I was born and raised in Utah. Utah is home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka mormons), and a very large percentage of Utah’s residents are members of this church. Utah is also home to Brigham Young University (owned and operated by the same church), which is a University that 30,000 students call home. For these reasons—and many others—many members of the church who live outside of Utah eventually make their way to Utah to visit or live because of work or school.
I’ve had countless long chats with a lot of these mormons who originated elsewhere, and there is one common sentiment I hear expressed by most: they strongly dislike “Utah mormons” due to a perceived hypocrisy that mormons in Utah exemplify.
Being a “Utah mormon” myself, I’ve thought long and hard about this accusation, trying all the while to not take personal offense when I’m told to my face that, “Utah mormons are hypocrites.” I’ve wondered if some of them had me in mind while saying those words.
Christ reserved some of his sternest warnings for hypocrites (read Matthew 23). For that reason, it’s no wonder that many people are very sensitive when even a hint of hypocrisy is perceived.
I’m not even going to try to debunk the accusation but feel impelled to say that some of the most genuinely religious and devout Christians I’ve ever met were “Utah mormons,” so I do know with absolute certainty that this accusation isn’t true 100% of the time.
During my moments of pondering about the accusations, I’ve asked myself the question, “what exactly is a hypocrite?”
I think the word hypocrite is believed by many to mean one of two things: 1) a person who holds others to a standard that they themselves do not live up to, and 2) a person who is generally judgmental.
I don’t think either of these are sufficient definitions.
This is how the Bible Dictionary defines hypocrite:
“The word generally denotes one who pretends to be religious when he is not (though it is sometimes used to mean simply a bad man; see Job 8:13; 13:16; Isa. 9:17; 33:14). Hypocrisy was the besetting sin of the Pharisees and was severely condemned by the Lord (Matt. 23:13–33; Mark 12:38–40; Luke 11:37–44; 20:46–47).”
I like that definition better, but I think it could use more detail.
Hypocrites pretend to be religious (to care about following Christ and serving the poor, widows, hungry, homeless, etc) but actually oppress the very people they claim to serve. In one breath they proclaim Christ and all that is good, but they actually do not love Christ or their fellowmen. Instead of serving they oppress, hurt, and destroy.
The essence of hypocrisy is at least insincerity and may go all the way to willful deceit. Let’s be very clear: hypocrisy is not an imperfect human reaching for a higher ideal and asking others to also reach for the same. So, if you’ve come across a Utahn and felt inadequate or judged after the encounter, that was probably not hypocrisy. It may have been something else not-so-good, but find that word and use it because the word “hypocrisy” might not fit. My suspicion is that it was a lack of tact. I’ve seen a lack of tact a lot in Utah. In fact, I’ve demonstrated a lack of tact, but that doesn’t make me a hypocrite. What would make me a hypocrite is if I wasn’t sincere or authentic but was deceitful instead.
I write a lot about things like marriage, family, pornography addiction, abortion, judging, and now hypocrisy. I am completely sincere in what I write on this blog. That doesn’t mean that I have achieved perfection in any of these areas. A person does not have to first be a perfected human being before they can tell others about God’s gospel. They should, however, be worthy, and worthiness is not perfection.
Worthiness is basically the opposite of hypocrisy. If hypocrisy has at its root the attributes of insincerity, deceit, and lack of a sincere desire to do God’s will (even if going through the motions), worthiness before God has at its root the attributes of honesty before God and a willingness to strive to do His will.
How many addicts are there among us who strive to break free from their addiction yet feel like they shouldn’t speak up about it, because to do so would make them a hypocrite? Here are two examples: “I can’t say that it’s wrong to drink alcohol because I struggle with alcoholism,” and, “I can’t speak up about the dangers and evil of pornography and porn triggers because I struggle with pornography addiction.” Those are lies propagated by he who seeks that all men might be miserable. We don’t have to be perfect to become perfected, and we don’t have to be perfected to start speaking out about the good and evil in the world. We should, however, be sincere.
So, now that I have this new understanding of hypocrisy, do I believe that “Utah mormons” have a higher rate of hypocrisy than mormons living elsewhere? I don’t know, because I don’t know their hearts. How do I know for sure if they’re sincere, truthful, and truly willing to do God’s will? I don’t. I do, however, think we could all work on our tactfulness and sensitivity in talking with others who are struggling with behavior and obedience issues.
Let’s look at a couple cases:
- The Young Women’s President who has a new 15-year-old young woman in the ward who is sexually active and covered in tattoos. Is it hypocrisy—or even judgmental—for that President to express concern about the example the new young woman will set for other young women in the ward? Of course not! I would be very worried about a President who didn’t show concern. But the concern shown is what is often misconstrued as hypocrisy, because it is so difficult to express that concern in a tactful way that doesn’t come off as judgmental.
- How about the young single adult woman who—unknown to others in the ward—is a porn addict. A young man in the ward always wears revealing tight slacks and shirts that show all the curves and muscles, so she mentions it to him and he is offended. Is she being a hypocrite simply because she has both a porn addiction and a concern for another person’s choices related to chastity? Of course not! She is just trying to choose the right! The difficult thing is to know how to approach the young man with tact and sensitivity.
In both cases, I would remind all that the sexually-active young woman and the immodestly-dressed young man have a duty all their own to not take offense when approached with such things. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” said Paul. But, at the same time, those who approach them need to be kind, gracious, and sincere.
So what is the answer? I believe it is to always speak up for God’s truth and to strive to help our brothers and sisters become something better, but we must do so with sensitivity and love. That’s the balance. And doing so is not hypocrisy, unless the person who makes the effort actually has no desire to serve God but only to serve his or her self.
So why would anyone make that kind of effort without sincerity in the first place? It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? I have a suspicion, and I think it actually might help the case of my friends who make the accusation against “Utah mormons.”
I think the reason someone would do this is because the culture says one must act a certain way or they’ll be ostracized by others who also participate in the culture. Therefore, a person would try to correct the behavior of others, not because they’re actually sincere and want to serve God, but because they’re trying to be perceived in a certain way by their peers.
If that’s what’s going on in Utah, we need to repent. Our hearts need to be sincere. If we serve God for show but we actually hate and persecute Christ when other mormons aren’t watching, we’re hypocrites.
I love living in Utah. I’ve lived elsewhere, but I always end up longing for home. Yes, I love the mountains, but I also love the people. I’ve been chastened plenty of times while I’ve lived here but rarely by someone who I’ve suspected was an actual hypocrite. I hope things remain that way. I hope I remain that way.
Let’s all remember to speak up for the truth, but to also make sure we check ourselves that we’re honest before God and sincerely seek to do His will for His righteous reasons.
I am not an official spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My opinions are my own. I do, however, recommend the church to all who love Jesus Christ or who want to get to know Him better.