Neighbors and stumblingblocks

Over at T&S, Rosalynde Welch responded to a provocative (and obnoxious) assertion I made that we need not care what the neighbors think with a discussion of Romans 14:13-15. (Sorry for keeping this going, but I found I had a lot to say about it and didn’t want to pack on a massive response.)

The general gist was this: if what you do is a stumblingblock for someone’s faith, don’t do it, even if it is not a sin. The discussion was interesting, and I went out last night feeling edified.

I went out and chaperoned a school dance, and at midnight I gave my nonmember female colleague a ride home. She lives a few blocks from us, and her family and our family spend a lot of time together, including some church social activities. Thinking about the post, it occurred to me that if someone were to see me driving in a car with this woman after midnight, they could easily make an assumption about a temple-recommend holding bishopric member which might be a stumblingblock. And yet I have examined my conscience and regret nothing. I cannot be convinced that leaving a friend, regardless of age or gender, standing at a taxi stand in the middle of the city at midnight could be the right thing to do. I know there are GA anecdotes and policy statements; I don’t care. Explaining it to her would be impossible and would maybe end our friendship, and certainly retard any progress toward sharing the gospel. I cannot imagine Christ saying to Mary Magdelene, ‘Stop hanging around so much — people will get the wrong idea.’ (Which, incidentally, they did.) (Or did they?)

This is a stumblingblock based on appearances. I still maintain this is not really my problem. If someone did see me, they can ask me to explain or give me the benefit of a doubt.

Paul seems to be pointing out that different people will have different reading’s of the Lord’s law that are not significant to Him, but which are defining to individuals. If I read this correctly, some people were choosing not to eat meat, and Paul is saying, among other things, ‘It’s not required, but don’t judge them.’ Good point, and I stand in need of repentance for judging hairshirt Mormons, Coke-avoiders, etc. Then he says, rather cryptically, ‘But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably.’ He seems to suggest not eating meat to avoid putting out the stumblingblock. I can see his point and the abstract principle, but I can’t see the application beyond the specific situation. If I’m not judgmental, how can I know what others will judge? How can I know what individuals will read into the law? Isn’t the stumblingblock in the eye of the beholder?

Even if we’re aware of the stumblingblocks, there are problems. Let me use a real example. We all know people that would think it was wrong for an active member to read Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. I think we agree that the Lord doesn’t mind if we do, and He probably doesn’t mind if we don’t. So we want to follow Paul’s admonition. Which do we do?

A. Don’t read it.
B. Only read it in private, so nobody will see us, and hide the copy when members drop by.

Neither seems satisfactory. I actually think the verse is too obscure to apply, and the stumblingblock is the judgment in the first place. As a result, I would add this:

C. Read it and talk about it, but not in a way that makes someone feel stupid or sinful for not reading it.

Comments

  1. First time poster here – I couldn’t resist. Not my intention to get too off topic, but I was genuinely surpirsed by your assertion that “…..we all know people that would think it was wrong for an active member to read Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. I think we agree that the Lord doesn’t mind if we do, and He probably doesn’t mind if we don’t. So we want to follow Paul’s admonition. Which do we do?”

    You know people who think it was wrong for an active member to read RSR? Have those who think it’s wrong for an active Mormon to read RSR, have they considered the fact that Bushman is the patriarch in the New York, NY stake? I would say it’s not only right to read RSR, but should be a requirement for ALL active Mormons to read it cover to cover. For all the preaching we do of the restoration (which includes tons of JS and early church history), we ought to be required to know all pertinent facts concerning who, what, when, where and why.

    I haven’t read the original discussion you reference, but it seems slightly pharisitical to me to concern ourselves too much with what others think….and by extension, be motivated by the way things may appear. Sure, there is some common sense to be applied, but I believe we’re WAY to concerned with appearances.

  2. You people care entirely too much about what other people think.

  3. Mark IV says:

    Norbert, you obnoxious provocateur you.

    I’ve been puzzling over this as well. I find myself very much in sympathy with Rosalynde’s larger point, and I believe that we ought to do all we can to make gospel living easier for one another. But when I try to move from the theoretical to the specific, I run into many of the same problems you describe.

    Also, while I think we should have patience and bear with one another in our weaknesses, we need to remember that they are, in fact, weaknesses, and should not be indulged. They are a form of childishness, and childishness in adults needs to be curtailed, not coddled. My guess is that 10%-15% of a bishop’s time is spent with tattlers who report that sister so and so is doing this or that, or that brother so and so needs to be reprimanded for some perceived infraction. And 99% of the time, the correct response on the part of the bishop is to say something along the lines of: “Come now. This is beneath you. Please consider doing some growing up.”

    We also run into some interesting conflicts with our doctrines of agency and accountability. Let’s assume the worst and say that I saw you drive your colleague home late at night and that sight sets in motion a chain of events that ends with me in the bishop’s office confessing to the sin of adultery. If I were to tell the bishop that I stumbled into the wrong bed because I saw you in a car with your colleague, I hope he would have the good sense to laugh in my face. Anyone who expects to use the “Br. Kilmer made me do it” defense at the judgement bar is going to find it a very tough sell, I think.

    So, I agree completely with the idea that a callous attitude towards our neighbor’s struggles is a sin, and a threat to the church. But we are also warned specifically about unrighteous judgement and lack of charity, and both of those are probably present in someone who uses his neighbor’s behavior as a cover for his own transgressions.
    I conclude that when we are doing our best to do our best, we needn’t be unduly concerned about what the neighbors think.

  4. those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind

  5. I’m with Mark IV – I think it’s a balance. It seems that Paul was talking to a specific group of people who were deliberately flaunting their equivalent of Coke drinkage. They weren’t simply drinking Coke because they believed it wasn’t wrong, they were doing it in a way to provoke and taunt those who weren’t and those who weren’t drinking Coke were doing it in a judgmental way to provoke and taunt those who were. I think most of us have pet ideas that we use as weapons against those who don’t agree with us. Mine, for example, is modesty. I don’t like dressing my baby daughter in clothes that she shouldn’t wear when she is a teen or when she is endowed (such as sleeveless shirts.) I’m not an absolute fanatic about it, but it makes me uncomfortable. It would be wrong of me to preach this attitude as more righteous than the opposite. It would also be wrong of me to make a big deal about it, particularly if it makes someone feel uncomfortable at Church.

    You shouldn’t, however, do things you feel are wrong. I shouldn’t dress my daughter in sleeveless shirts just to show how tolerant I am.

    At any rate, that’s what I get out of it.

  6. A more clear reading of the verse occurred to me:

    But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably.

    If meat were metonymic for ‘focus on meat’ or ‘concern about the eating of meat,’ the whole thing would make sense. Paul would be saying, ‘If your brother is grieved because you’re bugging him about eating meat, that’s not charitable.’ The implication then is to not judge others.

    I’m no New Testament scholar, and I don’t read Greek, so I may be mingling the philosophy of Norbert with scripture.

  7. Somewhere in heaven Paul’s saying “Sheesh people just let it go!”

  8. Norbert, your story about giving a female colleague a ride home puts me in mind of this old post of mine, where I reflect upon an almost identical situation. My conclusion? That the potential harm of being alone in a car with another woman (in terms of one’s own feelings and behavior, in terms the perceptions and thus judgments and thus actions of others who are perhaps struggling with certain issues, etc.) are going to be there anyway in one form or another no matter which action you take. As I put it:

    “As I see it, I am in no position to ascertain whether the good (or evil) which will certainly follow from my every act necessarily, in the eyes of God, is always worse (or better) than the evil which I tried to (or did not try to) avoid through inaction. To insist upon purity in one’s actions is only to guarantee a minimum of action, if not the complete absence of such. Refusing to associate with prostitutes is a very, very good way of making certain that you will never be sexually involved with a prostitute; it is also a guarantee that you will never, ever, lead a prostitute to the gospel. Is that worth it? Is that actually what God asks of us? I kind of doubt it.”

    Now that post was mainly about the idea of sin and “risk,” and that language doesn’t translate directly to the concerns of being a stumbling block for one’s neighbors. But, if we could somehow run the two arguments together, I don’t think what I said back then would be much different than what I said on Rosalynde’s original thread. The question should not be, in my view, how to protect one’s own freedom and choices from the unwarranted and (I think) false conclusions and assumptions of others, but rather should be a matter of how to negotiate the demands of the various communities we are committed to. I am part of wider human community; I am also part of a rather stricter church community. The church community says (sometimes, in some cases) that priesthood leaders shouldn’t allow themselves to be seen giving rides to women who are not their wives. But avoiding giving offense or being a stumbling block to my church community could, in this case, mean doing evil to someone who belongs to another community I am beholden to (and, in this case, involving as it did a colleague, more than one). Weighing my obligations to both, I think I would discern more positive good coming from acknowledging my commitment to the wider community than possible harm coming from an adherence, in this case, to the more narrow one.

    In short, I would say: avoiding neutral activities for the sake of not risking harm to others perceptions–usually the right thing to do; avoiding positive activities for the same reason–usually not.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I think RAF is right that it is a matter of negotiation of competing interests, which have to be weighed in each situation. We might come to different conclusions by changing the facts slightly (welcome to law school 101!).

    For my money, Norbert was quite right to give his friend a ride home. As RAF correctly points out, it is not that there was no risk involved (see Billy Crystal’s soliloquy to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally), but all things considered the risk of inappropriate behavior was low in that setting and justified the decision to give the woman a ride, especially since the risk of physical harm to her waiting alone to catch a cab late at night was simply unacceptably high.

    In the example I previously gave of driving a woman to church meetings, to be honest, at the time I didn’t even think about it. We were both on the Stake PA Council and had to go to Ward Council meetings throughout the stake to present some materials, and it never even occurred to me to take separate cars, especially since we needed the time to hone our presentation together.

    Now, she was a beautiful, engaging woman, and I can understand the concept of building a fence around the law. But context is also important; these trips took place early on Sunday mornings, and she had her toddler son in the carseat with us. The risk that we were going to be so overcome by mutual desire and go park somewhere was virtually nil. But maybe it would be a different situation if it involved giving her a ride home late at night after a Gold and Green Ball or something like that.

    I think it was Cheryl who, after my example, told of the missionaries not entering her house until her husband got home. They were of course following policy and doing what they are supposed to do; good for them. But that wasn’t the policy when I was a missionary (I think the theory back then was that as long as you were with your companion you had a built in chaperone), and I personally wouldn’t have the slightest problem with the missionaries waiting on the couch for me to get home for a dinner appointment, and neither would my wife.

    So I guess we all approach these situations differently with our own values and experiences as our guides.

  10. Um, guys, can’t you find a third person to ride with you? That would be the obvious remedy in that particular situation.

    On my mission we were also counselled not to be alone (that is the two of us) with a woman in a house or apartment. We were told to take another member or stake missionary with us on an appointment with a female with whom we were meeting. Again, usually not that difficult as a remedy.

  11. I think Dr. Seuss hit the nail on the head…

  12. Pretty Pauline says:

    As a single woman, I have to agree that it’s dangerous for a married man to ride in a car alone with a single woman, no matter what you think the circumstances are. I (and many women I know) have puposely arranged to “need a ride” or be in distress in some way in order to be alone with a man. It’s the oldest trick in the book!

    As for RSR, I can’t imagine any appearance of evil in reading it, but if someone objects to it, you should just throw it away. It’s not worth causing problems.

  13. I got a ride home once alone with a bishopric member. But it was ok, we kept a copy of Rough Stone Rolling on the seat between us the entire time. But that was ok too. It was face down.

  14. Rosalynde says:

    Norbert, your act of service to your colleague was a positive good, and I think you were you were right not to avoid it to protect the weaker Saints. In Frank’s useful language, the marginal benefits outweighed the marginal risks. But Paul doesn’t say anything about weighing benefits and risks, so I’m still not sure how to reconcile the passage with that escape clause.

    By the way, I don’t know any Saints who think it’s wrong to read RSR. If I did, I probably would not bring up the book in casual conversation, but might try to deepen the friendship to the point where we could have a conversation and reach a mutual understanding. In fact, a situation very similar to that arose with a sister in my ward (though not with specific reference to RSR), and although we still don’t agree, we enjoy a warm understanding.

  15. Rosalynde says:

    One last thing. You wrote, “I still maintain this is not really my problem.” It’s this attitude that puts me off far more than any practical application (and I suspect that we’d agree on most of those). I say that if we’re united in Christ’s body, any problem of a fellow-Saint is my problem too—albeit a problem that in some cases I willingly assume in order to pursue a positive good. I should take other steps afterward to try to reach an understanding with the weaker Saint.

  16. I am giving a talk on Sunday, and one of the points I will make, albeit indirectly, is that we walk a fine line in the Church. We always need to be aware of situations that bring potential harm, but we also, I believe, MUST do a better job of getting closer to each other, knowing each other more fully and deeply and intimately, and serving each other more personally. In order to do that, we need to expose ourselves to the “risk” such knowledge, service and intimacy bring. I think too often we lose the full glory of the potential of Gospel sociality by being overly worried about the risks of getting close to people – especially the publicans and sinners around us who pose the greatest risk.

    Having said all of that, I will not ride alone anywhere possible with a woman who is not related closely to me – unless there simply is no other viable alternative. I know my own temptations well enough, but I have no idea of hers. Not that I’m much of a temptation (balding and slightly overweight), but …

    Having said that :-) the Lord knows that when I am driving I will stop and help anyone I see who needs help (even a drop-dead gorgeous young woman or a raggedy, drunk-looking man) – unless I feel a prompting to not do so. I’m OK with that as my guiding rule for every situation I encounter.

  17. Latter-day guy says:

    Pauline,

    I hope you were just being sarcastic about throwing away the book. If someone is having problems with my reading a book of legitimate history by a faithful LDS member, I would say the problem lies firmly in their court. They ought to take care not to cause me offense over it; I might lose my testimony. ;-)

  18. One more point: I wish all of us could welcome anyone into our church meetings with open arms – a prostitute in full regalia, a slobbering drunk who stinks of alcohol and tobacco, the town bitty who has said nasty things about everyone she knows, the bully and the wife-beater and the hussy and the sanctimonious,judgmental goody-goody ad infinitum. We are nowhere close to walking properly that fine line (truly loving the sinner while truly abhorring the sin), and that might be the greatest condemnation we face – much more so than the types of caffeinated substances we consume, where we choose to eat our meals, what books we read, what blogs we frequent or who rides in our cars with us.

  19. I should take other steps afterward to try to reach an understanding with the weaker Saint.

    Rosalynde: I totally agree with that. The person for whom I am unwilling to take responsibility is the hypothetical witness who may or may not be watching me. Real members with concerns I want to talk to. I understand the risk/benefit idea, but I’m having trouble assessing the risk before the fact.

    About RSR: I thought I had read many examples of it being denounced. (It is virtually unknown here in Finland.) Replace Dialogue and it works the same.

    About being alone with a woman: Again, how does that work practically? How do you have that conversation with a nonmember?

    ‘I’m sorry, I can’t give you a ride home.’
    ‘Why not?’
    There’s a risk it will result in a sexual relationship.’
    or
    ‘If people from my church see me, it may weaken their faith.’

    Both sound unlike anything I could possibly say to people I know.

  20. Pretty Pauline says:

    Norbert: Hey Bob, I need to give Lisa a ride home, you mind coming along?

    Bob: Not at all Norb.

    Norbert: Thanks.

  21. If there is no other alternative, there is no other alternative. Again, I try to follow the counsel whenever possible, but the Spirit always.

  22. Elouise says:

    When Elder Vaughn Featherstone was Presiding Bishop, he told this incident at a BYU Devotional:
    The previous week, he had been driving in downtown SLC and noticed Belle Spafford, then President of the General Relief Society, hurrying along in the pouring rain towards the Church Office Building. Bishop Featherstone was all set to pull over and give her a ride, but then the issue you focus on came to the forefront of his mind, and he did not stop. I believe at the time Sister Spafford was just about old enough to be Bishop F’s grandmother, but perhaps that is not relevant. What may be relevant is the reality of who they were v. the power we often readily give to those who value neither reality, reason, nor reputation.

  23. John Williams says:

    For what it’s worth I think the Boston Globe said Mitt Romney’s favorite drink was Vanilla Coke, and he was a stake president.

  24. Pretty Pauline says:

    If there is no other alternative, there is no other alternative

    Or, you’re just not looking hard enough. I wonder why?

  25. John Williams says:

    Pop quiz: Coke is OK
    by Alex Beam, Boston Globe, 1/16/2003

    Several Globe readers questioned my friend Joseph Kahn’s reporting from the recent Mitt Romney inaugural, where he described the incoming governor’s fondness for Vanilla Coke. Impossible! several readers said; a church-attending Mormon would never drink a Vanilla Coke-or any caffeinated beverage, for that matter.

    In the interests of accuracy and broadening understanding among the world’s great religions, I conducted an inquiry.

    “The Church’s health code,” spokesman Dale Bills e-mailed from Salt Lake City, “called the Word of Wisdom, is contained in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The revelation prohibits the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages (‘strong drink’) and ‘hot drinks’ … The only official interpretation of the term ‘hot drinks’ as used in the revelation is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term means tea and coffee.

    “On questions not specifically addressed by Church teachings, members are expected to exercise wisdom in applying the principles of good health. Soft-drinks containing caffeine fall into the ‘exercise wisdom’ category. They are not specifically restricted, but many Church members voluntarily avoid them.”

    A spokeswoman for Romney confirmed that the governor (1) does not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes; (2) does not drink tea or coffee; (3) does drink Vanilla Coke; and (4) doesn’t really want to address religious questions.

  26. Pretty Pauline says:

    LDG #17:

    I don’t like sarcasm because it can be misperceived by others and cause a stumbling block. I don’t use it. My Mission President told us once that there is no place for sarcasm in the gospel of Christ. That’s one reason I avoid commenting on these blogs, there’s just too much sarcasm masquerading as humor. In this case, though, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. norbert needs to just admit he is wrong and Rosalynde is right.

    I hope you are not saying that you value some book over your brothers and sisters in the gospel. That would be directly contrary to many admonitions in the scriptures.

  27. Gavin Guillaume says:

    Regarind RSR and appearances …

    My father devoured RSR, albeit wrapped in a brown paper wrapper. He also finally started using email just so he could communicate with his buddies at FARMS (as phone calls and typed letters were becoming too cumbersome).

    My mother refused to even admit that Dad was reading RSR and would get very upset when he’d discuss it on the phone. I think she probably stopped him from even buying it — he had to use his emeritus professorship status to get it on interlibrary loan. I don’t know for certain, but I’d suspect that Mom even discussed Dad’s reading RSR with the bishop…

    Mom’s family are devout Utah Mormons (or is that devout Mormons in Utah? I can never tell the difference). Dad’s family are mostly active (at present) Mormons in Utah and they tell better stories at family reunions.

    Mom banned cola drinks growing up — “the appearance of evil”. We didn’t play with face cards. We didn’t use swear word replacements. We didn’t criticize anyone, let alone our leaders (although, it was OK for Grandma and Grandpa to bash democrats in the family newsletter).

    My wife is the daughter of converts, respectable and notable Utah Democrats. Apparently at one time they didn’t drink cola (boy, that changed). The only soda my wife can drink with getting physically ill is a caffeinated drink. When we visit my parents, we bring our own soda — and my Dad sidles up to my wife and asks if he can steal one (without my Mom around). Dad uses his interlibrary loan priveleges to read a lot of controversial books. Dad was apparently a great poker player working on summer road engineering crews in the late 50s.

    Dad tells with glee his story about Elder Sterling W. Sill visiting a stake during his mission that was bitterly divided over the topic of cola drinking. He recounts how Sill pulled out a coke from a brown paper bag, took a long drink, then set it down on the pulpit and asked, rhetorically, “Now am I going to hell?”

    When my Dad met my mom, he gave up his “evil appearances” for a couple of decades. He’s more open with his reading now (although, he refuses to play cards still).

    My Dad’s family was labor. My mom’s family was management.

    And that, my friends, explains my upbringing in the Church. Ripped away from the family strongholds in the shadows of the Mormon fortress, raised in the Mormon ghost towns of our early history, brought up with a trembling imbalance between the pragmatic and the principled.

    My dad might recognize his description here (I told him about this site once). If so – Hi, Dad! I’m fairly confident my mother’s family doesn’t know this site exists (unless Utah stakes are now including it as a resource in their bulletins).

  28. Gavin Guillaume says:

    (Wow, I can’t type today. Sorry.)

  29. Latter-day guy says:

    Pauline,

    Do brothers and sisters include those within the wider body of Christianity? If so, I have brothers and sisters who are concerned by my reading the Book of Mormon. Should I throw it away? I think not.

    If brothers and sisters are only those within the LDS church proper, why do their opinions count more? Are Mormons natually better Christians with more real concerns? Are they less fallible?

    If someone is going to let my reading a book cause them to stumble, I might be able to suggest what the problem is: they aren’t firmly on the path! They have some beams that need looked after.

    I certainly hope I don’t shatter testimonies with my reading choices, but then again, I doubt God would allow such ridiculous people into His presence in the first place; they probably annoy Him as much as they do me. (And yeah, that was sarcasm.)

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    Huh, I’m flummoxed that anyone would consider RSR an “appearance of evil.” I know some Saints, somewhat begrudgingly, will admit to not liking it because it doesn’t have the Legacy vibe they’re accustomed to. But antagonistic, anti or evil? Wow.

  31. And that, my friends, explains my upbringing in the Church. Ripped away from the family strongholds in the shadows of the Mormon fortress, raised in the Mormon ghost towns of our early history, brought up with a trembling imbalance between the pragmatic and the principled.

    And that sounds like a great novel in the making!

  32. Kevin: after what we saw from the rank and file following the PBS docs, you can still feign surprise at this?

  33. Pretty Pauline says:

    Do brothers and sisters include those within the wider body of Christianity?

    No. I was speaking of our brothers and sisters in the Church because that was the context of the discussion. Please try to follow along.

    Are Mormons natually better Christians with more real concerns?

    Naturally, that depends entirely on the individual.

    LDG, you seem a bit vexed. That too is proscribed by the scriptures. Perhaps you should do a little more reading there and come back later after you have cooled down.

  34. #24 & #26, Pretty Pauline, I am neither vexed nor vigored nor vimmed. I’m pretty laid back by nature, and now is no exception. Let me address your response directly, with no sarcasm whatsoever.

    You state in #26 that you do not use sarcasm, yet your first comment in #33 (“Please try to follow along.”) is VERY sarcastic, as is the following, although less so than the first one. (“That too is proscribed by the scriptures. Perhaps you should do a little more reading there and come back later after you have cooled down.”)

    You state in #24 that I must not be trying hard enough to find alternatives if, in fact, there are RARE cases when I can’t find one. Let me give you a few cases from my own life – real examples, not hypotheticals – to try to illustrate what I mean.

    1) I was driving to church one day in the greater Boston area. I was serving as the Seminary Teacher for a multi-ethnic Asian branch, so I was traveling alone, while me wife and children attended our home ward. I was in a sparsely populated area when I noticed the car head of me swerve violently and pull over to the side of the road. I stopped to see if the driver had had a heart attack or blown a tire. Actually, the driver (a young woman) had hit a squirrel and was having an extreme emotional and physical reaction. I had no cell phone; she desperately needed to be held and comforted; rather than tell her I couldn’t help her because I didn’t want anyone who was driving by to misunderstand, we stood outside her car so I could hold her and help her grieve for the squirrel – and get her emotions in order to continue driving. During the entire episode, I was praying silently in my heart, and that was the only option that felt right.

    2) One day in Cambridge Square, a homeless man who obviously had been drinking asked me for spare change. I was very poor at the time with a wife and two children and, therefore, almost never gave money to anyone. I started to decline, but I couldn’t do so. I felt a strong inclination to give him my change, even though someone walking past might have seen my action as contributing to his status as a drunk. Given the strength of the impression to something I normally would not do, I gave him change. He almost cried when he thanked me, saying he hadn’t eaten in days and no one else would help him. He might have been lying, but I felt he was sincere – and was grateful for the impression.

    3) I kiss my wife (simply, not lustfully) regularly in church. I know some people in the ward disapprove and feel that it is scandalous, but my wife needs all the affection I can give her when she is feeling overwhelmed and stressed out – and that occurs sometimes at church.

    I could go on and on and on, but my concluding point is simply that I have said in this very thread and likewise in others that I try to follow the guidance we are given as strictly as I can – and that I teach my children to do so, as well. If you live in a world with no ambiguity and no conflicting circumstances, then I envy you. That is not sarcastic; I truly do envy you. That, however, is not the world most of us inhabit – including Jesus, if you read the New Testament and realize how often he was castigated for doing things that offended the “righteous” and the “orthodox” – for not avoiding people or situations that someone else termed “evil”.

    From the perspective of the Pharisees, Jesus put unforgivable stumbling blocks in front of his neighbors. Again, I say that doing good trumps looking good every time – and that I will follow the commands, counsel and Spirit as well as I can understand and perceive them in making that determination.

  35. Latter-day guy says:

    Pauline,

    I fear you have misunderstood me. I am, in fact, perfectly “cool” and not in the least “vexed.” If I didn’t know you better though, I might be tempted to see your “please follow along” as sarcastic, or supercilious. Of course, you didn’t mean it that way, but one must be careful of tone in a forum such as this. I am sorry my last cutsie comment bothered you.

    The question remains, however, do we not need to be concerned with being a stumblingblock to non LDS people? How much does our responsibility vary between members and non-members? Should we toss RSR only if it bothers a person in our church but ignore its possibility as a stumblingblock to others? Ought we to throw it away if it bothers any of our neighbors? For whom do you throw away a book, and what books? I am asking this as a legitimate question, so please don’t treat it dismissively. Given your previous responses I am interested to see where you would draw the line and why.

    What if I said, for instance, “Your previous comments were bothersome to me and injurious to my faith. You ought to recant for the sake of my soul.” Would you? Of course, I don’t expect you to as your comments wouldn’t bother me or my testimony, but hypothetically I am interested to know how far you let your decisions be ruled by others’ ability to take offense. Do “you value [your online statement of opinion] over your brothers and sisters in the gospel?”

    So I ask sincerely, where do you draw the line between reasonable avoidance of offence and silliness?

  36. If someone from my ward sees me doing something that makes it appear as though I am making a wrong choice, I think that person ought to give me the benefit of the doubt. It isn’t really anyone’s business what I’m doing and I shouldn’t be judged for drinking out of a cup from Starbucks. I refuse to alter my innocent behavior just so petty people won’t worry about what I’m doing – if they choose to care, well, that is their problem.
    If I saw a man in my ward giving a ride to a woman that wasn’t his wife, I wouldn’t ever assume anything was going on. And even if they were doing something wrong, it still wouldn’t be my business, and if I let it affect the way I lived my life, it would be my problem.

    BUT, most of my friends aren’t members of the church. Plenty of them don’t really know any Mormons, except for me, and so when it comes to being an example, I’m pretty much it. So, while I don’t care if anyone in my ward sees me drinking out of a cup from Starbucks, or holding a red cup at a party, I should maybe care what that looks like to people that don’t automatically assume that I’m making the right choices. If we have an obligation to keep up appearances, I don’t think it’s to other members, but to the people that don’t otherwise know what kind of lives we are supposed to be living.

  37. Thanks, Meg, for that very balanced response. That’s why I try to follow the guidelines but try to follow the Spirit, as well.

  38. Pretty Pauline says:

    Ray:

    I assure you that I am not being sarcastic. Since I don’t have any way to convince you of this, you will just have to take my word for it.

    Let me see if I understand you:

    You stopped to help a young woman and ended up hugging her, you gave money to a homeless man and you kiss your wife in church.

    None of those give the appearance of evil except the hug and I’m sure you could have avoided that if you had really tried. I’m sure your wife would rather you did. In fact, if I could counsel you just a bit, hugging strange women on the side of the road is asking for tons of trouble. You were lucky that time, but you shouldn’t do that again.

    As for the other situations, I heartily approve. In fact, the sin would be to do the opposite in those situations. The scriptures are very clear on those points.

    That, however, is not the world most of us inhabit – including Jesus, if you read the New Testament and realize how often he was castigated for doing things that offended the “righteous” and the “orthodox” – for not avoiding people or situations that someone else termed “evil”. From the perspective of the Pharisees, Jesus put unforgivable stumbling blocks in front of his neighbors.

    [Sigh] We’re going in circles. That has already been answered adequately on the other thread. I refer you there and defer to the greater wisdom of those commenters. I will just say that you are wrong.

    I say that doing good trumps looking good every time – and that I will follow the commands, counsel and Spirit as well as I can understand and perceive them in making that determination.

    I say you can generally do both and that the scriptures require that you not ignore the latter, as Norbert (and you) seem to be advocating.

  39. Pretty Pauline says:

    So I ask sincerely, where do you draw the line between reasonable avoidance of offence and silliness?

    Where the scriptures do, of course. I generally agree with one thing Meg says, that she has an obligation to non-members who may watch her actions, but why does she ignore her obligation to the members? Meg, it’s not just their problem, it’s yours too (according to the scriptures) that’s my point.

    The scripture that started this discussion (the second time) was the injunction that we not become a stumbling block for our brothers and sisters in the church. We should care about them enough to not harm them by our appearances, even if it means throwing out a book we like. People are always more important than books.

  40. Latter-day guy says:

    So would you recant your previous comments for my sake?

  41. Latter-day guy says:

    Seriously, though, I don’t think that the scriptures clearly show the line. What if the people are simply wrong or ridiculous (as in the case of being threatened by RSR)?

  42. John Williams says:

    Pauline, the problem is that you can’t please everyone.

  43. Pretty Pauline says:

    I don’t know you LDG, but if my comments are harming you, of course I would do whatever I could to help you. Of course, I can’t recant my beliefs, because they are a part of me, but if you would prefer I stop commenting here, I am happy to oblige you. Good-bye.

  44. Latter-day guy says:

    (Sorry to make this a multiple post.) My point is, who decides my actions are a stumbling block and when? Your unspecific appeal to the scriptures is not an answer, it’s a red herring. We are in agreement about the principle; I am asking about practicalities.

  45. Latter-day guy says:

    It seems I was too late.

  46. It’s funny, Pauline, how we can over-generalize and argue opposite sides of the same coin we both accept – and appear to be arguing different positions.

    1) My wife knows that I comforted that young lady – and the comfort included holding her (NOT “hugging her”) while she sobbed. She agreed completely with my actions, and her opinion (and the Lord’s) are the only ones I care about in that instance. I firmly believe I was directed to do so IN THAT EXCEPTIONAL INSTANCE, and I feel like I would have been denying the promptings of the Spirit if I had refused due to “appearances.” I have done so only once in my life – at the direction of the spirit, and I do not intend to do so again – unless directed by the spirit.

    2) Ironically, you proved my point by agreeing that my other two examples don’t give the appearance of evil. I assure you, I have had people tell me that each of those actions was and is wrong – that they are bad – that I was encouraging a man to drink and that I am promoting licentiousness among our youth by kissing my wife publicly. In your eyes and mine, they are innocent and perfectly acceptable; in the eyes of some, they are over the line and give the appearance of evil. Your agreement with me proves my point – that we can’t base our actions on how others perceive them.

    3) How can you say that I ignore “looking good” when I have told you I adhere strictly to the guidelines of the Church – with very rare exceptions when prompted by the Spirit?

    What I am trying to say, more than anything else, is that all of us need to avoid painting with too broad a brush – avoid imposing our own perspectives on others who obviously are living exemplary lives – stop basing our judgments on appearance and more on action – etc.

    I truly appreciate your perspective, Pauline, but I find it a bit too one-sided for me. I repeat, Jesus was castigated for “the appearance of evil” from the viewpoint of the Pharisees and the Scribes. He was castigated for moving among the outcasts – to them for “approving” of sinners. It torqued them that he did not think they were better than the publicans and sinners – that he would choose to associate with them over the “elite”. Yes, what he did was right and good – except in the eyes of some.

    That, I believe, is the point I and Norbert are trying to make – although I shouldn’t speak for Norbert. :-) We try to do what is right and project the appearance of right, but if the appearance gets in the way of the doing, then the doing is more important.

  47. Amen, LDG. We have been arguing opposite sides of the same coin – actually, probably the same side with differences about how often the other side will land when the coin is tossed into the air. (Never, verses occasionally)

  48. Gavin Guillaume says:

    @30 (Kevin Barney) –

    My mother considers any literature that in any way suggests that a Church leader was wrong (except in cases where the Church has copped to being wrong) to be anti-Mormon in nature, and thus evil, and thus not worthy of any discussion.

    Critical analysis of a leader = Negative tone = Evil speaking of the Lord’s annointed

    We read a lot of Paul H. Dunn and the New Era growing up. Then Paul H. Dunn disappeared :) — but not after some commentary from my mother about how he was railroaded.

    Lest anyone think I am criticizing my mother — let me acknowledge that she is remarkable. I’m just stating the facts as to where she stands on the topic of stumbling blocks and her treatment of RSR. She has exerted tremendous influence on the spiritual lives and testimonies of thousands of people where she lives through her service and example. She has been recognized by her community, her country, and by her alma mater for her service and talents. She’s the single best example of Christian service I personally know, inside or out of the Church. She’s also one of the finest teachers I know.

    But when it comes to standards – she’s very black-and-white. RSR bad. Coke bad. Face cards bad. New Era good.

    I don’t honestly understand how my father and my mother got together, sometimes, and neither do their own families.

  49. Ironically, Gavin, my own position also comes from parents who follow every word with exactness and NEVER speak ill of anyone, church leaders or anti-Mormon zealot. They are VERY careful of the appearance they project, but my father has gone into a bar, in his small Utah hometown where everyone who sees him knows him, to Home Teach someone who wouldn’t see him anywhere else. I know for a fact that some members thought he was “encouraging those who drink,” but there was no alternative, and, as he said, “the command to Home Teach is a more important than what someone might think of me going into a bar.”

    I believe in acting of my own volition without having to be commanded in all things. I believe Jesus, through the life he lived, taught that people are more important than appearances – as important as appearances can be. Remember, the only people He condemned were the hypocrites who projected an appearance of righteousness while living lives full of corruption. If worrying about maintaining a good appearance keeps us from accomplishing a good action, then I think we are in danger of acting like those hypocrites. That’s all.

  50. Latter-day guy says:

    Ray, surely you don’t mean to say that “you value [the commandments of the Lord] over your brothers and sisters in the gospel!” *gasp!* ;-)

  51. LDG, Very good; suitably subtle; gentle, yet barbed. I’m impressed!

  52. Pretty Pauline, is Prudence McPrude a first cousin or second cousin? (I assure you I am not being sarcastic.)

    Re: bars.

    One of my bishops told the story that in the small Mormon town in which he grew up, there were only two organized wards. Many of the men in town would drop their families at church, and wearing their overalls and John Deere hats, go down to the local bar/pub to visit (and some times have a drink or two, depending on time of day) while awaiting their families. The local bar/pub began to be known as the “Third Ward” (sort of like the “hall class” in Sunday School).

    One day a new stake president was called. A Sunday or two later, he put on his overalls and a John Deere hat and went down to the bar/pub. When his brothers there asked him what he was doing, he said something like, “As stake president I am supposed to visit all the wards and branches, so today I thought I would visit the Third Ward.”

    And, with this, figurative walls were dropped, heart-to-heart talks were held, and a good number of those brethren eventually “transferred” their memberships in the Third Ward to the First or Second Ward.

  53. It’s amazing, isn’t it, what happens when conversations move from the purely philosophical to the practical – from theory to reality. You can’t embrace sinners (or pretty young motorists) without, in someone’s eyes, embracing the appearance of evil.

  54. One more point, and I don’t mean this to point at any one person in particular – more at a syndrome I have observed. There is a fine line between believing in a Restoration of the True Gospel of Jesus and becoming smug in an assurance that everyone else – or their sincere opinion – is inferior. That balance is even harder to maintain the more widespread your own system of belief is where you live.

    I have no idea where everyone else who comment here live, or where their parents were raised, but I grew up in Utah County and have lived and worked in Japan and all around the United States – literally every region except the Northwest. Stereotypically, I have observed that the fewer wonderful people you know who do not share your beliefs, the more you assume that only your beliefs produce exceptional people. That’s true of Baptists, Catholics, evangelicals, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons and everyone else.

    That has direct bearing on how you define “the appearance of evil” – which has a direct bearing on how you approach this topic.

  55. Latter-day guy says:

    There is a story analogous to the hypothetical RSR situation, told to me by my brother. He was, one Sunday afternoon, listening the JS Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. A roomate came in and asked him if they might switch the music to something “more approprate for the sabbath.”

    My brother replied, “Well, this entire work is about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What would you suggest as more appropriate?”

    The absolutely sincere response: “Well, maybe something by Michael MacLean…” At which point, my brother drove him from the room like a money-changer from the temple. He was lucky he wasn’t killed.

    Moral: I’ll avoid the appearance of evil as long as everyone else avoids the apperance of moron.

  56. Latter-day guy says:

    Whoops. Sorry, JS Bach is cool, but not cool enough to merit his own article; “THE JS Bach”… Sheesh.

  57. Mark IV says:

    I got a ride home once alone with a bishopric member. But it was ok, we kept a copy of Rough Stone Rolling on the seat between us the entire time. But that was ok too. It was face down.

    Comment by Susan M — May 19, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

    Susan M,

    The appearance of your comment # 13 caused me to commit the sin of loud laughter.

  58. I was driving to church one day in the greater Boston area. I was serving as the Seminary Teacher for a multi-ethnic Asian branch, so I was traveling alone, while me wife and children attended our home ward. I was in a sparsely populated area when I noticed the car head of me swerve violently and pull over to the side of the road. I stopped to see if the driver had had a heart attack or blown a tire. Actually, the driver (a young woman) had hit a squirrel and was having an extreme emotional and physical reaction. I had no cell phone; she desperately needed to be held and comforted; rather than tell her I couldn’t help her because I didn’t want anyone who was driving by to misunderstand, we stood outside her car so I could hold her and help her grieve for the squirrel – and get her emotions in order to continue driving. During the entire episode, I was praying silently in my heart, and that was the only option that felt right.

    Oh, man. The things you miss when you take a break.

    So, um, that’s your story Ray?

  59. Ray, are you sure you haven’t lived in the Northwest? Cause (and I’m not accusing you of anything here) for a while, there were a lot of young women disappearing from the sides of roads up there. Come to think of it, they have a lot of squirrels up there too…

  60. and I’m sticking to it. I haven’t “lived” in the Northwest, he said cryptically, with a knowing smile on his face.

  61. MCQ, I want it on record that I intentionally let everyone know that I have not lived in the Northwest. You don’t need to look for gas receipts or rental car records – “you’ll just have to take my word for it” – believe me – please …

  62. Kevin Barney says:

    MCQ #32, good point. (g)

    Of course, I’m surprised that there are very many people with that perspective who are familiar enough with RSR to have an opinion about it. I am pretty sure the vast majority of my ward has no clue that the book even exists. The kind of folks who would be scandalized by RSR tend not to be big readers (not that those in my ward would be scandalized by it if they actually knew about it and read it; maybe the point is that Mormons in general aren’t big readers).

  63. Seriously now, I’m preparing my EQ lesson for tomorrow and maybe you guys can help. In case you haven’t read it (and you really should have before now) it’s here.

    It seems to me that this thread relates directly to tomorrow’s lesson (coincidence? you be the judge).

    It starts with this story:

  64. Sorry, here’s the story:

    President Spencer W. Kimball taught that the fight against Satan and his forces “is not a little skirmish with a half-willed antagonist, but a battle royal with an enemy so powerful, entrenched, and organized that we are likely to be vanquished if we are not strong, well-trained, and watchful.”1

    As a young missionary serving in the Central States Mission, he recorded in his diary an experience illustrating his resolve to withstand temptation. He was traveling on a train to Chicago, Illinois, when a man approached him. “[He] tried to get me to read a vulgar book with obscene pictures. I told him it didn’t appeal to me. He began tempting me then to go with him in Chicago and I knew he’d lead me down to hell. I shut him up but after he was gone I could feel myself blush for an hour. I thought—‘Oh! how hard Satan, through his imps, tries to lead young people astray.’ I thanked the Lord that I had power to overcome it.”

    So, should SWK have gone with the guy? By not going, wasn’t he missing out on a potential chance to convert him to the gospel or at least bear his testimony? Was he simply avoiding the appearance of evil?

  65. Kevin: I have found that the people who are scandalized by it have (uniformly) not read it. But that’s consistent. Those who were most scandalized by the PBS docs turned off the TV in the first few minutes.

  66. I think he was avoiding evil in one of its more obvious forms.

  67. The lesson is not about “avoiding the appearance of evil” per se, but the direct thrust of the lesson is consisent with that idea. In the words of the lesson, is failing to “avoid the appearance of evil” the same as “leaving the door ajar” or “letting the camel’s nose into the tent?”

  68. Ray, you are probably right, but isn’t this another instance where we are being warned of the power of satan and “avoiding the appearance of evil” is just good common sense? Or is ATAOE a completely different concept from what the lesson is talking about?

  69. I read the lesson and would say ATAOE relates IF you define “appearance” as “kinds” or “forms” or “manifestations” – not “anything that looks like evil to someone even if it really isn’t evil”. Given the way the lesson is structured, and since the Thess. verse is never referenced in it and the word “appearance” is never mentioned, I would hesitate to apply much of the discussion in this thread to the lesson.

    Having said that, I might be tempted to mention that Satan can disguise evil in physically attractive and/or intellectually appealing packages, so the Thess. verse applies with the Greek footnote about meaning. Paragraphs 5-8 of the 2nd section teach that basic concept.

  70. That’s an excellent comment Ray, thank you.

  71. You’re welcome. I’m headed to bed early tonight, so I wish you the best inspiration in your lesson prep.

  72. As a single woman, I have to agree that it’s dangerous for a married man to ride in a car alone with a single woman, no matter what you think the circumstances are. I (and many women I know) have puposely arranged to “need a ride” or be in distress in some way in order to be alone with a man. It’s the oldest trick in the book!

    I don’t understand why this situation would relate particularly to a single woman — or a woman at all for that matter; why not a man. Depending on one’s sexual orientation, the choice to give into tempation would be the same.

  73. riki tiki taki says:

    I don’t understand why this situation would relate particularly to a single woman — or a woman at all for that matter; why not a man.

    Indeed! We know that in many communities the missionaries are thought to be gay because of their constant companionship and cohabitation (of course they can’t see that they ‘sleep in the same room but not the same bed’). The church PR dept should act quickly and recommend Elders and Sisters serve together in companionships to ensure there is no confusion about the ‘one man and one woman’ principle!

  74. I just checked back in before logging off and going to sleep. Please, no humor-impaired responses to rtt while I slumber.

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