There is a lot of good in Mormonism. There are teachings of love and compassion, of service and productivity, of humility and integrity. Within its community, there is a sense of belonging and safety. And I see much sincerity in its people.
However, I’m concerned that too often, the ability for members to live by these good principles is handicapped by other teachings in the church that when believed, cause psychological harm to the individual, limit personal growth, freedom, and potential, and drive wedges in relationships. Not all members believe these harmful teachings, and I hope that if any members are reading this post, they will feel moved to help put a stop to these teachings when they see them, and spread a healthier gospel in their congregations and families. I believe this will not only make Mormonism a more loving and pleasant church, it will make the world a more peaceful place wherever Mormons touch it.
So, what are these teachings I’m referring to? Here is a short list. It’s not comprehensive, but I think it’s a good start. Following the pattern in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I’ll show a current (less helpful) teaching, followed by a more healthy teaching to replace it. Of course, these are only my suggestions. Each person must look inside themselves to see what resonates with them.
Old Teaching: The LDS church is the only true church on earth, and the only way to have eternal happiness.
New Teaching: The LDS church is one way that many find God/spirituality/happiness. Other paths may be more effective and helpful for others. Happiness is a choice we make in each moment, regardless of our circumstances or behavior.
Old Teaching: Prophets never lead people astray.
New Teaching: Prophets are humans just like you and me, and interpret their spiritual experiences through their own filters, as do we all, and therefore sometimes teach things that are untrue or detrimental.
Old Teaching: Spiritual feelings can prove something to be objectively true.
New Teaching: Spiritual feelings, experiences, and intuition can teach us about ourselves, our focus, and our desires. By quieting the mind, we can gain insight into new ideas. But spiritual feelings cannot in themselves teach us objective truth. These experiences can, however, be experimented with and interpreted in ways that help us learn about our reality to a degree.
Old Teaching: Doubt is dangerous, and negative things about the church or its leaders shouldn’t be read or believed.
New Teaching: It is important to look at all sides of an issue as fully as possible, and analyze all evidence with as little bias as possible, in order to make informed decisions and not deceive ourselves. Doubting our own beliefs is a welcome form of humility that can lead to further growth and learning.
Old Teaching: The scriptures are a literal history and/or a perfect instruction manual written by God.
New Teaching: The scriptures were written by human beings sharing their spiritual experiences, stories, and beliefs based on their incomplete knowledge, and varied biases. They contain both history and mythology, both truth and falsehood, both helpful and harmful stories and teachings, and can be interpreted and taught in both helpful and harmful ways. Like all books, they can be a tool for spiritual growth, but are not a reliable source of absolute truth or an infallible guide to morality and ethics.
Old Teaching: God wants everyone on earth to follow modern LDS commandments.
New Teaching: Modern LDS commandments are the guidelines put in place by the leaders of a modern church, and are not eternal, unchangeable laws set forth by God. (Obviously, since they keep changing.) While many of these guidelines are helpful for those who choose to follow them, other people have chosen guidelines that work better for them. These people are not necessarily living in sin or living a life less worthy of respect.
Old Teaching: People who leave the LDS church only do so because they’ve been deceived / wanted to sin / got offended.
New Teaching: People leave the LDS church for a variety of reasons, including that their integrity no longer allows them to support the truth claims of the church, or to belong to an organization that they see as spreading falsehoods and division, or that they found something outside of the church that is more helpful for their spirituality, relationships, and happiness.
Old Teaching: People who leave the church are to be avoided and not trusted, because they may diminish your faith.
New Teaching: People who leave the church are human beings who need love and understanding, just like you. Many of them have been deeply hurt by how members of the church (especially family and close friends) have treated them after they have left, as if they instantly became a threat or disappointment. You can show compassion by listening to their stories, seeking to understand, and empathizing without judgment, rather than rejecting or avoiding them, pitying them, or assuming ill intent.
Old Teaching: Families can live together in the eternities, but only if they are faithful members of the LDS church.
New Teaching: Families and friends should be cherished now, while we’re here, not mourned over or expected to change because of the future imagined loss of an eternal family for which no real evidence exists. Love is appreciating people as they are, with all their differences, not withholding acceptance unless they meet your expectation.
Old Teaching: Sexual urges should be completely suppressed until marriage, and partially suppressed afterward.
New Teaching: Sexual urges are a natural and healthy part of our biology and should be respected and cultivated safely and enjoyably, regardless of one’s marital status. Suppressing and shaming sexual desires leads to skewed perspectives about sexuality, and physical and emotional imbalances. By embracing, rather than rejecting, our sexual nature, we become empowered to make conscious choices about how and when to carry out our sexual desires in ways that match our values. There is no shame in being sexual.
Old Teaching: If you do not keep the LDS commandments, you are not worthy of God’s love, and cannot have the Spirit with you.
New Teaching: Nothing you do, feel, think, or believe can diminish your worth as a human being. Guilt is a natural emotion that arises when we do not keep our obligations, but can be overcome through living with integrity. People from all religious backgrounds and belief systems, including non-religious, have spiritual experiences, and these are not an indicator of divine worthiness. Everyone deserves love simply for being alive.
Some of these “Old Teachings”, while not necessarily core church doctrines, are regularly perpetuated in official church publications and conferences, and are arguably believed by the majority of faithful members. But I’ve met members who view their faith through the lens of these “New Teachings”, and from what I can see, they are enjoying much more peace both in their personal lives, and in their relationships (including their relationship with God).
With the more divisive teachings rooted out and removed from the church curriculum (or at least not believed by the majority), members will be better able to focus on principles that serve to unite the world in a more loving and connected way, without sadness, condescension, fear, or pity for those who do not believe or live as they do (especially those who have left the faith). There will be fewer barriers to fully living principles like love, service, understanding, learning, acceptance, peace, and making the world a better place for all right now and in the future. Granted, many members (and non-members) might think this is already their focus, but it is so easy to be blind to the ways we subconsciously sabotage our efforts and relationships. And I don’t exclude myself there either — I’m blind, too, just less so than I used to be.
Whether you’re a member of the church or not, I’m curious about how this post resonated with you. How do you feel about the teachings on this list? Are there any you’d choose to change or reword? Any new ones you’d add to the list? How would you make Mormonism (or even religion in general) “more good”? And what can you do personally to help it become so? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.