Code Vs. Commandment: Obedience at BYU-Idaho

Written by our good friend Tanner


During my three-year stay at BYU-Idaho I often heard such things as, “We are blessed for living the honor code,” “The honor code brings the Spirit more strongly into our lives,” and “The honor code makes it so that students at BYU-I can better apply the atonement.”

These kinds of statements, though well-intended, are misleading, and are therefore often the root of the controversy and ill-feeling surrounding the BYU-Idaho honor code. While keeping commitments is an important part of discipleship, students lucky enough to attend BYU-Idaho do not receive more blessings from keeping the honor code than faithful church members who attend other universities.

There is a common misconception among religious people that any sacrifice to God will bring blessings. The truth, as we learn from the examples of Cain (Gen. 4:3-5) and Saul (1 Sam. 13:12-13), is that God does not honor every sacrifice made to Him. He sets the terms. He gives the commandment.

Joseph Smith taught, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of the world, upon which all blessings are predicated– And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130: 20-21).

I had a mission companion who insisted at one point that we sleep on the tile floor in order to receive blessings for the sacrifice. The elder was one of the most diligent missionaries I worked with, but he did not understand how blessings are really obtained.

We only receive blessings when we are obedient to the law upon which blessings are predicated. If there is a blessing to be obtained from observing the honor code, it is only when that observance is founded in the keeping of a commandment.

For example, part of the BYU-Idaho honor code is a curfew. Obeying it does not guarantee a blessing (though there can certainly positive results), only inasmuch as keeping curfew coincides with the commandment to “retire to thy bed early” (D&C 88:124). And even then there is a caveat if we don’t obey with a willing heart (Moroni 7:6-7)

If aspects of the honor code are not predicated upon a law, then there is no inherent blessing for following them. They may be purposeful. They may be convenient. They may yield positive results. But they do not grant blessings from God.

Not wearing shorts or flip-flops on campus may help create an atmosphere of professionalism which results in better academic performance, but there is no special bonus blessing to BYU-Idaho for it. We are not inherently more spiritual for our abundance of rules.

In fact, just the opposite could be true. We could be in spiritual peril for our misunderstanding and misapplication of the rules.

The Bible Dictionary describes the Pharisees, a Jewish sect often condemned by the Savior, as: “[Priding] themselves on their strict observance of the law. The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules.”

The Pharisees not only kept the commandments, but they also strictly followed the institutional rules of the day. Yet when the Savior compared them to a humble publican, who today would be considered an excommunicated apostate (see Bible Dictionary, pg. 755), only one had hope of justification: the publican (Luke 18: 9-14).

The problem with the Pharisees is not necessarily their obedience to the law; the problem was their attitude. They thought themselves more privileged, more righteous, and more justified for their obedience.

To them, Jesus gave this cutting rebuke: “Woe unto you… [for ye] have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith… Ye blind guides that strain at a gnat and swallow a camel… Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt. 23: 23-25).

I have been as guilty as a Pharisee. I have seen a girl in a short skirt and concluded that she must be somewhat of a slut. I have seen men with beards who I figured might be dishonoring their priesthood. All while I congratulated myself for sprinting into my house just seconds before midnight curfew.

I have to look no further than the beam in my own eye to recognize the problem with modern Pharisee mentality. Having removed it from my eye, I share this post to help others pluck the mote from theirs. Certainly I was not alone in this mindset.

The whole attitude was almost unconscious. I said to myself, “I’m not judging. I’m merely making an observation.” And then I thanked the Lord for giving me these rules that made me more worthy of spiritual blessings.

What I didn’t realize is that I was forgetting the “weightier matters of the law.” Which one is a commandment, “Thou shalt wear pants to thine ankles,” or “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?”

There is no eternal law about pants, and therefore no heavenly condemnation for anyone wearing capris (though there may be from the fashion world). Any time we think that we are more righteous or spiritual for our obedience to any law, man-made or otherwise, we have become latter-day Pharisees.

This problem isn’t exclusive to BYU-Idaho. It can be seen in congregations worldwide. [pullquote-right]The distance between you and God is not proportional to the distance between your knees and your skirt, but between your knees and the floor.[/pullquote-right] Sometimes we let our white shirts become “whitened sepulchers…  filled with dead men’s bones” (Matt. 23:27). Sometimes we abstain from alcohol while drinking “of the wine of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:10) for our judgment and ostracization. We sometimes like the “chief seats” and the titles (Matt. 25: 6-10) forgetting that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

The distance between you and God is not proportional to the distance between your knees and your skirt, but between your knees and the floor. Rules should not become the rulers by which we measure other peoples’ spirituality. Let us not “reject the commandment of God that [we] may keep [our] own tradition” (Luke 7:9).

Those who commit to living any institutional standard, whether it be an honor code or a club credo, should be true to their word. Doing so will bring the blessings that come from obedience to the commandments relating to honesty (Ex. 20:15-16). In being so blessed, realize that every person on earth has the opportunity for the same blessing, whether they go to BYU or Notre Dame.

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