Gordon Monson: Is the LDS Church obsessed with worthiness? Who decides it ... you, your bishop or your God?

Is a member who sips a cup of coffee here, smokes a cigar there, or skimps a bit on tithes ultimately “worthy”?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Monson.

A concern a lot of Latter-day Saints have, and the church itself has, centers on one of the faith’s most emphasized targets: your worthiness.

Are they — you — worthy? Are you worthy to take the sacrament? Are you worthy to enter the temple? Are you worthy to be a priesthood holder? Are you worthy to fill certain callings? Are you worthy to go on a full-time mission? Are you worthy to work as a church employee? Are you worthy to be a student or to teach or to mow the lawn or to play football at BYU? Are you worthy to get to the highest level of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom?

It’s a worthiness obsession.

Some in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are boosted by this emphasis, guided and motivated by it. They want to know how they’re doing, to get the stamp of approval, to know the score.

Others are turned off by the notion of measuring worthiness, of issuing that thumbs-up acceptance to some and a thumbs-down rejection to others. Temple attendance is supposed to be a “sacred privilege” only for those who qualify according to their worthiness quotient.

But it’s more complicated than that. I’m not even sure exactly what being worthy means.

You might wonder where God draws the line between worthy and unworthy. Is it the same place a bishop draws it? Amid good deeds and bad, which is the straw or which are the straws that make you a made man or woman or that break the camel’s back?

I know the temple interview questions, the ones that are supposed to determine such things. And I know members who casually check those boxes whom you wouldn’t want to spend much time around, whom you wouldn’t want as a friend.

Not that we’re judging here.

That’s the tricky part about establishing worthiness. Just because someone feels good about giving the right answers to interview questions coming from an ecclesiastical leader doesn’t necessarily take everything into account. Those boxes might get checked, but there are other boxes that go unchecked or ignored.

I’ve always thought it paradoxical, for instance, that Mother Teresa wouldn’t be found worthy of entering a Latter-day Saint temple.

You might be an outstanding Christian and not make the cut. And you could be a real jerk and sail on through. Some questions are more important than others, and certain answers should carry more weight. Perhaps the depth and heft of some answers should make up for shortfalls in overall breadth.

From the church’s website, the interview questions read like this:

1. Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; his son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?

2. Do you have a testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ and of his role as your Savior and Redeemer?

3. Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

4. Do you sustain the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer and revelator and as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers and revelators? Do you sustain the other general authorities and local leaders of the church?

5. Do you strive for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior? Do you obey the law of chastity?

6. Do you follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ in your private and public behavior with members of your family and others?

7. Do you support or promote any teachings, practices or doctrine contrary to those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

8. Do you strive to keep the Sabbath day holy, both at home and at church; attend your meetings; prepare for and worthily partake of the sacrament; and live your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?

9. Do you strive to be honest in all that you do?

10. Are you a full tithe-payer?

11. Do you understand and obey the Word of Wisdom?

12. Do you have any financial or other obligations to a former spouse or to children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?

13. Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple, including wearing the temple garment as instructed in the endowment?

14. Are there serious sins in your life that need to be resolved with priesthood authorities as part of your repentance?

15. Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?

There it is, the worthiness bar that needs to be cleared to be in good stead.

Many members celebrate the addition of the words “strive to” in some of the questions. Some are hard on themselves, some always give themselves the benefit of the doubt.

It’s confusing, though, that the requirements not just for temple attendance now but also for God’s greatest awarded glory later, are horizontal, not vertical. They don’t take into account the deep values, the sacrifices, the service, the goodness and decency that occur in the lives of some Christians and other people of faith, and some people with little faith, in the way they treat their fellow travelers, qualities like kindness, charity, gratitude, integrity, love.

If the supposed worthy can answer the questions at a shallow level — they don’t smoke or drink or skip church or miss tithing payments or short-circuit their belief — but they have little understanding of what it’s really like to be God’s hands in helping others, in embracing all, then how does that fit into the worthiness ideal? If a human misses Sunday meetings to serve food at a homeless shelter, how do the heavens view that? If an individual rigidly conforms to church strictures, but harshly judges and socially shuns those who don’t, what then?

Are temple recommend holders who discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation or gender worthy? Is that specifically covered in the questions?

I get the faith thing. If folks don’t believe in the Latter-day Saint gospel, then they wouldn’t feel comfortable in a temple setting. But if a member generally heeds the rules as prescribed, serves his or her fellow humans in subtle and dynamic ways, is honest and decent, but sips a cup of coffee here, smokes a cigar there, or skimps a bit on tithes, how does God evaluate worthiness there? We know how most bishops would.

Some Latter-day Saints say it’s a matter of obedience demonstrating faith and commitment, but how does that balance against the caring human mind and heart?

Will the final Judgment Bar look like a stake president’s office, complete with You-Know-Who behind the desk? And are these the questions that will be asked? Are these the requirements for heaven’s finer rewards?

If you’re a nonbeliever, you shrug all of this off. But if you’re a Latter-day Saint, what powerful effect will trust in the aforementioned atonement of Christ and his grace, alongside devotion and decency, taken in all its breadth and depth, have on you and others and on the billions who do not walk the “covenant path”?

There are many ways to gauge faith/worthiness — beyond a standard listed Q&A coming from the other side of a table.

The belief here is that the real measure of it, its real meaning, is yours and God’s to comprehend and determine. God is the one who knows all. God is the one who loves all. God is the wisest of all. God is … the Judge of All.

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