On March 21st Mormon Leaks released a 40+ page “Guideline Responses to Common Questions” allegedly from 2012. This 5 year old document states it is a guideline given to church leaders for answers for both church members and others and this does not constitute doctrine. It consists of 43 sample questions with many of the questions have a “primary message” section and a “supporting data” section. Some questions only have a short answer.
I decided to keep a tally as I categorized how well the answers lined up with what I understood the churches doctrine. I will be the first to admit that I am not the definitive source for defining and clarifying the church’s position and doctrine. But I would assume I should have a reasonable understanding after half century of attending every Sunday, serving in most every ward calling (and associated meetings), Seminary, Institute, Mission, and even a few stake callings. I tried not to use how I feel about the church’s position or doctrine, but how accurate and forthright the answer given reflects my understanding of the church’s position/doctrine. So here is my categorization of the questions:
|Evasive or Misleading answers||
|Not answering the question||
Good Answers (40%)
It was good to see this was the largest category. Let me give just one example of what seems to me an accurate and full brief answer – and show how I was trying to be objective.
Sample question: What is the Church’s attitude toward homosexuality?
Primary Message: God loves all His children, and Church membership and fellowship are open to all.
All church members are asked to live in accordance with God’s commandments. Chastity and fidelity are required of all members, regardless of sexual orientation. The blessings of full fellowship and service are available to any who are willing to live according to the beliefs and doctrines of the Church.
The Church teaches that sexual activity outside of marriage between a man an a woman is sinful.
The Church is opposed to same-sex marriage.
The church distinguishes between feels or inclinations and behavior. The Church recognizes that some of its members are attracted to others of the same sex, and experience deep emotional, social, and physical feelings.
Those in the Church who are attracted to someone of the same sex but stay faithful to the Church’s teachings enjoy full fellowship including attending and serving in temples, and ultimately receive all the blessings afforded to those who live the commandments of God.
Feelings toward those who are attracted to the same sex should never be used as justification of unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in His condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel. His interest was always to life the individual, never to tear them down.
To me this is a fairly accurate representation of what I understood as an active member the position on gays within the church as of 5 years ago. MY personal feeling now are nowhere close to agreeing with this stance, but that is beside the point for this categorization.
Did you finish answering the question? (30%)
I put one category of “somewhat answered the question”, but didn’t fully disclose what most rational people would consider relevant to fully answering the question. I think some slack can be given for the fact that this is a 40 page document labeled as a “guide” and not a treatise on each subject. But on some of these, just a few more words would have gone a long way to being more forthright. As an example there is a section labeled “Race” and here is one question on that:
Sample question: The Church has a reputation of having elements of racism, especially towards Blacks. Why?
Primary Message: God makes no distinction between the races as to the worth of a human soul, and neither does the Church.
The Church’s worldwide membership is extremely diverse, and worldwide Church leadership reflects that diversity.
Our congregations are based on locality – people attend church at the chapel which serves their residential area. Consequently, our congregations have never at any time been segregated by race.
Race has never been recorded on Church membership records in the entire history of the Church.
This is of course placing the best foot forward and doesn’t get into the fact that if you live in areas where self-segregation occurs, you are basically in virtually a segregated ward. Same issue with “Spanish” (or other language) wards. But that is a related side issue. The question stated was “Why the reputation?“ It then adds a section labeled, “If asked:” and essentially gives a high level recap of the race and priesthood essay (released about a year after this document). Still no direct answer as to “Why the reputation?” and no admission that racism even occurred in the church. Why not admit there was at least SOME racism in the past and we are working on getting past that and quote President Hinckley when he made a clear statement about it? I may be getting old and cantankerous, but I want to say, “Just admit it – man up!” By not coming out and admitting it was an issue in some parts of the church, it feels like they are minimizing it and not understanding what a problem it was (and still is).
Evasive or Misleading (16%)
There are some of the answers that I just have to say are evasive or even misleading. One sample question asks if the church tolerates dissent. It does cover the standard bases: members shouldn’t preach contrary to church doctrines (once again), and members are first warned if it is felt they are preaching contrary doctrines. Correct and all good so far. But when I read all of the support bullets, to me it just isn’t painting the picture on the ground for the average member. Even if not excommunicated, members are often pressured to stop talking about even teachings of past prophets that have never been disavowed. They are often asked not to talk about the gospel essays located on lds.org that are supposedly approved by the very top church leaders. In most organizations, talking about what the organization put on their web site isn’t anything close to dissent. In fact it would be called engagement and be positive. But to hear someone say, “I think that the current President of the church is wrong on issue XYZ” or “I received revelation for me that is different than the current prophet” is generally not tolerated.
Not Answering the Question (12%)
There were more than I expected where it seems the question was not answered at all. Example:
Sample question: Why won’t the Church publicly share its financial reports and information?
Primary message: The great majority of the Church’s income is derived from the voluntary contributions of its members. Through the principle of tithing, faithful members contribute a tenth of their income to the work of the Church. The Church’s finances are regularly and independently audited.
To me this just sounds like a press secretary evading a question that they do not want to answer. If this were a court of law the judge would be saying, “Will the witness please answer the question?” But what really gets me is that THE CHURCH ‘WROTE’ THE QUESTION! They were not expecting the whole document to be leaked, but it just seems really odd that in a document they are complete control of a question is put in that then isn’t answered. If I was a General Authority and read this over, I would be raising my hand asking for clarification (explains partially why I am not a GA!) It seems rather basic – Don’t ask a question you are not willing to answer! Not answering the question and deflecting to a more palatable related issue doesn’t usually work.
There was one question that the answer was just confusing – at least I think it would be to some of the people that would often be asking the question. The question was, “Do you believe in grace?” and the answer given was:
Yes. We believe God’s grace is what ultimately saves us yet we must do all we can to live God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. We do not believe salvation comes by simply confessing belief in Christ as our Savior. Faith, works, ordinances, and grace are all necessary.
Compare that how in a question above they were rather clear and said “we believe a bit different” on the question if the church believes in the Trinity:
We believe in God the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit). In many Christian traditions, these are usually understood as manifestations of one God. In our belief, they are separate personages but one in purpose.
But the in the answer is fairly clear – “we see it a bit differently.” Andrew is diving into that issue in his post on why some Christians think Mormons are heretics. I live in the Bible belt and I can tell you how Evangelicals define grace and here is what the answer given would sound like to them: “Oh yes we believe in grace, but we don’t.” That last line of, “Faith, works, ordinances, and grace are all necessary” would have my evangelical friends saying, “WHAT? You just contradicted yourself!” So why not answer in a similar manner to the trinity question and just state, “We absolutely believe in grace, but we acknowledge that other religions sometime define grace in different ways than we do”? Or do the church leaders not understand why others would be questioning the church on this? I doubt the church leaders and those writing this document have never lived in the deep south and don’t really understand how the answer given would be taken as a “shifty” answer by my evangelical friends.
So why the odd answers?
In trying to understand why the answers were as they are I can only come up with two reasons.
The first is the church seems to be following a general strategy of not admitting an issue when they view it as a negative and this strategy is not limited to this document. I assume this is in hopes that this will not contribute any more attention to the issue in other words, “ignore it and hope it will go just go away.” This works sometimes, but may best not to overly rely on this as it can create distrust when others clearly see the issues exist. Answering the question if the church ever exerts political influence over issues other than significant issues related to religious morality with “oh no never” is good for a laugh.
The second reason I can think for the odd answers is that some of the questions make the LDS church look odd in comparison to other Christian churches. Questions like “do you get a planet?”, “Is the garden of Eden in Missouri?”, and “are Jesus and Satin brothers?” are not desired questions for a church that is trying to present itself as mainstream Christian with a some bonus authority. It seems for decades the church wants it cake (this is the one true church) and eat it too (we are a Christian church like other major religions). It can’t quite decide and vacillates between the two.
Any Update coming?
I would really like to see what the current version of this document contains on some topics, specifically if it mentions the November 2015 policy and especially on the topic of gay suicide. This document was from 2012. Some statistics take a while before they are collected, analyzed, and then disseminated. So maybe back in 2012 the latest released official statistics may have been from 2010, so the skyrocketing trend wasn’t as clear as it is today. Granted it is hard to pin each suicide to a specific cause. There is even some intriguing indications that high elevations can contribute to higher rates of suicide. But the rate of increase in youth suicides can’t be explained with altitude as Utah has not suddenly gained a few thousand feet in elevation. The altitude has not change in the last decade, but the climate has (at least in terms of negative talk in church about gays). My opinion in 2017 is that it is incontrovertible fact that Utah has a significant suicide issue within their youth and young adults. After studying the facts I can find, the strongest hypothesis by far for this alarming trend is the church’s rhetoric towards gays. I would like to see the current answer (or maybe I wouldn’t like to see it).
What changes to this document would you suggest to better answer the questions?
What questions do you think should be added for General Authorities to be consistent on?