The Mormon church is full of good people. There are some bad people who are Mormons, just like there are bad people in every other group. In my experience, people, whether Mormon or not, are generally good people. When I look back on all the Mormons I’ve met in my life, I believe that the overwhelming majority are good people who live good lives and are doing their best to get through life just like everyone else in the world.
There’s a common saying in the church that goes like this: “the church is perfect, but the members aren’t.”
I think this saying has it backwards. To me, the opposite of this statement is much closer to the truth. The members of the church are not perfect, but the members, in my opinion, are far better than the church itself.
But as much as the people in the church are generally good, and as much as I love the Mormons in my family, when I think about the church I realize that the goodness of the people is besides the point.
When people get up and bear their testimony it is common for them to say say “I know the church is true.” They don’t commonly say “I know the church is full of good people.” Why is this? It’s because the point of the church is that it’s supposed to be true.
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” In this verse, Paul is saying that if Christianity isn’t true, then Christians, of all people, are most miserable. I think Paul exaggerates the point. I don’t think Christians are potentially more miserable than anyone else. But I like this verse because I believe it conveys the right framework to think about the church. It’s supposed to be literally true. If Mormonism only gives people hope in this life, then what’s the point?
The church currently has roughly 80,000 missionaries working all around the globe. Once upon a time, I was one of them. The focus when I was a missionary is the same focus as the missionaries today. The focus is to teach people that the true gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth and to invite them to join the only church on earth with the power to baptize people and unite their family in heaven. The “mission” of a mission is not to invite people to join a good church with good people. This is an afterthought. The “mission” is to invite people to come unto Christ by being baptized into Christ’s only true church on the earth.
It can be tempting to conflate criticism of the the church with criticism of the members. Despite this temptation, it is critical to separate the two. Just as I am an American, but not America, the members of the church are Mormons but not Mormonism. If someone tells me “America is awesome!” or “America sucks!” they are not praising or attacking me personally because I am not America. At most, I’m only 1 out of 300,000,000+ Americans. And the truth is that in some ways America is awesome and in some ways it does suck.
The same is true for Mormonism. In some ways, the church is good. In other ways, it sucks. But just because I think the church sucks in some says doesn’t mean I think the Mormon people suck. Mostly, they don’t. Criticism of the church is not a criticism of the members.
But not all members of the church are equal. It’s much easier to separate a random member from the church itself. It’s much more difficult, however, to separate Joseph Smith or the any of the subsequent presidents of the church from Mormonism. These individuals play such a big role in what the church has been in the past and what it is today that they can’t be easily separated from the church.
When I think about the church, my focus is on the church and not the people in it, with the exception of the leaders. But overall, I believe the church is full of good people because that has been my experience knowing Mormons all my life.