This though came to me from a Facebook group I’m on. The person talked about things that are probably not what the church claims, but are still good and worthwhile.
So what things can you add to this list? I’m not looking for a macro discussion of the Church as a whole, and if there is more good than bad in the church. I’m thinking about more individual items. Things a “Physically In, Mentally Out (PIMO) or nuanced member might cling to as justification for continued engagement.
For example, I’m convinced the Book of Mormon is not what the church claims.  But is it still “good and worthwhile” even without the history claims attached? Can it be read as a good book, with good teachings that will make a person better? On the other side of that coin, the Pearl of Great Price is obviously not what the church claims (or used to claim, the goal post keeps moving), and I see little good or worthwhile in that book (it was used as part of the justification for the priesthood ban).
What about the endowment ceremony? It is not what the church claims (ancient rituals handed down from the time of Adam). But is it worthwhile?
Priesthood Blessings and Prayers: Are that what is claimed? Studies show that people actually do better when they know people are praying for them.
What are your thought on this? What things do you see in the Church that while not as claimed, still have some good?
 I’ve mentioned before on this blog that when I was called as Bishop over 20 years ago, I was concered about my non-beleife in the historicity of the BoM. I reached out to a former mission companion who was at the time a Stake President. He told me that it is not a temple recommend question, and not to worry about it.
As many of us will be doing the Super Bowl Sunday tradition today of eating extremely unhealthy food and drink for 4-5 hours, I would submit our belief in blessing the food and asking that it “nourish and strengthen our bodies.” I mean, we still believe in miracles as a Church right?
I have this conversation with my family. When you dedicate time to look at the facts and really study the doctrine, the LDS church is not what we were taught. Everything that makes the LDS church distinct from other Christian groups has flaws and issues. So what are we left with?
My family members talk about how the church is good to keep many people away from alcohol, sex and drugs. And they are correct in many (but not all circumstances). They do not care what JS or BY did, how does the church affect our life right now? (then ensues the long debates).
The LDS church can offer many good things.
It can teach you discipline, hard work, honesty. It can allow you to meet people in your community who are different from you and have opportunities to interact. It can allow you to learn another language if serve international mission. You can learn world geography if you pay attention to locations of stakes and temples. It can keep families together when times get tough (although some people should divorce). You can learn many positive things and character building (we also can learn these things in the peace corp, military, boarding school, parents, university, etc.)
It is not a black and white issue. I think for most of us here the church worked really well at one stage of our life. However, now the church is not working for us the same; hence we come to this blog. The problems with the church and it’s culture are discussed throughout the bloggernacle. When the church works for you, it works. Once the church system, and yes it is a system, no longer works, one should transition away to what works for you. One of the many flaws of correlation is trying to create a cookie cutter approach and create cookie cutter members. I think like Richard Rohr states, Mormons are great at stage 2 and 3 of faith and that is where Mormonism works and it can be very good and worthwhile, for a season of life.
The list of what’s “good” keeps getting smaller in my mind. Take the ultimate example: “Families can be together forever”. That used to be the ultimate calling card. Who could argue that it wasn’t a good pro family message?
Well, if you’re LGBTQ you might have an issue with it. If a member of your family has left the faith you might have an issue with it.
Like they say: nothing about the Church that is unique is good and nothing about the Church that is good is unique
Current issue of Church News has an interview with Wendy Watson Nelson telling us (to name a few) that following the prophet is the key to safety and talking about “90 adjustments and corrections that the Lord wanted to have happen.” She and her husband truly believe he is “on call with the Lord 24 hours a day.” Can we get a quote from Russell M. regarding Brother Wilcox, please?
Sadly, one of the things that is not true is that the Church takes a proactive and strong stand against racism.
Chet is absolutely correct that we must have a statement from the First Presidency that condemns Brad Wilcox’s racist talks in no uncertain terms. Wilcox must also be shown the door for both his calling and teaching assignment at BYU.
Nothing less than a public statement and dismissal is sufficient. If the members and the rest of the public do not see the First Presidency take a strong stand, they will think that the Church condones the statements that were made. Silence in the face of bigotry speaks volumes.
I sincerely hope that the First Presidency condemns the racist statements now, during general conference, and in a letter to be read over the pulpit in sacrament meetings. That is the only way to show that the Church’s stand against racism is true.
JCS: you’re asking the Brethren to take actions that don’t resemble anything they’ve ever done before. Remember, we don’t apologize. So while I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re being sincere, we both know it ain’t going to happen.
Bishop Bill, this is a great general question and I think of it often. My relationship with the church is a mix of the virtues it teaches and the dysfunction it embodies. Unbraiding the two, sorting out that mix, has been at times painful even if liberating. There are things that are good despite resting on a false premise, but there are also things that appear good, which are not, because they are rooted in false representations of truth.
*The Book of Mormon. I enjoy reading the Book of Mormon and think it has value even if I doubt gold plates exist. When I was a child the translation was represented as a linguistic translation from one language (reformed Egyptian) to English via magic spectacles. Today we are told Joseph stared into a hat with a magic rock in it. Bushman even likens the seer stone to a technology that enabled the translation (which I don’t buy). I would be more comfortable if the official narrative were that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon as a representation of revelation he received. The idea he created it, start to finish, sprinkled with some divine inspiration would help me to accept it and enjoy its teachings more for what they are. PS. I have enjoyed the Theological Introduction to the Book of Mormon series published by the Maxwell Institute and wish they could be our official teaching manuals.
*Temple worship. I can no longer worship in the temple. I think it is a fabrication. The principles upon which the temple ceremony are based are at best misrepresented and at worst manipulative and damaging. I can no longer find any redeeming qualities in temple worship. I’m old enough to have first gone through the temple when penalties were still part of the endowment. I recall looking at my dad and saying, “They aren’t serious, right!?!” And my dad just shrugging. I had read about the temple ceremony at 19 in a non-sanctioned book. The representation of the initiatory ceremony concerned me. I asked my dad and bishop about it and they both said we can’t discuss it but you don’t have to worry, that’s not how it works (meaning you aren’t naked with some old guy uncomfortably touching you when in fact I was naked with only the “shield” covering my body with some old guy touching me). I went to the temple and I have never felt so betrayed in my life. The secrecy–yes, secrecy not sacredness–behind all things temple was a turn off from the start. My wife rejected the endowment when were married too because of the gender asymmetry. And despite those things having been changed, my wife and I both wince whenever we drive by the temple. It seems the over construction of temples is a ruse as well. My bottom line is that I can find no redeeming good in temple worship. I reject sad heaven and further argue temple principles can do more harm to families than reassure them, particularly if you have family members or a parent who isn’t a member, or have a family member who is queer. Bishop Bill, the temple ceremony is an example for me of something that has both no good in it and is also not as claimed.
*Worthiness interviews. Encouraging members to learn about and live virtues is not a bad thing. It’s good to be honest. It’s good to live a healthy life and be attentive to what we eat, drink and how much we exercise. It’s good to be taught to care for your children and respect them and nurture them. It’s good to understand human intimacy and the emotional and physical responsibilities that pair with healthy sex within a committed relationship. It’s good to understand how adultery damages its participants, innocent third parties and thus why it is morally wrong. However, our current worthiness interviews and purity culture harm far more members and families than it helps. Teaching and encouraging moral living is good, but they way our church couches worthiness, positions purity and leverages shame is wrong and damages members.
*You bring up priesthood blessings. Oaks clarified the roll and process of administering priesthood blessings to the sick in a GC talk several years ago. I was encouraged by it because it clarified much of what a blessing is not. There is this idea that if you have enough faith or if the priesthood bearer is worthy enough, they giver of the blessing, like the Savior did, should be able to raise the dead and cure the sick. I have friends who avoid giving blessings for these reasons. Despite the Oaks talk, the church could do more to clear up faulty beliefs that surround blessings. When I was young I suddenly developed a serious and complicated medical condition. My dad gave me a blessing before we headed to the ER. A day later I was in surgery, one that was complicated and urgent to save my life. I came out of the surgery whole and made a complete recovery. As my story traveled throughout my ward and stake, the narrative turned into one where my dad healed me with a blessing. He did not. His blessing calmed me because of his expressed love for me and I felt real peace. But the skilled surgeon is the person who healed me, not my dad and not the priesthood. Despite the unrealistic expectations too often attached to blessings, I have always found them to be a wonderful part of our tradition. I wish women could give blessings. I can’t imagine how I would have felt to have received a blessing from my mom. Blessings transcend other communication mediums and allow us to express love even to total strangers. I’ve always embraced both giving and receiving blessings, just wish female members could give blessings as well.
*The church does good, but is dishonest. Despite the good the church does worldwide, and I truly believe it does much good, it can’t help but care more about its institution than it does members. I’ve said this before, but the church does not practice the same kind of deontological ethics and morality that it enforces upon its members. It is certainly a “do as I say and not as I do” institutions. Until it is transparent and honest about budgets and investments, as one example, its hard to embrace the good it does because of the dishonesty with which it operates as an institutional M.O. I’m reading this morning the dismissal of Sue Bergin from her position at BYU because she dared to help LBGTQ students. I wish the church would stop prevaricating about it’s love and concern for its gay members–it’s such a lie. I’m tired of a church that promotes faith in Christ and lived virtues and then acts with such duplicity as it discriminates against the LBGTQ community of saints. I find this to be intolerable. I find the church’s lack of openness and dialogue, the fact it never explains itself, to be morally repugnant. I guess, Bishop Bill, while I think any institution that promotes good and does good is admirable, I can’t view the institutional church as living what it tries to teach. Sounds like a bold assertion, but I think the argument is strong that the church lacks sound ethics. How can it accurately and fulsomely be the vicar of Christ if this is criticism is true?
My teenaged self liked the big stories in the BoA. The D&C seemed like an owner’s manual – and I kinda like that too. I enjoyed Book of Mormon stories and drew spiritual and ethical value from them. But not enough to read it every day.
A couple of years ago – Bishop: BeenThere, will you commit to read the BOM every day? BT: No. B: Will you read the BOM every day? BT: No. B: BT will you read the BOM every day? BT: No. I’ve read it many times and reading it again will not make life’s challenges go away. B: BT, will you commit to reading the BOM every day. BT: No, and stop asking.
This was an annoyingly extreme example, but it’s kind of what the church does all the time. Every good thing gets wrapped up in a bunch of rules and performances. To me, it starts to choke the life out of every good thing.
Then there are rules about keeping all the rules. I’m old enough to have enjoyed an expansive feeling of what the gospel and the church (I still think they are two separate things, Q15) empower me with. Now it’s choked and restricted. Wilcox’s talk was just a showcase of how narrow and thin our practical theology has become.
Admiring from a distance lets me appreciate the worthwhile without slogging through the pain.
Law of Chastity: Do I consider sexual immorality to be the greatest sin next to murder? No, I do not. I think we’ve done some real harm to a lot of members’ marriages with our fear-based teachings around sexuality. We needs to change our messaging. And yet… as a teacher of teenagers outside the Jello belt, I’ve seen the pressures teen girls face, and the resulting damage to them, from our current smartphone culture. I’ve had them come to me in tears. Just the statistics about how many teenage girls have been asked to send nudes is heartbreaking. When the Law of Chastity empowers our teens to push back and say no, I’m all for it.
Word of Wisdom: Coffee and tea are not as bad as we’ve touted. And yet…. My husband was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which led to me doing a deep dive into the importance of sleep. We’re chronically underslept as a society and we’re not talking enough about how harmful it is for our health. Using stimulants so we can ignore the problems of sleep deprivation is an issue.
I was taught at church, that if I kept the commandments I would receive all sorts of (unrelated) blessings. I don’t really think it works like that, but I do think there are good natural consequences for keeping the commandments and doing good things.
Rather, I think that God set up the whole system so that there are blessings are linked to the commandments, but they are just the natural consequences of doing good things.
-Don’t lie – You have better relationships and you’ll get into less trouble
-Love and serve others – you’ll be happier and have better relationships
-Don’t have premarital sex, and you won’t have premarital babies.
-Don’t drink and you won’t become an alcoholic (this also helps with no premarital babies)
-Go to church- you draw closer to God and build a community
-Pay tithing – you become less selfish, less entitled (hopefully)
-Read the scriptures – you’ll be spiritually nourished and connected with the Holy Ghost
-Keep the Sabbath day Holy – You’ll be refreshed and ready for the next week.
And on and on
P.S. Thanks for the post Bishop Bill. I appreciate that it has the tone of “The church may be flawed, but let’s acknowledge and celebrate the good things about it.”
P.S.S. I say that because I think sometimes on this website there can be a tone of “Look at the reasons the church is actually evil.” I won’t argue that the church doesn’t do harm/damage to people- because I believe it does, and I don’t believe that harm/damage is justified.
In response to Bigsky’s last point. The way I see it is that I don’t believe that the intention of church leaders ever to be evil. I don’t think they ever think, “We will tell them this, and then at the pearly gates they’ll find out we lied to them, and they’ll be damned. Mwuahahaha!” I think it’s quite the opposite actually. I think their whole mindset is what will happen at the pearly gates. They see their sole goal as helping people get through the pearly gates.
I think that in their minds, they are teaching the correct and necessary things that will help people have eternal salvation, regardless of any earthy consequences. (They ignore the damage/earthly consequences because of their belief in an eternal timeline). I think that the moral standard the church is judging itself by is if they are teaching what they believe is necessary to enter heaven. And I think by that moral standard it has consistently taught what it believes is necessary for people to pass through the pearly gates.
P.S.S.S. I don’t think that anybody outside of the church uses that same moral standard, as well as many inside the church. Why would they? When looking at their morals and the things they value, the criticism given to the church is justified and makes sense.
I’m going to lob a pineapple into your tent–so be prepared: I think you’re all wrong. The church isn’t perfect–but it’s wonderful. The scriptures are true as are the temple rites. And the apostles are the Lord’s anointed.
Now, dear friends, I give you a challenge: try to imagine that I may have a different PoV on these questions for reasons other than being less informed than my progressive brothers and sisters. ;>)
“The scriptures are as true as the temple rites.” Agreed! But prob not in the way you meant it @Jack!
BoM – I think is valuable as is other scripture, and I like having a common language and set of stories to draw on to communicate with my church community. But there are many good books in the world, including other works of scripture and other literature, and I think spending an inordinate amount of time on just the BoM may mean we miss out on other wisdom sources.
Temple – I don’t see any value in the endowment that isn’t already in the baptismal covenant, and much downside (loyalty oaths). I think initiatories and sealings could be more valuable symbolically. There is value in meditating and having quiet time, and in thinking about our ancestors, and the temple can provide this—as can other things.
Hard work, service – I don’t like that we sometimes formulate this in ways that suggest we are hustling for worth. But I do like the concepts and emphasis.
Sacrament, baptism – I don’t know I think these mean exactly what we claim they do, but both are beautifully symbolic and worthwhile IMO.
Tithing – I think it’s good to donate money to charity both to show that money isn’t the most important thing and to be generous. I think paying it all to a (rich) Church cuts us off from thinking deeply about how and where we can make the most impact.
WoW – tobacco and alcohol definitely have downsides. Too much caffeine, yes, although coffee is better than energy drinks. The tea prohibition is foolery.
Chastity – I think that teaching a form of sexual ethics and restraint and respect is good. I don’t agree with the rationale or line-drawing we do with this at church.
Restoration – I don’t think this happened probably in the way we claim it happened, but it’s nice to think about God answering prayers, giving us direction, and even telling us we might need to go down a different path.
Prophets – working in seeing the good here. I dee a lot of problems in the way we currently formulate this.
Jack, I’m an active, committed, temple recommend holding, calling holding, consistently studying the scriptures and learning member of the Church. I can easily imagine someone disagreeing with every point made on any of these posts because they have a different point of view. I thoroughly enjoy having discussions with those people. We respect both the views we have in common and the areas where we differ because we honestly respect each other. We listen and learn from each other. I’ll assume you are well intentioned and that you honestly believe that is what you are expressing in your comments. Unfortunately, that is not the message you send.
I like the 4th mission of the Church: to help the poor and downtrodden. Thank you Prez Monson.
This is a great thought experiment.
I personally view my mission as a net positive. It was my first time out of country, learning a new language, and the vast majority of my companions were amazing and I feel privileged to have worked by their side. Of course it wasn’t perfect. I wish I had been better informed about the church, I wish we had done more service, and I wish that my leaders hadn’t confused me with the idea that my righteousness influenced other’s agency to join the church. But overall it was a positive. And with the new addition of service missions, I’m hopeful that’s an option for some of my kids. Currently service missions are a hot mess, but as they become more mainstream, I think they will improve.
The people are a net positive. There are jerks everywhere and we are no exception. But most of the people have made an impact on my life and I appreciate that.
Some youth programs are a huge net positive. While I didn’t love everything about boy scouts, I love what it taught me, which is a love of the earth and nature and some great wilderness skills. Because the church threw out the baby with the bath water, my kids aren’t learning these things, so I get to teach them myself. Having a complicated relationship with my own father, some of those scout masters/youth leaders showed me a more healthy approach to manhood/parenthood.
On youth leaders, my wife just told our seminary teacher (non-CES since we don’t live in the jello belt) that our child won’t be there this week while the kids learn about Sodom and Gomorrah. When the teacher asked a follow up question and we explained the conflict in values here, the teacher said “OK I’ll skip that part; no one else will even notice and I want your kid in my class.” This level of empathy is what keeps my family from just walking away. This member really made a long, hard week ok.
For me, the BOM is NOT a net positive. Too much war for my taste. And the temple is NOT a net positive, when I consider I could spend that time on my best days serving the living and on my worst days spending it with my family. Church worthiness culture is not a net positive. And church modesty culture is not a net positive.
But I think truly the end result for me is similar to Josh h: None of the good is unique to Mormonism, and some of what is unique is really bad. But it’s my tribe so I do the best I can here.
I’m kind of a practical jokester in the real world–and so some of that comes out in my comments. Yes, I was serious–but also having fun when I lobbed that pineapple into your tent. Like others I’ve gotten to know around here–you seem like a good soul.
As I’ve said elsewhere I’m in favor of people living the gospel for the best reason they can come up with. And so I’m not going to judge your motives. Certainly living by the precepts of the Book of Mormon is more important than believing in its historicity.
That said, I’m a firm believer in an historical Book of Mormon. I believe its historicity adds power to its witness of the Savior. I also believe that the endowment is supremely inspired. IMO, it is a skeletal version of the “vision of all.” And as such it serves as a guide to receiving a fulness of that vision over time. I could say something about the other categories as well–but I’ll stop there for now.
Chadwick: “And the temple is NOT a net positive…”
That’s a bit counterintuitive coming from you, IMO. You seem like a pure enough soul that you should be well on your way in your ascension. Keep going to the temple, bro.
@jack, if you want to share your views on the historicity of the BoM or the beauty of the temple to contextualize your commentary here, that’s great. Or if the topic of this post was actually to debate the historicity of the BoM or the temple ceremony that would also be topical. But I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here in the context of this post. If you are trying to testify to me to convert me to or convince me of something, it’s rather off-topic.
We can agree that we view the BoM and temple differently and still discuss what they still mean to us (and where there is overlap, and where there isn’t) and have a valuable conversation and connection. But simply testifying at people when they believe differently and when the point of this post is “what’s valuable whether or not it’s true” creates distance, not connection, in my experience. It makes someone like me – who btw, still attends, literally taught YW today, is active and an RM and temple married and all the things – feel like maybe there is no space for someone like me at Church. I would think that’s the opposite of your intent, but it’s the impact that your kind of responses often have. Like the only legitimate way to Mormon is to have the exact same beliefs as you, and our only options are either to agree with you or leave. I reject that binary choice and would love for our pews to be safe for people who believe the BoM is historical and people who don’t but find value in it anyway, and can still get along and learn from one another.
Perhaps I misread your comment. But when you quoted me and then followed up with a list of your beliefs–I thought the whole thing was a response to me. And so that’s what I was responding to. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
This aphorism “what’s good is not unique and what’s unique is not good” is a little too cute and facile. I get the idea and agree with some of it. But there is an awful lot about mormonism that is quite unique, and to say every bit of that is bad is questionable. For example, like Chadwick, I view my mission as a positive experience. And that is absolutely unique, there is nothing in the world quite like it. However, that was 30 years ago, and given how things have changed since then I am now quite conflicted about whether to recommend a mission for my kids. I would be in favor if they could choose where to go, and if they could maybe shorten it by 6 months or so.
@Jack: Regarding the temple, I prefer to serve the living over the dead. If need be, I’ll play catch up in the Millenium. YMMV.
@your food allergy: Yes I feel the same way about missions. My kids will be mission age in a handful of years and I’m really holding my breath to see how the Church can make missions better for my kids to serve, if they so choose. And while I agree that the way we do mission service is unique, I have coworkers whose kids go on Christian missions. They get to choose where they go, it usually lasts a few months (like during summer break), they perform a lot of service, and when they come home, they are treated like rock stars for what they have done. I would love to see us consider some of these positives in the unique Mormon mission experience.
I like this site and read it every day, but sometimes you guys just bitch and moan too much. Having said that, when I was about 12 (in 1980) my best friend in the world asked me about the Church. Here is my missionary moment! ! I told her what I thought was the best principle we had: Families can be together FOREVER! She looked at me shocked and said “My father has been cheating on my mother for years. You’re telling me she’s STUCK with him??” That was the day I learned that families are forever is not our best principle.
I think the Word of Wisdom is not implemented as it was originally intended. I don’t think that taking a drink of alcohol is a sin, anymore than overeating meat would be a sin.
But LDS population avoids much of the heartache that comes from alcoholism and substance abuse. The LDS population also misses out on a lot of social activities, and probably a lot of fun. But overall I’m convinced that the world would be better off nobody drank alcohol. So, in a spirit of “be the change you want to see in the world”, I also abstain from alcohol and reap the benefits of not partaking along with the majority of the LDS community. (FWIW, I also try not to eat too much meat either).
Gary’s Vindication on South Park: “The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up. Because, what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice, and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe it.”