Posted by: rusch | March 5, 2006


The following is written mostly to a Mormon audience. Many terms and ideas will only be familiar to those who have been members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so the reader should not be surprised when they see words written in English that seem odd. They are used within the framework of an individual faith that definitely has its’ own culture and borders on being its’ own ethnicity.

A couple of weeks ago I was at home on Sunday night taking care of some things before retiring for the evening. Flipping through the channels I stopped on BYU television for a few minutes. It must have been an Education Week or Women’s Week talk, because most of the people in the audience were women, and it seemed like something that you would hear at either of the two conferences. The speaker was talking about an issue that troubles many, modesty.

I believe that the standard for modesty found in “For the Strength of Youth” is adequate. If any person will abide by the general principles found in that publication, they will be able to dress in a way that appeals to their own tastes but still maintain a standard of dress appropriate for Latter-day Saint youth and adults. The standard is very general and still, most of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the reader to determine what is appropriate and inappropriate with the way they dress.

This general guideline, choose for yourself thinking, was in stark contrast to what was being presented that evening.

In about ten minutes it was apparent that she was extolling a standard that went far beyond what was taught in a church publication that has served as the standard for years. For her, it was not enough to merely cover up, avoid extremes in dress, and to refrain from wearing clothes that are overly tight and form fitting; it went far beyond that and also took into consideration quality of fabric, certain combinations such a sport coat with jeans in a casual situation, and other things that most people will not take into consideration when they buy clothes.

I am driven by style, cost, and fit when I buy clothes. If it fits, is cheap, looks good, and if I have the money to spend on clothes, then most likely that article of clothing will find its’ way into my closet and then, eventually, the floor of my room (I am a slob. A whole different essay altogether).

Simply put, following the standard espoused by the presenter went beyond a simple yes or no to a long cumbersome checklist. Whether or not to buy a pair jeans went from being a simple everyday thing, to a matter of salvation. This is ridiculous.

For some time I wanted to write about Pharisees and oral traditions that go beyond a given standard that is meant to allow the member to decide for themselves. This experience prompted me to write what follows.

In Jesus’ day there were different sects of Judaism, each with their own individual interpretations of aspects of the Law of Moses and the gospel that would replace it. They ran the spectrum from libertines to hard line conservatives with few, if any finding the middle ground. While many members of the Church are more familiar with the dangers of being liberal, they often do not consider the dangers of going beyond what has already been revealed and expected of members of the Church.

The group that was not the most conservative, but definitely had the greatest control over the people, were the Pharisees. The Pharisees felt that it was not enough to obey the ordinances and commandments found in the law of Moses and over the course of time, developed a separate set of practices that, if followed, would prevent a person from coming close to violating the commandments in the law. This tradition, or hedge about the law, has come to be known as the oral tradition.

Those familiar with Jewish society will know that the oral tradition was a burden; was not general and open to individual revelation in its’ application as are the standards of today; but spelled out how to act, or what to do in every situation. When the Apostle Paul said that the letter of the law killed but that spirit gives life, he was not only referring to the law of Moses, but to the oral tradition that had become such a burden to the children of Israel living at this time.

In the Gospels, Jesus decried the Pharisees and the oral tradition. He said that they go about the earth to make one convert, but even after person became converted, they became two times more the child of hell then before.

Standards are not an end unto themselves, but are a means of helping individuals living in a way to grow closer to deity. Salvation is found in the Atonement, and Commandments are the vehicle by which we receive of those blessings. Joseph Smith taught the Atonement was the gospel and that all things were appendages to it. Even modesty takes a backseat to the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

In the Book of Mormon, when the prophets saw that their people were straying for the path of salvation, they did not focus on behavior specific to the time and circumstances of the people, but they taught them about repentance and salvation through the Atonement. They taught them of resurrection, final judgment and the rewards or punishments that would come in the life hereafter. This either resulted in people repenting and being blessed, or receiving the judgment of God to their damnation.

The Apostle Paul talked about modesty in his epistles, but the majority of his epistles were intended to teach people about how to receive the grace of God, or what is expected of those who had accepted Gospel. He taught doctrine, understanding that this would have the greater effect on people as opposed to teaching behavior.

Recently, our modern Apostles, in their “Epistles” spend very little time teaching about behavior, or spelling out to the letter how one should apply a certain standard, but are teaching doctrine and by and large leaving interpretation up to the members, giving course correction when necessary.

The Gospel is eternal and will never change. Salvation will always be through Jesus Christ and his Atonement. The tastes of the World with regards to fashion, morality, political thought, and pretty much everything else will change. But the Gospel never will. Because the world is ever changing, it will be impossible to apply an oral tradition. More then ever there is a need to teach, and for people to found their lives on unchanging and eternal principles.

While modesty will always be an important topic, in must be kept in its’ proper context as an appendage to, or a teaching that branches out from, the Atonement.

This good sister had the best of intentions. But teaching behavior is much like painting the walls on the Titanic. While the walls may be in desperate need of fresh coat, time would be better spent in figuring how to plug the gaping hole in the hull.

If you want to make a meaningful impact, teach doctrine. As people repent, and are converted, the spirit will lead them to making changes in music, language, dress, and grooming.

There will be times when it will necessary to point out specifics, but the majority of time should be spent in teaching doctrine and then letting the individual act for themselves instead of constantly being acted upon.


  1. Christopher, you have written another stimulating treatise on a much needed subject. I like hearing your sermons, and only wish I lived closer to you so I could see you live on your soapbox downtown in the city. But really, I think your comments are timely and you haven’t really minced or wasted a single word, they each carry their weight and leave me enjoying each coming paragraph. Mahalo bro.–>

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