Mormonism and culture/Attitude toward non-members


Are LDS members taught to look down upon or reject those who are not of their faith?

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Question: Are Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") taught to look down upon or reject those who are not of their faith?

Mormons have always been taught that a dismissive attitude toward the beliefs or faith of others is sinful

The attitude that one ought to look down upon or reject those who are not of their faith is an abhorrent one. Members of the Church, of course, do not always live up to these high standards. But, there can be no doubt as to what the standards are:

What does the Lord expect of us as Latter-day Saints? What does He expect of me as a member of this Church...There is no room in the heart of a Latter-day Saint for bitterness, for unkindness, for animosity to any other of the sons and daughters of God. They may not be of our faith, but we owe them an obligation to treat them as sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven. [1]

Mormons have always been taught that a dismissive attitude toward the beliefs or faith of others is sinful. (Indeed, the Book of Mormon condemns in the strongest terms those who adopt such an attitude: Alma 31:16-19, Alma 31:27-35).

Joseph Smith: "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons'"

Said Joseph Smith:

Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true "Mormons." [2]

Gordon B. Hinckley: "There is no room for arrogance in our lives. There is no room for conceit in our lives. There is no room for egotism in our lives"

Warned President Gordon B. Hinckley:

There is no room for arrogance in our lives. There is no room for conceit in our lives. There is no room for egotism in our lives. We must be humble before the Lord. He has so declared, and if we will do it, He will hear our prayers and answer them with a blessing upon our heads. [3]

Of the specific conceit which some claim they are taught, President Hinckley said:

Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don't look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life. [4]

It's hard to see how looking for "strengths and...virtues" in non-members to help an LDS member's own life constitutes ignoring or deprecating all non-believers.

President Hinckley further said:

There is no need in any land for conflict between diverse groups of any kind. Let there be taught in the homes of people that we are all children of God, our Eternal Father, and that as surely as there is fatherhood, there can and must be brotherhood. [5]

He denounced bad feelings and behavior toward non-Mormons:

Why do any of us have to be so mean and unkind to others? Why can't all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us? Why is there so much bitterness and animosity? It is not a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all stumble occasionally. We all make mistakes. I paraphrase the words of Jesus in the Lord's Prayer: "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

∗       ∗       ∗

There is no end to the good we can do, to the influence we can have with others. Let us not dwell on the critical or the negative. Let us pray for strength; let us pray for capacity and desire to assist others. Let us radiate the light of the gospel at all times and all places, that the Spirit of the Redeemer may radiate from us. [6]

Members and non-members have the same status before God. This does not support the idea that members are to "hold themselves aloof."

Ezra Taft Benson: "God, the Father of us all uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes"

God, the Father of us all uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes. It has been true in the past, it is true today, it will be true in the future. [7]

President Benson then quoted Elder Orson F. Whitney from 1928:

Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else…God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people…They [other churches] are our partners in a certain sense. [8]

Joseph Fielding Smith: "the Lord would pour out his blessings and his Spirit upon all people and use them to accomplish his purposes"

Joseph Fielding Smith discussed the prophecy in Joel that God would pour out his spirit "upon all flesh":

Now, my brethren and sisters, I am not going to confine this prophecy [Joel 2:28-29] to the members of the Church. The Lord said he would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. That does not mean that upon all flesh the Holy Ghost should be sent, and that they should be participants in the blessings which those are privileged to receive who have been baptized and endowed and become members of the Church; but the Lord would pour out his blessings and his Spirit upon all people and use them to accomplish his purposes....

There has never been a step taken..., in discovery or invention, where the Spirit of the Lord (that is, the Spirit of which Joel spoke, the Light of Christ, not the Holy Ghost!) was not the prevailing force, resting upon the individual, which caused him to make the discovery or the invention. The world does not understand that, but it is perfectly clear to me; nor did the Lord always use those who have faith, nor does he always do so today. He uses such minds as are pliable and can be turned in certain directions to accomplish his work, whether they believe in him or not. [9]

M. Russell Ballard: "I encourage you to build personal, meaningful relationships with your nonmember friends and acquaintances"

I encourage you to build personal, meaningful relationships with your nonmember friends and acquaintances...If they are not interested in the gospel, we should show unconditional love through acts of service and kindness, and never imply that we see an acquaintance only as a potential convert...We must not reserve our kindness and affection only for our fellow members. We must be sensitive and not oblivious to the feelings of those whose views may differ from ours. Considering the early history of the Church in these latter days, unkindness or indifference toward others should be abhorrent to members of the Church. I bear my testimony that "God is no respecter of persons"; we should follow his example in all of our associations with our fellowmen. [10]

David B. Haight: "we are commanded to do what to many is a more difficult commandment—to love all, even enemies, and to go beyond the barriers of race or class or family relationships"

Besides loving God, we are commanded to do what to many is a more difficult commandment—to love all, even enemies, and to go beyond the barriers of race or class or family relationships. It is easier, of course, to be kind to those who are kind to us— the usual standard of friendly reciprocity.

Then are we not commanded to cultivate genuine fellowship and even a kinship with every human being on earth? Whom would you bar from your circle? We might deny ourselves a nearness to our Savior because of our prejudices of neighborhood or possessions or race—attitudes that Christ would surely condemn. Love has no boundary, no limitation of good will. [11]

Jeffrey R. Holland: "I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another"

Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn't measure our talents or our looks; He doesn't measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone... [12]

Neal A. Maxwell: "Love is the only answer"

Love is the only answer, as Thomas Merton points out, to the searching question asked by Gandhi when he said: "How can he who thinks he possesses absolute truth be fraternal?" [13]

Russell M. Nelson: "Learn to listen, and listen to learn from neighbors"

Learn to listen, and listen to learn from neighbors. Repeatedly the Lord has said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour." (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19.) Opportunities to listen to those of diverse religious or political persuasion can promote tolerance and learning. And a good listener will listen to a person's sentiments as well...The wise listen to learn from neighbours. [14]

Brigham H. Roberts: "God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men"

While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God's instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. ... All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God's children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them. [15]

Question: Do Latter-day Saints claim to be the only ones that can experience the fullness of happiness on this earth?

Introduction to Question

Many former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and even active members of the Church become troubled from time to time by the reality that many people outside of the Church and even those that go against the Church appear to be happy people and sometimes happier than members of the Church.

A pithy mantra of former members of the Church is that "what's unique about the Church isn't good and what's good isn't unique."

This confusion seems to stem from a notion that only active, believing, fully-practicing members of the Church can experience the fullest measure of happiness in this life. There appears to be an assumption that leaders of the Church or the Church’s official scriptures make this claim. That assumption is true, but there needs to be some context added to it and an answer to this criticism fleshed out. This article attempts to answer these concerns and criticisms.

Response to Question

Claims from Church Leaders

There are claims from Church leaders that are roughly the same as the one made above. For instance, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland made the following claim in the April 2009 General Conference of the Church:

I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies.[16]

Perhaps the most direct scripture on this issue is found in Doctrine & Covenants 101:36:

36 Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.

This revelation was "given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, December 16 and 17, 1833. At this time the Saints who had gathered in Missouri were suffering great persecution. Mobs had driven them from their homes in Jackson County; and some of the Saints had tried to establish themselves in Van Buren, Lafayette, and Ray Counties, but persecution followed them. The main body of the Saints was at that time in Clay County, Missouri. Threats of death against individuals of the Church were many. The Saints in Jackson County had lost household furniture, clothing, livestock, and other personal property; and many of their crops had been destroyed" (chapter heading for Section 101).

So the Savior may be saying that the fulness of joy is found as we are saved and go to heaven, but it seems more likely (at least to this author) that he is saying that the world will not give us the fulness of joy that is found only in a covenant relationship with the Savior and the fulness of light and knowledge about him provided solely by his Restored Church.

What perhaps gets misunderstood, however, is that the claim is not just that one can experience a fullness of joy in this life by following the teachings of the Savior, but that one can experience the fullest measure of peace and happiness in this life and the next life when we reach the eternities. Doctrine & Covenants 59:23 claims that “he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” The scriptures consistently describe eternal life as never-ending or everlasting happiness.

But still, you might ask, why are people happy and sometimes happier outside of the Church?

He Maketh His Sun to Rise on the Just and the Unjust

Basically all human beings cooperate with one another to mutually achieve pleasure and happiness. It’s a basic tendency of human nature to prefer life and happiness over death and/or pain. That means that most people will follow Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 7:12 quite naturally: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets”. A large amount of happiness will be reaped by people as they do this. We believe that this is a manifestation of the truth that people have the law of God written on their hearts as taught in Romans.[17] It is also a manifestation of the truth that "the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil".[18]

But Jesus tells us this:

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

It’s interesting to notice where this observation about happiness and unhappiness comes. Jesus is in the middle of telling his disciples to love their enemies. That is something that is not common among the world’s “natural morality”. We tend to hate our enemies. Maybe not murder them or kill them, but we certainly allow ourselves to experience deep feelings of hatred towards those that annoy or injure us. Jesus recognizes that there must be something that sets us apart from other peoples in our practice of love. Jesus wants us to pay very close attention to these finer points of the law. The world will practice the basic law of doing unto others as we would have them do to us, but the covenant people will practice the finer points of the law and achieve the fullest measure of happiness by living by the finer points. It is these that Jesus likely has in mind when he tells people to come unto him and experience a fullness of joy. It is these that bring us the fulness of peace and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

We often think that the wicked are those that do drastic evils such as rape, murder, incest, and other heinous acts. Of course, those people are wicked, but they are not the entire group of people that make up the wicked. Satan rather works most frequently by counterfeits of the finer points of the law to draw people away from it. He works by using the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. It’s those deceptions that we, as Latter-day Saint Christians, have to become especially adept at recognizing and rejecting. We need to use the word of God as our measuring stick to measure all truth. We need to submit ourselves to its claims regarding our behavior and obey with exactness and not deviate from it. That is the only way that we will recognize how God leads us to the fullest measure of peace and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

It's possible that people can keep the basic law and the finer points inadvertently. Perhaps they don't have exposure to specifically The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but perhaps they can work out substantial portions of what it means to live the Law of Love to its fulness rationally. It's unlikely, but possible. If a person could rationally work it out without the repository of the revealed word of God recorded in scripture to guide their decisions, it's possible that they experience much, most, or even all of the happiness and joy that the Gospel offers.

We're Going to Experience Heartache and Pain Just Like the Rest of the World

The Gospel promises that as we live by its moral injunctions that we will be able to experience the fullest measure of peace and happiness in this life and in the life to come. It does not mean that hard things, whether by natural causes or by the sinful choices of others, will not happen to us in this life. Jesus flat out tells us "[i]n the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."[19] The Lord told Brigham Young that "[m]y people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom."[20] The Lord himself will chasten us from time to time because he loves us.[21]

The promises of Jesus mean that he is instructing us in the fullest practice and meaning of love and that, as we follow his instructions that he gives either himself or through his appointed prophets, we'll experience the fullness of joy. It does not mean that that will always be easy or that evils, whether natural or human, will not come upon us. The challenge is to bear our burdens with patience and turn to the Lord continually for help.

The Lord teaches us that the way to find happiness is not to seek happiness and pleasure in and of itself, but to seek to love our neighbor and become virtuous. As a byproduct of that, you'll find happiness.

Addressing the ExMormon Mantra

A final thing that we can address is the above mantra of former members: What's good about the Church isn't unique and what's unique isn't good.

  • A person or entity does not have to be sole propagator nor origin of a particular idea in order to be considered unique. They can be one of a few that propagate a certain idea and that can be considered unique and good.
  • It is not necessarily the case that unique goodness must be found in even one of the individual ideas that the Church teaches. The Church can have a collection of ideas and the collection be unique (in the sense of not being found anywhere else) and good. People may be staking their pride in the Church in the wrong thing.
  • There are things about the Church that are unique that may be considered good. For instance, the Church teaches that it is morally wrong to consume coffee. Part of the reason they teach this is because being coffee marks the Church as the Lord's people. It is a unique identifier that marks us as the Lord's. The last verse of the revelation giving the Word of Wisdom alludes to the Exodus where the Israelites placed Lamb's blood above their doors.

It is a common misconception, among both members and non-members, that the Word of Wisdom exists primarily, or only, to promote the health of the members. Health protection is an important benefit of the Word of Wisdom. This is made clear by verses 18-20 of the revelation. But an equally the most important reason for the Word of Wisdom is the promise given in the last verse of D&C 89, in which the members are told:

And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.(D&C 89꞉21)

This refers to the last curse put on the Egyptians prior to the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites were to mark their houses with lamb's blood at the first Passover. Houses so marked were protected from the "destroying angel." (See Exodus 12:1-30.)

Is lamb's blood "magic?" Does it repel angels like garlic does vampires? Hardly. The Word of Wisdom marks us as people under covenant to God. Consumption of coffee and tea is a common practice in many cultures—when others notice a member of the Church abstaining, it sets them apart as willing to forgo something that is culturally popular. When they notice such unique things, they may be drawn to learning more about the Church and what it teaches. As they learn the Church's moral standards as founded on Jesus' law of love, they will become better people. Thus, not drinking coffee may have delayed but still beneficial consequences in the realm of teaching people what is morally right and wrong and leading them to the fulness of joy offered to those that keep the commandments with exactness.

Defending the Church's Moral Teaching

It may be wise to include here a link to articles that address some of the rules that people have the most trouble with. That way, one can see the utility that comes from them.

The Lifelong Human Vacillation Between Freedom and Purpose

As human beings, we have a suite of fundamental psychological needs. Among these are the need for variety and the need for self-improvement. We vacillate, as humans, between wanting more freedom in our lives and wanting more purpose.

People who want more purpose in their lives want to find some way to structure them. The way to structure their life would be allow to someone or something to give them guidelines and rules to live by to help them squeeze out every ounce of happiness they can get from life. People who want more purpose generally feel a degree of aimlessness or confusion. They wonder whether life is just about being slaves to our currently strongest passions and they want someone to give them direction in virtue and self-restraint.

People who want more freedom in their lives want to throw off the expectations others have of them. You can see this in human beings: when people say they want more "freedom" they're saying that they just don't want to live by the expectations that they have allowed others to place on them when they wanted more purpose. These people tend to feel suffocated by too many expectations.

The way to get purpose is to allow others to place expectations on us. The way to get more freedom is to throw off those expectations.

All of us swing from one pendulum end to the other. But the fallacy in our thinking should be clear at this point: just because those who leave the Church say they have more freedom and are happy, does not mean that that happiness is going to last. There may be times, even though they don't say it, where they will want to have more structure given to their lives: they'll want a religion to be true.

We should allow people to experience these pendulum swings for themselves and then, when they are ready to hear it and when we are prompted by the Spirit, we should be prepared to give a defense of the Church's moral teachings and the doctrines that uphold those moral teachings to provide more structure to people. We should also educate them in this common human psychological pendulum swing so that, when they are tempted to seek more "freedom", they'll recognize the errors in their thinking. We should teach them that the Church's teaching allows them to feel freedom from aimlessness, purposelessness, and being a slave to their passions and that the scriptures and other commandments as taught by the Church are the way that they can find the fullest measure of peace and joy.


While confusions like this are common and forgivable, it should also remind us that we need to do more at reading scripture and the words of living prophets and apostles both contextually as well as holistically. Another article on the FAIR wiki instructs in how to do that.

Hopefully this article will allow all of us to more fully understand how we can become more of one heart and one mind.[22]

Salvation of non-members

Summary: Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be "the only true Church," does this mean that the LDS believe that everyone else will be damned? And, since the Church teaches that the dead will have the opportunity to hear the gospel preached to them, doesn't this imply that the witness given to those "after death" will be so compelling that virtually everyone will become "a Mormon"?

Statements from Church leaders regarding how we should treat "non-members"

Learn more about inter-faith issues
Key sources
Wiki links
FAIR links
  • FAIR Topical Guide: Comparative Religion FAIR link
  • Michael R. Ash, "Does Mormonism Attack Christianity?" PDF link
  • Cooper Johnson, "Breaking the Rules," - three rules to observe when examining another's faith FAIR link
  • Cooper Johnson, "Mormon Missionaries, the Vatican, and Respect," FAIR link
  • Ally Isom, "Faith-Centered Dialectics: Talking About Differences Transforms," Proceedings of the 2016 FAIR Conference (August 2016). link
  • Daniel C. Peterson, "'Easier than Research, More Inflammatory than Truth'," Proceedings of the 2000 FAIR Conference (August 2000). link
  • Dan Peterson, "'Mormonism, Islam, and the Question of Other Religions'," Proceedings of the 2011 FAIR Conference (August 2011). link
  • Marvin J. Ashton, "No Time for Contention," Ensign (May 1978),
  • M. Russell Ballard, "The Hand of Fellowship," Ensign (November 1988),
  • Carlfred B. Broderick, "The Brothers of Jesus: Loving the Unbelieving Relative," Ensign (March 1987),
  • Gordon B. Hinckley, "Four Simple Things to Help Our Families and Our Nations," Ensign (September 1996),
  • George Lyman, "Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church, what will happen to good people of other faiths?," Ensign (June 1988), 57–
  • Terryl L. Givens, "New Religious Movements and Orthodoxy: The Challenge to the Religious Mainstream," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 201–220. off-site wiki
  • Russell M. Nelson, "Listen to Learn," Ensign (May 1991),
  • Massimo Introvigne, "'Almost Mormon—Almost Christian': The Image of the RLDS Church in Contemporary Anti-Mormonism," John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 14 (1994): 11.
  • "How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book (A Handbook for Beginners)," in Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),474–580. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link
  • Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: FARMS (reprint edition), 1992), 1. ISBN 0934893357. off-site
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), xxiv (HB) ( Index of claims )
  • The Utah Evangel 31 (March 1984): 6 insists the Church has "contempt for Christians."
  • Ed Decker and Dave Hunt, The God Makers (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1984),, 246. (Detailed review)
  • Bob McCue, "The Downside of Mormonism's 'We Are The Best' Attitude" post at, 24 Oct 2004 10:29 AM claims, as a former member, that the Church "encourages its followers to ignore or depreciate the lives of all non-believers." This ex-member claims that only following his apostasy did he "accept...that all others were as worthy as I am. So...I held myself aloof from the rest of mankind as a result of my Mormon conceit."


  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, Meeting, Jakarta, Indonesia, 28 January 2000; cited in Liahona (February 2001): 28.
  2. History of the Church, 5:517. Volume 5 link
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, at a meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 4 August 1998, cited in Liahona (Aug. 1999): 14.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, cited in Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 536, 576.
  5. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Four Simple Things to Help Our Families and Our Nations," Liahona (June 1996): 3. off-site
  6. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," General Conference address, 1 April 2006. off-site
  7. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report (April 1972), 49.
  8. Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (Aprili 1928), 59.
  9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 176–178. (italics in original)
  10. M. Russell Ballard, "The Hand of Fellowship," Ensign (November 1988), 28. (emphasis added) off-site
  11. David B. Haight, "Love All," Ensign (November 1982),
  12. Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Other Prodigal," Ensign (May 2002),
  13. Neal A Maxwell, A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1967), 31.
  14. Russell M. Nelson, "Listen to Learn," Ensign (May 1991),
  15. Brigham H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:512–513. Vol 1 GL direct link Vol 2 GL direct link
  16. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Safety for the Soul,” Ensign 39, no. 11 (November 2009): 89–90.
  17. Romans 2:14–15. Other scriptures seem to imply that the law is not written on our hearts but can be written on our hearts (Hebrews 10:16). But these scriptures may mean more generally that God will remind those he communicates to of what is already there and soften their hearts to the truth that is already there.
  18. Moroni 7:16
  19. John 16:33
  20. Doctrine & Covenants 136:31
  21. Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:6; Helaman 15:3; Doctrine & Covenants 95:1
  22. Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:15; Moses 7:18.