The American Dental Association recommends everyone brush his or her teeth for two minutes twice per day. Their recommendation is based on careful study and data-gathering and is motivated by a desire to help people have good dental health and avoid painful problems. It is, quite simply, True-with-a-capital-T that brushing twice per day is the best choice for everyone.
But when you brushed your teeth this morning, I bet you didn’t even think about the ADA recommendation. You were not motivated by a deep desire to comply with scientific guidelines. Instead, you simply wanted to be your best, to feel clean and healthy.
That doesn’t mean the ADA shouldn’t bother with its guidelines! Some people’s parents didn’t teach them the importance of brushing, or they need authoritative encouragement for other reasons. And even though it might seem like literally everyone will always brush twice per day, trends can change if they’re not backed up with Truth and authority. Agency requires authoritative teaching of truth.
Agency requires authoritative teaching of truth.
Now, instead of brushing your teeth to comply with ADA guidance (choosing high standards to comply with the guidelines), you’ll brush because you value being clean and at your best (choosing high standards because you love the Lord and value the Holy Ghost’s companionship).
Far from signaling a relaxing of standards, this change could actually prompt you to raise them. It should prompt you to honestly examine your motives in ways you haven’t before. Before, you might have chosen your outfit to wear to a church activity because it technically complied with the standards. But maybe your heart wasn’t really in it? Maybe, even though everything was long enough and covered enough, you were still choosing it because it was tight or flashy, and you wanted to draw inappropriate attention to yourself? It’s like when Jesus said it’s not enough to just technically comply with the law by not committing adultery. You need to really search your heart to make sure you’re not even thinking lustful thoughts. Learning to be fully honest with ourselves—and the Lord—is a difficult, necessary, and incredibly rewarding process.
The standards are not gone. Leaders will still set standards for church and activities and teach you specific standards as inspired. But rather than focus on the rule, we’ll emphasize the principle so that the Spirit can teach you more effectively than any teacher or pamphlet ever could.
Some of the confusion stems from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of agency. Some influencers are mistakenly saying the standards had to be abandoned because it violates your agency to tell you what to do. This is wrong about the standards—they weren’t abandoned—and wrong about agency.
We know from the scriptures that Satan tried to destroy the agency of man (and woman). For a long time, many Church members thought that meant Satan wanted to force us to choose the right. We thought he would have turned us into Satan’s Robots, unable to choose anything except what he programmed into us, which is to say, unable to meaningfully choose anything at all.
So what did happen? Satan wanted to overthrow God and His love for us, so he targeted the heart of the plan of salvation: redemption. An even worse fate than being a robot is to sin but not be able to repent. So Satan said we should all be exalted regardless of our choices.
I imagine his arguments then sounded a lot like his arguments now: “A loving God wouldn’t condemn anyone for their choices! He would exalt everyone without judging and imposing his unloving standards! If you give me God’s glory and power, I will exalt every single soul, regardless of their righteousness!” In other words, Satan proposed to save us in our sins instead of redeeming us from our sins when we repent. But without redemption, there is no progression; we can’t become like God if we’re forever stuck with our sins and their consequences.
This was such a bad idea that the scriptures specifically condemn it and tell us how God prevented it. The symbol of God using “cherubim and a flaming sword” to “keep the way of the Tree of Life” teaches us how strongly the plan of redemption was safeguarded. If we humans, with our agency and power to choose, had been able to obtain eternal life (symbolized by the Tree of Life) but not redemption in mortality (“a time to repent and serve God”), we would have ended up miserable, estranged from God, unable to achieve our potential or have eternal families.
This is why we cherish the principles that will help us return to God and the standards that help us apply them. Satan wants us to think we narrowly escaped being robots so that we will be suspicious of authority and rules. I’ve heard it said: “Rules and standards are coercive! Don’t tell us what to do; that’s Satan’s plan!” Even grown-ups who should know better fall into this trap. I’ve heard it argued we shouldn’t bring up topics like chastity or abortion at church because people who disagree with church teachings might feel coerced, which infringes on their agency.
That’s absolutely untrue. Teaching church doctrine in authoritative terms is not coercion, and being taught doesn’t infringe on your agency. Agency requires authoritative teaching of truth. That’s why God “gave unto [Adam] that he should be an agent unto himself,” but promised Adam “should not die … until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto [him] repentance and redemption” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:35-42). If authoritative teaching was really coercion, then sending angels to teach Adam would be incredibly coercive. But God isn’t coercive; He lovingly gives us knowledge we need. We cannot fully exercise our agency without good information.
Satan loves to deceive us with flattery. In this case, he uses the false history—”you narrowly missed becoming a robot!”—to flatter you. He tells you you are no mere robot as though that makes you special; he tells you “God respects your agency” as though that legitimizes any choice you happen to make. Don’t fall for it. We are not beings of pure reason, uninfluenced by outside forces.
We are not beings of pure reason, uninfluenced by outside forces.
It’s as though you faced an intense advertising campaign, all day, every day, telling you it’s cool and attractive to never brush your teeth. In that atmosphere, it wouldn’t be coercive for your parents or others who love you to point out what the ADA advises. It wouldn’t infringe upon your agency to learn how the ADA studied the science of tooth decay and based its recommendation on the very best evidence. And your parents wouldn’t be impressed if you insisted you had done your own studies or even received revelation contradicting the ADA.
Your parents would be thrilled if you decided to follow the ADA’s guidance because you trust their evidence. And they’d be even more thrilled if you decided you value having clean teeth more than you want to follow the world’s fashions—just like your Father in Heaven is thrilled when you choose high standards for obedience’s sake, but even more thrilled when you choose high standards because you’re sincerely determined to become like Him