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—from a schol­ar­ly perspective—the ques­tion of why many par­ents may be will­ing to send their chil­dren off as LDS mis­sion­ar­ies for two years.

Brainwashing?

Nei­ther par­ents or their chil­dren are “brain­washed”—most psy­chol­o­gists today would reject such a term to describe behav­ior like this. Rather, psy­chol­o­gists are like­ly to view and ana­lyze such actions in terms of social­iza­tion via social learn­ing the­o­ry. Social learn­ing sug­gests that not only is behav­ior mod­i­fied based on direct instruc­tion but also through the obser­va­tion of rewards and pun­ish­ments (vic­ar­i­ous rein­force­ment). Vir­tu­al­ly all psy­chol­o­gists rec­og­nized the pow­er of social­iza­tion in shap­ing human behavior—socialization encour­ages some kinds of behav­ior and dis­cour­ages oth­er behav­ior.

The well-respect­ed psy­chol­o­gist of reli­gion, Ben­jamin Beit-Hal­lah­mi, explained:

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….

More specif­i­cal­ly, then, this doc­u­ment attempts to tack­le the ques­tion: What LDS pro­grams or cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na might be con­tribut­ing most to high lev­els of devo­tion and sac­ri­fice observed in LDS mem­bers?

What about the truth-claims?

Whether or not the LDS Church is “true” (i.e., whether its truth-claims are veridi­cal) is side­stepped in this doc­u­ment. In addi­tion, the man­ner in which the LDS social­iza­tion pro­gram reflects on LDS truth claims is unclear. For instance, a believ­ing mem­ber may argue that an effec­tive social­iza­tion pro­gram is an indi­ca­tor of the truth of the LDS Church: we might expect God to imple­ment an effec­tive social­iza­tion pro­gram to spread truth and encour­age ortho­doxy in the face of evil or igno­rant forces intent on under­min­ing it. On the oth­er hand, a crit­ic might argue that such an intense social­iz­ing pro­gram is an indi­ca­tor of the weak­ness of the LDS faith: why such a pro­gram if the truth-claims could stand on their own mer­it? One may argue—from the same data—that the LDS Church fos­ters devo­tion in part because of the accu­ra­cy, pow­er, and beau­ty of its truth-claims, or it may be fos­ter devo­tion in spite of its truth-claims were we to sup­pose that the claims were false.

A more pro­duc­tive ques­tion is whether the lev­el of belief and devo­tion fos­tered in LDS mem­bers could be the prod­uct of an effec­tive social­iz­ing cul­ture and pro­gram regard­less of the veridi­cal­ness of LDS truth-claims. We see, for instance, high lev­els of belief and devo­tion in groups like the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-Day Saints (FLDS) or in the Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es, and pre­sum­ably at most only one of these groups has ful­ly accu­rate truth-claims. The exis­tence of high lev­els of devo­tion in groups with con­tra­dict­ing truth-claims itself sug­gests that social­iza­tion may account for some sig­nif­i­cant lev­el of belief and devo­tion with­in the groups. Nonethe­less, it must be acknowl­edged that one can­not ful­ly tease apart devo­tion behav­ior from truth-claim cor­rect­ness, and this doc­u­ment makes no attempt to do so.

Fourteen socializing influences

Below are list­ed what I view as the main sources of social­iz­ing influ­ence which may 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 in which era of 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 one anoth­er and learn­ing LDS doc­trine:

  1. Mem­bers attend a min­i­mum of 3 hours of Church each Sun­day (not count­ing oth­er meet­ings like night­ly “fire­sides”) where they teach one anoth­er LDS doc­trine.
  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. The social­iz­ing influ­ence of mis­sion­ary work on LDS mem­bers is con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant enough that it mer­its its own point (see point #4).
  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 strongly encouraged to gain a testimony

Moroni’s Promise

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). The prac­tice may be viewed as open-end­ed and respect­ful of the agency of the truth-seek­er, but it may also be viewed as a process with only one inevitable out­come (see here and here for addi­tion­al dis­cus­sion).

Self-conditioning?

Oth­er rec­om­mend­ed meth­ods appear to 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. Promise to sacrifice anything to the cause

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 a mem­ber will 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, a mem­ber will be asked 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. In this milieu, then, it is rea­son­able that mem­bers are some­times taught to “nev­er turn down a call­ing” (exam­ple 1, exam­ple 2).

And giv­en such promis­es, a mem­ber may be dis­cour­aged from par­tic­i­pat­ing in any activ­i­ty that would dis­rupt Church duties. For exam­ple, 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.

4. Missions are highly controlled, socializing environments

All able males are expect­ed to serve a two 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. 2017 Mobile Device Stan­dards for LDS mis­sion­ar­ies out­line the fol­low­ing expec­ta­tions:

Always sit or stand so that you and your com­pan­ion can see each other’s screen when using devices. Be aware of your companion’s con­tacts, mes­sages, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Also make sure that your com­pan­ion reviews any­thing you plan to email, post, com­ment, or mes­sage except for let­ters to your mis­sion pres­i­dent and emails home. …

With your com­pan­ion, cre­ate a cul­ture of help­ing each oth­er be safe by reg­u­lar­ly and thor­ough­ly review­ing each other’s devices. In review­ing your companion’s device, look at his or her app his­to­ries, recent con­tacts, pho­tos, notes, usage infor­ma­tion, and so on. Do not reset your device or erase your online his­to­ry. As direct­ed by your mis­sion pres­i­dent, mis­sion­ary lead­ers may also con­duct device reviews. …

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 early

Leav­ing a mis­sion can be extreme­ly dif­fi­cult. 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.”)

Return­ing home ear­ly with­out suf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion (e.g., med­ical release) is con­sid­ered dis­hon­or­able, and the impor­tance of serv­ing an hon­or­able mis­sion is fre­quent­ly and strong­ly empha­sized. A young man or woman who was not hon­or­ably released from their mis­sion may be viewed with sus­pi­cion in the LDS com­mu­ni­ty (for exam­ple) and con­sid­ered less-desir­able mar­riage poten­tial (relat­ed to the next point, #5).

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 [return mis­sion­ary] need­ed to be at the top of my dat­ing cri­te­ria list.

The very thought of dat­ing a non-return mis­sion­ary (non-RM) is con­sid­ered jaw-drop­ping. A per­son dis­hon­or­ably released from ser­vice would like­ly be giv­en even low­er sta­tus than some­one who nev­er served a mis­sion at all.

6. LDS doctrine and practice often trumps all

LDS Doctrine

  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. In gen­er­al, log­ic is care­ful­ly arranged to sup­port belief.
  3. 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, LDS author­i­ties always win.

LDS Orthodoxy

  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. 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.

8. Attributing causation

Doc­trine and Covenants 59:21 states:

And in noth­ing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kin­dled, save those who con­fess not his hand in all things…

Lat­ter-day Saint are encour­aged to con­tin­u­al­ly 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 (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pay­ment of tithing).

  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).
  3. Mem­bers tend to con­sid­er all pos­i­tive eco­nom­ic wind­fall as evi­dence of the effec­tive­ness of pay­ing tithes.

Such a mind­set and process pro­vides a con­tin­u­al but­tress­ing of con­fi­dence in the LDS world­view.

9. 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.

10. The perilousness of unapproved ideas or information

  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.

LDS mem­bers are gen­er­al­ly reluc­tant to con­sult sources known to be crit­i­cal of the LDS Church (exam­ples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) or some­times resources dis­cussing LDS-relat­ed top­ics which are sim­ply unap­proved by the LDS Church (for exam­ple). Avoid­ing poten­tial­ly faith-dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion may even extend to reluc­tance to read offi­cial lds​.org essays meant to faith­ful­ly address crit­i­cism of the LDS Church (exam­ples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

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. Compartmentalization of information

The com­part­men­tal­iza­tion of infor­ma­tion may hin­der a lay member’s abil­i­ty to fair­ly crit­i­cize some doc­trine and prac­tices, admin­is­tra­tive actions, or poli­cies.

  1. Aspects of the tem­ple are obfus­cat­ed or kept secret from the unini­ti­at­ed.
    Con­sid­er Elder Holland’s reluc­tance to dis­cuss Mitt Romney’s tem­ple oath and com­pare how believ­ing mem­bers answer the ques­tion “What are the covenants that are made in a Mor­mon tem­ple?” (e.g., here, here, and here) with the direct answer of a for­mer mem­ber, here. A typ­i­cal tem­ple ini­ti­ate will only be vague­ly aware of the exten­sive promis­es they will be asked to make in the temple—specific covenant ver­biage is only revealed after the oppor­tu­ni­ty to with­draw has been offered and refused by the ini­ti­ate.
  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

12. Monitoring for orthodoxy

Worthiness Interviews

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 that wor­thi­ness inter­views for prospec­tive mis­sion­ar­ies “need to be spe­cif­ic and explic­it”.

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.5

Other kinds of monitoring

Besides wor­thi­ness inter­views them­selves, some oth­er kinds of mon­i­tor­ing for ortho­doxy may occur:

  1. Files may be kept on stu­dents at BYU cat­a­loging activ­i­ties that may not be in line with LDS thought.
  2. The Strength­en­ing Church Mem­bers Com­mit­tee appears to mon­i­tor for threats to ortho­doxy.
  3. Lead­ers may be screened for agree­ment with the sta­tus quo in the lead­er­ship selec­tion process (above and beyond wor­thi­ness inter­views). 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.

13. 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).

14. No viable alternative after joining

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.

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). Not only does this coun­sel help mem­bers to avoid ideas or data that might con­tra­dict the LDS world­view (list­ed ear­li­er), it also serves to stig­ma­tize dis­senters.

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.

As an exam­ple, a father-in-law recent­ly wrote to his unbe­liev­ing son-in-law:

If you remove your name from the church records while you are on this jour­ney of dis­cov­ery, your eter­nal fam­i­ly bless­ings are at risk. They can be restored, but if some­thing hap­pens before then. Just say­ing…..

… be warned, some­times if he is hav­ing a hard time get­ting through, he may send a tragedy your way, to help break down the wall that you may have unknow­ing­ly built …

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, out­side of the veridi­cal­ness of LDS truth-claims, might 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.


Acknowl­edge­ments:

  • Some per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Ben­jamin Beit-Hal­lah­mi influ­enced the gen­er­al approach of this doc­u­ment.
  • Red­dit user JohnH2 pro­vid­ed valu­able critique’s of an ear­ly draft of this work which even­tu­al­ly prompt­ed me to write this draft (he also pro­vid­ed use­ful cri­tique of this draft).
  • Some exam­ples were drawn from Luna Lindsay’s work (see Recov­er­ing Agency: Lift­ing the Veil of Mor­mon Mind Con­trol)
  • Some exam­ples and thoughts on approach were drawn from thought­son­thingsand­stuff by Jonathon Streeter.
  • Mormonism101 was help­ful in con­sid­er­ing ways to frame the psy­cho­log­i­cal influ­ence of the LDS Church.
  • Red­dit user MaxSTX point­ed out the 2017 mobile device stan­dards.
  • Red­dit user Trac­ing­Wood­grains pro­vid­ed some valu­able sug­ges­tions.
  • Dis­cus­sion and exam­ples from /r/mormon and /r/exmormon were help­ful in for­mu­lat­ing this doc­u­ment. I did not give enough spe­cif­ic cred­it to all those who point­ed out good/interesting social­iz­ing influ­ences which this doc­u­ment ben­e­fit­ed from.
  • Red­dit user we-were-gods pro­vid­ed use­ful feed­back and gen­er­al encour­age­ment to con­tin­ue doc­u­ment­ing my think­ing on this and oth­er LDS top­ics.

  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. Wor­thi­ness inter­views may vary depend­ing on the leader, but some of them appear to be more inva­sive than oth­ers. Pro​tectld​schil​dren​.org has com­piled sto­ries of inva­sive (and some­times abu­sive) inter­views: http://​pro​tectld​schil​dren​.org/​r​e​a​d​-​t​h​e​-​s​t​o​r​i​es/

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