Shades of Grey and relative truth

In 1978, civil war broke out in Nicaragua, just after I left the country. My Mission President went from Costa Rica to Managua to help the missionaries get out of the country.  As he was literally leaving the chapel where he had told the missionaries to gather, the Sandinistas came running in from the other door and stopped them.

Demanding to know what side of the conflict they were on, President Muren responded with the phrase, “tonos de gris,” which means shades of grey.  He did not stop but kept going right out the door and was able to get that group of Elders out of the country.  Gratefully, all the missionaries eventually made it safely out.

Social or Cultural Mormons

Can a person be a member of the LDS faith and not believe some of the doctrine or accept the official story of the history?  Absolutely!  We call them social or cultural Mormons and there are countless numbers of them within the church.  Many of these kinds of members come from multi-generation pioneer LDS families.

If you survey an average congregation in the LDS faith, you will find that there are a surprising number who just don’t care about some of the doctrine and care even less about the history.  They are there because it is their family tradition and they derive satisfaction from the social interaction among good people that they know.

Looking for the middle ground

They feel uncomfortable when they hear statements from their leaders that the LDS church is either the kingdom of God or it is nothing.  When someone says that Joseph Smith was either God’s prophet or he was a great fraud, they feel unfairly pressured to have to put their view of the man in such black and white terms.

Isn’t there some middle ground where good people can participate in the Mormon faith without having to take sides about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the idea of angels visiting Joseph and the concept of priesthood keys and authority?  There is so much good in the church.  Why does it have to be classified as true?

The American Mormon culture

There are many members of the LDS church who do not fit the stereotypical image of conservative, orthodox, Republicanwhite-collar, all-American family.  The church membership is actually quite diverse, especially as one travels outside the confines of the Intermountain West where the church flourished and is the strongest.

Culturally, as a church and a people, we seem to have become stagnated in the mindset of the 19th century view of Mormonism that still conflicts with the outside world.  The church is growing beyond the Mormon corridor but is experiencing a sort of consolidation in the traditional strongholds of the faith – the center of Zion.

The one true church

Many good people who recognize this cultural myopia and parochialism that exists within the LDS faith have expanded their views and horizons beyond the mores and restraints of the traditional, orthodox Mormon worldview.  There are so many good people out there that are doing great things to serve their local communities.

Because these progressive thinking people have expanded their views they have come in contact with different ways of thinking about the religious experience and about their own Mormon upbringing.  The idea of belonging to the one true church has come to be offensive and difficult, if not impossible to defend in their minds.

God’s chosen people

They see and are embarrassed by what appears to be a contest of right and wrong between our zeal as a missionary church and the good people who are not already a part of the elect kingdom of God.  Whereas previously they were uncomfortable with a perceived exclusivist approach, they now are adamant that we are wrong.

We are judgmental, they cry.  Why can’t we accept everybody else just the way they are?  Why are we trying to convert people when they are already happy and doing much good in their own faith?  The idea of rules for membership becomes chafing.  Why does the church have such high standards that drive people crazy?

Pointing out the flaws and faults

A large percentage of the LDS membership either does not know or does not care about some of the troubling issues of our early history and growth as a church.  It is frustrating to progressive thinkers that so many within the faith are not as well versed as they are on these issues and the supposed quandaries that they present.

So they become more vocal and strident in pointing out the flaws and faults of the church and its leaders, both historical and current.  Their frustration increases when their audience either shrugs its collective shoulders or ignores their efforts to educate them on the problems that they see in the church.  How can they not care?

Many faithful members do know

While there are many who don’t know and don’t care, there are just as many who are very knowledgeable in the issues and problems that are troublesome to our liberal minded members.  It’s just that we have found answers within our own hearts and minds many years ago that satisfy the potential cognitive dissonance.

We quietly go about our lives, secure and confident in the knowledge that we have found answers for the most important elements of our faith.  We invite others to taste of the peace that comes from knowing that there are answers and that there are many solid and bedrock truths upon which we can build our lives and our faith.

Raise a warning voice

For some reason, when we try to share our certainty about the truths we have found, we are sometimes misunderstood to be arrogant or presenting our faith as superior or more complete than theirs.  Yes, if you invite someone to share in your happiness then you are presenting what you have found to be of great worth.

This is a difficult task to perform.  We are commanded to raise our voices to let the world know of the events pertaining to the founding of our church.  We have been asked to be bold in declaring that God has called prophets in our day and that he has sent angels to ordain and teach truths that have long been lost from the world.

Some truths are not relative

And thus we arrive at the heart of the conflict between orthodox conservative Mormons and progressive liberal Mormons.  What is truth?  Can one say with any degree of certainty that they have found the best and most complete source of truth without excluding the many other sources of truth that are found in the world?

Truth is reality. Some kinds of truth can only be received through revelation. I have never seen God or Jesus. I was not there when Joseph received the First Vision. So for me to be able to know those facts, they have to be revealed to me by the Holy Ghost.  Some truths are either revealed of God or they remain unknown.

Truths received by revelation

The five pillars of the LDS testimony require revelation: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Savior called Joseph as a prophet, the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God and the church that Joseph established is authorized of God to administer the ordinances of salvation that God requires.

Without revelation from the Holy Ghost we can’t say that we know these things. It’s just not logical. I have studied the Book of Mormon and the Church that claims to be God’s only church authorized to administer the ordinances of salvation. With revelation from the Holy Ghost I can say I know they are what they claim to be.

Summary and conclusion

In some things in life, it is wise to take a position characterized by my Mission President’s response to the Sandinistas – shades of grey.  We do not always know all the facts of some situations and should withhold judgment until a later time.  However, in some critical matters, we must take a position and know for ourselves.

It takes work and determination to obtain knowledge about the five pillars of an LDS testimony.  But I, and millions of others over the years, can say with great certainty that God does reveal knowledge about himself and his prophets to those who diligently seek it.  This revealed knowledge does not come in shades of grey.

15 comments for “Shades of Grey and relative truth

  1. June 28, 2009 at 8:41 am

    I think that the gospel is a very simple thing. We are given what is necessary for our salvation. Obviously the rest isn’t necessary for us to know, or can’t be totally understood by our finite minds. For example, we simply don’t have much information about the creation. We can speculate, we can look at non-lds ideas such as Darwinism. We can come up with all kinds of ideas, but when it all comes down to it, neither we, nor any other Christians, nor science have all the answers. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 I think the problem comes when our pride pushes us to try to get the “inside scoop” on doctrine. It feels good to have a superior understanding about some gospel subject. Some may say that their intent is simply to educate themselves, and to study deeply about things that interest them, but I know for my own self, that when I find out some new rarely known tidbit, I can’t wait to share it with others. But what I see in myself is that deep down my drive comes from pride. So it is a fine line to walk. We do want to educate ourselves, and we do want to study the gospel. But when we begin to criticize the church leaders for not encouraging us to seek out the ‘mysteries”, we are indeed walking on shaky ground. And I think it’s a subtle process that brings us to that point, barely even noticeable. I think the key is to be honest with ourselves and seek deep down to know our true motives.

    I think you have some good ideas about how the church should view others and other religions. We have the task of maintaining the integrity of the gospel, while still being tolerant of other views. Sometimes that task is much more important within our own faith. We must be tolerant of those whose studying takes them to the “fringe” of doctrine. There are shades of gray about some subjects. But frankly, those gray areas aren’t needed for our salvation. It satisifies a curiosity and intellectual need to study those areas, but frankly that knowledge doesn’t make us better saints than those who don’t know. My dear grandmother was a very simple person with a simple testimony. But because of her Christlike love and compassion for others, she was a far better follower of Jesus than I could ever hope to be. In our striving for knowledge, we need to remember that it isn’t what we know, but how we live what we know.

    I do think too that some people make gray areas of the doctrine where there are no gray areas. I think the scriptures are very clear, and our church leaders have been very clear about the doctrine. But some people attribute cultural aspects of the church to doctrine. For example, some people say that you should take the sacrament with your right hand as a sign of respect. But is that something we actually teach from the pulpit? Some people feel very strongly that a woman should never wear pants in the chapel. But is that something that has been preached by church leaders? We have developed our own culture within the church, but sometimes I wonder if we would be surprised if we were magically transported to Nephite times and were allowed to attend their services, and could see the difference in their culture. Even a visit to church meetings in another country is sometimes different from what we find in the United States. My parents served a mission in Africa, and tell of having crackers for the sacrament because that was all that was available.

    I guess the key to this all is to really focus on the basic doctrine, and make sure that our lives are in harmony with that. The knowledge of the gray areas isn’t what is going to save us in the long run. Yes it’s entertaining, yes it scratches an intellectual itch, but when it all comes down to it, knowledge doesn’t save us.

  2. June 28, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I would think “Cultural” or “Social” Mormons are more characterized as people who have gone to church all their lives, but they’ve never really thought about any of the doctrines, or attempted to gain a testimony of the mormon teachings. They are people who get up and say “I know this church is true,” just because that’s what they’ve always believed, they never questioned it (they also never really knew it), and that’s what a good Mormon says. They are also the people who despise gays, people who smoke or drink, and people of other religions. They feel like they are responsible for punishing them, to some extent, and they hate the idea that these people could be saved, just like they might be saved.

    I also think you’ve mischaracterized what you would call “liberal” or “progressively” thinking Mormons. These are not the people who go to church, just because that’s what they’ve always done. If you believe these people think about their faith, and are skeptical of things they are taught, then you have to believe they go to church for more reasons than ‘just because I grew up in it, and that’s what I’ve always done.’ These are people who probably have testimony of some aspects of the church, but they don’t buy everything they hear, no matter which mortal man speaks it. If these thoughtful people didn’t strongly believe that some aspects of the church are true, then they probably wouldn’t go.

    Progressively thinking Mormons are Mormons who have thought about their religion enough to realize the church and its leaders are not perfect, they have made mistakes in the past, and they will make mistakes in the future. They realize the church is not the same yesterday, today, and forever; and they hope for progress. At the same time, they realize that while some aspects of the church are true, not all aspects of the church are true, and not everything a prophet says is true (or even good, for that matter). They realize some things which have been declared to be “Ultimate Truth” in the past have been revised or rescinded many times; therefore, why should we believe the things which are declared to be unquestionable truths today are reliable?

    They would be more likely to realize that even though they have strong spiritual reasons to believe certain doctrines, it does not mean that ALL doctrines are true. At the same time, they realize you can never DISprove something; therefore, they remain open-minded to the possibility that ANYthing COULD be true, including the ENTIRE church, and everything a prophet speaks.

    They refute the idea that ‘the church is either true or it isn’t true,’ because there’s pretty clear evidence some aspects of the church have been wrong, are currently wrong, and will be wrong in the future. To tell people “the church is either true or isn’t true” is to exclude anyone except the “cultural/social” Mormons, who never question what they are told.

    Progressively thinking Mormons likely believe their religion is more likely to bring a person closer to God than any other religion. However they accept other religions, because they realize NO church is completely true, and a lot of people get a lot of good from going to other churches. Progressively thinking Mormons are likely to be willing to share what they believe about their religion, and help other people realize how it has improved their lives. However, they are not likely to be annoyingly persistent, not likely to be judgmental if someone doesn’t agree with them, not likely to tell someone they are going to hell (or even something less than heaven) if they’re not a Mormon, and they’re not likely to tell someone their church is the only true church on the face of the earth (first, because parts of it seem true, but not all of it is true; second, because spirituality is what matters, not religion).

    Progressively thinking Mormons are sometimes vocal about their beliefs, because they are tired of being judged by self-righteous, ignorant, “Social” Mormons. They are annoyed with “Social” Mormons, because when a Progressive Mormon is asked why he believes something, or is criticized for what he believes, and he responds with clear, logical, and/or historically accurate reasons for believing what he believes, the Social Mormon inevitably responds with some sort of ignorant statement such as, “Well, I just know it’s true, because a prophet said so.”

  3. Closet Doubter
    June 28, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Tim,
    Would “Shades of Grey” be the answer for the MMM, or the Prophet being evasive in his answers to Larry King? Nephi chopping off the head of the king when something less would have done? JS marrying other men’s wives? These things were either right or wrong.

    (Idea for a future thread: How can we tell when the prophet is speaking as a prophet, and when he is just speaking as a man)

    Closet Doubter

  4. June 29, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I think the “shades of grey” concept can be equated with “line upon line.” I know individuals who cannot bring themselves to Church because they believe that they must believe it all or nothing. If “all or nothing” was the case, then none of us should go to Church. We are all in some sense “line upon liners.” Some of us may know more lines than others, but usually that is a function of years going to Church.

    My brain is simply not intelligent enough to grasp all of Mormonism. It is the most complex topic I have ever run into. Consequently, I must admit to being a cafeteria Mormon, picking and choosing as inspired. Actually, I don’t know how the process could work otherwise.

  5. June 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Delirious,

    I agree that nobody has all the answers. The kind of knowledge that I have been trying to address in the last few essays shared on Latter-day Commentary is the spiritual kind – the kind that can only be received through revelation. I’m not talking about knowledge of church history or of any kind of speculative doctrine, no matter what authoritative source is considered.

    I suppose we need to define mysteries. What is mysterious to many Christians outside the LDS faith, we find common and easily understandable, having been exposed to it all our lives. An example is the idea of a God who looks like us or rather, in whose image we are created. This is apparently a foreign concept to so many Christians, yet seems so basic and fundamental to me.

    When I read of LDS people expressing the same confusion about the nature of God, I am simply dumbfounded. How can a believing LDS not know that God is our Heavenly Father with body, parts and passions and who loves us with all the feelings of a tender parent? And yet, there are so many who share that they do not possess even this most basic understanding of our doctrine.

    Where did we go wrong? How can you grow up in the church and not know this? You see, there I go using the word “know” as if it were the kind of knowledge obtained in the natural course of human experience. I have to be careful. I am not referring to knowledge obtained through the five senses but through the revelations of the Holy Ghost directly to our spirits.

    I continue to think that the difficulties I see with those who are members in name only, or those who consider themselves New Order Mormons, or whatever they want to call themselves, is that they are not familiar with revelation and how it works. I may be completely wrong here but it seems that every objection can be resolved by a discussion of how one gains personal revelation.

    Our church leaders do encourage us to seek out and understand the mysteries, but again, we need to be sure that we agree on the definition of mysteries. To me, mysteries are not the historical facts of the founding of our church, not the obvious frailties of men, even prophets, when they make less than perfect expressions in speaking to the news media about our faith and religion.

    My point in bringing up shades of grey was to illustrate that in some things there is so much room for interpretation because we do not know all the facts and do not have enough detail. The historical record of our church is an area where many people feel very strongly that what is discovered there can and will affect how they feel about the church today. I can understand that.

    However, no matter what I have discovered about Joseph Smith over the years, that I did not know when I was younger, including Polyandry, peepstones, or the full story of what happened at the assassination, I have yet to find anything that has caused me to reconsider the validity of the revealed knowledge I have received when I prayed about the truth of the Book of Mormon.

    That revealed knowledge is sacred to me and is not something that I can share with anyone else. I have tried to describe in several essays here, and I keep assuming that most LDS people have had the same or a similar experience with revelation. But apparently, it just isn’t so. That just floors me. I thought we taught all our youth the importance of receiving personal revelation.

    Your grandmother sounds like a real saint to me. I love to read about people who aren’t at all troubled by the historical record and don’t need a deep understanding of the doctrines. Half my ward is the same way. There’s nothing wrong with that. They are faithful. They love one another and they serve each other. They are blessed and they are happy. It is a wonderful thing.

    So to summarize, when I bring up the idea of grey areas, I don’t really mean doctrine or history, I mean the focus on what’s important. Of everything I have ever learned in this church the thing I value the most is the understanding I have gained or how personal revelation works in our lives. I have gained this mainly through direct experience as part of my callings in church leadership.

    My own personal spiritual life has been so enhanced and enriched because of this knowledge of how God speaks to us to direct his church. I have experienced revelation over and over in the course of my duties in the many Bishoprics in which I have served. Because of that experience, I find it easier to obtain personal revelation in my own pursuits of sacred spiritual knowledge.

    Focusing on the problems in our history and especially on the imperfections of Joseph Smith keeps us from understanding the way that God reveals his will to imperfect people like you and me. I just don’t see how knowing about polyandry or the MMM, or President Hinckley’s less than perfect interview with Larry King have anything to do with my personal testimony.

    Sorry for going off and responding to a lot more than what you wrote. I very much appreciate your visit and your contribution to the dialog. I love what you are doing over on your blog and have enjoyed the faithful posts that I read there. I have added you to the list of blogs I follow and encourage others to visit you to add their comments to your essays.

  6. June 29, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    “Focusing on the problems in our history and especially on the imperfections of Joseph Smith keeps us from understanding the way that God reveals his will to imperfect people like you and me. I just don’t see how knowing about polyandry or the MMM, or President Hinckley’s less than perfect interview with Larry King have anything to do with my personal testimony.”

    Studying those things IS the very way you WILL understand the way God reveals his will to imperfect people like you and me. Ignoring real history, and intentionally blinding yourself to reality, isn’t going to bring you closer to understanding God. Conversely, studying real history, even when it’s uncomfortable, or it doesn’t coincide with our current understanding, is how we’re going to understand how God REALLY works with REAL people in REAL life. Knowing that J.S. screwed up A LOT, and God continued to work with him as the leader of the church, will cause you to have to reconsider what you previously thought about God and man, and it will cause you come closer to understanding reality.

    Studying those things will help you understand that just because some of the things J.S. did or said were true, doesn’t mean everything he did or said was true. Understanding that, and accepting it, will help you understand that current prophets, even though they are called of God, don’t necessarily always do or say the right thing. The thing is…that’s OK…the church is still good, and there are still a lot of true aspects of the church. A person just needs to scrutinize each and every thing and decide for himself if each thing he is told is true.

    To me, a comprehensive, REAL understanding of history leads to a much healthier and realistic understanding of God.

  7. July 1, 2009 at 7:45 am

    I don’t know where I fit in. I am not an exclusivist, but I don’t think exclusivists are necessarily wrong. My view of prophets is like Eyring sr.’s–I follow them because sometimes they speak for God. They can certainly be wrong sometimes.

  8. July 1, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Good points Crusty,

    I agree that we should not keep our heads in the sand about the history of our church. I was trying to point out that the things we learn about imperfect people in our history should not affect our testimonies if those testimonies are built on revealed knowledge through personal spiritual experiences. Knowing both sides of our history is a good thing and can help to strengthen us.

    I think of those people who have shared how shocked they were to learn some of the difficult parts of our history later in life and how much it affected their testimony and commitment to the church. I know this subject has been beaten to death on the LDS blogs out there over the past few years, but even a little bit of inoculation goes a long way to protecting fragile testimonies.

    Someone once said – I believe it was Brigham Young – that if a man joined the church because of a miracle that it would take a miracle to keep him in it. Joseph F Smith said, “It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God.” Do we need manifestations?

    And from Heber J. Grant: “There is but one path of safety to the Latter-day Saints, and that is the path of duty. It is not a testimony; it is not a marvelous manifestation, it is not knowing that the gospel is true – it is not actually knowing that the Savior is the Redeemer; but it is the keeping of the commandments of God, living the life of a Latter-day Saint.” Do we need manifestations?

    In spite of what I just quoted from a couple of prophets, I am convinced that we do need a rich spiritual outpouring from God in our lives to keep us firm in the faith. It may not necessarily be a manifestation in the sense of a vision or in hearing a voice from heaven. Spiritual experiences seem to be different for each person, but I feel strongly that we need them on a regular basis.

    With testimonies built on those spiritual experiences, through which knowledge enters our soul by means of the Holy Ghost, we are inoculated from the doses of reality that we find when we get serious about our study of church history and the revealed doctrines of the restoration that came through the prophet Joseph Smith as faithfully amplified by each succeeding prophet.

    I continue to explore my believe that those who were not exposed to some of the more difficult issues of church history early in their lives within the church, are prone to experience serious difficulties later in life as they discover shocking things and wonder why nobody told them. If you can believe it, I have heard of missionaries who did not know we once practiced polygamy.

    So I do agree with you Crusty, I just wish that it didn’t affect some people so badly when they learn this stuff. If one has gained a testimony that the Book of Mormon contains material that God intended for us to have in our day, then why should it matter if he discovered later in life that Joseph sometimes used a peepstone in a hat to bring those words forth for Oliver to write?

  9. July 1, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Hi Closet Doubter,

    Sorry for not responding sooner. Sometimes what I do for a living each day leaves little time to respond in a timely manner to comments on my blog. No, Shades of Grey was just my way of pointing out that sometimes we just don’t know enough of the facts to be able to pass judgment or make a determined and conclusive decision as to the rightness or wrongness of some action.

    I hated learning about what happened in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I especially hated learning that some within the church leadership were directly involved and that there was a cover-up for years perpetrated by some of the highest leadership of the church. But again, for me this is still shades of grey because I do not have a perfect knowledge of all the events.

    I’ve thought a lot about why President Hinckley answered some of the media questions the way he did. Do I think he could have done a better job? With hindsight, of course I do. But I do not know what he was thinking or why he hedged a little when he responded. Perhaps he was afraid that he would be misunderstood if he said too much. Some of those questions were rather deep.

    Nephi chopping off the head of Laban is something that has been debated many times over the years. All kinds of logical reasons have been put forth, some right there in the scripture, that make perfect sense to me, but in the end, it is still shades of grey because I do not know all that was involved in the decision making process. We only have to decide if he really was inspired.

    And the charges of Joseph Smith being involved in Polyandry are way beyond my desire to want to be his judge. He is the one who has to answer to God and explain how he could ask another man’s wife to marry him. I’ll leave that up to Joseph and God. If he says God told him he had to do so, then I’ll let him sort that out with God in the hereafter. I just don’t know what he knew.

    Life isn’t always black or white unless you have all the facts or have received knowledge from another source besides the five senses. There are very few things about which we have to be absolutely certain. For me, when I was younger, I had to be absolutely certain that God knew me and that he wanted me to go on a mission and that the Book of Mormon is what Joseph said it is.

    I prayed for and received that knowledge and thus my testimony has always been based on deep, personal and sacred spiritual experiences. But it is service within the church over the years that has confirmed that testimony to me over and over as I have received additional revelation and inspiration in the course of performing my duties. I still have my testimony from when I was 17.

    On those sacred occasions, after many hours in prayer, any doubts that I may have had about the reality of God and the fact that he authorized, even commanded Joseph to establish this church were removed in an instant. Even 35 years later, I can recall the power of that spiritual witness. It is that witness that inoculated me and allowed me to be unaffected by later events in my life.

  10. July 5, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Why not just say those things were bad? If good things happened, you would be perfectly willing to declare them to be good things, rather than ‘shades of grey.’ You would not say, “I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if it was actually good.” However, when bad things happen, you want to call them ‘shades of grey.’ Why not just call good things good and bad things bad?

  11. July 5, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Crusty,

    Good suggestion. Let’s start with the Mountain Meadows Massacre. That was bad. There is no way that anyone can possibly defend what happened as being good. More than a hundred men, women and even many children were murdered by Mormons doing what their leaders told them to do. That was just wrong. It was also wrong that some tried to cover it up and deny it for so many years.

    I am grateful that Juanita Brooks had the courage to really dig into this and for publishing her groundbreaking book on the subject so many years ago. I am also grateful that the church openly acknowledged fault for the massacre and publically apologized to the descendents of those involved, both the children and the families who carried the guilt and shame for so many years.

    Here’s another one that I think is bad. Many years ago, someone in the church wrote in the intro to the Book of Mormon that the American Indians are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. It now reads that the Lamanites are among the ancestors of the American Indians. For many years we were taught that all the American Indians are descendants of the Lamanites.

    This was bad and wrong. I’m glad the church has corrected this. It was a commonly mistaken belief perpetuated by many years of ignorance. Even though the Book of Mormon teaches that there were others in the land besides the Nephites and the Lamanites, there were too many in the church who thought and taught that they were the only ones here at one time. That was bad.

    I could go on and discuss the peepstone in a hat not being openly taught, Joseph’s plural wives and polyandry not being in our curriculum and several dozen other issues. I have written about most of these in previous essays here on Latter-day Commentary. I personally think that it is bad that we do not teach these more aggressively, but I simply don’t believe they have been hidden.

    OK, your turn. Tell me some good things about the church, our history and our doctrine.

  12. Closet doubter
    July 6, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Tim, What is your definition of “Hidden”? Hypothetically, what if an Apostle who heads the correlation committee, is presented a lesson manual on Joseph Smith, and it talks about Polygamy. He tells the committee to delete all mention of Polygamy from the manual. Is he “hiding” something? In the stick sense he is not, because it is known that JS had 30 plus wives. It is not well know among the members, and it seems that “the church”. Or maybe this single Apostle does not want everybody to know about JS and his many wives. So in a broader sense he (or the church) is hiding something. At the very least they are be disingenuous and evasive. Same with the BY manual.

    Yes, there is lots of good in the gospel. The feeling of community that the church offers is good. The great atmosphere that my kids were raised in, the YM/YW activities. All Good. I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    (BTW, I’m still waiting for your reply to my comment in the Black/White thread (no Michael Jackson pun intended)

    Closet Doubter

  13. July 6, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Closet Doubter,

    I like the response given by either Blake Ostler or Kevin Barney when asked a similar question at the 2007 Sunstone Symposium. They were on a panel discussing the subject of “Inoculating the Saints” which deals with this very issue. When do you expose the members of the church to the difficult issues in our history? Is there a risk that testimonies will be damaged as you do?

    One of the two responded this way: “I have little sympathy for those who cry foul when they discover things later in life about the history of our church that they were not taught when they were growing up in the church. If you want to hide something from the Latter-day Saints, just publish it in a book.” The question is then what is the right book in which to publish this stuff?

    I believe your question is not hypothetical. From what I have read, the chapters dealing with plural marriage were indeed pulled from both the JS and BY books that were published by the church for use in our priesthood and Relief Society courses of study. That means that general discussion of the subject is not one that will be dealt with in any depth in our classroom study.

    And, frankly, I believe that is as it should be. I mean, there has to be some level of personal responsibility for obtaining our own knowledge of the history and doctrine that goes beyond the basics that we receive in the official classroom curriculum. For some people, this can be very disconcerting because they feel deceived when they learn these things from unofficial sources.

    Hidden? I don’t think so and have never thought so. As I have written on several previous essays here on Latter-day Commentary, I learned about most of this stuff when I was in my teens. I did not learn about it in the classroom, but from reading books in my family library. Kevin Barney also describes in the panel discussion that he learned it when he was young.

    I’m talking specifically about the more difficult issues of the Mountain Meadows massacre, Joseph’s plural wives and polyandry, the seer stone in a hat, and many other troublesome items. John Dehlin did not share in my experience of learning these things in his youth. He says he was first exposed to them when he was thirty and was asked to teach seminary. That can be tough.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you did not learn about these items until later in life, and that it caused you to experience a crisis of faith because you felt that you should have been told about this stuff in the church classroom. You are not alone in this experience as I have read hundreds of stories like yours on RfM, Post-Mormon, the Foyer and Main Street Plaza.

    I believe the day will come when we will have a class on this stuff at the Institute level but probably never in Seminary or in the Sunday school curriculum. It may not happen until some of our current leadership has been replaced due to the natural process of time. I think the apostle you are referring had good intentions in wanting to protect the church from the problem issues.

    The Internet sure changed everything, didn’t it? There is a very vocal group of Latter-day Saints at various levels of faith who are really a minority of the LDS community but whose voices are much more strident and vociferous in this medium. The conservative, quiet, faithful members who know about this stuff either aren’t on the Internet or just don’t express themselves well here.

    So to be direct, yes, you could say that this apostle caused this material to be hidden from the classrooms of the church. Is that a good thing? I don’t think it would have bothered me to learn it there. And yet, I don’t think there has ever been any conscious effort to hide this material that can be found in numerous unofficial sources especially as those sources are all over the Internet.

  14. whitehusky
    December 14, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I’m leery of anyone who wants to have middle ground, cultural or otherwise, for accepting the truth. I’m not even sure what that means, really. Of course, I’m not into splitting hairs endlessly over semantics, as you will find common among those who want to cast aspersions on Mormons as failing to be Christian, but neither am I into excusing a Mormon who just doesn’t get the fact that Jesus Christ is Almighty God. I mean, what part of that is hard to understand? So, you either know Jesus Christ is at the head of the church, or you don’t. You don’t need to just believe it. Like Mormon of old, you can KNOW.

    There’s nothing relative about the truth. You can dress up strange philosophies in the guise of intellectual rationalism, and still, all you get is a pack of lies. The Lord doesn’t operate in shades of wrongness. He only operates in righteousness.

    Just as you pointed out, “revealed knowledge does not come in shades of grey.”

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