Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Hunger and a Thirst

This is a difficult topic to discuss, because it's offensive. I guarantee that someone is going to claim that what I'm saying is Pharisaical, that I'm saying I'm more righteous than they are. But I'm not. I have some very definite sins that I'm struggling with which keep me separated from God.

But despite this, an observation has been weighing on my mind. This is my attempt to explore what I'm feeling by intuition and try to ferret out the logical reasons why I'm so bothered.

I've been participating in various online LDS communities on and off for over 15 years. When I first started, I noticed that many people online resented the various rules we were given. Whether it was a rule as silly and simple as wearing white shirts to pass the sacrament, or as serious and grounded in doctrine as eternal marriage being only between a husband and wife, nothing has escaped the criticism of the self-selected Mormon intelligentsia.

For many years, I thought it was a bias. Those who struggle with feeling that the church is restrictive, and that the leadership are closed to change naturally look for a safe space to air their grievances, which the internet naturally provides in vast and varied venues.

But over the past several years, I've seen these paradigms spread and grow in the average Mormon community. This drive to fight against rules is a natural one. And sometimes those rules should be opposed. That's what makes this so difficult to discuss. It's 90% good mixed with 10% danger, and speaking against the 10% offends people, who then deflect your concerns to the 90% and claim thereby that you are wrong.

And my thoughts on this topic are by no means complete or fully formed. So let's start with what I know.

It is good to cultivate a personal relationship with the Spirit. Not only good, but vitally essential. Without pondering, prayer, and personal revelation, salvation is impossible.

It is not good to elevate rules to the status of divinity. Specifically, when we take something like, say, drinking alcohol, and misunderstand that to be a moral rule that must be followed to be righteous, we are elevating the rule over the giver of the rule. Christ Himself drank wine, so there is clearly nothing intrinsically moral about drinking or not drinking. However, (assuming you have a testimony of the divine calling of prophetic leadership of the Church,) Christ's delegates have asked us not to. Obeying the authority of God is most certainly intrinsically moral, as scripture makes clear time and time again.

It is not good to judge others based on their adherence to the rules. If someone comes to church in blue jeans or smelling like smoke, it is an unequivocal commandment to look beyond their outward appearance, and emulate the Savior in doing our best to look upon the heart. Sniffing our noses at people who don't dress modestly enough, or who struggle with pornography or other addiction is an indubitable sin. There's no getting around that.

It is good to judge thoughts, patterns, attitudes, paradigms, and even actions, so long as we are judging righteously. Judging righteously must include unadulterated charity. We can look at someone who is viewing pornography and have compassion on them, love them with unbridled charity, and still judge their porn addiction as wrong. Not only is that allowed, it is essential if we are to work on our own behaviors and try to become pure. It is essential if we are to become Zion: a community dedicated to helping each other come closer to God.

It is good to evaluate things that we are told by Priesthood authority, and to see how we are to apply that council to ourselves and our lives. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own salvation. If someone with authority challenges you to read the Book of Mormon in 90 days, but you are smack in the middle of your own New Testament study, there is nothing wrong with failing to take that challenge, if you have prayed about it and felt that you, yourself, should continue on the study you are already undertaking. Blind obedience is not a virtue. It creates people who must be commanded in all things, which is not what God is wanting for us. He gave us agency for a reason. Throwing it away and blindly following is like burying your single talent in the sand because you're afraid to use it. The Atonement is in place so we can learn to choose without fear.

With all of that being said, it is weighing on my mind how often and how casually people urge themselves and others to bend the rules in the "spirit of the law."

Increasingly, people claim "pornography isn't that big of a sin, so don't worry about it." "It's fine to go to a party on Sunday because you are fellowshipping." "There's nothing wrong with watching rated R movies." "You should bring a bottle of wine as a gift when going to a non-Mormon's house for a dinner party." "Go ahead and let your kids wear sleeveless shirts to church, they aren't endowed yet." And the list goes on.

I'm not saying that all of these things are 100% evil. Of course, you have to apply the Spirit for your own particular circumstances. My concern is that we are advising people to do that, and accepting that advice as more righteous.

I have found in my journey of discipleship that the more I follow God, the more of those rules I follow, not less. If it's really no big deal to wear sleeves or not, why not wear them? If a rated R movie is "just a movie" then why watch it and bring things into your mind that aren't of God? The more I try to follow Him, the less I look for excuses to not do what has been asked of me. The more hungry I get for more ways to please Him, more ways to purify myself and keep my focus on serving His children.

I become less concerned with looking odd and catering to social niceties in the interest of fellowshipping, and more inclined to find ways to fellowship within the boundaries the Lord has set.

Being an example of righteousness should still be a thing. And I have never seen a circumstance yet that can be painted with such a broad brush to say that avoiding self-discipline, self-sacrifice, self-control is more in keeping with the spirit of the law than indulging.


  1. One area where I find a great deal of frustration related to this topic is when people become focused on rules for the sake of rules, and often apply rules designed for one context to another, often inapplicable context.

    For example, I know many people who completely based their concept of sexual purity on the (older) For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. (The newest edition has fixed some of the problems in the older ones.) When they got married, they had real issues with adapting to the idea that they could do things that they previously couldn't according to FtSoY.

    Similarly, the newest edition makes no mention of movie ratings. Where many people took the "No R-rated films" to be a rule and continue to apply that today, the actual guidance is focused on the content, not the rating.

    It's important to know the doctrine and principles, the rules, and the context for each. You need that context so that you can better understand the relationship between the doctrine and the rules, which then helps you better apply the doctrine and principles to a specific situation.

    1. I agree, but I have found the new FtSoY pamphlet to be, if anything, MORE strict than the old one. The old one put rock-hard boundaries in place, making it easy to do or not to do. The new one puts the onus on the user to take responsibility and apply their own mind, heart, and guidance from the Spirit.

      The old pamphlet green-lighted all PG-13 movies. The new one doesn't. So many people take the change of wording to mean "Oh, great, now I can watch R-rated movies if I want to, because it's no longer against the rules!" Rather they should say, "Hm, maybe some PG-13 and PG movies aren't good, either."

      That's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. Too many people are looking for ways to be "allowed" to do things, rather than looking for ways to purify themselves.


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