“By Their Members Ye Shall Know Them” … or, “Don’t Judge The Church By Its Fruits!”

In Matthew 7:16-21, Jesus tells us how we can know "them."  We know "them" by their "fruits":

"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth devil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

Who is "them"? 

As best I can tell, "them" are the true followers of Christ, the authorized representatives of God, the members of his true Church.  Meanwhile, "fruits" seems to refer to the inevitable byproducts of "them" and/or the effects of the true Gospel made manifest in the lives of "them," potentially visible for others’ viewing and inspection.  If I recall correctly, this theme gets expounded upon in either LeGrand Richards’ "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder" or James Talmadge’s "Articles of Faith" (I can’t remember which one).  And it also gets considerable airtime in the modern-day Church.  To cite one example, consider Dean L. Larsen’s talk in the November, 1985 Ensign, appropriately entitled, "By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them."  Elder Larsen says:

"Those who receive the gospel are expected to manifest its fruits in their lives, not only for their own benefit and blessing, but for the purpose of drawing others to the truth … In significant ways their lives will manifest the fruits of the gospel and set them apart as a beacon to all who are seeking for light and truth." 

In short, we should expect the "fruits" of the Gospel to be on display, assuming we are "them."  In the aggregate, God’s chosen people should manifest certain qualities that result from our gospel living and commitment to Christ’s true teachings.  And consequently, astute observers should be able to conclude that we are "them."  This all sounds right to me.

But now consider a conversation I had with some members of my ward about a year ago:  We were discussing the rationale offered by a disgruntled investigator as to why she wasn’t interested in affiliating with the Church anymore. Nothing original here… she was offended by many members of the ward, felt that the ward as a whole was judgmental and uninterested in her welfare, and was unimpressed by what she saw as a lack of commitment to true gospel princples.  And I’m sure you can guess what everyone’s response to her was: "Don’t judge the Church by the members! Judge it by its teachings!" "The Church is perfect, but the members aren’t!"  And so forth.  For as long as I can remember, these responses, and others like them, have been thrown around by Church members with reckless abandon.  And why not?  They sound perfectly reasonable enough.  After all, just because someone affiliates with the Church, it doesn’t follow that they will be a particularly good representative of its teachings.  We all fall short, often miserably so.  To draw conclusions about the teachings of Mormonism based upon the behaviors of its adherents is to confuse the pristine message with the gritty reality of individual members trying (and perhaps failing) to apply that message in practice.

But this just raises the question:  Are we to know "them" by their "fruits," or aren’t we?  Which is it?  Is it appropriate to make judgments about the Church based upon the behavior, traits, or qualities of its members, or isn’t it?  If the answer is "Well, only sometimes," then when are those times exactly? 

I suspect the answer, for most LDS members, is:  "Yes, it’s appropriate to judge Mormonism by its fruits, but only if those judgments make the Church look good."  In other words, the "right" answer is: "Our good fruits tell us much about the tree, but our bad fruits don’t tell us anything about the tree, thank you very much!"

Perhaps what Christ really meant in verse 17 was "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit and devil fruit, and a corrupt tree bringeth forth both good fruit and devil fruit also.  Thus, thou shalt not draw any conclusions about the tree, based upon its fruits."  (Maybe we can get the Church to adopt the "ABT" — Aaron Brown Translation — complete with this inspired reading, and we can put it in the footnotes of the new non-KJV "official" Bible that everybody seems to want so badly).  :)  But the problem here, of course, is that if both the good tree and the corrupt tree are putting forth both types of fruit, why the heck did Christ bring up this business about fruit trees to begin with?  Seems like the metaphor is completely unhelpful, and the whole sermon was a bit of a waste. 

Aren’t the principles "By their fruits ye shall know them" and "Don’t judge the Church by its members" in tension with each other? Aren’t these two contradictory approaches to the very same issue?  Isn’t our tendency to invoke both principles an example of our trying to have our fruitcake and eat it too?  Should people come to conclusions about the truth of Mormonism based upon the qualities of its members, or shouldn’t they?

Obviously, as members of the Church, we want to apply the "Don’t judge the Church by the members" principle in the case of the disgruntled investigator, and the "By their fruits ye shall know them" principle in the case of a satisfied investigator who is impressed by the ward members. But why should we? Just because it’s convenient? Just because these particular applications of the arguments lead to the "right result" from an orthodox LDS perspective? Put differently, why wouldn’t the disgruntled investigator be correct in replying:  "No, I will judge the Church by the members!  Christ said "By your fruits ye shall know them," this ward contains the only Mormons I know, and they clearly are not displaying the "fruits" that would suggest they are true followers of Christ. Therefore, I have to conclude that they are not!"

For that matter, why wouldn’t it be appropriate for a non-disgruntled investigator to say to the missionaries: "Sorry, but although I think the members of this congregation seem very Christ-like in lots of ways, this laundry list of good Mormon qualities I’ve drawn up just isn’t relevant at the end of the day. I don’t judge the Church by the members, but rather, by its doctrines and teachings only, so the wonderful qualities of the Mormon people can’t weigh in the Church’s favor!"

Is there a way to justify our use of these respective principles the way we want to use them, short of admitting that we’re only doing it because we’ve calculated it will lead to results that makes the Church look good?  If not, are we merely indulging in ad hoc invocations of principles that we don’t really believe in?

Aaron B

Comments

  1. With respect to “by their fruits shall ye know them”:

    Matt 5:13
    Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

    With respect to “Don’t judge the Church by its fruits”:

    Matt 7:3-5
    And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [is] in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

    All quotes KJV, not the proffered ABT.

  2. Aaron,

    Great post. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any farther down this road, so nothing to add except for thanks for posting it.

    Dorito,

    I don’t really see those scriptures as adding anything to the discussion here, other than to imply that Aaron is hypocritical. An un-founded assertion, and one with which I completely disagree..

  3. I dunno, Aaron. I think I see it differently. Here is why I think we should be allowed to have it both ways.

    I believe, based on personal experience and my observations of other LDS people, that the gospel helps us to live more effectively, generally speaking. Most people (not all) are better off living the gospel as taught by our church than not living it. Our missionaries are telling the truth when they say our religion promotes happiness. I understand that to mean that people will be happier living the gospel than they would be not living it. In addition, the organization of the church, especially the way it is put together on the local level, helps us to be multiply our efforts. See the latest Church News for a description of LDS disaster response, for instance.

    I’m not saying that some other religions aren’t good at these things too. I’m saying that we don’t need to take a back seat to anybody, and that, frankly, we do a better job than many.

    Having said all that, we do fall short of our ideals, but so what, who doesn’t? All fall short of the glory, etc. The argument that says mormons don’t live Christ’s teachings, therefore the LDS church is false is valid only to the extent that it applies to everyone else, too.

    As we compare our actions as measured against Christ’s teachings, we all have good reason to be humble. But, comparing people to people, I think LDS folk stack up pretty well.

  4. XON,

    The scriptures quoted directly address what Aaron is talking about, that members arent living the way they are supposed to and people can see that. Regardless of whether people can see it or not, the teaching of Christ are that we are supposed to be worried about our own flaws and not looking to find flaws in others. This addresses the second part of Aaron’s question about nonmembers taking offense at our innability to walk the talk. Granted, we are imperfect, but Jesus cautions people to not focus on others imperfections.

    Whatever hostile reading you are attributing is a figment of your imagination.

  5. Aaron,
    I always understood it differently: Jesus’ teachings are what bear fruit not those who call themselves his disciples. If Mormons (or whoever) aren’t nice people it’s in spite of the teachings not because of them. People should only ask one question: as I live the Gospel does it make me better?

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, just before the verse Aaron quotes, Jesus is talking about false vs. true prophets…

  7. Jason Richards says:

    I’m with Steve Evans on this one. “Judge them by their fruits” is for judging prophets true or false.

    “By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another” is for judging whether we’re true disciples.

    Fruits for prophets.
    Love for disciples.

    Although, to qualify for baptism, Moroni said we had to bring for fruits meet for repentance: “they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.” (Moroni 6:1 http://scriptures.lds.org/moro/6/1#1 )

    Or as the Lord said in D&C 20:37, “truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins” ( http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/20/37#37 )

    That said, I disagree with the members of your ward who say, ‘The Church is perfect, the members aren’t.’ To the contrary, we are the Church and the Church is not perfect. Said the Lord, “the whole church [is] under condemnation.’ (D&C 84:55 http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/84/55#55 .) President Benson said that condemnation has not been lifted. I’d be much more comfortable saying the Church is true, or that the doctrine is true. However, the Church cannot be perfect, yet. Once it’s perfect this Dispensation will close and time will end.

    What I wonder is whether we should be disfellowshipped for being unkind to one another; for speaking ill of others (gossip). That might make a big difference. That sort of thing did happen in Joseph’s day. Part of the reason the Church is not closer to being perfect is because we are not truly disciples of Jesus Christ. With our lips (doctrine/teachings) we draw near Him, but too often our thoughts are far from Him.

  8. I don’t think you can refer to a “non-disgruntled” investigator. Isn’t the word “gruntled”? And if he’s quite satisfied, then “well-gruntled”?

  9. I’m with Mark, but how we feel about it is irrelevant. Those who are outside or inactive are going to judge us “by our fruits.” They expect more of us, they just do.

    My Baptist son-in-law was totally impressed with my friends who helped with Sarah’s wedding. I am truly blessed with friends who are wonderful people, funny and warm-hearted and good. He expressed an interest in the church then made the comment that the Mormons in his town didn’t live their religion and they had put him off!

    It cracked me up. There is a sort of hypocrisy in people who don’t live our religion or believe in it expecting perfection of us. Don’t they get that we are only human??? One would hope so, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

  10. Nice post! With respect to the idea that most people are happy within the LDS church, there’s the counterargument that we in fact have an unusually high rate of inactivity among new converts…

  11. a random John says:

    There is another dynamic at play here, which is that lots of people go to church for the wrong reasons. This is probably more common in areas with a high density of Mormons. I would guess if you look at the number of Mormons in an area and then look at how many Mormons are say, in prison there, that Utah would have a worse ratio than places where Mormons are harder to come by. Why is this? Because in Utah basically everybody is a Mormon. Your drug dealer is a Mormon, the guy up the street that beat people up is a Mormon, and government officials are all Mormon too. This is probably getting off topic, but the point is that in areas that have a lower density of LDS there is probably less pressure to participate out of habit or for social reasons so some people are more free to stop being Mormon if it doesn’t fit them. I am rambling, aren’t I?

    In any case the Church uses the “by the fruits” thing all the time. Aaron is right that LeGrand Richards was all about that. Others have done the same. Yes it is a double edged sword, but it also seems to work best when looking at large sample sizes rather than using it to pick out the people in the congreation that you hate.

  12. “there’s the counterargument that we in fact have an unusually high rate of inactivity among new converts…”

    As opposed to who? Have you compared recent convert activity rates to say the Church of God? or the Catholics? Catholics have maybe 20% weekly church atttendance

    Also thise original premise of this thread only works with large sample sizes like what a random john mentioned. You can pick out people that you do not like in the Church and say man their fruits are horrible.

  13. I think it’s entirely appropriate to judge the church by the lives of those who follow it’s teachings.

    Of course it would be stupid to judge it by those members who don’t follow it’s teachings. And it’s always stupid to draw too many conclusions from an isolated example, rather than looking at what is true in general.

  14. Those judging us from outside (investigators, inactives, et al.) aren’t looking to see if we each are happier in our private lives. Seems to me that the “fruit” that almost every ward I’ve lived in, both in Utah and elsewhere, fails to show most commonly is one that Protestants, at least, display beautifully: being openly welcoming, inclusive, non-judgmental to people who visit our meetings. Especially those who come on their own, not with a missionary or relative running interference.

    Just walk into a new ward or any ward you don’t attend regularly and see how self-involved the members are, worrying about their lessons, chatting with the people they know, reading (their scriptures or otherwise), playing with their PDAs, fussing with their kids…. How many notice that someone new has joined the mix, go to that person and honestly make an effort to make the newbie feel warm and accepted? The fact that mostly the missionaries feel a need to warn the PEC when an investigator is likely to attend, is evidence enough (for me) that our congregations can’t be trusted to welcome newcomers on their own.

    Seems to me that the “love thy neighbor” fruit is hard to find in the personal/organizational interactions with strangers.

  15. Bbell, you’re comparing new LDS converts to overall activity rates in other churches–wrong comparison. The LDS activity rate among new converts is lower than the Catholic activity rate among new converts, as well as the comparable rate among Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th-Day Adventists, Baptists, etc.

  16. RT,
    Are you a vegetable or a fruit?
    – Ronan

  17. Ronan, an excellent question with profound theological implications. According to scientists, tomatoes are fruits, rather than vegetables because they have seeds inside them. Does that apply to me personally? Yes, because I had some cashews for a snack a few minutes ago and therefore also have seeds in.

    The conclusion, I guess, is that you can judge the church on the basis of me! Which works out all right for me, since I rather like myself….

  18. Hugh, that really varies from ward to ward. But I think one problem is that many wards are large enough and with enough turn-over that people don’t know who is in the ward. Throw in three different wards meeting in the same building and its far too easy to assume new faces are just from the other ward.

  19. Just to add in, if we are judging the church by its fruits, then we have to compare the changes of people and not some absolute standard. Especially in a church that proselytizes so much. Otherwise you’re really saying that new members must magically transform into established members in mere months.

  20. It seems to me that judging people by their fruits is great. We can judge how much someone is a true disciple of Christ. The thing is that while we would hope that this correlates well with Church attendance, I don’t know that it is reasonable to do so. It is the whole sick people go to the hospital – degenerates go to church thing. Hopefully, people have taken advantage of the Gospel, but we believe in agency so it is not guaranteed.

  21. RT,

    Show me the relevant stats. I have seen the stats on the JW and SDA and you are correct. Show me the stats on the Catholics and the Baps and I will believe you. I find it hard to believe that 20% weekly church attendance for catholics as a total results in a high weekly attendance rate for their converts. I could be wrong. So show me.

    Also show me US LDS converts vs the others US converts.

  22. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

  23. Ed is correct. We should judge the church by the lives of those are faithful followers of its teachings, and we should not draw conclusions from isolated examples. My problem is that when I look around me, it is far from clear to me that the faithful members of the LDS church are any better than the faithful followers of many other churches. I have no empirical data–it is just my impression from observing the community in which I live. But that troubles me. If we are not better in some important respects, then what is the value of the church? Shouldn’t the restored gospel produce better fruit among its adherents than the apostate versions?

  24. First, I also believe that Christ was instructing us how to distinguish between a true prophet and a false prophet in Matt.7:16-21. This is excellent instruction, especially for non-Mormon Christians who assume any modern or non-biblical Prophet to be false. The Saviour teaches us clearly that we will know them by their fruits – and it is important then to remember what those fruits are (Galatians 5:22). Consider those “fruits” the next time you attend a General Conference…
    Second, when it comes to the general membership, I believe we can “judge”, or appraise (if we wish), the extent to which someone has accepted Christ into their hearts by their actions. But if we undertake to do this, we must realize that it reflects only on an individuals’ relationship with God, not on whether the Church is true or not. There are two things that take away “light” – disobedience, and the traditions of our fathers (D&C 93:39). Speaking for myself, I might be pretty good at keeping the Word of Wisdom, attending Church, not swearing, etc. but the “traditions of our fathers” must not be underestimated in their power. This could often include, but is not limited to, things that I justify by saying “that’s the way I was raised…”. For example, how easy is it for someone to hold family prayer & study if the ‘tradition’ with your parents was NOT to do it? What about withholding physical and verbal affection from your family, because “it just wasn’t done in my family”? There is so much more that could be said, but let it suffice to say that we each grapple with our own “traditions” and this must be taken into consideration when drawing conclusions about anothers’ ‘walk of Faith’.

  25. Bob Bell, I don’t have the statistics with me right now, although I had thought this was received wisdom at this point. But if you would like to disregard the statements about Baptists and Catholics, feel free to do so. My point is just that there are a fair number of people who evidently feel less happy inside our church than they do outside.

  26. Aaron,
    Why must it be all or nothing? Can’t the church contain both true believers and less-than-true believers as members?

    Extreme Dorito hit the nail on the head. Some of us have beams in our eyes, and some of us have motes.

    Another analogy is the wheat and tares. Both wheat and tares are in the church. I’ve occasionally wondered if one of the reasons more people aren’t disfellowshipped or excommunicated is because by yanking out the tares, it would also damage the wheat.

    Hugh,
    I’ve noticed the same thing. Members are so busy with “the program” on Sundays that visitors are often overlooked. That’s one reason I think there should be a maximum of 2 wards per building, at 9am and 1pm. With overlapping meetings at 9am, 11am, and 1pm, walk-ins often just get ignored.

    With natural and man-made disasters increasing in the period preceeding the Second Coming (and Elder Oaks mentioned this in a recent conference), I predict there will be a huge influx of re-activated members, and converts in the not-too-distant future. With 3 wards per building, there is no room for rapid growth since it takes 12 to 18 months to construct a chapel. (I think 4 wards at 9/11/1/3 or 8/10/12/2 is just too much, and should only be an emergency stop-gap measure while a new building is being built.)

    We’ve got 3 units (a full ward, a Spanish Branch, and a YSA Branch) where I’m at, and it’s in one of the new smaller footprint chapels. You can see a picture here:
    https://secure.lds.org/units/home/0,9781,600-1-7-226440,00.html

    We have an “add on” at the end of the building (the end opposite the chapel proper) which is a classroom for Institute that can be divided in two with the partition thing. Without those two extra classrooms, and the fact that primary/youth is combined for the English-speaking ward and the Spanish Branch, we could not overlap the two units at all.

    We also have an “add on” for a genealogy library, but it also is too small. And in my opinion we just don’t have enough restrooms in terms of stalls and sinks for all the people who are here on Sunday or for ward activities.

    This building design could easily handle two branches that don’t overlap at all on Sunday. But it seems very cramped for a full ward of 125-150 attendees on Sunday.

  27. Church membership guarantees nothing. There are people who bear good fruit and others who don’t who are both “card carrying” Mormon-folk. (Enter the Holy Spirit of Promise…).

    The passages used here as proof-texts are difficult (eisegetical?) when we try to make it a “church” issue. There was no church when Jesus said those words; only factions of Judaism, and it is probably unlikely he said those words to anyone but the Pharisees (Sadducees would have probably moved to stone him quicker with his re-interpretations of Torah). It seems that we could also take those words to be directed to the individual and not to some corporate or communal identity. In other words — they’re probably directed to faithful people, regardless of their religious affiliation.

    So while I may bear bad fruit (as many in my ward think), my neighbor might not be doing that and yet we’re both “faithful” Mormons.

    I’m definitely a vegetable. Carrots, man. Gotta love ‘em.

  28. Insofar as a person’s actions are fruits of the church’s influence, then yes, you can judge the church by it’s fruits. However, if their actions are their own faults and prejudices, and the church had no part in creating or reinforcing them, then I think it would certainly be inappropriate to call those “fruits” of the church and judge the church accordingly.

    So when Latter-day Saints are honest, chaste, and kind, the question to ask is, “Are these fruits of the church and its teachings, or not?” Most people would agree they are. When a Latter-day Saint is spiteful, critical, cruel, or offensive, you also should righfully ask, “Are these fruits of the church and its teachings?” If you believe that is the case, judge the church. But if you think those negative qualities are in spite of the church, and not because of it, then you would find the church guiltless.

  29. Jonathan, my concern about your standard is that a lot of the spiritual and religious movements that I’m aware of (whether churches or not) emphasize the kinds of positive qualities that you discuss. So, if we determine fruits by doctrines–assigning credit for the encouraged behaviors only–then many or most of the spiritual and religious movements out there have the same fruits. Which makes Jesus’s proposed standard meaningless, no?

  30. Corrado Misseri says:

    Alma 4:10

    …the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the chuch began to fail in its progress.

  31. Daylan Darby says:

    My 12 year old son was reading the title over my shoulder and said “Don’t judge the church by it’s fruits… Judge the church by it’s vegtables!”

  32. Seth Rogers says:

    This is solely a response to the original post (not having read the discussion following):

    What struck me about the statements of these aspiring Mormon apologists was the complete lack of concern that their community had been responsible for driving away one of God’s children from the truth.

    Why are they wasting time musing on the investigator’s flaws? They are not accountable for any flaws in her logic. But they are accountable for their own actions and the actions of those in the Ward community.

    Essentially, the apologists don’t want to bother discussing how they “really blew it with that new investigator” and “how can we address this problem?” They’d much rather shift the ENTIRE blame onto the investigator, sweep their own sins of omission or commission under the rug, and get on with their complacent participation in the Gospel.

    The flaws of some disgruntled investigator are none of my business. My own sins are my business.

    This rationalization just drips with defensiveness, scapegoating, and an unwillingness to take responsibility for our own screw-ups.

    God has charged us with the responsibility of doing His work. Does it make Him look bad when we sin?

    Don’t kid yourself. Of course it makes Him look bad. Stop finger-pointing and take some responsibility!

  33. “Essentially, the apologists don’t want to bother discussing how they “really blew it with that new investigator” and “how can we address this problem?” They’d much rather shift the ENTIRE blame onto the investigator, sweep their own sins of omission or commission under the rug, and get on with their complacent participation in the Gospel.”

    And remember President Hinckley’s talk where he read a letter from a man who had left the Church? He didn’t blame the new convert – he blamed those who were supposed to be assisting the convert, saying that someone had “failed.”

    I think the Church and its members to many things very, very, well. But one of them isn’t blaming the culture or the environment around the culture when things go wrong. They seem to act as if that would be blaming God himself. If someone, *regardless* of the circumstances, leaves the Church or goes inactive, it is their fault and their fault alone. Period. End of story. And while I fully agree each of us is responsible for our own actions, I think it would do tremendous good to acknowledge our shortcomings as a Church and culture, and work to improve things.

    I think that’s a big point in Aaron’s excellent post. You gotta take the bad fruit with the good, and try and tend the garden a bit more to minimize the bad.

  34. Fruity McFruit says:

    You say Tomayto, I say Tomahto,
    Let’s call the whole thing off.

  35. We are yet to agree on what is meant by “fruit” and the appropriateness of judgment.

    Where is Matthew 25 in our consideration of “fruit”? Is fruit confined to attending Church and following the programs? Of do we take seriously the admonition of Jesus when He divided the sheep from the goats–feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc. He was very explicit in this distinction.

    Yet we have trouble being welcoming to visitors on our own turf, in our meetings. The times of our meetings are even difficult for visiting members to find–those who know the ropes. By all signals, we want people in our Church meeting who are like we are, and not those who are different.

    Several months ago in RS, during a lesson on missionary work, a sister commented that she had a friend who was interested in visiting our meetings, and bringing her boyfriend who lived out of town but stayed with her every weekend. But the friend commented to the sister something to the effect that perhaps she would not be able to come because the Church frowns upon live-in boyfriends. And the sister concurred, saying yes, it would be wiser not to bring the boyfriend (who, again, was with the friend every weekend).

    There was no voiced disagreement in the RS. (!!!)

    Why can’t we welcome people as they are–the way the Savior does?

    Further, why do we have to imply (and you read GC talks carefully and see it more than implied) that Jesus does not love us UNTIL we comply with the Church?

    The “fruit” is unconditional love; “perfection” is the ability to love unconditionally, as God does.

    We Mormons are far from having a corner on these fruits.

  36. I don’t think we can judge the church by the members – either way. The loving, faithful, hardworking, believing members do not prove the church is “true.” The self-important, self-righteous, self-absorbed members do not prove the church “false.”

    Some people are good people and seek to serve and live like Jesus. You find those people in ANY Christian church. Some people are hypocrites. You find those people in any Christian church too.

    The only thing you can prove about the church, based on the actions of its members, is that it’s pretty typical for mainstream conservative American religions. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it does mean that the doctrine stands or falls on its own merits…not the behavior of individuals.

  37. I judge members of the church differently, especially endowed members. I expect more of them.

    As the visiting teaching supervisor in my ward, I am constantly frustrated by those supposedly active sisters who don’t do their visiting teaching. It’s so hypocritical.

    When people criticize the church to me for these reasons, I reply, “you’re right, I feel the same way. It pisses me off no end. Damn Mormons.” That usually nips it.

  38. Annegb, according to the second-hand grapevine for secret COB statistics (i.e., take this with a handful of salt), the overall home-teaching and visiting-teaching rates for the church are both less than 15%. So that’s a whole lot of “supposedly active sisters who don’t do their visiting teaching,” I guess. In fact, this could be said to be the norm and not the exception…

  39. Seth Rogers says:

    My point is, I don’t care whether investigators are supposed to judge the Church by its members or not. That issue is irrelevant to me and it’s irrelevant to you.

    Our business is to make sure we aren’t dragging God’s name through the mud. Speculating on whether our imperfect actions signify anything about some pure, unblemished, Celestial religion is not useful. The true, living, workaday Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the religion that investigators will have to live with after baptism. Not the theoretical pure religion outlined in the scriptures.

    The living Mormon church is most definitely defined by its members. Can an investigator judge this religion by its members? Yes! She can!

    This isn’t a philosophy class. This is real life. The real life Church on earth is no better than its members.

  40. The Church and its structure, doctrine, practice, policy and people can be alternately helpful or damaging to members. They can show “good” or “evil” fruits because of their association with the church, their belief or dedication to it, etc. Here are some of the fruits I’ve seen:

    * People who are kind, longsuffering and self-extending because of the principles they learn at the temple, in Sacrament Meeting and in auxillary meetings.

    * People who are excellent public speakers because of informal early training through church talks, answering questions in Primary, etc.

    * Single, abstinent members of advancing age who claim their celibacy makes them happy or who refuse to find partners outside but are miserable and depressed.

    * People who attend the temple several times a week and have memorized the endowment ceremony yet are therefore imbalanced in other areas of their lives and are unable to live in “the real world”.

    * People who believe the Church encourages them to marry young and uneducated, and who do so, thus sacrificing other goals of formal training, good mental health, etc.

    * People who continuously study the words of the prophets and apostles, but who are unable to make major decisions for themselves because they don’t apply their own critical thinking skills.

    * Gay members who struggle with depression, abject loneliness and some who commit suicide because they find no place for themselves in Church doctrine here or in the hereafter (if they want to live as whole people and not just asexually as they are commanded to do).

  41. Tea & Biscuits says:

    I am constantly frustrated by those supposedly active sisters who don’t do their visiting teaching. It’s so hypocritical.

    Why do you say that? What makes visiting/home teaching the rod of measurement regarding hypocrisy? Shouldn’t hypocrisy be measured by more moral implications, as the scriptures suggest (especially the NT)?

    I’m not knocking you personally, but I’ve heard just one too many a talk or lesson given on the “rod of judgment” being home/visiting teaching. I actually had a branch president once indicate that H.T.-ing will be what decides who goes where. Huh? Oh sure, it’s an easy one for us to account for because it deals with numbers — you can look on a piece of paper and see whether the person sitting next to you in sacrament meeting is a saint or a sinner, but somehow in my heart of hearts I don’t think God sees us like that. At least I think the tone of hypocrisy in scripture is much more serious than H.T./V.T. reports could ever indicate.

    Our church is one that is overly demanding. Once I had children, it quickly became clear that I can’t get to it all. Sometimes things get trimmed like H.T.-ing from my schedule, and I never look back at it as something for which I must repent or for which I should explain myself to my E.Q.P. (an understanding guy, mind you). I have been praying for three years that they’ll trim down the Sunday services to two hours (or less) so that I can be with my kids a bit more (and not totally exhausted), and (gulp) so that I can study the gospel more. Funny how my idea of worship conflicts with the church’s idea of worship… Anyway, I sort of resent the V.T./H.T. record as the rod by which hypocrisy is measured, but you’re comfortable with it, so I guess that’s cool for you.

    All this coming from a 100% home teacher…

  42. Corrado Misseri says:

    I too am sometimes annoyed when members say, “the church is perfect what the members are not”. I am of the opinion that investigators can only judge the church by its members as long as they are reasonable in their expectation. After all, we are the church (D&C 84:34)and are supposed to be the light that leads them to glorify God (Matthew 5:16). Earlier I quoted Alma 4:10 to demonstrate that individuals or wards or stakes or sometimes the whole church (membership) can be “a great stumbling-block to those who (do) not belong to the church” because we fail to demonstrate to our neighbours that we are followers of Christ. Yes, the church is true and is lead by living prophets, but, as Alma found out, the church (members) or part of it can be “wicked”. Remember the Zoromites? That is why we are constantly called to repentance. So, go plow your field first and when your done, go help your neighbour.

  43. I can see how a VT supervisor would have issues with those sisters who do not do their VTing.

    In contrast, I have issues with the VTing program.

    The first issue is with the word “Teaching” in Visiting Teaching. This verges on arrogance. Who am I to presume that I should invite myself into someone’s home to teach them anything?? Especially the same lesson that she herself has just taught six times.

    I could handle a label of “Visiting Sister” or “Visiting Friend”, carrying the expectation of building relationships, rather than teaching or monitoring and reporting to the Ward Council.

    Second, the Visiting Teaching concept presumes that the VT is teach the sister being visited, not learn from that sister. We need to go into these homes with a spirit of learning something of value and importance from those we visit–regardless of their level of activity or circumstance. Everyone has something to teach us. Yet we are not encouraged to learn–we are there to teach a lesson.

    Third, an axiom of organizations is that low compliance to a policy or rule merits reconsideration of the policy–not guilt trips and brow beating enforcement.

    Not to mention the issues of double-duty (women are visited twice and often go out twice as VTer and as companion to husband HTer), women increasingly working outside the home, women as single mothers, and other constraints.

    Its a credit to the sisters that they are not comfortable with the presumption of teaching, nor of being a duty or an assignment. No wonder compliance is so low.

  44. A) Aren’t the principles “By their fruits ye shall know them” and “Don’t judge the Church by its members” in tension with each other? Aren’t these two contradictory approaches to the very same issue? Isn’t our tendency to invoke both principles an example of our trying to have our fruitcake and eat it too?
    B) Should people come to conclusions about the truth of Mormonism based upon the qualities of its members, or shouldn’t they?

    A) No.
    B) Yes.

    The fruit of the gospel is the change it brings in the lives of those who follow it in their eternal progression from a horribly fallen state to exaltation.

    I am in no way a paragon of loving righteousness yet the change of heart and growth that the atonement brought in me are miraculous. My state would turn people away from the Church but my changes would give them hope as they understand that if the restored gospel could work such improvements and bring peace to me, it surely offers them something very good.

  45. Sultan Of Squirrels says:

    Harumph. I agree with laurie.

  46. Wow, what a feast. Doritos, tomatoes, green eggs, fruit, tea and biscuits, and squirrels. You guys are making me hungry.

  47. Oh, I missed the last posts. And I was up late last night. I started an argument. On accident.
    I think our church asks too much, too. I’m considering going inactive. I tell people I smoke and drink so they won’t give me more. And I throw in a damn while I’m saying it. I hope it gets back to the bishop. I’m not kidding. I don’t give a crap what people think, I just want to be left alone.

    The visiting teaching numbers in our ward range from 72% to 95% (and not at Christmas). I am a Nazi. I think it’s about accountability. Fear works for me. Isn’t that the most contradictory thing you’ve heard :)? Think Walt Whitman.

    Tea &…I don’t generally use the scriptures when I’m judging or being mad at people. It’s a gut feeling. I’m sitting in church listening to this woman bear her testimony how righteous she is and how much she loves the Lord. I know she never goes out. What a crock. I don’t have to justify it. It’s how I feel.

    On the other hand, you guys are right, women (I’ll just speak to women) are so burdened. My heart goes out. And I am very careful, I cherry pick each sister and set of them. Some women I don’t even assign at all because I know they’re stressed. I’ve lived here almost 30 years, so I know most people well enough to do that.

    But if you’re an active sister who doesn’t work with no little kids at home, don’t give me excuses.

    I also try to practice what I preach and model caretaking. Which is really a sickness if carried too far. So I am religious about my Al-Anon meetings.

    I think home and visiting teaching is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the true ministering and serving. I think it is a measure of how converted one is to Christ. I’m not talking about getting that check mark, either, I’m talking about bonding and loving and serving.

    One thing, though, my attitude usually comes back to bite me. One month I didn’t get out at all. I’m nicer now.

    And the proof is in the pudding. We have a pretty friendly ward. I focus with humor. Last year we had a guy in a pink wig dance with the sisters to “We Are Family.” This year I want to just relax and eat and play volleyball. I’m thinking of getting a guest speaker, a comedian from the college. I won’t tell the presidency she’s a comedian, just a special speaker from the college. Isn’t that the best joke? They have sticks up their butts.

    You guys could help me think up jokes about visiting teaching. Oh, I am so going to do that.

  48. Seth Rogers says:

    Sorry annegb, maybe I’m just having a stupid-day, but … I read through #47 and I still don’t understand what the message is.

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