An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon values’

Church of One

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article described the North America Old Catholic Church (OCC), which has broken from mainstream Catholicism. This group follows Catholic liturgy without guidance from Rome. It emphasizes the traditional Catholic value of social justice. The church opposes abortion but does not lobby for legislation enforcing their religious beliefs. The OCC ordains women and allows priests to marry and divorced persons to take communion. Is it Catholic-lite or is it Catholicism refocusing on Jesus’s core teachings?

Reading this article made me wonder what I would drop and keep were I to form a breakaway group from Mormonism. Deciding what to throw out is easy. I would start with the organs which few members can play with lively enough tempo to keep the congregational singing from sounding like a herd of water buffalo lost in the desert.

On a more serious note, I would de-emphasize obedience to church leaders. Unquestioning obedience stifles individual thinking and growth.

My starter list would also downgrade Word of Wisdom emphasis. It’s increasingly hard to defend the 89th section as a health law when medical research demonstrates benefits from green tea, coffee, and moderate consumption of red wine. Substituting Diet Coke for coffee and tea strikes non-Mormons as bizarre.

Those are my priorities to drop. What would I keep? I would focus on Jesus’s teachings, especially the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . .Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39) And while we’re quoting the Bible, I would definitely open Bible study to include all translations. Understanding scripture is tough enough without dealing with archaic language.

Emphasizing the two great commandments might even alleviate the need for home and visiting teaching. I think the original purpose of both programs was to serve as training wheels—helping us learn to love and care for our neighbors. Like other programs, they have become crutches—excuses to ignore our neighbors unless assigned. I do enjoy the camaraderie found within wards in which I’ve lived. Could we could retain that by stressing principles rather than programs?

I wonder if emphasizing the first and second commandments might improve missionary work. Service missionaries already focus on helping others instead of prosyletyzing. Would the church make, perhaps fewer, but more permanent conversions if all missionaries focused on service?

Of course, I would keep the concept of James 22:17, which we have shortened to “Faith without works is dead.” However, I would expand James’ wisdom to include grace—the love of God for saints and sinners alike. The kind, loving Heavenly Father we teach about in Primary doesn’t withhold his love on the many occasions we mortals fail to live up to our understanding of the gospel.

I like the contemplative time while the sacrament is being blessed and served. A few minutes of quiet during a busy week is restorative, a time for self-reflection—except for parents of small children. Possibly Primary could be held during Sacrament Meeting and everyone—except Primary workers—would return home refreshed for family togetherness.

Naturally, I would keep—possibly restore is the better word—the Mormon emphasis on learning: “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” (D&C 90:15) Keeping commandments I enjoy is painless.

 “An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” is a slogan I’ve heard so often in church that for a long time, I thought it was from the Bible. Work, honesty, and wise stewardship are principles I learned at church and would definitely retain.

That’s what I would keep in my break-away group: Love of God who loves all His children unconditionally. Love and service to others. Contemplation. Family. Learning. Work and provident living.

My list ignores hot-button issues like gay marriage and priesthood for women. Maybe those issues could be addressed in open discussions of how to apply the first and second commandments.

The Old Catholic Church break-off group has a North American membership of about 10,000. I suspect my group would be a Church of One. That’s no big deal. I’m an introvert.

And What Has the Church Meant in Your Life?

The junior companion frowned over his deep dish apple pie. The gospel discussion was off-script. George and I had been asked to invite the missionaries for dinner, probably as an activation ploy. Before their arrival, we vowed not to share our religious views with the elders. Serving a mission is tough enough without members casting doubts. As Elder Jr. Comp shared his testimony, we made polite comments but couldn’t mirror his enthusiasm. From the missionaries’ point-of-view, our dinner table dialogue was a dud.

Elder Sr. Comp moved the conversation to a personal level. “What has the Church meant in your lives?”

George spoke of his spiritual experiences while serving in callings and as a temple ordinance worker. When asked why he no longer attends meetings, George recited some of the more inane table-pounding comments heard on his two visits to the High Priests’ Group in our ward: “Women will never hold the priesthood” and “They are trying to take ‘In God we trust’ off our money.”

Thinking I was home free—home teachers and other male church visitors to our home generally assume George speaks for us both—I was caught off guard when the elder turned to me: “And what has the Church meant in your life?”

“Well, the Church has given me my basic values—honesty, hard work, helping others, a thirst for knowledge.”

“Is that it?”

 With a few more minutes of thought, I could have added growth opportunities such as speaking in public, teaching, and leadership roles. Instead I answered, “That’s basically it. My values.”

Clearly disappointed that I hadn’t included my hopes for salvation and reunion with family in the next life, Elder Senior turned his attention to his dessert. They left, probably disappointed that the possibility of finding a less-active couple to shepherd back into the fold hadn’t materialized.

But I’m still pondering that final question: What has the Church meant in my life? Although I no longer believe much of the history and doctrine learned at church, the values still hold. My only regret is insisting that the Church was the only way for our two younger children—the non-conformists.

Which Mormon Church?

I’m becoming aware of two Mormon churches in the 21st century:  The traditional church and a newer model. The traditional church features leaders like Julie Beck extolling ideal motherhood and general authorities like Boyd K. Packer condemning gays. This church defines gender roles rigidly. It emphasizes sexual purity, stresses modest clothing for girls, and obsesses over young males who masturbate to relieve sexual tension. This church insists Ezra Taft Benson’s 14 fundamentals for following the prophet are essential for salvation. (See Elder Costa and Elder Duncan’s October conference talks). This church harbors devotees of Glenn Beck-style “last days” and conspiracy theories.

The newer model Mormon Church seems to be led by the PR department, especially it’s “I’m a Mormon” series which recently included a segment of Irene Caso, a Spanish sister with a radio/TV career and a stay-at-home-dad husband. This church spotlights–and apparently approves of–testimony-bearing celebrities who follow their own conscience—career women like Marie Osmond and Gladys Knight—sports stars who play on Sunday like Steve Young. This church took a pro-active stand on humane immigration reform and is currently building environmentally-friendly meetinghouses.

Which church will dominate the 21st century? Of course, I’m hoping for the new, improved model. I suspect that if the traditional church continues, membership will continue at its current flat growth rate or even decline.

She Wouldn’t Have Your Life

While attending BYU, our daughter Lolly lived in a non-BYU-approved basement apartment several miles from campus. The upstairs was rented to a single mother of four pre-school to elementary-age kids. Mindy, the mother, was friendly and took good care of her kids. In other ways she fit the welfare mom stereotype. She had a succession of boy friends who often stayed overnight. The pizza delivery truck brought dinner several nights a week, and beer bottles filled her garbage can after a boy friend’s visit.

Mindy couldn’t pay her phone bill and for several months borrowed the phone in the basement apartment to make calls. I criticized Mindy for setting a bad example for her kids and wondered why she didn’t pull herself together, get rid of the boy friend, stop spending her money on beer and pizza, and get a job.

Lolly shook her head. “Even if she gave up her boy friend, beer, and pizza, Mindy wouldn’t have your life, Mom.”  Lolly was right. Mindy had no car and the nearest grocery store was two miles away. She probably couldn’t get a job that would pay enough to cover baby sitting. The boy friend provided transportation and probably cash for the beer and pizza.  

Living my Mormon values of Word of Wisdom and chastity would not improve Mindy’s life. I had an education, a good job, a house, a car, a husband—none of which Mindy had. Mindy was trapped in poverty from which she couldn’t escape without help with childcare, job training, and transportation.  Mindy was surviving a difficult situation, not as I would, but in the best—probably the only way—she knew.

I don’t know how to help the Mindys of the world. Churches can offer guidance and emotional support, but few have the resources to help destitute people gain financial independence. Of course, not everyone in need is inclined to organized religion—and God doesn’t seem to help people of one faith over those of another. Government programs which provide job training and assistance work for some but not all. There will always be people willing to shift their responsibilities onto others, but does that mean we shouldn’t provide help for any? I don’t have the answers, but Lolly opened my eyes to the fact that it is arrogant to judge people who lack the advantages I’ve had and who may be doing the best they can within their limited circumstances.

Text Me Your Testimony

At a stake conference held in a college fieldhouse, the lights dimmed for the video presentation and scores of little blue lights glowed from the seats across from my section. I’d seen good Mormons—mostly male—using iPods, iPhones, Game Boys, and, less recently, Time Magazines and Harbor Freight Tool Catalogs to get through church meetings. Still, the darkened fieldhouse and stadium seating revealed a surprisingly high percentage of people tuned elsewhere during a meeting.

Is this a phenomenon of Mormon culture? Although iPhones are everywhere, I have not noticed parishioners sneaking peaks at semi-covered Blackberries when I visit other churches. Possibly that’s because meetings at other churches don’t run for three hours. It’s also possible that their meetings are more interesting—or maybe other denominations exert less pressure for members to attend every meeting every Sunday

For decades Mormon parents have brought toys and snacks to occupy children during Sacrament Meeting. Web-enabled devices might be a logical extension of this tradition to teens and adults. As availability of web-based media increases, speakers and class instructors will find themselves more frequently directing comments to the tops of heads bowed over illuminated screens. The solution, of course, is for the instructors to text their remarks and questions to class members who could text back answers. No more agonizing waits for hands to raise. E-connected classes would still be held in ward meetinghouses, of course, to provide fellowshipping and to be sure everyone is plugged in.

Now, if we could just make it acceptable for adults to bring snacks more sustaining than breath mints to get us through the 3-hour block!

Parenting for Dummies

My parents were relatively permissive. I never had a spanking although my mother used guilt masterfully. My brother received corporal punishment once. Doogie smart-mouthed a neighbor and sassed and swore at our mother for chastising him. Dad, who normally left discipline to Mom, got involved at that point. 

Our parents believed it was easier to do a chore themselves than to get us to help, which was true, of course. Aunt Prudence criticized our upbringing. Auntie raised our cousins with strict obedience to the Mormon values of work, thrift and church attendance. On Saturday mornings, Doogie hung around throwing rocks in the vacant lot waiting for our cousin, Beaver, to finish mopping the kitchen floor or some other chore before he could play. I read hundreds of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries while cousin Buffy practiced the piano.

My brothers and I were lazy, useless kids. I did no homework until 9th grade when teachers began posting our grades and my pride kicked in. Oddly enough, my brothers and I, like our more disciplined cousins, grew up to be hard-working, responsible adults—although I do wish I’d learned to play the piano. We and our cousins turned out like our parents. Apparently their examples were more important than their parenting styles

I wish I’d realized this 30 years earlier. I’d have had a lot less angst raising my children. All those guilt-inducing Relief Society lessons—some of which I taught—about the wickedness of the world and Satan lurking to pounce on untaught, undisciplined children. Instead of just doing what comes naturally, I tried for perfection. Maybe it was self-criticism that kept me from emulating my parents. Anyway, I tried to be a strict, in-control parent, but that’s not my nature.  I could do it some of the time, but not always, so I wasn’t consistent. Besides inconsistency, my discipline methods lacked dignity. Chasing kids around the house while brandishing a wooden spoon is not quite the “Divine Calling of Motherhood “ image presented in RS lessons.

For some reason, I never thought of more civilized methods of discipline, like Time Out. When I could no longer catch the kids for a smack on the bottom, I switched to psychological warfare. I stopped quarrels with a pretend phone call to Dr. Smart, the child psychologist I kept on retainer in a kitchen cupboard. I staged loud conversations telling the good doctor that my children were driving me crazy. The kids watched, a mixture of fear and awe on their little faces, as I listened to the doctor’s advice. “Yes. What a good idea! I’ll try that.” By the time I hung up the imaginary phone, quarrels were forgotten as the kids bonded together in concern for their mother’s sanity.

Our kids would have had easier lives if they’d been blessed with smarter parents, but they’d have missed some interesting developmental adventures along the way. Children with normal parents do not attempt careers as stand-up comics or try to obtain an LDS temple recommend by adhering to every item on the checklist except belief in Joseph’s Smith’s divine calling and the literal translation of the Gold Plates.

Each of our kids acquired some of our best traits—as well as some of our negatives. Maybe instead of working so hard on our kids, we should have been working on ourselves.

Prospering in the Land

Are Mormons more avid consumers than other Americans? Materialistic has joined the list of pejoratives which critics level against the Saints.  Hearing Mormons censured for materialism jolts me because throughout most of my life, the church emphasized thrift. When my Seattle Relief Society organized a rummage sale to raise funds many years ago, I wondered who would come. The Mormon slogan at that time was “Use it up, make do, do without.” Who would want to buy worn out stuff Mormons finally discarded?

But somewhere along the line, we Mormons acquired the national taste for newer, bigger and better. Our old Sandy ward of ‘60s and ‘70s homes began losing member as families moved to newer housing developments across the valley. Mostly non-members bought the existing homes. Finally our ward was combined with another. The same thing happened in neighboring stakes. While the number of Mormons in SL Valley increased, the number of Mormons in older neighborhoods decreased.

When George and I returned to the Wasatch Front two years ago, we rented a townhouse in Draper. The farms we remembered along 126th South had been replaced by a stretch of shopping malls and fast food outlets. We could visit every major big box store within a mile of our house. Tai Pan and IKEA were only a few miles away. “Does anybody here do anything besides shop?” I asked. Apparently not. Although the townhouses in our development were spacious, every opened garage revealed shelves rising to the roof, crammed with plastic storage tubs. By all appearances, the Saints were prospering in the land.

A recent blog speculated that it is easier for Mormons to live a provident lifestyle in California than in Utah Valley. That was not true for our eldest daughter and her teacher husband. While living in the SF Bay area and saving for a home, they were the only Mormons living in an apartment complex of mostly minorities. Although both were employed, ward members knocked on their door a couple of days before Thanksgiving and presented them with a turkey. Choosing to live within their means was perceived as poverty by members of this affluent ward.

Our current Bountiful ward of ‘40s and ‘50s houses is full of wonderful families who chose older homes with yards big enough for kids and gardens. The RS sponsors clothing swaps. Garden produce and outgrown baby equipment are regularly exchanged. Keeping up with the Joneses is easy here since, except for used book stores, the Joneses hate shopping.

Mormons who choose to live within their means can be found—although possibly not in new housing developments. And that will probably change if the economy continues its stall. Certainly we’re hearing the call for careful management from the pulpit once again. The Book of Mormon does promise prosperity to those who keep the commandments, but it doesn’t define prosperity. Perhaps the proper definition of prosperity is “sufficient for our needs.”

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