Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Avoiding the Appearance of Evil is Stupid

"Abstain from all appearances of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

"Since there are no harmless flirtations and there is no place for jealousy after marriage, it is best to avoid the very appearance of evil by shunning any questionable contact with another to whom we are not married."

- President James E. Faust, April 2007 Ensign: First Presidency Message: Enriching Your Marriage (emphasis added)
"Believing involves faith and good works. We cannot be passive; we must actively avoid evil. This means that we do not trifle with sacred things. Families in this day and time should not only avoid evil but avoid the very appearance of evil. To combat these influences families must have family prayer, family home evening, and family scripture study."

- President James E. Faust. November 1997 Ensign: Pioneers of the Future: Be Not Afraid, Only Believe. Reprinted in the July 1998 New Era. (emphasis added)

"The best counsel I ever received about staying away from the edge came when, as a young married man, President Harold B. Lee called me to be a member of a bishopric. He said, 'From now on, you must not only avoid evil, but also the appearance of evil.' He did not interpret that counsel. That was left to my conscience."

- President James E. Faust, November 1995 Ensign: Acting for Ourselves and Not Being Acted Upon (emphasis added)

Appearances by Sheila Kindred in the November 2002 Friend uses a story to illustrate the dangers in encouraging the appearance of evil. Fresh from their Boy Scout meeting, a little boy and his friend waited in the parking lot for their parents. One boy jokingly put a piece of chalk to his mouth and quipped “Yeah. Look at me, I’m cool.” A car full of rowdy teenagers drove by at that moment and cheered. A member of the boys’ ward happened by also and, shocked, made sure to inform the boy’s mom. After the boy cleared himself of all misconceptions, his mother suggested he call the mistaken ward member to apologize for his actions.

I could go on with the amount of Ensign/New Era/and Friend articles that deal with this idea, but it would be a very long list. If you're interested, here it is.

I don't want to seem as criticising our leaders (heaven forbid!) - instead, I am criticising an idea our leaders and many members have adopted.

The first quote I listed was scripture. How do you argue with or even rationalize scripture? By using the footnotes, apparently.

Footnote "b" for "appearances" states, "GR kinds. TG. Apparel."

Let's rephrase that scripture then: Abstain from all kinds of evil.

I have to give credit where due, I first heard this idea at Soy Made Me Gay: Soundbyte Doctrine. The idea of avoiding the appearance of evil always struck me stupid, but I didn’t know there was scriptural support for it. Yay!

The second quote refers to our neuroticism as a church in hanging out with opposite sex friends. Of course we shouldn’t hang out with someone we are attracted to - that’s not a good idea, but I do think President Faust overstepped the mark here. Wouldn’t it have been enough to simply state “We should shun any questionable contact with another to whom we are not married”?

As in, don’t place your hand on another’s thigh.

Some years ago I had to attend church alone. I showed up at the same time as an old guy friend of mine, and we ended up walking in together, talking. Down the aisle in the chapel we went, a bit late, and my insides knotted. What if they think we’re together? What if they think I’m cheating on my husband?

Who the hell cares what “they” think?

I'm tired of worrying about what other people think and I'm tired of having others tell me I ought to concern myself with what other people think. I do that well enough on my own, thankyouverymuch.

But the appearance of evil doesn’t stop there. Consider this familiar scenario: Work is having an office party. The boss asks you to make a store run, and as you leave someone shouts, “Can you grab a case of beer while you’re out?”

Now you’re left with a dichotomy: Get the beer because, well, it’s not for you to use or judge those who do, and you won’t drink. But is buying the beer a matter of condoning bad, yea, even “immoral” behavior?

That’s an individual decision. Many will decide to not get the case of beer. I’ve had one reader state she wouldn’t due to her hatred for alcohol – she feels against facilitating its use. That’s fine.

My issue comes with this excuse: ”I don’t want to give the wrong impression. What if an investigator, new member, or ward member is in the store and sees me? What will they think?”

What the hell does it matter?

I’m unsure as to others, but in my stake I’ve heard leaders preach avoiding the appearance of evil over the pulpit because someone might see you and, knowing you’re a member, think bad things about the Church (ah! they do drink!) or decide that they don’t want to associate with a church that does not practice what they preach when of course we do!

This strikes me as a very PR stance. I’ve had people suggest before that the individual matters less than the image of the church. Screw that.

Christ hung out with the prostitutes, the publicans, the lepers. He spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan. Everyone but the Samaritan concerned themselves more with the law and appearances rather than actually following Christ and doing that which was right.

We worry too much about ourselves and not nearly enough about other people - and I mean more in the sense of how others will see us versus the needs of our fellow man. What matters more? Our image or our neighbor?

In hanging out with the sinners, even Christ was misunderstood. The people concerned themselves too much with the law, with appearances, with the letter rather than the spirit of what Christ spoke of, of what God would want.

"The Son of man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!" (Luke 7:34)

Should Christ have avoided the appearance of evil?

Should we?

If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we need to be willing to get in the dirt with them. We have to be willing to chance a little gossip at church, perhaps a bit of a bad rap. In the end, what God thinks matters most. Not the girls in Relief Scoiety, not my bishop, not even the prophet (gasp!). As long as I know what I’m doing and God knows what I’m doing, I’m fine. Misconceptions can be cleared up, but sometimes gossip persists and I can’t control that. I’ve better things to do with my time.

If a person wants to judge me or my kid based on appearance only, than so be it. That’s not my problem. I wouldn’t make my kid apologize to anyone in a situation like the one discussed in the Friend. The woman gave the other mom a head’s up, and I’ve no issue with that, but I certainly wouldn’t compel my kid to apologize when he or she did nothing wrong.

And I certainly wouldn’t guilt trip my kid about keeping up “good” appearances. That’s a load of crap.

*Also posted at Feminist Mormon Housewives


Kengo Biddles said...

It's largely a PR thing (although it's more of a 'keeping up appearances') but at the same time, I think that it's a good idea for me, for example, not to go out to lunch with one of my single female co-workers, being a married man. You know what I mean?

Grégoire said...

What is evil? What is truth?

I think in asking oneself these questions, in beginning to define evil for oneself, s/he finally reaches a state in which it's possible to choose the right (to steal a phrase I learned in primary).

Is it possible to be "good" without getting into the dirt once in a while, with your neighbor? Is it even possible to choose the right if one never finds the confidence to enter that place where a choice exists?

I think that it's a good idea for me, for example, not to go out to lunch with one of my single female co-workers, being a married man. You know what I mean?

How funny. I just wrote an article on this.


I don't care much for gossips and rumor-mongers. It's a weakness of mine.

Lisa said...

Oh, Gregoire, you shameless plugger, you ;)

Thanks for putting it into words. Your second paragraph: Touché!

Kengo: I agree that it's a PR thing. I also agree that one should avoid contact with a person they find themselves attracted to - but only for that reason. Not because someone might see and come to a wrong conclusion, you know?

Grégoire said...

Oh, Gregoire, you shameless plugger, you ;)

I know. I hate the idiots who do things like that, but in this case I was compelled...compelled I tell you. It's absolute synchronicity. Go ahead and delete it if you want. I certainly would.

Ever read Nietzsche's Beyond Good & Evil? Check it out sometime. Just don't tell your bishop.

Lisa said...

I'll have to do that, Gregoire, thanks.

Steve M. said...

How do you argue with or even rationalize scripture?

By saying the author (in this case, Paul) was simply wrong.

Or yeah, the footnotes are good too.

I think my biggest pet peave is that when people say they want to "avoid the appearance of evil," 90% of the time the "evil" to which they refer is not really evil.

For instance, I've heard people say that they wouldn't even buy hot chocolate at Starbucks, because it is indistinguishable from a cup of coffee, and they want to avoid the appearance of evil. The clear implication is that coffee-drinking is evil.

Look, I know Mormons aren't supposed to drink coffee, but does that make it evil? Is drinking coffee a moral wrong? I don't think so. But most Mormons fail to appreciate the difference between malum in se and malum prohibitum.

Natalie said...

Hear, hear, Lisa! This topic is seriously one of my pet peeves.

In the whole running out to get alcohol for a friend scenario, though, I definitely would not. Call me stodgy, but I seriously despise the stuff and what it does to people. Seriously. I have a vendetta against alcohol. I'm about ready to take my axe to some saloons. :) My strong feelings about alcohol are generally known by those close to me, though, so I seriously doubt anyone would ask me.

(Disclaimer: I don't have a problem with people drinking socially, and go to bars or parties with people all the time who drink..... I just could not stand to be the one actually facilitating the consumption of alcohol.)

Oh, and Kengo, you seem like a very wise person from comments I've seen around the bloggernacle, but I have to tell you - I want to murder the men I know that cut off communication with their single female friends once they get engaged/married. :) I hate how much the church stresses that men can't be alone with women unless they're married. Sometimes, it would just be really convenient if the bishop could drive one of the YW leaders home from church after an activity.

I know, I know, you don't want to open them up to a situation where they could be accused of wrongdoing, and you certainly don't want to give someone an opportunity for wrongdoing of that sort..... but geesh, its tiring.

Lisa said...

But Steve, Paul can't be *gasp* wrong


I've heard the Starbucks thing too, hell I was that person. Then I sucked it up and went to try their hot chocolate. Something tells me their coffee would be much better than that awful stuff, haha.

And I agree: coffee is not evil or immoral.

Natalie: I can appreciate your vendetta - I've the same hatred for pornography. Like I said, it's up to the person whether they'd make the beer run or not. Not up to me to judge.

You're not stodgy. You have your reasons, and they're perfectly valid. There are non-members who feel the same way you do :)

that girl said...

hi lisa! i don't agree with a lot of what you write, but every now and then i think you're onto something.

i have often felt like my husband and i are "reckless" sometimes because we don't care about certain things like hanging out with our friends at bars, shopping on Sunday, purchasing delicious (non-caffeine, of course) drinks at Starbucks, an R-rated movie here or there, etc. haha, don't those sound ridiculous, as if they were actually EVIL??

my mom used to not let me wear mascara because she thought i was too young once, so i'd wear it anyway at school and wash it off before getting home so i wouldn't get caught. i felt SO guilty like i was doing something terrible behind her back, but it was just mascara! i hated how she would enforce such stupid rules to stop me from doing things that really didn't matter in the long run. so in the end, yes, i got grounded and punished when i did get caught wearing mascara. that is SO not right.

that's how i feel some of the Mormon rules are. really, we are being tested on our ability to discern the good from the bad, and i mean the real good and the real bad, and then be obedient. if going to Starbucks is an actual temptation to drink coffee and break the Word of Wisdom, then that may be an actual problem (although i know you had a little rant about the WOW ...).

the rules are ridiculous on purpose, but i think only a few of us actually understand the difference between what really matters. that is what i think. and i agree with you that it is wise to surround ourselves with different kinds of people by trying new things, going outside the comfort zone.

so many people changed their minds of Mormons just by hanging out with us, and not in a bad way, in a good way :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think there is such a thing as a harmless flirtation. It's called having a sense of humour. The harmful ones are the flirtations we employ with the intent on "scoring."

Almost all of my friends are guys. It's just always been that way. Once I got married, it never even occurred to me that I should quit talking to them or hanging out with them. Luckily, my husband isn't the jealous type and so it's never even been close to being an issue. Last time I was home, I went out with my best friend since grade 5, who is married but getting a divorce. We stopped by at the casino while he won back his gas money in blackjack and I watched the fishies in the aquarium until he was done, peeking in once in a while to see how much money he was up. Then we went out to dinner. My husband was at home with my family but never gave it a second thought and neither did I. Why? Because he's my friend, my buddy, and I love him as great friend. I've even gone out with another best friend from high school, who is also married. He and I had the hots for each other in high school but that was then and this is now. The attraction is gone and we're both married now. Somehow we can manage to sit together while keeping our hands off each other! :) Seriously, when I hear stories about married brethren not giving rides to single sisters in order to "avoid the appearance of evil," it almost sounds like conservative Muslim society. I've ridden alone in a car with my branch president a few times. I know his driven a sister to the temple 8 hrs away. Never even crossed my mind that something like that would be an issue for some people in the Church.

I work at a nursing home with dementia patients and part of my job is preparing meals and serving them, including coffee, tea, and alcohol. Once I even went to the store to buy cigarettes for a patient. I admit that that one felt a bit funny. I had never bought smokes before and had to ask for help from the cashier to pick out the right ones. At Christmas I served the patients shots of hard Norwegian liquour. Recently I had a bottle of wine in my cupboard that my husband bought for a co-worker as thanks for lending us his car. And right now as I write this I have a jar of instant coffee in my kitchen for when my mother-in-law -- who loves coffee -- comes to dinner and wants coffee afterwards.

Still I manage to sleep peacefully at night. :)

Lisa said...

that girl: haha, I know. I imagine most people who visit my blog don't agree with me. I suspect with my WoW post I'm becoming braver as well.

Needless to say, much confuses the hell out of me anymore. I don't get a lot of stuff.

But! I'm glad you're still hanging around, glad we can find something to agree on.

FD: Oh gosh. Okay, so after I married I decided I couldn't hang out with a friend of mine. One time when my husband couldn't make it to church, I went anyway and showed up at the same time as said friend. We walked in together, and I was all tied up inside because *gasp* what will people think?

It's ridiculous. You probably shouldn't hang out with anyone you *are* attracted to (like, potential crush), but just friends? Come on now.

My husband told me about Mitt Romney's father having some wine in the house for guests who liked a glass with dinner. Again, there are those like Natalie who wouldn't feel comfortable with this, and that's fine, but I thought it was rather courageous off Mr. Romney who was spitting in the face of the appearance of "evil" (and I'm not a big fan of his son :)

Anna said...

hmmm...."Avoiding the Appearance of Evil" could be taken in many different ways. and i dont believe you have to look all "Mormony" to acheive that, if you know what i mean. i CANNOT stand that look...

Anonymous said...

I just tried to write a huge post on my blog about this, and it just turned into rambling that was getting out of control, so I stopped and searched the internet for similar stories and YOU wrote exactly what I have been feeling. Thanks!

I recently had a discussion with my sister and mom about making homemade vanilla extract. Doing so requires vodka. I told them about that, and they discouraged me from doing so by telling me I should "avoid the appearance of evil". I understand where they are coming from, but if I even smell vodka, I know I don't want to drink it, therefore I feel pretty safe about being in it's presence. Anyway, I told them that I wasn't planning to drink any of the vodka, just use it to make vanilla extract. Then my mom said, "Well, what if the bishop were to see you buying vodka?"

Oh my.... Heaven forbid that the Bishop thinks I'm drinking! I told them that I know that I'm not sinning and if that bishop wants to pass that kind of judgment, he can.

Anyway, I just felt the need to get that story out there. Thanks again for this fantastic blog!

naomi said...

You kinda built a straw man there with Faust's quote. You put up your own interpretation of it, then shot Faust down for your own interpretation.