A few years ago, my son-in-law was studying for his youth Sunday School class. Some kids had asked about “death before Adam”, and he was looking in the Book of Abraham for an answer. He found some things that didn’t make sense, so he googled “Book of Abraham”. Do you see where this is leading? He was flooded with pages upon pages of history that showed the BofA was not what it purported to be. He had never been exposed to this, and it threw him for a loop! He did more studying, ended up reading the CES letter, and six months later, he and my daughter and family had left the church. He was up until this time a VERY faithful member, RM, BIC, married in temple. They even attended the temple in Spain on their honeymoon!
So how is this related to a pandemic? During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are two ways to keep people safe. One is to limit their exposure to the virus, and the other is to inoculate them. Just like COVID-19 can be dangerous to your health, church history can be dangerous to your spiritual health.
These same two ways have been used by the church to protect its members from the damaging affects of church history. First is to avoid exposure by only printing the most faith promoting aspects of it’s history, and burying the other parts. This is a well documented tactic of the church, that like wearing a mask and staying six feet apart, kept members from “unauthorized” material that was not faith promoting. This worked well for over 100 years.
The internet has pretty much destroyed this method of keeping members safe. 30 years ago my SIL would have been safe in his questions about the BofA. Today, everything came flooding out at the stroke of a few keys on his computer.
But it is more than just the internet. The church has done such a good job with its faithful history, that the members themselves will self censor if there is some information that is not wholly uplifting. Take for example “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” written by a faithful LDS scholar. When I was Bishop I read this book, and was eager to know what my Stake President thought of it. I brought it up at my monthly meeting I had with him. He said his wife got him the book as a gift, but he stopped reading it after a few chapters because he “didn’t what to know those things about Joseph Smith”
The church has recognized they have pretty much lost the “avoid exposure” way of keeping its members safe and healthy (my former SP notwithstanding), and has moved on to the inoculation phase of containment. Like in medicine where a virus is modified just enough to trick the body into developing an immune response without giving the person the full blown illness, the church is trying to give its members a modified version of history, that looks very much like the real thing. This is best manifest in the Gospel Topic Essays published over the past several years. They cover never before published topics like the multiple versions of the First Vision, Polygamy, etc.
Like a real vaccine, these essays were modified just enough to expose the member to the controversy, but spun in a way that would not make them sick. But also like a real vaccine, they affected everybody different, and some, after ready the essays, got sick and left the church, just like some people actually get the illness a vaccine is meant to stop. But the medical community has realized that the few who get sick is well worth the price of protecting so many others.
Has the church made this same calculation? Is it worth having a few people lose their testimony (get sick) and leave the church after reading the essays, because that is the price to pay to save many thousands more by inoculating them with a touch of real church history?
Inoculation is the best way. It worked for me, it’s the only way to save people in this day and age. Everyone else will burn away like dross.
I’m 37, BIC, RM, BYU, married in the temple, kids, etc. Growing up my father was a bishop, high council and in a stake presidency for a decade .
We have a great institute in our college town in the US, full of things that I realize now would seem to shock alot of folks. Every issue of Sunstone, Dialogue, etc up to that point; hell it had stuff from the Tanners and a plethora of other anti-literature . This was in large part due to the institute director there who was an institution for nearly 25 years. Bless him for it.
I can distinctly remember my first exposure, the first time my dad brought up Sunstone and some other stuff he had researched for these issues in; having read it because as a bishop (1990-1996) he dealt with several numbers who apostatized and brought up alot of the issues people cite in the CES letter (BofA, Joseph Smith and Fanny, Kimball’s wife, etc),
I was in my teens and had already devoured every church book in our house and some from the institute. History of the Church, everything by Widtsoe, Talmage, B. H. Roberts, everything from Mcconkie, President Joseph Fielding Smith, etc. My dad would more importantly though also be available to talk about what I read, what he was reading. He was my gospel mentor. We would go over the history, the science (he’s a research scientist for the US government), political context of the scriptures and gospel questions, of Church History, any issues that I had, etc. He talked to me about how to put anti-literature and questions they raise, legitimate and otherwise into the context of the gospel. He taught me how to think critically AND how to listen for the Spirit. I remember reading through them, thinking about the points they raise, legitimate questions (Heber C. Kimball and his trial has always stood out to me) and bringing them into the context of my testimony and how would it fit together. Sometimes it made perfect sense, other times I still don’t have a complete answer.
I didn’t have anyone else who could inoculate me at that point in my life. My parents are converts, no one else our extended family are members. I didn’t have a gospel mentor other than my dad until my mission president, and he wasn’t an intellectual. He was a simple dairy farmer. I could run circles around him in gospel facts and books read, etc. He was a spiritual giant though who help me not be such a spiritual pygmy. I’ve found a few other since then as well.
I guess the long and short of it to Bishop Bill’s question is that I see in my pre-internet intellectual and spiritual life of childhood and young adulthood the experience and information everyone born now and forever more is going to have to contend with. The only way to do that is inoculation of people with the information but making sure they aren’t doing it without a steady relationship with the Spirit and knowing how the Spirit works for them. Even then it will be up to people to choice how they react to it and what they believe. If that is guidance is absent, I don’t see many people making it through own their own.
I don’t view finding truth about our history and losing one’s belief in the church as getting sick. I view it as getting better. Since leaving, I am finding God is bigger, greater, more loving, less condemning, and I have way more hope.
For me, it comes down to a few big questions:
1. Is one’s relationship with God improved by worshipping through the filter of the LDS church. That answer is not yes for everyone. As a church culture, that is a hard truth that needs to be acknowledged.
2. Is the individual’s LDS ward inclusive of that person and their family in a way that gives the individual a sense of feeling embraced by their community .
3. Is membership in the LDS church and community a net positive experience for that individual?
In my opinion, few people leave the LDS church over its actual history and policies. I feel that most who leave find themselves struggling to find their place in the culture or feel that their relationship with God is not improved by having the LDS church in the middle. People who leave are struggling with very personal religious, spiritual and cultural issues. For many, the history of the LDS church is a secondary issue. As a secondary issue, it is also an easier topic to discuss.
My thought is that the majority of people would prefer to have a discussion about translation methods of the Book of Mormon or the veracity of the Book of Abraham rather than discuss how they feel the presence of God in their lives more purely when they worship in another way or how they felt rejected by the very culture and community in which they were raised.
Over the years, I have watched the church culture change. In many ways, it feels like it has become less about what the church can do for the individual and more about what the individual can do for the church. Someone moves into a ward and the big question is no longer, “how can the ward help?” The big question now is “What can they do for the ward?” What free labor can they give? What positions can they fill? What tithes and offerings will they pay? How can they be used? The demands are so high that people no longer feel simply needed. People often feel used and abused.
Inoculation and presentation of church history in its most palatable form will help a little but those efforts do not address the more lethal illness. How does one make the LDS community healthy again? How does one develop the right vaccine for the current ailment? For me, I do not think history is the problem. How does the institution of the church re-learn the lessons of how to truly care and embrace individuals?
There is a tendency to view historical sources from inside the Church as flawed, deceptive, and biased while sources from outside the Church are factual, objective, and enlightening. How much do we “want” the data to be true? It was said of a TV news anchor who reported a political story, later proved false, “he was taken for a ride, but he was a willing passenger”. In other words, he wanted the story to be true.
One thing about Mormon history, traditional or modern, that I haven’t seen is a totally objective non-biased opinion. If I shouldn’t believe Bruce R. McConkie why should I believe the Tanners?
It seems to me that most of the essays are covering ground that if anyone really digs into history will find out are correct. So I see it was ceding ground that was already “lost”. They are undated (and some have been updated) and not signed by anybody or any group. That alone says something. And I would agree that given how the essays have been made hard to find that I would agree church leaders felt they had to take this action regardless of the risk to some. I do think for many reading the essays might give them a feeling of, “Oh, I have studied that and I have no issue” and never feel a need to dig any deeper.
I have heard some say there is a program to gently shift how history is taught. What the youth need to hear to not be shocked WHEN they google something (not IF) is different than the 70 year old. I think that Richard Bushman said as much back a few years ago. I think I am seeing it at least one example – the merging of all the main First Vision accounts into one narrative so that they all seem to have the same details. I think this change will work for some, but not for others. Different people have different issues with the church. I recall reading in “The Next Mormons” that the #1 issue for women that have left was “I felt judged” and this wasn’t even on the top 10 for men that had left. This re-writing of history doesn’t change the conflict between the church’s view on LGBTQ that is drastically different than the youth.
I typically and still do enjoy your thoughts and insights. However on this one I think the correlation is off track. The assumption is that staying in the institution is healthier or “lifesaving” compared to not being in the church. It may be for some, but not for everyone. The problem is not the virus alone, it is the cover up that the church has obviously manifested for 100+ years.
To be frank, my problems with the LDS church, after being a VERY faithful member and leader for decades and from generations that joined the church that go back to 1831, is not really with the history; it is that way that I and and thousands have been treated. The abuse of the LDS mission and lies about numbers. The number game throughout the church. The isolation after speaking up about the problems and harms of the LDS early morning seminary program to my local leaders. The actual yelling and ecclesiastical abuse from leaders over decades. The ecclesiastical neglect that my children experienced. Nepotism. Prosperity gospel. I could go on with examples after examples.. Finally after decades of this, I found more peace in not being a part than trying to be a part of the “system”. Then with reading the complete LDS church history and realizing the abuse with lies of its leaders over the past 200 years matches my own history; then I realized little of it is true. Today many local and many general authority leaders are doing the same lies and abuse that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the founding LDS fathers did.
Hence, a vaccine to inoculate from the history with partial truths is not their solution. The solution is that the institution needs to learn how to be Christian and treat its own members in a Christian manner. Think about that !!! The LDS organization does not even treat their own members like Christ taught. How are missionaries treated? How are members treated who do not fit in the Mormon mold? How are leaders treated who speak up, even in small ways against LDS institutional norms ? They can call themselves the church of Jesus Christ, they can create new Jesus Icons, but until they learn to be Christian and kind toward others, even its own members; the church will continue with these problems until all that will eventually remain are the psychopaths who want power and use the name of God to remain upfront on the stand to show their authority.
I was partially inoculated in the early 1990’s with taking higher level BYU religion classes (300’s, 400’s) that taught about JS multiple visions and a class on the Pearl of Great Price, etc. More partial knowledge alone is not the answer.
So for me, history and the cover up is the sign with symptoms of a greater problem. The inoculation should not be more partial truths, but should be LOVE. (along with complete truths). Until the LDS institution learns to love people more than its programs, this history will continue to repeat its self.
I remember a pamphlet about the Reorganized Church authored by Joseph Fielding Smith. As an RLDS, I read it and rejected it. After all JFS was a brighamite Mormon; what did he know? However, there wasn’t anything I could point to and say “that’s a lie”.
Converted to LDS, My thinking is different. Was I ever objective?
Bishop Bill, I’m sure you are familiar with the discussion of “Inoculation” that took place in the early Bloggernacle. This was before the impact of the Internet as an information source for the average LDS member was really felt, before the CES Letter, before Mormon Stories really got rolling, before the Gospel Topics Essays. Well, it turns out that when the bad consequences of “no inoculation” hit (as the Internet started having an impact), then the Church came out with the Essays. I don’t know how much positive impact they are having, or whether there is enough positive to offset the negative — that is, there may be a net negative impact, which is a bit disconcerting.
My take is that Correlation did such a thorough masking and filtering of LDS history that the average member can’t deal with any sort of transparent and accurate LDS history without difficulty. It is an abject failure for LDS education (here’s looking at you, CES and BYU Religion) and for LDS leadership. At this point, it will take more than scattershot Inoculation to fix the problem. And there is no unified LDS strategy for fixing the problem. There are obviously different ideas within leadership about how to deal with the problem. And the vast majority of LDS leadership are themselves laboring under the Correlated view of LDS history. In other words, they are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. It’s just a mess.
On the other hand, the Church deserves some credit for putting out the Essays and for the new Saints volumes. These are steps in the right direction. And the Church History Dept. has some very good people who are trying to do the right thing. There is hope. It’s just not clear there is, at the moment, recognition of the actual problem and any sufficient plan to address it.
From the Church’s website, under Honesty (Gospel Topics), we read: The thirteenth article of faith states, “We believe in being honest.” To be honest means to be sincere, truthful, and without deceit at all times.
That the Church has hidden, obscured, spun, and out-and-out lied about aspects of its history is a fact. How come? Randy Travis sang a humorous song early in his career with this line: “The lies that I told you were done with good intention. They’re just another way to say I love you and protect you from the truth.” How does that register on your BS meter? It’s not honest and is an abuse of the relationship.
The Gospel Topics Essays, if taken at face value, will be enough for some. When you click on their footnotes and the footnotes to the footnotes, you can get to source material. That shows some integrity. But once you start clicking, you are faced with the fact that past narratives have changed and that the current narratives are different still – and that they don’t line up with objective facts.
The scary internet does not need to lead to anti-Mormon material to cause problems – I never went there in my study. It reveals what past prophets and apostles said from official sources and allows one to compare them with what the current leaders are saying today.
The spin from the Gospel Topics Essays may be an inoculation at a superficial level, but upon deeper study, they don’t match the *official* definition of honesty. They are often misleading and deceitful. To some, they result in the full transmission of the “disease”.
For me, it raised the question, “Can I trust the brethren?” I spent years of intense study and prayer struggling with that question. Ultimately, my answer was “No” and “You are accountable to me”.
The Book of Abraham, to me, is the perfect case study. It is not what Joseph said it was. Period. Was Joseph having a flight of fancy and sincerely believed it was written by the hand of Abraham? Why would God let his servant labor under such a misconception? Why did hundreds of prophets, seers, and revelators testify to Joseph’s story? What does this say about: the BOM, D&C, the Proclamation on the Family, and GC talks?
If this were just another earthly organization, we could engage it on our own terms. But it claims to be the One and Only True and Living Church, the only one with God’s priesthood powers and keys. The only organization that has a covenant path that leads to exaltation and worlds without end.
You are all-in or you don’t get the lovely parting gifts. I’m out – and I sincerely believe God will not withhold anything from me for being on this side of the fence.
I’ve got the fever – but what a lovely way to burn.
I’m not much for the black-and-white thinking whether about history, leaders or doctrine whether by Church materials or some of the comments here. It doesn’t work for everyone, but there is another approach to “Dealing with Difficult Questions” well-described by Roger Terry here: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V52N04_12.pdf
I have my own set of issues with Church leaders although I remain active.
This Book of Mormon title page excerpt has application well beyond the quality of its text:
And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.
An LDS Hymn asks “Oh Say, What it Truth?” Perhaps this question is more complicated that anyone would care to admit. God’s eternal truth absolutely exists in the objective sense. But each individual has his or her own subjective perception of what that truth really is, as does the LDS Church as an institution. Can we honestly acknowledge this as we argue doctrinal points or policy issues? Do we ever use fear as a tool in attempt to “prove” our subjective version of truth is the same as God’s absolute truth?
I agree with Happy Hubby that the essays ceded ground the Church had already lost. While there had been a decision to deal with difficult topics as early as 2010 (cough, Swedish Rescue, cough), the essays themselves weren’t officially given the go ahead until May 2012, shortly after the Bottgate fiasco. I applaud the creation of the essays and the work by MANY individuals who went into their creation, but they were a stopgap attempt.
The Saints project is more about inoculation than the essays, which is why I suspect the Church has been happier about promoting the project. I think the percentage of members bothered by disturbing info in the Saints volumes is less than those bothered by the essays. The Saints volumes, though, are more widely read than the essays, so I’m curious how the raw numbers compare.
Ultimately, though, how we deal with history won’t change until we get church leaders who’ve accepted the newer ways of dealing with history. Dave makes a good point that church leaders at both the general and local levels seem to be most comfortable with the “limit exposure” mindset. “Inoculation” is something for the easily confused minds of the younger generation. But the Church can’t expect the historical department to miraculously reverse hemorrhaging numbers. Like Damascene said, there are other reasons many members are having difficulty with the Church right now. Church history is just one factor.
I have never cared for the inoculation metaphor. You inoculate someone to prevent them from getting a disease, not the truth. And the truth is never harmful, though it can, at times, be upsetting and disorienting. The fact that the church employs this metaphor tells us a lot about how it views an honest, accurate and scholarly presentation of the truth.
Having said that, I do see some value in the gospel topics essays, and no one should be surprised that the church has spun these subjects in the most favorable light possible. But what is troubling is the frequent admonition from the pulpit that you should look no further and nowhere else for information on these topics, and that any website that provides conflicting information is “anti-Mormon.”
When the gospel topics essays came out they were expressly referred to as “inoculation” by the leaders in my area. We had a lot of missionaries serving in our area that started coming across this stuff for the first time on their missions and (understandably) freaked out, so there was some interest in affirmatively teaching the essays so that people wouldn’t be surprised when they found this stuff online. I think people meant well – locally – but it did bother me that these were not released in an effort to be truthful but only because the internet forced the church’s hand.
I’m sure some people leave because of the history alone, but I agree with many commenters that there are plenty of people who could forgive the history and that the bigger problems are (1) a loss of trust in *current* church leadership over the way the church whitewashes history and seems dishonest, and (2) that, when the church loses its claims of absolute truth, infallibility, the “one and only” (which are hard to believe when you look at the history), people start wondering whether it’s really worth putting up with practices and beliefs they think are harmful and that they now feel free to reject (in a way they perhaps didn’t feel free before when they assumed that everything that came from a prophet’s mouth was straight from God and that if they had a problem with it, they were the problem and needed to pray harder).
I think there’s a flip side to this too: in addition to discovering unsavory bits of LDS history online, I think the internet and broader global awareness has also opened people’s eyes to the goodness that exists in other people, cultures, and religions (which also tends to undermine “one and only” truth claims). And it also means they have a lot of alternatives if they feel like the LDS church isn’t meeting their spiritual needs. The church has a lot more competition and for many it has lost its (fear-based, one-and-only) trump card. It can only compete if it offers something positive for people. I think it’s trying to do that but that LGBT and women’s issues and lack of diversity are major stumbling blocks.
When I was a student at BYU my roommate and I took Church History Parts 1&2 from Clark Johnson. His approach to church history was very organic in that rather than relying on a Church approved textbook we studied it from the diaries, journals, letters, court records, newspapers, etc. of the people involved (in and out of the Church) in the evolving events of the Church. Johnson warned students during the first two days of class that we would see and learn things about the church and its leaders that might be difficult to handle and invited those who didn’t feel comfortable with this approach to drop the class. Our class was halved both semesters after that announcement, but those of us who stayed learned a great deal and certainly had our eyes opened to the messiness and heartache of the “real” church history. A lot of us in the class had to seriously wrestle with issues that the people we learned from had brought up themselves or been involved in. Polygamy was (and still is) an especially difficult subject for me to deal with. I suppose that my classmates and I could’ve lost our testimonies right then and there in class but for the fact that we were allowed to talk openly about our concerns and doubts regarding what we were learning. I can honestly say that I did more serious thinking and soul searching in those two classes than I did in any of the other classes I took at BYU with the exception of two classes I took for my minor. A church history religion professor at any of the Church’s colleges and universities today would not be able to teach in such a manner anymore. What a shame!
That said I don’t think that Church History is as big of a problem in our church as is a lack of love and the unwillingness of church members to accept other members who are different from themselves in terms of sex, race, politics, education, personal beliefs and more. I have complained about the “one size fits all” mentality elsewhere on W&T. My ward is about as unloving as it gets. Before our former stake presidency was ordered by church headquarters to reconfigure our wards because the newlyweds and elderly tended to live in one half of the stake while the functional high priests and tithing dollars came from the other half I was in a loving and caring ward. The stake presidency tried to keep ward families together as much as possible, but Salt Lake kept sending them back to the drawing board. The absolute worst plan was the one that Salt Lake accepted. What we have now in every ward, with the exception of two new “rich” wards that were made sometime after the split is a group of people who generally won’t make the effort to act like ward families. In my own ward we have cliques and political factions which no bishop since the big change has once addressed. I would NEVER bring a friend or family member to my ward let alone someone not of our faith. I wouldn’t not just because of the lack of love and support in my ward but also because I would have to continually apologize because of the narrow minded ideas that many people in my area of the church have espoused about who should be a member of the church and what that looks like vs. understanding and truly taking to heart that all are alike unto God and that we can learn from ALL members of our congregations irregardless of the artificial barriers and labels that I mentioned above. When I was growing up I remember that I always felt loved and accepted in my family’s ward. These days, whether in my own ward or ones that I visit, I rarely get a sense of welcome and unity. I’m not the only person who feels this way, at least in Utah.
A fascinating discussion. I agree with Happy Hubby, Mary Ann and others about the ceding of ground already lost. It’s closing the barn door after the horses has escaped, essentially. Part of the problem (as Elisa points out) is that it isn’t the history per se that would drive people away, but rather the loss of trust in leadership, in the people who supposedly not only set but meet the high bar of truth and honesty always. If, as in institution, you’re all about telling the truth (and you’re all about insisting on the truths of Joseph Smith’s visions, etc.) and it’s become apparent that you’ve deliberately deceived the membership for decades, you’ve lost all moral and ethical credibility. As a church, we insist on the truth of our teachings pretty intensely, which then just magnifies the loss of trust once people find out all of the lies and whitewashing.
Elisa has a great point, too, about the flip side. I feel like the church is still, on some level, a nineteenth-century institution: The way it thinks about information, “truth”, whitewashing and social issues is so backwards and mired in the past that it can’t get out of its own way. The insistence on a bunch of antiquated (and clearly sexist and prejudiced) teachings and “doctrine” means the church is exempting itself from current national and international conversations about prejudice, social justice, etc. Which I think is really the engine that is driving so many young people out of the church more than history per se.
“deliberately deceived the membership” — I wonder sometimes if this may not be too harsh as to some Church authorities. Institutionally it’s clear enough, e.g. Joseph Fielding Smith (assistant church historian and then church historian) squirreling the first version of the first vision away in a safe for years, etc. But I expect many of the inaccurate or significantly incomplete stories told by many GAs were told in ignorance of their inaccuracy or incompleteness. Moral and ethical credibility might vary among Church leaders independently of whether the institution has lost some, significant, or “all” credibility.
Perhaps one should just as well suppose the New Testament lacks “all” moral or ethical credibility because (a) the accounts of the events surrounding the resurrection and its witnesses are inconsistent with each other, (b) Paul gives three inconsistent accounts of his vision on the road to Damascus, (c) some of the books in the NT are almost certainly pseudepigrapha and not written by the person purported to have written them, or (d) because we reject some of its teachings as cultural or personal beliefs, etc.
We are shocked SHOCKED to discover that BoM is ahistorical and BoA bears zero resemblance to its originating papyri – but isn’t expecting religious truth claims to comport w/ standard notions of verisimilitude unrealistic & unfair, though indirectly encouraged by the hubris of our apparently-raised-in-bubbles leadership who, for instance, only relatively recently took down Nephite archaeological displays at BYU. Thus, LDS truth claims are literally exposed to scientific scrutiny in a manner few religions experience.
The only “fact” a religion actually deals with is death though w/ a little imagination this can be expanded to include lovely Marian apparitions floating above the Mojave Desert & healing baths at Lourdes.
I agree with Stella above. I don’t think that finding out about history and deciding the church is not what it claims to be is the disease. I think the church started out based on lies, and so has a very hard time making what it has into something good. To me, the church as an institution was harmful and abusive to me. So, I am “cured” by getting out. Maybe I am one of those women who left because they felt judged, but coming from an abusive childhood, I could not tolerate the constant message that if you didn’t see something the “right” way, that there was something terribly wrong with you. Rather than helping with the abuse, the church compounded it with lessons about licked cupcakes. And, the culture of perfectionism was just too much. No matter how many hours you put in as Relief Society President, it is not good enough. Nothing was ever good enough.
And I don’t think inoculation works with thinking the same way it works with disease. Clear back in the 1950s they were inoculating for the church history that they couldn’t hide, such as polygamy. They out and out lied about things like there were more women than men and it was just to take care of the widows and girls often married at 14 or 15 back then. All said in one sentence. My 10 year old brain said, “14 year old widows? WTH?” (WTHeck because I didn’t know the F word at that age) So, I asked my mother who grew up with her grandmother in the same house, who was a child of polygamy. Oh the stories she told. Well, no god that I am going to worship would treat his daughters that way. And I decided the church was not true. It was the “inoculation” itself that made me question.
I still believed the church was “good“ though so I stayed the next 40+ years. Then I looked at myself and asked why I hated God. And when I answered that question I left the church and I am so much happier.
See, the church only thinks it needs to be true and is afraid that if people find out the real history they will decide it isn’t. But the bigger problem, as others have said above, is that it isn’t good. It isn’t good for its members and it doesn’t keep the morals it preaches and it isn’t kind to people who are different.
Anyone else psyched for the Come Follow Me treatment of church history next year?
Well, Anna, I’m glad you found a happy resolution to your issues with the church. I have no reason to doubt your experience or that your resolution is best for you. In fact, I shared some of that experience, also beginning in the 50s. However, I’ve never been able to discover what “the church … thinks,” only what some of its leaders thought at various times. And despite the problems with what they’ve sometimes taught, I have seen that the church is good for some of its members and sometimes keeps the morals it preaches (rather like all of us) and is sometimes kind to some of the people who are different. While I’m convinced that the one-size-fits-all approach is wrong and wrong for many individuals, that doesn’t make the church all bad, entirely hypocritical, or unkind to all who are different. If I’ve learned one thing, it is that my experience cannot be generalized and others’ generalizations of theirs also do not work as one-size-fits-all.
Wondering, you make a fair point about “all” credibility and under normal circumstances, I absolutely agree with you and I wouldn’t use such seemingly hyperbolic language, but in this case, I’m following the binary example set by many leaders:See, e.g. “Well, it’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true..”–Gordon B. Hinkley or “He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.”–Joseph Fielding Smith. So it’s not according to me, but according to them that if everything claimed by the church isn’t true, than the whole thing is a fraud. And so by their own standards, once that binary is applied to the church’s statements concerning its own history, then the whole thing is fraudulent, by the church leaders’ own definition and thus lacks any credibility whatsoever. I tend not to see things in such a binary manner, but historically, the leadership has stated that there is no middle ground.
Brother Sky, Yes, they did. That’s one of the things they’ve been wrong about. 🙂
Yes Faith, my take on this was from the church’s POV, where leaving would be likened to sickness. But you are correct, maybe being in the church is the illness, and getting out like my SIL and family did is the cure?
Like Stella said, the premise that exposure to real Church history is similar to exposure to a virus is flawed because the former is desirable. In fact, the sooner you are exposed to real history the better. I know that many of my fellow Church members think I’ve infected myself with evil / bad information and that has distorted my reality / testimony. But I look at it differently. I think I’ve disinfected myself with information that is combating the lies and distortions I was taught for 40+ years.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m feeling better because I’m getting better. That’s what happens when you access truth
This history problem can be reduced to a beliefs-problem. We have institutional beliefs that are understood as doctrine.
The exercise of discerning between belief and doctrine has helped me. Beliefs are not doctrine.
My take overlaps with some thoughts already shared, including Faith’s. Every institution in existence has past failings, and people participate despite past historical ugliness (admittedly sometimes out of ignorance or compulsion). But for informed elective participation, generally two conditions have to be met. 1) they find out in a straightforward way, e.g. in church settings, rather than from outsiders. The latter consistently leads people to feel stupid, embarrassed, and betrayed. Teaching the real history clearly is basically ‘inoculation.’ But there also has to be 2) a clear and unmistakeable delineation between the historical issue and their contemporary experience. In other words, any such issue has been thoroughly fixed, or at very minimum, there is momentum of regular improvements. So for example, I was certainly troubled about historical polygamy, but am more troubled by the outlines of polygamy in current sealing practices and their impact on many women’s beliefs and fears. I was troubled to learn about Jane Manning James being denied a sealing for years and then sealed only as an eternal servant, but I’m more troubled that her sealing hasn’t ever been updated. I don’t love that Joseph Smith was a treasure hunter who made poor investments that hurt church members on false assurances, but it would be a minor historical trivia point to me if there were sufficient transparency that I could answer all my own questions about current church finances. Inoculation will not be enough to guarantee retention for so long as participating now causes cognitive dissonance and is hard to justify to the nonmembers in your life. Still, ‘inoculation’ like the gospel topics essays are valuable on their own, because even for members who choose to leave, learning the truth inside makes leaving much less painful. More like disappointment but less like betrayal, with enough room to manage a gradual transition, and with more common ground to talk about that choice with believing loved ones.
Marrissa’s comment brings up another point. There is something that bothers me about the whole concept of inoculation that I didn’t voice in my previous post. That is, supposing the church really were the “one true church” it’s real history is *still* it’s real history. Things that happened and are in the historical record are “the truth.” And the church is going along with this concept that finding out the truth is like catching a virus? Finding out the real historical facts is bad and dangerous. Truth is dangerous = shades of 1984. Yikes. That is like an admission right there that they in fact are not what they claim to be because it is an admission that the truth would destroy them. I mean, compare that to another organization I belong to. I am a US citizen, but there is no problem finding out the fact that George Washington didn’t really chop down a cherry tree and then confess with “I cannot tell a lie”. That whole story was made up. But the US government doesn’t care if I find out that story was made up because what is good about the US is independent from it history. The US stands or falls depending on what it is today. I don’t have to pretend to believe that slavery was good like I had to pretend for years that polygamy was good. There is no secret belief in the US that Slavery is the practice in heaven. I can openly say that was an ugly chapter in American history and that I hope whoever was responsible for it goes to hell. I can’t say that in Mormonism really even about the racial priesthood ban. Nope, I am supposed to pretend that God wanted that ban or that we really just don’t understand why the ban came about. Those are just a couple of thoughts on the church’s problem with history.
But the church can’t teach it’s true history until it comes clean and repents of its past mistakes. This is what I mean when I say the church doesn’t really care about being good. Maybe because it already thinks it is perfect. I don’t know. It just seems to me the church has lost the basic concept of goodness, which to me includes honesty as well as kindness and caring for others.
Marrissa: Yes exactly.
The church will always protect itself as an institution, first and foremost. When it sees suppressing some information and history, it will do that as we have seen. When it seems that being more transparent is the answer, it will do that. But the goal is always to protect itself, not to try and best serve the members.
The most healthy thing to do for the members is something the church will never do because of the potential harm to itself. That would be to promote a healthy exploration of spirituality and encouraging spiritual growth.
Some will embark on this journey and remain in the church. Others will leave and find solace in a different concept of God or divinity. Yet others will abandon belief in the supernatural altogether and not find meaning or purpose in organized religion, especially ones that have dogma that must be accepted to be a fully participating member.
This journey is part of human progress and many never even dip their toes into the process. But for those who do, it is harrowing yet immensely rewarding. Imagine being a part of an institution where this sort of self-exploration was encouraged and that provided mentors who were already on the other side of it. Imagine an institution that fostered deep discussions of difficult questions for those who wanted it, and yet also provided a space for those who do not.
Unfortunately, I don’t see the church ever becoming the type of institution that does this because the end result is that many will outgrow the church. That is not in its best interests even if it would be amazing for the members. Rather than give wings and words of encouragement to those who embark on such a journey, the church will always point fingers and accuse those who do of spiritual negligence, when perhaps for the first time in a long time, they are finally undergoing growth again.
Sorry, Bishop Bill, I’m not quite on board with this one (although I usually enjoy your posts and comments). There are valid reasons to maintain some level of activity in the church in spite of not believing. I’m still somewhat active, and I don’t believe. But I refuse to contort my brain in unnatural positions to somehow justify belief in what I find absolutely unbelievable. The Book of Abraham is simply not what Joseph Smith claimed it to be and I have every reason to believe it is a fake and that later research on it has seriously undermined the credibility of Joseph Smith. I think the CES Letter, too, is a pretty solid summary of issues that a believer might take with the LDS church’s truth claims. It isn’t comprehensive. Runnells is not an expert. But I’ve read the apologist responses to the CES Letter and they just plain aren’t good. I’m still on team Runnells.
Ultimately I believe that the LDS church will always have its believers and its congregation. It will have to readjust in the future, sure. No matter how much critics consolidate and publish against the church, it will be there throughout my lifetime. There is a space for cultural Mormons to dwell. I inhabit that space. I’m not here to tear people down or tell them that they can’t derive inspiration from the church. But I’m not here to validate or justify truth claims. I will call a spade a spade if I need to and I don’t see it as a sickness that needs to be cured.
Inoculation may work for a while….but when the “thirst for learning fever” hits…..it makes the almost inevitable collapse to a soul SO MUCH more painful and damaging; with emotional healing sometimes taking longer than the inoculation itself. To me…that’s where the “immorality of it all” takes place.