Sunday, January 8, 2012

Philosophy Series: Being Commanded in All Things

I thought I should probably share some examples of things I think fall into the category of being commanded in all things, especially since the original post sounds a little harsh on its own. This started out as a comment on the other post, and then got so long that I decided it should be not only a post of its own, but one in the philosophy series. It essentially is a kind of unorthodox-Mormon manifesto anyway, so I suppose it could be considered my philosophy on being Mormon. I'm bugged by these kinds of things, some more than others:
  • CES won't hire women with children under 18 to be seminary or institute teachers (though they can be secretaries). If a woman is teaching seminary and becomes pregnant, she is fired. What gives CES the right to make this decision for women?
  • CES won't hire single men to teach, or sometimes hires them with the condition that if they're not married within two years, they're fired. If a teacher gets divorced, he (not sure about women) is fired.
    (This is a "more than others." These policies are not just overly-controlling, they're discriminatory and absolutely appalling.)
  • Sleepovers. They've now been discouraged in General Conference (scroll up to the beginning of the paragraph) and alluded to in For the Strength of Youth (in the Sexual Purity chapter, interestingly, as though many LDS teens are throwing coed sleepovers), so to many Mormons this will be considered doctrine. I think that's absurd. It might be good advice, but this barges right in on territory that should belong quite firmly to parents. Religions should not be regulating this kind of activity.
  • LDS funerals are considered church meetings and must be conducted by a bishop or stake president. The bishop tells the mourning family what music can and cannot be played, and the church handbook specifies that no rituals or customs of other religions are allowed. It also says that no digital presentations can be used, and that "teaching and testifying about the plan of salvation, particularly the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection, is an essential purpose of the services associated with a Church member’s death." In fact, the handbook says, “Funerals provide an important opportunity to teach the gospel and testify of the plan of salvation. They also provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased. However, such tributes should not dominate a funeral service.” Really?? That seems one hundred percent backward to me, and I think it's wrong for the church to restrict how members honor their dead.
  • Mormon culture generally requires that young men wear white shirts to pass the sacrament, even though the church handbook specifically says it is not required. It is also highly frowned upon for women to wear pants, though there is no reason why they shouldn't, and certainly no rule telling them to do so (at least not in regular church meetings). Young men are harassed for having shaggy hair or not wearing a tie, and are not allowed to have earrings. Young women are only allowed to have one pair. In some circumstances men are not allowed to have facial hair or ponytails. In some women are required to wear skirts and pantyhose (missions, the MTC, and working for CES, for example). Why must we care so much about people's appearance?? Every one of those things is completely arbitrary, a matter of culture if anything, and yet it is included as a principle of our religion (whether officially or not).
  • The blanket prohibition against R-rated movies (which, thankfully, is something General Authorities appear to be moving away from; the last time it was mentioned in Conference was ten years ago, though it's shown up in the New Era and Friend plenty since then). You've probably heard it a million times, and for good reason--MPAA ratings are arbitrary and useless. I've seen PG-13 movies that were trashy and vulgar, and I've seen R movies that were lovely and uplifting and beautiful. Please, watch The King's Speech and tell me that there's anything inappropriate about it. It's a beautiful movie and I would gladly sit down and watch it with the entire Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency. Watch Match Point, and compare the sexual content to that of The Notebook or any of the old James Bond movies. Watch Bridesmaids and compare it to What Women Want and Dinner for Schmucks. (I'm not going to say I'd want to watch Bridesmaids with General Authorities--just pointing out how arbitrary the ratings are.)
The thing that people often say in response to some of these points--the thing I myself said until less than a year ago--is that it's "a matter of principle; if the prophet asked us not to do it, then that's good enough for me." Well, I don't feel that way anymore. I don’t think “because someone told me to” is a good reason to do anything, even if that someone is the prophet.

I think we need to make our choices for ourselves. Following the prophet’s counsel is a choice, yes, but the way Mormons often approach it, it's a choice that pretty much absolves you of any further responsibility. Essentially I think we've just misunderstood what “following the prophet” means. It doesn't mean that you make a one-time, blanket decision to always follow anything and everything the prophet says no matter what--I think it means that you take each individual issue and look at it, consider it, see what it would mean for you, and then decide whether or not you’re going to follow the prophet’s counsel regarding that specific issue. And I don't think there's anything wrong with deciding that you feel differently about something, because I believe that our personal relationships with God take precedence over the rules set by the church for its membership of fourteen million. I don't believe that it's only okay to question as long as you end up coming to the same conclusion they do, because that would mean it isn't really okay to question.
The gospel is the substance of the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement this plan in each individual’s life. Procedures programs and policies are developed within the Church to help us realize gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. Under divine direction, these policies, programs, and procedures do change from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes. Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles as contained in the scriptures. As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.

...The conformity we require should be according to God’s standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual. It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable, and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.

--Ronald Poelman, First Quorum of the Seventy
I realize that sounds like I'm saying my life is more gospel-centered than that of people who are Mormon in the orthodox way, so I want to tell you right up front that I am not saying that. In fact I guarantee the opposite is true in countless cases. But I do want to say that the more I think about Mormon culture, the more similarities I'm starting to see between us and the Jews--following rule after rule that must seem, to outsiders, completely arbitrary and pointless, and that don't even have any significance if you follow them for the sake of the letter of the law instead of the spirit of it. As a people, as members of the LDS church, I think that we will become more gospel-centered when we can stop caring so much about the tiny little things and focus on the actual principles of Christ's teachings. I doubt very much if God cares whether we have one earring or twelve, vote Communist in the next election, or try every kind of alcohol there is at some point in our lives. What I think he cares about is that we respect our bodies, be good neighbors to others, and never judge someone who does do those things. LDS culture could make some progress in that area.


  1. The fundamental problem isn't the way the Church handles it, but the way that the members do. The things mentioned above are good principles that should lead members to follow the underlying doctrines upon which they are based. Not everyone has a clear understanding of every underlying teaching from the time they are born or join the church... sometimes it takes some more clear cut guidance to make it to perfect adherence to a doctrinal teaching. If someone gets too wrapped up in the culture and forgets why we do the things we do, there is a problem. If church members remember that the teachings are based on true gospel principles then its fine. But at the same time, we will be judged at least to some degree about how well we've adhered to the principles that our leaders have taught. If we do things that are blatantly against the counsel of our church leaders you can bet it will be held against us, regardless of whether the actual counsel is strictly doctrinal or not. You don't think for a second that if your bishop asks you personally to do something and you don't that you'll be excused just because you didn't feel like it, do you? Because that certainly doesn't jive with what I understand the Lord's plan to be. Obedience of the counsel of inspired leaders is important, whether we happen to agree with that counsel or not.

    One particular example... the Word of Wisdom is given to all, and is "adapted to the capacity of the weak and weakest of all saints." In other words, as one example, there are some who may not be able to handle alcohol, it is commanded of all to abstain. Nobody gets a pass just because their bodies could handle it. The same adherence is required of all. For most, it probably wouldn't be a problem. But that isn't the commandment.

    Nevertheless, I don't for a second believe that we'll be held accountable in the same way for non-compliance to non-doctrinal teachings that we will for infractions of doctrinal teachings. But I do think both are important. But spending time concerning ourselves with the difference is really kind of pointless.

  2. I'm going to have to completely disagree with you there; I really, really don't think it's pointless to distinguish between doctrine and social convention. Really. Not at all.

    I certainly agree that there's a problem with the way members handle it. However, I think there are problems with what the church puts out there, too. Notice that many of the things I mentioned in my list were things that actually are church policy (see the point about funerals, and all the CES restrictions). And as the other things go, I'll just go ahead and admit right now that I don't see why church leadership at that level even needs to be thinking about things like sleepovers and earrings, much less talking about them in General Conference--which is not technically considered official church doctrine, but is otherwise considered the most important source of guidance for members. I am, yes, a little bit bugged that the church has an opinion on such insignificant details as jewelry. I don't think it should.

    So, what exactly do you mean by "excused," Doug? Because no, I don't believe that God requires us to obey every whim of our bishops no matter what. Bishops are human, and are not above mistakes. (Did you see the story last summer about the girl who confided to her bishop that she had been sexually abused, and he "asked" her not to go to the police? Do you suppose the fact that she "didn't feel like" obeying that counsel will be held against her?) I have a friend whose bishop "asked" her personally to stop wearing pants to church, and frankly I don't think he had the right to do that. If my bishop asked me to wear skirts to church, I would politely decline, and explain why. I don't think God would condemn me for doing so.

    To be perfectly honest, Doug, I'm getting the sense from your comment that you think you're addressing a rebellious teenager who just wants to flout rules for the sake of defying authority. All I will say is that if you think this is my attitude, then you haven't been listening.

  3. What a great post. I am a bit unorthodox myself, so that may taint my opinion--but to most observant eyes, I couldn't be more "true blue."

    Often members of our church forget that we are to govern ourselves, and that would imply letting others govern themselves as well.

    I believe we will see our world-wide church moving away from some of their Utah-centric dictates in the next few years, and focus more on the underlying principles.

    These things may seem small to some, but I think they are huge (especially if you are not living in a first-world country). Dictates such as:
    1 - white shirts
    2 - no flip flops
    3 - 1 piercing per ear
    4 - no R rated movies (a USA thing)
    5 - no tatoos

    We all know that piercings and tatoos are cultural norms in many parts of the world and are not considered to be rebellious, but are actually an expression of rich cultural heritages. And as my son who recently served in Madagascar can tell you, flip flops and ANY shirt would be an amazing blessing to people who must usually go barefoot and own one or two items of clothing.

    I appreciate your call for us to all think for ourselves and govern ourselves according to the dictates of our own conscience--using the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a guideline and touchstone.

  4. Thank you, and thank you for your comment! "Often members of our church forget that we are to govern ourselves"--exactly. I mean really, I think we actually do forget this. The church is a delivery system for the gospel, not a replacement for individual lifestyle choices and decision-making.

    I hope so much that you're right about the church moving away from "Utah-centric dictates" (such an appropriate description), and I hope it happens soon.

  5. "One particular example... the Word of Wisdom is given to all, and is "adapted to the capacity of the weak and weakest of all saints." In other words, as one example, there are some who may not be able to handle alcohol, it is commanded of all to abstain. "

    What a silly interpretation -- and that is what this is: your interpretation, DoubleDeej. If that was what God was saying here, then no one would be able to eat anything but select amino-based foods. I myself can't tolerate wheat very well, and my youngest cannot tolerate cow's milk or soy _at_all_. There are plenty of American Mormons with serious sugar addiction and prone to over-eating. How often do we have "refreshments" that consist of items other than desserts?

    It is important to differentiate between cultural traditions and actual church policy. Sometimes those policies are difficult for individuals, but often it's because someone on either end of the equation (say, leader vs. congregant) doesn't have a full understanding of what is expected or actually required. For example: in my ward when I was a youth, I remember my father defending the fact that it *did not matter* which hand was used to either pass or partake of the Sacrament. Someone else was insisting that it always be done with the right hand. One of the young men in my ward has a severe disability that makes fine motor movements extremely difficult and unstable. The only way he could pass the tray was to do so behind his back with his left hand. What a horrific and ridiculous accusation to say that he was "doing it wrong". This is also an example of why it is handy to have so many things spelled out in the CHI.

  6. This was an interesting post. I do have one comment about the CES restrictions--I think the main reason that CES doesn't hire unmarried males to work as seminary teachers is to prevent any possibility of teenage girls being involved with their seminary teacher.

    Case in point: In the late '70s, my aunt fell in love with her unmarried seminary teacher (she was 17 and he was about 10 years older). She finished high school early and they got married. Everything has worked out great for them (they're still very happily married), but I think it could be problematic to have single men as seminary teachers. Just my two cents. :)

  7. Let's not be irrational. If a bishop asks a girl to do something illegal and/or obviously stupid, that is obviously way out of scope of what we're talking about here. I'm talking about inspired counsel. That's why it's so great that we have the right to our own inspiration.

    Somehow the original point was missed, though... these items of counsel are given as a guide to live a gospel principle. Will wearing a second pair of earrings keep us out of the temple or Celestial Kingdom? Probably not. But our attitude about how we take counsel certainly could.

    None of us can be absolutely perfect all of the time, and it is by the grace of Jesus Christ that we can be made perfect and inherit Eternal life. What qualification has been placed upon that grace to make us perfect in the eyes of God? Whether we are repentant and trying to do the right thing or not. Are we trying to do what God has asked us to do? Are we trying to do what our Church leaders ask us to do? If we're looking for ways to find fault with the guidance we've been granted, it doesn't seem like we're trying very hard. If the world says one thing and the Church teaches us something contrary and we choose the world, how hard are we trying?

    We've also got to keep in mind that it isn't our place to judge either. If we see someone taking the sacrament with the "wrong hand" or wearing two pairs of earrings or whatever, and we pass judgment, we're likely to be more guilty in the eyes of the Lord than the person who is committing the so-called infraction. We can't pass judgment on others passing judgment either. We're all in a unique place that nobody else can understand. None of us are qualified to throw the first stone.

  8. My God is the free agency God who considers is of Satan to try to dictate every aspect of someone's life. MY God certainly doesn't care what color my shirt is, how many holes are in my ears or any of those external appearances. My God looks to the beauty and purity of my heart.

  9. I just have to put in a plug for the compmletely arbitrary rating system Miri and The Flints mentioned, to support that is rooted in United States. In Canada, there is no "R" rating - we have 14A and 18A - and that doesn't line up with the also arbitrary PG-13 and R. The movies fall all over the place, and only a careful anyalysis from sources providing why such a rating is given can give you the green light on its appropriateness for your personal level. So, what I'm saying is a lot of our "rules - guidelines - traditions - suggestions" are based on cultural norms that are open to interpretation. And no, I don't think I will be judged on whether I not I follow the most recent counsel given by my bishop: For the bulletin, we are to use a heavier-weight paper than what we usually use for photocopying. I'm sure our Heavenly Parents have much heavier concerns facing them than to judge me on that. Church doctrine and cultural expressions played out as guidelines are very, very different. You can play the obedience card, but it doesn't hold up in the wash.

  10. He wasn't asking her to do something illegal. What he did was illegal. And at her age, it's pretty likely that she didn't even know it was illegal for him to do it. Not sure what's so irrational about my question. How about the pants then? Is that one of the things you dismissed as "obviously stupid"? Because I think there are a lot of members for whom that stupidity would not be even a little bit obvious. In fact I'm pretty sure that to many people, an active LDS woman wearing pants to church would be significantly more shocking than one with a second earring, and would incite questions about her worthiness--not because people are judging her, but because they actually think women are supposed to wear skirts.

    I'm a little surprised by your last comment, Doug. Essentially what I said was that I am okay with being the person who wears two pairs of earrings or takes the sacrament with the "wrong hand." Your response here has been fairly critical of that. So what exactly are you saying? I absolutely agree with the last two paragraphs of your most recent comment--and yet they don't seem to fit well with anything you said before.

    Janie, I'm sure you're right! Or at least partially. I still think it's a bad policy, though, especially the divorce aspect of it. It just seems like a particularly cruel policy--you're getting a divorce, so now we'll take away your livelihood at the same time? Why? What a horrible thing to do to your employees/members of the church.

    Anonymous--thank you. I absolutely agree. That is my God, too. Beautifully said.

    Telley, when I read your comment I thought of the one from earlier from The Flints, and I can only hope that she is right about the church moving away from Utah-centric "rules - guidelines - traditions - suggestions" (love that, by the way. It's awfully tricky figuring out which is which). It'll be nice to have a visibly global church, rather than a distinctly American church with an incidental membership in other parts of the world.

  11. Doug, I don't really buy the "it's your attitude that matters" argument that I hear from so many people regarding some of the very minor things that the church encourages/requires. Almost no one sees having 2 sets of earrings as a serious problem, but when someone questions it, they start with the, "the earrings might not be a big deal, but it's the attitude that will keep you out of the CK," or "would you really let something so small keep you out of heaven?"

    Why would my attitude about it keep me out? Because I'm willing to question with the spirit and decide for myself? Because I'm unwilling to take every word the prophet says, no matter how inane,as commandment?

    If I had a bad attitude about, I don't know, the Atonement, then I can see where that might be a problem.

    A slippery slope argument doesn't work here. Having two sets of earrings is not the gateway to Hell, no matter how you phrase it. It's an opinion that people took way to seriously. And I absolutely disagree that obedience is important whether we agree or not. We aren't children, we are adults who can and should decide for ourselves what is worth our time and effort. Just because a prophet says it doesn't make it doctrine and we shouldn't treat it like it is.

  12. Lauren--YES. Thank you. This is where I go back to these principles:

    "Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church."
    LDS Newsroom, Approaching Mormon Doctrine

    "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
    Eleventh Article of Faith
    I think perhaps this article of faith should be applied to other members of the church just as easily as to members of other religions.

    “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”
    Joseph Smith (Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:54.)

    "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward."
    Doctrine and Covenants 58:26

  13. Loved this post, Miri. And I pretty much agree with everything you've written here. For someone like me, the more arbitrary rules you give me, the more I'm going to rebel. That's just my God-given personality. Someone who needs to be commanded in all things is not a very good servant to the Lord. He has more important things to worry about than the color of your shirt. I'm sure all the mass starvation going on in the Horn of Africa deserves more of his attention right now.

  14. Wow..a lot of food for thought. I didn't know about the restrictions for funerals..this is already such a tender time and about some of those CES employment rules. I've had my own private reservations about things and I've struggled with some of them and I think we all do. I chose not to dwell on them because they distracted from the main gospel message and plan of salvation. I mean one of the prophets did say man would never go or walk on the moon (of course some would argue he was right LOL! but that's another story) so that was obviously his own opinion. Our previous stake president said we couldn't have choir practice on Sundays because he thought it was one of those unnecessary Sunday meetings which almost killed choir in our ward and did kill choir in his ward...even though it says in the handbook every ward should have a choir. Some wards just practiced on Sundays anyways. Our bishop said that if it meant it killed choir in our ward, so be it because we'd follow the Stake pres. The new Stake pres. said it was up to the Bishop...same Bishop reversed his position. And I could go on. Problem is the Gospel is perfect..the Church members aren't. My old home teacher who has a prominent position with BYU and meets the prophet and General Authorities all the time was really helpful to me at one sore point in my life. He said that if someone like a Bishop etc. made the wrong decision, they would have to deal with consequences at least on the other side. Doesn't seem like much of a comfort I know but I took what I could from that statement. Sooo.. I carry on the best I can and keep my mouth shut sometimes to be honest about it. Not ideal I know...I saw "The king's speech" and it was a wonderful movie and you could hardly understand that fifteen seconds of swearing--kind of like "Billy Eliott" which I saw edited but you could hardly understand what they were saying sometimes anyhoo but I enjoyed that movie. Well, Miri, I love you and Mike and wish I could see you more. I'm still working on that :D

  15. "I think it means that you take each individual issue and look at it, consider it, see what it would mean for you, and then decide whether or not you’re going to follow the prophet’s counsel regarding that specific issue."

    I was thinking about this line this morning as we were teaching seminary. We were talking about how Joshua asked all of the people to march around the walls and then shout at them when he told them to, and how that probably seemed pretty silly, but they trusted him and did it, and the walls came down. Then we cross-referenced it to the scripture in John 7:17 - "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."

    I think it's great to question when you aren't sure how you feel about something the prophets or your leaders have said - but I'm not sure that you can always decide what it will mean for you by sitting and considering it. For example, if my seminary students sat at home and thought about whether coming to early morning seminary was a good idea, they would probably go, "Well, I'll lose lots of sleep, my parents will have to get up early to take me, and I'll probably be too sleepy to get anything out of it anyway." (I use early morning seminary as an example because it's not hard-fast doctrine, but I do believe it's an inspired program that they've been encouraged to attend in in our area by the prophets and their leaders.) It's only by coming to seminary that they can gain a testimony about whether the program is inspired. We keep bringing up the two earring thing, and yes, it's probably not that big of a deal - but I remember when President Hinckley gave that talk, and a lot of my friends who made the decision to take out their second pair of earrings simply because the prophet asked them to had their testimonies of the prophet strengthened because they decided to take faith-based action. Questioning is great - it's part of our agency and it strengthens us to pray for a testimony of the things the prophets urge us to do - but I think it's also important to remember that we are promised that we will receive a testimony about whether something is of God if we DO it, not if we consider it carefully and think about what it will mean for our lives. Does that make sense? (I thought of this specifically about the reference to funerals. I have had some AMAZING spiritual experiences at my grandparents funerals where we very specifically taught the plan of salvation in addition to honoring my grandparents' lives. I don't think there is a more powerful place to be reminded of the beauty of the plan of salvation than at the memorial for a lost loved one. It might seem illogical for the church to encourage that so strongly, but when we did it, I understood why it was a good idea for me, my family, and even for the people who were there who didn't believe in it.)

    Anyway. I know that certainly doesn't address everything you covered, but that was my thought.

  16. Don't get me wrong about the funerals, I completely understand why that'd be a good time to discuss the plan of salvation. I'm definitely not saying it shouldn't be talked about there, and I know it could be an incredibly comforting thing for mourners.

    These are my problems: "Teaching and testifying about the plan... is an essential purpose" of funeral services. "They also provide an opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased. However, such tributes should not dominate" the service. I'm sorry, what? Teaching and testifying is "essential," and the tribute to the deceased is "also"? The tribute should not be a primary function of a funeral service? Is honoring the deceased not generally the primary function? Are we having a funeral or a missionary discussion? And why are there so many restrictions on how members can honor their dead? What if it were my mom, and we wanted to say a Hebrew prayer or something that they do in Jewish funerals? Apparently we won't be able to have an LDS funeral if we want to incorporate my mom's heritage into her own service, and I think that's pretty terrible. You shouldn't have to choose between following church rules and reflecting the person you love in their service.

    Also, I didn't mean that you only sit and think about things before you agree to do them; I think in many cases, part of considering would be deciding to try it out. I'm totally with you on seminary, especially early-morning. (Partially because as far as release-time goes, I'm not sure how I feel about supporting those awful CES policies and having my kids taught that only people who fit the ideal conservative nuclear family model are appropriate teachers for them. Or good enough to get paid to teach, I suppose I should say, since there's no problem with calling mothers with young children to wake up extra early and teach for free, OR with hiring them as secretaries--just with being paid teachers.) Anyway, early-morning seminary. Even as a freshman in high school I loved it, even when it meant I slept 5 hours a night all four years and spent ten or more hours a day at school. (I think teenagers can often recognize the spiritual benefits of something even when the temporal effects are negative.) If I were considering how I felt about the policy of seminary, certainly part of that would be to start attending it.

    I have to say, about the earring thing... Yeah, I understand what you're saying, because I felt the same as a teenager--but I sort of feel like that's a self-fulfilling cycle. You wouldn't take the extra earrings out unless you had a testimony of the prophet, so sure, making a sacrifice just because he asked you to would make you feel pretty good. I don't think that's necessarily causation, though. You know?

  17. Oh wow, that's the first time I've ever been told a comment was too long before. And I've written some long comments! Okay, so here's the rest:

    I just think that we should really limit the number of totally arbitrary things we do just because someone asked us to. I want my choices to be ones of intent, of purpose, not just of obedience. And you know, I understand that for some people, obedience is a pretty high virtue. It just isn't for me. Maybe that's because I spent the first 25 years of my life being obedient, and it didn't really feel that special. To me, what feels special is learning and analyzing, looking inward and finding out why I'm doing things, understanding my relationship with things, with God, and making everything I do purposeful. It's about recognizing that I am my own connection with God, that I don't need someone else to make that connection for me (which is something we talk a lot about in church, but in practice it kind of gets lost, especially for women. Everything's about the bishop, the stake president, the General Authorities. Well, what about me? What about my communication with God? Should I really value theirs over my own?).

    It's about understanding what things actually matter and what things don't. I don't know, maybe it's not a problem for most people. But for me, and for others I know like myself, it is not easy to have so many tiny little restrictions here and there all over life, and I just have enough on my plate to deal with already, you know? I don't need to be worrying about things that aren't real principles of the gospel, that are just "suggestions" or "conventions." There's enough to do in life without focusing on appearing Mormon.

    I'm certainly not saying that everyone else should feel the same way I do about this; all I'm hoping to say here is that I think my way is legitimate, and not the apostasy that many people seem to think.

  18. I more to say than I have time to express. However, being married to a paid seminary teacher, and loving it, I feel a need to comment on it.
    When you isolate the policies of course you can find some venom against them. Of course they can appear to be...those things you say.
    But...there is more to the story. There is always more to the story that matter whether they seem like they should or not.
    The standard for a seminary is set very high with specific reason. Not all the reasons do I know but I do know that if you are going to have your high school children taught daily gospel principles by the same individual, I would hope that you DID want someone that fully knows, understands and lives the pricuples they are teaching. My husband doesn't teach mormon culture, he teaches the true doctrine and is expected to know and teach the difference. Certainly you want a teacher that knows the principles best.
    I don't mean to say they are perfect but they are trying to live what they are teaching. I don't think by any means the church says only 'picture perfect' people can teach (otherwise we certainly wouldn't be here), they only want the best to be teaching your kids. All schools want the best teachers, why should the church have lower standards than that. It's hugely competitive to teach seminary, they should find the best they can find.
    Sadly, divorce is an issue...I get it the torture that would ever be but there are things put in place to help prevent that. They haven't just coldly said you're on your own and if you can't make it work too bad. They want them to be happy in a temple marriage to help keep the spirit and witness they are providing of the greatness of temple marriage authentic.
    How can a divorced teacher truly be authentic about an eternal committment. I would question his truth. To the same you are quesioning it.
    I just feel like holding a high standard for those teaching isn't a negative thing.
    I appreciate my hubby being held to a high standard. I don't mind that he has to be striving to maintain our marriage to keep his job. No policy says we have to be perfect though.
    Certainly not appalling from my point of view and I am under that 'control' you are calling it. I don't feel controlled by it. I make a choice daily to live this life because I love it. I don't feel like we are perfect either...but striving, as everyone else is.
    The whole women not teaching is the same basis. The blanket standard of the church is that women should be in the home. That's not principle, you're right. But it's a standard they have 'suggested' and therefore one that they too live up to. I think they do miss some fabulous teachers by doing that but I think they recognize that they do too. But to call upholding high standards appalling is hurtful.
    It's like the pot calling the kettle black. You are judging those also trying to do their best (at the standards we deem appropriate for us after our own searching and decifering our own truth) specifically when you say you would never want your child taught my someone like my husband. That's too bad...he's an incredible teacher and would never judge based on the fact that the church sets high standards for its teachers.

  19. Janeen, I would never say some of the things you seem to have read into my post, and I am really sorry if I have offended you. I am not talking about seminary teachers at all--I know a couple myself, and they are wonderful people. CES's hiring policy has nothing to do with their goodness. I am not saying that I wouldn't want my children taught by someone like your husband, absolutely not. What I'm upset about is the policy, not the teachers they do have. And I don't see how being upset that they refuse to hire mothers or divorced men says anything about the people who are lucky enough (and considered good enough) to get hired.

    I just don't see this being about standards. The fact that someone has been unfortunate enough to have been divorced does not say anything to me about their qualifications or worthiness, and I know too many amazing divorced people to be able to be comfortable with a policy that says they are not "up to standards." How can CES possibly say such a thing?? After all, even one of our own prophets was divorced. It's the discrimination that's appalling, Janeen, not the teachers. There's absolutely no connection with the two, so please, do not think that I'm talking about your husband or anyone like him when I say that.

    As far as trusting their eternal commitment... Well, I have to be honest, I don't know what to say about that except I don't think that any of us can possibly make that judgment about someone else.

    Moving beyond those issues, I have two questions to ask about this (and please forgive the challenging tone--I really don't mean it to be there, but that's just sort of how it sounds with these questions):

    1. Is CES some kind of zone in which the rules of the gospel/the Atonement are suspended? Why else is it okay for CES to say that only visibly perfect people can be teachers? People who fulfill ideals that aren't even doctrine, but are somehow beyond the doctrine? Higher than?

    2. Related to that, why is it okay for perfectly regular people to teach early-morning seminary? If it's so crucial that seminary teachers be only the very very ultimate best, how can they leave the rest of us, those who live outside Utah, Arizona, and Idaho, in lesser hands? I think it's obvious that the church really doesn't feel that way, doesn't think that the rest of us deserve less. So the real question, then, is why people in those states should be held to such "higher" standards. (Again, I'm sorry if that seems sarcastic--I just really, really don't believe that never having been divorced makes you meet a higher standard than someone who has.)

  20. I think the biggest (well, one of the biggest) problems with the CES policy is that they really don't think women should NOT work. They should just make sure they work in menial, subservient jobs like secreatary. women are treated like children. They can should be seen and not heard.

    Meg, I must respectfully disagree. It is damaging to teach people to "do" first and the testimony will come later rather than question. Under tht direction I should support Hitler, support segregation, and die rather than let myself survive a rape. These are just a few examples of incorrect and/or evil council.

    I know some absolve themselves of fault when following such council, saying that the sin will rest on the head of him giving it. I, however, refuse to hurt another and claim innocence.

    As for funerals, mine is already planned down to the most minute detail and it will not be in the church. There will be no sermon, no bishop presiding and no funeral potatoes. My favorite hymn, Ave Maria, will be played and my strong, smart, beautiful nieces will be my pall bearers. You do not have to put up with weird Mormon funeral rules, even as an active Mormon.

  21. Miri, I live in East and my daughter attends EMS. Her teacher is recently divorced. Her ex -husband, the former HP Group leader of our ward had an affair with the RP of our ward. She is a wonderful woman. We are not desperate for seminary teachers in our ward, any number of people could teach, but I wouldn't want any one else teaching her. I know this woman has a great deal of bitterness that she has to overcome on a daily basis. I don't think because she doesn't meet the standards that the full time CES seminary teacher has to maintain makes her any less of a teacher. For me, I think that that with the tragedy of her circumstances that she is able to teach my daughter from a very real perspective. Imagine how her lessons on the atonement and forgiveness will go. I relate this story as a support to your second question above and you could not convince me that my daughter's seminary is in any way inferior to a full time CES employee held to higher standards.

    I recently heard someone say, in essence "Too often we members let obedience and striving for perfection get in the way of being good." This had a profound effect on me and I have been giving it a lot of thought and prayer. Your post has reinforced the impact of this quote and helped me to organize my thoughts and I have indeed felt the spirit.

  22. The Flints - I did not say we should do everything without questioning. I said that Christ said that if we acted on his words in faith, we would know if they were from God. I hardly see how that that would require anyone to follow Hitler.

  23. I understood that you weren’t knocking the teacher as much as the policy. But those are inseparable to some degree and you isolate them. My guy works really hard to maintain those policies because it is a standard we accept and because we accept those standards we aren’t worthy of your children’s attendance…because that would then support the policy you so adamantly hate.
    All kinds of jobs require all kinds of standards. I don’t think a temple marriage means anyone without one is evil, no good or very bad. And I don’t think that’s what they say by setting that standard. It’s like having a masters degree requirement only these requirements are ecclesiastical not educational. (although there are educational requirements too). On that note you aren’t bent out of shape about that requirement only about one the most important aspects of our religion being forthright…temple marriage is a big deal. What is so bad about wanting the best of the best representing that. I mean that’s what I want in all things…I always want the best of anything I could get.
    The policy isn’t saying that anyone that has been divorced are unworthy….only not qualified to be employed in that department of CES. It’s a qualification standard not worthiness statement.
    I don’t know that I completely understand what you are asking in the first question about where the rules don’t apply. My man isn’t perfect, he calls on the atonement all the time. We have sin and problems. We unfortunately get painted as ‘visibly perfect’ and people forget that we aren’t. And it’s damaging when we get placed as such. We don’t flaunt that we have some perfect life yet people label it that way just because we ‘qualified’ with a temple marriage?? I don’t know of one teacher who thinks they are above the atonement and from my own experience, my husband understands it far better than I do and he’s ‘sinned’ far less. They set a standard and I agree that ideals aren’t the doctrine either. When we were hired it wasn’t only about his ideals, it was based on his education, his teaching doctrine effectively, and his meeting the requirements.

    Again, why not be held to a higher standard? There are hundreds of people applying each year that want this career, knowing the expectations of it. Why wouldn’t the church then want the best of the best and those showing and living the very principles they are asked and expected to teach. They hold a vital role in the lives of those youth…they should want the best for them, so they require that very thing. I personally think that if the population and states would allow the church would want that same standard for ALL members everywhere. They have people all over the country/world training those volunteer teachers and helping them in these calls. They want those volunteers to also be the best they can be. CES doesn’t call those earlier morning seminary teachers, the stake or ward does so that why the difference in what is ‘acceptable’. But in the those areas, there aren’t hundreds of people trying to hold that calling. And I also think that stake presidents/bishops are still trying to find the very best to teach those classes. It’s about availability and abilities to some degree too.

    Well, I don’t know if I have fully answered your charges…I didn’t read sarcasm into it. I understand those questions, we hear them all the time. We get accused of that same ‘above others’ challenge. And I think it’s sad that that’s how it’s seen, instead of just a ploy to get good examples and good qualified teachers to help the youth find a testimony of principles…we are struggling, normal people that teach at a job that requires a temple marriage…the very thing I, also, hold has very important.

  24. Meg, sorry if I misunderstood your meaning. I was referencing your words: "- but I think it's also important to remember that we are promised that we will receive a testimony about whether something is of God if we DO it.". as I read that and the following words, I thought you were saying to follow the counsel and the testimony of the righteousness of it would follow. Is that what you meant? Or would you say to question first and THEN follow?

  25. Thanks for clarifying. I certainly think it's okay to question and pray for a testimony of something if we don't agree - but I also think there are often things that we are asked to do that we can't completely understand by reasoning them out on our own. I was trying to point out that Christ promised us that a testimony would follow if we acted on his words. I certainly didn't mean that we should act on every doctrine of anyone ever to find out if it was a good idea - I was referring to the words of the prophets, the doctrines of the church, and the counsel of our church leaders. If that wasn't clear, I'm sorry. I just didn't think the idea of faith had come up enough in this discussion.

    1. I see. We do disagree, that is true. In fact, I think that it would be a sin to do something evil, when directed by a church hopes that the testimony will follow. I specifically referenced Hitler, because there are many historical accounts of LDS support for him and his regime. In particular, a teen aged German boy was excommunicated from the LDS church for his anti-hitler actions in the 1930s. He refused to stop fighting for his Jewish friends and trying to stop the wrongs he could see happening around him. He should not have stopped those actions and follow his leaders, thinking that a confirmation would follow.

      We must always act for ourselves. Yes, the Catholic church thinks the Pope is infallible, but not our church. We realize that we are all human and are all accountable for our actions. He was Helmuth Hubener. Google him.

      I think his excommunication will be counted in his favor. Oh, and the end of the story? He was captured and beheaded.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. That's not the end of the story actually.

      Hübener was posthumously reinstated in the LDS Church in 1946.

      I think it is unfair to use Helmuth Hubener and the members of his branch in Germany as an example. It was a frightening time and nobody wanted to cross the Nazi party. Helmuth was a hero and the church recognized it. They also said that his excommunication was wrong and that it should have never taken place in the first place. He also wasn't "fighting for his Jewish friends," but against everything that Hitler stood for and preached to the world.

      Off topic, but I think it's important to note that someone made a mistake (his branch president, a member of the party) and Hubener was righted in death.

  26. Janeen -

    I don't think she was saying that your husband or any of the other CES instructors believe they are above the atonement. What I think she was getting at is that in our church we are taught that the atonement erases any sin when we are purified through repentence. So any imperfection we might have makes us all able to be equally pure and good before God. So in a situation where we are juding one member to be of a higher "standard" than other based on things that some people have no control over - such as a divorce, this seems weirdly judgy considering our views of humankind.

    My husband left me shortly after serving as the Bishop of our ward. I didn't see that coming. Now it's sort of beside the point - I'm not a CES instructor. But for any guy who might end up in a similar situation to the one I faced - in spite of being a completely faitful member in every apect, that seems like a really tough standard to impose on people.

    And frankly it doesn't take into account the things that we learn from these kind of situations. I've learned an awful lot about forgiveness the past 2 years. And I've certainly learned a lot of adversity, and a host of other things which I think would only be helpful, rather than hurtful, in teaching the youth.

    And I guess it's confusing why that standard would be higher for a CES instructor than a RS president? Because ours has been divorced twice. I mean...if we're going to start making these kinds of distinctions...why don't we make them across the board?

    It's confusing.

  27. I totally understand what you are saying. I have been divorced too. I understand that it's not easy and there are things learned and some are out of our control. I am not discounting that. I don't think when the church asked for not divorced that they are also saying the rest of you are 'less than'. I get that Miri isn't judging my husband but as a whole CES is being critized for making a standard line. Saying they want non-divorced teachers does not mean they think the rest of people stink.
    Everyday someone looks at my husband and makes a judgement call...someone 14-18 years old (not as well developed socially or emotionally or spirituatlly as the people that are commenting on this blog) says "if brother so and so did it and he turned out just fine...therefore I can do it too." I can conceed that there is truth in that, and that's where the atonement part comes into play and provides purification but that's not the lesson we should encourage. We shouldn't give youth the impression that because it can turn out ok for their teacher because of the atonement, I can do it too. We want them to learn the sound doctrine. It should in stead be...and I am NOT calling divorce sin...stay away from sin, stay away from making bad choices. Try to do the right thing at the right time is the lesson. Despite the fact that as adult we can see others choices and dicipher what's good and bad examples.
    Again, CES instructors are seeking out employment, not a calling. It's confusing because those are not the same thing. You can't put the same scenerio in those 2 circumstances. There are not lines of people wanting to be a RS that doesn't get paid. I feel they are seperate and can't be compared. It's not an interview of worthiness to hold a leadership calling, it's an interview for a job that interacts with the cream of the crop (youth) and at the age when they need the most influence for good they can get. We don't teach youth not to lie by lying and repenting and say it's all ok. We don't hit them and tell them not to hit. Whether we like it or not divorce has influence...and not always for the good. The learning we gain and the help from the atonement are received afterward but it's still an example and it also leaves that person without ALL the blessing of the temple, being sealed.
    By the way, I'm very sorry your husband left you that way. That makes my heart very sad for you.

  28. I also wanted to comment on the sleep over issue. Apparently I am finding more time today! *winks* This was one of those situations where I did have to challenge. Does that really matter to be shared over the pulpit? Why in the world does it concern the church?
    So, I challenged it as you suggest we should. I took it to the Lord to get my own confirmation. Luckily I got an answer. I had times recalled to my mind of when I went to sleepovers and the times that were very disastrous and dangerous. I had conversations, unsolicited by me, that told stories of horrific things that happened at sleepovers they were at. To me, this was confirmation that sleepovers were good to avoid.
    When my daughter was invited to have a sleep over, because of the previous confirmation I decided she could not attend. She went to the party during the evening and I picked her up later in the night.
    Later we found out that child predator had been there and waiting for opportunity to take advantage of these little girls.
    I learned that some things said from leaders aren’t meant to be doctrine or principles but sometimes only warnings and cautions. I felt like I received protection from that counsel.
    I don’t think they meant to be controlling and involved in every aspect of our lives but I think they know as a whole what dangers are creeping up. They know things that are causing problems for many people as a whole and they use that information to inform and warn us. I think they mean to help not hinder.
    So often people take those things and make them doctrine, and put social pressure on it where it is not due and that I totally disagree with. But social pressure isn’t from the leader who spoke it, it’s from ward members that are harsh and rigid…ok, that’s my 2 cents...

  29. From one of your earlier comments, Janeen (you are a commenting fiend right now! :) I love it):

    "The policy isn’t saying that anyone that has been divorced are unworthy….only not qualified to be employed in that department of CES. It’s a qualification standard not worthiness statement."

    I just don't think this is true. Your marital status has nothing to do with your knowledge of the gospel or ability to teach it. Being married does not qualify you to teach. Having a university degree in a subject means you've studied and learned and are knowledgeable about it. Having a spouse does not mean that you are the best possible teacher of the gospel. They're just not comparable.

    I also understand what you're saying about wanting kids to have the best example. I can see how that's a compelling concern--but I don't agree with it. Kids don't need a fake version of life presented to them. For one thing, they know what real life is. They know people get divorced. They aren't going to see a divorced person with a happy life and think "Hey, divorce is great! I guess I don't really need to be careful who I marry after all." And they don't need to have real life hidden from them. They also don't need to be told that only that idealistic model is good enough. What if a kid finds out that CES won't hire divorced people? What if that kid has divorced parents? What does that say to that kid about how the church views his parents? And what about the women who have babies? What does it say that they're allowed to be secretaries, but not teachers, and what happens when teenagers find out about that policy, too? What about the teenager whose single, divorced mom has to work to support her family? That kind of scenario could be pretty damaging and I don't think it's right.

    But ultimately, what it comes down to is that it's not about the teenagers. It's about the people the church hires, and then fires when they no longer fit the "perfect" mold. It's about the fact that the church has a sexist and discriminatory hiring policy. The church should treat its employees better than that.

    A big part of the problem is based on the premise that this policy is "a higher standard." I don't think it is. If you say that divorced people are not meeting the highest standard simply because they are divorced, then you are saying that they are not as good as married people. I do not think that married people are better than divorced people. I know that's not what you believe--but that is what that policy says, and there's no way around it.

    I also don't believe that firing women when they get pregnant meets any kind of "higher standard." It's discrimination--end of story. The only reason it's legal is that they are a church; such a policy would never be tolerated otherwise, because it is unbelievably sexist.

    I am not saying there's anything wrong with people who "support" CES, either. In the first place, hardly anyone knows about these policies, if they don't work for CES themselves. In the second place, I certainly don't begrudge you a job--it's not like you're doing anything wrong in fitting that ridiculous ideal CES holds. But that doesn't change the fact that this is a discriminatory, sexist policy, and I think it's completely wrong.

  30. Occassionally, I just can't help but 'argue' a little bit. It's been good for my mommy brain. And since I hear about this one a lot too adn I have to live with it, I have had to come to an understanding of it myself and learn that not all things are flaggrantly or intentional biased mis-treatment.

    I guess I do agree that it's discrimination. I just feel the divorce is worthy of it. I think they do consider the kids in that decision. Chal has seen more often than you must think youth who do say exactly what you say they won't."I guess I don't really need to be careful who I marry after all." At least once a quarter he has told me of students who have said that about other leaders they have known and watched. That or comments about not wanting to get married because it doesn't work for anyone anymore. It's the example of it that matters to me I guess. I don't think Chal and I are 'fake' or 'ideal' or 'perfect'...but we match the criteria of a seminary teacher. Eternal marriage can and should be a reality and should be shown and exemplified. They see reality all around them, true. So why not give them the opportunity to see that truth and realilty can also look like and actually be, a happy eternal family...though imperfect.
    I agree divorce doesn't make you a bad teacher but it makes you an example of divorce and too often that becomes an excuse to people...lots of people and youth to not care about marriage as eternal...maybe it's even more so important that there be a teacher example because there are so many split homes. Where are they seeing that principle as possible otherwise?

    Please notice that I didn't relate any of my comments towards the stance toward women. I can't defend that one. *laugh* I understand the reasoning and think it is probably right for upholding the Proclamation to the Family statements and to not be stereotypical against it's own teachings. But I don't defend or support that one...but marriage, that one gets my vote.

    Thanks for letting me play with you!!!

    1. Hmm, this is interesting... It seems like maybe Blogger has changed the setup of commenting? It looks like I can reply to individual comments now. I guess I might as well start with this one! :)

      I think this conversation ended up really well, especially considering that it was a bit of a rocky beginning. I actually feel like I understand your position much better, and get the impression that you feel the same? Which is lovely. Also, thank you for pointing out what you did in your last paragraph--I hadn't actually realized that I was assuming you were talking about the policy toward women, too, but I definitely was. I still can't get behind the divorce policy, mostly just because I'm thinking about a person who's going through a divorce and then loses their job, too, and I can't imagine how horrible it would be. (Do you happen to know if CES has some kind of framework in place to help them out in that situation? I feel like maybe you alluded to something like that earlier, and I missed it... Do they get severance? That'd be good to know. I would still think the policy's wrong, but that would certainly make me feel a little better about it.)

      Anyway. Thanks, Janeen, I'm very glad we ended up on better footing than we started. :)

  31. What do you think about that supreme court ruling about not being about to sue religions for discrimination? I say good (as far as I know). The government is already too involved with so many things.

    1. I have pretty mixed feelings. Bottom line, yes, I think it's good. But I think it's pretty crappy that churches can manipulate that ministerial exception to do anything they want. Like the case that was in question, the woman who was fired when she tried to return from her disability leave, which isn't even a theological issue. (Or, hey, like the CES policies we've been talking about in this thread.) I find it very frustrating, but yes, I agree that it's important to keep any government out of religion. (And vice versa. :) ) (For the record: spirituality and faith ≠ religion.) I suppose this is one of those things that we just have to deal with now, and God will sort out in the end.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. I don't know of anyone who has actually been fired because of divorce. Other reasons yes, divorce no. The framework set up is to help the employee and the family prevent it from happening. They have created avenues of help for the entire family as well not just the employee. So prevention is the focus. I don't know that it's stated in the policy about any severence information. However, my personal belief is that policy is written for company and enforcement is for the human. I think and feel they would make it as 'easy' as possible for the teacher to leave CES. I don't think because policies are written so fiercely that the enforce is that it is with most companies. While they couldn't teach immediately I would assume some kind of help would be provided to ease that HUGE burden they know they impose...thus the preventive help.

    1. Nope. My friend's wife decided she didn't want to be Mormon nor married, so she divorced him. He lost his job with CES. Now he teaches Math. She did an about-face on her life with him and he lost his job because of it.

  33. Wow, I liked this article, I really enjoyed it, and even the discussion. Honestly I agree with it being arbitrary. I dont' watch rated R movies, and quite frankly am not watching much PG-13 movies unless its based on a book I have read. Sure I may miss out on some good movies, and there have been some that I have wanted to watch but It is my choice to not watch them because I feel the counsel is good enough for me, but I don't really expect anybody else to agree. And I don't very much want my future children watching anything with too much violence in it, but its hardly escapable so I guess I will try to be mature, plus my husband watches a lot of things I consider inappropriate, and I can't wait till he gets out of that stage though he may not because he was raised differently and even had a slight rebellious (as rebellious as he could) teenage life. Me I was pretty orthodox, and our age difference makes some habits for me a little less set in stone then his.