Recently, we attended tithing settlement and were asked to check the box whether we were Non (didn’t pay), Partial, Full, or Exempt tithe payers. The bishop mused about how it would be if we did the same evaluation on ourselves in all aspects of our church observance. (I certainly don’t think he wanted to be involved in such an assessment – like most bishops, he’s barely going to get tithing settlement done by the end of the year!) Nevertheless, I thought it was an interesting thought experiment as we look at New Year’s Resolutions.
Upon reflection, I’m not sure this assessment process fits all the commandments. Some commandments are pass / fail. Some commandments have even more degrees than this simple ranking system. And it also points out the fact that not all commandments are equal (how do you assess on “tattoos”? I have a partial tatoo? I’ve drawn on myself with a pen? I have a henna tattoo? and what is “exempt” for a tattoo? I have no skin?)
The other issue is that you can comply with the letter of the law but fail to grasp the spirit of the law. Sometimes the spirit of the law is open to interpretation, though. To consider the tithing example, we declare based on our own understanding whether we are partial, full or exempt (exempt generally would be something the bishop or church has told the person, such as missionaries or those members on church welfare who might be considered exempt based on personal circumstances).
But that’s only relevant to paying tithing to the church, not whether we are charitable and love others. It also doesn’t indicate if we are detached from wealth or cling for dear life to the remaining 90% of our earnings. Several years ago, when I was working in Salt Lake City, our company was doing a charitable giving campaign. Our SLC office was found to be one of the lowest in terms of donations, company-wide. When we talked with employees to determine why fewer people were giving to the campaign, many of them cited tithing as a reason they donated less to charity. They were already giving more money to the church than most people give to charity.
Another example might be the Word of Wisdom. I suppose a standard answer might be that if you never use alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea, you are a “full” observer. What is a partial? That’s probably completely subjective. Some might say you are partial if you sometimes drink those things or are trying to quit. Others might say you are “partial” if you drink herbal tea, energy drinks, diet coke or eat coffee ice cream. Yet, those superficial indicators may miss the point of the commandment. Do you actually make healthy choices and show self-mastery through exercise and diet or just “check the box”? Do you keep your mind clear and alert and ready to receive revelation through the healthy choices you make?
A third example could be keeping the Sabbath day holy, another one that is totally subjective in how we observe it. Since each member defines what it means for their own family, “partial” probably means do they break their own standard, whereas “full” probably refers to consistency over time. However, I know plenty of members who think their own definition (usually with super high restrictions) is more righteous than others. Is it more righteous to force your children to resentfully wear church clothes all day and not play at all or to set the day aside as restful family time while wearing comfortable clothes and enjoying each others’ company?
Consider fasting, another graduated scale of observance. Most Mormons would say you are “fully observant” if you fast monthly for two meals abstaining from both food and drink. Some would say this isn’t enough, that it must be 24 hours or longer. And what is partial?
These examples illustrate the flaw with checklist mentality: while we might be smugly ultra-observant, in doing so, we usually fail to grasp the purpose of the law and may come into conflict with greater commandments as a result of this approach (as Jesus pointed out so well in his life). So, where do you fall for various commandments? Time to declare! Are you partial, full or exempt?
- Love thy neighbor as thyself.
- Love God with all your heart, might, mind and strength.
What about the more ticky tack stuff? Partial, full or exempt?
- Read scriptures
- Magnify your calling
- Participate in your meetings
- Observe the Word of Wisdom
- Be honest in all your dealings
- Other (do tell!)