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”?

How to deal with a crisis of faith

Just like you, I’ve had a crisis or two of faith. And I’m sure neither you or I is done with having these crises.

My first crisis was about Joseph Smith. My second was about revelation. My third was about the temple. My fourth was about non-prophet church leaders. My fifth was about Mormon culture and doctrine.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Jesse, those are pretty big-topic issues you dealt with.” If you aren’t, that’s what I would’ve thought if I had read that list. Or maybe you’re thinking, “Yep, been there,” or “Yep, I am there.”

I struggled, but I wanted to stay with my God. So how did I deal with those questions and confused thoughts? The answers are simple, but the execution of them isn’t so easy.

1. Read the scriptures every day

I recently listened to the talk, “No Greater Joy Than to Know That They Know,” by Elder K. Brett Nattress. He tells the story of how his mom would read the Book of Mormon to their family every morning. One day Elder Nattress told his mom he wasn’t even listening. And his mom responded.

“She said, ‘Son, I was at a meeting where President Marion G. Romney taught about the blessings of scripture reading. During this meeting, I received a promise that if I would read the Book of Mormon to my children every day, I would not lose them.’ She then looked me straight in the eyes and, with absolute determination, said, ‘And I will not lose you!'”

I like to think we can say the same thing for ourselves and God. Since my first crisis of faith, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve missed reading my scriptures. And I strongly believe reading the scriptures has kept me close to God.

So even though there are days where it’s just one verse, it’s still important to keep the habit so you don’t forget about your Padre Celestial.

2. Remember the testimonies you’ve recieved

The talk, “Lest Thou Forget,” by Elder Ronald A. Rasband talks about just this. That’s a shout-out because it inspired me to write this post.

Whenever I have been through a crisis of faith, I’ve thought back to the testimony I recieved from that first trial of faith. How many times have I wanted to throw in the towel and give up? I wouldn’t even know how to count. But how many times has my testimony (that God is real, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the truth) gotten me through my crises? Thankfully, every time.

3. Remember these words: “If you are tempted to give up: Stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here.”

Those words come from Elder Dieter F Uchtdorf’s talk, “Come, Join With Us.”

I’ve been tempted to give up, but I know that persisting and “eduring to the end” is part of the dealio. We aren’t asked just to endure, but to joyously go forth because there’s a purpose for us here on earth. And part of that is getting through our crises of faith and coming out stronger as a result.

So in the words of Jeffrey R. Holland, “Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead … Trust God and believe in good things to come.”

I promise that good things come as you stick to your God and push through those crises of faith. It’s happened for me time and time again, and it can happen for you too.

How to stay active in your faith 

We all have questions, and sometimes we want to leave the church. But here’s why you shouldn’t leave church attendance behind.

#1: It’s not about what people believe; it’s about God.

I’ve had a lot of issues with Mormon culture and people’s expectations. Even just recently, my sister told me that people perceive me as this perfect person, which I get annoyed by. And I have issues with people saying that I have to do things a certain way—when what they tell me isn’t doctrine. Rather, it’s based on personal opinion or something that someone said one time. But I don’t go to church for people; I go to church for God.

 

Here’s me at church with my amiga who’s always been going to church since forever. She’s solid. Also, We cute.

#2: It’s about serving, not being served.

I could go to church and say, “Well, no one talked to me today. Guess no one cares that I’m here.” Or, I could say, “Who can I serve?” I guess that hasn’t really been my experience, but it’s a thing I’ve heard over and over again. We go to church to serve others. That’s what we said we’d do when we got baptized: “To mourn with those that mourn; yea, give comfort to those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). In my experience, I’m mostly like, “Why are people saying these things? Do I really need to be here if I can read the scriptures and the words of the prophets that I know are doctrinally correct?” And the answer is that I’m there to serve.

Here’s us looking cute for church.

#3: People (including you) are imperfect.

Brigham Young, for example, was a prophet of God who taught many truths. He also wasn’t a fan of African Americans, but that was the mortal SUPER imperfect part of him. That didn’t mean that the teachings of God weren’t true. It’s like Elder Uchtdorf’s talk: God works with what he’s got. And what he’s got is imperfection. And that includes my limited way of thinking that might make me get offended at church every once in a while.

Here’s my roomies looking cute for church and me looking less cute. Why do I also pose awkwardly?

#4 We need the sacrament and the other covenants.

In the church, we make covenants with God, not men. And the sacrament takes place during sacrament meeting, so if I want to keep up my relationship with God, I have to devote myself to him despite anything that I’m not a fan of. And the temple is the place where we make other covenants and promises with God, and we need those things.

And here’s the Provo Temple. The temple is a place we go to so we can commune with God. 

#5 You have a testimony in there somewhere.

I know that Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the church, imperfect as he was. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the prophet called of God today to lead the church. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and within its words, you can find goodness for your life. I know that the temple is the place where we make covenants with God, not man. And my testimony, the testimony I’ve received over time, has kept me going strong through some of the hardest things that have happened to me.

And one more of us being cute and matchy for church.

So what I’m saying is don’t give up. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t give up on God. Just keep going and keep trying. And remember what you know to be true.