"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?
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