For years, I've been trying to distance myself from being pegged as "that kind of Mormon." You know what I mean—the stereotype we all conjure up in our head and usually describe as narrow-minded, judgemental, self-righteous, naive, and sheltered.
But it wasn't until recently that I began to wonder if "that kind of Mormon" even exists. Living in Utah County, the heartland of the Utah Mormons, I have a whole host of LDS friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, but most of our conversations together revolve around how much those stereotypes annoy us and how none of us really fit into cultural expectations. We even often get frustrated about those judgmental Mormons who give us a bad wrap.
The irony wasn't lost on me that the people I was most judgmental of were judgmental people. But I couldn't help it. Though it made me a hypocrite, those kinds of people drove me crazy!
But thenI read a blog that caused me to step back, reevaluate my own assumptions, and wonder if we need to give ourselves a little bit more credit. I’m not saying that Mormons don’t have their moments when they are stuck up, biased, or just plain wrong. We do. And I am not saying that there won’t be people in the Church who are prideful, judgmental, or self-righteous. There will be. All I am saying is we should stop judging each other as judgmental and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Here are just a few reasons Mormons may not be as judgmental as you think:
1. We often see what we want to see.
My whole life I've heard that Mormons, and especially Mormon women, are judgmental and harsh. That thought broke my heart. But I'd heard it so often that every time I heard a comment or saw a social post or received the brunt end of someone else's hate, I saw that as evidence.
However, I never stopped to think maybe the reverse was true. I never stopped and collected evidence to prove that Mormons, especially Mormon women, are kind, loving, and accepting—until recently. And I found what I was looking for.
Of course, Mormons have their moments of pride, self-righteousness, judgment, and even hatred. We're human. That's what we do. And while I can choose to get frustrated by the imperfections of those within the Church, I've chosen instead to embrace them, because the simple fact is I wouldn't belong in this Church if it was made up of perfect people. And neither would you.
So if you're looking for the flaws, believe me, you'll find them aplenty. Mormons are no different from anyone else in that respect.
The difference comes when you begin to look for the good. Yes, we sometimes say the wrong thing, act without thinking, and even act in vengeance or jealousy. But we keep trying. We keep learning, teaching, and surrounding ourselves with goodness in the hopes we can gain more of it. We keep serving, interacting, and loving even when it's hard in the hopes that one day it will become natural and easy to love as Christ loves. Rarely have I found a community like the one within our Church where people are trying so hard to do what is right, even if sometimes we miss the mark or misunderstand what that truly means.
2. Our shyness can come across as condemnation or judgment.
"Mostly in the Church, we stay within our own little circle. It’s comfortable. We’re familiar with the Mormon culture," shares a writerfrom the blog Unconquerable Soul, one who was born and raised in Washington, New York, and Japan.
"I can’t tell you how many people have complained that churchgoers are judgmental and hoity-toity. So many people refuse to go to church because they think they would be judged. Or because they’ve gone before but were ignored. Or because they can’t find anyone there who really gets them or who will actually talk about the very real problems they’re going through. . . . Let me speak to you who feel like this. What you see as judgment is more likely to be nothing more than shyness, social awkwardness, and not really knowing what to say."
At Church, I've been both at the giving and receiving end of this relationship. In fact, one of my very best friends once told me a little bashfully, "You won't believe this, but when I first met you, I thought you didn't really talk to me because you were a little stuck up or thought you were too good for me."
The truth was, I hadn't made an extra effort to get to know this friend because I felt the very same way about him. It wasn't until frequent Church callings and activities threw us together that we both realized just how wrong we'd been. Neither of us were stuck up, snooty, or judgmental. We're just the kind of people who take a little while to warm up to new friends. But once we get to know you, we'll be loyal friends for life.
So give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes shyness can look a lot like judgment. And on the flipside, be willing to get out of your comfort zone. It doesn't matter what people felt or thought or said about you in the past. Figure out how you'll build a friendship with them in the future.
3. Self-consciousness says more about you than the people around you.
When thoughts begin running through your head about how everyone is judging you, staring at you, or thinking badly of you, that's the perfect time to stop and reevaluate yourself. This kind of anxiety nearly paralyzed me at times in junior high until the beautiful moment I finally stopped and realized: no one cares. Everyone else was too preoccupied with their own problems to worry much about scrupulously examining mine. And if they wanted to waste their time with finding my flaws, they could go ahead, because I wasn't going to waste mine anymore with worrying what they thought.
When you begin to feel judgment or strange stares, stop and evaluate for a moment if maybe you are projecting your own thoughts onto other people's behavior. Is there a reason you maybe feel guilty, out of place, or self-conscious? If so, either fix it or forget about it and let other people speak for themselves. There's really no way you can know what they are thinking.
4. Fear often makes us do dumb things.
I know no excuse can make up for rude comments or for when that member of the ward told you the Church didn't need you or someone chastised or deliberately embarrassed you or your neighbor set their standards up as commandments and judged you against them or a stranger attacked you on Facebook and uses scriptures to justify themselves. It hurts, and our survival instinct prods us to strike back.
But remember, that person who judged you unjustifiably doesn't know you, and most importantly, you don't know them. They could be facing heart-wrenching, horrible challenges that caused them to act uncharacteristically. Or they could be acting out in fear. Most hatred is really thinly-veiled fear, and something about you may have truly frightened this other person, making them feel as though their beliefs or culture or way of life is being threatened.
Or they could even honestly think what they said and feel justified in saying it. But it's not your place to decide whether they misjudged you or not. It's God's. So take a deep breath and leave the judgment with Him. Replace fear and hatred with faith and love. We'll all be better off for it.
5. Mormons are taught to defend their beliefs.
Often one admirable characteristic Mormons develop is the ability to stick to our standards and never settle, to defend our beliefs, to never back down. "Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said. "Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them."
There's something truly beautiful in that teaching. But often our language tends to paint the world as a war, and the violence people sometimes use in attacking our beliefs only enhances our view that we need to fight for our voices to be heard. In fact, we see so many arguments against the Church we assume everyone is attacking our faith.
But sometimes that's just not the case. Sometimes we entangle Mormon culture with commandments so entirely that when people try to make an observation or disagree with anything from the nature of Heavenly Father to whether or not we drink caffeine, we see that as an attack on our belief and the core of who we are. And when that happens, we often don't stop to ask for clarification, we just jump in, ready to battle, ready to defend, ready to not back down, entirely forgetting that Elder Holland used the words "with courtesy and compassion."
In those moments, we also forget that the Lord's voice, the most powerful and correct of any voice "was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn" (3 Nephi 11:3).
6. We tend to make up context or motivations for other people's actions, particularly online.
I remember hearing one of my closest friends trying to discourage her daughter from playing with a little girl who wasn't a member of our faith.
I was shocked. Here was this dear friend, someone I looked up to and respected so much, someone who often criticized judgmental thinking, teaching her daughter to be judgmental. Maybe it's inescapable. Maybe we are judgmental, I thought.
This unsettled me so much, I mulled over it for a while. Then suddenly it dawned on me. She wasn't the one being judgmental. I was. I had only overheard a tiny snippet of conversation, and I made a snap judgment, assuming the worst. But, after learning more of the story, I quickly realized her reasons had nothing to do with the other girl's faith and everything to do with her daughter's health, safety, and incidents that had happened before I was completely unaware of.
The point is, we never understand the full context. We never understand where a person has been or what they've experienced or what they are thinking, and it's unfair to assume about their motivations.
There is no place where this is truer than on social media. Often, we read one blog, see one picture, watch one video, and we assume we know exactly what kind of person everyone else is. But we need to stop. That's not true, nor is it fair. We can never fully understand another person, so we should never post judgments about them publicly or vindictively.
I generally have an optimistic view of the world and humanity. Except maybe online. Everyone's a critic online. And so many people are looking to pick battles or get offended. I've noticed that often when someone disagrees with my viewpoint or something I've written, when I kindly ask them to explain, at our core we are talking about the very same thing. Sometimes we just use different language to express our beliefs, and that leads to misunderstanding.
But even when my view completely contrasts with the person I am speaking or writing too, I quickly realize their motivations and their goals are generally worthwhile and entirely lovely; they just have a different political or religious or ideological opinion of how to get there.
The hard truth is, we—Mormons, Democrats, Republicans, old, young, married, single, gay, straight— are all judgmental. In fact, we need to be to make the endless decisions that arise in a day. What food should I eat, what job should I take, what movie should I watch, when should we start our family—all of those decisions require judgment.
But when it comes to people, we need to realize one important fact: everyone is blind to something. Everyone is flawed in judgment, wrong occasionally, and even sometimes misguided. And that's okay. That's why God has allowed us to rely on His judgment through prayer and that's why we have the Savior's Atonement to fill in the gaps we lack. The only time judgment and blindness become dangerous is when we allow pride to convince us our perspective is always right. Instead of judging other people's intentions or beliefs, we should always strive to reevaluate ourselves.
Elder Hales in the April 2017 general conference gave the perfect counsel for how we can strengthen ourselves and how we should treat others, judgments aside: "The constellation of characteristics that result from faith in Christ . . . all necessary to our standing strong in these last days. As we earnestly strive to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, these characteristics will be interwoven, added upon, and interactively strengthened in us. There will be no disparity between the kindness we show our enemies and the kindness we bestow on our friends."