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Moderate, But Not Lukewarm

There is wisdom in holding space for competing important priorities, while seeking contextual cues in difficult matters to discern the right course. Let’s not confuse that with being “lukewarm.”
Photo by Fa Barboza on Unsplash

My nearly two-year-old daughter and I had a recent conflict. Discovering a pot in our home filled with decorative pebbles, she grabbed rocks by the handful and threw them down our staircase—over and over again. When I asked her to stop, she persisted with equal parts belligerence and delight. I finally picked her up and made her stop. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of baby teeth followed.

Backlash, even from a baby, isn’t fun. But as any good parent knows, there are moments when you must be firm and decisive. A healthy home life also obviously requires many more moments of patience and prudent accommodation. To my nine-year-old son, I once conceded, “I guess you can go ahead and see how eating popcorn on your bed turns out.” Allowing this mess led to the consequence of cleaning. Butter isn’t easy to get out of a bedspread, but preserving moral agency was worth it. 

When exactly to accommodate and when to challenge is not always easy to discern—not in a happy home and not in our often discontented society. Doing so requires a kind of moment-by-moment attunement to the needs of those around us and a deeper grounding in truth to guide our actions—neither of which are easy or quick. 

The house of discipleship may be bound by precepts that reflect seemingly competing truths.

In our contested culture, many are trending away from upholding truth, at least publicly, while others are choosing a socially-comfortable position because the effort required to personally discover and advocate for truth—wherever it falls on the so-called political spectrum—seems too costly.

I get it; making the case for cleanliness in the face of a popcorn party is uncomfortable. I’ve been there. But Christ calls us to bravery—a willingness to speak, to stand up, and yes, even to confront bad ideas when truth is on the line. But bravely standing up for truth doesn’t always mean unyielding rigidity. Truth, after all, recognizes other moral agents as possessing divine potential and, in the American system, certain inalienable rights. For any society to cooperate and promote the good, it must be willing to do the hard work of building unity out of plurality—this has always been the genius of the American experiment.

Recognizing healthy moderation. There is good reason to be wary of waffling wishy-washiness, of course. When the Laodiceans, who received their water by aqueduct four miles away, heard the admonition, “I know thy works … thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,” they could appreciate the unpleasant effects of temperate water in the analogy. Devoid of properties to either refresh or steep, this kind of tepid water had little purposeful power. Their own uncertain works and commitment to God likewise deemed them “lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot.” 

At the same time, seeking to “moderate and unify” is commendable, as taught by President Dallin H. Oaks. Moderate can mean “making less extreme,” but it can also mean “subject to correction by better knowledge.” This type of moderate belief becomes a conduit for greater wisdom and the very means for approaching truth and increasing one’s association with God and others. 

In Christ’s own teaching, the house of discipleship may be bound by precepts that reflect seemingly competing truths which nonetheless reflect tensions that are fruitful when properly balanced: 

  • “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16) contrasts with  “[D]o not your alms before men” (Matt. 6:1).
  • Christ approached sin in one setting by overthrowing tables (John 2:15) and in another by gently and privately instructing, “[G]o, and sin no more” (John 8:11). 
  • Latter-day Saints learn to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) but also to “not run faster or labor more than you have strength” (D&C 10:4). 
  • Christian students “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) while “Trust[ing] in the Lord … and lean[ing] not unto [their] own understanding[s]” (Proverbs 3:5).
  • Those opening their hearts are to “Doubt not, but be believing” (Mor. 9:27) while “Tak[ing] heed that no man deceive you” (Matt. 24:4-5).
  • Furthermore, Paul teaches, “Let your moderation be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5), while John writes of being spewed from the mouth of God for being “lukewarm” (Revelations 3:16). 

I believe context and motivation dictate the righteous application of what can sometimes seem like opposing virtues. 

Finding a moderation that empowers. While moderate belief has its virtues, like most good things, it can be perverted as well. In my personal faith journey, I’ve been aware of the risks that can come from lukewarm discipleship. I’ve sometimes wondered: Am I an active member more out of habit than out of conviction for Jesus Christ? When the answer has been less than satisfactory, I’ve tried to engage my heart and mind to explore a deeper personal relationship with the Savior. Energetically and decidedly pursuing God in such moments has led to joyful spiritual growth, miraculous outcomes, and clarity of truth.

This kind of soul-stretching can be both exhilarating and exhausting. But I’m so grateful in church settings to be among others seeking the same. To give communities a chance to be uplifted by divinely-inspired living, the faithful must do more than receive God’s teachings. They must represent them to others too. But any community is an exercise in moderation. It requires bumping up against other moral agents and learning from them, thus moderating accordingly. Aristotle called this process of discerning virtue in community the process of acquiring practical wisdom. We garner virtue as we come into contact with each other, as we moderate and unify. 

Grounded, open, and engaged.  But modern-day publishers of peace will also not be surprised to feel somewhat different about virtue than their peers. God recognizes that His ways are not always the world’s ways (Isaiah 55:8). Indeed, He identifies His people as “peculiar treasures” (Ex. 19:5). 

When I took a strong stance against my daughter’s behavior, the immediate consequence was backlash. Guiding my daughter to beneficial behaviors is a responsibility and privilege, even as growth and change can be painful. But we endure short-term conflict for the sake of lasting virtue.

Speaking up with inspired direction can distinctly satisfy parched souls and warm shivering hearts.

Of course, negotiating with a toddler is much simpler than discerning truth among opposing political or social parties. The pertinent experiences and perspectives don’t always reside solely within an obvious position. And through dialogue, all can better appreciate new perspectives even if they don’t always agree with them. President Oaks assures, “The goals of both sides are best served by resolving differences through mutual respect, shared understanding, and good faith negotiations.”

As Paul has observed, we see through a glass darkly. This should imbue us with humility, even as we seek earnestly to act and align with the truth we do understand. Believers the world over appreciate how God holds all truth, while Latter-day Saints see it being restored through the Church of Jesus Christ—offering powerful standards to rely upon. 

Christ reminds us to love others, bear burdens, live honestly, and remember the grace Jesus offers to protect and strengthen. With the light of Christ given to everyone, we can approach others with our own lights, seek it in others, and at all times, stand as witnesses for God and His ways. 

Pres. Oaks continued, “Teachings based on faith in God—however defined—have always contributed to moral actions that benefit the entire nation. This will continue to be so as religious people love and serve their neighbors as an expression of their love of God.”

So in times of great spiritual thirst for some and isolating winters for others, Christian disciples should offer decisive clarity, including in how we approach the thorniest political issues and treat our fellow citizens on the other side of issues. Speaking up with inspired direction can distinctly satisfy parched souls and warm shivering hearts; it can also begin a dialectic that fosters greater unity and even, appropriate, moderation.  

 

About the author

Holly Boyd

Holly Boyd is a wife and mother of four young children. She earned her MAcc at Brigham Young University and loves writing faith-based lyrics in her spare time.
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