Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Little Controversy

There is nothing like stirring people up to get the day going.

I get a regular e-mail from an on-line "magazine" of sorts called LDS Living. I believe it started when I ordered something from Deseret Book some time ago. I open it occasionally when there are news stories that look interesting or Family Home Evening ideas. Before my route this morning, and while I was trying to muster enough ambition to leave the house at 3 am in 25 degree weather despite a cold that has been lingering in various incarnations for three weeks, I opened one of these stories.

Here is the link.

The article is brief, but the upshot is that a high school with a majority LDS population decided to attend a cheer competition held on Sunday. It is a cheer competition inside Utah, with dozens of other Utah high schools participating, probably with similar demographics of LDS populations (according a commenter, anyway). Two girls told the coaches they wouldn't be going, expecting them to be understanding. They weren't.

Instead, they tried to have the girls removed from the team.

A meeting was held between parents, coaches and administration, where the parents argued that booting the girls from the team would be discriminating against them based on religion (not because they were refusing to fulfill team requirements). The coaches relented to avoid a big scene and allowed the girls to stand in the back of the main formations, with a small part so that they could be removed on competition day.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the cheerleading squad could only practice on Monday nights.

The girls complained again. This time they were booted. One of the mothers said the girls were "devastated," and the girls expressed how hard it was now to go to school and the games because they can no longer cheer. The article labeled the coaches, "unwilling to compromise."The girls' families said they don't want to make a scene.

It was very early, remember, when I read this. There were already two comments, speaking the girls' praises up and down. I had to create an account so I could make a comment.

Mine reads:

"I appreciate that what these girls did was hard for them, but the reality of my non-Utah LDS community is that our kids have to make decisions from the time they are very young to avoid competitive sports all together if they want to avoid Sunday participation. Nearly all of our youth leagues play at least a portion of their games on Sundays, and it can be very hard to find supportive coaches who are willing to tweak the schedule or work around being a man short on the Sunday games. Besides sports, LDS kids in our area seldom can attend birthday parties and a huge variety of community and school events because Sunday is the day of choice for so many activities. As a former teacher, it is also clear that the school did the best it could in the circumstances. I think the magazine blew this story way out of proportion by turning a very commonplace decision for LDS kids all over the world into a dramatic and newsworthy event."

As of noon today, there were 47 comments. Which, truthfully mostly seem to discuss my threadjack.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. I always like discussion, but I also realize I created a fair amount of conflict between people who all seem very sincere and mostly reasonable. I have not weighed in again.

I think I would like to here. What I cited above are not my only issues with the whole thing.

1 - We are talking about cheerleading, people. Cheerleading. The girls are not being denied any kind of academic activity. Remember, the ACTUAL purpose of the public school?

2 - And while we are talking about cheerleading. Just how modest ARE those uniforms? If we are going to get ticky about keeping unstated commandments, maybe that is worth addressing. (Just ask Loradona.) With the wholesome attitude toward the subjects of this article, it makes it sound as though cheerleading is some kind of inherently uplifting and virtuous activity. Not that it necessarily has to be the opposite, either; but if I had a daughter on a squad, I'd be as much concerned about certain types of dancing and uniforms as Sunday competitions.

3 - The coaches WERE accommodating. Very. They chose to allow the girls to stay on the team until they refused both to compete AND practice. There is no organization where you can just show up on performance/game/presentation day and expect to be unpunished. Maybe the coaches should have thought through signing the team up for the competition to begin with. There is no discussion from their viewpoint in the article--was a conversation held ahead of time with parents about this possibility? Did the team vote to participate? Again PUBLIC school. Nobody requires to the cheerleaders to actually do anything, or even exist for that matter.

4 - It is called a SACRIFICE, darlings. That is the whole point.

5 - And when your sacrifice is made public (the not-wanting-a-scene-mothers had to be interviewed for the thing, right?) and hundreds or thousands of people read it, and many comment on the fact that you are a "hero," doesn't this totally undermine actual spiritual growth that takes place in quiet moments of reflection and private decision making?

I want to reiterate that I can appreciate that this decision was hard for these girls, and they are to be commended for it. By their parents. But the "devastation" these girls feel shocks me with its lack of actual perspective. With its complete misunderstanding and overshadowing of the truly meaningful sacrifices young men and women make all over the worldwide Church every day. This is not a "Team Utah vs. Team Mission Field*" thing as implied by one appalled comment maker; it is a call to identify teenagers actually worthy of notice.

And here is the first one I'd like to call attention to: Sedrick Tshiambine. His story, found near end of this article, is one of true inspiration, sacrifice and dedication.

Clearly, the readership here is more selective, and probably more left of center than the mainstream US Church, and I'm interested in your take. Even if you disagree. Especially if you disagree.

* I really hate that term "mission field." I can't even begin to express why. Maybe another day. I think it is time to put the soapbox away for the day.


Melanie said...

First off, the first paragraph of the article ends in a big fat lie: the girls were "were kicked off the competition team when they told their coach they wouldn’t compete on Sunday." Muckraking anyone? The girls weren't kicked off the team, they were told that they couldn't participate in competitions, and they decided to leave the team.

I read the article and skimmed through the comments and agree with your comment. There were two things that really bothered me. Several commenters maintained that these girls were "punished" for holding to their standards.They weren't punished, they were faced with the natural consequences of their decisions. That's real life. Keeping the commandments doesn't always make life nice and pretty.

I do believe that it can be harder to stand up for your beliefs in a homogeneous community than in a diverse one. Among members of the church there are varying levels of activity and various perspectives on what is means of live the commandments. Holding yourself to personal standards that differ from those of others who subscribe to the same belief system can make you feel that you come off as self-righteous (even when you don't mean to be).

Doreen said...

Bryan does competitive gymnastics. We choose not to do private lessons on Sundays. His coaches have been very accommodating in arranging for him to compete in different groups if his own group happens to compete on a Sunday. Last season, we missed one meet because the schedule couldn't be rearranged. However, after much thought and prayer, we did let Bryan attend the State meet, which was also held on a Sunday, and during which regulation states you have to compete during your assigned session. This year, he has practice on Monday nights. We have FHE on Sundays. He's going to miss one of his meets (same one as last year), but we're planning on allowing him to attend State (hopefully it'll be Saturday this year). My point being, there is no commandment that says "thou shalt not compete in sports on the Sabbath". Or "thou shalt not attend practice on Monday night". We try our best to do whatever we can to avoid those things, but in the end, when those conflicts do arise, we pray. And we do what we feel is best for any given situation. And we most certainly don't go talking to the paper about our experience (like when Bryan's scores didn't count during his first meet this season, because he didn't compete with his own group). Oh, and I agree with you, I'd be more worried about the uniforms and suggestive dance moves than practice on Monday nights or the occasional Sunday competition... The article yells "double standard" in my opinion...

heidikins said...

I love your particular brand of controversy, actually. You make excellent points. These girls already made their choice to cheer, in the skimpy skirts and sexy that they are having to "un-choose" it shouldn't be that big of a deal.

Also--I am so very excited to join the "out of Utah" Mormons, because I'm pretty sure I prefer the religion to the culture. Ahem. (That's another post, or series of posts, for another day.)


Z. Marie said...

I agree with the comment you made, but I also realize that as a publication geared toward church members, LDS Living probably thought the "news" was that the incident happened in Utah. You know, in a "Oh my heck, we're being persecuted in our own back yard" sort of way.
And I'm TOTALLY with you on "mission field." It especially irks me when people who have lived in South Carolina or Texas or wherever for the past 20 years use it. Sometimes I want to tell them to go back to Utah if it's so great.
I have a rather extensive thought on the cheerleading modesty issue that I'll share another time.

TheDooleys4 said...

Being the mom of a young lady who will probably be faced with these kinds of choices(if she continues in the path she's taken thus far) I really had to think ponder and read several times to form an opinion on the matter. I too definitely applaud the young ladies for standing up for their beliefs. But, when you choose to be on a competitve Cheer team, You choose to be a team player.It happens even with the little girls teams.Reason being is because all the performances need every girl on the stage or it wont work because that's the way it is choreographed. So, I can see why the coaches made the choice they made....It would mess up the entire performance and that's not fair to the other girls. I also find it interesting that the coach was willing to bend on the sunday competition and the girls pushed the issue into family night.....Could not the girls bend a little and attend practice on mondays and have family night another night? Isn't the important thing that they have family night? Not what night it is? Thankfully we have not had to make that choice as all my daughters comps this far have been on saturdays.I am with you Nan......Not news worthy. It's almost like they pushed the Monday issue to make a big production out of it.
To address the issue of modesty....Thankfully my daughter cheers for a gym where there is modesty standard on all the team attire. Tummies are covered and no plunging necklines ect....I realize as she gets into Junior High and High School this may not always be the case. Hoping we get lucky that way.But I realize it may be something we have to face in the future.

tnralvords said...

I agree with you and also don't like the "mission field" saying.

While I do think that it was good of these girls to stand up for their believe. I think that they went about it in the wrong way.

I agree with this comment as well-
Monday night, for family home evening is the suggested night that we should reserve for that purpose. But you can have it any night that best suits your family. These families could have had it on another night and still been able to be on the team.

and this-
I just want to clarify that Alta will attend 1 competition on Sunday. 1. It is the national level competition that is not held in Utah. You can ask any cheer team, all star or high school, and they will tell you the main organizations that hold NATIONAL level competitions. The Alta cheer team does not consistently attend events on Sunday, it is a one time thing and is something that is much bigger than our Utah cheer coaches.

and this-
The title of this article is completely inaccurate. The girls were not kicked off the squad for refusing to compete on Sundays. If this site wants to be respected for true journalism, the title should be changed to "LDS cheerleaders kicked off squad for refusing to practice on Monday evenings."

Science Teacher Mommy said...


I was hoping that by making my comment this morning, there might actually be a conversation. Instead, there was more of this us vs. them rhetoric that I find damaging to our spiritual health as well as how those outside of Mormonism perceive us. Not that we should water down our beliefs or compromise our standards, of course, but I think, as LDS people, we need to recognize culture and doctrine as two separate entities.

Keep it coming.

Janssen said...

Oh man, everyone has already said everything I could think to say.

My husband is adamant about modesty and he commented many many times in that season of So You Think You Can Dance with the LDS girl who was always wearing approximately 11 square inches of fabric that our girls would NOT do dance if it meant wearing those sorts of outfits.

I think sometimes we as Mormons have a hard time accepting that choosing to live the gospel standards means we will not be able to participate in things. I think most Mormons are pretty good about, say, recognizing that this means we don't go drinking with our co-workers, but it's harder to accept, for some reason, that it may mean passing on sports or competitions.

Even more so, probably, because it's kind of a gray area and other LDS people choose to participate. Easier to say "I can't participate because I'm Mormon" when you're the only Mormon. Harder when 3/4 of the team is LDS and all the other LDS kids are still wearing/competing/participating, etc.

FoxyJ said...

I thought this story was a valuable counterpoint to other stories out there that tend to end with others accomodating your desire to keep the Sabbath. Sometimes they don't. Making what you feel is the right choice does not always gett rewarded by your ideal consequence. Faith is made stronger when you don't get what you want out of life.

I also hate, hate, hate the term "mission field". I have ended up in Utah and do my best to let people know (kindly) how annoying it is. Numbers-wise there are actually more Mormons in California alone than there are in Utah, and many of them have lived there for generations. Same thing in mnay areas of the country. When we were living in Seattle for grad school I had expected my ward to be full of people that were far from family like us, yet the majority of them had grown up in the area and had family close by. Anyways, that was a threadjack, sorry :)

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Good point in the beginning FoxyJ. Like how I have gotten so tired of tithing stories that always end in "we sold our house in just two weeks!" or "Our old car didn't break down or run out of gas for a whole year!" or "a random uncle showed up and GAVE us a mini-van!" etc. etc. Paying tithing, for us, has always meant that I work at least part time to make up the 10%. Sometimes at a job I really don't like. Again, it is called "sacrifice."

And I think Zoe has a good point too about why the story ran in the first place.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

And by the by--58 comments and counting. The discussion is getting seriously ugly now. The cheer coach's husband has weighed in with no small amount of anger. His wife is a member too . . .it is getting rather personal.

Those most reasonable in the discussion seem to be focused on the principle of agency--for those on both sides.

AmyJane said...

Oh my. My personal favorite comment is the one that says "These girls are Rosa Parkses!"
I'm so glad you brought up all the tithing stories--same thing. The idea that if you obey a commandment you WILL BE BLESSED. Right now, immediately!

Also, their parents so could have moved FHE to Sundays for awhile. We swap back and forth all the time--Sean often has to work Scouting events on Monday nights, and frankly, even on Sunday night. Those LDS boys have courts of honor and such on Sunday night--yeah, my husband is working to attend them. And yet, I haven't seen it make the news that we have to move our families FHE sometimes to accomodate LDS scouts. Just saying.

It's not news, it's just life. You have to make choices.

Cathy said...

I'll probably have more to say tomorrow about everything else. Tonight's comment: I know why to hate the phrase "mission field". It's because it implies that people not in the "mission field" are already converted and therefore spiritually and morally superior. Frequently they aren't.

emandtrev said...

I agree with Amy Jane. I was skimming the comments after reading the article and saw the "These girls are Rosa Parkses!" I think my eyes about bugged out of my head.

I think the previous posters have honestly put everything so well. Most families now days have to make some concessions or work around how schools or organizations for kids to participate in some activities--or not. Those are choices for each individual family to make.

I guess I agree most with a few major points: (1) you can't please everyone all the time; (2) the coaches and school were very accommodating and needed to do what they had to do in terms of the competition and practicing schedule; (3) sometimes life (not just cheerleading!!) requires us to make tough decisions--it is up to us most of the time whether we feel like it's part of life or "punishment."

I'll stop now, but man all mighty...good food for thought.

Nemesis said...

Was having great fun reading the comments until it started getting really heated, with husbands and brothers and mothers-in-law getting in to take their swings. Yikes.

And seriously. Hate the term "mission field" (pronounced "mission filled,") so very much. Should not be used unless it's describing an actual missionary's actual mission area. Grrrrrrrr.

Loradona said...

Well, the story is gone now. Shoot. I would have liked to read it, but I think I get the gist.

I had to give up playing on a competitive soccer team in high school because of the Sunday games thing. ALL of the games were on Sunday except one. The coach said I could practice with them to keep my skills up, and that's what I did, but I was not a member of the team. And there was no big to-do about it. Seriously. I sucked it up and dealt with it.

About those girls: I can see keeping them on the team because the squad performs at more than just competitions. But as soon as you start demanding everyone change practice or you won't show up? That's unreasonable. And it's dangerous if you think you can participate without practice.

And yeah, I'll bet their outfits are totally modest. *eyeroll* I get the idea that sportswear is not what LDS people would wear to cover everything, but... Do cheerleader outfits HAVE to show midriff, be cut 4 inches from the crotch, and have slits even higher? Really? By comparison to my experience (as alluded to by STM), the cheer outfits as showcased on Glee are downright puritanical.

Life involves choices. You make a choice, and sometimes people react unfairly. I stood up for myself and my students in what I thought was a protected, legal way, and ended up fired. Fair? No way. A consequence of my choice to fight back? You bet. Now, I still think my former boss is a jerkwad, but he technically had every legal right to get rid of me. Do I think he should have? Do I think that was the right, or even ethical, way to respond? Nope. But there you have it. Being upset about it doesn't get me my job back.

Ahem. This has gone far afield. What I mean to say is: I understand their indignation and their desire to do the right thing. Sometimes things don't turn out as we want them, and that's part of life and learning. Next time, when confronted with a similar dilemma, they may make different choices.

Loradona said...

Oh, and I've been faithfully paying my tithing (even on my unemployment funds), and I haven't been blessed with a big, miraculous windfall.

This does not mean I have not been blessed. I have. Just not in a dramatic, faith-promoting story kind of way.

My blessing is that I have a place to live where I don't have to pay rent (with my parents) while I look for work. I do not worry about food, heat, or household bills. I am exceptionally blessed in this way. It's simple and low-key. I think the Lord blesses us in much more subtle ways than we might think, judging from what becomes Sunday talk material. Aaand now I've TRULY sidetracked myself. You can thank me later!

Amy said...

Whenever my kids want to be part of any activity, sports or otherwise, we look at the schedule. And if there is any participation required on Sunday, then frankly, we don't do it. As they're getting older and hitting teenage years, we are leaving that decision up to them. Because this life is about agency and the consequences that come with that agency. The difficulty with this story is that really, both sides are right. I value the girls for standing firm in their beliefs, but I understand the coaches need to have rules for the whole team. The fact that it has played out publicly is the downside to it all. Most of the time the hard decisions we make aren't published in the media for all to weigh in on. Thank goodness!

Science Teacher Mommy said...

This is all KSL had to say today:

They didn't take the slant that LDS Living did (holier-than-thou), but they couldn't make the event sound very newsworthy either. Bland. Bland. Bland.

And it wasn't just removed from the site . . . it was removed with a statement. I didn't check in after about 55 comments. I wonder just how bad it got before it was pulled.

In case you are curious, we won't be pulling the story here.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

And if you are REALLY interested in the Sabbath Day topic . . . LDS Living is carrying a poll about whether watching the Superbowl is breaking the Sabbath. 75 comments so far. Comments range from pure justification to outright accusations of all sports being totally evil. Of course, there are plenty in the middle, too.

Imagine growing up and finding out that all Mormons aren't just alike.

Anonymous said...

Using terms like "big fat lies" is going to automatically dismiss a comment. Little objectivity there.
I like a lot of what was said in this article but took exception with the point that it's a "sacrifice" because they have to sacrifice their personal beliefs for those of another....for a day or two. There's no correlation between personal religious beliefs and what it means to make a sacrifice in a competitive arena. To believe otherwise would undermine the hard work and intentions of those who are brave enough to choose to hold to their personal beliefs over what the world wants. And Chariots of Fire would lose half its meaning (not choosing to play on Sunday is quite common in different countries and different religions). The obvious reaction is that they shouldn't have joined or competed in the first place. I agree -if they knew Sunday participation would be a requirement. The fact that they won't play on Monday as well is ridiculous if they want to play on the team. Family Home Evening isn't one of the ten commandments and it can be done on different evenings. For many years growing up, Sunday or Tuesday night became "family night" because of large amount of activities that I and my siblings were always involved in. It's very common for athletes on different levels -look at the NBA or MLB. There have been certain players who wouldn't play on certain days and thy have been lauded -not criticized. Furthermore, the Sunday predicament is quite common. Did the coaches not see this coming? I grew up in California playing sports from age 4 to lettering in 3 sports in high school. I chose not to play on Sundays. It was never an issue. I never had a problem with it. My coaches were always respectful and most of the time, impressed...and I don't remember having an LDS coach in all those years.
The solution is simple -coaches should inform participants that they will be dismissed or penalized for not playing on Sunday before the season -or try-outs begin.

Also, while I agree whole-heartedly with the comments referring to the modesty of certain activities, to compare the two -or to undermine one by saying you don't do the other, is not only unfair, but unsound reasoning in itself. The two shouldn't be correlated. But modesty definitely should be addressed.


"The difference between winners and losers is winners forget they're in a race. They just love to run."

mstanger said...

For those like me who didn't get to read the story, there's always google cache:

mstanger said...

Sabbath observance is just so personal. This Sunday, while many watch the Super Bowl, we'll be doing the Ten Commandments at my house. I don't think any less of those who are watching the game. Heck, I have a co-worker who has watched it with a sitting president of the Church.

But personally, I think we need to take the Sabbath much more seriously than we do, regardless of worldly consequence. I may have shared this anecdote here already, so apologies if I'm repetitive. Upon arriving at law school in Miami, we went through an orientation where religious accommodations were addressed. They made clear that the law school and its activities would be open 7 days a week, but also emphasized that religious accommodation was of paramount importance, and that we should feel free to request accommodations at any time. When our finals schedule came out that first semester, I had my first such opportunity: they had scheduled the entire first year class for a Sunday exam.

I went to the Dean of Student's office to fill out the required form to request an accommodation, and was pleased with how nicely I was treated. Dean Hausler was a faithful Catholic herself and felt strongly about the need to be accommodating of sincerely held beliefs. Then, I walked next door to the registrar's office with the completed form to discuss with them the logistics of rescheduling. The eyes of the lady at the counter lit up when she saw my request: "Are you a Christian?!?!?!" she excitedly asked. "We get so few of these requests. When we schedule an exam on Saturday, the Jewish students make the logistics of rescheduling such a headache (about 1/3 of my 1500 student lawschool was Jewish, though they spanned a pretty wide spectrum of Judaism from reform to a few Hasidim) that we just put them on Sundays 'cause the Christians never complain. "Weird", I thought. I later learned that the other two LDS students in my class hadn't been bothered enough to seek rescheduling and just took the exam on Sunday, confirming. in part, the registrar's statement.

I had several other such opportunities throughout my lawschool career. Then, after three years of digging through statutes and cases, the time came for graduation. You guessed it: it was scheduled on a Sunday. Part of me thought I should blow off church just that once, for such a special occasion, but I quickly realized how hypocritical that would be after my strong stance on test-taking. So, I went to sacrament meeting instead. My diploma came in the mail.

Guatemalamama said...

The point of your post is well taken. The girls made a sacrifice to uphold their beliefs and life didn't go the way they planned. The story (if there is one) is that it happened in Utah and also that they chose wisely. They should be happy about their choice and not bitter.

The real reason I am making a comment is because of all the family home evening comments. Straight from the church handbook... Monday nights are to be reserved for Familiy Home Evening and all other interruptions should be avoided. It doesn't give you the choice that if something comes up to go ahead and move the day. If it is inconvenient to go to church on Sunday (or observe the Sabbath day at all) do you just choose a different day? No!

Science Teacher Mommy said...

I certainly won't argue with what the Handbook says. I do take exception to your Sabbath Day analogy, however. The Sabbath has many important purposes, but perhaps the most important, central event of our Sunday worship is the taking of the Sacrament. That can ONLY be done at a specific time and place each week. To do Sunday worship on an alternate day, not only mangles the letter of the law, but destroys the spirit of the law as well.

On the other hand, a committed and thoughtful Latter-day Saint parent (or parents) might look at a typical, busy-family schedule and choose another night if necessary, without any real detriment. If the purpose of FHE is considered, and the family traditions for that evening carefully carried out, then the spirit of the law is perfectly upheld, even if the words "one night" are substituted for "Monday nights."

If the alternative to re-scheduling is to not hold it at all, or to hold it with a resentful child or two (because they are missing yet another activity), then isn't it a parental prerogative to receive inspiration for what will best serve their family?

mstanger said...

The new handbook is pretty interesting, and I love the fact that it is online. Here are some relevant sections:

Latter-day prophets have counseled parents to hold a weekly family home evening to teach their children the gospel, bear testimony of its truthfulness, and strengthen family unity. Stake and ward leaders are to keep Monday evenings free from all Church meetings and activities so family home evenings may be held.

13.6.10 Monday Nights
Monday nights are reserved for family home evening throughout the Church. No Church activities, meetings, baptismal services, games, or practices should be held after 6:00 p.m. on Mondays. Other interruptions to family home evening should be avoided. An exception may be made when New Year’s Eve is on a Monday (see 13.6.11).

Leaders ensure that Church buildings and other facilities are closed on Monday nights. Receptions and other similar activities may not be held in Church facilities on Monday nights. Members are also discouraged from holding receptions in other facilities on Monday nights.

Where practical, members may want to encourage community and school leaders to avoid scheduling activities on Monday evenings that require children or parents to be away from their homes.

End handbook/Begin commentary: A few thoughts on this one. It is clear that the church itself will not interfere with our Monday evenings, with one rare exception that will only be possible every 7 years, and even then not a mandatory interference. The important language in the second sentence is "may." This is not mandatory language--there is no "shall." Additionally, FHE is not listed in Chapter 17, Uniformity and Adaptation, as one of those items on which there can be no deviation when the spirit dictates.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Trust the High Councilman to clarify. I thought about going to my handbook this morning too, but was too busy eating breakfast with one hand and typing with the other. Thanks for the clarification Brother Stanger.

It might be interesting to do a spirit of the law/letter of the law post. I've been reading Hugh Nibley this week and his thoughts on the subject are very interesting.