The Uncomfortable Position of the Exception

While getting ready for Church this morning I had BYU-TV playing over the internet.  I began by listening to Music and the Spoken Word, but after it was over I clicked on a random show (to avoid the horrid “Worship Service”) and let the video play.  I didn’t pay much attention to it until a BYU-Hawaii devotional came on.  The speaker’s talk was solid, but there was nothing really new or revelatory for me in the content of his discourse, which spoke of commitment to living the Gospel.  Like many speakers, he gave a itemized list that summarized his talk.  On the list was the observation that some people obey the words of the prophets only when it is convenient for them.  When hearing the prophet speak, they evaluate the truth of his words based on their own desire to comply.  They deem themselves exceptions and disregard the council.

Like I said, it was nothing new.  I had been taught the same thing since before I was eight – never think of yourselves as an exception because that is a step on the road to apostasy.  This caused a lot of mental anguish as I reached the age that my peers around me started dating and getting engaged.  If I was no exception, I should be seeking the same goal, after all.  I tried dating and generally failed to find a relationship that I felt was a good idea to pursue to the point of marriage (mostly from my own baggage).  This placed me in emotional limbo – how was I supposed to fulfill the commandment to marry and raise a family (a commandment that I wanted to follow) if I never was able to feel good about a relationship with a woman?

A couple of years ago, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave his famous “Hanging Out=Evil” YSA fireside.  He followed his council with:

“If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesn’t apply to you, please don’t write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to confirm that the things I have said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance….

As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. …  I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.” (Dallin H. Oaks, 2006)

I remember becoming angry the first time I heard that.  So exceptions do exist?  Where did that leave me?  In what I felt was a rather glib statement, the Apostle had said, “hey, some of what we say may not apply to you and if it does, you are on your own.”  Oh, wow.  Thanks.

I’ve mellowed out in my frustration since then.  What I originally saw as abandonment by the Brethren, I now see as them trusting me to follow the Spirit and were showing respect by allowing me to “govern myself”.  Being lead by the prophet is one thing, having to be dragged on a leash is quite another.

While I think I have gained a small amount of maturity on that particular issue, thinking of myself as an exception doesn’t really sit well with me.  There is a definite uneasiness to not having an clear idea of where you stand with the Lord on an issue, but for me, clarity hasn’t come yet in this particular case.  There seem to be a lot of conflicting views on the issue floating around.  I guess the Lord and I have more to discuss on this matter.

In any case, I guess writing a letter is out.

Posted in Essays at October 26th, 2008 by Clint. Trackback URI: trackback
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6 Responses to “The Uncomfortable Position of the Exception”

  1. October 26th, 2008 at 4:01 pm #Lisa

    I had a much different response to that statement – one of relief.

    Finally! Someone of authority recognizes, out loud, that there is a gray area.

    I couldn’t believe it, but I was and am grateful for it. I’m not a lifelong member, though (I was baptized 8 1/2 years ago), and I know my husband, who is a lifelong member, had strong issues with ever deviating from what the Brethren, local mostly, say. He’s learned, though, that sometimes there are exceptions, that sometimes it’s okay to say no to a calling (really). We just have to take care in checking our motives and reasons, make sure they’re in line with the Spirit and not just any selfishness on our part.

    That said, I do understand the uneasiness issue. It’s easier to think there is only one way to go about something…safer. Once you realize you’re on your own sometimes, it can be scary. The Lord has faith in us, though, too. If He didn’t, Satan would’ve had his way and we’d be forced to accept everything without question.

    All that said, I hope you find peace. It’s a difficult, sometimes long process, but I’ve found great fulfillment in it as well.

  2. October 26th, 2008 at 4:36 pm #TheFaithfulDissident

    I remember that article by Oaks very well. I remember feeling confused. Not sure whether I should feel relieved to know that maybe I WAS an exception and that God really DID tell me to marry my non-member husband. Or was I just fooling myself that an average Jane like myself was some rare exception to the rule? I mean, I guess I COULD have just gone to Utah, spent thousands of dollars on airfare and tuition, hoping for Mr. RM Right to come along. Hey, who am I to say that it wouldn’t have happened if I had made more of an effort to hunt down an RM? So, as always, I was left feeling guilty that maybe I hadn’t made enough of an effort. As the years have gone by, I’ve made peace with my decision and I feel it was the right one for me. Elder Nelson’s talk from conference felt like another attempt to chip away at that peace, but in the end, the only way I can feel at peace with myself and the Lord is to believe that I am indeed the exception to the rule. If I’m wrong, well, at least I was happy in this life and can go out with a clear conscience — at least where my marriage is concerned. I still have some other stuff to work on. :)

  3. October 26th, 2008 at 7:38 pm #Carolyn

    I remember a talk given in general conference by one of the 70 several years ago. Among the many things that he said, one thing really stuck out to me and it has come back to me again and again in connection to this issue. He said that God gives us extreme examples to take away our excuses. In the scriptures and in the lives of our fellow-members, we can see extreme examples of sacrifice. There are people the world over struggling to maintain the high standards set by the Lord, often with great personal sacrifice.

    Sometimes, circumstances might make it literally impossible for us to obey God’s commandments. But, most of the time, obedience is possible. It just might be really really hard. That’s why there are faith-promoting examples of sacrifice and obedience in the scriptures and lives of the saints. Those stories can bolster our determination to obey and show us the path to peace in this life and glory in the life to come.

    Obviously, I’m not making a judgment about where you stand in this dichotomy. In actuality, your faith and determination to obey whenever possible is one of the examples for me. Thank you for taking away my excuses and for showing me the path to peace.

  4. October 27th, 2008 at 4:22 pm #Heather

    Clint- I don’t really have anything profound to say on this or any doctrine to quote or whatever, I just know that you and both of my sisters have inspired me to really think about what it is you are experiencing. I know that this is extremely difficult and an internal battle you are facing. Because of circumstances that I am surrounded by lately, it’s been weighing on my mind how to react to such a thing. I mean, I’ve grown up my whole life being a member of the Church and taught or maybe even forced to think a certain way about the gay lifestyle. I believe there is a gray area. It’s hard to contemplate that concept sometimes growing up in a house where everything was clearly black and white. I’m learning to form my own thoughts and feelings and how I stand on certain subjects…this being one of them. I appreciate you being so candid. I appreciate your faithfulness. And I do not envy such a difficult process and thing for you to go through, but know that you are a strong and wonderful son of God who knows and loves you and has (as someone mentioned earlier) enormous faith in YOU as well.
    Even though I am sure that someday we will know why Heavenly Father gives each one of us certain challenges, I wish I knew NOW. ? I mean, there’s the generic answer of trials make us stronger, blah blah blah. But there are certain challenges that leave me with a giant question mark on my head. Just know that I am thinking of you, of my sisters who deal with this everyday too, and of what is going on around me and that I love and appreciate you a lot. I am proud of you and think you are a wise soul. I know this is quite a sensitive thing to go through, but know hope that you will always try to be prayerful and trusting and also to not be offended by others in their ignorance- including me… which I am trying to overcome.

  5. October 27th, 2008 at 5:50 pm #Clint

    @Heather, no worries. I’ve never felt offended or uncomfortable in your home – I’m not quite as sensitive as all that. Dramatic, yes, but not so overly sensitive. :-)

    Yeah, it is weird growing up and having your world-view forcefully changed because of circumstances beyond your control. This has happened to me and I have seen it happen to those around me because of me. …which is kinda weird. But rest assured, while there is a definite ebb and flow when it comes to frustration, I believe my testimony actually to be stronger as a result of my sexuality rather than weaker. There may have been an easier way, but this is my way…apparently.

  6. October 28th, 2008 at 7:41 pm #Molly

    Just came across your blog. What you said really helped me: “There is a definite uneasiness to not having an clear idea of where you stand with the Lord on an issue.” I feel like we’re told to seek out answers on our own, to study things out and to make a decision, and yet if that decision doesn’t line up 100% with what we’ve been counseled in our church lessons, we feel like we’re doing something wrong; not listening to the prophet; being a bad church member; a bad person. Sometimes I forget that Heavenly Father knows us and trusts us to make decisions on our own sometimes. Thank you.