What Makes a Mormon?


What makes someone a Mormon? This has been on my mind on and off for quite some time. I had some friends when I lived in DC that talked about post-mormons and ex-mormons (postMos and ExMos from here on out) that still identify as “Mormon” on some level as being misguided and confused about ‘Mormon’ not being an ethnicity, trying to claim some heritage or something that they can’t. The whole premise of excommunication rests to some extent on policing the boundaries of what it means to be Mormon. The “I’m a Mormon” campaign helps showcase the diversity of Mormons. But what actually makes someone Mormon? As I finished Planted a few weeks ago and have talked with friends about some of the ideas there, I’m still trying to work out if we can really make Mormonism for everyone. Can the tent grow to the point that all people claim to be Mormon? At what point is it a useless identifier? Does it ever become so diluted that it ceases to mean anything? Are there some basic tenets or beliefs necessary to claim Mormonism? What binds us together?

I was talking with a friend over dinner recently about how there’s varying degrees of orthodoxy in Judaism, with different congregations available depending on your set of beliefs. I once thought that this would be an interesting model for Mormonism to try and replicate. I’m less sure of that now than I used to be. I think there’s value in throwing everyone together, having the progMos and MoFems sitting with the traditional believers. Though my friend brought up a good point that without belief, we don’t really have strong cultural landmarks or celebrations that can bind us together. Though, I suppose that’s arguably the case for Jews as well.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I don’t know if there is one, single, fix-all solution.

Yet, I think the idea of being Mormon needs to expand a bit. Perhaps not doctrinally, but culturally. It strikes me that anyone that wants to identify themselves with the community on some level should probably have a place in it. That they likely have something to offer. They too can be a part of the body of Christ. Perhaps they only come to service activities, but they’re incredible at serving.

Sure, we may be defined primarily by a set of beliefs and practices or other cultural quirks, but I think we can do more good if we have more molds available. I had loads of friends growing up that generally hated Mormons and the Church, but would say to me when I reminded them of my Mormonness, “Yeah, but Conor, you’re not like those other Mormons.” I have a friend that is largely opposed to organized religion and thinks of it generally as a blight on humanity, but says that if there have to be believers, he wants them to be like me. I’m not sure what to do with that. Does that mean I’m doing something right? Or something wrong? It seems that I’m able to reach people that more orthodox or traditional methods/ways of belief can’t or don’t.

Who gets to decide what the necessary qualifications are to be Mormon? Is there a list of things and you need to check a certain number off? Something like:

  1. Goes to LDS church services most Sundays.
  2. Doesn’t smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, drink coffee or tea.
  3. Has a temple recommend.
  4. Wears garments.
  5. Baptized.
  6. Has a glow about them (sometimes a light in their eyes).
  7. Supports BYU.
  8. Doesn’t drink caffeine.
  9. Doesn’t watch R-rated movies.
  10. Wears a CTR ring.
  11. Served a mission.
  12. Believes that Joseph Smith was a prophet.
  13. Believes in Christ.
  14. Believes that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s Church restored to the earth today.
  15. Believes in latter-day revelation.
  16. Can sing along to Saturday’s Warrior.
  17. Watches (or watched) Disney movies regularly as a college student.
  18. Believes that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
  19. Has oodles of kids.
  20. Self-identifies as Mormon.

And there could be loads of other things. And maybe what matters most is the last one—what we choose to identify as. Perhaps I should work on a scale of Mormonness, with a comprehensive list of Mormon-y identifiers, be they practices, beliefs, or other peculiarities. Then we can rate people with different thresholds for different types of Mormons. Since what good are people if you can’t categorize them? I mean, it’d be kind of fun to put something together, like a Meyers Briggs, but for Mormons. The four groups could be Belief, Practice, Culture, and the X-factor. Or something. (If anyone wants to work on something like this with me or simply has ideas for what could be on the list I’m curious what you would put on it, even though this strikes me as a silly and probably more hurtful than useful thing in reality, were it to exist.)

But in all seriousness, I think we should work to bring people together. To try and work with people where they’re at. I mean, I believe and practice Mormonism a little differently than most and still think I have a place and feel that the more places we have, the better off we’ll be. God created individuals wanting individuals, not cookie-cutter, clone people. We’re meant to have personalities and differences. We are not supposed to be the same.

So, let’s make some room. Who am I to determine whether someone is or is not Mormon? By someone else’s standards I’m probably not Mormon. Or at least a sketchy, fringey, liberal, non-traditional, don’t listen to what he says sort of Mormon. But who’s to say we both can’t belong? I mean, the Body of Christ needs fingers, toes, ears, eyes, a mouth, and a nose (not to mention a head and shoulders and all the in between bits and pieces and the inner stuff that keeps everything working), and none of those are the same, so why should we be?

Sometimes I am baffled by those that choose to identify somewhat as Mormon, but I too baffle people and feel the connection to Mormonism that keeps me here and likely pulls others close. So, who am I to judge? Let’s all be Mormon—you’re a Mormon, I’m a Mormon, we all scream for Mormons. Mormons gonna morm.



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