I am a first generation Tongan American and a convert to the LDS faith. I have had certain spiritual experiences that justify my belief in the Church and in Joseph Smith as Prophet. However, these spiritual experiences did not answer all of my questions regarding the church so I set out to find answers on my own. Church leaders rebuffed me for doing so, but I refused to acquiesce. Because I am institutionally uneducated I didn’t know how to do historical research or track down primary source material. I didn’t know how to access special collections at the church or local universities. One of the first times I visited the rare books collection at the University of Utah I tried to borrow a copy of The Genesis of Freemasonry by Knoop and Jones; the librarian stared at me with a confused look before saying “You’ve never been here before have you?” I left feeling humiliated. The church library was even more difficult to deal with. Thankfully I didn’t give up. While reading criticisms of the church I found the Utah Lighthouse Ministry. I read their news letter regularly. I mined it for sources and then searched them out for original context. I would visit with the founders of the ULM Jerald and Sandra Tanner. We would talk about historical and doctrinal issues at their SLC store. I read voraciously. I began developing my own opinions and beliefs. Despite occasional interactions with others this was a very lonely time for me. I struggled, I cried, I was frustrated, and sometimes I was angry. I thought about leaving the faith, but truthfully, I was never serious about it. I kept searching and reading; I read all twenty six volumes of the Journal of Discourses and all six volumes of the Comprehensive History of the Church. I would reassure myself by repeating the oft quoted scripture, “seek learning, by study and also by faith.” After many years I began to solidify my beliefs and opinions. It was satisfying. I went through this process with polygamy, polyandry, peep stones, failed prophecies, massacres, the Book of Mormon, black issues, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, attributes of a Mormon God and so forth. Thankfully, the Internet has made my journey a little less lonely. Today, I am a believer and the church is still right for me. However, the church has failed me in many ways when it comes to its history and other problematic Mormon issues.
Here’s the part that really stings. I shouldn’t have had to do all of that by myself. I shouldn’t have had to struggle up what I consider to be a very real Mount of Transfiguration, only to realize there was always more mountain left to climb- alone. The church could have been there for me, for you, for us, but it wasn’t.
To be sure, the church is not in the history business, it is in the business of sharing the gospel. That being said, if the church is going to use its history to assist in teaching the gospel, it should be responsible, honest and forthright with it. Making historical information available through institutions and organizations outside the church is not the same as the Church itself presenting it honestly in its manuals and other publications. Printing information occasionally in the Ensign does not qualify as teaching it aggressively to the entire membership of the Church. It is time for historical truth to be presented alongside the gospel Truth. There is no historical factoid the church couldn’t cope with, no claim of Kingship or theodemocracy is to be to be our downfall. It’s time for full disclosure and honesty. If we embrace and present our history honestly, responsibly, and without fear we will be sustained by the Lord. After all, he is the Truth; and we should honor Him by presenting the truths of His church. It is time to do what is right by the world.
Do what is right; the day-dawn is breaking,
Hailing a future of freedom and light.
Angels above us are silent notes taking
Of ev’ry action; then do what is right!
Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.
God will protect you; then do what is right!
Years ago full-time missionaries lived in my home. A Tongan elder noticed a book in my library on Joseph Smith and Polygamy. He asked if he could read and I said yes, thinking nothing of it. Later he asked if he could have it. I said sure, he was a great elder. Imagine my surprise when I learned he left the church and returned to Tonga after his next transfer. Eventually he wrote me and said my book had convinced him and others in Tonga Mormonism was flawed. He invited me to visit him, if I ever got to his island home. I was TBM at the time and embarrassed to tell folks about what transpired. The book was published by the Tanners.
I love this and agree…. “To be sure, the church is not in the history business; it is in the business of sharing the gospel. That being said, if the church is going to use its history to assist in teaching the gospel, it should be responsible, honest and forthright with it.”
Thanks for sharing your experience.
“To be sure, the church is not in the history business; it is in the business of sharing the gospel.”
I hear this excuse often from apologists that try to justify the lack of clarity from the Church with regards to it’s muddied history. I disagree with the apologists. The church’s history is vital for it’s story. Heck, the church even has a Sunday school course on church history. There is even a museum in SLC dedicated to church history. I think the church is responsible for clarifying and correcting much of it’s historical sticky issues. Instead, they have insisted on white washing much of it, ignoring it, and even used a “shame on you” attitude towards people who acknowledge those issues and ask questions. It’s a tragedy really.
Hi Viilami, thanks for your article, it was a good read.
I’m an Australian, my wife is of Tongan descent and I attend church in a polynesian-majority stake (many stakes in Australia are similar). I’d be really interested to discuss with you the the cultural factors in the polynesian LDS community, especially when it comes to faith crisis. Needless to say the differences in the LDS experience between Utah and a polynesian-majority stake in Australia are massive and might be worth exploring.
If you can respond with a method of getting in contact that’d be great.
It really is a shame that you or anyone would have to walk alone is search of further light and knowledge. You are the real deal and what the Kingdom is really about. I appreciate who you are and your contribution to our faith community.
My father used to say that Mormonism means that you only have to believe that which is true and the quest for truth should never cease…..
I look forward to your thoughts and humor during this journey
btw, where did you get that cool picture?
It is true, the church has not been good at history. I like your idea that honest history should be taught alongside and within our manuals. Mormonisms history is, after all, theological. Although much of it demonstrates the churches aloofness to spiritual and good things, that’s all the more reason why it needs to be taught openly, lest Mormons become the very things they try to cover.