Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reconsidering my Anti-testimony of Mormon Culture

Artwork by Greg Olson
In stake conference today (the semi-annual meeting of the equivalent of a diocese), the New York, New York mission president talked about his testimony of Mormon culture.  That caught me off guard, as I have smugly reserved Mormon culture as something for my anti-testimony.

His deliberate and repeated comments caused me to think long and hard about my perception of culture and how he might vary on that theme (or definition).

As I understand Mormon culture, it is associated with things that have nothing or very, very little to do with the doctrine.  These aspects include elements as benign as fry sauce, funeral potatoes, certain hairstyles (roller-brushed bubbles) and what I dub "Relief Society voice."  Less content-neutral is the proliferation of Mormon pop-culture, including movies like Singles Ward, the Work and the Glory (or here insert the most popular, recent LDS series), Janice and Stephen Kapp Perry, and a whole slew of Especially For Youth (a youth camp sponsored by my faith) songs.  (Saturday's Warrior also fits in there somewhere but I hold a special place in my LDS-child-of-the-eighties-heart for this one, so I exclude it from all of my Mormon culture judgment...)  Art that is produced by recent Mormons includes a bearded Jesus holding children, hugging people, and holding butterflies.  Other cultural aspects include getting married quite young, having big homes, and equating success with righteousness.

While many of the above things are or can be good, they are often not the best (with notable exceptions - my favorite Primary Song, Love is Spoken Here, was written by Janice Kapp Perry): they rarely represent the best and most compelling expressions of true doctrine, and they are rarely the best use of time, at least when they replace meaningful interaction with Heavenly Father and His divine Son.  I believe that, because the living gospel in which I believe contains a fulness of truth, that should be reflected in all that we do, including our artwork, literature, and method of life.  We should have art that inspires literal and lasting engagement with the Atonement, literature that leads us and points us to the scriptures, music that compellingly and beautifully conveys our unique and rich understanding of doctrine (and that surpasses the best composers), and a way of living that reflects the best of Christian living.

I have no other way to convey this sense of how our culture can better reflect our doctrine except by reference to an inspired LDS gospel program based on the 12 steps: the Addiction Recovery Plan.  I believe all members should review this program and learn how true change is brought about.  I used it to allow the Savior to overcome my controlling tendencies, and have rarely felt the Spirit more powerfully than by reading and engaging in this program.  If we had cultural expressions that were always this powerful in teaching us about how Christ can change us, we could more consistently move mountains as a people.

However, as I believe this wonderful mission president was referring to it, his definition of Mormon culture embraced this last element - those things that we do that reflect true Christian living.  Community is one thing we do well, as I have scribbled about more than once.  Traditions of service, caring for our own and those around us.  The culture of hard work, facing challenges straight on and with faith and hope, and turning the other cheek--these, too, are aspects of the Mormon culture in which I have marinated and of which I can be proud.


  1. Well written. Mormon Culture is something most people are over-eager to proclaim they dislike. I'm guilty of this as well, but I've watched several friends fall away from the church. They start by attacking the culture. Then doubting the doctrine. We need to keep a critical eye for what is true doctrine vs. what is culturally excepted.

    Also, I so enjoy your blog.

  2. "Relief Society voice" made me laugh so hard I snorted. It is both annoying and endearing at the same time. Another one is using the word "special" to describe everything from cute kids to food storage plans. I really enjoy your posts so much...they are a hoot !!!