The Danger of Mormon Idolatry

Brigham and JosephIn October (2014) Mormon blogger Jana Riess wrote about the “shadow side” of Mormonism: the “tendency to idolize – as in actually make idols of – the men who run our church. An idol is anything we use as a substitute for God,” Dr. Riess wrote, “and I feel that sometimes, we cross that line in Mormon culture.”

Citing the beloved Mormon hymn, “Praise to the Man,” that idolizes Joseph Smith as an intercessor for people in heaven, Dr. Riess admonished, “That is not okay.” Referencing Terryl and Fiona Givens’ book, The Crucible of Doubt, she explained that the Givenses

“beautifully get to the heart of one of the greater dangers of idolatry, that we will surrender our own agency and growth. We are so very eager to avoid making decisions ourselves: ‘too often, we confuse the call to discipleship with the desire to unload responsibility for our spiritual direction onto another. Christ invites us to assume the yoke, but we would rather ride in the cart.’ (p 62)”

Some years ago former Mormon Kathleen Baldwin wrote about what she, as a Christian, missed about being a member of the Mormon Church. This element of Mormon life – that of having someone make decisions for her – figured prominently in her sense of loss. Because Kathleen’s reflections on transitioning from Mormonism to Christianity are filled with valuable insight, I offer them here.

What I Miss About Being a Mormon
by Kathleen Baldwin

This ministry exists to alert people to the spiritually damaging teachings of the LDS Church and hopefully steer them toward saving grace. However, I think it behooves us to take a moment to reflect on the reasons why a Mormon wants to stay Mormon. Sometimes we stand outside and scratch our heads wondering why they won’t listen, why they won’t awaken to the truth, why they don’t rebel against the strictures of their man-made religion? The Mormon Church is compelling. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t present much of a threat. Today I’m going to confess to you some of the things I sincerely miss about my life as an entrenched Mormon.

First and foremost, I miss the sense of belonging. No matter what city I moved to or what part of the country I visited, I knew I would have a branch or ward of the Mormon Church waiting to welcome me with open arms. Instant friends. Friendship is compelling.

Come Let Us Rejoice by Walter Rane

Come Let Us Rejoice by Walter Rane

You might wonder what sort of friends they were, if they would be so instantly accepting? Good friends. Let me explain why. Mormons work very hard. The women, in particular, work extremely hard. When I told my sister that I was leaving the Mormon Church to become a Born-Again Christian, she smacked her hand angrily against the steering wheel and shouted at me, “I feel like you’re abandoning me! Leaving me to work all by myself.”

She was right. I abandoned the Mormon struggle to achieve perfection. I accepted grace and left the impossible work to Jesus Christ.

Common struggle is a powerful binding force. Mormon women labor together in Relief Society, Visiting Teaching, Primary, genealogy, Church Welfare Farms, Mutual, Sunday school. They commiserate with one another in their struggle to achieve perfection within their families and in themselves. They labor under this impossible load together. They lament their failures together. Weep together. Celebrate their triumphs together. These common battles bind them together. Look at the cohesiveness of other support groups: cancer patients, children of alcoholics, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Mormons feel like they are fighting a war together, just like the soldiers in Band of Brothers. Pulling together in this overwhelming struggle creates a nearly unbreakable bond; one that is very hard to leave.

I also miss not having to think so hard. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Now that I am a Christian I must think about everything, discern right from wrong on an hourly basis. Whew! There is something to be said for being told exactly what to do. The Mormon Church dictated everything, from the length of my skirt to what I ought to eat and drink, whether my child could go to a slumber party, or date before age sixteen. Rules placate us. Rules take away the need for exercising thought, or discernment. Ah, but God, He wants us to think, expects us to consult with Him, mull it over, evaluate the situation, consider the individuals involved. It’s much easier to be told exactly what’s expected.

C1657The LDS Church had a master plan for their members’ lives, everything planned to keep them busy, busy, busy, until the grave. It’s no accident that they chose the symbol of the beehive for the Utah state logo; industrious folks, Mormons. Boys go on missions at [eighteen], come back, go to school, marry, obtain productive and lucrative jobs, raise as many children as possible, convert friends, serve as leaders in local wards, work, work, work.

One thing that terrified me when leaving Mormonism might surprise you. Funerals. If someone in my family died, I worried, how I would know what to do? I’d done funerals the Mormon way all my life. I knew exactly how to proceed as a Mormon, but how did other people do it? In the Mormon Church, every ritual has a format that the members are accustomed to. Weddings, births, baptisms and funerals are all handled a certain way. There is comfort in knowing exactly how these big stressful life-passage moments will be conducted. As a Christian, I’ll be winging it.

Speaking of master plans, did you know every Mormon meeting format is the same in New York as it is in Arizona? Yep, everything is conducted uniformly. Even the Church buildings are laid out exactly the same. A ward building in California will have the same layout as a ward building in Maine. There’s comfort in familiarity. You know where the restrooms are without asking.

Elements such as these create confidence in the Mormon Church organization. This produces security. A Mormon has faith in the “Church” rather than in Jesus Christ. This is known as collective faith. The Mormon believes her church is leading her to heaven. She does not have to worry about her personal faith as much. As long as she has confidence that the LDS Church is guiding her correctly, all she has to do is obey. This reduces her need for developing a trusting relationship with God. Her primary trust is in the Church. It’s much easier to trust the tangible than the intangible.

As a Christian, I feel like the lonely pilgrim in The Pilgrim’s Progress. My journey is my own. Sure, I meet friends and have some companionship along the way, but it is largely a journey I make alone. And so it is for every Christian. My relationship with God is unique–individual–as is yours. It does not take the shape of a carefully outlined, step-by-step, pre-organized plan. God plans it. Our Father in Heaven has a unique relationship development plan for every believer, just as you have a unique plan for relationship with each of your children, your friends and family.

God is in control of our relationship. The Christian faces the choice of responding to God or not responding. This connection with God becomes a living breathing reality between Father and child. No longer is it a function of performing certain universal tasks to fulfill the requirements laid out by church leaders and thereby appease the Heavenly taskmaster.

Our life’s adventure does not consist of predictable certainties laid out for us by church leaders. It is a walk we take by faith. Predictability, fitting a mold, adhering to a list of rules–these things do not require much faith.

hugWhen I became a Christian, I traded earthly security to keep my eyes on Jesus. And, just like Peter when he tried to walk on water, this requires steadfast faith or I begin to sink. Real relationship ain’t pretty. Those who stay in the boat feel far more secure, and they have the luxury of smugness. They don’t get wet. Jesus doesn’t scold them, saying, “Oh ye of little faith.” No, they remain unchastised, snug and safe on the boat.

Mormons keep their eyes on an earthly man, a “prophet,” a flesh and blood guy they see twice a year at their General Conference. They rely on him to get the latest scoop from God. As a Mormon, I thought all I had to do was listen and obey, and then I’d be all right eternally. Now that’s security. Too bad, it isn’t real security.

Safety is compelling. If safety is of foremost importance to your Mormon friend, she will stay on the boat. She will sit tight and listen to the man she thinks is a prophet. She won’t get sloshed with grimy seawater trying to do something crazy like walk on water. Me, I’m willing to risk it. I’ve got the Son of God out there with me.

Yes, I miss many things about being Mormon, the comradeship of my struggling friends, the sense of security (albeit false), the comfort of sameness and familiar rituals. But there isn’t enough security or comfort in the world to make me re-strap that impossible burden on my back. No earthly friendship could compel me to give up the satisfying relationship I have with my Creator and Savior. Nothing in this world could make me go back to being a slave to the law now that I have been adopted by grace into the freedom of Christ’s family.


Kathleen’s article was originally published in A Word in Season, Winter 2004.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Joseph Smith, Mormon Culture, Mormon Leaders, Salvation and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

163 Responses to The Danger of Mormon Idolatry

  1. MJP says:

    Catty, sorry for the delay. I was active this weekend with family stuff and didn’t really get a chance to reply to your post to me regarding the Sabbath. Its interesting, and I really agree with much of what you wrote. I have only one question from it, though:

    What happens under the law if you do not follow the Sabbath?

  2. cattyjane says:

    I am hesitant to reply but i will. I juat know what is said in scripture. Isaiah 56 and 58 both speak about the Sabbath. If we honor it than our prayers are heard and our offerings are welcome. I think its the same as the other 9 commandments. We keep them because we know they are good instruction from God. We dont kill or commit adultery and people who do we would question there relationship with God. We do our best to obey Gods commands. We dont create loop holes to avoid obeying and we dont ignore them because we think we arent held accountable to them. My good works will never outweigh by bad works, but because of the name I represent I should be striving to represent it according to his commands. I have his promises and that should be enough for me because He never breals his promises.

  3. MJP says:

    Catty, I appreciate the reply. I am really not out to get you, I promise. The way I see it, if we don’t hold the Sabbath, under Mosaic law, we would be held strictly accountable. If we break it, its just like we committed adultery or murder. However, in your earlier post to me on this topic, you said even you have a hard time keeping it, to the point that it seemed you realize God allows some things and is understanding. This latter view is more consistent with what Jesus does for us and how the law is fulfilled in Him.

    Your earlier explanation tells us that God wants our hearts, and that we should strive to give at least a day to Him fully, and that when we are focused on other things, our hearts are not with Him– but helping others is apparently OK. That’s what all the commandments do, really, when you think about it: ensure our focus is on God and others and not ourselves. But isn’t that what all the laws do, even those outside the 10 brought down by Moses? The laws were developed so that we would keep our mind on God and stay clean.

    So, how does this relate to Jesus? When we rest in Jesus, our minds will be on God, and we will stay clean. Following Jesus means to stay within the bounds of the law. We no longer need strict adherence to specific rules to stay clean: Jesus keeps us on the straight and narrow by revealing the purpose of the law, in addition to making us clean before God when He made the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

    How, then, does this relate to the Sabbath? We can focus on God at any time, and we should do more than just one day. He should be our focus all the time, really, not just Sunday (or Saturday). We should carve out time for Him everyday. And I think God recognizes that we should not stop doing everything now given the direct access to God and the existence of Christ and the pouring of the Spirit to us. And when we are in Christ, we will focus on God and the single day is unnecessary in just the same way that a rule stating murder is bad when in fact anger is the same as murder, which is the bigger lesson. Setting aside a single day to focus on God is really just a manifestation of God’s bigger lesson of focusing on Him.

    I hope that makes sense, and that it helps you understand our position.

  4. cattyjane says:

    Yes that makes sense and I would agree with you on most of what you said. I think you understood what I was trying to say in my posts. As far as a specific day being necessary, I am still unclear about that. Scripture seems very clear about this day being a day that we dont buy or sell on. It seems like in the NT they also kept the Sabbath. Jesus did also. They tried to say he broke sabbath by healing and picking grain but that just proved they didnt know their own writings. He proved that in his answers to them that He was in alignment with scripture and even Talmudic law. So my question would be am I sinning by trying to keep Sabbath on the 7th day?

  5. MJP says:


    I don’t believe you are sinning by keeping the Sabbath in the slightest. I am suggesting, however, that if don’t keep it you also are not sinning if you place your faith in Christ.

  6. cattyjane says:

    Ok thanks for the input. This is where the confusion comes in for me. If i place my faith in Messiah I can still sin. The difference is that the blood of Messiah atones for this sin. We know what sin is based on the 10 commandments which are now written on our hearts so that we obey them. So if i commit adultery while I have faith in Messiah its still a sin. How is that different from the Sabbath when both of them are part of the ten?

  7. MJP says:

    If you lust after a married man while you have committed adultery according to Jesus. Its not the act of fornication itself that is the sin: it is the feeling behind the act. Just the same with the Sabbath. The feeling behind the Sabbath rules, not the Sabbath itself. Do we need to actually set aside a day to fully focus on God? Why is it a sin to miss that day but its OK to ignore all the other six days if the purpose of the Sabbath is to focus on God, something we should do all the time anyway?

    Also, consider that the law against adultery is an act forbidding an activity, whereas the Sabbath encourages a distinct action: namely resting on a single day to focus on God.

    You state that even if you place your faith in Messiah you can still sin. Let’s be careful to use words accurately here. You ‘can still sin’ under Christ, yes, in the sense that you are physically and mentally able to sin. You are not strictly prohibited from sinning in the sense that you are still capable of sinning. You are not allowed to sin in the sense that it is still against the rules, but you will still sin. You will break the rules.

    Now, under the law, you are also physically and mentally able to sin by breaking the laws, which are the rules. You will also break them, and you will be against God’s plain rules.

    Both cases are inevitable. You are going to go outside of God’s law, which is what is outlined by his rules. In both situations, you will be separated from God and in sin. The difference is not just that Christ atones for this sin, but what we have to do get right with God. Under the law, a personal sacrifice is required. Under Christ, Christ is our sacrifice.

    So, taking the two ideas together: the spirit behind the law and the required sacrifice, we find, as it pertains to something like the Sabbath, we sin not just when we fail to rest on Sunday, but when we fail to give him our all all the time. Yes, putting ourselves before him is a sin. This is actually a higher standard. But when we fail to do so, which we will inevitably do, we realign our heart with Christ, and our sin is forgiven.

    This is not license to sin, which I think is your hang up. Not in the slightest. Our burden is heavier, and we are held just as accountable as if we were under the law. Believers in Christ find themselves striving after perfection. They are convicted when they fail. They try not to do it again. They move forward, closer to God. What they have that separates them is the comfort that ultimate perfection is not necessary for salvation. Even though sin is still sin no matter how it is sliced, their focus is not just on not fornicating outside of marriage, or keeping a single day to devote to God, or respecting their parents, or worshiping idols, they aim to constantly and always having their heart aligned with God’s. This is a constant battle, and one that cannot be won by saying, “Look, I kept the Sabbath!” Its far more than that.

    Help? Or did that confuse you more?

  8. cattyjane says:

    I figured aligning our hearts with Gods was trying to keep his commandments.

    I think I am not qualified to figure this stuff out. I don’t read Greek, I can barely read Hebrew and I don’t have any knowledge of the founding of the so called early christian church. I think I don’t care anymore. I know who God is and I trust in his promise of a Messiah who would deliver us. I don’t know how he does, but he does. I try to follow God the way he says to. I know im not good enough and its up to God to forgive me since only God can forgive sin.

    Im exhausted with studying and researching. I’ve studied so much my head is spinning. It seems like the more I study, the more I question. I can’t do this anymore.

  9. cattyjane says:

    Please don’t take that as me being angry with you. I’m grateful for your kindness and everyone who has been trying to help me. I won’t be a distraction anymore. Have a good holiday.

  10. MJP says:

    Catty, none of us are qualified to figure it out. All we can do is trust in God. I do believe you are on the right track, so don’t give up. But perhaps some time away could be good to just let God talk to you.

    There’s no reason to let this stuff beat you up too much. Certainly, the truth is vital, but God is in control no matter what we think or do. Sometimes in discussions like this our pride takes over, and that’s no good. That’s where we get exhausted. Its important that we trust God: that’s all He wants from us. We don’t have to know Greek or Hebrew or any ancient language to trust God. We don’t have to know every detail of the early church, or really any detail, to know God now. Often, and I have struggled with this (even now), we get caught up in a search for knowledge that distracts us from God himself.

    To address your first statement, though, aligning our hearts with God is aligning with his laws, but those laws are fulfilled in Christ. That’s what I am trying to say: we can work ourselves to death trying to follow the law but all we have to do is follow Christ. Rather than check off items on a list, we are to strive after Jesus. When we do that, we will not violate the law.

    Its clear to me you are trying hard to get it right. That’s noble, and I applaud your drive. But perhaps its time you put down the books and go to God directly. If you need to read, read only the Bible. Let God talk to you. Learn directly from Him, not from others. Not from me, not from anyone here, not from anyone in your groups, only from God.

    I will pray for you and for peace in your heart and mind.

    God Bless.

  11. MJP says:

    Catty, and I take no offense and did not see your post as angry. And please never think you are a distraction: you are not.

  12. Brian says:


    Thank you for this great post. The article you shared from Kathleen was so insightful. It helped me better understand the mindset of the LDS people. It pictured a group of people desperately trying to be good enough, sensing they have fallen short time and time again, and developing close relationships out of these personal battles.

    I loved Cathleen’s identification with Christian in The Pilgram’s Progress. (By the way, an incredible, profound book that does an excellent job conveying the gospel to the reader. If you have an LDS friend or family member, this is a great book to share. Might consider an edition with updated English.)

  13. MJP says:

    Hey Catty, if you are still reading this thread,

    I came across this verse today. Someone suggested for another ex-LDS to consider. I think it applies to you as well. Maybe you will find it helpful:

    “12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one[c] turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord[d] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[e] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

    From 2 Cor 3: 12-18 (ESV).

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