Thursday, September 03, 2015

Standard deviations

AST Sunday I attended my mother's ward in Provo, where a youth speaker gave a talk about the importance of adhering to Church standards. Specifically, she reviewed the dress and grooming standards set forth in For the Strength of Youth (wear modest clothing, dress appropriately for the occasion, no tattoos or piercings other than standard ear pierces for women) and talked about the importance of adhering to these standards. As I told my mom afterward, while I didn't specifically disagree with anything she said, I couldn't help feeling that the talk was incomplete.

Sitting there, I thought of a wonderful family that recently attended the temple for the first time. At least one member of the family has multiple visible tattoos; those outer marks do not reflect on the family's inner faith or dedication in any way. I thought of another friend whose first exposure to our faith was through a church dance, where no one made her feel at home or even spoke to her because she was wearing a short skirt and heavy makeup; had it not been for the guileless kindness and hospitality of a bishop who noticed her in the hall, she probably never would have returned to investigate further. I thought of family members and friends who were made to feel unwelcome at church because they had, for example, gauged their ears, and who never came back because they were hurt by the things people said to them.

And I thought of how easy it is to become religiously myopic, to focus so intently on a single aspect of one's faith practices that one loses sight of what is most important.

It would have been refreshing, and the tone would have felt a lot less judgmental, if this youth speaker had added, "We should recognize that while these standards are set for members of our Church, people who do not share our faith have not been asked to adhere to these standards. Likewise, there are faithful Church members who have tattoos and pierces, and faithful Church members whose choice of clothing may be different from ours. We should remember that our primary job as followers of Jesus Christ is to be kind, loving and welcoming to the people with whom we come in contact, without being quick to judge their dress or appearance. As we read in 1 Samuel 16:7, 'man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.'"

I'm still learning this principle in other parts of my life, but in this particular I think it's finally sunk in: it's possible to adhere to a standard fully without requiring other people to do the same, and without judging them if they don't. If this principle were taught even to young teenagers, who are smart enough to grasp its nuances, it could avoid or clear up so many instances where people have been needlessly wounded or made to suffer. I'd love to see it become more widespread in the Church.


Daniel Buck said...

Sometimes I think it's a Utah phenomenon.

Soozcat said...

I don't think it only happens in Utah, nor do I think it's unique to Mormons, but I suspect the attitude -- the tendency to forget that not everyone comes to embrace a faith in a straightforward fashion -- is more common in places where one faith tradition is so highly concentrated that it comes to be taken for granted. Something similar was happening among the Pharisees of Christ's day. They claimed to be pious and to obey every tenet of the Law, but many of them had lost sight of the two greatest commandments: to love God and their fellow men. Christ had little condemnation for people who knew they were sinners and who were trying to become better, but he had some strong words against the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had set themselves up as moral arbiters.

Marci said...

We try so hard to teach our kids this through talking about it and by example. It's so easy to judge. It's so easy to just stick with what's familiar and safe, and it's really hard to get 8 and 9 year olds to look at the heart and not outward appearance. I feel like they're doing pretty well. One of my oldest's best friends comes from a family that definitely doesn't fit a good Mormon mold. But I know them. I know the parents love their children and mine and are doing the best they know how, just like me, and I hope my son never looks at his friend's mom's tatoos and short shorts and thinks any less of her because of them. I sounded judgy right there. I sincerely don't mean to. I live in a neighborhood full of judgmental, easily offended people and it hurts me to think of some of the things people say about their neighbors around here just because they don't attend church. I don't remember Christ making that a requirement as part of the love thy neighbour commandment. Stepping off my soap box now.

Tara Chang said...

I totally agree.

I thought Julie de Azevedo Hanks made some very good observations here: and here:

Soozcat said...

Forgive me for injecting a wee bit of politics into the mix, but from my point of view the one good thing to come out of the train-wreck presidential campaign of Donald Trump is a clear definition of immodest behavior that has nothing to do with clothing. Trump always appears in public fully clothed, yet he demonstrates some of the most immodest, self-aggrandizing talk and behavior I've ever seen.

Chrysanne Houghton said...

Amen Sooz! I totally agree! I know lots of people here that will get tattoos because of their culture and stuff, so I totally understand what you are saying. :3