On August 22 of this year, we posted a talk that my bishop here in Medford, Oregon gave the previous Sunday. It has been one of our most viewed posts. People loved it. If you haven’t read the talk, click here. The discussion that followed seemed to surround the idea of what some have called “inoculation”. That is we, as a church, should be open and discuss the difficult areas of our church history openly and at church with the youth. By doing so, we could “inoculate” the youth to these problematic issues that often drive people out of the church later in life. Due to the debate, I approached several of my friends about them writing a post regarding their hesitancy with the ideas of “inoculation”. Only one of my friends was willing to post his ideas. I hope you enjoy Jeff Barber’s thoughts. We are always excited when we have a guest blogger so don’t scare him off by being big jerks.
The Complicated Issue of Inoculation
Mike asked me to comment on the idea of “inoculation” from a different prospective than has been discussed in the past on this blog. First let me qualify that I am not a blogger or debater. I don’t know how and find the whole thing quite intimidating but I wanted to provide something for Mike.
Here are my thoughts on “inoculation” on the “sticky” issues that arise:
1. There needs to be a level of spiritual maturity in order to process the massive loads of opinion and conjecture on these issues. I know adults who had not developed mature rational deduction and thinking skills let alone a comfort in their own beliefs who lost all faith in reading Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling” which was not meant to shake members. There is truth in the idea that feeding a baby meat is not healthy until they have grown sufficiently from milk.
2. I agree that our youth should have the opportunity to ask hard questions and get reasonable answers to those questions or at least some insight on how to find answers to their questions from safe sources that are not out to lead them astray. It is more important now than when we were young because back then these, for lack of a better term, “anti-groups” or disenfranchised groups were isolated as was their message. Now they have a forum for their voice with the internet, so exposure is imminent.
3. Where I disagree with some is where this “inoculation” is to take place. 1st – The home is the primary place for all gospel teaching. 2nd we are a church of order. We have prophets and apostles who’s duty it is to keep the Lord’s church in order. They are responsible for instituting what is to be taught at church. If we had every well-meaning person who had an interest in “inoculating” others teaching their ideas it would be chaos. I was at a meeting a little over a month ago with an apostle who said the “brethren” understand this need and we will see some changes in the curriculum possibly as early as next year. So I think it is being addressed by the people it should be addressed. That being said I believe I have a personal duty to study pray and receive inspiration for myself and my family. To encourage my kids to ask questions and to help them to find answers or at least a level of security while they “wait on the Lord” for further understanding.
4. I think the “inoculation” issues are pretty well known and accepted by most knowledgeable Latter-day Saints. Most are just patiently and humbly waiting for the leaders of the church to address it in the proper manner. There is a published account of Brother Bushman’s feelings on this very matter and they provide the impetus for writing his book. It appears that Daniel Peterson coined the phrase “inoculation” when referring to this very subject idea in his review of Rough Stone Rolling. When this question was brought up in the aforementioned meeting with the apostle there wasn’t a single disagreement with the idea but again it is not our place to write the agenda or teaching manual for the church.
5. We need to make sure we are not more excited about revealing the “sticky” items than we are about helping to find helpful answers or understanding.
6. One of the problems with focusing only on rational thought and not developing a spiritual conversion is rational thought always changes and will leave the student tossed to and fro with ever-changing beliefs and understandings.
Philosopher and Theologian Keith Ward said, “… a choice between fundamentally different worldviews cannot be based on evidence for determining what is going to count as evidence and how evidence is going to be interpreted.” Asserting absolute naturalism is the sine qua non of genuine historiography seems little more than an attempt to gain an advantage for secular worldview by definitional fiat. (article by Daniel Peterson FARMS)
There is such strength and peace in a conversion brought about by a communication through the Holy Ghost with your maker. It doesn’t do away with rational thought but it puts it in its proper place as a tool not as a converter. When things can’t be rationally explained at the moment a person with a spiritual conversion can be ok with that and move on while those without it get stuck, upset or even give up.
7. There were plenty of issues with the Old Testament during Christ’s time – especially the misinterpretation of doctrine. We do find a few incidents where Christ would correct the “learned” but he didn’t seem to dwell on it. You don’t see him going back and forth over and over again trying to prove his point or point out all of the historical inaccuracies. He spent most of his time on teaching the new word and preparing for the atonement “the pearl” and left the scholars to debate the “box”.
I think a study of the stickier issues of church history is helpful, but only when we are reminded that we belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, and that mistakes are made by men who must interpret the will of God through the lens of the natural man.
It is difficult as an adult to learn some of the more unsavory truths in our history and feel as if you’ve been misled, yet it’s a struggle most of us get to experience in one way or another. I think as teachers, it’s helpful to prayerfully present difficult issues as the spirit directs and to continue to point ourselves and those whom we have a stewardship over to seek for Christ.
One correction. – in point #5 it should read “than we” not “then they”
5. We need to make sure we are not more excited about revealing the “sticky” items (then they) (than we) are about helping to find helpful answers or understanding.
Fixed. How do you like the way it looks Jeff?
I am writing a thesis on this topic.
I however disagree with you. I don’t think most people know the hard stuff.
I don’t think they know becuase it is not even talked about.
Th fact that it is talked about in hushed tones is a huge issue.
I agree with you that this needs to be dealt with at a macro level. Having each local leader provide an inoculation will result in chaos. It’s like the current group of apologists. My experience has been that they provide little that helps strengthen faith. Instead they create more confusion because what they say often is in direct conflict with past and current church teachings and the apologist themselves can rarely all agree on how to deal with a difficult issue. If this is to be dealt with it has to be done from the top. Unfortunately, I have not seen the leadership make any efforts to address these issues, but rather they continue to either pretend that they do not exist or disparage the seeker of knowledge and truth.
I am one of the disaffected. I agree that the “cover up” and “lies” are much worse than the original sin. Even worse than the “cover up” and “lies” are the common remarks that come after the unveiling of these issues. These include you should have known about this, everyone else does. You are using your intellect, thus you are prideful. If you had faith, you would do mental gymnastics like the rest of us. Therefore, you are not a very faithful person (despite the fact that you have dedicated your entire life to the church up until now and still “keep” the commandments and we are unwilling or unable to provide you with any decent answers or acknowledgment that these issues even exist).
People can see this different ways, but I believe there has been a deliberate attempt to hide and coverup much of the unsavory parts of church history and the difficult challenges to the historical claims of the church. Is it done with ill will? I doubt it. It is likely the result of a persecution complex, a paternalistic mentality, and a lack of true faith that the claimed truth will prevail. Whatever the motivations the damage is still the same. How can I trust an institution that refuses to acknowledge its fallibility and repent of its mistakes? They ask that from me? Should I not require the same from the institution?
I’d like to respond to this post point by point.
1. Why are there massive loads of opinion and conjecture in the first place? Is it because, until fairly recently, massive loads of critical information have been missing from dialog and discussion? Documented public records as well as trustworthy historical accounts provide ample anecdotal evidence to support so-called contrary opinion and inconvenient conjecture. That’s why the sticky issues exist.
I agree that a level of maturity must be attained in order for one to intelligently discuss these purported sticky issues. I believe that rational and critical thinking are the very skills needed for thoughtful and intelligent discussion, yet they are often missing in current dialog both inside and outside meetinghouse walls. Could this be the case because many adults have been convinced that such skills are unnecessary? That a spiritual experience trumps critical thinking?
As for Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, I found it interesting and informative, but I think it too avoids some of the thornier issues such as polygamy and polyandry as practiced by Joseph Smith and the women he married.
2. Here we must define Safe Sources. If by this we mean only listed, authorized, or approved sources, then intelligent discussion and critical analysis are impossible. Most of the so-called unfriendly sources have been out there for a long time. It’s the quick and easy access to them that has changed. Additionally, does labeling these sources as anti or disenfranchised change anything about the truthfulness or accuracy of what they have to say?
3. John A. Widsoe: “…a rational theology is founded on truth…a man should therefore use his reasoning faculty in all matters involving truth, and especially as concerning his religion.” Thinking along this line I therefore ask: does the open discussion of ideas, opinions, and questions create chaos? Perhaps, sometimes. Or on the other hand do such discussions lead to better understanding of the issues and questions that frequently arise.
Youth will naturally reach a point where they seek independence, independence from parental control as well as (sometimes) from societal and religious mores. Some would label this rebellion, yet I believe it is mostly an existential quest: a desire for meaning and understanding. This often includes the meaning of and need for religion. Withholding or suppressing uncomfortable or possibly disturbing information only causes or creates suspicion and doubt.
In response to questions and doubts about church history I’ve often heard members rationalize that “The past is the past.” Or “Things were different back then. And it’s not the same today. We don’t need to worry about the way things transpired back then. All we need to be concerned with is the Church today.” I don’t agree with this attitude.
4. I don’t want to sound repetitive, but it sounds quite Orwellian for someone to simply accept, without thought or analysis, what someone else says without regard to the reasonableness, justifiability or truthfulness of what is said, even in regard to religious matters. ( pace Widsoe)
5. I agree, but what is meant by Sticky Items? Joseph Smith marrying other men’s wives and at the same time adamantly denying it? I’m very interested in discovering the truth, because truth should triumph and prevail over error and falsehood. Who would argue with that?
6. Previously accepted facts and figures are often proven wrong. Concepts, theories, and beliefs may change, but rational thinking is always the same. Spiritual conversion is the antithesis of rational thought because spiritual conversion is personal and subjective and consists of feelings and impressions which, in the end, do not prove the truthfulness or veracity of anything. Spiritual knowledge provides evidence of nothing except a person’s conviction and acceptance, (and interpretation) of an ineffable experience. When things can’t be rationally explained we frequently enter the realms of the supernatural, mysticism or, in some cases, magic.
7. I suppose that since Christ was the putative revelator in the Old Testament milieu, logically he would be the only one to object to or correct its doctrine. I don’t see the analogy as far as people today discussing issues they feel essential to their salvation. The truth, again, is paramount.
Jeff, thanks for your thoughtful argument. I agree that home/family should be the first defense and that parents should be the source that young people turn to for answers to the “hard” questions.
I also believe that some things are beyond defense or answering because we don’t have all the facts. Even if we had personally participated in an event, there is always a different interpretation of each person. You can see that in the experience of one person being moved deeply by a Sacrament Meeting and another person thought it the most boring meeting they had been in.
Many feel that the church is trying to “hide” or cover-up some of our past history. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I become involved in looking for mistakes and faults, my own spirituality is weakened. Yes, there have been mistakes made but it is not my place to correct or even point out. Those are between the individual and God, just as my sins and mistakes are between me and God. Those mistakes don’t change the truthfulness of the gospel, the reality that a prophet speaks for God or that God gives us the conditions and we have the opportunity to obey or disobey. Those mistakes don’t change the reality of the Atonement—which will eventually correct all mistakes of every kind–nor do they change the fact that I have agency to chose who or what to believe. And so my question becomes–why are the mistakes of others important? Would we not be better off trying to correct our own mistakes than to point out the mistakes and sins of others?
I loved your concept of a child growing strong on milk before being fed meat. Every parent that has watched a child grow knows that a mother watches anxiously for signs from her child that the baby is ready to move to more “grown-up” food. She knows that if she feeds the baby rice cereal before he is ready, that it can cause complications. Likewise she learns when nursing the child or giving him strictly formula is no longer sufficient nourishment. Each child is different and the mother knows the needs of her child by close observation.
The same is true with medical inoculations. Just because a particular injection is suggested by a physician, the parents have the final say in whether the child receives that or not. That decision is based on the knowledge the parents have of both the injection and its benefits and the knowledge of the child and its lifestyle. While the injection may be rejected and damage comes to the child, it is not the physician but the parent that will be held accountable. Always, accountability boils down to the parent. Especially in things of the spirit.
Thanks again, Jeff for giving me this opportunity to share conversation with you. Take care.
The challenge of all this is that there are not answers to many of these questions. How do you “inoculate” members about the fact that the Book of Abraham is a fraud? You state that we need to be “helping to find helpful answers or understanding” but that is only a productive enterprise when there ARE helpful answers.
Thanks for the thoughtful post. I think you are looking for an effective middle ground that doesn’t deny the need for something that might be called inoculation, but doesn’t make inoculation the dominant motivation in our teaching in church or elsewhere. I agree fully with that approach.
As to the comments, I admit a personal inability to truly feel upset by the hidden or white-washed history. It all fits very well with what seems to me a rational understanding of how people and institutions work, so I attempt to weigh the “sticky” issues with the vast array of other issues. I, frankly, don’t know of another church that actively does as much to make its history known to its members–even a selective history.
The one thing in your post that I find hard to accept is the idea that a person–teacher or student–shouldn’t bring up difficult history or concerns until it has been approved from the top down. I see the pattern of relying too heavily on top down instruction as one of the main sources of harm to the many questioning individuals in the church. We are taught to seek personal revelation, and if we are seeking and following personal revelation for our specific circumstances, using correlated materials as a GUIDE, it will not result in chaos. It will result in our dealing honestly and charitably with those who question, dissent, doubt, or criticize. It will strengthen faith and strengthen the church. Yes, top down policy and manuals keep a coherent organization functioning, but the LDS church plans to make us gods, so at some point we have to start trusting each other with all power. I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we view correlated materials as an institutional law rather than an institutional aid to help us in our collective ignorance.
(As a side note, this idea of inoculation that the Brethren seem aware of according to your post did not originate top down. They have taken notice of important ideas that others have articulated. We need to share our voices, even when they differ. As church members we do need to do it with proper deference to ordained leadership in how the church is run.)
Jeff- I should expand on my research. Technology has changed the game for history and the church. We must go forward making new models on how to deal with it. You should have seen how fast the religion faculty at the University of Cambridge jumped on this as a thesis.
A story from a BYU history professor who also is a bishop in a BYU singles ward has parents dragging their kids in all the time to his office to repent of history. He has to tell the parents that they are wrong. That their child is right. He says he worries about what happens to them after they leave. He is not just some guy off the street he teaches history at BYU, and he is a bishop.
While I think that it should happen in the home I fear for all the children who are ostracized for bringing up facts, or for the parents who start to look it up. I think that the church can put gaps between family members.
In a church where so much has become top down. The leadership needs to prepare people to think about complicated ideas, to deal with historical issues. And instead they push obey obey obey. They say so not look off LDS.org. The message is not getting to where it needs to go. There is a growing crisis. When south park is more accurate than sunday school we have major issues. So much of the stuff isn’t even bad it is just different.
They church has taught binary thinking for so long that when people find out the history they feel that they have no choice, but to be honest and leave, and that too me is sad.
I am still active I know most of the history and the hard stuff for sure. But the history has us stuck.
I also believe in the power of the atonement. I believe that it covers institutions/churches. We are asked to repent of hard things, things that set us back monitarally sometimes, professionally, and I believe that we have not used the atonement if Jesus in our church as an institution.
I guess I’d have to say that I disagree with his premise, because he’s coming at the problem from the perspective that the worst thing that can happen to people who learn about the history is that they will lose faith. Isn’t the point of being honest to give people the information they need to make their own decisions? And if that happens to be leaving the church, so be it. I also disagree with his notion that most members are already very familiar with all the tricky issues, and are therefore qualified to teach them to their kids at home. From my experience, that is just not true. If it were, then why would so many people be so upset by Bushman’s book, as he admits himself? He also says that truth has a way of changing, and I disagree there, too. True, interpretations might change, but facts are facts, and lying or covering up those facts isn’t going to help anyone. If you want to teach things from a faithful perspective, fine. But all this piece says to me is that the church is afraid to teach this stuff because it knows it can’t compete with the truth. With respect and apologies to Mr. Barber, but I don’t agree with that attitude at all.
I just read the talk by Henry B Eyring titled “‘And Thus We See’: Helping a Student in a Moment of Doubt” (address to religious educators, 5 Feb. 1993).
It talks about what you said about how the philosophies of men, even scholars who are active members of the Church, can and do change. The Spirit, however, will always teach plain and precious truth to humble seekers of truth.
I like what you said about how
This topic has come up a lot lately with a close family member of mine going through her “doubts” about what she’s been taught and what some of her friends are saying about what the Church “doesn’t tell us”.
Thanks for the good insight.
Even if we decide that Sunday School or seminary are not the most appropriate places to handle sticky issues, we need to at least set up a framework for the youth that’s flexible enough to handle those issues should they later decide to explore them. Right now, I think we’re failing miserably in establishing that framework, let alone handling the issues.
I am all for inoculating yourself and anyone else that is interested. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but I would like to see more of it. However, after teaching Gospel Doctrine for going on 11 years now, I never know who exactly is going to be in attendance from week to week. It is always a mixed bag anyway. Married, single, black, white, hispanic, divorced, retired, convert, recent convert, visitor, non-member,(can you tell I’m not in Utah yet?) friends from out of town, bishop, ex bishop, kids, no kids, people who read the lesson material, people who will never read. Sacrament Meeting going long, ending short, etc… this list goes on and on. This is the greatest barrier to any substantial gospel discussions.
How could I ever presume to begin inoculate such a diverse crowd in 30 minutes a week. I’m lucky to hit one or two main points, read some scriptures, keep the discussion doctrine based and bear testimony. I’m sorry, but Sunday School curriculum doesn’t even have a chance of addressing these kinds of issues.
Oh, and I think most Mormon parents are wimps when It comes to talking to their kids about “sticky” things. I know mine are.
This is the key comment. If your church IS true and good, why would you ever have to speak in “hushed tones” at all? And please don’t try to tell me about reverence. There IS a time to reverent, but not when your eternal life is on the line. Christ taught us to be honest, love, and sing hosanna! (or whatever) Not to operate in a seedy back room shooshing away concerns, piling more dirt upon the skeletons dearly hoping they aren’t discovered or coming up with some witty come back remark stating, ‘the people of the church weak, but the church is true’ or ‘god has his reasons.’ These comments are cop outs and are detrimental. Frankly, I have been pure in my heart to give the church the FULL benefit of the doubt, but certain issues glare to brightly into my soul and cause grave concern. Bottom line, the ‘prophets, seers and revelators’ need to make sure they are doing – JUST THAT – instead of giving us cryptic messages that elude to one thing or another, thereby, allowing the members to fend for themselves, mostly in confusion, similar to the idea of the patients running the asylum, when really, it should be the other way around, at least, that is what the church teaches and why we raise our hands in approval every general conference. (i think the last sentence is a run-on sentence, sorry, what do i know? i’m just a dumb sheep.)
I have been thinking for a couple days now on my thoughts with innoculation. I was raised in the church with very intelligent, capable parents. I graduated seminary and institute. I served a mission. I got sealed in the temple. I have served faithfully in callings. I have done everything that I have been asked to do. There have always been some things that have hung around in the back of my head that I have tried to push aside, but as time has gone on I have not been able to quiet the noise coming from those issues. I would like to address the points made by Jeff in the post.
1. Jeff indicated that there is a need for spiritual maturity before these things can or should be discussed…milk before meat. The problem with this rationale is that many of the issues or questions that people have regarding the church are not of the deep, doctrinal type. Many of the historical issues are a problem because they have simply been pushed under the rug by the church. I firmly believe that if my parents had taught me about some of the historical issues when I was growing up that I would have had a much easier time not being concerned with them. Now I am at the point where I feel the church has lied or covered up much to paint a picture that is not completely accurate.
2. You indicate that the youth need safe sources that arent going to lead them astray…and you mentioned anti-groups or dienfranchised groups on the and more or less stated that these groups are where people are getting their information on the church. I have never been to an anti-mormon website or read anti-mormon literature and the doubts and feelings of being lied to and the cognitive dissonance are still there.
3. I dont think the church is currently doing much to combat the problems at hand. Instead of coming out and admitting wrong for things such as the mountain meadow massacre or admitting wrong with the blacks and the priesthood for example, they fail to actually address the issues at hand. I agree with Jeff that innoculation should be done in the home. However, how can innoculation take place in the home if the parents dont understand the issues.
4.I do not agree that “the innoculation issues are pretty well known and accepted” by members of the church. If I went and asked all the congregations on medford and central point about issues such as how the BofM was translated, the different versions of the 1st vision, the polygamy/polyandry of JS, kinderhook plates, Book of abraham innaccuracies, etc..there would be very few people that could accurately discuss with you those issues.
5. I think it is interesting that you said we shouldnt get excited about “revealing the sticky issues.” The question should be Why are we hiding the sticky issues? Why do we refuse to address them in an honest, open manner. We wouldnt have to worry about revealing sticky issues if they were simply not hidden to begin with. And yes, I understand that information has always been out there on these issues, but it was not readily available to most people until Google arrived.
6. I feel like at one point I had some form of a spiritual conversion…but it was a spiritual conversion on what I feel was not the full truth. The cognitive dissonance that I now feel is such that I cannot quiet it and just pretend that it doesnt exist. I cannot simply tell myself to push the off switch and it will go away….i simply cant.
I have always loved a lot about the church…the difficult thing for me is that the church I was taught about is not the church that exists today.
I would classify myself as someone who no longer is a true believer in mormonism. I think many of the doctrines are beautiful and I hope that they are true. Some might say that I have stopped doing the things that built my testimony and that is why I am in this position. I have tried and tried praying. I have tried to communicate with Heavenly Father on these things. I have asked him to bless me with faith to believe. Over the last year as I have struggled through these issues I have left my prayers feeling empty…feeling like if Heavenly Father does exist that he doesnt care about my struggles.
Historical issues are a problem for me, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. If the church had been open about all these issues and if my parents would have had any idea on the “sticky” issues and had taught about them I might not be in the position now that I find myself in. If you want people to continue to stay in mormonism then Innoculation is vitally important.
I’m sure Mike appreciates all of the comments that have been left on his blog. I wasn’t planning on responding to posts because I’m really not a blogger. I was just asked to come up with some ideas on the otherside of the issue. There has been a common theme that keeps coming up that isn’t really a big deal but it kind of bugs me. Some have been quoting me to say all or most members already know about these issues. I said most knowledgable members. Again not a big deal but it does make a differnce in what I said. Thanks
My question is, if the church is true and we have apostles and prophets, why do we need apologists to clarify, expound upon, and explain church history and doctrine?
if you base your testimony on anything, or anyone, other than the savior, it will eventually fail. from joseph smith to thomas monson, and every priesthood leader in between, is and has been a fallible man. none of these men ever claimed to be perfect, and we have no right to expect them to be. was joseph smith a pedophile, whore-monger, or adulterer? i don’t care if he was. look closer at the doctrine that the lord revealed through him. joseph and all the rest are imperfect, but the doctrine is not.
“likewise, in writing about sin and repentance, no intent is implied that either the writer or any of those quoted, except the lord himself, is without fault. but we would not have much motivation to righteousness if all speakers and writers postponed discussing and warning until they themselves were perfected.” spencer w. knimball, “the miracle of forgiveness”.
“….here is the doctrine, here is the bible,the book of mormon, and the revelations that have come through joseph smith the prophet. i have never seen him, and do not know his private character. the doctrine he teaches is all i know about the matter, bring anything against that if you can. as to anything else i do not care. if he acts like a devil, he has brought forth a doctrine that will save us, if we will abide it. he may get drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor’s wife every night, run horses and gamble, i do not care anything about that, for i never embrace any man in my faith. but the doctrine he has produced will save you and me, and the whole world; if you can find fault with that, find it.” discourses of brigham young 4:75