A short while ago a recently reactivated member of our ward sang a solo for the musical number in Sacrament Meeting. You must understand that the man is a professional vocalist who has sung with Michael Jackson among others. The song he sang was absolutely gorgeous… but it wasn’t something you often (or ever) hear in a Sacrament Meeting. Rather it was a Spiritual. Now, I don’t know enough about music to fully appreciate this genre but I do know that I was genuinely touched by his performance.
(But it also gave me a twinge of discomfort-by-proxy. I immediately wondered what the westerners (i.e. not-african heritage) in the congregation thought.)
After the meeting I spoke with our Stake President (who was present in the meeting) and asked him what he thought. I was interested in his thoughts because this was clearly not what we are used to hearing in Sacrament Meeting. It would be one thing to hear this in an African Christian congregation but it is an entirely different thing in a American Mormon congregation. The SP’s response was that he liked it but he would urge us in the future to have hymns or derivatives of hymns sung for our musical numbers rather than something like this. In other words, keep playing music that we’re used to.
So I asked him why, what was so wrong with the performance that we should avoid something like it in the future? It turns out that he didn’t have a problem with the performance itself, in fact he enjoyed it as a piece of music, but he told me of a conference he had to attend with a general authority in which they were taught the “principle of non-distraction.” This principle is based on the idea that the purpose of our Sunday meetings is to worship (to which I agreed, though I felt bad thinking of all the parents out there who haven’t been able to “worship” in years). As those who organize and conduct these meetings we are responsible for creating an atmosphere that allows the greatest amount of people the greatest capacity for worship. Therefore, we are responsible for eliminating as many distractions (from worship) as we can. He applied this principle to music selection to talk topics to the color of our shirts to the appropriateness of our testimonies to the way Gospel Doctrine is taught.
I both wholly embrace this principle and vehemently reject it. I embrace it because he’s right, we don’t want to hinder the potential for spiritual experiences. The Church has been doing a pretty good job bringing the Spirit into people’s lives, the formula is working pretty well, don’t mess with it. I reject it because who’s to say what is the appropriate way to worship and what will bring the Spirit into the members’ lives? Shouldn’t we be challenged? Shouldn’t we be a bit uncomfortable?
Since this discussion I’ve often thought back on the Principle of Non-Distraction and can’t decide what I think, I just don’t know. So I ask you, fair readers of Times and Seasons, what should I think?
Please note that I would prefer the conversation to be about this principle and not necessarily about Sacrament music (unless it strengthens your point). Thank you.