The Mormon Internet

Without question, the internet provides an interesting challenge for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Google “Mormon,” “Joseph Smith,” or “Mormon temple,” and it will not take long to find information hostile to the church.

The internet offers a richer tapestry of Mormon history and theology than has previously been available to most Mormons. I have no exact data, but I think it is safe to say that more than a few Latter-day Saints have found their online forays damaging to their faith (the same is true for other Christians probably, who google “Mark” and come back with the “Messianic Secret”). Anti-Mormon sites abound, and with only a few clicks, faithful Mormons can find their faith challenged in ways that were previously not so readily threatening. Non-Mormons are also offered easy views of Mormonism which are unflattering to say the least. Two scenarios:

1. A Sunday School teacher is preparing a lesson. Perhaps she is teaching D&C 25 and wishes to know more about Emma Smith. After a quick online search she is left reeling by information on polygamy about which she was previously unaware.

2. A man drives past a Mormon temple. Impressed by the beauty of the building he wants to know more. Google provides him with a stark and deliberately unflattering visual portrait of Mormon temple worship.

Given these scenarios — and I suspect that they play-out quite often — what is the church to do? It seems there are two prudent courses of action. First is to build up the church’s official online presence. The more official information there is the better, especially if it is of a high quality. The church seems to be doing this with great gusto recently. This is a good thing.

The second is to have a relatively laissez-faire attitude towards the Mormon internet. A few official sites in the sea of cyberspace are not enough to direct traffic away from the church’s enemies. Organisations like FAIR and FARMS offer answers to tough questions that the institutional church would sensibly rather not engage. Church-friendly websites and blogs that discuss Mormon issues further offer balance in cyberspace. Linked together, the totality of the Mormon internet helps offer a positive voice. Confronted by challenging information, many Mormons are looking for candid answers and a place to discuss their concerns frankly. By and large, the Mormon internet offers this. This is not to say that there aren’t Mormons who are hostile to the church online — there are — but I believe that they are in a minority.

It would be prudent for all of us to take a light hand in any desire to control internet discussion. At times it should be done, but we ought to be wise. It is my sense that most church members would, if confronted by the vast anti-Mormon presence online, realise the sense in such a policy. Again, there can be little patience for overt apostasy (admittedly difficult to define and also to police, given the pseudonymous nature of much of the web), but there is a danger that some Latter-day Saints, unaccustomed to the new reality of the internet, might mistake honest discussion for hostility. If all independent Mormon voices on the internet were to cease, the few official church sites could scarcely compete with the deafening roar of the anti-Mormon collective and the problem would get worse. If a friendly Mormon sites stop discussing seer stones, for example, and if the official site is silent on the topic, you cede the entire discussion to anti-Mormons.

Here at BCC, one of the more popular Mormon blogs, anti-Mormon hostility is unacceptable. We are active Latter-day Saints who care deeply about our religion and wish to promote faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, you may occasionally hear some honest doubts about this or that, a modicum of unorthodoxy, a few moody gripes, and a great deal of goofing around, but I hope that the totality of our writing will demonstrate our basic commitment to Jesus Christ and the church.

Here’s the bottom line: I am acutely aware that a discussion at BCC of, say, Mormon polygamy, would be challenging to some who are not aware of all of its intriguing complications, but let’s be clear: it is better to have that discussion here (or any of the other Mormon-friendly sites) than to let doubts fester alone, or to seek knowledge in the myriad of sites who take great glee in painting Mormonism in dark hues. Be cautious online, but do not mistake honest discussion for apostasy. The very real presence of bona-fide apostates and crude anti-Mormons will not forgive such a mistake. Something has to fill a vacuum and the church cannot fill it all.

Should we simply be reading our scriptures? Should we only seek further knowledge in the careful footnotes of academia? Mayhap. But let’s be honest, we don’t. So, be happy with the Mormon internet, make it better, and remember: Google needs your links.

Comments

  1. It’s interesting to note that the challenges presented by the internet seem to be happening worldwide, and in languages other than English. Some discussion of this can be found in Jiro Numano’s informative recent Dialogue article on the church in Japan. The availability, to rank-and-file members, of a much wider range of information about the church is probably a new but persistent reality in Mormonism. Numano also discusses the possibility that, after an initial wave of shock and apostasy produced by the new information, Mormons tend to reset their expectations and move on. So there may be a finite horizon to the period in which the internet will actually scare people out of the church. Eventually, perhaps, members’ baseline expectations about church history and doctrine will be more compatible with the complexities that the internet has made evident — and then the slow bleed will dry up.

    In any case, I think we ought to welcome this. The transitions, both personal and institutional, associated with the internet and the ready availability of more information about Mormonism may be difficult. But the end result will be a more authentically Mormon Mormonism. How Mormon is it to disregard information because it isn’t neat, or because it contradicts our ideas and creeds?

  2. In German, the ratio of anti- to pro-/neutral- Mormon internet information seems to favour the unfriendly.

  3. Depending on the issue, the BCC Research Collaborative could potentially be useful to people in this regard, research AT bycommonconsent DOT com. While we can’t help everybody struggling to assimilate new information, on particular topics we may be able to generate useful information.

  4. I think that you are right and it would seem that at least the folks in the COB are starting to see things this way.

  5. In Spanish, the first page of a Google search for “Mormones” returns 1 positive site, 2 roughly neutral Wikipedia results, 1 expired site, and 6 critical sites. One of these sites has a detailed description of every temple ritual. So, the results in Spanish also favor the unfriendly.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Ronan, I completely agree with you. If the unofficial Mormon presence on the Internet were to shut down for some reason (such as some sort of an “alternate voices” decree from SLC), it would be a disaster. It’s a different world now than it was 20 years ago.

  7. And here I thought we were in it for the money.

  8. This is reminding me of somehting I just learned. if you google “jew” there is an official notice above the resuults saying
    “Offensive Search Results http://www.google.com/explanation We’re disturbed about these results as well. Please read our note here.”

    If LDS returns positive and official results (therefore “relevant” as google calls it) but “mormon” gets slang and derogatory results, perhaps the church should lobby for a similar disclaimer on the “mormon” searches.

  9. Some further points:

    1. This is not to say that the Mormon internet doesn’t sometimes cross the line. It does, and it is incumbent upon ourselves to reaffirm the (sometimes fuzzy) boundaries.

    2. The Mormon internet is not a homogeneous entity. There ought to be academic sites, politics sites, family blogs with links to the ward temple trip, and sites for honest discussion. The latter are the trickiest, but if you’ve seen a bona-fide anti- site, the difference is apparent. Above all, doctrinal and historical sites must provide accurate information.

    3. If I have a criticism it is the tendency to exaggerate the exotic, as if polyandry was the totality of Mormonism. We need polyandry posts, but I think Mark Brown’s “Mormon Food” is more authentically Mormon.

  10. Very well said, Ronan. While I don’t see the generation of pro-LDS Google hits as the primary purpose of LDS blogging, it does go a long way toward filling the gap between official and apologetic sites, on the one hand, and the throng of “anti-Mormon” sites, on the other. Which makes LDS blogging a little like living in the no man’s land (contested turf) between the trenches with both sides shooting at us, I suppose.

    FYI: I offered similar comments in a prior post at DMI, Internet Mormonism: Threat or Opportunity?

  11. Thanks for the link, old timer!

  12. I don’t mind being a case in point.

    Let me give a shout out to the blogernacle in general. Thank you. Where else can the issues that I need to deal with get hammered out? Church just made it worse, whether intentional or not. I’m still working on certain aspects of my testimony, but now I don’t have to do it alone.

    I can also help others with issues that they struggle with that I don’t. I turned 180 degrees from a person on the way out of the church to someone who hopes to contribute to the church and the online LDS community. It’s all thanks to you “so-called intellectuals.”

  13. This is not to say that the Mormon internet doesn’t sometimes cross the line… The latter are the trickiest, but if you’ve seen a bona-fide anti- site, the difference is apparent.

    I agree that it is tricky. It seems to me that there is a difference between honestly discussing beliefs/history/doctrines and discussing practices though. For instance, we see lots of posts at Mormon blogs on some of the more difficult historical issues (polyandry and whatnot) and I think that can be healthy in the long run. As you said, better to learn sticky details from faithful members than from enemies of the church. But if we started seeing practice-related posts like “Why I decided throw off the oppressive shackles of the Word of Wisdom and take up drinking” or something, there is a problem supporting such “honest discussion” I think. In my opinion there are a few fairly bright lines regarding our practices that should not be crossed and encouraging people to cross them is not in the best interests of the church (or its members).

  14. Nicely done Ronan. Certainly the “unofficial” Mormon internet presence makes an overall positive contribution. Are you thinking April might be the general conference where Mormon Blogs are referenced more than just in passing?

  15. Is there any way you could add 2 more sites to the links you have on your site? One of my sites is very similar to Sustain’d – the reason I am still doing it is just as you mention – to only add to the number of good Mormon sites on the internet. I think I can reach others sustain’d is not, and I’m sure sustain’d can reach people I can’t. We both have different skills, and 2 IMO is better than one. Perhaps one day we’ll join forces. I don’t know, but why not have more great sites on the internet? Anyway, my LDS News and links site is:

    http://www.came2pass.com

    Also, I often quote Mormonism, add ideas, and thoughts on my own blog, which is:

    http://www.jessestay.com/articles/category/religion

    If you could add either, I could certainly use some more links – SEO is a specialty of mine, but I can only go so far without people linking to me. Also, feel free to post any of your articles on Came2Pass.com! I try to do so as I see them as well. I really like this site.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks Jesse, we’ll think about it.

  17. Thanks for the consideration! FYI, here’s the link I submitted for this article:

    http://www.came2pass.com/MissionaryWork/Mormon-Internet/

  18. Obviously, expectations play a big role. Discovering something about Joseph Smith’s polygamy would be a lot less detrimental if people had learned about it in church and on church sources.

    Today,it is a lot harder to control message, especially, on two-way media such as blogs. If one analyzes Michael Otterson’s On Faith posts, one will find that Otterson eventually abandoned attempts to spin Mormon matters. It was too easy to call him when he sidestepped the tough issues.

    His last three or four post contained zero spin. Good for him. In my opinion, Otterson’s experience contains a valuable lesson for the content of LDS sites. For example, it is a mistake to pretend that Joseph Smith was a model husband who cherished Emma without mentioning his other wives with a single word.

    It is too easy to demonstrate that there is an essential piece of information missing. And there are a lot of people who have an incentive to exploit such weaknesses.

    The way to deal with weaknesses to tell the story yourself, tell it early, and tell it all. Of course, it’s scary but it’s the only thing that works in the long run.

  19. There is a real temptation for academically trained people (as opposed to those who come upon their wisdom through other means)to place argument above kindness, and vocabulary above charity. I am always so disappointed when a good conversation degenerates into accusation and argument, but it happens too often on blogs.
    Today, my students discussed “Young Goodman Brown” and I thought about some recent blogging I’ve seen. Translate YGB into a blog and you see the blogger/protagonist lose faith in FAITH (his wife/another blogger), because he realizes that she is a sinner, someone who dances with the devil. He cannot see his own blindness, nor does he realize what the effects of his assumptions and judgments will be. And so he becomes, as it were, a “lone man” in a garden. He loses his love.

    Shakespeare hit on it too. In _The Winter’s Tale_, the king is completely convinced that his wife has committed adultery. Nothing–not even the word of a god attesting to her fidelity–will persuade him that he has misjudged her. Ultimately (apparently as punishment), his son dies and his daughter is lost for sixteen years. His wife is taken away, and only when he can fully recognize her for who she is can he have her again.

    Well, easy judgments and hasty assumptions are human frailities. They’re bound to make their appearance on the web. Without the human face to beckon us away from the edge of accusation, it is very easy to fall into the abyss.

    My question to myself is this: How to I re-establish faith in people who I have learned to distrust because of something they’ve said in a blog (or several blogs)? I am being just as judgmental as they. I admit that when I see certain names, I either skip their comment or I read it rather cryptically. I recognize that as a solid slice of hypocrisy and a sin. But without real human contact, it is very hard to find a way out of the sludge of judgment.

    What if bloggers who know they tend to be combative and that they’re perceived as such (and maybe even glory in it) post blogs about who they are–what their lives have taught them–instead of just about how faulty someone’s logic/testimony is. I’ve met J. Stapley, whose comments I like a lot, so I have an actual face to attach to what he says. I’ve never met Steve Evans. I’d like to know more about him. I know he loves his wife, because I remember the lovely valentine/blog he wrote for her, so I like him already because of that. Though Kevin and I have presented at the same conference, I don’t remember what he looks like. I’d like to remember. (And I really like his blogs and comments.)

  20. Hellmut, agreed – we way too often skirt the issues that we are most often criticized about. True, there are some that will continue to criticize despite the evidence given, but being Ward Mission Leader in my ward and being involved in the Gospel Principles class, I am realizing what little new and even old members really know about the Gospel. Topics such as Joseph Smith’s quote in the Gospel Principles manual on God once having been as Man is (please do not quote me on that as it is not the exact quote) are essential points of doctrine critical to our beliefs, yet we rarely teach it due to the criticism the Church has received for it. We need to embrace these essential truths, accept the faults of man and separate that from true prophecy, while at the same time recognizing that what matters most is that we have asked God of the truth, and that truth has been manifested through the Spirit by Him, and brings us closer to Christ. It’s a delicate subject, but with testimony can have a powerful effect on the unbeliever.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    “I’ve never met Steve Evans. I’d like to know more about him.”

    Some phrases you hear only once in a lifetime, and that’s one of them! Thanks Margaret.

  22. Discovering something about Joseph Smith’s polygamy would be a lot less detrimental if people had learned about it in church and on church sources.

    I’m not sure this is a fair assumption. Is it because we don’t get info about polygamy at church, or it is that most of what we find about polygamy online casts it in a negative light? Would discovering something about polygamy online be detrimental if there was more balanced information about it online? It seems that the internet is an interesting animal in this way…it seems to collect a lot of negative on topics and issues and problems. (This is true outside of religion as well…If I want to find out about a new drug I’m taking, for example, I find all the scary stories and very little straightforward info.)

    If we are to extol the virtues of online discussion, it seems to me that we ought to have a bit more responsibility put on the online community to offer balanced views on things. Polygamy is one of those topics that is, IMO, more often than not portrayed in a negative light. I really appreciated, as a contrast, Tracy’s recent piece on Emmeline Wells, who was apparently a supporter of polygamy. I think we need more balance like that on tough topics. The challenge I see for The Mormon Internet is for it not only to be a place to “work through” tough issues but to to get more objective information about them.

    And I know many disagree with me, but I still don’t think that church is really the place to do this.

    I wonder, too, why there isn’t more discussion on the option of simply getting more positive stuff out there so that when searches are performed, it’s not just the negative that bubbles to the top. Is this feasible?

  23. Along the lines with what Margaret said, I’m surprised that in blogs like this one (that is definitely pro-Church but still tries to represent Mormon history, culture and experience honestly even if it’s not completely orthodox) we don’t give each other more of a break.
    Let’s admit it. We love these blogs. We’re kind of addicted to them, right? We don’t want them to go away (which would happen if people stopped paying attention to them) but sometimes we’re still so cruel to each other. Since there is no face-to-face, it is easier or acceptable to be meaner. Cruelty makes people leave, or at least withdraw somewhat.
    This meanness leaves a worse taste in my mouth than any surprising or scandalous thing I could learn about Mormon history from the Mormon internet.

  24. Well said, Amri Brown. Well enough said to stop me from a snappy comment about Steve — so it must have been good.

  25. I’m sure I am an not alone in often forgetting that the internet is transparent–meaning that posts are available for almost anyone to read and put their own spin on. I don’t think this means that we should censure what we say, open and honest discourse is invaluable. I do think we should be careful about making things personal though. I’ve read posts on this very site critically referencing specific church situations that I have personal knowledge of. I can only hope that the individuals who were held up as negative examples don’t come across this site, although I know that several members of our congregation are regular readers. So I say–let’s keep talking but keep it scriptural/theoretical. Don’t use people as examples–remember that person could be a regular reader and will react by throwing in the towel, so to speak.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Margaret, you can see pictures and brief bios of the BCC permas (such as Steve and myself) by clicking on our names in the left-hand pane of the blog. It’s not the same as in-person interaction, but it gives a sense at least for who we are as people.

  27. #25 Anon,
    I’m not sure this was pointed at me specifically but I do have problems with this. My last post poked fun of a bishop and his chastity talk to us. I’m sure I could have handled that in a better way, but in my discussion and processing of the Church it’s all about the people. That is where my interests lie. I’m not an academic, I don’t do research. I just read a lot, which means mostly nothing. Posts about theoretical human interactions are not very interesting to me. So I have a problem. Anyway, I’d love advice on how to deal with that because I don’t know how to tell funny stories (that sometimes poke a little fun) and still make it charitable.

  28. Now THAT was fun! I just looked at all of the pictures and very clever bios of the BCC board. I had no idea I could do that. I wonder if I can do it at T&S also. (You see, I am an older person and not accustomed to modern technology.)
    Steve Evans looks young enough to be my son. (And he probably is young enough.) Steve, did you ever have a class from my brilliant husband, Bruce Young, while you were at BYU?
    Several pictures look like they should be magazine covers. Jonathan should be on a very macho fishing magazine. Kevin should be on _The Nation_.
    Amri should be on _Redbook_. Kris goes with something for very smart women.

  29. I agree with anon that blogs should not be used for gossip about actual living individuals not otherwise in the public sphere. I recommend active anonymization of individuals that are potentially involved. For Amri’s case, make it a second counselor or a high councilman, and put the ward in the Midwest somewhere (e.g. Levan). Give him a greasy moustache and an affected British accent. Make it real, but don’t make it identifiable. Spoken gossip is contentious enough, but to freeze it in the google cache or a blog archive is often unkind and even potentially libelous.

    Amri, I don’t think you’re always required to make funny blogs charitable, but I do think you’re obliged to make them anonymous.

    Margaret, Ronan is quite charming. Meeting him at a conference in DC is what persuaded me to be involved with BCC. Although I understand he has a thing for Babylonian slaves, which can complicate social interactions.

  30. smb-I am fairly reprimanded. I forget sometimes, that so many people know who I’m talking about. I’m sorry. Call me on it (anyone that wants to) and I’ll fix it. It’s not nice of me and I am trying to be nice.

    Margaret, I love meeting bloggers, like you say it makes the Mormon internet so much more fun.

  31. Don’t think of it as a reprimand, Amri. It didn’t occur to me at the time you posted it, either. So often “bishop” represents someone faceless and anonymous. I’m excited to learn about some of these fictitious personae, tooth-counts, smells, foot problems, all the good stuff.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Margaret, I look young but I ain’t. Trust me, I’m probably the 4th eldest person at BCC! I didn’t take classes from Bruce, unfortunately.

  33. m&m, it is a problem when the LDS Church dedicates an entire website to Joseph Smith and extols his devotion to Emma Hale but fails to mention any of his other wives. It sets people up for disappointment and disillusionment.

    If you don’t talk about your weaknesses then somebody else will. In the process, you are worse off. That’s the way the politics of information happens to work out.

    A little bit of courage could go a long way in that respect.

  34. Hellmut,
    Let me first say that I understand what you are saying and why you are saying it. I’m just not convinced that the powers that be haven’t thought about and considered what you are talking about, but have deliberately decided against it. I don’t understand why you can assume that it’s simply a lack of courage. I highly doubt that is the case.

    I’m sure you know that this issue is addressed on mormon.org. The issue is not ignored, but it’s not emphasized, either…and neither should it be, IMO. Besides, I also have to wonder what you really expect the church to do. No amount of “information” has appeased even some of the brightest minds that I have read in the ‘nacle. All the apologetics in the world haven’t stopped people from worrying about things like this. What more can the church say than what it does? (It was a commandment for a while and then it was stopped.) If someone is going to have an issue with issues like this, in the end I can see very little the church as an institution can do about that — it is something that must be dealt with at a personal and spiritual level. And I think the focus the church gives on the foundational principles of the gospel and the key elements of the Restoration really are the best way to help people know on what to build a testimony, regardless of the concerns and questions that might arise. Besides, isn’t it possible that perhaps the best way to deal with the issue is to not make the issue any bigger than it needs to be? What if it ultimately really is that simple (e.g., it was a commandment for a while and then it was taken away)?

  35. m&m has a good point there.

    I mean how many of our Christian friends from the “orthodox” trinitarian angle are ready to belt out the fact that Moses, the one who recieved the “Thou shall not commit adultery” married TWO women, and both of them from outside of Israel to boot!

    It’s like those who get in a tizzy over the seer stone and the head in the hat. Do they also go off on the spit and the created mud Jesus rubbed on eyes to heal blindness???

    The truth is that there are items in day to day communication that are simply made to tend toward our present view of normalcy or appropriateness. Much of this is out of sync with the overall picture and scheme God has set up for us here. But what is so wrong if the Church isn’t including a seer stone and a head buried in a hat in it’s official missionary literature? Is there ANY religion or ideology that does that? I know of not a single one. In some way or another there are inherently aspects of their paradigm that they will not share in ANY initial, or even secondary, discussions when they are trying to win someone to their view.

  36. What if it ultimately really is that simple (e.g., it was a commandment for a while and then it was taken away)?

    HiveRadical helped expand what I was trying to say here. I think often the things we want to make “big issues” may in fact not be, and insisting that they be focused on more may sometimes only serve to make matters worse, not better, IMO.

  37. hive, m&m,
    amen and amen.

  38. HR and M&M,
    I agree that we need not obsess of some of these things, but that’s not really the point. People do obsess over them, and that being the case, it would be better they not get their information from ex- and anti-Mormon sites.

  39. People do obsess over them, and that being the case, it would be better they not get their information from ex- and anti-Mormon sites.

    That, of course, is a valid point. My point was that, then, Mormon sites shouldn’t obsess over them, either, which is sometimes what I see. :)

    But I still ask: Have we really seen resolution on the hot topics even in the ‘nacle? If anything, discussions often stir up more questions than answers. At least that has been my experience the past year, so I question still what is the best approach to dealing with “bad” info out there and people who struggle with it. Is the answer to tough issues and anti information simply more information (which always ends up conflicting anyway (else we would not have discussions in the ‘nacle, right?)), or is it to turn to the foundational principles that the church focuses on and that the Spirit is more likely to confirm? I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s the latter (or at least that the intellectual alone is rarely if ever sufficient). Is there a way to address and acknowledge the issue intellectually if needed (because I think sometimes it is helpful) but then help turn the person back to the roots of testimony and faith? At some point, hashing and rehashing and analyzing issues seems rather fruitless to me (sometimes counterproductive), especially because we often don’t fully understand (even if we think we do :) ) and never fully agree. So, again, I’m still wondering if, in the end, less is more (a la mormon.org). Acknowledge it, recognize it, and move on so the Savior and His gospel can again be the focus and the Spirit can then more readily influence the person.

    Sorry. Been thinking about this quite a bit the past few months….

  40. Okay, who else thought that this was kind of a weird exchange?

    Anon in 25: Let’s not make criticisms of individuals. Let’s keep it all theoretical. If any theoretical criticisms of any individual were to theoretically exist, they should be replaced by theoretical criticisms of theoretical situations.

    Amri Brown in 27: Oooh — I know who you’re talking about in that comment! It’s me!

  41. Margaret in 28:

    Um, you do realize that your co-bloggers down the hall have bios too? You even have one, yourself. (And yes, I still need to upload your picture, don’t I?)

    Sure, ours aren’t as funny as some of the ones here. Mostly that’s because T&S, being the world’s oldest blog, actually predates the invention of humor.[1],[2] Of course we could always update the site and add humor — but then, we pretty much never update anything at T&S.

    And besides, after looking at today’s T&S[3] comments, do you really want your co-bloggers trying their hand at writing humorous self-profiles? I thought not.

    [1] Humor was invented by an Akkadian princess in 2390 B.C. You can ask Ronan.
    [2] The only entity older than T&S is Steve Evans, who is indeed older than he appears. His peripatetic career began immediately after the unfortunate death of his brother Abel in about 6000 B.C.; Steve is also the sole blogger to be mentioned by name in The Miracle of Forgiveness.
    [3] Or BCC?

  42. m&m and Hive Radical, I understand your perspective. In fact, in Mormonism as in most other things, more information almost always makes everything more complicated. Yet the world we’re in now is one in which the information is going to continue to become easier and easier to access — so the solution of simply focusing on what may perhaps be the most important information and hoping that people can deal with the rest themselves seems somewhat out of date.

    I think it’s both sensible and inevitable that Mormon spaces other than the official ones spend a lot of time discussing the things that are (a) not discussed and (b) not permitted to be discussed in official Mormon spaces. Do you want to talk about polygamy in Sunday School? Good luck. The lesson manual for the lesson on the polygamy revelation instructs the teacher not to discuss the issue and to deflect the topic if a class member raises it. It may be the case that the topic is best handled at the individual level — but for many people the process of handling it is difficult enough that some support is needed. And official church resources don’t offer that support. Enter the unofficial Mormon sources. Why duplicate what’s already on offer in sacrament meeting, Sunday School, Relief Society/priesthood, general conference, the Ensign, visiting/home teaching, and in meetings with the bishop? If our discussions duplicated those, wouldn’t the discussions here simply be a waste of time and resources? So we instead focus on (obsess on?) the things that are left out in official discourse.

    Last but not least, it’s a good — and very Mormon — thing to explore the implications of all the religious information you can get and build them into your religious worldview. Mormons, the saying goes, gather all truth into one. Could the story of polygamy be as simple as “it was a commandment for a while and then it was taken away”? No, it couldn’t. It was a principle with doctrinal foundations and implications. Polygamy, like other things in Mormonism, wasn’t just or even primarily a commandment. Furthermore, the doctrines of polygamy were at the center of the processes of development of many of our modern doctrines and rituals. Understanding what we do today, really understanding, requires a careful examination of polygamy. Polygamy was also a decades-long practice with all the social and historical complexity that involves. Indeed, for many participants in the Mormon blogs, polygamy is part of who they are — it shows up time and again in their genealogy. So of course it matters.

    The place to go for real information on polygamy, of course, isn’t the blogs. It’s publications. Read Newell and Avery, Van Wagoner, Compton, Quinn, Alexander, Hardy, and so forth. But those books and journal articles can’t talk back to you. For support, interaction, a place to talk about your interpretations and hear those of others — that’s what the blogs can do, that’s why the “obsession” with difficult issues like polygamy is a good thing.

  43. m&m, I am talking about josephsmith.net. That side is a public relations disaster that creates unnecessary vulnerabilities and undermines the credibility of the LDS Church and its spokespeople. I am not quite sure who the real Joseph Smith was but the person on that site is not him.

    D&C 132 says that polygamy is a big deal. The other Christian churches that HR is invoking do not share that scriptural tradition. In fact, traditionally Protestant theology will argue that the new covenant supersedes the less charitable practices of the Mosaic law. Even though the New Testament does not explicitly regulate polygamy, it is easy for other Christians to discount Old Testament practices that are no longer popular.

    In other words, Moses’ marriages are not part of Evangelical origin accounts but Joseph Smith’s polygamy belongs into the Mormon origin account. Therefore we “own” polygamy to a different degree than other Christians.

    There is a reason why people leave the LDS Church over historical issues. Ronan is making an attempt to rationally explore that challenge, which has become more acute as anyone can publish anything for very little money. If those reasons do not apply to you, great, but that does not resolve the problem.

    I appreciate that people do not want to risk other’s testimony but in the end that is not up to us. Individuals ought to make up their own minds.

    For practical, if not ethical reasons, we can no longer keep information from Mormons and investigators.

    What we can influence is the presentation of the information. When LDS sources choose to say nothing about any given problem then they are leaving that choice to their opponents.

  44. The groups I’d be most concerned about (in relation to internet searches) would be investigators and new converts.

    However, a Mormon who has been in the Church for an extended period of time (particularly someone who was born in the church, attended seminary, served a mission, etc.) and has a strong testimony of the gospel should have a well-established back-burner or mental shelf where various difficult questions can stand and be pondered over without fretting too much.

    And we should expect surprises. We should expect to have to make cognitive adjustments as we learn new things.

    Just recently here at BCC: I recently learned some new specifics about Brigham Young that I had not known of earlier (in relation to the blacks-and-the-priesthood question).

  45. I think its better to discuss matters then to hide the difficult issues. My hat is off to guys like Kevin and J S and sites like BCC. The stuff being talked about on the internet today I used to hear as a kid late at night when the older folks would get talking about family history.

    I am also of the opinion that investigators and teenagers also need to get exposed to difficult issues as well. I am proud to say that here in my ward that teenagers in Seminary get exposed to the more difficult issues by 2 strong sister teachers. Last year I started talking about polygamy etc in YM and was quickly informed by the kids that I was boring them cause they had been over it already in Seminary.

    I have also gotten into the habit of talking about the PH ban and polygamy with recent converts. They always appreciate the upfront info. Rather from me then some anti Aunt I always say.

  46. Steve Evans says:

    Kaimi, stick to the law.

  47. Many aspects of the Joseph Smith story that we are taught from the time of Primary are just as fantastic as the idea that he translated ancient records using a seer stone in a hat or was commanded by God to marry other women. The First Vision, interactions with Moroni, John the Baptist, and other angelic visitors, the golden plates, the locating of the Garden of Eden in Missouri, and numerous other stories don’t strike most grown Mormons as bizarre or unbelievable, because we’ve been exposed to them from the time of our earliest youth. One of the reasons that the idea of Christ’s resurrection isn’t totally laughable in modern times is that it’s been familiar to Western culture for two thousand years. What’s familiar is usually not shocking.

    I’ve always thought that Joseph’s losing of the 116 page manuscript would make a great anti-Mormon story. Think about it. Joseph loses the manuscript of the Book of Lehi that he has supposedly translated from ancient records, and then is unable (“not allowed”) to re-translate it. He explains that this prohibition is due to an alleged (and somewhat dubious) conspiracy by his enemies. So he translates another narrative from other plates that is similar to the Book of Lehi, but probably not exactly the same in all of the particulars. This story could potentially cast a lot of doubt on Joseph’s prophetic character.

    But it doesn’t typically destroy faith. And why not? Because the Church claims the story for itself and integrates it into the Joseph Smith narrative. D&C 3 remains a part of our scriptural canon. We teach Sunday School lessons about the loss of the manuscript. It teaches us something about Joseph’s growth, about our own weaknesses, and about God’s willingness to forgive and make things right. A story that could have been a viable anti-Mormon weapon if we had chosen to sweep it under the rug has actually become a faith-promoting tool, because we choose to embrace it.

    I’m not saying that Primary kids should be singing songs about Joseph’s other wives or anything. But if we are up front about some of the more “controversial” parts of Joseph’s life and legacy, then faithful Latter-day Saints will not feel shocked or betrayed when learning about these things from non-official (sometimes unfriendly, but not always) sources.

  48. I’m not saying that Primary kids should be singing songs about Joseph’s other wives or anything

    It’d be a long song eh Steve?

  49. It could be something like the “Books of the Book of Mormon” or the “Books of the New Testament” songs. Although it would probably take a few verses to get all the way through.

  50. Kaimi, I looked on the T&S page and I don’t see anything like what BCC has about their permabloggers. Am I missing something?
    As to the subject at hand: For the next several weeks, I will be transcribing the interviews we’ve conducted for our documentary _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_. One of the comments made frequently is that people leave the Church when they find out some of what past leaders said about race, and then learn about the priesthood restriction. Sadly, that observation is true. But of course the remedy is not to hide what was said but to acknowledge it and then move on towards healing. One of my favorite quotes (from yesterday’s transcriptions) is this:
    “God is no respector of persons. You’re going to have a test like Abraham’s. God is going to figure out the thing you wnt to hold on to the most and he’s going to ask you to give it up. He’s going to touch that button, and for many blacks, it’s the race issue…The true church was established during slavery and restricted priesthood. Those kinds of ironies can keep you from going through the door…I’m who I am because of the challenges that came to me because I’m a black man. I don’t want that taken away from me. If you take those spiritual experiences away that develop faith, then you’ll take away sufficient adversity to be strong in the gospel, and you’ll be doing a disservice to Blacks.”
    This particular snippet is from an interview with one of my favorite men in the world, a former bishop (and Black). I’ve known him for 25+ years. I love his sense of things, and I am inspired by his faith. He’s someone I’m completely comfortable talking about hard issues with. He always provides a perspective that even a callow investigator would have to consider. Right now, as I listen to and transcribe some 50 tapes, I am seeing his kind of devotion and perspective x 50. Sometimes, when I take a break and look at a blog, it’s a little shocking, because I might be moving from expressions of deep and TRIED faith to jokes about the Mountain Meadows Massacre of Haun’s Mill. Yes, that’s a little jarring.
    P.S. Sorry I didn’t mention all of the BCC folks in my magazine cover post. If I had had more time, I would’ve. Thanks, SamMB for telling me more about Ronan–who is another poster I love reading. (I love just the name itself.) I’ve never met anyone with “a thing” for Babylonian slaves who I didn’t find quite intriguing.
    And Steve–”young” is relative. You’re in your 30′s, right? Yes, I am old enough to be your mother, but I would have had to get pregnant very YOUNG.

  51. Margaret, it’s safe to say that we’re all very excited about your documentary. Please keep us posted.

  52. Thanks, Ronan.
    Kaimi, I found the link at T&S. Thanks!

  53. Margaret:

    One of the comments made frequently is that people leave the Church when they find out some of what past leaders said about race, and then learn about the priesthood restriction. Sadly, that observation is true. But of course the remedy is not to hide what was said but to acknowledge it and then move on towards healing.

    I found this part of your comment particularly interesting. I just finished reading the very long chapter in Prince and Wright’s David O’McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism about Blacks and the Priesthood.

    I was somewhat surprised at the personal and private attitudes of nearly all of the then First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, including some of President McKay himself toward the Civil Rights movement at the time, and even the Priesthood ban.

    I do agree with you that these things should be more open and available to people, and even discussed. I’m very glad this book was published. I think Prince and Wright have done an excellent job with what I’ve read so far.

    The way I came to grips with some of this is the fact that while these men were inspired and were prophets, seers and revelators, they were nonetheless men. They had personal opinions that perhaps were hard to separate from their divine callings–but should be now we have had the benefit of the passage of time. And, they were men brought up in a certain frame of mind, and in a certain culture–probably not unlike most of the other leaders of other denominations, and even politics at the time.

    Of course, I’m not going to leave the Church over this information; but, I will admit it was an interesting insight I did not know, at least to the depth it was described in the book. I’m glad I do know it, and that it can and will be discussed.

  54. The fun thing is talking to Black Mormons who REMEMBER some of the major players referred to in the Prince book. How easy is it to maintain faith when a member of the Twelve tells you what a good thing Aparteid is? Yet this particular person DID maintain his faith–and through much more challenging conversations than that one.
    Okay, time for me to get to work.

  55. FWIW, if you google the term “Church”

    The 1st and third Listings are the church website. Second is a wiki entry. Fourth is Church’s Chicken!!

    Interesting.

  56. I have a comment on the brief discussion involving m&m, HiveRadical and Hellmut about the value of discussing the unresolvable issues in the Bloggernacle or having them on official Church websites.

    I started reading about Mormons online several years ago when I was looking for validation for my vague idea to leave the Church. I was reading the websites that gave really good reasons to leave the Church. I was not interested in the apologetic sites like FAIR and FARMS because they were too quasi-official. Then I stumbled onto the Bloggernacle. I was very surprised to find that every issue brought up on anti-Mormon websites was also discussed in the Bloggernacle. Furthermore, the discussion in the Bloggernacle was logical and reasonable and calm. If you think Bloggernacle discussions can get heated, try making a nice comment about Mormons on an anti-Mormon website! Disagreements were addressed admirably, when compared with how differences of opinion were handled on anti-sites.

    I was also impressed that there really wasn’t a resolution, yet there were so many people who still were good Mormons who had the same questions that I had. If they could have those questions and be Mormons, then did I really have a good reason to leave? I decided I didn’t, and so I stayed.

    The Bloggernacle let me know that people who left the Church don’t know about anything that people who stay in the Church don’t already know. Those controversial discussions about unresolved issues are important simply to let the lurkers know that there isn’t a “silver bullet” reason to leave the Church.

    Many thanks to the Bloggernacle.

    p.s. I tried to post a comment like this a couple days ago, but it never posted, so if it shows up later, sorry about the duplication.

  57. Melinda,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. That was actually what I was interested in…if there were stories such as yours out there. This is helpful.

    I do wonder, though, if there are some stories on the other end of the spectrum, too, ya know? But seriously, I appreciate you sharing your experience. It helps me realize that resolution is not always the necessary goal.

  58. Melinda,

    Thank you.

    I tend to just kick arguments around endlessly, myself, poking into the different issues because, well, I know that I don’t know everything, and I like discussing ideas, and doing it any other way (requiring lots of orthodoxy or anti-orthodoxy) seems counterproductive. And I enjoy finding people to talk with, and I enjoy the complex discussions that sometimes come up.

    Every now and then, someone says something on blog like, “your discussion of [word of wisdom / polygamy / whatever] drove me from the church.” And I think, oh no. Am I driving people away from the church?

    Your comment shows the flip side. Some people not only are _not_ driven from the church by our discussions, but actually find in them a reason to stay around. And that gives me a reason to smile.

    I don’t think the church is for everyone, or that the stay/drive-away factor should necessarily be dispositive in blogging, or that anyone’s success as a blogger should be measured, mission-style, on a big number-of-baptisms chart. But it is nice to know that blogging helps some readers find resolution in acceptance of unresolved questions. (This is good because in three-plus years of blogging, I still haven’t resolved a thing!)

  59. Hellmut,
    You said: “When LDS sources choose to say nothing about any given problem….”

    I realize they may not say all you want them to, but I don’t see them saying “nothing” either. There are links on the josephsmith.net site that have content related to polygamy, for example. I don’t think it’s all as completely hush-hush as you make it out to be. It’s not front and center to be sure, but it’s not non-existent from what I can see.

  60. Northerner says:

    “There are links on the josephsmith.net site that have content related to polygamy, for example”

    Could you give some examples? I have looked but not found any.

  61. Melinda, for what it’s worth, my experience over the last few years definitely parallels your own. The LDS blogs were important in helping me get through a crisis of faith related to Mormon history without leaving the church.

  62. Seconding Northerner, I can report that the search function on josephsmith.net returns zero results when I enter “polygamy,” and also zero for “plural marriage.” Using Google, I finally find a hit for polygamy at josephsmith.net, but it turns out to be just an alias for the lds.org alphabetical index. So I’d be tempted to agree, on the evidence, that josephsmith.net lacks accessible information about polygamy. Certainly a bit of an oversight considering the central and fundamental role of polygamy in Joseph Smith’s life, mission, and death.

    The church does report having a site, polygamy.lds.org, that should have more content. But I can’t seem to access the site; in fact, the IP address seems not to be associated with any server.

  63. I think another thing to keep in mind is that people don’t always leave the church because they have questions that have no easy answers. It seems to me that often these people feel a sense of betrayal–that the church they’ve put so much time and effort into has been dishonest with them.

    I think relationship analogies work well in this instance. For example, if you were in a long-term, committed relationship with someone and they misrepresented certain aspects of their lives for years and then one day they came clean, you would probably be just as bothered by the fact that this person did not say anything for so long as you would be about the issue itself.

    So, when it comes to people leaving the church, I think that sometimes people leave not solely because they have issues, but because they feel the church often deliberately misrepresents the tricky issues.

    And just to clarify–I’m not saying that I think the church is misrepresting issues. I’m just saying that it can appear that way to some people, especially when they only encounter church members who dismiss their concerns and tell them that they are imagining things or that they need to have a stronger testimony.

  64. Northerner, J:
    Go to “Joseph Smith links” –that’s where I found some links that had content on the topic of polygamy. I wouldn’t have said that there were links accessible had I not found any. :)

  65. JA Benson says:

    My opinion is that church history is just like sex education. It is better to hear it first from your parents than from kids on the playground.

  66. Dan in CVille says:

    Kaimi,

    The idea that someone would email and say “Your discussion of X drove me from the Church” is something I have a very hard time with, to put it charitably. I understand that there are people who may struggle with certain issues — I have been there myself on several occasions — but given that these people are already looking outside the official media, if there were no bloggernacle, these inquirers would probably be looking at harsh treatments of the issues, with little or no context, on DAMU and anti sites.
    No one should ever feel like their honest and public inquiry into a difficult issue is responsible for another’s loss of faith, as long as that inquiry is done in a humble and open-hearted manner. And it is every blog visitor’s responsibility to be understanding of the human flaws and lapses in judgment that will arise from time to time in these discussions, just like they do in official settings at Church.

  67. Jordan F. says:

    I love the mormon internet, until I go back and read what I have written… lol.

  68. Melinda, ditto. I seriously thank God for thr bloggernaccle.

  69. In regards to the discussion on where church members should learn about the more disturbing aspects of our religion, I think it is partly because of how our church sets up “the perfectness” of our religion, that everything has been restored perfectly and then we feel that much more betrayed when realize that there are some things that don’t seem so perfect. I think if maybe the church and it’s leaders weren’t on such a pedestal, this wouldn’t be the case so much. For me I think that is what has been difficult, and while I don’t comment often, the bloggernacle has definitely helped me to deal with these issues of unresolved concerns while staying faithful in the church. I don’t neccessarily think we need to learn about polygamy right alongside with faith, repentance and baptism, but if there is a movie about Joseph Smith, then let’s either have a more realistic view of his marital relations, or leave out the marital relations part and focus on the spiritual aspect anyway, and deal realistically with hard topics when they come up.

  70. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Thanks Ronan. Great post. I heartily agree.

  71. Razorfish says:

    Knowing the truth is much better than pretending to know the truth. John 8:32 “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. If ye continue in my word then ye are my disciples indeed.”

    The Internet helps us be more informed members of our own history. Whether we continue in the word is inextricably linked to our own agency and whether or not we are disciples indeed.

  72. Seraphine (#63) — Great comment. The feeling of betrayal that comes when one realizes the institutional Church has been less than honest about a historical issue is often more faith-destroying than the troublesome historical issue itself. At least that’s been my experience.

    Chelle (#69) — Another great comment. You’re right that there’s so much talk of our “perfect” church, our inspired leaders and other triumphalist rhetoric in the church that we make these issues even more difficult than they would otherwise have to be.

    Aaron B

  73. I second (or third or fourth Melinda’s comment. I am a recent discoverer of the ‘nacle and it has been a revelation to me. Just knowing that people like Ronan and Kevin Barney (and yes even Steve Evans and DKL–or maybe especially them, come to think of it) exist in the church strengthens my faith. I think of this as a wonderful place to visit and be inspired, entertained and educated. Thanks to all of you.

  74. Of course Ronan knows I agree with him and with the logic behind this post.

    But the statement by Aaron that there’s so much talk of our “perfect” church, our inspired leaders and other triumphalist rhetoric in the church that we make these issues even more difficult than they would otherwise have to be, seems to be emblematic of the source of some of the malaise and angst that fuel some of the discussions on the LDS blogs. That is, this seems to me to be a huge strawman argument that underlies much of the criticism of the Church on the blogs. I guess it must be true that in some wards people are talking about our “perfect” church with triumphalist rhetoric — just not in any wards I’ve ever attended. Sure, we talk about our inspired leaders and I guess I can see why under an extreme interpretation this could be taken as controversial enough to criticize the Church on the internet. After all, conceding that leaders might be inspired at least implies that we should listen to them!

    I have been surprised over and over again as people on the LDS blogs claim that they never knew Joseph Smith was a polygamist or that he used a seer stone to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, among other methods of translation. To me it doesn’t seem like the Church really has been covering up these or other historical “issues”. Now, I am not calling anyone a liar, so there must indeed be wards in which the fact Joseph Smith revealed the practice of polygamy and was a polygamist isn’t discussed (and by extension, there must be parents who aren’t teaching their children anything about Church history).

    Many discussions on the LDS blogs seem to proceed with a commonly understood premise running in the background, that the Church is “covering up” its history. What if this strawman is removed from the background of our discussions? It seems that could do a lot for promoting good faith discussion of every conceivable topic relating to the Church.

  75. Well said john f.

  76. John, I don’t think there is a straw man here. Certainly all of the positions you discuss in your comment #74, while debatable, represent the positions and life experiences of real people in the church. For example, regarding a “perfect” church, I offer the Mormon cliche: “The church is perfect but the people in it aren’t.” I’ve heard that saying hundreds of times in various wards all over the country. I’d bet you’ve heard it before, too. The idea that we have a perfect church is not exactly secret.

    Regarding your surprise that many, many Mormons are shocked by our history, I think this says more about you than about the church. If people’s parents don’t know any details about our history, they can’t teach their children — and something over 1/2 of the church is relatively recent converts who probably don’t know many details. The church manuals, even the institute manuals omit the details. So unless people in various wards are teaching this stuff of their own initiative, there are probably lots of wards where nothing at all about church history is known beyond the First Vision, the Gold Plates, and pioneer heroism. Furthermore, the large numbers of people shocked when they learn more are convergent evidence. The church may not be “covering up” the history in the sense that the information is totally unavailable. Yet it is in practice “covering up” the history for a lot of people by providing manuals with a somewhat mythical view of our history and by never providing resources or opportunities to learn more.

  77. JNS

    I offer the Mormon cliche: “The church is perfect but the people in it aren’t.” I’ve heard that saying hundreds of times in various wards all over the country. I’d bet you’ve heard it before, too. The idea that we have a perfect church is not exactly secret.

    Sure, I’ve heard it before too; but, my experience is that comes from people who have that perception rather than from united and unanimous proclamations from the FP and the Q12. People will believe what they want to believe. We conjure up all kinds of myths, I think, to assist in our belief structure–but I don’t think that is necessarily the Church’s fault.

    If people’s parents don’t know any details about our history, they can’t teach their children

    Again, I don’t see how that is the Church’s fault. If people’s parents don’t know any details about our history, I think that says more about them than it does about the Church. We are commanded to seek wisdom out of the best books. Those who long for knowledge and wisdom like they do the air they breathe will make the effort to find out about the Church in which they have faith, and believe.

    The church manuals, even the institute manuals omit the details.

    True; but that is likely a consequence of casualty of correlation rather than a deliberate attempt by the Church to hide a history that cannot be hidden.

    So unless people in various wards are teaching this stuff of their own initiative, there are probably lots of wards where nothing at all about church history is known beyond the First Vision, the Gold Plates, and pioneer heroism.

    I think that at the ward level leaders and teachers can only do so much. You’re an academic. Isn’t most of what you learn what you have done on your own. Sure, there is a certain amount of classroom formal instruction; but, isn’t it really through your own efforts, your own research you truly become proficient in your field?

    Yet it is in practice “covering up” the history for a lot of people by providing manuals with a somewhat mythical view of our history and by never providing resources or opportunities to learn more.

    I disagree. The Church can only do so much in educating its members. While I may not agree with correlation and its products, it is what we have. And clearly there are likely those in the Church who think it their duty to shield us from the less well know historical facts. Perhaps they perceive it an image thing. All organizations try to put forth their best polished image, when in reality the truth is likely somewhat different. I see no reason why a Church, whose leaders are inspired, yet nevertheless mortal should be any different.

    But . . that’s just me.

  78. And clearly there are likely those in the Church who think it their duty to shield us from the less well know historical facts. Perhaps they perceive it an image thing.

    Guy, my point exactly.

  79. JNS

    I guess I understood your point to be the Church is or was responsible for the “coverup” or for the idea that the Church is perfect and the members aren’t. Or, perhaps that the Church is somehow responsible for the fact that some members aren’t as knowledgeable about its history as some would want.

    Sorry if I misunderstood what you were trying to convey.

  80. Guy, I’m not particularly interested in allocating any blame here. My point was simply that the positions John Fowles characterizes as straw men are in fact the opinions and life experiences of substantial numbers of people in our community. So they aren’t straw men, they are real positions.

    At one level, of course, the church must bear some responsibility for the beliefs and actions of its members, because it either has formed them or has failed to do so in a situation in which it has meaningful influence. But what’s the point of allocating responsibility for people’s beliefs and experiences? It just doesn’t matter.

    I do think that the church is responsible, and indeed deserves some criticism, for the fact that it does much less to try to teach history than it has done in past generations.

  81. But what’s the point of allocating responsibility for people’s beliefs and experiences? It just doesn’t matter.

    But, then:

    I do think that the church is responsible, and indeed deserves some criticism, for the fact that it does much less to try to teach history than it has done in past generations.

    I guess we just disagree. That’s ok.

    Thanks.

  82. Guy, you missed my point again. We can’t and shouldn’t blame the church for people’s belief systems. We can and should assign the church responsibility for the content of its own programs and manuals. Those now contain much less historical information than they once did. This is a historical fact, and it probably doesn’t help members find out more about history, does it?

  83. The church is perfect but the people in it aren’t

    Since when does this statement exclude the FP &Q12? What – they’re not people? Maybe there are people who think that the brethren are perfect. I just never felt it impied when hearing this statement. The Church is the organization that Christ set up through Joseph Smith. The people is everything else. For example – polygamy – the church. The implementation of the practice – the people. Failure to correctly inform the membership about the history concerning polygamy – the people.

    Sure, the lines can get fuzzier but again, I have never understood this statement to include Joseph Smith, BY or GBH.

  84. JNS, when people say “this is the only true Church”, are you hearing them say “the church is perfect but the people aren’t”? To be sure, I’ve heard the latter cliche, usually thrown out with a chuckle, clearly meant as a joke. Far more often, I have heard people bear testimony that they believe (they say they “know”) that this is the only true Church. Is it possible that critics are conflating these two ideas?

  85. CJ, I know. But the question here is whether the idea that “the church is perfect” is a straw man. But what is the church? It’s the institutions, right? The manuals, the classes, the bureaucracy? The programs? That stuff is responsible for the reduced historical content in the lesson manuals, isn’t it?

    The gospel isn’t responsible, but the church is.

    John F., I think you’re a great guy. But I’m offended! No, I’m not conflating — I’d have to be an idiot. The line about the church being perfect but the people not isn’t always or even mostly a joke, in my experience. It’s a serious argument offered to people who are having trouble with mistreatment from a church leader or with some historical problem. If people are joking when they answer such people, they’re being uncharitable in the extreme.

  86. I see. It was just a thought. I don’t personally think the Church is covering up anything, but I can’t argue with your experiences.

  87. Let me give you something other than my experience, then. Here’s Geoff B. using the line to explain (with no emoticon showing obvious humorous intent) why Elders’ Quorums are so often swamped with temporal responsibilities that are theoretically the duties of the Aaronic priesthood:

    I think this all goes back to the maxim that the Church is perfect but the members aren’t. So, if the members were perfect there would be 20 priests in each ward and they could tend to Mrs. McGilicutty’s yard and help people move and the elders could be a bit more like Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah (post-conversion). It will be very interesting to see how the Church really works during the Millennium.

    This thread at Zelophehad’s Daughters is also replete with commenters using variants on the “church is perfect/people aren’t” argument to assuage Amalthea’s concerns over some particularly bad Mormon experiences. Here’s a quote from Lizzilu:

    I have never heard truer words than the church being perfect but the saints are not.

    Again, I can find no hint of a joke here.

    So there are a few instances of people using this line in normal blog conversation. Doubtless there are more, I only did a quick and dirty search.

    But let me close by raising the stakes and offering a general conference talk by a member of the Quorum of the 12 that uses the “church is perfect/people aren’t” idea. This is Neal A. Maxwell from the May 1982 Ensign:

    Now, brethren, let us step back from the details of this demanding challenge and speak of overall realities and responsibilities for inactive and active men alike—in a perfect Church filled with imperfect individuals.

    Was he joking?

  88. To echo Melinda and others, the bloggernacle really showed me that I wasn’t alone in my crazy world of questions and doubts. So either a) I’m not so crazy or b) everyone on the ‘nacle is crazy too, so I’m in good company. There is nothing more comforting to see people I know (in person and electronically) who I respect (because I know them or through their comments) that struggle. If they are staying in the church, that means there is hope for me staying too. Another thing the ‘nacle has taught me is how many ways there are to be a faithful Mormon. And the ‘nacle certainly makes you feel like you aren’t alone. I really feel like I can understand people more from seeing so many different comments and opinions.
    And also, J. Nelson-Seawright, I think you are right. It doesn’t really affect the validity of the gospel, but the Church could do better to teach and deal with the history and other hard aspects– or at least provide tools to those members who are dealing with doubt and/or questions when they learn about the history and what-not.

  89. No, no joke I guess.

  90. J. Nelson-Seawright’s 82 raises an interesting question: To what extent should the church be responsible for helping its members learn about and understand its history?

    The church itself has stated it has a three-fold mission: 1) proclaim the gospel 2) perfect the saints, 3) redeem the dead. It would be difficult to teach any principle without an explanation of when and how the principle originated so teaching some history is unavoidable. I am sympathetic to the urge to focus on only those bits of history that serve to illustrate a principle, especially when high rates of growth and a lay clergy mean that even basic principles are often not well taught or understood. This pragmatic approach makes it easy for curriculum writers to ignore history seen as embarrassing, too redact out certain details on the theory that they will raise too many questions and become a distraction.

    Critics of church curriculum often see something sinister behind editorial decisions but it may be there is no man behind the curtain intent on keeping Brigham’s polygamy under wraps. It may just be that the culmination of well-intentioned edits results in a history early Mormons would hardly recognize. In either case omission of basic facts of the early latter-day saint experience results in creating a non-genuine heritage which new and old members alike, seeking to join the household of God, adopt as their own. It also signals that in official church discourse certain topics are taboo–one of the church’s purposes, after all, is to provide a platform from which the membership can take cues. Thus, if the official church doesn’t acknowledge Joseph’s polygamy, polite Mormon company doesn’t either.

    This creates at least two problems. Members who made major life decisions based on an incomplete history often feel how a party to a contract feels when he learns material facts were omitted: they feel like victims of fraud. Second, when discussion of important parts of church history become taboo, many suffer from that all-too-common Mormon syndrome commonly referred to as Elephant-In-The-Room-itis. Symptoms include frustration, suspicion, paranoia and feelings of superiority.

    The church isn’t well served if its members feel defrauded or suffer from E-I-T-R-itis. In Western societies we expect contracting parties to disclose material facts. The church, knowing this, might recognize a responsibility to educate its members about its history. One could argue that in the long run the strength of the church will depend on their success in this area. As has been said in many other places, they are better off owning their history than ceding it to others.

    How to do that in practical terms? One suggestion is to produce curriculum that doesn’t editorialize lives in order to illustrate a chosen principle. I’ve never owned a text book that was read cover to cover–rather more information than can be covered is included and the teacher tailored his lesson plans. Acknowledging Brigham’s polygamy doesn’t mean it will become the focus of discussion, but it will give the topic and any ensuing discussion the imprimatur of legitimacy.

  91. The gospel isn’t responsible, but the church is

    I guess this is what I always thought was implied by the statement. But you’re right, many preach and believe that the The manuals, the classes, the bureaucracy? The programs? are perfect.

  92. 90
    This is assuming that everyone, when discovering about polygamy or something else less-discussed from our history, are frustrated, suspicious, paranoid, etc. I think that this has been the experience of some people, but not of a lot of other people (in my experience, anyway). I’d be interested to see what kinds of numbers we are talking about. I realize the ‘nacle includes people who care about these things, but I’ve seen an awful lot of other people able to just shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well. I know the church is true. I won’t worry about that right now.” I wonder how much of this is about different “audiences” if you will. There’s a sort of self-selection here on the ‘nacle, a certain subset of people who end up gathering and discussing. Is the group here really representative of people’s experiences, needs and opinions? I would argue that perhaps it’s not–NOT to minimize the fact that some people have had negative experiences with coming in contact with historical information, but to ask whether it’s enough of a representative sample of people to warrant, for example, overhauling curriculum.

  93. er, I mean *is* frustrated….

  94. m&m,

    There is no built in assumption in my argument that everyone who discovers a less-discussed aspect of church history becomes frustrated, paranoid etc. I agree that is not the case. Hard numbers would indeed be useful. Ancedotal evidence suggests to me the numbers are significant.

  95. m&m,

    Let’s pull out anecdotes, then.

    Someone very close to me just found out about polyandry. She has never used a computer in her life. She’s a pretty run-of-the mill member, faithful, active, etc.

    Polyandry floored her. And not so much polyandry per se, but the fact that she only found out about this central aspect of Joseph’s latter life after 40 years in the church.

  96. m&m, this all becomes hard to think through because the church is relatively unforthcoming with data about activity rates and the reasons people give for leaving. There is some evidence that activity rates in the US and elsewhere have fallen quite a bit (some inside sources hint that the decline has been in the neighborhood of 1/3) over the last 20 years. How much of that is because of the newly-available historical information? It’s really impossible to say. At least some of it is; we know that from many anecdotes like Ronan’s and those archived on the “Recovery from Mormonism” site. But there could be any number of other reasons. As some political conservatives would have it, perhaps the world’s “culture” has become more destructive during that period — not only in the U.S. but everywhere. Or perhaps a lot of members dislike Gordon B. Hinckley’s leadership. And so forth. So no numbers are really forthcoming.

    But the other side of your question is even more unanswerable. How many people need to be affected to justify changes to the curriculum? This is a normative issue, so there’s no rational debate to be had. In the absence of a more empirical line of reasoning, I’d appeal to the parable of the good shepherd: one lost sheep is enough.

  97. JNS post your activity rates evidence for review. Quoting “inside sources” as you know is a good way for a graduate student to get poor reviews when peer reviewed.

    I have looked at activity rates since 1900 really hard from every source I can find and do not see the evidence for a 1/3rd decline. If anything activity rates appear to be up on average for the last 100 years. The most researched activity rate numbers are from the “Mormon Cultural region” and these show a steady increase.

    Much less is known about the US as a whole and the international situation. Wilfried at T&C has researched the international situation and believes that its about 25% in Europe. This 25% number actually compares quite well the the Catholics and Protestants in Europe who run at most 10% activity

    I want to see your sources can you post them?

  98. Ronan, ask her why polyandry was worse than polygyny.

    I’ve never quite understood the double standard. When I first heard of it I personally breathed a sigh of relief as at least there was the setting up of something more parallel. (Which isn’t to ignore the problems of its practice – but one could say that about polygamy)

  99. Clark,

    I imagine it’s two things:

    1. Everyone* knows about polygny, so the shock value is removed. Polyandry is new information for a lot of people.

    *(Although my MTC group refused to believe that Joseph was polygamous)

    2. It’s the fact that polygyny and polyandry ran concurrently, i.e. that Joseph, who was already married to many women, was also marrying married women.

    But mostly the point is not the polygamy, it’s that after 40 years, utterly new stuff was thrown in her face. Her words: “the missionaries lied to me.”

    Over the top, hyperbolic and emotional? For sure. Real emotion? Definitely.

  100. I think it is probably not uncommon for people who are very much aware of the Church’s early practice of polygamy to not associate it with Joseph Smith. In many ways, Joseph and the Restoration seem very distant from the pioneers crossing the plains. Part of that, I am sure, is the common explanation that one reason for polygamy was to provide support for women whose husbands died on missions or as a result of mob violence, etc.

    I can trace most of my family lines back to at least Far West, and only one of them has a polygamous marriage. And that one polygamous marriage was as I described, the polygamous wife who is my direct ancestor was a widow who remarried after crossing the plains.

    But I also was taught about Joesph’s polygamy in seminary when I was in ninth grade. My seminary teacher taught us that Joseph took some of his first plural wives without telling Emma, because of her reluctance/refusal to accept the principle. He also taught us that we weren’t sure exactly how many wives Joseph had taken, for a couple of reasons. The first was that many of his plural marriages were kept secret. The other was the early practice of the church for people to seal themselves to one of the church leaders, and records weren’t always as carefully taken as they are now.

  101. Thanks, Eric, which brings me back to my original point. It is difficult to avoid these challenges nowadays, so I’m glad that people can come together and share their opinions on it in a friendly, active-Mormon environment such as this.

  102. Oh, I agree it’s a common response Ronan. I just think there’s a bit of sexism in it. (Well, beyond the fact it was limited to just a few people – which is admittedly problematic)

    Perhaps there is a bit that polygamy has lost its shock value though.

    I should add that a lot of people are shocked when they read that in Missouri and elsewhere, such as the Utah War, Mormons gave as well as they got. There often is this portrayal of Mormons as passive victims.

    Once again when I first heard the reality I had a sense of relief instead of being upset. But I still understand those who are upset. I just think it is more an visceral emotional reaction tied to our expectations and social norms rather than a real reason.

  103. I’d appeal to the parable of the good shepherd: one lost sheep is enough.

    The parable of the lost sheep expects us to reach out to the one, but can it demand that the institutional church as a whole make changes every time there is something allegedly found to “cause” people to leave? That seems a bit unreasonable to me. It also seems to absolve the individual of responsibility (how much responsibility falls to the the individual of course can be debated). I also think that having a more historically-based curriculum opens up other potential challenges and potential affects that perhaps have not been considered here and might also be hard to anticipate. In short, I am not sure “fixing” this is as easy as perhaps it might appear at first blush, as much as I can understand why some would want things done differently. (I’m still not convinced they should change, though.)

  104. Left Field says:

    m&m is correct that information about polygamy, including Joseph’s practice of it is accessible from josephsmith.net. I commented about it a few months ago on the Cultural Hall. It actually only took me a few minutes to locate at the time. The information is offsite, which is why it doesn’t appear in a search, but the links are there.

  105. JNS

    Guy, you missed my point again. We can’t and shouldn’t blame the church for people’s belief systems. We can and should assign the church responsibility for the content of its own programs and manuals

    Sure, the Church is responsible for the content of its programs and manuals; but, aren’t you arguing that because the content is not, what you say it once was, that in fact does shape people’s belief systems?

    Those now contain much less historical information than they once did. This is a historical fact, and it probably doesn’t help members find out more about history, does it?

    I’ll take your word for it, as I have not researched or studied it; however, not providing as much information in manuals as they once did I don’t think is the same thing as what you describe as a de facto cover up of information or the Church’s history.

    There are some links on the Church website to historical polygamy references. Unfortunately they don’t seem to be working right at the moment, now that the Church has moved its Newsroom website over to a new location. Furthermore, one doesn’t have to go very far into the FARMS/Maxwell Institute website to obtain a great deal of historical information about Book of Mormon translation and seer stones or polygamy, or a host of other issues I would assume. I don’t see how that is a de facto or any other type of cover up.

  106. Left Field – if it took you a ‘few minutes’ to find, then it would seem you really have to dig to find it, and if it’s ‘offsite’, then it ISN’T on the Joseph Smith website. It’s just a link.

  107. Brad Jennings says:

    What’s Great about us Mormons is that we have an official website. lds.org with a backup site, mormon.org

    This is where I recommend a person go for official information on the Mormon church. If many anti-Mormon people would realize the amount of garbage they read in a lifetime? I ask them to compare “true” Mormon doctrine, to these current experts on LDS beliefs. The media, internet, anti-Mormon books, or any one person’s opinion. This usually comes via family, friends, pastors, college professors, or co-workers. In these official sites they will find a richness and wealth of information that only God’s one and only true church could provide. The Mormon doctrine on these two sites is more accurate then “ANY” other source of information on a true Christian life, mankind’s place in the world, or anything else.

  108. Left Field says:

    Rebecca, I don’t think I misrepresented anything in my comment. When I read HTBF’s claim over on the Cultural Hall, I had not previously been to josephsmith.net. Within less than five minutes of arriving, I found myself reading about Joseph’s plural marriages in an official CES manual. That’s not my idea of having to really dig. I just followed what I thought were the most obvious links. Just about all the readings under Life of the Prophet or Mission of the Prophet will take you to the CES Church History manual which is full of references to polygamy. Clearly, not everyone found it so easily, but there’s lots of ways to get to it.

    Yes, it’s offsite, but it’s on an official church website in an official CES manual with a link on josephsmith.net. If the contention is that polygamy is being hidden by the church, it doesn’t seem particularly relevant which official church website actually hosts the information, particularly given that it is linked elsewhere.

    Obviously, the information could be more prominent, but if you can find it though numerous routes within five minutes, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that josephsmith.net does not provide information on polygamy.

  109. As an interested observer of this discussion, may I make one observation in the interest of clarifying the issue. I don’t think that anybody here is arguing that the Church is currently trying to deceive or cover up or hide unpleasant information.

    Rather, I think the point is that (1) the majority of our members spend many years receiving several hours per week of church based instruction, and come away from that either absymally ignorant of much of our more embarrassing actions or teachings or they have a very distorted view of some important elements of our history; and (2)upon learning the truth, a significant number of those people become disillusioned. A significant subset of that group feel a sense of betrayal, believing that they should have been able to rely upon the church to teach them “the whole truth”; and (3) this result is entirely predictable, is preventable at least to a significant extent, and we can and should do much better.

    I don’t think that the fact that information is now readily available to a moderately energetic researcher on the internet, adequately addresses this argument.

    Carry on.

  110. Yet it is in practice “covering up” the history for a lot of people by providing manuals with a somewhat mythical view of our history and by never providing resources or opportunities to learn more.

    Gary,

    Please see this portion of JNS’ statement above in #76. Perhaps it was just a poor word choice. If JNS would like to change that word choice, I would have less of a problem with his position.

  111. Fair point Guy. Perhaps I should clarify my attempt at clarification. JNS, at least, does seem to argue that when we purport to teach our members about our history, and fail to teach them certain facts considered embarrassing, then that is a distortion of the truth, and constitutes a cover up. So yes, I think you are right that he has accused the church of a cover up.

    However, I still think that the fact that this information is available elsewhere does not adequately respond to the real arguments being presented.

  112. The church’s approach to trickier matters of faith is to “stick it in the footnotes.” On the one hand it wouldn’t be fair to say the church is dishonest; but on the other, I think it’s a bit tactless to tell someone who has struggled with what they consider to be stark new information that they should have “read the footnotes.”

  113. But I’d be surprised if any of the “footnotes” talk about Fanny Alger, Helen Mar Kimball, and Emma’s ignorance of much of what was happening.

    Thing is though, I do understand why “Fanny Alger: First Plural Wife of the Restoration” is not in the Sunday School curriculum and I admit that I don’t exactly know how I would teach the “Fanny Alger” lesson. That’s a topic for another discussion.

    Still, Guy, it is disingenuous to claim that this information is readily available from official channels. One could argue that history being Mormonism’s theology, and given that our theology no longer requires principles like “adoption,” then our history teaching need no longer reflect it. That would be a valid argument, except…people are day in day out being confronted by this stuff on the net and so we are left with no choice but to discuss it, because it’s being discussed anyway. Do we want people learning their Mormon history from anti-Mormon sites? Because that would be their only source if the Mormon internet ceased to function. (Which was my original point.)

    (Gary, you’ve nailed it, mate.)

  114. “It is available through official channels” NOW, but it wasn’t easily available when I joined the church twenty years ago. At least it wasn’t readily available in central Ohio, 400 miles from the nearest temple and 1700 miles from CHQ. Pre-internet, if you were in the hinterlands (that is, a state capital 1700 miles from Zion with a population of more than a million people) all you had was official stuff, and anti- stuff left under the windshield wipers on your car on Sunday.

    Finding out about things like Fanny Alger, post-Manifesto plural marriage, head in the hat, polyanddry was devastating to my faith. If I’d heard some of it in church, I might have been able to cope better.

    Put me down as “saved by the Bloggernacle.”

  115. Thomas Parkin says:

    I agree that it is always counterproductive to manipulate information to one’s presumed advantage. The church has done this, obviously – though less so (I’d argue much less so) now than in the past. We probably ought to follow God’s example and, when it comes to information, give to all men liberally.

    But, it seems to me, there is a reason why some things are left on the periphery – that is, that they are peripheral. The central program of the church is to invite people to Come to Christ through faith, repentence, baptism and enduring to the end. While people are struggling to live these basic concepts, how much of our limited resources, including time, should be devoted to apologizing on controversial topics? Some here seem to think that any opportunity to discuss controversial history and doctrine is the right opportunity. The example of the bloggernalce is, maybe, instructive. Give some stuff and inch and it will absolutely consume a mile – without any real resolution, ever. While I agree that the church has tended to err on the side of not providing information, I doubt how much wisdom there is to dedicating time in manuals or PH meeting to these things.

    Maybe it is a God-inspired purpose of the bloggernacle to be a primary forum for handling this stuff – it seems, anyway, to be what people here mostly want to do. If it is God-inspired, then my only criticism of the ‘bloggernacle’ is that we could almost certainly, without slighting the need for open individual expression, do more seeking inspiration from God in how we go about things.

    ~

  116. m&m (#59), I just searched josephsmith.net and there is no mention of the polygamous nature of his marriage on that site. It may well be the case that there are links to other websites that have information about polygamy. However, that is still bad public relations because the LDS Church is not talking about its problems in a visible manner.

    Effective public relations speaks to one’s weaknesses. Burying the relevant information at some obscure location does not do the trick.

    Thomas Parker (#115), I fundamentally agree with you except for your observation about what is marginal.

    Whether or not a subject is essential or peripheral is up to the audience, not the author, especially, when there are many sources of information.

    In light of our inability to generate sustained growth in most parts of the world, including zero growth in North America, it is not useful to assume that things are fine. The lack of sucess indicates that things are not fine. My hypothesis is that a flawed public relations effort is part of the problem.

  117. Whether or not a subject is essential or peripheral is up to the audience, not the author, especially, when there are many sources of information.

    This is not necessarily true, IMO. Public relations exists not simply to appease the audience but to share information that the sharer feels is most relevant and important. I think the fact that the church does have links for those who are interested is worth noting and giving credit for. There IS information available. And perhaps the fact that it isn’t front and center also communicates that is is peripheral to our doctrine and purposes, and I think that’s a valid approach given our mission and purpose. Again, I understand your concerns, but there is more than one way to handle tough issues.

  118. Thomas Parkin says:

    Hellmut,

    Well, I certainly don’t think that an audience should prescribe a responce. But, beyond that, even if I took your point I’d need to see that insufficient P.R. on contentious issues is the primary reason people are not joining the church in the kind of numbers we (speaking generally) might want – and that, to me, seems like so much projection by people who do have those issues – the bloggernacle skewing a realistic view of this substantially. I rarely, rarely encounter someone who says to me, I’d be a Mormon but for the fact that Joseph Smith had this or that wife at this or that time. They may take a negative view of polygamy or the former Ph ban, or whatever doctrine or policy or history – but these are generally only part of a broader negativity to which individual issues are easily attached. I personally believe that the causes are more spiritual, both for people outside and inside the church, and the cures spiritual rather than purely intellectual, as well.

    I especially look at Alma 4:

    “there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride … and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to _fail in its progress_ … he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.” etc.

    ~

  119. Thomas, as usual, you are so right.

    BTW, I have a neighbor named Greg Parkin. Any relation?

  120. Thomas Parkin,

    I didn’t say that misguided PR efforts are the primary cause of our faltering missionary efforts. What I did say is that PR as it is currently conducted contributes to the problem.

    Given that other religious groups are more successful in the same markets than we are, it is logically problematic to blame the people outside Mormonism. Whatever their defects may be, other demanding religions are able to obtain commitments that we do not get anymore. Clearly, we could be doing better than net gains of zero.

    Of course, there are more important issues than PR but they are related. Culprit number one has got to be correlation, which also shapes the content of LDS public relations messages.

  121. Given that other religious groups are more successful in the same markets than we are, it is logically problematic to blame the people outside Mormonism. Whatever their defects may be, other demanding religions are able to obtain commitments that we do not get anymore

    Examples please.

  122. Thomas Parkin says:

    MCQ -

    Thanks.

    And yeah – I’ve got a cousin Greg Parkin who, last I knew, lived in Vancouver. I haven’t seen him since I was a kid. Your Greg Parkin is probably related – there aren’t that many of us. :)

    ~

  123. Whether or not a subject is essential or peripheral is up to the audience, not the author, especially, when there are many sources of information.

    How can that be true Hellmut? Especially in the church where we are not necessarily the ones in charge of the message and we have been commanded to teach faith repentance and baptism, and really not much else, it seems like we cannot let the audience decide what our central themes and our peripheral themes should be.

    Moreover, your focus on growth as the criterion for determining the success of our message seems misplaced. Our goal is not really growth. We are not marketing a clothing line or snow tires. Our obligation is to preach the gospel and (as Thomas pointed out) not be a stumbling block for those who hear it. It is the spirit that is responsible for the conversion part (or the “sustained growth” as you put it). Lack of growth, if it is happening at all, is not a reason to revamp our PR program. It may just mean that the harvest is nearing its close.

  124. Thomas: My Greg lives in SLC, he’s an MD and a great gospel doctrine teacher.

  125. MCQ,

    Examples of denominations growing faster than ours (and generally with better retention) in similar places are found and discussed at http://cumorah.com/lawoftheharvest.html#_Toc162146548

  126. Thanks David

  127. The suggestion that Pentecostals and Evangelicals are winning more converts than Mormons because Pentecostals and Evangelicals are more open about the complications of their history is, frankly, asinine.

    I like the way Mathew framed the issues in comment 90, but few historical questions are material to the church’s truth claims. The church teaches people to ask God if the the church is true, and teaches that this is the only reliable basis for a testimony. If the missionary program tried to convince people the church was true based on Joseph Smith’s personal character, then of course ignoring information about his life and personality would be problematic.

    In the same way, if I tell someone that Communist Russia was cruel and oppressive under Stalin, highlighting the gulag, politburo and thousands of political assinations to prove it, and the person later learns that Stalin was good to his mother, and sang lullabies to his children, could they say I’d misled them? No.

    In the same way that the truths of the gulag and politburo are sufficient to prove the cruelty of Stalinist Russia, the truths of the First Vision and priesthood restoration are sufficient to prove the truth of the church.

  128. Thomas Parkin says:

    David,

    #125

    I was just called to be Ward Mission Leader this last week. I found the article you linked extremely helpful and interesting, to say the least.

    There are a couple bits in it that I don’t know about – but I always hedge my bets and err on the side of caution – I don’t want to find myself ever again running hard and fast with wrong ideas – but on the whole I found it very helpful indeed.

    ~

  129. Did anyone see the New York times article on polygamy in Muslim families from Africa, living in New York City? Very interesting.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/23/nyregion/23polygamy.html

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