Adiaphora Of Things Indifferent

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					                      “Adiaphora” — Of Things Indifferent
                                        JOHN S. TANNER

M          y wife’s family likes to laugh about
           their memories of visiting a ward just
           outside their favorite National Park
when she was a girl. It seemed that each year
they arrived on the Sunday before the summer
                                                    is not. Latter-day Saints are used to engaging
                                                    in discussions about such issues as whether
                                                    the Sabbath forbids watching the Super Bowl,
                                                    whether caffeinated cola drinks are permissible,
                                                    whether to watch certain movies, or how to vote.
social, and Priesthood meeting would be given       While I would not argue that all these matters
over to discussions about what color the popcorn    are strictly indifferent, they are matters on
balls should be. The discussion took most of the    which faithful members can and do legitimately
meeting, with animated opinions in support of       disagree.
various colors. Even today, when some minor              So are many intramural differences at BYU.
issue is being discussed with great passion, my     We may, and often do, differ about the relative
father-in-law often quips, “Should we have pink     merits of this or that theory, methodology,
or green popcorn balls?”                            policy, or political issue. Most academic debates
     Whether it’s the color of popcorn balls, the   fall outside the scope of core doctrine or settled
menu for Young Women Camp, the age for              Board policy; most belong in the domain of the
Patriarchal Blessings, or what career to choose,    “adiaphora”—questions for which there is no
we all know that there are many matters for which   one religiously correct answer and about which
there is no one correct decision. Many issues are   the Church takes no official stand.
left to our own wisdom, judgment, and preference         At BYU we are unified in our support for the
by a God who deliberately does not “command in      university mission and the gospel. At the same
all things” but leaves “many things” to our “own    time, as one would expect at an institution that
free will” (D&C 58). Note how many times in the     gathers together so many bright and thoughtful
D&C the Lord uses the phrase “it mattereth not.”    people for the purpose of knowledge-seeking,
Some matters don’t really matter in the eternal     there exists a broad range of opinions at BYU
scheme of things.                                   about most questions. This is as it should be
     During the Reformation, theologians had a      at a university, whose purpose is to engage in
term for things that did not matter to church       the on-going examination and discovery of
doctrine and practice. They called them             knowledge. As Milton observed: “Where there
“adiaphora.” I have found this Greek term,          is much desire to learn, there of necessity will
borrowed from Stoic philosophy, to be a useful      be much arguing, much writing, many opinions;
addition to my conceptual lexicon. “Adiaphora”      for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the
may be translated as “things indifferent.” It       making.”
referred to matters that are neither commanded           The Reformers developed a sage saying to
nor forbidden by the church.                        guide those negotiating the boundaries of the
     The Reformers argued endlessly about what      “adiaphora.” It has been incorporated in BYU’s
belonged in the category of “adiaphora.” Was        Statement on Academic Freedom: “In essentials
it essential or indifferent if the priest wore a    let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty;
surplice? If the Communion table was level with     and in all things, charity.” The Latin original
the congregation or elevated? If communicants       reads “In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis
knelt or stood for Communion? If worshippers        libertas, in omnibus caritas.” As a distinctively
sang hymns? If hymns paraphrased the psalms         LDS university, let us cultivate the wisdom to
or were the product of human invention? And so      distinguish essentials from non-essentials, and
forth. Great debates raged about the boundaries     the charity to work through our differences
of “adiaphora” in a properly reformed church.       amicably. For charity is never a matter of
     Though the term “adiaphora” is unfamiliar      indifference, even with respect to popcorn balls.
in our Church, the notion of things indifferent

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