We have a beautiful and rich history that has created such a culture. Joseph Smith didn't just create a bunch of blind followers, he created a community of Saints. It is within this community that we learn to work, to love, to discern, to serve, to sacrifice and to make covenants with our Father in Heaven. Actually, it is through our interactions with one another that those covenants become deeper and more meaningful. I once heard a speaker say that the Atonement is not only vertical (between us and God) but also horizontal (between you and me).
I believe what we really kick against is the culture of perfectionism. This is not just within the Church. This is in our worldly culture as well. The images we see on social media affect how we see one another. We are a culture afraid of mistakes and vulnerability (Brene Brown has done extensive research on this shame culture and vulnerability). And so, of course, these same feelings will permeate into our wards. It is impossible to connect with a group of people afraid of being human - - which includes making mistakes and being imperfect.
And yet, what a blessing it is that we have Sunday, a day set aside for us to dress our best act our best. Being our best does not mean we are being fake. There is some of that out there - - go to church on Sunday with a smile on your face and then spend the rest of the week being completely the opposite. But for the majority of those I know who go to church, they are simply trying their best to be good people - on Sunday and not on Sunday. What a blessing it is to have just one day a week when we can truly act the way we wish we could act all the time! What a blessing it is to have one day a week we can partake of the sacrament and renew that person we want to be and know is in there somewhere. What a blessing it is that we have a day when we can "become unspotted from the world." And what a blessing it is to know that after we make a million new mistakes, we get to go back and refresh ourselves again!
Another struggle with have with regards to this strong culture, is that of conformity. How do we keep our individualism amongst so many others striving to live the same teachings?! One of our greatest doctrines is that of unity - - growing together in love, creating Zion. The world's definition of unity is equality or "sameness." This is much different than the Lord's view of unity - to become one. Erich Fromm talks about the idea of "herd conformity," which is basically the fear of being different. And so we as members of the Church need to realize we aren't so much resisting becoming the same as one another as we are fighting against the world's definition of unity. Because the draw for conformity is so strong, we fear we will lose our identity, our personal stamp on the world. Yet, we also strongly desire the sense of belonging in this great cultural community! This is the real conflict.
So what do we do to combat this culture of perfectionism and conformity? If we were to listen to the words of Brene Brown we would become more vulnerable and build deeper connections through sharing our humanness with one another. Does this mean every Relief Society or Sunday School lesson needs to be a time to "air out our laundry?" Of course not! The purpose of our time at church together is to build one another up through the principles of the gospel, to discuss ideals and possibilities. Overcoming these struggles means we aren't so afraid of judgment that we then become the judge. It means we love people where they are on their personal path to perfection. It means we share the messy parts of ourselves as much as the righteous. Joseph Smith has said, "Let not any man publish his own righteousness, for others can see that for him; sooner let him confess his sins, and then he will be forgiven and he will bring forth more fruit."
We can also commit to putting our best selves forward! We can't settle for being mediocre because we fear others will think less of themselves if we show our goodness. Nor are we to puff ourselves up, so to speak, in declaring our own righteousness. Our best selves are who God intends us to be and who He sees us as being. Only He knows the true intents of our hearts. It is in our righteous motivations that we behave our best and then motivate others to do the same - - not the same as us, but the best of themselves.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does have a very thick culture. Maybe it's time we take this great culture and embrace the goodness it has to offer rather than fighting against it. We all know that a house divided cannot stand. This does not have to be a battle within the Church, it is a battle against the natural man, against worldly views rather than spiritual. I am so grateful I am a part of a community that expects the best of me. I'm grateful for a Father in Heaven who believes the best in me. This is what I learn from this cultural background from which I came.
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Here is a great series on how we can stay unified as a Church while we are becoming more diverse:
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