Research on time-use has observed an increasingly powerful association between prestige and busyness among some social groups; this research is relevant to the Church’s repeated efforts to reduce the pressure on Bishops.
Jonathan Gershuny (a well respected researcher of time-use data) wrote an important paper in which he noted that whereas ‘Leisure’ had been a symbol of prestige in the late Victorian-age (cf. Veblen) ‘Busyness’ has superseded it as a badge of honour among the privileged. Thus those with more education and who are employed in professional occupations have come to work more hours than those who work in manual occupations and who have received less education. Further, this prestigious group is more likely to subjectively describe their busyness with greater intensity than those who are not in this group. This phenomenon has been described by two researchers as “yuppie kvetch”.
This research has led me to reflect upon recent instruction regarding the Church handbook of instructions and, specifically, the effort to reduce the workload of Bishops. Well-intentioned efforts to alleviate this pressure might falter because ‘busyness’ can serve as a badge of honour for Bishops who are busy are serving the people. This assessment raises two associated problems. First, Bishops may be reluctant to delegate work which reduces their ‘busyness’ in order to maintain their sense of being a good Bishop. They may therefore rely consistently on only delegating those things they physically cannot do. Second, it is also possible that, even if real strides are taken in relation to reducing the Bishop’s responsibilities, a form of “Bishop kvetch” will still persist because of a prior expectation. I want to make two suggestions regarding how this problem might be combated.
Most (UK) Bishops I know spend most of their time speaking to members with various personal problems but which are not ‘Bishop only’ concerns. This response is natural for an ecclesiology which focuses revelation in our leaders. Admittedly this does not refer to everyone; but the group who accept this view is large enough to consume much of a Bishop’s time. Merely suggesting that people go to their appropriate Priesthood leader first does not resolve the issue because this re-focuses their attention on the Priesthood line (which for most people leads to the Bishop, esp. if their HT/VT are not all that great) rather than the many other people in a ward who could respond to the challenges we all face. If a Bishop could successfully create a localised ecclesiology which envisions revelation as a community-based process between fellow saints he could reduce the privileged position he holds. Although E. Oaks’ recent talk helps move away this responsibility from Bishops, this model does not go far enough in establishing other forms of revelatory dialogue in settings outside the Bishop’s office. A rhetorical shift in testimony meetings might aid this process. The Bishopric, primarily because they often bear testimony first, can do a great deal to set the tone or focus of that meeting. Well chosen testimony (using examples which downplay the Bishop) could help shift the way that revelation is perceived in a local community.
Second, part of the issue with “Bishop Kvetch” is a sacrificial double-speak. Elder Holland gave a talk at GC in 2002 which illustrates part of this problem using an anecdote from the life of a busy-Bishop. Together, the Bishop and his wife decided to reserve a ‘date-night’ on an evening other than Monday. On their first designated evening the phone rings; the faithful Bishop answers the phone and saves the marriage of a ward member. E. Holland concludes this story with a caveat that he supports reducing the burden placed upon Bishops but is also grateful for those who respond faithfully to the many demands upon their time. The challenge the leaders see, I suppose, is that they want people to serve more in general while alleviating the burden on those who serve too much.
The story used to illustrate this idea is central to the problem these leaders are facing. Rarely would this type of phone call come at this exact moment. More often they are calls about problems which can wait or that someone else could respond to. Could this narrative be shifted slightly to highlight the genuine need of another, to which the Bishop responds by sharing that problem with a counsellor or auxiliary president, who, in turn, then offers the inspiration or comfort needed? The focus in this second narrative is a Bishop who responds to both his wife’s need and the need of another. There are such stories, of course, but the mixed message provides the space in which “Bishop kvetch” possibly emerges. Bishops will not work to reduce their own workload (or the way they talk about that workload) until “busyness” is no longer a sign of faithful service.
Genuinely valuing Bishops who respond by sharing that responsibility and by shifting the rhetoric around revelation in a local community will be effective ways in which the pressure placed upon Bishops can be alleviated.
- By ‘Bishop only’ I am referring to those specific circumstances in which a Bishop alone is supposed to initially respond to a situation: i.e. tithing, confession and certain interviews.