Fold Your Arms and Be Reverent!

Now that I have kids in primary, I find myself falling into the same trap that I’ve ridiculed in the past: when I want my kids to be quiet in church, I don’t say “be quiet!” Instead, I say, “be reverent,” as though the two were the same thing. Often times, being reverent means, in part, being quiet. After reading a story in the newspaper about an autistic boy who was kicked out of church, and the judge that upheld it, I began to think more about what it might mean for my own kids to be reverent.

So basically, this 13 year old boy is severely autistic, which just means he’s somewhat disruptive – drooling, spitting, making loud noises, etc – during church services. I’ll say no more about the story; I do not wish to place a judgment on the parents of the child, the parishioners of the church, nor the judge. But the question came up for me: what role should silence play in reverence in a case like this?

Often when I think of reverence, silence plays a part so that I can meditate on my relationship with God. I think of the sacrament in particular, where we are supposed to silently consider “that past week” and quietly meditate on the Savior while the sacrament is passed. (I spend most of that time quietly trying to keep my kids quiet so that everyone else can quietly meditate…) I imagine many in the congregation were concerned about this very thing: how can I worship God in my heart with all that noise coming from the back?

We know that reverence is more than just silence. But what should it entail when it comes to noisy members of the congregation, such as this autistic boy? Here’s what I think: Christ says that when we succor the needy, we are doing it unto him; King Benjamin said that when we are in the service of others, we are in the service of God. If we take these two seriously, then our relationship with those noisy members of our congregation is our relationship with God. So if we come to church to reverence God (or to worship him with reverence), then it seems to me that we ought to be about reverencing those around us, including the noisy autistic boy in the back.

I don’t know what this all means; maybe someone else does?

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11 Responses

  1. I like your post, Joe. Here is a story that touches on similar themes. It is about Emma Sommerville McConkie, as written in her son’s journal:

    “Mother was president of the Moab Relief Society. J_ B_ (a non-member who opposed the Church) has married a Mormon girl. They had several children; now they had a new baby. They were very poor and Mother was going day by day to care for the child and to take them baskets of food, etc. Mother herself was ill, and more than once was hardly able to get home after doing the work…
    One day she returned home especially tired and weary. She slept in her chair. She dreamed she was bathing a baby which she discovered was the Christ Child. She thought, Oh, what a great honor to thus serve the very Christ! As she held the baby in her lap, she was all but overcome. She thought, who else has actually held the Christ Child? Unspeakable joy filled her whole being. She was aflame with the glory of the Lord. It seemed that the very marrow in her bones would melt. Her joy was so great it awakened her. As she awoke, these words were spoken to her, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethen, ye have done it unto me.”
    (Bruce R. McConkie, “Charity Which Never Faileth,” Relief Society Magazine, Mar. 1970, 169).

    This story is so sweet that I hardly want to interpret it, but one thing that it teaches is that when we choose to truly love and extend compassion to others (and to see them as the Lord sees them) we will find ourselves making great sacrifices. No one would have expected this woman to do what she did.

    My own mother has worked with students and preteens with autism and other disabilities for the past 12 years. And two of her recent responsibilities at church were to accompany such children to primary. This was a sacrifice for her, especially when it was so similar to her work throughout the week. But she has also had special experiences in which she has felt that these individuals at her work, etc. are precious to the Lord and that there are blessings in store for them.

  2. Nice post, Joe.

    I will simply say that I occasionally wish that it was more acceptable to (sparingly) shout out “Amen!” in church.

  3. We often assume reverence = quietness, in reality reverence is a deep and abiding respect, particularly towards God and his creations. Think of the way we use the word as a verb: we reverence God or someone of high authority, and that has little to do with being silent, although that may play a part. The word, I believe, has it’s roots in “revere,” a word that signifies deep respect.

    By this definition we are the ones who are being irreverent when we angrily chastise others for being noisy, or when we do not respect them the way they deserve.

  4. I just got on your website, guys (and gals), and I really like it. Interesting stuff.

    As for this post, I really like what Joe has to say. Reverence definitely is more than just being quiet. I think we should definitely treat all our brothers and sisters with respect, without respect of persons.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that shouting “Amen” is such a good idea in sacrament meeting. Maybe in Sunday School? That seems to be a less formal atmosphere.

  5. I just noticed this post on Times & Seasons that is on a similar topic (quiet vs. reverence).

  6. David K.,

    I’m not sure I follow. Why would Sunday School be better than sacrament meeting for an “Amen” shout? Why does it need to be informal?

  7. Well, obviously sacrament meeting is more important than Sunday School, so it would be a more “appropriate” place for making noise, if even that is appropriate. The point is, I think sacrament meeting is supposed to be a quiet atmosphere and that’s what reverence is. Shouting “amen” seems wholly inappropriate in such a setting. Do we really want to end up like the Baptists or those other people who sing and clap in church?

    The only noise that is appropriate for sacrament meeting is the noise the speakers make and maybe the noise that the autistic kids make.

  8. David K (and others),

    My comment about shouting “Amen” in church was largely in jest, but it does raise some intriguing questions.

    I certainly was not trying to suggest that we should “end up like the Baptists or those other people” — though I think it’s interesting that you label them as those who “sing and clap in church.” Certainly we do a whole of singing! Just one kind of “noise” that you didn’t mention as appropriate, though it takes up a good chunk of sacrament meeting. You also didn’t mention babies crying — certainly crying in sacrament meeting is actually the appropriate thing for babies to do.

    But here’s a more telling noise: laughter. I would ask, David, do you think laughter is never appropriate in sacrament meeting? Certainly there is a lot of it (especially the pity laughs after the canned jokes at the beginning of far too many sacrament meeting talks). I think most Latter-day Saints would agree that there could be too much laughter in sacrament meeting — or in any church meeting. But none?

    Now, let’s extend this example to “amening.” I realize that I talked about occasional shouting of “amen” — and that was mostly in jest. But certainly saying “amen” is appropriate — happens all the time (one more acceptable noise you failed to mention). Well, would it really be inherently wrong if members of an LDS congregation said “amen” more often –after particularly poignant points, perhaps. Many of these “amens” would be quiet, just under one’s breath, audible only to those sitting next to them. Others would be a bit more affirmative, perhaps slightly louder, perhaps even (barely) audible to the whole congregation.

    I admit that “shouting” amen is probably a little much, but I don’t see why more “saying” of amen is — even in sacrament meeting, perhaps even during prayers.

    Now, please understand that I am not offering a proposal here. The fact is that there is a cultural context among many Latter-day Saints (especially in the West, especially Utah) in which more “amening” would likely simply be distracting. BUT — is it possible for there to be an LDS congregation where this is not the case? During my mission in Philadelphia, I heard a fair number of amens by urban black members — even in congregations that were dominated by white members transplanted from the West. Many of these amens were quite appropriate I thought — others were simply ridiculous. In these situations, can we really tell these members don’t ever say “amen” in church (except after prayers and talks)? What about a predominant African-American ward — would it be OK if they had more amening than you hear in the “white wards”? I would argue that, depending on the spirit of these amens, that it would be OK.

    Honestly, it’s hard to say that there is something inherent about appropriate laughter in church, but not appropriate amening. Certainly this is simply a reflection of cultural values. (Much of which has been carried over from “Baptists and those other people,” by the way!)

    And we ought to be careful lest we say that there is never an appropriate this-or-that noise in church (perhaps even a rare “Amen” shout!) — lest we be among those who rebuked Brigham Young for spontaneously standing and speaking in tongues. (By the way, I think there was some occasional “Amen” shouting in church back in those days. Perhaps they simply were not as righteous as we are now.)

  9. Oh, I have to say one other interesting thing about babies crying.

    Aren’t the lyrics of “Away in the Manger” interesting?

    “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes. But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”

    Now, you can certain interpret this in many ways. I simply think of a poignant moment in the manger. But I think that many little children are socialized through this hymn to think that Jesus was a special baby who didn’t cry. I think this is pure silliness that ranks right up there with Jesus not drinking wine, but grape juice. I’m pretty confident when I say that Jesus was a crying baby and a wine drinker. As someone who was human in the fullest sense, He certainly doesn’t expect our babies and even certain children to be mute in sacrament meeting.

  10. And also, David, if you look up “reverence” in the dictionary, you will find nothing about quietness or silence.

    The word means respect; it has come to be associated with quietness because it is disrespectful to chat with friends while someone is presented their remarks in church.

  11. I stumbled onto this website and this particular post. I just have to make some comments because no one else has written what I’m thinking.
    It is true that ‘being quiet’ doesn’t mean that adults or children are ‘being reverent’. But…can you be reverent without being quiet? Being quiet is so highly encouraged in the temple. We are only supposed to communicate if it’s necessary. And if it is, we are to speak in a quiet whisper. Why? Because being quiet is indeed part of being reverent.
    As far as babies go, even President Brigham Young said that a crying baby is like a great idea – it should be carried out. Yes, all babies cry, but if you keep them in sacrament meeting, it most certainly disrupts the reverence other people are participating in.
    As many people have commented, we shouldn’t judge each other and their families when it comes to how quiet or reverent they are being. However, it is completely appropriate for leaders to teach the principle of reverence and its importance in church meetings. I also feel strongly that Primary leaders and teachers have the stewardship of guiding children towards reverent behaviors. Children can and should be taught that church is a place to be still and quiet (within reason and according to age, of course). If they aren’t taught at a young age to be quiet, how can they ever feel what reverence means?

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