LDS Indoctrination and Retentive Socialization

Introduction

In A Mes­sage To The Most Ardent Crit­ic Of The Mor­mon Church, Ben Arkell quotes a name­less mem­ber of the church who had recent­ly dropped off their daugh­ter and son at the Mis­sion­ary Train­ing Cen­ter (MTC) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints (empha­sis added):

I wish I could go to those who have walked away from the Church, and those who are its ardent crit­ics, and say, “Come with me to the MTC on a Wednes­day morn­ing and let’s just watch. Let’s stand togeth­er and watch these fam­i­lies say good­bye to their sons and daugh­ters.”

You mean to tell me you think these peo­ple are brain­washed? These indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who in all oth­er walks of life, in their edu­ca­tion, in their careers, and in their com­mu­ni­ties are suc­cess­ful, smart, and indus­tri­ous – you mean to tell me in this one area they are so igno­rant and brain­washed that they would send away their sons and daugh­ters?

Nev­er. They would nev­er do it.’

This doc­u­ment attempts to broad­ly address the ques­tion of why many par­ents are will­ing to send their chil­dren off as LDS mis­sion­ar­ies for two years. Nei­ther par­ents or their chil­dren are “brain­washed” (“brain­wash­ing” wouldn’t be the term most psy­chol­o­gists would use to describe the process­es moti­vat­ing this kind of action), but they both are the recip­i­ents of a sig­nif­i­cant lev­el of socialization—and social­iza­tion is a pow­er­ful force for encour­ag­ing some behav­ior and dis­cour­ag­ing oth­er behav­ior.

Indoctrination and Socialization

The well-respect­ed psy­chol­o­gist of reli­gion, Ben­jamin Beit-Hal­lah­mi, explained (empha­sis added):

Social learn­ing, despite its seem­ing simplicity…remains the best expla­na­tion for most reli­gious actions. It is the best expla­na­tion for the over­all preva­lence of reli­gion, for indi­vid­ual reli­gios­i­ty, and for … the most dra­mat­ic of reli­gious acts and move­ments. … The vari­ety of reli­gious tra­di­tions and the cor­re­spon­dence between the dom­i­nant tra­di­tion in the social envi­ron­ment and the reli­gious beliefs of the indi­vid­ual are the most obvi­ous proofs to the valid­i­ty of the social learn­ing approach, which is also able to explain what are con­sid­ered intense reli­gious expe­ri­ences. Super­nat­u­ral­ism is inher­ent­ly acces­si­ble, and chil­dren learn just one local ver­sion of it and in most cas­es become inex­orably attached to it.

Below are 19 main sources of social­iz­ing influ­ence which dri­ve mem­bers towards activ­i­ty and dis­cour­age them from activ­i­ties which might dimin­ish their belief and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the LDS Church. I acknowl­edge that counter-exam­ples with­in Church approved resources exist which mod­er­ate some of the more extreme mate­r­i­al and exam­ples dis­cussed below, even though I have not includ­ed them for the sake of brevi­ty. In addi­tion, the lev­el of empha­sis on reten­tive doc­trine and prac­tices that any giv­en mem­ber of the LDS Church expe­ri­ences will vary sig­nif­i­cant­ly from fam­i­ly-to-fam­i­ly, loca­tion-to-loca­tion, and which era in time a per­son expe­ri­enced a par­tic­u­lar LDS pro­gram. Still, I have attempt­ed to focus on exam­ples which will like­ly res­onate with most active mem­bers’ expe­ri­ences and con­sti­tute the threads which most strong­ly encour­age devo­tion and reten­tion.

1. Program involves extensive time learning doctrine

LDS mem­bers spend a con­sid­er­able amount of time in meet­ings teach­ing or learn­ing LDS doc­trine:

  1. Mem­bers attend a min­i­mum of 3 hours of Church each Sun­day (not count­ing oth­er meet­ings like night­ly “fire­sides”).
  2. Mem­bers are taught to pray morn­ing and night indi­vid­u­al­ly, with their fam­i­ly, and with their spous­es, pray over every meal, and study their scrip­tures dai­ly.
  3. Boys and girls begin bi-month­ly activ­i­ties with their respec­tive gen­der at age 8. Some of the lessons direct­ly or indi­rect­ly sup­port LDS doc­trine.
  4. Youth from the age of 12 to 18 attend a week­ly activ­i­ty. Many activ­i­ties direct­ly involve learn­ing or act­ing out LDS teach­ings.
  5. All high-school youth attend rough­ly one hour of study in the doc­trines and beliefs of the Church near­ly every sin­gle day of high school.
  6. All males are expect­ed to serve a 2 year full-time mis­sion and many females serve a 1.5 year mis­sion. Dur­ing this time, mis­sion­ar­ies engage in dai­ly indi­vid­ual and com­pan­ion study of LDS mate­r­i­al (at least 1 hour total dai­ly) and they will spend most of their day dis­cussing LDS doc­trine with­in their com­pan­ion­ship and with inves­ti­ga­tors.
  7. Mem­bers are to lis­ten to 10 hours of instruc­tion from Church lead­er­ship each half year and care­ful­ly review those teach­ings between con­fer­ences.

2. Members taught to condition themselves into belief

Gain­ing a tes­ti­mo­ny of LDS doc­trine is con­sid­ered an essen­tial part of being a Lat­ter-day Saint. The com­mon­ly pre­scribed method is to read and pray about the truth­ful­ness of the Book of Mor­mon (see Moroni 10:4–5). Oth­er rec­om­mend­ed meth­ods bor­der on self-con­di­tion­ing:

For instance, mem­bers have been encour­aged to record their tes­ti­mo­ny, share it with friends, and lis­ten to it reg­u­lar­ly. Neil L. Ander­sen taught:

Con­sid­er record­ing the tes­ti­mo­ny of Joseph Smith in your own voice, lis­ten­ing to it reg­u­lar­ly, and shar­ing it with friends. Lis­ten­ing to the Prophet’s tes­ti­mo­ny in your own voice will help bring the wit­ness you seek.

Mem­bers are instruct­ed that tes­ti­fy­ing that they know the Church is true is one way to dis­cov­er their tes­ti­mo­ny. Boyd K. Pack­er taught:

It is not unusu­al to have a mis­sion­ary say, “How can I bear tes­ti­mo­ny until I get one? How can I tes­ti­fy that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a tes­ti­mo­ny, would that not be dis­hon­est?” Oh, if I could teach you this one prin­ci­ple. A tes­ti­mo­ny is to be found in the bear­ing of it!1

And Dallin H. Oaks taught (April 2008 Con­fer­ence):

Anoth­er way to seek a tes­ti­mo­ny seems aston­ish­ing when com­pared with the meth­ods of obtain­ing oth­er knowl­edge. We gain or strength­en a tes­ti­mo­ny by bear­ing it. Some­one even sug­gest­ed that some tes­ti­monies are bet­ter gained on the feet bear­ing them than on the knees pray­ing for them.

3. Encouraged to sacrifice anything to the cause

Mem­bers may be taught to “nev­er turn down a call­ing” (exam­ple 1, exam­ple 2).

They may also be dis­cour­aged from par­tic­i­pat­ing in any activ­i­ty that would dis­rupt Church duties. One indi­vid­ual recount­ed:

I planned for years on going for a solo back­pack­ing & hitch­hik­ing adven­ture around the coun­try. Final­ly one sum­mer, the con­di­tions were right, I had noth­ing else I need­ed to do, and I real­ized it was then or nev­er. It was time to accom­plish a dream.

When my bish­op at the time found out, he sat me down for the most intense church inter­view I’d had up to that point in my life. His core ques­tion was how I intend­ed to ful­fill my home teach­ing and oth­er priest­hood duties if I went on my adven­ture.

Every LDS per­son mar­ry­ing in the tem­ple or serv­ing a mis­sion must receive their endow­ment, and all adults are encour­aged to receive their endow­ment. In this cer­e­mo­ny they promise to:

observe and keep the Law of Sac­ri­fice, as con­tained in the Old and New Tes­ta­ment [as Jesus Christ has laid down his life for the redemp­tion of mankind, so we should covenant to sac­ri­fice all that we pos­sess, even our own lives if nec­es­sary, in sus­tain­ing and defend­ing the King­dom of God]

In the tem­ple, mem­bers also make a solemn covenant to:

con­se­crate your­selves, your time, tal­ents, and every­thing with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, for the build­ing up of the King­dom of God on the earth and for the estab­lish­ment of Zion

Thinker of Thoughts dis­cuss­es how mem­bers covenant and are remind­ed of their covenants in the LDS Church.

4. Missions are highly controlled, socializing environments

All able males are expect­ed to serve a 2 year LDS mis­sion, and they typ­i­cal­ly serve at the age of 18 or 19. Females are encour­aged to con­sid­er ser­vice and many females leave at 19 years of age to serve a 1.5 year mis­sion. The mis­sion is a time of com­plete focus on learn­ing and teach­ing LDS doc­trine and pro­vides a strong social­iz­ing expe­ri­ence.

The mis­sion­ary envi­ron­ment, from read­ing mate­r­i­al to sched­ule, is very tight­ly con­trolled. All com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the mis­sion­ary flows through Church con­trolled resources, and fam­i­lies must use LDS con­trolled email to write to their mis­sion­ary. Anec­dotes sug­gest that faith-dis­turb­ing con­tent may be fil­tered before deliv­ery to the mis­sion­ary, and mis­sion­ar­ies may only write home once per week.2

Leav­ing a mis­sion can be extreme­ly dif­fi­cult. For instance, Mis­sion Pres­i­dents may use an extra­or­di­nary num­ber of tac­tics and gates to pre­vent home­sick or dis­cour­aged mis­sion­ar­ies from return­ing home. This includes requir­ing the mis­sion­ary or their fam­i­ly to pay for their own flight home (regard­less of whether the mis­sion­ary or fam­i­ly pre-paid for their mis­sion). Mis­sion Pres­i­dents also tend to hold mis­sion­ar­ies’ pass­ports so the mis­sion­ary may not leave with­out their per­mis­sion.3 Mis­sion­ar­ies must also sign a doc­u­ment stat­ing their inten­tion to serve, which may be used against them if they decide to return home (i.e., “you signed up for this.”)

5. Members are expected to date and marry other members

Ezra Taft Ben­son taught:

Our Heav­en­ly Father wants you to date young men who are faith­ful mem­bers of the Church, who will be wor­thy to take you to the tem­ple and be mar­ried the Lord’s way. There will be a new spir­it in Zion when the young women will say to their boyfriends, “If you can­not get a tem­ple rec­om­mend, then I am not about to tie my life to you, even for mor­tal­i­ty!” And the young returned mis­sion­ary will say to his girl­friend, “I am sor­ry, but as much as I love you, I will not mar­ry out of the holy tem­ple.”

Fol­low­ing the Church pro­gram is seen as far more impor­tant than love, friend­ship, or spir­i­tu­al com­pat­i­bil­i­ty, and young women are con­sis­tent­ly taught that they should mar­ry a returned mis­sion­ary:

Back when I was in the Young Women pro­gram, I remem­ber being told that RM need­ed to be at the top of my dat­ing cri­te­ria list.

The very thought of dat­ing a non-RM is con­sid­ered jaw-drop­ping.

6. Orthodoxy tends to trump other considerations

  1. Short engagement/dating times rel­a­tive to the rest of soci­ety sug­gests that reli­gious affil­i­a­tion often trumps oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions of per­son­al­i­ty and per­son­al­i­ty com­pat­i­bil­i­ty.
  2. A good rea­son not to mar­ry some­one is because they didn’t imme­di­ate­ly remove extra ear­rings when the Prophet said to only have one pair.
  3. Some lead­ers cre­ate con­tracts to ensure con­tin­ued activ­i­ty.

7. LDS doctrine trumps other ways of knowing

  1. All spir­i­tu­al feel­ings that con­tra­dict the accept­ed rev­e­la­tions or author­i­ties is not con­sid­ered rev­e­la­tion from God, by def­i­n­i­tion:

    When … inspi­ra­tion con­veys some­thing out of har­mo­ny with the accept­ed rev­e­la­tions of the Church or con­trary to the deci­sions of its con­sti­tut­ed author­i­ties, Lat­ter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no mat­ter how plau­si­ble it may appear.

  2. A com­plete approach to deter­min­ing whether the Book of Mor­mon is true is fol­lowed, while alter­na­tive hypothe­ses are nev­er explored.
  3. In gen­er­al, log­ic is care­ful­ly arranged to sup­port belief.
  4. BYU’s Aca­d­e­m­ic Free­dom Pol­i­cy explains how human rea­son is sub­or­di­nate to divine rev­e­la­tion: “Reli­gion offers ven­er­a­ble alter­na­tive the­o­ries of knowl­edge by pre­sup­pos­ing that truth is eter­nal, that it is only part­ly know­able through rea­son alone, and that human rea­son must be test­ed against divine rev­e­la­tion.” Hence, when ways of know­ing clash, the author­i­ties win.

8. Most major life events are tied into the Church

Giv­en that reli­gions offer a scaf­fold of mean­ing, it makes sense that they would be involved in most major life events. How­ev­er, in the LDS Church the man­ner in which these events are gat­ed by dec­la­ra­tions of wor­thi­ness and belief means that ortho­doxy in belief and prac­tice is fre­quent­ly re-empha­sized among those admin­is­ter­ing and those receiv­ing each ordi­nance or advance­ment.

  1. New­born babies are typ­i­cal­ly blessed in front of the con­gre­ga­tion by their father.
  2. Chil­dren are bap­tized mem­bers at age eight (again, typ­i­cal­ly by the father) at what is con­sid­ered the “age of account­abil­i­ty”.
  3. Young men receive the priest­hood (typ­i­cal­ly con­ferred by the father) at age 12, advance in Priest­hood rank at 14, again at 16 and typ­i­cal­ly receive the high­er Priest­hood at age 18.
  4. Fathers typ­i­cal­ly give a school bless­ing before the start of each school year and when their chil­dren are sick.

The father must be con­sid­ered wor­thy by the Bish­op to per­form these ordi­nances, and there is some com­mu­nal shame impart­ed or at least implied if they are unable to per­form these ordi­nances due to unwor­thi­ness.

Addi­tion­al life events tied close­ly into the LDS pro­gram include mis­sions, mar­riage, and funer­als.

  1. LDS mis­sions are con­sid­ered a “com­ing of age” expe­ri­ence (see answer by D. Michael Quinn).
  2. Mar­riage in an LDS tem­ple is giv­en strong empha­sis in the Church since it is viewed as the only way for the mar­riage to endure in the eter­ni­ties. All oth­er mar­riage cer­e­monies are viewed as coun­ter­feit, at least to some degree.

  3. Funer­als are con­sid­ered a time to teach the Gospel and rein­force the LDS con­cep­tion of life’s pur­pose.
    Church Hand­book 2 instructs:

    Funer­als pro­vide an impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach the gospel and tes­ti­fy of the plan of sal­va­tion. They also pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pay trib­ute to the deceased. How­ev­er, such trib­utes should not dom­i­nate a funer­al ser­vice.

    And Boyd K. Pack­er taught:

    When the fam­i­ly insists that sev­er­al fam­i­ly mem­bers speak in a funer­al, we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atone­ment, the Res­ur­rec­tion, and the com­fort­ing promis­es revealed in the scrip­tures. Now it’s all right to have a fam­i­ly mem­ber speak at a funer­al, but if they do, their remarks should be in keep­ing with the spir­it of the meet­ing.

    I have told my Brethren in that day when my funer­al is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and cor­rect them. The gospel is to be preached.

9. Compartmentalization of information

The com­part­men­tal­iza­tion of infor­ma­tion hin­ders a lay member’s abil­i­ty to fair­ly crit­i­cize admin­is­tra­tive actions or pol­i­cy.

  1. Aspects of the tem­ple are obfus­cat­ed or kept secret from the unini­ti­at­ed (exam­ple 1, exam­ple 2).
  2. Hand­book 1—the book that defines which activ­i­ties and beliefs are con­sid­ered apos­tate and what kind of dis­ci­pline should be dis­pensed for var­i­ous infractions—is not avail­able to the lay mem­ber.
  3. Finances have not been dis­closed to the mem­ber­ship since 1959.
  4. Per­mis­sion for being sealed to a sec­ond wife in the tem­ple is han­dled in secret.4

10. Expression of ideas countering orthodoxy may be suppressed

  1. Expres­sion of thoughts that run counter to teach­ings may be silenced in open micro­phone meet­ings (exam­ple).
  2. Mem­bers who pub­licly express rea­soned oppo­si­tion to spe­cif­ic activ­i­ties of the Church may be asked to remove the video or face loss of their tem­ple rec­om­mend (rec­om­mends con­fer upon the hold­er a num­ber of ben­e­fits and pub­licly sig­nal the faith­ful­ness of the mem­ber to oth­ers at fam­i­ly events such as tem­ple wed­dings) or face Church dis­ci­pli­nary action.
    For exam­ple, this moth­er of five was threat­ened with the loss of her tem­ple rec­om­mend and her Church call­ing if she did not remove this video calm­ly express­ing dis­agree­ment with the Church’s dis­ap­proval of same sex mar­riage.
  3. Videos which are crit­i­cal of the Church have been sub­ject to con­cert­ed copy­right take-down attacks.
  4. Sites with infor­ma­tion crit­i­cal of the LDS Church (e.g., mor​mon​think​.com) are blocked on wifi in LDS build­ings.
  5. In his talk to CES teach­ers Boyd K. Pack­er instruct­ed

    There is a temp­ta­tion for the writer or the teacher of Church his­to­ry to want to tell every­thing, whether it is wor­thy or faith pro­mot­ing or not. Some things that are true are not very useful…In an effort to be objec­tive, impar­tial, and schol­ar­ly, a writer or a teacher may unwit­ting­ly be giv­ing equal time to the adversary…The idea that we must be neu­tral and argue quite as much in favor of the adver­sary as we do in favor of right­eous­ness is nei­ther rea­son­able nor safe…It is nei­ther expect­ed nor nec­es­sary for us to accom­mo­date those who seek to retrieve ref­er­ences from our sources, dis­tort them, and use them against us.”

11. Attributing causation to God

Lat­ter-day Saint are encour­aged to look for God’s hand influ­enc­ing their life in sig­nif­i­cant and insignif­i­cant ways. Hence, cau­sa­tion of many events are attrib­uted to God or seen as influ­enced by their own lev­el of right­eous­ness or devo­tion.

  1. Lead­ers reg­u­lar­ly attribute super­nat­ur­al influ­ence to events oth­ers would like­ly view as nat­ur­al.
  2. Mem­bers reg­u­lar­ly attribute what oth­ers would view as nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na to the effi­ca­cy of prayer (exam­ple).

12. Always follow the leadership

Mem­bers are taught that their eter­nal safe­ty lies in always fol­low­ing their LDS lead­er­ship and that their lead­er­ship rep­re­sents God to them. D&C 1:38 empha­sizes this equiv­a­len­cy:

What I the Lord have spo­ken, I have spo­ken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heav­ens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be ful­filled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my ser­vants, it is the same.

And D&C 21:4–5:

4 Where­fore, mean­ing the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and com­mand­ments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walk­ing in all holi­ness before me;

5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

Fol­low­ing the prophet is repeat­ed­ly and emphat­i­cal­ly taught to young chil­dren and teenagers in the LDS Church. Tod­dlers and very young chil­dren often sing the song Fol­low the Prophet. Youth are encour­aged to fol­low lead­ers, even if they were wrong on some­thing:

My boy, you always keep your eye on the Pres­i­dent of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do any­thing, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.

Videos and lessons demon­strate the con­se­quences of fol­low­ing or not fol­low­ing the prophet, and the mes­sage is typ­i­cal­ly taught in absolute terms:

At times, fol­low­ing the prophet may be unpop­u­lar, but fol­low­ing the prophet is always right.

13. Familiarity with unapproved sources is considered risky

  1. Mem­bers are warned against seek­ing infor­ma­tion from unap­proved sources:

    As seek­ers of truth, our safe­ty lies in ask­ing the right ques­tions, in faith, and of the right sources—meaning those who only speak truth: such as the scrip­tures, prophets, and the Lord through the Holy Ghost.” (Sheri Dew, Will You Engage in the Wres­tle)

  2. The 7th tem­ple rec­om­mend ques­tion strong­ly implies that agree­ment with those who have con­trary teach­ings is frowned upon. Poten­tial loss of a tem­ple rec­om­mend is a deter­rent to crit­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion:

    Do you sup­port, affil­i­ate with, or agree with any group or indi­vid­ual whose teach­ings or prac­tices are con­trary to or oppose those accept­ed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints?

  3. Mem­bers have been instruct­ed to not attend sym­posia that include pre­sen­ta­tions that …could…detract from [the Church’s] mis­sion (Gen­er­al Hand­book of Instruc­tion 1999):

    The Church warns its mem­bers against sym­posia and oth­er sim­i­lar gath­er­ings that include pre­sen­ta­tions that (1) dis­par­age, ridicule, make light of, or are oth­er­wise inap­pro­pri­ate in their treat­ment of sacred mat­ters or (2) could injure the Church, detract from its mis­sion, or jeop­ar­dize its mem­bers’ well-being. Mem­bers should not allow their posi­tion or stand­ing in the Church to be used to pro­mote or imply endorse­ment of such gath­er­ings.

  4. Mem­bers are to “dis­con­nect” from pros­e­lyt­ing of those who have lost their faith:

    We should dis­con­nect, imme­di­ate­ly and com­plete­ly, from lis­ten­ing to the pros­e­ly­tiz­ing efforts of those who have lost their faith and instead recon­nect prompt­ly with the Holy Spir­it. (April 2016 BYU Com­mence­ment Address, L. Whit­ney Clay­ton, Get­ting and Stay­ing Con­nect­ed)

  5. Faith-killers should be shunned:

    Avoid those who would tear­down your faith. Faith-killers are to be shunned. The seeds which they plant in the minds and hearts of men grow like can­cer and eat away the Spir­it. (Oct 1981 GC, Car­los E. Asay, Oppo­si­tion to the Work of God)

    The exam­ple Asay gives of a “faith-killer” is a per­son who point­ed out con­tra­dic­tions in the his­tor­i­cal record to a new con­vert.

One sim­ple way to demon­strate that LDS mem­bers are gen­er­al­ly reluc­tant to con­sult unap­proved sources is to mere­ly ask a mem­ber to read or share links dis­cussing alter­na­tive mod­els of LDS truth-claims, even if they include links to faith­ful respons­es.5 Few will do so and even few­er would be will­ing to share such cri­tiques with oth­ers.

14. No viable alternative

Lead­ers repeat­ed­ly empha­size that there is no viable alter­na­tive to life with­in the LDS Church:

Elder Jef­fery R. Hol­land taught:

We board the Good Ship Zion and sail with her wher­ev­er she goes until she comes into that mil­len­ni­al port. We stay in the boat, through squalls and stills, through storms and sun­burn, because that is the only way to the promised land. (Also cap­tured in this meme)

And Elder M Rus­sell Bal­lard recent­ly taught:

If you choose to become inac­tive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The deci­sion to ‘walk no more’ with Church mem­bers and the Lord’s cho­sen lead­ers will have a long-term impact that can­not always be seen right now.

15. Some monitoring for orthodoxy occurs

  1. Files kept on stu­dents at BYU cat­a­loging activ­i­ties that may not be in line with LDS thought.
  2. Exis­tence of a Strength­en­ing Church Mem­bers Com­mit­tee.
  3. Lead­ers may be screened for agree­ment with the sta­tus quo. For instance, the recent­ly leaked Utah Area Sev­en­ties Cor­re­la­tion Meet­ing states “Stake pres­i­dents may want to review this pol­i­cy [the Novem­ber 2015 pol­i­cy exclud­ing chil­dren of same-sex mar­ried cou­ples] with prospec­tive bish­ops to deter­mine their will­ing­ness to sup­port this pol­i­cy before extend­ing a call.”
  4. Lead­ers may scan social media look­ing to see if mem­bers are prop­er­ly wear­ing gar­ments (anec­dote here). Not like­ly typ­i­cal, but nor is such behav­ior dis­cour­aged.
  5. LDS lead­ers may have inter­cept­ed pri­vate email com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the past to impli­cate those com­mu­ni­cat­ing with apos­tate orga­ni­za­tions. (exam­ple) This is like­ly atyp­i­cal behav­ior.

16. Confession and Accountability

Wor­thi­ness inter­views are reg­u­lar­ly con­duct­ed. Those con­sid­ered unwor­thy on some lev­el may not be allowed to par­tic­i­pate in ordi­nances, and this may car­ry some social stig­ma. Oth­ers may notice if a per­son does not pass or take the sacra­ment, for instance.

Inter­views occur at expect­ed inter­vals and can lead to intense pres­sure to con­form to the LDS pro­gram. Con­sid­er, for instance, the pres­sure to con­form felt by Kip Elia­son and Steven as relat­ed by New­Na­meNoah [warn­ing: last half con­tains explic­it tem­ple ref­er­ences]. A typ­i­cal adult wor­thi­ness inter­view where the inter­vie­wee responds with all the “cor­rect” answers may be found in this hid­den-cam­era footage [warn­ing: this video is like­ly to be offen­sive to many LDS mem­bers].

Lead­ers were recent­ly instruct­ed:

Wor­thi­ness inter­views need to be spe­cif­ic and explic­it (empha­sis added)

Although ques­tions are pre­scribed and must be asked word-for-word, eccle­si­as­ti­cal lead­ers are giv­en some lat­i­tude in how to con­duct the inter­view, par­tic­u­lar­ly when the answer runs counter to the approved answer.6

17. Significant in-group / out-group emphasis

  1. Employ­ment with the Church or a Church owned school, vis­it­ing the tem­ple, wit­ness­ing marriage/sealing cer­e­monies, all lead­er­ship call­ings, and oth­er tem­ple ser­vice is con­di­tioned on wor­thi­ness inter­views.
  2. The Word of Wis­dom pro­hibits the use of drinks that are inte­gral to social­i­ty in most cul­tures. Fair­Mor­mon writes (2017−08−28):

    Adher­ence to the Word of Wis­dom is often a mark of a com­mit­ted Lat­ter-day Saint and is an out­ward sign of their sep­a­ra­tion from the world and their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the fel­low­ship of God’s covenant peo­ple. Non-obser­vance or obser­vance of the Word of Wis­dom often reflects one’s com­mit­ment (or lack there­of) to their covenants with God as well as a pos­si­ble indi­ca­tor as to how one might approach oth­er com­mand­ments.

  3. Beards are not allowed for Church employ­ees, at Church owned uni­ver­si­ties, and for those work­ing in the tem­ple. Until recent­ly, even those students/employees at BYU of anoth­er reli­gious faith who wished to wear a beard for reli­gious rea­sons were not allowed to do so.
  4. Mem­bers are dis­cour­aged from get­ting a tat­too.
  5. Mem­bers use insid­er and loaded lan­guage. Con­sid­er the terms: “Court of Love” (dis­ci­pli­nary coun­cils where mem­bers may be excom­mu­ni­cat­ed from the Church); “active/­less-active”; “apos­tate” (one who has left the reli­gion for intel­lec­tu­al rea­sons).

In par­tic­u­lar, the doc­trine of “eter­nal fam­i­lies” strong­ly encour­ages an in-group/out-group men­tal­i­ty:

  1. If a fam­i­ly mem­ber choos­es anoth­er reli­gion they may not be with their fam­i­ly in the eter­ni­ties.
  2. If a mem­ber mar­ries a per­son of anoth­er faith tra­di­tion and that per­son nev­er becomes Mor­mon, the rela­tion­ships will be viewed as ter­mi­nat­ing at death (unlike mar­riages of mem­bers in the LDS tem­ple which are con­sid­ered the only ones which can per­sist).

Oth­er exam­ples of the pres­sure that some feel may be found in the video Fam­i­lies, Eter­ni­ty, & Col­lat­er­al Dam­age (LDS exam­ples begin at 2:53).

18. Strongly discourages and stigmatizes dissent

  1. Those who dis­agree with ortho­dox doc­trine are con­sid­ered either igno­rant or proud.
  2. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over: “Now, as he speaks to us … it is as if the Lord Jesus Christ him­self were address­ing us … Per­son­al opin­ions vary. Eter­nal prin­ci­ples nev­er do. When the prophet speaks … the debate is over.” (Aaron­ic Priest­hood Man­u­al 1)
  3. Those who “sin against the Holy Ghost” may be wiped from exis­tence as a Son of Perdi­tion. This is typ­i­cal­ly down­played, but the pos­si­bil­i­ty may act to dis­cour­age those who have had the strongest spir­i­tu­al con­fir­ma­tions from con­sid­er­ing alter­na­tive mod­els of LDS truth-claims.
  4. As taught in recent man­u­als and offi­cial Church mate­r­i­al, those who leave the LDS Church become ser­vants of Satan, become dark­ened and will be burned, will feel guilt and bit­ter­ness, left because they trans­gressed, will expe­ri­ence dark­ness and unhap­pi­ness, become dark­ened in their minds, are deceived because of their pride, and are deceived by the false teach­ings of the world.
  5. Mem­bers are taught to “shun” and “flee” from those who open­ly dis­agree with accept­ed Church doc­trine (see The Shun­ning Key)

19. Tragic, disastrous consequences for not following

Although the con­se­quences are often unnamed, the impli­ca­tion is that not fol­low­ing the LDS pro­gram results in con­se­quences that are always trag­ic. For instance, M. Rus­sell Bal­lard taught:

they leave the Old Ship Zion—they fall away; they apo­s­ta­tize. Trag­i­cal­ly, they often expe­ri­ence short-term and even­tu­al­ly long-term unin­tend­ed con­se­quences, not only for them­selves but also for their fam­i­lies.

Fol­low­ing every part of the LDS pro­gram is seen as vital­ly impor­tant for safe­ty. For instance, Julie Beck tells the sto­ry of how drink­ing cof­fee was the pri­ma­ry rea­son her fam­i­ly fell away from the LDS Church even though they were fol­low­ing the oth­er pre­scribed activ­i­ties of pay­ing tithing and Sun­day wor­ship:

My next sto­ry is about a woman I will call Mary. She was the daugh­ter of faith­ful pio­neer par­ents who had sac­ri­ficed much for the gospel. She had been mar­ried in the tem­ple and was the moth­er of 10 chil­dren. She was a tal­ent­ed woman who taught her chil­dren how to pray, to work hard, and to love each oth­er. She paid her tithing, and the fam­i­ly rode to church togeth­er on Sun­day in their wag­on.

Though she knew it was con­trary to the Word of Wis­dom, she devel­oped the habit of drink­ing cof­fee and kept a cof­fee pot on the back of her stove. She claimed that “the Lord will not keep me out of heav­en for a lit­tle cup of cof­fee.” But, because of that lit­tle cup of cof­fee, she could not qual­i­fy for a tem­ple rec­om­mend, and nei­ther could those of her chil­dren who drank cof­fee with her. Though she lived to a good old age and did even­tu­al­ly qual­i­fy to reen­ter and serve in the tem­ple, only one of her 10 chil­dren had a wor­thy tem­ple mar­riage, and a great num­ber of her pos­ter­i­ty, which is now in its fifth gen­er­a­tion, live out­side of the bless­ings of the restored gospel she believed in and her fore­fa­thers sac­ri­ficed so much for.

D&C 84:41 reminds all those with the Melchizedek Priest­hood (which vir­tu­al­ly all male mem­bers receive at the age of 18):

But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and alto­geth­er tur­neth there­from, shall not have for­give­ness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

And mem­bers are remind­ed that those who break the mar­riage covenant will expe­ri­ence “eter­nal mis­ery” (Eter­nal Mar­riage Stu­dent Man­u­al: Covenants and Ordi­nances).

The Covenants and Ordi­nances chap­ter of the Eter­nal Mar­riage Stu­dent man­u­al begins with this quote by Boyd K. Pack­er:

Keep your covenants and you will be safe. Break them and you will not.

Conclusion

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of teach­ings, cul­tur­al fac­tors, and prac­tices align to encour­age LDS mem­bers to stay mem­bers and help to explain why a par­ent would send their teenag­er away from home to engage in full-time mis­sion­ary work for more than a year.


  1. The prac­tice of bear­ing a tes­ti­mo­ny to find it may take advan­tage of the phe­nom­e­non of “insuf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion”. From the 1959 study on insuf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion: “If a per­son is induced to do or say some­thing which is con­trary to his pri­vate opin­ion, there will be a ten­den­cy for him to change his opin­ion so as to bring it into cor­re­spon­dence with what he has done or said.” (video which details the exper­i­ment and more on insuf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion)

  2. Excep­tions to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion pol­i­cy are rare—for instance, a father was denied con­tact infor­ma­tion for a son serv­ing in Hous­ton dur­ing hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

  3. Pass­ports are held in the mis­sion home of many mis­sions. This was the prac­tice in my mis­sion, and has been report­ed by many oth­ers.

  4. Accord­ing to cur­rent Church pol­i­cy, a per­son may only be legal­ly mar­ried to one per­son at a time, but a man may be sealed to more than one liv­ing woman at a time.

  5. LDS mem­bers are reluc­tant to con­sult unap­proved sources on LDS truth-claims. For instance, I have com­piled a list of prob­lem sum­maries of LDS truth claims: Prob­lem Sum­maries: resources dis­cussing LDS-truth claims, and it includes all the rebut­tals to the prob­lems that I’m aware of. For bal­ance it includes an offi­cial link point­ing to every apolo­getic resource approved or “blessed” by lds​.org and points direct­ly to oth­er apolo­getic resources. Even though it is bal­anced in its approach to poten­tial prob­lems, LDS mem­bers would be high­ly reluc­tant to vis­it or pub­licly share such a link with oth­er Lat­ter-day Saints.

  6. Wor­thi­ness inter­views may vary depend­ing on the leader, but some of them appear to be more inva­sive than oth­ers. The sub­red­dit /r/WorthinessInterviews cat­a­logs inva­sive exam­ples.

There are no comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *