*DISCLAIMER* Don’t judge the Mormon’s based on this article! They are great and amazing people. The doctrine is powerful and the teachings can help anyone whether you believe them or not. This is simply a message to those who are already members of the church in hopes to help better ourselves.
I grew up in the church, was baptized at the age of 8, ordained a Deacon at 12, a Teacher at 14, and a Priest at 16. I served my mission in Buenos Aires Argentina. I was a District Leader, a Zone Leader, baptized people, and then came home to attended BYU-Idaho. After a few semesters I left school to join the Marine Corps, got out and now I’m working in Boise. I was what you could call a “standard” member of the church. I was pure in the eyes of everyone who knew me, I had lived the law of chastity, obeyed the word of wisdom, and yet underneath it all I was this angry young man tormented by an anguish of overwhelming guilt and deep sadness. It took me 21 years before I finally asked myself “Why am I always sad?”
How could anyone who was a member of the church feel so unhappy? And how could I have not realized it? I didn’t feel loved, pure, or righteous. In fact, I felt far from it, which seemed like the complete opposite as to what Christ said we should feel when we try to follow him. After speaking with tons of members, friends, and family itt is now my belief that many members struggle with a hard combination of deep depression, guilt, shame, and confusion to which I have given the name “Mormon Depression”. I gave it that name because I won’t and can’t believe that I am the only one who has ever felt the way I did, struggled with an emotional roller coaster, or constantly felt guilty things out of my control and always making mistakes, and so hence the purpose for why I am writing this article.
I am about to turn 28, I am a divorced Mormon, and I am struggling to stay active. This makes me pretty much the worst candidate for marriage in any singles ward. I look back at the last 10 years of my life and wonder how I got here, and stunned at how much different it is than how I had imagined it to be. I once dreamed that by this age I would be working on a Masters Degree, maybe living in a house I bought, taking care of three kids and a gorgeous wife. We would go to church every Sunday, have Family Home Evening on Mondays, and I would have an awesome calling as a Scout leader. I never once saw myself sitting in the back of a Singles Ward as an old man, trying to spark conversations with women way to young for me, and playing church ball with a bunch of younger faster more in shape “Pre-Mi’s”.
Some might consider this a really bad situation, like a guy trying to defuse a bomb before time runs out. But, in reality, I wouldn’t change a thing. For the first time in my life I am happy, I am thrilled to be alive, and I am nowhere near as stressed as I use to be. What’s ironic, is my current outlook on life was developed over the last 6 years with the help and inspiration of others who are nowhere near being Mormon. I now realize things about myself, opened my eyes, and changed to the person I am today. I was sad because there were things I was not grasping, not seeing, and not understanding. These were things I couldn’t grasp, see, or understand because I was like the prisoner in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The chains that held me and ultimately lead me into that deep depression for most of my life stemmed from a physiological cluster. A cluster of shadows that could have easily been revealed if only I had known what I now refer to as the 4 Struggles of Mormons.
We Judge, and WANT to be Judged: It doesn’t matter what you tell me, how you say it, or what language you say it in, I will always be skeptic of anyone who tells me they are “non-judgmental”. Frankly, I don’t believe anyone CAN be ‘non-judgmental”, simply because judgement is our key to survival, spirituality, and knowledge. Without judgement you could never compare services, products, or people to count on.
Just because we need to judge SOME things doesn’t mean we must judge ALL things. We Mormons are some of the MOST judgmental people that I have ever encountered, and that’s crazy considering I’ve met thousands of people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Some of the most knowledgeable, well-spoken, and kindest people I have ever met were actually from different faiths. Which should scare anyone who claims to be a member the one true church.
What do I mean by judging? Well, we do it so inconspicuously that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. For example, when I attended BYU-Idaho it was customary to stand up in front of the class and tell everyone who you were, where you were from, and where you served your mission. If you didn’t tell the class, then it appeared you were not marriage material, you were young, or that you weren’t allowed go because of past mistakes. None of those options are considered a good thing when you are surrounded by pretty Mormon girls looking to settle down.
We put such high standards on others that when we ourselves fail to meet them we subconsciously believe we are horrible people unworthy of happiness. And why should we not feel terrible? It seems all that’s ever taught is that we are sinners and the whole purpose of life to constantly be repenting. Especially when we hear fellow members and leaders ask questions like “Why didn’t he serve?”, “Why did he come home early from his mission?”, “Why don’t they have kids yet?”, or “Why isn’t he/she married?”.
Ask any single adult above the age of 23 “Why are you still single?”. Watch as they try not to roll their eyes, try to hide their frustration, and reply with either a short angry “I don’t know.” or a long drawn out explanation of excuses because they feel as if they need to explain why they are so called “failing” at life. Even if you don’t truly feel that way, or intend to sound judgmental, I promise you we all assume that you are asking because we don’t seem to be following basic Mormon 101. We normally get use to it by about the age of 26, but I’ve seen it sour a lot people into leaving the church, and speaking out against it. Now, just because becoming angry is our own conscious decision does not make it okay to lack respect and love for others.
I’ve seen MANY members post articles on their Facebook pages in an effort to be an example and attempt to promote LDS standards. By doing so, many fail to realize that by speaking as a member they are speaking on behalf of EVERY Mormon, whether they meant to or not. Which can make those who fail to meet the expectations of those articles feel less of a person for it. Titles such as “Hey Young People: Now’s the Time to Get Married” or “Think before you Ink”, both of which are actual titles of actual posts I’ve seen and read from Facebook status updates. Most likely, people don’t post these articles with the intention to be judgmental, but that’s exactly what it is and how it feels when you are the one targeted in the article as the “bad example”.
There are also many of us posting the popular “I am Mormon” phrase because we WANT to be judged, we’ve been taught to be judged, to be seen, and to let others view our lives as examples of righteousness. We hide the bad and highlight the good, because heaven forbid anyone post an article about truly struggling with something real. Especially when that something is porn, drug addictions, or depression. Most Mormons can’t even be honest with their parents, spouses, or church leaders because they fear the social repercussions more than they fear the eternal ones. So, instead IF we decide to show weakness and attempt to appear a little human its usually with something like “I’ll drink a coke from time to time“, or “I woke up late for church” or “Sometimes I yell at my kids, but I’m not perfect“.
When we teach the youth to go on missions, get married, and start families we have a really bad tendency to do it in such positive connotation that it underlines the negative in a bold fashion and can make others feel of lesser value. When we teach that success in life is measured by doing these things, then we are saying to those who haven’t, that they have failed or are failing. Reverse judgement is still judgement and it can hurt just as bad, if not worst. Just because we served missions, got married, or have children does not mean we are better people, more blessed, higher ranking, or more righteous than anyone else. Judgement is a double edge sword, and the reason we struggle with it so much is because we tend to show a lot more love and support towards the righteous rather than the sinners. We have mission fair-wales, receptions, and baby blessings.
Once a week we all bow our heads and partake in the sacrament and then go right back to the agenda like nothing happened. The SINGLE most important thing at church, and the MAIN reason we even go is hardly treated with as much importance as we show to the activities of that week. We get so excited to hear a missionary’s homecoming talk, yet how often do we have the same excitement and show the same support towards the sacrament? Without realizing it we are sending signals to people who didn’t serve missions, and worse we are teaching the youth that they aren’t as important if they don’t serve. As much as we want and know whats best for others it is not our place to make decisions for them, to make them feel forced, or as if they have no choice.
We Make Excuses. The one I’m sure we’ve all heard many times and probably said once or twice is “Judge the church not the people”, or how often have you heard “They aren’t ready for the gospel yet.”? The one I cant stand is “We do things we don’t understand because we have to have faith”. All of these, in my opinion, are keeping the ship from being able to rise up to its full potential. These are the type of leaks that we are constantly trying to patch up.
Most people I meet who have left, or are struggling, with the church usually leave for one of three reasons, They were hurt or offended by someone in the church, they don’t want to live by the rules of the church, or they don’t understand certain things about the church.
When someone has one of these “doubts” we make an excuse as if its out of our control and its all their fault. But we have to think,
- 1: People ARE going to judge the members before they even start to investigate the doctrine, so if we run off the mindset that the doctrine covers our backs in our own ignorance, then we are the ones who are truly lost. If we know there is a problem, then we need to fix it, and that doesn’t mean just trying to set an example. It means we have to apologize in our actions and words, and work to make it right for that person. As members, we are part of something, hence the title “member“, and that means its OUR responsibility to make right what others in our organization may have done wrong. Telling a disgruntled “less active member” that he/she should “Judge the church not the people” is pretty much the same as telling them, “Well its your fault you feel this way, so get over it. We are allowed to be terrible people and we don’t care”. If we truly love them, then we HAVE to show them that. Sometimes all they really need is to feel welcomed, invited, and they need to know its because we care and love them NOT because we think they should or its the “rule”. The church is not a club intended for perfect people, its a support group meant to help each other as we struggle with life’s challenges.
- 2: The reason people don’t want to live by the “rules” of the church is because that’s exactly how they are taught and perceived, as “rules”. We act as if the recommend interview questions are the requirements to join our club rather than a way for us to help evaluate ourselves within a supporting organization. I will be first on the front lines to admit that growing up I knew that there were things I just wasn’t allowed do, and if I did, then I would be in huge trouble with my parents and with the bishop. I cant even imagine being a teenage boy and having to tell my peers that I’m not allowed to pass the sacrament because I’m a sinner. As a child I’m sure it feels like you are being publicly humiliated in front of everyone, so I’m confident that the majority of youth who need help will not seek it for fear of what others may think. These poor kids, when they break a “rule” obviously didn’t understand the principle behind it, and instead of trying to help them, we penalize them in a very physiologically negative and disturbing way.
- 3: We fail to see the icebergs that silently sit below us all. We tend to believe that since we’ve served missions, grew up in the church, or have a calling that we already understand what we need to know, and that the rest is just details. This is probably the most difficult thing for me to deal with when I go to church, and it’s usually why I go home angry afterwards, rather than at peace like I should feel. What do I mean by this? Well, it feels like, and I could be wrong here, that most members follow the principles of the gospel without ever trying to understand them. We have a mindset as members that as long as we know the Church is true, then we don’t need to understand it, instead we believe that all we need is to know the principles and to obey them.
While obedience is important, its not arbitrary or an irrational obligation given by God because he wants us be his puppets. There is a purpose behind every law and principle ever given. When we understand, I mean FULLY understand it, then we EASILY obey it because it makes sense for why we should. We can be obedient our whole lives and never touch a scorching surface, but once we feel that surface we understand why we shouldn’t touch it, and that burning heat will keep us from ever doing it again. Understanding the “why” of when heat hurts is much different than just acknowledging it as a danger because someone told us it was.
- Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29
- “26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
- 27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
- 28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
- 29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.”
We don’t actively seek to understand the Principles of the Gospel, and tend to focus more on “deep doctrine” or things that are far beyond relative or important in our moment of time. I try and put myself in other people’s shoes and I cant imagine what I would think if I went into an LDS church and they started singing “If I Could Hie To Kolob”. I’d probably pull out my phone, Google “kolob”, read three sentences, then get up and walk out as quickly as I could.
To illustrate where I’m getting at is, we need to study the Principles of the Gospel in order to better understand why weare to be obedient to them. For example: The Word of Wisdom doesn’t just state the “donts” it also teaches that we should eat meat sparingly, that we should eat grains, fruits, and vegetables, and that we should exercise often. It also states we should not use illegal drugs or harmful and addictive substances. So what makes it okay to tell others that drinking beer is a sin, but its okay to chug a Red Bull everyday before work, or stuff our faces with Big Macs? Is that really any different then having a cup of coffee? I’m not saying ALL members are like this, but I feel many of us don’t ask the question “why?” as often as we probably should. To those who look at the church from the outside in it appears as if we are very hypocritical and it makes sharing the gospel all that more difficult. We should be explaining how to find happiness through Christ, teaching how to love others, and NOT ever have to be focusing on explaining why its okay to drink Mountain Dew but not Coffee, or some silly loop hole to a principle because we never took the time to try and understand it for ourselves.
We claim to be charitable as we sit in our great and spacious buildings: While in the Marines, or on my mission, I would often brag to others about how much money the church has because of tithing and how we use it to do so much good in the world. I felt this was a great selling point to illustrate the truthfulness of it all. But it became increasingly difficult to feel that way as I traveled around the world and witnessed things that truly broke my heart. I saw a lady jump in front of a train because her life was too much for her to handle. I saw homes made of cardboard, large families sharing single rooms smaller than my bathroom in a community living space. I witnessed people drinking water they shared with animals and that many Americans would gag on at just the site or smell of it. The more I saw the world for what it truly is the more guilty I began to feel. I felt ashamed for ever wishing I had my own car in high school, my own room, and even my own clothes.
Suddenly I felt dirty inside to have ever believed it was okay to have the best stuff because I was “blessed” and deserved it for my obedience. I felt ashamed for every believing that I was worth more than someone simply because of what I was wearing on my back, where I went to school, and what country I was from. Then like a thousand bricks piling on top of me the internal questions began to come, “How can members claim to be charitable when we live in some of the nicest homes I have ever seen?”, “How come our Church buildings have to be so elaborate, expensive, and beautiful, when some of its own members are living in conditions America would of had lawsuits over?” It started to rain on my soul with internal doubts about my own faith, and my own beliefs. Would Jesus live in a nice home? Would he really want us to spend so much on a church building? Would Jesus let others suffer from the cold as they slept, or drink dirty water? Would Jesus wear an expensive suit and tie to church, shave his face, and show up in a 2014 financed car?
Why does it become okay to ignore the people who suffer as long as we give our 10%?
Jesus once told a group of people who tried to trick him about paying taxes to which he replied “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”. I don’t believe this principle is just applied to taxes, but also our lives. If we are truly the Lords servants then we need to give up some of the things we have, and cease to justify why its okay to have them. I’m not saying I’m perfect, or that I don’t have faults, because trust me I have way more than I could ever handle. But it is obvious that we as members are struggling with things that would probably make most pioneers roll over in their graves if saw how selfish and greedy we are today.
Preach the Gospel but only to each other: I’m hoping this has gotten better since I was kid, because this is one of those bitter subjects that still irks me to this day. This is one of the most influential reasons to why I left BYU-Idaho to join the Marines. Why is it, that the church is centered around sharing the gospel, yet we encourage our members to go to a college where only Mormons go, to live in communities where only Mormons live, and to be friends with only Mormons? Surely it’s not because we we assume Mormons are the only ones who have standards?
Jesus didn’t spend his time walking around with people who already understood the Gospel, he walked around with sinners, befriended sinners, and loved sinners. I have a hard time understanding the idea that we are allowed to make eternal promises at the age of 8, but we are not wise enough to have friends who live different life styles than us. If we truly believe that a child can determine right from wrong, and understand sin, then we should be showing our faith in them that they will make choices according to what they understand. Imagine if the Lord told someone they weren’t invited over because they didn’t believe in him.
I live in a city that is heavily populated by Mormons, yet the LDS Institute is one of the scarcest institutes programs I have ever been a part of. I live in Boise, and my institute classes in Pensacola Florida, Denver Colorado, and Okinawa Japan were taken much more seriously and had much more participants which should be a shock considering the per capita of Mormons here compared to those places. It pains me to see so many young members think they have to travel to Utah to for school so they can get married. It’s feels unfortunate that the church which is so orchestrated around its missionary work has a majority of members that not only allow but encourage other members to leave their cities that need need the most help so they can group together in isolation. Please if you are reading this, and you are trying to decide which school to go to STAY LOCAL, or go to a the BEST college you can get into!
As for me, I understand that the issues I have with the church are in fact that, my issues. I just ask to those who may have read this far, that we try harder to love people, try harder to understand people, and try harder to accept people, regardless of what they believe, how they were raised, or what they do in their spare time. We need to focus on the basics of our Gospel before we start to teach the things that really don’t matter yet. There is no reason a lesson at church should be about anything but Christ, focused around his message, and how LOVE is the center of it all. Be open to people and don’t take life so seriously all the time. There’s no reason a child, young adult, or adult shouldn’t be able to ask for help and guidance without feeling like he is going to be condemned, humiliated, or judged by any of us.
PLEASE can we try to focus more on the good news rather than the bad when teaching or discussing with others about the gospel (goods news). People are struggling with deep rooted issues of overwhelming guilt because it feels like all we ever talk about in the church is repentance, and if you’re not constantly repenting then you’re doing it wrong. While repentance is very important, we should also understand that mistakes, sins, and bad judgments are going to happen. Instead of looking at them as something so negative lets help each other see the positive in it all and learn from it. There is NO REASON ANYONE sitting in the congregation should ever feel unwelcome, unloved, or unworthy to be there.
We are all Gods children, he loves us all the same, and if we can learn to love others as Jesus loved us then we might just be alright.