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?