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I visited my family in Utah for Christmas this year.  It's the first time I've been out for Christmas since 2010.  My husband and I visited in 2012, but not for Christmas.  During this trip, my sister planned a tour of the welfare facility run by the LDS church in Salt Lake City, called Welfare Square.  The tour was interesting and educational.  One thought that I had while on that tour stuck with me and I wanted to write about it.

When I started saying things critical of the LDS church in a (semi-)public setting, one of the most common comments I heard from my Mormon friends was "You should say nice things about the church too, not just critical things."  Logically, this is a silly notion.  But it isn't a logical idea, it's a human idea.  It's how we humans think.  We have tunnel vision.  We often feel a need to vilify anything that we see as different or threatening in any way.  So, it is important to remember to include positive things as well as negative things in order to prevent that from happening.  The irony that I see in the matter is that many of the friends who said things like that to me ended up unfriending me or blocking me or otherwise ending communication because they didn't like the fact that I was critical of their church.

So, while I was touring the facility, I thought to myself, the church really does do many good things.  They provide food for people who don't have any.  They give away free food.  They give away clothing and hygiene products.  They give away many of the material things which are necessary for survival or a moderately comfortable life.  They offer employment services for people who are unemployed or underemployed.  They encourage their members to be good people not just at church, but every day all week long.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Utahns donate more of their time and money than any other state.  They seem to actually do better than other people do about living the teachings they learn at church.  In Utah, 48% of people polled reported donating both time and money in the past month.  Contrast that with many of the states in the Bible Belt, such as Kentucky (24%) and Mississippi (26%).  Mormons really do seem to be better at charitable giving than Christians of other denominations.

Putting words in my friends' mouths, I think the reason it is important to them that I say things like this is because they value their church.  They love their church, they dedicate their lives to their church, and they want people to see the reasons why they love it.  This is one of the reasons they love their church, and I think it's a good reason to love it.

Throughout the tour of the facility, the missionaries who were leading the tour injected many of the teachings of the church and their own personal witnesses that the teachings are true and divine.  I've been on many tours of church facilities in the past, so I knew that this was to be expected.  It doesn't bother me at all.  I believe that the main reason for doing this is because they want people to not just see the good things the church does, but also be exposed to its doctrines and come to a better understanding of it, as well as eventually convert and join the church.  This is very similar to any marketing plan employed by any other corporation seeking recruitment (either for its employ or clientele or otherwise).

As I was ponderizing the thought I first mentioned--that the church is good in many ways--and then heard the missionaries talk about their beliefs, I thought to myself how much better the church would be if it kept its charitable teachings and left behind its superstitious ones.  To its members, the doctrines are what make the church great.  To me, a previous Mormon, they are what holds it back, and I wish to explain why I believe that.  I feel that I have several helpful examples in elucidating the matter.

It is clearly the case that some of the doctrines of the church are good.  The church teaches that since we are all spiritual brothers and sisters, we should love one another and be kind toward one another.  This is one of the reasons why Mormons are so charitable.  Some doctrines are neither good nor bad, they are simply strange teachings, such as that there is a distant place called Kolob.  However, there are unfortunately many doctrines which are harmful.

Mormon doctrine for many years taught that black people were cursed.  They were unable to hold the priesthood because they were descended from Cain, whom God cursed.  It was taught that they were fence-sitters in the war in heaven (a fight in the pre-Earth life, where Satan fought in rebellion against God and none of his followers were allowed to come to Earth in physical form).  It was taught that anyone who married a black person would pass the curse onto their children (see here).  Racism persisted in the church until 1978 when the ban on priesthood was lifted.  This was a doctrine which caused much hurt.  It taught that black people were inferior.  It justified racist views held by the members of the church.  It discriminated unnecessarily against people based on their color.

Currently, the church has a similar (but far stricter) policy toward gay people.  A couple in a same-sex relationship cannot join the LDS church, nor can their children (until they turn 18 and formally disavow the practice of same-sex marriage).  This policy is based on the doctrine that homosexual sex is sinful.  It is believed in the LDS church (and many churches, Christian or otherwise) that homosexual behavior is against the will of God--that it is an abomination.  This is a harmful doctrine because it encourages church members to look down (in contempt or pity, as the case may be) on gay people.  Mormons condescend to gays by saying things like "I'm sorry you have to go through such a difficult trial." or they despise gays by calling them sinners and heathens.

Neither of the two doctrines I have mentioned have promoted this concept that all people are brothers and sisters and should be loved equally.  In fact, both of them contradict it.  But there are other doctrines as well.  It is believed that men are to preside over women.  It is believed that humans are superior to other forms of life.  It is believed that it is better to die than to lose one's virginity (before marriage).  It is believed that all non-Mormon religions are an abomination in the sight of God.

In my opinion, the church would be better if it cast aside all of these outdated and discriminatory beliefs and focused on the more humanist ones, such as helping and loving other people.  Imagine how less judgmental Mormons would be if the church did not teach that other religions are abominable or that men and women have specific roles they must fill and cannot fill the roles of the other.  Imagine how much more accepting they would be if they were not taught that I am a sinner simply because I sleep naked with a man instead of a woman.

I think the reason it is important to notice the good and bad in any organization (or in any individual) is to weed out that which is bad and nurture that which is good.  I hope the humanitarian efforts of the LDS church continue and increase in magnitude while the judgmental, outdated, bigoted beliefs die off.  I hope to see less focus on proscribing certain behaviors (such as viewing pornography, having casual sex, and masturbating) and more focus on things that matter, such as lending a helping hand and being kind.

I see my friends who have been jaded by religion, or specifically by the LDS church.  Many of them have nothing positive to say about the church (or about any church).  I can't blame them.  It's just human nature to be like that.  I also see people who do the same toward Muslims or gays or immigrants.  I don't think it's ever good.  I don't think absolutes are a good way to think or to live one's life.  I think it's important to acknowledge the good and the bad in all things.  Concerning politics, I feel no need to ridicule every action President Obama takes as POTUS nor do I feel a need to praise every action he takes and worship him as a saint.  I praise him for the things he does that I feel are good (such as standing up for equality) and criticize him for the things he does that I feel are bad (such as signing away the right of habeas corpus in the NDAA).  I think the same should be done in religion and in all things.  

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