I got to befriend members of the LDS church in college and they were the most sincere, gentle, and hard-working people I have ever met.
Are they great people because they are who they are, or do the teachings of the LDS church place an emphasis on shaping their members into exemplary citizens?
YES. And Yes.
Kind, hard-working, caring, willing to give of themselves for the good of their family, their community, their church... truly many LDS can be considered “nice” people. A “nice” person is scripturally termed a “Saint.” A “Saint” is one who obeys the “Golden Rule” of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” at a relatively “high” level. Therefore, the “name” of their church is also their goal: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” (A community of individuals who aspire to live as taught by Jesus the Christ in this current age, as “saints.”) These seek to become, and many do become, “the honorable men and women of the world.” D & C 76: 75. “Great People.” “Saints,” indeed.
LDS members vary greatly in their sincerity and attributes, just like members of any group. In any given community, you have some “stellar” individuals in the social framework. Especially in high concentrations of LDS areas, many church members “rise to the top” in the educational, political, service-oriented venues, partly due to numbers and partly due to the encouraged community outreach.
Few in “The Church” realize that this “level, if you will” is merely a “stepping stone.” If you care to, ponder on D & C section 76. These “Saints” encompass the “Terrestrial Kingdom.” Yet, members have been taught to have their sights set on, not the “Terrestrial,” but the “Celestial” level. Therefore, if one truly and sincerely ponders, “The Church” is a temporary weigh-station.
As you surmised, many of the teachings of the LDS church DO “place an emphasis on shaping their members into exemplary citizens.” They can be exemplary neighbors, bosses, and public figures. Civilization, as we currently know it, is exceedingly blessed because of choice, exemplary Mormons. My life, as well, has been deeply blessed. And, hopefully, there were many who felt of my sincere love and benefitted from my assistance when I interacted with and as a “Saint.”
NOW, BEFORE A READER BELIEVES THAT I AM “JUDGING” AS WRONG THE LEVEL of “TERRESTRIAL” or “Honorable Man or Woman of the World” or “Saint”:
Please hear me:
I adore little children (and the pure child-like)! To assign blame on a three-year-old (for instance) for not acting four (or fourteen or forty or whatever) is wrong and detrimental to her present level and harms her future development. It is precious and purposeful to be three when you are three. With that analogy, The Church can be a vehicle to enhance one’s character; for those that resonate with it. As you noted in your question, some of the most “nice” and respectable people OF THIS WORLD belong to the LDS Church.
Yet, there are some, many, who have seen behind the “Sunday Masks” worn by some when these masks get distractedly, or exhaustedly, removed. We have seen the “hell, the depression, the anxiety, the fear of being “seen naked” when thus exposed. Why is Utah the “Prozac Capital of the World”? Think, people! Think... with your hearts. These same “honorable men and women of the world” often silently suffer….
Mark Johnston’s answer was spot on! (Yes, I upvoted him. :-) ) He said: “Mormon religiosity is highly communal and somewhat demanding. People who are kind of selfish or lazy, or who place their own opinions ahead of the group, frequently select themselves out of Mormonism.”
(“Select themselves out.” Love that phrase!) :-)
With gentle humor, the Mormons are sometimes referred to as “sheeple,” or rather, as those who conform their thoughts, actions, and lives to the “highly communal” group mentality. Again, THIS IS NOT WRONG, but is an essential stepping-stone, a crutch, if you will. There is security in numbers. “What do I think? Quick! Tell me what to do? What do I believe? What am I to value, feel, say?”
Yet, as one gains confidence, as one’s curiosity and desire to know grows, one begins to grapple with the trait “patience of the saints” and that one finally charges forward, without their crutch, leaving their security blanket, their church, their comfort zone, on their own, plunging deep WITHIN (where “the Kingdom of Heaven” resides) and, thus, garners more and more confidence as they discover that which “The Church,” ANY CHURCH, does NOT have the power (or authority) to give; the reserved “Mysteries of God;” until one knows them IN FULL. (WHEW!!! What a ride!)
So, does the church produce the members or do the members produce the church? Well was it said: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” The LDS Church fulfills a necessary, albeit temporary, mentoring role for the group of humans who resonate with its doctrines and endorse the level of humanity it espouses. Yet, as we are programmed to learn or die, the envelope gets pushed, individuals “select themselves out,” and the doctrines and principles and (sometimes) by-laws even shift to accommodate the new level group-think.
There are hard-working, kind people all over. Many exist within the LDS Church. Many exist in other churches. Many exist in no church at all.
Generally unknown by the members themselves, those who “select themselves out” are amongst those who unwittingly administer the “tests of humanity” to the members. Do those “aspiring saints” respectfully allow their loved one to “select themselves out?” (Article of Faith #11: “We claim the privilege of worshipping the almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and we allow all men the same privilege: let them worship how, where, or what they may.”)
Again, there are precious people everywhere. The Mormon Church is one select group who emphasizes many “honorable” traits. These same characteristics encourage community service and leadership. Exemplary citizens, as you suggested.
having lived on “both sides of the fence” (both as a deeply and sincerely active LDS and having stepped outside of “The Church”) I have seen the panoramic view. Now as an “outsider,” living in a highly concentrated LDS community with many biological family members still deeply immersed in The Church, I have seen characteristics of otherwise “good and upstanding” members who have gotten stuck in their stressful lifestyles, their judgments and measurements of “goodness”/worthiness.
Indeed, some of the “meanest” people I have interacted with are those blinded by their own pride, hypocrisy, depression, and quiet desperation, those either clutching to pull me back into the ranks, warning others to beware of me as an “apostate,” and or condemning me as “fallen.” (I put “mean” in parentheses because, again, life is all about learning and developing. “Mean” truly is just an indication of “ignorance” and “growth potential.” “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” :-) ) Those “meanest” are often those who believe they are, or want to be, the “upstanding members” of The Church, yet believe they have the most to lose through our continued interactions... these are usually “family” members. Yes, a vastly important, yet so overwhelmingly misunderstood, pillar of the Mormon faith is Temple attendance and worthiness. In the LDS temple recommend interview, Question 7 reads: “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”
To HAVE BEEN a former member and to have chosen OUT, is a great perceived threat for many within “The Church.” For some of us, we have been greatly affected by those (even our own precious children) who have chosen or had demanded of them to cut off ties with us because of their desire for this recommend and all that it represents. Yes, those who are encouraged to value “family” so highly are often the most divisive if the family member has chosen differently. What a paradox!
So, in answer to your question, in many ways, many Mormons are nice (at least when outside the walls of their own homes) where they put on the “Mormon Mask” and go about their subtle proselytizing. At these times, they are NOT who they *REALLY* are, but are in the process, like many are, of learning who they really are by living who they are NOT, or at least, NOT QUITE.
Depending on the community, Mormons just might be the most sincere, kind, hard-working, members, OR they might be some of the most “drugged” and desperate” while wearing their “Sunday Faces.” OR they might be anywhere in between.
Those who resonate with the principles of The Mormon Church (just as any extracurricular class or hobby) share certain perspectives and values. They form an extended family, a social club; yet, one that means so very much. They often, sincerely, determine they would “give their time, talents, and all that they have been “blessed” with for and to “The Church.” This can seem highly beneficial and meaningful for them. Everyone has a need to be accepted and appreciated. The Mormon Church has the ability to fulfill that niche as well as any extended family or group in existence. Then when you put the women, through the “Relief Society,” in charge of a task, watch out, world! You have organization, spirit, kindness, beauty, camaraderie… AND REFRESHMENTS! :-)
The LDS Church demonstrates exceedingly well that a people can SEEM prosperous and righteous and have peace if one joins and embraces its tenants. Yet, it is filled with hypocrisy and quiet misery. Most are even blinded in regards to its “secret combinations,” even though their “beloved” Book of Mormon attempts repeatedly to warn them of this.
Yet, this church, with its power and prestige, its money and the deception of its people advances The Book of Mormon throughout the world. For those with sincere hearts and pure intents that read that book, IF they can see beyond the common mistake that The Book of Mormon BELONGS TO the LDS (or any of the other dozens of its off-shoots) but is intended for those who are searching for the truth in all things, they can find the “jewels” to help their true character advancement.
The Mormon Church will, at some near future point, outlive its life cycle, as more and more stretch their own mental sinews and decide they want no more “middle men,” no more ceilings to their abilities to BE WHO THEY REALLY ARE. At that point, and as each is individually ready, they will “select themselves out” of the herd. Their personal borders will be enlarged and extend worldwide. They will then live humanely for and in behalf of: ONE FAMILY. NO BORDERS.
THEN, the TRUE “Relief Society” will be in its power and exercising all the compassionate service for which each individual developed, collectively, and as one organized global community of “saints” AND “angels.”
What a wonderful world THAT will be! :-)