What’s Good and Unique

by: hawkgrrrl

November 15, 2011

A criticism I’ve heard about Mormonism on the internet is:  “What’s unique about it isn’t good, and what’s good about it isn’t unique.”  While it’s true that Mormon culture has some flaws, and that other religions share some of its good points, I can’t agree with this observation.  Still, I think something about this phrase is worth further investigation.  For those who stay, some might say (like I would) that “what’s unique about it isn’t bad, and what’s bad about it isn’t unique.”

First of all, the phrase revolves around some subjective elements:

  • What’s good.  What’s good to me might be bad to you and vice-versa.
  • What’s unique.  This one depends mostly on experience outside the church and a personal assessment of both Mormonism and society at large.

While the idea hinges on the perception that the good things within the church can be easily found elsewhere, it also doesn’t address the obvious problem that there can be bad things that are unique elsewhere.  So starting with my own list, here are some things I personally think are unique about Mormonism that are not bad (meaning the positives outweigh the negatives):

  • American values.  I can’t think of another church so fully entwined in the American dream and the values of individuality and hard work.  While many Protestant sects come close, they have roots outside the U.S., and those influences creep in.  Mormonism is uniquely American in its culture and values, which is one reason it appeals to a very specific subset of people outside the U.S.  Even our very business-like meetings have a stripped-down American no-nonsense quality to them.  On the downside:  we sometimes confuse American values with the gospel, and we don’t translate well among people who don’t espouse those same values.
  • Temple.  The temple has pluses and minuses, IMO.  But on the whole I would say it’s not bad.  The temple itself is ritualized and awkward to initiates and parts are sexist, but a religious rite in such a business-like church makes that rite the object of contemplation.  There are some strong positives associated with these ideas (being part of a continuous human family, progressing as individuals, striving to enter God’s presence, and imagining ourselves as the hero of our own personal spiritual journey) that exist in Mormonism in a unique combination.  On the downside:  the temple can divide families when some can’t attend, it is weird (to say nothing of garments), and it comes across as secretive.
  • Lay Clergy.  The fact that we can’t just sit there passively like veals in cages, but at any time we might be asked to provide the sermon, to teach a class, to help someone move, or to help run one of the ward organizations is something that requires us to maintain our commitment to the church and our fellow (and prospective) members.  It is also something often cited by former Mormons as having benefited them greatly in their lives:  comfort from a young age with speaking in front of others, shaking hands, and looking people in the eye.  On the downside:  people can feel like callings are busy work or they may feel unappreciated and taken for granted.  The lesson manuals are often very bad or little more than an attempt to indoctrinate.
  • Missions.  This is pure genius, IMO, to solidify the commitment to living our religion and create future leaders, to say nothing of the secondary benefit: the addition of members through convert baptisms.  Plus, missionaries gain world and life experience that helps them in their future careers through leadership, sometimes learning a language, and simply having more responsibility and commitment than your average college age kid.  Comparisons in other religions:  Jesus camps and Peace Corps.  Jesus camps are like going to camp but with lots of singing about Jesus.  The Peace Corps is outstanding, but it’s not really religious and it’s not that common to join.  On the downside:  there are terrible stories of numbers-focused missions who did ill-advised things, and girls are often not given this experience because they feel pressured to marry young instead.
  • Tithing.  Other churches have donations, and people donate or don’t.  We expect it and have you talk about it annually as if the bishop were H&R Block.  My own view is that detachment from reliance on our own wealth is a great thing to learn, and really being committed to ongoing donations is a good way to achieve that.  On the downside:  there is a lack of transparency about how tithing funds are spent.
  • Word of Wisdom.  I’m somewhat neutral on the Word of Wisdom as a health code.  Tea drinkers often live into their 90s, and every other week red wine is good for you or bad for you again.  Smoking is kind of a no-brainer; even France has embraced clean air (what’s next?  embracing politeness?).   And Mormons certainly don’t seem to be immune to a very real health threat:  obesity.  Even so, not partaking of these things doesn’t hurt and certainly helps some people.  If for no other reason, Mormons aren’t blowing $5-$6 on a latte every morning or spending thousands of dollars beefing up their wine cellar.  Rather than drinking our money, we are donating it to the church, some of which goes to help others.  On the downside:  Mormons make a mountain out of a molehill over the Word of Wisdom while scarfing down no-bake cookies and funeral potatoes with abandon.
  • Chastity.  We certainly aren’t the only ones doing the chastity thing, but we manage to do it (or more properly not to do it) without doing stupid stuff like chastity pledges or purity balls (which really sounds dirty).  And whenever I have met someone who actually waited until 30s or 40s even to have sex, it has always been a Mormon.  We seem to have a bit more staying power on the whole.  On the downside:  We have some weird notions of sexuality as a result of this overnight transition from nothing goes to anything goes.
  • Family Focus.  We talk about families a lot: past (through genealogy), present, and future (for those who are single or haven’t had children).  We are more family focused than the Brady Bunch, although Catholics may have us beat on family size since they don’t believe in using birth control.  We’re also devoted to practical programs to keep families together, like Family Home Evening, an idea so good (at least for game manufacturers) that Parker Brothers co-opted it!  On the downside:  some families put church ahead of relationships or try to substitute hierarchical structures for personal intimacy.
  • Theosis.  I totally love the idea that we can progress to become gods and that God is actually human, not some otherworldly being we cannot comprehend, but a real father to us.  On the downside:  I love it in theory anyway.  There are a few people I can think of who would make pretty mediocre gods.
  • Ongoing Revelation.  This beats the alternative, IMO.  The idea that we can correct previous interpretations of doctrine gives me hope in our ability to progress, even if . . .  On the downside:  that progress is glacially slow and seems to follow societal trends about 30 years later.  Sometimes it takes a while for people to ask the right questions or to be able to hear change, and if we want to appeal to people of all ages (with our family focus, how could we not want that?) then, we have to find the middle ground between grandma and grandkids.  It’s certainly a tough middle ground to find.
  • Behavior Focus.  This is another one that beats the alternative, IMO.  Churches that only ever talk about grace without talking about cleaning up your own act are magnets for unsavory characters.  On the downside:  we can get caught up in a checklist mentality.
  • Focus on Education.  We really do believe in learning (if not in being intellectuals) and in finishing education.  Despite our church’s sexism, I never got the message that finishing my education was not important because I was a woman.  On the contrary, I have been told from a very young age that college education was critical to success for all.  And among Christian faiths, Mormons are the most educated (Jews and Muslims are up there, too).  On the downside:  most of our education is at BYU where boundaries for intellectualism are clearly delineated.
  • Pre-christ Christology.  It’s a clever idea, that the OT Jews were actually Christians.  It adds a nice sense of continuity, whether it is ret-conned or not; it certainly does make those otherwise oddball characters seem more understandable, empathetic and modern.  On the downside:  it’s one reason people view the BOM as anachronistic.
  • Additional Scripture.  This takes some of the pressure off the Bible to be the be-all-end-all of God’s word, a scrutiny under which it never holds up that well.  On the downside:  Newly revealed scripture is still subject to change and re-interpretation.

Two “unique” things that simply aren’t a part of our daily Mormon lives anymore can be somewhat relegated to the dustbin of social experimentation do fall into the “not good” category for me:

  • Polygamy.  As far as I know, Mormonism is the only Christian faith that ever practiced it.  It’s not surprising due to the pre-Christ Christology aspect.  We think Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Mormons.  Notice that none of the early church leaders asked if they should go be nomads in the desert or eat locusts.  We ask the questions we want to hear I guess.
  • Communal Living.  Others have tried it.  Ours, after some nasty stumbles, settled into a comfortable yet strongly encouraged tithing instead, more of a virtual law of consecration.  And the good news is we all get to keep our own stuff and live in our own houses.  Hurrah!

IMO, these are the things that are definitely not good, but are also not at all unique to Mormonism:

  • Sexism.  There are clearly roots of sexism in the church and the current focus on gender roles is obviously a division of labor based on sexist stereotypes, but there is a lot of tempering of male privilege in the church also.  Many other churches have a similar problem with sexist undertones, thanks to Biblical passages that were designed to tone down the prominent role of women in the early Christian church (according to Bart Ehrmann anyway).  Michelle Bachmann even had to admit she would submit to her husband, and she’s running for POTUS, for crying out loud!  And society at large is still struggling to overcome this.
  • JudgmentalismClearly Mormon mothers have nothing on Catholic or Jewish mothers for applying guilt.  The judgmentalism within our communities is usually more friendly and superficial than elsewhere, and often due to lack of exposure.  True, we judge people for some very oddball specific things because of our behavior standards, but we are encouraged not to judge even though human nature often wins out.
  • Conservative Values.  Pretty much anything that is right wing can be categorized (in my mind anyway) as being someone’s political opinion mingled with scripture.  Same with anything left wing.  Only when commentary deviates from American political party norms do I sit up and take notice.  And at least we are not anti-science like some other conservative faiths out there, and we claim to be politically neutral which is a big step to becoming politically neutral.
  • Authoritarianism.  Mormons really struggle with too much respect for authority and not enough willingness to confront bad behavior.  But they share this trait with pretty much all conservative societies and a big swath of the population at large.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but those in leadership positions usually don’t do anything to get actual gain in the church, just praise.  IOW, we are more at risk for swelled heads than lined coffers.
  • Perfectionism.  Obviously, there are many members whose focus on outward appearance leads them to try unsuccessfully to be perfect or at least to appear perfect, and sometimes families can look a little Stepford-like.  But again, it’s not unique to Mormonism.  Maybe we’re just better at perfectionism!
  • Emotionalism.  I’m not a big fan of all the boo-hooing and sentimental stories at church, but Mormonism is clearly in the mainstream there.  That’s probably just a discomfort with religious outbursts in general.

There’s also the good stuff that’s common:  teachings of Jesus, being service oriented, steeples, uncomfortable chairs, potluck socials, and generally being nice people.  Many of our hymns are common to other Christian sects, and they are often sung equally badly by our congregations.

  • So, what do you think is unique and good in the church?
  • What do you think is unique and bad (or uniquely bad)?
  • Is there anything you would add to my list?  Would you take anything away?

Discuss.

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31 Responses to What’s Good and Unique

  1. Will on November 15, 2011 at 5:51 AM

    Hawk,

    You missed one of the best things about the church and that is all of the ways one can volunteer — church farm, dry PAC facility, wet PAC facility, temple cleaning and so forth.

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  2. PaulM on November 15, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    I would actually argue that as Mormons we don’t place enough emphasis on behavior. We tend, I think to our detriment, to emphasize that the Lord “looketh upon the heart” more than realizing that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” I can think of quite a few conference talks delivered in the last decade (Bednar ‘cough’ Oaks ‘cough’ ‘cough’) that seek to absolve bad behavior or excuse bad outcomes based on good intentions.

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  3. MH on November 15, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    Paul, I’d love to hear some details on these Oaks and Bednar talks. Mormons are accused of worshiping the altar of works (fruits), yet you seem to say that we too into grace (intentions). Seems like a strange charge to me…..

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  4. PaulM on November 15, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    @ MH

    Go to LDS.org and search for “offense” and you’ll find them. Note I never mentioned grace– on purpose.

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  5. Paul on November 15, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    An interesting laundry list (of good and bad).

    Missing from my perspective is the restored priesthood power which is evidenced in sacred ordinances which the Lord has revealed are required to return home. (You may imply it with your comment on temples.)

    In saying so, I also recognize that what I recognize as good in restoration claims may be seen as bad by those of other faiths.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on November 15, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Paul – I guess I would only say that PH is common among all religions, or at least claims of PH authenticity and/or faith healing. But you could call it unique based on what aspect you are looking at.

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  7. el oso on November 15, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    hawk,
    Your last 3 negatives are pretty small. Emotionalism and perfectionism are both widely distributed human traits with plenty of scriptural backing for some of their expression (“be ye therefore perfect…”). Authoritarianism is also scriptural and the big negative you cite is “not enough willingness to confront bad behavior.” I will grant that, but it is way down the list of bad effects generally. There are the rare egregious episodes that are hidden or ignored too long.

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  8. Paul on November 16, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    HG, I suppose similarly the truth claims (or sole authority claims) are also positive or negative, depending where one sits.

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  9. Rich on November 16, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    The temple is also a “secret weapon” in that members who wish to attend have to conform to a fairly rigorous set of standards, and report their worthiness as such on a regular basis to leadership, which helps the church maintain that consistency of activity and accountability. Definitely a smart strategy, IMO.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on November 16, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    Paul – that was another one that I considered to be common among many faiths. It’s not exactly accurate, but there is the implication that theirs is the “best” one.

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  11. Alisa on November 16, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    I think that it’s perfectly fair to list the downside of the positive things. I like this list.

    As someone who frequently attends Protestant churches, however, I have to disagree on three items being at all unique to the LDS: tithing, lay clergy, and ongoing revelation. These may be things Mormons are taught that other churches don’t do, but it is in fact a strong focus of the Protestant church I most frequently attend (UCC). I think it’s important for me to speak up when I think the beliefs of others are being mischaracterized, so here’s a short novel.

    Tithing: In the UCC, tithing is taught as 10% of your income, 5% given to the church (which has complete transparency, even transparency on what is donated beyond the congregation to the national church), and the other 5% given to charities of your choice (in the pastor’s words: you can best use personal revelation to decide which charities will help you come to Christ by donating half of your tithe there). Part of tithing in this congregation is also donating at least 20 hours a year to service outside the church as well as becoming a lay minister to serve the church (see below). A baptist church I also attended with a friend has tithes (10%) and offerings (charitable donations on top of 10%). Most churches have a “stewardship committee” committed to motivating members to pay tithes.

    Lay clergy: While many Protestant churches have a paid minister and some paid staff, they also rely heavily on essential lay clergy and unpaid staff. Again, speaking from the UCC that I’m most familiar with, each member is considered part of the clergy and urged to join a ministry, so there’s no sitting back and relaxing. There are several lay ministers at the local congregation who have advanced divinity degrees, but teaching Sunday school, teaching children, doing music, etc. (which any member can do) are all considered ministry roles. (And there are a number of paid clergy in the LDS Church, just not at the very local level.)

    Ongoing Revelation: We are taught Protestant churches say that revelation died with Christ, but this isn’t true. Again, I’m most familiar with the UCC, whose tagline is “God is still speaking,” placing a heavy emphasis on continuing revelation. The difference in this church is that the revelation from God goes to individual people, who then form congregations, rather than a top-down approach to revelation.

    My intent here is only to dispel some ideas we Mormons have against other churches that through my observation have not been totally accurate. We may have our own unique take on these things, but I’ve been surprised to find a lot of things I thought were unique about the LDS in other places.

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  12. Gilroy on November 16, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    I’m afraid you hit a raw spot of mine, Hawkgrrrl.

    I didn’t serve a mission to solidify my own commitment to the Church or to gain leadership skills for my career. I made a personal choice to serve a mission because I really wanted to spend all my time sharing with other people what had brought so much happiness to my life.

    Over the course of my mission and the year after, it became increasingly clear to me that the full-time missionary program is not about bringing salvation to the world. Rather, it’s morphed into a self-serving program that’s about a rite of passage to make Mormon boys into Mormon men. I find it disturbing that active members of the Church will openly admit that finding converts is the secondary benefit of the full-time missionary program.

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  13. Paul on November 16, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    Alisa, thanks for your comments. Very illuminating.

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  14. dpc on November 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    @alisa

    Ongoing revelation: The difference between Mormon and Protestants is that Protestants have a closed canon and Mormons have an open canon. If anyone at the UCC starts saying that they’re getting revelations that apply to everyone, those idea won’t get much traction as ‘revelation’ from God.

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  15. hawkgrrrl on November 16, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Gilroy: “I find it disturbing that active members of the Church will openly admit that finding converts is the secondary benefit of the full-time missionary program.” I’ve heard from a friend of mine in leadership that missions are in fact considered primarily a leader-building program, not a convert-winning program.

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  16. hawkgrrrl on November 16, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    Gilroy – sorry, also just to clarify, while I think those are benefits to people, that’s not why people go. It might be why the church sends them, though, or at least it is according to my friend.

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  17. jmb275 on November 16, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Awesome post Hawk! I really liked it. I can’t think of anything I disagree with. I will say that I think the temple is a little cooler than you made it out to be. I think the ritual is brilliant, perhaps more brilliant than any I’ve ever seen (though I confess to having a limited scope). If there’s a better hero’s journey, I don’t know about it.

    Re Alisa- thank you very much for sharing. I really enjoyed your list. We too often have tunnel vision when analyzing our own faith.

    Re Gilroy-
    I also went for the same reasons you did. I still think that reason is there. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that from a practical standpoint the real highlight of the mission in Mormonism is to convert young men.

    Re dpc- I think it’s an interesting point you raise. Primarily because I don’t really view our canon as open (when was the last revelation added again? 100 years ago?). In theory it’s certainly not closed, and maybe we’re just waiting for the right revelation. But even granting priesthood to ALL males (a doctrinal change if you ask Bruce McConkie) didn’t make it into the canon as an official revelation. Then again, 100 years isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things I suppose.

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  18. Gilroy on November 16, 2011 at 5:34 PM

    @Hawkgrrrl:

    So that’s the primary reason why the Church sends out young men? It isn’t the Savior’s commission found in the 16th chapter of Mark? I wish someone would have told me that BEFORE I went. My time could have been better spent in the Peace Corps.

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  19. anon on November 16, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    This is from a post, Questioning General Authority, on the blog By Common Consent, and written by a non-member. ”

    From BYU we went to the training center nearby where tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries are trained for service each year. Young men go two by two for two years, and young women go two by two for shorter periods, all over the world to spread the Mormon faith. The young men wear their distinctive white shirts and narrow neckties and engraved plastic nametags. The young women wear long skirts and dowdy shoes. At the center they maintain a grueling schedule of language study and other training. I asked the center manager and a former Elder of the Quorum of the Seventy, the leadership body just under the Presidency and the 12 Apostles, whether the main value of the missions was in conversion of others or was in the spiritual formation of the “elders” and “sisters” who go on the missions. In so many words, they made it clear that it was the latter.
    Many missionaries make few conversions in the course of their missions. But they come back with organizational and language skills, global cultural awareness, self-discipline, and a much deeper commitment to their religion.”

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  20. el oso on November 16, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    Actually, the canon was updated in the 1970s. The D&C sections 137 & 138 were added in addition to OD 2.

    The process of upgrading the first two is interesting. I would love to ask a high level GA if there is any push to add the King Follett discourse or other Nauvoo doctrines to the canon in some form. Maybe the current prophet would declare the core message in a talk and it would be accepted as an addition to the canon.

    There is certainly a push to compile a 2nd tier of not-quite-canonical gospel teachings. This is called correlation and the Pr/RS teachings of the presidents of the church represent a major effort in this area.

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  21. hawkgrrrl on November 17, 2011 at 4:44 AM

    Alisa – on the lay clergy, I think your UCC examples brings up an interesting point. When I was listing it as a benefit in the LDS church it was to the members who gain from the experiences they get from taking on these stretch assignments, not because they are unpaid volunteers. Actually, I might list the unpaid aspect as a downside, and to add to it, I would agree that trained clergy is probably better equipped to minister to those in need and to teach theology. Our clergy often falls short in those areas. In fact, the correlation committee reminds me of how we used to run a call center that had very unskilled staff. The lower the skill set, the more you have to script everything for them and don’t allow them to deviate.

    Tithing, what you share about the UCC is impressive, although IME it is still quite rare. I have found that many other mega-churches seem to outdo us on service although we do pretty well. We tend to take care of our own first, though, and there are only so many hours in the day.

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  22. jmb275 on November 17, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Re el oso
    Ah I suppose you’re right. I had forgotten that those revelations weren’t added until 70’s (I had confused the dates of receipt and dates of adding to the canon). I suppose OD 2 does say that Pres. Kimball received a “revelation.” Though I think you have to admit there is something different about OD 2 that makes it seem as though it doesn’t carry the same gravitas as the other sections.

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  23. Jake on November 17, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    In the style of BCC comments I want to say that loved this post. Good job. The list of things good and unique is that comprehensive that its difficult to think of anything that I would add to it and leave my comment at that.

    However, as an Englishman I question if the churches embrace of American Values is actually a good thing and the fact that the American Dream is only the dream of American’s not of the entire world. I can’t help but think of Revolutionary Road and the critique of the American Dream that says it actually is simply a dream and never a reality. I personally wish that the church distanced itself from its overly Americanisation, as it has the danger of cultural imperialism. That I think is something you missed out is that the church tries to impose its culture and ideologies upon other cultures, this is certainly not unique to the church though but is found amongst most trans-national institutions.

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  24. Paul on November 17, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    #22 jmb: I’m splitting words, perhaps, but when you suggest that OD2 does not have the same gravitas as the added section of the D&C, I’m a little surprised. In terms of behavioral impact, the ODs have FAR more impact than the sections of the D&C.

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  25. jmb275 on November 17, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    Re Paul-
    Yes, you’re right. What I meant by that is that I would be surprised if you (not you particularly but the collective you) included the ODs in your regular readings of the D&C (I know I didn’t). I would be surprised to hear a lesson in SS based solely on OD 2 (like we have for sections). It definitely has impact, to be sure, but there is a difference between the “revelation” in the various sections, the ones that define our church, lay out doctrine, etc. and the ODs. The ODs feel more like policy changes, like afterthoughts, like minor addendums to the larger sphere of the canon. And their placement and status as ODs seems to corroborate that. With OD1 and arguably OD2 (depending on who you ask) no new doctrine was revealed. We still (again depending on who you ask) believe in plural marriage, we just don’t practice it. And many many people felt that race limitations on priesthood always was just a policy despite many leaders inventing dubious doctrinal explanations.

    That’s all I meant. You’re right, the OD 2 might have had more impact (in terms of quantity of lives effected and behavior) than any other revelation. It’s just that I think there is a difference between the sections in the D&C, and the ODs. If there weren’t, why didn’t we just make them sections?

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  26. hawkgrrrl on November 17, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    Jake – I do agree that there is a strong downside, although we are talking about church here. The product is values. You can align with the American ideals & dreams regardless of your location.

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  27. el oso on November 17, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    Paul & jmb,
    I think that the OD 1 & 2 are just policy statements. Although received by revelation, they are not necessarily a permanent part of the D & C. In 50 years, I can see them both removed. Why would we need OD 2 included when there are 3 African apostles and dozens of other African GAs?
    These declarations had a large immediate impact, but they are rarely discussed in church at present. When was the last anti-polygamy statement you heard from the pulpit? You hear about temple work and the ongoing work on the other side of the veil all the time. The basic doctrines behind this are included in the new sections of the D&C.

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  28. Douglas on November 17, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    Wow! It’s be shorter to rewrite “War and Peace” than to adequate respond to HG’s OP….

    1) American “values” – the Church preaches the best of what USED to be idealized in the USofA. Much of what is good about America can be applied in the lives of non-American LDS, but; the Saints should be building Zion wherever they are and be the best Germans, Russians, Tanzanians, Japanese, etc…
    2) Temple – the “superset” of our faith. Our use of them is unique compared to most other faiths, even those have have structures they call ‘temples’. Sexist? I can think of a lady friend, a recent convert, who bristles at the notion that she should be ‘subject’ to ANY man. I’m sure other sisters feel similar. Of course, the relationship is transitive in that the Brethren are supposed to subject themselves to the Lord, whose example they ought to emulate in dealing with their families.
    3) Lay Clergy – few have equivalents of a bishop or SP; who don’t get paid for their considerable service. However, there are “specialists” in organizations like LDS Family Services that they are supposed to use for the tough cases and not presume that they know it all.
    4) Missions – every elder/sister should ensure that the first convert is the one they see in the mirror! People fairly much join the Church for whatever reason, often in spite of the missionaries. That doesn’t deprecate their valuable work; it merely puts it into perspective.
    5) Tithing – other faiths do practice it. We LDS make it accountable if you want the temple and/or other blessings.
    6) Word of Wisdom – Adventists and JWs have similar health proscriptions. Ours started as “good advice” and grew like Topsy into the heart and soul of the Gospel, at least in the eyes of some members. It does come with promises but not ironclad guarentees, else hypothetically an LDS doctor would go hungry!
    7) Chastity – again, goes to accountability. We’re not necessarily any less promiscuous or immoral, we just have a more formalized method of dealing with miscreants. If Jimmy Swaggart had been a Stake President he’d at least have been disfellowshipped and would likely NEVER again serve at that level.
    8) Family Focus – James Dobson wouldn’t concede the lead. We should simply complement other faiths that strive to build their families as we do.
    9) Theosis – this does set LDS apart. Brigham Roberts did excellent dissertation on how this is quite compatible with ‘Biblical Christianity’. Some folks as they are NOW wouldn’t make very good “Gods”…they couldn’t even face down “Gozer the Gazarian” even if they responded “yes” to being asked if they were a “God”.
    10) Ongoing Revelation – justifies WHY follow the CURRENT prophet rather than his predecessors. Documentation is often crappy.
    11) Behavior Focus – again, goes to accountability, but not always applied consistently. Methinks women in particular get away with “moider”.
    12) Education – we do well but so do other faiths. At least we’re not a Church of ignoramouses or mind-numbed robots.
    13) Pre-Christism – Hal Lindsey and other “Born Agains” have expressed similar views, it’s hardly “anachronistic”. The BoM has enough seeming “anachromisms” which in fact would be evidence of falsity if they WEREN’T there: To whit; Greek names, the Hellenization process was already in effect amongst most Mediterranean peoples. I suspect the Mulekites included some Greeks or Phoencians in their number.
    14) Additional Scripture – we’re Christians, NOT “Biblicans”. Either Joe Smith was truly a prophet and brought forth Latter-Day scripture under revelation, or he was a charlatan or at least a deluded fanatic. Not much middle ground there.
    15) Polygamy – We’re not the “only”, just the largest and most infamous in recent history. Like (14) above, it was either inspired OR evidence that JS and BY were “froottier than a nutcake” (James T. Kirk in Star Trek III).
    16) Communal Living – we LDS have a strong sense of community, but most attempts at “inspired communism” didn’t go too well – to whit: Kirtland Safety Society…
    17) Sexism – I’ve seen this swing the other way in 32 years of membership. Today’s de-balled brethren practically apologize for being male, and sister’s practically get a free pass for misconduct up to (and at times including) “moider” while brethren expect to face a disciplinary council for breaking wind at an inopportune moment.
    18) Judgementalism – on my mission, we would often quip, “Every Member a Mission President”. We have our unrelenting fanatics like any other large group.
    19) Conservative Values – you wouldn’t know it from reading W&T! Overall, yes, but some interpret it as “Gawd” commands you to vote Republican or vote down a state’s medical marijuana initiative.
    20) Athoritarianism – D&C 121 do rear its ugly head at times. More often how members interpret counsel than what the counsellors intended!
    21) Perfectionism – “be ye perfect, or I’ll excommunicate your ass…” been looking for it in the D&C…
    22) Emotionalism – tends to get overdone. OTOH, I can excuse a 13 y.o. girl, when giving a talk at her mother’s baptism, bursting into tears at how she’d been praying for that event since she was eight and how much she loves her mother…

    And a Partridge in a Pear tree….

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  29. brjones on November 18, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    The problem I consistently have with members who defend the type of things on Hawk’s negative list by pointing out that they’re not unique to Mormonism, is that I also wouldn’t want to associate, or want my children to associate, with other groups that have those things in common. I don’t see as an effective defense the fact that other groups or people are just as bad in a certain area as your organization is. Granted, if one believes the church is true, then the considerations are much different. The context in which I confront this point, though, is when members respond to my concerns, as a non-believer, about the church. The fact that the “bad” things aren’t unique to mormonism shouldn’t win you any points, in my opinion.

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  30. Douglas on November 18, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    #29 – but is the imperfection in the teachings and/or organizational structure of the Church, or in the foibles of its constituents? If the latter, then all you can really criticize is the failure of members to live IAW their faith…and we get plenty of THAT every Sunday from the local leaders and get “ripped a new one” (at least in Priesthood session) in General Conference. Ok, I’m employing hyperbole, but sheesh, sometimes I can understand Homer Simpson’s reluctance to attend Church (“they only teach about new reasons that I’m going to Hell”).

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  31. Tachyon Feathertail on November 19, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    I’m a (friendly!) Ex-Mormon, and I think your list was pretty good; your inversion of the “good and unique” thing was definitely food for thought, and this was a pretty comprehensive list of what’s good and bad about LDS church culture and organization IMO.

    The only thing I can think of to add (under “bad but not unique”) is fundamentalism. I liked the certainty of belonging to “the true church,” but it took me a long time to realize that a) the Gospel wasn’t working for everyone, and b) it wasn’t their fault. I was frankly miserable due to a lot of things in the church that I’d categorize as spiritual abuse, but I had no idea that’s what it was; I just thought I was unworthy and it was my fault that I was miserable.

    Oh, um, speaking of which, I’d add homophobia to the list, and underscore the sex attitudes part.

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