« Deep Mormon Bench | Main | The Prophet Puzzle, Part 2 »

Comments

Is Elder Bednar your new bugbear?

What is the lesson: That receiving the kindness of others is to be avoided at all costs? That the truly righteous will spare no pains to be independent and avoid the entangling gratitude one owes to a person who gives you a hand or a break? My focus is on why Bednar repeated these stories and what lesson they actually convey (as opposed to the label he put on them).

Perhaps the lesson he wanted to convey was that the Gospel was so important for these people that they went to extra lengths to take it very seriously. I don't think he was saying that everyone has to don a suit and tie for a visit from the stake president, but that in doing so, this particular patriarch was expressing how seriously and with how much reverence he took his own calling. I'm sure many are itching to ridicule the patriarch for doing that, but I think that would be unfair.

John,
I agree with you, I think that was what Elder Bednar was trying to convey. I think what Dave is saying, though, is that he used awkward examples. His examples are of actions that wouldn't always be considered "right" (break up with someone because they wear two earrings, get upset with the Prophet because he suggests you don't have to stand while praying). Because Elder Bednar praised those actions we are left to wonder if we should agree with them rather than their underlying motives.

I don't know what to make of Elder Bednar's talk. He gave several talks very similar to this one while I was attending BYU-Idaho. I always critisized his obsession over such trivial issue's. Now he's an apostle and I find myself having to watch what I say lest I be a covenant breaker (this may sound sarcastic, but I'm serious). I understand the importance of obeying the prophets counsel, but I find it very contra-scriptural to be so focused on the outer appearances of others. I've already mentioned the scripture in Matthew where the savior condemns such behavior on another blog. Concerning the example Elder Bednar gave of the boy who dumped his girlfriend because she wore two earrings, I have a question. Why did he start dating her to begin with if he was so concerned with this type of behavior?

Rusty, I think many feel uncomfortable considering that part of an apostle's talk may not relevant. The problem with being "left to wonder if we should agree with them rather than their underlying motives" is that there are a lot of people who don't bother to wonder in the first place. They just take it all as inspired guidance (that is, "mandatory counsel") from a prophet. It goes beyond an uncomfortable ambiguity to a potentially harmful unexamined and unintended compliance with a "rule" that doesn't even exist.

Didn't Joseph Fielding Smith say that if he, or any other general authority or prophet ever said something that was contrary to the scriptures, that we as members of the church are "duty bound" to reject what they say?

This talk is, to me, all about outward appearances as evidence of worthiness.

Church members are mere actors on the Stage of Obedience, proving their valiance through adherence to customs and arbitrary rules that have no intrinsic value.

Spirituality as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

what really matters is that the Prophet had spoken and the young woman didn't listen to the Prophet. The RM who dumped her wanted to follow the Prophet no matter how trivial it may have seemed.

The Israelites were disobedient and so the Lord sent posionous snakes or a plague or something in the camp. Moses lifted up a brass serpent on a stick and told them Israelites to look up at the serpent and be healed. This the Israelites refused to do because it was so simple and utterly ridiculous. All they had to do was follow the Prophet who was the mouthpiece of the Lord.

I rarely say this but you guys are a bunch of cynics, honestly. I am a BYU student and I attended the devotional in which Elder Bednar spoke. Can you tell me that I along with thousands of my fellow students are dupes or that we're sheep because we listened to Elder Bednar's talk and agreed with him? The story was not about earrings. It was about being quick to observe. Elder Haight was the GA who got up to give the prayer. The point of the story was not about getting up and making a public show of reverence. The point that Elder Bednar was trying to make was that Elder Haight was giving respect to the Lord the best way that he knew how.

Another thought that just came to me is that President Thomas B. Marsh was the President of the Twelve and he was excommunicated over a simple matter of milk or something. Something so trivial made this Apostle fall. Think about that. An Apostle is like anyone of us. He fell from the Church over milk.

Do you really want to argue over earrings?

Anyway, I hope that anyone who reads this will pause and think and give this serious thought and e-mail me. I'd really like to hear your responses. Goodnight.

You know, this talk and the foregoing discussion reminds me a lot of the MTC, where I was in a perpetual state of high dudgeon over the relentless emphasis on meticulous obedience to the letter of the law. It somehow helped me relax a lot when I realized that the emphasis wasn't primarily directed at me, a scrupulously obedient missionary, if I do say so myself. There were missionaries in the MTC who had serious issues with obedience, and these talks were directed at them. (Not that I felt entitled to ignore the counsel; it just helped me to realize why the lopsided emphasis was necessary.)

I'll bet Elder Bednar is feeling a lot of pressure and uncertainty about now, and is going with material that has worked in the past and is likely to cement the new relationships that will be so central to the rest of his life. I think we should give him a break on this one.

Josh, nice to hear from someone who actually attended Elder Bednar's talk. I think it's too bad his examples stressed outward appearances, but perhaps his next visit will move along to more refined virtues.

Rosalynde, you may be right. New GAs no doubt feel a lot of pressure to say Something Important. The natural response is to go with what got them there, at least until they have a chance to solicit a few discourses from discreet LDS speechwriters. You should send him a writing sample.

Josh,
You said:
what really matters is that the Prophet had spoken and the young woman didn't listen to the Prophet. The RM who dumped her wanted to follow the Prophet no matter how trivial it may have seemed.

Your right. This was the issue that Bednar was dealing with. I am asking the question though, should we be putting so much emphasis on outer appearances?

You said:
Moses lifted up a brass serpent on a stick and told them Israelites to look up at the serpent and be healed. This the Israelites refused to do because it was so simple and utterly ridiculous.

Josh, I think there is a difference between the two examples. Moses lifting the serpent up in the wilderness was symbolic of the sacrifice of the savior. The lesson to be learned was that to be saved we need to look to the savior. The israelites refused to look the savior and perished. This example is different than we Elder Bednar was discusssing which was a focus on someone's outer appearance.

You said:
Can you tell me that I along with thousands of my fellow students are dupes or that we're sheep because we listened to Elder Bednar's talk and agreed with him?

I don't recall anyone ever even implying this. I think we're bringing up a very valid concern. We're not saying that anyone with half a brain would never believe what Bednar said. What we're saying is there may be danger in focusing so much on outer apperances and not focusing on what's inside someone's heart. The savior has been very clear in the scriptures that we should focus on the inner and let the outer take care of itself.

You said:
The point of the story was not about getting up and making a public show of reverence. The point that Elder Bednar was trying to make was that Elder Haight was giving respect to the Lord the best way that he knew how.

I'm not so sure I have as much an issue with this example, but still. If these weren't Bednar's points, if it wasn't about the earrings, if it wasn't about "a public show of reverence", then why did he use these examples? There are thousands of other examples he could have used, but he focused on the one's that emphasize outer appearances.

You said:
Another thought that just came to me is that President Thomas B. Marsh was the President of the Twelve and he was excommunicated over a simple matter of milk or something. Something so trivial made this Apostle fall. Think about that. An Apostle is like anyone of us. He fell from the Church over milk

Thomas was not excommunicated over milk, he left the church over milk, there is a difference. If someone were excommunicated over earrings I would see a problem, and that's exactly the point I'm trying to make. If someone left the church over earrings then the problem would be their own. This example, and the example of earrings are not the same.

Elder Bednar delivered a similar address at last August's BYU-I graduation ceremonies (he recounted the patriarch and Elder Haight stories):

Quick to Observe

Next we'll hear that the Church is banning access to internet search engines...oh wait, already done at BYU-I....

"He gave several talks very similar to this one while I was attending BYU-Idaho. I always critisized his obsession over such trivial issue's. Now he's an apostle and I find myself having to watch what I say lest I be a covenant breaker (this may sound sarcastic, but I'm serious)."
I think it's very significant that he tends to give these types of talks at church schools. The students who attend church schools have made specific commitments to adhere to dress and grooming standards, and they don't always keep that commitment. I think those who are involved in working with students at the church schools are very interested in helping them to keep those commitments because it is spiritually harmful to make a commitment to obey and then break that commitment.
The other thing to remember is that in a talk that is about being ready to obey whatever commandment the lord gives, the examples are going to be of people obeying in ways that seem insignificant, but are simply part of their commitment to do whatever the lord commands.
"Perhaps some of the sluggish observers are simply opting out of the new program"
Is there a way to opt out of the program without being disobedient? Not trying to be contentious--just trying to see if I've understood. Could you clarify?

"Is there a way to opt out of the program without being disobedient?"

Sure there is...a clear recognition that every word a church president utters is not a commandment.

Mr. Hinckley's original talk seemed to be mostly his opinions about Burning Man and tongue piercing and tattoos. It was almost immediately turned into a pedantic set of "commandments" by zealots who have decided that it's "not possible" to let people be taught correct principles and then govern themselves.

What started out as sensible instructions to respect our bodies, and to think about the long term consequences of our actions, has been warped into yet another petty, external yardstick for measuring others and finding them wanting.

There does seem to be a problem, Ann, with well-meaning and zealous Saints turning any piece of advice or counsel into a commandment. I'm puzzled why someone like Elder Bednar would encourage that regrettable process rather than temper it.

If we use any petty yardstick to judge others, I see a problem. Why would we want to judge anyone on whatever counsel they are keeping or not keeping? I have better things to do. What is important is our own inner determination to do our best to do as the Lord has asked. The orignial statement, since you bring it up, was:
"The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also 'the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes.' We do not, however, take any position 'on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings'—one pair."
It represents the statement of a position by the church on a practice. My question is if we can ever opt out of following a declaration by the Lord's servants without being in some measure disobedient? Not without being a horrible person or without being worse than someone who doesn't do it. That person may be being disobedient in other ways. And if I'm obeying this counsel, it's better for me to ask what ways I'm not being obedient than to set myself up as righteous for obeying it.
As for the original example with the guy who doesn't marry someone because of this counsel, I'm trying to think about the ways this would have happened. Elder Bednar tells us:
"This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times."
This sort of thing doesn't happen all at once. The guy doesn't just say, hey, take out your earrings, or I'm not going to marry you because you are unrighteous. He notices that when the subject comes up that her attitude is "you can't seriously believe that people with more than one earring are going to take the prophet seriously when he says that sort of thing." He sees other instances of the same attitude. The talk does say there were other reasons. In the end, what other reasons are there for marrying someone than knowing something about who they are and what their attitudes are towards issues you see as important? This was simply the thing that started him thinking about those attitudes--attitudes about whether a declaration by the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve was binding--whether we should be quick to obey.

"whether a declaration by the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve was binding"

I'm probably not the sort of person who will answer this question in a way that is helpful for you. I think the FP and the QoT are highly placed, intelligent, companymen - bureaucrats. Their relationships with God are no more intimate than mine is; they are no more likely to receive revelation from God than I am. They're men. Only men.

As such, I can take what I like and leave the rest. That is not to say that they don't often have useful things to say. But the obsession with minutiae is not among them.

Others in the Church believe that the FP and QoT have a special witness of Jesus Christ, as did the NT apostles, and that is why they have been called into those positions. Having a special witness of Jesus Christ doesn't make someone infallible. I really think that is a straw man whenever it gets dredged up in these types of discussions. No firm believers that I know have any illusions that the Apostles aren't mere humans. But their stewardships and authority are what lend their policy statements rule status.

"Rules." What is a rule? Somewhere between a commandment and good advice. It's not a commandment, but somehow one is still "disobedient" if one chooses to do otherwise. It seems like the distinction between commandments (of God) and rules (of men) was also a distinction Jesus was troubled by.

So how do you make that distinction, Dave? What defines a commandment? Does the prophet have to use to words "in the name of the Lord, I command you" in order to qualify? Would anything the prophet said nowadays be considered a commandment? How would he have to say it in order for it to be one?

I think Jesus is a lot more concerned about folks dismissing the words of his prophets more than anything else. Isn't that what lead the Nephites to destruction? Isn't that what the people in the great and spacious building were doing?

At Stake Conference today, the lovely wife of our local Temple President talked about how a certain "casualness" in our lifestyles needs to be avoided, the concrete example being cited was how women attending the temple are wearing "flip-flops" to the temple instead of proper shoes. She speculated that this might be due to a desire to show off one's latest pedicure.

I wonder how the "flip-flops" of today compare with the sandals worn by the Savior in His day, appearance-wise.

I think I can agree with the necessity of wearing appropriate clothing at the right places (after all, the temple ceremony itself focuses on clothing styles and how certain styles may be seen as inappropriate by the Lord), but when concrete examples end up getting cited, they seem so "picayune-ish" and always so "outward appearance" oriented. I don't suppose it would be too much to ask if someone would be assigned to speak on the topic of the importance of not judging others based on the outward appearance?

"I think Jesus is a lot more concerned about folks dismissing the words of his prophets more than anything else."
I couldn't disagree more. I think Jesus is far more concerned with how people treat each other than how well they follow GBH's friendly advice.

Ann,

I agree with you completely. Compared to some personal, friendly advice from President Hinckley, Jesus would be much more concerned about we treat each other. Especially since loving our neighbor as ourselves is a commandment from he and his prophets.

OK, a straw man keeps getting thrown in here. The issue is whether it is important for us to follow the Prohpet's counsel. The argument against it is that we're judging others. I don't have to judge others to think that the counsel is important. And a talk in sacrament about sandals is not the issue--unless you have been asked specifically not to wear sandals to the temple and the person speaking is concerned with helping people to begin doing what their leaders, in their stewardships, have asked them to do.
In relationship to this, I was just reading an article by Pres. Hinkley from Priesthood Session, April 2003 on loyalty (specifically the part about loyalty to the church) that, while I remembered it after I read it was a lot more direct than even I had expected it to be about the issue of prophetic counsel and the official positions of the church.
Hinkley

wow! some of don't seem to get the big picture. most of us sustained Elder Bednar as a Prophet, Seer, Revalator and an Apostle of the Lord JesuS Christ. i really doubt that as a new general authority he is out to prove anything or say something important. to me all he says is important. i don't see where all the concern about his reminding us what a Prophet of God counsiled us regarding this issue is coming from. while a women does have the choice to follow the council of a living Prophet, her choosing to where more than pair demonstrates a lack of commitment to listen to and follow the Lord's Prophet. the young man deciding that a women who made that choice is not the type of eternal companion he was looking for is completely appropriate. it has nothing to do with making judgements on outward appearences but on how that appearence shows a lack of spiritual maturity the young man was looking for.
what good is it to have a living Prophet on the earth if we don't follow his council?

Jeff,
I think you've missed the point. Take me for example, I am obeying the prophet. I'm clean shaven, I'm clean cut, no tattoos. I will never let my daughter get two earrings. The prophet has spoken, and I will obey. I'm not trying to justify getting a tattoo or anything to that nature.

Are prophets infallible? No. I think we would all agree on that. Most members today believe that Brigham was mistaken in thinking that Adam was God, and that his certain doctrine of blood atonement. Now we disagree with what Brigham Young said. Do we still obey him in what he asked the saints to do? I hope so.

Now the scriptures clearly teach that we are cleanse the inner vessel, and let the cleansing of the outter vessel happen as a result. If you go about cleansing the outter vessel with hopes that the inner vessel will be cleansed then you making hypocrites out of people.

So like I said, the issue isn't whether we are following the prophets counsel. We are, or at least I am. The real issue is the principle that we're being taught through his council. An obsession with cleansing the outer vessel.

Elder Bednar has taken this principle and amplified even more. I question whether this is a Christian principle. Do you think it is? Again, keep in mind, I'm not trying to justify getting a tattoo. I don't even have the desire. I just think we should be more conserned about an individuals heart than what they wear on their bodies.

"I just think we should be more conserned about an individuals heart than what they wear on their bodies."
I agree with this statement. The problem is when we think that we have to follow every word or council that the prophet or the apostles speak then following or not following all of their words is a reflection of our hearts. This does not allow for any personal confirmation of the spirit. To me the beauty of the gospel is that God will reveal the truth of things to all of us. I believe there are many people in the church who feel God is okay with the way they look, but are uncomfortable in the church because of the heavy emphasis the leaders place on a certain appearance. This is sad. We can proclaim our own righteousness in following the leaders council to look a certain way(which most of us would look like anyway) but what about those who are made to feel unworthy and unaccepted over such superficial issues. Maybe if we as members send the message to our leaders that this type of emphasis on appearance is hurting people who want to be a part of the church, they will learn something from us. I have heard the question posed; What would the church do if a million hippies wanted to join?
I guess if one doesn't ever believe in questioning our leaders, my comments are a mute point. I don't believe, however, there is any true doctrinal basis for following our leaders without question. Matthew says that all of the laws and the prophets hang on the two greatest commandments.

I appreciated President Hinckley's counsel, a kind of confirmation of my own feelings regarding appropriate dress etc.

That Elder Bednar had to come along and turn a simple word to the wise into a commandment was unfortunate, but not surprising. By making every issue a matter of obedience, it seems to me that church leaders often show how little they trust the judgment of church members, even though mortal probation requires that we be not "commanded in all things."

Maybe they want to free us from having to decide, by making the decision for us or by doing the thinking for us. By turning every difficult question into a question of obedience, it becomes much easier for us. We don't need to worry about grey areas or matters of principle, only the question of our personal obedience.

The problem with that is it's contrary to the plan of salvation. It makes us an obedient people but not particularly principled.

Elder Bednar ascribed two meanings to the word "observe," though his emphasis seems to favor "observing" as in obedience over "observation" as in seeing clearly. Thus we observe, but observe not; we see but see not.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

Blog powered by Typepad

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2013-14

Mormon Books 2012

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 09-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07