Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy:
Latter-Day Saint Statements on Sabbath Observance
Compiled by Michael T. Griffith
All but one of the statements below can be found online, most of them on lds.org/churchofjesuschrist.org. The one exception is the first statement from President Benson, and for that quote I’ve provided the reference from which the statement was taken. Most of the statements were made by General Authorities. And, all of the statements were made in General Conference or in official Church publications.
PRESIDENT GORDON B. HINCKLEY
– I mention the Sabbath day. The Sabbath of the Lord is becoming the play day of the people. It is a day of golf and football on television, of buying and selling in our stores and markets. Are we moving to mainstream America as some observers believe? In this I fear we are. What a telling thing it is to see the parking lots of the markets filled on Sunday in communities that are predominately LDS.
(COMMENT: Notice that President Hinckley categorized “golf and football on television” on Sunday with “buying and selling in stores” on Sunday. When a prophet stands in General Conference and expresses his “fear” that too many Latter-day Saints are engaging in these activities, this is much more than just casual advice or a mere suggestion. It is a warning that we should stop doing those things.)
Our strength for the future, our resolution to grow the Church across the world, will be weakened if we violate the will of the Lord in this important matter. He has so very clearly spoken anciently and again in modern revelation. We cannot disregard with impunity that which He has said.
– There isn’t anybody in this Church who has to buy furniture on Sunday. There really isn’t. There isn’t anybody in this Church who has to buy a new automobile on Sunday, is there? No. There isn’t anybody in this Church who, with a little care and planning, has to buy groceries on Sunday. No. Most of us have refrigerators. A quart of milk will hold, insofar as the bacteria go, from Saturday till Monday. There is no question about that. You don’t need ice cream to be bought on Sunday. You don’t need to buy groceries on Sunday, brethren. You don’t need to make Sunday a day of merchandising. I don’t think we need to patronize the ordinary business merchants on the Sabbath day. Why do they stay open? To get customers. Who are those customers? Well, they are not all nonmembers of this Church. You know that and I know that.
– There is no need for people to shop and desecrate the Sabbath day by buying things on Sunday. That is not the time to buy groceries. You have six days of the week, and you all have a refrigerator. You do not have to shop on Sunday. Do not buy furniture on Sunday; buy it the other days of the week. You will not lose anything if you do your shopping the other days and do not do it on Sunday. Let this be a day of meditation, of reading the scriptures, of talking with your families, and of dwelling on the things of God. If you do so, you will be blessed.
PRESIDENT EZRA TAFT BENSON
– Now, what about those activities that do not fit the spirit or purpose of the Sabbath? Here are a few:
* Overworking and staying up late Saturday so that you are exhausted the next day.
* Filling the Sabbath so full of extra meetings that there is no time for prayer, meditation, family fellowship, and counseling.
* Doing gardening and odd jobs around the house.
* Taking trips to canyons or resorts, visiting friends socially, joy riding, wasting time, and engaging in other amusements.
* Playing vigorously and going to movies.
* Engaging in sports and hunting.
* Reading material that does not contribute to your spiritual uplift.
* Reading Sunday papers–the largest edition of the week. Why? Because it is diverting and time-consuming on a day we need to build the spirit.
* Shopping or supporting with your patronage businesses that operate on Sunday, such as grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and service stations.
President Joseph Fielding Smith made it a practice not to turn on radio or TV on Sunday except for Church-sponsored programs. [From Ezra Taft Benson, “Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” in his book, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, p. 105.]
– I don't believe it is possible to keep our spirituality on a high plane by spending our Sabbaths on the beach, on the golf course, in the mountains, or in our own homes reading newspapers and looking at television. When the Lord said, "And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer,” that is exactly what He meant. We must have spiritual food.
PRESIDENT SPENCER W. KIMBALL
– To hunt and fish on the Lord’s day is not keeping it holy. To plant or cultivate or harvest crops on the Sabbath is not keeping holy the Lord’s day. To go into the canyons for picnics, to attend games or rodeos or races or shows or other amusements on that day is not to keep it in holy remembrance.
– We have become largely a world of Sabbath breakers. On the Sabbath the lakes are full of boats, the beaches are crowded, the shows have their best attendance, the golf links are dotted with players. The Sabbath is the preferred day for rodeos, conventions, family picnics; even ball games are played on the sacred day. “Business as usual” is the slogan for many, and our holy day has become a holiday. And because so many people treat the day as a holiday, numerous others cater to the wants of the fun-lovers and money-makers.
(COMMENT: If President Kimball lamented the fact that “ball games are played on the sacred day” and clearly classed it as breaking the Sabbath, surely we should not watch those ball games on the Sabbath.)
– A seminary group planned a service in the mountains on Sunday. They felt justified in the have their meeting and enjoyed a spiritual hour together, but after that hour the day became a day for picnicking, games, hiking, and climbing, with no further thought of the Sabbath. The one hour of devotion did not make of that day a holy day.
– Sabbath-breakers too are those who buy commodities or entertainment on the Sabbath, thus encouraging pleasure palaces and business establishments to remain open—which they otherwise would not do. If we buy, sell, trade, or support such on the Lord’s day we are as rebellious as the children of Israel, the dire consequences of whose transgressions against this and other commandments should be a permanent warning to us all.
– May I take you back 142 years when there was, of course, no tabernacle here, nor temple, nor Temple Square. On July 24, 1847, the pioneer company of our people came into this valley. An advance group had arrived a day or two earlier. Brigham Young arrived on Saturday. The next day, Sabbath services were held both in the morning and in the afternoon. There was no hall of any kind in which to meet. I suppose that in the blistering heat of that July Sunday they sat on the tongues of their wagons and leaned against the wheels while the Brethren spoke. The season was late, and they were faced with a gargantuan and immediate task if they were to grow seed for the next season. But President Young pleaded with them not to violate the Sabbath then or in the future.
Imagine how tempting it must have been for our pioneer forefathers to break the Sabbath day. Their survival depended upon the food they could grow and harvest. Yet their leaders counseled them to exercise faith in the promises of the Lord and to respect the Sabbath day. Church members are the beneficiaries of that heritage and of the promises of the Lord to those who are faithful. We must always remember who we are and that we are different from the world.
– I hope students will use the Sabbath for studying only as an emergency. . . . I believe that generally, with careful organization of time through the week, most studying can be done on weekdays, leaving the Sabbath for worship. . . . There might be times when one would feel forced to study, when he might feel that it was an ox in the mire. I am expressing only my personal opinions on this matter, but since we are talking to students, it would be my hope that your studying could be done in the season thereof and not as a cramming process just before you go on Monday mornings.
-- Numerous times have we quoted:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . .”
But today numerous of the people of this land spend the Sabbath working, devoting the day to the beaches, to entertainment, to shows, to their weekly purchases.
(COMMENT: Surely no one would dispute the fact that sports on TV is a form of secular, non-gospel-related entertainment, which is the kind of entertainment to which President Kimball was clearly referring.)
ELDER JAMES E. FAUST
– There seems to be an ever-increasing popularity in disregarding the centuries-old commandment to observe and respect the Sabbath day. For many it has become a holiday rather than a holy day of rest and sanctification. For some it is a day to shop and buy groceries. The decision of those who engage in shopping, sports, work, and recreation on the Sabbath day is their own, for which they alone bear responsibility.
ELDER MARK E. PETERSEN
– Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us.
– We know there are employees in certain essential services, such as in hospitals and other 24-hour-a-day institutions, who have no option as to their working conditions. We do not speak of them. But most people are not so employed, and they have control of their own time.
Would they rather ski or swim or go to the movies or conduct business on Sunday? If the answer is yes, they should ask themselves if they have strayed away from the faith to that extent and adopted another gospel—a gospel of Sunday fun and business.
Why don’t we take the Lord seriously concerning the Sabbath day? We know that we should not trifle with sacred things and that the Sabbath is his sacred day.
ELDER DALLIN H. OAKS
– Modern-day prophets have encouraged us not to shop on Sunday. Those of us who shop on the Sabbath cannot escape responsibility for encouraging businesses to remain open on that day. Essential services must be provided, but most Sabbath transactions could be avoided if merchants and customers were determined to avoid doing business on the Lord’s day.
– When I left this campus [BYU] to study at the University of Chicago, my mother reminded me that my father had never studied on the Sabbath during his professional training. She said to me very casually, “Son, if you want to enjoy that blessing you should arrange your activities so that you never study, so that you never do anything on the Sabbath except partake of the spiritual food that is available to you on the Lord’s day.” I made up my mind at that time that I would observe the Sabbath faithfully so that I could qualify for the blessings of spiritual growth and the companionship of the Spirit that come from observing faithfully the Sabbath of our Lord. I testify to you that I realized those blessings in measurable ways on innumerable occasions.
PRESIDENT GEORGE Q. CANNON
– A man deceives himself when he thinks that by working on Sunday he advances his labor or his interests. So also with those who take that day for excursions and pleasure hunting. A man who strictly confines his labors to six days, and will not work himself, not suffer his animals to work on Sunday, will perform more labor during the year and be prospered to a far greater extent than the man who is careless upon this point.
So also with those who seek pleasure; they lose by using the Sabbath for that purpose. If they would select some other day, they would find themselves better off at the end of the year than they would be in using Sunday for this purpose. It should be an inflexible rule with every man, woman and child in the Church to hold Sunday sacred for the worship of the Lord and never to perform any labor on that day if it can possibly be avoided.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH F. SMITH
– To observe the Sabbath day properly is the plain duty of every Latter-day Saint—and that includes the young men and young women and the boys and girls. It may seem strange that it should be necessary to repeat this often-asserted fact. But there appear to be some people, and sometimes whole communities, who neglect this duty, and therefore stand in need of this admonition.
– Men are not showing zeal and ardor in their religious faith and duty when they hustle off early Sunday morning … to the canyons, the resorts, and to visit friends or places of amusement with their wives and children. They are not paying their devotions in this way to the Most High.
Not in seeking pleasure and recreation do they offer their time and attention in the worship of the Lord; nor can they thus rejoice in the spirit of forgiveness and worship that comes with partaking of the holy sacrament.
Boys and young men are not fasting with singleness of heart that their joy may be full when they spend the Sabbath day loafing around the village ice-cream stand or restaurant, playing games, or in buggy riding, fishing, shooting, or engaged in physical sports, excursions and outings. Such is not the course that will keep them unspotted from the world, but rather one that will deprive them of the rich promises of the Lord, giving them sorrow instead of joy, and unrest and anxiety instead of the peace that comes with works of righteousness.
– Theaters and various public amusements are now held on the Sabbath day contrary to the revelations of the Lord, and they prove a potent factor in destroying the faith of those who participate in this practice. The parents of the youth of Zion should guard their children against this and all other evils, for they will be held responsible should their children go astray through their neglect.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH FIELDING SMITH
– You ask if it is wrong to take rides on the Sabbath, to view television and listen to the radio. Certainly it is not in harmony with the day to view shows on crime and scenes of murder, banditry, and other things contrary to the spirit of the gospel; and it must be admitted that these dominate the picture shows. So far as my practice is concerned, the radio and television are not turned on in the home on the Sabbath day, except it be to listen to religious sermons or other programs sponsored by the Church. We never go automobile riding on the Sabbath except in the line of religious duty and appointment.
– The Lord has given us six days of each week in which we can work and earn our living and in these days most of us, and especially children, can and do find time for some amusement and relaxation. The demands upon the time of working men and likewise professional men, seldom, if ever, require all of the time during these six days without any hours for relaxation and amusement. School children have one day free out of the six, and each school day leaves some period for relaxation. The athletics, playing of games, and other amusements that they engage in indicate that the entire time of the six days is seldom occupied without some hours free. Most businessmen and professional men can find time for golf or fishing and hunting; and they do not need the Sunday to "stretch their bones," in sports and other entertainment. Some working men today work only five days a week, yet they have formed the habit of taking the Sabbath for additional time for leisure and amusement. There are very few exceptions where no free time can be found.
– The great majority of men and children today are not content to take only the six days for the purposes of the physical needs of the body and are starving their spirits. If we go without food, we get hungry; if we go without sleep, we get weary and ill; but we seldom think that the starving of the spirit is anything that should worry us. When we do this, we feel no pain, no misery, unless it is that our conscience troubles us. If we persist in the violation of the Sabbath day, the time comes when our conscience becomes seared, and we fail to heed its warnings or its call for spiritual food. Surely it is not unreasonable for us to be commanded to obey the Sabbath when the Lord has given us six-sevenths of our time for all temporal purposes.
ELDER BRUCE R. McCONKIE
– Sunday being the Lord's Day, it is a day on which men should do the Lord's work, and do it exclusively. There should be no unnecessary work of a temporal nature, no recreation, no unnecessary travel, no joy riding, and the like. The Sabbath is a day for affirmative spiritual worship, aside from which, "thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart."
PRESIDENT GEORGE ALBERT SMITH
– Much of the sorrow and distress that is afflicting and will continue to afflict mankind is traceable to the fact that they have ignored God’s admonition to keep the Sabbath day holy.
FIRST PRESIDENCY STATEMENT, 1993
-- We sense that many Latter-day Saints have become lax in their observance of the Sabbath day. We should refrain from shopping on the Sabbath and participating in other commercial and sporting activities that now commonly desecrate the Sabbath.
We urge all Latter-day Saints to set this holy day apart from activities of the world and consecrate themselves by entering into a spirit of worship, thanksgiving, service, and family-centered activities appropriate to the Sabbath. As Church members endeavor to make their Sabbath activities compatible with the intent and Spirit of the Lord, their lives will be filled with joy and peace.
FOR THE STRENGTH OF YOUTH Pamphlet
– Sunday is not a holiday or a day for recreation or athletic events. Do not seek entertainment or spend money on this day. Let your friends know what your standards are so they will not try to persuade you to participate in activities that are not appropriate for the Sabbath.
FROM THE ARTICLE “TO KEEP IT HOLY” IN THE OFFICIAL CHURCH MAGAZINE THE NEW ERA
When Eli Herring was little, he would sometimes try to be sneaky and watch Sunday professional football on television. He didn’t know much about the game, but he knew he liked it. He liked it so much that each week when his class at school would go to the library, he would check out books about football players. He knew they were big and strong, he knew he wanted to be one, and he knew that they played most of their games on Sunday. And he wanted to watch some football.
One Sunday when he had the television on, he suddenly noticed his father looming in the doorway. Eli promptly forgot about the game. His father wasn’t angry, but he sure looked disappointed. Brother Herring simply said, “Turn it off,” and Eli did. He never watched football on Sunday again.
It didn’t take Eli and his brothers and sisters long to find out how their parents felt about the gospel. The family often gathered and read their scriptures and talked about the things of the Lord. Like many Latter-day Saints, the Herrings taught their children about eternal life and eternal families. They taught their children how to fast and pray and how to seek guidance from the Lord.
FROM THE CHURCH’S OFFICIAL MORMON YOUTH WEBSITE
What about the rest of the day? Can’t we go to church and then spend the rest of the day shopping or watching football? Well, since Mormons don’t think that anyone should have to work on Sunday, they are counselled to no go to stores or spend money on the Sabbath. Sunday as a day of rest doesn’t work if they use it to make other people ring up their items or cook their food. Mormonism also specifies that we ought to have Sunday-specific activities that bring in the Spirit of the Lord. Mormons seek for the guidance of the Spirit of God on Sunday especially—it’s a big part of what makes the day rejuvenating. While there’s nothing evil about watching football or playing video games or reading novels, they can easily distract from the purpose of the day. If you find yourself forgetting that this is Sunday and not Saturday, you should probably shift your focus.
(COMMENT: Notice the careful point: there’s nothing inherently wrong with watching sports on TV or playing video games or reading novels, but they can “easily” distract from the purpose of the day if we do them on the Sabbath. This counsel is clearly deliberately worded in a gentle, diplomatic manner, but the intent seems clear: we should avoid watching football games, playing video games, and reading novels on the Sabbath.)
FROM “FIVE WAYS TO CELEBRATE THE SABBATH AS A FAMILY” IN THE CHURCH NEWS
And finally, to give the Sabbath a more sacred feel, a family may choose not to watch TV or play videos or computer games; if there is a TV program your family really would like to see, you can record it on video and watch it on a weeknight.
(COMMENT: So choosing not to watch TV on Sunday will “give the Sabbath a more sacred feel.” Of course, watching Church-produced programs on TV on Sunday would be appropriate, as would overtly faith-based movies such as Ben Hur, The Robe, Fireproof, Courageous, Risen, 17 Miracles, Ephraim’s Rescue, and A.D.: The Bible Continues.)
THEN-ELDER RUSSELL M. NELSON
Not pursuing your “own pleasure” on the Sabbath requires self-discipline. You may have to deny yourself of something you might like. If you choose to delight yourself you will not permit yourself to treat it as any other day. Routine and recreational activities can be done some other time.
ELDER H. ALDRIDGE GILLESPIE
Today is the Sabbath. It does not end when we leave this session; it does not end if someone calls on the phone or knocks at our door inviting us to come out and play, go for a ride, to a ball game, or shopping; it does not end because we are on vacation or someone is visiting us, whether member or nonmember.
(COMMENT: If we should not attend a ball game on Sunday, surely we should not watch it on TV on Sunday either. Similarly, if we should not shop on Sunday, we surely would want to avoid watching a TV show that showed nothing but people shopping for three to four hours.)
ELDER EARL TINGEY
In a recent regional training meeting for priesthood leaders, President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed concern that members of the Church may have a tendency to take on the ways of the world. He said: “We don’t adopt them immediately, but we slowly take them on, unfortunately. I wish I had the power to convert this whole Church to the observance of the Sabbath. I know our people would be more richly blessed of the Lord if they would walk in faithfulness in the observance of the Sabbath.”
A very important aspect of properly observing the Sabbath concerns shopping on Sunday. Unfortunately, many commercial businesses and establishments are open on Sunday. The world sees no conflict in Sunday shopping. But we of the Church have been counseled and taught by prophets to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.” We should not shop on Sunday.
(COMMENT: The teaching that we should not shop on Sunday is important because President Hinckley classed “golf and football on TV” on Sunday with shopping on Sunday. He said he “feared” that Church members were drifting into the American “mainstream,” such as watching golf and football on TV on Sunday and shopping on Sunday.)
ELDER JOHN H. GROBERG
But when Sunday dawns on the kingdom of Tonga, a transformation takes place. If one goes downtown, he sees deserted streets—no taxis or buses or crowds of people. All the stores, all the markets, all the movie theaters, all the offices are closed. No planes fly, no ships come in or out, no commerce takes place. No games are played. The people go to church. Tonga is remembering to keep the Sabbath day holy.
(COMMENT: Note the comment that no games were played on Sunday in Tonga at the time [“No games are played”]. If not playing games on Sunday is keeping the Sabbath holy, then surely we would not want to watch people play games on Sunday, since, as Elder Groberg explained, keeping the Sabbath includes not playing games on Sunday.)