Gordon Monson: ‘Can you name just one itty-bitty thing the LDS Church does right?’ That’s the wrong question.

The faith is a work in progress as are its leaders and followers, so change is a given.

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

After writing nearly a hundred columns about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I received a number of sarcastic messages recently from a few followers of that faith asking, in so many words, if I could do them the solid of detailing something, anything, just one itty-bitty thing the church does right.

This, of course, is the wrong question.

First, it implies that I haven’t already done so, which is incorrect. See, for instance, examples here, here and here. And second, it reveals an all-too-common mix of thin skin and insecurity among some regarding the misunderstood but healthy process of looking at church things as they really are and trying to improve upon them.

The proper question then, would be this: What does the church do perfectly? Anything and everything that isn’t perfect, after all, can be improved upon, right?

Hmm. What does the church do without a single flaw?

Bueller? … Bueller? … Bueller? … Anyone? … Bueller?

Almost nothing.

Even if you believe the church is run from a holy office up in the high heavens, it’s administered down here on the ground by a comparative bunch of knuckle-dragging members. Which is to say, it gets messed up sometimes. A lot of times. It’s a basic state of the human condition to see some slippage betwixt the mortal lip and the divine cup. What we essentially have is, as the famous line from the film “Cool Hand Luke” says, a “failure to communicate.”

And what ensues thereafter is revision, or, in common church terms, ongoing revelation. How many times have Latter-day Saints been told that the gospel’s restoration is a matter of yet-unfinished business? Every time a mistake becomes obvious.

I know what the fervent will say: “That’s for ordained ecclesiastical leaders to handle, not some idiotic sports/religion columnist who can’t even accurately guess whom the Jazz should select in the upcoming NBA Draft.”

They would be correct … about that last part.

Asking questions

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Red Cliffs Temple, left, was dedicated March 24, 2024. The nearby historic St. George Temple was rededicated Dec. 10, 2023.

But to ask regular followers of the faith, those who are trying to be faithful, trying to do the right things, as they stumble and bumble and fumble their way through this earthly existence to turn a blind eye to what they experience in this life, to what this life teaches them to be true by way of hard and soft knocks, to simply shut down their minds and just do what they’re told because that’s what a church preaches and proscribes, what it puts forth as policy or part of a program, somehow seems ungodly.

In other words, if you have a brain, there’s no condemnation in using it as it pertains to spiritual matters. If you believe in prayer, you can use it. If you believe in personal inspiration, you can use that. Even if you just believe that good ideas can drop down upon you like dew from heaven, you need not ignore it.

If a regional church leader orders respected women leaders off the stand during Sunday meetings, saying it’s not their place to sit there, you can have and express a dissenting opinion about that. If the church has a system in place for legal purposes that possibly puts abused children at prolonged risk, who should tamp down personal concerns about that? If the church has $265 billion in total wealth, but it asks a single mother of three who works 50 hours a week for $30,000 a year to honorably keep a roof over her kids’ heads and food in their mouths to fork over her 10% in tithing to remain in good standing, a righteous mind can wonder about that. If a talk is given at General Conference stressing that only the ultra-righteous will make the Celestial Kingdom in the hereafter and have the opportunity to be together with loved ones through the eternities, and faithful parents who have children choosing different paths subsequently question and worry even more about that line of thinking, are they justified in doing so? Can God’s love for those same children give hope for eternal progression in forever families in the great beyond?

There are a lot of nuances and mysteries in the application of spiritual principles, even if some Latter-day Saints prefer to paint everything largely in black and white. You’re faithful or you’re not. You’re righteous or you’re not. You’re obedient or you’re not. You’re worthy to enter temples or you’re not. For them, it’s as though Jesus’ Atonement never happened, or that, in the wake of it, his forgiveness is only begrudgingly given. It’s now or never.

Thing is, not even top church leaders always agree with one another on issues affecting the faith and the people in it. Two general authorities have told me that discussion among that leadership is hardy and varied, as it should be, different opinions formed by and for different folks. And numerous biographies of church presidents support their statements.

Do top church leaders present a united front? Yeah, but that doesn’t mean their personal opinions evaporate. They often remain and maybe one day, with enough persuasion, will be incorporated into doctrine, principles and practices across the faith.

It’s true that chaos cannot reign within a church if it wants to stay cohesive and effective with its faithful. But the fact that even believing church members must accept that the Almighty lets women and men of God develop their own ways of viewing issues and solving problems and following commandments is really a thing of beauty.

That alone is something the church is imperfectly perfect at: granting individuals the space and opportunity to have eternal and non-eternal truths come to their souls. That’s the perfect part. The imperfect part comes in the judging and rejecting of church members who interpret things slightly differently, even as they feel the same spirit of revelation.

Perfecting imperfections

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jorge Cocco Santángelo's Getsemani or "Gethsemane," is displayed in 2016. Columnist Gordon Monson says that for some orthodox Latter-day Saints it’s as though Jesus’ Atonement never happened, or that, in the wake of it, his forgiveness is only begrudgingly given.

The church is perfect in teaching its members to love one another as Jesus loves all, to help one another, to lift one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and in teaching those members to love people of other faiths and people of no faith, too.

Imperfections creep in.

Were Latter-day Saints before 1978 wrong, the ones who believed Black members should have every privilege of participation inside and outside the church that other members had? Some protesters were inspired long before certain church leaders gained that same inspiration.

When Latter-day Saints today call for women to be equal to men inside and outside the faith, are they sinning? What about those deeply concerned about the welfare, acceptance and treatment of their LGBTQ brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and friends?

The church teaches that aforementioned perfect Christlike love and sometimes it teaches it perfectly. But there’s still that human element persisting in the air, when individuals don’t fit the church’s mold of the moment.

The faith perfectly stresses the importance of service to all people, but again, falls short in the extensions of that charity.

Why? Because the church is made up of imperfect people, imperfect leaders, imperfect interpreters of God’s will, imperfect believers. It’s made up of sinners — from the loftiest pulpits to the lowliest pews.

Not even the church, then, thinks it’s perfect. If it thought it was, and if it, in fact, were, it wouldn’t have to change. But it does change. And it will change even more. Wait and see.

Maybe that right there is a slice of perfection. Knowing it needs to evolve, realizing it will evolve. It’s just that some of us knuckle-draggers, and that’s precisely what we are, wish it would fully restore itself a little quicker, get and do everything right. Even then, we’re bound to mess it up.

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