What We Talk About When We Talk About Church Culture
If you have paid any attention to the social zeitgeist in the last few years, you’ve probably heard the word “culture” thrown around. There is work culture, cancel culture, TikTok culture…the list goes on and on. And in recent years the term “church culture” has started to pop up in discussions around The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This term has a tendency to be ambiguous and vague. It is important to clarify what we mean when we discuss this kind of “culture.” On the whole, the term “church culture” denotes the practices, principles, rules, and ensuing attitudes of the Church and its members. This includes things such as attending church on Sunday, adhering to the law of chastity, guidelines for endowed members, and personal views on subjects like politics or policies.
However, more and more frequently “church culture” connotes the more negative aspects of these practices, principles, rules, and attitudes. These are the aspects that cause problems and create tension in and around the Church of Jesus Christ. It is crucial to understand these problems. When we what these problems are and where they lie we gain a better understanding of how to solve them and can bring those in and around the Church closer to Christ.
Leading Saints Perspective
Last year Kurt Francom, host of the increasingly popular organization Leading Saints, released a podcast episode and a newsletter covering the topic of negative church culture. In it, Francom touched upon aspects within the Church that he has observed to be the cause of negative experiences. They are lack of ability, negative mindsets, misunderstanding of doctrine, lack of exposure, and lack of self-awareness. Each of these observations shows how problems or tensions could arise between individuals or groups.
For example, the issue of lack of ability means that some people may be scorned or disparaged because they lack the skills needed to perform their duties to what is seen as an adequate level. That might be a bishop struggling to be empathetic, a teacher who has never taught before, or a new convert yet to fully grasp some aspects of basic doctrine.
Negative mindsets could affect how members of different political groups see each other in the church. Misunderstanding doctrines can lead to the same sort of problems. Francom gives the example that there can be the misunderstanding that missions for young men act as saving ordinances. This can lead to inaccurate expectations and impressions before, during, after, and if young men choose to serve missions.
Lack of exposure and lack of self-awareness go hand in hand. In life, just because you do things one way or see things one way does not mean that that is the only way. When we attempt to force our views on others people can get hurt.
These are only a few examples but because they can run from individuals to entire wards or stakes they can help explain how negative church culture can operate within our church and church communities. But the most important part of understanding these reasons, and more importantly, solving them, is to understand that these problems are not unique to The Church of Jesus Christ. These are not simply church problems, but human problems. Sons and Daughters of God problems.
A Human Thing
Not long ago, Al Fox Carraway shared an insightful observation about “church culture.” She said, “Definitely & obviously not all, but a lot of what is categorized into ‘church’ culture, really isn’t… a lot of those things that we tend to blame “on the church,” can’t even be accurately addressed as such either. PLEASE PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS: Judging is *NOT* an LDS thing. High expectations are NOT an LDS thing. Broken standards are NOT an LDS thing. It is not exclusive to my, or ANY, religion. IT IS A👏🏻HUMAN👏🏻THING. IT LIVES EVERYWHERE.”
It does not matter who you are or where you are, you have and will experience some of these difficulties. At home, at work, at church. The setting changes, but the nature of these problems stays the same.
So how do we combat this? We don’t have all the answers to that. More may come with time. But what we do know is that we can follow the Savior and the new commandment he gave to his disciples. “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” Christ sat with rejected, listened to the opinions of the distasteful, and ate with those with whom he disagreed.
We have the opportunity now to do the same. To combat this “negative church culture,” we need to see one another in our problems as humans. As brothers and sisters in God. We need to be able to love one another, as Jesus loved us. Then we will see changes for the better as we all seek to be more like Christ
After serving a mission to Samara, Russia, Tyler graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in Creative Writing. Tyler is the author of Away From The Sun, a short collection of his written works. He lives in Provo with his drop-dead gorgeous wife, enjoys playing basketball, playing the banjo, studying history, and collecting Pokemon cards. Follow Tyler on Instagram @therealtylerbnelson