least assented to by all those within earshot. And yet knowing when to open one’s mouth, and when to keep it closed, is tricky.

Oh, let me tell you how incredibly tricky it sometimes is! A year or so ago, I was sitting in Gospel Doctrine class when someone raised their hand and uttered a real doozy. A comment that, to my mind, was just awful. I disliked its tone. I disliked its content. I felt strongly that it misconstrued a gospel teaching, while playing all too well to misguided prejudices surely held by many in attendance. It was the sort of outburst that was screaming for a rebuttal, even if I had to choose my words carefully. It basically met the entire laundry list of criteria I use for determining when it is appropriate to pull out the big guns in Sunday School. But there was one small problem. One that I had not anticipated. One that I had never run into before…

The Commenter-That-Must-Be-Opposed was sitting right next to me. She was my wife.

I’m not going to tell you what she said, as I’m not interested in debating the merits of my wife’s doctrinal “position.” But I’m wondering if anyone else has ever had an experience like this before. An experience at Church where your spouse said something so wrong-headed, in your mind, that you felt the comment must be opposed vociferously. If so, how did you handle it?

Now, in principle, I don’t see anything wrong with publicly airing certain kinds of disagreements with one’s spouse, even at Church. It’s not as if the unity of our marriages has to extend to every jot and tittle of our opinions. Husbands and wives don’t necessarily share the same brain. I certainly have no interest in trying to mislead people into believing that my views necessarily represent the collective consensus of my marriage (my nightly ritual of raising my arm to the square, ordering wifely compliance, and getting laughed at notwithstanding). And yet, it can be jarring when you think you know your wife’s views pretty well, only to find out that you don’t. I suspect my marriage is like many: The wife and I see eye-to-eye about most things. In some areas, she has certain strong opinions that I don’t necessarily share (and vs. versa), but my own views on the topic are less developed, or I’m basically agnostic about it, so our failure to completely see eye-to-eye doesn’t really matter all that much. Thus, when that rare moment came along where the wife took a public stand that I strongly disagreed with, I was unprepared.

As I see it, there’s a potential danger in quarreling with your spouse in Church, even as it’s done politely and civilly. Spouses just don’t contradict each other that often at Church (not in my experience anyway). Fellow churchmembers might think that your marriage has “issues.” They might wonder, “is this just the tip of the iceberg?” “Do they fight about this sort of thing often?” The substance of your comment is likely to be quickly forgotten while vivid memories of the infamous “Brother and Sister Brown Sunday School Spat” will live on in memories, or even conversations. Who wants to risk that?

In the end, I didn’t say anything. I just sat there. I wanted to raise my hand and utter a polite correction, or a snarky rebuttal, or something. Anything. But I didn’t. On the ride home, I politely asked my wife what the @#$% she”d been smoking to make such a dumb-ass comment at Church. She responded, “Oh, honey, I was just kidding. I just said that cause I knew it would drive you nuts.”

Oops. Oh well. I’m the dumbass. So the wife and I weren’t so far apart after all. Nevertheless, if I thought her comment was serious, others probably did too, so it still would have been worth opposing with a comment of my own. But no. It was not to be. I just sat there.

The following week, my worst fears came true. The prior week’s Gospel Doctrine teacher approached me at Church and made casual reference to “my” views on the subject of my wife’s comment.

Aaaaaaargh!

Comments

  1. Your wife is awesome.

  2. Brett, I kid you not, I had just clicked over from my RSS Reader to leave that exact same comment. Not wanting to sound like a parrot, I’ll say instead: Aaron, your wife is great.

  3. Ardis Parshall says:

    And do you call her “the wife” to drive her nuts, or to drive nuts the people who think that is an odious way to refer to her?

  4. To answer your question, for good or bad, my wife never comments in GD; she saves her batteries for RS.

    But, I would like to know; did the room explode with rebuttals?

  5. Paul-
    Great minds think a like.

    re @ Ardis- Knowing Aaron , he probably does it for both reasons.

  6. His wife IS great.

    Ardis, I can confirm Brett’s reasons.

  7. My husband loves it when I say something ludicrous and sound completely serious. Especially if I can fool him into believing I mean it. Big props to your wife for pulling it off in Gospel Doctrine class, of all places.

  8. Are you sure she was’nt yanking your chain?

  9. Some of those Gospel Doctrine classes can get very boring.

  10. I am laughing out loud. What a great post. In so many ways.

    I haven’t had the experience of a spouse mouthing off or embarrassing me in church, but Bill sure has. He still gets sympathetic looks from people who were in the room when I went off on the Sunday School teacher who was trashing Lot’s wife. Well, I was in a bad mood that day and beyond angry at my daughter in law and I figured he could take it.

    Bill almost put his hand over my mouth, though. Honest to you know who.

    I still think I made a very valid point. It’s not that easy to walk away from your kids and if she wanted one last look at them, I think it was quite heartless of Heavenly Father to turn them into a pillar of salt.

    I’ve had my face ripped off in so many meetings and in so many ways and by so many different people I should get a face uh…that word for replacing organs.

  11. The other day, I talked to a Quaker friend. Quakers and Mormons are charismatic Christians, which means that Holy Ghost is the source of truth.

    Apparently, Quakers have people who travel between congregations with a pass that gives them the right to speak.

    Often the travelers are advocating horrible stuff but it does not matter because nobody attributes any authority to them.

    The assumption is that the Holy Ghost speaks through someone but nobody knows who it is. The speakers themselves may not know whether or not they have the Holy Ghost.

    Like Mormons, Quakers are a charismatic religion but their concept privileges skepticism and freedom of speech. In such an environment, it is indeed best to just ignore the most crazy ideas.

  12. Quick story: my mother was up front teaching GD when my father sitting next to me responded to a comment by starting with, “That’s just about the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” (It was many years ago, but if I have the quote wrong, I erred on the softer side, he may have left the “just about” out)

    I was watching the look of horror play across my mother’s face but she remained calm and quickly moved the conversation along. As I recall, back at home she was polite explaining to both of us that you can’t say such things. I thought it was a great example of marital restraint.

    On a related note…since then, there have been times I have wanted to say just what my father said. But now I can sit, and for a moment picture my Mother’s look of horror to relieve the pressure. With the pressure relieved, I like to think I am capable of refuting comments more calmly and objectively. Hopefully…but one of these days…

  13. Being a convert, I didn’t realize that it was problematic to correct/question my husband in a Sunday School class. Sometimes we would go back and forth on a point of doctrine.

    A sister in the ward told me later that the first time she saw it, she was shocked. Then she was awed, to see him taking my intellect seriously.

    But I think it is a different dynamic for a husband to speak up than a wife to speak up.

  14. This post reminds me of the early days of my marriage when my husband’s agnosticism was just beginning to bloom, a time when he felt moved to say all kinds of provocative things in Sunday school. I was more decorous in those days and too easily mortified by all of his uncomfortable questions and random cultural indiscretions. After awhile, though, I relaxed about it all and got to enjoy them.

  15. “On the ride home, I politely asked my wife what the @#$% she”d been smoking to make such a dumb-ass comment at Church. She responded, ‘Oh, honey, I was just kidding. I just said that cause I knew it would drive you nuts.'”

    I couldn’t stop laughing and actually re-read that whole paragraph about 5 times. When my wife gets home in few minutes, I will demand that my wife read this post. If she decides to do so (since “demand” equals “humbly beg”), I’m sure she will read it at least that many times, as well.

    To answer the question, I have never challenged or corrected my wife in Church. She only comments when she has something profound to say – and I’m not that stupid. I have openly disagreed with my father, however.

  16. I’ve had my face ripped off in so many meetings and in so many ways and by so many different people I should get a face uh…that word for replacing organs.

    Probably the best comment so far this year. And definitely the funniest post.

  17. Matt W.'s wife says:

    My wife tells me I pretty much embarrass her exery time I speak at church. But that was after I announced that I needed to pee in the middle of a talk on service in Sacrament meeting a few months back. And no, I’m not a cute little kid.

  18. er… Apparantly, my wife used the blag last…

  19. This reminds me of a related subject: when the spouse at a professional event gets away with saying the most amazing things. A friend was at a dinner in Washington with his non-lawyer wife. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) was there and started blathering on and on about his involvement in Brown v. Board of Education. (There was a companion case from South Carolina that was combined with Brown.

    After Hollings had bloviated for quite a while, my friend’s wife, who as I said was not a lawyer and, as far as I can tell, could care less about the things that lawyers seem to care about, said “Sen. Hollings. I just think it’s remarkable that you were so involved in the cause of civil rights for Blacks in 1950’s South Carolina.” Spoken completely innocently, as only someone completely ignorant of the fact that Hollings was either the SC attorney general, or in that office.

    Deathly silence descended on the table, and my friend quietly told his wife that Hollings hadn’t exactly been on the side of the angels in that case. But, the windbag was silenced.

  20. #19 – I would have given my life’s savings to see that! (not much of a sacrifice, frankly)

  21. I don’t think I have ever corrected my wife in church or vice versa. We’ve had conversations (several spawned by this site) on which we have doctrinally disagreed, varying from minor to moderate, but we’re both pretty level-headed about things, so we don’t have to bridge too far a divide. However, I would hope that if either of us did say something retarded that the other commented on it. My wife rarely speaks in church though. She says I do enough talking for both of us.

  22. Johnna Cornett says:

    I have disagreed with my husband in GD. Culturally, it is easier for the wife to disagree with the husband’s comments than vice-versa. Sometimes this has resulted in a volley of disagreeing with each other in public. I think we get away with it because we’re clearly loving the exchange. Or because everyone in the class know he travels so much this is my only chance to talk to him. Or because the ward has adopted us as its own village idiots pair.

    I think it’s cool to remind people that married doesn’t mean one brain, even when it means one flesh.

    Of course, I’ve been safely tucked away in Primary for two years, which has kept me, until last week, from disagreeing publicly or engaging in any of those whispered side conversations which are much more fun than the actual GD class.

  23. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of people using GD as a forum for the performance of private jokes or marital shaming rituals. But I agree that it would make me more uncomfortable to witness an actual wife-comment followed by a stern or self-righteous husband-correction. I would be watching a little morality tale about patriarchy in action, and I would squirm. It would be the way the exchange happens that would determine whether it was a funny moment or a seriously awkward one for everyone else. It wouldn’t be the fact of a spousal pair disagreeing, it would be how it unfolds.

  24. Due to various callings my wife and I have not been in class together for years. But this is the gist of what goes on now.
    Various Ward Member: What the #@%$ was your husband going on about. He is totally wrong.
    My wife: You need to ask him what he meant.
    Or if that fails, “He is European – they’re different.”

    No one has ever asked me about any opinion my wife has put forth. Strange that. But we have no problem disagreeing with each other at church, it just doesn’t come up that often.

  25. My wife has corrected me, it doesn’t bother me at all. We figured out pretty early in our marriage that we don’t have the exact same views on religion. I’d never try to correct her in public though, she’d be mortified.

  26. Both my wife and I have similar policies on mostly remaining silent in SS, so it is not often that she says anything, much less anything I would disagree strongly with. The most uncomfortable feeling I have had is when she turns to me after another’s comment and whispers something in the tone that “I know that you agree with me on this because this is so obviously right and clear to the both of us”, even though she is unaware that we are, in fact, on totally opposite sides of the issue.

  27. Great thread, lots of funny moments. I can only add that my wife has corrected some of my dunderheaded comments on occasion, or corrected me at home later. And, you know, she’s always right!

  28. I run everything I say in church by my wife first to make sure everything I say is allright.

  29. One of the reasons I skip out on SS is because my husband provides me with a running commentary in a stage whisper throughout the whole class if I am sitting next to him. ["False Doctrine." "Beeep.(soft fake buzzer sound)" "Is he just going to go on forever?"] All the while I fervently make shh-ing motions until finally I just accuse him of having a mental disorder that makes him incapable of shutting his mouth. To which he inevitably smiles and responds, “Oh, no one can hear me.” If I am absent or arrive too late to get a spot next to him, he is totally silent during the entire meeting.

  30. Mark Brown says:

    Jami,

    Honey, is that you?!?

    lol

  31. :) Nah. Remember, I’m the one with the husband who gets “oogie feelings” whenever he reads the comments here.

    However, I have been sending your wife pointers.

  32. #11 I’m glad to know that because my baby sister, who I’m no longer speaking to, left the church and burned her Book of Mormon and trashed us, often made the point that she belonged to a Charismatic Christian church. If we ever speak again (and Higher Power, I hope not), I’m going to say, “So do I.”

  33. Eric Russell says:

    Sorry annegb, Mormons aren’t Charismatic Christians and the term doesn’t mean “that Holy Ghost is the source of truth.”

    But I’d recommend you find a way to talk to her anyway.

  34. Nah, you wouldn’t recommend that if you knew her. This is a person who got herself thrown off another site that we were both members off—twice. Temper tantrums. And left two more times in a fit of temper.

    She’s the youngest child and really, sucks me dry with all the drama.

    I was going to say that Bill embarrasses me every time he speaks or bears his testimony because he cries and tells the whole ward how much he loves me. Or one time he wished “his little valentine” a happy valentine’s day during scout Sunday (he’s a scout leader, asked to speak). I hate that. For all my spouting off, I hate being the center of attention and he knows it. He does it on purpose.

    Why, he’s just plain evil. I must go slap him just on general purposes.

  35. annegb, have you been talking to my wife? She doesn’t slap, but my arm does get black and blue quite often.

  36. Ammon Dorny says:

    Nice job. The setup was perfect, and I didn’t see that one coming at all. But, I really should have, as I grew up your wife, – she is my younger sister. I hope you are planning an appropriate tactical response to best this effort, and that you share the results.

    I am surprised no one has inquired as to what she said. Given the absence of any real disagreement, I must know what she *actually* said in Church that would cause you such distress. Do tell.

  37. Aaron – quite entertaining to read about our very own ward. Nice to find you out here in cyberspace. :)
    Nice job on the blog and I’ve enjoyed reading through a few posts and thinking, I bet I know who that is…

  38. Steve Evans says:

    uh-oh, AB. Looks like the Andersons found you.

  39. Yep – we’re lurking out here on the web…beware.

  40. Aaron Brown says:

    Hey Danielle,

    Nice to see you round these parts! Good to see that someone from 1st Ward is reading (other than Steve).

    Ammon,

    Hello! I’ll have to tell you next time I see you. It was one of those comments that, if revealed, would lead to a 200 comment thread. And I don’t have the stomach for that right now.

    AB

  41. It is often necessary, when teaching, to discern the difference between comments that are ignorant, naive or from outer space. This requires that you know your class members. If the comment requires correction then it is often useful to ask the individual what their scriptural support is. That frequently ends the problem. This, however, requires that the teacher possess a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. Humility and compassion are always good qualities to develop.

  42. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Excellent comment, Sherrie!

    #29 Oh, Jami! How annoying! I hate sitting next to running commentators! Is your husband like this during concerts, too?

    Aaron, what about when you, yourself, make a comment and seconds later you can’t believe that whatever it was just came out of your mouth! Am I the only one here who has ever been horrified with my own thoughtlessness?!

    Seattle North Stake rocks! I miss you all!

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