Mormon Culture: Ministering

What does it mean to minister? The dictionary definition is “to give aid or service.”

What’s interesting to me is that the LDS Church has a whole section of their Provident Living website devoted to “ministering” — which includes topics on abuse help, addiction, caregivers, early-return missionaries, employment, family finances, marital conflict, overcoming pornography, same-sex attraction, single expectant parents, and spouses of pornography users.

On the homepage of the ministering resources page, there’s a letter from the First Presidency  to bishops. It says, “The ministering resources listed below have been created to assist you as you respond to the specific challenges members often face.”

Imagine you are called as a bishop to watch over not only the spiritual needs of a large group of people, but the temporal needs — and these people are also going to come to you with many, many other things that they want you to help them with. And you probably don’t have any formal training with the things they need help with. And that’s probably super overwhelming.

The resources are not meant to teach bishops to act as psychologists, but are meant to help bishops help their ward members. Many of the sections include some sort of suggestion that members seek professional help.

Here are some highlights from the website:

Abuse (Help for the Victim)

Helping the victim feel heard and understood may be just as important as any help you can give.

Abuse (Help for the Offender)

When appropriate, discuss with the member the consequences of abusive behavior on self and family, including the doctrine and church policies related to abuse.

Addiction

Help the member make a plan to avoid or address situations in which he or she is vulnerable to temptation. Review the plan with the member regularly.

Support for Caregivers

If the caregiver and care receiver feel like they are a burden to the ward, help them understand that they are valued and that many ward members are glad to serve them.

Missionaries Who Return Home Early

Encourage the missionary, his or her family, and ward members to refer to him or her as a “returned missionary” and not an “early-returned” or “early-released missionary.”

Employment

Consider inviting the member to pursue opportunities for education, training, or certification.

Family Finances

Help members understand the importance of paying an honest tithing, living within their means, saving for unexpected expenses, and avoiding debt.

Marital Conflict

Help each spouse recognize that no one can change someone else, but with faith, effort, and the help of God, each person can undergo his or her own mighty change of heart.

Mental Health

When members do not seem to respond to normal attempts by leaders to be helpful, leaders should not be offended by their lack of response. Instead, leaders should seriously consider encouraging the member to get a mental health assessment from a qualified provider.

Overcoming Pornography

Expressing love and gratitude to the individual for coming forward is an important step to help the member overcome the problem.

Same-Sex Attraction

Feeling same-sex attraction or choosing to use a sexual identity label (such as gay, lesbian, or bisexual) is not a sin and does not violate church policy or doctrine.

Single Expectant Parents

Reach out in love to comfort, encourage, and care for the single expectant mother or father. Express your desire to help and thank the individual for his or her willingness to involve you.

Support for Spouses of Pornography Users

Spouses often incorrectly assume the problem is somehow their fault. Help the spouse of the pornography user understand that he or she is not responsible for the user’s behavior.

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.