A Public Confession to my Bishop

Dear Bishop:

I just did a bad thing.  I didn’t mean for it to get to out of hand. I underestimated my passion, and the passion of…well, you know how it happens.  It started out so innocently.  First of all, it was April Fools’ Day, and I did what felt right.  I wrote a lie on Facebook.  I included you, Bishop, in the lie.  I said:

Seriously, I’m surprised.  I have no idea who inspired this (Gladys Knight?), but my husband, a Mormon bishop, just got an official letter from SLC that LDS church services will now allow “CONSERVATIVE” guitar and drum music in sacrament services.  The instructions say that these instruments should be used only for opening and closing hymns, but not for the sacrament hymn.  I’m guessing it’ll be publicly announced at General Conference, but it’ll take me that long to get used to it.  I’m grateful! I’ve really wanted this.

You and I know that’s not true, and you and I also know that I do enjoy some dry humor.  You know how to identify when I’m joking, because my mouth puckers just a bit.  But on Facebook, nobody sees my mouth.  You know my history.

I once started my BYU class by announcing that the administration had requested we have a Jimmer Fredette moment. I asked a student to speak for a bit on what Jimmer meant to him personally.  He gave me the most delightful look, while another student asked, “The administration asked you to do this?”  I once said that Canada was getting serious about its borders and that Americans had to sing the Canadian National Anthem before crossing into Canada.  And I told my dear friend in Florida that I planned on going into the water only thigh deep where the sharks were.  But how can I resist when I get a look like he gave me before he said, “Are you SERIOUS?”

But this one… This one on Facebook.  People got excited. One said: “That is beautiful news!” Another: “This is a brilliant move that will allow many converts from different locations to hear sounds that connects them to the Divine like organ music dose for others. They got this one right.”  Someone else: “Oh, wow, I’m just, wow!”  And they shared it.  Like eight or ten times.  As though it were a wonderful truth.

Bishop, there is a yearning for the kind of music that lets us rejoice in ways that resonate with us, lift up our hearts, sometimes make us weep.  There is no “orthodox” music for praising Jesus, is there? Do the angels sing only Bach or Brahms?  I’m certain that angels who used to roam the hills of Africa might sometimes sing a hymn in Lingala or Swahili, just to remember the feel of those sounds on their tongues.  Might angels who know China have a completely unfamiliar (to us) way of saying, “Praise God!”?  My dear black brother, Darius, often goes to Calvary Baptist just so he can sing the songs of his childhood.

So this FB comment turned me serious: “What is the rule for choosing music though? if it’s not in the hymn book does the music need to by an LDS composer or lyricist? There are so many other Christian & Gospel songs that I would love to sing in sacrament other than  the LDS ones that everyone’s already mostly heard before.”

I answered–in my true self:

Speaking very seriously on a matter which matters deeply to me, when I was music chair in my ward, we were not allowed to have traditional spirituals.  That rule, if it still exists, has got to go.  My personal goal, if I ever have any power, is to make a hymnbook (with a committee, okay) that represents the whole world.  We should have hymns from every nation on earth.

Since you and I sleep together quite frequently, Bishop, you are well aware of my feelings on this.  How I would love to sing “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired!” with Bea Darden during Sacrament Meeting, or to hear James Sheppard sing “Balm of Gilead.”  How I would love to join a whole congregation promising God  that we “ain’t goin’ study war no more.”

Is there a single hymn in our hymnbook that’s NOT from Europe?  European hymns made sense during the church’s beginnings.  But now?  When will we recognize that He’s got the WHOLE world in his hands?  When will we learn one another’s songs and delight in ALL our ways of raising a joyful noise?  When will we learn to sing God a new song, a song from our hearts and homes–wherever our homes might be?

I am sorry I lied, Bishop.  Oh dang, there goes another lie.  I’m not sorry.  Anyway, I’m glad I got to talk to you about this.  It matters to me so much. It’s not a joke.


Your wife


About Margaret Blair Young

Margaret Blair Young teaches literature and creative writing at Brigham Young University. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in the history of blacks in the west, particularly black Mormons. She has written six novels and two short story collections, but has lately become interested in filmmaking. Her current endeavor is a film to be shot in Zambia called Heart of Africa (www.heartofafricafilm.com)

  • http://www.sequimgym.com Kristin LaMoure

    Thanks so much for turning a very clever April fool’s day joke into a thoughtful discussion. As you found, your thoughts reflect thousands of us in the church. I realize that sacrament meeting is not meant to be a talent display. I realize we can feel the whisperings of the Spirit during a temple endowment session, or in the Celestial Room, where NO music is allowed. Yet, when my heart yearns, hymns often lack the intensity I feel. My favorite Christmas movie is “The Preacher’s Wife” with the late Whitney Houston and the Georgia Mass choir. When I have been through my darkest hour, “Where can I turn for peace?” from our hymn book, did not suffice. But “I Love the Lord/I’ll hasten to His Throne” from a Preacher’s Wife…. matched the magnitude of my emotions and strength I felt. Again, thanks for this. For personal reasons, I have an interest in your black history submissions. I will look into it. I’m glad someone posted this blog on facebook. I’m glad to have found you.

    • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

      Thank you, Kristin. I do have very strong feelings about diversity and music. I am blessed to have talented friends of many ethnicities who have taught me to sing new songs. Thanks for sharing those lovely thoughts.

      • http://www.sequimgym.com Kristin LaMoure

        I’m glad you have that. Obviously you are in Utah, where diversity can be hard to find. My son has been attending BYU, and the one thing he tells me he doesn’t like about Provo and the Y is that misses the diversity he’s used to living in Seattle.

        Regarding music, I think back to the Preacher’s Wife again. At the very beginning of the movie, the camera spans over many different types of churches with several different types of music coming out of all of them. A little boy, who plays the son in the film, says, “Sometimes I think about what we must sound like to God. How does he know who’s in trouble and who needs help?”
        To me, I think he appreciates all types of music, when our heart is in it.

        Again, thanks.

        • http://www.sequimgym.com Kristin LaMoure

          I mean He, not he. Sorry. I always try to capitalize references to God.

          • http://www.heartofafricafilm.com Margaret Blair Young

            I do as well.
            My daughter and her family live in Indiana. It has a great music school (IU), but she was after diversity for her kids first and foremost.

  • Alan Hurst

    Yeah, I’d like to see more cultural flexibility with the music in areas (e.g., Africa) where the organ and piano aren’t generally seen as religious instruments. For your average mostly-white American ward, though… I don’t know. There’s so much dreck out there under the label “contemporary Christian music.”

    I guess to me it’s like the rule that you should only teach from the manual, the scriptures, and Church magazines. It’s not that there’s nothing else good out there–there’s loads–but it’s hard for amateurs to separate the good from the bad. And there are few things our Church is more committed to than amateurism.

    But on one point I definitely disagree: Absolutely, the angels only sing Bach. Maybe Haendel on occasion, and every once in a while the Ode to Joy might sneak in. But normally, just Bach.

    • Alan Hurst


  • Corey Wozniak

    MoTab’s Betelehemu is sure a blast!

  • Karen Samuelson Ricks

    I found this article interesting since we had that very controversy in our ward a couple of Christmases ago when our choir director had a ward member sing “Will I Dance for You Jesus” on the Christmas program. Honestly, I was offended. It didn’t seem reverent enough for the most sacred meeting outside of the Temple that we hold each week. She did change “dance” to sing.
    On the other hand, the choir director was raised Lutheran and frequently has us sing hymns from her Lutheran hymnbook. They are beautiful! And reverent.
    Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE spirituals, and Christian rock, as well as the old standards.Many times as choir director years ago I would look for opportunities to have the choir sing songs of other faiths and tempos. Ward parties, Stake music festivals, etc. One member of the choir was somewhat offended that I had them sing a Quaker hymn “Simple Gifts” for our Stake choir program. I always wanted to have them perform “Lord, If I Got My Ticket, Can I Ride.” I love that song!!
    I just feel like sacrament meeting is where everyone gathers to lay their deepest thoughts and feelings on the Table of the Sacrament of the Lord, so the music should cater to the most conservative member, and remain sacred and reverent.
    As far as hymns from every nation, I know that many of the countries that speak other languages have hymns they are familiar with in their hymnbooks. We don’t have them in the English hymnbooks, but they have them. It would definitely be cool to learn some of them here, as well.

  • Neil

    Great article! My wife was the music director in our Kentucky ward a few years ago. Being European, she wanted to sing some ecclectic songs from Europe and Africa. The Bishop shot that down real quick. This led me to reflect on an interesting concept which has to do with confusing “uncomfortableness” with “lack of spririt”. I am sure that our bishop thought the songs were not of the Spirit simply because he felt uncomfortable. So many members who are pure breed Americans would think that the church outside of the US to be so apostate because the members ‘carry their religion’ differently. We had Gladys Knight come to our stake center a few years ago. Because of the clapping and gospel songs she chose to sing, many felt uncomfortable (confusing that feeling with the departure of the spirit) and left the concert.