Living a Mormon Life

Views on how the Mormon belief system and its culture work at an emotional, spiritual level that can powerfully influence how people live their lives.

Ken Verdoia
Ken Verdoia is a Utah historian and has made several documentaries about the Mormons.

I am ... a person who lives in very close proximity to men and women who embrace the LDS faith as one of their most fundamental acts of living. I understand and respect these people for that sense of devotion to their faith as much as I respect the Muslim, the Catholic, the Jew, who by their own adherence to orthodox principles that may not be part of my daily existence -- the fact that they take joy and order and sense of purpose -- to me makes them great neighbors, to me makes them great friends, to me makes them people to respect and in some moments hold in wonder that they have found answers that work for them. ...

The grip of this religion ... is more powerful than anything I've seen. ...

There's imagery of a clear sense of order from birth through death and beyond. And many times, in Catholicism, once you reach the age of maturity, be it your first communion -- or in the case of the Catholic Church, your confirmation -- after that it's kind of, "OK, kid, you're on your own." But in the LDS Church there is an order of the progression of the individual from infancy through childhood into adolescence into religious service -- as a missionary in young adulthood and then the full mainstream -- into the glories of the family relationship with spouses, with children, till death do us part -- and then death does not part, for we will continue forever. So this sense of order, for most other religions, can be in fact a little mind-boggling, but it gives the sense of purpose and order for everyone within the church. ...

One of my very best friends in Utah is a Latter-day Saint. We golf together; we jog together; we have fun together. I've known him for 25 years, and he looked at me one day, and he said: "I know you don't believe it, but I do. And Ken, I don't care if you don't believe it, but you've got to care that I do." ...

And I put the question to him abruptly: "Come on, when it's all said and done, don't you see the cracks? Don't you see the spaces in the image that aren't colored in?" And he says: "No, because you're looking at it with a microscope, and I'm looking in a much broader image. And what I see works perfectly well for me."

We established the demilitarized zone, and we moved on, and we've maintained a great friendship. But that's what he holds it up as: The people who take issue with the church view it in a microscope, and anything you view in a microscope may present something that will trouble you. But if you step back and you take it in its totality, you will find that it's very, very good. ...

Greg Prince
Greg Prince is the author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism and a book on the Mormon priesthood.

What is the Mormon DNA?

The Mormon DNA, it's the culture; it's the lifestyle. It's much more than the doctrine. You know, most people who are in the church would be hard-pressed to write a sentence or two about what the doctrine really is, but they can go on endlessly telling you what their life is within it. That's the real vitality of it. It's not a doctrinal church, regardless of what the strengths or weaknesses of the doctrine itself may be. It's a church that is a very pragmatic church. People come into it not because we can show them a list of theses they agree with; it's because they see [that] for others whom they have known, it works, and they get a little bit of a flavor of that themselves and say, "I want some of this." ...

Terryl Givens
Terryl Givens is a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and author of By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion.

... One of the really distinct ways that Mormons organize themselves is that they organize themselves geographically. Now, many churches used to do that -- you still have the idea of the parish -- but in no other faith community, in the United States at least, is it the case that where you live absolutely determines where you will worship. One has to consider, what are the implications and the repercussions of that practice? One would think that it would be a greater force of friction and discomfort because you are thrown in with people that you don't willingly choose to associate with, until one remembers, oh, but usually we call that a family. ... That's one of the explanations I think for this uniquely cohesive bond that characterizes Mormon wards.

But I think there are several other things that account for these tremendous emotional and spiritual bonds. Some of them are the practices of Mormonism, such as the fast and testimony meeting. There's something remarkable that happens when once a month individuals stand up in front of each other and bare their hearts and express their deepest loves and longings and values and experiences. That practice of making yourself vulnerable is a practice that I think forges very practical bonds.

There's the sheer amount of time that Mormons spend together. Mormons have meetings during the week. They have a three-hour marathon of worship service on Sunday. They have leadership meetings early Sunday and also during the week. They have service projects. They go home teaching; they go visiting teaching; they take temple trips together. So there is much more interpersonal contact within a Mormon ward than is true of many, many congregations. ...

Since there's no professional clergy, nobody gets paid. The service that is rendered is all voluntary. Of course the father of the ward, so to speak, is the bishop. The bishop we feel is called by revelation, with the recommendation from the stake president, but the call comes from Salt Lake. Then that bishop assumes the burden of using his revelation and inspiration in order to designate all of the other callings in the ward. So everybody from the piano player to the Sunday school teacher is called in a manner that we believe is characterized by heavenly communication, inspiration, where the Lord instructs that bishop that he is to call that person to that office.

The amount of time spent in callings can vary tremendously. If you're a bishop, you can find yourself working hours that are comparable to a second job. You spend time in Correlation meetings, welfare meetings, priest executive committee meetings, bishop rec meetings. You preside over [Sunday's] three-hour block of meetings; you're usually present at the youth meetings that are held during the week. You accompany them when they take temple trips; you participate in service projects; you minister individually to members of the ward; you serve as a marriage counselor; you sometimes go out with the missionaries and help them to proselytize. So there are enormous demands on your time.

It's also the case that some bishops, for example, are responsible not only for attending to the needs of members of their ward, but even nonmembers of the community. For example, in my time as a bishop, I was designated what is called a transient bishop, which means I'm responsible not only for those members of my ward, but also for others who happen to be passing through, sometimes claiming to be members, sometimes not. ...

I remember one Easter Sunday in particular. I looked forward to that Easter Sunday because I thought, "Today of all days maybe the phone won't ring, and maybe I can spend this day just entirely with my family." And sure enough, just as I sit down to the meal the phone rang, and it turned out to be a very, very distraught father who was unemployed, was not a member of our church and didn't claim to be. But as I heard his story I was convinced that his problems were real and that he was sincere. He had three daughters, and he was concerned about how he was going to feed them over the next week. So I left my meal and my family and met him at the supermarket, and together we shopped for the necessities that would get him through that week. ... I felt it was an appropriate use of my time, and I felt it was an appropriate use of the funds for which I was responsible, and a rare exception perhaps, but it was one instance where it was an activity that didn't fall within that normal purview of the weekly services of a bishop. ...

A structure is set up to enable people to serve? How is that?

I think one of the great myths of our day is the distinction we try to make between religion and spirituality. It's so common for people to say, "I'm not very religious and I don't go to church, but I go into the mountains and I commune with God." The problem with that is that true religion is found only in service. Finding God is only possible by serving other people. And the function of a church, among others, is to create that context in which we can come together and serve each other and minister to each other. One can't find those opportunities by going alone to a mountaintop and contemplating the mysteries of life.

So that's one of the great services the church provides, is creating opportunities for every single member of the ward. In a typical ward you'll have over 200 callings. There's something for every single person to do to feel that they are actually making a real contribution to the life of somebody else.

Marlin Jensen
Marlin K. Jensen is the executive director of the LDS Family and Church History Department and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

If someone were to say to me, "What has Mormonism got to offer?," I would say it offers eternal love, and it offers eternal progression. Those are the two concepts of Mormonism that always appeal to me. And now, in my old age, after 38 years of marriage, if someone were to say, "What motivates you?," I would say my relationship with God and my relationship with my wife and the desire that she and I have to have a relationship with our family forever. Someone asked President [David O.] McKay once, "What is heaven? How do you envision it?," and he said, "I envision it as the continuation of a happy family life, and if my wife and my children aren't there, it wouldn't be heaven to me."

So you have this tremendous permanence about family relationships that you get from the temple, and then you have this wonderful foundation of personal commitment about how you're going to live your own life, and then you've got the perspective that this overarching narrative provides. And if you go back and have that renewed frequently, which we're urged to do, it just provides an anchor to one's life that I don't how you'd get it in any other way. In a sense, to me, it's a little bit of a competitive advantage we have as Mormons.