You’ve been active and faithful in the church all your life and have a deep and abiding testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. You have enjoyed success and found great joy in helping others come to a knowledge of the Lord through your missionary labors. You’re proven to be a gifted administrator in the priesthood. You love to study the scriptures and to teach the gospel.
Responding to difficult questions
The Brethren have decided that all potential General Authorities must now take some additional classes prior to receiving the call. While we are a lay ministry, it is important that those who are called into positions that represent the church have skills developed in responding to difficult questions. You know the ones I’m talking about. President Hinckley was asked some of them.
Since you are on that potential General Authority list, you have been selected to participate in this class. In order to ensure that the training is effective, we have selected some real-world examples of the kind of questions you can expect to encounter. While you may have had no experience in studying church history, you will most certainly be asked questions like these.
The really hard list
1. Joseph Smith polygamy and polyandry – why didn’t we know about this?
2. Book of Mormon translation – Peep stone in a hat vs. Urim & Thummim
3. Why are there multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision story?
4. Why did the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon leave the church?
5. Why is there no real archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon?
6. DNA evidence proved that American Indians have no Israelite blood.
7. Egyptian scholars have proven that the Book of Abraham is a fraud.
8. Did Joseph Smith take the Temple ceremony from the Masons?
9. Could a real prophet have been deceived by the Kinderhook plates?
10. That is so exclusionary of us to claim to be the only true church.
11. Did Brigham Young teach that Adam was God and if so, why?
12. Do we currently teach that God was once a man like we are?
13. How can we really believe that man can become a God?
14. How could the Mountain Meadows Massacre have happened?
15. Why did the church practice polygamy after the 1890 manifesto?
16. Your church seems racist. Why delay giving priesthood to blacks?
17. Why did President Hinckley deny that we teach long-held doctrines?
18. How was President Hinckley deceived by the Mark Hoffman forgeries?
19. Why do Mormons believe that Lucifer and Jesus Christ are brothers?
20. There are documented cases of spiritual abuse by priesthood leaders.
21. Why is the church opposed to work of LDS scholars and intellectuals?
22. Why did the church cover up President Benson’s Alzheimer’s disease?
23. How can the true Church of Jesus Christ reject those who are gay?
24. Why has church growth stopped in the U.S. – baptisms decreasing?
25. How can the LDS claim to be the true church with so few members?
Effect of the questions
These are legitimate questions raised over the years that can be found today all over the Internet. Many of our young people are asked these questions by their friends on a regular basis. They are not being malicious or trying to cause problems. They simply want answers. Even though they are difficult questions, some have studied them out in an effort to be able to provide the answers.
Sometimes they have discovered that even long-time members have never heard these questions. They have been told by well-meaning leaders to just pray about it and they will get their answers. But there is so much confusing information out there and no official LDS source that addresses these questions that they become discouraged and begin to doubt their testimonies of the church.
Rules of engagement
Your assignment as a new General Authority is to address these questions in a manner that builds faith and encourages continued study. You must not act surprised if you have never heard any of these questions before or don’t understand why they seem so important to those who are asking. And you certainly don’t want to be dismissive of those who are bothered by these questions.
You must not defer them to others, claiming that “we have apologists who answer this stuff for us.” That won’t cut it. You’re now a General Authority and need to know the answers yourself. Yes, it’s true that most members of the church have never heard these questions and don’t know that these are issues for some. And yes, some members would be shocked to learn about all this.
So your challenge is great. How do you answer these questions without causing confusion or doubt among the faithful members who do not question? How do you respond to the one as the Savior taught? Those who struggle with these questions are a relatively small number and yet they are very active on the Internet, where many people seek information on the church today.
At the same time, focusing on these questions and taking the time to research them, understand them and to be able to explain them is time consuming. It takes away from one of the primary missions of the church to declare the gospel. And yet, it fulfills another part of that mission by perfecting the saints. Most of these questions are raised by disaffected and former members.
A possible response
It seems that we have failed a generation of bright and intelligent young people who have grown up on the Internet. We did not anticipate what this amazing communication medium could do to supply facts and details about our history and doctrine. It’s not that we’ve been purposely trying to hide anything from you. It’s just that you have been exposed to stuff earlier than we figured.
We wish it had been otherwise. We would have preferred that you had knowledgeable mentors to guide you through your discovery of all these difficult issues. We were aware of them and decided not to share them or at least not promote discussion of them in the church curriculum. We are seeing now that this may have been a mistake. It was not our intention to deceive you.
We understand that many of you have felt shocked and betrayed when you first learn about these things. Please don’t lose faith in the entire church teaching system that has brought you to the point you are now. We should have found a way to inoculate you before you encountered these troublesome issues but were concerned that exposing you to them early could also be disastrous.
Please accept our apologies for not teaching you about these things in a more open and honest manner. We accept the responsibility for our failings in this area and will work harder in the future to ensure that the upcoming generation does not have to suffer what you went through. But we hope that you will also be just as responsible for your own church history education.
Summary and conclusion
This is obviously just a thought exercise. Please don’t seriously think that my ponderings here have anything to do with the reality of the way the church is responding to this problem. You may legitimately wonder if some leaders in the church are even aware that this problem exists. Perhaps those that are aware feel just as frustrated as you that we don’t address it more openly.
For those that have struggled or are struggling with questions like those I have listed, please be aware that there are many thousands of us who have faced and answered the same questions. We recognize their potential impact to destroy faith, but have found that God is faithful and will send peace to the troubled heart. Sometimes satisfactory answers will only come over the test of time.