Posts Tagged ‘LDS cult part-member less-active’

The cultish character of the LDS Church

July 11, 2009

Mormonism is cultish for sure. To clear up some of the FUD from previous comments: Just as with Catholics and other groups, Mormon Bishops and Stake Presidents have been in the news before for sexual abuse crimes (@Sarah, Comment 104).

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 appellation 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 (”good” in the parlance of this thread), 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.

However, living the faith is another matter: Being 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 Christianity.)

The whole emphasis on being “sealed for all time and eternity” to one’s spouse and children (creating “forever families”), 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 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 from “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 (and this is a mark of a cult–setting off some people for special consideration over the “converts”).

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, the principle one begin the attending of BYU or one of its satellite campuses in Idaho or Hawaii, and most certainly serving a full-time mission when between the ages of 18 and 25: a very large percentage of church leaders from the local level all the way to Salt Lake went to BYU and served missions, not all, but a large percentage.

The time outside of Sunday activities deserves special mention, including home teaching, visiting teaching, service projects, weekly activity night for the youth, various “assignments” one might be tapped to do…. 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. (If you refuse a calling or to serve, then that is a mark against you and you are considered “selfish” and as someone who is “not progressing.”)

See a version of this post at  Also see a later version at


Doubting Mark

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