On a recent Sunday a friend said to me, “I came home from church today thinking, I know the church is true and I don’t like Mormons!”
I knew exactly what she meant. Maybe you do, too.
First, let me say I’ve met sooo many lovely, intelligent, generous people through church. I consider my friendships with a wide variety of truly good people one of the greatest blessings of my membership.
But I also know from sad experience that being Mormon doesn’t automatically make you nice.
In deed there are certain cultural foibles that many Mormons, myself included, are susceptible to. I’m going to list a few here, not in the spirit of fault-finding, but recognizing that if we are going to become a Zion people we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and work on them. Also, when the social situation at church is painful it may be comforting to know that you aren’t the only person to have experienced this.
1. Clannishness and Cliques. Non-members in predominantly Mormon communities know all about this. Even those of us who live in a place where we are minority tend to do most of our socializing with members. Sometimes for teens it’s the opposite. Sometimes the only kids they can spend time with are the non-members because the kids from church either 1. Don’t respect gospel standards (sad but often true) or 2. Aren’t very friendly. If you are in this situation take heart. For years I’ve taken comfort from something Sis. Sheri Dew said: “At some time in her life, every woman of God must stand alone.” * Sometimes following Christ means going to church even when the other kids make you miserable. Sometimes standing as a witness means standing alone. But as you do so keep an eye out for those in your same situation. Usually, if you’re feeling left out or lonely someone else does too. Reach out as much as you possibly can.
2. Disregard of etiquette. Oh man, this is probably the category I’m most guilty of. I pretty much run on Mormon standard time, which means I’m always late. And for some reason most Mormons don’t believe in RSVPing, which can make planning a formal event with a lot of members a total headache. Also, we have a tendency to double book social events and cancel at the last minute. I’m not sure why we are so casual about social norms. It could be argued that society as a whole is becoming more lax about such niceties. But I know that when I’m meeting up with my non-member friends I can’t go on Mormon standard time (or I do, and offend them; but they put up with me anyway). I think perhaps because we call each other brother and sister (which is a beautiful thing) we sometimes treat each other as casually as we treat our own family on our worst days. Likewise, since we see each other as family we can also be a little too nosy about each other’s business. We feel free to ask personal questions and give unsolicited advice to people we’ve barely met. Yes, we need to love each other like family but we also need to show one another respect.
3. Creating new commandments. This drives me batty. We have enough commandments. We don’t need to create new ones. Actually, I completely support an individual or family who follow a stricter interpretation of a commandment for whatever reason. What makes me crazy is when people teach their personal “good idea” as a commandment, whether it’s wearing Sunday clothes all day, not watching PG-13 movies, no sleep overs or not eating chocolate.** And it should go without saying (but people still do it) that it’s not okay to cast aspersions against those who don’t interpret commandments as strictly as we do.
On the flip side, we need to be supportive of families and individuals who live a stricter rule for personal reasons. In the Book of Mormon we have a great example of two groups of saints respecting each other’s different ways of following commandments. The people of Ammon had been a murderous people. After their conversion they covenanted with God that they would never kill again, not even for self-defense. Did their Nephite brethren mock them or try to talk them out of it? No, instead they supported them in their decision and helped the People of Ammon keep their oath by defending them even with their own lives. It should also be noted that the people of Ammon did not look down at or gossip about the Nephites for going to war. Both groups respected the other’s different observance of the same commandment. We should do the same.
4. Obsession with perfect. I remember one beautiful young woman introducing herself in church. She said, “I’m proficient at piano and violin and since I grew up in Provo I was just like everyone else.” As a whole, we are a group of overachievers and that’s awesome! Really it is–except when it becomes a competition or keeps us from recognizing our own worth. Whether we are unduly harsh on ourselves or others, an unrealistic expectation for perfection (in both temporal and spiritual things) ultimately reveals a lack of faith in the atonement of Christ. We just need to do our best and be a little more patient with ourselves and each other, trusting that Christ is mighty enough to save us all.
5. Obsession with Appearances. Mormon women tend to be more vain than your average woman.*** I’ve wasted lots of time first, trying to deny this phenomenon and then, trying to explain it. Perhaps, it’s just a natural extension of the obsession with perfect. Now, nothing’s wrong with trying to look your best. In fact, I believe good grooming, fitness and dressing thoughtfully are important to show respect for our body and others. The problem is when fashion, fitness and grooming replace God in our hearts, when we are more worried about how we look than how we treat other people. My mom wisely taught me, “If you worry as much about how you treat other people as you do about how you look, you’ll always have friends.” As followers of Christ being kind should always be more important to us than being beautiful.
It sounds simplistic, but really kindness is the antidote to all of these cultural weaknesses. In the last general conference the Prophet spoke very little. He told us to do two things: 1. to read the Book of Mormon and 2. to be kind
“Let us examine our lives and determine to follow the Savior’s example by being kind, loving, and charitable.”
Sometimes, we do stand alone, even at church. But let’s make sure, by reaching out in kindness, that others in our ward family feel welcome and loved.
*This is the wording I recall. I can’t find a copy of the talk. If you have it, please share. But I’m certain it was Sis. Dew and don’t want to take credit for those wise words myself.
**I swear I knew a YW leader who taught this.
***I don’t have any statistics on this. I’m not even sure how you’d measure vanity. Though BYU consistently ranks as one top ten schools for “hot” co-eds, (I like to think that’s clean living and the gospel glow, right?) and Forbes ranked Salt Lake first in vanity because it has the highest number of plastic surgeons per capita. But the best proof is something a friend’s sister said to her after going to yoga here in San Diego, “It wasn’t like Utah, all the women were just normal women.”