Monday, March 18, 2013

Elders Quorum Comments

Sometimes I espouse strident opinions in Elders Quorum. It's easier to do living in a ward where everyone has been waiting for me to move out since the day I moved in.

Once when I was the instructor, a quorum member was upset by my defense of what he would consider hypocrisy. He said, "Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another." I said, "No it's not. Hypocrisy is having a more-lax standard for myself than I have for others. But if I'm a smoker and I realize it's wrong, the first thing I'll do is say, 'I shouldn't smoke anymore,' and then I'll probably have another cigarette at some point. That's not hypocrisy, that's human weakness and the learning process. We should all have goals that are beyond our current abilities. Your definition of hypocrisy would have me set no goals I can't currently reach, which aren't goals at all. We should all 'say one thing and do another' because the 'saying' is how we start changing the 'doing.'" He wouldn't give in. To this day, he's still wrong.

Yesterday's lesson was about perfection. The standard member would say something like this, "We're commanded to be perfect (Matt. 5:48), which is not possible in this life, but I can be perfect in keeping an individual commandment." I've been hearing this comment more and more over the past five years or so. Usually the particular commandment given as an example is the law of tithing.

I contend that the standard member is both being too lenient and too strict at the same time. The problem starts with a misguided time-frame for compliance with the commandment to be perfect. It is a destination to guide our movement, not a location to occupy. It is acknowledged that we cannot be perfect in this life, as even Christ implies when he delivers a modified Sermon on the Mount to the Nephites (3 Ne. 12:48). As a mortal, he gave the commandment to be perfect like his Father; only after his resurrection was he himself perfect.

Once the standard member thinks he must be perfect in this life, he has to develop a way of handling the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing his own imperfections. So he tells himself, "I will be a perfect tithe payer," or "I will be a perfect keeper of the Word of Wisdom." Even this, though, is flawed, because to congratulate himself on his perfection, he has to redefine the particular commandment. So he writes a check for ten percent of his direct deposit and thinks he's grabbed a tiny bit of perfection. But is that really the Law of Tithing? No, it's not. It's an over-simplification that ignores the command to donate all "surplus property" (see verse 1; verse 4 begins "and after that...") and defines "interest" more narrowly than the scriptures do.

Or he eschews alcohol, tobacco, and coffee and slaps himself on the back. But is that really the Word of Wisdom? No, it's not. It's a caricature that focuses on the things he's doing and completely ignores the things he's not. What of grains, fruits, and the sparing use of meat? He ignores those to focus on Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which the church says are okay.

If you think you're keeping a commandment perfectly, you have room to better understand that commandment. The standard member is intentionally avoiding a deeper understanding because with it comes a new benchmark against which he can't currently measure up.

So the standard member's idea of perfection is more strict than what the Lord actually requires, and his way of dealing with that is to be more lenient than the Lord would have him be.

Make your peace with your imperfection; we are not commanded to be perfect in this life, but to have our faces constantly pointing towards perfection, our overall goal. Stop trying to define spheres in which you are perfect, which only holds you back from advancing beyond your current abilities.

I made these points during yesterday's lesson. No one appreciated them (except for the instructor, who just wanted a discussion to happen). I was reminded of a high school friend who said to me once, "You like to stir the [excrement] just to make it stink." Indeed, I do. I stirred it yesterday. And the stink was glorious.


The sort-of Republican said...

Your position is not really controversial. I can easily agree with what you are saying without invalidating any of the principles of the gospel, so why shouldn't it be true? After all, since none of us really understands perfection, a debate about its nature can only serve to have us all contemplate that very subject, which seems like a good thing.

I'm not sure about the goodness of the stink...

Angela said...

I wish you were in my ward. Church would be way more fun, and your kids are super cute too.