Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Cultish characteristics of the LDS church

January 26, 2011

Here’s something I posted at a Top Ten Cults list comment thread.  I like the way the post tries to speak to a general audience.  I wish I had said more in the conclusion about the need to do two years as a missionary and achieve other markers of future ability to move up the Mormon hierarchy.  –MD (aka Phyllis Stean, and Phyllis Stein, and derrida at RFM)

(Originally posted at http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-cults.php.)

Phyllis Stean mantisdolphin.wordpress.com says:
July 11, 2009 at 11:28 am

As a converted Mormon (plus eight years now), my opinion is that “the Church”–such is how it is called by its “members,” itself another common appelation among the LDS to refer to those on the rolls of the Church–is cultish at the least.

Note: Jan Shipps, one of the foremost non-LDS historians of the LDS Church, also refers to it in its origins as a “cult” (Shipps, Mormonism, pp. 47-51). Unfortunately, Shipps’ definition of “cult” is entirely academic, sociological, and external: She sees successful cults as those that develop and become dominant or mainstream traditions, a fate she sees as shared by the LDS Church. Thus she refuses to judge her subject and proceeds with her narrative with archival pleasure and ambition.

However, living the faith is another matter: The prospect of living in a “part-member” family really brings the cultish character of the faith into relief. If children are involved, then one parent not being “active,” i.e., going to church regularly, can easily end a marriage and divide a family. (This seems more destructive to me than what one finds in mainstream religions.) The whole emphasis on being “sealed for all time and eternity” to one’s spouse and children, and the heavy indoctrination of youth through all manner of expected activities outside of the three regular Sunday church hours, lends great force to the bind that the Church keeps “weak” members (those in need of “strengthening”) in: to split from the Church creates a serious threat to one’s family and great pain and confusion to one’s children for not having a parent of “integrity” (I’m quoting all the buzz words here.)

Add to this the expected annual “tithing settlement” with the Bishop (he–always he–is like the head preacher of a given “ward” or church community–usually numbering from 300-400 people). One must go with one’s family to answer the Bishop’s question, “Do you pay a full tithe?” As invasive as this may sound to mainstream protestants, this “interview” setting is quite common in the Church, extending to regular “worthiness” or “Temple” interviews with youth and adults. Waywardness is watched for vigilantly, and to me this seems cultish. In fact, now the Church puts barcodes on “Temple recommends” and the Bishop of each ward gets a weekly report of who in the ward has been faithful in going to the Temple (another expected outside-regular-Sunday-Church-meeting activity of “faithful,” “valiant,” “worthy,” “active members”).

Connected to “Temple worthiness” (imagine being a member of a church where you are formally considered a less worthy member than someone else), there also are levels of acceptance and prestige in the Church as well: If one has a genealogy that goes back to the original members of the Church (1830s), that is quite special. If one has ancestors who were part of the 19th century “Pioneers” who traveled across the US to Utah, then one is certainly pedigreed. Being a relative of one of the Church leaders in Salt Lake is certainly a way into the Church aristocracy, and there are various other ways to ascend in this informal Church hierarchy, including perhaps most importantly the attending of BYU or one of its satellite campuses in Idaho or Hawaii.

I don’t have time presently to talk about the importance of “sacrifice” and “service” in the Church. Suffice to say that the emphasis on these can be quite overwhelming in terms of (voluntary) time commitments from the faithful.

 


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