An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for May, 2013

Crisis Religion

On a recent PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program about the perceived lessening of Buddhist faith in Thailand, Justin McDaniel, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, made the following statement: “I’ve never heard any professional religious person, rabbi, monk, priest, imam ever say everything is fine. You know, it’s always we’re in a state of crisis, and we’re in a state of crisis so you should be coming more, and you should be giving more money, you should be becoming a monk or you should be reading more books.”

It might have comforted me to know that Mormons aren’t alone in hearing fear talk from the pulpit. Instead, I thought—No wonder so many churches are losing membership.

The world is often a worrisome place. Who wants to hear about more problems on Sunday? Well, some people—the kind who eat up the Sunday morning TV talk shows—enjoy fear talk. Crisis rhetoric succeeds by presenting a single, simplistic alternative: “Vote my party into office and the country will be safe and prosperous.” “Join my church and God will bless you.”

I have heard about the world’s escalating wickedness and the need to prepare for the Second Coming my whole church-going life. I am weary of the message. I no longer believe the world will be a better place if I invite non-member friends to hear the missionary discussions.

Currently, I find a church which urges members to care for our earth and suits their actions to their words—as the Unitarians have done by moving investments away from fossil fuel companies—more inspiring than one that tells me how dangerous the world is, how actively Satan tries to lead people astray, and how the solution is to spend more time in Church meetings. I prefer groups such as Zen Buddhists, that encourage meditation and introspection rather than blind obedience.

I don’t tune into Sunday morning talk shows that rev up anger and fear in order to increase their ratings and I don’t participate in churches that do the same.

Mormons and Conflict Avoidance

Michael J. Stevens has a great article, “Passive-aggression Among the Latter-day Saints,” in the current Sunstone issue. Stevens, a professor of management and business administration at Weber State University, has used a survey which shows a person’s preferred way of resolving conflict with his college students in the Midwest, in Texas, and in Utah. He found that Mormon students raised along the Wasatch Front choose avoidance as their preferred style of conflict resolution. Their score for avoidance  was more than two standard deviations higher than those of his students from other regions. Avoidance was the least popular choice for students from other areas:

Avoidance of conflict falls into the label of passive-aggressiveness. I’ve not been offended when a few associates have given me that label. I figure it’s better to avoid unpleasant people and situations than to waste energy in fights I’m not going to win.  However, Stevens points out that passive-aggressiveness has a darker side. It can also manifest as contempt. He lists other negatives:

. . . hiding one’s true thoughts, feelings, or emotions; suppressing, setting aside, or ignoring issues that otherwise should be addressed; postponing or ignoring decisions; resisting change and otherwise championing the status quo; citing rules, policies, procedures, or higher authority as both a defensive and offensive tactic; and providing little meaningful or worthwhile feedback.

Stevens attributes the high incidence of passive-aggressive conflict resolution to three things in Mormon culture: equating disagreement with contention, emphasis on obedience, and extreme deference to Church leaders.

Stevens’ study raises some interesting questions about how passive-aggressiveness affects Mormon life. Does it create harmony within families—or does it create tension from living with unresolved problems? How does avoidance of conflict influence Utah culture? Is Utah a more pleasant, peaceful place than the rest of the country—or do negatives such as resistance to change, relying on authority, and contempt for other points of view prevail?

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