They govern themselves

August 27, 2005 | 56 comments
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A busy downtown intersection. No traffic lights, no road markings, no speed limits, no sidewalks, no pedestrian crossings. Cars, cyclists, pedestrians, all move on the same street level, side by side, carefully merging. In a number of Dutch cities this new concept of traffic regulation in urban settings, promoted by engineer Hans Monderman, has been implemented for some years now, with a convincing success. Accidents are extremely rare and if they occur insignificant. Other European cities have been following the example and the interest is spreading worldwide.

The key concept is that traffic lights, markings, signs tend to replace the sense of personal responsibility. A driver sees the green light, so he drives on unconcerned. An arrow directs him to the left, so he follows blindly. The new approach, on the other hand, is to focus on personal responsibility, on constant sensitiveness to others, on common sense. What dictates reactions on the street is a direct connection with the fellow-beings that surround us, catching their eyes, watching and expecting their movements, getting their signals to proceed or wait. The concept of “my right” and “your obligation” is replaced by “our togetherness”. People automatically adapt their behavior to that human reality. Imagine you drive your car through a playground full of children. You proceed inch by inch, constantly watching approaching children to make sure they have seen you and heed accordingly.

Is a comparison with our religion possible? Joseph Smith said: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves”. It seems that, overall, Church leaders have emphasized the same message. You must decide for yourself what an honest tithe is. No local leader is supposed to add anything to the general statement. Word of Wisdom? No detailed lists are made of products that would be prohibited. Modesty is set as principle, and the Church does not publish a yearly guide of approved clothes.

But the tendency to further explicate general commandments into detailed rules is well known. The typical questions of investigators (and members): Is Coke allowed? Can we cook with wine? Is tithing on net or gross? Can we watch a football game on Sunday? (yes on TV but not in the stadium?) Some people answer these questions with precision and authority. Just like in traffic, they add lights, markings, signs that may diminish our personal responsibility and may make us forget the essence. Some religions have thus evolved into a mass of regulations and prohibitions that govern daily life.

The consequence of focusing on detailed rules, and neglecting the principles, is obvious. Someone can attend all Church meetings, and still fail to be a true Christian. The home teachers can do their monthly round for the report, and miss out on the true needs of families. If someone takes a cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine at dinner, and for the rest eats only healthy foods in a moderate way, he is probably more in line with the Word of Wisdom than someone who fanatically shuns coffee and alcohol, but gorges himself daily with junk food and decaffeinated coke. But traditional susceptibility to well defined external signs, like in the traffic comparison, delineates obedience or not. Many people want clear benchmarks.

I am interested in possible related implications. The Church is struggling with retention. In the mission field I have seen scores of people leave the Church, no doubt for a combination of factors, but the catalysts are often little rules that define their standing in the community. X is still hooked on his morning coffee. Y cannot have dinner without a glass of wine. Z goes and cheers for his sports team on Sunday afternoon. They are told and retold those things are unacceptable. Sometimes the preaching will help them change habits, sometimes it will contribute to loosening their ties with the Church and lead to inactivity.

At the same time we want all people, also those who struggle, to feel welcome in the Church and keep coming. To what extent can we look beyond the external signs and adapt with more comprehension to those with whom we cross the intersection of life? Can we accept a Church traffic where we respect each other’s realm, where we accommodate each other’s life styles? Would a still stronger reorientation of rules toward principles help people remain in the Church as we give them more latitude to interpret wisely principles like the Word of Wisdom or Sunday observance? Or would that lead to the undermining of such commandments and an overall weakening of commitment?

56 Responses to They govern themselves

  1. Lisa B on August 27, 2005 at 6:19 pm

    Good questions, Wilfried. I am trying to figure out the balance with my own kids right now. How much do I let them do harmful things to themselves and others before I intervene and lay down the law? How can I gradually wean them of their need for imposed structure? When will they learn self-regulation and discipline?

    I think part of the problem, too, is that the most important changes are internal, and the most easy to criticize are external. So we end up condemning external things as if they are weightier than internal things just because we can so easily see and comment on them.

  2. Ben H on August 27, 2005 at 6:44 pm

    Clearly there are some situations where “let them govern themselves” is the best plan. The question is, which are they? There are lots of people who have the opportunity to govern themselve, and act atrociously. Consider your typical oppressive dictator. Pharisaism is not the problem in his case. There are also lots of streets in the world with no rules, or no real enforcement, that are seriously dangerous. What is it that makes the difference between the hair-raising streets of Bangkok and the genteel streets of Holland? Find a way to bottle it, and it would be worth more than cold fusion.

  3. Ben H on August 27, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    In a way, what you are talking about, Wilfried, is a Confucian principle. The Confucians despised precisely defined codes of law, saying such codes led people to instrumentalize the law and desensitized them to real moral issues. But it is important to remember the flip side of this: the authorities will respond to improprieties, but in a way that cannot be precisely specified in advance. Hopefully they will use good judgment, be fair and not overly harsh. But you just have to trust them on it.

    In Holland, I trust, someone who drives inconsiderately will be called to account in some way, and punished where necessary. How do you punish people where offenses are not clearly specified, and to whom can you trust this delicate task?

  4. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 6:59 pm

    Lisa, well targeted remarks. The relation with our children is at the heart of this topic.

    Ben, you are right, but broadening the topic too much will, I think, go beyond the Church related discussion. The oppressive dictator is a case on its own, outside of the Church realm I meant. As to the “genteel streets of Holland”, there are nice spots indeed, but the traffic example still deals with millions of Dutchmen traveling daily in and out of crowded cities. But I do agree with your fundamental remark that we need to consider in which situations (and for which commandments) the principle of “let them govern themselves” could merit wider application.

  5. Ben H on August 27, 2005 at 7:22 pm

    It seems to me that currently our church units are more like highways than they are like downtown roundabouts. How? Not just a matter of signage, but also a matter of sprawl. People live far apart, and their interactions are quite limited. They tend not to work or go to school together. Many move from ward to ward every couple of years. Hence the subtler cues that are so informative are few and far between, and people have to rely more on impersonal standards to structure their interactions. I would love to see this change, but it would require deep restructuring not just of our roads, but of our social and economic lives.
    [Is that better, Wilfried? : )]

  6. Ronan on August 27, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Brothers and Sisters X, Y, Z, must, must, must, be made to feel part of the community of Saints. It makes me sad to think that often they aren’t. Wilfried, you’re on to something, but with Ben I ask: can you bottle it?

  7. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 7:53 pm

    Well, it’s obvious we can focus on various aspects here and that we need to find common ground for the discussion. Your comparison, Ben, that “our church units are more like highways than they are like downtown roundabouts” is an interesting one, to which I can relate when I think of some larger wards in certain parts of the U.S. Small units in the mission field are probably much more roundabouts, with the same small group of members interacting intensely for years if not decades. That creates peculiar interactions of another kind, especially when, occasionally, new converts join.

    Ronan, your remark brings us back to the essence I meant, or at least one of the main points: how can we ensure that “weaker” members, who have problems with some of our more detailed rules, still feel at home in the Church and are not pushed out by our judgments? While at the same time we must make sure commandments such as the Word of Wisdom or Sunday observance, are not undermined. Would more emphasis on the principle, and leaving the “personal governing” to the individual, help retain people in the Church? I don’t have the answer, I hope the discussion will shed more light on those questions.

  8. Julie in Austin on August 27, 2005 at 8:28 pm

    Wilfried, I like the questions you raise in #7. I think the appropriate tone to take is “The Lord has commanded us to X (or not to Y). That isn’t negotiable. But we want you here, a vital part of our ward even if you are struggling with X and Y. (We all struggle with something.) We love you.” In real life, I imagine this is a very hard message to get across. Why aren’t we better at it?

  9. Melissa on August 27, 2005 at 9:02 pm

    Wilfried,

    I’m not sure that member retention can be usefully compared to traffic laws.

    But, if it were and we followed your counsel to its end pandemonium might ensue.

    Rhode Island traffic etiquette is, in some respects, an example of people governing themselves. In contrast to what frequently occurs in New York City, Rhode Islanders often flaunt traffic laws in favor of the other driver. For example, it regularly happens when I am the LAST vehicle at a four way stop that all three of the other drivers nod me forward and wait for me to go through first (examples like this abound). I’m not sure how to account for this sort of “courtesy,” but this seems to be the standard approach to driving here (I’m sure some native Rhode Islander will get on and contradict me, but that’s been my experience). Although some people might consider this sort of road respect a better option than road rage, I HATE it ! The way that people drive in RI means that I never know what to expect from other drivers when I get on the road. I cannot trust that they will follow the traffic laws. I can neither predict what their actions will be nor can they predict mine (since I always follow traffic laws). For example, when someone is trying to turn left over two lanes of busy traffic, drivers will often expect me to come to a full stop in the middle of the road to let them turn because that’s the “nice” thing to do. The result is not general good will on the road and a sense of “togetherness”, but real danger. I’ve had a dozen very close calls in the last three years since living here not because people were careless, but because people were deliberately breaking the law in an effort to be “kind.”

    I am much more inclined to be lenient (even indifferent) towards coffee drinking than I am with violators of traffic laws since the member who is struggling with these behaviors in no way endangers either of our lives, physically or spiritually.

  10. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 9:04 pm

    Thank you, Julie (#8) ! This is indeed the way to proceed, though not always easy to find the right tone.

    But imagine this conversation (I speak from experience in interviewing members for recommends):
    - Are you living the Word of Wisdom?
    - I think I am in good conscience. True, I have a glass of wine with dinner, but I live soberly, with only healthy foods. The doctor has told me this little daily glass of wine is also good for my health. My weight is perfect, I feel in excellent shape.
    - Well… But…
    - I see the Word of Wisdom as a principle that I obey. No junk food, no soft drinks. I exercise daily.
    - Well…
    - Oh, please, president, don’t push me out of the Church for a glass of wine.

    Then, as always, we switch the conversation to obedience and the tension may mount. Can we afford to perhaps loose another member, by refusing to sign the recommend, over his daily glass of wine? While we know that, for the principle of the WoW “as such”, he has a point, and we also need so much to retain our sheep. To what extent could we allow a member to “govern himself” in such a case? At the same time we know we cannot sign the recommend under present guidelines.

  11. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 9:11 pm

    Melissa, thank you for your comment #9. Just for the record, it’s not “my counsel” to do away with traffic signals and I agree with you that in certain circumstances “pandemonium might ensue”!

    The comparison with the traffic, in its succesful application in a number of cities, was only to show that more sensitiveness to the internal principle than to external specifications is possible and sometimes needed. But you bring the topic well back to its essence with your remark: “I am much more inclined to be lenient (even indifferent) towards coffee drinking than I am with violators of traffic laws since the member who is struggling with these behaviors in no way endangers either of our lives, physically or spiritually.”

  12. Melissa on August 27, 2005 at 9:17 pm

    Wilfried,

    If I were the one interviewing (which, of course, will never be the case) the relevant issue for me would be whether the person was a convert or not. It has always bothered me that I get a sort of “credit” in the Church (beyond good health) for living the word of widsom even though it has never ever been a struggle for me to do so. I have never even been in a situation where I have been the least bit tempted to partake of alcohol, to take drugs or smoke. It seems unjust to be unmerciful to those who’ve had different experiences.

  13. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    That is a very interesting point you make, Melissa. Though it is delicate to make differences between members according to the country they live in, or the backgrounds they have, the fact remains that converts in the mission field often have long standing traditions, are surrounded by non-member family pressures, etc. which may make certain commandments more challenging and more tempting to be interpreted. The question then is, is there a high correlation between this situation and our problem of retention? If there is – and we come back to the same question – would more emphasis on principles and subsequent more allowance to “govern themselves” help people remain in the Church? I’m not advocating this. I’m trying to better understand what we could do to keep “weaker” members within the fold.

  14. Julie in Austin on August 27, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    Wilfried, I’d be curious to know what you did in that situation.

    My gut reaction (made from the safe place, as Melissa mentions, of knowing that I will never be in that situation), would be to send the person home to pray and fast and determine if their course is acceptable to the Lord and to meet with them again in a few weeks and discuss it.

  15. Ann on August 27, 2005 at 10:46 pm

    Wilfried, I disagree strongly that refusing a temple recommend is the same as pushing someone out of the church.

    The behavioral questions in the temple recommend interview are straightforward and well defined. Someone who is drinking wine or coffee or iced tea occasionally is not in compliance with the Word of Wisdom as it’s defined. That the definition of the Word of Wisdom leaves a lot of room for unhealthy behaviors is problematic, but that doesn’t change the definition.

    Yes, those kinds of choices can be very difficult for some people, and they may struggle with them their whole lives. That doesn’t make them second class Saints. One does not need a temple recommend to take the sacrament, serve on the activities committee, or sing in the choir.

    The important thing, IMO, is to make sure that we don’t treat the “unworthy” as lesser members. Accept people as and where they are, with the understanding that we’re all sinners and fall short of our divine nature.

  16. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 11:00 pm

    Yes, Julie (#14), that is one of the common courses we take – help the member come to the point where he would figure it out for himself and leave the daily glass of wine aside (or the soccer game on Sunday afternoon he used to go to with his aging non-member father, or the cup of tea with his old non-member grandmother whom he visits, etc). There are dozens of such borderline examples where the “principle” could allow for some leniency, but the “rule” does not. Some members will come along and their decision is a personal victory, in particular because it is basically a test of obedience. Future leaders! But some won’t and the one thing leads to the other and we loose them. The problem is that we loose far too many. And then you wonder if the test of obedience, pertaining to perhaps marginal issues, did not come too soon and too harshly for still immature members.

  17. Wilfried on August 27, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    Of course, Ann (#15), refusing a recommend is not the same as pushing someone out of the church. I hope that equation was not implied in the discussion, though I recognize the concern that a refusal could lead someone to turn away from the Church. Nevertheless, when you’re a leader in a small struggling Church unit, and you’re dealing with the life complexities of new converts, and you know how much they still have to grow, you may wish that some things were a little more based on principles with a margin of personal interpretation. But again, that wish might be wrong. We are not changing the rules as they stand. Still I believe it is good that we try to understand the many reasons that dramatically undermine retention of converts and how we could act, within permissible boundaries, to change the trend.

  18. JKS on August 28, 2005 at 1:05 am

    I see that for most things, we are allowed to govern ourselves. Our leaders don’t give us strict lists of what is or is not the right way to observe a commandment until they are questioned over and over for more details! I think they try to avoid details because of all the “exceptions” that always result.
    However, I don’t think they can move more toward a typical Christian church where everyone is a sinner, so don’t worry too much about sin.
    Laws like the word of wisdom are in place specifically to differentiate us from others. The Lord expects us to give up everything, if necessary, to follow him.
    I think that the Lord expects us to be stronger and stronger, not just have more and more members. This is a war between good and evil. Satan has too much hold over people in this world.
    At this point in time, I don’t think he is looking to lower the bar to include more people. The First Presidency raised the bar for missionaries, for instance, for a reason, even though it meant that some young men were unable to go on a mission.
    We LDS people, with so much positive LDS public relations, have perhaps been lulled into thinking that more people know about us, accept us as a real religion rather than a cult, and that this will cause more people to join our church. People can see we are nice, normal people who belong to a nice, normal church.
    But we forget that we have been told that in many ways the divide between the righteous and those who fight against righteousness will grow wider as time goes on.
    I don’t mean to sound like we are not all sinners, we are. And we should work toward inviting all to come to Christ. But I think we need not apologize for the Lord’s commandments but work to help all to live them.

  19. Samuel on August 28, 2005 at 1:12 am

    JKS said:

    “But I think we need not apologize for the Lord’s commandments but work to help all to live them.”

    Like one pair of earrings instead of two. Avoiding a glass of iced tea. Insuring that Coke doesn’t pass our lips. You know, God’s commandments that determine our worthiness…

  20. annegb on August 28, 2005 at 1:15 am

    Good topic, good discussion.

  21. comet on August 28, 2005 at 3:27 am

    I think the bar is quite high as it is for most converts. I’m always amazed that the church can get people to believe in such trivial rules as not drinking iced tea. It is a testament to the power of the spiritual witness that often accompanies conversion. But that witness is probably a generalizing phenomenon: nobody gets a witness of every jot and tittle of the gospel, rather it is a general witness that this is the right path. Why should we rush forward to add our own little bits, only to choke that witness? I fully advocate a clear WoW but none of the little taboos that well-intended members/leaders like to add on — cola, chocolate, etc. There’s nothing like escaping the snares of the world only to be enchained by the lowest, unthinking prejudices among the Saints. If we don’t think pettiness about spiritual things doesn’t at times drive people from the church then I think we need to take a second look.

    I felt a sense of liberation in reading Wilfried’s post when imagining the convert’s situation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually teach correct principles and truly let the converts govern themselves. You know, give them leeway as they get used to the new rules and not make a huge fuss when we find out that a convert decides to continue cooking with wine. Leave the gray areas alone (but the problem is that’s exactly where we as Saints, especially lower down on the food chain, like to extend our spiritual authority to refine and extrapolate doctrine and practice). What constitutes the essentials and what constitutes ephemera in the church is never a totally settled matter in practice among the saints in many areas. I am waiting for the mother of surveys to come out, the one that asks individuals saints what they believe are the top 10 most fundamental teachings of the church. I’m not sure what to expect, frankly.

  22. manaen on August 28, 2005 at 4:27 am

    Another thoughtful posting.

    15. Ann, thank you for writing so well what I would have tried to convey if I’d come in earlier.

    17. Wilfried, “Nevertheless, when you’re a leader in a small struggling Church unit, and you’re dealing with the life complexities of new converts, and you know how much they still have to grow, you may wish that some things were a little more based on principles with a margin of personal interpretation.” I’m sure that’s tempting for leaders of struggling units, but maybe the “much still to grow” in these members is the reason that they need a clear schoolmaster to help them develop the spiritual maturity of personal interpretation to later have wider range.

    18 JKS, “Laws like the word of wisdom are in place specifically to differentiate us from others.” and, I believe, to help us learn to submit our will to the Lord’s. I believe that this life in many ways is a spiritual play pen: most of what we do here: WoW, tithes, jobs, acquisitons has no meaning out of the play pen other than the character we develop as we “play” with them. I see it as though God gave us learning toys but contained us on earth so that we couldn’t do any eternally-significant damage until we’re mature enough to have the power without misusing it. Can you imagine having the magnitude of God’s power and losing control of your temper? Slogging down a mosquito-infested street on my mission, I told my companion that when I become a god, I will create a world, fill it with mosquitos, and blow it up. He asked me to let him watch.

    Not only will many of our current commandments not be continue into eternity, but we won’t have the means to obey them: abstain from what cigarettes? pay 10% of what money?

    21. Comet, “I fully advocate a clear WoW but none of the little taboos that well-intended members/leaders like to add on – cola, chocolate, etc.” If you want some fun, when someone pushes supposed restrictions of chocolate, refined sugar, and the like, tell them that Bruce R. McConkie covered that in “Mormon Doctrine.” If they can’t find this discussion, have them look under the proper entry: “Fanatics” (or “Fanaticism” I’m not looking at it now).

    However, the Church has taken an official stand on cola, “We counsel the members of the Church not to use drinks that contain habit-forming drugs in way in which they form the habit (or worded close to that).” If you give my father a cola, he’ll may drink it vs. an uncle that drank an 8-pack of cokes a day.

    I believe that fascination upon exact definition of the rules that allow personal interpretation misses the point of those rules. Like this post’s title and the example of Dutch drivers, The two great commandments can be the iron rod through these clouds. How do should we keep the sabbath? If loving God is the guide, then we identify what moves us closer to being like Him and spend the sabbath pursuing it. It’s not about a static dual checklist of things to do and things to avoid, but a call to self-honesty to maturity to assess our position, to commit to attaining the ideal — in this case, becoming like Him — to identify the next best things to do to reach the ideal, and to develop the self-mastery to do them diligently. To do this may require prayer to know the mind of the Lord, for you, at this moment. Which of course also helps to become more like Him.

    Many other commandments and, like the Dutch drivers, can be guided by learning to love one another.

  23. Ben H on August 28, 2005 at 4:49 am

    Yes! I saw a Perseid! (meteor)

    If it’s retention we’re worried about, my suspicion is that fudging on standards like the WoW is completely the backwards thing to try. People have trouble keeping commandments, or aren’t convinced they matter, so we say, “Okay, whatever”? That ain’t love!

    The solution isn’t to stop caring so much what people do. The solution is to start caring! The problem is judging people judgmentally, where instead we need to treat them as people who need love and persuasion and encouragement. That’s my theory.

    Following the “raising the bar” point aptly made above, remember what Elder Ballard said: when we raise the bar for missionaries, this raises the bar for parents and for local leaders, too. It is their job to bring missionaries to the point where they are ready to go, according to the new, higher standards. We need to stop seeing other people’s sins as a reason to disdain them and start seeing them as a reason to reach out to them and love them onto the straight and narrow.

  24. comet on August 28, 2005 at 6:56 am

    beware: rant ahead

    Manaen: When and where did the church take a serious stand on cola? The last I checked Marion G Romney said something back in the seventies, but it was rather indirect. On the order of: we know that excessive fat is bad for our health; fast foods contain lotsa fat; therefore don’t you think it would be wise to avoid fast foods? Think of it as a calculated pleasure (it’s a health, not a moral, risk; or let’s not make it into a moral/spiritual risk). Cola is a dead issue (or should be); no one but members stuck in the cola wars still make an issue of this. Cola is an example of folklore at its worminess. People start asking why it is we don’t drink coffee so instead of coming straight out and saying that its a directive given by God, period, we fumble for explanations and then expect other saints to abide by those explanations. So church authorities have to deal with them — successfully and not so successfully. Thought proces: hmm, why doesn’t the Lord want us to drink coffee, for there must be a rational explanation? Well, coffee has caffeine, which is mildly addictive, so that must be it. What other things also have caffeine? The Lord must’ve had cola in mind as well because that has caffeine too. And so we hedge up our ways, adding unecessary burdens. And then when we find out that chocolate, or some other food, has the same mildly addictive substance, then we all get in a tizzy because how can chocolate be damaging to our spirituality, seriously? Where does it stop? So your uncle is spending his retirement on 8-packs of coke; I hope he gets a handle on it but I don’t think we should generalize from his weakness. I’m no expert on the cola wars 30, 40 years ago but that was a hot potato tossed to the general authorities by fanatic members who found themselves generalizing personal or local concerns to the level of general doctrine. I’m sure Times and Seasons has hashed this out before somewhere but this speaks to Wilfried’s issue about allowing members to govern themselves (no micromanaging please!) especially on peripheral issues.

    Ben H.: We should love new members and fellowship them as Christ would. But we should care about the right things, not the trivial things. Confucius remarked that the princely man works on the trunk, not on the leaves. Leave the details out (the devil’s in them, you know!). Let sunday school lessons, which are aimed at a general audience, do the work of teaching correct principles. New members don’t need well-meaning but wrongheaded counsel from individuals regarding trivial things such as drinking a Pepsi.

  25. Soyde River on August 28, 2005 at 7:57 am

    The Dutch are WAY behind when it comes to traffic. In Latin America people don’t pay attention to traffic signs, traffic lights, speed limits, pedestrians, children playing in the street….Traffic just merges, everyone watches out for everyone else like a hawk, while at the same time not letting them know they are being watched, in order not to embarrass them.

    They are respectful of big lumbering clumsy buses and trucks, recognizing that these are handicapped vehicles which may not be able to control their muscles; they move into empty space on the roads, knowing that nature abhors a vaccum; they merge in an orderly way, everyone allowing some other vehicle to go through, as long as the driver of that vehicle has been able to place some portion of his vehicle in front.

    From what I have heard, they are even more advanced in Africa.

  26. Wilfried on August 28, 2005 at 9:19 am

    Unless the previous comments since #18 came from very different Time Zones, we have insomniacs and early risers among our readers. Thanks for the vivid participation!

    It strikes me how all of us are concerned about the well-being of our members, either by pushing them to raise the bar or by warning against misplaced fanaticism. But then it’s also obvious that much depends on whom we have in mind when we formulate our viewpoints. A topic like this cannot easily be detached from specific cases we know. On the one hand, a convert not convinced of certain commandments and clearly faltering on certain points will need encouragement, and perhaps even “reproving with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him” (D&C 121:43). On the other hand, a convert already doing everything quite right (and that means an enormous lot if you know where most come from) does not need more reproval and the addition of more feelings of guilt. In my more than 40 years in the mission field I’ve seen much more of the latter. So, with those good people in mind, I feel very much in tune with the things Comet has said. Comment 21 is worth rereading!

  27. manaen on August 28, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    24
    Comet, I agree with you generally. My Comet comments in #22 were supposed to be taken as saying that such nit-picking is looking beyond the mark. The reference to “Mormon Doctrine” brands this as fanatacism.

    Bruce R. McConkie also was quoted in the “Ensign” in an article about caffeine, cola, and the WoW:

    “The Church has taken no stand against any substances containing caffeine other than coffee and tea. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote about the Word of Wisdom, ‘Some people become cranks. ? There is no prohibition in Section 89 as to the eating of white sugar, cocoa, chocolate, ? or anything else except items classified under tea, coffee, tobacco and liquor. If some particular food disagrees with an individual, then that person should act accordingly without reference to the prohibitions in this particular law of health.’ ” (McConkie, 1966, pp. 845?56.) — Ensign June, 1988, p.60

    As for your question about when the Church took a serious stand on cola, I was referring to this:
    “With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on the matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.” (Priesthood Bulletin, 1972) I believe this shows wisdom and restraint. It also fits neatly within the subject Wilfired posted here. Parts of this were cited a few years ago in a GenCon talk.

    I don’t believe that his excessive cola drinking was the reason my uncle died in his 50s and that my father’s moderation is the reason he’s still tooling along at near-80, but I note the coincidence.

    Frank Zappa somehow tipped to this internal controversy and had some fun with it. In the context of our LDS-cola discussions, you can feel the merry devilment that must have prompted him back in the 70s to start the rumor that the LDS Church owns the Coca-Cola company!

    26
    Wilfried, I agree generally with encouragment over reproof. I’m learning that our earthly purpose is to help each and to leave the judging to the Judge.

    re: “Unless the previous comments since #18 came from very different Time Zones, we have insomniacs and early risers among our readers.” Actually, all you need are a couple liters of full-strength cola. ;->

  28. Mark on August 28, 2005 at 2:02 pm

    Wilfried, thank you for this. I’m not sure how to respond, because I think the temporal commandments are important. I believe abstention from drugs and alcohol makes us more sensitive to the spirit, for example. But I also think these commandments are in place as a result of the fall, and are therefore temporary.

    We once had an investigator who responded to our invitation to attend church. Her Sunday Best was a black pantsuit which showed lots of cleavage. She got the message right away that she wasn’t good enough. To her credit, she gained a strong witness anyway and is an active, contributing member of that ward. But there are many who don’t gain that strong testimony right away, and leave.

    I think there are two things we can do.

    First, in our friendshipping efforts, we can emphasize what we have in common with our neighbors, rather than our differences. We are the only members on our street, but we have great neighbors, and we share many of the same hobbies, concerns, and interests. Once I got off my high horse, I found them very easy to like, even love.

    Second, we can recognize that we are all, to some extent, *cafeteria mormons*, we do what we want, and tend to discount the teachings we don’t like, or find difficult. It does not become a single one of us to judge anybody else, but it is hard not to. There must be something about human nature that makes us want to instruct the newbies and give unsolicited advice – perhaps the unrighteousness that “almost all” men are subject to, as soon as they think they can get away with it. (sec. 121)

    Comet, #21, said

    I am waiting for the mother of surveys to come out, the one that asks individuals saints what they believe are the top 10 most fundamental teachings of the church.

    I was astonished the first time I worked with LDS youth and found out what they thought was important – no dating until age 16, no R rated movies, no smoking, no two piece bathing suits, etc. I don’t think we do much better as adults. It bothers me that often, to the extent people know about our religion at all, we are known as the church of teetotalism. Can’t we do better than that?

  29. texasviolinist on August 28, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    Obedience is the first law of heaven.

    Joseph Smith said that a religion that cannot ask its members to sacrifice everything they have even their lives if necessary does not have the power of salvation (or something like that).

    All the God asks is that we be obedient. But its really interesting that the church isn’t imposing most of the absurd little rules you mention, the members are demanding them. They demand to know where the edge of righteousness is instead of trying to find the center. We do govern ourselves. There are many areas where the church does not go. They don’t say anything about “gross vs. net”. They don’t even get into the “what is income?” question. It would be easy enough to write a tax code for tithing. They don’t say much at all about birth control. They stay out of the intimate lives of the lawfully married to an amazing degree. (Ask a Catholic). We counsel hard against divorce but say “oh well” when it happens. They define the Word of Wisdom as coffee, tea, tobacco, alchohol and addictive substances and really no more.

    We tolerate a huge amount of debate on the limits and boundaries of church policy (just look around this blog). You can even join another church and still be a Mormon!

  30. JKS on August 28, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    Mark,
    Yes, every Utah Mormon teenager knows full well that smoking is a far more serious sin than getting pregnant before marriage.
    Where do we go wrong? I think that we need to teach our children that the invisible sins are not less important than the visible ones.
    My children are young, and it is shocking at how they are unable to prioritize. As I went through scenarios with my 7 year old about what she should or should not report to the teacher (teacher’s can’t deal with incessant tattling over “he isn’t sitting still” and “she’s using the wrong color crayon”). Surprise, surprise, she didn’t know that if another child had a real gun in their backpack, she should go tell an adult right away.
    The cafeteria style description is very true. It is quite impossible to live all of the commandments all of the time. I had a friend ask me exactly how she was supposed to not wait to get married, not wait to have kids, get an education, not go into debt, and stay home with her children all at the same time! So, unless you meet the right person your last year of college and get married on the day you graduate from college which your parents paid for, something’s gotta give.
    Life is also very seasonal and we have to work on what is most important during that season, or what we feel we can actually handle. I think it is important to realize that we all have a long list of commandments that we could find a way to live better, but none of us every get all the way through the list. I hope as the years go on that I get a little bit better at tackling everything all of the time.

    One of the things our church emphasizes and something that I’d like to pass on to my children is the idea of progression. We should always be trying to be a better person. Setting goals, trying and failing and then trying again, these are all good life skills that relate to our purpose here on earth.
    THe original post, however, discusses the difficulties of following commandments that have some details layed out for us. I am not quite sure what else we should do about the Word of Wisdom.
    My daughter asked me what was bad in coffee and why we couldn’t drink it. Since caffeine isn’t a complete answer, I went ahead and told her that I wasn’t sure, some people think it is because it has caffeine, but since God’s prophet has told us to not drink it, we want to follow God’s commandment.
    The WoW started as a suggestion, and eventually was made a commandment. It, for some reason, is part of the temple recommend interview. There are many things that are not in the temple recommend interview that seem to be very important, and definitely more important than a glass of iced tea. But it is there for some reason.
    God asks us to do a lot of things that are symbolic. We don’t sacrifice animals anymore. There are many things that he asks of previous generations that are no longer required. The Word of Wisdom is something for our time. Even if it makes little sense, we should strive to do it.

  31. JKS on August 28, 2005 at 5:54 pm

    “But its really interesting that the church isn’t imposing most of the absurd little rules you mention, the members are demanding them.”

    Texasviolinist. You are so right! Members are always asking for more clarification, and asking “what if you…..” and “what if you…..”
    Church policies in some ways keep getting simpler. Individual circumstances vary, times change, so the church can’t keep giving more and more detailed instructions without creating more and more exceptions.

  32. comet on August 28, 2005 at 7:34 pm

    The Frank Zappa incident is a real hoot. I didn’t know that. Thank you.

    We must all be cafeteria mormons — by necessity — because the menu is long and the chefs are always serving up new dishes!

    Texasviolinist makes a good point. The church authorities are probably more lenient than some of our fellow members. For example, allowing the definition of tithing to stand as it is written in the D&C — rendered somewhat ambiguous over time as financial conditions have changed — shifts the burden of judgment to individual members, which gives them a stake in it and may add even a little drama to their religious lives. But there will always be someone in Elders quorum eager to reveal the true interpretation of tithing.

    My children aren’t old enough yet for the WoW lesson but I’m sure I’ll teach it with as much spirit as I can muster and the Lord will lend. The funny thing about commandments is that once they become binding on the community of saints they demand an inordinate investment of emotional and spiritual belief, no matter their insignificant origins. They are caught up into a divine economy of things, so to speak; sacralized and given a new status, a new name even, so it’s not “teetoling” but it’s a “word of wisdom.” These things tend to get spiritualized in various ways as “tests of obedience” and eventually incorporated into Mormon social identity. It’s what marks us as different from all the other Christian groups who otherwise resemble us in so many ways. Like polygamy before, coffee and tea abstinence become supreme markers of difference (unlike polygamy, though, which signified our defiant exile from mainstream US culture, WoW is a relatively trivial and tame distinction, perhaps suggesting a kind of futile protest in our submission to the US?). It’s telling that, at least sociologically, what most marks the grand canyon of difference (peculiarness) we feel between ourselves and other religious groups is something as relatively superficial as the WoW. We can never go back on coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco, though. It’s what defines us as a people. We had a close call with cola (ask Frank Zappa); I wonder what’s next?

  33. texasviolinist on August 28, 2005 at 9:55 pm

    Re: 30 — JKS are Utah teenagers really that dense or is this some kind of red herring? Every Mormon knows that sex is a good thing and most of them know they will experience it some day, and hopefully in lawful marriage.. Every Mormon knows that cigarettes are a bad thing and most never plan on experiencing it. Where do you suppose most of the mistakes will be made?

  34. Lisa B. on August 28, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    In my church hst class at BYU from Susan Easton Black I learned that WOW was made part of the temple recommend interview questions after Utah voted to repeal prohibition against the counsel of the prophet. Before that, wine, coffee, and smoking were much more tolerated among the Saints. I remember with surprise seeing coffee on a list of pioneer provisions for the westward journey. Sorry I can’t remember what book I saw it it, but it was interesting to me given what I’d learned in that church hst class. I wonder if anyone has ever felt unworthy to get a temple recommend because they eat too much meat (not sparingly on only in times of famine) or because they don’t eat fruit “in season.”

    Cool about the meteor, Ben. Does that explain your wee hours post?

    JKS–glad you made your clarification about “we’re all sinners.” But I think our (LDS) general perception about how devout born again Christians view grace may be a bit of caricature. Sure there are less devout Christians of all stripes (LDS included). That doesn’t mean that’s what’s really taught or believed by the faithful (the whole “I can do whatever I want ’cause I’ve been saved” idea.).

    As for helping others (and ourselves) fully convert to discipleship, I agree that approach and attitude matter far more than the details. How differently I respond to positive encouragement than judgment or criticism.

  35. Ann on August 28, 2005 at 10:54 pm

    Regarding the TR question “Do you obey the Word of Wisdom?” – The entire discussion could have been avoided, if, after carefully examining his own heart, his understanding of the commandment, and his compliance with that understanding, the person interviewing with Wilfried had just said “Yes.” And in that person’s mind, it would have been the truth.

    THAT’S how we cut people slack in their own circumstances and culture – we encourage them to set boundaries and try to get them away from thinking they are accountable for every decision they make to an earthly judge.

  36. Lisa B. on August 28, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    Anyone see this? http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=99384 Interesting given our discussion here.

  37. JKS on August 28, 2005 at 11:56 pm

    Ann,
    Good point about the bishop and stake president presenting the questions, but not going into specific details (normally). Do you live the law of chastity? There are hundreds of questions under that particular commandment that could be asked, but we expect members to come up with a yes or no based on their understanding.
    It certainly sounds like we let people govern themselves. Under our system, we have no traffic cops out there, we simply periodically tell our local police officer whether or not we have been speeding, running red lights or driving dangerously out there. It is entirely up to us to govern ourselves.

  38. Wilfried on August 29, 2005 at 12:01 am

    Great thoughts and clarifications, all! It seems we’re pretty much in accord. As always, the WoW is the classical topic for some historical and controversial views. I think we can safely say it has become an easy touchstone for obedience as such, as far as it pertains to the basic products (coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco).

    Two remarks to relate the matter back to my original post, i.e. the question of the “principle” versus “strict rule”, applied to the WoW.

    1) We seldom take into account that there is a huge difference between the absolute “unhealthiness” of smoking, and the degree of unhealthiness of the three other products, especially in the light of evolving scientific research of the past decade. The “deadly” data and warnings of the 70s and 80s in connection with coffee, tea and alcohol seem to have been largely discredited and new studies demonstrate no adverse affects of moderate use of these products. It becomes increasingly difficult to defend the absolute avoidance of these three products on the basis of scientific research and it seems the Church is, wisely, not using those past “research” arguments too strongly any more. But, let there be no misunderstanding, we accept the avoidance of those products in the first place because it has been clarified as a commandment. Here the key is obedience. Period. At the same time we must realize that it becomes increasingly difficult to convince well-informed investigators, with logical arguments, that coffee and tea, even in their most moderate form, must be totally forbidden, when such moderate use is harmless and so deeply integrated in their culture. Alcohol, because of its inherent danger of habit-formation and subsequent alcoholism, is more easily to ban. As to coffee and tea, the image of practicality and reasonableness of our religion, since long our trademark, may suffer.

    2) The point was made (Melissa, 12) that in many countries those products have quite different values, while for e.g. generation-Mormons or for converts in Mormon territory they may represent little challenge. In many countries and cultures tea or coffee (and sometimes alcohol, though less than before) have an important social function. Sure, we have great stories in the Church about the refusal of Mormons to partake of coffee or tea abroad, but are those “heroic” deeds not utterly trivial, whatever their symbolic value? Mark (28) made the remark that we leave our audience with the only image of a teetotaling religion, and that’s it. At the same time we isolate many converts in their social interactions (with non member family, friends, colleagues) as being fanatical on seemingly trivial things. Again, let me emphasize I am not advocating that our members should now be allowed to drink coffee or tea. But I cannot help but think that this part of the (later interpretation of the) WoW may constitute, for a fair number of investigators and converts, one of the additional thresholds and burdens that is perhaps unnecessary. And then the question comes up: if “principle and self-governing” could be restored here, would it help? I do not have the answer.

  39. JKS on August 29, 2005 at 12:28 am

    texasviolinist,
    I was referring to a rumor that Utah LDS teenagers, when rating how bad sins were, thought smoking was far more evil than getting pregnant out of wedlock. But these are children with little experience of life. A 5 year old knows smoking is bad and in a very Mormon environment is surrounded by only non-smokers. Smoking means nonmember. It is a very, very visible sin that separates people into another category as much as not attending church separates them into inactives. My 5 year old knows not to smoke. He knows he should say no. He does not yet know about out of wedlock pregnancy. He does not yet know how to avoid it.
    As he gets older I hope to explain it all to him. I hope he understands. I hope he understands that if he chooses to have premarital sex he should use birth control. I hope he understands that creating a life shouldn’t happen until a man and woman are ready to create a family. I hope he understands that if he gets a girl pregnant he has little or no control over what she chooses to do with the pregnancy. He’ll have little or no control over whether she keeps the baby and what kind of man gets to be the child’s step dad. I hope he understands that his children deserve the best from him. That procreation is sacred and a responsibility. I hope he someday knows that premarital sex is a sin, but intimacy within marriage is a beautiful privilege.
    There is a lot of information to teach him. Some parents are uncomfortable discussing certain subjects. Some parents mistakenly think their children already know. Some parents use only vague statements. Some parents wait too long to discuss the issue. Some children refuse to listen.
    Yep, the smoking thing, even with the addiction aspect to discuss, is far, far simpler.
    Children, like I said, do not have the life experience to understand the world. THey cannot prioritize sins. We have to tell them, explicitly, what is a wrong choice and what is a worse choice. Children keep silent about abuse, for instance, because of their lack of understanding.
    It is impossible to really have a list of sins in order of seriousness. And in many ways we have our own ideas and priorities. Which is more important–not watching R rated movies or reading scriptures everyday? Who can really say, but you’ve got some people concentrating on one or the other and picking it as their #1.
    However, I feel that by age 16, children should have some sort of understanding of seriousness of certain things. That smoking isn’t the worst sin in the world.

  40. gary on August 29, 2005 at 9:26 am

    Although we are fond of quoting Joseph”s statement that he taught correct principles and let them govern themselves, I can think of few religions that practise this principle less than we do. We have the restrictions imposed by the word of wisdom. We have a rigid dress code for church colleges and very conservative standards of dress which are explicity taught to all members. We even specify the number or earrings that are acceptable. People must promise to pay tithing when they join, and we hold them accountable for that promise. We require people to attend meetings as a condition of full participation in temple ordinances. Our leaders have not been shy about offering strong opinions on birth control, sabbath day observance, obdience to church authorities, performing missionary service etc. and some political issues. We “call” people to serve in numerous capacities, they do not volunteer. We have an accountability and enforcement mechanism through regular temple recommend and other interviews. Of course, the Church does not have power of enforcement that the state has, but we certainly go well beyond merely teaching correct principles and then leaving people to decide what is best. I don’t know of any church that is quite like ours in these respects. Whether or not this is a good thing is another question. In my opinion, these detailed, explicit expectations are one of the reasons why the LDS church has been more successful that many other mainline churches in North America. They seem to serve an important purpose in binding us together and giving a strong sense of identity. On the other hand, they also repel some would be investigators, and some of our own members who feel stifled by what they see as arbitrary rules with no basis on morality.

  41. annegb on August 29, 2005 at 10:23 am

    “Do you obey the word of wisdom?” “As I understand and interpret it and to the best of my ability as I decide, yes, I do.”

    Sounds okay to me.

    Frank Shorter died of a heart attack. Ultimately, it’s the luck of the draw. Well, in life or death, or health.

  42. annegb on August 29, 2005 at 10:26 am

    This is sort of off the subject, but it’s true and perhaps interesting, although maybe objectionable to some of you: I make a point of being public about my word of wisdom problem so that I don’t get put in a calling I don’t want, especially young women. I also exaggerate it, since I’ve been sober for many years. I also say hell and damn regularly in front of the bishop.

  43. Wilfried on August 29, 2005 at 11:09 am

    annegb, your comments are always welcome! They come from the heart and add a little spice to it all!

    Gary (40), I can see you point in the examples you mention. On the other hand, the Church seems to give us also a fair amount of self-governing on important issues, such as tithing, birth control, sexual intimacy (compare to the Catholic church…). I believe the tendency has been, these past decades, to even greater self-governing (cf. birth control), as also appears from simplified instructions in the GHI that emphasize personal responsibility in the decisions we make. I think Church leaders also constantly struggle between formulating “general guidelines” and the need they see to clarify when faced with specific questions. It must not be easy to find the right balance in guiding so many members with different needs. Some of us are children needing pretty detailed instructions, others should be able to do it with principles…

  44. Cyril on August 29, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Frank Shorter, just for the record, is alive and well. But your point, annegb, is understood.

  45. manaen on August 29, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    40.
    Gary, I’ve had several conversations recently with non- and new members about how the Church teaches very clearly what is our position, then leaves each person to find for themselves whether it’s true and whether they will follow it – teach correct principles and govern ourselves.

    You commented, “We have an accountability and enforcement mechanism through regular temple recommend and other interviews.” I have a different view. In your specific instances: WoW, dress codes, # of earrings, meeting attendance, birth control, Sabbath observance, obedience to Church authorities, doing missionary work, and some political actions, we are taught – you use that word regarding dress standards — what to do and disobedience may have some immediately visible consequences, such as loss of temple recommends or callings, but that is not enforcement. When our law-enforcement officers enforce laws against robbing banks or driving too fast, they force compliance by stopping the disobedience. They do not re-teach the law or impose some other consequence. Consequences/penalties may be added later by people who are not law-enforcement officers, but that is different from enforcement. If I choose to file my taxes late, I may receive a penalty, but I remain able to make my own choice, to govern myself. This also is true with obeying the Church. It does not send around the Danites to enforce its teachings.

    You raise this issue of Church enforcement with your comment “Of course, the Church does not have power of enforcement [as opposed to teaching -m.] that the state has.” The Church did have that power in the theocratic days of Deseret. However, as far as I know, compliance was not enforced as it was by the Pilgrims or during the Inquisition. In fact, the Church’s own “constitution,” the scriptures, prohibits that kind of enforcement by either church or state:

    Regarding state enforcement of religious teachings: ”We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:4. See also D&C 98:5-8, 134:2-3).

    Regarding church enforcement of religious teachings: “We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.” (D&C 134:10) Which leaves me free to govern myself.

    You also commented, “we certainly go well beyond merely teaching correct principles and then leaving people to decide what is best.” That is true in the sense that Church does teach what is best in some issues, leaving us to gain our own testimonies of it. However, I believe that the Church always does leave us to decide whether *to do* what is best, which is the essence of governing ourselves.

    I agree that the part of the Church’s appeal is that our watchmen on the towers give clear warnings. I suppose the Spirit’s confirming answers to personal prayers is another reason that we’ve grown more than mainline churches recently. However, the days may come when that becomes the reason we’re accepted less, not more, by an increasingly-worldly population.

  46. Mike on August 29, 2005 at 10:36 pm

    Different strokes for different folks. To what extent do “we” relax and adapt? It depends on who the “we” is. I, as a regular member, don’t have any responsibility for the guy who sits next to me in priesthood, except to love him and be a good example (speaking in generalities). I, as a high priest group leader, have a little different responsibility for the guy sitting next to me. I, as the bishop, have a much different responsibility. Assuming I am the bishop, my responsibililty is to strive to have the Spirit to be my guide, because each person’s spiritual needs are going to be different than the last’s.

    As a father, I believe I should teach my son to reach out to others, even when they might seem “weird,” but allow him to invite who he wants to his birthday party. My wife, on the other hand, wants to make that decision for him. We haven’t worked that out, yet.

  47. texasviolinist on August 29, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    I have been mulling this over for a long time. When I returned home from my mission many years ago I joined a student ward and was assigned a home teaching companion who had served in Brazil. We compard notes. We baptized well in my mission but had retention issues. But living the word of wisdom was a condition for baptism. It was difficult because local hospitality expected some behaviors that were against the WoW.

    My HT companion baptized incredibly well but they didn’t insist on living the Word of Wisdom. They didn’t retain very many at all.

    “The first law of heaven is obedience”. “If ye love me keep my commandments”.

    I hate to be so specific but as I read your post with its relatively innocuous suggestions I understand why I associate the word Dutch with debauched. It all starts slow doesn’t it? From there we get to Amsterdam and from there we get to euthanasia and then where do we go? Hartman Rector once told a story of his service as a Navy pilot. He sais that the margin of error when you’re flying close to the ground is very low. He said fly high. I think we ought to be worried about flying higher not how low we can be and still clear the obstacles.

  48. Mike on August 29, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    Ann: Excellent point in #15. I am reminded of the process of church disciplinary hearings on the high council. On the one hand, we were to protect the integrity of the church. On the other hand, we were to be merciful to the member. Declining to give a temple recommend to a member need not be a message that they are not loved. Quite a challenge, as I think has been expressed here by Wilfried.

  49. Mike on August 29, 2005 at 10:58 pm

    I don’t mean to pass on Mormon myths, so let me just say that the following is unverified. An authority visiting my brother’s stake in SLC indicated that when the missionary standards were raised, the number of missionaries dropped. However, the quality of missionary work (don’t know how this was measured) correspondingly increased. A problem was seen back home, however, with the young men who were approaching mission age and became aware of the raised standards. Once they committed one disqualifying sin, they figured because they could not go on a mission they might as well “let go completely”. The reported result was that the Church was losing young men in a way that was not ancticipated. Again, I apologize for passing on an unverified story (except that my brother was in attendance at the meeting), but it kind of illustrates the challenge of enforcing strict standards.

  50. Wilfried on August 29, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    Thoughtful and careful exchanges continue… I appreciate the nuanced tones and the concern for the individual. It’s clear we are on complex ground.

    Mike (49), you are right. “Raising the bar”, for all its good aspects, has also unexpected consequences by pushing weaker members quickly out of the Church. It’s obvious a new balance will have to be found. I once had a mission president who sent a registered letter to all inactive members: come back to the Church OR be excommunicated. I do not have to say what ensued.

    Texasviolonist, about your side remark in #47: “I hate to be so specific but as I read your post with its relatively innocuous suggestions I understand why I associate the word Dutch with debauched. It all starts slow doesn?t it? From there we get to Amsterdam and from there we get to euthanasia and then where do we go?”

    If that remark implies that we are on the way to debauche the Church by simply expressing concern and carefully probing how to best help our fellow Saints, a sensitive discussion of these issues becomes impossible.

  51. Ann on August 30, 2005 at 12:36 am

    annegb #41: “Do you obey the word of wisdom?” “As I understand and interpret it and to the best of my ability as I decide, yes, I do.”

    Too much info! A much better response is to leave all the other stuff unstated (as long as it’s true) and just say “Yes.” That’s all the interviewer wants or needs – a simple “Yes” or “No.”

  52. manaen on August 30, 2005 at 3:11 am

    47.
    re: Dutch = debauched. I confess that association is one of the novelties that I’ve seen here. However, accepting it does not come naturally to me. In considering what are natural associations with “Dutch” for me, these came to mind:
    * a missionary from Ede that served in one of my U.S. wards, who was such an excellent example of testimony, kindness, and good humor for my children,
    * the courage of Anne Frank and the Dutch Resistance during WWII,
    * Rembrandt’s biblical etchings acquired by the Church, recently featured at the Church’s Museum of History and Art, and still viewable on the Church’s website. (http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,40-1-3139-2,00.html),
    * the Dutch temple, located in The Hague, and dedicated 9/8/02. The Hague Temple dedicated
    * tulips! I like them.

    In response to the original posting, I’ve felt the greatest love from the members who actually reached to me. Some are archly conservative, others are hopeless liberals. My personal stance is to sound clearly what is the standard and then try to help them as I am able. I hope to show constant love and clarity — as I was shown when I was off the path — regardless of how I would judge them if I were to do so.

  53. Soyde River on August 31, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Regarding the possible Mormon myth to which Mike referred (#49).

    I don’t know what the effect of raising the bar may have had on some who were disqualified for a mission. It may well be as you say. But I doubt that lowering our standards because of the world’s continuing descent into immorality in order to be more “inclusive” is what the Lord would have us do.

    I believe there are times when the Lord lets us know once again, that He expects us to live up to His law. To continue to tolerate more and more sin on the part of young men, and believe that it is all OK if you just go to the bishop and get your life in order a few weeks before your mission call is a pernicious reading of the Atonement.

    Anybody who does not think that there has been an increase of serious sin amongst our youth, is simply not aware of the world in which we live. And so, the message has once again gone out from the prophet, in the words of the Lord: “For I will raise up to myself a pure people.” (D&C 100:16)

  54. David Bonet on September 1, 2005 at 7:35 am

    Hi everyone, from Spain.
    I just arrived to this blog, a few minutes ago. Felt attracted to the topic of this post and read it.
    As I was doing so, I recalled something astonishing that happened to me a few days ago.

    A long time friend of mine went to Bolivia a few months ago, to meet a guy she just had got in touch with in an LDS singles site. A few days ago She called me on the phone, said she was back and that wanted to talk with me and one more friend of both. We met and she told us right away that she was pregnant (and quite happy about it, I must say), though still single. Later she explained how good a man this guy was, how good a member of the Church, how they were helping the rest of his family “really be active in the Church” and so on.

    After recovering from my initial devastation (she’s really a good friend), I just could not give credit to what I was hearing.

    My thoughts turned to something to the effect of “What are we doing wrong in the Church to make members believe everything is okay so long as you keep attending Church and having Family Home Evenings, reading the scriptures and so on while you are really missing out on the big stuff? (not to say that those things are not important, but meaning that those are the things that help you remain true to the others).

    I think the answer to my question might well be the focus we are placing on those “more external” aspects of worship.

    The following idea might well be wrong or too simple, but I have always had it very clear when discussing this dilema in my mind: If the Lord has stated a clear do or don’t, it is absolute. No rationalizing, no “softening” applicable. If the Lord has not been so clear, it is something left to an honest “settlement” between you and the Lord. You don’t have the right to preach on others about the outcome of those personal “settlements” either. Between YOU and the Lord.

    True, I’ve found that in different times of my life those “settlements”, even reached on the very same topics, have been changing. Which in turn has been a clear indication to me as to what direction my life was going with regards to my closeness to the Lord.

  55. RoAnn on September 1, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    David Bonet (#54),
    Thanks very much for posting that comment. I think you made some excellent points. I’m not sure, however, that the problem of people missing “the big stuff” is “What are we doing wrong in the Church. . . .”
    It seems to me that the Scriptures are full of stories of prophets encountering the very same type of thinking in every age. The message I hear from our leaders now is the one you phrased as “If the Lord has stated a clear do or don’t, it is absolute.” But we are all influenced to a high degree by our local culture, and the temptation to rationalize our particular circumstances is always there.
    I also live outside the USA, and the members here may face some challenges different than those present in other countries; but wherever we live, we can find reasons to justify behavior that is contrary to the commandments.
    For me, your final paragraph was very telling. That has been my experience, too.

  56. UKAnn on September 3, 2005 at 5:47 am

    It’s a difficult question and how can one get the balance right? In our efforts to ‘love the sinner’ how can we avoid crossing the boundary of ‘hating the sin’ into ‘condoning the sin’? I know I find it easy to love the sinner, but a lot harder to let them know their decisions have been unacceptable to the Lord. I guess I kind of wait for the Spirit to do that for them, or they will just realise by ‘osmosis’ that they have made wrong decisions. I don’t know if I’m just being cowardly.