“Are you a cultural Mormon—one who doesn’t believe the
doctrine but values the social aspects of the Mormon Church?” a friend asked
Ken recently. “No, I’m the complete opposite—I love the doctrine and hate the
culture,” Ken replied—then admitted he finds attending meetings difficult
because of culture often being emphasized in place of theology.
Ken’s statement reminds me of Ron and Milly, Catholic
friends, who love the sacraments and mysteries of their religion, but disagree
with the handling of the sex abuse scandal as well as the insistence on
celibacy for priests. Audrey, a divorced and remarried Catholic friend,
maintains belief in the basic teachings of her church, but no longer attends because
“Cafeteria Catholics” are criticized and she no longer feels part of her church
The percentage of Cultural Mormons—those doubters who
appreciate the programs for children and youth, the sense of community, the
opportunities to serve others—remains a mystery. They are generally
silent—knowing that open criticism of the belief system would jeopardize their
full participation in the community they value.
Doctrinal Mormons may eventually leave on their own accord
or be exxed when crucial (for them) points of doctrine are eliminated or
neglected. Once outside the main church, these ex-Mormons often form groups of
I don’t know how churches retain either group of
dissatisfied members. Loosening up on cultural conformity such as dress
standards, eliminating gender inequality,
and opening to divergent political views would satisfy many Cultural Mormons.
Of course, as the Community of Christ found when they extended priesthood to
women, some of the devout will walk away from a major change in church policy.
More emphasis on the core teachings of Joseph Smith and less
emphasis on opinions of more recent prophets (“only one pair of earrings for
women, none for men”) might help—if leaders and members could agree on the core
teachings. Polygamy might be a match in the gas tank for this kind of reform.
Retaining members is a key problem for both Mormon and
Catholic hierarchies. Leading a church into 21st century relevance is
a job for young, connected thinkers—as evidenced by the rapid growth of mega
churches led by innovative young people. Unfortunately, both the Mormon and
Catholic churches are run by men close to the end of life. Heaven could help,
but apparently remains silent about changing either culture or creed.