An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘The Backslider’

Imploded Mormons

Monday I wrote about the idea of Mormons leavening the rest of the country. Today I want to address the issue of Mormons isolating themselves from outside ideas. A nugget of wisdom from a favorite book, Levi Peterson’s The Backslider, states:

 Mormons are sellers, not buyers. They don’t import religion. They just export it.

While I agree that Mormons have some worthwhile ideas to share—such as setting aside one night a week to spend with family—I think Mormon leadership could benefit by looking at how other religions handle current issues and importing their good ideas.

Sam Brunson at Times and Seasons  has a recent blog discussing the huge difference in the official Mormon statement on politics with the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ statement. The Mormon statement, which we hear read over the pulpit before every election, affirms the church’s neutrality (which nobody really believes) and encourages members to vote. In contrast, the Catholic Bishops’ statement outlines social and political responsibilities for Catholics.

One statement I particularly like is the following: 

Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.

This statement is a gem. It outlines members’ responsibility while allowing them agency in choosing how to fulfill it. I don’t recall ever hearing a General Conference sermon giving Mormons a moral obligation to solve social problems and to work on creating a more just, peaceful world that protects the vulnerable and defends human dignity. Mormon sermons tend to focus on obeying leaders and commandments and on missionary work—the assumption being that Church authorities will direct us on taking social action—and that once everyone is a Mormon, social ills will disappear.

Maybe the flat, even negative growth of the Church in the U.S. in recent years will motivate leaders to look outside our own boundaries for ways to motivate Mormons to seek the higher path.

Unconditional Love–the Kind That Counts

Howard Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, is said to have been a major influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Civil Rights work. Thurman believes Jesus’s teaching that we are all God’s children is the most liberating message that can reach the ears of oppressed people.He may be right.  We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. That’s how gangs recruit. Belonging to a God who cares personally about us is the ultimate acceptance.

The Sermon on the Mount is a treatise on God’s love for His children. I agree with Thurman that believing this can give a person a sense of self-worth and personal dignity. Being one of God’s beloved kids also makes us social equals. We may have different abilities and circumstances, but we are one in the eyes of God.

Unfortunately, many Christian sects convey the message that God’s love must be earned through religious rituals and strict obedience to law—or that God’s love is reserved for an elect group. Levi Peterson’s novel, The Backslider, demonstrates the downside of believing God’s love is reserved for a few of the super-righteous. The protagonist, Frank Wyndham, imagines God looking through the scope of a rifle at him—ready to zap him for his transgressions. Frank attempts to cleanse himself of every sinful thought and deed but cannot attain the perfection he believes God expects. He fears and eventually hates a God who will never be satisfied.

For my money, only a God who loves unconditionally counts. That’s the picture of God I developed as a child. It is not the notion of God which George learned although we both grew up Mormon. Of course, George had 100% Sunday School attendance as a child, and I did not. Apparently, my Sunday mornings spent reading the funny papers or picnicking in nice weather with my indulgent parents presented an image of a God who loves unconditionally—an image which George did not find in Sunday School.

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