Friday, October 14, 2011

Why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a cult

When I was a little girl, I loved all the different reactions I would get when I told people I was a Mormon. My favorite was probably, "But you wear colored clothes, how could you be a Mormon?"

Today, the reaction isn't the same. I don't know anyone who confuses Mormons with Amish anymore. But the reactions my children get from school are still pretty funny. One of my daughters came home confused because her friend had told her that the difference between the Mormon church and the Christian church is that Mormon men have tons of wives. At least that one is based in some history, albeit pretty ancient. At best it shows serious misunderstanding about the differences between the Church of Jesus Christ and traditional Christianity. There certainly ARE differences. Major differences. No Mormon would tell you any different -- that's why we belong to the Church of Jesus Christ rather than the Baptist church or the Episcopalian Church. We believe that the doctrinal differences are significant and important. Heaven knows it would be a lot easier to be Episcopalian.

So it is with great fascination that I watch the media attention my church has been receiving lately. Sometimes I find myself drawn in to reading the comments section underneath articles that appear in the media. It's surreal to see people debating what you do and do not believe, as if they have any idea.

But the thing that has bothered me the most lately is the characterization of the Church as a "cult," and mainstream Christianity as "not a cult." Many people have posted that not only is the Church of Jesus Christ a cult, but that we ourselves have no problem being called a cult because we know that our doctrine is different than traditional Christianity. Some people have even gone so far as to lump in the Catholics with us and refer to them also as a cult simply because they are not evangelicals.

For all those people, let me clear something up for you: Either we ALL belong to cults, or none of us do. From google, the definition of a cult:

1) A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

By that definition all people who worship Jesus Christ -- Mormons, evangelicals, Catholics, etc., are all cultists. If you'd like to use that definition, fine, go with it. But realize you're also a cult member and please state that along with your assertion that Mormons are cultists.

The second (and more commonly used) definition:

2) A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

First off, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a small group of people. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the Church of Jesus Christ is the fourth largest church in North America. There are over 6 million members here alone, with millions more worldwide. There are more Mormons than there are Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and frankly, most other Christian denominations. That alone disqualifies the church by the second definition, but let's move farther in.

Do we have religious practices that others regard as strange? Absolutely. But so do all Christians. No one can seriously read the bible and think that there aren't things in there that others might consider strange. Must I remind you of the story of the talking donkey? The fact is, any non Christians think that Christian belief is strange. So while we would qualify under that small part of the second definition, so too would all Christians.

As for sinister beliefs, I've been a member all my life, and we have none. Anyone who thinks anything else has been misinformed.

So please, all of you who insist on referring to us as a cult, please add the disclaimer that evangelical Christianity is also a cult to avoid any confusion. I will choose to refrain from using that term at all in reference to anyone because it is commonly used to disparage, and I wouldn't want to belittle anyone's sacred beliefs. Just because I believe in my own church doesn't mean that I don't see the beauty and inspiration in others' belief systems. I can see the touch of God in almost any religion, and who would want to condemn that?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

You just have to decide what is important to you

I have a very talented Emma. She LOVES gymnastics and throws her whole soul into it. She's been very casually taking lessons at a city program for the last few years. I've been reluctant to push her up to team level because of the large time commitment. This year it became clear though that she HAD to go to team. There was nothing left for her in the regular classes. She was placed on the team at her current gym, but their practice times were such that she would miss Family Home Evening every Monday and activity days every Wednesday. That gym is also 1/2 an hour away, and the time commitment just to get her there was too intense.

I began looking for a new gym for her to join. I found the perfect place, so it seemed. The new gym was only five minutes from my house and had the perfect schedule -- really the ONLY schedule that would work with all my other kids' commitments. I knew it would be far more expensive, and far more intense, but I was willing to make the sacrifice because it meant so much to her.

When we told her current coach about the upcoming gym move, she got very concerned and told me to make sure to watch Emma carefully because she feared for her safety if she were to transfer there. Evidently this gym is run by the former coaches of WOGA. For those of you not intimately involved in the gymnastics world, that is the gym that turned out Nastia Lukin, the last Olympic Gold Medal winner. These coaches have now opened their own gym and are on the prowl to find new material. I laughed off her concerns. "She's much too old to be trained for the Olympics," I told her coach.

"I think you underestimate Emma by a lot. They will take one look at her, see her talent and fast track her," she told me. She said this was an elite training facility that will push Emma's tiny little body to its limits and beyond in the hopes that she can one day be a champion. I decided to reserve judgment until going to see the gym.

On Friday we went in, and at first we really liked what we saw. The Hungarian national team was there training, and it was cool to see these girls who would be competing in the Olympics next year. The coach of the class Emma would be in seemed very nice, and the other girls in her level looked great. Maybe we've found our home, I thought.

They brought Emma in for an evaluation to see whether she could be placed on their team. At first the coach that would be Emma's took her in and had her doing basic skills: splits, roundoff backhandsprings, etc. After a few minutes though Emma caught the eye of the head coach, and he came over and took Emma away. He had her doing things she'd never done before. I've never seen her perform so well. He was impressed with her, and I was impressed with his abilities to help her so quickly with skills she'd been struggling with for ages.

They sent Emma back into me while the three coaches deliberated. Then they came in and told me Emma was fabulous and they would love to have her join their team. They thought that even though the first competition was only four weeks away, she would be ready. She could borrow a uniform from one of the other girls until hers came in, etc. They were excited, and I couldn't help being just a little proud that my little girl had so thoroughly impressed such a set of elite coaches.

I inquired about the costs of the program (astronomical, but I figured we would find a way) and then before we left, I said, "There's one more thing."

"I prefer she doesn't compete on Sundays."

Silence.

"Is that going to be a problem for you?"

Silence.

Finally, the female coach said, "Well, you won't get your money back if you enter her in a meet and she is assigned to the Sunday session (and then went on and on about why it would be a problem)."

I listened and then said, well, the money is unfortunate, but she would still choose not to compete.

Evgeny, a former member of the Soviet gymnastics national team and Russian national team suddenly looked very angry. And in the heaviest Russian accent imaginable says, "Why she not compete on Sunday?!"

"Well, I said, we're religious people..."

"What, you go to church?" he interrupts.

"Yes," I said, "We go to church, AND we stay home on Sundays for the rest of the day. We don't compete in sports."

"Well," he says, "You just have to decide what is important to you: Church or gymnastics." And then he stormed away.

I'm sure he thought, well, clearly gymnastics will win. But no, Evgeny, church will always win. I'm sure growing up in the USSR the concept of sacrificing the possibility of Olympic glory for the sake of your religious beliefs seems completely wacky. But it's not wacky to us.

It's been a tough weekend for Emma, Van and me, trying to decide what to do. In the end, we've decided to put Emma in the program, but simply to put our foot down and not allow any Sunday competition come what may. He may kick her off the team, but we're willing to risk it. After long conversations with Emma about it, she completely agrees. I was even impressed with Alexa, who, after hearing this story said, "Mom, you just need to march right back in there and announce that we will NOT compromise our standards."

It would be so easy to say, there are only three Sunday competitions per year, what's the harm? And to great extent, that's true. However, if we were to compromise on this little thing, the only thing my children would learn is that it's ok to compromise standards ... sometimes -- whenever they get in the way of what you want or it's inconvenient to keep them. Following the commandments isn't always THAT important. Is that really the message I want to send them right before they march off to their teenage years?

One of the speakers in church today mentioned that God does not give us commandments for him. He gives us commandments so WE can be happy. I truly believe that. I think only blessings will come from Emma's good decision. After all, if the children are willing to keep their standards in small things, they will hopefully be able to keep their standards in larger things. And I can't think of any blessing greater than that.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fiona's one month pictures




My dear friend Julia got some wonderful pictures of Fiona, and I had to share. These were taken at exactly one month.

Monday, June 21, 2010

You know you have a new baby ...

(and you REALLY shouldn't be driving) when you hit a red light and your gut reaction is YESSSSSSSSSSS! Naptime!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Newborn days are so fleeting ...

The saddest things about having a newborn baby is knowing how quickly she will grow up. I already see so many changes in her after only 11 days. I've finally gotten around to uploading some of her first pictures. Enjoy!




On our way to the hospital











Kindergarten graduation a few days later

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Baby Fiona

We are ecstatic to announce the arrival of Fiona Faith. She was 8 pounds 9 ounces and 21 inches long. We're all tired and resting, but for those of you who would like to see Fiona's hospital pictures you can find them at www.our365.com. You can search by customer number. Fiona's is 06041299189063.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where are our priorities?

I sit on the Wylie school district bond review committee. This committee has absolutely no power to do anything, so in some ways it is pointless. It is made up of people who have been appointed by the school board to review the way the district is spending the bond money approved in the previous election. The idea is to give us information about all the projects going on and then have us spread it throughout the community. Van always asks why I bother with it since we don't actually get to give any input on the process. But I think it's interesting to see where all the money is spent.

Last night I attended one of our committee meetings. This particular meeting was held in our district's Achieve Academy -- a campus that serves many different kinds of students with alternative needs (behavioral issues, life skills, etc.). Now, I have always been a critic of the way our district spends money. I see no reason why we need flat-screen TVs in our elementary school hallways, advanced sound systems in our cafeterias or cable television in our classrooms. And don't even get me started on the sports facilities.

I was appalled to find out yesterday that these children with alternative needs are meeting in these strange portable classrooms hooked together by a whole bunch of raised decks. The principal at Achieve Academy told of Kindergarteners who like to run away and crawl under the decks and of disabled students that have no way to get to the only safe building in the area in case of tornadoes (which we have here relatively frequently). These kids have no lunch rooms, no playground equipment, nothing. Someone donated a single portable basketball net that they chain to a nearby fence so it doesn't get stolen. That is their only outdoor recreation.

Luckily with the passage of the new bond our district is finally building these children an actual brick school. But it made me once again question the bizarre priorities of the people who spend our tax dollars. The kids that spend their time at the Achieve Academy should be one of our highest priorities. These are the kids that are at risk for all kinds of issues and have relatively little support at home. As a community we can make a huge difference in their lives by providing them with quality education. Who decided new sports scoreboards were more important than giving at-risk kids a playground?