Obedience: How to Train a Mormon

How to train a Mormon

By: Carly Walker//

When I left Utah, I had a very naïve idea of the conversations I would have with people who had never heard of Mormons. Being totally serious, I had the expectation that I would jump out of my car and people would ask, “Why are you glowing?!” “Why are you so happy?” “Tell me about the church you believe in.”

Fast forward to the year 2013.

I’m having a much different conversation with friends who are tilting their heads and avoiding eye contact because the questions they just asked caught me off guard, and the crickets in the background have better answers than I do.

Round 1 of questions in these type of scenarios are almost always, “Mormon’s can’t” questions. Why can’t Mormons smoke, drink, have sex, or wear tight leather booty shorts? Etc. etc.


If I make it through Round 1, Round 2 is about the LDS Church’s past. For example, African Americans not having the priesthood until 1978 and the practice of Polygamy.

I guess based on pop culture, Mitt Romney, and The Book of Mormon Musical, I should have seen these questions coming, but I honestly didn’t. Probably because in most scenarios, when someone is first trying to learn about something they don’t ask what it is not or what it used to be.

For example, if a guy were to use this approach on a date he would ask me why I don’t make $100,000 a year, why I don’t cook, or why I wore chokers and sang Broadway tunes in high school. It would be mortifying, he wouldn’t get to know me very well, and I would have an ulcer.

But by talking to my friends more I realized that there are good reasons why they ask these questions. First of all, the fact that we stay away from drugs, alcohol, and pre-marital sex sets Mormons apart, so it is natural for people to be curious why we seem to be raging against the norm in strange ways. Second of all, there seems to be a fear that comes with religion in general. That is the overwhelming idea of Obedience.

I’d like to focus on the second reason.

“In Wikipedia, obedience is described as follows: “Obedience, in human behavior, is a form of social influence in which a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure.”

Humans have been shown to be surprisingly obedient in the presence of perceived legitimate authority figures. A good example of this is the Milgram experiment in the 1960’s.

Stanley Milgram carried out this experiment to find out how the Nazis managed to get ordinary people to take part in the mass murders of the Holocaust. The experiment showed that obedience to authority was the norm, not the exception.

That is honestly a terrifying thought, and one that many of my friends have expressed as a reason to stay away from religion. They fear that “blind faith” could lead to large groups of people being trained or brain washed to make amoral decisions.

So how does obedience work specifically in the LDS church? Are Mormons trained to be obedient? And how does that obedience lead to making moral decisions to follow God vs. amoral decisions?

Enter: The Idea of Agency

You might know a lot about the LDS Church and the commandments that the church members follow. However, what you might not be familiar with is the LDS Church’s view on free agency. It’s one of my favorite principles.

We believe that previous to this life we were given two options for our lives on earth: Option 1) was to come here with only the ability to make the right decisions. Option 2) was to come to earth with the ability to make decisions for ourselves so we could learn and grow from them, even if it meant learning from our mistakes. God’s plan was agency, and in the end we chose to come to earth with the ability to choose between right and wrong for ourselves.

We wanted the freedom to choose then, and we celebrate that same freedom now.

And while we are given the freedom to make decisions on our own, we are also given personal revelation to help to make those decisions.

In Matthew 7:7 of the New Testament it says, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

Since I was a kid, I have been taught that I need to make decisions on my own through personal revelation and gain a testimony of God and his plan for me. Sometimes this meant being abandoned in the woods at girls camp with a set of scriptures and parachute pants.

Girls Camp

And sometimes it meant my parents dropping me off at college and simply saying, “it’s up to you what you do from here on out.” I was told not to feed off of what other people know, but instead to ask questions to find answers on my own. Most importantly, I was taught that once I find an answer I should act on it.

I guess what I would want people to realize about Mormons and obedience is:

  1. To us, obedience means focusing on the actions we should be taking, not the actions we shouldn’t.
  2. We aren’t trained to think the exact same way, and we do not always come to the same conclusions. We have different perspectives on things like Diet Coke and Evolution and that is okay.

As C.S. Lewis said in his book The Screwtape Letters: “When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”

God is not interested in robots.

Personal Experience and Revelation

So if we’re not trained to think like robots, how do Mormons make decisions about past and current doctrines that are hard to understand?

I recently read a section of a book called The Mormonizing of America written by Stephen Mansfield who is not a member of the LDS church but has been studying it. His observation helps answer that question.

He says:

“In terms of its unusual doctrines, the Saints see themselves in a completely different light. Ask a Saint about any of these, and an expression of confusion will likely flash fleetingly across his face. He knows that each is part of the Mormon matrix but he likely does not think of any as vital. Doctrine is not primary for him; experience is.”

I think this is true for a lot of members of the LDS church. When you ask them about their faith, they tell you about it by their personal experiences.

I would explain my personal faith the same way. It’s very similar to riding a bike.


I ride a bike because I love it. Simply put, it makes me happy. I have had amazing experiences riding my bike in Moab, on the beach, and through canyons. However, if you were to ask me to explain how that bike was built, I would have a hard time breaking it down for you. There are things I still don’t know about bikes even though I ride one all the time.

These are things I am learning piece by piece about my bike through my life’s experiences. If I get a flat tire, I focus on the tires, I get advice, I find a way to fix it, and I continue riding.

The same principle applies to my faith in the LDS Religion. I am obedient because when I keep the commandments I am undoubtedly happy. I have had amazing experiences from learning to give to others, forgiving enemies, loving my neighbor, and making decisions for the greater good.

However, when people ask me specific details about the church or unusual doctrines I sometimes don’t know all the answers. I don’t know the ins and outs of some principles and I am continuing to build my knowledge piece by piece. When I don’t understand something or a section of my faith is broken, I stop, I focus on it, and I pray for answers. I seek counsel of prophets and other mentors, and I pray for personal revelation. But through that whole process I hold on to the other ideas I know to be true. The foundations of the gospel that have always blessed my life.

In our last General Conference, an Apostle of the LDS Church Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled:

“When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have. The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”

I believe this is the root of obedience within the LDS church. It isn’t about what we don’t know, but it’s about what we do know, what we are seeking to know, and the actions we take in order to follow God.

So when you ask, “How do you train a Mormon?” The answer is: you don’t. You empower them to make their own decisions in the best way possible.

Image Sources: Image 1, Image 2, and Image 3.


Add yours
  1. 1

    I appreciate today’s article on Obedience. As a Sunday School teacher (14’s) I am challenged this month to find ways to communicate the month’s theme of ‘Commandments’ to these precious youth and you approach is excellent. I plan to plagiarize many of the ideas and thoughts and include them in next week’s discussion.

    I appreciate how you have taken the positive approach of how out obedience empowers us, rather than focus on how our ignorance restricts. Agency empowers us by expanding our horizons when we make the choice to follow what we know and believe and love and live.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtful words. Keep it up!

  2. 2
    Kathy Farnsworth

    I love reading your articles Carly as you are good at what you do! Between you and Tessa I look forward to all of the interesting things that you write about! Very talented young women!! It sounds like you are enjoying CA and that you are having lots of experiences there. Keep up the good work!
    Tessa’s Nana,

  3. 3

    Interesting thoughts, even though they seem to just scratch the surface.

    Also, it should be noted that agency isn’t free. “Free agency” isn’t a term you’ll readily find in current LDS publications or doctrine, for the very good reason that although we are free to make choices, agency was purchased at a very high cost (by the Savior through the Atonement), so it’s definitely not free.

  4. 5

    While I really like the idea presented here, I find in practice it doesn’t work in the Church as you’ve expressed. At least culturally it does not. And it seems that instituationally it does not either, despite what we are told from the Brethren about receiving personal revelation. I wish it did, but that hasn’t been my experience. What I have found regarding obedience, personal revelation, and agency essentially boils down to this:

    1. Pray for personal revelation on the issue
    2. This is the answer you should expect to receive
    3. Be obedient to that answer (as long as the answer actually did come back as expected)
    4. If you got a different answer, you probably did it wrong, or you have some sin you need to repent of, or Satan is deceiving you. Do not follow personal revelation that does not conform with the accepted doctrines of the church and the answers you are expected to receive.
    5. Be obedient to what the leaders have said on the subject while you repeat steps 1 through 4
    6. Keep repeating these steps until you get the expected answer.

    In my experience in the Church, that is how we Mormons are trained.

    On the insignificant issues like whether Diet Coke is against the Word of Wisdom, or whether watching a ballgame on TV on Sunday is violating the Sabbath, we are pretty much left alone to practice our agency and make up our own minds (mostly, though there is significant cultural pressure). On more substantial issues, not a chance. Next time the opportunity arises in Sunday School, try asking a question like what is so wrong with gay marriage. Or ask why women can’t give blessings today when they did so frequently in the early days of the Church.

    Or ask something that implies you question the actions of your leaders: like why did the Church spend billions on a mall for rich people in Salt Lake City while only a small fraction of its income goes to charity. (Don’t get me wrong, the Church does some awesome humanitarian and charitable work. But as a percentage of its income, it is an amazingly small amount that goes to these great works).

    Ask anything of substance that is not in line with the accepted Church position and steps 1 through 6 above is what you will get. I don’t know what wards and stakes you’ve lived in, but that has been my experience in all of mine thus far.

    • 6
      E B

      I like that you brought up “culturally” and “institutionally” versus truth. These distinctions are important to understand yet often go unnoticed so that when one is challenged by our experience, we think all are challenged.

      The doctrine is separate from the Church is separate from Mormon culture.

      The doctrine the gospel of Jesus Christ encompassing all truth and love. The Church teaches the gospel and changes policies at times to best meet that objective, but since it is administered by mortals, it is not perfect. It does, however, give us the opportunity to practice the gospel by forgiving leaders/ward members past and present for their humanity. (As a side note, don’t let the money stuff bother you. The Church has a reserve – a large reserve, and uses the interest. Like any large entity, it makes more sense to have investments than to rely completely on donations. It is the donations of tithing and fast offerings, etc. which are very carefully spent for sacred purposes including humanitarian aid)

      Mormon culture is something else entirely, and is most pronounced in areas of high LDS concentration and insular societies. There is much about Mormon culture that is good, other things bad, but none of it essential for salvation. That would be the gospel of Jesus Christ.

      I see other comments here saying that “free agency” or “enlightened obedience” are myths. I see where these comments are coming from, but they don’t get the whole picture. We choose to obey the plan of happiness because there is only one path to deep and lasting happiness, and that is in obedience to God’s commandments. That happiness is for both here and the hereafter. Spiritual knowledge comes from spiritual means, not “physical proof.” They are different things – orthogonal or perpendicular for the mathematically minded. To gain spiritual insights, you have to take the proverbial leap of faith. Faith is like a little seed, if planted it will grow. You ‘naysayers’ can disagree if you like, that’s fine, but if you try it in sincerity you may just learn the same things that millions of other practicing Mormons have – that obedience brings blessings.

      Thanks for listening.

    • 8

      Responding to a few comments by JEE:

      “Next time the opportunity arises in Sunday School, try asking a question like what is so wrong with gay marriage.”

      For faithful Latter-day Saints this is a strange question. Fundamental to LDS doctrine is an understanding of our “individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” which is well illustrated in the 1995 “Family Proclamation” (https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation) but which has also been manifest in the totality of LDS teaching from the beginning. If the ultimate goal is exaltation in the celestial kingdom, sealed to our eternal companion, and eternal increase, the very capacity for said increase must exist.

      In a detailed discussion on this matter at lds.org, Elders Lance B. Wickman and Dallin H. Oaks address it as follows (quote excerpt ends with hyperlink below):

      ELDER WICKMAN: One question that might be asked by somebody who is struggling with same-gender attraction is, “Is this something I’m stuck with forever? What bearing does this have on eternal life? If I can somehow make it through this life, when I appear on the other side, what will I be like?”

      Gratefully, the answer is that same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life. It is a circumstance that for whatever reason or reasons seems to apply right now in mortality, in this nano-second of our eternal existence.

      The good news for somebody who is struggling with same-gender attraction is this: 1) It is that ‘I’m not stuck with it forever.’ It’s just now. Admittedly, for each one of us, it’s hard to look beyond the ‘now’ sometimes. But nonetheless, if you see mortality as now, it’s only during this season. 2) If I can keep myself worthy here, if I can be true to gospel commandments, if I can keep covenants that I have made, the blessings of exaltation and eternal life that Heavenly Father holds out to all of His children apply to me. Every blessing — including eternal marriage — is and will be mine in due course.

      ELDER OAKS: Let me just add a thought to that. There is no fullness of joy in the next life without a family unit, including a husband, a wife, and posterity. Further, men are that they might have joy. In the eternal perspective, same-gender activity will only bring sorrow and grief and the loss of eternal opportunities.


      For the faithful who are not conflicted about proclaiming the gospel to have been restored by Christ to Joseph Smith and that Christ continues to head His church and has called the living prophet to speak for Him on official matters pertaining to His kingdom, this isn’t the least bit problematic. For those on the fence about living prophets, however, this is one of but many things which will invariably cause internal turmoil.

      If I could add to Elder Oaks’ comments above, I was struck a couple of weeks ago with a flash of insight (at least I believe it to be so) with regard to life in the eternities.

      Imagine for a moment your perfect day in heaven. Perhaps you are singing several of your favorite hymns in a celestial choir. Perhaps you are enjoying an old Led Zeppelin album. Perhaps you are able to enjoy your favorite meal (Christ ate fish following His resurrection, so let’s run with it), or visit your favorite natural creations, such as Yosemite, the Swiss Alps, or a South Pacific island.

      Now imagine reliving that day, EVERY DAY, for a year. It loses a bit of its enjoyment factor, doesn’t it?

      Now extend it from a year to a thousand years. A million years. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Groundhog Day,” imagine a heavenly equivalent.

      The problem is that at some point even the amazingly great things can become routine. Considering that eternity is a VERY long time, how does one keep it truly interesting? What does the Father do? Latter-day Saints believe that it is His perpetual work and glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) I.e. – posterity. Children keep things interesting.

      The eternal capacity to create and procreate are what keep eternity from being Groundhog Day. And to do that, again according to Latter-day Saint belief, requires exalted eternal marriage between men and women. A relationship incapable of producing eternal posterity is limited in its capacity to truly receive all that the Father hath. And because we love all of our brothers and sisters on this planet, we would never dream of consigning them to an eternity of Groundhog Day.

      Whether or not some people believe that a certain kind of relationship brings them fulfillment in the here and now, the loving response of those who believe in greater fulfillment in the eternities is to continue pointing out God’s plan, even if it is received with disdain.

      One cannot force someone to live according to God’s commandments. The war in heaven was fought over agency, and agency won. But it would never be considered loving to stand quietly on the sidelines and indulge our brothers and sisters as they embrace choices contrary to the plan of God in a twisted manipulation of the term tolerance.

      Moving on to the next comment…

      “Or ask why women can’t give blessings today when they did so frequently in the early days of the Church.”

      The LDS Church teaches that we receive things line upon line, precept upon precept. More than once in the church have people done things for lack of precedent or knowing any better, and along the way a change was instituted by those called of God to administer His kingdom.

      With regard to women giving blessings, it should be noted that even in the formative years of the church when such was known to take place, it was never done as a priesthood function. For all intents and purposes the women of the church (and we’re talking elite female leaders of the church in many cases, whose devotion to the Lord, the living prophet, and the institution of the church were never in question) were engaging in offering prayers of faith. Absent instructions to avoid the use of oil or laying on of hands, these spiritually minded women expressed their faith in prayers for healing in the most sincerely and heartfelt way they knew how. And let there be no mistake, the modern-day prayers of faithful women around the world are heard and answered by a Father in Heaven who loves them and is pleased by their faith in Him to aid and comfort those in need.

      For faithful Latter-day Saints who accept that the living prophet receives direction from Christ to administer the kingdom, questions such as these are relatively trivial. For those on the fence about prophetic leadership, questions such as these will trouble them from time to time.

      “Or ask something that implies you question the actions of your leaders: like why did the Church spend billions on a mall for rich people in Salt Lake City while only a small fraction of its income goes to charity.”

      I’m sure everyone has heard the story about how giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, but teaching a man how to fish can feed him for a lifetime.

      The LDS Church has been fortunate for over 100 years to be out of debt as the result of the faithful payment of tithes and offerings which became more deeply instilled in the general membership of the church during the inspired leadership of President Lorenzo Snow. The church does many things with the sacred funds donated by its members, including maintenance and building of facilities, helping the poor and needy, spreading the gospel, education, and strengthening the general membership of the church in myriad ways.

      The church learned many lessons from its early experiences with financial woes, and has invested in numerous projects to ensure the financial security of the church for times of future famine. Since very little can be protected from bank failure, the bulk of the church’s assets are invested in property and businesses which shield it against currency fluctuation and keeping one’s eggs in too few baskets. The proceeds from these investments make it possible to engage in numerous activities which promote the mission of the church and help people around the world both spiritually and physically.

      As for the mall investment, the LDS church does have a vested interest in keeping downtown Salt Lake City from turning into another Detroit, just as one wouldn’t expect the Roman Catholic Church to permit Vatican City to fall into ruin. During a period of great economic hardship in the United States, the City Creek Center brought a couple of thousand jobs to the region and improved the downtown area dramatically. The center is good for residents, for businesses, for tourism. And for all intents and purposes the church is likely to come out ahead with its investment and continue to put those resources back into other worthy endeavors.

      • 9


        Thanks for your reply. I appreciate the thought you took to write it out. Your reply nicely proves my point. On the first question of gay marriage, for example, you said:

        “For faithful Latter-day Saints this is a strange question.” and then gave a great quote from Elders Oaks and Wickman.

        The implication is that a faithful member wouldn’t be asking such a question because the Brethren have already spoken and LDS doctrine is clear on the issue. So where does that leave a member who is asking the question? Yes, the Brethren have spoken on this issue quite a lot over the years, and yes, the Church has been pretty clear on its position. Except, if you care to go back a few years or even decades you’ll see the way they talk about it has changed a lot. Same gender attraction itself used to be a grievous sin and the Church had programs to help ‘cure’ people of this awful thing they struggled with. We don’t talk that way anymore. It’s no longer a sin in and of itself. Currently, only acting on it is. A lot of people were surprised with the Church’s response to the Boy Scouts recent change regarding gay scouts. The Church’s response basically amounted to “yeah, we’re fine with that. We’re still BSA all the way.” That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.

        So back to the point of agency and personal revelation. Suppose someone said “I’ve really pondered, studied, prayed about, and researched this topic. I’ve been to the temple to seek further counsel from the Lord. The answer I got was that God loves these people as much as any of his children and wants them to be happy too. Here in this life. So my personal revelation I received on the subject of gay marriage is that they should be allowed to marry and I believe that God is okay with that.” What is the Church’s response to that member? There isn’t really a place in the Church for them. They will essentially be told steps 1-6 that I outlined above. “You got the wrong answer or you’re being deceived. Keep praying until you get an answer that’s in line with the official Church position.”

        On the second question, “why can’t women give blessings today like they did in the early days of the Church?” You basically said they just didn’t know any better because that hadn’t been revealed yet and:

        “With regard to women giving blessings, it should be noted that even in the formative years of the church when such was known to take place, it was never done as a priesthood function.”

        Well, the people who were there at the time and wrote about it in their diaries (including Joseph Smith as prophet, and Brigham Young as prophet) say exactly the opposite. It was most definitely a priesthood function. (For a very well researched and footnoted article on this subject check out https://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=1171) It is also apparent from Joseph Smith’s writing that he regarded it as a revelation from God that the women of the Relief Society were to be ordained to the priesthood. I am unaware of any revelation to the contrary. Like much of what our modern church has become today, it appears that taking the priesthood away from women was a result of cultural pressure and cultural drift rather than divine direction.

        It should also be noted that women today still practice laying on of hands, anointing, and ordaining. They are just limited as to where and when. While I personally have never been on the women’s side of the initiatories in the temple, my wife attests that it is, in fact, women who put their hands on her head, anoint her and ordain her in the initiatory ordinance. On the men’s side only Melchizedick priesthood holders are able to perform this ordinance. By what power and authority are the women performing this ordinance of the Melchizedick priesthood, if not by the power of the Melchizedick priesthood itself?

        So, it seems a very logical and legitimate question to ask why women are restricted to using the priesthood only in the initiatory ordinance in the temple? Men can use it whenever and wherever they need to or want to. Why are women not given the same equal opportunity?

        And back to the topic of this thread. Suppose a woman pondered, prayed and asked for direction from the Lord and said “I’ve received personal revelation that I don’t need to rely on my unreliable home teachers, but can lay my own hands on the heads of my children and family and give them blessings.” And then let’s just say somehow it becomes known in the ward that she is giving her kids blessings. What is the Church’s response to this woman? Or, to take it even further, let’s say she’s married and her husband fully supports her and stands in with her as she gives their children blessings, or he asks his wife to give him a blessing. How will that go over if the bishop or stake president find out? Basically, they’ll be told “Personal revelation notwithstanding, you’re doing it wrong. You’ve been deceived. Get in line with Church policy and doctrine or there will be consequences.”

        And the last question about City Creek Mall was just to illustrate that there is very little, if any, room for questioning authority in the Church. Just be obedient. The Church appears to manage its money very well, and it does do a lot of good in the world with that money. Since the previous two questions already illustrate the point well enough, and since the Church’s finances are closed and sealed to us regular members anyway, I won’t make this response any longer than it already is.

  5. 10
    charles rivera

    “…the fact that we stay away from drugs, alcohol, and pre-marital sex sets Mormons apart”.

    Er, Mormons don’t have a corner on these prohibitions. Many non-Mormons, some of them teenagers and most Muslims, have made similar virtuous promises to themselves and others.

    What does set Mormons apart is the fact that tea and coffee are banned for no good reason, except that someone in the early 20th century thought “hot drinks” meant those drinks. They never expected iced tea or iced coffee to enter the picture.

    Another issue that sets Mormons apart from mainstream Christianity is polygamy. Polygamy will forever be identified not just with FLDS and whats-his-name, but mostly with the main Mormon church. Church leaders have not been very helpful in training rank and file Mormons how to think or talk about polygamy, so LDS are left to their own devices. The conversation therefore runs the gamut from vehement and offended denial to vehement and offended “we don’t practice that anymore”. But what’s a Mormon to do, really?

    From your article:
    “How do you train a Mormon?” The answer is: you don’t. You empower them to make their own decisions in the best way possible.”

    I beg to disagree: that statement verges on anti-Mormon rhetoric. Church leaders would not have approved of LDS members finding their own way. This is why all Sunday School material from Primary all the way up to EQ have the same books and the same lesson plans; this is why there is a uniform policy called the Church Handbook of Instructions for Bishops and SP’s. This is why every man wears a white shirt and tie to church and women are expected to wear dresses; forgive me for saying this, god-forbid women wear pants to church.

    Personal opinion is not allowed at all in the LDS Church. Have a look at this article:

    There was a furore a few months back about that Mormons for Equality group. These were LDS who supported same sex marriage and march in the SLC Gay Parade. The church was this close to excommunicating all of them: fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends of homosexuals showing their support of their family members.

    • 11

      White shirts have long been promoted as a cultural preference, but from a doctrinal perspective there is no institutionalized requirement to wear a white shirt. In fact, I just wore a blue one to church yesterday, and recently purchased new shirts in various hues of yellow, green, purple, burgundy, and blue.

      And the whole thing about women wearing pants to church is a completely fabricated controversy. There may be the occasional LDS woman out there who looks askew at those who do not wear dresses and skirts, but they’re on their own. There isn’t a Relief Society president in the church who wouldn’t be thrilled to have someone show up every week in pants rather than on rare occasion in a skirt.

      What kind of sucks is that on account of the muckraking of those who have decided wearing pants is now an outward manifestation of solidarity with fringe Mormon feminists, suddenly those who have been wearing pants to church carefree all these years must suddenly concern themselves with whether or not someone will misconstrue their fashion choice with a political act.

  6. 14

    There is no true free agency when fear is the basis for obedience:

    Fear of a lesser glory for all eternity
    Fear that the eternal salvation of many living and dead people hinge on your missionary work
    Fear of missing an important message from God because the Spirit is not with you
    Fear of losing your family for all eternity
    Fear of being excluded from The One True Church
    Fear of not attending your loved one’s weddings and rituals
    Fear of not being chosen for ranking positions-and the associated acceptance.
    Fear that comes from not knowing how close or far you are from perfection.

    As a once-devout, born-in-the-covenant, temple-married Mormon, I understand that there’s fear associated with all levels of obedience — and therefore, free agency is an illusion.

    • 16


      I sense a lot of frustration in your comment, likely from a painfully trodden path through the LDS Church. I’m sorry you felt all of that fear. I don’t doubt that it was the natural result of some thoughtlessness that manifested in some pockets of LDS culture.

      That said, Carly’s post demonstrates the beauty that is intrinsic in Mormon doctrine if one chooses to see it. In other words, the fear you felt need not be imposed on any one else going forward – what you described is not Mormonism, but rather a distorted expression of it. The social pressures that may have crept in and, at times, dominated the Mormon experience of some can be set aside in favor of this empowering doctrine of agency that has been profoundly embedded in Mormonism since 1830.

      • 17

        In your own style, Brad;

        I sense a lot of patriarchal patronizing in your comment, likely from the suppression of your critical thinking skills — in favor of “feeling” the spirit — when you were a child in Primary and then beyond.

        I’m sorry you’re unable to explore ideas that frighten you; that you feel it preferable to put them on that over-burdened shelf rather than look them in the eye. I don’t doubt that this is a natural reaction to being so heavily invested in the Mormon culture.

        There is both truth and common sense in my words, if you choose to see them. But Mormonism distorts truth and common sense in the way that it distorts it’s own history and it’s political motives.

        I have the advantage over you. I was born and raised in the gospel and a temple-married Mormon before the veil parted for me.

        When it parts for you, you’ll find yourself in a community of smart, liberated, and compassionate Ex-mormons – think of your own ward members but smarter and happier. It’s a community that is expanding at such an alarming (exciting!) rate, that Elder Jensen has referred to it as “hemorrhaging” the best and the brightest of the church.

        If you ever get here, look me up!


        • 19


          I wasn’t being patronizing. I genuinely am sorry that your path through the Church wasn’t what you had hoped it would be. I won’t take offense at your own sexist comment—just cuz a male demonstrates empathy does not mean he is guilty of patriarchal patronizing. No wonder you no longer have positive experiences with Mormons: the ones who don’t acknowledge your pain, you deem inconsiderate and self-involved. The ones who do, you see as patronizing. You’re hard to please.

          The hypocrisy in your response isn’t entirely worth responding to. Suffice it to say, that you have no clue as to the degree to which my “critical thinking” skills have been suppressed or unleashed.

          If the “compassionate” ex-Mormon crowd is as stuffy and smug as you appear to be, remind me to bring some nasal spray and a Xanax if I ever show up.

  7. 20

    The Lord Himself has said that this is a “living”, growing Church (D&C 1:30). And as biblical history shows (Moses destroying the first set of higher commandments), the Lord can only give us what we are ready to accept (Zion in Missouri, Law of Consecration, polygamy, Adam God and that grace is more than being forgiven, it is also the enabling power to be sanctified). As Paul says, we have to feed milk until the baby can eat meat.
    What I’m trying to say is that it is WE who are the problem, not the leadership. As our educators, they have to adapt the level of our education to the level we will study and put into practice. The Melchizedek Priesthood ADMINISTERS THE GOSPEL and holds the keys to the mysteries of the kingdom (D&C 84:19). When we are ready, we CAN have what we have lost and also the parts that are sealed and have never been opened yet.
    In the meantime, nothing of the saving ordinances of the Gospel have been lost. We may presently have to take “dumbed down” classes, but we can STILL graduate and be admitted into the Celestial Kingdom!

    • 21

      You’ve echoed the parameters set up by the church itself over time.
      Those exceptions allow virtually any retraction, redaction and refutation — which is what regularly happens. And yet, members don’t have the freedom to decided for themselves which bits make sense and which bits are nonsense.
      This strikes me as capriciousness, not truth. For that most profound of truth claims, ‘the one true church of Christ, restored by Christ and God Themselves’, there is much that becomes ex-doctrinal once it becomes unfashionable. This fluid, unpredictable nature of doctrine is a challenge to thinking Mormons — who are not content to simply echo the regularly altered scriptures and the inconsistent doctrines of the prophets.

      • 22

        Agency doesn’t mean license to individualize God’s church to suit one’s own personal preferences.

        If one believes that the Father and Son restored the true church via the prophet Joseph Smith, and that They have continued to direct their kingdom via living prophets ever since, then it behooves such a person to align themselves with the kingdom rather than seeking to have the kingdom align with one’s personal preferences.

        Elder Neal A. Maxwell famously noted, “Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate!” [Neal A. Maxwell, “Things As They Really Are” (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), p. 74]

        Latter-day Saints do indeed decide for themselves whether or not the church itself is true, and they vote with their feet. For many, those feet lead them to participating regularly with their fellow sinners each week in Sunday services. And for others, their feet lead them out of the church. But what we aren’t able to do is pick and choose. I’d sure hate to play Twister with some people! ;o)

      • 23


        “And yet, members don’t have the freedom to decided for themselves which bits make sense and which bits are nonsense.”

        Certainly, some pockets of Mormon culture can reinforce this sentiment. But it does not represent the Mormon experience of many, many Saints across the world, who do in fact search, ponder, and pray to know what is true for themselves, sometimes accepting or believing in things that contradict statements from church leaders.

        The Mormonism I know and love allows room for this. Part of the goal of this site is to introduce you to that. Search around – we hope you like what you see and will consider rediscovering the beauty of Mormonism again.

      • 24

        My basic statement yesterday was this: “What I’m trying to say is that it is WE who are the problem, not the leadership. As our educators, they have to adapt the level of our education to the level we will study and put into practice.”
        My best resource for deep study of Church history and doctrine over the years has come from the well-searched footnotes of disenchanted members and non-members alike. It is quite noticeable that it is we as members who have been the ones who have slowed down the restoration of many gospel truths. Even Joseph Smith resisted polygamy until he was threatened with physical death by an angel. But mostly, we, the general membership are the ones who couldn’t live the law of consecration and build Zion in Missouri. We are now among the top tithing contributors of all modern churches, but we have a long way to go to get down to the basics of the Law of Consecration. We couldn’t even get it off the ground under decades of encouragement from Brigham Young.
        President Benson reminded us that we continue under condemnation because we have not lived up to the gospel basics of the Book of Mormon as outlined in D&C 84:45-58. Since then, as I listen to the conference talks, I see an excellent effort among the brethren to teach us that grace is not only forgiveness of sins, but it is also the enabling power to sanctify us so that we can finally be perfected. (see Moroni 10: 32-33)
        I have also seen some very beautiful doctrines about our Father and Mother in Heaven buried because we as a people are not able to accept them, not to mention that we use Jesus as our example of perfection, but we choke on the fact that to make it to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom He would have had to be married in the temple.
        My wife and I had the privilege of raising 9 children and therein I saw an attitude that we present to our church leadership. Whenever a teenager would say, “You just don’t understand me”, I would know that what they were really saying is: “I don’t like it that you don’t let me have my own way.” In this regard, our loving Father says to us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)
        My goal in life is to look deeply, but also compassionately. What would I do if I were in the leadership of the Church? There are 14 million voices crying for direction: some educated and some not, some sophisticated and some not, some faithful and some not, some leaders and some not, some dedicated and some not. My cowboy Dad summed it up best for me: “Church instruction is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

        • 25

          (You: “What I’m trying to say is that it is WE who are the problem, not the leadership. As our educators, they have to adapt the level of our education to the level we will study and put into practice.”)

          I think the problem is the leadership. But maybe that’s just me and Satan talking. LDS leaders are some or all of the following:

          Have special powers of discernment
          Are in daily communion with Christ
          Priesthood bearers
          Hold the keys to Christ’s only true church, restored by Him in these latter days.

          That’s ^ such a killer resume that LDS leadership shouldn’t be so wobbly about the doctrine.

          Revelations from God shouldn’t be morphing into a prophet ever mumbling, “I don’t know that we teach that. I don’t know that we practice it.”

          ‘True and everlasting covenants’ shouldn’t be bargained away for political reasons.

          Holy, modern-day scriptures shouldn’t require thousands of edits and changes. Nor should it be rendered invisible in the doctrine when it becomes awkward.

          What were once a sins and curses and commandments, shouldn’t be redefined in a later years as ‘sometimes our prophets speak as prophets, sometimes they just speak as men’. The differences should be crystal clear, considering that stellar resume.

          Your most fervent belief that something is true can’t make it true.

  8. 27

    “Free agency” may be an illusion, but agency certainly is not. Anyone who insists it is simply does not understand the concept of agency, which is a shame.

  9. 28

    Nice blog post. It reminded me of a favorite quote from Boyd K. Packer:

    “Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel. There is an obedience that comes from a knowledge of the truth that transcends any external form of control. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.”


  10. 29
    downtown dave

    At the moment, three things concern me concerning Mormonism. First is the mormons changing their mind about plural marriage when Orsen Pratt, once President of the Quorum of the Twelve, was commissioned by Bringham Young to write “The Seer.” On page 172 Orsen tells us that God the Father is a polygamist and had relations with Mary, that Jesus is a polygamist, and that Jesus sanctioned plural marriage for Christendom (see following link).


    My second concern is the Mormon church allowing blacks to hold the priesthood. Understand I’m not prejudice, my concern is how church doctrine is changed from what the early fathers of the mormon church taught. If in fact mormonism is teaching the truth that it receives from God, we should understand that in Numbers 23:19 that we are told that God doesn’t change his mind. Following is what Bringham Young said concerning blacks in the priesthood:

    Brigham Young, while addressing the Territorial Legislature in 1852, declared that if the priesthood were ever given to the blacks it would be the end of LDS priesthood authority:

    Speach by Gov. Young in Joint Session of the Legeslature. Feby. 5th 1852 giving his views on slavery. . . . Let this Church which is called the kingdom of God on the earth; we will sommons the first presidency, the twelve, the high counsel, the Bishoprick, and all the elders of Isreal, suppose we summons them to apear there, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed, with the black race of Cain, that they shall come in with us and be pertakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the preisthood is taken from this Church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate. (Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, LDS Church Historical Dept., typscript by H. Michael Marquardt.)

    My third concern is the fact that mormonism teaches a different gospel than the one that Paul the Apostle preached…and there are severe ramifications for doing that.

  11. 30

    The Prophet Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” As reported by John Taylor.

    Joseph taught the principles and let the people choose to follow. Either with fear and trembling Philippines 2:12 or love 1 John 4:18. Love is best however when temptation comes into our lives it is important to fear.

    Both lead to the path back home to God.

  12. 31
    David Naas

    How to train a Mormon? — Well, first, you gotta catch ’em when they’re real young…
    Seriously, a good article, in spite of the comments which followed. What attracted me here was the similarity with apologia for other faith practices which I have seen. Seems like everybody has the same problems.
    To those folks who can’t get over being “EX-LDS”, may I offer Bill Shatner’s advice … “People, get a life.”
    If you no longer associate with or believe in the LDS ‘thing’, why not just walk away, fast or slow as you see fit? If you were hurt, tearing the scab open is not going to let you heal. You are not going to do any good, will not convert or de-convert anybody, and will only give yourself heartburn. You do have a life to live, get on with it. Take up Bible thumping or Buddhist meditation, but please, for the sake of your own peace of mind, LET GO.
    And, don’t assume that my humble self is anything resembling a target for your ire, since you don’t know just what I am.
    Thanl you.

    • 32


      Your advice to just let it go and get on with life is good advice and is applicable to both sides. The trouble is that Mormon culture and our institutional church doesn’t allow for it. Members aren’t simply allowed to ‘just walk away’ and the faithful members still in church aren’t allowed to ‘just let them go’ either.

      I can’t count the number of council meetings I’ve sat through where the central topic of the meeting was how to help a particular family return to church. We’d send out the Elder’s Quorum Pres., the Relief Society Pres., the home teachers, visiting teachers, primary teachers for the kids, and the bishopric. We’d see if they would accept a calling of any sort. Under no circumstances did we ever just lovingly ‘live and let live.’ Or just accept them for where they were in their lives. Simply put, the church doesn’t allow its members to just walk away and there is tremendous pressure for the faithful members to bring them back.

      I believe that same cultural heritage is also why so many who have left feel compelled to explain why, and engage in forums and debates and such. ‘Every member a missionary’ and proclaiming the gospel has been drilled into us since we were small children. We are a culture that is bred to share the truth with anyone and everyone. Church members have a lifetime of indoctrination that says they must share the truth. So when a person finds for him/herself that what they believed their entire life just isn’t so, they still feel almost compelled to proclaim their newly discovered truth to those members who haven’t discovered it yet.

      Not only that, but as an institution the church has been trying really hard for decades to show the world just how normal we are (the entire premis of this blog) and to fit into mainstream Christianity. The Church has spent millions upon millions in PR and ad campaigns to that end. “See, we’re normal just like you. Accept us.” That also is part of our cultural heritage. So when a person decides to leave they also must explain and get their member friends and families to accept and understand their reasons. It’s been ingrained into them.

      Your advice to just walk away and live and let live is great advice and way better than what usually happens. It’s just a whole lot easier said than done in the Mormon world.

      • 33

        Great points, JEE. It is difficult to live and let live in our culture. Also, I never thought about that as being a reason why so many who have left try to engage in forums like this and others. Fascinating.

        I think, though, that both the problem of being unable to live and let live, as well as the need to explain one’s dissension or exit, are also the inevitable result of being a part of something that is as meaningful as Mormonism is to the lives of those who have experienced it. In other words, this isn’t just some chapter of the Elk Lodge or even a political party. Mormonism has done a lot of good for a lot of people, and many are left so affected that they desire all to have that opportunity. The very thing that makes Mormonism frustrating (that members won’t leave those who have exited alone) is also something that makes it so compelling. It is meaningful.

        I don’t know that there is a good resolution – except maybe more understanding on both sides.

  13. 34

    I have been reading the comments about this article. I hope the irony is not lost on all the participants. We have proved Carly’s point exactly: agency exists.

    Think about it. You either choose to be a Mormon and to accept the doctrines and participate in the culture or whatever, or….

    You don’t.

    It’s that simple. Doctrine is simple, foundational, and fundamental truth. That is why agency is regarded as a doctrine of the church. Because whether you are an ex mormon, a mormon, a christian, a muslim, whatever, the fact remains: people make choices.

    There are a plethora of reasons why people make the choices they do, why they believe as they do, why they think as they do. It is the height of insensitivity and ignorance to claim that Mormons are brainwashed because they choose to drag themselves out of bed every Sunday, get dressed up, go to church, sit for three hours, and give ten percent of their increase and then not go to any parties. That takes a considerable amount of effort. If they are brainwashed, props to the Mormon church for catching onto something truly powerful.

    The same goes for ex-mormons. While Mormons may not understand their reasoning (there is a difference between understanding and merely reading the arguments of detractors), it would be insensitive of them to deny them their right to leave the church or to treat them poorly because they acted in accordance with Mormon doctrine: they made a choice not to remain with the church, and, since they didn’t believe it in the first place, they chose to be honest.

    There are two choices. Be a Mormon, or don’t be. Let things lie where they lie.

    • 35

      I’m way late to this party, but you show why agency doesn’t exist in our culture. Agency is not an either/or option, but being free to choose your path. When those choices are reduced to “God’s way or the higjway” it’s not agency-it’s an ultimatum.

  14. 36
    charles rivera

    To Zach:
    Re: “You either choose to be a Mormon and to accept the doctrines and participate in the culture or whatever, or….You don’t.”

    There are some problems with the premise. First, those Born in the Covenant technically do not have a choice in the matter. They are culturally and “familial-ly” expected to grow up Mormon, simply no questions asked, deed is done.

    Next, those who choose to walk away, those who don’t accept the doctrines, do so and pay a heavy price socially and emotionally. Believing spouses file for divorce and/or take the children, parents refuse to acknowledge or help (or outright disown) their children and/or grandchildren, friends are no longer friends, etc. In many cases hate, vitriol and condemnation are hurled at those who leave–as was in my case. Many a time ex-believers are warned and threatened in the direst manner of the consequences of leaving the fold.

    Why is this? Simply because there are ‘doctrines’ that teach the Latter Day Saints that those within the church have the spirit and those who aren’t are in the clutches of the devil. Ironic, judging from the reactions. Further, temple interviews remind the applicants/individual that they should not be associating with apostates, that lovely term given to those who walk away, in any way shape or form.

    TCOJCOLDS is a harsh taskmaster and things are not as cut and dried as you believe it to be.

  15. 38

    Nice article Carly. Loved the bike analogy! (and yes, I will be borrowing it) I thought you might be interested to know that the Milgram experiments were recently shown to be fixed. That infant, most humans asked to stop, to not continue shocking, even asking to trade places with those recieving the shock. Lots of buried data was discovered by a psychologist wanting to elaborate on his theory only to be “shocked” (pun not originally intended but not missed) to find he was less than honest in his reporting. She’s written a book about it, called “behind the shock machine” infant, evidence exists that many of the tst subjects were faking being shocked at all.
    This doesn’t change the message of your post, but it is nice to know we are less sheep and more compassionate human than some would believe.

  16. 40
    Emily Howe

    For the good of humanity and science I would like to point out that the Milgram experiment was never replicated to the same results and that they later discovered the motivation of the subjects was not influenced solely by authority but it was by the belief that their actions were for the good of science to further humanity’s cause. These people were willing to do these things because they believed it was for the greater good. The experiment could not be replicated using other types of authority figures outside of scientists.

    This post is beautiful.

    Love you,

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