Long before the word “liberal” found its way into politics, it simply meant “broad-minded.” Liberal thinkers were open to change and progress, a bit resistant to traditional ways and dogmas, and considered themselves a tad more intellectual than stodgy folks who preferred the status quo. Liberal folks fancied themselves less judgmental, more accepting and more inclusive.
Liberal people had been to Europe and let you knew it. They had Continental tastes, exposure to the latest fashions, and eagerly embraced whatever was new and exciting. They were the daring crowd, the ones who were unafraid to live life on the edge. Bohemians, free thinkers, beatniks, hippies-all prided themselves on being open to take risks and throw off convention.
I think I was a child when I first heard the term, “Liberal Mormon.” It meant people who were of our faith, but who drew their own lines in the sand. They decided which aspects of our faith to accept or reject, from honoring the Sabbath to wearing less than modest clothing. Basically, it described people who were members of convenience. When they didn’t like something the Prophet said, they felt perfectly fine skirting around that one, and writing their own rules.
“Jack Mormon” is a similar phrase, usually applied to people who don’t obey our rules (particularly Word of Wisdom rules) or who consider themselves Mormon, but never attend church. Jack Mormons are obvious about it, too-you see them staggering out of a bar, or heading into the shopping mall on Sundays.
Liberal Mormons are more slippery. They often attend church, but they’re the ones who dodge Gospel Doctrine class because the teacher is “so by-the-book.” This criticism is meant to imply that he’s a dolt who never questions anything, so why should I attend a class taught by someone so narrow-minded?
They disagree with several points in the Proclamation to the World, say no to callings that insult their intelligence, and create their own spin on how God will ultimately judge us (very leniently, usually). They think bikinis are fine, iced tea is a tasty drink, and R-rated movies are often artistic and worth seeing.
Invariably liberal Mormons do not read their scriptures every day. They do not attend the temple, they do not show up to help someone move, and they do not Home Teach or Visit Teach with regularity. They view those who do as quaint minions who never question authority and who follow the rules like mindless sheep. The one thing they do subscribe to with gusto, however, is free agency. In fact, free agency is their justification for the Designer Gospel they have refurbished to suit their individual tastes.
We all know members like this. What they don’t seem to grasp, in all their enlightened brilliance, is that they are playing right into Satan’s hands. Satan wants them to feel proud and superior, to scoff at the seemingly picky rules we have. They’ve forgotten that Christ runs this church, not mortals. God’s laws are unchangeable and eternal, not somebody’s notions that sway in the breeze and adapt to each new social trend.
Former Young Women President, Elaine Cannon, once said, “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” This is because the prophet is speaking for God and telling us what He would have us hear. He is not just the president of a corporation, giving us his personal views.
When we pray for a testimony and get the answer that this church is exactly what it claims to be-the restored gospel of Jesus Christ-then we need to embrace every part of it. This is not a smorgasbord of ideas from which we choose; it is the grand feast God has prepared, of which we are privileged to partake.
Faith, obedience, commitment-these take effort, sometimes against gale-force storms. Those unwilling to sacrifice and work will fall by the wayside, then claim it’s where the wiser folks actually belong. But being outside the mainstream is not a badge of honor; it’s actually an admittance of weakness.
Living in the gray area, the fringe, takes little– if any– effort. Like laziness, it spawns rationalization, something the obedient never have to worry about. The dedicated members don’t have to excuse or explain themselves; they simply continue working, inching along on the path Christ outlined. Only when we stray do we feel we have to justify our choices. Perhaps that’s one way to tell if you’re at risk. Only the Liberal Mormons feel the need to explain their twist on faith.
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Joni Hilton is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills at
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.