Sunday, February 19, 2012

Straining at Gnats, Swallowing Camels (Matthew 23:24-28)

I'm going to be completely up front with you: I'm in a rather "soap-box-ish" mood right now as I write this post. But I'm going to try not to get TOO heated in bringing an important topic to the table.

Many of you, especially others of you in Provo, probably found yourselves scratching your heads this week over a viral story revolving around modesty and the BYU honor code. If not, let me tell you the now well-known Valentine's Day story of Brittany Molina, who that day was dressed like this:

She was handed a note by a stranger while she was studying on campus. Initially flattered to receive a secret Valentine, she unfolded it to learn that is was not a love note at all. Instead, it offered her the following rebuke: "You may want to consider that what you're wearing has a negative effect on men (and women) around you. Many people come to this university because they feel safe, morally as well as physically, here. They expect others to abide by the Honor Code that we all agreed on. Please consider your commitment to the Honor Code (which you agreed to) when dressing each day. Thank you."

Yeah, I know. I was confused too. Scroll up again. I couldn't quite see how her appearance would inspire unhealthy thoughts in men (but then again, I'm not the most qualified guy to judge that either). Anyway, clearly it seems like even if the young man was having issues with his thoughts because of what she was wearing, he went about things the wrong way. Definitely overreacted. At least she seems to have been a good sport about it and posted the picture, the story, and the note on Twitter herself, leading to its viral proliferation.

But anyway, while that story is at least to a degree amusing, the next one I have for you is not. With campus abuzz with Brittany's story, I became privy to another conversation about modesty that quickly turned into something quite different. A group of students was discussing how so many girls break the honor code by wearing immodest clothing. This led to a discussion of the evils in the world corrupting the morals we stand for, which led a discussion of how liberals are ruining the world. Ultimately, a conclusion was reached, half-jokingly, to "burn all the liberals, burn all the gays."

This isn't the first time I've heard such things said. And who hasn't heard the classic line of "stick all the gays on an island together" at least once or twice before? It usually doesn't bug me as much as it did this time, and I think the reason was because of their purported devotion to the honor code just a couple minutes before. I thought of the words of Christ when he rebuked the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:24-38, saying,

24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Now, this passage is a little harsh. It is, honestly, TOO harsh for this situation. I am certainly not here to condemn these students to the same degree Christ condemned the Pharisees. However, I think there are some important principles here that apply. Perhaps what bugged me the most is that they were so passionate about maintaining that a skirt that is an inch too short violates the honor code, but apparently don't think that hate speech does. This is what Christ referred to when he spoke of those who would "strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." They made very public displays out of expressing their utter abhorrence for the breaking of tiny technical parts of the law of Moses, but were at the same time violating much more important commands, especially as regards the deeper, principle levels of the law. And that's how I feel we must be acting when we very publicly condemn girls for a few inches of fabric, but disregard what Christ called one of the "Great Commandments," to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you are deficient in love for your fellow men, then I don't care how modestly you dress--you've become merely a whited sepulchre or a vessel clean only on the outside; you "outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy."

Now, let me be clear: I am in no way advocating the swallowing of gnats! There is certainly danger in people pointing to others swallowing camels and using it to justify their own gnat swallowing. By all means I support the principle of modesty and adherence to those outward parts of the BYU honor code. But without clean inner vessels, you aren't really remotely living any code of honor. There is no honor in making degrading comments about others who are different from you. In April Conference of 2006, Pres. Hinckley spoke about the evils of hate speech, specifically regarding race, though it seems his remarks can be equally applied to any hate speech made based on differences in orientation, religion, race, gender, or any other factor. He said:

"Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ...

"Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

"Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

"Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such."

Can it be any more clear than that? 
Now, that being said I must also add a caveat that I've seen the door swing in the other direction sometimes. I've sadly seen other same-sex attracted men get tangled up in deep sexual transgression while decrying a lack of tolerance in others. Don't let the gnats of others allow you to try justifying your camels! Will others judge you whether you are righteous or not? YES THEY WILL! But does their judging make your sins excusable? Absolutely not. And that applies to any sin and every person. 

My suggestion? Take further advice from Christ given on another occasion when he encouraged us to look for the beams in our own eyes before removing the mote (i.e. twig) in our neighbor's. Focus on discovering whatever gnats or camels you are swallowing and eliminate those rather than decrying the wretched evils of what your neighbor is doing. I mean, honestly, how likely are you to help your neighbor when you approach him in a spirit of self-righteousness and without love in your heart? Not very likely. Work on your own inner vessels, and let it begin with the great commandments: to love God, and to love your fellow beings. 

I hope I haven't sounded TOO bitter in this post. I honestly am sure that those students on the whole are great people and maybe just need a little guidance in a few things. So do I. Don't we all? 

My best,



  1. you make a good point.

    I think sometimes people point out the beam/mote thing in a way that is really judging other of judging. which is just a weird way to go about it.

    It is good to remember that we all have beams in our eyes that we need to work out (namely not truly loving our neighbour), and when we have love, then to act.

    I wonder how the writer of the note feels now. I wonder if he feels loved?

  2. You don't sound to soap-boxish to me, but this is perhaps I'm in another of the groups that got slagged off. I'm a liberal. Unfortunately, I hear that kind of hate speech directed at me often enough that I avoid a lot of Church social venues in the US. I get tired of being told I'm an enemy to Christ. (I'm a relief society president and a former seminary teacher. Christ knows I'm not perfect, but he must think I'm at least all right ;-)

  3. A pretty powerful post here and one that stings a bit. I honestly don't think I'm guilty of hate speech. I have felt that I've taken harsh viewpoints and thought many unkind thoughts about people who are from different walks of life than mine. I know I've said unkind things about 'straight' men before.

    This post reminds me of the 'I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay' post from Single Dad Laughing. Another post on how the world really needs more love and acceptance for people, rather than hatred.

  4. Well said!!! I think we too often focus on all the little rules of the church (or a university) and lose perspective of the higher laws and commandments which are more important. I think all the commandments are necessary to keep us humble, faithful and safe but Christ introduced a higher law asking us to turn the other cheek and to only use righteous judgment of others. I don't know the whole situation with what happened with the letter and the honor code, but perhaps on both sides there could be a little more humility, righteous judgment and turning the other cheek. Maybe the person who wrote the note went a little too far but you can't not say the same of the girl who violated the honor code (I read that wearing tights doesn't justify shorter skirts), posted the picture that went viral and made a mockery of her school and its honor code that she signed. I would feel a little embarrassed, annoyed, judged etc. if someone handed me a note about how I had violated the honor code. I went to BYU and was reported over something really ridiculous to the honor code office, the person who interviewed me actually apologized for having had to pull me in. I was really annoyed at whoever it was that reported me, but I also understood that I chose to go to this school, I signed the honor code and I should accept the consequences. On another note everyone has their own trials they have to overcome in life, we don't know everything about what other people struggle with, what their background is and no one has a right to judge anyone especially based on race or sexual orientation. We all have been given weaknesses and trials, and it is not a bad thing, life is about turning our weaknesses into strengths, it is our weaknesses that will bring us closer to the savior if we turn to Him.

  5. John 8:

    "2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. "

    Need we look any further? -Chryssa


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