Dallin Oaks’s Christmas warning

**Remember to nominate candidates for the X-Mormon of the year.**

Raise your hand if anyone’s ever said this to you: “Mormons are just so nice!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it, and very often it’s true. Outright deznat sneering may be on the rise, but it still seems like an oddity to me.

Last week’s Christmas devotional from the First Presidency, in its elliptical way, called it out. That set off some defensive subtweets on whether being Christlike required being nice.

Here’s how it started:

By quoting the faithful’s modern prophet, Jared Kimball Cook invokes divine authority against Mormon smugness and hate.

And yet when I look at Dallin H. Oaks’s sentence in context, it is not calling out smugness but enshrining it. The real message is buried between Mormon-nice injunctions. (Emphasis mine.)

"As followers of Christ, we ought to be the friendliest and most considerate of all people anywhere. We should teach our children to be kind and considerate of everyone. We should, of course, avoid the kinds of associations and activities that compromise our conduct or dilute our faith and worship. But that should not keep us from cooperative efforts with people of every persuasion—believers and nonbelievers.”

At first read, this seems an exemplar of what Andrew S on Wheat and Tares has the called the Schrodinger’s cat approach to doctrine: careful wording from the First Presidency allows progressives to come away with one reading and conservatives its opposite.

But on re-reading, I was struck that the call for action is not to ’embrace’ but ‘avoid.’ Check out the verbs again.

Oaks’s Christmas message is to warn the faithful against real connection with most people everywhere. How do you make friends when you’re constantly gauging whether an association will dilute your faith? I’ve lived with that mindset. It’s one of fear, not fellowship. It’s one of artificiality, not sincerity. It would have kept Cindy-Lou Who from connecting with the Grinch.

The idea of progression is so prized in Mormonism. So is community. Strict avoidance achieves neither ideal. To grow, the saying goes, you must embrace discomfort.

**Remember to nominate candidates for the X-Mormon of the year.**

Image: The U.S. Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Raised Mormon in the American South. Grateful to have left the Church, grateful for many things it taught me

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3 Responses

  1. Donna Banta says:

    Poor Dallin. He always seems to get his panties in a twist this time of year. Take his 2015 BYU Christmas address, when he advised students to organize their Christmas cards into judgmental little piles:

    “A few years ago, I analyzed the Christmas cards I received at my office and home. There were many, so this was not a small sample. Significantly, my sample was biased toward religious images and words by the fact that most of the cards were sent by fellow leaders or members of my faith.

    “I sorted the cards I received into three groups. In the first group I put the traditional cards—those with an overt mention of Christ and/or pictures evocative of the birth of the Savior. Only 24 percent of the cards I received were of this traditional character.

    “In the second group were those cards whose pictures and visuals were not at all religious, but they did have the words “Merry Christmas” to identify the religious origin of the holiday. This was the largest group—47 percent.

    “In the third group—comprising 29 percent of the cards I received—there was no mention of Christ or Christmas and no religious visuals at all. These cards had words like “Season’s Greetings,” “Happy Holidays,” “Peace in the New Year,” or “Peace and Beauty of the Season.” A few were so daring as to refer to “Peace on Earth” or “Faith, Hope, and Love,” but none had any pictures suggestive of religion.”

    –Needless to say, no TBM would dare be in group 2 or 3! I can still picture the mad rush to the stationery stores to correct the heresy!

  2. I feel like Cher’s grandfather in “Moonstruck”–I’m so confused.

    Do the “friendliest and most considerate people” divide up their Christmas cards into judgmental little piles?

    I send holiday cards featuring dinosaurs or galaxies or majestic redwoods. I suppose celebrating God’s most glorious creations is something only decadent sinners do.

    But I must admit, I do follow some of Dallin’s advice–I avoid associating with folks who compromise my conduct, especially those who dilute my faith in humanity, and that includes most Mormons I’ve known.

  3. chanson says:

    In other words: be nice, but be sure that it’s not sincere. So if you ever wondered why Mormons sometimes give off this whiff of fake-nice, it’s because they’re actually taught by the GA’s to do that.

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