Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 9: A Sad Thing

In the past couple weeks, I've ended up having conversations with several different people about a sad thing.

It seems like there are a lot of people in our church these days who are looking for more rules and more specific doctrine when it comes to how we should dress, what we should eat and drink, what we should believe politically, that sort of thing. Lots of people seem to be seeking after clear black and white answers in areas where the Lord has only offered guidelines or strong suggestions. I've read carefully through "For the Strength of Youth" and the primary, YW and Relief Society manuals as well as other official church materials and you know what? There aren't very many hard and fast "do's" and "don't's." In most places where guidelines are offered, words like "generally" or "should" are used rather than "always" or "must." Often, official church materials suggest that we pray for guidance as we strive to figure out what is right given the unique situations we may find ourselves in.

To me, it seems clear that the Lord wants us to figure out a lot of things for ourselves. As any loving father would do, God offers us a lot of guidelines and counsel. But also, as a loving and wise father would do and in keeping with the free agency that this life is all about, He stops short of giving us specific and complete directions and rules about everything. Long, long ago, God did away with the Law of Moses - the lower law of hard-and-fast long lists of specific "do's" and "don't's" - and replaced it with more nuanced laws. Love God. Love each other. Be Chaste. Be generous. Be modest. Be healthy. . . Through modern prophets, He's offered us very helpful guidelines to help us figure out how to live His commandments. But beyond a relatively few very specific rules, he leaves it up to us to figure out what obedience should specifically look like in our lives.

I applaud people for seeking for guidance about specifics on how to best obey God's laws in their own lives. I think it's important and commendable when people develop personal standards that are strict and that involve sacrifice. But what bothers me is when some people use their personal understanding of what a guideline might mean to judge someone else.

It made me sad to hear about a primary leader making a big deal about sleeveless dresses not being modest while several little girls in pretty summer dresses without sleeves are sitting right there in the room (what are they supposed to think? That their moms committed a sin by purchasing and dressing them in such clothes?  That they are capable of tempting men with their shoulders?...). It made me sad to hear of a Young Women's leader asking the 14 and 15-year-old girls in her class on Sunday whether they were going to the casual no-date school dance that weekend, then proceeding to tell them (after most of the girls raised their hands) that the prophet has taught that they should not be attending dances until they are 16 (I guess you could interpret some of the guidelines that way but that would be a personal or family choice, not something to preach as doctrine). It made me sad to hear about a young boy who saw a relative drink Coke and was seriously worried about this relative's soul.

I wish we could all focus more on the things that seem much more important to me based on the scriptures and what our church leaders talk about the most - loving others and seeking personal revelation and working out our own salvation.

Anyway, the thoughts and conversations that have popped up in the past couple weeks led me to really notice this passage in the scriptures this week:

"For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure...yea there were envyings and strive and malice and persecutions and pride even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God..." (Alma 4:8-9).

Don't get me wrong. I think the vast majority of the members of my church around the world are good people who are doing their best. And I don't see people outright persecuting each other much at church. But I do think that if we get caught up in the letter of the law and try to interpret what is right for anyone other than ourselves and our own families, we are led to some dangerous pride. And that can lead us to quiet and/or outwardly friendly persecution as well as strife. This pride and strife can really hurt fragile testimonies of others and cause us to loose our focus on the things that matter most - like loving each other and advancing our faith in Christ - while we get distracted by smaller things that may not matter very much in the grand scheme of things.


Joanne said...

Well said, Saren. There can be a vast difference between the culture of the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I agree that "he leaves it up to us to figure out what obedience should specifically look like in our lives." Our salvation is between us and the Lord. I suspect it will have more to do with the way we treat each other than whether or not we drink Coke.

One of these days I'm coming to Power of Moms! Love your blog and your insight.

Mary said...

Beautifully written Saren. This captures a lot of my similar thoughts on the subject.

Bindi said...

Your post made me smile. You summed up my thoughts so well. We have just been through a situation where a girl in my daughter's primary class told her that she dresses immodestly (according to her mother). Led to a good discussion about what we believe modesty is and why some people feel the need to judge others.

bostonshumways said...

Well said. I think it would be good for all of us to focus a little more on the reason for all the guidelines, help in living a Christ like life. More than anything I hope to raise true Christians, not people who are good at following rules. I've been reading and trying to really study the sermon on the mount this week, and boy, if we just followed all of those guidelines perfectly everything else would fall into place.

The Circus said...

amen and amen! spot on, thank you!

Anonymous said...

There are always gray areas - what I call"concience matters" - as far as dress goes.

It's almost like if you say ok to sleeveless, then someone will show up in spaghetti straps or strapless - where do you draw the line?

My parents always taught me that if you have to take the time to mull over whether something is appropriate or not, then it's probably not!

However, some things are not gray areas - like the Coke thing? I'm not LDS, but I've always heard they are not supposed to drink caffienated beverages. Is that a rule or a suggestion?

How about smoking? I read on Shawni's blog where she said that if someone in your church, claiming to be a Mormon in good standing smelled like smoke and it was obvious they did smoke, people would just ignore it? Granted, the person needs help - but shouldn't the church discipline someone who so obviously disregards the rules?

When do you stop looking the other way and say, hey if you want to be Mormon you must do thus-and-so?

Just curious.

Camile said...

Thank you!

kms said...

Does not smoking lead to heaven?

It's a good idea not to but is it worthy of damnation?

Shouldn't a church care about rules today prevent people from going to Heaven rather than worrying they will get their faster?

LR Thoughts said...

TazLady, I am not LDS either, so if someone who is would like to explain, please do.

But from what I know about the LDS church, it is hot drinks that are to be avoided, not specifically soda or caffeine. So, I would say that is up to each individual family to decide - much like the issue of wearing sleeveless.

But again, things like not smoking, not drinking alcohol, wearing modest clothing... these guidelines are set to ensure healthy and quality living that is in line with their faith (much like Christian denominations who advise the same). They are not actions that require church discipline or punishment if they are not followed through, unlike the Amish who CAN be excommunicated for such things. However, I don't know any Mormons who drink alcohol, but I've never been under the impression it is out of fear of being reprimanded; it is because they truly value the recommendations of their church.

Regardless of faith, every church gets caught up in legalism at some point, and I think Saren's post, much like Shawni's, served as a great reminder as to what Christ's true intentions were for us. I know I could certainly stand to replace my petty judgmental thoughts throughout the day with loving actions!

Anonymous said...

I agree, some things are really petty. That's why I wonder, what things are hard and fast rules and what things can you and your family decide for themselves.

I am really not being judgemental, I am trying to understand. I was raised in a very strict religious household, where there were clearly defined docrinal rules. And if you did not follow them - exactly - you were shunned, ex-communicated.

What I learned from this is, that if your religion has rules, you must follow them or you are NOT a member. Period. Although I may not agree with all the rules, I do agree with the mindset - if you cannot walk the walk - the ENTIRE walk - do not call yourself a member.

Hilary said...

I dunno... I agree that you should NEVER say something to intentionally make someone feel bad, but at the same point I have been in Young Women's and told the girls that we shouldn't show our shoulders and I really think that was my job. That's not really a grey area in the SOTY...

There are plenty of things I'm bad at and while I don't smell like smoke, my initial thought is "THAT IS DUMB, I DON'T THINK THAT MATTERS." When my mind mulls over it, maybe it does matter and it's something I need to improve at and maybe that was the thing that got me started. And that's what's good about church.

But, there's sometimes a fine line between intentional offending, and nudging to doing the right thing. Luckily, we have the spirit to guide us. :)

Tena said...

Amen! I'd like to see you publish this in the Ensign.

shawni said...

Great thoughts, Sar. I sure agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I agree Hilary - some things are "dumb" - and don't really matter.

I guess where I get hung up is, even though some rules of particular religions don't seem to make much sense (not picking on LDS, it could be any religion that has rules set out for its members to follow) - if someone claims to be, and holds themselves out publicly to be a member of a that religion then they can't cherry-pick - they have to follow the rules. No one is perfect and we all stumble, but if someone blatantly refuses to follow a certain rule because they think it's "dumb" or doesn't fit in with their lifestyle, then the religion should not allow them to be a member.

All thoughts welcome - this is a really confusing issue for me.

ajoachim said...

I never have responded to posts before so bear with me. Your stories make my heart ache. It is from hearing MANY MANY stories similar to yours that have made my husband and I LOVE living on the east coast! We should thank our Primary and Youth for being there on Sunday! Thank them for committing to being there. I'm the Primary President in a suburban Philadelphia ward and thank the children every week for being there. I'm delighted to see them, regardless of what they are wearing. I just love that they are there. Church is a place they should want to come to feel good about themselves, not to be shamed.

One of the things I love most about the church is that there very few "should not" rules. Instead, we should show love to our neighbor, we should love and teach our children, we should love the Lord with all our might, mind and strenght!

crozyb said...

The week 4 sharing time in June was “When I dress modestly, I respect my body as a gift from God.” Leaders were instructed to, “Invite the children to listen for what parts of their body should be covered as you read from the “Dress and Appearance” section in For the Strength of Youth.” (source: 2012 Outline for Sharing Time, published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)

The Strength of Youth states –“Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back.”

This leader was only following the handbooks she has been given by the church. In other words, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is telling these children they should wear clothing that covers their shoulders, not the leader.

Most everything else you wrote, I agree with.

Jaydee and Shaunda said...

I read this post a few days ago and have been pondering it ever since. I agree with you that we can all be more loving and less judgemental but I don't think it is "righteous pride" when someone is teaching a lesson in accordance to what the church teaches. I agree with crozby. In the Strength of Youth and also in a Friend article about modesty it states that shoulders should be covered. You are correct that the word "should" is there and not "must", but I think it is pretty clear on what the standards are. (Unless we differ on the definition of what a shoulder is) This should be taught in a loving way and not singling out children, but it should be taught. Too often I think teaching opportunities are missed because people are afraid of offending others. We need to be bold in our teaching, at home and at church.
Parents are stewards over their children, but teachers in primary/YW/ and YM are also stewards over the people they are called on to teach. With the help of the Holy Ghost they should be able to have these discussions. As bostonshumway stated, 'I want to raise true Christians, not people who are good at following rules." I agree, but rules and standards are there for a reason and the church has gone to great effort by publishing pamphlets, etc to make those standards readily available.
Salvation is between us and the Lord, and obedience differs between everyone, but I think it is silly to be offended by someone who (in my opinion) is teaching a lesson in accordance to what the church manuals state.

Saren Loosli said...

Thanks so much for the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, everyone.

Just to clarify further, what I meant to point out in this post is that no matter what the specific guidelines are (or are being interpreted to be), the overarching law that should trump all others is LOVE. In all our church manuals, love, understanding, and sensitivity is stressed as an overarching principle to govern how we fulfill our callings and how we treat each other. It can be so hard - as parents, as teachers, and as friends - to teach and live what we believe while showing unconditional love and understanding. But I know that as we use the Spirit, we can figure out how to "hold to the rod" and teach correct principles (without embellishing them with our own interpretations)in the way that we feel is right while respecting that others have different circumstances and interpretations and loving them no matter what.

I also think it's very important that we make the biggest deal out of the things that are the biggest deal rather than getting caught up in the exact meaning of every guideline. There will be many many different roads to Heaven. But I think they'll all be paved with Christ-like love as the primary building material. I want my children to know that the gospel is about love, not about lists of nit-picky rules that can be used to judge others.

That said, I'm so grateful for the guidelines we've been given by a loving Heavenly Father through inspired prophets. But I think we have to be careful that we don't focus so much on the trees (the guidelines) that we lose track of the forest (the gospel which is centered on love and lack of judgement).

One last thing. As we think about what matters most and what we should really be sticklers about in our own lives, perhaps it's helpful to look at the questions we're asked in temple recommend interviews. There are no questions about modesty or Coke or whether we let our kids go to school dances.

Tiffany Johnson said...

But if you don't dress modest (garments cover our shoulders) then you won't be allowed into the temple.

Saren Loosli said...

I'm all for modesty and fully support the guidelines in the pamphlet "For the Strength of Youth" and the Word of Wisdom. But as I teach modesty to my own children and to those I teach at church (I'm in primary and was recently in Young Women's), I think it's important to focus on the PRINCIPLE, not the letter of the law. To me, the WHY matters as much or more as the WHAT when it comes to guidelines and laws of the gospel. I want my children and those I teach to understand that their bodies are beautiful, special sacred stewardships. I want them to really think about what their clothing choices might say to others about them. I want them to think about how the food and drink that goes into their bodies affects their long-term health and ability to use their body to get all that they're supposed to get from this earthly life. I want to discuss dating and relationships with the opposite sex with my kids openly and honestly and help them understand why the Lord, through his prophets, has offered counsel on what types of activities are appropriate at what ages.

The guidelines offered by our wonderful church about modesty and health and behavior for youth and adults are just a means to an end. The "end" is becoming closer to Christ,living full and rich lives of service and returning to live with Him one day.

Sandra said...

I agree, LOVE is the most important thing. And I am trying to develop Charity the pure love of Christ...Whitout it you are noting...But why would I want to play with a snake. It is'nt a "must do". But I think it would be smart to AVOID it. President Monson said, "Servants of the Lord have always counseled us to dress appropriately to show respect for our Heavenly Father and for ourselves. The way you dress sends messages about yourself to others and often influences the way you and others act. Dress in such a way as to bring out the best in yourself and those around you. AVOID extremes in clothing and appearance, including tattoos and piercings." Strength of Youth: "Young women should AVOID short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back.” I hope I am smart enough to AVOID the snake. I know it is our choice. We have agency. So when we are told "should AVOID" instead of "must do", why not just be smart and do both? You might save yourself a snake bite. Are you showing love to the leader that you are talking about? Just asking in a loving way!!! Not trying to judge you. We are told not to judge "wrongly". Joseph Smith Translation.... I love you and your family...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the point about "avoiding the snake". The guidelines, while they are merely that, are there for a reason - to protect our young people and to give them a strong sense of morality - which is blatantly absent in most religions.

However, in a way, I also agree with Saren - there are so many things more important than whether someone's shoulders are showing or whether they had a Coke with their lunch.

In my opinion, that's why a lot of youth leave the church (not just LDS but any fundamentalist religion) as soon as they reach the age of majority. They feel that they have been held so tightly by these rules all their lives that they can't wait to try all these "forbidden" things.

If we don't make such a big deal of these small things, maybe the young people with grasp the bigger picture and keep the faith into their adulthood.

Sheila said...

I LOVE this and I agree 100%.

Jessica said...

I think Elder Hartman Rector Jr. put it best when he explained the reasoning for some helpful guidelines, whether from church publications or from decisions in a family:

"In my experience, I have found that it is very, very dangerous to fly just high enough to miss the treetops. I spent twenty-six years flying the navy’s airplanes. It was very exciting to see how close I could fly to the trees. This is called 'flat hatting' in the navy, and it is extremely dangerous. When you are flying just high enough to miss the trees and your engine coughs once, you are in the trees.

"Now let’s pretend that the navy had a commandment—'Thou shalt not fly thy airplane in the trees.' As a matter of fact, they did have such a commandment. In order to really be free of the commandment, it becomes necessary for me to add a commandment of my own to the navy’s commandment, such as, 'Thou shalt not fly thy airplane closer than 5,000 feet to the trees.' When you do this, you make the navy’s commandment of not flying in the trees easy to live, and the safety factor is tremendously increased.

"Admittedly, the latter commandment is your own addition, and care should be exercised that you do not get it mixed up with the law and expound it as the law. Rather, it is your own commandment, invented by you for your own self-preservation; and, if you are going to preach it, it should be expounded as such."

It's an important distinction between the law or commandment and the rules we make to protect ourselves. They are not equal in seriousness or consequence.

I would hope (and assume) the Primary leader was not insinuating that the girls' shoulders were tempting. She was probably just drawing from the guidelines already mentioned (FSOY). We should show her charity too by assuming her actions were well meant.

It's a good reminder to illustrate the principle first: "We should dress modestly." And then say, "What are some of the ways that we can do that?" "What does the For Strength of Youth booklet say?"

Leah said...

Oh my. Lots of different viewpoints, however I couldn't agree with you more Saren. My family is complicated: We are blended. My bio kids are LDS from birth, my hubby converted a couple of years ago, but his kids (my step kids - skids) are not LDS (their mother is very against anything LDS> One day, they will have to make their own choice). However we are one family, and we all attend church together, teach LDS principles in the home, and try to live in a Christ like way. I cringe when I hear people making judgmental comments, or following the letter of the law at all costs, and not using Christ like LOVE. Why? Because so many times that behaviour isolates and singles out my "non LDS" skids to feel less than I KNOW the Saviour wants them to feel. We need to teach correct principles, but we need to focus on the higher laws and act in a way that Christ would. I'm sorry, I don't think Christ would shame anyone for wearing a sleeveless dress. Primary leaders need think whether their comments and way of teaching will draw a child closer to the Lord or further away and make them feel like sinners? I think many are pulled away from the Gospel because people place a stronger focus on the LDS culture and get caught up in the minutia (which are there as good guidelines for sure but do not override the real message of the Gospel). I'd prefer my child be at church, try to live a Christlike life, love how the Gospel blesses their life, aim to be the best they can be...wearing a sleeveless dress. Thanks for your true example of living the Gospel Saren.


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