Some members wrestle with tithing. One family decided to forgo tithing to pay off their debts. After a year of not having one moment of good feeling, the family sat down for a council meeting and made a firm commitment to pay tithing. "I'm not anticipating a new car or a bag of money falling out of the windows of heaven," said the father, "yet I do feel much more comfortable kneeling down and saying to the Lord, 'Lord, I'm paying a full tithe. I'm doing all that I understand I should be doing, won't you help me?'"
Members go without food or drink for two consecutive meals, called fasting, a day out of every month. They donate the cost of those meals to the Church to help those in need. Tithing and fast offerings have remained constant requirements of faithful Latter-day Saints, but in recent years, the financial burdens of members have sharply decreased. For most of the twentieth century, members paid substantial additional amounts in the form of "budget," "welfare," and building funds. Tithing funds, then devoted heavily to building construction, were insufficient to pay more than about 70 percent of upkeep costs. Members were asked to make an additional "budget" payment to cover the remainder. In those days, the bishop negotiated between what ward members were likely to be able to afford and what they would be willing to pay and assessed amounts based on their income and tithing receipts. Other contributions were requested to finance the support of farms and canneries producing food and supplies for the poor. A faithful member contributed about 12 percent of annual income rather than the basic 10 percent. In 1990, as tithing funds grew, budget and welfare payments were phased out.
Chapel construction, a frequent occurrence in a fast-growing church, once put huge burdens on members. A new chapel could not be used or dedicated until paid for. Although Church headquarters once paid 50 percent and later 70 percent of construction costs, it now funds complete construction and maintenance. Paying these costs out of central accounts channels revenues from wealthier wards to poorer congregations. Morality is another basic belief. The Church teaches honesty, integrity, obedience to law, abstinence from premarital sexual relationships, and complete fidelity within marriage. Adultery, abortion, abuse, pornography, and gambling are defined as evil.
Members are taught to care for their own temporal well-being. They should get adequate education, save money, and avoid debt. The Church instructs members to store a year's supply of food, fuel, and funds, as circumstances allow. Members should care for themselves and for family members; those still in need may apply to the church for assistance. Extensive programs help those whose self-reliance fails. Like the Boy Scouts, the message is: Be Prepared. As the Scriptures say, "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." Doctrine and Covenants 38:30 1981.
Other basic LDS beliefs and practices include genealogy, family home evening, and temple work for the living and the dead. These diffuse and complex structures amount to an individual culture with broad beliefs, a unique vocabulary, and an extensive schedule. Members sometimes despair when they list the many good works they are expected to do; they prefer to think of the whole package.
A young woman, on the fringes of the Church, still felt close. "When everybody else went away to college, I felt like one of the lost sheep in my own [congregation]. I just stopped going to church and became inactive for about four years." After she married, her husband's children, with no religious beliefs or training, came to live with them. She thought it was important that the children go to some church, and she wanted them to go to her church. "Just because I had become inactive, I didn't feel that I had fallen away. I wanted the children to grow up hearing the lessons that we had learned. Looking back, I can see that my testimony was important to me."
Simple answers to gospel questions can be found on a Church-maintained website, www.Mormon.org. This extensive, interactive site is the Church's effort to streamline doctrine and practice, showing how the Church wants to be represented. This emphasis at least partially results from challenges to a Mormon fundamental: belief in Christ. When Joseph Smith was asked for the Church's fundamental principles, he replied, "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." The Godhead consists of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost, defined as one in purpose but separate in being.
Protestant groups have denied Mormon admittance to their Christian counsels, and a few denominations have passed official statements denying Mormonism's Christianity. On their Internet site, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, says that "together with the vast majority of Christian denominations in the United States, [the Lutheran Church] does not regard the Mormon church as a Christian church. That is because the official writings of Mormonism deny fundamental teaching of orthodox Christianity."
The Mormons' belief that Jesus Christ's original church was lost and only restored with Joseph Smith divides them from traditional Christianity. But the central difference is the doctrine of God rather than of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe in eternal progression and have taught that men may become the gods of other worlds. This doctrine implies that God, although omnipotent, continues to improve in His current eternally selfsurpassing state. This doctrine is deemed heretical by other Christians.
Although currently played down, this idea remains powerful in Mormon thought. Along with this conception, Mormons believe that God and the resurrected Jesus Christ have physical bodies. Evidence for this idea is the "two personages" Joseph Smith saw in his First Vision. The separateness of the Mormon Godhead, unlike traditional Christianity's notion of three in one, belief in continued revelation, and belief that their church is more truly Christian than other churches are points of tension.