Proper Practice Makes a Good Mormon

I’m going to have to admit here that I keep up with little of the debates concerning Mormon “theology”, so please forgive me if some of these ideas are half-baked and/or already worked over in other blogs.
It seems to be the case that proper practice (orthopraxy) rather than proper belief (orthodoxy) defines a good Mormon. By ‘good Mormon’ I mean someone who is “temple worthy”—i.e. they can pass a temple recommend interview by answering each question honestly. This is not to say that belief is insignificant, but the defining characteristic of being a good Mormon is one who adheres to a strict notion of performance and not one who has a coherent theology (i.e. a theology which coheres to a larger body of “orthodox” church teaching). For instance, one can remain agnostic to the issue of progression between kingdoms in heaven and still be a good Mormon. I would extend this even further to say that you don’t have to believe in the Bible as literal history in order to qualify. In other words, any member holding a series of non-mainstream beliefs actually could honestly pass a temple recommend interview. While this certainly isn’t an either/or situation where we ONLY judge practice to the neglect of belief, how we work out the relation between the two is unclear.

Now, while I’m certainly willing to debate the issue of whether it is correct to speak of an “orthropraxy” for Mormonism, I’m personally interested in the implications of assuming the above to be correct. In other words, what does it mean to define Mormonism in terms of practice (keeping in mind I am not saying that it is defined SOLEY in terms of practice)? And how does this shape the way we perceive ourselves? Must we be more lenient to those with differing beliefs, in as much as they fit within the wide bounds of Mormon “doctrine”? Is this why many of the internal debates on policy, as well as messages given in conference are about “what to do”?
One strong point of an orthopraxy is that the leadership does not have to have a vigorous intellectual training in order to lead (and perhaps members don’t have to know a rigorous systematic theology in order to join). The downside of course is that actions are often (mis)interpreted as dissent. For instance, facial hair, white shirts, and other “nitpicky” actions become points of contention. An orthopraxy may lead us to be over concerned with “appearance” rather than what goes on beneath the appearance. This of course raises questions about whether homogenization of form leads to homogenization of content; and I could certainly go on, but I’m wondering what other’s thoughts are.

20 Replies to “Proper Practice Makes a Good Mormon”

  1. On the other hand, an emphasis on orthopraxy above orthodoxy (with a few key exceptions) has allowed Mormonism to develop a wide variety of believe systems. Doctrinally we operate under a very wide umbrella, which is a good thing, I think.

  2. Did you have Elder Bednar’s talk from the new Ensign in mind as you wrote this post? I find it very odd that Elder Bednar is so concerned over dress and grooming standards. He constantly equates obedience with scrupulous attention to grooming. He will go down in history for his draconian dress standards at BYUI.

  3. HP,Do you mean “has allowed”, or “should allow”? Because I think for the most part we are perceived as being rather uniform. IMO we allow for less diversity of belief then we actually could.On the other hand, I think it could also be argued that an orthopraxy is a stronger homogenizing force than an orthodoxy. Practice is easier to observe and track than belief. Since practice is also more visible conflicts over “cultural practices” are eaiser to materialize, and in many circumstances it may make conversion more difficult because the amount of physical change that may need to take place.Anon.,No, I actually haven’t had a chance to read the new Ensign yet, but I think this speaks to the abundance of practice in our discourse.

  4. Although orthopraxy is an important part of Mormon culture, I think we all must concede that there are certain beliefs that Mormon’s in general think you have to hold dear to be considered ‘good’. Book of Mormon historicity and maybe even a belief that the Pearl of Great Price directly reflects what was on the papyrus strike me as two examples.I also think that to most Mormons, not believing the Bible to be literal history would be considered scandalous.

  5. I say “has allowed” because there have been many debates (amongst the general authorities at least) regarding doctrine. Perhaps this isn’t evident at ground level, but I operate from a feeling that for every wack-job posting theories on the internet (including myself, of course) there are 100 or so people reading/wishing they had a place to post their theories on the internet. While the heterodox may represent a minority, I think it is a large minority.While I do think that RoastedTomatoes is wrong on these counts, I have been convinced by him that a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon account isn’t necessary to be a true, believing Mormon. That said, it is likely something that I would have continued to denied had I not become acquainted with RT.

  6. “…I have been convinced by him that a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon account isn’t necessary to be a true, believing Mormon.”What do you think the average Bishop or Stake President would say if, at your next temple recommend interview, you told them you did not believe the Book of Mormon represents anything historical? I find it hard to believe that if you said as much, you would walk out of there with a recommend.

  7. jkc,Whether or not it would come up in a temple recommend interview isn’t relevant. All that is what would happen if it did. What I think would happen is the interviewer would not issue the recommend due to ‘testimony’ issues.I bring up the example to show that those who do not see the Book of Mormon as historical are not viewed as ‘good’ Mormons by the general leadership of the Church.And I’m not saying that I think they are bad members because, honestly, I am pretty much on the fence when it comes to the question of historicity.

  8. That is interesting. I guess it depends upon who your local authorities are. I think DTrain over at Unofficial Manifesto is a good example of when local authorities aren’t quite so accommodating.

  9. Actually whether such a question would be asked (or implied) in a temple recommend interview is at the heart of the issue.If we are measuring a ‘good’ Mormon as one who can pass a temple recommend interview honestly, which in essence means that he or she could go to the temple and pass through the veil into the presence of God, then this certainly is central. There are two questions that need to be asked here: 1) Is there a question about the historicity of the BoM in the recommend interview? 2)And/or it implied in any of the other questions?There obviously is no such question on the list; which actually speaks to my larger point–most of the recommend questions are geared toward practice, while only a few are geared toward belief.Now, the only question the historicity of the BoM would come into play is “Do you have a testimony of the restoration?” So now it becomes an issue of the possibility of having a testimony of the restoration without believing the historicity of the BoM. Is it possible? I would have to say ‘yes’ (although personally, I’m rather agnostic on the topic). I don’t think it requires any mental gymnastics to have come to such a conclusion. The interesting issue is whether those doing the interviews have the right to interpret the questions in such a way that would exclude these types of people.HP,If the status quo “has allowed” a wide diversity in belief, why are we using psuedonyms to express these beliefs?

  10. I asked my bishop last night at bishopric meeting what he would do in that situation. His response was that he wouldn’t anticipate being in that situation because it isn’t one of the questions.I think whether it would come up is extremely relevant. If it wouldn’t ever come up, then what would happen is actually the irrelevant issue. The real question here is this: what determines worthiness? With a few exceptions (Belief in the Godhead, Faith in the Atonement, Testimony of the Restoration, and Testimony of Divine Callings of the Current Leadership) worthiness is a question of how you live. The Handbook also says that Bishops and Stake Presidents are not authorized to add any requirements to the temple recommend interview.Personally, I think the Book of Mormon is historically true (I also think attempts to prove it so are ludicrous). But belief in Book of Mormon historicity is not a requirement for a temple recommend. If some local leaders refuse to keep this policy they are acting wrongfully, but I suspect that most leaders (at least the ones that I’ve dealt with) don’t care what’s in the heart of hearts of their members as long as they satisfy the requirements.

  11. So do you believe those doing the hiring are not reflective of general authorities? I think they at least share much of the same family tree…Or is the “allowance” of diversity of belief more of a mild toleration than a permission?I guess the point I’m driving at is that, IMO, most members of the church (unconsciously?) define a ‘good’ member by more standards of belief than are actually required. The question to be asked is where does this come from? One possible answer is to say that we can rule out the leadership of the church because they’ve determined the minimum criteria of ‘good’ membership in such a way that doesn’t require rigid uniformity of belief (although this doesnt’ quite answer the question). It also raises the question of whether there are different requirements for being hired then for going to the temple. And if so, then how is that justified?I think at heart is the issue of the relationship between belief and practice. If we truely allow (not mildly tolerate) a diversity of beliefs will that errode the unity we feel as a community? Or am I imagining more of a “unity” than is actually there?

  12. Another question to throw in is, what does it mean for those doing the hiring to “preserve the doctrine of the Church” (from the mission statement of the Rel. Ed. dept.) when that doctrine is actually a wide variety possibilities?

  13. Great post!Yes, orthopraxy seems to be the main thrust for classifying good-standing for the church. In the recommend interviews, they never, ever ask me about my doxology. They don’t know that I might think Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself or if he convinced the three witnesses to go with him on the whole matter and made a set of plates with scribbles on them to show to the other witnesses, which I believe he did (especially the paedobaptism stuff!), and yet I walk out of there with a recommend every time. Clearly my belief that the BofM is a 19th century document would make me unorthodox, but the leadership never bothers to ask me about it. So I guess I can witness to the phenomenon you mention here from my own personal experience. And when I teach the BofM, I just don’t discuss my (heretical) views on it.

  14. diahman, yes, I do believe that the standards for teaching the gospel are different from those required to qualify for the temple. That stands to reason.Regarding the preservation, I am familiar with a wide variety of approaches on BYU campus, for instance. To my knowledge, they don’t enforce a curriculum on their teachers and they don’t appear to have standards regarding what is taught or how it is taught, so long as you teach it from a faithful perspective. I appreciate the call to preserve doctrine, but there remains a lot of lassitude in interpreting that call and doctrine in general.That said, I don’t expect to hear anyone teaching the Book of Mormon as a 19th century document in class any time soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it came up in discussion amongst colleagues.Also, I don’t see the opinions of the people at BYU RelEd being normative for the GA’s. Quite the opposite, actually.

  15. Interesting post. As mentioned above, I think the allowed diversity of belief is a good thing, and very related to the notion of an open canon and continuing revelation.And whether or not ‘draconian’ is the right word, I agree Bednar left a memorable legacy at BYUI for the dress standard (e.g. women can’t wear capris…).

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