Some think the Lamanites had a corner on false traditions, but in a modern-day revelation which talks about all generations we read, “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men and because of the traditions of their fathers.” (D&C 93:39, emphasis mine)
False traditions are alive and well. For me, some have been easy to pinpoint and discard, others have been tricky to recognize and even trickier to discard. I’ve come to realize that the word “traditions” and the word “belief” are virtually synonymous and can be used interchangeably in the scriptures. So a false “tradition” not only refers to the action, but also to the belief that prompts the action. For example, the Lamanites had the false belief (tradition) that they had always been wronged by the Nephites, which prompted the false tradition (action) of hating and persecuting the Nephites. Some academic terms that are fairly synonymous to traditions are: internal working model, world-view and paradigm.
Traditions are powerful forces in our lives, whether they are based on truth or not. If they are false, they drag us down. It is wise to assess each of our traditions; if they are taking us closer to Christ they are based on truth. If they are taking us away from Him they are false and need to be changed.
False Traditions Are Literally Taught
The movie “South Pacific” brought us a classic song about false traditions. The key words are, “You have to be taught to hate and to scorn; you have to be taught from the moment you’re born.” In 4 Nephi 1:39 we find the scriptural perspective of this process of teaching unrighteous feelings and attitudes: “And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.”
And so the pattern continues. Hate and irrational fear are often triggered by a tragic event. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, many children were taught to fear those of Japanese descent, and innocent American citizens of Japanese descent were forcibly taken from their homes and unfairly imprisoned. Since the tragedy of 9-11, in America, we have seen a growing fear and accompanying suspicion if not outright hate for anyone appearing to be of Middle Eastern descent.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves honestly: Are there any groups or nationalities that we have been taught to hate or fear? If so, are we passing on that false tradition, or are we becoming the pivotal generation to change it?
Correct or Incorrect Traditions?
The time and strength of our ancestors (even as close as our grandparents) was spent primarily on survival. Most of them had little time for education, few opportunities to travel for pleasure or to talk with people who came from different family systems, few chances to understand or even think about the family traditions they were enmeshed in.
Times have changed. I believe we belong to the pivotal generation that has been given the resources, the time, the secular and spiritual enlightenment needed to recognize and turn from the “false traditions of the fathers.” Could this be one of the assignments “Saturday’s warriors” accepted in the pre-mortal life?
Carlfred Broderick, educator and counselor, responded in the “I Have a Question” section of the Ensign some time ago. He spoke about being a transition person in a family system. He said, “My experiences in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist have convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families.” (Carlfred Broderick, Ensign, August 1986, p. 38)
Although the remainder of his quote applied to obviously destructive traditions of abuse, I wonder if that the same principle would apply to all kinds of incorrect traditions that need to be changed?
Sometimes the traditions that need to be changed are not evil at all, but still need to be changed. An example of this could be Sunday recreation traditions that pull the family away from spiritually-based traditions that could bless lives and anchor the family in safe spiritual harbors.
Many dysfunctional family systems have enmeshed false beliefs and traditions difficult to pinpoint and change, such as keeping secrets and not going for help. Sometimes false traditions are subtle thought and speech patterns, such as one I grew up with of judging and criticizing those who do not live Church standards. This tradition was a big stumbling block in my family of origin. We were taught the definite belief that those who blatantly broke the Word of Wisdom or fell into moral transgression deserved to be judged as “less than” by those of us who lived these laws. (So self-righteousness was one of our false traditions.)
Poignant personal experiences helped me break out of the bondage of this pattern. My second son Brian, one of the most sensitive, good-hearted people you could ever find, fell into the very sins I had grown up being so critical of. Over a period of years I recognized over and over the error of my previous thinking, but most clearly when he died. His viewing and graveside services were flooded with people whose very appearance (coupled with the obvious smell of tobacco) would have, in my early life, made me inclined to shun them. None of them were well off, but they showed the goodness of their hearts with a sizable collection to help with Brian’s funeral expenses. I was never more surprised or touched, and that money softened the financial blow of our sad situation considerably.
More importantly, they expressed their love and high regard for our son and I was able to embrace them, look into their eyes and see the goodness there, and thank them for being Brian’s friends. Was it so important to the Lord that I change false traditions and rise above false beliefs that He helped me in ways I would least expect or ask for? Perhaps. At least those experiences were part of fulfilling the promise that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (see D&C 122:7)
Recognize Positive, Correct Traditions and Keep Them Going!
Like the people of Nephi, most of us have the legacy of many correct traditions we try to nurture and hang onto and pass on to our children. In Alma 3:11 we read, “And it came to pass that whosoever would not believe in the tradition of the Lamanites, but believed those records which were brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and also in the tradition of their fathers, which were correct, who believed in the commandments of God and kept them, were called the Nephites, or the people of Nephi, from that time forth.”
The challenge of sorting out correct from incorrect traditions is compounded by living in a day when evil is called good, and good evil, correct traditions (such as honesty and chastity and living the Word of Wisdom) are often called foolish by society.
Similar conditions prevailed in the city of Ammonihah. When Alma was preaching to the people in that city, the people said, “We are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.” (Alma 8:11)
Many Have Already Broken the Cycle
No matter how deeply entrenched the false traditions, it is possible to break out of them. I know many people who have chosen to stop the downward cycle. For instance, a lifetime friend of mine came from a home where religion was not a priority, where alcohol and tobacco were used freely, and where chastity was never spoken of as a virtue. When she became my college roommate, she freely accepted the invitation to attend church meetings.
One evening she went with me to a fireside where Mark E. Petersen gave a powerful talk on the importance of chastity. When we returned home, I spent most of the night listening to my heart-broken friend explain how much she now believed Elder Petersen’s message. She was distraught that she hadn’t understood earlier so she could have made different choices. I showed her Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
She was comforted. She repented, and joined the Church. She was disowned by her family, but only for a short time. She married a returned missionary in the temple and for many decades now she and her husband and children have been a major source of strength to a small ward in a town where Mormons are very much in the minority. Her brother and sister eventually followed her into the Church, and they have all created far different traditions for their own children than the ones they grew up with.
This Is the Time
Because of advances in technology, those of us born in these last days have quick access to scriptures and words of prophets in ways never before imagined. In addition we have a plethora of good books, wise mentors, and the Internet where we have information on any subject imaginable at our fingertips. If we are alive with the Spirit of the Lord we can sort out the correct from the incorrect traditions in a way never before possible.
We never need feel alone in our quest to change false traditions and live more in light and truth. Help and good resources abound! We should always remember that it does not show something wrong with us to seek help, but something right about us. Many times the Lord works through other people, and we should pray to be led to those who can best help us.
With the Lord’s help and the help of others who have seen the difference between false and correct traditions we can win this important war. In Alma 9:16-17 we read, “For there are many promises which are extended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the traditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of ignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and prolong their existence in the land. And at some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them will be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name.”
Think about it! In this day and this time, thousands upon thousands of the descendants of Book of Mormon people are calling on His name and becoming part of His church and kingdom. The Lord has been merciful to the rest of us too, prolonging our existence, giving us abundant chances to rise above ignorance and incorrect traditions, and giving those of us who belong to the Church opportunities to live in this day and be part of this great work.
When We Reject False Traditions, We Are Not Rejecting Our Fathers
In Jeremiah 16:19 we find a warning: “O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.” This is a day of affliction, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to turn away from the lies and vanity some traditions of our fathers have passed on to us.
I’ve had to make the careful differentiation that when I reject a false tradition, I am not rejecting my forefathers, but helping them. I believe they rejoice from their vantage point on the Other Side when any one of their posterity chooses a position of greater light and truth. Living relatives who may protest our changes at the time, may, like my friend’s family, eventually recognize the wisdom of our better choices and even join us in them.
We can only fight the darkness with light; we can only fight false traditions with correct ones, and parents need to start with themselves. In Alma 39:15-16 we read, “And now, my son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ. Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people. And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming.”
The glad tidings of Christ prepare the minds of parents to receive His salvation, and then they are in a position to prepare the minds of their children. Our task is clear. We have the wonderful opportunity to seek the Spirit and feast upon the words of Christ to appease our spiritual hunger so we can come to our children exemplifying the fruits of the gospel. Then we can lead out in changing false traditions and implementing ones that are more correct.
It is the great opportunity of every parent to replace false traditions with light and truth-to study the scriptures, seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and do our very best to establish true and faithful traditions in our families. We ARE the pivotal generation! We can do it!