Mormons and False Idols of Outward Perfection

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August 5, 2013

The Lord’s commandment to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father.” Matt. 5:48  ( 3 Ne. 12:48 ) has been misinterpreted to mean perfection of condition rather than perfecting of character.

Matthew 6:19-21

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


The world is teeming with bloodied, sinful people, and the faithful are not immune to the blood and sins of our generation. Strange dichotomies exist even among members of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS) which illustrate this.

Utah has one of the densest  populations of LDS people in the world; nearly 63% . The culture of Mormonism has been evolving in Utah for over 150 years. Utah Mormons have access to more LDS-oriented activities, service opportunities, churches and temples than any regional group in the world. Mormon culture has many benefits. Studies show that faithful Mormons have a life span nearly 10 years longer than that of the general population. Mormons tend to have higher rates of post-graduate education and more professional degrees than  average. Mormons tend to make more money than typical American wage earners.  Mormon children also tend to be achievement-oriented, developing their abilities and talents in music, sports, etc., as well participating in clubs such as The Boy Scouts of America and other “personal progress” programs distinct to the LDS Church.

Teachings of the Mormon Church include wholesome principles such as modesty in dress, thrift, the value of education, appreciation of the arts, self-improvement, physical health, honesty, self-sufficiency, getting out of and staying out of debt, marital fidelity, familial love, moral purity and abstinence from sex before marriage, and the scriptural “Word of Wisdom,” which is a health-code proscribing overeating, tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and from which one may infer that all addictive substances should be used with temperance and caution.

This sounds like a 21st Century “Leave it to Beaver” ideal, where families are intact, traditional roles are played to a tee, and men, women, and children are virtuous and honorable. But behind the appearance of outward near-perfection are the following statistics:

I have a theory about those within the inner circles of the Mormon culture–of which Mormons in Utah are a good example. I believe they are experiencing an honesty crisis. Statistics from Utah regarding addictive behaviors, bankruptcy, etc., indicate that some members of the Mormon Church suffer the same challenges and failures, insecurities and weaknesses, and are as prone to addiction and self-indulgence as the rest of the world, but they are inherently dishonest about it, hiding behind a facade of outward perfection and failing to address their personal demons because in order to be part of the inner circle of Mormon culture, they must not admit they are there.

I live in a Mormon ward–much like a Parish in Catholic terms–which is composed largely of affluent families. It is a large ward with many intact families which feature mothers and fathers in homes with numerous children. Its members are devoted to helping  to one another and giving aid in the community. They pay tithes and offerings and many enjoy good reputations and prominent roles as business leaders in the town.  This affluent ward is composed mostly of members born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The majority of men are successful professionals with advanced educations and missionary service on their resumes. Most of the moms enjoy staying at home with their young children. Many are well dressed, drive expensive cars, travel often, and engage in expensive recreation. And the children themselves are involved in pursuits that require hefty financial commitments. This ward, from the outside looking inward, is a monochromatic ideal of Mormon culture.

However, my ward struggles with effectively taking the Gospel to people of other faiths–or no faith at all. Few respond enthusiastically to the missionaries who work within the ward. And, sadly, many who accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are baptized, fail to remain active in the church for the long-term. What’s the cause of this seeming paradox? How could something that looks so ideal be so unappealing to outsiders, and so difficult to abide for those who boldly give it a try? Is there a misappropriation of priorities here? Does the appearance of outward affluence and near perfect adherence to social ideals intimidate or discourage those who may simply want God in their lives? For those not well versed in religion this may create the feeling that God has cast them out, or withheld His blessings from them because they lack the outward success displayed by the most prominent members of the church.

I’ve struggled myself to feel like I belong to my Mormon Church ward. As a divorced, working mom, engaged in politics, campaigning, writing and activism outside the Mormon Church, and thoroughly dirtied by the raging cultural and political battles of our time, I’m a misfit. If I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seeking social opportunities I would be, as many are, and at some point in time we all will be, sorely disappointed and disillusioned. It is my faith in Jesus Christ, my Savior and Friend, that keeps this profoundly imperfect woman active in a church that has such extremely high standards of outward perfection.

I understand why new converts to my church, when faced with a church culture consisting of people who’ve acquired high levels of physical attractiveness and health, education, financial success, and achievement, feel overwhelmed and inadequate. A high premium is placed on the “race to perfection” that so many Mormons seem to be running.  Are believers who are blessed with success and happiness broadcasting the message; “Look at my comfort and success, they are a testimony that the teachings of my church are true! If you want success and health, become a Mormon,” instead of conveying the simple messages of forgiveness, pure love, healing, and repentance made possible by the only perfect One, who made no efforts towards earthly gain, but lived as “the lilies of the field?” 

Those denominations espousing “tithing prosperity” or “Biblical prosperity,” which promulgates the notion that membership in their church and the paying of tithes will bring earthly success and financial security, are practicing a form of blasphemy. Churches which claim a form of Godliness, but to whom God is simply a conveyor belt for worldly blessings, are actually denying His true character and power. Jesus Christ requires only a broken heart, contrite spirit, and an eye single to His purposes. When the appearance of outward success is the most obvious characteristic of a church, a form of idolatry may have supplanted tender communion with God.

Brigham Young, 2nd President of the Mormon Church, once said:

The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth. (Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, 4th ed., p.128-129)

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may find worldly success to be their greatest obstacle to the “perfection” to which they aspire. The Lord’s commandment to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father.” Matt. 5:48  ( 3 Ne. 12:48 ) has been misinterpreted to mean perfection of condition rather than perfecting of character. Pressures placed on members of the Mormon faith to live up to  the high cultural standards of Mormonism have obscured the true imperative to develop the Christ-like characteristics of humility, meekness, kindness, understanding, service, and joy in living simply, and simply loving. My message to Mormons is that Heaven–the Celestial Kingdom–is not owning the biggest house in the nicest suburb in the best ward. The Celestial Kingdom is populated by those who have spent their lives refining their hearts and minds to think, reason, understand, and act more like Jesus Christ.

What individual who is honest about his life, sins, failures, warts and all, will find acceptance among a congregation that believes imperfection is the sad state of a substandard Christian? The broken among us who are honest about our failures and acknowledge our inability to conform to social ideals, often feel like outsiders. But the truth is that those on the inner circles are also struggling with sin, personal inadequacies, and doubt, but may work hard to conceal their struggles for fear of losing the coveted places within the idealized church society. But…there is great arrogance in the notion that achieving outward perfection of condition is in any way relevant to what it means to become more like God.

The Mormon Church, and other denominations, which, through the perpetuation of a “church culture apart,” encourage their members to judge people by their outward qualities; their success, their attractiveness, and their public relations acumen, are missing the mark. Jesus Christ calls all unto Him, and the broken, the infirm and hurting, the disabled, the lonely and estranged, the poor, the ignorant, the grieving–in short, the imperfect, must not be shunned but instead, sought out and embraced. Like the stricken Job, you may find the greatest wisdom and power of testimony  in the afflicted and rejected, and those honest brokers who have no walls of outward perfection behind which to hide.

by Marjorie Haun  7/2/13

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