A conversation with my wife last night sparked this post. She asked me what my purpose was in wanting to tell people about controversial LDS Church history. By no means need you suppose that I am actively looking for people to share the information with, but when asked for my personal opinion on a topic I do not hesitate to share it. I believe my purpose is that I want to spark conversation and discussion about topics that are not often talked about. I want people to be fully informed about what they believe in.
Recently, at a friends house I was asked what I thought of Brigham Young taking away the priesthood from blacks. My response was that I believe he was motivated by racism and that it was not of God. In our conversation last night my wife brought this up and pointed out that using such incendiary words like “racist” only serves to push people away. I admitted that she made a good point. I have experienced the same from anti-Mormons I have talked to. Since I am aware of most of the criticisms of the LDS faith I recognize the truth in their accusations. However, I also spot the exaggerations, opinions stated as fact and the biases they bring to the discussion. This gives me little choice than to take what they say with a grain of salt and requires me to do more investigating into their sources, which often turn out to be biased and inaccurate. I don’t have much patience for these type of conversations anymore because I’m interested in learning truth not opinion. So, if my purpose is to make faithful members aware of the facts, even the disturbing ones, perhaps calling Brigham Young a racist is not the best approach, even if that’s how I really feel.
Toward the end of our conversation I could tell my wife’s ability to put up with me was wearing thin (I don’t blame her a bit). I realized that she was correct in saying that I should use softer adjectives to describe what I perceive as problems with LDS history. If I don’t I’ll be pushed aside by the faithful member as just another anti-Mormon (something I do not aspire to), ignored and my comments will help no one. Eventually, I want to begin to create a database of all the articles and information I have read, which I can recommend to people that have questions. Perhaps even write up a summary of the history to hand out to people. This would be something without any comments of my own, just the facts and events as they happened and with references. I firmly believe that it is everyones’ personal responsibility to learn these things on their own, through studying it out and making a decision independent of anyone else. So if I say that I believe Brigham Young and other leaders were racist, that is my personal belief and no one should base their opinion of them soly on my statement, which I freely admit may be harsh.
I have experienced many approaches to discussions of controversial LDS history. The faithful Mormon trying to defend troublesome aspects of their history, the angry Christian yelling at Mormons telling them they are going to hell, the condescending Mormon intellectual, the thoughtful Mormon with a desire to learn and still be faithful and the thoughtful Christian who approaches Mormons in love. In my experience the last two have always been the best approach to difficult subjects in religion or elsewhere. If your purpose is really to help someone you will communicate with them respectfully and with patience. If you are a hireling and care little about the people you are speaking with then you will not worry about offending them, but when you do this the risk is that they will not listen long enough to discover the truth for themselves
What do you think is the best approach when talking to faithful Mormons about their checkered Church history? Is it okay to recognize the good things that Brigham Young and other leaders did? What type of language you use? Is it important to be respectful when speaking to others that don’t believe as you do?