On Actually Obeying—or Trying to—Rather Than Simply Appearing to, and On Obeying Because I Want To, Not Because I Have To—On Truly Surrendering My Will to God
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: This was cross-posted on Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board. Faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tithe, paying 10% of their income to the Church. This post was in response to a query about whether someone could “game the system” by paying directly to Church headquarters rather than to one’s local congregation (we call it a ward). I’ve never been a financial clerk in the Church’s lay ministry (Lord, I’ll do anything, but not that, OK?) but I don’t see how it would be possible. A local congregation would still need to know how much someone contributes for the year even if those contributions were made directly to headquarters rather than to the local unit, because every ward is audited: they’d need some way of ensuring that there are no unexplained discrepancies between contributions to the unit and outlays by the unit. But even if “gaming the system” were possible, I explained why it wouldn’t be necessary even if one didn’t want to pay tithing. Speakers for the main meeting every Sunday (Sacrament Meeting, in which we partake communion) are chosen from the congregaton, and are asked in advance by a member of the Bishopric (pastorate). My interlocutor also questioned whether such participation really is voluntary.
If the only thing that matters to someone is appearances, one can make a show of paying tithing by handing an envelope containing some token amount (an amount not representing a full tithe) to a member of the Bishopric (pastorate) every month, lie to one’s Bishop and Stake President (leader of a group of congregations) to obtain a Temple Recommend (required to enter one of the faith’s temples), and skip tithing settlement (an annual meeting for tax purposes with the bishop/pastor to make sure that the Church’s records and the individual’s records of how much he contributed agree) every year (or even, if one has the temerity, attend tithing settlement every year and lie through one’s teeth that the $100 [or whatever the token amounts in those envelopes handed to the Bishop add up to] represent a full tithe for Brother Cheatham, partner in the Law Firm of Meetem, Cheatham, Beatem, and Run). There’s no need for one to go to the great lengths of taking advantage of an obscure, apparently little-used procedure (paying directly to headquarters) in order to do that.
[In response to an implication that it seemed as though a member of the Bishopric had “twisted arms” to recruit a certain couple to speak in Sacrament Meeting the following week (speakers are drawn from the congregation), I said:] Perhaps recruiting speakers for every week is a much more difficult, much different procedure than I envision, but I can only speak to what I know. As my ward’s Executive Secretary, I’ve been given the responsibility for asking people to give opening and closing prayers in Sacrament Meeting every week. I don’t have an AR-15. I don’t have a Glock-9 automatic pistol as a backup weapon. I don’t have any body armor in case people are tempted to punctuate their vehemence about avoiding praying in Sacrament Meeting with violence involving their own use of ammunition. I ask, and they tell me either, “Yes.” or “No.” When they tell me no, I don’t put them on the naughty list. I don’t mentally consign them to the seventh circle of Hell. I don’t run and tattle to the Bishop recommending that excommunication proceedings be commenced forthwith. I don’t even think less of them, or love them any less as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I simply conclude that praying in Sacrament Meeting isn’t Brother or Sister Hickenlooper’s cup of [herbal!] tea and ask someone else.
Now, perhaps, as I said, getting speakers lined up is a much different deal, and maybe current or former Bishops and Counselors can speak to that. But I don’t imagine it’s much different: “Brother Hickenlooper, will you speak next week in Sacrament Meeting on the topic of Tithing as Fire Insurance?” “No, you’d rather not? Well, we’ll look forward to seeing you next Sunday, OK?” [Former] Bishops and Counselors, what about it? Are you armed? Do you wear body armor? Do you put those who refuse on the naughty list, consign them to the seventh circle of Hell, or initiate excommunication proceedings?
I don’t do [or refrain from doing] something (like paying Tithing) simply because I won’t be able to have my ticket into the temple stamped, “Worthy! Admit One!” (Or at least, I don’t do/not do these things solely for that reason, even if it is one reason why I do them.) I once saw a banner in a Seminary building [Seminary is the Church’s scripture study program for high-school age youth] that left a great impression on me (although I forget which one of the Prophets said it; I think it was President Ezra Taft Benson: “The day obedience becomes a quest and not an irritation (“Don’t grumble, Ken!” Heh-heh!) is the day we gain power.” I do these things because (1) they fill my soul, even if I do sometimes grumble a bit beforehand about doing them; and (2) because, when it comes right down to it, the Lord has given me everything I have, save one thing: He’s given me my family, my health, my home, my possessions, et cetera, ad infinitum. The only thing I have left to give to Him that He didn’t give me in the first place is My Will.
Update, July 3, 2013: On Obedience, God’s Love, and His Trust: On The Difference Between The Two, and On Why A Mormon Might “Let” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “Micromanage” Him
By Ken K. Gourdin
From Mormon Apologetics & Discussion Board today, here is another poster’s laundry list of ways the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints micromanages its members’ lives, followed by my response:
[As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you are:]
- Told what you can wear or must wear while sleeping
- Told how to spend Monday evenings
- Told how to spend10% of your money
- Told what sexual acts in marriage are and aren’t acceptable
- Told when to start a family
- Told how to dress in everyday life (modestly)
- Told how to spend your time on Sundays
- Told how NOT to spend their time on Sundays
- Told what NOT to drink
- Told when and how to do Charity work
- Told when to visit neighbors (HT/VT)
- Told what to read
- Told what NOT to read
- Told what to do when you first wake in the morning
- Told what you’re to do just before going to bed
- Suggested how your yards should be kept
- Told how to act in public
- Told what Movies you can watch
- Told what TV not to watch
- Told what color shirts to wear to Church
- Told how men should groom their faces without facial hair particular if called to a leadership position
- Told what music is and is not appropriate
- Told how many earrings a woman can have
- Told not to have a Tattoo
- Told that your caffeine must be cold
- Told what footwear one should not wear to church services
- Told which friends are appropriate to associate with and which ones are not
If I didn’t believe that my leaders are earnestly striving to live up to the commission and mantle that has been placed upon their shoulders, I would worry an awful lot about 95 percent of the things on that list. Admittedly, that mantle and that commission are huge, and I believe they know it (see the last clause of Doctrine & Covenants 1:38). If I thought they were in it because of pride, or to get the praise of men or the glory of the world, I would worry (see Doctrine & Covenants 121:34-36). If I didn’t believe they occupy the positions they’re in to serve rather than to be served, I would worry (see Matthew 23:11). I would worry if I didn’t think I could gain my own testimony of what God wants me to do (see John 17:7). And I would worry if I didn’t think they really have my best interests at heart.
Now, having said all of this, do I always understand all of the reasons why God, through His Prophets and His Other Servants, asks me to do what He asks me to do? No. Just as Adam told the angel who asked him if he knew why he offered sacrifices, sometimes I simply have to say, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6). I simply have to say, as the Lord told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). I simply have to say, as did Nephi, “I know not the meaning of all things. Nevertheless, I know that God loveth His children” (1 Nephi 11:17).
How significant would it be, in the grand scheme of things, if I were (for example) to wear an earring? Would God love me any less? I don’t think so. But I also know that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (Doctrine & Covenants 64:33), and that “by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (1 Nephi 16:29). God’s love and His trust are two very different things. I had a mission president who used to say, “God loves everyone; He trusts only a few.” If someone is content to receive God’s love, there isn’t a whole lot he needs to do to get it. God’s trust, however, is a very different thing. Does God trust me? Not as much as I’d like Him to—yet. But I don’t want God simply to be able to love me; I also want Him to be able to trust me. The first is free; the second is earned. One day, I would like God to be able to say to me, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few (small) things. I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23).
Bottom line? As I’ve said before, the only thing I have left to give to God that He didn’t give me first is My Will.
And, while I didn’t say this in my response because I don’t want to offend anyone from another religious tradition, if this unfortunate fellow is driven so mad by the Mormon concept of obedience, perhaps he should try becoming an observant Hasidic Jew, or an observant Muslim! 😉 (For the record, I believe the pious observers of those traditions [and of many other religious traditions, for that matter] obey for the exact same reason I do: because it pleases God!)
Update, 21 September 2015: I stumbled across a post by the great Dan Peterson at Sic et non at Patheos, of which I was previously unaware (though I do visit Sic et non quite frequently) while surfing the ‘Net during a slow moment at work tonight. (I couldn’t reply at work, for obvious reasons, and it took some doing to find this months-old post when I got home tonight!) I’m honored and humbled that Dan thinks something I wrote is worthy of his promotion.