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A recent commercial for Miller, a beer company, has been causing a small stir amongst some groups of Latter-day Saints. The commercial, which can be viewed here, features LDS actor Kirby Heyborne, made famous from such movies as “The Singles Ward” and “The Best Two Years”.
The commercial features Kirby as one of two men who are trying to find out where bottles of beer are being opened, so that they can presumably join in the fun. The other actor is the lead person pursuing the alcohol with Kirby in tow. Upon finding their desired bounty, both men grab a bottle of the beer.
Some of the more orthodox Latter-day Saints have expressed disgust and disappointment when viewing Heyborne in the promotion of an item that is prohibited by the code of conduct to which he claims to adhere. Is their reaction justified?
As some have noted, the situation is complicated when viewed in light of other similar situations. Those who condemn Heyborne must likewise oppose Steve Young and other LDS athletes who play games on Sunday, for example. Granted, their line of profession sometimes requires that they do so, whereas an actor can (as I understand it) decline any offered work they prefer not to do.
In this situation, people are quick to cite 1 Thessalonians 5:22, where Paul counsels us to abstain from all appearance of evil. A review of other translations of the same verse seems to indicate that Paul isn’t explicitly saying that we should stay away from the appearance of evil (think of the classic example of a colored cup at a party, where yours is filled with water whereas all others have alcohol), but instead that we should shun evil in all its forms.
That then begs the question: is the appearance of evil a form of evil? Or, more specifically, if it is evil (being contrary to God’s commandments) to consume alcohol, is it likewise evil (less so, no doubt) to act as if you are doing so?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell discussed the importance of appearance as it relates to shunning evil:
We will find that not only are there strategic signposts of morality, but there are also tactical standards of morality with which we must be concerned if we are to preserve our identity in the way that is most helpful to us and to our fellowmen. We must not unintentionally assume the appearance of evil in its various cultural costumes and dispensational dimensions. The length of Samson’s hair not only gave him strength, it set him apart from the Philistines, whose passion for alcohol Samson did not share either. The prophet will always help us to set the tone of tactical morality when such is needed to set us apart from some contemporaries. Paul did this for female Church members in Corinth, counseling them, I am told, so they would not be confused with prostitutes because of uncovered hair. Thus, the principles do not change, but as Dr. Daniel H. Ludlow has said, the practices may vary. We can always look to the prophet for guidance with regard to these tactical dimensions of morality. (Neal A. Maxwell, via Quoty)
As this quote explains, one of the important reasons for abstaining from evil—both in public and private—is to maintain a separate identity that lets others (and perhaps more importantly, ourselves) know Who we represent. That identity is blurred when we associate with things we should not, whether it is “acting” or otherwise. Calling something “art” does not give us spiritual license to set our standards aside while we consume, participate in, or represent evil. Elder Spencer J. Condie noted:
When one has a disposition to do good continually, the natural consequence will be to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22) and not to “look upon sin save it were with abhorrence” (Alma 13:12). (Spencer J. Condie, A Disposition to Do Good Continually)
Doing good continually implies representing the Lord’s standard at all times. Likewise, King Mosiah counseled his people—and us—to stand as a witness of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places. The film studio or stage certainly counts as one of “all places”.
Perhaps the best litmus test for the righteousness of our actions is to sincerely ask ourselves if we could have the Savior by our side at that very moment. Just as the Spirit is easily offended, so is a jealous God who has not commanded us in all things, but instead has given us the agency to act, waiting to see if we will obey.
Two years ago, Heyborne said (regarding his acting career) “I will be doing stuff Kirby Heyborne doesn’t do.” It is my opinion that this stance is at odds with the Lord’s command to be His representative (doing what He would do) at all times and in all places.
For the potentially offended reader (of which there are many, it seems, from comments I have read on this issue elsewhere): This post is not meant to judge Kirby (whom I do not know) but instead to discuss the issue of a Latter-day Saint acting in a capacity where he participates in things that go against the Lord’s standard. I’m sure Kirby is a great guy, but that is besides the point.