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!