Trigger Warning: This section discusses emotional abuse and manipulation, including specific examples. It briefly mentions LGBT+ issues.

There’s something wrong with you. In fact, you’re naturally God’s greatest enemy and you’re a horrible sinner and you always have been. Wait, this message might be off-putting. Perhaps one of these one-liners will make it sound more innocent:

  • “Of course, nobody’s perfect, so…”
  • “We all need to repent”
  • “Repentance isn’t a bad thing”
  • “We all sin”
  • “God wants us to repent so we can be happy”
  • “In order to receive (insert blessing) you have to repent”

In my experience in the church, there was always something deeply wrong with me. I was naturally evil and corrupt. I propose that this is a powerful way the church controls its members, and I personally believe it’s what makes the church’s message so compelling.

It’s normal to feel like something is wrong with you. Parents, friends, bullies, teachers, and many of the people we interact with in society point out our flaws and try to convince us they have the solution. Many who have written a compelling essay for English class know the format: here’s a problem, here’s why it’s a problem, here’s the solution. Humans are natural problem-solvers, and it seems to be deeply ingrained in our nature to try and find problems with ourselves to solve.

An Appeal to Imperfection

I suggest the church teaches, in a reductive way:

  • You are fundamentally flawed by nature (i.e., you aren’t perfect)
  • Imperfection bars you from seeing your family after you die
  • You can’t get perfect on your own
  • We (and only we) can make you perfect (i.e., exclusive access to the Atonement)
  • You won’t realize you’re getting perfect until after you die
  • If you don’t try to be perfect until you die, you can’t access our solution

Perhaps you disagree, but this sounds a lot like a snake oil sales pitch to me. Perhaps you’ve felt this pattern in an even more harmful way in your church community:

  • You are fundamentally flawed by nature (i.e., you aren’t perfect)
  • Imperfection bars you from seeing your family after you die
  • You can’t get perfect on your own
  • We (and only we) can make you perfect (i.e., exclusive access to the Atonement)
  • If you don’t act perfectly now, you’re not welcome in our group
  • If you don’t try to be perfect until you die, you can’t access our solution

Of course, the church does not publish anything directly supporting this attitude. But I would suggest that many (including myself) who have participated in the church have felt the immense pressure to be perfect. If you aren’t, you can’t access the temple or its ordinances, you can’t worthily hold the priesthood, you aren’t worthy of an eternal companion, and so on.


I propose that this attitude and way of teaching is incredibly harmful in numerous ways. You’ve probably seen this or similar attitudes hurt yourself or people you care about. Many have tried to break the cycle of these attitudes, but it is extremely difficult to both support the church’s doctrine regarding our imperfection and simultaneously love and support people who do not meet God’s standards.

Us Versus Them

People have long condemned the “us versus them” attitude that prevails in many congregations. I am pleased to see that many local units are attempting to be more open-minded and supportive, but there is still immense pressure to not only love and support people who don’t belong, but to be a missionary to them. I do not feel welcome at church activities, for example, because I will inevitably be told (often indirectly) that the way I am living is not up-to-par with God’s standard and I should return to church. While I sat next to my best friend (who came out as gay several years later) in young men’s classes, our leaders taught that it was an abominable sin to be gay. One leader became angry talking about the recently-passed law allowing gay marriage throughout the US, and he told us we needed to keep our kids safe from “those people”.

Keeping Up Appearances

The church teaches that it will keep you happy, healthy, and wealthy. At least that’s the impression I had. So not only was there pressure to follow all of the commandments; I had to be a missionary by showing everyone how happy, healthy, and wealthy the church made me. I wasn’t allowed to have a bad day (and if I had one anyway, it had to be a trial I was actively learning something from). When we made homemade vanilla, I was afraid not of sinning, but of being seen buying bourbon. I have always felt I had to keep up appearances, and leaving the church has confirmed to me that the primary cause of this feeling was pressure from the church.


As much as church leaders condemn perfectionism, many (including myself) find that worrying about perfectionism just gives them one more thing to do to live up to what church leaders teach. How am I supposed to balance going to school, being a perfect husband, thinking celestial, earning enough money to support ourselves while paying tithing, fulfilling ministering requirements, knowing everyone in the ward, giving talks, teaching classes, loving everyone, and also not looking like a perfectionist?

Counteracting Perfectionism

After leaving the church, I have found that a number of affirmations have helped me understand that I am okay, even if I’m not perfect:

  • Perfection looks different for everyone
  • I deserve love and respect
  • I care, and I am trying, and that is enough
  • I am good enough

These simple statements have given me more comfort than anything the church had to offer. If you’re feeling the need to be perfect, perhaps writing your own affirmations could be helpful.


The church would have you believe there is something deeply wrong with you so they can sell you the solution. I disagree: you matter deeply and deserve love and respect.

When I first showed this section to my wife, she wrote something beautiful in the margins:

All humans are inherently of worth just because they are human. No deity — and certainly no organization claiming to speak on behalf of deity — is needed to grant or uphold that worth.