Throughout history there have been countless ideas postulated. Most never took off, but some grew into cultures, traditions, legends and religions. Some of these ideas have yielded good fruit, like the invention of the light bulb and toilet paper. Other ideas have been tragically destructive, costing the lives of millions. Sometimes seemingly good ideas can go terribly wrong and vice versa. Suffice it to say, everything we experience in our lives depends on ideas. The chair you are sitting on began as an idea in someone’s head. The car you drive began as an idea, as did the clothes you are wearing. Ideas shape the world.
Religious ideas are especially powerful because they reach so deeply into the human heart, accessing an individual’s intrinsic desire to make sense of life and death. Wars have been fought in the name of religion, but despite secularization trends church still remains a viable influence in modern life. Belief in a God who forgives and died to redeem mankind is an example of an idea that has swept the world.
Ideas influence the largest human events as well as the smallest details of our lives. They are the driving force between diplomatic relations and individual relationships. Buddha, Krishna, Christ and other spiritual leaders changed the world with ideas that are now captured in sacred texts. While some argue that religion divides and the world would be better off without it, atrocities can be just as horrific when committed under the banner of godlessness.
To fully understand any religion, you must practice it, live among those who practice it and experience its fruits. Only then can you understand its effects. Only then can you decide if it is a good seed. It is not enough just to read scriptures (or Wikipedia articles) and watch documentaries.
The LDS Church contains so many different ideas that it is difficult to comprehend them all, especially for someone new to the faith. The gospel may be simple in one sense, but if the large number of volumes produced by leaders and adherents during the last two centuries is any indication, it is also rich in depth and nuance. For those who are not born into LDS families, the journey of latter-day sainthood usually begins with missionary lessons and reading The Book of Mormon. It also includes participating in worship meetings and receiving ordinances such as baptism and confirmation. From there it is a process of acculturation as one begins a new life and forms a testimony.
What are the results of LDS ideas for practicing members and for the world? The answer differs greatly depending who you ask. Some have never heard the word Mormon. Others have had positive experiences with an LDS individual but know very little about the faith. Some adherents are quick to defend the Church and its esoteric practices, while former members may have very bitter things to say. The LDS Church is certainly not unique in acquiring both apologists and critics.
The sacrifices required of Mormons are not few in number. From tithing and time spent in callings to coffee and alcohol, members give up a lot. For some, this giving is pure joy. For others, it breeds resentment, especially if their worship experience fails to live up to the hoped-for ideal. Although blessings are the result of obedience (D&C 130:21), it may be many years after obedience that the blessings come, and some blessings may not even arrive in this lifetime. In the meantime, sacrifices must continue to be made.
It’s hard to know for certain where to draw the line between LDS doctrine and LDS culture. It’s hard to know if someone’s bad behavior is due to their own imperfections or if it is the result of an incorrect or misinterpreted principle. In any case, there are times when things go mildly wrong and times when they go horribly wrong in a place where we expect safety to reign. Imperfect people can never create a perfect church, even with perfect divine guidance. A little something is always lost in the translation from heaven to Earth. Unfortunately, those imperfections can result in exceptionally difficult experiences for some members. Non-members aren’t immune from the effects of imperfect love, as they may feel judged or ignored by their LDS neighbors.
The gospel that Jesus Christ lived and taught was pure and free from error. In practice, unenlightened humans cannot recreate the experience of sitting at the feet of the Savior, though many rightly aspire to become like Him. Yet it is in the striving that our own rough edges are knocked off and made smoother. To learn to love as Jesus loved requires more than scriptures, policy manuals and obedience. It requires a willing heart, courageous self-awareness and a new way of looking at God’s children.
Wrong ideas with devastating consequences in the restored Church include the way we treat unbelievers and those who leave the faith, the way we gossip about or misunderstand those with public struggles such as divorce, word of wisdom challenges and sexual sin, and the way we prioritize looking good over being good. When I see the way some in the Church treat their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, I am ashamed of us. This is not love. This is not what Christ taught, and I have no interest in being associated with such wrong ideas.
There are many parallels between the much-maligned Pharisees of the Old Testament and those of us in modern times who claim to represent the risen Lord. Each of us has a solemn responsibility to look to heaven and ask with perfect humility, “Is it I?” In the Book of Mormon, there are examples of “regulations” that needed to be made from time to time in the Nephite church because it had become prideful and corrupt. Though thousands of years have passed, pride is a problem that plagues saints in every age.
I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord, but there are times when we miss the mark, myself included. As we strive to be good Mormons, let us not forget to be good Christians. Let us show genuine, open and unrestricted love for all. Let us cast aside our fears and prejudices and seek to forgive others as we’ve been forgiven. Let us hold on to our helpful ideas and drop the harmful ones. Then we will truly know what it means to be saints.
Gerry Baird is a software project manager with an MBA from Utah State University. He is the author of several religious/inspirational books including his latest title, “Soulness: Six spiritual practices that will set you free”, and is currently pursuing a degree in mental health counseling from Grand Canyon University. His passions include piano, kayaking, yoga, meditation, religious studies, and offering a nonjudgmental listening ear to the beautiful people he meets in real life and through social media. He blogs at The Awakened Mormon.