Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Effects of Prophetic Endorsement

One of our late-night conversations at the Retreat has been on my mind ever since returning home. We were discussing the response of Latter-day Saints to the Prophet's admonition that women wear only one pair of earrings. I have seen a huge response to this all over the United States. Many women have not only removed their extra earrings, but have borne their testimonies about it! An address given by Elder Bednar has reinforced the teaching with the story of a young man who was considering marriage with a girl who had multiple piercings. When President Hinckley asked women to wear only one set of earrings, he patiently waited for her to remove them. She did not, so he stopped dating her. She had failed to respond to prophetic counsel.

In our discussion, we marveled at the general obedience in the Church to this teaching. Then one woman wondered what would happen if, at the next Conference, President Hinckley approached the stand and said, "Brothers and Sisters, I've been thinking about this, and I think we should all recycle!"

Can you imagine what a difference the Prophet's endorsement of this would make in our world? I've noticed that in Vernal and in other places in Utah, it is very difficult to recycle. There are not accessible places to bring your recyclables. In Boston, where my sister lives, everyone recycles, because on trash day, there is a day for the pickup of your glass, a day for your plastics, and a day for your paper. Table scraps and yard detritus are placed in a compost bin or pile. I'm thinking that if the Prophet told us to recycle, a similar program might suddenly find support in Utah.

Elder Bednar says that the earring issue might seem minor, trivial, or silly, but that in following the prophet we learn to become "quick to observe." My question is why can't we learn the same lesson and meanwhile accomplish something positive and make a difference in the world?


amelia said...

hear, hear! excellent notion BiV. i think it would be fantastic if we could turn our "obedience tests" to something useful and important, rather than something petty and superficial that accomplishes little more than the reinforcement of time- and culturally-specific standards of appearance.

but do you really think people would do it? would they change their daily habits and practice in the same way that they will comply with an endorsement of a one-time action that they can later hold up as a trump card?

Steve M. said...

Great, great post. I sometimes wonder at the Brethren's silence when it comes to such issues.

I think that Amelia makes a good point though. Food storage and emergency preparation are really remarkable suggestions, whether you believe in an apocalyptic Second Coming drama or not, but most members of the Church utterly fail to live up to this counsel (myself included). The ear rings rule is much simpler and is a convenient measure of one's "loyalty" to the prophet--the idea is that if we are willing to follow him in such trivial matters, we'll be willing to follow him when it comes to "really important" things. That's a rather dubious flow of logic, but that's how it goes.

What irritates me is that it advocates obedience above all else. Am I the only one that doesn't think obedience for obedience's sake is all that it's cracked up to be? At some point, it becomes totally arbitrary, and therefore void of any kind of moral quality.

While I suppose a prophet's injunction to recycle could eventually run the same course as the ear ring rule, becoming a litmus test for personal obedience, at least the action itself would be purposeful.

onelowerlight said...

Interesting. It's a good point. It reminds me of what Jacob said in Jacob 6:12: be wise, 'nuff said. Although I would disagree with the other commenters that GBH's counsel on earrings is trivial. If it's a good idea to do good, reasonable things like recycle, even if the prophet hasn't counseled us on it, then why should it be a bad thing to also do what the prophet counsels? Or why should we see it as an either or dichotomy--either you do everything on a purely rational basis, or you blindly obey authority figures like the prophet? I think it's possible to do a little of both, and that that's probably the best thing.

sarah k. said...

I just don't understand why Utah has such a hard time with recycling. It seems like it should spring logically from discussions on the stewardship we have over the earth, to till and take care of it. What else can that mean? I think of what we are taught about the Earth, and it seems like pretty clear counsel to me. Is there really so much to be left to interpretation?

amelia said...

i have no problem with the idea of obedience, o.l.l. my comment on the earring counsel has to do with the content of the counsel, not the act of obedience. i find it utterly trivial to be so concerned with something as superficial as body piercings (or facial hair or hair color or any other appearance related issue). and were i the young woman who was abandoned by the young man cause i wouldn't remove my earring, i'd utter a prayer of thanks for having been saved from a miserable marriage as soon as i found out the reason he left me.

i agree with steve m. that the logic of "if you obey in small things, you'll obey in large things" is deeply flawed and in some very serious ways. it's incredibly easy to obey in small things. i do it all the time. i never drink coffee, in spite of the fact that i think i'd like it. i don't smoke. i don't drink alcohol. i keep the sabbath day holy. i do all kinds of small, ordinary things out of obedience. and many, many other mormons do the same. but i have an awfully hard time with the big things. as do most people. i do not love others as myself. not as fully as i should. i laze around, failing to use the gifts god has given me. i turn my back on others who are hurting and in need almost daily--sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of laziness, sometimes out of weakness. those are the big things. is giving up all my possessions and walking to missouri a big thing? (not that i think i'll be asked to do that; it's just a mormon folkloric example). i suppose. but i think it's a hell of a lot easier to do than it is to live our ordinary daily lives in keeping with god's commandments. that's the kind of obedience i'd like to see--living lives that truly emulate jesus' life. and what BiV is suggesting is just such a test of obedience--to live daily in such a way that we make our world a better place. taking out earrings? in the grand scheme of things, it's essentially meaningless. and not just because of the nature of the act; because even as an act of obedience, it really doesn't require much.

that's not to say i criticize those who do it; they have my respect for their integrity. but those who judge others based on whether they have complied? those people lose my respect.

Steve M. said...


If it's a good idea to do good, reasonable things like recycle, even if the prophet hasn't counseled us on it, then why should it be a bad thing to also do what the prophet counsels?

Nobody has suggested that it's undesirable or difficult to do both. The concern (at least my concern) seems to be that we have access to the prophet for the entire world, who reveals God's will to His children, and what does he have to say? That women shouldn't have one set of ear rings and men should wear "slouchy" clothes. And it's not even that this counsel is wrong or bad; it's that the prophet is outspoken on these issues, while he is relatively silent on catastrophic problems such as environmental destruction.

Additionally, it's troubling that Latter-day Saints adopt the ear ring rule as some kind of Abrahamic trial or litmus test for loyalty to God and the prophet. As Amelia points out, the defining characteristics of a Christian life are the bigger, harder things--serving others, giving to the poor, loving your enemies, etc. (not the number of ear rings in your ear).

Sarah Lott said...

BiV, I'd love to see such suggestions made. Even if subtle, without the divine obedience mandate, i.e. supporting social programs, ecological responsibility, etc. We donate to the church, and its a fabulous use of money. But the struggling people in my hometown in CO by and large don't benefit from that relief as nonLDS. So we should be supporting efforts that encompass all types of communities, not just those that the church's arms reach (far though that be.)

I wish they would command us to recycle, quite frankly@ I would hope even a suggestion like recycling would make the LDS conspicuous consumption subset take a second look at what it means to have stewardship of the earth.

Steve M. said...

BTW, I've often heard the "there is enough and to spare" scripture invoked as justification for less environmentalist attitudes. I think that's a gross misinterpretation of the scripture, but my former stake president actually cited it when telling my elders quorum that the energy crisis is a myth.

Anonymous said...

I moved to southern Californai during the Prop 22 campaign.I kept wishing that we could "stand for something", rather than against something. If we'd used all that energy and money that went into Prop 22 for something like building homes or schools in Tijuana, or even fixing up local schools in poor parts of LA, or running tutoring programs, just think how much good could have been done. But I don't think that people would have committed to those projects they way that they did to Prop 22. I could be wrong, but since the Prop 22 campaign here was more like make some phone calls, write a check, or two, or three, and stick out yard signs, that was less scary that actually meeting a poor person,and trying to help. ( I did not participate in the Prop 22 campaign, in case it's not obvious already.)That was also promoted as a chance to demonstrate your obedience.
I do find it interesting to see what kinds of statements are very often ignored by the general population. The talk by Spencer W. Kimball about hunting for sport is one that comes to mind.

cchrissyy said...

BiV, that's a great idea.

Ann said...

I think counsel to do things that require an ongoing effort is more frequently disregarded than the counsel to do irrelevant, one-time actions. You only take out your extra earrings one time, and you get praised for your obedience. Visiting teaching, home teaching, and recycling require an ongoing effort and are thus harder to maintain.

Plus, you get credit for the visible things. Nobody praises the steadfast home teacher. It's just expected. You can't wear it like a righteousness badge.

Janell said...

A perk of the "earring test" is that is that it prophetic advise easily submitted to peer pressure. (Ohhhhh. She must be inactive, she's wearing multiple earrings. The shame of it.) The prophets have been telling us for years to have food storage and to keep out of debt. Has that actually happened? Nope. It isn't an easy thing and we don't scrutinize one another for it. I know! Let's make a rule that you have to wear a label stating how much you are or aren't in debt and see if we start to heed that counsel better.

An an off note. I had a Stake Relief Society presidency try to encourage each sister to wear a bright, green armband to reminder her to do her visiting teaching for the month. It was asking for a stars on thars approach I suppose.

Janell said...

Oops, Ann beat me to the submit button. =)

Bored in Vernal said...

What great comments these were! Thanks, all. No one mentioned the prophetic directive to read the Book of Mormon. This seems to fall in the middle of the spectrum--it was basically a one-time exercise, but required an ongoing effort over a period of several months to complete. It was generally non-visible, (except for those who bragged about it!) I think it was accomplished by many people.

Although I didn't notice a huge change in my family as a result of following this counsel, we felt good about the accomplishment. I think if the Church as a whole could do something like read the Book of Mormon together, we are ready to move on to the next step. I'd love to be a part of a large church-wide effort to accomplish something useful in the world.

(I do hate that these things are used as "litmus tests" to prove who is righteous. Isn't it interesting that the more picky and superficial the directive is, the more easily it is used as such?)

Anonymous said...

After the earring talk, I now make it a point to wear two earrings in my right ear (I'm a woman). I'm also thinking of getting a (discreet) tattoo.

Being a Mormon is difficult for me. I constantly have to fight my desire not to conform just for the sake of non-conformity.

sarah k. said...

I like that last anonymous comment. I sometimes feel the same, because I think the fashion issues are so trivial, even irrelevant. People of the older generations have always disdained the fashions of the younger, and yet we have kept adopting them. Of all the things we could be doing, two sets of earrings seems the least immoral, if that's what they're getting at.

This is such a great discussion, but my favorite part was "LDS conspicuous consumption subset." I think I might adopt that into my daily speech.

Also, I felt that the Book of Mormon cousel was different in a sense. There was a specific goal, a timeline, and three specific blessing that were promised. One of those was that we would be better prepared to keep all the other commandments by strengthening our faith daily. I really cannot think that taking out earrings will help us be prepared in such a way. It just seems so frivolous. Unless we take them out once a day...

Then again, I'm a murmurer.

Anonymous said...

I tend to think, though, that there is also a lot of room in the gospel to do a lot of good on our own, without being compelled to do so. I don't think the earring thing was just for the sake of obedience; that and talks about slouchy clothes are to help keep esp. our youth from getting pulled too much into the culture around them. Just because it seems trivial to us doesn't mean it is not "useful and important." And this isn't necessarily something that the kids will figure out on their own. I think it had a moral element to it.

Anyone who has a half a sense for what can help our world ought to think about recycling and doing other such good. While I understand the desire to have the prophet do a sweeping something to get people off their duffs, I think we need to remember that their key responsibility is to save individuals and families, not primarily to save the earth. And the Lord tell us that we we shouldn't expect to be commanded in all things.

Does that mean our leaders don't care about these things? Of course not. But why wait for the prophet to say something? What is stopping good people from taking some initiative and getting people more involved in issues like this? Why should it be the prophets' job to get us to do things that should be obvious?

amelia said...

"Why should it be the prophets' job to get us to do things that should be obvious?"

by this same reasoning, why does the prophet keep telling us to be kind to each other? to love our families? to not be abusive? to say our prayers? to reach out in fellowship to our neighbors?

i could go on and on.

much of what the prophet tells is should be intuitive. no one should have to be told that their family and marriage will be stronger if they express love and show kindness to their spouse and children. but many people need to hear it. regularly. i see no reason why "we shouldn't expect to be commanded in all things" is any better a reason the prophet shouldn't tell us to care for our earth than it is a reason he shouldn't tell us to love each other. in my mind, caring for our earth is an extense of caring for each other.

as for the "moral" merit of advice to take out extra earrings: i see anon's point. our young people do need to remember that they don't have to fit in. but they need to remember that as much about mormon culture as about non-mormon culture. i'm not sure such specific directives as don't wear two pairs of earrings and don't wear slouchy clothes coommunicate the message that we need to be individuals who value godliness above popularity. i see such directives communicating a message of conformity as an expression of goodness, which couldn't be further from the truth. there's nothing inherent in conforming to a standard of appearnce that makes someone good. the message that what matters is not how we look, but the state of our hearts would be much more powerfully communicated with stories of accepting others--regardless of their pierced, tatooed, rumpled, corporate, prim, or proper appearance.

Anonymous said...

The matters of family and relationships are key to our salvation. How we treat the earth is important, but I don't think it has the same importance as how we treat our families and God's children (including ourselves and our bodies) and what we can do to avoid serious sin. You can disagree, but I think that is the way the prophet sees things.

amelia said...

i agree--our families and our children are essential to our salvation. and screwing them over by destroying their world, all the while excusing ourselves because the world and its resources are secondary in importance, should mean something.

i believe in the symbiosis of life. there is no such thing as caring for only part of it. if we neglect one part of life--be it the earth and its resources or our children--we will necessarily damage other parts of it. perhaps there won't be a direct, causal relationship between such different forms of destruction. but it's impossible to separate out attitudes and values and beliefs--they will all inform every area of our lives. the point of this life is supposed to be reaching a state of ethical ability that allows us to take care of all of the things that need care, not just some of them. that we no longer allow our own life to be built on destruction, but instead build it on balance.

should your child's welfare come before that of the earth? yeah. it should. but that's a poor way to conceive of things because it suggests that these are mutually exclusive things and that doing one precludes doing the other--both of which couldn't be further from the truth.

and then there's the whole question of how we are treating those of god's children who suffer because we abuse the earth's resources. young children forced into what is essentially slavery in order to mine diamonds. not to mention all of the lives lost because of blood diamonds. a blind eye turned to genocide in sudan because of oil. just a few of many, many examples of the way in which we not only forget but actively ignore the welfare of god's children in the name of pillaging the earth for our own comfort, pleasure, and profit. and the fact that these people live half the way around the world and are not in our family doesn't excuse our behavior.

and do you really think god gives a tinker's damn about whether i have one or two or ten holes in my ears? i don't. i think he cares a hell of a lot more about the state of my soul. the way i adorn my body has little if anything necessary to do with the state of my soul. even if adornment can sometimes be one means of expressing the state of the soul, it is not inherently an expression of the state of the soul. i think it would be fantastic to hear our church leaders give as much air time to concerns about the state of our world's environment as they do to whether a girl has one or two earrings or whether she wears nylons or whether a boy's shorts are too big or some other utterly stupid and subjective concern about appearance.

Téa said...

It's a few years old, but this is an article from the High Country News that I enjoyed when it was published, Being Green in the Land of the Saints

It mentions some attitudes held by LDS regarding environmental issues and how some members are working very hard to take care of earth and change others' views at the same time. It's a good read.

Dead Poet said...

I think a big, huge reason the church leaders don't speak on environmental issues in the same way they came out and said "One earring per ear, please," is because it is such a political issue. The church has a policy to take no sides on almost all political issues. I haven't been a member all my life, but the only thing I've ever heard them take a stand on politically is same-sex marriage. Otherwise, they keep out of it. I think it's to teach us to think more for ourselves on big issues and to not look to the leaders for our opinions. I don't understand why they felt it important to speak on the issue of earrings, body piercings, and slouchy clothes, but they must have had some sort of revelation or prompting to speak on it, or they wouldn't have.