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Choices Matter

There has been a bit of a situation going on in my ward for the last few weeks. At first, it didn’t really bother me so much. I found it odd, but it was nothing I would lose sleep over.

A couple of friends were more upset about it than I was. Apparently, there were several who were upset enough to write letters and/or speak with local authorities, and word is there will be a clarification/explanation/defense coming this Sunday. I do look forward to that.

While I haven’t been losing sleep over it, it has been one of those things that keeps coming to my mind periodically. It just doesn’t feel right to me, and I do hope whatever we hear this Sunday will help resolve that.

So what is all the hoopla about?

Without going into all the long background and boring details, here it is in a nutshell. 

Speakers in Sacrament Meeting gave talks essentially about choosing the right. The youth speaker gave an example of choosing not to play football on Sundays even though when his team goes to the championship (which they have done the last several years) that means he will miss the game. Other than the personal example, everything he presented was directly out of For the Strength of Youth regarding Sabbath observance and sports on Sunday. An adult speaker then gave a similar talk, incorporating Lehi’s dream (again, almost directly from a conference talk that was recently given) and tying his talk to the youth speaker by saying something about when he has had to miss church he has felt the “mists of darkness” stronger in his life. It is entirely possible that I missed something terribly offensive in all of that, but I heard no judgment of anyone else’s choices, just these personal examples of making a choice and feeling stronger because of it.

Apparently, the stake president felt that he needed to correct what was said. He told the congregation that if they play sports on Sunday they are not a bad person, if they have to work on Sunday they are not in the mists of darkness, etc.

Agreed.

However, neither of these speakers implied anything about judging other people. They quoted the doctrine (which is pretty clear in this case, i.e. the 10 commandments and For the Strength of Youth) and gave personal examples.

At that moment, my heart hurt for my friend, whose son was the youth speaker. I know that this “no sports on Sunday” is a big deal in their family. They have athletic children and it is true that they have opportunities to play on Sunday and have decided not to do it.

I think what the stake president was trying to say is, “Don’t judge others who don’t make the same choices as you. And don’t feel down on yourself if you can’t make it to church every week.”

What I heard (and it seems like many others did as well) is: If you choose sports over church, your choice is just as valid as those who choose to come to church.

More than anything, as a parent I was pretty concerned not so much on this particular topic, as we don’t play or watch sports on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…or any other day of the week — but that you could relate this to anything in the gospel. I am quite sure he was not trying to do this, but what it sounded like was, “it’s not important to teach or enforce commandments, because we all fall short anyway and you are still a good person.”

My fear — and I think it’s valid — is that there are those in the audience, particularly youth but also adults (a different friend happens to have a husband who thinks he just got the green light to run a marathon on Sunday that he had originally decided against) who think hey — stake president trumps the parents, so if my parents say I can’t play ball on Sunday but my stake president says it’s okay, now I have my ammunition.

Now, before we get into a debate about sports on Sunday, let me state I don’t think that the particular commandment is really the issue here. The point is that I felt what he said to be undermining what parents are trying to teach their kids. You could just as easily say:

“If you look at porn occasionally, you aren’t a bad person.”
“If you don’t pay your tithing that’s okay.”
“It’s okay to date even though you are only 15. After all, it is the prom!”
“Don’t get down on yourself because of that one glass of wine you had at a friend’s party. You aren’t in the mists of darkness.”

On and on.

There is one huge aspect of all this that I think was missing in his comments, and that is this: No, you aren’t evil if you aren’t perfect (“don’t judge me because I sin differently than you do.”). You aren’t a bad person if you occasionally falter. There is repentance. There is trying harder next time. There is the hopefully choosing the *best* of the good, better, best (thank you Elder Oaks for that fabulous talk!) for you to work towards. But you can never go back and get those blessings that you would have gotten by making the best choice in the first place.

Using the same Sabbath day example (again, it could be anything), let’s say you miss church for eight weeks for whatever reason (I have done this before…more in a minute). During those eight weeks, I cannot take the sacrament for you and renew your covenants for you. I cannot express to you the sweet spirit that was felt as Sister Jones gave a wonderful lesson in Beehive class on eternal marriage. I cannot adequately help you to feel the exuberance that little Johnny had when he gave his first talk in Primary, which he had written all by himself. I cannot sit next to the sweet sister in Relief Society who needs a friend for you and build a relationship.

There was a time I was in the hospital for two months. I missed those things greatly. True, my home teachers and visiting teachers came to see me sometimes to give me news from the ward and to offer friendship and support. Friends and family made sure that my kids made it to church every week when I couldn’t. I was even able to take the sacrament most weeks because I happened to be in Utah where church members are assigned to do come to the hospital to provide that.

But it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the best option. It was good, but not best or even better. I missed it and could not wait until I could attend again. It wasn’t that I felt unworthy or that I was making a bad choice (I had no choice in this situation, obviously) but I just missed all of those blessings that I get from going to church.

You may not be evil or bad for the choices you make, but:

  • I can never repair your wife’s broken heart because of your infidelity.
  • I can never make your kid love you after you have abused them.
  • I can never give you the blessings you would have received by paying your tithing.
  • I cannot build a friendship for you that you didn’t build because you never went visiting teaching.

Choices matter.

Not because they make you evil, but because righteous choices make you better than you otherwise would have been. It’s not a competition with others, and it’s not right to judge others for their choices. But, I believe we do need to acknowledge that there is a good, better, and best as far as these choices go.

I personally am going to teach the best to my kids. Of course I realize that they will not always choose that for themselves, but at least I will know I have taught it. Would we be okay with the school teaching our kids to the level of the student who was the lowest in the class? No, we are not okay with that. So why should we be in regards to commandments and direction from our church leaders?

What I would like to hear from my stake president on Sunday (among other things) is a thank you to those parents who are teaching to the best (i.e. what we have been provided by the church in the resources we have) and a reassurance that our church leaders have our backs with what we are teaching. I would love to hear a thank you and a “way to go” to those youth who are making really tough choices that are most often not the popular thing to do — yes, even if that means that another youth who is making a different choice might have a twinge of guilt about what they are choosing. Sometimes “guilt” is a very motivating factor to choose better next time.

I would like to hear these words: “Choices do matter. You aren’t evil if you aren’t perfect. However, you can be even happier and closer to Heavenly Father by choosing the best.”

{ 29 comments… add one }

  • Tracy Polyak September 14, 2012, 7:05 am

    This is a very poignant topic for my family right now, because my 7yo has just decided not to participate in her Sunday ballet recital. I have been looking forward to her opportunity to bear her testimony about her experience, and it is very concerning to me that anyone would feel the need to “correct” her.

    For us, this has not been purely a Sabbath Day issue. My dd has learned about the Holy Ghost, promptings, prayer, personal revelation, scriptures, sacrifice, courage and valiance in following Christ’s teachings and example.

    Making a choice not to participate in extracurricular activities on Sunday is not about telling the world what they should do on Sunday. It is about following one’s own spritual promptings. If those who participate in sports on Sunday have done so after seeking God’s will and receiving personal revelation on the matter, then there should be no reason to feel offended if God requires something different of someone else.
    Tracy Polyak recently posted…Spell to Write and Read: Two Years LaterMy Profile

  • anonlds September 14, 2012, 6:32 pm

    I wish my SP was as cool as yours.

  • Angie Gardner September 16, 2012, 12:18 am

    He actually is cool, and I really like him. I do disagree with him on this, though.

    Here is an example of cool: He wakes his kids up on Saturday morning by blasting Metallica so they will know it’s time to get up and get the work going. Not my thing but I can respect it. :)

  • Amy Lockhart September 16, 2012, 10:31 am

    TracyP – well said.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Starving To DeathMy Profile

  • Amy Lockhart September 16, 2012, 12:56 pm

    Angie – on pins and needles waiting to hear the rest of the story …
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Starving To DeathMy Profile

  • Angie Gardner September 17, 2012, 5:40 am

    End of the story: He didn’t come.

    Instead, another member of the stake presidency came and spoke about forgiveness and upholding our leaders. This stake presidency member said he was giving the talk he had prepared for the last stake conference but didn’t end up giving because his father was sick and he had to leave town. Interesting if that really was the topic he had prepared several months ago, but I have my hunches that this was quite an orchestrated move to apologize, ask for forgiveness, and yet say uphold your leaders without directly addressing the situation at hand.

  • Amy Lockhart September 17, 2012, 8:41 am

    Interesting indeed. I have many thoughts mulling around due to this post. I haven’t decided whether to post them or not. Thanks for posting this Angie.
    Amy Lockhart recently posted…Starving To DeathMy Profile

  • Angie Gardner September 17, 2012, 8:13 pm

    If you ever feel like mulling here, I would love to hear your thoughts. In a way, I felt like from the beginning that this should have been handled privately and that bringing it up again to the ward would only add fuel to the fire. So in that sense, I am kind of glad it seems to have passes. On the other hand, I feel like this was such an opportunity to show humility and to at the same time clarify doctrine and reinforce the church teachings that parents are trying to instill in their children. Sometimes I think we are so PC and so afraid of offending people that we are afraid to teach the doctrine. My friend was told that there was one person in particular that he knew was struggling with this issue and he didn’t want them to feel bad. Well, here’s a thought – maybe it’s better for one person (or the others that he didn’t have in mind but who also struggle with this) to have a guilt feeling because they are going against counsel (and yes, they are going against counsel in this case. FTSOY clearly states it) and for him to go up to person afterwards and put his arm around them and recognize them for being there and letting them know he loves them and appreciates their effort than it is to undermine the teachings of all the active parents in the ward.

  • Naismith September 18, 2012, 7:47 am

    Does anyone think that Elder Nelson was wrong to become a heart surgeon? He certainly worked a lot of Sundays, especially during his residency and early career.

    Among the consequences of his decision was that he was able to save the lives of several general authorities, including President Kimball. But that consequence was not known years earlier when he made the decision of his specialty. During his residency, were there people in his ward who judged him and wondered why he didn’t specialize in dermatology or opthalmology, where he would miss fewer Sundays?

    God is not a vending machine, and the consequences are not as simple as it would seem. Also, I don’t think that any of us can declare exactly what was said or implied in a meeting. Not only is there a huge body of literature on the inadequacy of witness testimony, but the Spirit often witnesses to each of us individually, causing us to take something from a talk that our neighbor may not.

    The best we can do is each of us humbly seek guidance for our own stewardship, and not judge those around us.

    I don’t mind that some events are on Sunday, because of course it is not the only Sabbath. Our Jewish neighbors shouldn’t always have their sabbath violated, either. I’m involved in a community groups in which events are more or less rotated between those two days in order to not disadvantage either.

  • Angie Gardner September 18, 2012, 10:29 am

    Whoa, back up.

    As stated several times, this isn’t about a specific topic (Sabbath observance). It’s about a church leader correcting Sacrament meeting talks (including of a 12-year-old) when those talks have presented nothing but the resources the church has provided paired with personal experiences of how the speakers have applied it in their life.

    It could have just as easily gone something like this:
    (Chastity) “You’re still a good person if you commit adultery sometimes.”
    (Word of Wisdom) “Drinking alcohol doesn’t surround you with mists of darkness.”

    and on and on.

    This wasn’t really a gray area. The commandments and church resources on this topic are quite clear. “Keep the Sabbath Day Holy.” The main resource our youth are given to guide their standards, For the Strength of Youth, specifically mentions athletic activities.

    So, in my mind this means that you avoid things that aren’t holy on the Sabbath as much as possible. Of course some people will need to work (I myself work on Sunday evenings so there you go), sometimes we’ll be traveling and need to buy gas or food. Maybe a kid will even get sick and you have to go buy some medicine. Things happen, and no one is saying (or said in those corrected talks) that you are evil if you do these things. A 12-year-old simply said that he has chosen not to play for his football team during the playoffs because the games are on Sunday and he doesn’t feel good about that. Would I think a 12-year-old who chose to play on Sunday was evil? Heaven’s no. But I also wouldn’t tell the child who made this choice that another choice is just as valid. It’s not. You will be missing part of your Sabbath experience if you play football instead of going to church. Doesn’t mean you are bad or that you will burn in hell or anything else – and no one in these talks was casting any judgment on anyone else – but you will miss out on the blessings you would have received by being there.

    Regarding people interpreting this differently. Um, not really. It was pretty clear, as evidenced by the line of people waiting to speak with the bishop and/or stake president, the letters that were exchanged, and the fact that the bishop had heard so much about it that it was made a topic at ward council. It was even brought up again in our RS lesson this week (“Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line.”)

    If you were there and had ears and a brain, what happened was pretty clear.

    It was a pretty clear doctrinal direction that was corrected because someone in the congregation was feeling bad about this particular issue. In a nutshell, that’s exactly what it was.

    It would be similar to someone giving a talk on porn and it’s vices and the SP getting up there and saying, “but if you do it, you aren’t a bad person. If you can feel the spirit in your life then your choice is just as valid” because he knows a large percentage of the congregation will have some guilt feelings because they engage in this and know they shouldn’t, but the church leader doesn’t want them to feel guilty or less of a person.

    Sometimes, a guilt feeling is a good thing. Why are we so PC, even in the church? There are a lot of gray areas out there, but this was not one of them.

  • Naismith September 18, 2012, 1:45 pm

    “As stated several times, this isn’t about a specific topic (Sabbath observance). It’s about a church leader correcting Sacrament meeting talks (including of a 12-year-old) when those talks have presented nothing but the resources the church has provided paired with personal experiences of how the speakers have applied it in their life.”

    What was described above did not strike me as “correcting” but rather adding another dimension to the issue, NOT invalidating what was said. Like everyone looking at a campfire from a different angle, and the followup presenting one more view.

    Yes, the issue of “correcting” is a huge deal for leadership. At least once a month if not more often during my husband’s tenure as bishop, someone called demanding that he announce a correction to something that was said in a talk. It’s one of the risks of a lay ministry.

    “It could have just as easily gone something like this:
    (Chastity) “You’re still a good person if you commit adultery sometimes.”
    (Word of Wisdom) “Drinking alcohol doesn’t surround you with mists of darkness.”

    I don’t think it could have gone that way so easily. I don’t believe for a minute that any church leader would get up and say that. But they don’t tell us exactly how we should go about fasting, sabbath observance, what tithing to pay.

    “This wasn’t really a gray area. The commandments and church resources on this topic are quite clear. “Keep the Sabbath Day Holy.”

    Yes, but how we keep it holy is going to be different for different people. We are all entitled to personal revelation as to how we should do that.

    ” So, in my mind this means….”

    Right. That’s your mind, and you should do what you think is best for you and your family. Good for you. And others will do what they think is right, and account to God for it.

    “A 12-year-old simply said that he has chosen not to play for his football team during the playoffs because the games are on Sunday and he doesn’t feel good about that.”

    Which is commendable. Did the later speaker actually tell him that he was wrong to make that choice? If not, why was it considered a “correction”?

    “Would I think a 12-year-old who chose to play on Sunday was evil? Heaven’s no. But I also wouldn’t tell the child who made this choice that another choice is just as valid.”

    You feel that way, and the stake president might even feel that way as an individual. But it might be possible that in his stewardship as stake president, he received revelation that he needed to say what he did.

    “…but you will miss out on the blessings you would have received by being there.”

    However, if you have prayed about it and feel sure that this is what you should be doing (as I assume Elder Nelson did), then maybe you will have different blessings for your obedience to the revelation.

    “Regarding people interpreting this differently. Um, not really… If you were there and had ears and a brain, what happened was pretty clear.”

    I admire your certitude. Apparently all of communication research is being done with people without a brain.

    “It was a pretty clear doctrinal direction that was corrected because someone in the congregation was feeling bad about this particular issue. In a nutshell, that’s exactly what it was.”

    Gee, it’s a shame that you can’t be called as stake president, so that you could do a better job.

    “Sometimes, a guilt feeling is a good thing. Why are we so PC, even in the church? There are a lot of gray areas out there, but this was not one of them.”

    I don’t think that it is “PC” to respect the stewardship and free agency of others. It’s a core gospel principle.

  • Angie Gardner September 18, 2012, 3:34 pm

    “What was described above did not strike me as “correcting” but rather adding another dimension to the issue, NOT invalidating what was said. Like everyone looking at a campfire from a different angle, and the followup presenting one more view.”

    Whether he intended it that way or not, it did feel like a correction to those who were there.

    “I don’t think it could have gone that way so easily. I don’t believe for a minute that any church leader would get up and say that. But they don’t tell us exactly how we should go about fasting, sabbath observance, what tithing to pay.”

    Actually, they do. In particular, on the topic in question, here is some quite clear direction: https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/sabbath-day-observance?lang=eng. This line in particular is one that was used in the youth talk and was then corrected (or clarified, justified, whatever term you prefer) “Sunday is not a day for shopping, recreation, or athletic events. ”

    “Yes, but how we keep it holy is going to be different for different people. We are all entitled to personal revelation as to how we should do that.”

    See link above.

    “Did the later speaker actually tell him that he was wrong to make that choice? If not, why was it considered a “correction”?”

    No, I suppose he didn’t tell him he was wrong. What he did do was portray the choice to play football on Sunday the same as not playing football on Sunday. They are not the same. And you are right, the person involved is the one who needs to account for that – but why get up in front of the congregation to point out that those who participate in athletic events on Sunday are good people, when no one said they weren’t? No one was called a sinner or anything – the stance of the church on Sabbath observance was simply stated and an example of doing so presented. And then negated, or at least made equal with the choice to follow the guideline as opposed to not.

    “But it might be possible that in his stewardship as stake president, he received revelation that he needed to say what he did.”

    And he said as much. In fact, he told my friend (upset mom of the 12-year-old) in a letter that she might be happy to know that this person he had in mind thanked him afterwards. I think it is awesome and fantastic and wonderful that he had this inspiration for this person. And I also think he could have appeased this person’s guilt by speaking with that person individually. Of course there are going to be exceptions to why someone can’t live the gospel 100%. None of us do. However, *most* of us are at least seeking to do so, or improve, or at the very least teaching our children the correct principles even if we don’t live them 100%. So why the need to invalidate that teaching that happens in the home so that this person will feel better about their choice? If they have a good reason for missing church on Sunday, then the stake president by all means might want to speak with them and let them know he knows their struggle. It didn’t need to happen on a ward level, in my opinion.

    “However, if you have prayed about it and feel sure that this is what you should be doing (as I assume Elder Nelson did), then maybe you will have different blessings for your obedience to the revelation.”

    So, which commandments is it okay to pray about not following? If it’s okay to feel good about your decision to work on Sunday (again, I see the need for this and work on Sundays myself), is it also okay to feel good about your choice not to wear your garments as you promised you would? How about viewing porn, as long as you still feel the spirit in other aspects of your life? Slippery slope here.

    “I admire your certitude. Apparently all of communication research is being done with people without a brain.”

    Sorry if that sounded harsh. I did not intent it to. My point is just that if you were there, paying attention, and processing what was being said, it was not really possible to interpret it a different way. I think this is quite clearly evidenced by the number of people talking about it, bringing it up in RS weeks later, etc. Not saying that some weren’t fine with what was said – of course not everyone was bothered. But, to many of us, it felt like a correction that was done in an inappropriate context, that’s all.

    “Gee, it’s a shame that you can’t be called as stake president, so that you could do a better job.”

    I agree. :)

    Just kidding.

    I just want to state again that I really like my stake president. We do things socially, and our kids are friends with each other. I do not envy his job at all and overall I think he does just fine. He’s human, like every other church leader I’ve had. It’s not him I’m upset with. It’s the premise that it’s okay to teach our kids that there are exceptions to living the commandments. For most commandments, and I would say even for most guidelines (i.e. things that wouldn’t necessarily keep you out of the temple but that are “soft” commandments for lack of a better word) there really aren’t exceptions or special situation where it’s okay to break them. I have an example in mind but this is too long already and I need to go feed my children. If you want it, I’ll provide it later. Basic point is that we don’t need to put a question mark where the Lord puts a period (learned that in seminary).

    “I don’t think that it is “PC” to respect the stewardship and free agency of others. It’s a core gospel principle.”

    Agency is a core gospel principle (nothing free about it) and I absolutely do respect the stewardship and agency of people to choose for themselves. I am not going to judge them for sinning differently than I do. However, no one was judging anyone here. They were stating the church’s stance on this topic and giving an example of how they have applied it in their own life. No judgment took place except perhaps people judging themselves as not living up to it fully and the SP feeling the need to help that person feel better about their choice. PC to me.

  • Tracy Keeney September 18, 2012, 10:48 pm

    Angie— I know you didn’t mean this to be a discussion specifically about “sabbath worship”, but rather about the bewildering act of leadership essentially feeling the need to “correct” people for quoting general conference addresses and church lesson manuals (because quoting church teachings from the pulpit is such a disgrace!), but I can’t resist responding to the “sabbath” related comments made.
    Specific examples of those who avoid playing sports on the Sabbath, whether it’s little kids on city leagues, high school students for the proverbial state championship game, young adults on college teams and even those offered spots on a professional team, are quite frequently mentioned, (if not hailed) and used as examples of those making “the better choice”, or the “righteous Sabbath choices” in Church magazines, during conference addresses and in nearly every church manual for every age level and every auxiliary, during lessons that address Sabbath observance. You won’t find a story of someone making the opposite choice being used as an “example” to be looked up to or followed, nor will you find the opposite choice considered “as valid”– you also won’t find a story or example that somehow “excuses” it or “okay’s” it or treats it as “equally valid or acceptable” because the person prayed about it and got the “okay” from God for him/her personally– not even in a lesson, article or general conference address that’s discussing finding answers through prayer about personal decisions or struggles. If it really didn’t matter, or the opposite choice was equally “valid” or “acceptable” then they wouldn’t bother using the “look at this example of righteous choices regarding sports and the Sabbath” so frequently– ALWAYS with the SAME ending– the person ALWAYS decides NOT to participate– and the few examples where the person DOES participate, the story STILL ends up with the same “lesson”, because in the end, the person came to the realization that they’d made the wrong choice and decided not to play on the Sabbath anymore.
    The message is pretty clear. The principle is taught, and the people are left to govern themselves.
    We are TAUGHT to judge between good choices and bad choices– even between good, better and best choices. And someone simply REPEATING the words of church leaders in conference addresses, or material from church manuals regarding playing sports on the Sabbath, or REPEATING the specific stories told as EXAMPLES of making “righteous” choices regarding playing sports on the Sabbath is not “judging people”. End of story.
    In regards to comparing playing sports on the Sabbath to Elder Nelson becoming a heart surgeon…… really? Isn’t this a “duh” moment?
    For those who can’t see the obvious– here it is– and this is just ONE quote of the many that are very similar.

    “Working on the Sabbath”
    “Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy said:”We know that there are essential businesses that must be open on Sunday. These are emergency, medical, transportation, and some forms of protective services, such as police and fire” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 12; or Ensign, May 1996, 10–11).
    Employees of such “essential businesses” can keep the Sabbath day holy even when their services are required on Sunday. For example, they can read the scriptures during breaks at work and attend Church meetings before or after work.”

    And that’s from the “Preparing for Exaltation” Teacher’s Manual– Lesson 28.

    And — case in point– the very first thing the lesson tells the teacher to share with the class members, is the story of Eli Herring, who turned down a professional football career in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. And what was the lynchpin that lead him to that decision? He remembered reading the story of yet ANOTHER athlete, Errol Bennet– (whose story was ALSO shared in the same manual in the PREVIOUS lesson, lesson 27) who, upon joining the church, gave up his very successful soccer career when he was the top star, in order to be follow counsel and keep the Sabbath day holy. The lesson says ” Eli knew he could do good things with the money he could earn as a professional football player. He could pay his children’s college and mission expenses; he could go on missions with his wife…”
    — so it even mentioned how he could support his family, even supporting MISSIONS— which certainly is a very righteous desire– it says he struggled for six months with his decision– fasting, praying– and guess what came next? What ALWAYS comes next in these “sports and the Sabbath” stories…. he decided NOT to become a professional athlete.

    Why?

    Because he decided that “keeping the Sabbath day holy was more important than playing professional football and making lots of money.” — regardless of the good causes (like supporting a family, sending kids to college and supporting missions) that the money could go toward.

    Then the lesson manual says “Explain that this lesson is about the blessings we receive when we obey the Lord’s commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy.”

    That’s 2 lessons, one right after the other, just from ONE manual, giving the SAME kind of “sports on the Sabbath” story– and this is ALWAYS the kind of “sports on the Sabbath” story given– in church manuals, conference addresses– take your pick. I’m sorry– if the point isn’t as clear as pure, undefiled water, then I don’t know what is.

  • MB September 19, 2012, 7:20 pm

    This discussion has been mostly about who is correcting who and whether or not he should have, but in my opinion, the real tragedy is not what was said over the pulpit by any of the speakers but the line of people who got all bent out of shape about it and complained.

    Come on, people. Whatever happened to charity and forgiveness? Are we, as a group of Christians, so insecure about our ability to receive and rest calmly in the personal revelation we receive for our own personal circumstances that if something said by someone over the pulpit, be he a 12 year old or a stake president, conflicts with what we feel is best for our own religious practices, we have to get all worked up about it? Are we so insecure that we need to have every little choice we make given an official stamp with “no exceptions allowed” by an authority figure in order for us to feel armed well enough to stand by it? Are we so derailed and flustered when a fellow saint who is doing the best he can, be he an authority figure or no, says something that might be understood as different from the personal revelation we’ve received that we complain to the bishop or demand a different response?

    Good heavens! It seems that we are.

    We need to listen to each other with more tenderness, forgiveness and attempts to understand and love rather than listen just to arm ourselves with a second witness and an official stamp of approval. If that approval or agreement is what we need to give us the strength to continue to live and guide ourselves and our families in the practices that we feel are right we’ve got a serious problem.

    I’m really sorry that this happened in your ward…not the three talks, but the whole bruhaha afterwards. So sad.

  • MB September 19, 2012, 7:26 pm

    spell check: brouhaha

  • Naismith September 19, 2012, 8:51 pm

    “Whether he intended it that way or not, it did feel like a correction to those who were there.”

    You talked to everyone who was there to find out what they thought about it? Wow, this is a huge deal in your ward.

    While this issue might seem black-and-white to some, it does not seem that way to everyone. How could they call Dale Murphy to be an Elder’s Quorum president while he was playing baseball on Sundays? Weren’t church leaders concerned about the message that it sent? And while some athletes choose not to play professional football because of the Sunday schedule, Vai Sikahema did choose to play in the NFL. And was a great stake president.

    I don’t consider those folks as exceptions to some hard-and-fast rule, but rather examples of members who do their best to figure out what is best for them at a given point in time.

    “So why the need to invalidate that teaching that happens in the home so that this person will feel better about their choice?”

    It didn’t sound like invalidating to me. We all have family standards that may differ slightly from church standards per se. And the young man knows how he felt; nobody can take that away from him. I understand that it was so problematic in part because a 12-year-old is not as capable of understanding nuance as a 16- or 20-year-old.

    “If they have a good reason for missing church on Sunday, then the stake president by all means might want to speak with them and let them know he knows their struggle. It didn’t need to happen on a ward level, in my opinion.”

    So you are comfortable second-guessing a church leader in a public forum? I guess we all have our own priorities when it comes to living the gospel.

    “So, which commandments is it okay to pray about not following?”

    First, I don’t assume that someone who spends their Sundays differently than you are I might is “not following” a commandment. I personally try to pray about following all of the commandments. But I do think that the temple recommend questions provide some guidance about what are the minimum qualifications to be a member in good standing. I’m not sure that playing sports on Sunday is on that list.

  • Angie Gardner September 20, 2012, 7:21 am

    MB, point taken. And you are right, it is too bad that it became an issue. There is a bit of a back story on all of this, which I don’t really feel comfortable talking about here. Suffice it to say there was already some sensitivity there and this was something that happened that brought that to the surface for some people. And I agree with your sentiment, overall.

    It’s the underlying premise that we would need clarification on something that is pretty clearly laid out in church resources that I have a concern with. To bring it to the bottom line, I teach my kids the gospel principles as best as I can and I just want to have that supported at church, that’s all. Of course we all know that no one is going to be perfect at living the gospel 100%, but there is a certain standard that should be taught and then the exceptions are just that – exceptions. As I often hear in the school setting – we teach to the rule, not to the exception. Of course there are going to be people who have to work on Sunday, etc. But in general, shouldn’t it be taught that we should be there whenever we can possibly be there and if there is a way to do what we need to do on Sunday and still attend church, we should? Should we commend youth who have made hard choices to give up something special to them because they want to follow the guidelines they are given? And by commending them, does that imply judgment of those who make a different choice? That is the question, and my belief is that there was no judgment implied and thus no need to undo from the pulpit a judgment that never happened.

    Naismith: “You talked to everyone who was there to find out what they thought about it? Wow, this is a huge deal in your ward.”

    Yes. Everyone.

    Sheesh, of course not.

    I talked to my friend to see if she was okay, after I watched her immediately go to the stand and speak with the SP after the meeting. She’s the only one I talked to personally about it. A few other people spoke to her so I knew that there was some concern out there. I also heard a conversation in the hallway at mutual a few nights later, between another “no sports on Sunday” mom and the SP. And then the comments in RS on Sunday. So it’s fair to say that there were several people who took notice, and this is the first time I remember anything like this ever happening in any ward I’ve been in, so it’s unusual. I don’t feel that my ward is gossipy or hypercritical of their leaders. I simply think that there is a valid concern here with undermining the teaching most of us are trying to do in our homes.

    I know you don’t see it as undermining, and in a room full of adults I would agree with you, because as you say an adult can understand the nuances. But this was a meeting that involved everyone, and when you have a church leader telling youth something different than what their parents have taught them it does feel like undermining to me.

    You continue to bring up individual examples of people who have “Sunday careers” and also church leadership. Again, this isn’t about the exceptions, it’s about teaching what is right for the majority of the people the majority of the time. If you have an exception, you handle it as an exception. My opinion.

  • Angie Gardner September 20, 2012, 7:26 am

    “But I do think that the temple recommend questions provide some guidance about what are the minimum qualifications to be a member in good standing. I’m not sure that playing sports on Sunday is on that list.”

    Sorry, forgot to address this one.

    Specifically no, sports on Sunday is not a temple recommend question. Attending church meetings, however, is.

    As mentioned earlier, sports is also specifically addressed in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.

  • Naismith September 20, 2012, 8:59 am

    “You continue to bring up individual examples of people who have “Sunday careers” and also church leadership. Again, this isn’t about the exceptions,”

    And as I explicitly stated, I don’t see them as “exceptions.” I see them as living the gospel as they see fit, which is what all of us are doing. Could someone be avoiding sports, not shopping, attending their meetings and yet still be failing to live the law of the Sabbath? I think that is possible, if they were impressed to use that time to visit the ill or work on family history, but are failing to heed the promptings.

    I just don’t see it the way you do. Isn’t it great that the gospel umbrella is large enough for all of us?

    I am not going to respond further. I wish you well in teaching your children whatever you think best. (Including, apparently, that it is okay to disagree with the stake president in a public forum.)

  • Angie Gardner September 20, 2012, 10:46 am

    Yeah, I am done too. We obviously aren’t understanding each other’s point of view on this.

    I only wish there was a little more focus on helping parents teach their children to make hard choices in living the commandments and guidelines they have been given rather than assuming that their good choices cast judgment on someone else’s choices.

  • Amy Lockhart September 20, 2012, 2:49 pm

    “rather than assuming that their good choices cast judgment on someone else’s choices.”

    BINGO!

    I have only recently come into contact with this type of attitude and it really took me by surprise. To assume motive on the part of the person relating a personal experience seems incredibly counterproductive to making the best choices we can and living a Christ centered life. It’s especially troubling when said person is citing specific counsel, guidelines, or doctrine as points of reference in their decision.

    I appreciated Tracy P’s comments because I could feel the angst of a mother right along with her. We want our children to learn to follow the commandments and listen to the spirit guide them in their lives. If they have an opportunity to share spiritual experiences regarding difficult choices, it helps them nurture their testimonies and gives them extremely beneficial positive moments to look back on in times of doubt, confusion, or trouble. On the other hand, if those experiences are met with correction from trusted leaders in positions of authority, that can negate the experience entirely and leave the child/youth in doubt of their abilities to receive personal revelation and guidance in their lives.

    Our choices will not be the same, but it seems like we ought to be able to listen to each other without assuming judgmental or superiority motive is behind sharing personal experiences. It also seems that correction over the pulpit might be best reserved for moments of doctrinal falsehood rather than choices and experiences of youth coming directly from those things we offer them, and claim spiritual safety and growth result from. But that’s just
    me.

    As for the mob to the Bishop’s office; I think it’s important to keep those lines of communication open, especially when there is controversy and conflict. If we can’t work these things out through the “chain of command” then we are really in trouble.

    MB: You make some great points. My concern is that quite often, where youth are concerned, we are dealing with people who are extremely insecure and are looking for a constant in their life other than family. They are discovering themselves and their independence and that can be a tough road these days. It’s not that we can’t deal with it accordingly, but more so that it would be nice if church was the one place that we didn’t have to fight the battle of gray area that is so prevalent in the world today. I realize that is a tall order and not likely to be reality; we are all human and doing the best we can.
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  • Angie Gardner September 20, 2012, 3:03 pm

    “Our choices will not be the same, but it seems like we ought to be able to listen to each other without assuming judgmental or superiority motive is behind sharing personal experiences. It also seems that correction over the pulpit might be best reserved for moments of doctrinal falsehood rather than choices and experiences of youth coming directly from those things we offer them, and claim spiritual safety and growth result from. But that’s just
    me.”

    That’s me too. :) Thanks, Amy.

  • MB September 20, 2012, 5:18 pm

    Actually, I prefer that my teenage children fight the gray area both outside their church walls and within them while they are still living at home as teenagers and we can discuss and counsel together. And I prefer that they first encounter other good, faithful LDSaints’ various and diverse takes on how to respond to gray areas while they are still living in my home rather than waiting until they are insecure young adults living on their own before they encounter them.

    I appreciate tremendously the faithful examples and mentoring that other members of my congregation have offered to my children and I am ALSO tremendously grateful that various of those members have been honest about their different understandings of the gray areas. My children and my husband and I have used those differences of opinion among members that we love as catalysts for some of the best discussions of why we live the way we do that we’ve ever had and those discussions have armed my children with understanding, courage in their convictions and charity wonderfully as they’ve left the nest and started life on their own.

    My children will, all their lives, encounter good members of the church who live the gospel honestly and differently than they do in terms of specific practices as well as doctrinal understanding. And if I am to choose between a) having the stake president back me up on all that I believe in order to add a second witness for my children and b) having a stake president we love have a different take on things so that our children and we can honestly discuss why we do what we do while, at the same time, loving and supporting someone who sees things differently I’ll take the latter, hands down. That latter road takes more backbone and courage and charity, but its SO worth it.

  • Angie Gardner September 20, 2012, 8:12 pm

    Two things:
    1) Is this really a gray area? It’s one of the 10 (commandments). It’s a temple recommend question. It’s in the pamphlet that the church provides for youth to use as their guide throughout their young lives. Exceptions are exceptions, but that is the standard that has been set.
    2) Not sure I agree that teens need challenge to their testimonies from their church leaders in order to be strong. Are they not faced with so much already both from within and without the church? As much fun as it would be to try, I don’t think it’s very possible to shelter them from the world in which they are raised in. Some dialogue that has been opened just within our own (LDS) family: Suicide, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, alcoholism and drug abuse, loss of testimony, domestic violence. That’s on top of all the differences of opinion in points of doctrine or practice. I am well aware that they will encounter this kind of thing over and over in their lives and that it’s good to talk about it in our family. I am grateful to those who will set the standard and back me up on it.

  • MB September 20, 2012, 9:28 pm

    I deeply appreciate “For the Strength of Youth”

    May I quote it:

    “Honoring the Sabbath day includes attending all your Church meetings. Go to sacrament meeting prepared to worship the Lord and partake worthily of the sacrament. During sacrament meeting, be reverent and willing to learn. Refrain from activities that would distract you or others during this sacred meeting. Be on time for your meetings. As you do these things, you invite the Spirit of the Lord to be with you.

    Prepare during the week so that you can reserve Sunday for the many uplifting activities that are appropriate for the Sabbath day. Such activities include spending quiet time with your family, studying the gospel, fulfilling your Church callings and responsibilities, serving others, writing letters, writing in your journal, and doing family history work. Your behavior and dress on the Sabbath should show respect for the Lord and His holy day.”

    Good words. Are you saying that they mean that the only things allowed on the Sabbath are attending meetings, studying the gospel, fulfilling church callings, serving others, writing letters, writing in your journal and doing family history work?

  • Angie Gardner September 20, 2012, 9:36 pm

    No, that’s not what I’m saying, but continuing on in FTSOY it says this:

    “Sunday is not a day for shopping, recreation, or athletic events. Do not seek entertainment or make purchases on this day. Let others know what your standards are so they can support you. When seeking a job, share with your potential employer your desire to attend your Sunday meetings and keep the Sabbath day holy. Whenever possible, choose a job that does not require you to work on Sundays.”

    Not sure what I am missing, but this does not seem gray to me. Sunday is not a day for shopping, recreation, or athletic events.

    Whenever possible, choose a job that does not require you to work on Sundays.

    Whenever possible. Allowing for the exception, but still setting a standard. No?

  • MB September 21, 2012, 6:27 am

    Yes. That is a standard.

    You wrote: “Apparently, the stake president felt that he needed to correct what was said. He told the congregation that if they play sports on Sunday they are not a bad person, if they have to work on Sunday they are not in the mists of darkness, etc.

    Agreed.”

    What I hear you saying is that you agree with the stake president but you and others were upset that how he said it could be misconstrued by young people and undermine parental teaching.

    So then, yes, we can probably agree that ultimately this is not an issue of gray areas about the Sabbath (as Amy termed them) after all. It is really an issue of responses to the remarks of a fellow saint.

    And my point is that the tragedy is not that the stake president said something that is not true (you point out that he said something that *is* true but could be misconstrued) but that rather that, instead of taking this truth that he stated as an opportunity for dialogue in their families for teaching standards AND ALSO the even greater commandment of charity towards others who may be struggling with how to apply this commandment in their lives AND charity towards a stake president who is doing the best he can, members of the congregation felt animosity because of the possibility that their credibility with their children about a particular commandment might be undermined by what was said or that their sacrifices that they’ve made in order to keep that commandment are unappreciated and so they created contention.

    Matthew 23:23 makes it clear that we put ourselves in a tragic position (“Woe!”) when, while seeking to obey important laws of the gospel (and Sabbath keeping is one of them) we omit “the weightier matters” of mercy (which embraces forgiveness of sins of others and charity), judgment (discernment and fairness-check the Greek) and faith.

    Which leads one, of course, to think about the whole issue of the mote and the beam.

    So it sounds to me like your stake presidency counselor’s decision to discuss the topic of forgiveness and supporting leaders was absolutely appropriate, and perhaps it was more than just happenstance that it was what he felt inspired to prepare but was unable to deliver at your stake conference.

  • Amy Lockhart September 21, 2012, 8:37 am

    “It’s not that we can’t deal with it accordingly, but more so that it would be nice if church was the one place that we didn’t have to fight the battle of gray area that is so prevalent in the world today.”

    My statement was not meant specifically for Sabbath Day observance. Gray areas occur when something like FTSOY states clearly and specifically one thing, and then a person of authority says, essentially, “yeah, but it’s okay, no harm done, if you don’t follow it.”

    Angie’s post was about choices and how they matter. If leaders have a take it or leave it attitude about the standards we so diligently try to teach our youth, at home and at church, it can become difficult for them to see clearly that choices do matter.

    The standard is there to be set. A great place to set it is at the pulpit. A great place to nurture those struggling with such standards is the Bishop’s office behind closed doors on an individual basis.

    “(a different friend happens to have a husband who thinks he just got the green light to run a marathon on Sunday that he had originally decided against) ”

    Is that the SP’s fault? Certainly not. Did the counsel given over the pulpit make the gray area easier to see and open up a whole new world of justification? Kind a seems that way. Ultimately is it still an individual choice? Yup.

    “My fear — and I think it’s valid — is that there are those in the audience, particularly youth but also adults … who think hey — stake president trumps the parents, so if my parents say I can’t play ball on Sunday but my stake president says it’s okay, now I have my ammunition.”

    I see no blame or contempt on Angie’s part for what was being said by the SP. I think she sees the danger in hanging out in the gray area/middle/or what have you, when it comes to specific and exact standards. Having the gray area opened up by the SP over the pulpit is definitely on a different level than it would be if a friend did the same.
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  • MB September 21, 2012, 2:50 pm

    “Having the gray area opened up by the SP over the pulpit is definitely on a different level than it would be if a friend did the same.”

    I think perhaps you may have identified the crux of our seeing this differently, Amy. For me there is no difference in the level. A stake president at the pulpit or a friend in my backyard who states an opinion about the gospel different from mine both get the same level of response from me. Hopefully that is always a willingness to try to understand, a sense of charity in spite of differences and clear disagreement, an unflappability about the fact that we disagree and a sense of peace about what I believe is true.

    I don’t need for church leaders to agree with me over the pulpit, even about the terrifically important issues, and I do not feel seriously thwarted in my parenting or betrayed when they don’t. Such differences are simply, in my opinion, an opportunity for me to review what I believe, discuss that belief with my family if needful, recommit to what I sense is right, and love my brothers and sisters who disagree with me (and forgive them in my heart if I think they are downright wrong).

    And I believe that kind of response on my part is best for me and for them.

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