The Church vs. The Gospel

When I began questioning mormonism, my Dad explained that there was a difference between the church and the gospel.  The church was made of people who were human, and the gospel was the kernel of truth within the church. He said that the mormon faith was the closest to being “all true” that there was.  I heard this from other members as well.  It was part of the push for people to distance themselves from saying “I know the church is true” in their testimonies.

This answer was okay for awhile.  It was easy to dismiss certain people/teachers’ opinions directly from McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, racist beliefs, ignorant statements like “don’t talk to anyone who’s not mormon”.

But what really opened my eyes was the idea that just because the mormon church did something a certain way, didn’t mean their way was the right or only way to do it.  In fact, there are all sorts of churches and faiths out there, and they all have different ways of organizing ritual, strengthening community and fostering leadership.  Just because the blessing of the sacrament involves the same blessing (and same wording) each time, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to bless or take the sacrament.

When I really stopped expecting the mormon church to always do things the “correct” way, it allowed me to evaluate it like I would evaluate any organization.  And to compare the
members and structure with what was in the New Testament.

Does it practice what it preaches?  Does it make allowances (the law was made for man, not man for the law?)

With that said, it also became different to discern what part of mormonism was man made, and what part was from God.  Many of the answers to my questions were “we don’t know why”.  We don’t know why blacks couldn’t have the priesthood and inter-racial marriage was discouraged.  We don’t know why women aren’t allowed to go on missions until the age of 21.  We don’t know why all decisions need to be unanimous.  We don’t know why a physical body is needed for ordinances like baptism or marriage.  We don’t know why women don’t have priesthood authority.

It leads to circular reasoning.  If you don’t “know the truth” of a certain principle, one needs to pray about it to find the answer.  If you don’t find the answer, you need to pray more and make sure you’re living “gospel principles”.  The only acceptable answer is that it’s all true – otherwise the problem is with you.  The problem is never with the church or the gospel.

Is it any wonder that some people step out of this cycle?  Some don’t, they stay because of the “line upon line” principle.  They stay because it’s their community, their ethnicity; because the mormon church is the best answer out there.

Another option is that there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat, and many ways to develop faith and worship God (if at all).

At one point, many mormons were not as able to compare religions, and would know little about the works and doctrine of other faiths.  While the internet has shed light on mormonism, it’s also shed light on many other beliefs.  The mormon bureaucratic way of doing things is not the only way, and it’s not necessarily the right way for everyone.

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5 Responses

  1. Leah says:

    Agree, agree, agree!

    Of course, most people reading MSP have already drawn the conclusion that Mormonism isn’t for everybody. An interesting turnaround for me in the last few years is recognizing that Mormonism can be a right way for others. I’d hear about members (I’m thinking of those like the FMHers) who were upset about racism or sexism or holes in Church doctrine or history, and I always wanted to tell them, “Well, why don’t you just leave?” Leaving was the path that I took. Why wouldn’t everyone do the same? I’ve learned to see, though, that there are others who find enough of value in it to stay, even though they recognize the flaws.

    Interestingly, my experience growing up in the Church had a huge influence on that kind of all-or-nothing, black and white thinking. It wasn’t until after I left that I could see that so much of life is so much more complicated than that.

  2. chanson says:

    With that said, it also became different to discern what part of mormonism was man made, and what part was from God.

    So true! And that’s an unstable situation because you end up having to figure out for yourself which parts are the good parts, which can lead to the realization that you don’t need the church to tell what’s right and what’s wrong.

  3. Daniel says:

    “Why the Church is As False as the Gospel” or something.

  4. Kullervo says:

    It drives me crazy that Mormons use “the gospel” to mean “all of the Mormon church’s teachings and beliefs.”

  5. Alan says:

    I think about the distinction between “the Church” and “the Gospel” in feminist terms.

    Private “Gospels” break down at the level of the bureaucracy because the Qof12 decides in the final instance what is “Gospel” and what isn’t. Sure, there’s the idea of “personal revelation,” but it’s used for individual/family circumstances; only Church leaders can “reveal” on a larger scale. If you go about having “personal revelation” about large scale matters (say, the Church’s position on homosexuality), then you urged to be more “humble” (what Mormon women are urged to be). It’s really a psychologically manipulative system, IMO, this distinction between “Church” and “Gospel” that serves as a psychological “out” for issues, but can’t really do anything policy-wise.

    Things like racism, hetero/sexism change very slowly in culture…except I would say that the private realm (e.g., the relationship between a man and a woman in their own marriage, or a parent and a gay child) does kinda determine the macro, public, policy level. Ultimately, a bunch of little “Gospels” come together and make the “Church,” which is why we see minor changes — like, say, how sex is not just about reproduction anymore. Anyhow, I’ve been reading Carol Pateman recently who argues that the historical structure of marriage shows that women are brought into a ‘sexual contract’ before the ‘social contract,’ so in the Mormon context, it’s important to understand the public masculinist “Church” presupposes private “Gospels.” It would be interesting to think about what female ordination would do to this — would the Church become more democratic like, say, Presbyterians? Or would the “Church”/”Gospel” distinction remain the same?

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