An interesting movement is afoot in the Mormon world. Wendy Nelson, wife of Mormon apostle Russell M. Nelson, has written a children’s book on the topic of covenant-keeping. This sounds like a good fit for Mormon kids, but LDS adults are petitioning for The Not Even Once Club to be removed from the shelves of Deseret Bookstores. They say the message of the book is psychologically “damaging” to kids, and will cause them “to feel needless shame and humiliation.” Yikes.
According to Deseret Book, The Not Even Once Club is “an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once.” As one reader explains, it tells the story of a little boy who wants to join a club of which the other kids in his Mormon ward are members. The club provides many “benefits” (like candy and games), but the only way to become part of the fun is to pledge that he will never “break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, bully, dress immodestly, or break the law of chastity. Not. Even. Once.” As long as the children keep their promises, they get to be part of the club and receive “jars of pretzels and popcorn and candy” from their Primary teacher. But any instance of a child breaking his or her covenant results in expulsion from the club (and a loss of all of its benefits).
Missing from the story is any appeal to grace, forgiveness and the Atonement of Christ. Mormon parents are upset over this and the resulting message the book conveys to kids: That they can (and must) be perfect; that obedience and flawlessly keeping their covenants keeps them safely in the “club.”
The book’s publisher, Deseret Book, says there is an “emphasis on the atonement of Jesus Christ” in the back of the book, found in an included “Guide for Parents and Children.” Yet concerned Mormons say it is not enough, one explaining that this mention of the atonement is “in tiny print” coming “right after a paragraph urging exact obedience.”
The idea that one receives rewards for keeping the commandments and is deprived of them for failing to keep the commandments “is not LDS doctrine but is twisted,” wrote one commenter at the Rational Faiths blog. “It is not the [LDS] Gospel of Jesus Christ,” wrote a reviewer at Amazon.com. But unless she deliberately set out to misrepresent Mormonism, author Wendy Nelson (and probably her apostle husband), thinks the message of her book conforms to Mormon doctrine. The publisher thinks so, as well. Authoritative Mormon teachings also seem to support the premise of the book. For example:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:21)
“We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 442)
“I have many times repeated what my grandfather said… ‘There is a line of demarcation, well defined. On one side of the line is the Lord’s territory. On the other side of the line is the devil’s territory.’ And he said, ‘If you will stay on the Lord’s side of the line, you are perfectly safe, because the adversary of all righteousness can not cross that line.’ What does that mean? It means to me that those who are living righteous lives, keeping all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father are perfectly safe, but not those who trifle with his advice and counsel.” (George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, Oct. 1949, 5-6. See also The Presidents of the Church Teacher’s Manual, 132)
“Each command we obey sends us another rung up the ladder to perfected manhood and toward godhood; and every law disobeyed is a sliding toward the bottom where man merges into the brute world.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 153).
Indeed, while some Mormons are rightfully decrying the unbiblical message of The Not Even Once Club (i.e., necessary and attainable perfection — based on one’s own obedience/righteousness), the Mormon Church at large seems to agree with it. As LDS blogger Edward Jones notes,
“A system that finds it necessary to assess the spiritual worthiness of individuals will almost inevitably fall back on works because they are concrete and measurable. Either you have paid your tithing or you haven’t. Only God can know whether you paid your tithing out of love, so human administrators gradually lose interest in intentions altogether. Focusing only on correct actions, we find ourselves back with the Pharisees.
“This, of course, is the current state of the Mormon church. We give constant lip service to Christ’s atonement, but our highest aspiration is never to come within a hundred feet of it. If only we can prevent people from performing wrong actions, we think, they can return safely to heaven, untouched by the world and I would add, untouched by Christ’s grace.
“This clearly is the view of Wendy Watson Nelson…”
And this is clearly the view of at least some Mormon leaders who believe they have been called and equipped by God to proclaim Gospel Truth. As Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote,
“To the saints his everlasting counsel is: Obey, obey, obey; keep the commandments; earn the attributes of godliness–and then, and then only, cometh salvation!” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 3:124).
Join the club? No, thank you.
It’s much better to be adopted into the family of God, made a son or daughter according to His great love and purpose, with no fear of ever being cast away. This is what God, in His magnificent mercy, offers us.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)