As an active reader and listener of many corners of the Bloggernacle, I have noticed there are many people asking the question, “What does it mean to be ‘Mormon?’”. I have also had the opportunity to discuss this topic with many people.
Some people try to define Mormonism so absolutely that I’m sure many members in good standing would not fit their definitions. Others define Mormonism so broadly that I don’t see how one could differentiate between being Mormon, Catholic, or any other religious group. Although I don’t yet have an a definite answer myself, I do think some light has been shed on this topic.
President Uchtdorf gave a talk entitled “Come, Join with Us,” in which he explains the different reasons why people come to church. To the best of my understanding he provides three reasons why people choose to associate with the church.
1.“First, this Church was restored in our day by Jesus Christ Himself.”
2.“Another reason is because the Church provides opportunities for doing good.”
3.“A third reason why people join the Church is because walking the path of discipleship leads to precious blessings.”
As he spoke during conference, it became clear to me that believing (or knowing) that this is the true church is not necessary to be a good-standing member. Although I believe everyone could agree that it would be best to join the church because you have a testimony of its truthfulness, wanting to do good is a sufficient enough reason to join the church.
After expounding more on these three reasons to join, President Uchtdorf spoke about reasons why people leave the church, such as struggling with unanswered questions and mistakes made by men. It is worth noting that he never says it’s ok to leave the church for these reasons. All he says is that these are some of the reasons why they leave. More important than the reasons President Uchtdorf gave for why people leave the church, however, is the invitation he gave to those people to come back.
“If these [to become better and follow Christ] are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”
There is an idea that surfaces from time to time in the Bloggernacle called “Big Tent Mormonism.” The idea is that the church as it is now is like a big tent, which has plenty of room for an assortment of different people with different beliefs. President Uchtdorf’s talk, along with Mormon history lead me to believe this is true. But it is important to remember one thing: A tent still has walls.
The Church does not require sameness in all of beliefs. Harry Reid, Mitt Romney, and President Ezra Taft Benson all were active members of the church. They all have very different beliefs on many issues, but there are certain things they all hold in common.
In the era of postmodernism which we live in, definitions are made ambiguous and lines are blurred. We need to understand that a big tent does not mean that we all have to tow the line on every issue but we do have to recognize that it’s the church that defines what it means to be Mormon. As far as I know, the church has always made the claim that it’s run by God through his servant and mouthpiece, the Prophet. This is God’s church, not man’s church.
If God says we must do X to be a member in good standing then we have to do it. We don’t have to know it’s true. But we need to have faith that it’s what he wants us to do. That’s where one finds the tent’s walls. I don’t know of anywhere where the church espoused the idea that Mormonism was an anything-goes group whose members need not share anything in common other than self-identification as group members.
Definitions are important. They help us understand what one feels, understands, and believes in a meaningful way. Being Mormon means nothing unless it is given a definition.
I hope we all try to better understand what it means to be “Mormons.”
I hope we all strive to understand where the walls are.