Wisdom Found from Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith said something that I wish to live my life by.

“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” This was Joseph Smith’s explanation to the order found within Mormon communities.  With that simple statement I believe Smith spoke some of the wisest words to come out of 19th Century American religion.  I so wish more Christians would discover this gem and live by it.

Let me put this wisdom in a non-religious context to show its fruit.  My wife works to relieve world hunger.  In her work there is an elusive yet profound distinction between “outputs” and “outcomes”.  Outcomes are the goals you wish to accomplish.  Outputs are the activities surrounding those goals. Unfortunately, quite often people set out to accomplish their outputs rather than their outcomes.

One example of this can be found in clean water development.  You may wish to prevent deaths caused by water-borne illnesses. Your “outcome” would be to reduce death and illnesses. One of your “outputs” might be to build 10,000 water wells across the world.  If you have enough money, building 10,000 water wells is not a difficult thing to do. It can be accomplished quite easily.  It can be accomplished so easily that people will often dive headlong into digging and then start giving high-fives all around as the last water well begins to produce its hygienic bounty.

The problem is that the water wells by themselves will not deliver the outcome of fewer deaths and illnesses.  Water wells can be met with a lot of resistance from developing communities.  They are slower and more cumbersome to use than traditional bucket methods.  Sometimes there are cultural or spiritual influences that cause resistance (i.e. there are spirits in the lake which will make us stronger). It’s not uncommon for water wells to be damaged or ignored.  Instead of building water wells, the thing that will actually produce fewer deaths and illnesses is to teach people the love of clean and healthy water.  They have to gain a knowledge and a hatred of pollutants that will kill them. If you teach these principles successfully people will start to build their own water wells (though at times they may need assistance).

People sometimes pursue building water wells instead of teaching the principles of clean water for one simple reason; it’s easier.  It’s much easier to measure and it’s much easier to achieve than the discipleship of true principles.

I believe the ethic found in the New Testament and taught by Jesus is a virtue ethic.  One which teaches people the correct principles and lets them govern themselves.  This is why Jesus focused his teachings on the heart.  A hateful heart may not murder but it will still hate.  A loving heart will never murder and will never hate. A lustful heart may not fornicate, but it will still lust.  A pure heart will never fornicate and it will never lust. An undisciplined heart may not get drunk but it may still get fat.  A temperate heart will remain sober and healthy.  Washing the inside of the cup will naturally clean the outside as well.

There is nothing wrong with abstinence and piety just as there is nothing wrong with water wells.  But abstinence and piety are exterior signals of righteousness; they have no ability to actually produce righteousness.  They are “outputs” rather than “outcomes”.

My own religious upbringing was formed by individuals who decided it was easier to tell people how to behave than to actually teach them how to behave. As culture and technology progressed past their prohibitions, silly little debates were created over the ‘do’s and don’t’s of our denomination (Movie theaters were prohibited, but what about public screenings? VCRs? Cable television? Pay-per-view?)  It would have been much messier, much scarier and much more difficult to teach people correct principles and let them govern themselves, but it would have produced a much better fruit.  Prohibitions and restrictions are only useful in the context of where they were formed, while virtue extends itself to all possible situations.

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129 thoughts on “Wisdom Found from Joseph Smith

  1. Though a tangent to my post, another example of outputs being confused with outcomes can be found in some traditional counter-cult apologetics. The desired outcome is for people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But often the focus is put on the output of people leaving the LDS church. Some very well meaning Christian organizations have unfortunately produced a great many ex-Mormon atheist.

    See my post on this issue here.

  2. I try to live by the wisdom taught by Joseph Smith in my life, in my home, and in my various professions. It is pretty easy to do so in the home right now, as my home consists of myself and my wife, and we are pretty much in agreement on correct principles. Eventually, though, we will have children, and we have already discussed, many times, what it means to teach correct principles and let our children govern themselves.

    One example: I grew up in a home where my parents told us that certain items, like credit card offers, that came in the mail were trash, and then threw them out. My wife grew up in a home where her mother, seeing these items were trash, threw them out without saying anything. Gretch and I want to have a home where we teach our children that these items are trash, and let our children throw them away. That way, we don’t have to worry about them signing the first credit card offer they get as soon as they out of the home.

    My wife and I also own a company, and it is one of our greatest struggles to teach our employees correct principles and let them act. However, when we do so, we don’t have to spend all of our time micro-managing. We can teach, and then correct and refine.

    Finally, I think it is so important to not teach people the importance of fresh, clean water, but also provide them the means of acquiring it through water wells. Feel free to cut this out if you wish, Tim or Jack, but I can’t resist throwing out a plug for supporting an amazing accomplishment by my friend Katie Spotz that helped raise money for fresh water.

  3. Alex, (and everyone) PLEASE don’t think I’m against water well projects. I’m ALL for them (as long as they have community buy in and an education component).

  4. Tim, that was an excellent post.

    Part of what you said:

    It would have been much messier, much scarier and much more difficult to teach people correct principles and let them govern themselves, but it would have produced a much better fruit.

    This reminds me of ages ago, and without going into all the details, I can say that when I was a kid, I was required to go to bed much, much earlier than was necessary, and I vowed that if I ever became a parent, I would never have a bedtime for my children.

    Now y’all may say this is an example of lousy parenting, but believe it or not, I’ve pretty much kept that promise I made to myself, even though at times it would have been much, much easier in the short term to simply impose an arbitrary bedtime.

    And you know something? In the long run, it’s actually easier to let people govern themselves. In the case of the children, who pretty much set their own bedtimes, they learned on their own what happens when they don’t get enough sleep (we’ve always expected them to go to school, so they haven’t governed themselves in everything). They’ve been able to figure out reasonably well what works for them. Of course, there have been encouragement and reminders along the way, so I’m not talking about a laissez-faire approach.

    Our 9-year-old, who likes structure, has even set his own bedtime, of 9:45 p.m. on school nights. He occasionally needs encouragement to follow it, but he usually does because the “rule” was self-imposed rather than imposed from above.

    Of course, there were times we wanted the kids to go to bed much earlier than they sometimes did — more for our sakes than for theirs! But, really, they were able to figure out what worked well for them.

    I can’t say we’ve followed that philosophy with everything, but with many things. (Not doing homework, for example, wasn’t an option, but flexibility was given in terms of when and how.) There are some places a parent has to draw the line, sometimes to protect a child from harm and sometimes for one’s own sanity. Again, I’m not talking about laissez-faire or lazy parenting. There are still teaching, encouraging, modeling and all that to do. But it still beats fighting over things that don’t really matter, which a lot of parents seem to do with their kids.

    Prohibitions and restrictions are only useful in the context of where they were formed, while virtue extends itself to all possible situations.

    Amen.

  5. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book on parenting, but I do remember the “love and logic” approach being a good one, as well as many of the approaches recommended by folks such as Rudolf Dreikurs and William Sears. (Emphatically, James Dobson is not a parenting “expert” whom I recommend.) The key to effective parenting, I believe, is to help the child develop the ability to self-discipline. And I am far from convinced that the reward-and-punishment approach used and advocated by many is the best way to accomplish that.

    Unfortunately, too much discussion on raising children ends up focuses on spanking vs. nonspanking. While spanking, IMO, is never necessary (and our children have never been spanked), that isn’t the key. The key for the parent is being authoritative while being neither authoritarian nor neglectful; of guiding and nurturing and mentoring and teaching and example-setting and all that rather than being an effective controller.

    I don’t think there’s much question that many people form their concepts of what God is like by the way their parents treat them. I think it’s possible under some parents’ methods to develop a picture of God as someone who’s waiting for us to make mistakes so he can punish us, or someone who doesn’t respect our free will, or someone who’s arbitrary and sets up silly rules simply because he feels like it, and so on.

    I better get off my soapbox and get to work. Again, Tim, thanks for an excellent post.

  6. My husband and I are reading the Love and Logic books now. I’m trying very hard, but this is an area where I struggle. If I let my daughter set her own bedtime, she’d be up all night long. I agree that the quote, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” was definitely one of Joseph Smith’s best moments.

  7. …So I know I shouldn’t be asking this…

    But regarding Joseph Smith’s quote, which I agree is a wonderful bit of wisdom…

    What happened?

    Because I don’t think you can make a very good case that this little tidbit is lived out much at all in today’s Mormonism.

  8. I’m reminded of this scene from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Starts at 1:10):

    Penny: Actually I’m out here volunteering for the Caring Hands Homeless Shelter. Can you spare a minute?

    Dr. Horrible: Umm… Ok, go.

    Penny: Ok, we’re hoping to open up a new location soon, expand our efforts. There’s this great building nearby that the city is just going to demolish and turn into a parking lot, but if we get enough signatures…

    Dr. Horrible: Signatures? *pfft*

    Penny: Yeah.

    Dr. Horrible: I’m sorry, go on.

    Penny: I was saying um, maybe we could get the city to donate the building to our cause. We would be able to provide 250 new beds, get people off the streets and into job training so they could… buy rocket packs and go to the moon and become… florists… You’re not really interested in the homeless are you?

    Dr. Horrible: No, I am. But they’re a symptom. You’re treating a symptom and the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head as they say. So my thinking is why not cut off the head

    Penny: Of the human race?

    Dr. Horrible: It’s not a perfect metaphor… but I’m talking about an overhaul of the system. Putting the power in… DIFFERENT… hands.

    Penny: I’m all for that… This petition is about the building…

    Dr. Horrible: I’d love to sign it.

  9. Katie said
    But regarding Joseph Smith’s quote, which I agree is a wonderful bit of wisdom…

    What happened?

    Actually my understanding of one theory of the origin of this quote explains that nothing happened. . .

    Smith wasn’t talking about religious practice. Instead he was answering to a concern that Mormons voted in a large monolithic bloc. He was being asked if he was telling his followers how to vote and he responded “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

    So it could be that the LDS culture was exactly as it is today in regards to this wisdom.

    http://www.lextek.com/clark/10890.html

  10. “…So I know I shouldn’t be asking this… But regarding Joseph Smith’s quote, which I agree is a wonderful bit of wisdom…

    What happened?”

    The same thing that happened to the children of Israel after the Golden Calf incident, I would expect.

  11. Joseph was always trying to get the early saints to live this principle. And they repeatedly proved unwilling or unable to rise to the occasion. Joseph was always complaining that he was unable to reveal everything he wanted to reveal to the Church because of its unwillingness to step up and accept it.

    I sometimes feel the modern LDS Church is something of a compromise for the failures of our ancestors, and our perpetuation of their errors today.

  12. Seth,

    I find your response a non sequitor. So Joseph wants people to govern themselves after teaching them correct principles. This would presumably result in people living more independently of Joseph’s tutelage. The question then becomes, if they are living independently of Joseph’s tutelage, why would he then need or want to reveal further principles? Wouldn’t they be living just fine on their own? If he were to give them more principles to live wouldn’t that make the now independent saints more dependent on his further teaching, thus making the demand for independent living pointless?

    I’m fine with teaching people correct principles and letting them govern themselves. In fact, I think this is the only thing that a religious leader can do, because the only other option is coercion of some sort.

    In any case I think the whole teaching is contradicted by the historical facts of Nauvoo. Someone who really wanted people to live independently after having been given correct principles would not end up controlling land distribution, the town council, the local militia, the church, apportionment of sexual partners/wives, and seek to have himself crowned king. His actions are precisely the opposite of what one would expect based on the idea of teaching correct principles and then allowing people to govern themselves.

  13. David, that’s a pretty interesting description of Joseph Smith.

    Did you pull that one straight off Exmormon.org or something?

    As for this quote:

    “This would presumably result in people living more independently of Joseph’s tutelage.”

    This is just flat-out false on its own merits. Anyone even slightly acquainted with human nature knows that simply teaching someone something doesn’t result in it being implemented. Your naivete here would be almost charming if it didn’t have such a mean-spirited edge to it.

    Actually studying Joseph Smith’s life and tenure as prophet shows more of a trend of decentralization of power and authority than a centralization. He was always distributing power and responsibility to others. As much as I’m sure you would like a “mini-Hitler Joseph” the history doesn’t really back you up (unless you’re reading the joke that passes for Mormon history over in counter-cult neverland).

  14. I am going to have to agree with Seth on this, I think you are reading a distortion of church history. As much as the LDS church is made out to be a monolithic centralized power structure, all of my experience with upper leadership seems to indicate that their is a very wide latitude in application of the general principles.

    Mission Presidents, Stake presidents, bishops, members, etc. are generally supported in following their conscience and personal spiritual ideas when they are running their stakes,wards, missions and lives. The church doesn’t require, and really discourages seeking counsel of upper leadership in most decisions of people’s lives.

    The people that run the Mormon church are essentially the members, guided by general principles. It may not be as disjointed and chaotic as protestantism but neither does it conform to the stereotypes alluded to here.

  15. Jared, we’re supposed to save the swipes about Protestant organizational practices only for times of most dire need.

    Like when Aaron Shafoffalov comments – about any topic really.

    I don’t think David’s comment rises to this level.

    In fact, I’m not even sure David IS a Protestant…

  16. I didn’t take it as a swipe against Protestantism. Rolled off like water on a duck’s back. I believe David is a Mormon. If not, he pulled some voodoo over on FPR.

  17. I don’t really mean to speak for David, but you’ll notice that he is listed at FPR as an emeritus contributor and hasn’t posted there since July 21, 2009.

    However, that probably still makes him more of an FPR blogger than Seth is a 9M blogger.

  18. Did I swipe Protestantism? sorry. 🙂 I guess I just really get the sentiments expressed by Katie and others that Joseph Smith’s wisdom is not part of the way the Church works today.

    It seems to me that the church only works as well as it does because it does operate by that wisdom.

    That said, its a different animal than say the Baptists where the individual congregations have tons more authority in what goes on than a Mormon ward. I suppose its just a matter of perspective.

    I like Protestantism as a rule, I like the “free market” it creates in religious worship and practice. But you ain’t going to get done what the LDS church is getting done (or attempting) via that model. And that says nothing about whether you are on board with the program itself.

  19. Jared, I’m having a hard time taking your argument here seriously.

    Do I really have to run through my list of things the LDS church asks people to do v. the things almost any given Protestant denomination asks people to do? The LDS list is much, much longer.

    There is no way the current LDS church lives by “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.”

  20. Jared, You’re going to have to explain why Pentecostalism is ten times bigger, 60 years younger, and 100x more chaotic than the LDS church. I suggest “The Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch for an answer.

  21. OK, clearing up a few misconceptions here.

    I am currently on the rolls of the LDS church. I currently attend sacrament meeting with my wife and kids to help her keep them in line until Primary. At that point I leave to attend other Christian churches. Last week I went to a Lutheran church, before that an Episcopal church. Long before that I checked out a Catholic church. This week I will check out the local Methodist church. After that I plan on checking out the non-denominational evangelical mega church where Michael Patton of Pen and Parchment used to work (it’s very close to where I live). After that I will attend a smaller non-denominational church down the street from me that I know squat about. I have also been making an historical study of Christian theology. My intention is to become a member of another church at some point.

    As for FPR, I used to blog there. Last year I realized that I couldn’t write much more that was faith promoting so I quietly stopped blogging there and they put me on emeritus status. I have tremendous respect for the people at FPR. They were very kind to me and I wish them all the best. I no longer put FPR as my link on my posts out of respect for them. I also stopped participating in the bloggernacle entirely up until a few weeks ago when I started making a few posts here (does this place count as the bloggernacle?).

    But Seth, feel free to think of me as a rabid ex-Mormon/Protestant who is mean spirited (and probably on a cocaine and hooker binge to boot!), because when you do it, it’s so charming.

  22. David, I will only think of you as an unhinged rabid ex-Mormon “anti” if you talk like one.

    Simple solution – don’t talk like one.

    Easy.

  23. No, it doesn’t. But an inability to see any other narratives out there does.

    I’m more than willing to back away from calling David an anti-Mormon. But I’m not going to pretend that extremist revision of LDS history as a bitter counter-reaction to feelings of being suckered by LDS Sunday School lessons doesn’t highly correlate with everything I consider most distasteful about anti-Mormonism.

    I don’t like being misled about history. Absolutely hate it. And it pisses me off just as much when the misdirection is coming from rebelling against the Church as when it is coming from kissing up to the Church.

  24. I’m just not sure that I see the narrative that David presented as “extremist.” I mean, I guess if you consider highly positive, faith-promoting revisions such as Our Heritage to be extremist in the other direction, then yeah.

    I don’t even see anything in David’s comment that was inaccurate. It simply highlighted the negative things about Joseph Smith’s administration in Nauvoo, just as books like Our Heritage work by highlighting only the positive and ignoring almost anything that can be negative. Historians always lead the witness to some extent by choosing which details to include and which to ignore; the good historians are the ones who try to account for the most important details on all sides of the equation.

    But David wasn’t writing a history; he was writing a blog comment in which he tried to make a concise case that JS never followed his own claims to “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” In that context, highlighting the ways in which JS was controlling and authoritarian seems reasonable. I guess I was just surprised at your reaction because I didn’t get an anti-Mormon / counter-cult vibe from David’s comment. Critical, sure, but that’s not exactly the same thing.

    All that said, I do think that your own narrative (that the current LDS church is a lot like Israel after the golden calf incident) could be a useful one for anyone who holds a faithful perspective. I liked it when I first read it. It’s the kind of introspective “Seth-thinking” I’ve come to enjoy. I’m not completely sure why David objected to it so strongly (maybe he can elaborate on that). It’s certainly an improvement from the perpetual “all is well in Zion” narrative.

  25. I suppose I could waste a lot of ink justifying and clarifying what I said. But how about I save time and stipulate to two things here:

    1. I have no good case that David is an anti-Mormon or that his comment was particularly anti-Mormon and it was a mistake to suggest it was.

    2. I completely disagree with his description of Joseph Smith.

  26. All that said, I do think that your own narrative (that the current LDS church is a lot like Israel after the golden calf incident) could be a useful one for anyone who holds a faithful perspective. I liked it when I first read it. It’s the kind of introspective “Seth-thinking” I’ve come to enjoy. I’m not completely sure why David objected to it so strongly (maybe he can elaborate on that).

    OK, I see the confusion. My entire comment was directed to this comment by Seth:

    Joseph was always trying to get the early saints to live this principle. And they repeatedly proved unwilling or unable to rise to the occasion. Joseph was always complaining that he was unable to reveal everything he wanted to reveal to the Church because of its unwillingness to step up and accept it.

    I was responding to this comment and no other comment. I assumed that since it was the most immediate comment previous to mine, it was clear that was the one I was referring to. I apologize for the confusion.

    In consider the facts that Joseph had acquired a large amount of power in Nauvoo as being undeniable. I make no claims as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, that’s obviously a faith claim which history cannot adjudicate. I was making the observation that there is incompatibility between holding a large amount of power while simultaneously claiming that you merely teach correct principles and let people govern themselves. It seems rather logical and self evident to me, but what do I know.

    Now, as for the comparison with the golden calf episode. Presumably we are living post golden calf and we are therefore deprived of blessings because of the faithlessness of our ancestors. I think that’s complete hogwash. While I no longer subscribe to the truth claims made by the LDS church, I think the 21st century version of the church is better than the 19th century version of the church in every conceivable way.

    I also don’t think it is a valid comparison because I reject the LDS notion that the Israelites were given the “higher law” which they then rejected at the golden calf episode and that as punishment they were given the “lower law.” I think this makes a hash of the biblical narrative and there is no textual basis for this at all. It also makes no sense in trying to understand the Bible in its ancient near eastern context.

  27. Jack,

    The fact that LDS church teaches more “principles” as part of the religion does not mean that it doesn’t let people apply those principles in their lives as they see fit. The church doesn’t govern the lives of its members, no matter how many principles it teaches. This is true even if some Protestant churches do not emphasize as many principles. If you see otherwise give me some examples of the church “governing” or “managing” the lives of members rather than simply instructing.

    Tim,

    My argument has nothing to do with how big or how fast growing the Church is growing. . .. but one answer is “Pentecostals have far more entertaining services”. 🙂

  28. Jared, does the Word of Wisdom teach a principle of moderation and temperance or give instruction?

    Do tithing settlements teach a principle on generous giving or give instruction?

    Did Gordon Hinckley teach a principle on simplicity and beauty or give instruction on how many earrings a woman should have and whether or not members should get tattoos?

    Does instruction to stick with correlated teaching material teach a principle or give instruction? (sorry can’t find the LDS News article)

    Did Thomas Monson teach a principle when he instructed that no one should turn to the passage in scripture during Sacrament talks or did he give instruction?

    Did Bishops and Stake Presidents teach a principle when they suggested specific dollar amounts that members should donate towards Proposition 8 or did they give instruction?

    Did Bishops and Stake Presidents teach a principle when they called members to go door-to-door and stand on street corners in favor of Proposition 8 or did they give instruction?

  29. sorry Jared, I’m just flabbergasted at your comment. You’re smarter than that and not typically that apologetic.

    Giving instructions is not the same thing as teaching virtues.

    The church doesn’t govern the lives of its members, no matter how many principles it teaches.

    You’re basically saying that because the LDS church doesn’t kick down people’s doors and clean out their cupboards as a means to enforce the WoW that the church is letting people govern themselves. Joseph didn’t say “I teach them correct instructions and let them govern themselves.”

    Instructions aren’t principles. It’s the difference between trade school for auto mechanics and college for engineering. They both know how a car works but only one of them can make a car that works.

  30. Well, instructing or directing the church to act in a certain way to have the church accomplish a certain purpose is not really managing people’s lives, its managing the church, there is a difference.

    For example, if the Church is going to do a hurricane relief project it is going to give all kinds of directives to those involved. It doesn’t force people to do the project but if you are going to be part of it it makes sense to follow the direction. It also makes sense to give such specific direction when prosecuting a project.

    This does not mean the Church is seeking to control or manage member’s lives outside the projects they are seeking to accomplish.

  31. And what is the “project” the Word of Wisdom and tithing settlements are hoping to accomplish? I submit that teaching correct principles will accomplish the outcome and giving instruction merely accomplishes the outputs.

  32. To be clear, I am not being an apologist here. But as much as I don’t really agree with some of the ways the church is run, frankly I have never felt coerced or managed by the church. Even as a missionary, we were given tons of latitude in how to run a ministry in a particular area. Given how people are generally managed in most every part of their public lives, the Church seems less so.

    The essential parts of a Mormon life, in my opinion, are based on self-directed adherence to principles. Sure, some leaders at some times give more micro-managing directives, but to me these are generally the exception.

    Perhaps this point of view is unique to me, the Church really has failed to govern my life at all (I am not really an active or orthodox Mormon in practice or in theology) although its principles have been a great influence. But perhaps I am not easily governed maybe the church’s methods end up managing others lives more. . .

  33. What Tim said, Jared. Rules are not the same as principles.

    Dress modestly is a principle.

    Don’t wear sleeveless, backless, low-cut, tight, above-the-knee attire are rules. Don’t wear two-piece swimsuits is a rule. Don’t have more than one set of pierced ears is a rule.

    The church doesn’t teach correct principles and then let people govern themselves. It teaches rules and then regularly reminds and pressures people to follow them.

  34. I find myself agreeing a a bit with both sides here.

    First of all, I’ll say that I agree with both parts of what Jared said here:

    But as much as I don’t really agree with some of the ways the church is run, frankly I have never felt coerced or managed by the church.

    Much of what Tim calls instruction I view as inspired counsel. I don’t feel compelled to follow the Word of Wisdom, to use one example that was given, because I feel ordered to. There’s nothing inherently wrong with consuming alcohol or coffee in moderation (Jesus did and, much less importantly, so did Joseph Smith), and if I felt God was leading me to consume alcohol I would do so (and if I’m in the desert dying of thirst and there’s not water around, I hope God inspires me to do just that). And to use another example, I’ve never been asked what I believe 10 percent of my “increase” is, nor asked to provide income statements. It’s really a matter of me seeking guidance from God as to what I should give, and that’s what I do.

    What does the Church have over me? Nothing. I am always free to accept inspired counsel, to determine it’s not inspired, to ask God for more specifics, or even to reject it. It’s my call (hopefully, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit).

    Totally. Really.

    More later (I have a living to make), when I’ll flip sides a bit. But first I do have a question, Tim. Could you provide the source of this statement?

    Did Thomas Monson teach a principle when he instructed that no one should turn to the passage in scripture during Sacrament talks or did he give instruction?

    Thanks.

  35. Jack said- Don’t wear sleeveless, backless, low-cut, tight, above-the-knee attire are rules. Don’t wear two-piece swimsuits is a rule. Don’t have more than one set of pierced ears is a rule.

    They are not rules of the Church. at least I never considered them that.

  36. Jack,

    I haven’t heard of a Bishop pressuring adults not to wear two piece swimming suits, or even adhere to dress standards, I am sure there are some Bishops that do, but that seems really rare.

    Coming from BYU I can see how you might have this impression of the church, but BYU and the missionary program are by far the most rules oriented of all church institutions, I think this is partly because they are paternalistic and don’t really trust college students and missionaries to govern themselves on a uniform basis without rules.

    The youth program is where you will also find a lot of rules oriented talk, and part of this is to provide clear guidelines to kids.

    I think you may find that how the church actually deals with adults is much less rules oriented.

    Tim,

    I think you are partly confusing strong opinions by GA’s on certain matters with rules or policies. They are quite different. There is no policy that members cannot have tattoos or multiple piercings and still be members in good standing.

    When an LDS person hears President Monson counsel to listen to speakers rather than turn to scriptures, 90% of them are going to take it as him expressing an opinion about what you should do in church rather than as a rule of how to behave.

    As far as the Word of Wisdom goes, it is both a rule and a principle. The scripture is the principle, its application in the church is generally as a rule. You can follow the principle while breaking the rule. I can see multiple purposes for the rule, and I think it serves a lot of good purposes, but I also think that making it a rule did weaken members attention to the principle that Joseph originally taught.

    As for myself, I don’t follow the rule, but I do believe in and try to adhere to the principle, and I think the promise behind it makes sense.

  37. Jared, I’m not really sure what you’re looking for here.

    I certainly can give you examples of bishops pressuring adults to adhere to the dress standards (here for example), but I’m sure you’ll insist those are outliers.

    Nicole (that1girl) was also heckled once for showing up at the temple in nice dress slacks instead of a skirt.

    I can give you examples of extremes advocated by top LDS leaders on the standards, like David Bednar’s talk about the guy who broke up with his fiancee because she wouldn’t ditch her second pair of earrings.

    And apparently the excessive standards advocated and enforced by the BYU Honor Code office don’t count because those are college students, not “real” adults. Never mind that a couple of married 19 year-old students are permitted to live wherever they want without question, but a 45 year-old single woman who attends has to live in BYU Approved Housing.

    Somehow, through all of that, you’re still seeing mere “principles” where people merrily govern themselves rather than a rigid set of legalistic rules. What can I say. You’re a talented man.

  38. The biggest problem I have whenever this coercion vs. inspired counsel debate comes up (and it seems to come up quite a bit) is that for every story someone has about an individual being pressured/heckled/shamed/coerced, I have a story about that not happening. I don’t think either one really helps the situation at all.

    For every person who sees the guidelines of the Church as being directions that control the lives of the members, there is going to be someone who says that these are not controlling.

    I use myself as example. I have never felt compelled to follow the Word of Wisdom. Hell, I work as a drug prevention specialist with a large number of people are not not LDS. In fact, come to think of it, my wife is the only other Mormon I currently know in the state of Illinois who works in this field, and I have worked with several hundreds of people. So, no, I don’t abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and other harmful, habit-forming drugs because the Church tells me to. I abstain from them because I know how dangerous they are. I don’t drink coffee because, quite frankly, I know way too much about the damage coffee causes the body, and I have seen the effects of coffee addictions. Also, I can’t stand the smell.

    Sure, when I was younger, my parents taught me the Word of Wisdom, and I have followed it. But I have continued to do so because I have chosen to do so, not because I am afraid my home teachers are going to see a cup of coffee and report me to the bishop, who is then going to kick me out of the Church.

    Which leads me to another question that always comes up: is anyone ever really coerced into doing anything? I would answer the negative. There is always a choice. Sure, there is the deep social pressure and all that, but, ultimately, you make the choice.

    Yes, the LDS Church has lots of guidelines and our leaders regularly set forth inspired counsel. But I also know that the Lord has commanded us to judge for ourselves. I have said it before and I will say it again and again and again: I am so grateful that I have had the good fortune to attend church in wards and branches across the United States and in Australia where I have never, ever, ever been subjected to mean-spirited micro-managing, egotistical, power-tripping leaders who have tried to do any number of the horrible things that I hear about from folks on teh Intrawebs. Apparently I have had the good fortune to be among those who call themselves Saints that understand we cannot force anyone to heaven. That all we can do is offer guidance and help one another along the way.

  39. “Did you ever not want to keep it?”

    No Jack, I can’t say I ever did feel an urge to break those rules.

    In some ways, rules are a blessing for people. They provide an additional bit of support for people who are being coerced by other forces in society to behave a certain way. Peers, culture… these can exert powerful coercive influence on people to behave in a certain way that is both damaging and not in the person’s best interests. I always saw the rules of the Church as a powerful protective shield against this kind of coercion from others.

    Sometimes we are all just weak, and need that additional bit of external safeguard against harming ourselves.

  40. And yes, I do think that the youth rules are “rules.” Dress code, moral prohibitions… they’re rules.

    There’s nothing wrong with this. But they are rules.

  41. I see your point, and I suppose my counter is that there are all kinds of Mormons, some love rules and some are principle oriented.

    I think that is clear that the church doesn’t consider BYU students as trustworthy adults, and it is totally about rules, for a lot of reasons.

    Some mission presidents are all about enforcing rules and some are just about making sure the missionaries know the principles. Its hard to say the breakdown between the rules-based and principles based mormons. The church is a big organization with lots of different approaches going on at the same time. I don’t like to generalize and say that”this is Mormonism” but I do believe that among many that the Wisdom described in the OP is alive and well.

    Maybe I have just been raised in the strain of Mormonism that doesn’t focus on rules very much, and principles are key and I have been very comfortable in the church with this approach, and so have my immediate family.

  42. Jack-

    Also, I have been “heckled” by other Mormons for stuff I did as an active Mormon. But I suppose I have never felt other people expressing their opinions in this way was either part of my religion or part of the church. Maybe its just that I have a big ego but I never really took that stuff personally or as indicative of my religion.

    My grandfather used to say that “this is your church as much as anybody else’s so don’t let people push you around”.

    Another example- My father, one of the most devout spiritual mormon I have met, was not at all rules oriented. I can’t see him judging anyone for having 5 earrings or a couple of tattoos although he would always counsel against getting those, for practical, not religious reasons.

    He took the church absolutely seriously, but he drinks coke and didn’t have any problem watching some rated-R movies. He didn’t miss “3:10 to Yuma” even when he was a mission president.

    You may say that my Dad is an outlier, but I know that his breed of Mormon is as alive and well as the straight laced type that sees rules as ends to themselves.

    I suppose if you really want to understand Mormonism, you have to accept that this type of thought and behavior is equally Mormon as the other type of thought and behavior.

  43. Seth said
    In some ways, rules are a blessing for people.

    Glad my post was so effective at convincing you of my point of view. Setting up rules and setting up water wells are both a blessings. But their mere existence does nothing for people.

  44. I always saw the rules of the Church as a powerful protective shield against this kind of coercion from others.

    Right, but arguably, aren’t these rules just a different type of coercion?

    I don’t have a problem with rules in themselves; I just think the LDS church takes it to extremes.

    Jared, I will say this much in the church’s favor. In my husband’s last ward, I regularly wore stuff like this to church and no one ever said a word to me about not keeping the dress standards. Didn’t ask my husband to talk to me about it, either.

    About the only thing a bishop has ever done to us that bothered us in terms of asking us to change behavior was a few months ago when his current bishop asked him to stop drawing in church. That is a real losing battle to fight.

  45. About the only thing a bishop has ever done to us that bothered us in terms of asking us to change behavior was a few months ago when his current bishop asked him to stop drawing in church. That is a real losing battle to fight.

    I wonder if your bishop would be as upset if Paul was just using a colouring book, like my wife does. 🙂

  46. It looks like this has become a semantic war over the definitions of “rule,” “requirement,” “instruction,” and “principle.” I always like to try and think of ways to get around this type of junk (and they usually never work, but I guess I am a glutton for punishment).

    Anyway, here’s my idea. I think it would be a neat exercise if all of the Mormons commenting here could answer a question: “Should the protestant reformation have happened, why or why not?” Protestants can chime in, but I assume their answer is going to be “yes,” otherwise they would have swam the Tiber by now.

    I think this could be interesting because Mormons generally have positive vibes toward the Reformation (it is regularly praised in General Conference), but usually seem to reach for the same types of arguments that critics of the Reformation either have made or could have made.

    Examples: Johann Tetzel was speaking only as a man, let’s just punish him. Indulgences are not official church doctrine. That’s not my definition of purgatory. Well, they aren’t preaching indulgences here in Wittenberg. Martin, you are just hung up on the worst of Catholic theology, be fair and look at the best. Martin, the problem is with you, not the church. Martin, authority to administer the sacraments is of paramount importance, even if there is some corruption in doctrine. “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs” is more of a couplet than anything else. Look, the pope is not perfect and you can’t expect him to be perfect (true, since papal infallibility was not official until Vatican I). etc.

    Now I want to be clear that I am not making judgments about the merits of the arguments, I am simply noticing that Mormons tend to support the reformation itself as a good thing, but the types of arguments they make tend to undermine the justifications for the reformation.

    Anyway, just an idea.

  47. You’ll note Tim that I have been pretty hands-off on the question of whether the LDS Church is a rules-oriented Church.

  48. David,

    I see your point, pretty good. I think the argument is a bit hazy now.

    I suppose I saw the discussion going this way- (in paraphrase)

    Tim: I think the principle of teaching principles for people to live by is great, rather than simply creating rules to follow.

    Katie and others: too bad the Mormon church doesn’t practice that now.

    Me: I see this principle being applied all the time, even if the church is more organized and project oriented than some protestant denominations. I have never really felt managed or controlled by the church.

    Jack, Tim and other: Wait! the church is actually very rules oriented and doesn’t follow this principle.

    Me: The church can be rules oriented in many areas but in other areas very much embrace this principle. You can be a Mormon and go to church actively and feel no coercion or management in part because this principle exists. Maybe not all Mormons and LDS organizations embrace it in practice but many devout Mormons do.

    Jack: Ok, Well even though all the rules get on my nerves, at least I can dress how I like without being hassled in Sacrament meeting.

    #:o)

    🙂

  49. David,

    Somehow I have always managed to be sick or away on the days my European classes covered the points of the Protestant Reformation, so I have a fairly incomplete and vastly limited knowledge of the Protestant Reformation. Seriously – my understanding of the Reformation is that several theologians, priests, monks, etc. with names like Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther, among others, said “Hey, we’ve been reading the Bible and the stuff going on in the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t seem to match what we should be doing.” Then a lot of them were killed, their followers carried on the message, and eventually the iron-clad control of Christendom that the Roman Catholic Church had over all of the non-Eastern Orthodox bloc began to break up. Some time later Henry VIII of England wanted to divorce his wife because he kept shooting either blanks or producing girls, and he had Parliament declare him the head of the Church of England. And that’s my knowledge of the Reformation. Sad, I know.

    Anyway, did you cite real examples from the Reformation, or were you simply trying to make a point using a not-so-accurate analogy? (And since I am fairly ignorant of the finer details of the Reformation, I mean that question in all sincerity.)

  50. I ♥ David Clark.

    Jared, are you saying that’s how you thought the discussion would go or the way it actually played out?

    I wouldn’t have said boo about your own personal experiences of not feeling coerced. It’s when you equated “rules” with “principles” that I had a problem because that’s the exact opposite of what i was saying in the original post.

    Eric,

    Here is the quickest link I could find on the directive not to turn to the passage during sacrament meeting.
    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=1953

  51. Tim, that counsel has been around for an awful long time. But it is not a directive to not turn to the passage during Sacrament meeting. It is a directive for those speaking not to tell the congregation to turn to the passage.

    This used to happen a lot, and I have even seen speakers wait for five minutes while every digs out their scriptures, searches for the passage, and then waits for it to be read to them.

    The directive also says that speakers should not use visual aids in their talks. (There was a cartoon in the New Era years ago that showed a woman using hand puppets in her talk, and the bishop saying to a counselor, “Say, do you think she’s been in the Primary for too long?”)

    Of course members can (and should!) read the Scriptures during Sacrament meeting. With all the silly things that have been said and done, there is no need to misquote. Not to mention, letters like that have been around since at least 2002 (I remember having one cited in the guidelines given to me when I was asked to speak while on my mission that year).

  52. I apologize if my quick response earlier made it sound like no one is allowed to read scriptures during Sacrament meeting. I was referring to the exact procedural instruction as you described it.

    Now that we have that cleared up. . . What is the principle being handed down to individual speakers that they should not tell the congregation to turn to the passage? Perhaps I’m too anti-Mormon to see it, but that sounds like (a rather nit-picky) instruction to me instead of a principle.

    I’m not saying there is zero basis for the rule. I’m saying I don’t hear a principle being taught that members should govern themselves by.

  53. It is rather nit-picky, but it is the nit-pickiness that is required because there are times when rules/guidelines/standards/whatever need to be made. There are principles behind them, but some people just don’t seem to quite understand them. And so we have to go with the basic “do this, don’t do that” framework instead.

    I was just thinking of an example where the Church does teach a principle and gives the members the opportunity to govern themselves (other than all of them, as I don’t believe there is such a thing as real coercion). Ignoring my semantic argument, I think that tithing is actually a great example because, as mentioned before, my wife and I are not required to bring in a financial statement or an IRS 1040 to tithing settlement. All we do is state whether or not we are full tithe payers.

  54. Some people confuse a talk with a lesson. In a lesson, it is common to ask people to look up a scripture so that people can discuss it. Discussion is expected. The sacrament meeting talk is not a designed as a forum for asking people to have a back and forth discussion from the pulpit. Talks and sermons likewise are not appropriate for the format of a class room environment that includes discussion. Some people confuse fora and need guidance.

  55. I’ll ask again, what is the principle sacrament speakers are supposed to learn?

    The fact that you guys keep telling me why the rule is there is only reinforcing Katie’s observation to me. I did not say it was an unnecessary or bad rule.

    Alex said
    There are principles behind them, but some people just don’t seem to quite understand them. And so we have to go with the basic “do this, don’t do that” framework instead.

    If people are truly learning the principles then you will never need the “do-this-not-that framework”. They’ll naturally do the right thing out of their understanding. Sacrament talks aren’t overwhelmingly given by children, right? I’m guessing that whatever elusive principle is sitting behind this memo, is not such a difficult concept that adults can’t understand it.

    If you’re truly devoted to “teaching true principles and letting people govern themselves” it will never occur to you to dictate this kind of practice. If people aren’t understanding the principle, you’ll change your teaching methods before you abandon your maxim.

  56. Anyway, did you cite real examples from the Reformation, or were you simply trying to make a point using a not-so-accurate analogy?

    Well, I cited no examples and don’t think it’s a not-so-accurate analogy, so neither.

    And that’s my knowledge of the Reformation. Sad, I know.

    Perhaps this is an opportunity to understand your Protestant brethren a little better.

  57. Something that people don’t often acknowledge with Mormonism is that it is rife with some deep paradoxes.

    On the one hand, it is widely acknowledged as a highly authoritarian and hierarchical structure.

    But on the other hand, it is probably one of the most demographic and decentralized religions in the world. In some ways, power in the LDS Church is distributed even further down the chain than Evangelicalism. We have a real grass-roots level of control that I’ve never encountered in any other religion.

    On the one hand, we have probably one of the most radically individualistic and free will-based theologies on the planet.

    But on the other, we maintain a tight restrictive grip on that free will through a rigorous set of group norms.

    On the one hand, we have a highly confrontational theological stance vis a vis the rest of the religious world. Our way or the highway.

    But on the other hand, in practice Mormons tend to be relatively non-confrontational and don’t seem to spend a great deal of time in criticism of other religions.

    Lots of paradoxes.

    But in my mind, this tension and these paradoxes are what keeps the religion interesting and vital rather than stagnant.

  58. Tim, I wish that what you said was true. I wish that when members are taught that Sacrament meeting talks are meant to be sermons to help those present focus on the teachings of Christ, because the principle behind Sacrament meeting is that it is a meeting devoted to the Sacrament, then the members asked to speak would understand that it is not a time to create lively discussion.

    But it doesn’t happen. I don’t know why. I wish I did. To me it is obvious. But what is obvious to me isn’t obvious to everyone, apparently, and so we have this culture in which there are guiding principles, but then there are guidelines taught to help everyone understand those principles.

    I would point out that this is true with this concept in every aspect of life. When I teach my employees correct principles and ask them to govern themselves, I know that I will probably need to go back and give specific instructions because they are still learning. My employees are not perfect. I am not perfect. And so the system is not quite perfect.

    God is perfect. His Son, Jesus Christ, is perfect. The Gospel is perfect. But the men and women who seek to follow them are not. And so we don’t do things perfectly. But we are trying. We have an ideal, a goal. And we are going to keep shooting for that goal, no matter how long it takes. And if some are further along than others, we know that we are all imperfect, and all fall short, and we are going to do what we can to make it easier for those coming behind us, just as those ahead of us try to make it easier for us.

    So why do we have so many rules, when we have this notion of teaching correct principles and allowing self-governance? I think the concept taught in D&C 89:3 puts it the best: they are adapted for the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

  59. By the way, Tim, yes, decisions are unanimously announced and sustained, but just from my experience with sitting in on Ward Councils, PECs, Welfare Committee meetings, Bishopric meetings, and Stake Councils, there is a lot of the democratic process going on in the decision-making process.

  60. Hmmmm. I’ve read over the comments and have thought about this past couple of days.

    And I say this with all the love in my heart, but here’s why I think the church is so restrictive and rule-driven (speaking of the institution itself, understanding that there are always individual exceptions in the membership and leadership)…

    Control.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe this is wrought out of viciousness or maliciousness. I don’t think the Brethren sit around in their upper room meetings and talk about what they can do next to tighten their grip just to see if we flinch.

    I believe they sincerely believe the truthfulness of the message, and they sincerely want people to be fully invested in the Church. They are worried that if we are left to our own devices, we’ll come to the “wrong” conclusions. (And they’re right; many of us will come to conclusions that are different from theirs. For example, my husband would drink a latte every morning and a beer every night.)

    So they create the rules to protect us from ourselves. They genuinely believe they’re doing what’s best for us. That the end justifies the means.

    I think they’re wrong — that it is more important to give people freedom than it is to ensure they do the right thing — but I understand where they’re coming from extend them grace to make the mistakes they’ve made in this regard.

    That doesn’t mean I have to follow all the rules, though, when I find them a personal burden or inappropriately over the line.

  61. I think you’d be surprised just how many bottom level opinions go into ward decisions. The bishop often acts as a public and official figurehead for decisions that, in reality, half a dozen people had a hand in.

  62. A softened stance on birth control would be one example.

    I don’t think that one came from top-down.

    Nor did lifting the racial Priesthood ban. That came in response to some simply unworkable problems that were occurring at the ground level – mostly in South America.

  63. Seth said:

    But on the other hand, [Mormonism] is probably one of the most democratic and decentralized religions in the world.

    To which Tim replied:

    Democratic? Ever seen any decision not sustained in unanimity?

    I also have noted the paradoxes that Seth mentioned, and I have also been heard to say that the LDS church is (at least sometimes) one of the most democratic churches around. By that I don’t mean anything about majority rule (although we do have the right to formally voice dissent under many circumstances, and it’s our own fault if we don’t when we think it’s necessary), but the relative lack of class distinctions. For example, in the previous community I lived in, one of the wards had a large Spanish-speaking population, so simultaneous translation (via wireless headphones) was provided at all sacrament meetings for those who couldn’t speak English. Many of these Spanish-speakers were quite poor, and chances are some were in the U.S. illegally. Yet they worshipped side by side with a few people with six-figure incomes, along with the rest of the middle-class folks. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the only church in town that was that extensively integrated. Also, children and young adults are integrated into our services in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else.

    Of course, there are other areas where we have plenty of work that needs to be done.

    Alex said:

    I am so grateful that I have had the good fortune to attend church in wards and branches across the United States and in Australia where I have never, ever, ever been subjected to mean-spirited micro-managing, egotistical, power-tripping leaders who have tried to do any number of the horrible things that I hear about from folks on teh Intrawebs.

    I’m in the same situation. I am fully aware that that sort of thing happens; I have heard of a few instances secondhand, and I certainly have read about them in web discussion. And I didn’t join the Church with blinders on.

    But, like Alex, with one exception, since I joined the church in the 1980s, neither I nor any member of my family has been in the situation of a church leader trying to run any aspect of our lives. That one exception involved a seminary teacher who felt it was her prerogative to decide how kids attending her class should dress, and the bishop felt she wasn’t acting outside her authority. It ended up with a child deciding not to attend seminary. Interestingly, after it was all over, the bishopric received a letter from the first presidency saying that how kids dress when they go to seminary is a parental prerogative and not something for the teacher to concern him/herself with.

    I can’t say the same is true of people not in leadership positions. Yes, the church has its share of judgmental folks, those who don’t mind telling you how you should dress your little kids (our boys never wore white shirts and ties until they were serving sacrament), what your politics should be (my spouse has never been one to hide her Democratic partisanship), how long your teenage son’s hair should be (the bishop only expected them to be neat when serving the sacrament), and so on. To such people, well … they’re entitled to an opinion, and we’re entitled to ignore it.

  64. As to whether the church practices what Joseph Smith taught in the original post (and while I’m not convinced he was talking about bloc voting per se, the quote has gained a life of its own beyond what the original context was), I’ve already pointed that I feel free to govern myself, and I also agree that there are ways we do follow that philosophy.

    But there are also ways that we don’t. Most of them have been pretty much dealt with, so I’ll just comment on a few of them briefly, and in no particular order.

    1. I agree that the directive about sacrament talks was nitpicky. I think there is a principle there; we want our sacrament talks to be worshipful, inspirational and that sort of thing, and sacrament meetings have a different purpose than a classroom presentation does. But the principle wasn’t articulated well (if at all) in the letter. It’s a matter I would have handled differently had I been in charge.

    2. Culturally, and to some extent with support from official actions, we place way, way too much emphasis on how people look. Sometimes it reaches the point of absurdity.

    3. There is a cultural tendency in the church, to some extent with support and example from high-up authorities, to want to codify behaviors. Just to take one example: There was a talk given by an authority some years ago in which he counseled against seeing R-rated movies. Although that was never a “commandment” binding on the church (the talk wasn’t even addressed to adults), it has been seen that way by many members. I could write a whole post on this issue, but how much better it would be (as some do, by the way) to teach principles about what’s appropriate for entertainment rather than letting some anonymous industry-appointed board decide what is appropriate.

    4. The Church’s colleges are not alone at all among Christian colleges and universities in terms of having behavioral rules that aren’t present at secular schools. Many, if not most, evangelical schools, ban the student use of alcohol, for example, at least on campus. I think that some behavioral restrictions are a legitimate part of providing an environment suitable for learning and spiritual growth. But some of the rules at BYU and its sister schools go beyond what’s reasonable and may even be detrimental to learning and growth.

    Lest I be misunderstood, I say these things in a spirit of great respect and love for the Church.

  65. I have to say, I’ve grown a little bit weary of the whole “church culture” vs. “church doctrine” distinction. In Mormonism, they are nearly indistinguishable because of the authority vested in the general leadership.

    I’ve opened up to a couple of people in my ward about some of my concerns about the church, and they’ve both said this: “Is it the church that’s bothering you, or the people?

    And the answer is: it’s the church. I really like the people — the people are what keep me there. 😉

    The fact is, the leadership could change — or at least dramatically soften — these cultural quirks in a heartbeat if they wanted to. They have enough influence over the membership that if they were to issue one of those official letters that said, “The color of your shirts or length of your hair is not nearly as important as what’s inside — stop worrying about it,” it would make a real and lasting difference.

    So I would say that the rigidity of the culture is not just affected by the top, but in most cases, driven by them.

    (I know that your argument is more nuanced than this, Eric, but there was an element of “cultural” apologetic in your comment that I wanted to address.)

  66. Katie L.,

    I don’t disagree with what you’re saying.

    One thing you said:

    They have enough influence over the membership that if they were to issue one of those official letters that said, “The color of your shirts or length of your hair is not nearly as important as what’s inside — stop worrying about it,” it would make a real and lasting difference.

    My stake president has said basically that.

    I’ve told this story before, so my apologies to anyone who is reading this a second or third time, but a couple years ago he told the teenage guys to come to stake priesthood meeting dressed as if they were going to school. So most of them did (although more than one mother called the stake president to find out if their sons heard correctly).

    Near the end of the meeting, he had them all come to the front and said something like this: “Now, I bet that many of you saw these fine young gentlemen and wondered what they’re doing here. Well, I like these guys the way they are, and I’m glad they’re part of our church. And if you start rejecting these boys because of the way they dress, you’re missing out on getting to know some fine people.”

    I don’t really care for object lessons, but I appreciated that one.

  67. They have enough influence over the membership that if they were to issue one of those official letters that said, “The color of your shirts or length of your hair is not nearly as important as what’s inside — stop worrying about it,” it would make a real and lasting difference.

    The handbook of instructions quite clearly states that there is no requirement for white shirts to be worn when passing the Sacrament, and that bishops should avoid creating a uniform for performing these ordinances. (Ordinances performed in the Temple are considerably different, and I have no wish to get into that at this point.)

    Of course, even with the official letters, we still have a “monkey see monkey do” culture in which what the members see during General Conference is what they try to copy, if they care about it (which many do). I would be delighted if one of the General Authorities wore a blue shirt during Conference.

    As it is, I am happy enough to know that a member of my Stake Presidency regularly wears a light brown suit, rather than the typical dark blue. charcoal, or black suits. Also, my EQ president wears a white shirt about once a month, if that. And nobody has yet chided me for having a goatee and wearing black, blue, and maroon shirts to church.

  68. Near the end of the meeting, he had them all come to the front and said something like this: “Now, I bet that many of you saw these fine young gentlemen and wondered what they’re doing here. Well, I like these guys the way they are, and I’m glad they’re part of our church. And if you start rejecting these boys because of the way they dress, you’re missing out on getting to know some fine people.”

    Your stake president should have recognized that visual aids are not appropriate for talks, only classroom discussions. 😉

    As to the “democratic” derail, I’ve been in congregational churches where things are decided by a 50%+1 majority and I don’t see that at all in the LDS church. I think the word “egalitarian” might have been the word that describes what you are referring to better.

  69. The third and fourth definitions of “democratic” at Merriam-Webster online are “relating to, appealing to, or available to the broad masses of the people” and “favoring social equality.” That’s the sense in which I was using the word. In this context, “egalitarian” works too.

    OK, so we’re “egalitarian” and “hierarchical” at the same time. Let Seth said, we’re full of paradoxes.

  70. The Community of Christ has liberalized the unofficial dress code, but the traditional RLDS men always wore suits and ties to church, most often either dark colors, blue or black, but definitely a suit and a tie. Ten years ago, I had returned from Hawaii and had bought my Dad a Hawaiian shirt. Some of the other men had begun wearing similar, casual, shirts to church. I suggested to him, “Hey, why don’t you wear your new shirt.?” He thought about it for a minute, then looked at me and said, “Do you really think I should?” I said, “Sure.” In the end, he decided not to. I didn’t blame him.
    For myself, I would rather have an egalitarian church than a so-called, “democratic” church.” So often in my days as an Evangelical I heard, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it!” Where is the democracy in that statement? Where is the thinking for oneself in that? I agree that it would be annoying to have someone judge you for what you are choosing to wear to church, but far, far, worse than that is when your fellow churchgoers judge you because you wanted to get married and have kids, and the guy you chose doesn’t measure up to their definition of a “Christian.” “Oh, you’re just an idolator who doesn’t love Jesus because you should be content and happy with your life as a single.” Somehow, I just don’t see this happening in very many LDS wards. Sure, the leadership would prefer that their singles married “in the temple.” Also, the response they might give to a 22 year old thinking of such a course might be different to someone like me, who was 37 at the time. I just don’t see LDS leadership as being that cold.–on that particular issue anyway.
    I’ve attended some LDS wards, I’ve been to a General Conference, and I’ve watched a few more on tv. I’ve read many conference talks on the internet. I find them to be very useful and uplifting most of the time. In fact, I’ve been thinking recently of asking my husband to get expanded cable so that we could get BYU tv. Now, it’s true that I am not a church member, so I don’t feel the obligation to obey that some members might feel, but I listen anyway of my own free will, because I like what I hear. If it weren’t for certain theological/belief problems I have with LDS theology, I believe that I could live quite happily as an LDS. Some of my problems with LDS beliefs stem from my upbringing as an RLDS. They have nothing to do with my experience as an Evangelical. Even if I’d never met an Evangelical in my life, I would still have these issues.
    When I first read the original post I thought, “Oh great! Finally, someone is going to say something good about Joseph Smith.” I guess not. For the record, I am grateful for the influence of Joseph Smith on my life. I am grateful for the lay clergy, and for growing up in a church where my services mattered. A church where I felt needed, even as a young child. I am also grateful for the Word of Wisdom. I have never felt deprived because I didn’t (and don’t) drink coffee.
    I better close for now, I’ve rattled on long enough. For what it’s worth, I think there is much more to “governing yourself.” than just what you wear to church, or whether or not the church works on a 50 + 1 majority rule. Freedom of belief is equally important, the freedom from being beaten over the head by “the bible says.”

  71. The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it!

    That’s really more of a pastorism than true doctrine.

    I agree that it would be annoying to have someone judge you for what you are choosing to wear to church, but far, far, worse than that is when your fellow churchgoers judge you because you wanted to get married and have kids, and the guy you chose doesn’t measure up to their definition of a “Christian.”

    Well, that doesn’t happen in my local church. So I don’t think you can indict Evangelicalism for that.

    [Lisa, I’m being ironic. Please know my comments aren’t really directed at you.]

  72. Eric and Alex, my point is less about local exceptions and more about the culture as a whole and the instruction given from the top down.

    I love the lesson that your stake president gave, Eric — it sounds like it was memorable and inspiring. And I’m glad, Alex, that your stake is loose enough on dress issues that your elder’s quorum president and stake presidency member can show a bit of autonomy in their wardrobe selection. It genuinely makes me happy to hear those things.

    Of course, we’re not just talking about dress code rules. We’re talking about rules and *very specific* “suggestions” from the top related to a myriad of things: private belief, beverages, media selection, sexual practices, finances, food storage, role division in marriage, the language and form of personal prayer, how to vote on certain issues, style of worship, to name just a few.

    Please note: I understand that these suggestions and rules might be very practical, very wonderful ways of living. And I understand that they might all be grounded in solid principles. I also understand that they are set forth with good intentions.

    But these are very specific instructions regarding very specific things — and that means they are not, in my mind, following JS’s wisdom from the OP. And for someone with my personality anyway, it tends to be overbearing (which is why I feel free to disregard many of them — but I’m a heathen and it’s taken me some time to get to this point; I know plenty of people who do not feel so free and are genuinely suffering as a result).

  73. One more thought that just occurred to me.

    As I mentioned above, I believe the rules are grounded in a sincere attempt to prevent people from sin, stumbling, and therefore suffering.

    I recognize that they can be effective in this regard and am actually very thankful that there are people who are protected as a result (my mother is in this category).

    We just shouldn’t be surprised that one-size doesn’t fit all…and I think we could do a much better job with those who are more burdened than protected.

  74. “Not sinning” is simply not what Jesus is offering us, nor what he wants from us. It’s a false Gospel.

  75. Tim,
    Yes, you’re right. I cannot indict all of Evangelicalism, BUT:

    A well known Evangelical leader named Bill Gothard once taught what was called the “Basic Youth Conflicts Seminars.” Part of what he taught his followers was that singleness was the default position for the Christian life-you must receive a clear “word” from the Lord before you should seek to marry. I’ve read where Evangelical theologians, some of them anyway, say that Christ is the new covenant, and marriage is not important now, we should seek to serve Christ and it doesn’t matter if we get married or not. In fact, we shouldn’t seek to marry if it will take us away from Christ. Ellen Varughese wrote a book about the problems in the Evangelical world regarding the teachings on singleness and marriage called, “The Freedom to Marry.” Julia Duin writes on this subject. Debbie Maken and Candice Watters have both written books which discuss the problems with Evangelical teachings. I submit to you that this is a bigger problem than some Evangelicals want to admit. And, I believe that it is relevant to LDS/Evangelical conversations because LDS/RLDS teachings are so totally opposite. No RLDS leader anywhere would say to a member who wanted to marry outside of the church the kinds of things I’ve heard in the Ev world. It is unheard of. When I hear Ev’s stigmatize marriage and say that there is some kind of conflict between serving Christ and getting married/having a family, that’s where the Ev’s lose me.
    I guess all I was really saying is that, to me, if you don’t have the freedom to marry—you don’t have the freedom to govern yourself.—and I’m not trying to be offensive or start an argument or anything, just saying what I believe.

  76. Sigh. Lisa, I clearly stated my comment wasn’t directed at you. I wasn’t affirming or denying anything you said. In the past I’ve clearly agreed with you and apologized.

  77. “Not sinning” is simply not what Jesus is offering us, nor what he wants from us. It’s a false Gospel.

    Good point.

  78. Katie L said (emphasis in original):

    Of course, we’re not just talking about dress code rules. We’re talking about rules and *very specific* “suggestions” from the top related to a myriad of things: private belief, beverages, media selection, sexual practices, finances, food storage, role division in marriage, the language and form of personal prayer, how to vote on certain issues, style of worship, to name just a few. … [T]hese are very specific instructions regarding very specific things — and that means they are not, in my mind, following JS’s wisdom from the OP. And for someone with my personality anyway, it tends to be overbearing …

    What’s interesting about your post is that what starts as as “suggestions” (quotes included in original) become instructions two paragraphs later. One reason I don’t feel overwhelmed — and I would if I saw them as requirements or as a way to measure myself — is that I view those things, while not quite as suggestions, not as instructions either (I’m excepting what’s in scripture). “Counsel” is the best word I can come up with.

    No analogy is perfect, but if I seek legal counsel, even the best lawyer money can buy, I am perfectly free to not follow that counsel. Now, most of the time, I would do so at my peril. But there are any number of times I might be best off not following that counsel. Perhaps I know something the lawyer doesn’t know, or perhaps circumstances have changed since I got the legal advice, or perhaps I think the lawyer doesn’t fully understand my situation, whatever.

    Similarly, I could go down the list you gave and tell you times where I have followed the counsel and where I haven’t — and I also can honestly say in both types of cases I have done so with guidance from the Holy Spirit. And I also figure that if I err (as I often do), the Holy Spirit will let me know and it can become a learning experience.

    Just to give one example from your list, I find it artificial and distancing for me to pray to God using archaic pronouns. So except when I’m offering a public prayer in an LDS setting, I don’t. And in an LDS setting, I am willing to give up a little bit of my own preferences so as not to be a distraction or stumbling block to others.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think that most of the counsel we get is good, excellent even, and inspired, and I follow most of it. But in the total scheme of things, what we’re asked is much less than what Jesus told us directly, and that’s to be perfect (a better translation, although no more easy to accomplish, is “complete” or “mature”) like our Father in heaven is. And that’s the ultimate goal, the metagoal if you will. If the counsel I receive from Church leaders is useful in terms of the metagoal, I seek to follow it. And if not, I assume it will be useful for others, or I try to discern the principles behind what’s said.

    I’m not saying this is necessarily the best approach. But it’s what works for me and makes sense for me.

    In practice, of course, it’s a bit messier than that. I’m far from perfect in listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and I make my share of mistakes, both in thought and in practice. That’s we have the gift of grace through the Atonement.

  79. Lisa said:

    A well known Evangelical leader named Bill Gothard once taught what was called the “Basic Youth Conflicts Seminars.”

    Don’t get me started on Bill Gothard.

    Fortunately, Bill Gothard isn’t typical of evangelicalism. And for anyone who thinks Mormonism is oppressive, try Gothardism sometime.

    Gothard’s prime time was too long ago for people like Tim and Jack to remember, but there was a time when he was by far the most popular evangelical seminar speaker around. He would regularly fill large indoor arenas for one-week seminars throughout the country.

    Unfortunately, what he taught was anything but the gospel of grace, and his exegesis was horrible. I don’t use the term lightly, but I’ll say that my experience in attending his Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts was the closest I’ve ever been to being involved with a cultlike religion.

    He basically came up with bizarre ideas and then would proof-text — but, of course, if you disagreed with him you didn’t believe in the Bible. And some of his ideas were bizarre. Lisa has already mentioned his attitude toward singleness (at least he practices what he preaches, as he’s in his 70s and has never married). Among his other marriage-related beliefs were that a woman should never marry without her father’s blessing, even if her father doesn’t have her best interests at heart, and that a wife who is being abused by her husband shouldn’t leave, because God has appointed him to have authority over her, and he’s the one who has to answer to God.

    Yet, there was a time (I’m talking about when Nixon was president, so it has been a while) when the evangelical world ate it up. And what few Christian voices there were speaking against him weren’t coming from the “anti-cult” ministries but from that part of mainline Protestantism that was paying attention.

    I will say one thing, though: Attending his seminar (which I did once in high school and once in college) did more than any other single event to make me read and study the Bible. Time after time, I would look up the verses that he used to support his positions, and it just wasn’t there. If nothing else, he did cause me to question what I hear, even from respected religious authorities, and determine for myself what is right.

    Sorry about the off-topic post. More than three decades later, I still have an emotional reaction to the guy.

  80. The difference between “suggestions” vs. “instructions” vs. “counsel” is subtle. I mean, some of the list are out-and-out requirements if you want to be in good standing: beverage choice, sexual practices, and financial matters (referring specifically to tithing).

    On the rest of the list, the way I was raised, there was NO wiggle room. If the prophet said it, you did it. End of story.

    I recognize that not everyone approaches things the way my parents did, however. If they’d been a little more relaxed about things, I probably wouldn’t have the kind of knee-jerk reactions I experience today.

    Still, there’s waaaaay too much “counsel” for my taste. Having said that, I think your approach is very reasonable and definitely respect it and support you in it! 🙂

  81. Katie L,

    Thanks.

    And lest I misunderstand what you’re saying, do we have any requirements for “sexual practices” beyond what would be expected of, say, the pastors at Tim’s or Jack’s churches? I guess I’ve never viewed the LDS teaching on chastity as any different than traditional Christian teaching. While we may not be as good as some others are in extending grace to those who err, I don’t think the expectation of no sexual relations outside of marriage goes beyond what is called for by most evangelical churches or Roman Catholicism.

  82. Well, I think we’re a little bit stricter on some of the more “minor” sexual indiscretions — but the main differences (as I understand them) are…

    1)–Most evangelicals don’t get asked about it regularly;
    2)–They aren’t required to confess sexual sins to clergy in order to be forgiven;
    3)–They aren’t prevented from full fellowship if they make a mistake in this area;
    4)–They are NOT taught that it’s “the worst sin next to murder.”

    Evangelicals, correct me here?

    So the basic “dos and don’ts” are probably pretty similar, but enforcement and repercussions are pretty different.

  83. Um, I’m pretty sure Mormon masturphobia will die w/ BKP. He’s the only apostle who still even hints about it, apparently muzzled from using the word masturbation by the 1st Presidency. You have to go back almost two decades to cite a GA even using the word. None of my kids Bishops have asked about it and that includes my 3 grown children. The CHI is silent on the matter. Also given the crimes committed by pedophiles in leadership positions that many churches, including LDS, have had to deal with, the church would be foolish to keep up the sexual interrogations of youth behind a closed door that were common place a generation ago.

    Yes there are rogue LDS leaders who still bring it up, such as a shameful mission Pres in a 2006 YouTube recording blaming missionaries’ masturbation for lack of converts in southern France. The irony for me was that’s where I served circa late 1970s, and my second MP there would tell missionaries concerned not worry and it, that it was normal and healthy unless it became an obsession. Beyond the poor missionaries being abused by that mission Pres in that 2006 recording, I was appalled to find out that mission Pres was an OBGYN! Apparently you can get an MD out of a Cracker Jack box.

  84. I love Elder Wickham’s teaching on looking for a lifelong companion. Those are exactly the things I want to teach my daughter when it comes time for her to begin her search for a companion. I especially loved the part where he said that while counsel from parents, bishops, etc was valuable–in the end the decision to marry was an intensely personal one, and that no one should tell another person what to do. “Cast not away your confidence” from Hebrews. It’s very true.

  85. And just in case we were hoping that the church was getting better at this legalism thing . . .

    Old habits die hard.

    /sigh

  86. I read that article with the story, and I find it interesting that Elder Bednar pointed out that it was not just the earrings that caused the young man to break off the engagement. Obviously there was more to it.

    Unfortunately, by not divulging or even hinting at what these others things were, are left with the idea that a sensible man in the church would not marry a woman with double piercings.

    /sigh indeed

  87. Actually, the idea is that he didn’t want to marry a woman who valued trivialities like earrings more than obedience, but…

    Yeah… whatever.

    I didn’t think much of the choice of examples here either.

  88. Despite problems I have with the earrings example, I agree with Lisa that there is a lot of wisdom in Elder Wickham’s talk. Lot of what he says about personal responsibility is excellent advice.

    And i find it interesting that Elder Wickham blatantly rejects the cultural maxim that a young woman shouldn’t even consider marrying someone who isn’t a returned missionary.

  89. Yes there are rogue LDS leaders who still bring it up, such as a shameful mission Pres in a 2006 YouTube recording blaming missionaries’ masturbation for lack of converts in southern France. The irony for me was that’s where I served circa late 1970s, and my second MP there would tell missionaries concerned not worry and it, that it was normal and healthy unless it became an obsession. Beyond the poor missionaries being abused by that mission Pres in that 2006 recording, I was appalled to find out that mission Pres was an OBGYN! Apparently you can get an MD out of a Cracker Jack box.

    Wait, what video was this, Steve?

    My husband served in the Bordeaux mission, which was combined with the Toulouse mission while he was in France (2000-2002). He didn’t baptize a single person. I guarantee it was not because of masturbation.

  90. Bordeaux was shut down the same year as my mission, Duesseldorf Germany, and by brother’s mission, Kobe Japan.

    Now i guess we all know why.

  91. Wow. I’m looking at a page from my husband’s missionary scrapbook dated August 1, 2002. My husband’s release letter. Signed by Mission President Allan T. Pratt.

    Pratt gave the talk on masturbation on November 4, 2003. Seems my husband dodged a bullet.

    The YouTube video has apparently been made private, but there’s a transcript of it here.

  92. Scary scary scary.

    Mormon fear of masturbation can’t go away fast enough. It TOTALLY messes folks up.

    I even got grilled about it a time or two on my mission.

    Can anyone else say INAPPROPRIATE??!?!?

  93. Ah, okay, I didn’t notice the audio there. I had to pull the Google cache of that page because the original URL was dead.

    My husband had 3 mission presidents due to the closing down of the Bordeaux mission (Bordeaux MP, Toulouse MP before Pratt, Pratt). Pratt became his mission president not long before he went home. I’m glad he didn’t have to put up with that for too long.

    Katie, I don’t know how you ever put up with it. I wouldn’t take that from any ecclesiastical leader, Mormon or evangelical.

  94. Jack, I also had to translate for my mission president while he asked a native young woman, who was preparing for a mission, similar questions. Totally uncomfortable and WAAAAY over the line.

    Too bad I thought it was completely his right to ask stuff like that. At the time, I’m sorry to say, it never occurred to me that these questions were wrong. If you didn’t want to discuss masturbation with a dude, you just shouldn’t masturbate, was my line of reasoning.

    It’s funny we’re talking about this, because I was explaining to a former mission companion just yesterday that the number one reason I don’t attend mission reunions is because I can’t be held accountable for what I would say if I was ever face-to-face with that mission president again — and it would be about this very topic.

  95. Yeah, it’s sort of weird how many words I don’t know in German, given how many words for various sexual sins I do know. And not slang, even.

  96. Jack,
    I’m glad your husband didn’t experience that abuse. What Pratt did was beneath contempt. It’s hard to believe the guy is a physician in a reproductive specialty. Thank G-d for the former missionary who exposed it. I certainly hope it prevents recurrence.

    I was fortunate and had a mostly positive mission experience in the Toulouse mission and served in Bordeaux twice (Calderon and Talence branches). My second MP was first rate, and I believe his highest calling in the church prior to being MP was scout master. Inspired callings like that just don’t happen anymore, another sign the LDS are in apostasy, IMHO. Back then, a generation before your husband, we averaged one baptism per missionary per mission, and as is typical in many missions, a few missionaries tend to find/baptize much more than others. So it was normal for many missionaries not to baptize at all. I suspect the French missions are even tougher now (another generation further into the post Christian era that Western Europe has been into for some time).

    And I agree with Seth, relaxed pagan missionaries tend to baptize much more. Back then I credited much success in the warmer months to golf and staying out late. A companion and I accidently discovered that by ditching the uniform and playing golf in nice slacks and a polo shirt with name tags on, that very shortly we had a backlog of people to teach. Then in the summer when many people ate dinner ~10pm and stayed up late, we’d be out teaching until midnight or 1am. So we weren’t out the door by 9am in the summer. I’m fully aware most MPs would send missionaries like me home in a heartbeat; hence part of the reason the LDS missionary program is floundering. One shouldn’t argue against local adaptations when successful.

    Ask your husband if Francophone missionaries still do Molaroffs.

  97. In Japan, the standard uniform was actually a plus. It gained us more respect than casual clothing would have. Especially considering how terrible missionaries tend to be in dressing themselves (some of the stuff my fellow missionaries wore on P-Day was quite horrific). And, let’s face it – the Japanese are just light years ahead of America fashion-wise. Trying to match them at their own game would have been unwise. Better just to wear something standard and accepted.

    It’s probably the same story in the third world. Dressing fashionably probably would just make you look like an arrogant pampered foreign tourist. I imagine Western Europe is a different story.

    And, to be honest, I often valued the automatic identity that came with the missionary uniform. It allowed me to be something more than “just another American.” I still remember when I served in a Japanese city housing a US naval base and the difference in the looks I got when I was in missionary attire as opposed to street clothes. In street clothes, I was glared at, avoided (even more than usual), looked down on, and even refused service on a couple occasions.

    Totally different looks when I was in uniform. The Japanese shopowners, pedestrians, etc. looked at me if not warmly, with at least indifference.

    Whatever they thought of the whole religious thing, I found an awful lot of Japanese (especially parent-age) were pretty darn impressed with what we were doing, our efforts to learn the language and culture, and the kind of dedication we were showing by being there. A lot of parents tried to get us to hang out with their teenagers, hoping some of whatever we were smoking would rub off on them.

    No, I valued the missionary image brand quite a bit. It was like an alter-ego I could put on. Very liberating. And, honestly, it was nice not having to worry about the tyranny of contemporary fashion.

  98. So Seth, you’re saying you appreciated the principles you were taught and how you were allowed to govern yourself?

  99. The missionary image brand was a definite liability in Germany. American-style suits and white shirt and tie is not really very common there, so we stuck out. Germans are familiar enough with Mormons to have an incredibly negative impression. The uniforms just reinforced the German impression of Mormonism-as-cult.

    I don’t know what a good alternate would have been; I just know that we had a serious image problem and the uniforms did not help.

  100. Kullervo, my husband was actually kind of disappointed that he didn’t get sent to Germany or another German-speaking country, as he’d done two years of German in high school. I think that would have put him there at the same time as psychochemiker. Doesn’t sound like the church is having much more success in Germany, but that was what he would have loved to do.

    His identical twin brother was sent to French-speaking Montreal, so at least he got to pick up the same foreign language as his brother.

  101. Western Europe is just a sucky place for religion in general.

    The official state religion system over there just really killed any enthusiasm for religion in general. So the officially-recognized religions like Catholicism, Lutheranism, etc. are really just state funded landmarks. And the non-official ones are just marginalized to death.

    Well, maybe when the Muslim immigrants out-populate all the white secularists, we’ll see a different dynamic.

  102. Seth’s about got it right.

    Although I don;t know that it’s necessarily a bad thing: religion is important to Germans, but just not in the way that religion is often important to Americans. Church is a part of cultural and national identity, and that runs deep.

    We come from the US where we don’t have that and where religion thus plays a very different role in peoples’ lives. We assume our own experience is normative, and so we think that religion is somehow broken or gone awry over there. But there’s a heaping helping of “should” that we’re just assuming.

  103. While the French are a very proud very nationalistic people, France is without doubt in a post Christian era. Church is not part of the French national identity.

    This brings back good memories, like the buzz from a kirsch drenched cake.

    Oh, Quebecois is to French what sandpaper is to silk.

  104. So, I am new to all of the discussions, and may be backtracking slightly in spots, but there were a couple of threads I was very interested in. I don’t normally quote or reference Scripture when I post, but it annoys me when people write “Jesus said”… and there’s no reference.
    #1 The Teaching them correct principles quote & the resulting comments.
    -There is a difference between CULTURE, TRADITION, & DOCTRINE.
    Example: I grew up in a heavily dominant Native American community. Their CULTURE or way of life, is fairly similar (in the same tribe) no matter where you go. The things that make their tribe unique from another, are deeply important to them-even though it isn’t part of the religion, it is deeply ingrained & part of their identity.
    TRADITION: is unique to a specific area or radius. I guarantee that jello isn’t part of every LDS get-to-gether in Africa. If you’ve lived outside of Utah, you here the category “Utah Mormons” & Utah & Idaho apparently have different Mormons by this definition, and confusing the 2 wounds Utah or Idaho pride some how. None of this has to do with DOCTRINE. I have checked all the Scripture & materials quite extensively, after moving to Utah, And have yet to find the mention of Jello, Two piece swimsuits, funneral potatoes, Utah vs. Idaho pride. DOCTRINE is what is taught from “canonized” Scripture, & revelation from prophets etc. Their are lots of things marketed for LDS people that would fall under “apocryphal”, lots for culture, & even more for suckers creating an “identity” & culture for themselves & their families. (Ie, not your mother’s lds music CD)
    -I think there needs to be a clarification of LDS church PROCEDURE vs. DOCTRINE. Unfortunately, over the years due to problems or to try to maintain consistentancy in the church no matter where you go in the world, they have had to develope a Handbook of instructions to give the Bishops & Stake Presidents some outline to follow, but as mentioned previously, a lot of the decisions made for the Ward/stake are left up to them.Example: after the abuse in the Catholic church made headlines, other churches did too on a much smaller scale. To prevent problems from happening/protect the primary presidency regularly checks in on each class on Sunday, doors are left adjar when possible, they call teachers in pairs, etc. This isn’t doctrine, but has come about because of a situation. In a perfect world, people would use correct principles to govern themselves…. It is not a perfect world, nor are it’s people, which brings me to my second point. Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated, “The Church is not a Museum of Saints, but a Hospital for Sinners.” Didn’t Christ tell us” They that are Whole need not a physician?” (Luke 5:31-32)Oh how true that is! “Behold are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend on that same Being, even God? And now behold even at this time ye have been calling on his name & begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay, he has poured out his spirit upon you, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. And now if God, who created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that you have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask which is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of your substance that ye have one to another. (Book of Mormon Mosiah:19-20)
    People have shared things LDS people & leadership have said/done that were not up to the standards of the LDS church. Of course they fell short: we have the lofty standard and ambition as Christians to become like Christ: not just in theory, but to work toward perfection. I too, can add my own tales of when someone who was LDS said or did something that left deep wounds. I can also tell of times I was treated just as horribly by those of Baptist, Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventance, RLDS, Navajo & Zuni faiths. I can also tell of amazing people & acts of goodness, that I can only dream of equalling. My grandpa always told me that if you take any group of people, no matter if you divide them by race, religion, nationality, you will find the good, the bad, & the ugly. I have found that to be so very true: you find the truly good, the bad- which is what he used to mean most of us: He meant it to acknowledge how much we need the Savior in our lives: that we are all imperfect. We all need his atonement & grace. (Book of Mormon: Ether 12:27) And Unfortunately, like the parable of the Beam & the Mote (Matt 7: 3-4)we are often better & helping others spot their imperfections they can get to work on fixing them. And once in awhile you get the Ugly, those who instead of spreading light spread darkness. I guess what I am getting at, is it is sad to me to see so many Christian people I have grown to admire as I read all of your comments & thoughts (yes, I know it sounds super duper cheesy) bothered by things that are the imperfections in people, & that religion is judged by it. That you are judging each other by it. How’s about a little Christian love, & then the discussions can go back towards the direction I think the poster intented them an interesting discussion not a religion bash.
    So, no matter whom the teacher is: whether we are speaking of Joseph Smith, or Jesus Christ,a Pastor, or Bishop, or Preacher, or if you give a talk or teach a class, or Sunday School, if your “congregation” has any amount of free will they will struggle toward perfection. And as any good teacher you have to know what your audience is prepared to hear. Milk or Meat. Christ geared his teachings toward whom was listening often,and their ability to spiritually understand & then follow his teachings. (Hebrews 5:8-14) Joseph recognized that people weren’t ready -but was giving them the opportunity to work toward making themselves such. (Doctrine & Covenants 19: 21-23) Happened w/prophets in old & new testament too.(Isaiah 28:9; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 1Peter 2: 1-2)

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