In the Summer of 2013, the New York Times came out with a front-page article with Hans Mattsson discussing his loss of belief. Hans will take us behind the scenes to talk about how it was set up, and how Church leaders reacted to the article.
Hans: Birgitta was employed by the Church at the store, where they sell books, because it’s the Distribution Center and she was called up by her boss and [he] wondered, what are you doing? I would call it an exciting moment. People were waiting and wondered, and they called us, and she was not supposed to come back to her work, to her job. We were also on the way to move to Spain the same year, but we were on our way to leave anyway.
GT: So she basically got fired because of that interview, would you say?
Hans: Yes. But that said, you can have what they call a garden leave. So they paid her anyway during the time before we left, so they handled it very nicely, actually. But they didn’t want us to be in contact with any members. Birgitta and I were called to the Stake president for interviews, twice, and the second time I took Birgitta with me and they were going to excommunicate me. They said, “We’ll let you know.” After two weeks, I had a phone call, and they said, “We won’t do anything.”
GT: They wanted to excommunicate both you and her? Or…
Hans: Yes, but they said, “We won’t do anything”. That happened twice, really.
Find out why Hans believes the Church chose not to act.
As we mentioned previously with our interview with Dr. Matt Harris, the Swedish Rescue was instrumental in leading Church leaders to release the Gospel Topics essays. Hans Mattsson was a key figure in the Swedish Rescue, and we’ll talk about his involvement in the Swedish Rescue and what he thinks about the Gospel Topics essays now.
GT: So, let me ask you this question. So the [Gospel Topics] Essays started coming out, I think it was November of 2013. If those had come out 10 years earlier? Would you still be a member of the Church?
Hans: It’s hard to answer that question, but I also know that if those papers come out that early, maybe I would have left earlier.
GT: Oh, really?
Hans: Yeah, because that would tell me that they have not been honest for so many years. They have hidden things that are now published.
Find out what else he said. Do you know people who have been shaken by the Gospel Topics Essays? How many people in your ward are even aware of them?
This comment kills me:
“Hans: It’s hard to answer that question, but I also know that if those papers come out that early, maybe I would have left earlier… because that would tell me that they have not been honest for so many years. They have hidden things that are now published.”
This can be pointed right back to the self-inflicted wound that the Q15 are in this nonstop conversation with God. Had they spent time or wanted to fight this, then they could take a step back and say they’re wrong when they’re wrong and help explain any unsavory things that have happened in the past.
There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the human component to religion.
It is ironic that the imperfect masses continue to attack Church leaders for seeming imperfection. Very much like the pot calling the kettle black.
Alexis de Tocqueville searched far and wide for the secret of American democracy. He eventually found it: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and the genius of America. America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
In fact, William Penn stated that “If we will not be governed by God, we will be governed by tyrants. ” Thomas Jefferson likewise stated, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” In addition, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
This history must be considered. Constant attacks on religion will cause great harm to society.
It would go a tremendously long way for current Church leadership to admit that mistakes have been made. It would go even further if there was an apology for past mistakes.
Never underestimate the power of an apology. It does not change the fact that information was not disclosed, but Ian admission would at least be something.
It is deeply troubling for those who grew up being taught one thing about Church history to find out that it was not true. But humans make mistakes, and an acknowledgement of the mistakes would help the process of mental reconciliation.
@John Charity Spring I admit I don’t fully understand your point. I agree that it would be a loss to society if top Church leadership continues to refuse to apologize for past mistakes or admit their own imperfections, causing the Church to continue to lose members who do not generally expect “perfection” but do expect honesty and humility and all those other traits that we are asked to develop in ourselves but that Church leadership seems to exempt themselves from in order to “protect” the membership from disillusionment.
But darnit if I don’t feel compelled to lay the blame on anyone but the leaders making those decisions and inviting those attacks.
This has always been a topic of interest for me. I see where Brother (former?) Mattsson is coming from. I also wonder if the church would be damned if they do and damned if they don’t around historical disclosures. I will admit, that I think it is reasonable for an organization with as much depth of theology and history as the church to cherry pick what they want to teach to new converts, etc… I would hardly think a missionary would announce at the door of a potential investigator, “Hey, before we begin, our church practiced (and spiritually still does) polygyny and we were racist until 1978. Also our founder used magic stones and looked into a hat to translate sacred records. Want to talk?” Yes, these are all true, but there are much more important things to share. Eternal families, forgiveness and salvation for our dead ancestors, the plan for us to become like God are all better selling points. I remember on my mission to Italy in the 90’s that the translation of “The Discourses of Brigham Young” was cancelled and no longer available in Italian. Why? TheItalian members would take speculative doctrine too far and become fairly pharisaical in their expectations of new converts based on speculative doctrines. So, in order to give new converts a chance to grow into the gospel before being bombarded by testimonies of the Adam/God Theory and Blood Atonement, the church chose not to publish certain materials easily available in English. That “milk before meat” approach makes sense, but, in the case of Mattsson, it looks as if the meat never came.
@gilgamesh I think it’s the active concealment that’s the issue – not necessarily the not teaching everything at once.
Also, unlike most Churches, we rely *heavily* on our historical narrative to justify our theological claims. So when that narrative is taught in a whitewashed way in order to bolster theological claims, that’s a problem. Should people care or be surprised that there are multiple accounts of the first vision? Nope, why wouldn’t there be. Should they care that an account that in some respects arguably undermines the truth claims for which that account is used was cut from a journal and hidden in a safe for decades? Hmm, now that’s more concerning.
We’ve gotten much better, but it’s still super challenging. I hear incorrect history actively taught ALL the time at Church, and as someone who wants to teach true history with all its complexity (because that’s more accurate and interesting and in order to honor agency we have to give complete information), it can be hard to even find resources to do that. Certainly there’s not a lesson plan that does that. (But hey if anyone’s aware let me know! Currently cobbling together my own!)
When teaching anyone about something new, there is a sequential order in the introduction of new or more complex concepts. The problem is that the church is in practice simultaneously maintaining prophetic infallibility while vaguely proclaiming members and leaders make mistakes, yet refusing to articulate them which allows for no accountability or growth. Certainly the church should focus on teaching members core doctrines, but it goes further than that in acting like other teachings or beliefs that were wrong never existed, or were never wrong or in conflict with current teachings. Only in recent years with the essays and history books is this being corrected. But there is still manipulation of the facts to support the narrative of infallibility. The truth should speak for itself. The facts should be laid out without bias and then various interpretations or conclusions shared. But the church believes all facts must be put into service to support its truth claims. Some facts simply don’t do that, and that’s ok. Some people will leave because of that, but those who stay will trust leadership more for its increased transparency.
Wouldn’t church leaders rather have people leave because of accurate information than because they can’t trust the leadership? They behave like a corporation rather than an institution with integrity when the bottom line is membership retention rather than conversion to Christ’s gospel, which is much simpler than the church preaches. Love God and love your neighbor. Of course the applications of these can get complicated depending on the circumstances and require further guidance. That’s where spiritual leadership is helpful, in contextualizing the practice of discipleship. It isn’t helpful in sacrificing historical or social realities in favor of maintaining unquestioning deference to the authority of fallible leaders.
Elisa and Mary, you both make really good points.
“ Do you know people who have been shaken by the Gospel Topics Essays?”
Yes. My wife. It was the fact that the essay on race appeared to deliberately misrepresent the sources it cited—source #9 in particular—in order to water down just how bad BY’s racism was. Reading the essay and then reading the actual speech referenced in source #9…it’s a trip.
There is an old saying that the Catholic Church teaches that popes are infallible, but no one believes it. Likewise, the saying continues, the Mormon Church teaches that its prophets are fallible, but no one believes it.
As to the current Church leaders hiding information, I do have some sympathy for what they’ve inherited. The hiding has been going on longer than any living leader we have today. How do you move from that to something that is more transparent without fallout, and honestly, to Hans’s point (he really is a lovely gentleman), why wouldn’t that shake you to the core, to find out that you’re sitting on a pile of damning secrets? I don’t know how an organization digs out of that hole without a lot of fallout.
JCS, I hear this from right wingers. There may have been a time when it was true but churches have destroyed their own credibility by trying to impose their will on society rather than teaching righteousness. By opposing with lies, abortion, gay marriage, womens equality, and supporting racism. That religion comes out on the extreme right is part of their problem, that they voted for trump exposes their moral shortcomings.
This idea that you need religion in politics also doesn’t travel. In Australia there are no major political parties that oppose abortion, gay marriage, or equality for women, or support racism, though the furthur right you go, less support. Religion in politics here are in the same country as white supremacists.
A couple of state branches of our conservative party have tried to move their party to the right by stacking branches with evangelicals, and mormons. They get destroyed at the next election. We see removing discrimination as progress.
When I reread this I see religion not as uplifting, but selling discrimination. Nothing good or Christlike. Perhaps you can show a positive influence.
I still find the essays, and saints, to taste like propaganda, still sanatised, still less than honest.
The inheritance of hiding information is tricky. But the church already knows what fallout is like through polygamy and the priesthood and temple ban. It really seems to be a question of when outside forces exert enough pressure for internal reflection and change. It’s about questions like can we still function as a church, practice our religion, and gain new converts? If it’s a yes to all three, then there isn’t the tipping point where the cost of the fallout is worth what changes will bring.
A perfect mini example is that BYU wouldn’t sell caffeine on campus despite years of students desiring it. Did the church listen to their faithful students and tithe payers who knew caffeine wasn’t against the WOW? No, they waited until there was a national spotlight on the issue with Mitt Romney running for president. Once the optics were bad and caused confusion for enough outsiders, then they made the change. All the while claiming there was never a demand for caffeine to begin with.
I suppose all organizations operate like this. They don’t want to make painful changes unless they have to. But if our leaders are disciples of Christ, even His apostles, shouldn’t they want to make changes because that is the righteous thing to do? You could argue that as leaders, they should be held to a higher standard than the membership, but they aren’t even holding themselves to the membership standard.
No one can be perfect in their discipleship, and everyone will have to decide what actions are acceptable to God for the greater good. I would imagine that is how church leaders justify many of their un-Christlike decisions. However, it seems their approach is very unbalanced with which of Christ’s values they prioritize. Even if leaders hands are tied by scripture, they have access to modern revelation, which we all know can negate previous revelations. So why don’t they use this more?
Why can modern revelation tell us home teaching and visiting teaching should be called ministering, but it can’t tell us God’s plan for His LGBT children? Why can it tell us that now women can witness ordinances, but it can’t tell us why God supposedly doesn’t want them ordained?
It is baffling. I don’t envy church leadership the choices they have to make, but hypocrisy in religious settings is particularly egregious, all the way back to Christ’s time. Why can’t leaders continue to do better and acknowledge that is what they are doing rather than pretending all is unchanged?
Part of the problem is the Restoration proclamation from April 2020 which perpetuates the Hinckley truth/fraud construct.
I bought and read Hans’ book and I appreciate knowing his complete story.
“Do you know people who have been shaken by the Gospel Topics Essays?”
After 7-8 years, DW finally took the plunge this past weekend to read some of the Gospel Topic Essays. She was pleasantly surprised that the essay on plural marriage had so little that was troubling. But then she mentioned that she had only read the “overview”, which links to the much longer and IMHO more troubling essay on early plural marriages (as well as late plural marriages).
She said that the link to those two more substantive essays didn’t work in the Gospel Library app (although the links to all other GT essays work fine). I checked her phone and mine, and she was right. I spent 15-20 minutes trying to get to the “early plural marriage” essay in the app, and you simply cannot get there. It takes you on a repeating loop that gets you tantalizingly close, but you can never actually see the essay.
So to answer the question above — some people are not really being shaken by the Gospel Topics Essays, because they are blocked from actually seeing the most troubling ones (at least via the Gospel Library app). At least in DW’s mind, however, it does raise the question of why the app has been designed that way (and thus opening up the rabbit hole re not trusting the church, which Hans Mattson talks about at some length).
@Chet, yes, that conference was a real missed opportunity to mellow out on the restoration claims. In some ways they did, addressing multiple first vision accounts & peepstones, but the proclamation felt like a total doubling-down. (The spin in the manuals on the First Vision accounts is hilarious. “Isn’t it wonderful we have so many accounts? That’s actually just more evidence that it’s true!”)
I admit when I first heard of the Mattson’s story (a long time ago) I was somewhat dismissive of it. After listening to a lot of interviews with them, not any more.
Complaining about former and liberal Mormons justifying their decisions to distance themselves from the church because of hard-to-swallow stuff by accusing them of being unforgiving and expecting too much out of leaders and to “give brother Joseph a break” is actually a soft infallibility position. What you are doing is essence is saying that there is no valid reason to criticize the leaders and founders, ever. That even though they have made mistakes, you don’t get to point them out and don’t get to leave the church or create boundaries within which you have more nuanced and lessened activity in the church without being shamed. It is saying that even though the leaders are technically fallible, you must treat them as infallible.
Casually observing: just finished an interesting and mostly uplifting stake conference broadcast although it seemed a small congregation was there in person. No mention of Joseph Smith or the Restoration, it was all about Jesus until the final five minutes when the Area Authority opined on “anti-Joseph material” and quoted D&C 21 (circular reference?) to remind us to stay believers. The SP’s talk quoted only New Testament, however.