When asked how Nauvoo was governed, Joseph Smith answered: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” Watching the wacky politics in action during Utah’s legislative session makes me wonder if the right “correct principles” are being taught in Mormon meetings. Utah, like much of the country, is gripped in a culture of fear—a fear of losing our economic advantages—a fear of those of other color and ethnicity. State legislators are currently considering an immigration bill patterned after the controversial Arizona law. Guns are seen as the solution to violence—a bill was passed designating the Browning M1911 as the state firearm.
Church leaders certainly have supported humane treatment for illegal immigrants. The church has also spoken up against discrimination against homosexuals, and it opposes violence. Still, a huge disconnect exists between official church positions and the way many Mormons treat others. Perhaps more church time should be spent teaching basic Christian doctrine.
A few years ago, our stake presidency set a goal to return stake members back to basics. Their list included: (1) Scripture reading, (2) Prayer, (3) Meeting attendance, (4) Temple attendance, and (5) Family home evening. I looked at their list and asked, “Where is Love?”
I suspect most Mormons would answer “obedience” if asked to name the first principle of the gospel because of the emphasis placed on this principle in auxiliary lessons and conference talks. Other lesson and sermon topics frequently repeated include: Sharing the gospel, tithing, priesthood ordinances, chastity, temple work, genealogy, the atonement, and the last days. Much less frequent are lessons on the core Christian and Judeo values of love, compassion, kindness, generosity, and honesty. In the Gospel Principles manual currently used for Priesthood/Relief Society lessons, only five of 47 lessons are specifically geared toward these traditional Christian values.
While it is possible that doctrinal lessons on tithing, the sacrament, and temple marriage encourage Christian behavior, I see a gap—much like the gap between the rigid adherence of the Pharisees to Mosaic laws or rules and their neglect of the higher law of love and compassion.
When I hear active Mormons insist they don’t want their tax money going to feed hungry children because, “It’s their parents’ job to feed them” or argue against restricting persons from carrying guns within 1000 feet of a school because, “They are trying to take away our freedom,” I suspect the 3-hour block isn’t helping these members become more like their savior. Maybe we need more lessons based on the teachings of Jesus rather than on obedience and ordinances.
President Uchtdorf presented his own list of basics last General Conference: (1) relationship with God, (2) relationship with family, (3) relationship with self, and (4) relationship with others. Organizing lessons around these priorities would facilitate teaching the basic message of Christianity: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. . . . Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:37-39). Joseph Smith was right—living basic Christian principles is the key to governing ourselves.