Here’s an indisputable fact: as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have our own language.
I mean, we’re not like, speaking Pig Latin or something from the podium or anything (unless you’ve got some really, er… izarre-bay people in your ward ?), but we do have so many words, phrases, and abbreviations that people outside of our LDS culture are totally unaware of (and would probably be super confused by).
And that’s okay — basically every group, culture, or club has lingo that is unique to them. So while we should certainly explain our Church-influenced jargon, we don’t need to stop using it.
What we DO need to stop using are these six (usually innocently-uttered, but still hurtful) phrases.
1. “So-and-so did this nice thing — and they’re not even a member!”
I’ve heard this phrase several times throughout my life, and it always makes me cringe — not because the person saying it is mean or inhuman, but because it is so unwittingly naive. It implies that only members of the Church are capable of kindness and that everyone who isn’t a member is somehow innately cruel.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
EVERYONE is capable of kindness, just as everyone is capable of callousness — inside or outside of our faith.
Take, for example, an excerpt from a story that President Gordon B. Hinckley shared in an April 2006 General Conference session:
“I have permission to tell you the story of a young man who grew up in our community. He was not a member of the Church. He and his parents were active in another faith.
He recalls that when he was growing up, some of his LDS associates belittled him, made him feel out of place, and poked fun at him.
He came to literally hate this Church and its people. He saw no good in any of them.
Then his father lost his employment and had to move. In the new location, at the age of 17, he was able to enroll in college. There, for the first time in his life, he felt the warmth of friends, one of whom, named Richard, asked him to join a club of which he was president. He writes: “For the first time in my life someone wanted me around. I didn’t know how to react, but thankfully I joined. … It was a feeling that I loved, the feeling of having a friend. I had prayed for one my whole life. And now after 17 years of waiting, God answered that prayer.”
At the age of 19 he found himself as a tent partner with Richard during their summer employment. He noticed Richard reading a book every night. He asked what he was reading. He was told that he was reading the Book of Mormon. He adds: “I quickly changed the subject and went to bed. After all, that is the book that ruined my childhood. I tried forgetting about it, but a week went by and I couldn’t sleep. Why was he reading it every night? I soon couldn’t stand the unanswered questions in my head. So one night I asked him what was so important in that book. What was in it? He handed me the book. I quickly stated that I never wanted to touch the book. I just wanted to know what was in there. He started to read where he had stopped. He read about Jesus and about an appearance in the Americas. I was shocked. I didn’t think that the Mormons believed in Jesus.”
. . .
That is the end of the story, but there are great statements in that story. One is the sorry manner in which his young Mormon associates treated him.“
Although this story actually has a happy ending thanks to the efforts of kind Latter-day Saints, the fact remains that his initial experiences with members of the Church were extremely negative. People inside the Church should be kind since it’s one of the largest tenets of our faith, but obviously, that isn’t always the reality. Acting as though only members of the Church are capable of goodness is incorrect and offensive; instead, we should recognize that all humankind has the capacity for altruism — no matter their faith (or lack thereof).
2. “The gospel is the only way to be happy.”
Certainly, I think the gospel provides great joy in our lives and eternal happiness in the world to come — but I don’t think that as members of the Church, we have a monopoly on happiness.
Insinuating that only Latter-day Saints know true happiness is basically saying “You might think you’re happy, but you’re wrong” to anyone who isn’t a member (or is perhaps a less active member) of our faith. Suggesting such comes off, unintentionally or otherwise, degrading and condescending — plus, it’s completely inaccurate. Considering our religion and the experiences it provides us, members may experience a different kind of happiness (a unique spiritual sense of contentment and peace) but that does not make anyone else’s joy less valid.
One of my favorite talks is by Bishop Gérald J. Caussé: “We Are the Architects of Our Own Happiness.” In it, he remarks, “You can’t control all of the circumstances of your life. Things both good and challenging will happen to you that you never expected. However, I declare that you have control of your own happiness. You are the architects of it.”
This is true for everyone! While we know that making good choices (particularly in regards to spiritual matters) helps to guide us through difficulties in life and have an eternal perspective, we must also recognize that other people are striving for and feeling happiness in their own ways.
3. “I love so-and-so EVEN THOUGH…”
Okay, a moment of truth here: I am totally guilty of saying this. Usually it’s something to the effect of, “I love my husband so much even though he always eats the last cookie and it infuriates me” (which it does). That example is silly (but real; I’m still harboring a grudge over the last dipped Oreo he consumed over the holidays), but still, the statement is totally self-serving. It’s basically saying, “Listen to how great and selfless I am for loving this person despite their flaws.”
In Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s 2009 address, “The Love of God,” he shared:
“Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you.
God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.
He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.“
And that’s how we should strive to love others! We care about each child of God simply because we are all brothers and sisters. We should endeavor to love others for their individual worth as a child of God, not because they’ve done something that we think deems them worthy of our love.
4. “You’re so great — you’ll get married really quick!”
As I was compiling this article, I messaged a group of my friends and asked them what they felt were some hurtful phrases they’ve heard tossed around within Church culture. One responded with something that I hadn’t thought about since I got married, but remember hearing often before that.
She wrote, “A phrase I hated hearing when I left for college was, ‘You’re so great, you’ll get married really quick.’ I think there are a lot of awful implications to it.”
Another friend within that group echoed her sentiments, remarking, “Also, I love what *Jane (name changed) was saying about “You’re so great! You’ll get married fast.” That sends the message that marriage has everything to do with your worth as a person and doesn’t take into account that finding the right person has a lot of luck involved. This now translates into ‘I’m not married, therefore there is something wrong with me.'”
In reality, more than half of the women within the Church are unmarried — and it has nothing to do with their worth as individuals.
Perhaps BYU student (as of 2015) Annie Barton said it best: “A lot of women feel inadequate because they are not married, and the church leaders wanted to impress that this kind of circumstance does not make anyone less worthy.”
5. “You will never be truly fulfilled as a woman if you aren’t a mother.”
I understand that one of God’s greatest gifts to us in mortality is the privilege of having children; however, that simply isn’t an option for everyone — and saying that the entire purpose to your life is to have children when you can’t is, well… Depressing.
I’m not saying that we should discourage motherhood by any means; rather, I’m suggesting that we expand our definition of motherhood.
In 2001, Sister Sheri Dew gave a beloved talk entitled “Are We Not All Mothers?” at the General Relief Society Meeting. The Ensign‘s tagline of this talk resonates deeply with me as someone who does not have children: “Motherhood is more than bearing children… It is the essence of who we are as women.”
Sister Dew explained a concept that I love — that there are “other ways to mother. And all around us are those who need to be loved and led.” She further remarked:
“As daughters of our Heavenly Father, and as daughters of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers. And we each have the responsibility to love and help lead the rising generation. How will our young women learn to live as women of God unless they see what women of God look like, meaning what we wear, watch, and read; how we fill our time and our minds; how we face temptation and uncertainty; where we find true joy; and why modesty and femininity are hallmarks of righteous women? . . .
Every one of us has an overarching obligation to model righteous womanhood because our youth may not see it anywhere else.“
God is our Eternal Father, and as such, when we help any of His children, we are effectively mothering them. When we consider the role of motherhood, we must remember that there is truly more than one way to be a mother — and as women of God and daughters of Eve, we are all blessed with the divine role of motherhood.
6. “If you just love them enough, they’ll come back to Church.”
One reader told me a story that I thought fit this example perfectly. Her sister, she explained, told the family she was gay — and because of that, her parents treated her as though they were trying to “fix” her. This reader wrote:
“. . . about people saying that your family members will come back to the Church: my parents were never appropriately loving toward my sister after she came out as lesbian and left the Church until they finally accepted her as she is and stopped trying to make her straight and Mormon again. When they were trying to do that, they were pushing her away and making her feel the opposite of love.”
This idea relates back to #3: “I Love So-and-So EVEN THOUGH…” We should love people because of their worth as children of God — NOT because we have some ulterior motive of making them active in the Church again. Of course, we want our loved ones to be active in the gospel — that in and of itself is a good thing! — but we shouldn’t love people based on their level of Church activity.
Similarly, remarking that if we simply love our family members or friends enough, they’ll come back can lead to despair and lowered self-esteem. It engenders the opposite idea that if your loved one is not coming back to the gospel, that YOU are responsible and must be doing something wrong; that perhaps YOU do not have enough faith or are not loving enough — and that isn’t true.
While we hope that our loved ones will find their way back to the gospel path, we can and should love them just as and where they are. If you find yourself struggling to do so, pray to our Heavenly Father for compassion. Pray to feel His love and to see His child the way He does. As you earnestly and consistently strive to do so (and to overcome your own negative feelings), I truly believe that the Savior will bless you with an increased measure of love, allowing you to see that person’s infinite worth.
At the end of the day, though we’re all different, we’re also all the same in that we are all children of God — and eliminating these six phrases from our lives will help others to not only feel more welcome at Church, but more important in God’s eternal plan.