An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Holy Envy

The current issue of Exponent II magazine has a wonderful article by Robert Rees, inaccurately titled “Small Things: Thoughts on Mormon Feminism.” I say inaccurately titled because Rees’ essay is not limited to feminism. In this piece, Rees shares his experiences in teaching courses on Mormonism at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. As they learn about Mormonism, his students find many things they like, even envy, about our faith including:

extensive participation of our members . . . in leadership and other callings, our concept of eternal marriage and family relationships, our welfare system, our ability to foster charitable giving, the principle of continuing revelation, and our training of young children to speak, study the scriptures, and pray.

As he visits services at non-LDS churches, Rees also finds traditions he wishes we could include in Mormon worship such as celebration of Holy Week before Easter, focus on social justice, full fellowship of gays and lesbians, and equal treatment of women. Rees concludes his piece by suggesting the Church consider including traditions from other faiths in our worship.

I thought about Rees’ expanded vision of Mormon worship last Sunday as I enjoyed a service at First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake. Unitarians do not work to expand their membership or to gain a reward in the next world. Their emphasis is on improving themselves and the world. The sermon, based on the 7th principle of Unitarianism: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” has relevance to a Mormon audience. The Reverend Tom Goldsmith discussed the interconnectedness of ourselves with each part of the universe. He said respect for other people is essential because what benefits others benefits ourselves and what harms others harms ourselves. He connected Jesus’ teachings to love our enemies, to love our neighbors, and to love God with the unity of all things.

I would like to hear more Mormon talk about caring for others just because it’s the right thing to do rather than for hope of an eternal reward. I would like to hear more about living in harmony with those not of our faith because living in harmony is good—not because we hope to convert them. We Mormons could also stand to be admonished for our materialism and urged to better conserve God’s creation.

Another thing I envy about Unitarian services is the open canon. Sermons are not limited to scriptures and  Unitarian publications. Goldsmith told a Hindu story and quoted Thich Nhat Hanh as well as Jesus in his remarks. The music canon is also inclusive. The choir sang a Welsh carol and a rocking spiritual, “Let All Our Hearts” by Jim Scott I think Mormon meetings would be less boring and more spiritual if we searched beyond the Mormon fold for music and inspiring messages.

 Joseph Smith taught:

 We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons.”

I’m glad Exponent II has published Robert Rees’ suggestion that Mormons take a look at how other churches worship. Sometimes God inspires us through other people rather than by direct revelation.

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