An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Martin Thielen has authored a book called What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?  While I haven’t read Thielen’s book, I am interested in applying his “least” idea to Mormonism—but, since Mormonism is an action-centered religion, I will include “do” as well as “believe.”

Temple recommend interviews begin with key Mormon doctrine: Believing in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, acknowledging Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson as prophets, and accepting the Book of Mormon as scripture. A negative answer on any of those puts a person on the gentile side of the ledger. Answering “no” to the Word of Wisdom question won’t get you a recommend, but neither will it jeopardize membership—unless the drinking involves other transgressions.

Obvious violations of the moral (and criminal) code such as spouse abuse, child molesting, and  bilking thy neighbor are definite grounds for being ousted from membership. Unfortunately, many perpetrators are able to hide these behaviors for years before being caught.

But back to doctrinal issues. Besides recommend questions I think it would be tough to be considered a good Mormon, at least by fellow Saints, without a belief in the efficacy of priesthood ordinances, the celestial kingdom, and eternal families.

Cultural measurements of orthodoxy is a longer list which includes:

  • Meeting attendance—it’s easy to get away with skipping Stake Conference and not listening to General Conference, but consistently missing Sunday services will cause ward members to question your commitment. Spending part of the 3-hour block in the hall or foyer, while not condoned, is not totally condemned.
  • Sabbath day observance—No shopping, movies, or sports on Sunday. TV is okay.
  • Callings—It’s okay to turn down something you’d really hate doing, such as Cub Scouts, but refusing to do anything at all makes you look like a slacker at best.
  • Home teaching and visiting teaching—Refusing to participate is grounds for having Priesthood or Relief Society leaders snub you.
  • Not taking the Lord’s name in vain—Eccentrics like J. Golden Kimball can get away with “damn” or “hell,” but any phrases referring to deity should only be uttered with bowed head and folded arms.
  • Garments—Sports exempt you, but lawn mowing in a swim suit is suspect.
  • Supporting Church leaders and policies—there is no such thing as constructive criticism of any decision made by the leadership—ward, stake, or general.
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Comments on: "What’s the Least I Can Believe (and Do) and Still Be a Mormon" (11)

  1. I consider “Mormon” to be a general blanket phrase — much like “Christian”. It represents what one professes to believe:
    The latter signifying a professed belief in Jesus Christ,
    The former a professed belief in the Book of Mormon.

    Thus — that would be the minimum for using “Mormon” [unqualified] to describe one’s self.

    However, I think that the question, “What’s the Least I Can Believe (and Do) and Still Be a Mormon,” is really trying to get at what’s the minimum for being considered an active/genuine member of the LDS Church. I would still place the definition in terms of one’s professed beliefs [e.g. a professed belief in the unique authority of the LDS church]. Others might place it on substances abstained from, length of hair, color of dress shirts, money donated, etc. It’s admittedly a harder question to answer.

    A better question for reflection [in my mind] would be:

    What should being “LDS” or “Mormon” or “Christian” entail for one who professes to be such a thing?

    • Justin,

      You do ask a better question for evaluating one’s own commitment to a faith. The problem, as I see it, comes when we try to evaluate the commitment of our friends and family members.

  2. Which might be something we ought not do?

  3. We should try to evaluate the commitment of our friends and family members to the idea of being “Mormon” if their relationships are important to us?

    Or, do you mean we should try to predict how our friends and family will evaluate our commitment — and live accordingly for the sake of keeping their [apparently conditional] relationships?

  4. Maybe I’m misreading the post:

    If judging others is risky business [which I agree with], then why try and figure out “what’s the least I can believe/do and still be a Mormon/Christian?”

  5. shematwater said:

    I think the question is interesting, but I think the list of things at the end is very exaggerated.

    Example: The idea that there is no room for constructive criticism. I would disagree, and I would say that there is room for criticism, just not room for open defiance of leadership. I’ll criticize anyone who I feel is not doing a good job in their calling. However, I will not avoid meetings for this reason, nor will I attempt to fix them myself, as that is the job of the Bishop or other leader.

    The question is interesting, but not one that can be truly answered, as everyone is going to think differently as to the answer. Personally, I would say that skipping Stake Conference or General Conference is questionable. I have no problem with references to deity without folding the arms, but not in an irreverent manner (such as using their names as curses). I would also say the avoidance of any movie or social media that does not harmonize the teachings of the church.
    I would include all this, but then I am describing the actions that show a focus on the next life and not this one. If all you want to know is what makes you accepted in this life than it would depend on where you are from, and the list given in the post seems to accurately describe the Utah culture as it is frequently seen by non-members.

    So, the question is truly impossible to answer.

  6. Silly me – I really don’t care what others in the neighborhood or ward think about my actions or beliefs. It is between me and the Lord, and if we good what the others think is quite unimportant. But I have known to be wrong of course.

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