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.
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.
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.”