Wheat & Tares welcomes guest poster Bill Reel once more for a discussion regarding placing of blame for a lack of knowledge of Historical Facts.
As Richard Bushman says at a 2008 seminar
“Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before.”
I think each of us are aware of Church Members who had had this happen. It hurts and the anguish involved are for some almost unbearable and unfortunately some even leave the faith. While we each should do all we can to comfort and help those who struggle, some are quick to place accountability for such previously unknown information. Whose fault is it that such things were not learned sooner. The question has been debated recently in two articles.
The first by Daniel Peterson on his blog Patheos titled “Why didn’t the Church Teach me this Stuff” . In it Dan makes the following observations
I’ve not been overly patient when newly-minted apostates complain that the Church hasn’t taught them about Joseph Smith practicing polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, accounts of the First Vision beyond the one canonized in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith’s using a stone in a hat during the translation of the Book of Mormon, and so forth.
I don’t fault people for not being scholars. I’ve publicly lamented the fact that the Saints by and large don’t know their scriptures and their history better than they do, but I know and readily admit that many such members of the Church are far better Saints and disciples of Christ than I am. What I object to, though, is when certain people loudly abandon their faith, claiming that the Church kept such things from them. This simply isn’t true.
I find such a quote (specifically the bolded portion) to be missing the mark. Bro. Peterson seems to be blaming the doubter/critic and implies that the Church has not kept such information from them. He also points us to a secondary source, another blog which addresses the same issue titled “Why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff” . The Author who goes by Geoff B seems to insinuate the same idea, that the Church never withheld any info on controversial topics. Geoff states
I do not want to diminish the emotional toll that further disclosures on polygamy may be having on some members, but I would like to posit that if you are claiming you never were taught about polygamy you are a bit naïve.
Geoff seems to be separating Polygamy from the nitty gritty details of the practice. He continues
In the wake of media attention regarding the Church essays on polygamy, one of the refrains you will hear from some members of the Church is, “why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff?”
First I would agree with Dan and Geoff that we as Church members should know about polygamy and that it occurred. Section 132 of the D&C is plenty of reason to at least know the practice occurred. Dan and Geoff both seem to think that when most members state the the Church never taught me about polygamy that they mean the practice generally. I would suggest that many are speaking directly about the nitty gritty details. Joseph lying about the practice to keep it out of the public arena, marrying a 14 year old (and other slightly older young women), marrying other men’s wives, and the Fanny Alger episode. These specific details were not taught by the Church. Polyandry (the practice of a woman being married to more than one man) was a term that got zero results on LDS.org’s search engine only a year or two ago. These details weren’t in the Ensign, Liahona, Friend, or New Era (the Church’s official magazines), official manuals, General Conference Talks, or any other LDS approved resource (with the exception of it’s genealogy site FamilySearch.org)
Polygamy whether you agree with it as a practice or not, is at least defensible using the Old Testament as a precedent and even the Book of Mormon makes it a possible exception. But the the devil is in the details. I am guessing only a small % of membership knew the eyebrow raising details of polygamy and for those who did, they likely never could have discovered such things in any LDS approved resource. In fact they are right in saying many leaders told them such details were Anti-Mormon lies.
In fact we are still instructed as teachers to steer away from discussing some issues such as polygamy at any kind of length see D&C Sunday School Teachers Manual lesson 31 where it says
The following information is provided to help you if class members have questions about the practice of plural marriage. It should not be the focus of the lesson.
Geoff finishes though by saying
The Church did teach you stuff about even controversial topics. Perhaps you were distracted or didn’t pay attention or were not curious enough to explore on your own. You are ultimately responsible for your own learning, and you are responsible for how you respond to new information. That is what that whole “free agency” thing is all about.
While I am an active, faithful, Latter-Day Saint, and while I was aware of the Church’s controversial topics, it is only because I read outside of the Church’s approved material and sought after the deeper history. In the Church I can’t remember ever getting the controversial topics. I never learned in the 3 hour block about seer stones, treasure digging (Outside Joseph’s saying he made $14.00 a month), polyandry, False racist teachings taught as Doctrine before 1978 that are now disavowed theories, and many others.
That said, I did learn lots of crazy ideas that the Church either never held as an official position or has abandoned (age of the earth, Evolution as a heresy, Resurrected beings will all be white, Joseph used the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon, Cain is bigfoot, Jesus was a polygamist, we get our own planets, Garments do protect us from physical harm in a sort of metaphysical way, along with many others bits of speculative nonsense).
I also find it odd that we have manuals that teach Thomas Marsh left the Church over simple incorrect reasons like milk and strippings, Symonds Ryder incorrectly left over a wrongly spelled name, and ohhhh how many times I have been taught about Joseph’s leg surgery in his youth. And yet. somehow events like treasure digging which shaped Joseph’s role as a seer and Polyandry which has theological implications, seemed to never make their way into official arenas. Somehow while MormonsandGays.org is a church site, the Church has chosen to leave that site off its main webpage and chooses to say very little about it to raise awareness to local leaders. Even the essays are only in English and other countries don’t have access to them in their own language. Even here in the U.S., the new gospel topics essays and their details are relatively unknown to leaders I have spoken to. There may be completely valid reasons for doing so, but the lack of deeper history and the publicizing of deeper history when it is released is a major contributor to what framework members structure in regards to their faith paradigm and what they know, how they contextualize church beliefs, how naive one is to the Church’s history and current stance on issues.
So while I agree, we as LDS should know more about our faith’s history, there is more than enough blame to go around from the top on down.
Bill Reel is the host of Mormon Discussion Podcast. The podcast tries to deal with the tough issues forthrightly while “leading with faith”.
Why do you think are we generally unaware of such issues and their details?
How did we get to a place where we are generally naive to such things?
Is it fair to say we should have known?
What can we do beyond what has been done to better resolve the lack of information among our Church’s members?