Our Duty to Present the Church in a Favorable Light at All Times, Just in Case a Non-Member Happens to be Listening

I’ve touched on this subject before, but it’s on my mind again. I was just over on Eric D. Snider’s site, browsing and chuckling, and I read something that touched on a recurring theme. Eric wrote a column about boring sacrament meetings, and a reader (you’ve heard of her) wrote in to say, inter alia:

For some non-members and less actives, your voice may be the only one they hear describing our Sacrament meeting, and if it is, they will have a very different impression than I have from attending.

That statement sums up the sentiments I’ve heard often echoed by church members — that any statement which could be interpreted in a way potentially critical or embarrassing to the church is a violation of the member’s Duty to Present the Church in a Favorable Light at All Times, Just in Case a Non-Member Happens to be Listening. This rule, oft-invoked, seems preposterous to me, for several reasons.

First, it seems like a sneaky, backhanded way to foreclose any critical discussion. Any hint of critique can be quickly met with “shhh — you never know who might be listening!” (If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, will it affect a non-member’s potential future testimony?) And who can argue against that — who wants to be personally responsible for someone else going to hell? (Kind of a reverse D & C 18 — “And if it so be that ye should mess up anyone’s future potential testimony by any of your remarks . . .”).

This critique effectively stifles any sort of criticism, including constructive criticism or useful discussion. While many church topics are divinely established, others are simply bureaucratic procedures. Yet even discussion of procedural protocol is suspect. Is a three-hour block meeting the best idea, or were there advantages to the prior layout? “Shh — you might dissuade a non-member from coming to church!” This removes constructive criticism and informed debate from the discourse, which is a problem because there may actually be better ways to do things procedurally, which are never addressed.

And thus members become an echo chamber. “Let me tell you how much I love Sacrament Meeting! And by the way, I really love Sunday School too! Did I mention that I love to do my home teaching?” Or they just say nothing, and maybe wonder if they’re the only one who thinks that home teaching is hard, and Sunday School is boring, and wonder if they have anything in common with the Duty-to-Present-Things-Favorably police. (As I’ve written elsewhere, “We as members will lose the ability to communicate fully, and properly discuss some of these issues, if we’re looking over our shoulders and afraid to say anything that could be misinterpreted by a non-member. “)

Second, this idea is incredibly condescending towards non-members (as well as members). The underlying message: Non-members are dumb. They are dumber than a bag of hammers. And you members (who are not dumb, of course) had better not let those dumb non-members see so much as a jot or tittle of negativity, because they certainly do not know a hawk from a handsaw. And those dumb non-members are particularly susceptible to negative statements of any kind.

Look how tragically it all plays out: Charlie, the (former) golden contact, glances up from his morning paper, having just read Eric’s column, and says, “Well, Louise, I don’t think I’ll be joining the Mormon church any time soon. They have boring sacrament meetings! It says so right here! Now let’s go down the road to the Lutheran services, their meetings are never boring.” And later that day, when the missionaries knock on (former) golden contact Charlie’s door, he laughs maniacally, and says “You’ll never get me to your boring meetings, Mormons!” And then he sics his dog Bruiser on them.

And I dislike and resent that message. I don’t think non-members are dumb. Many non-members are a whole lot smarter than I am. Many are much better people, and probably living much more righteous lives, than I am. I don’t think that they’ll hear someone discussing some aspect of the church and run away screaming.

In fact, I think that, because non-members aren’t dumb, they will be more receptive to the church if they see that some church members do have complaints, that life does not magically become perfect when you’re a Mormon. (And those who do think that life magically becomes perfect when you’re a Mormon, they have issues of their own – see discussion further below). And I suspect that non-members may view as hypocritical a place where they see members who unanimously intone, in Manchurian Candidate pre-programmed style (remember, the eerie “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life”), that the church is true and perfect, and that they’ve never had any questions or concerns that weren’t immediately and definitively answered. Were I a visiting non-member, I really wonder if the ubiquitous favorable light approach isn’t something I would find really disconcerting.

My final complaint is that showing things in a favorable light only tells part of the story. And so, any non-member who does decide to join the church, based on the unanimously glowing reports of all the members they meet (such as the hypothetical non-member mentioned above who thinks the church will solve all of her problems), will be greatly disappointed when the church turns out not to solve all of her problems after all. She will transition from a new investigator, who is showered with positive attention and support (“Good morning, sister? How are you? How are your kids?”) to a new member, who quickly learns that home teaching is at 15%, and the primary president hates the Bishop, and can-you-teach-the-lesson-today,-here’s-the-manual.

I once read an Ann Landers, where a person wrote in that her (sister? friend? I don’t recall) was dating, and was using a vast number of hidden appearance-enhancing devices: a push-up bra, a thinning girdle, something-or-other for hips or thighs, and several other devices — I don’t recall all of the details, but you get the idea. And Ann Landers simply replied that some fellow was in for quite a surprise should the relationship become serious.

Are we doing the same when we insist on a Duty to Present the Church in a Favorable Light at All Times, Just in Case a Non-Member Happens to be Listening? It seems that way to me — and that is another reason, perhaps the most important of all, why members should not think they have a duty to present the church favorably at all times.

48 comments for “Our Duty to Present the Church in a Favorable Light at All Times, Just in Case a Non-Member Happens to be Listening

  1. May 7, 2004 at 10:57 am

    Kaimi!!! What are you doing??? Some non-member might read this!!!

  2. May 7, 2004 at 11:17 am

    Kaimi, your post seems right to me, but at the same time I think we need to also post about the positive aspects of the Church, and to reinforce all the good things that come from it. I think a lot of blogs/internet discussions among members take the positive side of the Church as a given, and proceed to criticize without ever establishing the basis for belief of reasons to love the Church. Rather than say “we don’t have to present the Church in a favorable light at all times,” wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “we need to honestly present the Church at all times”?

  3. May 7, 2004 at 11:36 am

    I think you’re right, Kaimi, about how non-members are actually smarter and more sophisticated about it all than we sometimes give them credit for. I once had a friend show me an article in The Economist about a guy who had evidence and was convinced that Native Americans had no Jewish ancestry, which (unless that Malaysian model turns out to be the right one ;)) could potentially have some implications concerning Book of Mormon authenticity. After I read it, I felt like I had to say something very profound to redeem the Church in his eyes. Before I could, though, he said “I know it doesn’t prove anything; I mean, if you believe in the Book of Mormon you believe in it.” It wasn’t like he was converted on the spot and asked to be baptized or anything, but it did remind me that people are intelligent and that they aren’t looking for any little reason to prove to themselves or to us that it’s ridiculous to be a member of our Church.

  4. cooper
    May 7, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    Oh I don’t know Kaimi. I don’t think I ever been to church and witnessed anything but perfection. Except may that little incident last week where a member of the bishopric knocked a sprinkler head loose from the fire system and – no one – I mean no one could find the shut off valves! Library, primary room, flooded. But they were just testing to see if we really all could walk on water. (as with eric I will place this disclaimer – this is entirely tongue in cheek, the flood really did happen though.)

  5. Kingsley
    May 7, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    I hope Sister Perry’s comments about weeping forlornly in her kitchen at 5:30 a.m. don’t represent a *typical* LDS response to Snide Remarks about this or that aspect of the social gospel. Not that I’d want that sort of response to go away entirely, because often they’re as amusing as the provoking articles—“How dare you discuss an R-rated movie like the Passion on the Lord’s university’s newspaper’s FRONT PAGE! You’re practically giving people PERMISSION to go and see it!” etc.—it’s just that I’ve always thought of them as representing a pretty extreme view, *not* typical of your average churchgoer. Am I wrong?

  6. John H
    May 7, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    Great post, Kaimi. Davis Bitton once wrote about how people can be paranoid about history and how it might weaken the, well, weak. He said that people greatly overestimate how much history will affect them, and underestimate their ability to deal with it positively.

    I think your argument that it treats investigators like their dumb is the strongest. It also could help to make them feel isolated. What if they come to Church and they think Sacrament meeting is boring? Then all they hear from members about how great and inspirational it was – I know I’d feel left out.

  7. May 7, 2004 at 1:28 pm

    Kaimi, I think you hit the sweet spot on this post. I’ll give it the highest compliment available in the Bloggernacle: I hereby nominate this post for “post of the month, May 2004.”

  8. Aaron Brown
    May 7, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    I must admit I haven’t run into this statement very often. O.K. — I did have a mission companion who suggested that I shouldn’t drink cola drinks, NOT because they were prohibited, but because so many non-members THINK they’re prohibited that we need to cater to the perception so as not to look like we’re violating Mormon rules (even though we aren’t). Go figure.

    I have become more accustomed to hearing that I should speak favorably about Church at all times because MEMBERS are listening, most particularly, the member that I’m talking to! (But I’m abrasive, so what do you expect?) :)

    I think Kaimi makes some great points, but I wonder if the second phenomenon Kaimi addresses is really best articulated by the phrase: “Non-members are dumb.” Isn’t the problem really that we assume non-members (like all people) are likely to place undue emphasis on their initial impressions about something, and this will have an inordinate impact on whether they want to explore it further? I don’t think this is reducible to the assumption that they’re intellecually deficient; rather, it assumes that first impressions matter.

    That said, I agree strongly that a too rose-colored portrayal of Mormon congregational life can be a real problem for the new member who is initially animated about his/her new faith, but who can become easily and quickly disillusioned when the reality doesn’t end up matching the rhetoric.

    Aaron B

  9. Geoff B
    May 7, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    Kaimi, you are correct that it is a stretch to say you shouldn’t be critical because non-members might be listening. Still, it is important to remember that critical comments should always be constructive and offer possible alternatives for improvement and should be directed at the right source. Sitting around complaining about boring sacrament meetings creates absolutely nothing positive. That is what we should avoid — the spirit of negativity that is aimless. If you have a problem with how sacrament meeting is being handled, why don’t you bring it up with the bishopric and offer to help improve things?

  10. May 7, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    >>O.K. — I did have a mission companion who suggested that I shouldn’t drink cola drinks, NOT because they were prohibited, but because so many non-members THINK they’re prohibited that we need to cater to the perception so as not to look like we’re violating Mormon rules (even though we aren’t). Go figure.

    This is basically why I don’t drink Coke, and (surprisingly) I don’t think it’s such a dumb idea. When I was a freshman at the Y, Randy Bott talked about this in my Sharing the Gospel class by referring to Romans 14. Speaking to Christians who had figured out that the kosher laws had been fulfilled, Paul nonetheless asked them not to eat “unclean” meats in front of Jewish converts who had not yet figured this out.

    Romans 14:15 – “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.”

    Translation: don’t drive these dummies out of the church by doing things that they will (wrongly) see as hypocritical. Or more simply: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thes. 5:22) I think that’s a pretty good idea, and a pretty charitable way to behave. Obviously there are limits to what we can do in this regard, but I don’t think abstaining from Coke is such a big sacrifice.

  11. Ben
    May 7, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    It may be a good idea to do so, but this scripture should have been listed with one of the scriptural interpretation posts, since it really doesn’t mean to avoid anything that could even look bad.

    The revised (New) KJV reads “Abstain from every form of evil” as does nearly every other translation made since 1612.

    Stepping back down into lurk mode…

  12. May 7, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    Ok…so, I think Sr. Payne is onto the right track on Kaimi’s insight.

    i.e.: Where do you draw the line?

    here is the stra(w)oman: So, do we begin publishing nasty public stories about the human frailties of church leaders? Maybe we could even go the “figurative” route & make up stories by taking the worst parts from many different stories? How about we start with the one about the mission president excoummnicated for the sins of a few bad missionaries who blamed everything on him?

  13. Aaron Brown
    May 7, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    John said:
    “I don’t think abstaining from Coke is such a big sacrifice.”

    Well, I don’t either, but that’s not the point. As I see it, we all have enough on our plates as we try to (1) live the Gospel; and (2) live so as to give the appearance of living the Gospel (not the same as (1)). Why complicate matters by also trying to (3) live so as to give the appearance of living what others misperceive to be the Gospel. I find that (1) and (2) are enough to keep me busy, thank you very much.

    Besides, Paul’s admonition concerned a Jewish dietary restriction that REALLY WAS a restriction. The same cannot be said for cola, so the comparison really doesn’t work.

    Aaron B

  14. May 7, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    It seems to me that the whole “what if…?” approach to determining our behavior needs to take into account the likelihood of certain outcomes, and recognize that *every* action will have unintended consequences, many of which we cannot predict. What if we teach that God has a body and somebody is offended by that and says, “I could never join a church that believes that!”? Does that mean that we shouldn’t teach that? (I think the answer to this may be “yes” if we use a different doctrinal example; after all, we don’t teach everything without preparing people first, or we could just draft a list of doctrines and hand that over to investigators on first contact as an overview of the lessons.) What if somebody believes that Mormons are prohibited from drinking cola drinks and that is the reason they don’t join the Church? Does our abstention from cola drinks in order to foster that incorrect perception make us partially responsible for their decision?

    Such reasoning lends itself to paralysis, not “doing many things of their own free will, and bringing to pass much righteousness.”

  15. VeritasLiberat
    May 7, 2004 at 5:44 pm

    I just wanted to make a comment in regard to Eric Snider. I have been reading his columns since before I joined the church. I think humorists like Snider serve a valuable function in Mormon culture: they help to keep people from taking their accumulated traditions and themselves too seriously. In order to keep from becoming puffed up with pride, people need to be poked with the pin of laughter once in a while.

    (Also, as a newish convert, I was delighted to read Snider’s opinion on JKP’s music. I thought it was something I was *required* to like in order to be a Mormon, like scrapbooking or jello salads.)

  16. VeritasLiberat
    May 7, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    I just wanted to make a comment in regard to Eric Snider. I have been reading his columns since before I joined the church. I think humorists like Snider serve a valuable function in Mormon culture: they help to keep people from taking their accumulated traditions and themselves too seriously. In order to keep from becoming puffed up with pride, people need to be poked with the pin of laughter once in a while.

    (Also, as a newish convert, I was delighted to read Snider’s opinion on JKP’s music. I thought it was something I was *required* to like in order to be a Mormon, like scrapbooking or jello salads.)

  17. May 7, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    I wonder if this is why so many of those who do not belong to our Church expect us to be perfect. I wonder if this is why so many people fall away from the Church when they find out Joseph Smith drank alcohol or Brigham Young was racist, or some other such thing.

  18. May 7, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Hm…I think Kim has a great point. Perhaps we can add to the list of great, yet needed, unwritten books:

    Mortal Prophets: The imperfections of men, women & why it doesn’t make the Gospel less true.

    Then…we could give it to all interested investigators…& we could all laugh & make jokes about others weaknesses instead of cowering in fear that they will be found out…and like the rays of a too powerful sun, scorch the roots of newer seedlings.

  19. Aaron Brown
    May 7, 2004 at 7:34 pm

    Kim said:
    “I wonder if this is why so many of those who do not belong to our Church expect us to be perfect.”

    I actually think this is an expectation that many of the non-religious have of the religious, generally. This is due in part to the failure of the non-religious (or at least the non-Christian) to understand that adhering to Christianity means embracing an ideal, and striving, albeit imperfectly and with much backsliding, to achieve that ideal over the course of one’s life. This is also due in part to the failure of the religious (Christian) to maintain this same understanding, and the smug, self-righteousness that often accompanies this failure.

    “I wonder if this is why so many people fall away from the Church when they find out Joseph Smith drank alcohol or Brigham Young was racist, or some other such thing.”

    Perhaps in part, but I also think something more is going on. Much of LDS rhetoric, both official and un-official, has promoted, directly or indirectly, an unwarranted image of Mormon prophets as super-human in a variety of ways. So it’s hardly a surprise that disillusionment results when images are shattered.

    Aaron B

  20. Sheri Lynn
    May 8, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    As a disabled Mormon who is often ill, and often unable to take care of home and family properly, I often feel that my very existence makes the Church look bad. I’m not healthy, beautiful, and active despite keeping the Word of Wisdom. There’s an unspoken question among my non-member family, especially my parents–why do you cling to a church that doesn’t “work”? Why not change churches, they ask? I haven’t walked on water yet, haven’t been healed yet, so it must not be true, they think.

    So I can’t even tell them how I accept a blessing that says I will not get well yet and pray about it till I understand it as God’s will. They’ve seen poor examples of uncharitable Mormons and that’s formed their opinion of the church, and they think I’m stupid to stay a member. I’m careful not to tell them anything that might reinforce their opinion, and really, they can twist anything around to reinforce their opinion.

    The testimony that burns in me can’t be expressed because I know it doesn’t match what people, members and nonmembers alike, see. They can’t see me as blessed the way I do. They figure if I am ill, I must be doing something wrong to deserve it. I feel they’ll believe I’m a hypocrite or a fool.

    It shouldn’t be that way, but I haven’t figured out a way to get around it. I bear my testimony online where the words must do all the work, but are not handicapped by my wrecked physical body.

    I remember that Jesus proved well to us that bad, cruel, even sickening things happen to the best people. Deserving and receiving are never well connected in this mortal existence. The accounts are balanced later, and we can go as far into red or black ink as we like. I’d rather be me than a Hollywood celeb, insulated by too much money and power from the Gospel, protected from the missionaries by the best privacy money can buy. (Now THAT is frightening!)

  21. john fowles
    May 8, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    I like Kaimi’s perspective on this–no need to lie or pretend there aren’t problems.

    But I also ask: critique to what end? If you are criticizing the Church, then why? What are you trying to accomplish? Perhaps there is a line where “criticism” loses all traces of constructive value and simply becomes bitter apostasy. After all, is the Church leadership really going to get a younger face just because of the heaps of criticism on one thread on this blog a while ago? That is just one example.

    Also there are substantively different types of “critique.” There is the Sunstone conspiracy-theory/evil-Church/oppressing-women-gays-abortionists-etc./Church-is-not-true-because-of-mountain-meadows-“massacre” type of “critique.” And there is the more benign Snider critique that gave rise to this thread, which simply makes a farce of “Mormon” culture/lifestyle. It seems to me that we can “criticize” one of these types of criticisms and live with the other.

  22. john fowles
    May 8, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    By the way, Sheri Lynn, I have also thought a lot about some of the things that you said in your post. Here is a BYU Studies article that you might find interesting:

    “Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity among the Problems of Evil,” vol. 42 (2003), pg.75.

    This article examines the role of chaos and suffering as experienced in this world in God’s overall plan. It doesn’t claim to solve the problem of why there is suffering, but I have found that it can offer much comfort through its interesting perspective.

  23. Sheri Lynn
    May 8, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    I find it isn’t really comfort I need anymore (though I appreciate the article!) but acceptance, and something to DO. When you pray for a calling for years and ask two bishops to find one for you, and nothing, it’s hard to keep going. I felt that if I had a calling I’d get the health I need to do it. I think they don’t want to pile responsibility on my neck, and then have me let them down, but it’s not like I expect to be nursery leader, either.

  24. Mark Butler
    August 20, 2006 at 8:54 am

    Just because it is not against the letter of the law to drink Coke, does not mean it is not against the spirit of the law…

  25. Burke
    August 20, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Kaimi, I really enjoyed your post and agree with you on most points.
    I don’t think Coke relates to her post 100%, except by the way the generic mish companion tried to enforce non-coke drinkery by “what will non-members think” logic. Right now, drinking cola does not exclude you from getting a temple recommend, so it’s not included in the modern interpretation of the WofW. If you don’t want to drink cola because you think it’s bad for you and thus “should be” included on the list of “do not partake” then by all means don’t drink it. However, some people think (like my dad used to) that meat should be included because the WofW says that meat should only be eaten in times of famine or winter. Enforcing your personal interpretations of the WofW (or diet in general) on other people is lame, especially if you use the “you don’t want to hurt other people’s testimonies” guilt trip. BTW, say you see your elder’s quorum president slamming a can of malt liquor outside 7-11, are you gonna put on your best passive-agressive softy voice and say “What if a non-member saw you with your Colt .45, testimony-killer?” No, you’d probably just look surprised and not say anything.

  26. August 20, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Great post; thanks for recycling it. I’ve thought a lot about this issue as I’ve engaged in numerous conversations with my fellow theology students about Mormonism (which comes up frequently simply because we talk about religion all the time.) I’m usually quite candid about my mixed feelings about the Church, about the aspects of it that I really struggle with. For a long time I felt kind of guilty about that, like I was doing something wrong by not limiting myself to the positive. But my perspective on that has changed. A couple of years ago someone told me that he (and others in my program) actually took Mormonism far more seriously because I’d been so honest about my conflicted relationship with it, that if I’d been relentlessly positive and “faith-promoting” they would have had a hard time believing anything I’d said. That makes sense to me; if all the Catholics I knew, for example, presented the Catholic church as glowingly perfect, I’d have little interest it. Knowing a number of Catholics who have serious disagreements and questions, yet nonetheless remain committed, gives me more and not less respect for the tradition.

  27. Razorfish
    August 20, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Defending Rhetoric and LDS Social Norms

    Let’s assume the following social norms (how one ought to behave) exist in our faith community –

    1) There is no greater calling for women than motherhood and raising children
    2) Having more children is religiously more acceptable (6 vs 1 or none) than fewer
    3) Getting married early in life (eg. ~ 22) is more important than being financially prepared or emotionally ready for marriage (age 30?)
    4) Being educated is important, but once married, having children is a higher priority (ie don’t delay having children for educational credentials)
    5) There is no scenerio or set of circumstances where it is acceptable to abstain from the law of tithing.
    6) For women, having a succesful and invigorating career in the business world at the expense, delay or sacrifice of having a family is frowned upon or discouraged.
    7) Organizational and executive leadership should follow Priesthood lineage and therefore, women should be excluded from key decision making bodies and leadership responsibility.
    8) Marrying outside the covenant is highly discouraged and potentially places one’s spiritual reward in jeopardy
    9) Non-faith promoting inquiries or religious examination that does not edify and reinforce accepted LDS folklore should be avoided.
    10) Accepting pronouncements from the oracles of the Church even if it contradicts your own previously held position.

    Perhaps, these 10 items are simply the pale of orthodoxy we generally accept as members of a unified Church. But what if we disagree with some (or all) of these or other generally held views, religious norms or dogmatic expectations?

    Are we responsible for not endorsing these social norms (explicitly taught or endorsed)? And are we equally responsible for the unintended consequences that may tragically develop by blindly accepting these norms?

    In short, what is our responsibility to validate, endorse or otherwise “tow the party line” regarding religious norms (even if they contradict personal beliefs)?

  28. Mark Butler
    August 20, 2006 at 7:01 pm


    I suggest a few be added and/or modified:

    1) There is no greater calling for men than fatherhood and raising, providing for, and protecting children

    2) Members have an obligation to marry, but should ponder and pray to ensure they are not marrying the wrong person nor at the wrong time nor at the wrong place.

    3) Children are an heritage of the Lord, nevertheless pondering and prayer should be applied to the question of how many to have and at what interval.

    4) Priesthood leaders have a responsibility to include and consult women in all major discretionary decisions. A ward or stake council that does not have an inspired consensus of all its members is much less effective than one that does.

    5) The pursuit of historical or academic inquiries by authors who have no faith in the divine nor in the world of the spirit nor in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ nor in the divine calling and mission of Joseph Smith should be avoided.

    6) Members have an obligation and responsibility to ponder and pray about each pronouncement from the prophets of the Church that they do not readily agree with, that they might gain a testimony thereof, either by study, or by faith, or by revelation. If they do not or cannot they should not broadcast their bitter disagreement in public, let alone start a splinter or schismatic movement in the Church, but rather count on the Lord to resolve the conflict or problem in his own due time.

  29. Mark Butler
    August 20, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    I should say due to the volume and turnover web logs are much less of a public forum than a book or television interview. I don’t want to offend anyone.

  30. Kaimi Wenger
    August 20, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    Wow, Razorfish. I’m not sure how you chose the items for your list, but it seems like a pretty strange compilation to me. How many of those points are actually related to church doctrine, and how many are just cultural tics? I’m a practicing, active church member, and I agree with less than half of the points you’ve got listed there.

  31. Razorfish
    August 20, 2006 at 7:30 pm


    Agreed that how you have phrased the norms are more constructive (and helpful) for the purposes of answering the underlying questions posed and also less likely to offend (unnecessarily).

    Thank you for softening the edge, as offending is not my intent, but rather to peel the onion back a few layers to confront norms that some may dislike or wish were modified (rather than just address the wording itself)…

  32. Kaimi Wenger
    August 20, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    Mark Butler,

    Your #5 is really puzzling. You’ve written: “5) The pursuit of historical or academic inquiries by authors who have no faith in the divine nor in the world of the spirit nor in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ nor in the divine calling and mission of Joseph Smith should be avoided.”

    Are you really making the argument that no one except practicing and active Mormons should ever make any historical or academic inquiries? That is an assertion that I find positively bizarre. No academics and no history, at all, except from Mormons. Wow.

    (Or is it your assertion that only certain types of research should be limited to Mormons? Or that they should be limited to Christians of some sort? What exactly is your argument — if you’re really saying “no history or academic work except from Mormons” I think you’re _way_ beyond any official church belief, and even beyond most cultural beliefs.)

  33. Kaimi Wenger
    August 20, 2006 at 7:41 pm


    I guess my answer to your question (to the extent I can divine what you’re saying) is that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’m not a member of the church of Wasatch Front social norms, and I’m not a member of the Church of Saturday’s Warrior.

    As an LDS church member, I have (like any church member) belief in certain doctrines. I have no testimony of weird cultural tics, however, and no obligation to defend them or to pretend that they’re anything other than the cultural tics they are.

  34. Mark Butler
    August 20, 2006 at 9:46 pm


    I apologize, my (5) was ambiguous and malformed. I meant to say that it is a rule of thumb that no one should make a casual pursuit of the Mormon studies books written by people who operate from purely naturalistic assumptions or who are otherwise hostile to the faith.

    Sometimes I get filled with the spirit of a book and take its naturalistic thesis pretty seriously for a day or so. And then I go: Nah – they have left something very important out, the type of thing difficult to get ironclad evidence for – the working of the Spirit. I imagine that many of them know far more historical facts about Joseph Smith than I do or perhaps ever will, but I (and many others) feel the spirit and character of Joseph Smith far better than they do.

  35. Razorfish
    August 20, 2006 at 10:07 pm


    I would agree with you about we believe in doctrine, but not the cultural tics…but my point is that the line is often blurred between the two, and someone may present the tics into doctrine (extrapolate a principle well beyond the mark). For example in my list of 10 items, some are doctrinal, some are cultural. However, I could fish out supporting talks, manuals, GC talks that support most of the positions or norms noted (albeit in a more PC manner as Mark as wordsmithed).

    Let me give you a real world example. I hometaught a lady 10 years ago that had 7 kids, was going through a divorce, had no money, no education, and no ability to provide for herself and family once her husband abandoned the family. Despair and sorrow were her only companions in her life. She felt some of her earlier decisions regarding not pursuing education, having kids early (and how many) were influenced by cultural expectations from her community of faith. In effect, she was bitter at the reality she now confronted and a series of decisions she made that left her unprepared, and unready to confront the cruel realities she confronted. Because I’m wired differently than her, I would not have made the same decisions she did despite the cultural pressures to conform she felt.

    The point is that I think it would sometimes be helpful if we separate the doctrine from the cultural expectations in the Church – although as mentioned there is a healthy intersection and blurring of the two.

  36. MLU
    August 20, 2006 at 11:39 pm

    I’ve grown quite disillusioned with the culture of debunking, and the apparent need many writers have to appear superior by mocking others. For me the issue is not whether it’s okay to talk about a boring sacrament meeting, so much as why I would want to pay attention to that and make it a public issue. There are so many more worthy things to think about.

    All the doctrinal references to controlling our tongues and all the constraints on destructive language–back-biting, gossiping, and all manner of unpleasant speaking–continue to impress on me how little the world needs my snide and smart-alecky insights into the folly of others.

  37. August 21, 2006 at 1:08 am

    Kaimi, thanks for reposting this.

    As someone who has some substantial critiques of the church but who loves the church and is attempting to remain faithful, this is a question I occasionally ponder. For me, it’s a totally different issue than the one MLU outlines–I don’t worry about sarcastic or smart-aleck comments that others may overhear. My issue is: to what extent should I be brutally honest about the serious criticisms I have of the church? In the end, I usually come down on the side of Kaimi and Lynnette, and it’s not necessarily because I think people are more receptive to honesty (though I do think that’s the case). It’s because I think honesty with friendships (usually, if I’m talking someone in depth about the church with a non-member, it’s with a friend) is the ideal we should be striving for. Of course, this means I am honest about why I am committed to this church in addition to my critiques. :)

  38. meems
    August 21, 2006 at 2:34 am

    This is an interesting post, because it brings up the point that was mentioned on another blog awhile back about hypocrisy in the church. I said then that to a certain degree I feel we are almost taught that it’s better to be a hypocrite (in the gentlest sense — like keeping our mouths shut when we disgree about something) than to voice unfriendly opinions about the church or “sin” in public (drink the iced tea, or whatever — if you’re going to do it, do it in private where a non-member won’t see you). This is because, in my experience, when I was growing up, the number one thing we were taught was that we were a) examples for the world, and b) always being watched by non-members.
    I’m not sure if it’s ‘better’ to “present the church in a favorable light at all times,” but it certainly is something I was taught, and to some extent is a cultural expectation of the church at large.
    I’ve been strongly indoctrinated by the “If you can’t say anything nice…” philosophy of life through the church and my family, which is, perhaps, why I am so fascinated and addicted to the Bloggernacle. It kinda blows my mind. In a good way.

  39. paul frandsen
    August 21, 2006 at 2:59 am

    “I don’t think non-members are dumb. Many non-members are a whole lot smarter than I am. Many are much better people, and probably living much more righteous lives, than I am.”


    This statement seems more a reflection of your opinion of yourself and your opinion of general church membership than instructive regarding open discourse. Why is this post so enlightening?

    Maybe, most in the church have few complaints–or uinmportant complaints (as in #36)–and are living willingly and enthusiastically within the constructs of a religion that gives them pupose, hope and happiness.

    To be fair, open dialogue and open forums are essential to enabling the church organization to be applicable and valuable in the lives of its members. Contructive change can and is made within the church. Complaining to non-members won’t effect change within the organization.

  40. Kaimi Wenger
    August 21, 2006 at 4:11 am


    So you’re saying that you _don’t_ think that many non-members are more righteous or more intelligent than you are? You seem to have an awful lot of confidence in your own righteousness and intelligence.

    You also ask the weird question, “Why is this post so enlightening?”

    Well, let’s see. You’re the first person on the thread to use the word “enlightening.” I made no claims in the post or comments that my post was “so enlightening,” so it’s a bit of a strange standard to be held to.

    I have made a few specific statements about why I don’t believe we have an obligation to behave in certain ways. Those statements are pretty well set out in the original post, and I think they make sense and hold up. But I’ve made no claims, express or implied, as to enlightenment. If you don’t find my statements to be sufficiently enlightening, I suggest you try the Tao te Ching and some quiet meditation.

  41. Rosalynde Welch
    August 21, 2006 at 9:38 am

    Hey, hold up there, Kaimi! No need to get defensive, I don’t think. Paul’s a super-nice guy (and my cousin, to boot), and I think he was just using your statement as a way into looking at the issue from the point of view of a fairly conservative but reasonably open and very smart member—a lot like Paul himself, I think. I second the recommendation for some quiet meditation, though, knowing what I do about Paul’s, er, active life! (His makes mine look like a Carmelite retreat!)

  42. Rosalynde Welch
    August 21, 2006 at 10:23 am

    For my own part, I don’t disagree with any of your points, Kaimi. (As if I’d admit in public to thinking non-members are really dumb!) But they don’t really get at the reason why I feel uncomfortable with some kinds of public criticism of the church (aside from plain old weariness, like MLU’s). It’s not so much that I care what non- or faltering members think of the church (although I do, and I do think we have some obligation in this corner), it’s more that I care what non- or faltering members think *I* think of the church. I talk about my problems with the Church in the same way that I would talk about my problems with my husband (not that there *are* any…)—that is, not all that much, to outsiders, and always letting my personal loyalty govern my tongue. With insiders, I feel less constrained, because I can generally assume that they take for granted my deep and abiding commitment.

  43. greenfrog
    August 21, 2006 at 11:18 am


    Is there a principled way to distinguish between justified application of esotericism and the unjustified use of it?

  44. paul frandsen
    August 21, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    No Kaimi,

    I found it peculiar that you had to state that you think non-members are intelligent and righteous. My question was whether you were reassuring yourself that that’s how you feel or if you were instructing me (on a topic I already believed).

    My commment about enlighening referred to the many comments that agreed with and furthered your stand. I don’t disagree that being critical isn’t important–just as I stated in my original comment. My two cents are this. As I read in the bloggernacle I find a lot of complaining. The bloggernacle is not by any stretch a representative sample of the church community (in fact after much ‘quiet meditation’ I have a hard time figuring out what it is a sample of). When in the company of members–having interacted with many–I have not heard 1% of the complaining that I have heard in the bloggernacle over the last year of reading. Maybe the complaining is a step forward for the church, but maybe not. Many of the complaints in the ‘nacle are very interesting and important ideas; however, often they come across mean-spirited, unfaithful, critical and not constructive in any way.

    So my point is that criticism, while a great tool, ought to be used in a way similar to the way Rosalynde describes. I’m not averse to being completely honest with non-member friends about the oddities and quirks of my religion. I’m very honest about the struggles I’ve had. However, I don’t start my conversations with some very personal spiritual crisis I had because those crises may have come amidst 1000’s of hours of very deep, spiritual and rewarding experiences.

    Thank you for the defense Rosalynde, although my tone was probably more critical than I meant it to be.

  45. JKC
    August 21, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    my view is that we should be held to the same standards when talking about the church as when we talk about other institutions–we should be governed by honesty and respect and try to balance the two. I don’t think we have an obligation to hide our honest frank opinions, but on the other hand, I don’t think we need to be finding fault. I know that I sometimes will be more critical of the institutions I am closer to (my own family, the church) than others (the catholic church, and, I don’t know, the Lyons Club?) because I’m more acquainted with the flaws. The trick for me is to speak about the church the way I would speak of other institutions–I don’t hide my critiicism, but I try to be respectful and willing to overlook the same degree of humanity in the church that I overlook in other institutions.

    If someone feels constrained by their own conscience to refrain from criticism, then they should live by that, but not try to enforce that view on others. People (meaning both members and non-members) are able to make their own decisions regardless of what I say about the church. As long as I’m respectful and honest, I wuldn’t feel guilty. The truth is, any human institution will have both strengths and weaknessesand will be both good and bad–except the republican party, of course, that’s pure evil.

  46. queuno
    August 21, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    The thing is, I think Coke tastes like rust water. So does Pepsi. So does Dr. Pepper.

    My dislike for it has nothing to do with a Mormon social statement. If I’m absolutely dying for a sugary brown liquid that tastes like garbage, I guess I’ll stick with the Dr. Pepper (which is NOT Mr. Pibb).

    [Yes, there are pictures of me with a Coke in hand. Mostly when I was in Irish pubs with coworkers on business trips. It was either Coke or Murphy’s or the local water. I closed my mind and swallowed the Coke down.]

  47. queuno
    August 21, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    I’m going to start taking Kaimi’s statement in #33 and use it in a lesson, if you don’t mind.

  48. Mark Butler
    August 21, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    I suggest that our obligation when speaking of the Church is comparable to our obligation when speaking of our father, or mother, or family, or nation, or heritage – we owe virtually all that we have to them and it is ungrateful (to put it mildly) to be bitter about something that can only be characterized as a gift just because the gift is lacking in certain respects.

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