If someone should get only one thing out of the church, what should it be?

Andrew Schurch, LDS, Mormon, Mormons 28 Comments

In an ideal world, we would like everyone to be members of the church (actually, this is just a generalization that I’m going to write just so I can have an introduction to this article). Ideally, we’d like them to be faithful members of the church who sustain the prophet, live great lives, enjoy their lives and find purpose with their lives that match up with the Gospel. In an ideal world.

Unfortunately, Liebniz was a little off the mark. We live in a good world (again, if you disagree, please just go with this one so I can have a snappy article)…but not the best of all possible worlds. So, now, we have to play a game of compromise. If you couldn’t have someone get everything and more from the church, what one thing would you want anyone to get from the church instead?

If you’ve read my posts or my blog, then you will guess that the thing I got from the church was not the theology and spirituality. That one didn’t stick after all. However, I did get a culture that remains with me still. And even now, I realize how in many ways, I’m still, as they say, in the world but not of it. So, even if I don’t affiliate with the theology of the church or assert its divinity, I would like to think that members I know can still say at the end of the day, “Even if that Andrew S guy doesn’t believe, he’s still an OK guy.” And I would like to think that my Mormon upbringing has had something (among others) to do with that.

So, for me, I would like to think that if someone gets something out of the church, it’s a way to be a better person. It’s a code for living. It’s a culture.

…but even I realize that I have arguments against that very thing, and others do too. For example, am I still completely sure that the church’s prescription is always “better”? Even though I have taken from the church a sense of not being a raving drunkard or a sex fiend, this does not necessarily mean that drinking is bad or sex is bad. So my prudeness (not to be confused with prudence), even though it makes me proud to say that I could pass the Law of Chastity or Word of Wisdom sections of a temple interview without breaking a sweat, might be seen as an undesirable thing by others, not a good thing.

And while I would hope that other members would look at my actions and way of living as the most important thing…perhaps they wouldn’t. For example, I could easily see someone saying that the one thing someone should get from the church is belief in the core principles. I know people who have committed some rather big sins and transgressions (some from personal knowledge, others just from that implied knowledge that they must have done something big to get in their position of unworthiness with priesthood and sacrament matters)…but they surely have stayed in the church, and some other members I know are more grateful for that. Because even if these guys aren’t repenting (although some are), they know what’s what when it comes to believing.

So, what do you think? If only one thing, what should someone get out of the church? You can be creative here.

Comments 28

  1. Themselves…

    I would suggest the best thing for someone would be to spend three months away from the ‘routine’ and instead spend an equivalent amount of time in seeking God. In native american terms, conduct your own vision quest. Set aside the time to do as Enos did and seek a remission of you sins. Use the time to read the scriptures and ponder the path that God wants you to follow. In these hectic times, we are often so busy, we cannot find the time to commune with God and learn to hear His voice. That, in my opinion, is the one thing we all should do.

  2. I guess it would be that they should form a relationship with God and align their wills with Him. Theoretically then, if the Church is really the Church of Jesus Christ, they will follow its teachings, which leads to everything else.

  3. I would say the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Nothing is more important than that and I actually feel that those who get that will remain members of the LDS Church.

  4. I love this post and the comments thereafter. I was an active member for a short time after I was baptized a few years back but still haven’t been able to fully incorporate the Church into my life and thus am inactive, or “less active”.

    Like Andrew, the one thing that I’ve been able to take away from the Church is the culture. I come from an Irish Catholic family where warmth and humor are foreign and even seemingly unwelcome, so imagine the impression I got when I first went into a Sacrament Meeting and was greeted and hugged even though the people didn’t know me. I still think that is mainly why I chose to get baptized – for the welcoming warmth and concern most people in the Church showed me. People from my ward still call and write to see how I am, and even send me baskets at Christmastime. It is truly a unique and wonderful experience for me. I’ve attended a lot of other Christian Churches out of curiosity in my days and to this day have never come across a Church and its people that are more Christ-like than the LDS Church.

  5. Interesting post. The comments, well, I agree with everyone of them (1-4), especially #1 sektator, with the possible exception of not attending church for three months.

    The churches influence, I’ve learned, comes at many levels as Andrew S. points out. I haven’t appreciated this point before I came to the bloggernacle.

    To answer the question, I will say as a minimum, I hope everyone will have some degree of understanding that they are a child of God.

  6. One thing? Wow.

    Probably a belief that they, personally, and all other people, collectively, are important and deserve to be loved as equals – regardless of differences. I translate that as a Parent/Child (brother/sister) relationship for all, but there are others who had a horrible experience with their father (or with men in general – or with authority figures in general), mother, siblings, etc. I wish everyone could feel an uplifting, empowering, comforting, ennobling, accepting connection to God and others – in whatever frame and phraseology works best for them.

    If I were to phrase it differently, I wish that everyone could become truly Christ-like – that we could be a radically diverse family but united in unconditional love. Everything else, imo, flows from that core, INTERNAL orientation.

    Andrew, you said: “So, for me, I would like to think that if someone gets something out of the church, it’s a way to be a better person.” That is what I am saying, as well, at the heart of it all.

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  8. I would say integrity. Yes, people can learn integrity elsewhere, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you believe that God is in the picture. Perhaps we are more mindful of everything we do and say when we believe that it’s not just other people who are watching us, but God himself.

    On the other hand, though, I find that it can sometimes be more challenging to have integrity and the courage to be my authentic self within the Church than without. Sometimes it’s easier to be a “peculiar person” in the outside world than a “peculiar Mormon” in the LDS Church.

  9. Good post Andrew S! If I had to pinpoint one thing I think someone should get out of church it would be to express love to others through service. For me, this is the ultimate expression of Christlike love. The lay clergy idea in Mormonism, while responsible for many things we complain about, is, arguably, one of the best ideas ever crafted in this church.

    In conjunction with this, the idea of submission of one’s will to something higher than one’s own needs/wants, is very powerful. I believe it is what enables us to learn, grow, and be molded into something better, to become one with nature and our fellows. Submission of one’s will makes service to others a natural consequence!

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    re 10:

    FD, my nonbeliever senses are tingling, because I have a completely different viewpoint. I think integrity does take a huge meaning when we believe that God is in the picture, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For some, perhaps it is a good thing, but I think it also creates some artificialities. For example, your suggesting that “we are more mindful of everything we do and say when we believe it’s not just other people who are watching us, but God himself.” I mean, certainly for you and for others, this seems like a good thing. But I hear a much different thing about integrity — integrity is so great because it’s what you do when you think no one is watching you. So, it’s not what you do in front of people. It’s not what you do in front of God. It’s what you do when no one is watching you (or at least, you think no one is watching you).

    So, your quotation seems actually inimical to integrity…and I know you don’t mean it that way, so I don’t want to attack your belief. It seems to remind me (but I’m not suggesting that you or anyone else here believes anything of this sort) of people who suppose that people only do not murder because of fear of Godly wrath…personally, I should SINCERELY hope that even for people who believe in God, they do not murder for a whole lot more than GGod

  11. I see what you’re saying, but I think that a big part of integrity entails having a sense of who you are. One of Mormonism’s fundamental beliefs is that God is aware of every detail in our lives and that he cares about us as a father does for his children. That can give someone a real sense of self-identity and reason to be honest and upright in thought and action. I realize, of course, that on the flip side of the coin is the potential for this “identity” to become a source for pride and arrogance, if we assume that God is always “on our side” or somehow favours us because we’re members of the Church.

    I’m not saying this is the case with you, but I think there are many (including myself), who would have less motivation to be their true selves if we did not believe in God. Personally speaking, I think it’s given me more motivation to explore my strengths, as well as work on my weaknesses, and to do my best to fulfill what I believe is my God-given potential.

    Of course, one does not need faith in a God to do the above. I can appreciate, for example, humanist philosophies that encourage morals, ethics, and allowing all to magnify their self-worth and potential without being hindered by religious dogma.

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    re 13:

    again, I think that everything you say can be flipped around depending on whatever your beliefs are. I mean, do you realize how it must sound to someone else? You already presuppose your conclusion…For example, I would agree that a big part of integrity entails having a sense of who you are. But where you presuppose a conclusion is because you have a very clear idea of what that sense should entail, because for you, it entails “God [being] aware of every detail in our lives and…car[ing] about us as a father does for his children.” But this sense doesn’t work for everyone, first of all, and when some try to force this sense, it brings them pain. It does not mesh with experienced reality. It is actually a sense *not* of who they are, but a sense of rather what Mormon metaphysics would want them to be.

    Now, I agree that there are different strokes for different folks, so to speak. For people who need a belief in God to be their true selves, then even I would say that they have an imperative to search and find God in whatever way they can. And I don’t mean this in any slight (because I know there are others who would say such a thing with the terrible implication that belief in god is just a “crutch” for people who can’t deal with “reality,” and I think these people are just as much as fault). But, again, frequently I have to come to a realization, humbling as it is, that I cannot and should not presume that any one way or another is a universal or external truth…rather, each way is a subjective and personal truth that can (and does) differ for every person. And I know even I’m not perfect at it, but I just think everyone needs to realize that we don’t need to presume that “one size fits all.”

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    re 15

    Ray, we agree on all the material points. We disagree on the trivial points :D. As such, I’ve got to milk it for what it’s worth. 16 comments and counting!

  14. Andrew, this is a tough one for non-believers to comment on, I think. I’ve almost commendted a couple of times, but this isn’t really one of those posts that is meant to prod and probe in a critical way, so I don’t want to end up just being negative or giving backhanded compliments. As my mother used to say, if you can’t say anything UNCONDITIONALLY positive, and all that.

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    re 17:

    a tough one for non-believers to comment on? As a nonbeliever, I can say this one wasn’t even too tough to write.

    I mean, this is a kind of idealism-inspiring post. You don’t have to talk about how the church is or how it was, but you can talk about what you would like the church *to be* for people in the future. That shouldn’t be too hard, even if your past experiences have shown you that what you post is unlikely to be the experience of people as the church is now.

    For example, even as I start moving away and redefining what I think is truly good or bad (or if good or bad are even good concepts to deal with), I can recognize that I would wish that if everyone got one thing from the church, they would get the wherewithal to go through that process. I do not mean they should think that you’re a better person if you follow the church’s current code of awesome…but rather, even if they leave, even if they decide to pick and choose, whatever the case is, I’d hope that the church provided some experience that got them away from complacency and got them to thinking critically about this issue. And I think exmember or struggling members are even MORE acutely aware of this process sometimes. And I think it makes us better.

  16. Well, my first answer would be “A knowledge of the love that Jesus Christ has for every single of us,” but I’m guessing you don’t want a spiritual answer…so I’ll rephrase it in a more secular way.

    One of the things the Church has taught me (and others will probably argue that this hasn’t been their experience) is respect and love for every human, no matter what they’re like. Now, I’m not perfect at this, but things I’ve learned from Church doctrine and from experience with Church members is that we should really TRY to look beyond people’s flaws and see the child of God that is inside everyone. This has really helped me deal with people in a more loving and kind manner. I wish more people would really try to do that.

  17. #18 – Andrew, what I meant was that it’s difficult because I feel like there’s a temptation, at least for me, to qualify anything positive I might say with some criticism of the church, which I don’t feel is totally appropriate in this thread. That’s not to say that I don’t have anything positive to say about the church, but it would be too easy to say something like “ideally people would get X out of the church, but unfortunately…” That may just be where I am personally.

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    re 19

    you can give whatever answer you want, Mandi. I do myself more of a service to find out what believers really think and really feel, rather than hearing it candy-coated.

    In the end, we might not see eye to eye, and we might not have the same ending experiences, but at least we’ll know where each other stands. So, your original answer is fine.

    re 20

    well, even in that case, I’m just saying I’m not going to flip out on you or anything.

  19. When I found the church, I had been asking questions that no one had or could answer about who God really was and how to “BE” to reach him…get my voice “heard” in heaven”..almost anything about a personal evolvement / involvement / EXPERIENCE WITH the spirit world and Diety. I FOUND ME.
    I FOUND HIM. I found instructions and information that gave me the identity and explanations for thoughts and feelings I’d had all my life DEEP inside…mind and heart. Detailed explanations about spiritual experiences that MADE SENSE. Real life common sense answers that FIT and then propelled me into a day-by-day future of communication with the “other side” and KNOWING of self and others that has made real life make sense and “WORTH” ALL The crap we all go thru. I’ve always been a “WHY” person. What I get from the Church, that I’ve never gotten from any other spiritual path or religion were “EVERY SINGLE TIME & EVERY SINGLE QUESTION / PROBLEM” = ANSWERS that worked, FIT into a whole, and gave me a DEEP, joyful sense of peace.
    Ya gotta have a perfect vehicle to get to the promised land !!
    Love to All.

  20. “again, I think that everything you say can be flipped around depending on whatever your beliefs are.”

    Totally! πŸ™‚

    “I mean, do you realize how it must sound to someone else?”

    I try, but don’t always realize it until it’s pointed out to me. That’s why there’s such value in different perspectives, especially yours, Andrew. It’s not every day Mormons hear a perspective like yours, and those who haven’t are missing out. I mean that with the utmost sincerity.

  21. ……addendum……I promise all the 21 before me, God is NO respecter of persons…..YOU TOO can have the SAME sure and certain knowledge I have,
    Just ASK God with an open heart.
    FORGET the sometimes shaky programs, HUMAN parts of people, bad timing, weak leaders, all the mortal things that can get in our way of REALLY finding OUR spiritual selves and having those one-on-ones with the Godhead, GETTING ALL THE ANSWERS to ALL THE QUESTIONS, so that we can have inner PEACE and JOY….
    Just sincerely and lovingly and with faith and TRUST..ASK Father – who DID provide a PERFECT FEAST that filled my hunger and aside from everyone else who is non-member / non-believer / believer / building / book or blog…..JUST BETWEEN ME and Him……. YOU AND THEM….YOU WILL KNOW like me.
    Please try.

  22. Pingback: The closest thing to a super spiritual experience… « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  23. If a person could take away only one thing from the LDS church, I would hope that it would be charity. Pure and genuine love for everyone around oneself. As Ray so eloquently put it (#6), everything else flows from that love.

  24. Generally speaking, for a church to be successful as an organization, members must have basic confidence in the church’s theology. Otherwise members have a hard time distinguishing it from any other benevolent organization, and they divide their efforts accordingly.

    In the contemporary Church, the dominant idea seems to be that if people have spiritual experiences, systematic or extensive theology is irrelevant. I think that view is short sighted. A precept strengthened by understanding is a far more powerful thing than one sustained by feeling alone, especially that sustained by the secondary afterglow of something rather more fundamental.

  25. #24 – Sharon, would you say that you don’t have a single question about the church or the doctrine that can’t or hasn’t been answered?

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