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.