Monday, September 19, 2011
What is worthiness? Who is worthy? What are you worthy of and who decides? Inside the Mormon church there is more talk about worthiness than in just about any other organization that I know of. In the context of Mormonism, worthiness typically refers to a judgement made by a bishop or other priesthood leader who is designated to decide upon the worthiness of individual members. Often this is done in conjunction with temple recommend interview questions or when a person is called to perform some job in the church.
Church members may believe that this is a measure of how acceptable they are to God. I believe that LDS culture reinforces this belief, which if not outright false is certainly full of holes. The problem of course is that it is impossible for a mortal person to actually judge someones worthiness as if he/she were in fact God. The mortal judgement of worthiness is always subject to prejudice, emotion, past experience, and false perceptions. I am convinced that the church culture significantly over emphasizes the opinion of church leaders in deciding upon the worthiness of individual members. Worthiness criteria can be used to the significant advantage of church leaders who want to influence members behavior toward their preferred pattern of behavior. It can also be very damaging to individuals who believe that the judgement of church leaders is a representation of their acceptance to God.
Worthiness can be both intrinsic and earned. You and I are intrinsically worthy of being loved and respected by ourselves and those we associate with. We don't need to earn this worthiness, it exists because we exist.
Earned worthiness is simply a measurement against a standard. Another way to look at earned worthiness is to view it as a right to do something, similar to a license or a permit. For example, I meet the qualifications to hold a driver's license therefore I am worthy of driving a car, although we don't frequently use the word worthiness in this context in the secular world. If I meet the qualifications to hold a temple recommend then I am worthy to be admitted to the temple.
Because earned worthiness criteria are set by the organization that grants the permission, it can be used to the significant advantage of organization leaders who want to influence members behavior toward their preferred pattern of behavior. We choose what we want to be permitted (worthy) to do and not do. This type of worthiness really says very little about our relationship to God.
I believe we should place a much greater emphasis on intrinsic worthiness. It is more powerful and meaningful in our lives and has the greatest potential to positively influence families and society. If intrinsic worthiness were valued as great a earned worthiness in the LDS church there would be much greater love and acceptance.