Recently we enjoyed the privilege of listening to the counsel of the prophets at General Conference, counsel that the Savior himself has directed the prophets to give. Why, then, do men put on a suit and tie, travel to a stake center to hear the words of a prophet and then blatantly refuse to follow the prophet’s counsel? Why would a woman set aside all her activities for an entire weekend in April and October, listen to eight hours of revelatory messages, and claim the messages didn’t apply to her?
Men and women, wanting to see themselves as believing and obedient Latter-day Saints often seek the prophets’ counsel, and then justify disobedience with the rationalization they are the “exception to the rule.”
I imagine every single admonition given at Conference this weekend was heard by someone who considered himself the “exception to the rule.”
“I know tithing is required by the Church, but we have excessive medical bills that exempt us,” one may claim, or
“I know I ought to spend more than 15 minutes a month home teaching, but I’m exempt because I work two jobs.”
“I know we have been counseled to stay for all three meetings at church, but I have a bad back and I, for one, can’t sit that long.”
Apparently members listening to the prophets speak have been known to ask the prophets for permission to exempt themselves from the rules.
Dallin Oaks said, “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. Don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception.... Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.” (June 2006 Ensign)
Clearly, there are some exceptions to the rules. I have witnessed several. My aunt was scheduled to be sealed to her husband in the Salt Lake Temple two days after Christmas in 1990. However, the week before Christmas she was murdered by escaped convicts in the Oakley mountains. Normally a sealing doesn’t occur until the deceased has been gone for at least a year. In this case the Brethren made an exception, and my aunt was sealed to her husband by proxy on the same day she had been scheduled to be sealed in life.
Exceptions to the rule are, by their very definition, rare. Yet, those who want to exempt themselves from the rules are plentiful.
Our sacrament meeting attendance as a church is somewhere around 30%. I imagine many of the 70% who do not attend sacrament meeting consider themselves exceptions to the rule. I can comprehend 7% of the people considering themselves exceptions to the rule, but 70%?
We have been asked to home teach and visit on a monthly basis. In some wards those who believe they are “exceptions to the rule” are rare, and very few fail to home teach. But overall, the percentage of those who fail to home teach is not in the “rare” category, but more often in the “rarely” category.
We have been asked to attend the wards within the geographical boundaries where we reside, yet many will refuse. They feel they are exempt from this church-wide rule because there is somebody in their ward they just can’t abide, or there are people in another ward they absolutely must be beside.
Because my expertise is in adolescent relationships, I pay close attention to those who think they are exceptions to the rule to avoid steady dating before a mission. “I understand a girlfriend might derail other young men,” a father recently declared, “but my son is so stalwart a girlfriend will in no way affect his mission adversely.” How tragic it would be for this man to discover, too late, that his son wasn’t the exception to the rule after all.
Whereas, exceptions to rules do exist, it is easy to rationalize and convince ourselves that we are an exception to the rule, simply because we don’t like the rule.
President Harold B. Lee said, “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory” (D&C 21:6) (Teaching of Harold B Lee p. 525.)
True “exceptions to the rule” usually regret that they are exceptions. Some young mothers legitimately can’t fast because they are nursing, and they long for the day when they can live the law of the fast again, and realize those blessings. Some elderly legitimately can’t attend church because they are bedridden and they long for the blessings of fellowship. All the commandments the Lord has given us are blessings, and we deprive ourselves of blessings when we exempt ourselves from the rule.
Let us be grateful that we are NOT the exception to the rule. Let us be grateful that we have the ability to obey the rules the Lord has established for us because he delights to bless us.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Jacksonville, Florida and the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance, available at www.amazon.com.