The “We Won’t Tolerate Imperfection” Club

Facebook is all agog about The Not Even Once Club, a new children’s book by Wendy Watson Nelson, whose credentials include a PhD in family therapy and gerontology and 25 years as a professor of marriage and family therapy, plus being married to a general authority.  Here’s the official plot summary:

In this LDS children’s picture book, Tyler moves into his new ward and meets his new Primary class. Tyler’s new friend, Kyle, invites him to their Primary class tree house and gives Tyler the secret password: “Not Even Once.” When Tyler sees how cool the tree house is, he’s thrilled to be a member of the club. But first, Tyler will need to pass the test, and keep the club promise. This book shows, in a fun and effective way, how Tyler and his new friends are great examples about keeping the Word of Wisdom and living the other standards of the Church. • The perfect book to help reinforce LDS standards to young children. • Full-color illustrations by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman. • Includes a link to download your own personal copy of the “Not Even Once” poster, which reads: “From this moment on, I will never break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, gossip, procrastinate, dress immodestly, break the law of chastity, in any way. I will never intentionally look at anything pornographic on TV, the Internet, a cell phone, a billboard, or in a magazine or a movie.”

I put procrastinate in bold because I’m not used to thinking of it as a sin or something that you must promise never to do, not. even. once.

I admit I haven’t read TNEOC, though I think I might stop by Deseret Book before too long so I can see for myself if it’s just as bad as many of my friends insist.  I read the accompanying study guide; it’s pretty awful.  It asks kids to imagine Jesus going through their closets.  I wonder if kids should imagine him poking through their underwear drawers too?

Complaints center on the rigidity of the message, that even small children have to strive for abbsolute perfection and have no room to mess up.  Of course there have been defenders, people saying that it’s a terrific book that teaches important gospel principles and arguing that it’s not nearly as rigid as it seems:

As far as promise to never break the commandments, the teaser on LDSLivings featured titles says it says promise to DO YOUR BEST to not break the commandments, not even once.

“Illustrated in beautiful color, this LDS children’s picture book tells the story of a young boy named Tyler who, after moving, makes a new friend, Kyle, at church in Primary. Tyler wants to join a tree house club with his classmates, but first must make a solemn promise: he must do his best never to break the Word of Wisdom and other Church standards. Not even once.”

But the the “Do Your Best” part isn’t emphasized; it’s not called the “Do Your Best Club.” It’s not the “we value striving club.” It’s the “We don’t tolerate imperfection club.” Given that that’s what the church really is, it’s good to have it stated explicitly. But it’s unhealthy, unkind, and unchristian.

As for the “do your best” part, I remember very clearly what the White Book I had to read over and over on my mission said about that: “Don’t say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ Say, ‘I’ll do it.'”

Doing your best isn’t considered respectable or good enough. If an action is approved by the church, you must do it always; if it’s condemned, you must never do it, not. even. once.  So what do people who want to stay in the club do when they mess up, as they inevitably will? they lie.

People have also complained about the creepy club element, that the kids have to know the password to getinto the club and that chanting and other weird stuff happens inside the club.  I don’t see how that can bug anyone who really believes that temple ordinances are necessary to salvation, but maybe that’s just me.

The book is being panned on both Amazon and Deseret Book.  Here’s a review on Amazon I liked, and here’s the best on the Deseret Book site:

I love this book! My children and I have read it over and over together. Sister Nelson has written a perfect allegory for Satan’s plan in the premortal life. The primary teacher that bribes the children with creature comforts, banishment for failure, utter lack of grace, and obedience-for-reward ethic all fall perfectly into the plan proposed by the Evil One. The critics may complain, but they clearly don’t understand the author’s intent. With its cute illustrations and foreboding message this book is destined to become an LDS classic for generations! Perhaps in her next book Sister Nelson can write about the Atonement.



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15 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    I like this review, even if I don’t share the beliefs:

    Denies the Atonement
    Please do not sell this book to children or read it to them. There is only ONE member of the Not Even Once Club and his name is Jesus Christ. And He died so that all the way-more-than-once and -twice and eighty-zillion-timers like me could repent. You know, the Entire POINT of earth life? Repentance? Also known as Learning? The idea of perfectionistic sin-avoidance sounds very comforting to parents, as I am sure Satan’s plan sounded to about a third of Father’s children, but it is poison, and sets up children for crushing disappointment in themselves, rejection of real forgiveness, and ultimately deep depression and horrific judgmentalism toward others. I used to really like what Sister Nelson had to say, but this is insane.

  2. Kullervo says:

    I wonder if there’s like, a real tense scene where the kids go to a Fourth of July barbecue and boy, those hot dogs small good, don’t they? But wait, eating meat in the summer is against the Word of Wisdom!

    Anyway, I wrote a post today about the book and its incompatibility with the gospel.

  3. Paul Anthony says:

    This book is poised to create a whole new generation of efed-up kids, in a way that will make Kimball’s ‘Miracle of Forgiveness’pale in comparison. What is it with this church?! I like the idea of helping kids make good choices not to smoke, drink, etc, but please, let’s move far and away from the deleterious effect teachings like “who would want to chew the gum after it has been chewed” metaphor for chastity. Okay, Ms Phd, what happens when a kid does procrastinate, has a puff of a cigarette, or had her gum chewed ONCE?
    Her answer: “Well, like fire extinguisher stations in buildings to eradicate the fire that will destroy a building, to deal with the dire outcome of inordinate angst and guilt resulting from sinning even once that will destroy a soul, I suggest that every chapel (and possibly home) have ‘Sin Once’ stations — ‘Sin once? Break glass, take rope and commit suicide.’ After all, the Lord would want to separate the wheat from the worthless chaff, or His pure and delightsome sheep from those disgusting goats. What better, expedient, not to mention humane way could there be to extinguish that one time sin committed by a sinner?”

    This book makes about as much sense.

  4. chanson says:

    I’m tempted to get a copy for my kids to help them appreciate what they’re missing out on, not being raised Mormon. 😉

  5. Donna Banta says:

    Oh god. I see a franchise in the future–a NEO club like Time Out for Women where kids gather to hear motivational speakers and keep from procrastinating/playing.

  6. Dana Dahl says:

    Hey, maybe Sister Nelson could create a whole series and follow these cute kids through their young adult lives. The ambiguously gay kid could come out to his folks and get kicked out at 15 and become a homeless teen, resorting to prostitution or drugs to survive on the streets like so many homeless teens in Utah. The cute sweet little girl could turn out to be less than slim and perfect and could start binging and purging to keep a body that meets the perfection standards laid out by the media. And then the kid who masturbates a few times and gets caught or even worse, confesses to his bishop and gets sent to that horrific “Sons of Helaman” program will get so discouraged he’ll take his dad’s hunting rifle and blow his brains all over the back of the shed.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely? Wouldn’t it be marvelous?

  7. Holly says:

    @6: yep. And the few people who managed to make it to adulthood without some sort of horrible crisis can get married and then discover in their first year of marriage that even they they haven’t tried alcohol or looked at porn Not Even Once, their spouse has–and is clearly an EVIL person. And then they can freak out and withdraw from the marriage but not divorce, no, never divorce! Because marriage is forever and they’re far too ashamed to admit their spouse is a bad person. And everyone can live miserably ever after.

  8. Parker says:

    Well, there goes the moderation in all things club.

  9. visitor says:

    But it’s not all bad. If kids get used to secret passwords and group chanting very early they won’t be as freaked out when they make it to the temple.

  10. Molly says:

    Do the kids in the story have to do a secret handshake before getting into the clubhouse?

  11. Just Jill says:

    This goat is going to put off reading this book forever! Seriously c’mon this is ridiculous.

    I joined the ‘Reset Your Moral Compass Today Club’.

  12. Kullervo says:

    I joined the Saved by Grace and Not by Works, Lest Anyone Should Boast Club.

  13. aerin says:

    I’m all for talking with kids about choices and consequences. Many choices have consequences. Some are permanent (like a face tattoo. Yes, tattoos can be removed but it’s expensive). So it’s good to talk with your kids about choices and permanent consequences. And allowing them to experience those consequences.

    A great teaching tool is allowing someone to experience the consequences of their choices. If they procrastinate doing their homework and get a bad grade….that’s on them. Is it more effective to have them pressured by friends to never procrastinate?

    I’ve found another good teaching tool to be, this is not a good choice, and here’s why. Evaluate it or have your child evaluate the pro’s and con’s (excessive alcohol use, drug use, etc.) DARE was a successful (similar) program, but has it worked? With two states decriminalizing pot, it’s hard to say.

    Even while I was LDS, I never understood this philosophy. It must be my personality. I would much prefer trying things or figuring out for myself if something works. Just because someone hated a particular type of ethnic food, doesn’t mean I will or that I should never try that type of cuisine, just ’cause.

  14. Parker says:

    You have to remember that the author’s husband believes that Jesus’s love is conditional. You have to prove yourself worthy to receive His love. Her book is just a straight forward reflection of that particular Mormon theology. It resonates with those who have a testimony that exaltation is not a gift but something earned.

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