Shunning Your Fellow Saints: You’re Doing it Wrong.

So a new family has just moved into the ward. They’re a little different. Okay, really, they’re quite a bit different, don’t you think? She seems more than a bit socially awkward, and his comments in Sunday School that first Sunday were way off-script. And their kids–talk about unruly, and you should know because your own have been pretty out of control at times. But nothing compared to this. It was like a realistic re-enactment of the Arab Spring in sacrament meeting last Sunday. “Look, in this ward, we kind of want to keep the Spirit here. Take your kid out for Pete’s sake.”

Then there’s the “Perfect Family” that you secretly envy but generally can’t stand. She’s stunningly beautiful, he’s unbelievably successful, and their kids are about as cute as can be. Never has fortune so blessed a single family. In 9 years, as far as you can tell, their biggest problem happened when they were agonizing over whether to move to NYC for a job promotion and even more money but “courageously” decided that “the Lord wanted them to stay here.” Remember this last Saturday, at the ward activity, when the 4 year old tipped over the punch bowl and spilled juice everywhere? And she totally lost it on him? Wasn’t that nice, to see a little reality check? Not so perfect after all, honey. You wondered what really goes on in that house behind closed doors.

And then there’s the family with the disabled child, and the mom’s kind of a basket case with depression (not to mention really awkwardly overweight), and the husband has a truly dead-end job that doesn’t make ends meet. They’re like Bizarro Perfect Family, exactly the opposite in every way. They canNOT seem to get their act together. You just happen to know, actually, being in one of the ward presidencies, that they’ve been on church assistance basically since they moved into the ward like 4 years ago. Of course, they’re dealing with some heavy duty stuff, but seriously, is it really possible for things to go SO badly for one family for so long? Sure, circumstances and all, but they simply must be doing something wrong. So weird that the bishop hasn’t been able to get through to them.

But look, we need to have a little chat, because you’re doing it all wrong. You know, shunning, excluding. I mean, not just your actual method (which is shoddy) but you’re so damn lazy about it. You’re just kind of, I don’t know, indifferent to the whole process, and because of that it’s not working very well. Most of these people don’t even know how you feel. You’re pretty tight-lipped around them, but the main problem is you’re “tight-eyed” around them, too. Remember: it’s in the eyes. That’s how they’re really going to know what their place is. You really need to improve your glances and looks of disdain and disapproval, make sure you run into them in the hall in order to pass on the other side, or congregate in Cliques (more on the importance of these in a moment) far enough away to maintain visible social distance but not too far away so as to lose deprecatory eye contact. I’ve seen you position yourself way too close and way too far away and frankly it makes you look like an idiot, like someone who’s heart just isn’t in it but they don’t know it yet. Pathetic. Remember. The eyes.

Cliques are beyond obvious but even here you’re really screwing up. Don’t you care about anything? The purpose of cliques isn’t to outright shun, but to create a wholly alternative, near utopian elite social community, and it is that that does the work of shunning, like building a machine and winding it up and letting it go. If you build the right Clique (or “caucus” in the DC wards and “coterie” in New England) you’ll actually have to do very little shunning yourself. See how that works? The Clique has to establish itself through announcement and discourse. There should be a constant stream of informal, word-of-mouth announcements about this or that get-together or party or social event, usually transmitted in semi-hushed but still vocal tones. And pretty much everything said by anyone in the Clique should be about the Clique. Like Fight Club, but the exact opposite: “The First Rule of the Clique is that you Always Talk About the Clique.” Where it’s going to be, how much you love it, how you’d give your life for male or female member, how your testimony essentially finds meaning and fulfillment in it, etc. And remember, for the love of all that is holy REMEMBER: When a non-member asks about or refers to the clique in any way, DO NOT simply say that he or she cannot be a part of the clique. That only emboldens them to not desire your company or the social reward of the clique and now the work of shunning is destroyed. Instead, brush off the significance of the clique and change the subject briefly in order to draw attention away from it directly, but continue with subtle indirect discourse about the wonderfulness of the clique. Trust me, it’s human nature to want what you can’t have and they will be salivating from the fact that they got THIS CLOSE to clique-acceptance. Their continued alienation and envy will then be virtually guaranteed.

Finally, a word about passive-aggression. The best shunners are passive-aggressive. You know this. We’ve gone over this. You are passive in more formal situations in public, indifferent, above-the-fray, un-needy, yet tantalizing and alluring. In more private situations you are much more aggressive, conspicuous in your disdain, sarcastic about others’ flaws, etc. But not too aggressive!!! Again, too much aggression emboldens them to seek sociality elsewhere, and possibly actually achieve it. Recall the primary goal of shunning–that others know their place, that peace and tradition and the status quo are preserved, in order for you to achieve the long-lasting social ranking that is the entire point of living in a religious community.

Now, repent, heed my advice, and try not to look too much like a moron while you’re doing it.

Also, you’re standing a little too close. There, that’s better.


  1. KerbearRN says:

    That first paragraph… Have you been spying on my fam??? ;)

  2. That was YOUR family? Wow.

    Oh by the way, remember how I said I might be able to babysit for you on Friday night? Well I totally forgot that I have this thing with Bishop Smith and his wife and a few other people. I’m sure you understand.

  3. ?!?

  4. Rosalynde says:

    “Where it’s going to be, how much you love it, how you’d give your life for male or female member, how your testimony essentially finds meaning and fulfillment in it, etc. And remember, for the love of all that is holy REMEMBER: When a non-member asks about or refers to the clique in any way, DO NOT simply say that he or she cannot be a part of the clique. That only emboldens them to not desire your company or the social reward of the clique and now the work of shunning is destroyed. Instead, brush off the significance of the clique and change the subject briefly in order to draw attention away from it directly, but continue with subtle indirect discourse about the wonderfulness of the clique.”

    That is so brilliant, I had to quote the whole thing. In my old ward, there was this thing where ladies would get together in these informal “work day” groups — five or six women, and they rotate Mondays through each house, doing big work projects together that they each need done. Sounds great, and it really was, for the ladies involved. (I was involved in one for a while.) But there was one group in particular with a few high status members where the women were CONSTANTLY talking about the spiritual strength they drew, tearful testimonies, plus all manner of FB photos and statuses, etc etc. The thing is, it was all true, for them, and completely sincere. But if it made me, vulcan-like emotional iceberg that I am, feel left out, I can only imagine (and don’t need to, because I know) how bad it made other women feel.

  5. “vulcan-like emotional iceberg that I am”
    Snort. You’re not fooling anyone. <3

  6. Don’t forget that anyone who is or has been divorced, has an illness that keeps them away from church for a significant amount of time, anyone who asks for help and actually needs it, must never be allowed to forget their sins. This is especially true for anyone who has ever been accused of a crime, even if all charges are dropped, the fact that anyone thought something bad, for a time, is enough to prove that they will never be “our kind of people.”

  7. This is exactly why I can’t get into feeling anything in testimony meeting because of the clique members standing up and crying about how great their little circle of people are. It is sooooo fake, and onetime I even snickered out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. In my Ward the leaders pick and choose who is worthy to receive help and it is only the “popular” people that get service and help. For example, a service project included helping a wealthy family put in a tennis court. I don’t care about what the cliques do, they just need to stop talking about it over the pulpit and elsewhere in Church. My husband’s Grandmother passed away while his mother was in the hospital critically ill. Four weeks later my mother-in-law passed away and six weeks after that my father suddenly passed away. We were in the middle of building our home (no help or contractors, just us). Not one person in the Ward asked if they could help out with anything during this time, not even the Bishop. No one brought meals, nothing! Then these same people wonder why people quit coming to Church.
    Culture, culture, culture. That is the downside to Church. And where I live culture IS doctrine.

  8. Sharee Hughes says:

    What are you talking about? Are there really wards where people behave this way? We have a couple of mentally disabled people in my ward. One lives alone and actually has a job (he retires at the end of this year). The Relief Society signs up to take him meals three times a week. Another disabled woman, not capable of working, just lost the sister she was living with (I think she is now cared for by a brother). She comes to church every Sunday, brought by a neighbor couple. She has her scriptures and likes to underline everything hat is read in Sunday School. She can’t read, so someone (often me, if she sits next to me) shows her which verses to underline. Sometimes she wants to say one of the prayers in Relief Society. She isn’t capable of saying the prayer by herself, so another sister stands with her and tells her what to say. This is all done with love for these people. No one looks with disdain on them because they are different, We have a rather diverse ward. We have doctors, lawyers, scientists, computer people, nurses, social workers, school bus drivers, pilots, office workers, salespeople, even a mink farmer, and plenty of us old, retired folks. We don’t have any “perfect” families in our ward, though there are many with fussy children (2-year-olds will be 2-year-olds, after all). Sometimes, single women will sit with families with several children to help them out during Sacrament Meeting. And there are a few of us in the ward who are divorced and no one treats us differently. As far as I know, there aren’t any “cliques.” Some women used to like to get together to go walking in the morning and some days there were “play dates” for their children to play together. That used to be announced in the Relief Society calendar. Anyone who wanted to could be a part of those activities. I haven’t seen them listed for awhile, but they could still be going on. The same with our neighborhood book club. Because it is a neighborhood group, open even to non-members, it isn’t generally announced in Relief Society, but it has been mentioned from time to time for the benefit of new people in the ward who might be interested. There is a group of 8 of us old ladies who get together every Wednesday afternoon to study various church books, scriptures and conference talks, but I don’t think you’d call us a clique because if someone else wanted to join, they could. Baby showers are announced in Relief Society and everyone is invited..Our ward even holds two neighborhood get togethers each year, a Pioneer Day breakfast and a brat party in the fall (that’s brat as in bratwurst, not misbehaving children). The entire neighborhood comes to these events, so we can get to know some of the non-members in the area (no, we don’t proselyte at such gatherings). And if we need help with something, we just need to ask..I needed some weeds whacked some months ago and the EQ president came over on a holiday (I think it was Memorial Day or maybe the 4th of July) and did it. I cannot imagine anyone in our ward being shunned for any reason. I don’t know if any families in our ward are on welfare (church or state), but it’s possible–I do know some people I think could probably use such aid.. But if so, I doubt anyone belittles them for it; every family goes through tough times now and then. I certainly haven’t heard any such gossip. Why would anyone in God’s church want to behave in such a way? Although I doubt anyone in my ward is perfect, at least I haven’t heard of anyone being translated lately, we seem to be a pretty good group. How sad that some of you live in wards where the members behave badly..What are doing to change it?

  9. wow!
    look at me thinking this “caucus” thing, was a “thing” strictly associated with “youthful years”…
    darn! i need a new set of spectacles…
    thanks Jacob, *eyes wide shut*, I Can See Now!!!

  10. DigruntledActiveSingleMormon says:

    “Culture, culture, culture. That is the downside to Church. And where I live culture IS doctrine.”
    J.R. You hit it on the nose, well said, I cannot say it better myself. I can only guess where you are living and if it is the place where I lived for about 6 years then you are right on that front too.

    Sharee Hughes – I REALLY hope I don’t offend you but trust me, this is most likely going on in your ward too. While on my mission I wrote a discussed with my mission president the countless problems I encountered in each ward/branch. He proceeded to tell me something that has stuck with me. To paraphrase he said we normally don’t see the problems in our own wards since we don’t spend our full time or even most of our time serving in it. It is the truth. Sometimes people see their own units of the Church with rose colored glasses because we don’t want to believe that in our little corner of Zion that there are serious and grave problems. Trust me, all is not perfect in any part of Zion.

    This was a wonderful post and as I don’t want to take anything away from it, I just want to mention a group of wards where this is very prevalent: singles wards. Cliques and groups run rampant there. I have been in maybe two singles wards (and I have been in my fair share of them) where I truly felt good being there. The past 3 or so years I spent sitting in the back of my singles wards playing games on my phone or checking sports scores or sleeping. I might go to Sunday School and if I am feeling extra adventurous I go to priesthood. People say you should put yourself out there or be proactive in meeting people, but that is a load of B.S. Why? Because of the cliques and crowds there that have formed. Singles are basically being told to put themselves out there so a clique may take notice of them and invite them into their fold. But that is the culture that has been created, especially in the singles ward. If you don’t look like everyone else, don’t have the same hobbies or interests as everyone else, don’t have the same job/degree/earning potential as anyone else, good luck. I could go on but this post is long enough.

  11. Sharee Hughes – I believe you about your ward. My ward isn’t horrible like this either. My ward may not be as awesome as yours and we have our own little problems but hardly anything like what is mentioned in the post. Our ward also has quite a bit of diversity. I am usually an outsider and I am sensitive to exclusivity/exclusion and we don’t have a lot of it.

  12. DisgruntledActiveSingleMom – you are right that no ward is perfect, however, sometimes you have a ward that is better in a certain area or worse in a certain area. When it comes to people feeling judged or excluded there are definitely wards that do better and wards that do worse.

  13. #7: The tennis court service project! I laughed out loud! It actually reminds me a little of the ward I grew up in in suburban Southern California. My family was absolutely the odd one out, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into. I was keenly aware as a child that we did not fit in, but I will say that there were some really dear people in that ward, and while their method of showing kindness might not have always been meaningful to us, I give them credit for having their hearts in the right place.

    #10: I’ve also been in my fair share of really cliquey singles wards. My 31st birthday was a happy day. Like you, there were one or two wards where I felt very much at ease and very accepted. In my mind, this was always because these were the enlightened, clique-free wards I’d been searching for. But, honestly, now I wonder if this was just because in those wards people more like me made up the cliques, putting me on the in rather than on the out. There were probably people who didn’t feel like they were part of things, and would describe those same wards that I found so open and accepting as incredibly cliquish. Dunno.

  14. Jacob, thank you for this incredibly powerful call to repentance. There is much in here that prompts me to change.

  15. I’m a convert to the church (I was baptized in 2010), so I’ve been a member for two years now, and to be honest, within the last two years, I have experienced so many transitions and struggles that my attendance of church has been off/on, mostly. However, in between that, I’ve managed to gain a deeper understanding of the gospel through personal study and prayer. When I do return to my ward (which would be MONTHS later), I found that the people in my ward welcomed me back with open arms.
    I never once felt judged, shunned, left out, or excluded from any activities going on in the ward. This goes for both my family and singles ward. I don’t say all that to say that there was a complete absence of cliques and/or covert shunning, but at least for me, I felt a genuineness in the people in spite of existing ward relationships. Ward missionaries, Elders, and friends called me to ask me how I was doing, they sent missionaries to check up on me, my best friends (from singles ward;)) dropped by on my graduation day and brought me treats, and loved on me even when I confessed that I had no intention of returning to Church anytime soon.
    When I moved for my job about four months ago, it took me until about a couple of weeks ago to attend the ward here. It was so hard for me to take that next step in this new phase of my life, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of a ward family. The first Sunday I went, there was a bit of awkwardness because I happen to be one out of maybe two African-Americans in that particular ward, so I expected sidelong glances. Even still, I suspect that after getting over the initial shock in Sacrament, people noticed that I was new to the ward, and welcomed me. I actually met the parents of one of my students!
    In RS, a sister shared a message similar to this one about cliques and so forth, and I say all that to say that I believe that the light of the gospel has the power to break down barriers, just as Christ did in his ministry. I believe that even within the cliquiest of wards there exists that family, or that individual or individuals, that is enlightened in the gospel and reaches out and tears down barriers and resists social pressure to “adhere” to the standards of perfection set forth by other ward members to talk to that person in the back that’s dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes that is interested in the gospel, or to talk to that sister that’s struggling with her new baby, or that single sister or brother that’s in need of someone to love on them (in a completely platonic way). It’s all about the gospel, it’s all about Christ-like service, love, and ministry.
    This is not a problem unique to LDS. I left the non-denom church I grew up in because of this very same issue, and honestly, because it was predominately African American, I think that this issue was on a whole different level culturally. I felt judged at times, I’d heard people being judged, and what I knew of Jesus Christ was superficial, at best. My mother cannot stand the people in church. She absolutely dreads going to church, but again, it’s that social pressure of giving an outward showing of perfection because she’s a deacon’s wife that compels her to stay. The teachings aren’t an anchor, it’s the social pressure.
    Our leaders have addressed this issue a lot more lately, and I’m glad that they are exemplifying and preaching a spirit of tender acceptance. I’m glad that they are noticing this pattern of behavior and calling it out, because that’s what gives that negative spirit power: keeping it hidden. But by calling it out, it can be acknowledged and rebuked.
    Our message concerning this issue to those who are shunning or being shunned (whether they are aware of it or not) should be this: the world may reject you, your coworkers/boss may reject you, people in general may reject and judge you, but your Heavenly Father accepts you. He loves you, knows you, and he WANTS you. That is the reason why he set forth this gospel, why he sent his Son. He WANTS you to be with him after all is said and done. He WANTS to give you that free gift of salvation and give you that perfection that we spend this mortal life preparing for.
    We as Saints often forget that perfection in mortality is impossible, and that is why our perceptions of what is “perfect” is so skewed. It’s not meant to be reached here.
    Thank you for talking about this. The things you said needed to be said, and it’s food for thought. We all need to examine ourselves and how we relate to other people within the Church.

  16. This post didn’t just make me “lol” in the computer sense, but it actually made me “lol” in the physical sense. Nice work Jacob.

  17. I have lived in some wards that were open and inviting to me than others. About 6 months after being divorced I had a chance to move into a ward that I had loved and really hated to leave when we moved for my former husband’s schooling. I had several leadership callings while we were in the ward, and while my ex wasn’t very active, beyond coming to church, we both had enjoyed the mix of older more established families and a somewhat transient community of graduate students. Even though the grad student families wouldn’t be staying beyond graduation, most of them were either in dental school, medical school, or other programs that were 4+ years long.

    (There were a large number of undergrads, but since there was a “downtown (mostly single or newly married students, or empty nesters without kids who lived downtown) branch” with the exact same boundaries, most people living downtown or in student housing went to the branch until they had kids too old for nursery.)

    My heart and spirit were weary after the trauma of a protracted divorce, and I was glad for the chance to live in a ward that held good memories and the hope that since I had been a strong, active member in the ward previously, that I would be able to slip back into a more active roll at church. The general dynamics of the ward hadn’t changed. There were different grad students, but the general ratio of established families and families who would move when a program was completed were there. Many of the established families remembered me. Several traditions that I had started as Activities Committee Chairman were still part of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Pioneer Day. A couple of the young women who I had taught were excited to see me when they were home of school breaks from BYU. The current bishop was someone I had served with in a variety of capacities when he was a Young Men’s counselor.

    My first few weeks were a little uncomfortable as people asked about my ex. Most of them assumed he was going through a “less active” period, which he had done a couple of times when we lived in the ward before. There was shock from most people when they heard that we had divorced and were splitting custody of the kids. I didn’t generally go into all of those details of the divorce, or the custody arrangements. I just let the Primary Presidency know that my kids would be attending with me on fast Sundays, and since they would be in my ex’s ward most Sundays, we had decided to have their records stay in his ward, and I would drive them to cub scouts and achievement days in his ward.

    I don’t know how much of the change in reception had to do with the kids records not being in “my” ward. I also don’t know how much of the change in attitude was because I was divorced, but several other divorced members of the ward eventually shared how hard it was for them to be divorced in a ward that didn’t really have a “place” for them in the “graduate student” or “Established Families” cliques. While I had seen those loosely formed groups as a positive, when I fit in with one and was respected by the other, finding myself outside of either grouping was pretty lonely.

    Whenever I move into a new ward, I try to invite a family, or single member, in the new ward, to come over for dinner, to watch a movie, or go on an outing. It has usually helped me to take responsibility for reaching out, getting to know some people in the ward on more than just a casual “at church” conversation. Trying to reach out to people who seem lonely, as well as trying to get to know families who have been in the ward for a long time, had always helped me find new friends, AND have people I can ask about ward dynamics as I try to figure them out. This time, even though I knew a number of the people in the ward was different, and eye opening. My invitations to come to my home for dinner, or to bring dinner over to the homes of a larger family, so we could share dinner without the family needing to cook, was almost always gently rebuffed. Families that had come to birthday parties and park outings before, suddenly had engagements already taking up their time, and when I left it open to them to give me a few dates that might work, somehow they never had remembered to ask their spouse or check their calender.

    I did make some new friends among single sisters, other divorced moms, and a few divorced dads. Instead of just asking specific families, I just had a potluck dinner most “3rd Sundays” and I still occasionally asked families I had known before, if I could come bring them dinner and hang out. A few finally accepted at some point, but it was obvious that they were not very comfortable having me in their homes.

    At one point I talked to the RS councilor over compassionate service, letting her know that I would be happy to be on her list of “first responders” when a last minute need came up. She thanked me for my “willingness,” but assured me that there were lots of other people whose lives weren’t as “complicated” as mine, and that she didn’t want to intrude by asking me to do anymore than I already was. I had been in the ward for almost 4 months at that point, I didn’t have a calling, and while I was working, I had a lot of flexibility in my work schedule. Sure I was driving my kids around a lot for school and their ward activities when I had them, but half of the week I wasn’t doing any of that at all. A month later, when I still didn’t have a calling, (not even a visiting teaching assignment, and I truly love visiting teaching) I made an appointment to talk to the bishop about wanting to be more involved. He seem honestly surprised when I told him that I had noticed several callings that were not filled in the ward.

    What followed was one of the most honest, but also sad conversations of my life. The bishop said he had always respected me, understood that in my former marriage I had been the “spiritual heavyweight” and had been impressed with my service both in the ward when I lived heir previously and in several stake a regional callings. “I” and my abilities, or even testimony, were not being questioned at all, but the fact that my divorce was so “new” made him uncomfortable asking me to take on a calling that I might not fulfill. He wanted me to be able to “have the time and energy to mend my heart and spirit” before I needed to “worry myself about the ward and its needs.”

    I did receive a visiting teaching route a few weeks later, and I did eventually get a calling. I found a way to gather others in who were also lonely and left out for some reason. When my lease was up I was getting ready to marry again, and so I never really did find out if things would have settled into the previous inclusion I felt when I was in the ward the first time, but I suspect that I would never have been back in with either of the two major cliques. Certainly I have been in MUCH worse wards and some that were downright hostile to anyone different, but if you had told me that someone had my experience the second time around, while I was living there the first time, I would have told them they must be talking about an entirely different ward.

  18. Domi #15 – I think that your call to arms is exactly what Christ would do if he were here, but I also wonder how many people would recognize themselves in the rebuke. I have had times where I was so wrapped up in myself and my small group of friends that even though I was serving in leadership callings, I don’t think I thought about those I was serving, except as a part of my calling. Stepping outside of ourselves, and welcoming those who are trying to find where they fit, is a truly Christlike attitude, and one I need to always work on.

    With that said, I have to say that I have lived in a ward that was pretty close to Jacob’s depiction. I truly hope that all of Utah isn’t like my experience, but mine was a doozy. My one and only experience living in Utah for several months convinced me that it must take several generations, of being raised from birth, in the skill and art of shunning to really master this skill. The art required to reach the pinnacle, where you don’t have to actually EVER say anything to a newcomer to let them know that the accident of their address falling in the ward boundaries, does not mean that they will ever belong to THEIR ward!

    The young man who came to our door to pick up our fast offering, and was quite put out that I didn’t have a check ready to go, like anyone idiot would have done, did a fabulous job of demonstrating the technique. He didn’t actually talk to me after he told me that the little blue envelope should have been picked up the Sunday before, from the table by the RS room, so that the Aaronic priesthood were not forced to “track down” people who hadn’t known that this is the way fast offering is done EVERYWHERE that the church has reached the status of Zion. I am not sure that I could pull off the eye roll, sigh, obvious scanning of the dishes from breakfast on the table, and the half folded basket of laundry, with a look that said that he had never seen anything quite so unworthy of the extra time to bring me the envelope AND have to wait for me to find my check book. (How dare I be eating on fast Sunday and have the evidence out on the table for anyone who dropped by unannounced to see? I am sure that he would have been just as disgusted that I was breastfeeding and so I hadn’t actually gone without food on fast Sunday since I got pregnant.)

    I was so flustered when he originally got there, that it wasn’t until I had my check book out that I realized we had already paid our tithing and fast offering for the month the previous Sunday. I wrote a check for $10, so that I could get him to leave without having to ask him whether people who paid tithing and fast offering when they get paid, rather than on fast Sunday itself, were going to hell. I literally had never lived in a ward that the Aaronic priesthood walked the neighborhood picking up fast offering, separate from the tithing given to a bishopric member at church. I mean there are lines that allow you to put both on the same receipt.

    Asking about it in Relief Society got me the same “barely tolerating” look that the young man gave me earlier that day. I was referred to D&C and the responsibilities of the different priesthood offices, and then was told that she was sure I must have learned about them in a Young Women’s lesson or seminary class. Before I could ask my practical question, of whether we were supposed to wait until the first Sunday to pay fast offering, so a young man could pick it up in a blue envelope picked up on the appropriate table, she was already giggling with another member of the RS presidency about how “quaint” I was. (Loudly enough that everyone already in the room could hear, of course.)

    Yeah, I never could have pulled that combination off, not even with years of training.

    It is still the only time in my life that I have had a young man come to my house with a blue envelope, although I did at least reread the sections in D&C, so I understand why wards that consist of 4-5 streets would be more likely to send the Young Men out to “collect fast offering.”

  19. Snyderman says:

    I agree with #10 that this is especially prevalent in singles’ wards. Being a 27 year-old single (though not for much longer, thank goodness), I’ve attended quite a few of them. I suppose I’ve been lucky, however, because I’ve always been able to find fellow disgruntled individuals like myself that I can sit in the back and make snarky comments with. Which is 1) kind of clique-ish in and of itself (though we welcomed anyone who wanted to join our clique), and 2) probably isn’t the best way to engage in Sunday School or Priesthood lessons.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    The past 3 or so years I spent sitting in the back of my singles wards playing games on my phone or checking sports scores or sleeping.

    Sounds productive. But the problem was with the ward, right?

  21. If you don’t recognize the cliques in your ward, you’re part of one.

    My wife was told by a RS president that the reason she (my wife) was usually omitted from invites was that people simply forgot about her, since we don’t live in the same neighborhood with the HOA.

  22. Sharee Hughes says:

    I stand by my description of my ward, although I will admit it was not always totally that way. Quite a few years ago, there was an Hispanic family that was shunned by some of their neighbors. But I think those neighbors have long moved away from the ward (as has the Hispanic family), although we do have people of different ethnicities in the ward now who are very much accepted. I did once live in a ward that was not so welcoming, although outwardly they appeared to be. Every Sunday someone would come up to me and ask me if I was new in the ward, even after I had been attending for some months. I finally started staying home on Sundays until a neighbor told me the ward had been split and I was in a new ward. And what a difference the other ward was! Much more open and accepting. It was not without its problems, though, as the bishop once had to lecture the congregation on not shunning non-members. It seems there was a group of members on a certain street that would not allow their children to play with the non-member children.That ended when the bishop addressed the issue. I guess there are good wards and bad wards, but I was in this ward for a time in my twenties, then came back in my late 40s (I am now 70). I have often said it’s the best ward in the church. But I think I made a mistake when I was in the cold ward where I was not even recognized from week to week. Instead of just staying home, I should have taken some steps to change the ward’s attitude. What I would have done, I don’t know, but if it ever happens again, I will definitely do something, and it won’t be staying home or sitting on the back row playing with my phone.

  23. Sharee – I believe your assessment of your ward. It would be interesting, though, to read the assessments of your ward by other people in your ward.

  24. Thanks for this post, Jacob. It is a subject that must be addressed openly in the Church.

    To reply to many of the comments, this is a serious issue in many wards and branches in the Church, but it’s not a serious problem in all of them. I’ve seen first-hand both extremes. One is heart-breaking; the other is soul-expanding.

    Generally speaking, all we have is our own personal experience – so it can be hard for people at either end (in situations at either extreme) to understand and accept that LDS congregations can be both Heaven and Hell. Again, I’ve experienced both in wards and branches in which I’ve lived and served – and vicariously through friends online. It’s also hard to understand and accept that we are absolutely no different in that regard than other denominations – and that is both comforting and condemning.

    All we can do at the most fundamental level is try to have eyes to see and ears to hear in our own wards and branches – and, by seeing and hearing, actually do something to change the culture in any way possible. Not trying to do so simply contributes to the problem and builds cynicism that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.

  25. marginalizedmormon says:

    shunning goes much deeper than what is being said in this essay, but this essay is a VERY good beginning of discussing something that usually doesn’t get discussed by LDS–

    Good work–

  26. This reminds me a bit of a married student ward I attended for some time. The teachers in Priesthood meeting were very big on encouraging people to share their missionary stories. They tried to put their lessons in the context of their own missionary stories and when they would ask for participation in the lessons they would ask if anyone has any experiences from their missions they could share that would illustrate the points in the lesson. Problem was that I was denied going on a mission for medical reasons and so when everything became about sharing experiences from the mission field it was a big red sign asking me not to speak up or participate in the discussion. Then I went to a family ward for a while. The members there asked us if we were going to stay permanently and the explained that it took them 2 years to get to know anyone. Some members were always talking about how their parents had lived in the ward and how their children had lived in the ward. Many of them appeared to have gone to great efforts to make sure that their lineage would stay within the ward boundary. Testimonies were born in sacrament meeting about how “I know all of you and I love all of you” from people we didn’t even know the names of. It took most of a year to have home teachers assigned to us and I was never given a calling. When life changed to give us a chance we moved back to the married student ward. We were going through some pretty intense life trials, but the main message we received as “not one of us” and I only remember two of ward leadership reaching out to us, once at our request to help give blessings to the children fostered with us when their step/father died and the second time they checked to make sure the children we were taking care of would have presents for Christmas. Fortunately when we went back to the student ward things had improved I was able to join in better with the ward. People can be pretty harsh without intending to sometimes.

  27. It’s been said: “If you don’t think your ward has a clique, then you’re in it.”

    Great article

  28. BTW, I’d also like to say “accepted” may mean “accepted in your place.” Not “accepted as one of us” or “accepted as a leader.” Would a Mexican Bishop really be followed? Right-wing homeschool mom as RS Pres? Homely, nerdly wife with no kids as YW Pres? We might “accept” them being with us and being in the flock, but not being one of us, or not being suitable to be in the leadership class.

  29. Great post. It’s funny because it’s so, so true, but it also burns because while I see other people doing this, I know I’ve been guilty of it as well. Thanks for the humbling read.

  30. #28 – Again, it depends on the people and the unit. I’ve know personally people who were accepted completely in the exact situations you described, and I’ve known those who weren’t in similar situations.

    Blanket statements simply don’t work in the real diversity that is many congregations, and, frankly, those blanket statements are part of the issue being addressed in the OP, imo.

  31. “Remember, it’s in the eyes.”

    That’s the part that I’m not very good at. My shunning is all about avoiding eye contact. Got to work on that.

  32. More seriously, this was a great post. I would have to say that some of my most valuable church-related experiences in the last couple of years have been due to home teaching some interesting people, certainly not in anyone’s clique.

    a) a real life paranoid schizophrenic single sister. When she had her last break with reality after about a year and a half of good progress, she suddenly included us in the vast conspiracy that had it in for her, and then she vanished from our ward and moved out of state. I honestly can say that my both my wife and I were heartbroken after getting to know her and helping her with schooling, rides, health issues, etc.

    b) a guy who is on his best days, a bit odd, and on his worst, a raging bundle of anxiety and anger. He’s been shunned by his wife’s family, and mostly alienated himself from his own. As I have gotten to know him a bit better, I’ve developed a lot more compassion for him. He’s still tough to be around, but even though he hasn’t changed, I’ve become more patient and understanding. Still a long way for me to go here, though.

    c) a younger couple who are challenged in multiple ways, but that I have slowly become friends with through service, and just trying to smile and say hi. By his own admission, the husband has mental challenges, but last week at church, I discovered that before the onset of his current problems, he had gone to college, and we ended up having a discussion about poetry, with Ginsberg and some of the beat poets being his favorites, while I have had a bit of a renewed appreciation for Tennyson and Keats. I don’t have those kinds of conversations with the folks in my “clique.”

    Lot’s of good things to think about, and much to work on here. Thanks, Jacob.

  33. Gail DiFiore says:

    Wow! Makes me think our ward rocks!! We have many kind, compassionate members!

  34. Former Bishop says:

    I was bishop in a ward that had a very strong clique of women who seemed to control nearly everything. Before I was bishop, they traded around Presidencies of the auxiliaries, They had their own group prayer meetings, anyone who didn’t send their kids to EFY simply wasn’t “righteous” enough, they set the same curfews and standards for their kids and tried to foist them on the whole ward, and they were running “self-awareness” seminars with non-credentialed “facilitators” (in spite of direct counsel from the First Presidency against such things.)

    I tried every way possible to take them on and counsel all the other ward members to beware holding as best I could to principles of Sec. 121. I failed or It was simply impossible. .After 3 years I had a job advancement opportunity in another city and left. Around the same time, many others in the ward moved away. There are still a lot of good people there I dearly love. And I know the Lord loves even those that I had a hard time with. But not all is well in Zion.

    The key, IMHO, is to ignore the cliques and reach out to those on the rough edge of life. Over the years, I’ve home taught and served some very interesting people with a lot of challenges. As Bishop, I visited many more troubled souls. Those are the ones we should be with and not worry about the ninety-and-nine who think they are safe in their own clique. They have a hard time understanding that they really aren’t.

  35. It’s funny, the different struggles some of us have in the attempt to be Christlike. I don’t think I’m in a clique, but I’m going to try to be more analytical (it would be hard to top my current level of neurotic self-awareness, but I’m game) about it. In my ward, I don’t think we have anything that approaches the level if what you’re describing here. Well, we do have a few super-jocks who talk about their sports-watching parties in front of my husband, who is never invited. It’s not conducive to thinking of them in a charitable way.

    We have a small family in our ward that have occasionally flirted with activity, and recently have been attending regularly. The husband is a huge challenge to like; he’s just off enough that I never know quite what to say to him or how to react. He’s a good person, but someone it’s easyto tire of quickly. The wife is quiet and full of quiet complaints. Their son is hyperactive, struggling in elementary school, and needs friends. For a variety of reasons, I suspect they do not have many friends outside of church, and for this reason alone I think they really need church – they need a network, they need support. We all do! I have to embrace them (I hate how that phrasing makes it sound grudging; it’s not), because they need to stay.

    While I have no doubt that shunning like Jacob describes does occur (I grew up in a ward that was pretty good at shunning me as a wild-looking Gith teenager), I wonder if sometimes what seems like shunning is just people unable to push themselves out of their comfort zone. For example, I’m supposed to call someone I don’t know and attempt to coordinate a time to meet with her and work together on a project I’m forced to include her in. I’ve been putting off the call for five days now. I think some of us are incredibly averse to new people, not because we dislike them or disapprove if them, but because we’re all riddled with our own phobias and would rather stick our heads in the sand then subject ourselves to the agony of the unknown.

  36. Goth, not Gith. Way to let me down, spellcheck!

  37. Part of the problem, I guess, is that we ascribe too many things to the ward. The ward is not supposed to provide us with friends, or a social life, or a formal support network, or babysitting, or any of these things. The ward is supposed to provide us with the ability to take the sacrament, an opportunity to learn lessons and serve, administrators to judge me able to receive ordinances and stand as proxy for others, to provide some programming opportunities during the week that we may or may not take advantage of. It’s not to provide me with “a life”. Period. It’s made up of flawed people who will let me down if I expect too much of them (just like I will let them down if they ask things of me that I’m not able to deliver).

    At least, this is what I tell myself to make myself feel better when my relationship with the “ward” ebbs from time to time.

  38. Thanks everyone for the patience with the satire. The post is more or less representative of every ward I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve lived in many, many wards across the US. Fwiw, I don’t think this kind of human behavior is a uniquely Mormon phenomenon; it’s most certainly a human one in general, and whenever you have social groups you’re going to see something like this.

    We certainly cannot say that this is representative of the totality of every ward or even any ward. Exclusion happens to greater and lesser degrees all over the map. But for those of you who think this is absent in your particular ward, that I simply find impossible to believe. I believe what you actually say about your own experiences, but no one person or even one group, including the bishop or Relief Society president, has an omniscient and omni-present handle on everything that occurs within ward boundaries. And while I cannot say that the reason you can’t see it is that you are yourself a member of an exclusionary clique, it certainly is the case that those who live and move and have their being within cliques would have their vision clouded on this issue, and likely not see the the subtle gestures of rejection.

    Which brings me to my larger point, which is that it’s incumbent upon all of us, as Aaron succinctly stated above, to see ourselves in this description, no matter how caricatured, rather than recognize others alone. Admittedly, I mostly fashioned this narrative out of my experiences observing others behaving in this way, and often being the brunt of it myself (or even more often, my wife). But nevertheless, I can recognize myself in this behavior as well, if not in all the actual details of it, then in the familiarity of understanding why we exclude, avoid, gloss over, see the world only in rose color, etc.

    And certainly, as has been pointed out, we often close in on ourselves, look out at the world negatively, and refuse to do anything to better our situation, to reach out to others in our own way, to not allow experiences meant to produce shame to dictate our response and our attitude, to forgive, etc etc. However, that says nothing about the very real existence of this social phenomena, and I have little patience with those who insist, against others’ experiences, that it’s non-existent or extremely exceptional, especially those who have been in only 1 or 2 wards their entire lives. This exists and it’s pervasive. Period.

    As to queuno’s comment, certainly we make a mistake if we reduce the ward to merely a social unit and expect all of our positive social experience to derive from it. However, making covenants, remembering those covenants through the sacrament or in temples, etc, is given meaning because we take the sacrament together, we (ideally) attend the temple together, we teach one another doctrine and serve one another, etc. In other words, the social component isn’t the only one, but it’s what breathes life into those other covenantal activities. Constantly taking the sacrament alone, attending the temple always alone, etc has little meaning outside of a community of others who are expected to to also observe those same things. We are meant to witness one another doing those things, and thereby reinforce our commitment and fidelity to them. Yeah, we sometimes have too high expectations of others, but some kind of expectation must exist, some kind of risk must be assumed in order for authentic love and redemption to be possible.

  39. rockwaterman1 says:

    Kudos, Jacob on a thoughtful piece about behaviors many of us don’t even realize we’re exhibiting.

  40. I only hear people trying to be kind and inclusive. I see people who try to look for ways to connect with others who are different from them. Nobody gets up in testimony meeting to brag about how their family is perfect and they are just so grateful for their spouse who is “worthy to hold the priesthood” or whatever.
    I know it is human nature to be judgmental and competitive. I myself try to curb those thoughts and look for the good in others. I think many of the people around me try to do the same.
    When I read about wards in the bloggernacle it makes me happy to stay where I am. This ward isn’t perfect, but if I were in a ward with cliques my husband and I would definitely not be a part of things.

  41. I really like this post. My family was the family who moved into the ward and everybody got wide eyed. A ward I had lived in 13 years before with my former husband (who had run off with another woman in the stake) and been disfellowshipped. By the time we moved back I had a new minority non-member husband one step son and a son with a chronic disease with 4 beautiful teenage daughters who the “righteous families (especially the moms) were anxious that my daughters would lead down to hell by getting pregnant and preventing their precious sons from serving missions. Luckily I didn’t care what they thought and I was happier when my daughters dated non-members, those mothers believed my daughters were good for their sons. It went on and on but the nervous nellies were never going to run me off, the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and my family needed it. It has turned out wonderfully. My husband and I moved to Utah after the kids left for college and our ward here welcomed us. He joined the church here when he realized the members of the ward are all struggling too and it doesn’t matter what they do or say. He has been a member 6 years and we served a mission 3 years ago. I still laugh and tell stories about some of the comments members our old ward made about us and our kids to our faces. We all lived though it, the kids turned out great and stronger for the push back. We all learned to sort the gospel from the culture.

  42. We’ve been in some wards like you describe, Jacob. One reason I’m glad we’re renters…makes ward-hopping easier. A good ward makes all the difference.

  43. Wow Jacob, what a witty and effective way to illuminate something that, despite being pervasive in human culture, almost never gets talked about. I’ve been slightly askew of church culture my whole life, and find it easy to consider myself a victim of this subtle exclusion, and in truth, I have been fairly regularly. I’ve cultivated my ability to detect this and I’m quite good at seeing it when people think they have it safely veiled. Far more subtle is the way I subtly exclude others who I want to avoid; somehow I haven’t invested the same effort in being able to detect that. It’s always a surprise when I set off my own b*s* meter.

    I’ve done a lot of work with my own victimhood, way beyond the idea of not letting my “superiors” dictate my attendance at church, relationship with the Lord, ability to take the sacrament, etc. I’ve done a lot less work with my role as the perp in these situations. But at least I see it. Sometimes.

    I’ve had to ruminate on my comment so long that it’s almost not worth posting. Also, I want to nominate Domi’s #15 for Best Comment of the Thread, for getting past the denials of being the offender and/or the examinations of the injuries, to the real things that matter. There are about twelve sunday school lessons worth of material in his comment. Domi, please don’t leave us, we need you in our church.

  44. It can be so difficult to draw the line between a person’s mistakes, and just simply people’s limitations. Typically they’re the same thing, making social interactions that much more exciting.

  45. Cliques are natural. Singles don’t hang out with married couples, dinks (dual income no kids) don’t love hanging out with young families. Young families like hanging out with other young families, sharing news about the local schools and their kids’ developmental milestones. Empty nesters usually aren’t psyched about hanging out with young families. HOAs, neighborhoods, and professional networks all come into play (tragically). And of course SAHMs can’t possibly hang with the working moms during the day and those poor dears need to catch up in the evenings. (Sarcasm comes from a a few too many wounds.) Most of the time when non-clique relationships are forced (VT and HT assignments) we sense an uneasy falseness. Then, every once in a while people find friendship in unexpected places. For example, as a young wife I was befriended by an elderly sister and we had a beautiful inter-generational friendship. I learned a great deal from her experience and wisdom, and she loved my young idealism. We also shared very similar faith journeys and convictions. Friendships can be built on things like a shared gospel, testimonies, personalities,and experiences. When this happens and we begin to see the beauty and importance of befriending those who are outwardly different from ourselves, something special happens. we notice the first marker of charity in ourselves, we seeketh not our own.

  46. Enjoyed this – reads like one of the Screwtape letters. That’s how I framed it in my mind while reading.

  47. Meldrum the Less says:

    Diana was a year older than I in the ward where I grew up and she was one of the most attractive popular girls in the epi-center of the most aloof, envied and snotty cliques. Later I had a class with her as an adult and she had quite a different memory of that time. She describes being without friends and unable to live up to expectations and feeling like she was ugly and being horribly unhappy. I think these unhealthy selfish relationships eat their own. When you hear gossip from a friend in the inner group, you soon wonder what is being said by them behind your back. The inclusion is an illusion; everyone feels excluded by everyone else and the devil laughs. I think most cliques are empty in truth.

    I got out of my car the first day we moved to Mississippi many years ago. A large guy delivering the mail saw our Utah license plates and asked me if I was a Mormon. I thought to myself, “we haven’t even been out of our car 2 minutes before the persecution begins.” I got in his face and replied, “Yes sir, born and bred in it. Ya got a problem with that, big fella?” He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “My name is ___ ___. I be y’all’s elder’s quorum president. Welcome to Southern Mississippi.” There was something in the way he did this that made me feel like I had suddenly come home. I have never felt more welcome anywhere than at that moment. He had a gift of showing people that they belonged and that we cared about each other. Although severely flawed in other ways he became one of the best friends I ever had and the most Christ-like man I have ever known up close.

  48. Meldrum,you are exactly right! After the vicious clique has punished everyone else, they then turn, and cannibalize one another.

  49. This was great. Sharing it with others. thanks.

  50. Jared Rohrer says:

    So many good points to this blog. I laughed out loud. It made me wonder if I have been a part of a clique. I kind of hate that word though. I think it is impossible to connect with everyone socially. It is easy to natural to connect with some individuals quicker and faster than others and to prefer their company over others.

    For example, I love to talk with liberal mormons who feel on the out skirts. What if you and I and several other liberal mormons got together once a month and went to lunch. Wouldn’t some people think we were being exclusive. Wouldn’t somebody accuse us of leaving them out? Would they be right? I mean, we come together because we are liberal so wouldn’t conservatives natually feel left out even if we invited them.

    Another example. I love to salsa dance. I gather regularly and plan activities with others who like to dance. We are not mean or exclusive, but by nature, if you don’t like to dance, you don’t get invited to hang with us. It is like a requirement. Why would you invite someone lactose intolerate to an ice cream party? You wouldn’t….Why would ladies obsessed with earings and shoes invite an intellecutal who is not to go shopping with them? Why would guys who like to hunt and talk sports invite me up to the cabin when I like none of those things. It is easy to for me feel left out and accuse them of rejecting me. In high school I was often rejected by the cool kids. It is easy for me to project my own insecurities and inadequacies on others and feel inferior and left out when really I am the one who is damaged.

    I feel like people who feel left out of cliques are really blaming others for their own sense of inadequacy. Instead of wishing you could be at the center of a group where you don’t naturally connect, why not start your own with others that share your interests. No one needs to be accepted by everyone but all of us need to be accepted by someone. To the person who’s life has lead them to believe they aren’t worth friendship and leaves them victimized wishing someone would reach out to them, I am truly sorry. Anytime I see someone who has some of my common interests, I try to reach out to them and bring them into my fold and love them until they can find their worth. It is life change-ingly beautiful to befriend someone who feels alone. I hope everyone gets that chance. I am not Christ. I try to love everyone but I have my limits. I can’t love everyone. I can’t connect with everyone. I just try to consecrate what I can do over to God and make a difference where I can.

  51. Sharee Hughes says:

    I mentioned this post to my bishop the other day and told him of the responses I had posted, that I did not think this sunning took place in our ward, not did we have cliques. He agreed with me. I’ve also talked about it to a few others in my ward and they agree as well, although they admit it was not always that way. Perhaps my ward has evolved over the years. Hey, maybe one day soon we’ll all be translated!! :-)

  52. Space Chick says:

    SO insightful! We definitely need to make sure we’re not the guilty party, but I also think we can work on our responses when we are on the receiving end. I moved around a lot while I was in the Air Force, and I too heard the “apology” for the concept that it might take 2 years before a given ward really “got to know” newcomers. But if I may de-lurk for a moment (with tongue firmly in cheek) the way you manage this is to make it clear that the new ward isn’t quite up to snuff, not really “your kind of people”. Take charge and let them know exactly where things stand, because the best defense is still a good offense…. For instance: “Oh, I know, I feel the EXACT same way. Moving all the time is a complete pain because it always takes me SUCH a long time to find anyone in the new ward that is truly simpatico. We’ll probably be doing a lot of roadtrips back to the old ward because we just miss everyone there SO much.” It’s also useful, if you want to twist the knife a bit, to imply that you are making the best of a unhappy situation. “Yes, we’d heard this ward was a little insular, so I’m not surprised. We’d rather have been in a more cosmopolitan section of town, but there weren’t any suitable homes on the market right now in the neighborhoods we would have preferred. We’ve moved around so much that these close-knit neighborhoods usually start to feel a little confining. Not that this isn’t a perfectly wonderful subdivision, and of course I don’t mean YOU, dear…”
    Taking a page from the “Military Mormon Woman’s Guide to PCSing” (*available from the publishers of the Gilda Trillum papers) “If you are moving on base, and the local ward seems a little frosty, then you can lament over how you would have preferred to live off-base in a particular area (which would put you in a different ward) but your job, or your spouse’s, is so vital that you were required to take base housing to be immediately available for mission-critical events. Likewise, If you are living off-base and the ward is somewhat aloof, you can comment that you would have preferred to live on base but the housing list is too long, or the assigned housing isn’t your style, isn’t large enough, etc. Remember, girls, that the key is to make it clear the new ward is LUCKY to have you, to breathe new life into their small-town stodgy Relief Society and bring them up to speed on how much better it was all the other wards you’ve lived in .”
    (Apologies in advance to all the wards we’ve been in, because they were actually all quite welcoming! I think the 2-year comment was really a sincere apology from someone who wasn’t good at making new friends and was tired of seeing her potential friends leave so frequently. So be careful when twisting that knife, as it might be just as well-meant in your case!)

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