Because I have grounded my ill-mannered eleven-year-old from her Primary class for the time being, she spends the second hour of church hanging out with me in the library, often reading old issues of the Friend and the New Era. I haven’t decided if she’s doing it primarily for entertainment or to look for further evidence that the Church is stupid, but in any case, it keeps her off the streets.
So last Sunday she found something in an old issue of the New Era that disturbed her. (And by “disturbed her,” I mean “caused her to yell out something controversial in front of the chalk-and-eraser-borrowing multitude.”) It was an article by a general authority about marriage and dating, and tucked into a section on not having pre-marital sex was a paragraph about two controversial topics that I won’t name here because they are contentious issues and irrelevant to my larger point. Suffice it to say that my daughter disagreed vehemently with one particular sentence that the author had written, and when I read the sentence and its surrounding context myself, I discovered that I also disagreed with it–I daresay even vehemently, if you want to get technical about it–and I told her so.
My daughter was somewhat relieved that I was siding with her and wanted to expound on the wrongness of what the author had said, but time and circumstances did not permit me to indulge her in this. “Sometimes you’re going to come across things in church that don’t match up with your own values,” I said. “It’s upsetting, but you need to keep these things in perspective. Don’t let it ruin your day.”
“I know,” she said. “I know what the main point [of the article] is, and I agree with all of the other stuff it says. It’s just…” She stopped talking and went through the magazine until she found the page she wanted me to see. “It’s good, except for that one part.” And she handed me the magazine, which was opened to a Mormonad.
It was a picture of an ice cream sundae with a cockroach peeking out of the middle of it. “IT’S GOOD,” read the caption, “except for one part.” Touche, my dear. Touche.
I admit it, I laughed. And my daughter laughed, too. That was the end of that conversation.
I have reflected on it since then–and not just because that cockroach lurking in the ice cream haunts my dreams. We’ve all seen or at least heard about those object lessons where something vile is baked into the cake or other, otherwise-acceptable dessert–it’s good, except for that one part–the point being that you wouldn’t eat Jell-O that had cat feces in it, so why would you subject yourself to media that has inappropriate language or images in it? Who cares how good the rest of it is? Better just to avoid the whole thing. Of course, not everyone is so fastidious about what they ingest. I know plenty of folks who would have no qualms about eating around the cat feces, literally and figuratively, but the visual is undoubtedly stunning, nonetheless.
Of course there are significant differences between a Hollywood movie and an article in the New Era. One is designed primarily to entertain and the other is designed primarily to instruct and edify–which is not to say that the entertaining can’t be instructional and/or edifying or that the instructional can’t be entertaining, but the primary purposes are still different, and that matters. But the way my daughter turned that Mormonad on me impressed me because I don’t think she was really trying to be clever. My daughter tends to take things at face value. Here was an image that illustrated how she felt about the article, so she used it. Certainly she appreciated the irony, but irony wasn’t her objective.
Fortunately, my daughter has enough common sense to realize that one false statement does not automatically render all of a speaker’s message worthless. Whether or not it’s okay to watch a movie with one bad scene or dig around the cat poop in the Jell-O is a question I’ll leave to the philosophers. As of now my daughter is more concerned with how much it should matter that she disagrees with a church authority on any particular thing.
I tell my daughter that she is perfectly within her rights to disagree–out loud, even–with things she’s taught at church. For one thing, she’s there to learn, and if something doesn’t make sense to her or sit right with her, she should ask for an explanation, politely and respectfully. (It’s the politely-and-respectfully part that challenges us currently.) For another thing, sometimes people say things at church that are just plain cuckoo, and I’m a firm believer in not letting the cuckoo slide in such settings. But if we are at church to learn, we need to have some humility. That’s where things get tricky.
People called by God are still human; therefore, they can still be wrong. Even the prophet can be wrong. We aren’t required to take a leader’s word for it; technically, we only have to take the Holy Ghost’s word for it. But the higher up on the chain of authority a speaker is, the more circumspect I tend to be about dismissing a statement as wrong. But it can still be wrong. And in that case, I believe it’s important to say so–with humility, bearing in mind that I’m also human–because when you’re in the business of preaching God’s word, you can’t be keeping cockroaches in your ice cream. Because that’s just gross. And ice cream was meant to be enjoyed.