As a Mormon girl, my fellow Mormons and I had a saying that we would repeat every-time that someone or something within the church frustrated us. The saying was --- “The church is perfect. People aren’t.” By that, we meant that whereas people might be frail and corruptible, the church was the one institution that we could rely on to always lead us in the right direction. People might make mistakes but the Mormon Church did not. We viewed the President of the Mormon Church -- whom we considered to be a prophet inspired of God -- to be our spiritual leader. The Book of Mormon was considered to be “the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion.” The Church would never lead us astray. Any offense caused by another member was the result of human imperfection. Any issue that we had with doctrine or the teachings of authorities was the result of our own human failings. Since the Mormon Church is composed of a lay clergy -- the majority of local leadership positions are filled by unpaid volunteers, most of whom have received little to no training for the task at hand -- these leaders are also convenient scapegoats for the idea of a perfect church, imperfect members.
This idea of doctrinal infallibility places an enormous burden on church members. As a faithful Mormon, I had some serious mis-givings about some of the Mormon Church’s teachings. I felt very uncomfortable with the church’s stance on gay people. My heart told me that two people in love --- no matter their gender --- was something to celebrate. My church told me otherwise. And since “the Church is perfect”, the implication was that my heart was leading me astray. The burden was on me to change myself in order to fit the dictates of Mormon doctrine.
I also had no avenue in which to try and change the Mormon Church. I was taught not to contact authorities about my concerns. Criticism of the authorities is a very serious matter within the Mormon church and can lead to excommunication. As a member, I was powerless to effect change. My voice was silenced. Since the church was perfect --- and the only true church on Earth --- the implication was that I had to conform my convictions to match that of the Mormon Church. My eternal salvation depended upon my ability to internalize the doctrinal teachings and make them my own. This led to quite a few mental gymnastics on my behalf as I struggled to conform my heart and my mind to the ideals that Mormonism demanded of me.
All of this leaves members in a very vulnerable position. Mormons are expected to give over complete control to authorities. There is no space for dissension. In situations where the Mormon Church’s actions are less than perfect --- such as the priesthood ban on blacks or the support of Proposition 8 --- members have no room to voice their concerns. Authorities expect complete obedience, no matter how heart-breaking obedience may be to the individual.