I read an article* tonight by a young man who wears a couple of T-shirts at school that get people asking him about his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the T-shirts says: “I can’t. I’m Mormon.”
He says: “The joke obviously comes from the strict guidelines of the Mormon faith, but the funny line underscores a deeper truth about the way Mormons are perceived.”
It’s true that Mormons are often known by what we don’t do (or at least what we aren’t supposed to do):
– Mormons don’t engage in premarital or extramarital sex. (This is sometimes referred to as the law of chastity, and in spirit this law also includes not engaging in pornography or masturbation. See the entry on sexual purity for guidelines youth get on this topic.)
We’re also known for things that we do do.
– Mormons go to church for three hours on Sunday. (Yes, you heard right. Three hours!)
– Mormon youth attend a daily religious class, often in the early hours of the morning (called seminary). They are also involved in other youth programs and activities.
– Mormon families participate in a weekly family night, called Family Home Evening, where we talk, learn, sing, laugh, and have fun together.
– Mormons believe in marriage and family life that can exist beyond death. This is made possible through temple ordinances like temple marriages, also called sealings.
– Mormons pay ten percent of their income for tithing.
– Mormon young adults and older couples and individuals serve missions (usually at their own expense) where they spend 18 to 36 months to teach others about the gospel and/or to provide humanitarian and other service.
The list could go on.
And for some, the list may seem overwhelming.
Why do Mormons have all these rules and expectations?
The young man who wrote the article to which I referred earlier said: “Being Mormon is a lifestyle. It influences everything you think, the way you see the world, and what decisions you make.”
But then he noted what most Mormons will tell you. Being Mormon makes us happy. We choose to be Mormon because it’s more than just a list of rules. Our religion helps us understand that we are children of heavenly parents, and that life has an eternal purpose. Mormonism helps us understand that our bodies and our time are gifts from God. What we do with them is our gift back to Him. He gives us commandments not to bind us down, but to keep us free — free from substance abuse and addiction, free from many health problems and diseases (such as sexually transmitted illnesses), free to avoid negative peer pressure and cultural forces that could lead toward selfishness and sorrow.
We also are free from much of the doubt and cynicism that can come when seeing bad things happen in life.
Let me be clear; it’s not that being Mormon means we are free from trials, questions, doubts, pain, illness, and other heartache. We are just like anyone else and we make mistakes and have hard stuff happen. Our family lives are far from perfect. But being Mormon does help us avoid some problems along the way, and also can help us face hard times with a perspective that transcends the here and now.
And central to our faith is the Savior, Jesus Christ, who makes it possible for us to repent, change, improve, try again, and endure hard things. Because of His death and resurrection, we know we will live again, so we can look at death with a little more light. As we come to understand His peace and grace and seek to follow Him — which really is key to what living our faith is about — we can face both our weaknesses and our trials with more grace.
The young man concludes his article with this. “I guess, in my opinion, ‘I can’t; I’m Mormon’ should be changed to the slogan, “I can live the best life possible, because I am confident in who I am, what I am doing here on earth, and where I am going’ — but I don’t think that would sell as a shirt.”
But it would certainly capture much of what being Mormon is all about.
p.s. “I Won’t; I’m Mormon” might be another t-shirt slogan we could consider. 🙂
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