the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone. (Google)
I want to share a few thoughts regarding the responsibility we all have when it comes to “messages”. Yes, I’m driving at something here, but I want to be delicate and yet clear.
When it comes to a message, there are two responsibilities: The responsibility of the sender of the message, and the responsibility of the receiver. So, no message is complete until both parties have fulfilled their responsibility. For example, if an artist paints an image on a canvas, he or she puts effort into the message with the details, colors, lighting, depth, and many other aspects of the piece of art. Then the connoisseur of art wanders into the gallery and receives the message. They are then responsible for some personal interpretation. They can see beauty or offensiveness in their interpretation. They are welcome to see what the artist has not tried to convey if they’d like. When it comes to the message of this art, both parties, the artist and the connoisseur have a responsibility when it comes to the message of the art.
There is a similar responsibility when it comes to prophets and apostles, both living and deceased. I can only imagine the pressure that Paul felt as he worded his writings to the saints in Corinth, Rome, etc. My guess is that he had some inkling of the fact that his eventual audience would include those he would never know. We know that Moroni understood that his writings would reach a large and wide audience (Mormon 8:35) and he seemed to plead to that audience to take appropriate responsibility when it came to the words he wrote (Mormon 8:16-17).
Elder Tad Callister recently gave an address that has resulted in quite a stir online. According to this news report, some people are claiming that Elder Callister’s address on morality and modesty is contributing to the “rape mentality” of our culture. According to the online news report two therapists shared the following:
The women believe, “it [the address by Elder Callister] lowers men down to not much more than an animal, just walking around with these lustful thoughts and breaking out like the Incredible Hulk and attack a woman if she is dressed in not the right way.” (KUTV)
There are a number of other issues taken with the address by these therapists which I’m not going to analyze in this article. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are well-intentioned, which I’m sure they are. What I’m not comfortable with is that they don’t seem to be giving Elder Callister the same benefit of the doubt. Referring to the quote above, I couldn’t find anything in Elder Callister’s address that would lead me to believe that he thinks men are animals and are attacking women if they dress immodestly. When it comes to the other concerns shared in the news article and other places online where Elder Callister is being attacked/corrected, there seems to be a similar drive to take what he actually said and blow it up into something much more controversial.
Here’s my point. Elder Callister has a responsibility to word what he is trying to teach in the most effective way possible and to stay true to the inspiration received through the Holy Ghost. Knowing that he is mortal, there certainly may be room for improvement in the way he expressed things. But we, as readers/listeners have a responsibility to interpret the message appropriately with an effort to tap into the same spirit that formed the message in his heart originally. We also should seek to give him the benefit of the doubt and seek to discern his intent.
If one person dresses immodestly that doesn’t give the person sitting next to them the right to interpret that “message” as an invitation to think or act inappropriately. Sure, the person dressed immodestly needs to take responsibility for their choice in dress, but that doesn’t remove the responsibility of the neighbor for an appropriate interpretation. The therapists referred to in the article would agree with this. Why doesn’t the same standard apply to messages sent by word of mouth from church leaders? We have the responsibility to receive the message with an appropriate interpretation, seeking to give the sender of the message the benefit of the doubt and to discern the intent of the message instead of seeking to pick holes in the message by nitpicking the details of how it was delivered. Does anyone really think Elder Callister would sit here and say, “Yes, if a woman is dressed immodestly, she is, alone, responsible for the thoughts of everyone around her. A man just can’t help himself when it comes to his thoughts…”?
One of the plights of these days we’re in is the propensity to seek to find fault with each message that comes from religious leaders:
For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:
That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought. (Isaiah 29:20-21)
As always, be encouraging…