Hawkgrrrl’s “Neo-Apologists” post not only spurred Mary Ann to post about “#ShareApologetics: Every Member a Defender of the Faith?” , but also motivated me to dig into an issue that has been bothering me a bit, but I had not really thought about it enough to clarify what it was.
When I saw the opening image in HawkGrrrl’s post and the statement of “God Doesn’t Need Defending” it crystalized in my mind what had been bothering me for some time, but something I had not been able to articulate it enough to be able to write down as a definitive thought. To put it bluntly and simply: it feels to me that the leadership of the church does not convey that they have a strong faith that God and the Holy Ghost will guide people. It appears to me that they feel the need to cover up the unseemly issues/facts instead of facing some issues head on and starting the process of the church getting over them. They seem to be way too careful on contradicting past leaders. I assume there is concern about weakening overall faith in past leaders and therefore weaken faith in present and future leaders. I would agree there is some validity to this concern. But it seems that by NOT really addressing some of these issues, they are creating a growing situation where people learn the historical facts and feel quite betrayed. For many of these members the result of this betrayal is a full abandonment of having any faith in any LDS leaders (see https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/ for a never ending list of examples of this).
Be scared, be Very Very Scared.
I happened to be on vacation near Provo in 2016. While I was there I found out a relative was graduating from BYU and was invited to the Graduation commencement. Elder L. Whitney Clayton, Senior President of the Seventy, gave an address (emphasis added).
The faithless often promote themselves as the wise who can rescue the rest of us from our naiveté. One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the Korihors, Nehors, and Sherems of the Book of Mormon. We should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit.”
I remember hearing this and thinking, “that sounds like he is saying if you as a member feel threatened by what someone says, then you should shun them.” The issue I see with that is that much of church history that was not discussed will at first feel threatening to an average member. If you have a friend that defects from the church and every conversation you have they just pound you with, “let me tell you how you are wrong!”, I can see in that case you probably need to limit your time with them. Even if you take religion out of this and replace it with Uncle Bob that feels he needs to preach to you every second about how the government is putting chemicals in the water for mind control, you might want to “disconnect” from good ole Uncle Bob. For your own mental health you may want to limit your time with him. Of course a more mature first step in both cases is to setup boundaries. Let the other person know you wish to spend time with them and have a relationship with them, but not if they are going to continue to talk about certain issues.
I wonder if we want other religions to take this stance towards members of our church, especially our missionaries (that by definition proselytize)? Do we want preachers from other churches to say, “You can be friends with Mormons, but if they try to do much of anything to convert you, you should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those that of that faith”?
What if a questioning member actually is reaching out with questions looking for answers? I can think of many honest questions one could ask that might come across as as tearing down a members faith. I fear that statements like that of Elder Clayton are going to make many members give the questioning member at least a cold shoulder. If a questioning member only gets cold shoulders and a bit of “just pray more and read the scriptures more”, quite often they will soon not be a member with questions, but a member with conclusions. These conclusions can be the opposite of what the top church leaders desire.
It Wasn’t Always This Way
It seemed that in the past that church leaders were much more confident in their teachings even if they were not popular. I am sure it would only take a few minutes on Google to find such as statement by Brigham Young. Neither he nor Joseph Smith seem to lack confidence in their statements. In January 1920 the Apostle Elder James E. Talmage was quoted in a Pennsylvania newspaper stating (emphasis added)
“The man who cannon listen to an argument which opposes his view either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding. And it has been wisely said that the man who knows only half of any question is worse off than the man who knows nothing of it. His not only one sided, but his partisanship soon turns him into an intolerant and a fanatic. In general it is true that nothing which cannot stand up under discussion and criticism is worth defending.”
To me Elder Talmage’s statement really comes across as someone that is confident of his position and willing to discuss with others – maybe even change his views on certain topics if a better argument is made. Someone wanting to know the truth.
If a faith will not bear to be investigated, if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined; their foundation must be very weak.
Journal of Discourses verse 14 Page 216 – Apostle George A. Smith
I contrast these two above declarations with statements being made from more recent church leaders. One such example is President Gordon B. Hinckley being asked if the church believes that God once lived as a mortal and answered with, “I don’t know that we teach it.” What? He seemed rather mentally lucid to me in his old age so I don’t really think “he didn’t know if we taught that.” Could he not have said, “we have had some church leaders teach that in the past, but we are not as sure about that as we once were and no longer teach that”? That could be considered more, “line upon line” refinement of doctrine. But to say he didn’t think it was taught it just doesn’t seem to be being forthright. At least Elder Bruce R. McConkie was candid when asked about his teachings about blacks and what seemed to be a change once the 1978 change in policy by essentially saying, “ignore what I said as I wasn’t correct.”
This even filters down to the local level. A good friend of mine was distressed about entire families leaving the church in his ward and stake. He asked the Stake President if some sort of meeting could be held to help give a place where “meat” could be talked about. The Stake President asked his leader and received communication from church headquarters. He was told that additional meetings such as what was being floated were not appropriate. Instead they should stick with the materials provided and the normal meeting plans. If I were a Stake President I am not sure I would have felt the need to “ask my leader” if this was OK. I just have a hard time seeing this exchange and feeling like the current church leadership has much confidence. At least not confidence to talk about hard things.
I just can’t help but read the quiet manner that the essays have been “rolled out” and almost never discussed as the leaders being scared and not thinking that God’s teachings need to be taught. Not too long ago Elder Ballard mentioned in a stake conference that he told a young man he would answer all the young man’s questions if he would just read the Book of Mormon. Supposedly the questioning young man came back in a few weeks and after reading the Book of Mormon consistently, he said he had no questions. I have trouble believing if this is a real story (see Is Whitewashing Continuing Today?) But even if it is true, for all of us that have read our scriptures, sometimes for years and years, but still have deep questions, why isn’t Elder Ballard as an apostle sharing the answers to those questions? He said he had the answers. Similarly, it was reported that Elder S. Marc Clay of the Seventy just a few weeks ago addressed a stake conference and told members to take questions they have and “put them in a box” and one day they would be answered. I don’t expect to have every question answered, but is seems there is never a direct answer to some of the significant and common “tough questions.” Just contrasting that to Elder George A. Smith’s assertion of, “If a faith will not bear to be investigated, if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined; their foundation must be very weak” leaves me feeling that many church leaders are “on a weak foundation.”
I don’t think I am alone in having this thought. Just earlier this week a comment on the post by Mary Ann on the Mormonleaks/Essays a comment by “felixfabulous” was:
Why not tackle the BOM issues head-on in an essay or Church publication? Why not do an Institute, Stake or BYU religion class on the CES Letter and really look at the arguments?
Which brings me to an issue I have had for a while. That of why is all the apologetic work by and large is being left to others that are not our ordained leaders? Why is that critical role being abdicated?
I could go on with other examples, but I do hope that this coming weekend I am able to hear more words that show confidence from the top church leaders. Confidence that hard issues can be discussed and that God will lead people to the truth. I don’t want to hear chicken soup for the soul type quotes, railing on “the wicked world is coming to an end” (when so many indicators contradict that), that religious freedom is under attack (I agree they are some attacks, but for mainly for Muslims here in the U.S. not for Mormons and certainly not for people asked to bake wedding cakes). I would love to see words even beyond, “There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.” I would like to see a demonstration of faith that God will guide people when truth is spoken directly.