Former Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen was asked, “Has the church seen the effects of Google on membership? It seems like the people who I talk to about church history are people who find out and leave quickly. Is the church aware of that problem? What about the people who are already leaving in droves?” His reply: The fifteen men really do know, and they really care. And they realize that maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now; largely over these issues.” He then said that the Church would begin to release answers to these “issues” on LDS.org, which I think we can assume are the essays that are currently being released.
I think the Church is handling this in exactly the wrong way. Yes, the issues need to be addressed. Many members have never been told about them. President Packer said, “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.” That philosophy has filtered down through correlation and created a group of Mormons that don’t know the complete picture of Church History. Many members claim that they no longer believe in the Church because of what they’ve learned about Polygamy. The problem isn’t necessarily with Polygamy itself. It’s that people didn’t know about it, or didn’t know the details of it. Anti-Mormon literature often feeds on the things that believing members don’t know. The anti-Mormon literature that uses things that Mormons are already comfortable with causes no problems. It might be a problem for potential converts, but not for lifelong Mormons.
And so I propose a change: don’t teach these things as “problems” or “issues.” Don’t save them for LDS.org, or special adult classes to discuss them. That just keeps them as “issues.” Teach them to the youngest possible age group. I was taught about the loss of the 116 pages and Peter denying Christ from as far back as I can remember. These are not “issues,” they’re just part of scripture. You might think this sounds like indoctrination. That might be the case; I’m not here to judge. If it is indoctrination it’s already happening. I’m just proposing that we use similar teaching methods while including a more complete picture of history. If the ideas and events have already been taught then they are no longer new or shocking.
How do we teach our youth then about how our doctrine of blacks and the Priesthood has changed? Or that we now reject the Adam-God theory? Doesn’t this create a problem for believing in living Prophets? Only if they want it to be a problem. Elder Oaks said, “[U]nlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.” Are we fundamentalist Protestants believing in the unchanging completeness of the Bible? Are we fundamentalist Mormons clinging to Joseph Smith’s teachings and rejecting new ones? Do we not believe in continuing revelation? The key is to leave behind the idea of unchanging Mormon Doctrine, and to teach changing doctrine. God’s eternal doctrine does not change, but the church’s doctrine does and should change. Our doctrine changes to continually evolve to bring us closer to God’s eternal truths. We are not afraid of change, we embrace change. Some, like Elder Oaks, have chosen to rest in the comfort of unchanging truth rather than to believe in new revealed doctrine.
Continuing revelation does not reject our current leaders, it embraces them. We hunger for new revelation to teach us new revealed truths and to reject the old. We are not Protestants, we’re Mormons. Our current scripture and doctrine and policy is not enough, and nor will it be. It’s time to believe in Mormonism again. To return to the roots of Mormonism: the journey for Truth and continuing revelation. We must teach the truth: all of it. And we must expect revelation. Otherwise our Church’s “issues” will only continue to grow.
I’ve heard that the seminary curriculum has been revamped and next year’s course (D&C/Church History) deals with Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Mountain Meadows, etc. A step in the right direction.
“Deals with” is a fairly generous description of what the seminary manual does with this new information.
But, our kids will have a harder time believing if they are taught that Joseph used a seer stone and a hat, and that God will say one thing to one prophet, and something new to another!
It’s easier to believe that Joseph was given ancient stones called Urim and Thummim that were like an ancient Word Lens App and that the golden plates buried in New York were then able to be translated. Also easier to believe that God told many Old Testament Prophets to kill every man, woman, and child in neighboring cities that needed conquering and then told Jesus to change things a bunch, and then revealed to Joseph things in this dispensation that have never been revealed before.
See the difference?
When speaking with my 12 year-old daughter (who was 11 at the time) about Joseph Smith and polygamy, she paused and said, “There is a character in the book I was reading that was said to be like a tossed salad; there were some good parts and bad parts of him. Joseph Smith is like a tossed salad.”
Teaching the good and bad is good, I think. Some biographies of Josepoh Smith have treated him more like a Saint than a man. It can be helpful to learn of our hero’s flaws. It reminds us it’s ok to be human.
This is awesome, and it really gets at the heart of what seems to be so confusing to me – the church’s near dependence on PR.
Almost every PR practitioner worth his/her salt would tell you that, in a public relations crisis, the three main rules are:
1) Tell the truth
2) Tell it fast
3) Tell it your way
The Church seems completely uninterested in telling the truth in a meaningful way. They seem to believe that if they sweep things under the rug or behind the door, no one will notice.
This tactic NEVER works. The truth eventually comes out (um, hello, the scriptures even tell us that). So, it’s better in the long run from a PR perspective to own up to the truth, shout it from the rooftops and deal with it. Short term pain, long term gain.
The fact that the church spends MILLIONS annually on PR and yet doesn’t do what I know the PR experts have repeatedly told them to do is mind boggling to me.
As someone who has recently left the church because of “google apostasy” I have to say that I think your idea would help retain current members, but it would loose converts.
Also, those of us who leave for more than just the historical issues. We leave because we find out how much leaders and mission presidents profit off of tithing. We leave when we find out about how little the church actually does to help the poor compared to other churches. We find out about how the church has treated scholars (such as the September Six), or how the church was fooled by Mark Hoffman. We leave because of cultural issues, and many other issues. It’s not as simple as the issue of polygamy and blacks and thre priesthood. It’s much more complicated.
I think there is more benefit in improving an institution for its members than there is in making it more appealing for converts. People should convert to Mormonism, not a caricature of it.
The LDS church and help to the poor? – its not what you think??
I have seen posts along the lines of why doesn’t the church with its perceived vast wealth do more for charity ? – quoting the following as representative of a 1% cut of the churches wealth
http://www.ldsphilanthropies.org (note:this is in addition to paying of tithes and other offerings ) Since 1985 the church has spent a total of $1.4 billion on relief for disasters such as Japan’s earthquake and Ethiopian famine, and in addition it operates 129 “bishops’ storehouses” with food (again note the ‘in addition’) also rainy day preparations – some monthly offering donations from members are used to support the locations / countries who make those donations to aid those who have fallen on hard times for whatever reason ( ie TBC my offerings get credited to the ward I am in ) , as well as to support missionary fund, book fund, as well as the tithes (10%) which are used to build and funds to run temples and meeting house the world over
In the LDS church annual Donations in tithes and offerings amount to around $6.5b for US and Canada $0.5b is generated elsewhere, it is estimated this comes from about 40% of the membership
So assuming for growth and inflation the above quoted aid figure (for humanitarian aid alone ) actually represents around 2% of what has been collected over the period 1985-2011
In addition to this are the amounts used to build and run temples and chapels and other funds
Here’s some interesting info
Philanthropy.com – numbers from “Giving USA” show that charitable giving has not grown at all when compared with more appropriate economic indicators. For the past 40 years, overall charitable giving has remained at or about 2 percent of gross domestic product, and contributions from individuals have consistently hovered at 2 percent of disposable personal income.
– See more at: http://m.philanthropy.com/article/5-Myths-About-Payout-Rules-for/143919/#sthash.UfFLoNd9.dpuf
Interestingly enough I considered my own giving record – aside from 10% tithes and offerings to the LDS church I like to support various aid agencies etc and what I thought was a significant monthly amount turns out to be an average 1% of my gross monthly income – after all deductions taxes bills mortgage etc I am left with about 10% disposable for misc holiday repairs savings spending, so 1% gross to charity becomes 10% of surplus, it’s all in the way the numbers are represented
Let’s consider the golden goose analogy – an individual or organisation may have significant assets and one could say ‘why not give a big chunk of this to the poor ‘ well one could do that but then assets given away will no longer be there to grow – as an example if I had a £1M I could generate on a typical 3% return 30k PA which can, year on year, do a lot of good for as long as I keep that £1M invested and allow for inflation
Ending world poverty
To end extreme poverty worldwide in 20 years, Sachs calculated that the total cost per year would be about $175 billion. This represents less than one percent of the combined income of the richest countries in the world.
In fact, this cost is 0.7% of the total income of the 30 countries who comprised the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2005 when Sachs wrote The End of Poverty. For his calculations, he used the 2002 values for their collective wealth. This is relevant because while there have been some rough economic times since 2002, OECD total income is still somewhat higher now than it was then.
breakdown of donations
So leadership profiting from tithing? It matters not to me personally what they receive as a salary (and many are self sufficient anyway) these retirement age leaders many of ‘retirement’ age working flat out, travelling the world, heading into the office, caring about the membership, well into their 90’s typically
Love it. Great piece. I agree completely and plan on teaching my kids in this manner. No need to hide things from them in this information era. White washing and hiding only makes things worse.
You seem like a well informed and intelligent person. I can tell because you agree with me. 🙂
Um, how about instead of teaching superstition at all, we teach them science and a respect for the wonder that is the universe and a faith that eventually we will understand more of it? Seems like a straight-forward and not so weird solution.
While we’re at it, we could teach them to be discerning, self-evaluative, critical thinkers who are yet optimistic and positive. Move superstition (religion) back to the category of science fiction.
The issue is that Mormonism is absolutely built upon the “one and only true church” foundation. This article advocates the teaching of “new revealed truths and rejecting old ones”. Huh? Truth is ALWAYS truth and cannot be rejected. Why would we need to reject old truths if they were true? The “truths” taught in the Mormon church come and go. They are revered as the revealed word of God to the Saints to one generation and then completely disavowed to another. As much as the writer of this article is proposing a simple “trick” to fix the problem, it cannot happen based upon the “one and only true church” foundation. I agree that the church should teach ALL of the truth. The roots of Mormonism has a lot of ugliness. The leaders know this and thus the proverbial sweeping of it under the rug. Posting poorly written un-authored apologist articles on LDS.org that are buried on the site is not an attempt at full disclosure but a weak attempt at best to address the ugly truths found in church history. Absolutely the wrong way to handle it I agree (hundreds are resigning daily from the church due to the discovery that much of the anti-mormon claims are actually…wait for it…truths from church history.) but when you have an institution making the truth claims the LDS church makes and then you have members realizing that much of what they were taught turns out to be half truths or outright BS the foundation of the one and only crumbles. What are they left with? Teach them all the truths yes but don’t expect them to swallow any more “ever changing truths”, don’t expect them to pay 10% and absolutely don’t expect them to stay! Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!
I just wanted to point out that the phrase “one and only true church” isn’t anywhere in text, but rather the phrase is “only true and living church.” The most obvious difference between something dead and something living is that the living thing changes, adapts, reacts to its environment. I feel like saying “one and only true church” and insisting that things can’t change is positing the church as a dead marble structure. If it’s living, it changes.
That said, I do acknowledge that very likely most Mormons would agree with your framing of the foundation of the church rather than the framing of a living organization. Therein is the problem as you pointed out.
We have been conditioned to believe that history and the details of history are important, both in a spiritual and a political sense. The principles we can learn from the stories of history are what we should be focussing on.
Everyone hates to be lied to. Most seem to want to believe that their church is perfect or that their leaders are perfect, but that’s simply not reasonable. Temporal organizations are flawed, sometimes horribly. People will make mistakes and do horrible things, even religious leaders. I see the Church and it’s leaders like a scaffolding, a tool that helps me reach and work on things that I can’t on my own. If it wasn’t doing that for me, I would find some other way.
I had a friend comment to me that we need to innoculate our youth and expose them to the context behind troubling church history from a young age. I ask, what possible context can we offer around D&C 132 that would make the latter portion of that section remotely acceptable? It literally makes no sense to normal minded people. The context simply sucks.
Not the most helpful comment, I know. I lost control. Sorry.
I grew up with a number of good and complex family stories about polygamy. I also AM because of polygamy (descended not from all first wives). That’s been a good context for me to deal with some of the troubling aspects. Also, there is a lot of inspiring stuff in D&C 132 if you apply it only to a monogamous context and ignore the polygamous implications. I don’t think selective reading and interpretation of scripture is a problem. It just requires care and humility. There’s enough richness in both Mormon history and theology to deal with troubling topics. Of course, I say this believing that ‘dealing with’ some things is best done by leaving, for some people.
“…the President of the church…has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or emendatory…or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church.” – J. Reuben Clark
Elder Oaks may have been sick that day.
I think it’s a position that comes up surprisingly often from GA’s, though granted it is often in the context of resisting some particular change. I find it particularly frustrating given the promise of revelation in Mormonism. My earliest Rational Faiths posts were about frustration with the lack of canonized revelations.
I think this is overly simplistic. I think the issue here is on of control. If all of this is treated openly and honestly, then what is a “prophet.” He’s a man and sometimes perhaps he says things that are “inspired” and sometime things that are rubbish. Perhaps even more often than not he says things that are rubbish. If you acknowledge this, then you are giving up a mountain of control. It’s difficult to get people to do what you want. It’s difficult to get them to support your positions. Is it more honest? Of course, but it’s sad experience that when people get a little power…
At the end of the day, I grew up in a McConkie/Kimball/Packer house and church. I believed it all. Now that it’s inconvenient and obvious that church is false, don’t go around telling me that it is my fault for having believed and the church is actually something completely different. So, maybe this new paradigm will work for those who are young and can grow up in a different church, but I’m past the point of caring. That is a church that I do not recognize (it’s also a church that exists more in the land of wishful thinking than reality). I’m with Michael, “Fool me once…”
The point of this article, in some ways, was to offer an overly simplistic solution. The thought behind the proposed change is to move the Church in a slightly more liberal direction. In my mind the Church either needs to go full on fundamentalist conservative or in a more liberal direction. Trying to balance the middle will end up pleasing no one.
And I think the truest position is often a middle one–which pleases no one. Ah, the joys of complexity.
L Thomas, I should have started with a than you for writing the article. I think it’s definitely an interesting topic and post. I am just adding my 2 cents. Like you said, none of this is going to change anything, so it’s more about discussion and thought experiments. Thanks for your posts.
When I was i kid I was taught that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by putting on a breastplate that Moroni gave him and then looking through the urim and thumim, like they were reading glasses I guess. That is a totally bizarre story! But I believed it and never really gave it much thought since I heard it all my life.
So imagine my surprise when I found out that its not even true! That in fact he stuck his head into a hat and looked at a seer stone that he found in a well, and the plates weren’t even in the room most of the time. That’s also a bizarre story, but not necessarily any more bizarre than the one I heard as a kid. How did we get to a point where we are teaching false history? Why not just tell the real story from the outset? I wouldn’t have been shocked so much if I had been taught that version from the outset.
This is a perfect example of exactly what I’m talking about in the article.
CRL. Thank you for your comment. I can really relate to what you stated. Just because there is this NOM movement going on inside the church among the younger generation doesn’t mean Jack Schmidt to those of us who grew up believing in an entirely different organization. Just because you want the church to be something different doesn’t mean it will be and even when all the octogenerians die off their replacements will be out of the same mold. Beyond caring…well put!
I can always dream. For those who wonder such things, I don’t think my blog post is going to change anything. To me it’s a fun thought experiment to think how the church could be different. In this case I am responding in part to those that say that GA’s responding to church history issues can only result in lose/lose situations.
So, if the children are taught from a young age that the prophets, apostles, and other church leaders had literally dozens of wives (for none of the pat answer reasons), married teenagers, and married other men’s wives… How do you then teach the evils of adultery, the importance of ‘traditional marriage’, and basic morality? If you teach children that the Book of Abraham was made up and clearly not a ‘translation’, but still considered scripture, how do you convince them that the Book of Mormon really was a translation? When you teach children that the Book of Mormon was translated with a stone found in a well long before any angel visitations, how do you explain why Moroni needed to carefully preserve the plates, and the Urim & Thummim? When you teach children that it was totally acceptable for church leaders to order and carry out the murders of innocent people, how do you then teach them to turn the other cheek and obey the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’? When you teach children that the early leaders taught and accepted the idea of blood atonement how do you then teach them that the Savior’s act of love for us really is enough? Seriously, the list goes on and on. To think kids won’t put this all together at some point is naive. The problem is not that ‘truths’ are changing so much as the fact that ‘old truths’ are actually in direct opposition of ‘new truths’. Truth is truth…. It doesn’t change, and it certainly doesn’t contradict itself.
I don’t think it’s bad for children/people to learn that the Church doesn’t have a monopoly on truth and knowledge, or that new revelation could show that we were wrong before. As for my naïveté, I never claimed no one would leave.
I’m such a sucker for “one weird trick” #mormonclickbait
I agree that we need transparency.
Great post. I thought it was extremely problematic (to be honest I was stunned) immediately after Elder Oaks said that unlike “other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.”
My understanding of church history–including a major event in 1978 that Oaks was alive for–was a completely buzz are thing to say no matter which angle you look at it. I couldn’t figure out why he would’ve ever said such a thing–not only because it is patently false but also because if it *were* true, it still wouldn’t be good news!
Also I love, LOVE, your powerful conclusion:
“Our current scripture and doctrine and policy is not enough, and nor will it be. It’s time to believe in Mormonism again. To return to the roots of Mormonism: the journey for Truth and continuing revelation. We must teach the truth: all of it. And we must expect revelation. Otherwise our Church’s “issues” will only continue to grow.”
Also, Michael Barker, I absolutely love your daughters tossed salad comment!
Good post. Have to add a quote by Terryl Givens on the topic.
Terryl Givens, http://mormonstories.org/terryl-givens-an-approach-to-thoughtful-honest-and-faithful-mormonism/,Part 3 at about 35 minutes
Verl_S…..amen. The walking contradictions are rampant….and there is no way around them. There is very little inspirational that can be found when you start pulling flaw after flaw out. Not only would Joseph not even qualify for membership in the church today, but he is no one that would be respected. How do you teach the actual truths about him to the majority of LDS members and not completely shake their testimony. Once again…,if the church is to require a member “to be honest in all their dealings with their fellow men” then the organization has no other option then to be 100% honest in all it’s dealings. However, the church has been anything but honest. Choosing to not provide pertinent information is dishonesty. I would like to see the church start teaching the truth, without spinning it with their PR wheel….that way when my family and friends accuse me of reading anti Mormon information they will actually see that my reasons for leaving the church had everything to do with dishonesty, covered information, doctrines swept under the rug, prophets incapable of giving correct communication from god, etc
I love your comparison to the 116 pages incident. If we can teach stuff like that, matter-of-factly, then why not the other stuff? Like you said. To be fair, the stuff that’s not discussed is probably more difficult to fit into a faith-promoting narrative, which is probably why it’s been hidden in the first place. But of course then maybe we could just give up the idea that all pieces of Church history or practice can be fit into a faith-promoting narrative. Sometimes people–even Church leaders–just do evil, and that’s how it goes.
As CRL stated, one thing that bothers me is that the average member seems to get blamed when they find out something and are disturbed by it. They are told, “We’ve always said Joseph Smith wasn’t perfect, why does it bother you to find that out?” Well, maybe it’s because every movie the church has made about JS makes him seem pretty darn near perfect. So when it bothers us when we find out many things that show him to be very flawed, it’s our fault. The church has a great way of making things seem like our fault.