Mormon Culture: Activist and Mormon. Is it possible?

Just so you know, I’m a feminist, and I believe our society needs to do more to treat others equal, including ethnic minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Do you think there’s tension between fighting for the rights of certain groups and being a Mormon at the same time?

I’ve always felt like members of the church get a little uncomfortable when I talk about being a feminist. Being a feminist doesn’t mean I hate men; I just think women and men deserve to be treated equally. Is that so far-fetched? And I’ve never understood why I’ve felt a level of discomfort from others when I get to talking about “activist issues.”

the discussion

But then I learned a thing or two from Dr. Ignacio Garcia, historian and author of “Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith.”

In an email, he told me there’s tension between being an activist and being a person of faith for a couple of reasons.

  1. Activism is about being anti-establishment and/or anti-institutional, while religion is about loyalty to authority, stability, and order. Activism gains traction by weakening and delegitimizing power structures, whereas centralized religions “thrive in places where central authority is strong and there is civility in the public square.”
  2. Activism’s goals, while similar to those of religion, do not fall in line with moral and “proper behavior.” Rather, activists protest, question authority, speak loudly, and challenge ideologies. Even if they are soft-spoken, Garcia said, they still seek for a shift in power and distribution of resources.
  3. Religious people are typically conservative and have certain views on what is considered “proper behavior.” Garcia said activists prioritize people over institutions and policies, while religious people privilege institutions, rules, and doctrinal interpretation — and “the religious person might truly love their neighbor but how they fulfill that loyalty or love is approached differently.”

So how does any of this relate to Mormonism? Garcia said Mormons (in the context of American Mormon culture) tend to be conservative in their behavior, meaning “they do not like to engage in open, honest discussions about equality, racism, poverty, etc.”

He then makes quite an interesting statement that I think could be true for some people, though not all. But it’s something for each of us to think about: “Mormons are also too protective of their economics (money) to talk about anything that might dislodge some of their possession,” Garcia said. “Most Mormons are good and generous givers but only as long as they can keep people at bay — arms’ length, on the other side of the world outside of their neighborhoods or religious spaces.”

There’s just some food for thought to stir the pot. But instead of getting upset at what he said, I want you to honestly ask yourself, “Could that be true? How? What is he referring to? If it’s an observation he has made, where could it be coming from? Do I do anything akin to that? Do I truly go out and help the poor and needy, or do I maybe just pray for the poor and needy and hope that my tithing is a sufficient way to help them?”

Garcia did say, however, that being an activist does not excuse people from living a moral life. “Activism resulted from my religious and moral principles and not as a rejection of them,” he said.

What he’s saying is that it’s okay to speak out, but it’s not okay to light someone’s car on fire (that’s called arson, which is also called illegal) just because you disagree with their political views.

the answer

Yeah, it’s okay to be an activist and be a Mormon. You just need to figure out how to balance it. Feel free to speak out, but also make sure you’re doing it in a way in which you can live a moral life. Now, there’s no exact formula, but I’ll let you know what it is if I ever I figure it out.

questions to consider

  • If people have strong beliefs that you disagree with, have you tried seeing the issue through their eyes?
  • Are their ideas stemming from a “love thy neighbor” attitude?
  • What about your ideas? Are you more concerned about “loving your neighbor” or “judging your neighbor”?
  • Are your thoughts rooted in the two Great Commandments (love God and thy neighbor), or are you judging, even though Jesus said “Judge not”?

Mormon Culture: Unwritten Rules

Every culture has some unwritten rules. Often, these are called norms, of which there are two types: folkways and mores (pronunciation).

A folkway is “a custom or belief common to members of a society or culture.” And a more is “A set of moral norms or customs derived from generally accepted practices. Mores derive from the established practices of a society rather than its written laws.”

The unwritten rules are the mores. What are some of the ones that exist in the Mormon church?

  • Must women wear skirts at church?
  • Do deacons have to wear white shirts to serve the sacrament?
  • If you don’t live mission rules for the rest of your life, are you living a lower law?

The reason these are mores is people attach moral meanings to these unwritten rules, and therefore people treat the inability to follow these unwritten rules with social consequences.

BYU professor James Faulconer wrote a paper called “Why a Mormon Won’t Drink Coffee but Might Have a Coke: The Aethological Character of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He basically makes the claim that Mormonism is not a theology because the teachings evolve because people give continuing revelation preference over a set of unchanging beliefs. He uses the Word of Wisdom to illustrate his point. He said the Word of Wisdom said to avoid “hot drinks,” which was defined as coffee and tea. But someone one day interpreted that to mean caffeinated drinks. He then explains that some people choose to drink decaffeinated coffee because they believe the issue with the “hot drinks” is about the caffeine.

But Faulconer says that even if the prophet were to “declare caffeine forbidden tomorrow,” he has no standing on which to say “hot drinks” means caffeine. Basically, he says that we can make up reason why things are the way they are, and we can make up reasons why we think these unwritten rules of Mormonism are valid, but in the end, that explanation could change with modern revelation. So the thing to do is not try to use theology, or doctrine, to try and explain reasons why we should live an unwritten rule of Mormonism.

I’m not saying people should just do whatever they want because things might change; and that’s not what Faulconer said. What I think he  was saying was that in the cases of things that aren’t spelled out, we shouldn’t try to make things up and pass them off as doctrine.

In 1917, David O. McKay’s book “Ancient Apostles” was published as one  of the first Sunday school lesson manuals. This started the time of written curriculum in the church.

In scholar Wilfried Decoo’s paper, “In Search of Mormon Identity: Mormon Culture, Gospel Culture, and an American Worldwide Church,” he said the church wanted a certain type of “uniformity” that was enforced with the 1960s creation of worldwide correlation, which standardized training and lesson material in the church. These materials, he said, “reinforces this trend toward a common lifestyle.”

He goes on to say that lifestyle “extends to physical appearance via dress and grooming standards.” He then cited advice given by various church leaders that lend to this, promoting mean wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. “Of course, not all members conform to this lifestyle,” Decoo writes. “But it is telling that anyone who deviates, even without breaking any commandment like wearing piercings or not dressing up properly for Sunday meetings catches the eye as ‘peculiar’ within the ‘peculiar people.'”

And that brings up an important point. Just because someone doesn’t conform to the Mormon stereotype doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong or breaking commandments. And even if they are, it’s not anyone’s place to judge.

Here are some perceived unwritten rules of Mormonism I’ve heard people complain about:

  • Only RMs are marriage material
  • Policies in the church are absolute and final (i.e. certain guidelines for modesty don’t apply to cultural dress)
  • Mormon women have to be stay at home moms
  • Mormons women cannot be feminists

questions to consider:

  • What other unwritten rules can you think of?
  • Are they based on doctrine or cultural or personal interpretations?
  • Are you wrongly judging people based on these unwritten rules?

Mormon Culture: #MormonCulture on Twitter

Is “Mormon culture” a bad thing? Before looking into this subject as something to write on, I pretty much only heard the term “Mormon culture” with a negative connotation. Just ask someone how they feel about Mormon culture, and they’ll probably have some pent up angst about the topic. (I’ve been telling people about this blog, and I get exasperated responses every time).

I think it’s important to realize though that there are some positive things about Mormon culture. I was once talking to a friend who had met with the missionaries a couple times while at BYU. She said she liked learning about the church and interacting with the kind people. That was a great perspective for me to hear. I think that falls into the idea of the values of Mormon culture. Mormons value some great things, like “brotherly kindness” and caring for your neighbor.

In an article by scholar Wilfried Decoo, he cites a reference from 1903 that says “the culture of Mormonism” has the following accomplishments: health, education, the missionary system, unpaid clergy, and the charity system.

Decoo said that as time went on, the meaning of the term changed, and in the 70s, “Mormon culture” became a term that encompassed much more: religiosity, morality, family, health, dedication and involvement, education, work, material objects (ex: recognition medallions), jargon. On the negative side was “critique of the social pressure to conform, the insularity toward non-Mormons, the distrust of feminism, and the condemning attitude toward homosexual behavior.”

When I looked up #MormonCulture on Twitter, I got tweets from both camps. There were funny ones that just comment on the culture, there were positive ones, and there were annoyed ones. Take  a look:

Isn’t it funny that this happens? Often we just fall into certain rituals.

Mormons value family, and sometimes that leaks over into what seems like an obsession.

Mormons love their Mormon-related products.

This is a sad one that’s seeped into Mormon culture. In the Book of Mormon, there is a group of people called the Lamanites. The scripture says, “And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren.” But luckily doctrine teaches that all are alike unto God. So there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the two in some people’s minds.

Missionaries are taught to be exactly obedient.

There seems to be a sentiment that women’s voices are not heard as much in the church. There has been more effort in recent years to change that.

Mormons have certain norms, and one of them is a belief (of some) that Mormons don’t drink coffee because of the caffeine — so some also don’t drink caffeinated soda. Drinking coffee is against the Word of Wisdom, which is a health code commandment.

Here’s a positive one. Youth in the church go to the temple with their youth groups.

Mormons are concentrated in Utah and Idaho.

Here’s an interesting aspect of Mormon culture that’s probably related to values. Mormons value humility and abhor pride, but in doing so often end up practicing a sort of false humility.

Mormon Culture: “Mormons and Gays” to “Mormon and Gay”

What’s the difference between saying “Mormons and Gays” and “Mormon and Gay”? Actually, quite a lot. It’s a shift from “us” and “them” language to “us” language.

In 2012, the LDS church launched a website called Mormons and Gays (this link will take you to the old website). In October 2016, the LDS Church changed their site to Mormon and Gay. An article from the Mormon Newsroom says, “The new appellation, ‘Mormon and Gay,’ reflects the reality that a person doesn’t need to choose between these two identities — one can, in fact, be gay and live faithful to the teachings of Christ.”

This is a mentality that has changed over time. Back in the day, people used to hear that someone was gay, and that person’s membership status would be reevaluated. But today, the cultural meaning of the term “gay” is different. The term “gay” is a sexual orientation term.

Here’s what the current website says about the terminology:

“Same-sex attraction (SSA) refers to emotional, physical, romantic, or sexual attraction to a person of the same gender. If you experience same-sex attraction, you may or may not choose to use a sexual orientation label to describe yourself. Either way, same-sex attraction is a technical term describing the experience without imposing a label. This website uses this term to be inclusive of people who are not comfortable using a label, not to deny the existence of a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity.”

We can see that the language is shifting. And Elder Holland in the October 2015 session of General Conference talked about a young man with same-sex attraction.

If you are a member of the church, and probably if you’re not a member of church, you probably know there’s still a stigma associated with being LGBTQ+ and being Mormon.

Sociologist Ryan Cragun said the following are stigmatized in the church: being gender queer (the idea that people aren’t just female/feminine or male/masculine), being lesbian/gay/bisexual, advocating gender equality in the LDS church.

He said he thinks that the church has changed the way they talk about gays because of a “combination of internal and external pressures.”

external

How society talks about gays has changed over time. Cragun said “gays were heavily criticized and demonized” in the 1950s, but that has since changed and “being gay/lesbian has become normalized outside the church,” which he said has “led to external pressure for the Church leaders to tone down their rhetoric against gays and lesbians.”

internal

Cragun said nowadays, many members have family who are gay, which is contributing to the change in the ways people talk about gays. “It is much harder to be critical and to demonize family than it is anonymous others,” Cragun said. Because there is “increased contact,” Cragun said it is “forcing many Mormons to reconsider their prejudices.”

possible solutions

educate yourself and stop judging

I’ve grown up with some close family friends who are LGBTQ+, which has often made me question a lot of what people in the church say regarding LBGTQ+ issues. I remember people saying that people aren’t really gay, that they pretend. And since I’ve talked to people about their experiences being LGBTQ+, I’ve realized that I have not had the experiences that they’ve had and there are things I won’t be able to understand. So my first piece of advice is that you should talk to someone who’s LGBTQ+ before you decide to judge them.

Cragun also said it’s important for people to learn about what it means to be LGBTQ+ so they can have an understanding  of how common gender and sexual minorities are.

put yourself in their shoes and love them

When you talk to people who identify as LGBTQ+ and hear their stories, really listen. But then put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself how they feel to be Mormon and gay. Have compassion and love people.

I can’t begin to understand what people who identify as LGBTQ+ in the church feel or go through. But what I do know is that I love them for the wonderful people they are.

questions to consider

  • Have you ever talked to an LGBTQ+ individual about their experience being LGBTQ+ and coming out?
  • Have you ever imagined what it would be like to feel like your religion is at odds with automatics feelings you have?
  • Have you ever imagined what it would feel like to not be able to feel true to yourself?
  • Do you judge other people for being LGBTQ+? Do you like it when people judge you?

Mormon Culture: “Us” and “Them” Mentality

Sometimes you’ll hear an “us” and “them” mentality in religious rhetoric; the same is true for Mormon rhetoric.

In sociology, there’s a concept of the in-group and the out-group. If you feel you’re part of a group, you are the in-group. Whoever the in-group is “competing” with is the out-group.

In the April 2017 General Conference, Neil L. Anderson said, “Those of the world have difficulty with accountability to God — like a child who parties in his parents’ home while they are out of town, enjoying the ruckus, refusing to think about the consequences when the parents return 24 hours later.”

This phraseology “those of the world” puts members of the church into the category of the in-group pitted against the out-group, or “those of the world.”

The way this social construct plays out is situational and personal. I will explain.

There is a common phrase in the church that goes “be in the world but not of the world.” I’m not sure where it originated, but here’s a talk from the mid-1970s that talks about it. This mentality mirrors an “us” and “them” or “in-group” and “out-group” mentality. The problem occurs when those from the in-group treat those in the out-group as though they are blatantly part of the out-group. The reason this is a problem is scriptures says God is no respecter of persons, which means he sees us all the same. And if God does that, shouldn’t we as well?

Because Mormons are in somewhat of a social minority, it’s easy to see there’s some type of division. Sociologist Armand Mauss said he grew up in California where he didn’t have any Mormon friends in high school. “I periodically encountered not only ignorance but outright prejudice about Mormons from my non-Mormon friends and acquaintances,” he said. “I was always highly conscious of being ‘different’ and periodically having to ‘account for’ it.”

On the other side, anthropology professor Erin E. Stiles was one of the few non-Mormons at her school in a small town in Utah, but she said it didn’t bother her. She said there were some differences between her family and others’, such as her mom wore crosses and drank coffee. She also thought playing the piano was a Mormon thing. And I laughed a little when she said, “My dad had a beard, and my mom didn’t wear much makeup or have big hair, so a lot of my friends thought my parents were hippies (they were not).”

Some of the things she mentioned weren’t really my experiences as a Mormon from Washington, so I thought it was a little funny. My dad has pretty much always had facial hair, and I don’t actually know that many women from my home ward who wore a lot of makeup or had big hair. But I definitely know the stereotype Stiles mentioned.

Scholar Wilfried Decoo in his paper “In Search of Mormon Identity: Mormon Culture, Gospel Culture, and an American Worldwide Church,” writes that in the history of the church, there have been leaders who have shifted “culture of the world” from a positive meaning to a negative meaning.

He said the church’s perspective of not wanting to use “extraneous sources when teaching courses in the church” (from the correlation movement), while it was meant to “make a curriculum that can be used anywhere in the world, under any cultural or political circumstance, so that the only culture we’re bound by is the culture of the gospel,” it had another side effect. Decoo said it led to an isolation that “fosters deep distrust toward the world.” The positive side of the isolation is it stresses exceptionalism (“a chosen generation”) and exemplarism (“a light unto the world”). He said the negative side to isolation is it makes people think of “the rest of the world as evil and threatening.”

And I see that all the time. At church I often hear people talk about how evil this world is.

Personally, I found that I missed out on blessing a lot of people’s lives when I separated myself from people just because I thought they were in the “them” category.

On the positive end of the spectrum for church teachings of “us” and “them,” President Hinckley often encouraged that people bring the good they have and let the church add to it. That kind of language is inviting and welcoming, not divisive.

overcoming the divisive thinking

Susan Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst wrote an article for Psychology Today that talks about the concept of in-groups and out-groups. She gives five suggestions for combating the divisive nature of thinking in the in-group and out-group mentality.

  1. Realize that your in-group and out-group status could change depending on the situation. One day you’re going to sin, so are you going to then be part of the “those of the world” group and therefore out of the in-group?
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of someone in the out-group. Just imagine what it’s like to join the Mormon church and have no clue what people are talking about with all the jargon and cultural practices. Someone even wrote a book for converts so they can figure out how to navigate the culture.
  3. Look for commonalities. Those who are of other religions or are non-religious still hold some of the same values as you. You just have to be open to looking for them.
  4. Be confident about your identity. Whitbourne says if you’re confident about your identity, you’re less likely to criticize someone else’s. You can also root yourself more in Christ than in cultural things (the ability to make a good casserole is nothing compared to the ability to be like Christ). Because belief in Christ is what makes you a Mormon — not your ability to make a good contribution to the ward cook-off.
  5. Teach others how to overcome the “us” and “them” mentality. When you hear people using divisive language, speak out.

Something Stiles was able to do was find commonalities with her Mormon neighbors. She said she liked that “so many kids took school seriously, were not too wild, and enjoyed their family life.”

questions to consider

  • Am I being divisive in my thinking with Mormons and non-Mormons?
  • Am I being divisive in my thinking within the Mormon community? Am I grouping members of the church into “righteous” and “non-righteous” categories? “Kid goes on a mission” and “kid doesn’t go on a mission”? “Married” and “single”? “Gets married in the temple” and “doesn’t get married in the temple”?
  • Are we loving one another?
  • Am I actively trying to close the divide?
  • Aren’t we all children of God? And don’t you want to bring everyone into the church? Are you making them feel like they’ll be comfortable with joining the church? Or are you making them feel like they are “them” and not “us”?

Mormon Culture: Stigmas

Let’s talk about people who didn’t serve missions. Is it okay to have a negative reaction towards them because they decided not to serve missions — whether they be female or male? Nope.

I’ll never forget a story I heard about a young man who decided to return to the LDS Church after years of being inactive. He went to do his home teaching, and the sister he taught said she would never date a guy who wasn’t a return missionary. And he was so hurt, not having served a mission himself, that he decided he was no longer going to go to church. I mean, if people are going to judge his marriage-worthiness based on whether or not he went on a mission — and he didn’t — that’d be pretty hard. And while people could say this or that about his reaction, the point is that it’s not okay to make people feel like they aren’t good enough somehow.

So there’s a stigma about people who haven’t served missions. Should that change?

A stigma is “a strong lack of respect for a person or a group of people or a bad opinion of them because they have done something society does not approve of,” according to the Cambridge dictionary.

So what is the root of the stigma about those who don’t serve missions? It comes with priesthood leaders saying it’s a priesthood holder’s duty to serve a mission. So people judge young men who decided not to serve a mission.

And there are stigmas around people who smoke, drink, and dress differently. You ever heard of G-checking? Yeah, don’t do that. If you don’t know what it is, good — at least you won’t know about yet another way to be judgmental.

Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, said stigmas exist in every culture. They come about when people don’t conform to the norms, or what’s “socially acceptable” in the culture. And Mormons are no different. They’ve in essence agreed upon certain things as being acceptable in their culture. Some of it comes from authority (scripture, prophets, church leaders) and some come from informal places (a congregation).

Something that sparked my interest was an interview with Mason I read about how there’s a stigma associated with doubt in the church. You see, I learned that doubt isn’t a bad thing, because in my life, it’s led me to find more truth. Even just the other week, I told the whole Relief Society that I used to have doubts about the temple and a bunch of other stuff. I told them this because I wanted them to get over the stigma that doubt is bad. I think people are afraid to talk about doubt, but everyone experiences it. And if we don’t talk about it, how are we supposed to accept it and consequently find some way to solve it? But those are just my thoughts.

“Mormonism has such a strong culture of spiritual knowledge,” Mason told me when I interviewed him. He went on to say that because people feel they have a witness of truth from the Holy Spirit, they can say “I know.” But what happens when people can’t say “I know”? Mason said when someone can’t say “I know” or questions something they once knew or something the community “knows,” it “violate[s] some of the agreed-upon norms.” And no culture feels comfortable when their socially accepted behaviors are violated.

There are of course benefits to being part of a community though (let’s not be Debbie Downers). I’m sure if you’re part of the Mormon community, it brings you friendship and support. If you ever move to a new city, you already have a built in community that you’ll feel you’re a part of. You can rally your new Elder’s Quorum to help you move, even though you don’t know any of them. It’s really quite nice to know that no matter where you go in the world, you’ll have an automatic support group.

But going back to the part people don’t talk about … why do people freak out when others “violate” the norms. “In Mormonism,” Mason said, “there are other kinds of obligations as well in terms of not embarrassing the community.” Now there’s an interesting idea. He said because of Mormonism’s history of feeling like a minority and feeling persecuted, “there’s a kind of protective quality to the community, and anybody who is seen as threatening the community from within, that’s oftentimes the most dangerous thing.”

So now that we’ve talked about how there are all these stigmas and that’s just how it is because of culture, I hope you’re not just wanting to throw your hands up in the air and give up on everything. I kind of get that way sometimes, so I know what it’s like. So instead, here’s some productive advice.

How do we deal with feeling like our behaviors are being stigmatized? Mason said there are two sides to this:

On the one hand

The community needs to think about how it will not leave people feeling judged or marginalized, especially if these people sincerely want to participate in the community. But Mason also says the community is allowed to “police their borders” if someone is being hostile.

Think back to the story about the guy who didn’t serve a mission but was sincere in trying to do his part in the church by doing his home teaching. If you are in the community and you are treating people differently because of a stigma, maybe you should think about if you are leaving people feeling judged or marginalized (because I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you).

On the other hand

No one is forcing anyone to be Mormon, and being part of the community means there’s a structure in place with leaders, scripture, and history behind it.

“If you’re not conforming, you need to realize you’re out of conformity and can hope for generosity and understanding and charity, but also humility and not force [your] views on the community,” Mason said.

Last words

Now here’s my little opinion on all of this. No one likes to feel judged or marginalized, but people are going to judge and marginalize — in all cultures you’ll encounter. But each of us can make a conscious effort to get over the idea that everyone’s going to do things exactly how we want them to. Just love people like Christ does, and you’ll be fine. Have dinner with the publicans and try to love them rather than judge them. If you can do that, you’ve just become a little bit more like Christ.

Some questions to consider

  • What are some other stigmas that we see in the church?
  • What do non-Mormons think of Mormons?
  • What needs to change so that people don’t harshly judge others?
  • How do you treat others when they behave in a way you disagree with?
  • Do you have the right to judge people based on their behavior? Should you be worrying about what you can improve on instead?

comment about how mormons are to other

Anthropology professor Erin E. Stiles grew up in a small Utah town and was one of the only non-Mormons at her school. She said she had “a wonderful time” growing up in Utah. She had an extremely glowing review.

But I also asked her to tell me about some of the perceived negative aspects or stigmas she noticed. She said she it seemed like it would be hard for LGBTQ+ kids and adults in the Mormon community, and “it can also be hard if people decide to leave the church.” She also said she thinks some non-Mormons think Mormons are docile and “willing to follow church leadership without thinking.”

I asked her “How do you think people in general view Mormons?” These were her answers: family-oriented, white, church-going, clean-living, Republican, conservative, educated, conventional/old-fashioned gender roles, not LGBTQ friendly.

If you disagree with any of those adjectives, ask yourself, “Why could people perceive us that way? Do I want to change that? How can I?”

Mormon Culture: Modesty and Bikinis

Here’s a message I got the other day from a friend: “I just really don’t understand why my midriff causes so much uproar from other people. It’s like my belly button is somehow so much more inappropriate or sexual than some guy’s belly button.”

What do you think of that? I personally don’t think there’s anything sexy about a bellybutton, but maybe other people do? Comment and let me know so I can get the facts straight.

Scott Gordon, the President of FairMormon, a non-profit “dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice,” told me in an email, “Bare midriff for men or women is the same.” In regards to modesty, he said, “I think you are correct to note that the focus on modesty seems to be our young women. One can argue that is because they have the most difficulties with it, but I suspect much comes from cultural bias.”

About a year ago, I read an article by an LDS mother who said teaching modesty is sometimes done in a way that’s harmful. And recently I read one called “Stop Teaching Your Daughter to be Modest” by Baily Suzio.

In Suzio’s article, she said “Measuring skirt length and tank top straps will not free girls from being objects of lust but it will make them self-conscious.”

She goes on to say “causing them to want to hide their bodies and to blame themselves for another’s sin, that is not honoring the image of God in each and every woman.” This comment comes from the idea that women who dress revealingly cause men to sin in their thoughts or actions. And it’s a problem that society — and people in the church — use as reason to tell young women to dress a certain way.

Editorial moment by me: If a woman is dressed in something “revealing,” she is not asking to be raped. And men who use a woman’s dress as an excuse for raping her need to spend time in prison. So society, do not teach your boys that women are the problem. Teach your boys to respect women no matter what they wear.

Back to non-opinon …

While the teaching to be modest has been in the For the Strength of Youth since it was first introduced, with different times and fads, the church has modified the dress standards in the pamphlet. You can read the differences over the years in the links below:

  • Here’s the current version of the For the Strength of Youth
  • Here’s the 2012 version of the For the Strength of Youth
  • Here’s the 1990 version of the For the Strength of Youth
  • Here’s the 1972 version of the For the Strength of Youth
  • Here’s the 1965 version of the For the Strength of Youth

An interesting change that’s happened over time is the reference of swim suits in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. The early versions didn’t mention swim suits, but the 1972 version says not to wear bathing suits that show a bare midriff. But the 1990 version doesn’t mention it. The 1990 version mentions that you shouldn’t wear an immodest bathing suit, but doesn’t specify what that means. The 2001 and 2012 versions don’t even mention swim suits. So which “rule” are people to follow when it comes to swim suits? I guess we have to figure it out on our own.

But just a story first. I was with some people and someone we knew posted a photo of herself kayaking with friends, and she was wearing a bikini. Someone who I was with said something like, “Oh, but she was such a good missionary.” Last time I checked, wearing a bikini doesn’t mean you were a bad missionary, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I think people are  too often too quick to judge people’s righteousness on what people are wearing. Is that okay?

The For the Strength of Youth says the following of modesty: “Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.”

Scholar Rosemary Avance did a study on the interpretation of modesty in the LDS church. She says the body has been sexualized, and so modesty is sometimes seen as “tool for aiding in the control of lustful desires.” She then says that this thought leads immodesty to be treated as a “sexual, female sin,” which makes women responsible for the purity of both women and men.

In a New Era article from 2006, nothing is mentioned of the young men’s dress; however, the authors say the following to young women: “As you dress and behave modestly, you can have a great impact on young men. Your modest actions and dress will help them control their thoughts and focus on virtue and that which is wholesome.”

Now, I want you to consider this question. Is it okay to tell women that they are at fault if men can’t “control their thoughts”? Just saying.

On the other hand, Avance makes an interesting point: that in saying this, church members are also saying men don’t have the ability to exercise self-control. So not only are we blaming women if a man can’t control his thoughts, but we are also saying men aren’t able to exert self-control. Is that a good thing?

Yes, the church has always counseled people to dress modestly, but the way each person chooses to dress modestly is their choice, and it’s not anyone’s place to judge how someone chooses to dress modestly.

Some questions to consider

  • Do I judge people on what they wear rather focusing on who they are?
  • Am I teaching about modesty in a way that’s about respecting our bodies or in a way that makes people feel ashamed of their bodies?

another opinon

After telling my friend about this Mormon culture blog I was writing, he sent me a Facebook post written by a member of the church. It had over 12,000 reactions, over 9,000 shares, and over 1,800 comments. As you read it, remember that it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, but it might make you ask yourself some new questions about how you assess modesty and judge others.

 

Mormon Culture: Doctrine vs. Policy

Did you know it’s a commandment to wear a white shirt while passing the sacrament? And blue shirts evil?

It seems that sometimes there are blurred lines between what’s doctrine and what’s policy or culture. For example, it’s a policy that people don’t play brass instruments or guitars during sacrament meeting, but does that mean those instruments are bad? Nope.

On a mission, you follow a pretty strict schedule, complete with waking up at 6:30 a.m., so does that mean you’re a “bad” member if after your mission you wake up later than that? Are you living a lesser law? Nope.

But the imposed expectations that people sometimes have about these policies causes a risk for members being judgmental toward others.

And sometimes, policy even changes in the church. *Gasp* But that’s a key difference between policy and doctrine. I once had it explained to me by BYU biology professor John Kauwe. He was trying to teach us about evolution and the stance of the church. And to do so, he had to explain that doctrine includes the key truths of the gospel (scriptural cannon and official statements of the church signed by all the members of the First Presidency). Policy is something that changes; doctrine does not.

See this article for another explanation of separating doctrine from policy.

In a book review for, “Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century,” professor Julie J. Nicols writes two essays contained in the book “place trends in Mormon history within larger American contexts, work that many Utah Mormons would benefit from studying in order to extract themselves from the mistaken notion that the evolution of Church policies and practices has come straight from the mouth of God, unattached to secular movements and political needs.”

What’s another policy that was pretty controversial? Why couldn’t Blacks have the priesthood? Now obviously that has changed, so was it doctrine or policy? It was policy. Because policy changes; doctrine doesn’t.

In the 1992 publication of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, it says the prophet and the Quorum of the Twelve, collectively and under the inspiration of God, “are authorized to determine the position of the Church at any given time on matters of doctrine, policy, and practice.”

So when you come upon a teaching in the church that you’re not so sure about, do some homework. Who said it? What’s the context? Is it doctrine or policy?

What about the long-standing battle about whether or not caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom? In an article published in The Daily Universe, Robert Walz said when he was a kid, people said caffeine was against the Word of Wisdom, but as he got older, he realized it wasn’t. And now he’s making up for lost time. That was a culture thing. Not doctrine or policy.

Now, the For the Strength of Youth back in the day said young women shouldn’t leave the house with curlers in their hair. First off, why was that a thing that was even written in the For the Strength of Youth? Was it in fashion? It was probably just seen as improper. So it might have been a societally-influenced standard. It probably wasn’t considered a commandment though — but who knows. Step back and ask yourself something. “Will wearing curlers in my hair to the grocery store condemn me to hell?” Hmmm…..I wonder. (The answer is no if you were wondering.) How does that fit into the context of doctrine, policy, and culture?

But there are quite a few cultural things that come from the For the Strength of Youth. What’s interesting is that after so many years, the booklet changes. When I was a youth, I had the 2001 version; but when I was graduating high school, the version I had worked so tirelessly to live by was modified. LDS Living has an online article called “How ‘For the Strength of Youth’ Has Changed Over the Years.Here’s the current For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.

Scholar Wilfred Decoo sent me a Times and Seasons article he wrote that brings up an interesting point. Is it doctrine that you must have a missionary haircut? Nope, but sometimes it might be policy for certain things in the church. In Decoo’s article, he said a convert from Mali had braided hair — which was a common hairstyle for African men — and the bishop told the convert he had to cut his braids in order to attend EFY. Decoo said the bishop said he had to enforce EFY guidelines.

Now this story calls for some interesting questions. How would you feel if you wore your hair “normally,” according to your culture, and one day you were told that hairstyle would prohibit you from going to a church camp? If you were a convert who didn’t know much about the church, how would you feel that you wouldn’t be able to attend this camp because of your cultural hairstyle?

My person opinion is I don’t think God has a preference for your hairstyle. I mean, Jesus always has long hair in those videos the church makes after all. But I understand that the EFY camps might set their own policy for those who attend the camp.

What’s not so great is that the policies we have in the church sometimes lead to judging. The Daily Universe also has an articles about this: the Mormons Judging Mormon series.

On the church’s side of things, the official handbook gives guidelines on how to deal with the commandments and standards of the church:  “The commandments of the Lord and the worthiness standards of the Church are given in the scriptures and in official communications from the First Presidency. Local leaders should not alter these commandments and standards. Nor should local leaders teach their own rules or interpretations regarding the commandments.”

Now, I’ve heard some wild stories about people making their own interpretations of the commandments. Just the other day, I heard that a bishop told his congregation that having sleepovers wasn’t allowed. I’m sure you have heard some strange ones as well. Make sure to comment and tell me some more.

The handbook also gives instruction about what to do if people are teaching “false or speculative doctrine” — which I’m sure we’ve all heard.

“Leaders should correct it promptly and sensitively,” the handbook states. “Errors can usually be corrected in private, but major or repeated errors may require public correction.”

Questions to consider

  • Is what you’re judging people on based on policy or tradition?
  • What’s the difference between doctrine and policy? How am I going to view those two things for my own life and not judge others based on them?
  • Do I pray to God and receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost when I’m confronted with a question as to whether something is true? Or do I just let other people tell me?

last words

Make sure you’re not judging people because of past policies. If someone drinks caffeine and you don’t, don’t mentally condemn them to hell. If someone comes to sacrament with a mohawk, don’t judge them; I mean, they’re worshipping God and that’s all that matters — plus mohawks are cool (hair can really stand straight up like that?!), and Mormons have totally had them.

Mormon Culture: Dating

Ask anyone in Provo how they feel about dating, and you’ll probably get some exasperated sighs. So maybe there’s a Provo dating culture and a Mormon dating culture, but BYU professor Tom Robinson, who has been at BYU for 14 years and served as a YSA bishop said, “The YSAs aren’t dating because I don’t think they know how.”

The list problem

When girls are in Young Women’s, they’re asked to make a list of qualities they want in a future spouse. These lists usually include things like college grad, good-looking,  good job, return missionary.

BYU Professor Tom Robinson gives firesides on dating and says these lists are part of the problem with dating in Mormon culture. They leave young women thinking that these are the qualities that will make a good husband and leave men thinking that’s what they need in order to find a wife.

“That guy doesn’t exist,” Robinson said. “He’s a figment of your imagination, and the best thing that you can do as a young woman is to throw the list away.”

Instead, Robinson says to just get to know people and figure out what you actually like about people. And a good husband isn’t a list; he’s a good person who’s a good listener and communicator.

“If my wife had had a list, she would have never went out with me,” Robinson joked.

He said if he had a list, it would’ve said “loves sports.” And if he had only looked for women who loved sports, he wouldn’t have gone out with his wife, who hated sports — and still hates them.

“I fell in love with her not because of things I had on my list, but because of the person that she was,” Robinson said. “She was kind and giving and she had a strong testimony, and that’s what I fell in love with.”

a “just dinner” solution

In his “Just Dinner” firesides, Robinson tells young single adults to just go out to dinner. “If it turns into something, even better,” he said. “If It doesn’t, that’s okay because it’s just dinner.”

Robinson said he came up with this “just dinner” idea when he was a singles ward bishop, just trying to get the YSAs out of their apartments and talking.

The Young men problem

Robinson said the problem with the young men is that they don’t know how to date. He says that when they turn 12, they are told they are preparing to serve missions, which means not dating because girls are a “distraction.” Robinson said that while the counsel is meant to “protect” the young men, the young men end up hearing, “Girls are bad. Girls will get me in trouble. Girls will keep me from being able to go on a mission.”

Is that a good mentality to teach the young men of the church? Who after their missions are supposed to change their thought process and get married? Robinson said that people in the church need to help the youth to not only prepare for missions, but for eternal marriage as well — and that begins with dating.

In the For the Strength of Youth, there’s a section on dating. In it, it says, “You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality.”

Robinson said some parents take this idea and tell their children they can’t steady date before a mission. But that’s just a personal preference. Robinson said something changed with his generation.

“Somehow, my generation — when we were growing up we were growing up — we dated, and we dated, we had girlfriends, we kissed girls, and we still went on missions, and we still ended up getting married in the temple,” Robinson said. “Now there were a few that didn’t and because there were a few  that didn’t, my generation looked back and said ‘Well, maybe it would be better if our kids didn’t date.'”

getting over it and accepting the plan

Okay, but what about rejection? Even though return missionaries learn about being rejected for their whole missions, it still hurts. But Robinson brought up a good point in our interview. He asked me, what if every person said yes to a date, got married, and had a perfect life with no problems? Then he asked me, “Who’s plan in the preexistence was that? That’s not the plan we sustained. We sustained the plan where we were going to get rejected. It was going to hurt, and we would hate it. And we would date someone for seven months, and she’d break up with us, or he would hurt us. That’s the plan we signed up for. And it sucks, but that’s our Father in Heaven’s plan. We have to taste the bitter to be able to experience the sweet.”

I tried to stay professional as I felt my tear ducts start wanting to water. But I did it. No crying. But he was right. We chose a plan that would hurt, and we can only get to the sweet by tasting of the bitter.

For the women

Robinson said it’s chill for a young woman to ask a young man to dinner because it’s “just dinner.”

In a study done at Utah State University, “The Social and Cultural Construction of Singlehood among Young, Single Mormons,” young women had varying responses about dating. One said, “Right now I would like to date more, but it is okay that I am not. I guess that I am content, but not content.”

Robinson would say to that girl that she can ask a young man to dinner. So chicas, if you want to date more, go ahead an ask a guy on a date. Or just dinner.

dating pressure

Obviously there’s a lot of pressure to date in Mormon culture, but if you’re not ready to date, just get to know people and have fun. Or don’t. Do whatever you want. But if you want to get to know people, then just ask someone to dinner every once in a while.

questions to consider

  • Am I sitting home alone? (probs … because you’re reading this)
  • Who can I invite to go to dinner?
  • Do I have a list of things I’m checking off when I’m with someone instead of getting to know who they really are?
  • Am I afraid to ask people on dates? What’s my plan to change that?

Words of the apostles

Gerrit W. Gong

Another serious dimension of perfectionism is to hold others to our unrealistic, judgmental, or unforgiving standards. Such behavior may, in fact, deny or limit the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives and in the lives of others. For example, young single adults may make a list of desired qualities in a potential spouse and yet be unable to marry because of unrealistic expectations for the perfect companion.

Thus, a sister may be unwilling to consider dating a wonderful, worthy brother who falls short on her perfectionist scale—he does not dance well, is not planning to be wealthy, did not serve a mission, or admits to a past problem with pornography since resolved through repentance and counseling.

Similarly, a brother may not consider dating a wonderful, worthy sister who doesn’t fit his unrealistic profile—she is not a sports enthusiast, a Relief Society president, a beauty queen, a sophisticated budgeter, or she admits to an earlier, now-resolved weakness with the Word of Wisdom.

Of course, we should consider qualities we desire in ourselves and in a potential spouse. We should maintain our highest hopes and standards. But if we are humble, we will be surprised by goodness in unexpected places, and we may create opportunities to grow closer to someone who, like us, is not perfect.

Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.

Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received. In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple.

The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Now, just one word to those of our single brethren who follow the deception that they first have to find the “perfect woman” before they can enter into serious courting or marriage.

My beloved brethren, may I remind you, if there were a perfect woman, do you really think she would be that interested in you?

In God’s plan of happiness, we are not so much looking for someone perfect but for a person with whom, throughout a lifetime, we can join efforts to create a loving, lasting, and more perfect relationship. That is the goal.

Robert D. Hales

Again, may I speak frankly? The track that leads to marriage passes through the terrain called dating! Dating is the opportunity for lengthy conversations. When you date, learn everything you can about each other. Get to know each other’s families when possible. Are your goals compatible? Do you share the same feelings about the commandments, the Savior, the priesthood, the temple, parenting, callings in the Church, and serving others? Have you observed one another under stress, responding to success and failure, resisting anger, and dealing with setbacks? Does the person you are dating tear others down or build them up? Is his or her attitude and language and conduct what you would like to live with every day?

That said, none of us marry perfection; we marry potential. The right marriage is not only about what I want; it’s also about what she—who’s going to be my companion—wants and needs me to be.

Speaking plainly, please don’t date all through your 20s just to “have a good time,” thus delaying marriage in favor of other interests and activities. Why? Because dating and marriage aren’t final destinations. They are the gateway to where you ultimately want to go. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.”

Your responsibility now is to be worthy of the person you want to marry. If you want to marry a wholesome, attractive, honest, happy, hardworking, spiritual person, be that kind of person. If you are that person and you are not married, be patient.

Antoine Taveneaux, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASan_Diego_Mormon_Temple17.jpg

Mormon Culture: What is it?

Mormon culture is simply the culture shared by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But this blog will mostly focus on American Mormon culture because while some aspects of Mormon culture carry over into other places, much of the Mormon culture I’ll be dealing with in this blog has to do with American Mormon culture.

And just like any other culture, it’s more pronounced in places that are more concentrated with people of the group. Without hard data, you can probably guess where Mormon culture is most prevalent: Utah and Idaho. But here’s the hard data anyway:

This map shows the percentage of adults who are Mormon in each state. Follow the link to see the percentages per state. (Pew Research Center)

So what makes up culture? In sociology, there are elements that make up a culture: symbols, language, norms, rituals, artifacts, values.

Symbols

An example of a symbol is giving a thumbs up, which means “good,” whereas in Australia its meaning is akin to flipping someone off.

In Mormon culture, we have symbols too. For example, why do Mormons like beehives so much? They’re on the doors to the temple, you can buy them on jewelry at Deseret Book, and they’re the theme of Mormon-related businesses (just look up utah beehive stores on Google).

Apparently the symbol comes from the early Saints latching onto the idea of beehives representing hard work and unity, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Language

Branch, stake, sweet spirit, mia maids, eight-cow wife, investigator, vote of thanks, primary voice, companion, tender mercies, extend a calling, home teaching, MRS degree, ox in the mire, Jello. These words and others probably trip you up if you’re not in the know about Mormon culture. LDS Living even put out an article on “12 Funny Mormon Lingo Mix-Ups” to show Mormons have their own language full of jargon.

Here’s some other religious vocabulary from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Another fun fact: Back in the day Brigham Young tried to institute the Deseret alphabet as a way to teach people to write English. Sad fact: it didn’t work out. But because people are cool, there’s an online translator. Let the passing of secret notes begin.

Norms

Norms are “standards and expectations for behaving,” according to the book Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World. I think the “bad rep” that Mormon culture gets has do with the norms: women as the perfect homemakers, multiple ear piercings as being edgy (and to some rebellious), swearing as a deterrent for marrying someone, and the list goes on.

Just search #MormonCulture on Twitter, and you’ll see some more examples.

Rituals

Since Mormons are obviously a religiously-based culture, there are religious rituals, but there are rituals beyond the religious ones.

Think about a missionary’s experience. When they leave, there’s usually a “going away” talk and an open house type event where people go to the future missionary’s home to wish them good luck. When the missionary comes home from their mission, the ritual people (typically) follow is greeting the missionary at the airport with a welcome sign, followed by a “homecoming” talk the next Sunday.

Sociology professor Armand Mauss said “trek” — where the youth dress up like pioneers and pull handcarts for a couple of days to recreate the experience of pioneer ancestors — is another ritual observance. He said activities like these help the community to “reaffirm one’s allegiance to one’s heritage.”

artifacts

Boy, do Mormons have artifacts. There’s even a whole museum dedicated to church history.

In Jeffrey R. Holland’s October 2009 General Conference talk, he brought out the Book of Mormon that Hyrum Smith read from just before him and Joseph went to Carthage. (Go to 7:03 in the video.)

Scholar Wilfried Decoo, in his article, Mormon Identity and Culture, also noted Mormons have artifacts like young women’s medallions, CTR-rings, and temple statuettes.

VALUES

Mormons are known for valuing education (with universities and other schools they’ve set up over the years in other countries), hard work, and families, among other things.

Something interesting I found in my research was a quote from the book, “Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century.” The writer, Claudia Bushman, says she’s a California Mormon and then talks about how her values were different than those of Utah Mormons: “California Mormons were more independent than Utah Mormons; they were grateful for the distance that separated the from Salt Lake City. They paid less homage to old church fails. They were less pious, less judgmental, more aware of living in and negotiating with the secular world.”

It’s interesting to note that even within American Mormon culture, there may be some variation due to geographic location.

last words

So Mormon culture exists, but what are the experiences associated with the culture? You’ll have to keep up with my weekly posts to find out.