Jaroldeen Edwards, “Lifestyle,” in Latter-day Saint Essentials: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. John W. Welch and Devan Jensen (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), 169–71.
Early Latter-day Saints, who typically gathered into their own communities and shared cultural and religious concepts and experiences, developed a distinctive lifestyle that helped overcome differences in social class or a variety of geographic and religious backgrounds among members of the fledgling Church. The members, mostly former Protestants from New England, New York, Ohio, eastern Canada, the British Isles, and Scandinavia, had compatible Christian and social values, and a shared purpose in building Zion and in creating the culture of their communities. A century and a half later, with more than seven million Latter-day Saints living throughout the world in a multitude of nations and in varied circumstances, the LDS lifestyle continues to be focused on shared personal beliefs and the desires to progress toward exaltation and to build up the kingdom of God on earth.
In the 1940s, more than a century after the Church was established, its one million members were concentrated largely in the western United States. Converts had tended to migrate to join the main body of the Church, and many Utah Church members and leaders were descended from early pioneers. In these circumstances, a concept of LDS lifestyle became clearly defined. Religious observance and participation in Church programs became almost inseparable from other aspects of life in communities comprised largely of Church members. The people with whom one worshiped at Church were also one’s neighbors, schoolmates, and associates at work.
This lifestyle, especially in the LDS towns of the rural Intermountain West, was family-oriented and home- and Church-centered. Self-sufficiency through gardening, canning, sewing, and bread-making, and also commitment to hard work, service, duty, thrift, and education were shared cultural patterns and values. The lifestyle, based upon practical considerations, cultural heritage, and family traditions as well as Church teachings, reflected the influence of pioneer agrarian values, the independence and vigor of western frontiersmanship, and New England Puritanism. This lifestyle pervaded LDS society in North America, and even beyond as the Church began to expand rapidly throughout the world in the decades following World War II.
Today, Latter-day Saints make up groups ranging from entire small towns in Utah and surrounding states to small congregations of only a few individuals or families in other areas and countries. Latter-day Saints are now encouraged to build up the Church in their home areas rather than migrate to Utah. Converts retain national and family traditions while adopting the religion and moral teachings and activities of the Church.
While Latter-day Saints throughout the world feel a common spiritual heritage and devotion to their faith, their daily lives may vary considerably. Nevertheless, there are certain shared patterns of LDS lifestyle practiced throughout the world by faithful members regardless of language or cultural differences. These practices identify the members and families as Latter-day Saints and constitute a bond and similarity of values among members—even where there is significant cultural diversity.
A typical day begins and ends with individual and family prayer, and includes scripture study. The Word of Wisdom affects a Latter-day Saint’s choices in food and drink. Clothing choices are influenced by teachings on modesty. Gospel teachings influence somewhat the choice of an occupation and affect one’s conduct while at work, school, and home. Active Church members feel they should be good examples of Jesus Christ’s message to their families and all other associates. Members’ commitment to tithing and to making other contributions to the Church affects financial decisions. Latter-day Saints who live their religion avoid profanity and entertainment that advocates or encourages immorality. Many members have callings requiring significant weekly or even daily commitments of time and energy.
Church members are taught that they should establish valuative priorities in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the many demands on their time and energies. Important decisions are often made in consultation with one’s spouse, parents, or perhaps the entire family, and with the Lord through prayer (cf. D&C 9:8–9). Since there are more opportunities and obligations available than one person can possibly fulfill, Latter-day Saints try to direct their energies by wise individual choices through thought, prayer, consultation with Church leaders, and personal inspiration through the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Such resources help them decide what is most important at any given time. The influence of Church culture, especially in the United States, is sufficiently strong that even those who become disaffected and no longer participate in LDS religious activities often continue to describe themselves as “cultural Mormons.”
Each close-knit community of Saints may have distinctive characteristics, depending upon the area where such Church members live. Ideally, a Church meetinghouse, whether in a large or small ward, or involving a scattered few members, becomes a second home, a place where one is accepted, loved, helped, and given the opportunity to participate. A sense of belonging, both to the local ward or branch and to the worldwide community of those who have accepted the name of Christ through baptism and are bound to him by covenant, is the foundation of the spiritual and emotional life, as well as the practical daily life, of the Latter-day Saint.