Posted by: Jay | September 9, 2008

Flagging Faith

I came across an article in the Church News last week that got my attention. Perhaps it is because it seemed so relevant to my situation. The title was “Helping those with flagging testimonies”. With more LDS members affected by anti-Mormon and secular views about LDS beliefs it is a worthwhile discussion. The article was a synopsis of several talks given at a recent FAIR conference (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) on the subject of disbelieving members.

The first talk in the article was by Mike Ash. The name immediately jumped out at me because I had received an email from a Mike Ash several months ago telling me of a book he was about to publish. He sent me a pdf copy of the book to read because he thought it might help (I haven’t read it yet). A short time later I began hearing of the book from various sources on the Internet. Needless to say, I was interested to hear his view on this subject. I was encouraged by a statement he made saying, “The Church umbrella, thankfully, is large enough to include those who struggle with sporadic or even chronic doubt”. With views like this being openly expressed, maybe there is room for serious doubt among LDS membership after all.

Then I kept reading. Though I agreed that there has to be room for unbelief and doubt in the Church, Mike Ash goes on to state the following:

“It seems that those who are prone to fundamentalist, dogmatic or closed-minded perspectives about the gospel or early LDS history are more likely to suffer from shaken-faith syndrome [disbelief] when they encounter challenging issues.”

Again I agreed, however, I was a little surprised at this statement because as a lifelong members I am well aware that the image the Church projects is “dogmatic” about doctrine and LDS history, so it comes as no surprise that most members would be prone to hold to the same dogmatic and closed-minded view. How then are members supposed to have a more enlightened view of the Church if all that is presented are faith-promoting stories about our history? If we are never or rarely taught about the troubling aspects of the historical record how would most members know they exist?

The Internet has made the more seedy side of church history accessible to lay members of the LDS faith. I’ve heard it said by apologists that all the Church has to do to hide something from its members is put it in a book. My question is, why would members bother reading “extracurricular material” when they trust that the Church would be providing them with accurate and complete information? I never dreamed that after taking nearly every institute class offered by the Church that I would not be aware of issues like Joseph’s polyandry, The Book of Abraham and Book of Mormon issues, the different versions of the first vision, ugly statements made by early leaders of the Church about blacks, and other less faith building facts. Considering I received well above passing grades in all my religion coursework (Averaged B+) and attended faithfully, I do not believe I somehow missed it.

In my opinion if the Church really wanted people to be informed of these issues they would be talked about openly and honestly, when appropriate, in weekly meetings at church. Until that happens the vast majority of members will be ignorant of the issues facing the Church. When a faithful member does discover the full history he/she wonders why the Church was not willing to trust them with the information. They also wonder why the Church doesn’t have at least some official explanation for the disconcerting points in our history. It is the lack of discussion among members that worries the questioner, not necessarily the fact that the problems exist.

Another sticking point I had with Mike Ash’s talk was when he says, “Unfortunately, we occasionally confuse peripheral teachings in the Church with rumors, traditions or personal opinions and think that they’re LDS doctrines, but they’re not. Sometimes we’re unaware of how to think outside the box of conventional LDS interpretations, even if those interpretations are based on tradition rather than revelation.”

Although I agree that many members take things as doctrine when they are not, I don’t blame them at all for doing it. Not when I still hear references over the pulpit at General Conference to an earth that is only a few thousand years old. Not when we have leaders that continue to insist that members DO NOT drink caffeinated soft drinks period. As members we trust our leaders to give us accurate information. When speaking as a leader of the one true Church we expect that when we are spoken to it is revelation from God that we are hearing. Surely, personal opinion should be eliminated from talks that carry such weight in the lives of the membership. If a leader does offer his opinion, which he is entitled to, he should state that is what he is doing so that everyone understands. Without stating this many lay members will be mislead into thinking statements are from God and not merely the opinion of a man.

Some may counter saying that the Spirit will allow members to know when a leader speaks for God. Regrettably, most members trust the Church so implicitly that spiritual confirmation in most matters is considered unnecessary. Not to mention the fact that confirmation on every point in just one talk alone would take an inordinate amount of time and lead to a paranoid state of mind. The hearer would have to question everything that is said to be sure it was of God. Leaders’ opinions mixed with truth complicates the message to such an extent that one is left wondering what to take as God’s word and what is the person’s own thoughts. Feeling the Spirit during a talk may signal to many members that the entire talk is true even if that may not be accurate. Later members mistakenly point to the words of their leaders to prove that something is doctrine. Sadly, because we are taught to never “speak ill” of our leaders there is little room to discuss what we believe to be opinion without crossing an unspoken line of forbidden criticism. Only when what was once said becomes socially unacceptable (e.g. Brigham Young’s comments on blacks) are we able to conclude it must have been their opinion. Even then members must tread lightly and some invent plausible excuses to justify the teachings and preserve the image of their prophet.

To count the comments as opinion also has the problem of explaining why the general membership accepted the teachings as doctrine at the time. Perhaps the prejudice of the people at the time was enough to allow them to unquestionably accept Brigham Young’s statements. They were simply blinded by their own bigotry. Alternatively, they may have reached the point of such obedience and trust that they took anything the prophet said as God’s word. Either way it leaves a query for us today. What current teachings are we accepting today because of our bigotry? Are we following blindly  the words of the prophet without seeking God’s will? In 100 years will future members say were bigoted and unthinking to have followed the Church in some matters? We must be willing to ask ourselves these questions if we have learned at all from the past.

The article moved next to an encouraging statement made by Brian Hauglid’s at the FAIR conference. He said, “We would do well to shy away from dogmatism and accusatory innuendo as this can engender misunderstanding and smacks of snobbery. Sometimes, we may even need to acknowledge with candor the reality of true facts critics bring up and also good arguments they might put forth”.

Amen to that! How can LDS members be taken seriously if they dismiss facts outright as anti-Mormon trickery? On the flip side, critics of the LDS Church should allow members the time to investigate for themselves, from multiple sources, the facts of controversial issues. It is unfair for critics to dump controversy on a member, much of which they may have heard for the first time and not allow them time to think, study, and form their own opinion without their influence.

The truth is there is good in the Mormon Church just as there is in all churches. Like many Christian traditions, the LDS faith is not perfect. As much as we wish it didn’t, it does have skeletons, flaws and error. I believe slowly we are improving. The Church is trying to be more open. Though critics and questioners may not think it is fast enough or correctly done, it is happening. In the past 5 years we have seen an article on the many versions of the first vision in the Church News, the Mountain Meadows Massacre addressed in the Ensign and the most comprehensive history of Joseph Smith by an active member to date. The author of the latter mentioned is currently involved a project funded by the Church to compile all of Joseph Smith’s writings, a seeming acknowledgement of the truthfulness in his book. Hopefully, we will continue to see the Church make more strides toward frankness and openly share the bad with the good. When members no longer expect near perfection from the Church or its leaders they will be more willing to absorb the humanity of leaders past and present. Hopefully, the dogmatism of the past can be laid aside and a spirit of welcoming and candidness can take its place within the LDS culture.


Responses

  1. I too think the church is moving in a good direction, though very slowly. I also have to wonder out loud about why it is moving in a new direction, if the general authorities are driving it they are staying very quiet about it.

    I think that Ash’s comments about only fundamentalist/dogmatic leaning Mormons having problems is simply laughable. Is there any other version of Mormonism on sale in 99% of LDS wards and branches? Of course someone always pops out of the woodwork and says, “My ward is not like that!” To which I would have to reply, “If you are being honest, congratulations on being part of the 1%.” The other problem is that even when you become a much more liberal Mormon, the stuff is still troublesome.

    I also think the bit about people being confused about the difference between traditions/opinions and doctrines is silly. There is no place you can go to find out the REAL doctrines. Since there is no way to make the distinction with 100% confidence, how can you fault people for failing to make the distinction?

    Finally, he wants to separate peripheral issues from core doctrines. Again, where is the magical list I can consult to know what is peripheral and what is core? Is polygamy peripheral? I guess nowadays it is, but then what of the 19th century?

    I understand what he is trying to do. The easiest way to deal with an issue is to deny that it is an issue. If you can convince people that an issue is just “peripheral” or “an opinion” or “simple dogmatism” then you don’t actually have to deal with the issue, you simply dismiss it. However, if you do that you better have very good arguments as to what makes something “core”, “doctrinal”, or “non-dogmatic.” I have not seen the apologists do that.

  2. I just found your blog randomly, but I want to comment on something I noticed in your post.

    You say you believe the church is flawed, but moving in a positive direction.

    That is exactly where I was 4-5 years ago, in my personal philosophies.

    Now I’ve left the church.

    I believe that “The church is flawed but getting better” is actually a mormon heresy, as the church is supposed to be the most perfect church ever made.

    It’s backed up by many mormon scriptures.

    If I hadn’t adopted the ‘flawed’ philosophy, perhaps I wouldn’t have left the church, or maybe I would have been forced to leave it sooner, who knows.

    But I’m not sad that I left, by any means.

    -Measure

  3. Jay

    ” I believe slowly we are improving. The Church is trying to be more open.”

    I sympathise with you here. You really want to stay a part of the LDS church and I can understand that. Perhaps I would want the same if it was my upbringing and heritage and family ties.

    The church is being forced into this against its will, with the activities of mostly those who the church itself has branded as apostates and vile sinners and probably been responsible for breaking up their families as well.

    It (The Leaders, Apostles and Prophets ) doesn’t deserve any respect in the matter. They have allowed this to go on and on since the beginning with no care or thought on the devastating effects on those duped. They have avoided all the real issues throughout General conferences and instead have marched on in oblivion.

    The bottom line is, on the whole most LDS recruited members have been deceived into joining this organisataion in the first place. Then they have passed it on to their kids through the specially crafted CES program.

    Who would have joined if they knew all the issues and true history in the beginning? How many women have left the church when they have found out Joseph Smith is not a role model monogomous husband but the worst nightmare husband for any women.

    A man who cheated and lied to his own wife in ways even the worst adulterers could not have conceived.

    This will always be Mormon legacy. The way Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff and many other LDS prophets conducted themsleves through dictatorialism and threats to maintain their Authority and privilaged Position ( including arranging teen wives for themselves).

    Even Bruce McConkie continued that Arrogant frame of mind and look at the nonsenses came out with.

    The only solution is to abandon the unique claims and admit its all a fraud.

    That means the Book Of Mormon , D&C, POGP Apostles and Prophets etc all goes out of the window.

    It will happen,and against their will, and will be long drawn out affair, with families torn up along the way.

    Meanwhile missionaries are out doing the ‘Heartsell’ for something and about something they have been misled and ill informed.

    I admire your openness and I can easily relate to your posts, though I wouldn’t have been as polite as you have managed to be under the circumstances.

    How many times in classes I heard the ordinary members feared for their eternal families, just because the church told them that they have to obey everything LDS inc Leaders tell them or else. A constant fear was being put into the members and they were always being blamed for lack of ward baptisms when in reality the real reason for that is the ‘product offered was being rejected’.

    The missionaries were coming up against the Internet more and more at the door. They would ask me if those disturbing things they had been told at the door was true and in every case I could only confirm it for them unfortunately.

  4. Ps Any chance of forwarding Mike Ash’s PDF doc ? :)

    I’ve read some of his apologetic articles before and he seems to have a a strange knack of admitting and almost confirming the problems rather than answering/combatting them realistically(or at least in my opinion).Cheers.

  5. You said “…if the Church really wanted people to be informed of these issues they would be talked about openly and honestly, when appropriate, in weekly meetings at Church.”

    Not to jump into the weeds here, but the Church does teach these things. But it requires the Holy Spirit to accompany the study. There is so much confusion about what is and isn’t doctrine or authentic historical context that it is easy for people to misunderstand. Go into most High Priest group meetings on Sunday or attend many HP gatherings, or attend many seminary classes and you will find many of these things discussed. The BYU channel has discussion sessions daily. But if all you want is to discuss the errant understanding of a given subject then you will have took to those who specialize in disinformation and bad research. The Church’s role is to uplift and edify. It is Satan’s goal to bring us down. So discussing junk history has no place in any Church gathering. I suppose some of these things discussions are analogous to pornography of intellect. So why jump into the sewer of intellectual trash?

  6. Have you ever noticed that the ex-Mormons are the primary responders on certain blogs and sites? Why is that? It seems they can leave the Church but they can’t leave it alone, to borrow someone’s observation. Leaving must have triggereed something inside them that they have yet to come to grips with. Some declare a new freedom which I dare say is authentic. Satan only works on those he doesn’t already own.

  7. JLFuller,

    To paraphrase Boyd K. Packer, you are not being very helpful.

  8. J L Fuller
    From your comments I can see you are a committed member ,

    “But if all you want is to discuss the errant understanding of a given subject then you will have took to those who specialize in disinformation and bad research. The Church’s role is to uplift and edify.”

    About those who specialise in Disinformation:

    I just looked at the Sept Ensign Article “My Dear and Beloved Companion”
    By Carol Cornwall Madsen

    It was all about how wonderul a husband Joseph Smith was and how he and Emma were married and about his wonderful love letters to her.

    BUT he had 33 wives at least.No mention of them or any letters he wrote them? Why not? If this was Gods will then surely those polygamous wives deserve a a mention and being remembered for their sacrifice for the Mormon Gods Will. Look at those who were already married to husbands they chose and yet still married Joseph Smith as well after he approached them ( sometimes when their husband were away on missions), there should be an annual commemoration remembering them for that scarifice alone.

    So who really is spreading disinformation.

    Alot of the Mormon appeal to investigators, especially females is the character of Joseph Smith. If they knew the real facts they might not be interested. Thats why there is alot of mental and psychological damage to those who find out later on having committed time and money and are faced with wanting to quit. What if they also have families in church, what happens then. Its a nightmare scenario and the church is fully responsible for that.

    The church ( does anyone represent the church anyway?) has to spin out excuses and reasons for his behaviour, but if he was lying about Polygamy then its likely he was lying about other things if not everything about himself.

    “It seems they can leave the Church but they can’t leave it alone, to borrow someone’s observation.”

    Well this is more to do with warning others about the church and what they are really letting themselves in for. Its an act of Love and not Hate. Wouldn’t you warn your neighbours/friends about Scientologists and JW’s if they were being misled or would you let them get roped in without the real facts being presented to them.

    The church shouldn’t fear or speak negatively about those who have left and speak out against it unless they know they have something to hide.

    “Satan only works on those he doesn’t already own.”

    Classic JW style Leadership reasoning. This is how they stigmatise and keep their weaker members from reaching freedom from that lying organisation.

    Satan does not work in Honesty and Real Truth and facts , he rather works with Lying and deceiving and manipulating. Any rational decent Human can figure it out for themselves when they are not being mentally manipulated with the threat of Satan in this way.Thats unhealthy pressure on people.

    We are not talking about people being led to destructive behaviour but rather about people deciding for themselves on the available information which was not divulged to them and should have been in the first place.

    I decided the church is not what it claims to be. This was not Satan telling me but rather was a decision i made once I had the full story which was very hard work to get out of ordinary Members as there seems to be a culture of baptising people and getting them committed before they found out the real beliefs and history of the church. I can’t believe seemingly decent people would behave this way.

    Until the Mormon Church stops marketing itself like a Vacuum Cleaner Business then there will always be objections to it and its methods of recruiting.

  9. Personally, I have never had Satan tell me a lie…or anything else for that matter.

  10. JL… If satan already has me, but has no use for me, why did he need me again?

    No, Satan needs me to spread the truth, that the mormon church covers and hides its own history.

    If there is a God and Satan, it appears to be God that is on the side of hiding and lying, and Satan on the side of Truth and openess. Odd, that.

  11. “I came across an article in the Church News last week that got my attention. Perhaps it is because it seemed so relevant to my situation. The title was “Helping those with flagging testimonies”.

    It’s seemingly most likely that the church is facing a very real crisis like never before with the advent of the Information age.

    “With more LDS members affected by anti-Mormon and secular views about LDS beliefs it is a worthwhile discussion.”

    I think not so much antimormon and secular views but more likely they have stumbled on the real and fuller more accurate (truthful) version of church history and foundational events.

    Now its a fairer playing field. Missionaries say one thing, Investigators respond with the correct version:) That was my experience and it concerned me greatly as in my initial investigation I trusted what I was being taught.

    Once I stumbled on the Face in The Hat and Stone trick, and then on the Book of Abraham facsimile No3 farsical description of those characters : ie females described as males by Joseph Smith, I started googling more seriously.

    And I chose to opt out.

  12. I think Fuller’s arguements have been thoroughly ripped apart so I won’t touch on them only to say that I agree with the others who disagree with Fuller.

    I’m a non practicing mormon. I go to these sites and blogs to find people in my boat, who have faith in God but want answers about the church. Or to atleast know I’m not alone in my hesitation.

    I had an abortion because of medical reasons. I haven’t told any church leaders because I’m afraid of excommunication and public humiliation. It wouldn’t be fair for the church to do that to someone who wanted a baby but couldn’t have it because of their health. And even though the church says that there are extenuating circumstances, such as the life of the mother in jeapordy, I don’t believe that the church would believe me. What would they require, a doctor’s note for me to stay a member?

  13. Wilson,
    I have a friend that also had an abortion for medical reasons. I don’t think you need to worry about church discipline, though I understand your concern. I don’t see any reason why you would ever need to mention it to any priesthood leaders. That is between you, your doctor and God, don’t worry about it. Welcome to mormonstalk. It’s been a while since the last post but it is always nice to have discussions on any of the topics.

  14. JLFuller – spot on.


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