Mormon Theology as Prize, NOT Price of Membership

In a recent post at BCC, Kristine Haglund presents a charming and charitable view of Mormonism from a man named Jim Burklo.  I found his descriptions generally delightful, even though he disagrees with the stand the church has taken on gay marriage.  There was a statement about three-fourths of the way through that really rubbed me the wrong way (although at least one commenter agreed with it).  The statement had to do with Mormon doctrines being the price, not prize, of membership.

My take on this statement is that he is saying that to be a member of the church one must sacrifice something (reason, good judgment, common-sense, clear reading of scripture?) in order to be a Mormon.  It suggests that Mormonism does in fact have good things to offer, as long as one can swallow the unsavory doctrines.  I object to this characterization, because for me the doctrines/theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the prize of membership.

At the core of Mormon testimony, is the claim of a restoration.  This restoration is the stuff of gospel, doctrine, priesthood, plan of salvation, etc.  This restoration is not, in my opinion, a restoration of social interaction and charitable service – for example.  One can get social interaction and charitable service from many worthy sources, but one cannot get a restored gospel, with its associated doctrines and priesthood, anywhere else.

I am a member of this church because I believe it.  There is a price of membership, but for me it is not doctrinal.  The price is paid in the practice.  The sacrifices come in the form of tithing, Sabbath observance, home teaching, and callings, etc.  Yes, these sacrifices have associated blessings, but I make the sacrifice because I believe in the restoration and doctrinal claims of the church, not in spite of them.  I certainly do not feel that I am alone in this.

The post had such a positive feel to me, that I find myself not greatly offended by the statement, yet if the tone were any less pleasant, I would find the statement offensive and insulting.

13 Responses to “Mormon Theology as Prize, NOT Price of Membership”

  1. 1 Paul November 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    I agree, Eric. “At the core of Mormon testimony, is the claim of a restoration. This restoration is the stuff of gospel, doctrine, priesthood, plan of salvations, etc.” says it well.

    Of course the other key doctrine is the infinite atonement which frees all of God’s children from the bands of death and allows us to draw nearer to him through repentance, and to feel his comfort in times of sorrow and suffering.

    Quite a prize, indeed.

  2. 2 TexasMomm November 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I love Mormon Doctrine.

    – we do temple work instead of condemning people to hell
    – the eternal nature of spirits means that God is not a hypocritical monster creating imperfect beings – that He is cleaning up a mess He did not make
    – the true understanding of the Godhead
    – restoration of the priesthood and all of the ordinances thereof
    – modern day prophets, the ability to receive personal revelation
    – additional scriptures, that God speaks to more than just the Jewish people
    etc. etc. etc.

    it answers so many questions, and fixes so many problems that came about in the apostasy, what’s not to love?

  3. 3 O November 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    The original statement was about younger members, right? That’s how I remember it anyway. For younger members particularly, I think this could easily be said if we think of these “doctrines”:

    1. God is a respecter of people’s colors sometimes.
    2. Women have a second-class role in many spheres (temple, church leadership, youth programs)
    3. God cares whether you wear a beard and what color your shirt is.
    4. Polygamy really is OK–we just don’t do it because of current laws.
    5. The man gets the final say.

    You could easily argue about how central these things are, or whether they really are what we teach/believe, but none of those arguments would a slam-dunk, and these things loom (really, really) large in practice if not in current theology.

    The things you list in your post and that the first two commenters listed are crucial and wonderful “prizes”. But they also require some effort to enjoy, whereas being offended by the things I’ve listed takes very little effort at all. And even it you’re paying the price for those prizes, if you don’t fit the mold by e.g. being the wrong color, gender, nationality, party, profession, etc., one is constantly reminded of the doctrinal price as well.

  4. 4 Chris November 16, 2011 at 12:57 am

    I didn’t get that impression from my reading of the article. He was specifically talking about how the Church markets itself to non-members. Many non-members seem to be seeking a lifestyle rather than a certain doctrine – and once they find that lifestyle they are willing to pay the doctrinal price to attain that. So the Church has responded by leading with families rather than First Visions. All the same material gets covered, it’s just an issue of how you choose to begin the conversation. Any sales or marketing person knows you have to adapt your pitch to the audience – because the product is still the same.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson November 16, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Paul and TexasMom: No surprise that I agree. Thanks for your comments.

    O: You have already anticipated my responses – not really doctrines, more of practices/culture. I am not saying there is no price associated with membership, it is that for me the doctrines are not the price.

    Chris: I realize the context. The statement is still the bottom line, regardless of how one gets to the statement. I think the value of your comment is something of a which should come first, the lifestyle or the doctrine. I may be backwards from many people on this. I view the doctrine as the prize, and many aspects of the lifestyle as the price.

  6. 6 Paul November 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

    O, Eric is right about doctrine vs. practice. But I would also add:

    1. The scriptures are full of examples where God favors one race or group of people over another; the scriptural claim that God is no respecter of persons seems to be limited to the notion that the sun shines on the just and unjust alike. He has, after all, a covenant people.

    2. The second-class status of women is not only not universally accepted among believers, it’s refuted doctrinally (neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man).

    3. God has often had specific standards of dress for his servants, even anciently. Clearly the focus on white shirts in church is not a doctrinal issue, nor has anyone suggested it is.

    4. The doctrine of polygamy is laid out in ancient and modern scripture.

    5. Not according to The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

  7. 7 O November 16, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Let’s hear someone not white and/or not male say this stuff doesn’t matter that much. The fact that God is depicted as a mysoginist racist in the scriptures only makes it worse. It just makes atheism that much more appealing if believing in a certain version of God requires renouncing one’s basic humanity and the testimony of the light of Christ that treating people unequally is abhorrent.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson November 16, 2011 at 11:39 am


    You make some interesting points. Part of this is what Mormonism is compared to. The post that I originally reference was a comparison to mainstream Christianity. Some of your strongest statements make comparisons to atheism. I will have to think about those some more.

  9. 9 Vader November 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    “The fact that God is depicted as a mysoginist racist …”

    Fact not in evidence.

    The examples you gave, with the exception of the true doctrine of polygamy, almost always turn out to be cultural adaptations of the Church membership when you really dig into their roots. Which simply says God is willing to work with imperfect peoples and cultures.

    • 10 O November 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      Vader, how hard would it have been for god to correct Brigham Young’s racism or the odd gender bias of the temple ceremonies? You’ve just stated the best argument against continuing revelation.

  10. 11 O November 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    For the sake of writing something positive, I will say that one of my doctrinal “prizes” is the knowledge that the Bible is deeply flawed, so I don’t have to believe that God is a genocidal maniac or that traditional readings of silly stories like the Flood covering the entire earth and every species in the world fitting in a single boat are actually accurate.

    By way of definition, a person who forbids women from speaking is a misogynist and a person who divvies out privileges based on one’s race is a racist.

  11. 12 Eric Nielson November 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm


    I think you are on to something there. Mormonism does not hold that prophets are infallible, or that traditional reading of scripture is absolute.

  12. 13 TexasMomm November 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I’m a female, in regards to the mysoginist comment, there is the worldly way of looking at things (worth based on paycheck, popularity, looks, etc. etc.) vs. Christian (and other religious teachings) in which the last will be first, the greatest among you is your servant, etc. etc. For me, it’s not about being a power hungry materialistic control freak – it’s not about being in front of people, it’s about being with them…. because being “with” someone is so much better.

    polygamy – published my answer, so perhaps it’s not too far off. (show more answers, scroll down to polygamy, it’s pretty obvious what I think it is symbolic of)

    It all comes down to the Spirit, the ability to think a little more deeply about everything, and see a little bit more of the big picture to know the why of it all – but there are answers for those who are willing to listen.

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