Not too many students watch black-and-white reruns of Candid Camera — America’s original “reality television” show. But on Tuesday, during an Ensign College devotional in Salt Lake City, President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stood alongside the church commissioner of education, Elder Clark G. Gilbert, and together they directed the attention of their young audience to a video clip of Candid Camera’s famous hidden-camera elevator episode.

In the mid-20th century, social psychologist Solomon Asch pioneered a series of experiments aimed at studying group influence on individual conformity. Taking a page from Asch’s work, in the video clip Candid Camera instructs three actors to enter an already occupied elevator and face the opposite direction of the door. 

What ensues is pure situational comedy. 

The unwitting subject in the elevator looks at the actors with mild bemusement. But then, slowly, the subject begins to conform by turning around even as the individual’s facial expressions betray the absurdity of the situation.

To paraphrase one 19th century religious leader, people tend to “conform to the society in which they live,” or, in this case, the elevator in which they ride. 

But Christianity often demands something different, and for Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard, the crux of Christianity was non-conformity.

Kierkegaard’s philosophical treatises make it clear he didn’t aim to appease mass tastes. Even his book titles are, in the words of scholar Michael Sugrue, “quite repellent” — take for example “The Concept of Dread,” “The Concept of Anxiety,” “Fear and Trembling,” or, my personal favorite, “Sickness unto Death.” 

Kierkegaard was a skeptic of popular opinion. In his book “The Present Age,” and other texts, he explores how cultural conformity fosters a “follow the crowd” mentality, breeding spiritual laziness.  A true Christian — or, in Kierkegaard’s vernacular, a “knight of faith” — chooses faith even in the face of steep social pressure.  

Kierkegaard was drawn to Job, the biblical figure who remained pious and faithful despite losing everything. Even his wife urged him to simply “curse God, and die.” It’s “impossible” to describe Job’s significance, Kierkegaard wrote, “I do not read (Job) as one reads another book with the eye, but I read this book as it were with my heart, with the eye of the heart I read it.”

On Tuesday, President Oaks and Elder Gilbert called on modern Christian disciples to stand fast in their faith. Lead with love, they admonished, but stay fixed to the gospel of Jesus Christ even when others face a different direction on the elevator.

President Oaks quoted Jesus Christ’s words to his disciples: “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”

Standing fast in the faith today requires properly navigating polarizing tensions. It takes vulnerability and courage to balance Christianity’s demands, which often transcend traditional political poles. There is a kind of safety in conforming to the political extremes. The crowds seem larger and the voices louder. But sometimes the gospel requires standing somewhat alone.

On the subject of racial reconciliation, President Oaks and Elder Gilbert highlighted Christ’s teachings and the Church’s efforts to combat racism and aid those who face prejudices. They also underscored the inspired nature of the U.S. Constitution and the importance of avoiding extremist ideologies. On LGBTQ issues, they discussed the Church’s counsel to lead with love and charity, detailing ongoing efforts to support political protections in housing, health care and employment for LGBTQ individuals. President Oaks and Elder Gilbert also emphasized the importance of standing fast on religious freedom and gospel teachings regarding the family.

Conformity is complex and group dynamics can cut both ways. Religious communities, for instance, can help support disciples in their efforts to stand fast in the faith even when it runs counter to contemporary culture.

Building on Asch’s seminal conformity experiments, social psychologist Jonah Berger at the University of Pennsylvania conducted more recent experiments trying to understand why certain people choose not to conform under group pressure.

What Berger discovered was the role “social identity” plays in an individual’s decisions. Young people, for example, are more likely to make different choices than older generations in clothing styles or music because of a strong generational social identity — i.e., millennial, Gen Z.

In other words, what we consider to be our most core social identity matters when it comes to standing fast, becoming a knight of faith, or looking in the right direction on an elevator. It’s little wonder then that President Oaks and Elder Gilbert both echoed Church President Russell M. Nelsons’ recent counsel about identity to young Latter-day Saints across the globe:

“There are various labels that may be very important to you, of course,” President Nelson said. “Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that other designations and identifiers are not significant.”

“I am simply saying,” he continued, “that no identifier should displace, replace or take priority over” the three most “enduring designations” of child of God, child of the covenant, and disciple of Jesus Christ.