The Sabbath and the Tragic Commons

Another possible mishap in the Mormon corridor. Someone shared with me an experience with raising righteous children in the Mormon corridor. The children had been invited to a birthday party on Sunday. The people inviting were not Mormon. The children wanted to go, the parents did not want them to, and they were able to talk to a solution: the children took presents on Saturday and informed the birthday child that they would be unable to attend on Sunday.

In an area of Mormon dominance, whatever its ethical or religious basis, such an action would likely prove hurtful to outsiders and would likely contribute to ongoing anger and frustration. Still, it speaks to a known model of Sabbath observance, both in the Hebrew Bible, in Puritan New England, and in those few 19th century American settings where the radical Sabbatarians managed to win legislative legitimacy. It is less consistent with one modern view of Sabbath observance which emphasizes family, broader community, rest, and reflection on the divine.  One could see it as sending an arrogant message, or one could see it as sending a humble but potent message of an individual’s priorities (kosher and sabbath observance in predominantly Orthodox Jewish areas could be seen in a similar light).

In an area where Mormons are not dominant, I think it would be less hurtful to outsiders. There the sense of exclusion would be much less for those whose invitation was declined. What do people think? Is it neighborly in an area of Mormon dominance to decline invitations to shared family events on Sunday? Is it religiously required? Which takes precedence in a case like this? Does it matter whether this occurs in an area of Mormon social dominance?  Would this be the same as asking a Jewish child who observes kosher (qoshrut) to a pork-only BBQ birthday party?  Or more like asking for needed service to be performed on a sabbath?

Comments

  1. How does attending a birthday party violate the sabbath? Or is the problem that maybe the party conflicts with church time? Please elaborate…

  2. Costanza says:

    “Would this be the same as asking a Jewish child who observes kosher (qoshrut) to a pork-only BBQ birthday party?” It might be more like inviting an observant Jewish child to a birthday party on Saturday.

  3. Sam, honestly, I think it equates to your example of asking a Jewish child who observes kosher (qoshrut) to a pork-only BBQ birthday party?

    It’s funny, but I just invoked a very similar comparison over on MM’s Moroni-coffee thread.

    How can the person take offense at the children regretfully turning down the Birthday Party invitation? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever Sam. I am sorry this has happened to your friend, but a discussion on toleration of the majority’s beliefs might be in order, don’t you think?

  4. I agree with John.

  5. Until I stop watching football on Sundays, I’m not going to get too worried about my kids going to birthday parties on Sundays. In other words, I’m not looking to score righteousness points off of my children’s backs. (Which is not to criticise those who keep the Sabbath and expect their children to do the same.)

  6. JA Benson says:

    This situation comes up all the time at our house. We don’t live in Mormon corridor, but instead the Bible belt. If my child is invited to a Sunday party and it is held at the birthday child’s home (instead of say Chucky Cheese) they get to go. I don’t see in any difference between a non-LDS child’s birthday party and a ward Sunday Linger-Longer. We are supposed to “visit” on the Sabbath. A birthday party, in my book, is visiting. Children’s feelings are tender especially on their birthday.

  7. Ronan, I agree that there is a healthy debate about whether going to a birthday party on Sunday is actually inimical to the injunction to keep the Sabbath Day holy. From my perspective, an answer to this question that simply says that it actually isn’t breaking the Sabbath to let the kids go to the party on Sunday is somewhat of a cop-out. The real question is whether Latter-day Saints should be able to expect to live the principles of their religion, whatever they may be, in a place where they are the dominant minority. (Ganged-up, non-LDS in SLC outnumber LDS in SLC — not sure why people don’t internalize this fact.)

  8. Tony, at first I did a double-take because I thought attending family-oriented celebrations was entirely appropriate on the Sabbath. But I was informed that such a celebration qualified as recreation, which is proscribed on the Sabbath.

    Costanza, I was trying to establish how important it was and provided a strong example, though qoshrut also serves to establish ethnic boundaries in a strong way and participates in an overall system of excluding outsiders.

    john, i think it is relevant to social dominance. Sunday is a family day for many people outside Mormonism and outside religion generally. Saturdays are hectic with sports games and the like. so for people interested in having friendships in a Mormon dominant area, this day becomes unavailable to them. Is it okay to have a Mormon dinner party on Sunday? How many friends coming over would cause problems for Sabbath observance?

    We personally feel that Sunday is a day for worship as well as community building, and gladly attend dinner parties, birthday parties, and the like on Sunday, though we do not actively seek them out. And we admittedly do eat pork.

  9. “Sunday is a family day for many people outside Mormonism and outside religion generally. Saturdays are hectic with sports games and the like. so for people interested in having friendships in a Mormon dominant area, this day becomes unavailable to them. Is it okay to have a Mormon dinner party on Sunday? How many friends coming over would cause problems for Sabbath observance?”

    Sam,
    I believe that Saturdays are busy throughout the USA. People go to church everywhere (we are quite the church going nation, after all). I can’t speak for the Northeast, but in the South this would never have been an issue. Sundays, being either family or religion days, are simply not days on which people have birthday parties. That said, I have attended many a family birthday party on a Sunday.

  10. Sam,
    I’d love you to do a post on Christian and Mormon Sabbath history. We seem to be heirs of something that wasn’t always so.

    When I’m being annoying, I like to tell people I always break the Sabbath: I work and play on Saturday…

  11. re # 8, Sam, your comment was informative but I can’t help but get the feeling you have misunderstood my comment.

    To me, this post shouldn’t really be a discussion of whether a birthday party is actually breaking the Sabbath or not. If so, it is not a very useful thread simply because there are a million and one different views of what constitutes keeping the Sabbath among Latter-day Saints. The real question is whether non-LDS living in a place where LDS are the dominant minority (SLC) or the majority (“Mormon corridor” as it is pejoratively denominated) are justified in taking offense when some LDS children regretfully decline a birthday party because their family happens to belong to the subset of LDS who do view birthday parties as proscribed for Sabbath observance. Why weren’t the people more culturally sensitive and aware that many or most Latter-day Saints don’t participate in recreational activities on Sunday? That could achieve much; arguably at least as much as Latter-day Saints acting against their religious convictions — their view of what their religious duties to God are — in order to soften their neighbors’ cultural gaffe.

  12. I don’t think attending a birthday party qualifies as recreation. I would classify it as fellowship, or missionary work. Yes, we need to draw a line somewhere, but I wouldn’t draw it here.

  13. Mark IV, I actually agree with you but see my # 11. I’d be interested in whether you have a view. You’re in Louisiana, right? Well, as such, don’t you have a general awareness of what is and is not important to the religious majority where you live? And do you make an effort to try not to trespass on the religious sensitivities of those of the dominant religious minority or religious majority? That seems the only sensible course. There is no reason for Latter-day Saints to be made to feel bad about their brand of Sabbath observance in an area where they are the dominant minority. It seems legitimate to expect a modicum of awareness of the ways of the dominant minority where there is a defined dominant minority or religious majority.

  14. HD/JDC said:

    I can’t speak for the Northeast, but in the South this would never have been an issue. Sundays, being either family or religion days, are simply not days on which people have birthday parties.

    That’s not consistent with our experience in a very Baptist/Methodist suburb of Dallas. It seems like about half of the non-LDS birthday parties our children get invited to happen on Sunday. Often, the parties are scheduled for afternoon, since even most church-goers assume that no one could possibly still be in Church by 1:00 p.m.

    Unfortunately, it’s an issue for us, and we’ve taken the position that our kids don’t go to birthday parties on Sunday. (I’m not 100% committed to this position, and I’m sure there are various ways that it makes me a hypocrit.) Occasionally, we’ve succumbed to the idea that dance rehearsals and school events scheduled on Sunday are unavoidable, on the other hand.

  15. I have run into this exact example with my own dhilcren. We have almost always turned the party down for reasons and no one has ever been offended. In fact, my sons best friend now holds his parties on Saturdays so my son can come. To us it is just teaching the kids about keeping the sabbath holy.
    That said, we do often have friends over for dinner on Sundays, LDS and non alike. On the rare occasions we are with extended family on Sunday, we are almost always with them.

  16. I was informed that such a celebration qualified as recreation, which is proscribed on the Sabbath.

    If you really, really, really, really, really, really, really enjoy reading the scriptures, does it count as recreation?

    What makes an activity “recreational”?

  17. Mark N. – What makes an activity “recreational”?

    I think that is something for you and God to work out for yourself. As for our family, we currently don’t let our kids go to B-Day parties on Sunday. I understand that other Mormons have different views on the subject though and it doesn’t bug me.

    If the question in the post is about taking and giving offense over this subject I think that John F. is right that it is a two way street. But with any luck no one would be offended over a missed birthday shindig.

  18. I think it is perfectly reasonable for Mormons to disagree about finer points of Sabbath day observation. If a certain family doesn’t let their children play with non-family members, I’m not going to begrudge them that. I’m not going to condemn the sports enthusiast who watches a game on Sunday or the folks that insist on wearing church clothes all day.

    I also think that anyone who gets hurt by such religious observation has bigger issues to deal with.

  19. This kind of reminds me of the tithing discussion. Sabbath Observance has a lot of grey in it eh?

    BTD Greg. I live in a similar suburb in dallas. No Sunday birthday party invites. At least not yet. They are always on Saturday.

  20. I don’t see a problem with birthday parties on a Sunday, as long as it is in a home, and not, as one said at Chucky-Cheese. We invite friends over for dinner on Sundays (without some kind of spiritual message passed along), so why should there be a concern about a birthday party?

  21. I would probably have reservations about letting my kids go to a rowdy birthday party with rowdy games on a Sunday. I’m not exactly sure what I would decide if faced with that situation. But, while I wouldn’t completely disregard the possibility of hurting the feelings of the hosts, that consideration would have to take a back seat to questions of obedience to commandments.

  22. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    My two cents:
    Visiting with friends on the Sabbath is acceptable. A party, with dozens of people and all the hubbub and bustle associated with it, is not. It’s a matter of focus. On Sunday we’re supposed to be focusing on God. We can do that by tending to His sheep (fellowshiping and such to give it a “Sabbathy” sounding name) but I’d say that focus is lost when 10 or 20 kids are running around, ripping open presents and trying to smash a pinata. (Not to mention the work the parents and other adults are doing to keep everyone safely entertained. It’s their choice to do so but it’s also my choice to keep the commandments as I see them.)

    I think anyone offended by someone’s choice to bring the present but regretfully decline the party due to personal convictions– in the “Corridor” or out of it– has a chip on their shoulder.

  23. re: 14 & 19 In Atlanta, birthday parties, graduation parties and all other kinds of parties are regularly scheduled on Sundays. And, in the South, buffet style restaurants are filled to capacity between 12 and 2 after Sunday morning services are finished.

    What about Saturday night birthday parties that are also sleepovers? That’s been a tough one in our home.

    I’ve never lived in the Mormon corridor, but hopefully people there will respect different religious traditions/practices without taking too much offense. Outside of the Mormon corridor, where the roles are reversed, we do it all the time.

  24. Tom,
    Funny though, what exactly is the “commandment” here? “Keep the Sabbath Day holy”? The only scriptural definition for that comes from the OT, and based on the OT, we are all badly breaking the Sabbath. The “Lord’s Day” is not an exact equivalent of “Sabbath.” (And I’m not just talking about the Saturday/Sunday thing.)

    Sam, another post, please…

    As to the main point. I dunno. I’ve never lived in a place where I’m in a religious majority, so I don’t know.

  25. I think your friends response was appropriate. They brought over gifts to communicate, “we really wanted to come and value your friendship” and they also communicated their need to properly observe Sunday (for their definition of properly).

    If they were being elitist, they just wouldn’t have gone and would have made no effort to communicate why.

  26. Jonathan Green says:

    Good point, Ronan. What does “keep the Sabbath holy” mean, anyway? Why won’t the Mormon Church explain what it really teaches? Where can we find some straight answers about this secret doctrine?

  27. Ronan: what exactly is the “commandment” here? “Keep the Sabbath Day holy”?

    Yes.

    The only scriptural definition for that comes from the OT, and based on the OT, we are all badly breaking the Sabbath.

    Yeah, but we have some additional guidelines as to how to follow the principle in our day. Whatever the original intent or meaning of the 4th commandment, we have been taught by modern prophets that we should set Sunday aside as a special day. Determining how to apply the principle in our own lives is such a personal thing that I won’t try to influence anyone that the way I think it should be done is better than the way others think it should be done. My main point is that to me Sabbath observance, however that is defined, is a more important consideration than whether someone is offended that you missed their party. There are “Ox in the mire” situations where Sabbath observance would not take precedence, but for me, that’s not one of them.

  28. cj douglass says:

    Good point, Ronan. What does “keep the Sabbath holy” mean, anyway? Why won’t the Mormon Church explain what it really teaches? Where can we find some straight answers about this secret doctrine?

    I heard there’s a movie coming out to uncover the truth.

  29. #23, my solution to Saturday night sleepovers is to just pick up my child really late – for us that would mean 10:30 or so. The party part should be winding down and the child would just be missing the sleeping part (and breakfast). If you think drawing the “Sabbath” line at midnight is dumb, you can look at it as giving your child needed rest to make it through church. Or, just pick up your child in the morning after they’ve had a chance to eat breakfast with their friends.

  30. There is no reason for Latter-day Saints to be made to feel bad about their brand of Sabbath observance in an area where they are the dominant minority.

    I think this should apply within the Church as well. Living in “the Mormon corridor” myself, it never ceases to amaze me how differently different families view the Sabbath.

  31. Its been my exp. that different families have different standards regarding the sabbath. An Attempt to “whiteboard” a list of do nots in EQ or HP would very controversial to say the least.

    Families also change their own Sabbath standards over time.

  32. What about Saturday night birthday parties that are also sleepovers?

    We just don’t do sleepovers. :)

  33. Jonathan #26:

    Are you joking? I can’t imagine why you would want the church to come out with a list of approved and prohibited activities. There seem always to be people asking for difinitive positions on things like this; e.g. garment wearing, sabbath observance, tithe paying, birth control. Why? Is it so hard not to be commanded in all things?

  34. To comment on the original question, I think some people are hurt or bothered by actions in predominantly LDS areas that would not bother them in other areas. I believe we need to be extra sensitive and vigilant in trying to avoid anyone feeling like an “outsider”. I also think that in many cases non-lds people really need to be more tolerant and accepting. I grew up in a town that was probably at least 50% LDS, and remember a Halloween when I was about 6 that fell on a Sunday. The adults in our ward decided that the children could trick-or-treat on Saturday in order to keep the Sabbath. At one home, the woman who answered screamed at us for several minutes about this. For some reason she was highly offended. She scared me to death, with her enraged purple face, yelling “This is not Halloween! It’s the wrong day! This is AMERICA and you should trick or treat on the REAL Halloween.”

  35. Well, from experience here in Texas, it doesn’t seem to have hurt anyones feelings. The important part is that you deliver a gift and your regrets.

    That they have one less kid to pay a cover charge wherever the party is held, etc., makes the exchange even more obviously one driven by good faith.

  36. I fail to see how giving one’s regrets for personal reasons, whatever they may be, should be much of an issue regardless of who’s in the minority or majority. No one is ever compelled to accept an invitation.

    That said, I don’t think we’ve ever told our kids they couldn’t go to a Sunday birthday party.

  37. We decided to make an adjustment in our Sabbath observance policy when we lived in the Middle East and Friday was our Sabbath and the weekend was Friday/Saturday (back to school and work on Sunday). There wasn’t a day to do sleepovers (or Scout campouts, etc.) without using Sabbath evenings. So we adopted the Jewish sundown to sundown policy. Our Sabbath started Thursday night and went till sundown on Friday. I thought that kept the spirit of the law while allowing for the realities of the situation. But then, I’ll never hold my family up as a model of Sabbath observance.

  38. When I was on my mission in Louisiana, I knew some Mormons who had birthday parties on Sundays. I thought it was terrible, just terrible. Worse than that were the elders who attended a Saints game on a Sunday night and thought that nobody else knew about it.

  39. I have my knees, and I have enough reason and intelligence to help guide my family on sabbath day observance. I don’t need a list of thou shalt nots from the Church, nor do they want to provide one.

    Why is that Mormons often find comfort the closer we get to a mosaic law? Does it help prove piety (to ourselves and to others)?

    It was a beautiful day this past Sunday…first nice day in awhile. My family and I went to a playground and were pretty “rowdy” for a good two hours. We laughed a lot, and my wife and I shared some tender kisses and looks on the swing.

    When I asked my kids about their favorite part of the day before they went to bed, do you think it was sitting in Primary?

  40. Your post intrigued me. It touched on the question — why is there an us vs. them mindset in the first place?

    I’ve responded at: http://www.knowyourneighbor.typepad.com.

    Best,

    Whitney Johnson

  41. We’re slightly fluid when it comes to Sunday birthday parties. If it comflicts with church (which it probably does since we go from 1:00 – 4:00), obviously they can’t go. If it’s at a wild play center, they don’t go. If it’s at someone’s house, or a museum or something, they can go. Family birthdays or parties we always go to.

    As for being offended, we send along a gift ahead of time. No one seems to mind. We live in a place where almost NO one is a member of the church, or even a practicing Christian, for that matter, so this kind of thing does come up.

    I think if someone is living in a place like Utah where there’s obviously a dominant Mormon population, they should kind of expect that some kids won’t be able to go and not be offended at all. I mean, are they having their kid’s party on a Sunday as some kind of test? Am I going to invite my daughter’s Muslim friends to a big Friday night bash during evening prayers and then wonder why they can’t come? Seems a little silly.

  42. JA Benson says:

    Good point Whitney,
    Why is there an us vs. them? I think that it is our human nature/natural man to look for differences rather than similarities. You are right we need to quit with the “circle the wagons mentality” and find ways to be inclusive. I think that is what the Savior would have us do.

  43. The aforementioned discussion certainly appeals to the gnat-strainers on both sides. The gulf widens and deepens with the faithful, when there should be none. The atrophied “circle the wagons” mentality is a moot point; none in this generation have experience enough to discuss cogently. That fact that there is any controversy over such a silly concern also suggests that the faithful aren’t very. Too many have assimilated the counter-culture’s ‘tolerance’ dogma as justification for not understanding and applying the simple, powerful teachings of their Master.
    Regardless of location, thin-skinned men and women will take offence over anything and justify it with that which is at hand. The current hostage currency is “children.” Not one of the above should excuse themself for hiding behind the innocent and helpless in exchange for a decent, honest discussion. Me thinks you are about to “protest too much.”

  44. Melissa says:

    I think even having a discussion based on this topic is ridiculous! Do you think God sits around worried that your children are going to a birthday party on Sunday??? Don’t you think He is more concerned about where your heart is EVERYDAY??? I live in a predominatly Mormon city/area and am not mormon myself.However, I happened upon this while researching whether or not to include my daughter’s LDS friends to her party on a Sunday. I really would have rather had it on Saturday, but we just could not do it on a Saturday and the “clubhouse” in our neighborhood was not available, and a million other reasons that we had to turn to Sunday late afternoon…. I would hope that there is some other kind of reason besides wondering whether or not you are breaking some kind of sabbath law… Just the thought that there is so much discussion on it should make it the individual family’s choice. This is the same in any religion… including my own, where some of our friends probably will not attend and where we try to keep our Sundays, Family days (and we are not LDS!!!) But there has to be tolerance and acceptance of other people’s ideas and views…. Make the decision for your own family, not someone else’s!! I have made the decision to invite all the friends my daughter wants and let their families decide if that is okay with them! This discussion, while useful to me in determining my answer, seems useless and a bit stupid to those of you in the same Mormon faith, not trying to be unsensitive, just to the point….

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