B is for Body Piercing

This is the second installment looking at selected articles from True to the Faith (TTTF), a doctrinal booklet published by the Church last year (here’s the first post). The article on Body Piercing is three short paragraphs. “Latter-day prophets strongly discourage the piercing of the body except for medical purposes,” begins the first paragraph, and “[t]hose who choose to disregard this counsel show a lack of respect for themselves and for God.” Seems clear enough, except that “[i]f girls or women desire to have their ears pierced, they are encouraged to wear only one pair of modest earrings.” So four earrings are bad, two earrings are good. Body piercing is wrong, except when it’s not. I don’t dispute the practical necessity of “grandmothering in” the practice of women wearing a pair of earrings. It just seems to undercut the notion that body piercing per se is wrong.

God’s temple. The final paragraph of the article cites Paul’s advice to the Corinthians (“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God,” 1 Cor. 3:16) to support the idea that body piercing and Tattooing (which gets its own similar TTTF entry) are wrong. Unfortunately, Paul was talking about the church as a whole, not individuals. This is clear, I’m told, by the grammar of the underlying Greek, but it is also evident from 1 Cor. 3 as a whole: Paul, Apollos, and others labored to preach and convert, and their converts, the Corinthians, are “God’s building,” the foundation of which is Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God dwells with the church. so those who “defile the temple” are those who harm the congregation and offend the Spirit of God; the balance of Paul’s letter to the Cornithians gives some idea of how various transgressing individuals were doing exactly that. So using 1 Cor. 3:16 in this context seems like a misreading of the passage, albeit a creative and useful one.

Other sources. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article Tattoos and Body Piercing provides the following succinct statement: “The Church teaches that tattoos and body piercing are a desecration of the human body and should be avoided. However, those with such defilation are still eligible for baptism into the Church and a temple recommend.” In theory, at least. The article also provides a handy selection of original statements by LDS leaders, starting with Pres. Hinckley’s original remarks on the topic. He is quoted as stating the official position as follows: “[T]he Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings.”

Impact? I doubt many LDS youth went in for piercing and tattoos before the recent campaign against these practices; perhaps a few who otherwise might have gone in for one or both have decided not to. If we count that as a benefit, we should also consider the cost: Hundreds or thousands of young LDS members who had existing piercing or tattoos now feel proscribed. In addition, there are potential converts to the Church who may now face a permanent stigma of sorts should they decide to join the LDS Church. Then there are the many Polynesians (both LDS and non-LDS) who have received traditional body tattoos, a mark of distinction in their traditional culture, a practice entirely unrelated to the concerns driving the current LDS response.

Conclusion. I wonder how the new policy is playing out at the local level. What is a bishop supposed to do with statements that we discourage, really discourage, tattoos and piercing, but supposedly won’t deny baptism or temple admission on that basis? Ignore the three earrings he sees on someone’s left ear? Say that is a bad thing to do and you should feel bad, but sign the temple recommend anyway? Deny a recommend not for the earrings, but for being rebellious or out of harmony with Church leaders? I would imagine that all three tactics get employed.

A final word: I personally do not recommend body piercing (due to medical risks, if nothing else) or tattooing (many who get them young later regret it). Few would argue with discouraging the practice, I think. The question here is whether it really amounts to a moral transgression, the kind of thing that is bad in itself as opposed to something that isn’t really bad in itself but is only bad because it really bothers some people. Maybe it’s not a sin, but it’s still something no good Mormon should do, like accepting public assistance or racking up credit card debt or breaking the speed limit.

Comments

  1. I think that judging people based on appearances is way too prevalent in the church, and I try to shoot it down whenever I see it happening in front of me. But I have no problem at all with these kinds of instructions from church leaders. Particularly as a mother of teenage children. It’s a *lot* easier to discourage them from the trendy, fashionable practises of getting a tattoo or body piercing when it’s being reinforced by church leaders.

    My husband has a tattoo. At one time he had his nose pierced, as well (through the center of his nose–like a bull). He’s a lot more vocal about how stupid tattoos and piercings are than I am.

  2. I still think the principle of respecting the body as a stewardship holds up well…it is simply culturally relative. In a sense, as long as the society in general views a certain piercing as respectful, it is. I’m a little sketchy on my mosaic law, but even that ultra strict conduct code (even proclaiming dress standards) did not proscribe nose rings.

    As far as morality goes, I think obesity is far more questionable and that is obviously not proscribed. So comparing the two, we see that the cultural trumps.

  3. Julie in Austin says:

    Another data point, this from a devotional by Elder Bednar:

    ” Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.

    The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. 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. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe.

    Now before I continue, I presume that some of you might have difficulty with my last example. In fact, this particular illustration of the young man being quick to observe may even fan the flames of controversy on campus, resulting in letters of disagreement to the Daily Universe! You may believe the young man was too judgmental or that basing an eternally important decision, even in part, upon such a supposedly minor issue is silly or fanatical. Perhaps you are bothered because the example focuses upon a young woman who failed to respond to prophetic counsel instead of upon a young man. I simply invite you to consider and ponder the power of being quick to observe and what was actually observed in the case I just described. The issue was not (italicized in original) earrings! “

  4. I’ve always wanted to get a tattoo. I think discouraging (prohibiting?) tattoos is so much about cultural norms rather than doctrine, but the Jewish religion apparently takes tattoos seriously. I watched an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where Larry David’s mother couldn’t be buried in the Jewish cemetary because she had a tattoo. So, it’s not just Mormons.

  5. I’m glad my dh didn’t decline marrying me because I have a tattoo. I don’t like that example of Elder Bednar’s.

    I am happy to counsel my children to avoid the pain and possible infection of tattoos and excessive piercings. I think the Church “grandmothered” earrings because we are so weird already–why make it worse?

  6. True story, not a hint of melodrama, I swear:

    When I first met Rebecca she sported a set of rather cool earrings in her upper ear. It was at a CES satellite broadcast, so I knew she was a good Mormon girl, but the earrings told me that she was well, cooler than the other “nice” girls. So we chatted.

    A year later we were married in the Preston temple.

  7. Oh yeah, and she has a tiny, cute tattoo of a daisy on her shoulder blade. But that was after we met.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    At least within the Church, those who feel a need to be a bit shocking still have tattoos and piercing available. You have to feel a little sorry for the John Waters types of the world who have to keep reaching farther into the absurd as past deviances become normalized. Sometimes it can be unkind not to at least pretend something disturbs us. Forty years ago Mrs. Howell could present the Skipper with a gold earring and it was a funny little joke.

  9. devilsadvocate says:

    what about breast implants? There seems to be an epidemic of stacked proportion amongst our ‘peculiar’ religion! Seems like there’s a new set every week, along with the new family in the ward.

    I am not trying to be sarcastic, rude or offensive. This is something that I really wonder about. Is it ok to do something that is clearly going to attract more carnal, sexual attention? Seems so much worse than a few more holes in the ears.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

  10. Advocate of the Devil,
    There was a discussion regarding your question here.

    Ronan,
    Great story. The earring thing, if nothing else, reveals personalities.

    I’m not a huge fan of Elder Bednar’s example either, mostly because it sounds like the guy didn’t even discuss it with her, he just assumed. Better that she didn’t marry him because it would be insufferable to live with someone that assumes rather than communicates.

  11. Eric Russell says:

    Cyl,

    May I suggest that you’ve misinterpreted the point behind Elder Bednar’s example. Kind of like all those people at DMI when we discussed it.

    Rusty,

    I don’t know that we know there wasn’t communication. If he never mentioned it at all, that would be pretty strange, but I didn’t read the story like that.

  12. I think the first two sentences in from the TTTF entry are interesting, as they seem to somewhat contradict each other. Perhaps those on the committee responsible for compiling TTTF differed in their opinions on whether single-pierced ears for women should be acceptable, and the language represented a compromise. Or perhaps they all agreed that any piercing was bad, but they judged that the saints were not ready for this hard teaching and so they only implied it.

    I wonder how members at large are interpreting this counsel: as an endorsement of single piercings for women, or as subtle advice against any piercing at all.

  13. Actually I’d disagree that many LDS youth were affected by the council. I recall when Pres. Hinkley made a big deal about it (what 5 years ago?). Most women were piercing their navel. (It’s fairly ubiquitous even now, but was very popular then) Likewise it was pretty common for women to be wearing two earrings on a single ear. Even small tattoos weren’t at all uncommon around BYU.

  14. btw, 1 Cor 6:19 is the relevant text for the body as temple (not the community), and the greek is clear. However, it has nothing to do with piercing.

  15. Eric,
    You may be right and I hope you are. It’s just that when you say that a guy waited for a girl to take action, she doesn’t so he makes a decision, it’s quite easy to conclude that he didn’t talk with her. All that being said, I do understand what Elder Bednar was saying, I just think he is capable of coming up with a better example that doesn’t carry so much baggage and possible misinterpretation.

  16. I always wanted to getting a piercing in my ears, but when I was young, my parents wouldn’t hear about it, and now that I’m older, I just too lazy to get it done. And I don’t need any more reasons for the bishop to look at me as a hopeless cause. ;-).

    Anyways, I have a brother who is professional body piercer, and for him there is a spiritual element that attracts him to the culture of piercings. Facing pain and mastery over his physical body does something for him. I believe he relates it to native rituals, in which males face extreme physical trauma as a rite-of-passage into manhood. But his reasonings are somewhat vague when I ask him details, but I do understand where he is coming from.

  17. I’ve always wanted a tattoo, but I’ve been too afraid of the process… So it’s good that I can back my personal wimpiness up with ecclesiastical proclamations.

    I guess I always have to ask myself whether these are the most important topic out there. The idea is opportunity cost–it’s not whether it’s good or bad to explain the possible consequences of different fashion choices, it’s whether deciding to say that prevents you from using the time to say something more important instead. It seems to me that the opportunity cost of using General Conference to talk about earrings, piercings, tattoos, etc., might be pretty high. I mean, the world still does have murder, child abuse, rape, robbery, fraud, starvation, sexism, racism, and a long list of others…

  18. I think Susan M. identified the downside of the prohibition on piercings and tattooings — it encourages Church members to judge on appearances.

    Soon after the General Conference address on body piercing came out, I heard Doug Wright’s radio program on KSL cover the issue. Instead of concentrating on the prohibition itself, callers focused on people they had seen who had body piercing. One person even said they were “grossed out” because a worker at the local McDonalds had a piercing through his lower lip — as if that would somehow affect the cleanliness of the food.

    I don’t want to say that this is the typical attitude, but I do think that it happens frequently enough to be a problem.

  19. One Elder in my mission had a huge “CTR” shield tattooed on his calf and another got a large back tattoo the week before he went into the MTC. I just don’t think it’s that big of deal for today’s youth in the church.

    I think tatoos are a dumb idea simply because 90% of them look lame immediately and the other 10% will eventually. I really don’t see the problem with body piercing as long as you aren’t permanently damaging yourself. People who stretch out their earlobes really bother me for that reason.

    I think the sudden emphasis on these issues is more of a grandfatherly reaction to today’s cultural norms than God being concerned with the number of holes in our ears.

  20. My daughter married a tattoo artist. She is tattooed all over. She doesn’t regret it now, but I think tattooing or a lot of earrings is not an expression of one’s self, I think it’s an act of rebellion and speaks to control.

    I don’t think it’s a sin, but I don’t think it’s comon sense either.

    The appearance we give to people says a lot about us. My daughter probably says “I’m a rebel and I don’t give a crap what others think.” On the face of that, it seems okay, especially in the sometimes heavy burden of righteousness the church places on its members. But I think it’s cutting your nose off to spite your face and it tells people where your priorities are.

    I’m against it.

  21. “Body piercing is wrong, except when it’s not. I don’t dispute the practical necessity of ‘grandmothering in’ the practice of women wearing a pair of earrings. It just seems to undercut the notion that body piercing per se is wrong.”

    The Gospel has many nuanced and exception-ridden commandments, guidelines, and suggestions.

    The Book of Mormon contains an incident of a big exception to a couple major commandments very early on. “Thou shalt not kill (murder)” and “Vengence is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.”

    Nephi killed, murdered, executed Laban. Nephi took the law into his own hands and played judge, jury, and executioner. There was no legal or temporal justification to whacking Laban. It was completely against the Law of Moses. For whatever crimes that Laban had committed against Nephi earlier on (theft, attempted murder) Nephi would have been required of the law to at least attempt to go to the constituted authorities. And the natural law of self defense did not apply as there was no threat from Laban at the time of killing him.

    The only justification for killing Laban, and I personally believe it was an absolute justification was: “God told him to.”

    The sacrifices, food laws, and many outward rituals of the Law of Moses were done away with at the Atonement. However, much of the Law of Moses remained, and does remain, including taking a near kin as a spouse, homosexuality, and printing marks on the body (Lev 19:28).

    Lev 19:28 also prohibits “cuttings in your flesh for the dead”, which would seem to prohibit piercing and intentional scarring, depending on whether “for the dead” were a restrictive clause or merely an explanatory clause.

  22. With all these citations from Leviticus flying around I’m trying hard to resist the impulse to give examples of some really crazy stuff from Leviticus that no-one here would countenance in a million years.

    There are many native cultures around the world where cutting, tattoing, and piercing are routinely practiced. Does this apply to them?

  23. Say, like the Maori, Ronan? I don’t have the time to look it up, and want to confirm it, but didn’t JSF kind of sanction their tattooing?

  24. Ah, cultural accommodation. Kind of like kava-culture and English high-tea….

  25. Devil’s Advocate: good question. But if I could speculate, I don’t think the bretheren object to boob jobs. Every old barn could do with a new coat of paint, so to speak.

  26. When this pronouncement came down, my wife’s first and immediate response was something to the effect of, “Now here’s another reason people in the church can use to judge other people.”

    Unfortunately, she was right. The next time I hear someone in testimony suggest she or some woman is better than other people for removing her surplus earrings, I’ll … Well, I probably won’t do anything other than mutter to myself, but you get the point.

    That said, I’m bothered by the exception clause. A complete prohibition on nonmedical piercings I could understand, but why “allow” a single piercing in each ear for women, but not men? It seems entirely cultural and not a whole lot to do with any principle.

    What J. Shipley said (“In a sense, as long as the society in general views a certain piercing as respectful, it is.”) makes a certain amount of sense. But I live in a fairly conservative part of the country (although not in Mormondom), and even here a man’s ear piercing would not be considered disrespectful. And if navel piercing, for example, became the norm in our society, would that make it OK?

    I wonder if it would be acceptable for a female member of the church to have a nose piercing if she’s in India? It’s completely acceptable there. If there’s any principle at all to be found in this counsel, such a practice should be OK.

    But still the question remains for me: If piercing the body is sacrilege (I can certainly understand why it would be and wouldn’t do it myself), why allow it at all?

  27. Seth Rogers says:

    I second annegb’s comment #20 wholeheartedly.

    This isn’t about fashion preference. This is about communication. As we get older, we tend to lose sight of this central fact about clothing and other fashion items, like piercing. Clothing is ALWAYS about saying something about yourself.

    When we get older, we talk about the need to not judge by appearances, and respect people’s right to make choices. All very true. But the acknowledgment of clothing as communication often becomes lost in all the babble about rights.

    But any middle school student can tell you, this isn’t primarily about rights or inner-beauty. This is about making a statement (thus the term fashion statement).

    People don’t pierce their ear nine times because they have free agency. They do it to say something.

    The General Authorities disagree with how these people are communicating with their peers. Plain and simple.

    This conversation would be better served to focus on the message and dialogue of modern fashion trends and not focusing on peripheral issues like free agency and inner-beauty.

  28. Seth Rogers says:

    Re #26:

    I think this recent commandment is entirely cultural.

    But that doesn’t make it wrong. I think at least some of the GAs are more concerned that we communicate respectfully with others, via our clothing choices, than they are about Mosaic prohibitions on the number of earrings.

    So, for example, I think the ubiquitous nose piercing in India would be completely acceptable. The bare midriff of traditional Indian garb would present more of a problem. But that’s only because of Temple issues. Modesty is a creature of cultural context.

    There’s nothing wrong with telling people to be respectful in their communications in accordance with cultural norms, even if those norms are arbitrary.

  29. annegb (#20), Seth (#27): I do not doubt that you are correct about some, or even most, people. However, I assure you that there are many out there, including myself, that have body modifications that are not visibly public that are done for self-expression. Modifications aren’t always done for one sole reason (i.e. communication, expression, being a ‘rebel’) but often have multiple meanings.

    Also, as per the first line of the last paragraph in the original post, if done by a good, capable, and competant piercer, most standard body piercings carry relatively low risk.

  30. “I think Susan M. identified the downside of the prohibition on piercings and tattooings — it encourages Church members to judge on appearances.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Standing in the hall waiting for Priesthood to start I have read the standards memo for Youth dances that is posted in the glass cabinet serveral times over. It bothers me every time.

    It lists all of the reasons people will be barred entrace to a dance, including:

    – males with one or more earings
    – females with more than one set of tasteful earings
    – anyone with a tattoo

    More than one set of earings or a tattoo won’t get you barred from baptism or the Temple, but it will get you barred from a Youth dance?

    For a supposedly missionary minded Church I am often at a loss to explain the lengths we will go to to exclude possible investigators. What does it say when one of our Youth calls up a non-member friend and invites them to a Friday night dance, only to have that friend barred admittance at the door by a fashion nazi?

  31. I’m with Pris, although Seth’s got a point, too.

    I wear a beard purely and simply because I think (and my wife thinks) that I look better in a beard. I can very easily believe that someone who pierced their ear nine times might think s/he looks better that way.

    Unfortunately, there are those–and they’re probably all Church members; I doubt my other friends think anything of it–who read my facial hair as a statement of rebellion.

    What to do?

  32. This conversation probably happened a few decades ago when the requirement to wear hats was dropped from the missionary dress code. I don’t know the exact dates, but I’d guess the church standards were behind the curve of the societal standard, and missionaries were wearing hats long after people looked at them and thought “dork.”

    And again, same thing happened with beards. I think David O. McKay was the first beardless prophet after Joseph Smith.

    However, I don’t think acceptance of tatoos and multiple ear piercings will ever be as widely accepted or expected as beards or hats were.

  33. So using 1 Cor. 3:16 in this context seems like a misreading of the passage, albeit a creative and useful one.

    The passage seems to be routinely read out of context by General Authorities, including President Hinckley. But I wonder if it even matters at this point, given the history of the passage’s misuse in the church. We have adopted this misreading for our own purposes.

  34. Ronan: Re #22, crazy stuff from Leviticus that no one would countenance.

    That’s why we have prophets and apostles to tell us which ones are still in effect, just like the Apostles did in the meridian of time with decisions about circumcision, baptizing gentiles, foods sacrificed to idols, strangled animals, etc.

    So the concept goes back even further than beards and hats.

    The ‘naccle has opened my eyes up to rules (or expections at least) in Utah that I’ve never heard of elsewhere in the church. Frinstance, I have heard locally that women “are encouraged” to wear (modest of course) dresses or skirts to sacrament, but I never heard of a rule or expectation that women should _never_ wear slacks. Most of the elderly women at my FHE group wear slacks to FHE at the chapel, but wear dresses to church on sunday.

    Yet, I’ve heard complaints on the bloggernacle about some women in Utah putting down other women if they wear slacks at any time in public. Was that ever a church rule or standard within the last 100 years? Was the poster complaining that it was “a rule” or “a cultural expectation” ?

    There are many levels of “rules” here:

    1. It’s a commandment, and your baptism/temple recommend depends on it, black or white, yes or no.

    2. It’s a commandment, and if you break it, your temple recommend may or may not be yanked depending on your attitude. IE, nuances. Are you “striving” to obey that commandment.

    3. It’s a commandment, and you’re sinning if you break it, but they won’t yank your T.R. over it.

    4. It’s policy, but not a commandment. (Wearing white shirt while blessing or passing sacrament. In America, sacrament bread should be “bread” torn into dime to nickel size pieces.) But if it’s impossible or extremely difficult to comply, it can be waived without penalty. IE, exceptions.

    5. It’s strongly encouraged. A member might be spoken to privately in a friendly manner and encouraged to comply, but a visitor might not.

    6. It’s encouraged. (Don’t chew gum during sacrament.) General encouragements to the group are made, but usually no one is singled out.

    One of the comman wranglings in the bloggernacle is “Is such-and-such a commandment, an official policy, a suggestion coming through legitimate authority, merely a local “idea” or just a societal expectation? And what are the exceptions?”

    If it comes from The Brethren, I think it’s counter-productive to wrangle over it.

    Brigham Young is quoted (in the RS/Priesthood manual Teachings of..) “Blessed are those who obey a direct commandment. But more blessed are those who obey without a direct commandment.”

    The Brethren are giving us the opportunity for the _greater blessing_ by not giving direct commandments on many things. But by the way they word some things (“I urge you in the strongest terms possible…” GBH) I can’t see how they can be interpreted to be other than commandments.

  35. Justin (#33),

    Pres Hinckley, as prophet, has the authority to interpret scripture and tell us what it means _for us_.

    We’ve changed a lot of what is in the New Testament, including women speaking in church, and not having to wear head coverings in church. We’re told “That’s not in effect for us.”

    Pres Hinckley, as spokesman for God, has the authority to take any scripture and say “Here’s what it means _for us_.”

    As well as telling us what it means, he also has the same authority as Joseph Smith did for revising and correcting the Bible should he be commanded; and for the Book of Mormon as previous prophets authorizied changes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and changing “white” to “pure.”

    What Paul “really” meant when he wrote it is now acadmenic after we’ve had a living prophet tell us what it means for us in the here and now.

  36. GreenEggz, I’m not sure you realize what a radical notion you are proposing. If there really is no fixed or original meaning to written words in the scriptures (which is implied if prophets are free to affix new meanings to particular passages of scripture whenever they are so moved), how can one say the scriptures are true? What is true if not the meaning of the words?

  37. Seth Rogers said:

    But that doesn’t make it wrong. I think at least some of the GAs are more concerned that we communicate respectfully with others, via our clothing choices, than they are about Mosaic prohibitions on the number of earrings.

    You’ve made some excellent points. I think if some of these things were presented by local church leaders in the way your suggest, rather than as some sort of moral absolute, they would be accepted and respected a lot more.

    Justin H said:

    I wear a beard purely and simply because I think (and my wife thinks) that I look better in a beard. … Unfortunately, there are those–and they’re probably all Church members; I doubt my other friends think anything of it–who read my facial hair as a statement of rebellion.

    I had to chuckle a bit at that. I too have a beard for the same reasons. Only in church has it ever been an issue.

  38. Seth Rogers says:

    EricG,

    I would not however, be surprised if the views of some GAs are a little more mosaic than my own rendition.

    At any rate, I must admit that I haven’t heard any GAs specifically explain church fashion policy in the terms I used earlier.

    So I guess its still just my opinion, and not doctrinal or anything.

  39. I can see African tribesmen making a statement about who they are, but what kind of self expression is it if nobody can see it? My kids are covered with tattoos so I’m biased. I don’t judge anybody, I just think it’s counter-productive. I would hate to have a tattoo.

  40. Dave (#36):
    It’s not radical or new at all. The scriptures mean what the current prophet says they mean. I was taught that over 20 years ago. That’s called supporting the president of the church as God’s sole spokesman and prophet for the whole church, authorized to received further light and knowledge and tell us what God wants us to _believe_ and _do_ in the here and now.

    If you hold to the _utter_ unalterability of scriptures and their meaning, then you should complain about women speaking in church and having their heads uncovered.

    If we all have the right to private interpretation, then by extension we wouldn’t have to listen to the prophet’s interpretation.

    I think the proper balance is we should all personally seek to understand the scriptures by study and by faith, but when the prophet tells us
    what a particular scripture means, his word is final.

    Joseph Smith changed things, United order, no United Order. Some go to Missouri, now all go to MIssouri. One wife, now multiple wives. Woodruff had multiple wives, then under the Lord’s direction, he changed things, no more multiple wives. Joseph F. Smith changed things when he told converts to stay where they were, no more organized immigration. Somewhere along the line they had a 2nd manifesto. Spencer Kimball changed things with “white” to “pure” and giving blacks the priesthood. No matter where the original error in the white/pure trail was, whether Nephi or Mormon made a typo in the Reformed Egyptian, whether Joseph misspoke when he dictated, whether Oliver made an error when he transcribed it, whether Oliver made an error when he made the printers copy, whether Grandin’s typesetter made an error when he typeset it, whether subsequent editions had typsetting errors… the bottom line is that Spencer Kimball, prophet of God, after whatever study he made, or evidence or revelation he recieved, said “This word should be ‘pure’.”

    And that’s good enough for me.

    “Changing things” is something the antis quite often point out by dredging things out of Journal of Discourses. Adam-God, then no Adam-God. Blood Atonement, then no Blood Atonement. One piece garments, then 2 piece became acceptable. Beards, then no beards. Hats then no hats. However, the antis say change means the church can’t be true, because truth doesn’t change. We say change means that the church is receiving further light and knowledge. We say some changes are merely policy changes to adapt to current times and are not changes in doctrine.

    Some things from the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are no longer taught or promulgated (read Journal of Discourses, or Discourses of Brigham Young.) However, of those things that are no longer promulgated, some are still accepted and some are repudiated. Some are “Yeah, we believe that, but it’s not binding on members or essential for salvation.” Others of those things that are no longer promulgated are flatly denied as in “We don’t believe that any more because we have received further light and knowledge on the matter. The previous prophets didn’t have as much information as we have now, and were only speaking based on their then current information.”

    Some of those changes are mere conventions, but some are actual doctrinal changes, which I fully support because I believe the current prophet of the church can receive futher light and knowledge from God.

    For anyone to say that the current prophet can’t change the rules, or to say which scriptures apply, or what they mean would also have to disagree with St. Peter and Paul deciding on which rules of the Mosaic law were and were not still in effect. The New Testament saints had this very discussion over circumcision, eating clean and unclean beasts, meat sacrificed to idols, strangled beasts etc.

    Didn’t Paul say that the scriptures were not open to private interpretation?

  41. river stone says:

    I think the best way to show respect for those around us is to get to know who they are, and never judge them their heart based on outward appearance. We can try to understand why some relate to a certain culture, and how it may be a part of their individual path to joy, rather than an act of rebellion.

    If the church’s standards of dress and appearance is what God wants, why are those standards not taught in the discussions. If based in God’s eternal truth, we should have the confidence to tell people that there is one culture that is above all others and trust that the spirit will testify the truth of it.

    If we believe that people will be condemned for accepting the church, and then rejecting it, shouldn’t we explain all that they are commiting to before they join. They should be taught that if they don’t eventually look like one of the misisonaries who baptized them, they will not progress in the church, and that they need to accept all the words of President Hinkley and the apostles as true to be a valient member.

    standard

  42. GreenEggz, reciting a litany of policy changes or doctrinal shifts doesn’t do anything to bolster your assertion that the scriptures don’t really mean anything that can’t be changed to mean something else tomorrow. The claim that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God seems to imply they mean something — that’s the whole point of canonized scripture, isn’t it? It’s one thing to say the Bible says X, but here in the 21st century modern prophets say we should do Y instead. That’s different from saying last year the Bible said and meant X, but this year the same words mean Y.

  43. Nevertheless, it is perfectly reasonable to say that prophets _are_ the ones who get to interpret the meaning of the scriptures for the Church. And as such they can say that a passage has the following interpretations, X1, X2, and X3. And then even add one later, X4, as it becomes more relevant. Saying that our physical bodies are temples is not some wildly implausible re-interpretation of the passage, It is just X2.

    Looking in the Bible, it seems to me that many prophets offered innovative interpretations of past scriptures and events when moved upon by the Holy Ghost– so there is a long history of such interpretation.

    As for piercings, I thought the stance was pretty clear, piercings are doctrinally suspect. If you do get them, only get one pair. This is similar to the stance of the early Church in regards to circumcision. They did not declare jihad on Jewish members who circumcised, they just said that it was not needful for the Gentiles. Awareness of our present limitations is one of the reasons we need modern prophets.

  44. Seth Rogers says:

    river stone’s comment got me thinking.

    This business about earrings, tattoos, etc. from the General Conference pulpit really seems more like a commandment directed at the individual and not Mormon society as a whole.

    What I mean is that compliance should be internal. It’s something between the person in question and God. It shouldn’t be something that other people in the ward can use to pass judgment on said individual.

  45. GreenEggz, Frank,
    I think I’m more with Dave on this one. Imagine a prophet in 20 years saying that President Benson was actually emphasising the Bible, not the Book of Mormon. That prophet has every right to emphasise the Bible, but he can’t say that was President Benson’s intention.

  46. Rusty,

    Oh I agree with that. But this is not one of those times. I also don’t see a problem with prophets taking things out of context and putting them in a new one. Think of it as a rational basis standard. There needs to be at least some possible argument that what the prophet is doing to make sense. Interpreting or re-interpreting the Corinthians scripture as they do in this section is perfectly within the bounds of what a prophet is called to do. The new interpretation does not invalidate or contradict the old and it provides new insight.

    For example, suppose a prophet in 20 years started emphasizing the Bible, and used a quote from President Benson about the importance of the Bible. Suppose further, as is likely, that somebody started screaming about how that was horrible because President Benson was a “Book of Mormon Man” and thus the quote lacked historical context and so on and so forth. That person should adjust their medication and get over themselves.

  47. I don’t think that the prophets get special license to interpret the scriptures to suit their purposes. Interpreting what the prophets (who, for the most part, are the authors of the scriptures) have said is fine, and we should show some deference to our leadership. But this isn’t a matter of interpretation. It should be made clear that this is an application, which is a rather different animal and does not seek to invoke Paul’s authority to support the body piercing business. GBH or any other President of the Church needs no additional authority in my view. Even if he’s wrong, you can’t get any higher up than him, unless you’re talking about divine beings. So, for me, the crucial issue is that citing a scripture to prove a point is tantamount to saying that “this scripture as it is written proves some assertion or assumption that makes my argument stronger”. The 1 Cor scripture just doesn’t meet that standard and thus incorrectly invokes the authority of Paul and his epistle.

    That said, I think the body piercing/tattoo issue is just another example of the Church lashing out against something that it does not understand. The Church isn’t some evil Big Brother or a horrible institution of control, it’s just a conservative institution that wants (for very good reasons) to control the discourse of its members. We’re free to step out of that mode of thinking at any time. It strikes me as the same sort of statement as the Boyd K. Packer comment that beards are synonymous with the “drug culture”. Incorrect, stupid, and small-minded, but only harmful to the extent that we in the Church take it seriously and judge others or treat them differently. So, even if we think it’s a legitimate commandment (which I certainly do not), let’s remember our own unworthiness and not stand for others crapping on someone because their “sin” is easily visible.

  48. Dave (#42),

    First, doctrinal shifts do imply that God can authorize changes to interpretations of scripture.

    Second, Peter’s (and Paul’s) further light and knowledge did change the established understanding of what OT scriptures meant.

    By extension, Joseph Smith’s (and subsequent prophets’) further light and knowledge did change the established understanding of what NT and OT scriptures meant. Each prophet is entitled to further light and knowlege over previous prophets, and over what the same prophet had previously.

    But to the specific, has President Hinckley acknowledged that his interpretation of 1 Cor 3:16 is different than what a previous prophet of this dispensation has said it means? Has he said his interpretation is different than what Paul had intended it? Or did he present his interpretation as what Paul actually wrote and intended?

    I don’t see his interpretation differing from what I thought was Paul’s intention or the understandings of that passage by other latter-day prophets.

    I never thought or heard that 1 Cor 3:16 was about the plural “you” referring to the organizational church. It always appeared to me that it applied individually. Even if it was the plural you, it’s a plurality of individuals, and I don’t see how it could apply to only the organization without applying to each individual.

    But to answer your question, yes, theoretically, if GBH wants to say the current interpretation (according to additional light and knowledge received) is different than what was thought before, he has that right. He can amend previous prophets, and he can amend himself, and he can amend whatever the religion department at BYU is teaching.

    He has the authority, when directed by God of course, to add, change, and delete both scripture and official church interpretation of scripture.

    But I don’t see that he has done that in this instance. In this particular matter, I don’t think he has contradicted his previous teachings, nor the teachings of previous latter-day prophets. Are you saying he has?

    Does President Hinckley’s interpretation of 1 Cor 3:16 contradict what you or others learned in BYU’s religion department? I’m curious about that. But even if so, he still has the authority to do that.

    I don’t think President Hinckley’s interpretation or use of 1 Cor 3:16 differs than what he thought it meant last year, or 75 years ago.

    However, I’d bet we could research the Journal of Discourses, and find statements of Brigham Young about what scriptural passages meant, and contrast those to current correlated statements on what those same passages mean.

    The shifts are not as rapid as one year, but I’d bet they are there.

  49. As per Julie’s comment #3, I’d say that girl got out by the skin of her teeth! Thank goodness for those extra earings, Whew!

  50. Dave,
    September 2005 Ensign, page 17, Article by Boyd K. Packer, right hand column:
    “Furthermore, President Clark said that among those of the Twelve and the Presidency, “only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctines of the Church.”

    So I’m not the first with that “radical notion” (comment #36).

  51. You know, what I said before, yeah, for young people, but I never judge somebody’s good heart by their tattooes. I think I’d NOTICE, but not judge if somebody came into church tattoed or pierced. Because you know, my kids have good hearts. Also a lot of tattoos. I’m talking a lot. And I hope if they ever turn around and decide the gospel is for them, they would be welcomed with open arms.

  52. I think there is certainly a place in the church for people with tattoos and piercings. They can be active, faithful members.
    If I had a tattoo and my bishop noticed it, I assume he wouldn’t do anything different than what he does when seeing some R rated DVDs on our shelf or noticing us walking in about 45 minutes late to sacrament meeting.
    Everyone prioritizes commandments a little bit. It is hard to do everything all at once, and sometimes we have obstacles, or sometimes we let other things get in the way.

  53. I am curious about the economics of tattoos and the degree to which that consideration should play a role in how they are viewed to be desirable or undesirable, moral or immoral. I don’t think it should be the primary issue … but I do think it should play a role in the process.

    I have certainly seen very simple monochromatic tattoos. Just the same, there is a tendency for many to have very elaborate and colorful tattoos. When I see that I sometimes wonder how many hundreds or even thousands of dollars have been paid. Particularly when a person is poor, it seems obvious the money could have served a better use. Of course people spend ridiculous amounts of money on all kinds of hobbies.

    Another economic issue with tattoos is the way it impacts a person’s job prospects. Like it or not, there are many people who will never hire a person who has obvious tattooing or odd body piercings.

    Personally, though I don’t have any myself and would probably discourage someone from getting a tattoo for a variety of reasons, I still find tattoos and tattoo art to be rather interesting and at times even beautiful. Here’s a link to a site where a man provided photographs of the many stages by which a large koi design was tattooed on his back.

  54. Julie-K-S (what does the K stand for?)–I don’t think a tattoo is a sin. I would personally advise against getting one, but I don’t think it’s a sin. I guess if the prophet said don’t get one, that’s counsel, not “thus saith the Lord.”

    I just don’t think God cares that much. I think the larger concern, larger isn’t a good word, with the church IS appearances, like the missionary haircut and stuff.

    Perhaps there will be paradigm shift to a more compassionate way of thinking.

    I personally in my ward (I so know that’s not grammatically correct)tend to celebrate the non-traditional, in part because I tend to stick out and I don’t want a big calling (been there done that, if you cuss in front of the bishop regularly, you get more rest), but more so that those who are coming into our ward (and we are re-activating a lot of kids who fell away in their teens) know there’s somebody who relates to them.

    Which I do, it’s not a ploy,

    Does that make sense? Like I think if I took a drink every day (which I don’t but people wonder, why, do you suppose?) that would be more against counsel than a downright sin. If you go with modern medical advice, a glass of red wine (I honestly don’t), isn’t so bad. So who knows?

    In the long run, if that’s the baddest thing I do and I pay my tithing, stay very active, read the scriptures and pray and serve my fellow man to the best of my ability, I just think God is going to cut me some slack.

    As opposed to somebody who doesn’t drink, pays their tithing, etc. etc., and is a shit. Pardon the obscenity, unless you’re my bishop.

  55. Annegb:
    Thanks for the tip on how to avoid high profile calllings. Does that also work for not getting asked to speak in Sacrament meeting?
    I’m always on the lookout to keep from having a “J. Golden Kimball” moment in terms of my speech. Maybe I shouldn’t worry as much.

  56. Seth Rogers says:

    Jaynee, read my comments on #27 and #28. I wrote it while thinking about the earlobe exception.

    In our culture, a nose piercing says something different than a single earlobe piercing.

    The GAs disagree with the message being sent by the nose piercing. They do not disagree with the message being sent by the single ear piercing.

    It has everything to do with cultural context.

  57. Seth: Then why all the stuff about “out body is a temple” if piercing is just a cultural statement and not an inherent “defilement?” Also, how do these teachings accomodate other cultures all over the world?

  58. Annegb, have you thought of starting your own blog? ‘Cos if you did, I’d be a faithful reader.

  59. That’s it. This thread has inspired me to go out and get a piercing.

  60. GreenEggz ‘n’ Frank, granted current leaders (like anyone else) can reinterpret a scriptural passage, giving a better or just different interpretation or application. But they can also (like anyone else) misinterpret a scripture, giving a poorer or even a simply incorrect reading of a passage.

    Even Boyd K. Packer’s quote, cited by GreenEggz in #50, doesn’t go as far as you seem to want to stretch it. Just because the President of the Church can “give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church” doesn’t mean every scripture interpretation he gives is such an authoritative statement, nor does it even claim he can’t make errors from time to time. That’s the import of the oft-quoted “sometimes he speaks as a prophet and sometimes he speaks as a man” principle that derives (supposedly) from time of Joseph Smith.

  61. Dave,

    Sure, prophets can make mistakes, just like you and me. But I think we’d all agree that in general we are not the ones to determine when the prophet has erred in interpreting scripture. Certainly there is nothing in this discussion to make me think you, I or anyones here has some special insight beyond what the prophet has into the scriptural claim behind “your body is a temple”.

  62. Space Chick says:

    I think we need to keep a LOT of cultural contexts in mind, not just ours and various island nations, but also that of ancient Israel.

    Other posts have discussed the elaborate restrictions in Leviticus and Mosaic law as deliberate countermeasures against Egyptian or other religious practices that the Lord was trying to turn the children of Israel away from. It’s reasonable to assume (and that’s what I’m doing, since I’m not a student of ancient adornments and their religious implications) that piercings and tattoos could have been included. Idol-worshipping priests and priestesses may have worn jewelry as part of their ceremonial garb, possibly in what we would consider unusual places. The Aztecs I think had a habit of using stingray spines to pierce themselves, sacrificing the blood to their gods and displaying the piercing as a demonstration of devotion to their gods. I realize that’s a western hemisphere idea, but it was probably not confined to that area. Likewise, ritual scarification, if done for religious reasons, would present a similar problem. GreenEggz #21 referred to Lev 19:28 which prohibits “cuttings in your flesh for the dead”. Mutilating your body to show grief for your dead sounds like ancestor worship to me, even if a mild version. I think we can be culturally sensitive all we like, but if we begin modifying our bodies in ways that were previously used to indicate a religious dedication or affiliation that is NOT to Christ, we are sending a message that we are not His, whether we intend to or not. So we should be careful about the markings we choose to place on ourselves, and recognize that sometimes we DO need to reject certain aspects of our heritage in order to become disciples in the sense we promised at baptism.

    Sometimes, though, a tattoo (or an earring) is JUST a tattoo or an earring (or nosering or tummy-bolt), with no particular religious implications. In that case, I refer to Rusty’s #10 comment that “The earring thing, if nothing else, reveals personalities.” And since the way you dress and adorn yourself does indeed say something about you, be careful what the message is that you send.

  63. From the Aaronic Priesthood manual #3, Lesson 24:

    “Elder Marion G. Romney recalled an experience he had with President Heber J. Grant:

    “I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. … When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’”

  64. jayneedoe
    I think it’s a dangerous thing to state what that something is only the Prophet’s opinion and therefore must not be followed.

    There are somethings we’re asked to do that we don’t understand just to prove we can obey and are willing to obey.

    So if you no piercings because that’s what you feel is right, or just the one, or lots from before it shouldn’t matter. There are more weightier things to concern yourselves with.

  65. I know this is off-topic, but this whole thread reminded me of the oft-repeated story from my youth about a GA (don’t remember which one) riding on a plane with Mick Jagger. Mick apparently told the GA that his music was calculated to drive kids to sex and drugs (or something like that). This story was then used repeatedly to fear and trembling in our hearts if we happened to listen to rock and roll.

    I then picture the story Mick Jagger told his friends when he got home. “So I was sitting next to this old dude who was a leader in that Mormon church . . . you should have seen the look on his face when I told him that our music was all about sex and drugs.” They laugh together about the comment that was intended solely to shock this extremely conservative elderly gentleman. Imagine if they knew the comment had become part of the lore of the church- what a laugh they would have then.

    Body piercings are the new rock and roll.

  66. Greeneggz:

    I agree 100% with Dave on this issue. The role you are describing as that of the prophet’s sounds like that of a dictator (and even eerily similar to that of Big Brother in 1984). Granted, the prophet has a very important, special calling.

    But the prophets have warned us many times not to blindly trust them. We have been told not to swallow down every teaching as a pill. Of course, there are quotes that imply the opposite (blind obedience is bliss). But which viewpoint makes more sense?

    Basically, my salvation is between me and God. When the prophet speaks for God, it is wise to heed. When he speaks as a man, that is all he does. How to tell the difference? Follow your heart and the Holy Spirit.

  67. AmyB,
    Brilliant take on that old story. Knowing people like both Mick Jagger and the GA, you’re probably dead on correct.

    APJ,
    Your last sentence is exactly right. That’s what the Holy Ghost is there for.

  68. I guess the lesson is that when you chance to meet Mick Jagger, you should have some courtesy. And some sympathy. And some taste.

  69. Hmmmm, I think I’d rather meet Mick Jagger than this nameless old GA, sad to say.

  70. True Dave, true.

    But what’s puzzling me is the nature of his game.

  71. Jared Jensen says:

    The Jagger story (at least the version of it I heard from my MTC President) was from Gene R. Cook.

  72. I’ve had no luck with the link today, but here is a link to a PDF version of Gene R. Cook’s talk mentioning his infamous conversation with Mick Jagger.

    The Eternal Nature of the Law of Chastity

  73. Bob Caswell says:

    Holy Crap!! Did anyone read that talk? I have to admit that I’m somewhat embarrassed right now. This almost belongs in the “Open Pulpit” thread. If someone got up in sacrament meeting and shared a story like Mr. Seventy’s, I’d sink pretty low in my chair.

    “…And I bear witness to you in the name of the Lord that if you don’t turn your life around, you’ll be going to hell. The devil himself will come and get hold of you.”

    Sheesh! Sounds like my grandmother on a bad day. Oh, and Amy, this story was used in my childhood / teenage years very often… We’ve had this conversation before, but you and I seem to have been raised in a different church than Logan. I bet if you ask him about this, it’ll probably be the first time he’s heard it!

  74. APJ: (#67) “When the prophet speaks for God, it is wise to heed. When he speaks as a man, that is all he does. How to tell the difference? Follow your heart and the Holy Spirit.”

    Another way to tell when he’s speaking as the prophet for God is when he’s speaking at General Conference, and in his First Presidency messages.

  75. Eric Russell says:

    Wise words, GreenEggz.

    But round here we like to do it by whether we like what we’ve heard or not.

  76. Bob Caswell says:

    Eric,

    Not only is what you said cliche, it’s just plain rude. I (and I’m guessing most commenters here) have done plenty of things in the Church through obedience to principles our leaders discuss, whether I like what I’ve heard or not.

  77. Eric Russell says:

    Bob, you are right and I apologize. I have no doubt that there are many people here for whom that does not apply.

    But it seems like I’ve heard people complain/snark/murmur about piercings/appearances about a thousand times now in the last year and, frankly, it’s getting old. There’s got to be a point where we finally grow up and stop murmuring about the little things. And by that I don’t mean suppress our true thoughts on matters, I mean actually change our hearts so that we happily submit to most insignificant things. That’s what a broken heart and contrite spirit is, and that’s what this life’s all about. I find that this story is more valuable than all the discussion that has ever been had throughout all the bloggernacle on the matter, combined.

  78. Green Eggz (#75):

    I prefer the method of following the Spirit to that of relying de facto on the fact that it was said at general conference. In fact, while general conference takes on a more solemn tone and is great instruction typically, I don’t know that EVERYTHING said by the prophet on that occassion is him ‘speaking for the Lord.’

  79. Bob Caswell says:

    Eric, thank you. I agree with you that submitting to insignificant things has its place. Where the problem lies (mostly) is in the Mormon mentality of making sure everyone else in the ward submits to the same insignificant things found in your own profile. You and I aren’t that different here. We both have complaints about the issue; we’re just approaching it from different sides.

  80. Well, greeneggz, I think it might work. Because my neighbor, who is the patriarch, is very perverse and he keeps lobbying for me to speak in church and so far, no one has asked me. I’ve stepped up the bad words and just last week asked the bishop if we could speak about my word of wisdom problem. I’ll let you know.

    But I have a comment about Mick Jagger. I love the Rolling Stones. I love the beat of their music. Since I heard about that talk, when I hear that music or see Mick Jagger on TV, I ask myself, “do I feel like having sex?” And the answer is “no.” I feel like dancing. Plus Mick Jagger is not the least bit attractive to me, but he has rhythm in his bones. I feel the same way about Elton John. So that doesn’t hold true for me.

  81. Some people think that these things are handed down to control our lives. Wrongo! Every little thing that you do right makes you stronger when the big things you might do wrong come along.

    Rather than kicking back like I’m seeing here, ask instead if getting that tattoo or having someone poke holes in your eyebrow or eating that last donut will bring you closer to the Lord — or to the person that you want to be when you face him.

    A basic assumption at the beginning of this thread is wrong. Parse the statement, and you get:

    1) The prophets say don’t do it,

    2) Because it shows a kind of disrespect for your body (and the Lord who gave it do you),

    3) But it is not a major sin or anything, and if done in moderation, is acceptable

    4) not GOOD . . .just acceptable.

  82. Fratello Giovanni says:

    I heard Gene R. Cook give a version of that story in a stake conference in 2002. The Spirit confirmed to me then that the incident took place more or less as Elder Cook described it. The details coincide with what I’ve found online in other versions of the talk.

    My take on what Mick Jagger meant (as filtered through Elder Cook and his memory) is that many (not all) rock and roll songs have a sexual undercurrent, not so much to “drive kids to it”, but for the association. But basically that’s true, if you think about it. Or they sing about alcohol or drugs. They could sing about some other primal need, like food, but they don’t – except for Weird Al Yankovic. (But that’s why he does.) Beer commercials show sex and sing about alcohol – you get the picture here?

    I’m not saying rock music is inherently bad or anything like that. Some songs that are written off as being “about drugs” or “about” some “deviant” practice are basically saying “stay away!” But Elder Cook does have a point.

  83. Prophets don’t just interpret scripture, they write scripture. If that were not true, then we wouldn’t have any scriptures. The promise that we all made to the Lord when we were baptized included that we would keep the commandments of Jesus Christ. So where do we learn what those commandments are? We learn them from the scriptures and the prophets who write them. Hence, we cannot keep the promises we have made to God unless we follow the prophets. The prophets have asked us not to get tattoos or pierce our bodies. Is this a commandment of Jesus Christ? That depends on whether the prophets who ask us are true prophets or false prophets. If they are true prophets, then we cannot ignore or violate their counsel without breaking the Savior’s commandments. What is a violation of God’s law called? It is called a sin. Therefore it is a sin to get a tattoo or body piercing if the prophets who have asked us to avoid such are truly the chosen spokesmen of Jesus Christ. I testify that they are indeed.

  84. But it’s not that simple, John. There’s a difference between advice, counsel, custom, official guidelines, ethical principles, rules of conduct, and commandments (there are no doubt other categories one might add). As the EoM article I linked to and quoted makes clear, the official Church policy is that individuals who have tattoos or body piercing (beyond a modest piercing in each earlobe) are not denied baptism or a temple recommend. So I think those guidelines are best described as counsel, not commandments, and to act other than as counseled is best described as unwise, but not sin.

  85. Seth Rogers says:

    And I suppose the individual is supposed to be the ultimate arbiter of when the prophet is “giving commandments” and when he is simply “expressing an opinion?”

    Doesn’t that kind of ruin the whole point of having a prophet in the first place?

    Besides, lots of things we are commanded to do or avoid aren’t in the temple recommend interview.

  86. Eric Russell says:

    Seth’s right, the TR question is a very bad way to delineate counsel/commandment, much less a non-doctrinal one. You can be a total jerk and still get a recommend. Heck, Satan could get a temple recommend if he wanted one.

    I think this attitude of real commandments being limited to TR issues is a common one in the church though. A lot of people act like their recommend is a diploma or something. I think it’s more like an acceptance letter.

  87. Seth and Eric, I think you are misconstruing simple facts. Responding to Seth, the decision about what is required in order to qualify for baptism or an LDS temple recommend is made by senior leaders. That’s the opposite of everyone choosing for themselves what are commandments or counsel. I think leaders are pretty good at distinguishing between commandments and counsel in their own comments in talks and conference.

    Eric, using the TR questions as a threshold may not be ideal, but it is relatively clear and it is established by senior leaders for the very important determination of who is morally worthy in the eyes of the Church to enter LDS temples. The fact that tattoos and body piercing aren’t on the list means something. Likewise, the fact that being current on support payments (for adults who have financial obligations to ex-spouses or to children not living with them) was added to the list not too long ago also means something, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it mean they place increased importance on meeting rather than evading those financial responsibilities to one’s ex or kids? Do you think they just throw darts at a dartboard to determine what specific requirements go on the list?

  88. Dave, I agree that not all commandments are equal. I think it’s fair to say that those commandments which are required for a temple recommend are probably graver sins. I’m just saying that just because it’s not on the list, it doesn’t mean it’s not serious – and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a commandment.

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