When I was fourteen years old I had the best job I will ever have. I sold programs at Derks Field, home of Salt Lake City’s AAA baseball franchise. I walked up and down the stairs of the grandstands hawking my wares, just like the beer and hot dog vendors. “Programs here! Get yer program, just one dollar!” It was a great job for a young baseball junkie who was transitioning from baseball cards to the live game. After about the third inning, nobody bought any more programs, so I could get myself a hot dog and a (root) beer, find a place to sit somewhere along the first base line, and enjoy the rest of the game.
Although I didn’t appreciate it sufficiently at the time, I was aware that my father made the effort to drive into town twice, once to drop me off before the game and again after it was over to bring me home. Once, before a Saturday afternoon game, dad told me that he would be delayed for a while after the game, so we had to devise a plan for picking me up. As we neared the ballpark, we saw a storefront bookstore which promised to tell “The Truth About Mormonism!”. Dad suggested that after the game I just walk over to the bookstore and wait for him there. So it was under the direction of my father that I first encountered, as an 8th grader, the Kinderhook plates, Nauvoo polygamy, Mormon racism, and the problems with the Book of Abraham.
I think this move was pretty cagey on his part, and I am very grateful for parents who “got” me. They realized that sooner or later I would encounter these issues, so they chose to expose me to them at a time when they could still help me. I recall talking with mom and dad now and then as a teenager about the things I was finding out, but I don’t remember being unduly troubled by them. I was able to assimilate the information in a way that allowed me to keep my balance and grow into LDS adulthood with a system of belief that has served me well. The thing that impresses me now is the degree of trust they had in me. The had enough confidence in me to assume that I could use my head and figure things out. And it was not only trust in me, but also trust in the church and the Restoration. They clearly thought that it could stand up to investigation and that while there are certainly some troublesome patches in our history and doctrine, overall, the Mormon worldview is worthwhile.
I am very pleased that as a church we are now beginning to do a better job of understanding and explaining our history. The Joseph Smith Papers Project is a gold mine of useful information, and the recently released Revelations in Context is a really good online resource to use in conjunction with gospel doctrine classes this year. I think these efforts are most welcome, but long overdue. We have lived through decades where we have failed one another by encouraging ignorance, and we are now paying the price. We have raised a generation of Mormons on a dumbed down curriculum that discouraged questions, and we have acted as though we have something to hide. The result has been fragile testimonies that cannot withstand even the most trivial questions. By assuming questions and tricky issues are to be avoided, we have pathologized the process of growing a mature faith. Our “all or nothing” approach has created fundamentalists who see the world in very simple terms.
I think it is worthwhile to realize that another word for cognitive dissonance is complexity. We need to understand that the Mormon gospel is a pretty tough, muscular guy who can hold his own in the barroom brawls of religious history. Compared to Roman Catholics and Jews, our history is easy. And if Brigham Young’s racism and misogyny rock your boat a lot, well, you better never look closely at Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism.
I am convinced that latter-day saints are intelligent and reasonable people who can handle the details well. I am hopeful that we have turned a corner, and look forward to more developments that will validate that confidence.