Welcome to Agreeable, a bimonthly advice column in which I will tell you, dear Reader, as to whether your planned course of action is “agreeable” or “hmph”. Direct your questions (max 200 words, please!) to the admin address (see ‘About’, above) with the subject line “Agreeable”.
Consider the following example: A young woman–someone who is not deeply committed to the church, though she was raised in it, but who nonetheless respects it and wants to be part of this faith community–has just arrived as a new member in a typical YSA ward. She has just arrived because she has spent most of the past year living abroad, where among many other challenging and enlightening experiences, she became a devout fan of tea. Tea (black tea, the real stuff, no herbal substitutes, thank you) every morning; that’s her routine. She will soon, as a new member of the YSA ward, be invited into an interview with the bishop who will want to get to know her a little–and, of course, it is entirely possible, perhaps even likely (seeing as how the YSA ward frequently organizes temple trips, and this young woman does not have a recommend), that a question about the Word of Wisdom will come up. When it does, I hope that the YSA bishop won’t make it into a thing. What do you think?”
Agreeable. What if Amanda Knox’s biggest problem was that she picked up tea drinking while abroad? On the definitive ranking of commandments, tea drinking comes in at #63. There isn’t a bishop in the world who doesn’t have bigger fish to fry than a tea-drinking YSA. If the topic comes up, the bishop would do well to talk about what drinking tea means in different contexts. This woman incorporated tea into her daily routine while living abroad, presumably because it was a regular part of the culture she was visiting. In some places, to refuse a cup of tea places a person firmly on the outside of a culture. Tea can signal hospitality, relaxation and tradition. Within Mormon culture, a culture the woman was raised in and presumably understands, tea symbolizes something else entirely. The young woman herself likely recognizes that not conforming to church norms makes it more difficult to be fully integrated in the faith community. While discussing cultural expectations the bishop should personally affirm that he wants the woman to continue her participation in Mormonism and encourage her to maintain her ties to the faith community that she still honors and wants to be a part of. He should warn her, however, that—human nature being what it is—not everyone is going to withhold judgment about her real or perceived peccadillos.