Paul told the Thessalonians to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5: 22). But this is a very hard task indeed. Even Jesus Christ couldn’t avoid the appearance of evil. Sure, his accusers could find no fault with him, but they still saw him as evil. (See John 5: 8-12, 6: 41-42, 7: 12, & 9: 16 as just a few examples.)
As a youth, one Sunday during our Aaronic Priesthood class, we were asked by our Young Men’s leader what we would think if he walked out of a bar. I stated that I would think he had a good reason to be there, as he was a man of God and he wouldn’t be there to drink. He thanked me than asked what if he came stumbling out. Then, I said, that he must have been in a car accident and needed help. Then he asked, what if my breath smelled of alcohol. I stated that I still would not judge him Matthew 7 tells us not to.
He then looked frustrated and stated that the lesson was on avoiding the appearance of evil. He struggled with the lesson as we, the young men, refused to judge anyone in the stories and examples in the lesson manual.
If we are not to judge, but know we will be judged, the question becomes: how do we avoid the appearance of evil?
The main doctrinal way to avoid the appearance of evil is to follow the Master, Jesus Christ, and to do no evil. Yet some have the notion that we can avoid the appearance of evil by blending in with the “right” crowds. This is such a silly notion! Yet this idea has reached even our trusted leaders.
“In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent. In addition, unkemptness—which is often (though not always) associated with beards and long hair—is a mark of indifference toward the best in life.” – Dallin H. Oaks
BYU (Brigham Young University) still does not allow beards. In fact, one young man was actually harassed into shaving his beard by his fellow classmates. In his own words:
“People actually gathered in little groups to point and snicker at me. It felt like a scene from a high school movie.”
The real kicker here is that this young man, Paolo Quezada, was actually growing the beard for the Church. He was to be in a Church video reenacting a part of the Scriptures. What does it say to nonmembers when BYU students are mocking someone for doing something for the Church? An outsider might assume from this that at BYU, actually being evil is better than appearing to be a part of the “drug culture.”
This isn’t the first time the Church or Church members have done what many might consider evil while trying to avoid the appearance there of.
Maybe because of William McCary attempt to usurp Brigham Young’s authority in Winter Quarters (Encyclopedia of African American Religions (New York: Garland Publishing) pgs 471–472), maybe because Young, as the Church has stated, supported racism. Either way Young led the Church into real evil by making the man-made policy that “blacks” couldn’t hold the priesthood. Today the Church leaders “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present,” including those of our past leaders.
To avoid the appearance of evil, there was far too much speculation that fueled racism in LDS culture.Young was clearly going against the teachings of the Lord through Joseph Smith Jr. And, it would be some time before the restoration of the truths Smith gave us from the Lord were again restored to the Church through Spenser W. Kimball taking the time to ask the Lord about this matter.
We should not condemn the Church or these men for their weaknesses and failings, for we too have our own failings. Yet we should still be mindful of them that we are not deceived. These deeds, trying to cover up or hide our sins in the past, may have had a greater overall effect on the Church. One has to wonder if it was this type of evil – race discrimination – that helped spur LDS support for the Nazis before and during the first parts of WWII.
“Under pre-war American mission presidents, the Mormons pursued avenues of commonality with the Nazi state. They emphasized their interest in genealogy, sports and large families, sent husbands into the Wehrmacht and sons into the Hitler Youth, and prayed for a German victory when the war began. They purged Jewish references from hymnals, lesson plans and liturgical practices, and in a few cases shunned Jewish converts. The wife of an American mission president rode with Hitler in the Führer’s limousine on the way to Nazi youth rallies. Another American mission president wrote an article for the official Nazi Party daily newspaper, extolling parallels between Utah Mormon and German Nazi society.” – David Conley Nelson
In spite of all of this, the beautiful thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is one of repentance. We, as a Church, can give a heart felt apology and repent, as Gordon B. Hinckley did of our racist past.
President Hinckley is a true messenger of our Lord. Two years ago, I was invited to Salt Lake City by the LDS Church, and President Hinckley took his personal time to sit with our small group that was touring the many ministries and apologized to me in front of the group. That was amazing! Now the [LDS] Church pushes Blacks to learn their lineage via the Church. That will open eyes and doors that will open new avenues of life. – Pastor Cecil Murray
Yet of our more recent evils and past ones, some current leaders are now saying the Church does not repent, that the word “apology” is not to be found in the scriptures. The story of Joseph or Egypt’s brother’s apology to him in Genesis 50 is a perfect example of a heart felt apology. And we, as a Church, should repent of our wrong doings if we want the Lord’s forgiveness and if we want the healing to truly begin.
One has to wonder at what point will the Lord step in and help us to avoid sin rather than avoid the appearance of the evil we are doing. As things stand He cannot. Our leaders hand pick their successors and they will be people that will not resist the anti-Mormon doctrines we have been seeing over the years. It is then up to us, as members, to do our best and teach with love and righteousness to the best of our abilities. They are good men that have been lead astray by their leaders and deserve our love and fellowship.
Avoiding the appearance of evil should come from the inside – who we are. Trying to trick others by our dress, or accepting or rejecting popular or even unpopular opinion rather than aligning ourselves to the will of our Deity leads way from truth and light. It leads away from appearing good and towards being evil too easily. Follow the Lord, lean and do His will and don’t worry about how you appear to anyone but the Him and your light will shine and you will appear righteous to those that also know the Lord. This is the best we can do. We should support our leaders and lovingly, pray for them and follow them to the doctrine of the Church and pray that they will seek and see the Lord’s guidance for them and His Church. We should forgive them and we should not judge them, least we be judged ourselves.