Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Writing Under the Influence



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a practicing mormon, was recently arrested in Virginia for driving under the influence. Senator Crapo had previously said he doesn't drink, stating publicly in 2010 that he would celebrate the passing of a measure reducing taxes on small beer brewers with root beer because he doesn't consume alcohol. As I read about Senator Crapo's very public break from what were apparently strongly held beliefs, I was reminded of a passage from Grant Palmer's The Incomparable Jesus:
If Jesus visited our various religious societies today, which of our prescriptions about behavioral minutia, to which we assign near-commandment status, would Jesus call "traditions of the elders"? Dictating and repeating a code of conduct for individual behavior on almost every occasion encourages Church members to engage in unrighteous judgement of others. Such judgement creates an atmosphere of tension, causing some to feel unaccepted.

In others it breeds hypocrisy, with people outwardly pretending conformity even while they secretly violate these near-commandments. The multiplication and emphasis of such rules blurs the distinction between significant commandments and trivial observances, making them seem of equal importance, especially among young people. Having observed these consequences first-hand during his formative years, Jesus rejected this approach to religion in his new church. He taught the things that mattered most and left the remainder to individual choice.
I'm honestly not sure what Jesus would think of how the Word of Wisdom has been applied since 1921, when Heber J. Grant made adherence an absolute requirement to enter the temple. BYU historian Thomas G. Alexander points out that while the original Word of Wisdom as a "principle with promise" was given by revelation, there is no evidence that any church leader, including President Grant, has claimed a separate new revelation, or even a spiritual confirmation, of changing the Word of Wisdom from "a principle with promise" to a commandment.(1) What is clear is that the near-commandment status of the Word of Wisdom does encourage church members to engage in unrighteous judgement of others, as evidenced in this case by the reactions of some of Senator Crapo's mormon political peers.

Palmer's second point - that the church's prescriptions about behavioral minutia make unequal "near-commandments" seem equal to commandments, especially in young people - seems spot on. Some of my children's strongest reactions to "sinning" have been toward strangers disobeying words of wisdom they know nothing about. "Daddy, that man is DRINKING BEER!" was a passionate response certainly not distilled instilled in them by their parents. Imagine if the one "sinning" was grandpa, as is the case for Senator Crapo's three grandchildren. They must be wondering what they should think, but there is no question in my mind what Jesus is thinking. Disappointment because he drove drunk, endangering the lives of others, but also love and forgiveness towards a man who almost certainly is under a lot of political pressure and who knows what else.

When these sorts of things happen, let it be a reminder to us to not reduce our religious life to a pattern of performances and of obedience to a few rather unique things in our church, but rather to live more like Jesus lived. To love and forgive others.

(1)Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14:3 (1981) pp. 78–88.

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