Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obedience and Blessings--the BYU Honor Code real-world application

I have a new favorite quote this week (hint: sarcasm); something a new friend said in a casual conversation just after I met her. She and another of our friends were talking about her experiences at BYU-Idaho this past semester. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Church's universities, students sign and promise to live by an honor code or a set of rules and standards can be viewed as more strict than probably any other university. For instance, students at BYU-Idaho have a curfew and at all BYUs girls have to be out of guys' apartments by a certain time at night and vice versa. The BYUs have dress and grooming standards and take cheating and dishonesty very seriously. Note that one reason the honor code is called the honor code is because the students are on their honor to follow all the rules; no one comes around checking to see if you are obedient. Of course when discovered, violations are justly dealt with but for the most part the schools trust the integrity of the students and we are left to our own integrity. And, of course, all Church standards must be upheld at all times. Strange? Well, we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a peculiar people.

In this conversation my new friend said, "I don't understand how some of the rules they have," (in this conversation she was referring particularly to curfew and guys out), "help us toward our eternal salvation but whatever, I'll get over it I guess." In my four years at BYU-Idaho and BYU and in my interactions with Latter-day Saint young adults in other places, I've heard many similar such complaints and many seemingly disgruntled students.

Such rules may seem harsh, strict, controlling, or ridiculous and one may feel that he or she is in college and old enough to handle or take care of his or herself and should be able to act as he or she pleases. Regardless, of whatever the argument may be, each student at Church schools signed the honor code stating he or she would live by the rules, and, as I said, a lot of which are not actively enforced; instead the students are expected to live on their honor.

I won't dwell on the question of why one would agree to follow a set of rules and then complain about rules and standards that he or she agreed to live. If one has a problem with such a lifestyle, he or she is more than welcome to attend a different school-one that has no rules and allows you to act in whatever manner you please with little or no repercussions from the admin office. But this post is not about that issue. Nor will I discuss the potential reasons and good intentions behind the rules and standards in existence at the BYUs.

Part I: "They"

The part of my new friend's statement on which I wish to focus is the "they" she used. The ambiguous, ever-present, all-encompassing "they" used so often in our speech. She disagrees with the rules "they" created because she doesn't see what purpose some of the particular and potentially "nit-picky" rules serve, especially in the grand scheme of things. Which is valid. We all pick and choose which laws from the governmental or rules in the workplace we want to follow based on our understanding of their importance. I jay walk when no cars are around that may endanger my life. Not the best thing in the world but sometimes I justify it because I'm not patient and I'm sure "they" understand that jaywalking when the streets aren't busy isn't dangerous. Still against the law. Some justify going five or ten over the speed limit or more on back streets when no cars are around. Not that big of a deal? Perhaps. Illegal in all situations? Absolutely.

I draw attention to the "they" because of who this particular "they" represents in my friend's statement. A person may be "fine" once or twice or even for a while not abiding by the BYUs' honor codes, perhaps even graduate without mishap. One can justify all he or she wants because one might believe that he or she is an exception or because the rule is "dumb" but that is a very dangerous road to travel.

Think for a minute who the "they" is that came up with these rules and standards: the university administration. The presidents of the universities signed off on all honor code standards. "They" are the presidents of the universities. "They" are men called of God to the positions they hold. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the presidents of the Church's universities are called through revelation by the Prophet. "They," both before and after serving as presidents of one of the BYUs, have been called to other positions in the Church. "They" include past and present mission presidents, a Presiding Bishop, members of the Quorums of the Seventies, Presidents of the Quorums of the Seventies, temple presidents, apostles, and a member of the First Presidency of the Church--a counselor to the Prophet.

"They" are some of the closest men to God on the earth. During their terms as presidents of the Church schools, "they" sought nothing save the betterment of their students and through revelation found those things that would help the overall academic and eternal well-being of those over whom they were called to watch and protect. "They" lost countless hours of sleep wondering what more they could do at their universities to adequately prepare their students for life in the real world both temporally and spiritually. "They" were trusted by God enough to have the future of the Church and the world delivered into their hands. "They" sought the glory of God and His righteousness. And the current "they's" continue to do the same. What do some of the rules "they" created have to do with helping us toward our eternal salvation? Everything.

I love the Church's universities. I went to two and was accepted to a third. I loved my time there, I was sad to leave both, but I am so very grateful for everything I learned in my college experience. I am so very grateful for the environment provided at the BYUs that afforded me so many wonderful experiences. I am not saying that one should not go to any other school or even that any other university is inferior simply because it is not run by the Church. But I would that you understood this one thing: the rules and standards upheld at the Church's schools aid the temporal and spiritual development of the students who attend in a way that cannot be found in any other institution of higher learning anywhere in the world because those who introduce and then uphold those standards are called of and sustained by God. Regardless of whether or not one understands the purpose of each of the rules and standards.

Part II: Practical application for each of us

Google Analytics tells me that very few of you who read this blog live in Rexburg, Provo, or Laie and therefore probably don't attend a university run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the principles and doctrines discussed in this post are applicable to all.

Each of us has a similar attitude toward some of the commandments and standards the Lord expects us to live. Someone may not understand the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy or living the law of tithing. Some may not realize the importance of amply studying the scriptures each day, preparing for and
participating in all three hours of church, or not participating in media that "isn't that bad." And some may not understand why earrings, clothing, and our leisure-time activities are of any concern to the leadership of the Church. We each have our "favorite sins" that we justify, thinking, "how does that standard help us toward our eternal goal?" At times we all discount the counsel of our Church leaders.

But if we remember who is actually giving us commandments and standards and counsel, living the standards of the Church becomes much easier. God works through His chosen servants on the earth today. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). God's work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:37). He desires our happiness and eternal salvation and exaltation because He loves us and wants us to return to live with Him for eternity. The commandments, rules, standards, and guidelines He gives us through His servants help us toward that goal. Jesus Christ taught, "What I the Lord have spoken I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; . . . whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants it is the same" (D&C 1:38). The men called to lead us are called by God Himself! Our Father in Heaven loves us enough to give us living prophets and apostles who give of their lives to help us back to live with our Father in Heaven and with our families for eternity.

I believe that our lack of desire or will power to obey all of Father's commandments simply stems from a lack of understanding of those commandments. Think about from whence those commandments come and why they are given. A complete understanding is not necessary for complete obedience and complete reception of the blessings that come from obedience. Remember, "There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are predicated--

"And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:20-21). If you believe that the prophet is called of God, you do not need a complete understanding of why a particular commandment exists because you know it is of God for it came from Him through His servant. I am not talking about blind obedience, I am talking about trusting that your loving Father in Heaven knows best and hearkening unto His servants.

Jonah did not understand why he had to return to Nineveh, Zacharias did not understand how his wife was to have a baby, Naaman did not understand how washing in the river would cleanse him, the Israelites did not understand why they could only collect a day's worth of manna or how looking upon Moses' staff would heal them, the rich young man did not understand why he was required to sell all that he had, the apostles did not understand why they should throw their nets into the water once again when fishing had thus been fruitless, Abraham did not understand why he was commanded to sacrifice his only son whom his wife had borne in her old age,

In each case, if the person acted in faith and did as he was commanded although he did not understand, he was richly rewarded. But when the people did not exercise faith in God and do as they were commanded, as in the case of the rich young man, for instance, they received no blessing and "went away sorrowful."

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). How do each of the commandments and standards of the Lord help us toward our goal of eternal life? If by no other way simply by learning obedience to Him who gave us life and growing closer to Him. But there is always another way and another reason even if we do not see it at first. I know of personal experience, both following a commandment and living a standard and receiving the blessing and the understanding and not doing so and going away sorrowful. The choice is ours, trust God or trust man (see 2 Nephi 2:27-29).

Jeremy