Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Kind of People Are Mormons?

Years ago I read a letter to the editor of a Utah newspaper that was critical of members of our church. The author devised categories for each type of Mormon. One of the types he mentioned was "genuine Mormons", and he explained that there are very few of these. His cynical view of our members was, in my opinion, very unfair. I wrote a letter in reply, and gave my own view of the kinds of members that exist in our church. I explained that in my opinion, there are only two kinds of members.

First there are those who are member in name only. Maybe they were baptized as children, but never really attended church and were not taught what we believe. This group also includes those who have no ill feelings toward the church, but who simply don't care about religion, so do not attend. These type of members exist in every church. When I was a missionary in Taiwan, I met a Catholic Priest. He told me that his biggest concern was that they had so many members who were members in name only. I was told that in the early years, the Catholic church gave free rice to new members, so many starving people joined the Catholic church for the free food. Now they have many members of record who simply don't attend. I sympathized with his situation because we too have many members of record who joined, but who were never really deeply entrenched in the gospel, so slipped away.

The Savior taught a parable about new converts to the gospel. He first taught about those who never really got a chance to be deeply converted: " ...Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away." Matthew 13:3-6 These people did not have a spiritual root that was firmly grounded in the gospel.

The Savior also spoke of those who were victims of attacks from others. "And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them." Matt. 13:7 I have a family member who fell in to this category. Not long after joining the church, he made acquaintance with anti-Mormons who were able, because of his lack of understanding of the gospel, to shake his faith. Not only did they shake his faith in this church, but in God as well. He is an old man, and has still not returned to God. These are perhaps the saddest of casualties.

The second kind of member I mentioned is the member who is trying. Some of us are "genuine". Many of us are trying to be "genuine". None of us are perfect. We all, including leaders, are human and imperfect. You will not find a perfect leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You won't find a perfect leader in any other church either. You will find many good people. But the more you get to know them, you will find that they have faults. We are all a work in progress. The gospel is for those of us who need help in overcoming our faults. The Savior said, "...They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." Matthew 9:12 We are all, in a sense, spiritually sick. That is part of this mortal experience. This is why we must rely on the Savior's atonement.

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley taught, "... the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Symbol of Our Faith,” Ensign, Apr 2005, 2–6) This is our goal as members of the church. Many members are excellent examples of Christlike living. But there are many of us that are struggling and still trying to grow deep roots. If you go to Utah, you won't find perfect people. Many people I know who move there are disillusioned to find that members of our church don't always live the way they should. I think that because we have such high standards, people expect us to be perfect. But what I say to them is that it is just as difficult for us to live our religion as it would be for others. The only thing that helps us to live it well is a testimony that is firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But I do believe that by and large, our members are good examples of Christlike living. I see great faith among our members. Our pioneer forefathers showed great faith in following the prophet Brigham Young to the west. I see that same pioneer blood exhibited in the faith of the members today. Once, while living in China, my family and I went to the Phillipines for a vacation. We attended church there and heard a story about the faith of the members there. One woman wanted very much to earn money to pay her way to go to the temple in Manila so that she could receive the temple ordinances there. To earn money, she took in washing. But this was a woman who did not have the use of her hands, so she washed the clothing with her feet. This is the kind of faith for which we all should strive. I know many people who have had to sacrifice for the gospel's sake. It is this sacrifice that builds the deep roots of faith in our members. In these troubled times, it is becoming increasingly important to sink our roots deep, and strive to become more Christlike so that we can have the strength to weather the storms, and so that we can qualify ourselves to return to live with God some day.

Some years ago I was talking with some missionaries of our church, and I told them that I feared that I wasn't a very good example of the gospel. My neighbors hear me occasionally yell at my children, or gossip, or say unkind things. These are weaknesses that I struggle with. I told them that I feared that because of my bad example, my neighbors who have no religion would feel that religion didn't help me become a better person, so why bother. One of the missionaries said to me, "Just ask your neighbors what kind of person you would be if you didn't have the gospel." I think that was a very wise statement. I'm not perfect by any means. I have weaknesses that I struggle to overcome. But if I did not have the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, I would be far worse off.

Mormons aren't perfect. We struggle with the same temptations and weaknesses that everyone else struggles with. But what it all comes down to is this: there really are only two types of Mormons; those who are trying, and those who aren't.

1 comment:

Amber said...

this was good - i think this is the biggest obstacle I face alot of times when talking to others about the church, they will have had bad experiences with someone who was a "member" and believe that we are all that way. I agree that each church has the same problems, the same types of people. I always liked that phrase, the church isn't perfect, the gospel is.