Many wonder how the basic theology of Mormonism impacts the daily lives of Mormons. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2008, the church published a commentary on the religious experience of Mormonism. It has recently been re-published in order to answer the many questions people have.
Read: The Religious Experience of Mormonism
The commentary states: “The religious experience of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based on a spiritual witness from God that inspires both heart and mind, creating an interpersonal relationship directly with the divine. It does not require one to pass a rigorous theological test. Nor does it demand the extreme self-denial and seclusion of asceticism. Rather, this unique individual experience unfolds in the natural course of everyday living.
Thus, the beliefs of Latter-day Saints are not rooted in concepts and principles, detached from the realities of life. They are grounded in a much deeper level of experience that motivates individuals to action.” For Mormons, being a Mormon doesn’t mean going to church on Sunday and then forgetting your faith until next Sunday. It is meant to be lived all day, every day.
Although Mormons live in the secular world, not altogether in a single community, and hold ordinary jobs wherever they choose to live, they think of their faith as a core part of who they are and how they live. Mormonism blends the secular and the spiritual into one harmonious lifestyle. They don’t have one set of standards for work, one for church, and one for home. They will live their moral standards wherever they are and whatever they are doing. It might seem, on the surface, that this would create a large group of identical people.
Those who are familiar with the sonnet, however, will see this need not be so. Sonnets have very strict rules to follow, and yet millions of original sonnets have been written. Within the literary framework there are infinite possibilities for the depth of the poem. Within Mormonism, there is a framework of morality and values, but within that framework are infinite possibilities. There are Mormons in many professions, living a variety of lifestyles, and enjoying various hobbies.
Some Mormon women are employed and some stay at home raising children. Some women are domestic and some are not. Some men love cooking and some prefer woodworking. They belong to a variety of political parties and view social issues in many different ways, since the Church has officially spoken out on a few of them.
The Church never endorses candidates and so members work on the campaigns of many different candidates from various parties. “Mormon scripture and revelations lay the groundwork for a theology that tends to encourage action over contemplation. Joseph Smith declared that there is no fundamental division between the temporal and the spiritual (Doctrine and Covenants 29:34). In his recent book People of Paradox, Mormon scholar Terryl Givens maintained that “Mormonism is ill disposed to maintain a simple hierarchy that privileges spiritual activity over physical or the contemplative over the active.”
Though the spiritual and the practical are often viewed as opposites, in Mormon worship they complement each other. All spiritual inspiration naturally leads to serving humanity. In this way spirituality bears itself out primarily in action and experience. Though good works in themselves don’t merit salvation, they do demonstrate the validity and authenticity of one’s religious beliefs and convictions.” Mormons know that faith without works is dead. This means that if you believe, as the Bible and Book of Mormon teach, that charity is a Christ-like attribute, it is meaningless until you go out and practice it. Believing that family life is important must be accompanied by actions that demonstrate your commitment to your family.
If you teach in church that morality matters, you can’t go to a party and put aside your morality for an evening of fun. Mormons live a unified life in which they are the same person all the time—or at least strive to be. They try to practice what they preach. Religion that doesn’t impact how you live your ordinary life is meaningless. Mormonism also celebrates the intellectual along with the spiritual. They aren’t afraid of science or history and many Mormons work in both fields. “Thus, the religious experience of Latter-day Saints is both sufficiently anchored in rationality to satisfy the mind and sufficiently independent from intellectual systems to satisfy the spirit.
President Packer described this relationship as “a harmonious combining of both the intellect and the spirit.” In a society that limits so much of human experience to the known boundaries of scientific knowledge, religious experience is often dismissed. If all religious experience was bound by a system, there would be little room for mankind’s boundless potential for spiritual growth. God expects His children to continually stretch their horizons and broaden their understanding of things both secular and religious.” Mormonism is a complex theology that can’t be summed up by quoting (or in many cases, misquoting) a few random doctrine. It must be viewed as a whole and that requires many years of authentic research and practice. When viewed as a whole, it is a remarkably complete system in that it provides a framework for a moral life, but leaves many possibilities for individual expression.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.