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You Naughty Boys!

By Hildie Westenhaver

Last month my son, York, was in his high school’s musical. It was his first time being in a show of any sort and he loved nearly every minute of it. The director pulled him aside after the first month of rehearsals. “You’re Mormon, right?”, she asked. “Because there’s a performance on Sunday.” The director assured him that they’d be able to cover his parts and that he shouldn’t worry about it.

Later that week York found out that the other two Mormon boys in the show would be performing in the Sunday matinee. I wondered what the director and the other cast members must be thinking. I really didn’t know what to think, myself. It’s fine to say, “to each their own” and let the chips fall where they may. But is that the right response when the people making bad decisions are fellow members of the church?

I guess I need to clarify that I think performing on the Sabbath is a bad decision. I know there are plenty of my fellow Latter-Day Saints who wouldn’t dream of missing a game or play or recital if it’s on a Sunday. But I look at the fourth commandment and pretty much make an across-the-board decision: if it’s not holy, it’s not happening.

OK, I have been known to travel on the Sabbath, and I have eaten out on the Sabbath too. My own mother—a Sabbath stickler—allowed me to perform in piano recitals on Sundays but not ballet recitals (much to my childhood dismay). I do feel, though, that it is important to show kids that they need to stick to their guns and keep the Sabbath holy even when it’s not convenient.

What I want to discuss here is not what’s OK on the Sabbath. But what do you tell your kids and non-members when it’s your fellow Mormons who are the ones not setting a good example? Since the other boys in the school play had bigger parts than my son, does that make it OK for them to be in a musical on a Sunday?

I really struggled with what to say to York. We do not live in a society that condemns people’s behavior. We’ve been thoroughly convinced that we must never tell another person that what they are doing is wrong. Ultimately, though, I thought the other boys’ decisions were wrong. And that’s what I told York. If they had been skipping classes or partying on the weekends I most certainly wouldn’t feel bad about pointing out their poor decision-making skills. But this grey area stuff makes me pause.

Is Sabbath-keeping a grey area to you? What about other commandments that seem up to interpretation, like dressing modestly and watching rated-R movies? Do we have the right to pass judgment on how people keep these rules? How do we explain this to our children?

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

27 thoughts on “You Naughty Boys!”

  1. This is a timely post for us. My 12 year old daughter's orchestra just got invited to audition for "America's Got Talent," and the audition was on a Sunday. Neither my husband nor I had a problem with letting her audition, it felt very much like a once in a lifetime opportunity, even though we are usually pretty by the book when it comes to Sundays. Interestingly enough, the audition got changed to Saturday, and my daughter was the most relieved.

    She has had multiple violin recitals on Sundays, and her teacher and a huge majority of other performers are all LDS. Not sure what's ok in that case- we don't love the recitals on Sundays, but it definitely feels like one of those gray areas.

  2. Interesting question. What I tell me kids depends entirely on what the "bad" decision is- whether it's something no one should do (ie something dangerous or illegal) or just something Mormons aren't supposed to do. So usually I tell my kids that it's none of our business (again, unless it's dangerous or illegal, in which case I keep my children away from that person). But I just don't have the desire to worry about whether everyone is following all the Mormon rules, whether they're doctrinal or cultural. We'll do what we think is right, and everyone else us welcome to do the same.

  3. Since I believe "feeding one's soul" is completely appropriate on the Sabbath, I would assume the best of the other two boys; they are performing because it enriches them, strengthens their individual worth, and feeds their souls.

  4. I think it's perfectly acceptable to keep your son home from the Sunday performance, but it made me cringe a bit that you told him you thought they were making a "wrong" decision and setting a bad example. Maybe, for your son, it was the right decision to stay home, but, for them, it was the right decision to participate. Maybe they prayed about it with their families. The fact is, we're all entitled to personal revelation, and we need to focus on our own obedience, not judge others for real or imagined infractions.

    Some families forbid caffeinated drinks. Some families let their kids play with friends on Sundays. Some people interpret the word of wisdom to mean they shouldn't eat meat. Some men grow facial hair and wear colored shirts to church. We all have our personal standards, and it's okay if your standards are different than someone else's (yes, even someone LDS). The gospel offers some latitude, and God granted us brains and the Spirit to figure out what's best for our own circumstances.

    Imagine the powerful lesson you could teach by refusing to pass judgment on those boys, instead saying "It was their decision to participate, but for our family, this is part of keeping the Sabbath holy."

    Love trumps a Sunday performance. God gets to judge–thank heaven we don't have to.

    (How wonderful for your son to be involved in such a fun and cultural activity. I'm so glad the director was understanding and able to accommodate him.)

  5. I have to agree with Lindsay. Don't waste your energy worrying about others. My daugher's an orphan in her school's production of Annie right now. The performances are coming up. None of them are on Sunday–lucky us. But my daughter was so excited when she told me that she'd miss the post-performance clean-up on Sunday. I think I'll leave the final decision up to her, after a discussion about weighing the sabbath-day against a responsibility to do her part, even the yucky parts like cleaning up. I'm not sure I want her to learn that the sabbath day gets you out of hard work & pawn it off on others.

  6. I agree with Lindsey.

    When it comes to keeping the Sabbath Day holy there isn't a clear cut line. We should let families make their own decisions.

    I think you might want to use your imagination a little more as you try to be less shocked about other people's decisions on how to live the gospel. It could be that these families aren't as strict about Sunday activities, but they place more emphasis on helping the needy than your family does. I remember criticizing something another family did to my daughter, but then feeling wrong about it, so I talked to her about some of the ways the other family seemed to be able to live the gospel more faithfully than us.

    For years our family was late to church. I'm sure somebody could have deciding I was making a wrong choice. However, instead of getting upset with my husband and having the spirit of contention, I had decided after a couple years of marriage that I would make having a loving spirit in our home be the most important thing and prioritize it over being on time. Because my husband would never start getting ready early enough it meant that I had to happily and patiently wait for him. I absolutely think I was making the right decision. ANd my husband was doing his best, which fell short of being perfect.

    My children go to birthday parties on Sunday, as long as they don't conflict with church. This would be a different choice than what others might make. I believe it is the right choice for us because playdates are a very rare thing for children here. Birthday parties consistantly are the only way for me to meet the parents of my children's playmates at school. By opting out of birthday parties, I do not have a chance to be a part of the community. I feel strongly that the Lord wants me to be an influence for good in the world and I take it seriously.

    Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is something that church leaders are more careful about listing exact "do not"s because things will change as cultures change and society changes.

    I never, ever criticize someone for being stricter than me about movies or Sabbath Day activities. I think that lines are good and it is far easier to say "none of that" rather than a moving line, because the moving line can easily move to far. But I hope we can also understand people whose line needs to be a little farther out than ours, because their circumstances are different.

    As for Mormon teens, my daughter is a Mormon teen who currently is not sure what she believes. She has high standards and is not a rebel. She is making many, many wonderful decisions. I do not know what others think about her. She is forthright with her leaders about where she is at, while at the same time trying to be polite during lessons and not undermine the faith of others. Do we require that church members have a 100 percent sound testimony of everything at all times? Is that really fair to my daughter? We are a church that tells everyone that they can pray just as Joseph Smith did. It is ok to ponder and pray, and grow on this journey. 9 months ago my daughter gave a talk that 3 people told us was "the best youth talk they had ever heard." Now, she is struggling with finding a more mature faith. So far, I have felt like friends and leaders are there to support her, love her and teach her. Each child is different and we need to be kind, even when we are righteously judging.
    Seriously, besides disbelief the only standard my child isn't living is the no swearing. I wonder if there are mormon kids and parents out there judging her. Perhaps. To them, I would point out that my child never yells at me, she treats me with respect and kindness every day, if she ever breaks a rule she comes to me and tells on herself because she has a lot of integrity, and she is generous and I have never heard her come home and criticize any kid she knows at school or at church.
    If my child made the decision not to participate in a play, I would support them. If the other Mormon kids made a different decision, I would try to lovingly point out that some people walk a little more slowly on the path, or take more detours, but we should always be cheering for them to keep going.

  7. I have no current comparable situation, but I felt incredibly judged by your post. I generally assume people live and let live without actively judging each other, but posts like this remind me that is not the case.

  8. I think you need to stop worrying about those "naughty boys" and start working on being less judgmental yourself. If you want to set an example and be more Christ like putting others down and criticizing is not the place to start. You're just instilling in your kids that your family is better than others which isn't the case at all.

  9. As with most parenting decisions, I think the key is to be prayerful and seek the Spirit's guidance. When I was "the Mormon" in my high school, I had the opportunity to travel to a statewide conference that included participation on Sunday. I'd never done something that would keep me away from Church before, but I felt I should participate. My parents respected my decision, and because I went I had many wonderful opportunities to share the Gospel with peers. (One of the teens I met at the conference later joined the Church.)

    There were also no other Latter-day Saints in my children's schools. When they were young, we made it clear to them that Sunday was our Sabbath, a "church and family" day for worship, service, and nurturing family relationships. Most of their friends' parents respected our reasons when we regretfully turned down invitations to parties and outings. (Where birthday celebrations were involved, we made it a point to invite the hosting friends to do something else with our daughters at another time.)

    One of our girls played soccer in a Christian-sponsored sports league through her upper elementary and middle school years. Sadly, some matches were scheduled on Sundays, but most of the other parents were understanding about our daughter missing them. (One mother was not. I can still see the frustration in her face as she said, "We go to church in the morning before the game, too, so why can't you?" It only mollified her slightly when I explained that we'd promised God, as a family, to dedicate the WHOLE day as holy time. Fortunately, there were enough teammates available that our girl's absence never caused a forfeit.)

    Our youngest child has been in theater for years. It is the one extracurricular activity she is passionate about. Sometimes there are Sunday performances. As a young adult who does not currently share my beliefs, she considers Sabbath observance unimportant. My prayers have led me to continue supporting the development of her talents and interests and to show my unconditional love for her regardless of her choices. I proudly attend her performances on the other days of the week.

  10. Mormons don't have a monopoly on keeping the Sabbath holy. There could be other religious kids who are in the play who might not want to do it on Sunday, or they might not be very pious. I try to subscribe to judge not lest ye be judged, because I know I won't come out well.

    I'm sure there are a lot of things my family does on Sunday that others don't. We also drink too much Coke. My husband is from a strict sabbath observing family, and only one of the six boys is still that strict, two have left the church and the other three are active yet less rigid. We don't let our kid play with friends on Sunday, but we will do family bike rides. We don't play golf or swim, but we play video games and watch movies. We are almost always late for church and don't make it until second hour during 9:00am church. Stake conference is considered free Sunday at our house, a tradition brought from my family (my dad grew up hunting and fishing on Sunday and had marginal attendance), a tradition my husband happily embraced.

    I'm sure some judge us for not being perfect Mormons, but our imperfect example has helped fellowship three neighboring families back to activity in the church. One person flat out said that by just being welcomed to the neighborhood and befriended was a huge part of his reactivation. And not being judged because he was out in his yard having a beer and a smoke. I looked at him the way I hope my brothers neighbors look at him, as a friend and human, and not as a sinner.

  11. I agree with Lindsay, too.

    My parents (staunch and careful Sabbath observers) once let me choose whether or not I would go to Disneyland on a Sunday with the music camp I was attending. They asked me to be prayerful and consider carefully, but told me I could make my own decision.

    The New Era story would be that I chose to stay home and attend church. But I didn't. I went, kissed a cute boy, played with the orchestra, and had a total blast. I guess I was a naughty girl.

    So their trust didn't pay off, but I was so happy that my often controlling parents let me choose for myself. And guess what? A couple of years later I went to BYU, got married in the temple, and have stayed totally and completely active in the church. In fact, in college, my dad gave my a blessing that I would be healthy throughout my college years if I kept the Sabbath day holy. For the next 6 years, I almost never even studied or practiced on Sunday. I learned to love the Sabbath day and to keep it holy.

    Do I still love the Sabbath day? Yes. Do I play in concerts on Sunday? Yes. Do I attend concerts on Sunday? Sometimes. Am I a naughty girl? Maybe. But I love my Father in Heaven and I am pretty sure He loves me too,

  12. We are fairly strict about Sabbath observance and other things. In general I am a "live and let live" kind of person. The mantra that I repeat to my children is "different families have different rules, and that is OK" as well as "not everyone believes the way we do, but they are still good people". I will say that there have been a few times when I have had to speak to my children in a way that probably is passing judgment. What else do you do when your child comes back to you again and again trying to push the boundary that you have set using the reasoning that "so-and-so's family lets them do it"? For example, we have neighbors (active LDS) who allow their young daughter to participate in competitive dance and cheerleading that IMO is very sexualized. The girls wear heavy makeup, dress in skimpy outfits, and dance in ways that I don't think are appropriate for young girls. It has been very difficult for my 7-year-old to understand why we won't allow her to do the same. After many discussions on this issue with me repeating all that jazz about every family getting to make the choices that are right for them, I have finally had to come and and just tell my daughter that I think this kind of dancing is wrong and that I don't think its right for children to be participating in it at all, period. If there is a better way to have handled this, I would love to know.

  13. I think the danger of living in today's world is buying into the idea that we have no right to "judge" anyone else's actions – ever. As parents we are supposed to teach our children right from wrong. If they come to us with questions about gray areas, the best thing we can do is explain the guidelines WE have chosen and remind them that everyone has their agency (and access to personal revelation). That sounds like what you did in this instance – and it comes across as "judgement" to some people.
    But in my experience, the people feeling the most judged are the ones doing things they KNOW are wrong and feeling guilty about it.

  14. I am glad to hear there are other families who observe the Sabbath day too. There are great blessings that come from it, not least of which is faith–which grows in proportion to our obedience.

  15. I am a recovered silent judgment-passing addict–much of my post-mission life was spent observing others' choices and I did find some comfort and fulfillment in comparing my "righteous" actions with their "sinful" ones. (I always tried to say nice things to their faces, of course, and would never openly criticize.) But at my core I was extremely insecure and needed the approval of others to feel good about myself. In the past couple of years, my life has been completely shaken upside down by the actions of others and many parts of it have crumbled, so that it no longer resembles what it used to. I am strong now, because I have to be, and I no longer have the desire, energy, or time to compare or judge at all. Thank goodness. I'll never go back; it was a miserable way to live. I have flaws, I am a sinner, (we all are), but I love myself, and this means I can truly love others.

  16. Many years ago in a new town my new best friend told me that her family would no longer be able to eat dinner at our house on Sundays because her (very young) children were not able to keep the Sabbath holy at my house. I'm still smarting from that one.

    I don't remember what things my parents said to me about other people's choices. What I do know is that I am, despite my best efforts, incredibly judgmental. I am working so hard to change this. I am tired of noticing if someone's dress at church is too short. I am tired of noticing tattoos or extra piercings. I don't want to think about other people's choices at all, except as they impact me or my family. Which doesn't happen often.

  17. Wow, did you want to blow up the internet?

    "We claim the privilege of worshipping the Almighty God, and allow men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

    "We teach correct principles, and they govern themselves."

    Maybe you should use these more often in your home? I know murder is wrong, but apparently personal revelation can trump our lines in the sand because we still love Nephi the murderer. Also Steve Young didn't serve a mission, and even played football on *Sunday* his whole career. Who are you to know that The Lord didn't prompt him because that was a way he could do missionary work, and open a lot of hearts and homes to the Gospel. We can't judge whether other people are acting differently than us because they received promptings to do so and we didn't. One of those other young men may end up connecting with and converting someone onLy they can, or not.

    Since I can't possibly know, I can't judge whether that is wrong. I can teach my daughter the same thing, that we can be better instruments in His hands if we rely more on our promptings and less on lines in the sand. If I had been taught that at a younger age HF wouldn't have had to teach me so painfully that He prefers I follow His will for my life rather than the "only one right way to obey and be a Mormon" I was living before. I didn't listen to Him in my life because I couldn't conceive it wasn't my path to not have children. Guess what, it is.

    I pray that I can raise my daughter to rely on The Lord, and only worry about pleasing her Heavenly Parents. She may not end up living the same standards everyone else does and I'm okay with that. And God is, too.

  18. Hildie? Are you still there? I'd love to hear your thoughts about the comments. Thanks for being brave enough to put yourself out there.

  19. Wow, lots of comments, lots of perspectives.
    I remember hearing or reading about one doctor, who, by definition, had to work on some Sundays. He chose to make another day of the week his Sabbath, doing what he could to make it a day of rest, a day devoted to Heavenly Father. I thought that was a wonderful solution.
    My family had to draw our line in the sand, especially with birthday parties. At a place of business on Sunday, we couldn't make it; at a home or a park, we'll be there, right after church. Friends' birthday parties simply mean we do as another poster does and take the friend out for lunch another day.
    My son's soccer team made it to regionals and we allowed him to play. His team so rarely goes on to regionals, we wanted him to have that experience. (They got beat horribly, but that's the way it goes.)
    His piano teacher always schedules the recitals on Sundays. What better way to spend Sunday than listening to uplifting music and quietly enjoying friends? The recitals are either at a neighboring church or a nursing home.
    I tend to live and let live, while giving my children the information that they need to make wise spiritual choices. I hope.

  20. We used to have piano recitals on Sunday. I struggled with it, but it's a respectful and calm environment, so I embraced it. Another member of our ward starting taking lessons from the same teacher, and said, "Well, I told the teacher that of COURSE we couldn't come to any recitals on Sunday, because we're (indicating both me and her) Mormon. I was shocked she'd even asked!" I didn't tell her that we had been participating in the recitals on Sunday for years. I felt incredibly annoyed that she would dare speak for me and my family, especially when we had sat down and discussed at length and prayed about whether or not performing on Sunday was breaking the Sabbath. We had come to our own conclusions, felt good about them, and I didn't appreciate her speaking for me.

    On the up side, our teacher no longer schedules recitals on Sundays, which in some ways is less convenient, oddly (Saturdays are sometimes packed with activities), but easier to explain to my children. I guess this woman did us a favor in the end, but I sure didn't like how she went about doing it.

  21. FYI I went back and read my comment and could see how the tone could come off as very rude. In my head it was very friendly and frustrated.

    I recently had a best friend going through hard times who was invited for a dream job interview beginning with a Sunday night dinner. She was giving herself a complex that It was a black and white decision and this was where her worthiness test was. She's the most loving, Christlike friend I know, and HF does not have that line in the sand for her. I told her to forget rules, pray, and listen to the answer.

  22. Religion is not about going to church every Sunday.. It is about treating other properly and avoiding hurting them and oneself as well.

    So it is best to not be religious but being a good person than to go to church on Sunday and abuse people, including one's kin as old Joe did with his plural wives, blood atonement and the rest..

    True religion is in everyday life ….. not elsewhere

  23. Judge me negatively if you want, but very few commandments are closer to black and white than gray. "Keep the Sabbath Day holy" is almost black and white. Its crazy to see so many people justifying and rationalizing why the Lord thinks its okay for them to break a commandment. So many of you think YOU are the exception. Why did the Lord command us to keep the Sabbath day holy if he was going to let all of you off the hook for it?

    I think saying that the other boys' choice was wrong is perfectly acceptable if York is able to understand the other side of the conversation about how we love those boys anyways, we understand they have their agency, etc.


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