Think about these scenarios.
—A man expresses gratitude that his experience serving in various callings in the church has given him leadership skills that have helped him in many areas of his life.
—A teenager navigates high school without trying drugs and alcohol, and credits church teachings.
—Two young adults marry in the temple, after years of hearing how important that is.
—An LDS woman is asked how she survived a very difficult situation. She says that the teachings of her faith were what sustained her.
—A couple is recognized for their humanitarian efforts. They explain that this came from the values they got from a church which emphasizes service.
And then think about these ones:
—A man asserts that he is the head of the house and has the final say, and expects his wife to comply with his counsel.
—A gay person seriously questions whether it is worth it to stay alive, after being told that her/his most basic relational desires are sinful.
—A woman finds herself spiritually devastated and wondering about her relationship to God after going through the temple.
—A young man who didn’t go on a mission feels socially ostracized at church.
—A single woman goes inactive, feeling that there isn’t any room for her in a church which places so much emphasis on families.
The first set of stories frequently show up in church literature. The second set are the kinds of scenarios that get a lot of airtime in various internet spaces. But both of them illustrate a basic point: if you are LDS, the church has a huge influence on your life. That might seem to be so basic as to not be worth saying. Why would we bother with a religious organization that had no effect at all on our behavior or beliefs?
But my point here is that you can’t credit the church for the positive situations, but then dismiss negative ones as not the fault of the church but rather of isolated members, or the individual herself. To say that a gay Mormon questioning the worth of his life is unrelated to church teachings on the subject makes about as much sense as saying that the decision of a couple to marry in the temple is unrelated to church teachings on the subject—neither of these things happen in a vacuum.
Of course we have agency. And it would be unfair to hold the church accountable for every crazy thing every Mormon has ever said or done. But agency is always exercised in context of some kind—and I do think it’s fair to hold the church accountable for the context it creates with its teachings and practices, and the way these influence members in both positive and negative ways.
In a nutshell: if you don’t think it’s fair for people to blame the church when they get hurt by certain teachings and practices, fine. But don’t then turn around and cite something like an article showing that LDS teens are less likely to use alcohol, or talk about how particular church teachings have transformed your life, as evidence of its power for good.