I’ve been fascinated by the recent openness of Leah Remini on her break from the Church of Scientology. Her story sounds eerily familiar, especially when she talks about how her former church talks about and treats apostates, the weirdness and secrecy at the higher level of membership, and the absolute intolerance of criticism.
So, to help Mormons out, here’s my unsolicited advice I wrote several years ago to all those Mormon leaders out there who will never read this or deign to listen as to how they could actually change to appear less culty in the public’s eyes….from the outside looking back in:
- Incorporate community service as a regular part of your worship rather than as publicity stunt. Make this service significant to those who are not of your faith rather than almost exclusively those within it.
Growing up we did a lot of “service projects” in the youth group. I’ve helped a bajillion families move as an Elder’s Quorum member. As ward Relief Society president my Mom was constantly arranging for meals for a sick ward member’s family. But all this was almost exclusively to the benefit of other Mormons. Mormons are really good at taking care of each other, but are timid about real meaningful outward facing service. Other mainstream religions are much better at it.
Of course in a natural disaster, Mormons will show up and wear T-shirts advertising their efforts, but as a percentage of their expenditures of time and money, this sort of thing as a tiny drop in the bucket.
On my mission, service took zero percent of our time. I understand they encourage service for missionaries now, but it would actually make a mission more meaningful and less cult-like for THAT to be the purpose of a mission rather than proselytizing. A mission even as it now operates only serves the Mormon institution, not humanity. Cults put enormous efforts into recruiting. Getting converts makes you no more or less right.
2. Actually put families first, any family.
You can’t get any more cult appearing than telling a non-Mormon parent that she/he can’t attend a son or daughter’s wedding. Period. No further explanation needed other than to recite one of the 10 Commandments – “Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother” – and note that the LDS Church encourages its members to dismiss it when they treat mothers and fathers in this way.
Putting rites and ordinances above family relationships encourages the same sort of disrespect towards non-member family. There’s no reason any father or mother couldn’t bless his or her own newborn together with an Elder…or participate in a baptism. That would bind the family together. Instead, in Mormonism it’s now much more important to bind the individual to the church and create an atmosphere of disappointment towards non-believing family members.
Also, It’s one thing to encourage your own values and morals among the families of your followers. It’s another thing to prefer a child in the larger community have unmarried parents or no parents rather than 2 married parents who aren’t following your special colloquial brand of morality. There are plenty of churches who believe in gay marriage, for example. How does your opposition in the public realm “let them worship how where and what they may”?
3. Take the whole “Follow the Prophet” rhetoric down a notch.
You can CLAIM to worship only Jesus, and it has been good to see your efforts to actually walk the walk by removing non-biblical art from your chapels, revamping the official logo and such, but there’s a LONG way to go. Even a non-Christian visiting your services doesn’t see a whole lot of Christianity. Your members’ homes have YOUR pictures right up there with Jesus for crying out loud. In practice, they obey your word above Jesus Christ’s. They talk about you like you ARE Jesus and you do nothing to discourage that.
4. Initiate checks and balances into your organization to account for the humanity of the human beings running it. In mainstream religions this looks like: Public financial reports, allowing public dissent without fear of excommunication, voting on policy by the membership.
As the saying goes, “Catholic doctrine states that the Pope is infallible but Catholics don’t really believe it. Mormon doctrine states that their Prophet is fallible, but Mormons don’t really believe it.”
In the Bible and Book of Mormon, prophets made mistakes and were often corrected by the laity. In today’s church however the prevailing opinion is that prophets can miraculously do no wrong. That is until they are dead. Then, Mormons become even better than apostates at disregarding a prophet’s teachings.
Fiscal transparency is probably the biggest hurdle Mormonism needs to overcome in the quest to shed all things cultish.
5. Seriously, you need to cut the “sacred, not secret” bit.
Nobody buys it. And don’t you find it ironic that former prophets couldn’t keep their mouth shut about a LOT of weird shit they supposedly experienced? Joseph Smith, Paul, Moses and Brigham Young all had diarrhea of the mouth. But I’m supposed to buy that Thomas Monson and company have experienced something so far out there that they can’t talk about it? Come on….
Their specific callings are to be “Special Witnesses”. That alone pretty much demolishes any claim that you can’t talk about something because it’s “too sacred.”
Even with the average member, it’s ironic that they only need to keep quiet about the weird stuff.
If you were Christians, you’d see the atonement as the most sacred event to ever take place… so why are you SUPPOSED to share that with people?
Admit it… Sacred stuff is SUPPOSED to be shared.
Weird stuff is supposed to be kept secret.
6. If your actions regarding respect for womanhood and equality matched your lip-service, I’d feel better about my daughters being raised Mormon.
An all male priesthood is neither scriptural or respectful towards women. Likewise, motherhood is a natural impulse and most of your young female members will want it regardless. By your confining that role to a one-size-fits all image of womanhood you are actually disrespecting my daughters’ individuality. Put your energy into helping her be a good woman with integrity and the motherhood thing will fall into place quite naturally. When you focus her sights solely on that, however, you diminish her potential as a contributing member of humanity. A dog can be a mom. A woman could likewise be an awesome Mom and a CEO of her company, or bishop of her local ward.
7. Scrap the dress code regulations…
Think about it….cult members dress alike, people in a mainstream religion don’t.
These sorts of things take care of themselves. People naturally want to dress alike. If today you said, “Forget everything we’ve ever said about grooming and dress” nothing would really change. Gradually some individuality would creep in to the grooming of your members, but you know what? If it does, then reality will actually begin to match what you yourselves are trying to portray in those “I am a Mormon” commercials.
The second problem with these silly dress and style regulations is that they always inevitably become outdated. You shoot yourselves in the foot when you encourage the white shirt, one earring, dresses not pants, etc… Even the required missionary attire looks silly in today’s world. It also belies the confidence your own founder had in the the membership to be able to govern themselves after being taught “correct principles.”
8. Be more cross-cultural and adaptable internationally.
The structure and content of a Mormon worship service looks and feels late 19th/early 20th century North American no matter where you go in the world. This is great for traveling Americans and Canadians (especially for you Mormon leaders) because we feel right at home in Brazil, Japan, Nigeria or the Philippines. But what ends up happening is that it really only attracts the citizens of those countries who are interested in all things American. To everyone else, the Mormons just seem like a North American cult transplanted to their homeland.
There’s nothing universal about the organ or piano music, white shirts and ties, or LDS artwork. If the dress, the music, the behavior of the congregation and even the architecture of LDS building reflected local customs you would look and feel less like “American Moonies” and more like a relevant world religion.
9. Allow and encourage individual freedom among the rank and file.
Now, I know you’re not going to get this one without a lot on pondering. A regular Mormon won’t get this. Real mainstream Christian religions allow significantly more individual adaptation than Mormonism does.
A Catholic can attend mass anywhere he/she feels comfortable. Mormons have to attend their assigned geographic ward like a elementary school child is told where to go to school.
A Methodist can actually volunteer in church where and when they are personally interested and motivated . Mormons are assigned jobs and callings without the opportunity to volunteer and with no consideration of their own desires. What you end up with are scout leaders who would rather be ward clerks and ward clerks who would rather be scout leaders. All of them with a silent frustration and resentment that their free time and talents are being strong-armed by church leaders.
It looks very master-planned, socialist, and cult-like from the outside.
10. Institute paid, professional clergy
Mormons already pay their clergy. You, the General Authorities are paid and yet the rank and file still imagine you are not. It’s therefore not doctrinal to keep this established image of a lay clergy. A paid clergy is solidly within the bounds of Mormon history and doctrine… and Christianity. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, apostles, Patriarchs, Bishops and Stake Presidents all have received significant compensation for their callings in the past.
Somehow over the life of the LDS faith, the church has managed to establish this myth of a lay clergy to the point that it is really only true for those at the lowest points of the hierarchy. You end up with the folks doing the real ground-work being overworked but uncompensated… a very big, flashing red flag for a cult… underpaid and overworked followers.
A significant side effect of this institutional behavior is an unqualified clergy. If you pay people a living salary to perform your most significant work, education and training follow naturally. Imagine a Mormon teenager approaching her bishop for counseling and actually getting a trained professional rather than an amateur, unprepared, but well-meaning neighbor!
A professional clergy could only improve or enhance what have become drab and corporate-like Mormon meetings. Everyone wins…and together with suggestion #9 you would be creating a free market for the best clergy and more engaged membership.