I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

In the past, many stakes have been plagued with sportsmanship problems during Church-sponsored athletic contests. How can good sportsmanship be encouraged?

Val Hale, assistant to the athletic director at Brigham Young University and a member of the Cascade Third Ward, Orem Utah Stake. The key question is, What does the Lord think of poor sportsmanship in athletics? Some might argue that sports are insignificant in the eternal scheme of things and that yelling at referees or at opposing players and throwing tantrums on the field are relatively harmless acts. But the scriptures are very clear in explaining that the Lord deplores contention of any kind. He told the Nephites: “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Ne. 11:29.)

The Lord certainly must be concerned about our attitudes and the unkind words we hurl at officials and others.

Despite this growing problem in all athletics (not just Church programs), good sportsmanship can prevail if we each do our part to be good sports and to let others know that rude, un-Christlike behavior is unacceptable—especially in athletics. Following are some ideas that, when implemented, help make athletic events more enjoyable for everyone:

1. Don’t allow teammates to behave in an unsportsmanlike manner. Peer pressure is a powerful influence and can be utilized to create a positive atmosphere at sporting events. Before each season, players should agree among themselves that they will not tolerate unsportsmanlike conduct on their team. If a player objects to a call or engages in an argument with an opponent, teammates need to express their concern to the player immediately, helping him to recognize that angry words are unacceptable.

2. Help officials by making honor calls. Honor calls are encouraged in Church sports and ought to be more prevalent at all levels of athletics. Officials cannot see all the action at once. Such honesty takes controversy out of calls, especially close plays, and makes officiating much easier.

3. Praise officials when they make good calls—even if they go against your team—and accept the fact that officials aren’t perfect. Every official makes mistakes, and Church officials often receive only brief basic training. Generally, officials know when they have made a bad call, but there is little that can be done to change a call once it has been made.

4. Compliment the opposition after a good play or game. We often get so caught up in the heat of competition that we fail to acknowledge a good play by the opposition. Kind words like “Nice shot” or “Good block,” spoken to an opponent, will not hurt your team’s performance and will promote friendly competition.

5. Don’t make excuses for poor play or losses. After a loss, players sometimes blame the defeat on anything but their own performance. Officials, scorekeepers, bad lighting, and poor equipment end up being scapegoats.

6. Coaches must set an example of good sportsmanship. Coaches are responsible for the actions of their teams. They set the tone for the game. Coaches of youth, in particular, have a vital responsibility to teach their players the importance of good sportsmanship. The memory of a coach angrily confronting an umpire will remain with a young player much longer than the memory of the team losing the game.

7. Make certain each contest begins with prayer. A prayer before a game has a calming influence. It helps put the game in perspective and reminds players of the need for good sportsmanship.

8. Use properly trained officials. Church athletic officials should be called and set apart by their priesthood leaders. Adequate training must accompany the call. We need to remember that most Church officials are volunteers who are trying to do their best at a very difficult job.

9. Don’t tolerate bad sportsmanship by friends and family members. Friends and family members can sometimes be the greatest influence for good sportsmanship. Spouses should set examples for each other of good sportsmanship at games, whether as spectators or participants. As parents, we can discourage our children from blaming others for losses or failures. We can encourage our children’s coaches not to harass officials and to be better examples for team members.

10. Finally, cheer for your team, win or lose. Coaches and players often spend hours practicing. They deserve our warm support. We all need to take a more active role in promoting good sportsmanship in athletics. Regardless of our role—fan, player, coach, or administrator—we can make a difference if we refuse to tolerate unsportsmanlike conduct. If we do our part, Church athletics will continue to be a valuable and important tool, providing opportunities for fellowshipping and wholesome recreation.

Cremation is a custom in various parts of the world. Do Latter-day Saints practice it?

Roger R. Keller, associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University. It is true that many peoples practice cremation as a way of dealing with the bodies of their dead. It is an ancient practice.

A common philosophy in some cultures where the dead are cremated is that there is a basic opposition between the spirit and the flesh. The body is often viewed as something from which to escape. The body, it is thought, imprisons an immortal spirit, which needs to rise above the material world to realize its true destiny, or the body may be viewed as part of an illusory world. In either case, the body is sometimes considered of little significance. In some cultures, it is believed that the spirit is not released until the corpse is burned completely to ashes. In this case, fire is viewed as a purifying and liberating agent. 1

The earliest regular cremations in the Middle East seem to have been among the Hittites (c. 1740–1190 B.C.) 2 and the Philistines (c. 1200 B.C.) 3 Even so, cremation was paralleled in both civilizations by the practice of burial. However, in Hindu and Greek thought, cremation pointed to the impurity of the body. Fire was seen as the vehicle of regeneration or rebirth. 4

In Asia, the custom received wider acceptance after the Buddha was cremated. Since he set the example, many Buddhist countries such as Indochina, Korea, and Japan practice cremation. 5 (Interestingly, cremation was not popular in China, probably because of the strong Confucian influence, which emphasized respect for one’s ancestors.) In Japan, the first recorded cremation was that of the monk Dosho in A.D. 700, an example which was followed by the Empress Jito in A.D. 704, which gave imperial sanction to the practice. Even so, cremation declined in medieval Japan.

In the West, cremation was common among the Greeks and the Romans. It was the mode by which the bodies of the Caesars were destroyed. 6

Among the Jews, cremation was generally not practiced. The Mishnah forbids cremation as an act of idolatry. 7 In those rare instances when cremation did take place, it was a sign of unrighteousness (see Amos 6:10) or of punishment due a criminal. (See Lev. 20:14, Lev. 21:9; Josh. 7:25.) 8

Christianity likewise opposed cremation. This reluctance to cremate can basically be traced to the Jewish and Christian belief that when God created the body and all other things, he pronounced them “very good.” (Gen. 1:31.) The body was God’s creation and, according to Christians, it would rise with the spirit in the resurrection. Thus, to cremate it would be an act of disrespect before God.

A change occurred, however, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The unsanitary conditions of many cemeteries in western Europe caused people to reassess the way they treated their dead. Movements recommending cremation began around 1860, and in 1884 a judicial decision legalized cremation in Britain. France legalized it in 1889, and today it is legal in more than three-fourths of the world’s nations. The reasons are widely known—cremation is hygienic, requires little land, and is appropriate to rapidly growing urban areas. 9 Today, 10 percent of the dead are cremated in the United States, 20 percent in Canada, and 60 percent in Britain. 10

Where do Latter-day Saints fit into this picture? We reaffirm the perspective that the body is good and, as a creation of God, is to be respected. But as the Church has moved into nations other than the United States, there has been recognition that cultural practices differ. Generally, Latter-day Saints in the Western world have felt that nothing should be done which is destructive to the body. That should be left to nature. Church leaders have counseled that only in unusual circumstances or where required by law should cremation take place. 11

Ultimately, after consultation with the Lord and with priesthood leaders, the family must decide what to do. If the person has been endowed, some special instructions are available for the family from local priesthood leaders. Even if a body is cremated, a funeral service may be held if the ashes are buried or deposited in a mausoleum. 12

Where there is no overriding reason to cremate, burial is still the preferred method of handling our dead. In the end, however, we should remember that the resurrection will take place by the power of God, who created the heavens and the earth. Ultimately, whether a person’s body was buried at sea, destroyed in combat or an accident, intentionally cremated, or buried in a grave, the person will be resurrected.

No clearer picture of God’s restorative powers can be found than Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (see Ezek. 37), in which he sees the bones gathered together and clothed with sinews and flesh by the power of God. Nothing that is done to the body will in the end prevent the purpose of our Lord from being fulfilled. Our bodies and our spirits will finally be reunited in the resurrection of the dead.

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Louis-Vincent Thomas, “Funeral Rites,” The Encyclopedia of Religion, 16 vols., ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987), 5:457.

  2.   2.

    John R. Hinnells, ed., The Penguin Dictionary of Religions (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), s.v. “Hittites,” p. 150.

  3.   3.

    Ibid., s.v. “Philistines,” p. 252.

  4.   4.

    Thomas, 5:457.

  5.   5.

    Flora S. Kaplan, “Cremation,” The Encyclopedia Americana: U.S. Constitution Bicentennial Commemorative Edition, 21 vols. (Danbury, Conn.: Grolier, Inc., 1988), 8:171.

  6.   6.

    Ibid.

  7.   7.

    The Mishnah, trans. Herbert Danby (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 437 (Abodah Zarah 1:3).

  8.   8.

    V. L. Reed, “Burial,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 1:475–76.

  9.   9.

    Kaplan, p. 172.

  10.   10.

    Robert Fulton, “Cremation,” The World Book Encyclopedia, 22 vols. (Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1986), 4:904–5.

  11.   11.

    General Handbook of Instructions, March 1989, 1–5.

  12.   12.

    Ibid.

In keeping the Word of Wisdom, we are promised that we will “run and not be weary” (see D&C 89:20) and that we will enjoy good health. Since many who obey this law fall physically ill, are these promises mainly spiritual?

Gordon Williams, a physician and professor of medicine at Harvard University Medical School, and a regional representative. Our physical health is a complex process that involves input from a variety of sources. Many of these sources are under our immediate control. Others are not. The Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom to help guide us in those areas that are under our control. For example, our choices regarding smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, and drinking coffee and tea all are under our control. Avoiding these harmful substances can have a positive effect on the quality of our health. While people did not know this fact at the time the Lord gave this revelation, medical investigators now have provided ample documentation of its validity.

A recent study of ten thousand active members of the Church living in California documented one of the lowest death rates from heart disease and cancer ever reported for any group. Each of the individuals included in this study adhered to all three of the following health habits: no smoking, regular sleep, and regular physical activity. (See James Enstrom, “Health Practices and Cancer Mortality among Active California Mormons,” Journal, National Cancer Institute, 81[1989]:1807.)

However, if we refrain from smoking and from drinking alcoholic beverages, coffee, and tea, is that enough? Clearly, the answer is no. There are other guidelines given in the Word of Wisdom regarding a healthy diet.

Modern medical science also reaffirms the correctness of the approach advocated by the Lord in other aspects of the Word of Wisdom: eating an excess of saturated animal fat leads to an increased risk of heart disease; the general lack of grain and fruit in our diets raises numerous concerns.

But there is still more. The promise from the Lord found in the Word of Wisdom is based not only on the health code there but also on “walking in obedience to the commandments.” (See D&C 89:18.) Obviously, this enlarges our area of responsibility. Commandments of the Lord that influence our health can be found throughout all of scripture. We need to study these, be aware of them, and obey them.

In addition to factors that are under our control, there are also significant other factors influencing our health that are beyond our control: genetic makeup, the choices made by mothers during pregnancy, and environmental factors all contribute to our general state of health.

But as a general rule, after serving many years in the medical community, I can say that the Lord has given us true guidance. When we keep his commandments and counsel, we do enjoy the best possible health that the genetic and biological limits of our physical bodies will allow.