Sunday, September 15, 2013

A letter to my children

There has been a lot of discussions in the media and on various blogs lately regarding modesty, dress/grooming standards, what is appropriate/inappropriate to post on social networks, etc. As a father of nine (soon to be ten) children, with three of them being teenagers right now, I wanted to let them know where I stand. This is based on my opinions and expectations as a father, and also on my understanding of gospel principles and guidance given to us by modern prophets and apostles. 
So, if I were to write an open letter to my children, it would go something like this:
My sons and daughters-

I want each of you to know that you are a precious son or daughter of both a Heavenly and an earthly father. We both love you and want what is best for you. We both want you to learn and grow and develop and progress as you go through this life here on earth so that you are eligible for exaltation and all the blessings that God has in store for you. In order to be able to do that, our Heavenly Father has given us commandments and expectations and rules and covenants, and He has entrusted me, as your earthly father, to help teach you these things so that you can be obedient and obtain all these blessings. As a parent and a teacher, I try to follow this example:
John Taylor, 3rd President of the Church, 1880–1887 
Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. "How?" responded the gentleman; "to us it is very difficult." Mr. Smith replied, "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."
"The Organization of the Church," Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339.
So in the spirit of attempting to teach correct principles and allowing you to govern yourselves, here's something that I've learned and want to pass along to you.

One of the many challenges you may face has to do with standards of dress, grooming, and modesty. The world teaches that we are all individuals, and that we should be able to do what ever we want (as long as we're not hurting anyone else). So that what we wear, how we style our hair, and what we do to our bodies (i.e. tattoos, piercings, etc.) is our choice and no one should be able to tell what we can or can't do since it's not hurting anyone else. We are bombarded with messages that tell us to express ourselves, to take pride in our uniqueness and to fight against conformity. There will even be arguments based on scriptural references (i.e. "But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7). You may face conflicting messages from friends, their parents, your teachers, church leaders, and others about what modesty is and why we have the standards that we do. In attempt to clarify my understanding (and realize I'm not speaking for the church, but I believe my opinions are in line with what has been taught), I'm breaking this into three main parts. 1) General principles that apply to both my sons and daughters 2) Counsel specific to my sons 3) Counsel specific to my daughters.

General principles:
In the True to the Faith book published by the church, it gives this counsel and direction regarding modesty:

Modesty is an attitude of humility and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If you are modest, you do not draw undue attention to yourself. Instead, you seek to “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also verse 19).
If you are unsure about whether your dress or grooming is modest, ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?” You might ask yourself a similar question about your language and behavior: “Would I say these words or participate in these activities if the Lord were present?” Your honest answers to these questions may lead you to make important changes in your life. The following information will help you in your efforts to be modest.
Prophets have always counseled us to dress modestly. This counsel is founded on the truth that the human body is God’s sacred creation. Respect your body as a gift from God. Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is.
Your clothing expresses who you are. It sends messages about you, and it influences the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you can invite the companionship of the Spirit and exercise a good influence on those around you.
Central to the command to be modest is an understanding of the sacred power of procreation, the ability to bring children into the world. This power is to be used only between husband and wife. Revealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violate the Lord’s law of chastity.
In addition to avoiding clothing that is revealing, you should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. In dress, grooming, and manners, always be neat and clean, never sloppy or inappropriately casual. Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. If you are a woman and you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of modest earrings.
Maintain high standards of modesty for all occasions. Do not lower your standards to draw attention to your body or to seek approval from others. True disciples of Jesus Christ maintain the Lord’s standard regardless of current fashions or pressure from others.

Let me emphasize a couple points:
  • Your body is not merely a physical object. It is literally a temple-a gift from God that houses an eternal spirit and that will eventually become a perfect, immortal body when you are resurrected.
  • Modesty is a spiritual principle as well as a temporal one. It is not primarily about what you are wearing but more about why-modesty reflects our attitudes and understanding about eternal gospel principles. 
  • What we wear and how we act influence both our actions and the actions of others. 
  • What we wear and how we act indicate the level of respect and understanding we have for different circumstances, places, and activities.  
  • What we wear and how we act indicate the level of respect and understanding we have for our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ and their divine plan for us.
  • Being modest at all times and in all places is part of what makes us worthy for the blessings of the temple.
  • Modesty is also a principle of obedience. It doesn't matter whether or not we agree or disagree with the standards and counsel we have been given by the Lord through the leaders of His church. We will always be blessed by being obedient, even if it's obedience only by faith. When we criticize, find fault, openly disagree with, and/or willfully disobey the commandments of God and the counsel of His leaders, we lose the companionship of the spirit and are heading towards apostasy and the loss of eternal blessings.
For my sons:

You have or will be given the priesthood when the time comes and if you are worthy. Part of being worthy of this responsibility is to both maintain standards of modesty and grooming for yourselves and also to encourage those around you to be modest as well. This has to be done by setting the proper examples of dress, grooming, and behavior. Choose your friends wisely and be cautious when it comes to social media, books, movies, music, video games, etc.
There will be times when you will be exposed to immodesty, vulgarity, bad behavior etc. Always remember that it is your choice how you will react. You have been given agency and you are expected to choose what is right. It is possible to be in the world but not of it. The ultimate  responsibility for your choices and actions rests with you. Always treat women with the respect they deserve as divine daughters of our Heavenly Father. And yes, this includes your sisters. Never be rude, demeaning, mean, abusive, and/or mocking. Be an example of a righteous priesthood holder. Be worthy of the blessings of the temple. The message that most of the world today would give is that women are objects and that their value is based only on their physical appeal and appearance. Do not ever fall for this lie. Do not ever give the women that you associate with the impression that all you care about is how they look. Always remember that they are daughters of God and that you will be held accountable for they way you treat them.

And finally, read and ponder this talk by Elder Ballard:

Fathers and Sons: A Remarkable Relationship

For my daughters:

The topic of modesty is a sensitive one in this day and age. The culture of today bombards you with messages that are in direct contradiction to the principles of the gospel. It would have you believe that the only power a woman has is in her ability to be seductive to men. Please don't ever fall for this lie. Remember your divine worth and don't ever lower your standards for the sake of gaining the acceptance of the world. Like I said to your brothers, it is possible to be in the world but not of it. Dress modestly and appropriately at all times. Be aware of the influence you can have on the men with whom you associate with. Never dress in ways or act in ways or speak in ways that would encourage them to view you as anything but a daughter of God. Help them in their desires to maintain the high standards set by the Lord. You have also been given the gift of agency and are expected to choose what is right. Take pride in your appearance without becoming obsessed. And always remember that the adversary wishes nothing more than for you to be miserable for eternity and will use every weapon at his disposal to accomplish this goal which includes enticing you to lower your standards and do what is accepted by the world today. Be strong and faithful and obedient. Be worthy of the blessings of the temple.

And finally, read and ponder this talk by Elder Ballard:

Mothers and Daughters



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