Bishop Gary E. Stevenson and Getting Our “Medal”

Updated:  11 Apr 2014

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we should do things for the reward.  It might work for the Olympics, but I’m not sure it works for life and religion.  For this reason, I’m uncomfortable with Gary E. Stevenson’s (Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church) 2014 Spring Conference talk.

According Stevenson:

Consider how your pathway to eternal life is similar to [that of Olympic athletes.]  While you are here, your actions will determine whether you win the prize of eternal life.

The clock is ticking.  The words of the Apostle Paul seem so fitting:  to run the race, that you may obtain the prize.

My young friends, wherever you are in [life,] I urge you to ponder, “What do I need to do next to ensure my medal?”

For me, Stevenson’s talk places too much emphasis on the “prize” and “medal.”  I realize that these expressions in his talk are euphemisms, but I think the comparison of the Olympics to life is not a good one.  (However, it did give Stevenson a chance to brag about Mormon Olympic athletes.)

Mormon humorist Robert Kirby made the following comment at the end of one of his columns (26 Mar 2014):

The coolest point of being comfortable with your telestialism (the lowest level in Mormon heaven) is the part where you start doing good things because you want to instead of having to.  It’s so liberating that it’s almost . . . well, heaven.

For me, this is the preferred thought.  Let’s live our life a certain way because we want to and not because we want the medal.

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12 Responses to Bishop Gary E. Stevenson and Getting Our “Medal”

  1. Susan says:

    Have you ever been to sea world or elsewhere where trained animals perform and are “rewarded” when the do something to please the crowd? That’s what the talk reminded me of. Do we compare the “reward” as we do the degrees of glory, i.e., Celestial is a gold medal, Terrestrial is a silver, and Telestial is a bronze (or is it vice versa)? When you discuss degrees of glory, I become lost as do a lot of members/investigators of the church. I do think, however, that the church has made some attempt to discuss the subject less and less. It does make people uncomfortable and garners speculation as to what “glory” or “degree” in which you’ll end up. Plus, I think at some point those three “degrees” also have different “degrees/levels” within them. A bit silly, don’t you think? You summed it up right, Roger. Let’s live our lives the way we want to and not because of some medal.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      God gave us our free agency for a reason. When it’s blind obedience, you are not using your agency. All of us need to decide what we believe. In my case, I don’t understand focusing on the prize. Motives matter.

  2. shematwater says:

    While I agree with the sentiment I have to say that if you are uncomfortable with what the Bishop said I have to think you are uncomfortable with a large chunk of the scriptures, and they use this same language, like the quote from Paul.

    I think having an end goal in mind is always a better idea myself. I do good because I want to, but I know what is good because of the prize or medal. If I am always striving to live so that I can attain that prize than I have no doubt that what I am doing is good. If I don’t keep that prize in the front of my mind than other things may confuse my understanding and I may end up doing that which is wrong thinking it is good.

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    I don’t think that Christ’s message focussed on the prize. It focussed on our relationship to others and to God. To serve your fellow man is to serve God.

    • shematwater says:

      Of course motive matter, and I never said they didn’t. But the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. The prize is there not to replace other motivations, but to focus them and keep them on the right path.
      In a race it doesn’t matter why you are running if you are running in the wrong direction.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    Shem, I don’t understand the expression “the path to Hell . . . .” Most people race because they enjoy the community of runners, because there are health benefits, because they want to challenge themselves. Only a small fraternity of runners run for the prize. 99.9 percent run because it is the right thing to do. I just think that less emphasis should be placed on the prize. Instead of giving talks on what the prize is, I would prefer churches organize meaningful actions.

    For example, soon half of the LDS Church membership will be living in developing countries. More of our efforts, both as members and as an institution church, need to be focused on them (and their neighbors). However, only a very small percentage of LDS tithing goes for humanitarian aid (the rest goes to BYU, temples, church buildings, CES, etc.). We need a lot more humanitarian missionaries (the babyboomers are all retiring).

  5. shematwater says:

    “99.9 percent run because it is the right thing to do.”

    They may run because it is the right thing to do, but they do not race because it is the right thing to do. Running and racing are very different, and no one that enters a race enters it without some thought of finishing it, and most with some thought of winning. Most racers, as the Bishop’s talk points out, do training and practice runs for the reasons you mention, and then enter races to gain the prize.

    As to the phrase “the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions” the meaning is simple. The ends do not justify the means. Just because our motives are in the right place, if our actions are not than our motives mean very little. It is like the moral dilemma “Is stealing justified if it saves a life?” Our motive to save a life is a good motive, but if it causes us to commit sin in stealing than we are still guilty and are on the path to Hell if we do not repent.

    This is the kind of thing that keeping ourselves focused on the prize tends to prevent and this is why I liked the Bishops talk. We need to know what the prize is and what it takes to get it. Our motives need to be pure, but so do our actions, and only by keeping ourselves focused on the prize can we be assured that they will be.

    Oh, and the church spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on relief efforts in developing countries. No, this money does not come from the Tithing, because the tithing is reserved for other purposes. But the money is still spent and more is likely spent in this effort than on church buildings.
    But regardless, if you recall God commanded the early saints to build a temple when many of them didn’t even have homes to live in. When the people complained, Joseph Smith reminded them that God also needed a house on earth. The temples are God’s house and without them many thousands will be denied the blessings of eternity. I think you would find that the vast majority of the saints living in these developing countries would be more eager to have a temple built than to have anything else.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Yes, stealing can be justified if it saves a life.

      • shematwater says:

        I disagree, and I think the scriptures would also disagree, and thus so would God.

        But regardless, I think you see my point. To many people seek to justify their actions because they had good intentions, and this kind of mentality will lead them to hell eventually.

  6. Lisa says:

    From the outset of Bishop Stevenson’s talk I felt uncomfortable that he mentioned only the three names of those who won medals. My immediate thought was that all of those who competed are worthy of commendation for their efforts, and although not likely possible to identify or name, also all those who strove to do so. This of course can be generalised to the righteous desires for which we strive. I agree that more focus on the motive and desire, than the prize at the end, is truly what counts. We should not be motivated purely by the ‘prize’ of Celestial glory, but what this actually means to us – that we have lived lives worthy of calling ourselves true disciples of Christ. I disagree somewhat with Shematwater above that stealing to save a life is never justified. If there is no other means – and we own our action and the reason for doing this, including any consequence, then surely this could in some extreme circumstances be justified? Much like Nephi was justified in killing Laban. There was no other way. Of course, if possible, seek the Lord’s guidance and follow that counsel, which would hopefully and likely avert the need for stealing, but I am thinking about extreme situations, such as concentration camps, famine, war torn countries where individuals are struggling to survive. I am reminded of a time a Missionary was late for Stake Conference because he was stopped by a man on a street. The missionary stayed to speak with him. Other missionaries were condemning him. Our Stake President commended him for living the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Lisa, I generally agree with you. But I never have understood Nephi being “justified in killing Laban.” But your examples of “extreme circumstances” illustrate the point I was trying to make with Shem. Roger

    • shematwater says:

      Lisa

      If God gives a command we are justified in obeying, regardless of what that command is. Nephi was justified because God commanded. He would not have been justified if he had taken that action upon himself, regardless of his reasons or motivations. That is what I am getting at.
      I think war justifies many things, including stealing, but only if the theft is calculated to end the war more swiftly (such as stealing the enemies supplies to force a surrender). Looting is never justified, unless it is commanded by God, as with the ancient Isrealites and Joshua when they looted Jericho.
      I would disagree that any other extreme justifies stealing or any other sin. A person who is starving should still refrain from stealing, even if doing so would save their life, or another.

      As to the talk itself, the reason he didn’t mention everyone is because the talk was about getting the prize, and so he only talked about those who got the prize.
      Maybe this will help illustrate what I have been saying. To enter the Celestial Kingdom one must be baptized. To be exalted one must have the endowment and be sealed in the Temple. Of course, one must also live righteously and obey the commandments of God.
      A person who runs simply because it is a good thing to do would be like those who are righteous, but are never baptized, endowed or sealed. One who has his eye on the prize, however, seeks out these and all other ordinances. One who has good intentions but but does not have his eye on the prize will more easily overlook these things, and seek to justify themselves in doing so. One who has their eye on the prize will not.

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