Reading as Response, an Introduction Courtesy of BYU Studies

BYU Studies has posted an understanding, helpful response today to the article in the New York Times (“Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt”) that has caused some stir in Mormon circles online over the weekend.

BYU Studies’ Editor-in-Chief, John W. Welch, notes that “BYU Studies may shed some important light on those subjects. While no one has all the answers to every question, the BYU Studies website, together with many other resources and publications, are now easily available to provide many well-researched and well-written treatments of topics of current interest. We invite people to familiarize themselves with this website. It may come in very handy.”

I really like the BYU Studies response and the selection of potential starting points for reading about certain historical issues offered there. Reading about and candidly discussing our history is the perfect response to this problem.

The Problem

As long as I am putting up a post highlighting BYU Studies’ charitable and helpful response, I might as well include some of my own thoughts on the situation, naturally not in any way representative of the view that people at BYU Studies may or may not take.

The New York Times article describes a problem entirely of our own making. For decades CES and the Curriculum Committee have exercised enormous influence on what information Mormons have access to in official settings and, more importantly, have actively discouraged members from seeking information or knowledge about the Church or its history from “outside sources.” It should come as no surprise, then, when a prime example of an active, faithful local church leader like Hans Mattsson (a former Area Authority Seventy featured in the New York Times article who became emeritus after heart surgery in 2005 and then began to learn about puzzling and problematic episodes in Church history on the internet) devotes a significant portion of his life to Church leadership and service but still does not know about difficult aspects of Church history or wrinkles associated with particular doctrines/teachings — and feels betrayed when he learns them, leading to a “crisis of faith,” despite his spiritual experiences in the Church.

Even someone with a simple and pure testimony, like Hans Mattsson (see an example of Elder Mattsson’s testimony in this short 2004 Ensign article: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2004/12/book-of-mormon-principles-how-could-i-testify?lang=eng), can feel that “everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance” if they believe that historical information that they come across online or elsewhere contradicts the official, hagiographic portrayals of Church leaders or the Correlated discussions of doctrines/teachings they have been assured are trustworthy.

Those of us who were lucky enough to have parents or teachers who were informed about these things and integrated knowledge about them into regular discussion about broader Gospel topics have an unfortunate tendency to kick those like Mattsson while they are down. We scoff “how could Mattsson (or others like him) not know about Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone in a hat to translate most of what we currently have as the Book of Mormon? How could someone grow up Mormon, serve a mission, and then only find out in their mid-20s after reading critical websites that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy?” We are being neither charitable nor realistic in doing so. (Some of us are not even ourselves aware of the issues that are causing the problems and kick them while they’re down anyway, disregarding them simply as apostates, apparently never truly converted, etc., despite all evidence to the contrary.)

The Influence of Correlation

At Times and Seasons, Ben Huff has posted a thought-provoking discussion examining the influence of the Correlation Program on this dynamic, sensibly pointing out that it arose as a response to the rapid international growth of the Church. As members joined the Church in far greater numbers outside the “Mormon Corridor” (from Alberta Canada in a more or less geographically sound line down to the “Mormon Colonies” in Northern Mexico) it became clear that more average members would not benefit from having relatives at family reunions or parents during discussions of Genealogy at FHE talking about being descendants of so-and-so’s third (or fourth, or fifth) wife, completely normalizing the fact of polygamy in our past. Ben observes, “Correlation was designed to make an information-lean approach to Mormonism viable. This required emphasizing core principles and minimizing complexity, leaving obsolete practices like polygamy and historical peculiarities like Joseph’s seer stone to be addressed by historians, not Sunday School manuals.”

Ben suggests that a cooperative approach reflecting the earlier communitarianism and cooperative efforts of our Zion-seeking early Mormon forebears will ameliorate the difficulties currently facing the Church as a result of the kinds of information-based faith-crises described in the New York Times article. To fill the gap created by Correlation’s official “information-lean approach to Mormonism,” Ben argues, “we need more unofficial auxiliaries. In addition to church sources like the Ensign or BYU, we need independent institutions like Southern Virginia University, like FARMS or Interpreter, like the bloggernacle, like Halestorm Entertainment, like the Mormon Scholars Foundation.”

A commenter on Ben’s post, however, bitterly notes that Ben “makes it sound like having non official groups carry the culture was part of the churches [sic] plan. That isn’t true at all. We’ve been instructed for example not to have private study groups and the like. Sunstone and Dialogue were given the villian [sic] treatment in conference.” As painful as it is to accept, I think it is accurate to observe that we have indeed placed great obstacles in the way of Church members accessing information or historical treatment from unofficial sources, and the official sources have almost entirely omitted information or analysis of some of the puzzling issues that often cause believing members cognitive dissonance (some key examples are listed in the New York Times article).

Retrenchment

Digging in, a vocal segment of faithful Mormons who are active online immediately began responding to the New York Times article by reviving a certain type of old-fashioned Mormon anti-intellectualism. Our history is irrelevant, according to this line of reasoning, because all that matters is conversion, which results from personal experiences with the Spirit. Although it is certainly true that conversion is a process guided by the Holy Ghost and ultimately founded on personal revelation about key Gospel truths (primarily in the reality and efficacy of the Atonement of Jesus Christ), this line of reasoning raises the question of whether true conversion can occur in the absence of Truth. Also, this approach seems premised on the idea that true historical facts can in some way undermine or conflict with the Spirit’s mission to teach us the truth of all things. But if something is true, it is true. Our mandate is to circumscribe all Truth into one great whole, whether such Truth is particularly useful at the moment or not. And this Truth is found in every field, every endeavor, whether within or without the Church. This includes historical facts even when compiled into historical narrative which necessarily involves interpretation (which is another criticism leveled at “our history” in this mindset — all history necessarily involves interpretation, see below).

My sense is that Mormons currently advocating this approach in response to the New York Times piece would also, inconsistently, teach that students preparing for a test cannot skip studying and then simply pray before the test that it will work out and expect to pass based on the Spirit revealing the answers to them; to the contrary, I envision these critics vigorously denying that this approach would work, teaching instead that a student must study as hard as he or she can for that test before he or she can expect to rely on the Spirit making up the difference and supplying answers in a pinch. Their current approach also seems to vary from the pattern for revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 where Oliver Cowdery is taught that he could not translate the Book of Mormon because “you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.” Like the students in the example above, Oliver seems to have thought he could just kneel down and pray, asking God to reveal truth to him. Apparently, seeking and obtaining personal revelation requires more work than that: “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

Admittedly, this revelation in D&C 9 is context-specific — this is counsel given to Oliver Cowdery in the context of his attempt and failure to translate the Book of Mormon. But we often use this passage of scripture as general guidance for how to seek out revelation in our lives. Study is part of the process, and I submit that studying our history can actually be part of the process in building strong testimonies — in becoming truly converted to the Gospel because such conversion also requires a knowing submission to the Church as an institution and sustaining its leaders despite their human fallibility. In fact, our current Doctrine and Covenants Sunday School curriculum is focusing on the Restoration of the Gospel and on inspiring historical episodes that played a part in bringing about this Restoration. The dilemma described in the New York Times article is that one can work through that curriculum a dozen times (as Hans Mattsson no doubt did as it recurred every four years throughout his entire adult life in the Church) and never hear about difficult issues in our history that often become stumbling blocks even to the earnestly converted (like Hans Mattsson).

Our Faithful Historians

This approach of dismissing our history as irrelevant (and criticizing those who find our history important and perhaps even part and parcel to the Gospel as unduly relying on “the arm of the flesh”) also makes me uncomfortable because it slurs our faithful historians who are working furiously to produce top-notch historical scholarship that is slowly filling the gap left by our correlated “information-lean approach to Mormonism” (to use Ben Huff’s description). According to this line of reasoning, history and information are always fallible. History is always an act of interpretation. (As if receiving and acting on personal revelation is not also always an act of interpretation.) As such, history is unreliable and, in fact, it can be dangerous.

It is certainly true that a particular historical narrative necessarily arises from that historian’s own inferences based on an often incomplete, contradictory, or confusing historical record. So, of course all history necessarily involves interpretation! But there are also ascertainable historical facts underlying the narrative, and good historical treatments document these facts and their sources in footnotes or endnotes, or in explanations in the actual text. Readers can be trusted to examine and weigh the credibility of the historian’s presentation of facts or, rather, the historian’s interpretation of the facts. In fact, we as Mormons should have extra confidence in this exercise since we can rely on the Holy Ghost as our guide, even when studying history! So, for example, consider the following hypothetical: Fact: Joseph Smith was a polygamist. Fact: Some of his wives were very young, and it appears with near certainty that at least one or more already had a husband. [Insert other puzzling or uncomfortable facts that appear clearly established by the historical record about Joseph Smith's experience with polygamy, such as arguably coercive methods documented in convincing some to participate.] The Holy Ghost is not going to tell you that this did not happen because it did happen. Which, then, is more likely — the Spirit will testify either (1) that regardless of how this historical information looks to us at this point through our current lens and based on the currently available facts, Joseph Smith is still a prophet and was God’s instrument in the long-foretold Restoration, in which case, the historical research was helpful in building a stronger testimony; or (2) that we should avoid uncomfortable truths in order to believe in God? I am confident that the Spirit can be our companion in our study of history and will guide us more in line with the first hypothetical rather than the second. If the Spirit whispers the second, this implies bigger theological problems than insights into puzzling episodes in Church history or fallible people being used as instruments in God’s hands for God’s purposes.

Now, it is certainly true that people should be reading good history. But “good history” does not mean history that is only written with a faith-promoting spin, to the exclusion of other relevant details that provide the bigger picture or broader story. Such a product will necessarily leave out (or, essentially, hide) part of the story. Rather, good history is reliable history, taking such “other” details into account and contextualizing them or, at the very least, exposing them so that we can study them out and decide for ourselves what they mean. Discernment is indeed a part of this process. But limiting members’ access to only hagiographic treatments of Church leaders or simplified/homogenized discussions of particular doctrines/teachings (through official guidance to avoid “outside sources” in Gospel study and teaching) evidences a lack of trust in the membership to navigate such study with the guidance of the Spirit!

Claiming that our history is irrelevant also, unfortunately but not without plenty of precedent, frames good, up-to-date history as essentially mutually exclusive with solid testimonies based on religious experiences. But this is a false dichotomy in which we, again, see how the fundamentalist faithful and the fundamentalist formerly faithful are two sides of the same modernist coin: it is impossible to be well informed about history and still maintain a testimony. (For this reason, I think, BCC irritates — or rather, mystifies — both groups because this mutual exclusivity for the most part does not exist here and in other similar places.)

And, perhaps adding to the confusion of those advocating this approach, the Church itself is venturing into these waters where good, up-to-date history is manifestly not incompatible with strong, enduring testimonies. The work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP) implies a recognition of this mutual co-existence. Under the auspices of this Project, the Church has officially mandated historians with top credentials and professional experience to prepare history consistent with the best modern methods. Similarly, a few years ago the Church saw the need for a treatment of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and commissioned a historical study that achieves remarkable transparency even on issues that are potentially embarrassing for the Church (or at least puzzling).

Humility is key to this approach to history. This is true whether we are reading history produced by the Church’s mandated faithful historians (such as in the JSPP), faithful historians who are doing their own work relating to Church history in their respective fields (such as Richard Bushman but the number of them is growing all the time), or historians unaffiliated with the Church writing about our Church leaders or the Church’s history (such as Remini on Joseph Smith or Turner on Brigham Young). Whatever we read, we need to keep in mind the basic point made by these (overzealous?) bloggers who misguidedly dismiss our history as irrelevant in the process of conversion: that the historical record is often incomplete and that inference plays an immense role in the presentation of the record itself and in its interpretation for purposes of drafting a particular narrative from it. Perhaps a solution could be for the Church to frequently emphasize this point about humility and uncertainty in reviewing historical writing while also trusting the members to digest historical information themselves based on guidance from the Spirit rather than admonishing members not to seek historical information from “outside sources.” We need not walk by fear if we believe that we have the Gospel. We should not fear the influence of history, especially our own history, on the minds and hearts of our members!

Reading as Response

An apologetic response that attempts to rehabilitate Church leaders or doctrines in the face of unfamiliar or unflattering facts will often fail to revive the faith of people like Hans Mattsson. This is because it is not so much the existence of such information that has shaken their faith but rather the impression that they have been betrayed by the Church because such information was not provided to them earlier (and seems to have been actively hidden, though in my opinion that’s not really the case) and they sacrificed so much based on what now to them seems to have been a sandy foundation of understanding about facts, events, and the development of certain doctrines in our history. This is certainly not to say that they would not have made such sacrifices or devoted their lives to the Church to the same extent if they had been given this information in the first place. To the contrary, my impression is that early and candid discussion of these issues often sidelines most concerns about them entirely.

But for people who are currently in Mattsson’s camp, I believe it would be extremely effective if the Church issued a statement that it acknowledges that its previous approach to its presentation of its history has ultimately proved problematic in some ways and that it is sorry that people have felt betrayed as a result. I think the Church could clearly express that it never intended to hide information or deceive anyone but that this effect came about in practice in certain circumstances as an unintended consequence of the Correlation policy and its particular implementation that seemed appropriate as the Church rapidly expanded globally. The problem, in fact, was compounded outside the United States where materials in other languages were not available and so Church members really only did have CES/Curriculum Dept. materials as their only resources about our history and doctrines, especially in light of counsel to avoid seeking information in “outside sources.” (This is still a difficulty; for example, would the resources provided in the BYU Studies links be helpful to people like Mattsson if they are not in their own languages?)

It would also be helpful to begin providing resources with more complete treatments of history and doctrine/teachings. Especially for people who have not experienced this crisis of faith, such materials could go a long way in “inoculating” them against such a faith crisis. (I personally dislike the term “inoculation” in this context because it necessarily implies that Truth is a disease that needs to be “inoculated” against — but Truth is enlightening and good in and of itself, and most definitely not a disease.)

The BYU Studies statement is a good example of this approach of “reading as response.” I strongly believe that our history is not irrelevant to our belief in the Gospel. In fact, our history is integral to our Gospel beliefs and to understanding the development of our doctrines/teachings. Let’s rely on the Spirit in our study of history, introduce our history to our children and investigators early, and openly discuss any difficult issues that might arise. If we keep a perspective of humility in approaching this endeavor (for example always asking ourselves what can we actually know about intentions), I am confident that our history will only enrich us.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, John. Thank you very much.

  2. Yes.

  3. Great post, JBF.

    One particular point: it would be cowardly and immoral to omit the history of the priesthood ban when teaching black investigators. This is one issue that is crying out for an open and honest treatment by the church. They will inevitably find out about the church’s difficult racial doctrines so if we don’t teach it, someone else will, which will unnecessarily magnify the pain.

    My suggestion for solving the problem you outline is quite simple:

    Improve but essentially keep the streamlined/correlated material. and then simply add a constantly updated “further reading” section that deals with the issues in greater depth.

  4. Wow — thank you for your insight. Intelligent and charitable — love it.

  5. Amen.

  6. And for the love of everything we want to do in terms of spreading the gospel, can we please start with educating our amazing growing missionary force?

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Good stuff, John.

  8. This is delightfully well-done. I had some of the same thoughts myself (well, in baby form), but I couldn’t articulate them nearly so well.

    By the way, I actually rather like the use of the word “inoculate” in this context. The Latin means “to put an eye into.” I think about it in the context of vaccination as introducing antibodies into the body that can “see” and identify a potential invader before it has time to act. Introducing knowledge before thorny questions arise might be another way to introduce an eye, or a way of seeing, that gives a broader insight or perspective.

  9. Absolutely Spot ON!

  10. That’s a great way to conceptualize it, Laura.

  11. Having seen the problems that the “information -lean” approach has caused for some friends, this is an issue that needs to be dealt with somehow. My concern is that there are some(many) members who will still feel betrayed or duped regardless of how we approach this, and also some who will reject the efforts of shining some light into our history, and in the short term potentially cause additional stress for members. Definitely a process that calls for careful footsteps to avoid compounding the problem. While I agree that providing a better historical education for our missionaries is important, it needs to start ear;ywith our youth, and I would think the new youth curriculum may actually help in this process.

  12. This whole discussion makes me think that Leonard Arrington’s updated 16-volume series on LDS history in the 1970s, originally intended to come out with the active sponsorship of the Church. Instead, LDS leaders chose to distance the Church from the project. Instead of becoming a multi-volume replacement for Essentials in Church History, it became individual volumes published by individual LDS historians, all excellent volumes but largely unknown to the rank and file in the Church. Instead, the rank and file got Correlation materials. In retrospect, that was a badly missed opportunity.

  13. Thanks for this well-reasoned response to the latest episode in the “Mormonism Meets the Information Age” soap opera. If I were in charge of Church curriculum, I would use Matt Bowman’s recent “The Mormon People” as the next manual for Gospel Doctrine and give every Mormon a copy.

  14. Wonderful ideas and insights. Thank you.

  15. This is an important topic; in my small ward in the past couple of years I’ve been called on a number of times to talk to people who feel puzzled or betrayed when they are suddenly introduced to some of these tricky issues. It’s not a minor problem, so thank you for addressing the topic and the NYT article in such a comprehensive manner.

    Church Historian Elder Steven Snow also addressed this issue in the June New Era:

    http://www.lds.org/new-era/2013/06/balancing-church-history

    He gave some excellent advice, but it’s interesting to see how his correlated advice contrasts with other very good but non-correlated advice in this post, at BYU Studies, and from others in the Bloggernacle.

  16. The thing which really cements the issue for me is the USU study mentioned in the Times article, wherein 3,000 formerly active LDS members explain their reasons for losing faith. For many of these it was the incongruity of the historical narrative that brought on the loss of faith. These are our next-door neighbors and ourselves. The numbers and data are staggering. I suspect that the Church had these numbers all along; now that the data is publicly available it would seem to demand a public response.

  17. Kristine says:

    ” I would use Matt Bowman’s recent “The Mormon People” as the next manual for Gospel Doctrine and give every Mormon a copy.”

    Better yet, we should clone Matt and have him teach Gospel Doctrine all over the church :)

  18. J. Stapley says:

    Brock, it is worth pointing out that the study mentioned in the article was not put out by USU, and is comprehensively flawed. It is like a statistical tautology. That isn’t to detract from the broader point in this post, however, which doesn’t rely on that study.

  19. An absolutely superb post, John; let’s hope it gets spread far and wide. This is my favorite bit:

    I think it is accurate to observe that we have indeed placed great obstacles in the way of Church members accessing information or historical treatment from unofficial sources, and the official sources have almost entirely omitted information or analysis of some of the puzzling issues that often cause believing members cognitive dissonance.

    I suppose it would be fair to clarify that, generally speaking, the “great obstacles” to which I assume you refer to are not literal or physical ones (though there have been some of those through our recent history: the church’s tight controlling of access to its own archives, the restrictions which were long in place on BYU computer’s internet access, the forbidding of church employees from involvement in Sunstone or Dialogue, etc.), but rather are peer-enforced ones: some material is labeled—for any number of usually not-clearly-articulated reasons—“anti” or “alternate” (paging Elder Oaks!), and is thus placed in the good-Mormons-don’t-go-there corner. And since most of us want to be good Mormons, the peer-reinforced sense of identification does its work. In fact, it seems reasonable to assume that such work has continued (and is particularly acute overseas or in any area where educated and connected Mormons are not thick on the ground, and thus lack the kind of trusting relaxation over information issues which Ben Huff talked about) long past the point in which those who did the labeling in the first place were paying attention. I suppose it’s possible that Elder Oaks would give the exact same “Alternate Voices” talk today in General Conference as he did 24 years ago, but I strongly doubt it. Until he or someone else gives a completely opposite talk, however, the obstacles-by-way-of-labeling is likely to remain.

  20. In the same spirit of open and honest inquiry into our past, I invite people to visit rsc.byu.edu to discover a treasure trove of free resources on historical topics, particularly Robert Millet’s recent book “No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues.” Many difficult issues identified by the New York Times are discussed very candidly.–Devan Jensen, executive editor, Religious Studies Center

  21. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    Good article though I think that is still misses the difficult task it is to “tell all about our history”. Sometimes intellectuals believe that the most important part of the church is to tell its history in complete form. As both an intellectual and a person who served several times as a bishop, I can tell you that teaching history was not the highest priority. In fact, I was always uncomfortable with using history to build testimonies which was and still is common in many wards and stakes. My view was that one studied the doctrine, prayed, reflected, converse with others, and then one received a testimony of the gospel–if one was to get one. Depending on history–outside of the scriptural sense–was to complicate the doctrine because it would then be mired in the flaws of men. I believe that the church cannot be separated from the man or woman that are part of it, but it is important to know the gospel doctrine and feel the spirit before one gets into its complications. History is tough to teach correctly and trusting 20-something missionaries–or younger–would be a disaster. I believe that seminaries, institutes, firesides and some conferences would be good to do what many here want, but the church should not get into the business of teaching history. No other church does it, and most organizations don’t do it either because it is difficult to do effectively en mass. People who become members should be encouraged to do it and their concerns should be dealt with, but it should not be the institution’s job to teach all about the complications of our history. Of course, it is probably impossible now not to deal with it given the ongoing controversies. Maybe BYU is a place to do it, as well as the other church schools, and the church history department could mobilize an effort by calling church historians to engage in the process. The Ensign could carry more articles on dealing with difficult issues in our history by dealing with them head on and admitting where we went wrong. But as a Sunday School teacher of many years who tries to be very upfront about our history including speaking to mistakes and errors by the church, I do not believe that Sunday School is equipped to do the job, nor is the time sufficient. Also, the wards are to teach doctrine and to build the faith, not to provide historical training, though a few firesides to deal with this topic could be done effectively. But we must also remember that if we lose people because they find the complications of our history on their own, there will be just as many who will leave when they find out some of these issues in a 40-minute block class. We will then have to be sensitive to them and not just dismiss them as people who cannot “deal” with the issues of our history, as some critics in this site have a tendency to do .

  22. That’s right Russell. To return to the example of Hans Mattsson, I would think he was simply obedient. He was asked not to refer to outside sources in his Gospel study and teaching and he didn’t. But “Our Heritage” even in Swedish translation simply isn’t adequate to address the issues that cause people trouble.

    From his story, it looks like specific questions were being raised by people in his circles, which of course began to resonate with him as well, and in good faith he brought them to ecclesiastical leaders who echoed the counsel not to resort to “outside sources” for discussion, analysis, or even acknowledgement of these facts and issues. The problem was, of course, that correlated materials didn’t provide any explanation or insight and faithful or friendly “unofficial auxiliary” materials (to use Ben Huff’s term/framework) though possibly available on particular topics were not very easily accessible in some cases or only accessible in English.

  23. Sigh. The solution is always for the Church to change its ways and apologize to the offended.

    There’s a lot of arm-chair quarterbacking going on here, and also some serious misrepresentation of the perspective of those who disagree. Those of us, for example, who argue that Sunday School is not an appropriate context for an in depth discussion of polygamy or the Mountain Meadows massacre, and those of us who wish to invite others to ground their relationship with God in experiences with the Spirit rather than the shifting attitudes of scholars are sidelined as “anti-intellectuals.”

    Being concerned about fulfilling our divine commission (inviting others to come unto Christ), and not distracting ourselves with sideshows that dissidents use as evidence against the Church — sideshows that, in contrary to this article, are *not* important for the present salvific missions of the Church — is not anti-intellectualism.

    Asking ourselves, “What does God want us to teach,” and then seeking the answers in the scriptures, personal revelation, and inspired guidance from the leaders of the Church, is the answer. The answers are usually, “Repentance, faith, humility, baptism, temple-worship, etc., etc.” If and when the answers are “MMM and intellectual perspectives on polygamy,” then that is what we will teach. To my knowledge, that hasn’t happened a whole lot.

    I really do feel like that adversary is playing a game with us. I personal feel that the adversary does not like that our lessons teach simple, basic doctrines with pristine clarity, and I think he wants to muddy those waters by introducing elements into the discussion about which we don’t have clear answers and which are not as crucial to our salvation. I think the adversary wants to distract us, and I think he’s succeeding for some.

    And even if he never succeeds in getting the Church to obfuscate its curriculum with distracting conversations and dialogues, he will have at least succeeded in enticing some of us to doubt further the inspired hand of the Lord in building this Church and directing its practices. I think that this article, more than anything, just provides those who violate their sacred covenants with God vindication in pinning their troubles on the Church. Does the Church do everything perfectly? I’m sure that’s not the case. But when we apostatize, it isn’t the Church we should blame.

    I know we should reach out in compassion and empathy to those who struggle with doubt. I’m all for that. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with confusing *vindicating* their sense of betrayal with *empathy and compassion.* It’s not compassion to say, “Yes, the Church betrayed you, and you are entitled to an apology.” That’s not really going to help anything. To often, we define compassion as “not holding people personally responsible for their behavior” (or at least trying to find a way to make the institution share the blame).

  24. Kristine says:

    ” It’s not compassion to say, “Yes, the Church betrayed you, and you are entitled to an apology.” ”

    Right–it’s not compassion. It’s honesty.

  25. morgana says:

    I found that there is a third answer one can receive from the Holy Ghost when praying about such information: the Mormon Church is man-made and not of God at all. That felt good and right to me, and I’ve gone with that. After much research, prayer and thought, that continues to feel right to me. The that the Spirit of God will only confirm that the Mormon Church is true is really pretty arrogant and totally discounts the spiritual experiences of those of other faiths–experiences that testify of THEIR religion. And to say Mormons have the upper-hand because only they have the gift of the Hoky Ghost also diminishes the experience of at least those of other Christian faiths, who most certainly feel that they do indeed have that gift.

  26. Kristine, best not to get into it with Jeff Thayne. According to his web-address he is both a LDS and a philosopher and that is a powerful combo. Couple that with his gender and his stated views here, and you lose. Every. Single. Time.

    And whatever it is, it is your fault, so deal.

  27. Sterling McMurrin says:

    “Do we have so much to fear from history?”

    “Sure we have. In this respect Apostle Packer is on rather safe ground.
    Nothing can produce a more rapid deterioration of religious faith than the
    honest study of the history of religion. Now, I don’t mean to say that a person
    can’t face history honestly and still remain religious, but you just have to recognize
    that in the case of Mormonism, the faith is so mixed up with so many
    commitments to historical events — or to events that are purported to be historical
    — that a competent study of history can be very disillusioning. Mormonism
    is a historically oriented religion. To a remarkable degree, the Church
    has concealed much of its history from its people, while at the same time causing
    them to tie their religious faith to its own controlled interpretations of its
    history. So there is no point in arguing whether a serious study of Mormon
    history may have a deteriorating effect upon the faith of large numbers of
    Mormon people. It certainly will in countless cases. But that is the Church’s
    fault or the fault of the weakness of the faith, not the fault of today’s historians,
    most of whom are both honest and highly competent. The Church
    shouldn’t tic religious faith to its history. Religious faith should be faith in God
    and in one’s fellowmen — not faith in some historical events and their official interpretation”

    https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V17N01_20.pdf

  28. Carl Youngblood says:

    John, thanks for this excellent post. I think it’s worthwhile also to highlight an interesting detail you mentioned, that even as the Church’s historical work has greatly improved, the people involved have perhaps also created greater distance between their professional historical research and their commitment to the gospel.

    I think it’s important to clarify the distinction between historical research and an emphasis on “historicity.” Both the modern fundamentalists who affirm the “information-lean” account and the apologists who defend it frequently emphasize the supreme importance of the historicity of the Church’s truth claims. They often stake the entire value of the Church on it, claiming that if it’s not “true,” by which they mean if certain claims are not historical, the entire organization and all its efforts cease to be of value. President Hinckley himself proposed such a wager in his interview with Bob Wallace and other leaders have made similar propositions.

    Ironically, the fundamentalists who emphasize historicity above all are applying the scientific precision that they have learned from the secular paradigm, a precision that those who originally received these revelations did not have. While I agree that history is important, I think that emphasizing the historicity has become a distraction from the opportunity that actually lies before us–that of using this imperfect foundation to progress toward and build a community that more fully resembles Christ. So I get especially frustrated when members keep harping on the historicity claims and the “truthfulness” of the message precisely at a time when they are placed in greater doubt than they ever have been before. There are truths that are far more important than historical facts. In a sense you could say I’m advocating a de-emphasis of history on postmodernist rather than modernist grounds.

    Does anything I’m saying make sense? I’m having trouble articulating myself here.

  29. J. Stapley says:

    Jeff, it sounds to me like you are suggesting that all church teaching be limited to Preach My Gospel. If that is the case, then I will disagree. I think that would be a less productive use of time. As it stands, we have Seminary and Gospel Doctrine that are focused on the scriptures. I see Fowles saying that we should teach these scriptures accurately and with appropriate context. That doesn’t seem to be that big of a push-up. We spend all sorts of energy engaging the scriptures, and it makes sense to use artwork, scholarship, and documents that bring them closer the truth than further. People that grow up in the church get taught about the translation of the plates, for example, scores of times before graduating from high school. Let’s just do it right. Your accusation that such teaching is satanic is not only absurd but deranged.

  30. J. Stapley,

    As a fellow researcher, I appreciate your perspective on the “Why Mormons Question” survey. If you don’t mind, I’d like to provide a tiny bit of background/explanation.

    Given our lack of budget, “The Why Mormons Question” survey was designed and executed as an ethnographic study of a specific segment of our membership who lose faith from the discovery of Church history and doctrinal issues. It was never billed as a statistically significant data set that could predict the prevalence of Faith Crisis amongst the entire membership. To conduct such a representative study would require many hundreds of thousands of dollars and, if done right, would require us to track members’ faith and exposure to historical issues over an extended period of time. That said, I think it’s clear—from our ethnographic study and from thousands of additional anecdotal stories and written narratives—that a loss-of-faith from exposure to difficult historical and doctrinal issues is a challenge faced by many of our best and brightest members (at least in the U.S. — and likely in Europe as well).

    And while I admit that our “Why Mormons Question” survey is far from the perfect measurement tool, I believe that its findings have contributed to a better understanding of how this segment of our membership suffers. I also know first-hand that it has been well-received by leaders in Salt Lake as well as local leaders across the globe.

    Are you aware of better extant data regarding LDS disaffection in the U.S.? If so, I would love to see it. If we don’t have it, I would encourage you, the Church, and others to apply resources to this very important cause.

    Thanks for discussing this important topic.

  31. “But for people who are currently in Mattsson’s camp, I believe it would be extremely effective if the Church issued a statement that it acknowledges that its previous approach to its presentation of its history has ultimately proved problematic in some ways and that it is sorry that people have felt betrayed as a result.”

    O beautiful dreamer! Zealots don’t compromise, nor do they admit mistakes, especially successful zealots in expensive suits. They double-down with the crazy stuff until the next NYT piece on disillusioned Mormons appears. Then they do it all over again (reference the McMurrin quote above).

    Would that our troubled leadership possessed the honesty of spirit & sweetness of heart manifested by the writer of this fine piece, John F, whoever you are. THIS makes me proud to be LDS. You and people like you are the hope of this church.

  32. A hearty amen, John.

  33. Thomas Parkin says:

    Another fine OP.

    An additional dimension of this problem is the glib way we talk about the Holy Ghost. I have sometimes heard that a person upon reading a few verses of the Book of Mormon and “praying about it” are entitled to a personal experience so powerful that it not only leads to conversion but can stand alone against a lifetime of problems. How is this experience described? ‘It feels right.’ Or, much worse, ‘it feels good.’ Both of these statements might be true enough, but can also be used to describe any number of other things. Young love feels so right, and eating Grandmother’s Brand Pink Sugar Cookies feels so good. Once one knows how to feel good, then one can get an answer that it is right to take this job, buy that car, or regurgitate whatever commonplace.

    I agree very much with John that the Spirit congeals around truth – truths of all kinds. The only scripture I know off the top of my head that talks about driving the Spirit away lists the things that drive it away as pride, vain ambition, and exercising dominion. Manipulating information is one express way of exercising dominion, as it is an active attempt to circumnavigate another person’s freedom.

    Joseph Smith said that learning to hear the Spirit begins with experimentation (and hence can go wrong and is in need of adjusting) and is something one grows into. Telling little t truths is every bit as important as ‘testifying’ of big T truths – and, imo, a better way of thinking about starting with personal revelation than on a dime going for the one big payoff.

  34. Chris Kimball says:

    “it is not so much the existence of such information that has shaken their faith but rather the impression that they have been betrayed by the Church”
    There’s a third level of shaking going on. Correlated Mormonism (Ben Huff’s term) tends to portray the Church as necessary, right, constant and consistent. I think this is inevitable and would be characteristic of any correlated effort for any religion that considers itself a “revealed” religion. (Likewise, history will always be a challenge to one’s understanding of revealed religion.)
    In my experience, some individuals, upon reading as a response, find that they have to recontextualize the Church. They find that the Church is not quite the safe and sure and constant place they thought (and wanted?) and not quite the same as the Church portrays itself through correlation. There are resolutions; integration is possible. But the ground is not always steady underfoot.

  35. I hesitate to tangle with someone who announced his presence with such belligerence, but if Jeff or anyone who agrees with him cares to explain how we actually ought to deal with situations like the NY Times article outlines, I’d be interested to hear it instead of raging against intellectuals. The OP is trying to provide solutions–I don’t see much value in vague hand-waving about showing compassion and focusing on core doctrines being sufficient. That’s important, but it’s clearly not enough for some people struggling with concrete historical issues in a church that claims legitimacy in part from that history.

  36. The Church is not to its members as parents are to their children, but I once heard the very good advice that, “Your kids are going to learn about sex. You can’t control that. You can control whether they learn about sex from you, _if_ you start early enough.”

  37. I don’t usually get involved in these discussions. Primarily because I should be studying for the bar exam right now, but I’ll count this as my late-night break. I’ve seen this problem play out time and again both with friends and family. I think part of the problem is that we have created two churches: a convert church that lacks institutional memory by its very nature, and a Utah-centered historical church. For those of us who grew up out of the Mormon Crescent, much of these controversial issues are hidden precisely because our access is limited especially prior to the internet age. For example, the only LDS bookstore I had ever seen before going to BYU was eight hours away in Washington D.C. I can tell you its selection was paltry. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a second generation return missionary from New York was shocked to learn from me that Joseph had plural wives. I thought I’d driven him away from the church.

    For me personally, one of the best things I ever did to deal with these issues was to form a book club in one of my wards with several other like-minded friends. We’d read a book a month on Church history or general religious topics. Our reading ran the gamut from Bushman (who some of us found to forgiving) to Hardy (whose Understanding the Book of Mormon was my personal favorite) to Karen Armstrong (ever insightful). Our discussions were always uplifting, and it allowed us to hash through some of these difficult issues in our history together.

    That said, I did have one member (who I asked but who refused to join our group) ask me if he felt our little group didn’t contain within it the seeds of apostasy. I suppose our club rule that we could only read things that couldn’t be cited in a gospel doctrine class might have been the reason for the comment.

  38. John Harrison says:

    Pathetically, I will repeat myself here.

    But first, I think that John’s post is excellent and while I would be surprised if the Church were to take his advice, I think it should give it some serious consideration.

    He is entirely right that this is a problem of our own making, and likely unintentional. That said, the problem has been obvious for a while. It is completely understandable that someone such as Brother Mattsson would be unaware of issues with out history or our scriptures. In many countries the vast majority of materials available about the Church are manuals and scriptures published by the Church. Those materials make a point of never addressing difficult topics and and some instances have mentioned such topics only in the context of urging teachers to steer discussion away from them.

    We have nearly 50 Sunday School lessons a year, yet can’t find time to address polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, or the Book of Abraham on occasion? Even if only to mention that these things exist?

    If not in Sunday School perhaps in Seminary and Institute. Seminary should be a high school level course in the scripture being studied that year. In my experience it rarely approached such a standard. Institute should be a college level course in the topic at hand. That would be a perfect venue for discussion of these issues. Yet how often does that occur?

    If change occurs at all it will take a long time. We’ve been trained for so long to avoid difficult topics in a Church setting that it will take a real culture shift for people to be able to have such discussions. But this is a change that seems necessary to me, flawed as I am.

  39. “It is in the interests of the Church to play a constructive role in advancing the cathartic powers of honest and accurate history. In doing so, the Church strives to be relevant to contemporary audiences that operate under changing cultural assumptions and expectations. A careful, yet bold presentation of Church history, which delves into the contextual subtleties and nuances characteristic of serious historical writing, has become increasingly important. If a religion cannot explain its history, it cannot explain itself.”

    This is what the Church itself said in a press release in 2009. So, there is support for transparency. Perhaps it’s just a little slow in coming.

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/a-record-kept-constructing-collective-memory

  40. Jocelyn says:

    I need to second Carl Youngblood’s comment:

    ” I think that emphasizing the historicity has become a distraction from the opportunity that actually lies before us–that of using this imperfect foundation to progress toward and build a community that more fully resembles Christ. So I get especially frustrated when members keep harping on the historicity claims and the “truthfulness” of the message precisely at a time when they are placed in greater doubt than they ever have been before. There are truths that are far more important than historical facts.”

    My ongoing faith transition ( I think the crisis is over, but the transition continues) was precipitated more by the spoon-fed blandness of the “facts” laid out and discussed in Sunday meetings not because they were historically untrue, but because they did very little if anything to make me feel closer to Christ or to help me feel the power of God’s hand in my life. I felt distanced from the spirit because the correlated materials and their matter-of-fact treatment did nothing to invite it.

    Yes, I also found many of the “troubling” historical issues during my time researching online. And yes, they did disturb me. But ultimately I realized that if I could believe that the Bible contained very little historical truth (I long ago came to that conclusion), but it could still contain many great spiritual truths, why can’t I feel the same way about the LDS standard works? If they help me come closer to Christ and feel a spiritual connection to Deity, that means far more to me than if they tell factual stories or than if the men who brought them forth were always the snow-white-pure figures that they are portrayed as in correlated church history.

    I want more spirituality out of my Sunday meetings. I want to to feel closer to God. Not to have intellectual discussions.

    That being said, I think that the Church could easily fill that “history gap” with regular and frank historical articles in the various church magazines, and on its official websites (translated into as many languages as possible – thank you very much). Those seem like good forums for members who ready to dig deeper and get honest answers.

    As for the question: won’t we lose disillusioned members no matter where they get the troubling information, whether it be official church sources or otherwise?

    The answer is a resounding yes.

    All Christian faiths (and probably most other faiths, as well) are losing young people in droves, and more mature people, too. Not just because of a rise of new social and cultural attitudes, but because outside sources of information are available to their membership, too. And their histories are no prettier than ours. If anything, this officially welcomes us to the big leagues.

  41. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Pathetically, I will repeat myself here.”

    This is how I feel about everything I’ve done on the bloggernacle for about the last three years.
    *wink*

  42. Great post, John. Very nice.

  43. “To the contrary, my impression is that early and candid discussion of these issues often sidelines most concerns about them entirely.”

    Excellent post! I recently had discussions with my 8 year old about $#X and peep stones in the hat. His response was about the same in both instances: No big deal, and COOL! But if I imagine having these same discussions with (let’s say) my father-in-law..(Aaagh!) Well I’d avoid the first discussion completely and would be even more afraid of the second.

  44. “…teach that students preparing for a test cannot skip studying and then simply pray before the test that it will work out and expect to pass based on the Spirit revealing the answers to them.”

    So we have a lot of people showing up for the test, prepared with the spirit to answer: polyandry, Mountain Meadows, Brigham Young, etc, etc, etc. I like your thought that a consistent study of history can and DOES arm us with testimonies that have been tried and strengthened over time. I feel like the collective church is entering the mission field of the bible belt. Hang on, study, sweat. I’ve found that it is possible to emerge stronger for the struggle.

  45. LOVE THIS. I absolutely agree.

  46. Very well-said, thank you for taking the time to write this out. Truth is of *critical* importance, I think. I also really like the connections you made with conversion. I think there’s more to be found there, in considering the intricate relationship between Truth in its specificities and varying amounts and level of conversion.

  47. CJ Douglass says:

    I can’t remember the first time I heard about the priesthood ban or Utah polygamy, but I remember being well aware of it as a deacon. I read through the OT my freshman year of seminary. (and I was by no means the “intellectually curious” type) By the time I heard about JS polygamy or MMM, I can’t say I was shocked. (I was still too busy being troubled by the out in the open issues) The real crisis came when I was told that addressing these issues was not important or even silly – or that the devil was tricking me.

    So, the church has some practice in allowing historical warts to easily reach the membership. (OD2 is canonized!) The challenge is explaining it in a way that doesn’t dismiss or belittle the skeptic. Considering the fullness of the Mormon story, believing in the foundational truth claims is often very difficult. That reality needs to be acknowledged and legitimized with charity and love.

    It’s not the history that troubles me as much as the way we have chosen to deal with it.

  48. Great stuff John. I’d add that faithful “intellectuals” have, over the years, made vital contributions to LDS practice and understanding. Divine purpose often shows itself outside of 47 East in the beginning. Again, well said.

  49. “The New York Times article describes a problem entirely of our own making.”

    To which I would add: this problem was clearly foreseeable and easily avoidable.

  50. Re: EFT above: I did the entire religion requirement at BYU in the 80’s without having one classroom discussion dealing with polygamy, especially Joseph’s polygyny/polyandry. My exposure to this information came after graduation when I read Fawn Brodie.

    Would also take issue with John Harrison’s assertion that the institutional transparency problem is “likely unintentional.” I saw how the hierarchy dealt with D. Michael Quinn, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery. Not “unintentional” by a long shot, but an active, focused attempt to suppress information which has now come back to haunt them.

  51. Calvin Arnason says:

    “Information lean” in this context needs to include the category “lie” as well as “diversion” and “silence”. This is especially true for polygamy, for which I have personal experience going back to the 1950s (and in my family history going back generations). Your appropriate use of the word “coercion” screams out from the page – the journal of William Clayton, secretary to Joseph Smith – was especially revealing in this and many other aspects)..

    A more serious problem than the historical manipulations are the moral failings during my life time of church leaders in regard to the Vietnam War, the human and religious rights of Blacks, and the mania over pornography (remember the 2005 article in Ensign by an Apostle defining pornography as “anything that arouses”?). Or Boyd Packer, who deserves a category (“silver lining”) for himself..

    For a church that claims to be the true witness for Christ to our times, it is revealing that so little attention and research is invested into the (gasp!) historical Jesus, or even to the gospels. Everyone talks about their testimony of the atonement (btw a relatively NEW development – that was not part of testimony boilerplate in the 1950s and 1960s) but very few (1 out of 20) talk about the gospel sayings of Jesus and what they mean..

    Lastly, I attend Sacrament Meeting – often with great benefit. And with a single exception the ward bishops I have known have ALL been of greater moral strength than the average luminaries in the Granite Vatican in Salt Lake City. It’s because the Bishops have to handle actual important issues of MEMBERS whereas the GAs deal with ledgers, secretaries, and hospitals. The question is, could those bishops continue to fulfill their roles if the Salt Lake City granite began to crack. Maybe we shall find out.. Where are the leaders who can lead the church FORWARD? We need a real prophet to hand out a pile of emeritus status letters to church leaders who cannot lead forward. ..

    . . . .

  52. J. Stapley says:

    John was very charitable in the original post to those who have felt betrayed. I think it is also incumbent on those who feel betrayed to approach the Church and its leaders with charity as well. There are all sorts of dynamics at play and people need to be wary of both sides of the fundamentalist coin John describes.

  53. Jessica F. says:

    Great Post.

    One thing I think the commentators on the NYT article forget is that if you did not grow up in the US, if English is not your first language, if you have not gone to BYU you are very unlikely to even have heard about BYU Studies or Sunstone.

  54. Great post.

    Your method of having the church apologize seems like it would work. Its enough to help those who aee stryuggling but not too much that church leaders would be afraid it makes them look weak.

  55. Well said, John. That’s a very strong and well written perspective. One of which I firmly agree with. To be truly comfortable in one’s faith a person can’t rely on a complete avoidance of any ‘questionable’ material that may shake their faith. Boldness to pray, learn, discuss and seek out personal answers to hard questions, is a key to maturing one’s testimony; especially in an age of quick data and global networking. It’s an element I strongly feel the church will learn to embrace and nurture more fully, over time.

  56. Lynne Christy says:

    Thank you, John.

  57. Sharee Hughes says:

    I always thought that polygamy was one of the things the church was most “noted” for, so for someone who was an area seventy NOT to have known seems a little strange.

  58. Too bad that some of these problems have come from the attempts to whitewash/”sanitize” Church History.

    For example, I remember Church Patriarch Eldred G. Smith saying at a fireside, in the Stake I used to be in, that the Book of Mormon was translated by a combination of 3 methods; Use of the “Interpreters” (commonly called the Urim and Thummin), use of a Seer stone, and direct revelation. Yet, that seemed to shock that 70 in the NYT piece.

  59. Meldrum the Less says:

    Do ya think the prophets, seers and revelators was as ignorant as, say someone like me or did they know exactly what they was a doing when they slapped down or rather “correlated” this honest discussion about all these little disquieting aspects of our history? Well-intentional mistake or cold calculation?

    One minor quibble: I think the correlation movement started well before the rapid late 20th century growth outside the Mormon strongholds and definitely not as a response to it. (Cart-before-the-horse, sort of thang.) Without correlation authentic Mormonism had become unacceptable and indecent to most potential converts. Half a century of over-the-top correlation defines who we have become. Too late to put that tooth paste back in the tube.

    What does correlation shout about our leader’s inspired perception of the faith of us rank-and-file church members? Wrong again, or not?

    One stale 30 year old example: What regard for our ability to process the truth did President Hinckley demonstrate when he was spending millions of tithing dollars to quietly buy up Hoffman forgeries (considered to be real history at the time by our best scholars at BYU-this is crucial) in the vain hope of squirreling them away from the view of most all of us? This one particular happened to blow up, nearly literally in his face. Thank the Lord it did not! But in general, was he misguided in these efforts or inspired to do them? What does this say about his own deepest convictions concerning the believability of “the truth”?

    Why now? Have we not weathered worse storms? Count your many ‘postates, name them one by one…. From the beginning…

    I submit we have not probed even close to the depths of this abscess and probably won’t. In my lifetime.

  60. Of course you would submit that, Meldrum. Just saying.

    Excellent, thoughtful post, John.

    What most people miss when they react emotionally and quickly to this situation is that this couple chose not to affiliate anywhere else, since they couldn’t find anything else that resonated with them in the same way our theology and shared lives do. I know many people who struggle with one thing or another, often mightily, who end up finding peace, and growth, in the struggle. More than anything else, I hope this adds one more piece in the picture that weakens and ultimately eliminates our tendency to call anyone who questions and/or struggles apostate or weak in faith.

  61. p,

    I was agreeing with John Fowles’ assertion that some of the consequences of correlation were not intended. I don’t think that setting people up for a sense of deep betrayal years later was an intended consequence of correlation, though I do think that it could have been predicted.

  62. marginalizedmormon says:

    This makes me very grateful to be ‘marginalized’–

    Believe it or not, I have a temple recommend; I believe in the restoration; I even believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I’ve read all this stuff–

    I even believe the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture, however it was translated–

    I haven’t been able to find Joseph Smith’s children from other ‘wives’, and I think he experimented with a lot of very strange things, including sealings; as to whether he ever consummated a marriage with anyone besides Emma, one would have to believe second hand reports on that–

    I mean–

    I don’t go around asking people I know if they have consummated their marriages; I just assume that if they have children–

    but . . .–some people don’t have children, but Emma did, and they were Joseph’s children–

    getting off here–

    *interjecting a little bit of humor*

    The fact that things have happened to my family and me that have made us . . . basically unwanted–

    have made us not wanted in inner circles in wards/stakes–

    is a blessing in disguise. Having been cast out socially (not physically or ecclesiastically) has made all the ‘stuff’ less painful–

    weird way to reconcile things, but it’s truly a blessing–

    our vision has not been clouded by warm, fuzzy feelings about fellow church members. We take them as we find them; we treat them kindly; we try to be charitable, but we don’t expect friendship, since we’ve had it very little for many years–

    it’s a long story; nobody wants to hear it–but there are quite a few people like us–people who feel rejected and unwanted at church–

    when you feel that way . . . you love the Book of Mormon, because it talks about that–

    and you find yourself not caring if there are ‘anomalies’–after all, there are anomalies in everything–

  63. marginalizedmormon says:

    @Michael Holmstrom–

    I spent some time with Eldred G. Smith under unique circumstances. I always believed he was ‘muzzled’–

    He was the real deal, IMO. He had a lot to teach that nobody wanted to hear, but he was a genuine human being, and he loved God.

    He made it to 106. I always secretly hoped he would be here when Jesus came, but I think the ludicrousness of happenings (in and out of the church) made his death a kindness to him–

  64. great writing, John, thanks for the thoughtful piece here!

  65. Armand Mauss says:

    I guess I’m late joining this discussion, but a lot of the discussion so far (including the well-intended and valuable offerings from BYU Studies) is simply ignoring the fundamental explanation for the predicament represented by Elder Mattson. An old folk-saying puts the matter very simply: The chickens have come home to roost. The Retrenchment campaign against even faithful scholars, begun with the shut-down of Arrington’s Camelot project in the 1970s, and extending for two more decades, marginalized and punished many whose work could have provided much of the “inoculation” against the disillusionment of Elder Mattson and many others if those scholars had been encouraged to continue their work. Think, for example, of Quinn’s thorough and balanced treatment of post-Manifesto polygamy in Dialogue, or the Newell & Avery biography of Emma Smith; and the work that truly revealed the origins and fallacies in the traditional LDS racial restrictions came from Lester Bush in the 1970s — and in Dialogue, not in BYU Studies. All these contributions (and many others), which today must be regarded, even by LDS leaders, as a fair and balanced part of the historical record, brought disheartening resistance and discipline upon their authors in the 1980s. Amidst all the rest of the hand-wringing, how about a little candor in recognizing this sad segment of our history?

  66. Meldrum the Less says:

    Thank you Armand, now we dive deeper into the abscess.

    Was it the right thing to do, though?

    Like we baptized millions of people, because of it?

  67. Stellar post, John. Thanks for your understanding response.

  68. Well, said Armand. It will take years for the church to repair the self-inflicted damage to its credibility. The candor of which you speak would likely go a long way towards repairing some of the damage, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  69. John, thank you for continuing this important discussion. I disagree fundamentally with your idea that the church needs to put forward some grand apology, though, because I don’t accept the premise that the church has systematically suppressed or discouraged the kind of unofficial work that you and others have mentioned as the main place we need to look to work through these difficult questions. I don’t believe it is the responsibility of the institutional church to provide explanations for everything that is spiritually important, and I don’t believe that it has presented itself as though it is supposed to.

    Certainly in various quarters of the church membership there have been those who actively discouraged any exploration outside of officially sanctioned sources, but those members have been going beyond the message of the church leadership, and their errors are their fault, not that of the church leadership. Those members have pointed to various talks and events as support for their recommendations, but the evidence was not sufficient for the conclusion.

    Armand points to several specific cases where particular thinkers or works were discouraged or warned against by official church action. Certainly there have been a number of such cases. But a set of individual examples does not a policy or trend make. If a particular person steps beyond the bounds of faithfulness, and is chastised, this is not a condemnation of all independent efforts. There have also been many occasions where independent thought has been encouraged and validated in various ways, or has gone on just fine with no institutional response or comment. Hugh Nibley was a deeply and conspicuously independent thinker. We could list many others. We of course hear talks and lessons on not waiting to be commanded in all things, all the time. We have the statement in the Articles of Faith that we seek after everything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.

    The signals from the church on this have been mixed. This can be confusing, but I don’t think we should expect anything else. The whole point of unofficial sources is that some are better than others, and there is no official word on which are the better ones. We need a realm of thought and activity where members are left to their own judgment, and that means the institutional church doesn’t take a straightforward position for or against.

    The fact is, of course, that some church members have been overly cautious about unofficial sources. I do think there is room for church leaders to help correct this problem. Talks like Elder Ballard’s on taking individual initiative to participate in internet discourse are very helpful. Continued discussion of what it means to magnify our callings and to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58: 26-9), which as far as I can tell has never dropped out of Mormon discourse, is also just the kind of thing we need. We need continued counsel and guidance, as always. We don’t need an apology for something that was never an official policy or consistent practice of the church.

  70. Ben, what does it bring us to absolve the Church of any responsibility in this situation?

    The apology I speculated about related to an acknowledgment that the Church’s “previous approach to its presentation of its history has ultimately proved problematic in some ways and that it is sorry that people have felt betrayed as a result.”

    People like Mattsson feel betrayed. That is a fact and, to my mind, that is the bigger problem than the actual messy substantive issues in our history. The Church’s own presentation of its history has not been adequate either to inoculate people against disillusionment when finding out about these episodes of Church history or to avoid inviting an inference that it was indeed hiding information that it deemed embarrassing or detrimental to faith. (I personally don’t believe the Church was actively hiding information but I believe this is a sound inference that others could draw from the same available facts.)

    But in the post, I expressly said that the Church could make such a statement while at the same time emphasizing that “it never intended to hide information or deceive anyone but that this effect came about in practice in certain circumstances as an unintended consequence of the Correlation policy and its particular implementation that seemed appropriate as the Church rapidly expanded globally. The problem, in fact, was compounded outside the United States where materials in other languages were not available and so Church members really only did have CES/Curriculum Dept. materials as their only resources about our history and doctrines, especially in light of counsel to avoid seeking information in ‘outside sources.'” I think this should adequately address your concern about the organic nature of the development of this problem and disclaiming any bad faith on the part of the Church.

    In general, however, let me ask you why an apology needs to be subject to such an apologetic effort? What do we gain from such defensiveness. We really can’t reach out in love to Br. Mattsson and just say, “We see how our counsel and guidance conveyed the message that you shouldn’t seek information about Church history from outside or uncorrelated sources; we acknowledge that such sources weren’t really very available in other languages besides English anyway; and we know that our own curriculum does not mention any of these puzzling or complicated issues in Church history. We are deeply sorry that we did not do a better job of helping to prepare you to face these issues when it unavoidably happened as a result of the information age in which we live. We understand why you feel betrayed as a result and apologize. We hope you can understand that we did not intend to hide such information from you. We had difficult choices to make about what information to include in Sunday School materials where time is limited and not everyone has an interest in historical material. We decided to make Sunday School and Seminary and Institute devotional focusing on Gospel principles rather than educational about our history or our doctrine/teachings. In hindsight we see how this has been problematic and has failed some of our members in your similar situation.”? Something to that effect?

    Pointing out that interpreting counsel/guidance to mean that we shouldn’t seek information from unofficial sources goes “beyond the message of the church leadership, and their errors are their fault, not that of the church leadership” isn’t helpful, in my opinion. If this is what Mattsson was taught by his Bishop or Stake President over decades (and those leaders were getting it from “the unwritten order of things” which was, indeed, a very rigid code that governed Church leadership and culture for decades, especially in far-flung places like Sweden, where statements by visiting 70s for the occasional stake conference were immediately integrated into the local unwritten order of things — this is why you still had wards in e.g. the UK as recently as the issuance of the new CHI that were still strictly implementing an idiosyncratic list of things that they thought were part of the unwritten order of things, e.g. a mandate against standing for the rest hymn, those kinds of things), then it was actually coming from “church leadership” and his obedience to it should not now be a point of criticism against him. Sorry, Ben, that just doesn’t work.

  71. Armand Mauss says:

    “We don’t need an apology for something that was never an official policy or consistent practice of the church.” I agree that no apology should be expected, but only a very young scholar could lack the experience to believe seriously (with Ben H) that “there was never an official policy or consistent practice [in] the church” to suppress (or punish) the publication of books and articles that challenged traditional LDS narratives of history and doctrine. Cases such as Newell & Avery, Quinn, and Bush were not merely a few “individual examples.” They were typical of that period.

  72. “Armand points to several specific cases where particular thinkers or works were discouraged or warned against by official church action. Certainly there have been a number of such cases. But a set of individual examples does not a policy or trend make.”

    Sure, there were only “six” in the “September Six,” but did the church really need to excommunicate more than that in order to deliver its message? You don’t have to put the heads of all the dissenters on posts in the town square; just enough to instill fear in everyone else.

    Ben, the consequences of the church’s actions—the growing number of disaffected members, what former church historian Marlin Jensen described as an apostasy comparable to that of the Kirtland era—are a direct result of the church’s policies, practices, curriculum and culture. Further, the only reason it has decided to retreat somewhat from the Retrenchment that Armand describes is because it realized that it could no longer control the historical narrative. But for the Internet, very little would have changed.

    If you and the church are in denial about the magnitude of this problem, then I, for one, am quite pessimistic about the future.

  73. John, if Mattson’s bishop or stake president told him not to look at outside sources, then it would be quite appropriate for them to apologize to him. To ask the FP to apologize for flawed advice by a bishop or stake president is unnecessary and excessive. To ask them to correct misperceptions or unwarranted extrapolations may be reasonable, if there is an appropriate way for them to do so. Of course, if the message is delivered to the membership as a whole, it should be relevant for the membership as a whole.

    Should the FP tell people to learn English so they can explore the many sources available in English? I don’t think so. Should they apologize for the fact that not everyone speaks English, and there is more stuff available in English? That would seem rather odd. Should the church go gather up a bunch of books published by University of Illinois Press or what have you and finance the printing of translations into 80 languages? I don’t think that would make sense, either.

    If the church taught something wrong, in a consistent and clear fashion, then an apology would be in order. Here, as in the discussion over at T&S, you seem to be letting go of the claim that it did this. If the source of the problem is something else, then the proper response is different. I’m not saying the church should do nothing about this problem, but I’m saying that an apology is not the right word for what it should do. In individual cases, expressions of sympathy and concern are appropriate. As for the information side, for starters, the church is publishing an extremely high-quality edition of the Joseph Smith papers. They can’t do everything all at once. That is a good start, in my book.

  74. EFF, I wouldn’t be pessimistic about the future based on Ben H.’s apologetic. Look at what the Church is doing and you will see real effort to address these problems! The “Revelations in Context” essays and the JSPP come immediately to mind but there are a lot of other things going on that indicate we are on the road to correcting this.

    None of that, however, will help the unfortunately large number of formerly faithful who are in Mattsson’s camp, bewildered at what they found out and how they had never heard about it before during decades of rigorous and constant church attendance, service, and leadership.

  75. Sorry, Ben H., I’m just not in your “No Apologies” boat. But I also think political correctness isn’t such a bad idea either because since when is being nice to groups and not insulting them a bad idea. So I guess we have irreconcilable differences.

  76. Ben, the issue here is whether the Church’s own presentation of its history has been problematic in some ways and has left some like Mattsson feeling betrayed. It isn’t just that Mattsson never read Mormon Enigma; it’s that he never heard any of that stuff from the Church’s materials either.

    I haven’t backtracked on this — not sure where you would get that idea whether from this conversation or the one occurring at T&S.

  77. Armand, if you are talking about “books and articles that challenged traditional LDS narratives of history and doctrine,” maybe there was a consistent policy, or at least practice, of discouraging such things (to use a broad and bland word for many different events, including serious matters like excommunication). Especially if by “challenge” you mean publications that take aim at specific traditional sources and find fault with them. But it isn’t necessary to do this, to present a fuller picture. There are more and less tasteful ways of presenting a different perspective. Again, I suggest you are interpreting a response to particular cases in an overly broad way. To take action against sources that “challenge” is not the same as taking action against all independent efforts.

  78. It takes mega chutzpah to say this to Armand Mauss. You have my awe if not my admiration (or agreement).

  79. I think memories have become warped, and that some incidents in the past have come to stand as symbols for which they are ill suited.

    The “Alternate Voices” talk, for instance, as I read it, doesn’t tell us to avoid alternate voices — Elder Oaks says that “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices.” He says the Church has to be careful to keep its own voice clear and not to let alternate voices share its platform in such a way that listeners can’t tell the difference between its own voice and alternate voices, and he counsels Church members on ways to evaluate alternate voices and how to tell how far to heed them. Nobody could fairly read that talk in its entirety and summarize it by saying he tells us not to listen to alternate voices.

    Same thing with memories of what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. Did the Church oppose or try to suppress their publication? As far as I can recall — and I’m subject to correction — their problems came after publication, when they were restricted from speaking about their book and their extended conclusions *in Church meetings* or at other events sponsored by Church units or otherwise where their alternate voices could have been mistaken for the Church’s voice.

    I’m not urging an absolution of the Church for whatever responsibility it may have, if any, in not educating members in historical matters that have little to do with accomplishing the Church’s positive missions — but I also stand with Ben H., and think there is no justification for painting the Church as a villain. People who don’t actively seek knowledge or who haven’t developed the judgment to separate the truth told by alternate voices from the deceit and evil intent in which it is too often presented bear some of the responsibility for their troubles. That’s really the only interesting thing about Hans Mattsson’s story for me — how could someone rise to that position without having had the curiosity or exercised the duty of going beyond Sunday School lessons to learn something about his Church? And once confronted by that material, how could someone who had risen to his position be unable to distinguish between the true voices and the alternate voices — not in what they told him, but in why and how they told him?

  80. The international voice, again, in case anyone is interested.

    I refer to what might be called the “Correlation Rule,” which is that if you want to see the Mormonism that SLC would create if it had a relative tabula rasa, look at first world, non-American Mormonism. We have the institutions and the programmes and a cultural ear for Mormonism but because we in Europe are largely the fruit of post-war conversions, we have little inkling of the Mormon intellectual world and have no historical Mormon memory. Our Mormonism is the Mormonism inculcated almost entirely by Correlation.

    And we are Elder Mattson as a result. Virtually every English Mormon I know shares his ignorance.

  81. Thanks Ardis. On the “villain” point, to quote Blair from the T&S thread, “Critical engagement with the practices of the Church is construed as “casting it as a villain.” We’re employing a with-us-or-against-us mentality here.” Of course, nothing in my post or my comments casts the Church as a villain. Acknowledging how the Church’s presentation of its history has been problematic in some ways would not mean the Church is casting itself as a villain.

    “That’s really the only interesting thing about Hans Mattsson’s story for me — how could someone rise to that position without having had the curiosity or exercised the duty of going beyond Sunday School lessons to learn something about his Church?”

    My argument has been that he did so out of obedience. He believed that members had been counseled not to seek information beyond the correlated curriculum. This arises from my observation of Mormons in Germany and the UK — my impression is that at least in those places, many Mormons do indeed believe that this has long been counsel that they’ve been asked to live by.

    Ronan can add his perspective of whether this has been an accurate observation or if, as Ardis and Ben H. and Ben S. suggest, this is off base and the Church never did counsel members not to seek information from outside sources.

  82. (I see Ronan has already offered his perspective.)

  83. “It takes mega chutzpah to say this to Armand Mauss.”

    Amen.

    I understand completely how someone could end up in Brother Mattsson’s situation, and I support any reasonable attempt to ensure that as few people as possible end up there from this point forward. We can’t fix the past; we can try to fix the future.

    Fwiw, I believe the church leadership understands that and is working to do so. Their own official response included the statement that the answer is NOT to silence critics, and it also said that both information and support is necessary. Now, we at the membership level (all levels) need to accept, practice and internalize that message. WE need to stop trying to silence those who disagree with us and provide information (not unanimous opinion) and support to those who struggle in any way.

  84. “WE need to stop trying to silence those who disagree with us and provide information (not unanimous opinion) and support to those who struggle in any way.”

    Great perspective, Ray! Thanks for that.

  85. RJH: The international perspective is much needed and greatly appreciated.

  86. Chris Kimball says:

    One part of the “alternate voices” story that ought to be acknowledged is that BYU faculty felt or understood that they were not to participate.

    I am at least one step removed from that story. I don’t know how formally it was communicated nor how broadly, but the individual faculty members I know who were there at the time were quite certain in their understanding. I don’t know the why of it, but speculate (now and then) that it was because BYU faculty could be confused as a voice of the Church, and it was desirable to avoid that potential for confusion.

    In any event, for anyone directly affected by the shut down at BYU it is easy to imagine that memory registers those times as a systemic or institutional suppression.

  87. ANYONE who really maintains that members have NOT been discouraged from accessing “alternate” voices is simply being disingenuous. It’s just not true, Europe or USA. This sentence: “That’s really the only interesting thing about Hans Mattsson’s story for me — how could someone rise to that position without having had the curiosity or exercised the duty of going beyond Sunday School lessons to learn something about his Church?” – has entered blame-the-victim territory. There are many Mattssons out there because, as John F correctly asserts, they consider the perusing of alternate or revisionists histories to be disobedient or disloyal.

  88. Carl Youngblood says:

    Ardis said: “The ‘Alternate Voices’ talk, for instance, as I read it, doesn’t tell us to avoid alternate voices … Nobody could fairly read that talk in its entirety and summarize it by saying he tells us not to listen to alternate voices.”

    I think you’re not giving sufficient weight to the influence of church culture. While leaders’ counsel may not have explicitly discouraged it, the message came across loud and clear and the culture interpreted it precisely in the way it has been explained here. At least this has been my experience growing up in Provo. While the leaders’ aren’t completely in control of the culture, they are by far the ones who exert the greatest amount of influence on it. If they wanted it to be different, there is much they could have done to change it.

  89. JennyP1969 says:

    It is just so unkind to imply or flat out state that those who feel betrayed shirked their duty to study church history appropriately, or that they can’t distinguish the evil intent of those who have written such historical material. Really? This is your version of Jesus’ command to have charity? It’s Elder Mattson’s fault? Remember that the next time you feel betrayed.

    If you haven’t experienced this that’s truly lovely for you. But it’s not my blessing to have your experience, and it’s awful of you to condemn those who tell the full story, and those who are hurting that their motives and discernment are suspect, and their feeling betrayed is their own fault.

    Do you feed His sheep, or kick them for bleating? Do you love Him, but blame those hurting –those ignorant, lazy sheep! Are you an undershepard or what? Do you mourn with those who mourn, or justify walking away?

    I wish someone would give a talk — not using expressions like “alternate voices” or “hyperventilating” or “imagining some supposed slight” or “choking on sour pickles” or “getting information from false sources” — expressing love……pure, heartfelt love, and sorrow that my pain has been as real as it is indescribable, and I did not seek it intentionally, nor harbor it self-pityingly. I have worn out my knees and trudged — alone most of the dark journey — trying to find my way out of this terrible crucible.

    John F. — God bless you for fairness and wisdom. Thank you from my heart. BCC posts have greatly helped me to heal and go on with a new normal. I hope Elder Mattson can understand English and find you, too. And I hope some of the commenters will find a whole lot more charity to go with their faith and hope. Try taking off your shoes and walking in someone else’s for a gentle while…

  90. It is Orwellian to suggest either that the Church does not discourage the reading of alternative voices or that the suppression or distortion of history by the Church is somehow unintentional. Juanita Brooks to D Michael Quinn, the message has been very clear: these writers (two of many) are out of favor with the authorities and so are their books.

  91. CJ Douglass says:

    John, if Mattson’s bishop or stake president told him not to look at outside sources, then it would be quite appropriate for them to apologize to him. To ask the FP to apologize for flawed advice by a bishop or stake president is unnecessary and excessive. To ask them to correct misperceptions or unwarranted extrapolations may be reasonable, if there is an appropriate way for them to do so.

    Ben H, my understanding is that bishops and stake presidents were coming to him about these issues – and he was going to his “superiors”. Whomever that is – (Pres of the Seventy?), they’re not rogue or ill equipped local leaders. If anything, the Church should issue a statement confirming that “sidestepping” troubling issues is not the recommended course.

  92. John, for an apology to make sense, as I understand the word ‘apology,’ there has to be something that the person who is to apologize did wrong. If I express my sympathy and regret to someone over a misfortune that is not due to any misdeed of mine, like someone’s mother dying of cancer, we call that condolences, not an apology. What are you saying the church did wrong here and should apologize for?

    If you are saying that the church taught people not to consult sources that they actually should have been consulting, I disagree, and this is the claim I take you to have stepped back from on T&S. As Ardis has illustrated, Elder Oaks at least has specifically rejected that idea.

    If you are saying that the church failed Brother Mattsson because official, correlated materials did not tell him everything he needed to know, you seem to be assuming that the church should, in fact, answer all the hard questions for us members in its official materials. I disagree here, too. Think about the kinds of explanations for polygamy or the priesthood ban that have circulated in the church in the past, including ideas supported by this or that apostle, and I think you will be tempted to agree with me.

    For many of these puzzles, the church does not have an authoritative answer to give. In the absence of an authoritative answer, authorities should not give answers.

    If you are saying that the church failed Brother Mattsson because it said and did certain things which some members misinterpreted to mean that we should not consult unofficial sources . . . you are asking the church to apologize for something someone else did, which is awkward to say the least.

    Condolences and correction of any misperceptions and acknowledgment of the burdens of faith in the midst of imperfect knowledge are all, of course, more than welcome and appropriate. Brother Mattsson is a lost sheep, and we should do what we can to find and bring him back to the fold, but looking for someone to blame is not helpful. In mortality we walk in mists of darkness. That’s mortality. In many ways it is harder to be a Latter-day Saint outside the Mormon Corridor, especially as a non-English speaker. That is not anyone’s fault; it’s just where we are at.

  93. “Packer has advocated that LDS historians should refrain from discussing history that does not promote faith. In a 1981 speech to educators in the LDS Church Educational System, he cautioned, “There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”[26] Arguing that teachers should “give milk before meat”,[27] he stated that “some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy.”[28] Packer’s opinion applied to all historians who were members of the LDS Church: he stated, “One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history’, is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be held accountable.[29]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boyd_K._Packer#Faith-promoting_history

    Maybe the Church could apologize for Bro Packer, Ben H. Do you see the connection between his attitudes (and directives) regarding the teaching of Church history and Bro Mattsson’s ignorance?

  94. JennyP1969 says:

    Ben H: How can you possibly say the church as an organization is not to blame for members being fed only — only — faith-promoting history? The FP and Q12 approved correlated manuals. These same quorums approved counseling Area presidencies to counsel Stake leaders to counsel ward Bishops to instruct the ward councils to instruct teachers to use only — again only — correlated manuals and when it came along, LDS.org. These good brethren are the very ones who gave talks and sent letters to be read in Sacrament meetings that we NOT seek or listen to or read “unapproved” anti-LDS literature, lest we “be deceived.” How can you honestly believe the church wasn’t the one deceiving by only telling partial truths that have now come to light? Condolences? No, not at all what’s needed.

    Remember the Seminary textbook for church history called, The Restored Church? It stated that men married multiple wives to provide for the widow and fatherless child. You know the far greater truths involved in this complex subject. I spoke to every high school history class at my school and told this near-ludicrous explanation. I mis-represented the truth and the church by using my textbook as my “trusted” source.

    These leaders did not foresee this Internet day. The Lord did, and He even said, “their secret acts shall be made known.” The church has kept secret, or hidden, or untold, or quiet, or whatever you choose to call it, unhappy, hurtful, ugly, difficult, challenging, disquieting, unholy truths and facts. Their intention was to protect “tender seedlings” and keep missionary work thriving — nothing bad about that. But now it’s proven to hurt those they never meant to harm.

    “Truth always prevails.” Truth has caught up to the seedling and the convert…..and old lifers, like me. How can they NOT be responsible? How can they NOT say, “We’re truly sorry for what we thought was best at the time, but has become hurtful in the present day? We meant no harm, but now we see that inadvertently, harm has been done. We want to do better. How can we make amends? How can we show our good faith and our sincere love? Please forgive us. Please give us another chance. We love you….we don’t want to lose you…..please don’t give up on the church for the mistakes we have made. Please……”

    Is this not the truth?
    Is this not humility?
    Is this not helpful in restoring faith and love?
    Is this not what Jesus would expect them to do? He taught:

    Recognize you made a mistake.
    Acknowledge wrong-doing.
    Say you’re sorry, and seek to make restitution.
    Talk to Heavenly Father about it.
    Resolve not to do it again.

    If Primary children can learn to do this, I’ve no doubt the prophets of God can easily and lovingly, and meaningfully do the same on behalf of the church. Pope John Paul did, and many Catholics came home.

  95. Yeah, that’s me, JennyP. Unkind to the very core of my rotten soul. Keep on judging and misreading, if that makes you feel better. The vastness of the cavity where my sympathy should lie is large enough to hold any amount of scorn you care to pour in.

    Carl, you illustrate my problem with absolving the “betrayed” and holding the Church accountable for the disillusionment that is assumed to be so widespread: Elder Oaks said the opposite of what he is accused of saying, but he, or his colleagues, or the Church, or “the culture” is still to blame for people mishearing or misremembering him. It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t, whichever suits the purpose of the inconstant critics.

    I am absolutely on the side of candor and openness and access and honesty and a proactive reaching out to inform Church members. But I have little doubt that many people will go on hearing what they want to hear, or hearing nothing at all despite the Church’s best efforts. Human nature doesn’t change. It’s only been a few weeks since I last heard someone in the Bloggernacle complain about the disrespect shown to Leonard Arrington because his picture is not on display along with other church historians at the archives — as if Bitton’s article on the end of “Camelot” described conditions today instead of the nearly 30 years since that article was published. Arrington’s portrait has been up for eons — I saw it there yesterday — yet the “culture” is still beating up the Church for something that hasn’t been true for a generation. I have little doubt that regardless of what the Church does, some vocal few will manage to avoid awareness and find a way to blame the Church when they do.

    But that’s just me being unkind toward the betrayed feelings of future critics. My damned rotten soul and all, you know.

  96. gillsyk says:

    Ardis, you should come back to these comments again, when you are less caught up in your present emotions.

  97. I liked the OP. I didn’t read through all of the comments though.
    I think that the case of bro. Mattson just demonstrates how many of the members of the leading councils of the church might be unaware of some of the challenging issues. That’s exactly why it is unfair to blame the church for hiding it’s history or betraying its members. One cannot intentionally hide something one is not aware of. I believe that the brethren are more aware of these things nowadays, but change takes time. I would guess that eventually these topics are adressed by the church somehow (didn’t brother Jensen tell the Swedish saints, that Church is prepairing something?).

  98. Carl Youngblood says:

    Ardis, I’m a great admirer of yours and I hope you’ll refrain from conflating my comments with any of the other responses you got. I’m mainly saying that I think that the leadership is more responsible for the culture than you’re claiming. You seem to be saying that they have very little influence on the culture. I’m saying I recognize that they have far from total control over it, but that they have more influence than any other element in the culture. In general, I would say that any subtle message from the leadership gets amplified on the way down. Oaks’ talk about being careful to distinguish between alternate voices and the Church went beyond merely emphasizing the difference but you’re right that it was more nuanced than some have claimed. However, the general message that it conveyed was that there are many unofficial sources of information about the Church that are dangerous and that one should in general be wary of anything not coming from official sources. For example, there were three paragraphs before the nuance that specifically enumerate all the nefarious intents of many of these alternate voices.

  99. We’re toward the end (I hope) of a long thread of comments, but it might be useful to provide a current example of how the official Church instructs its volunteers to handle difficult issues. We just handed out copies of the S&I “Policy Manual Excerpts for Stake Seminary Teachers” to teachers and bishops in our stake. This official publication (dated May 2012) includes the following guidelines:

    “DOCTRINAL ISSUES
    Students and teachers with doctrinal issues should first be encouraged to find answers in the scriptures or the teachings of the modern prophets (students should also be encouraged to go to their parents). If they cannot find an answer, they should be directed to the bishop. If the bishop does not have an answer, he has a priesthood line of authority to follow until an answer is received. S&I teachers with routine questions arising out of current seminary lessons could ask the immediate supervisor. If the supervisor does not have an answer, he or she has an S&I line of authority to follow until an answer is received. The First Presidency has counseled:
    “The Lord in His wisdom so organized His Church that there is accessible to every member–man, woman, and child–a bishop or branch president and a stake or mission president who serve as spiritual advisers and as temporal counselors. By reason of their ordination, these priesthood leaders are entitled to the spirit of discernment and inspiration to enable them to counsel members within their jurisdiction. Such leaders who have need for further clarification about doctrinal issues may write in behalf of their members to the First Presidency” (in “Policies and Announcements,” Ensign, Dec. 1990, 71).”

    Note that there is no encouragement whatsoever to consult outside sources for information. It sounds like Bro. Mattsson followed Church protocol exactly.

    The manual further states that any non-Church produced material that teachers want to use should first be cleared with their S&I supervisors. It also quotes advice from Pres. Packer’s talk “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” warning that “some things that are true are not very useful,” and expressing the hope that ““Some things that are in print go out of print, and the old statement ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ might apply.” This might have been the case in 1981, when the talk was first given, but it is no longer true in the age of the Internet. And by the way, the manual for Institute Teachers is identical in these sections.

    Given the fact that faithful youth and young adults with questions about Mormon history and doctrine will probably look to their seminary and institute teachers or their bishops for guidance, they are not likely to get detailed, nuanced answers from those sources. it appears that the Church would still like to keep tight control of the information that comes from its representatives (though Elder Snow’s recent article in the New Era may signal a new direction).

    https://si.lds.org/bc/seminary/content/binary-content/binary-content/news-tim-gurr/546_us_policy_manual_seminary–stake_teacher21may20124521.pdf

  100. But, Carl, would you go so far as to say that there are not alternate voices that should be treated with skepticism?

    How about fundamentalist groups? Are their explanations of the history of polygamy to be believed as presented? I think that something that is not being stated in these discussions – including comments like Jenny P’s – is how much the church’s current teachings about polygamy may trace back to the difficulties the church had with fundamentalists in the 1920s and 1930s including Matthias Cowley, John T. “One Mighty and Strong” Clark, the Barlows and Jessops, Joseph White Musser, etc. That was not a minor chapter in our history.

    How about the version of polygamy that the RLDS (now Community of Christ) taught in previous centuries? Was that version to be believed simply because it was an alternate voice?

    How about unbalanced people? For example, how about Cody Judy’s version of history? (He was the man who attempted to take President Hunter hostage at the Marriott Center at BYU.)

    How about people with an ax to grind for whatever reason, and the truth may be secondary to grinding that ax? I gave a long example the other day on another blog and I’ll copy over a bit of that explanation here.

    Dixie College in southern Utah has recently joined the Utah university system and so this past year there has been a raging debate over the name “Dixie” and whether it was of racist origins. The Salt Lake Tribune weighed in last December with an article called “Utah’s Dixie was steeped in slave culture.” After reading the article, commenters were outraged — absolutely outraged — at what the Church had done in southern Utah. But not one of the major claims in the story was true. A couple of major identifications were wrong. The timeline was wrong. The stated motivations were wrong. If you’re interested in the Dixie debate you can see my detailed response here: http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2013/02/07/guest-post-a-response-to-the-salt-lake-tribune-on-utahs-dixie-and-slave-culture/

    Anyway, it’s kind of short sighted to fault a leader of the Church for warning against alternate voices when there are, in fact, alternate voices that people should treat with caution, and when some of the alternate voices have historically claimed to be speaking with the authority of the church.

  101. Gillsyk: Gaslighting is a poor tactic for disagreement. Stop it.

  102. > It sounds like Bro. Mattsson followed Church protocol exactly.

    100%. I am stunned at those who think otherwise.

  103. Unfortunately, nuance gets lost too often in the easier acceptance of simple extremes – on both ends of any spectrum. For example, I have read members who decry Elder Oaks’ talk “Two Lines of Communication” for invalidating personal revelation when it conflicts with counsel from church leaders, but that conclusion is possible only if someone focuses entirely on a couple of sentences in the talk and ignores the rest of it. Overall, the talk was a very good treatise on the spheres of responsibility that exist in the Church – the interplay between The Priesthood (of administrative leaders) and the priesthood (of believers).

    (If anyone is interested, the summary of the youth Sunday School lesson I taught about that talk is on my personal blog: http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2013/07/my-sunday-school-lesson-recap-balancing.html)

    Again, I understand why Elder Mattsson’s situation can occur, and I believe in addressing such situations openly and honestly, but I also agree that the Church gets beat up a lot for what it used to be and not what it is now. At the risk of sounding extremist myself, anyone who thinks the LDS Church leadership isn’t making major changes in the way it addresses doctrinal and historical issues – and in its embrace of diversity and individual voices – isn’t paying attention.

    Also, “alternate voices” means “voices that are heard in place of the standard voices”. That is important, since it says to be careful about voices that would replace the official voice of the Church. There is a difference between listening to or being an “alternate voice” and a “complimentary voice” or an “individual voice” – but, again, nuance gets lost too often in the easier acceptance of simple extremes.

  104. Carl Youngblood says:

    “But, Carl, would you go so far as to say that there are not alternate voices that should be treated with skepticism?”

    Of course not. I never said otherwise. But I think that this goes without saying and that Oaks’ counsel had the effect in the culture of placing any unofficial sources, even good ones, under suspicion. I’m speaking from first-hand experience here. My seminary teachers in Provo High School specifically singled out Sunstone and Dialogue as untrustworthy sources and quoted Oaks in telling us that they were evil and that we shouldn’t read them. And I observed many other people experiencing similar reactions.

  105. RJH, my comment was not directed in any way at yours. I agree that Bro. Mattsson followed instructions exactly as he understood them.

  106. Carl Youngblood says:

    Ray, you correctly point out that “alternate” means something listened to in place of. But this clarification cuts both ways. It also favors the interpretation that Oaks was trying to assert the mutual exclusivity of the official and the “alternate” voices.

  107. If something replaces something else, those two things are mutually exclusive by definition.

    I think we should be very careful not to make someone an offender for a word, especially when that word is interpreted to mean what it doesn’t mean. (and with that, I have Inigo Montoya’s voice in my head as I leave for work)

  108. Chris Kimball says:

    For some (too many, in my opinion) the Church is a place where an authority’s preference becomes an instruction and a suggestion becomes a command. If one is looking for a permissive nuance or an inconsistency that leaves wiggle room, it is there to be found. But if one is looking for instruction and direction–and that’s the way many people listen and think we are supposed to listen–the nuances will be ignored or rationalized and the inconsistencies will be resolved, and those rationalizations and resolutions will tend toward the single-voice authoritarian position.

    If you know or believe that’s the way “we” really work, then it isn’t quite right to claim full credit for nuance.

  109. > It sounds like Bro. Mattsson followed Church protocol exactly.

    100%. I am stunned at those who think otherwise.

    Granting for the sake of argument that “Church protocol” is exactly as it has been described in this discussion, I wonder if you can name any other principle, teaching, or protocol that is followed with the exactness ascribed to Hans Mattsson or anyone else who claims to be shocked by internet disclosures? BCC can’t bring up any issue without drawing a range of comments from black to white with every imaginable shade of gray — why is this one followed so precisely?

    And if the Hans Mattssons of this Church have been so assiduously careful to follow Church protocol and avoid alternate voices, what happened to cause them one day to be so willing to break their obedient streak and begin seeking and heeding alternate voices?

    I’m sorry to stun you, Ronan, but these two points (100% obedience to this supposed protocol when common sense tells us that anyone has imperfect understanding of and obedience to other “protocols” [keeping the Sabbath day holy, obeying the Word of Wisdom, generous fast offerings, eye single to the glory of God]; and 100% obedience to avoiding alternate voices, followed by abandonment of that obedience and an insatiable seeking for those voices) do not add up. The Hans Mattssons of this world are given sympathy for their period of gullible obedience and championed for their brave disobedience, and the Church is held to answer for both.

  110. At the risk of sounding extremist myself, anyone who thinks the LDS Church leadership isn’t making major changes in the way it addresses doctrinal and historical issues – and in its embrace of diversity and individual voices – isn’t paying attention.

    This contradicts what Grant shared though, doesn’t it?

  111. PS. Ray, I actually agree with you about the church making efforts to change. But the I read Grant’s comment and I wonder.

  112. No, gomez, it doesn’t.

  113. Sorry, that was to abrupt.

    Not everything can be changed all at once.

  114. *too

    /sigh

  115. Do our general leaders hold any responsibility for squashing misinformation about doctrine? I wonder if Elder Oaks is aware that so many members have completely misunderstood the meaning of his talk. I wonder if he realizes how many priesthood/auxiliary leaders have misused it to discourage people from reading unofficial sources.

    My own guess – if it is a great misunderstanding, as some seem to suggest, then I don’t think our leaders mind so much. Otherwise how do we explain the lack of clarification? Members trusting too much in official sources is not something that keeps them up at night IMO.

  116. “Not everything can be changed all at once.”

    This cannot be stressed enough. How long did it take to produce the Revelations in Context series before it suddenly, seemingly magically appeared? How sure can BCC readers be that there aren’t many other more far-reaching projects being worked on today that could be released next month or next year?

    And how long will it be before Church members actually read and understand what IS available? How many of the Revelations in Context articles have you studied? How many of your ward members — every one of them a potential Hans Mattsson — have read and understood them?

    This is why I insist that Church members bear some responsibility for their own education. If they don’t/won’t/can’t be bothered to be “anxiously engaged … and [study] many things of their own free will,” they bear some responsibility for the consequences.

  117. Ardis, have you listened to his story? You’ve made assumptions about his “abandonment” that don’t square with his biography as he has recounted it.

    Not sure that anyone is “championing” Brother Mattsson here but you are right that there is a lot of sympathy.

  118. Please free my last comment from your spam queue. Or, if it has been pulled because I annoy you, I’ll make it truly my last comment.

  119. Can’t see any of your comments in the queue.

  120. “‘Gaslighting'” is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term “gaslighting” comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term is now also used in clinical and research literature.”

    Hey thanks, Ardis – but I don’t see how this applies. Agree with Gillsyk. You were over the top, i.e., “hyperventilating”, to borrow Elder Holland’s nomenclature.

  121. Not sure where someone who’s been in church leadership essentially his entire adult life, while also trying to be a good family man and hold down a successful and busy job, has all that much time to read the huge amount of literature that some around here believe he should read. He basically held two full-time jobs (one for the church and one for an income). And he had five children, which is an incredible number in a country where three children is often considered too many. Not a whole lot of time to dig into church history (or to do anything else, for that matter).

  122. it's a series of tubes says:
  123. Angela C says:

    I question calling them “Area Authority.” I realize he’s not a historian, but of what is he an authority, especially if he doesn’t even know that JS practiced polygamy?

  124. Anonymous says:

    I have two personal stories I would like to share. Number 1 is from 1978. I was an institute student and a CES instructor gave me materials followed by a discussion about something that struck me as really, really wrong (I won’t go into the details as they are unimportant to my point). I agonized and then went home and asked my father about what had been said. My father (a temple going, high priest, bishopric member) told me that if my CES instructor had said it, it was official church policy and that I should not question it.

    Number 2 is from the early 1990’s. I was a Stake Primary President and I went to a regional leadership conference where the General Primary President (Michaelene Grassli) and her assistant (Virginia Hinckley Pearce) came to give us instructions. One of the main themes from the conference was that we should use only the Primary materials sent forth from the church. The reasoning (which made perfect sense to me then and now) was that all of those materials had gone through the correlation department and been vetted by a General Authority; therefore, the Church became responsible for the consequences of those teachings. If we chose to use other sources, we ourselves would then be responsible for the consequences. This perspective was enough then and now to ensure that I will be careful about what I say.

    I think these stories are pertinent to the perspective that the Church is indeed responsible for the consequences of what they choose (or choose not) to include in their manuals.

  125. “championed for their brave disobedience”

    Where is this happening?

  126. Ardis, did the comment you were missing show up?

  127. Angela, I don’t think that Mattsson was necessarily unaware that Joseph Smith was a polygamist but I think it’s the details surrounding his institution and practice of that principle that blindsided him, having never seen any kind of reference to or treatment of those issues in correlated sources. However, having said that, it is not uncommon to learn of a lifelong Mormon who somehow was not aware that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.

    Grant, thank you for providing those quotes from the Seminary and Institute instructions. I agree with Ronan that from all appearances, it merely looks like Mattsson, as a loyal member and Church leader with ever increasing responsibility (Bishop, Stake President, Area Authority Seventy), followed this protocol with exactness, much like he surely paid his tithing with exactness or lived the Word of Wisdom and did many other things as counseled by the Church.

    Ben H., in your view is there any sense of “the buck stops here,” i.e. this happened on my watch and I will take responsibility for it. Or does the Church not do that? Applying lessons of accountability on a macro scale?

    Anonymous (8:55 am) had an interesting way to put it: “all of those materials had gone through the correlation department and been vetted by a General Authority; therefore, the Church became responsible for the consequences of those teachings.”

    It seems that Mattsson and others like him are “the consequences of those teachings.” The Church can take a lot of credit for the immense good that its teachings through correlated sources have produced in the lives of all members, including Mattsson and those in similar crises of faith. But the other side of the coin is that responsibility for members’ ignorance about these issues is also related to these correlated materials given the cultural perception that seeking information in outside sources was discouraged or a sign of weak faith, etc. And if the correlated materials are completely silent about these things, and these are the only materials that such members ever refer to, then it makes sense for the Church to acknowledge that the way it has presented its history has been problematic in some ways and that it regrets that people like Hans Mattsson have felt betrayed as a result. Taking responsibility in this manner would simply express that it is understandable how someone like Mattsson could serve faithfully his whole life and not know about these issues, despite having worked through the Church’s correlated curriculum at least a dozen times, perhaps more.

    Ardis, my understanding is that Mattsson eventually went searching online for information about these issues after he had followed the protocol quoted by Grant above — as people in his circles came to him with concerns resulting from exposure to these issues they’d never heard about, he brought those concerns to ecclesiastical superiors who in some cases sidelined the issues or in other cases did not know the answers themselves. I think it is possible to infer that in these discussions, the ecclesiastical leaders likely recommended doubling down on faith-promoting behaviors as an answer to these difficult issues (like praying, scripture study, fasting, serving, hometeaching, etc.) — that is standard procedure for local leaders counseling members who are having concerns.

    More than anything, this was likely because the ecclesiastical superiors, themselves, probably had very little awareness of or exposure to complicated issues about the beginnings of polygamy or challenges to Book of Mormon historicity. Good faith was surely being exercised on all sides: Mattsson was evidencing good faith by bringing concerns to ecclesiastical superiors rather than hitting the local Swedish library; ecclesiastical superiors were likely alarmed and tried their best to speak to concerns with their own limited information but steered the discussion in the direction of scripture study or study of conference talks and prayer in the hopes that these activities would rekindle the simple faith in Mattsson’s acquaintances that we have long emphasized as a Church.

    Mattsson found that this response did not actually provide answers or insight into the specific difficult issues that were of concern to people who had approach him with their problems. Many Mormons, I think, tend to assume there is a direct, straightforward answer to questions like this and it is simply a matter of finding the right authoritative voice (a visiting Apostle at a stake conference or a member of the Seventy touring the area) and asking the question. But as Jack Welch noted in the BYU Studies feature I highlighted in the post, “no one has all the answers to every question.” But that itself is a nuanced position that comes naturally to a scholar well versed in academic dialogue about ideas and the inherent ambiguity involved in deciphering and interpreting any given historical record, even a recent one like the Church’s Nauvoo history. The average lay member, I would argue, is not well equipped to digest this response (that no one has all the answers), or to accept the concept that an Apostle himself might not even know the answer (and might not even be aware of all the various historical details surrounding certain issues especially if he does not have a background in history or other similar research).

    This fact alone (that in taking these concerns up the chain of command as per protocol did not yield any actual answers to these questions, even if it did yield caring, pastoral advice on how to rekindle faith through returning to the basics) finally caused Mattsson to begin searching for the answers himself in outside sources. I suppose this was technically disobedient if you accept the idea that the Church had counseled people not to do this (though many on this thread, including you Ardis, and on the T&S thread have contested that the Church ever gave such counsel) but Mattsson appears to have seen no other alternative given that he had already exhausted chain of command protocol. And what he found shook his faith because it was so different than the hagiographic treatment of leaders or correlated discussion of doctrines/teachings that we exclusively see in official materials, which are the sources that Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society teachers are instructed to limit themselves to in preparing their lessons. More importantly, it led to him feeling betrayed because a logical inference was that the Church knew about this information but intentionally kept it from Church members by not acknowledging it in the correlated materials to which loyal Church members thought they had been instructed to limit themselves.

    So it’s a tricky issue. Of course, as Ben H. suggests, it is not really the purpose of the Church to give exhaustive academic history lessons during Sunday School time. It makes sense to use Sunday School the way that the Church does. Perhaps going forward, the Church can supplement traditional Sunday School materials with the occasional nod to some of the puzzling aspects of the history behind our practices, doctrines, and teachings, if for no other reason that to inoculate our members against the sense of betrayal that Mattsson describes. In my view, the Church is busy preparing itself to take just such an approach in the future, as evidenced by the “Revelations in Context” series and the JSPP, the Mountain Meadows Massacre book and, presumably, many other forward-looking initiatives!

    This particular initiative might be too late for Mattsson and others in his situation but I would think that it has a lot of potential to equip others to weather the turbulence inherent in encountering messy historical details. I know many people who know all the details that have currently come to light about many of these issues or concerns and have developed their own ways to deal with them and, in fact, deepen their faith in the Restoration taking these things into account.

  128. I’m also late to the discussion – apologies for saying something others have probably said better.

    It’s all too predictable to read comments about Sunday school not being the place for discussion of Mountain Meadows, or that the church is just trying to focus on the positive, etc. Beyond these trees, there is a cultural forest that is simply uncomfortable with certain discussions and certain questions. This discomfort is rooted in Mormon identity, which is founded primarily on history. Mormons seem to have little worry over theological quandaries, but tell them a tough nugget from Mormon history and the panic is visible. Who hasn’t heard about putting difficult questions on “the shelf” or the old line, “It isn’t pertinent to your salvation” when inquiring about something that isn’t in the manual. Couple Mormons finding their identity in their history with a culture that seems to think everything the church does is the divine will of God, and you’ve got a recipe for what we’re witnessing: the crumbling of faith in the face of messy, nuanced history.

    Armand is exactly right: Let’s not pretend that the church, at the highest levels, hasn’t actively discouraged writing honest history. Leaders have said it wasn’t very useful, they’ve derisively called it “warts and all” history, and they’ve openly and actively punished those who sought to tell these stories. The chickens have come home to roost indeed.

  129. Lew Scannon says:

    This has been a fascinating string of comments, but let me suggest something. Correlation was not just about the control (or narrowing) of information. It was also not just about coordinating curriculum. It was an organizational overhaul that, according to Ed Kimball’s biography of his father, included the intentional adoption of methods and values from corporate America. In essence, with Correlation, the Church became a modern organization and in countless ways began to act like one. Part of that shift in behavior involved a concerted effort to shape the Church’s public image. And the public image impulse is still an immensely powerful force. It’s partly to explain why the Church is dealing so awkwardly with situations like Elder Mattsson’s public confessional. Frankly, the protectors of the public image don’t quite know how to deal with the effects of their past policies without making the organization look bad in some ways. The corporate way to deal with such situations is to produce “spin.” We see plenty of this from official Church responders from time to time. The Church is highly professional at marketing itself in very corporate ways.

    And if you are naive enough to believe there are not scores of policies about what the Church can and cannot say, you haven’t been very observant. These policies, some written and some unwritten, exert great influence on everything the Church publishes or produces. And in sometimes subtle ways, they color the information the Church disseminates, sometimes by what is said, sometimes by what is omitted. Let me give two innocuous examples.

    1. Six or seven years ago, the Ensign ran a story about Joseph and Emma’s children. It was a nice piece that gave readers a brief look at Mormonism’s first family. But I found it fascinating that even though it listed all three of Joseph III’s wives (sequential, not polygamous) and all of his children, it failed to mention that Joseph’s eldest son served for 54 years as president of the rival RLDS Church. Now, why, we might ask, would the article not mention this little detail? The answer should be obvious.

    2. When I walked out of the Legacy Theater after viewing “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration” for the first time, I was somewhat surprised that I didn’t feel spiritually exultant over this glorious portrayal of Mormonism’s founder. Instead, something bothered me. I wondered why. As I thought about it, I realized that I had just viewed a piece of historical fiction, complete with fictitious characters, and it was being used as a missionary tool. The previous film, “Testaments,” was even more blatantly fictitious. Imagine, a film about the Book of Mormon with fictitious characters, that is still being shown by missionaries to investigators as a conversion tool. Why? I submit that it has a lot to do with public image. And public image creation is very much tied to the corporate values the Church adopted with the Correlation movement.

    What I am suggesting here is that fixing what is amiss (what so bothered Elder Mattsson) is a lot more complicated than we might think. It may involve excising a corporate culture and a set of values that have had a half century to become very entrenched. This will not be easy, and it is made more difficult by the fact that most of the Church’s leaders do not even recognize the germ that is causing the malady.

    I also suggest that, perhaps unintentionally, Elder Mattsson has done the Church a great service. He probably doesn’t feel like he has, but I can see only good coming from this.

  130. Two points.

    1. For those who point to recent changes in the way church is approaching its history, it is worth asking: what precipitated this change? Was it a genuine, spontaneous desire to be more forthright about its history and doctrines? Or did the institution realize that it was being overtaken by circumstances, that its efforts to suppress unflattering details in its past were failing, and that it had to change or become marginalized? The cynic in me believes the latter is the case. Yes, the Wizard of Oz did change his ways, but his repentance was only triggered when the little dog ripped down the curtain concealing his actions.

    2. If Elder Mattson is to be believed—and he seems quite credible to me—when he started to pose questions to his minders in Salt Lake, he was told to keep quiet—to not ask those questions. And to not discuss these matters with others, not even members of his family. It is hard to reconcile that behavior with assurances coming out of the church’s PR department that it is trying to put everything out there, to be as forthcoming as possible. And how can people dump on Elder Mattson for not going to the library or accessing Internet resources when his supposed betters wouldn’t answer his questions and told him to shut up.

  131. I was hopeful someone would provide context to that NY Times article – well done!

  132. I’m a cynic by nature, but I find it repugnant when people characterize the Church as the Wizard of Oz or suggest that hushwork and cover-ups are somehow re rigueur. Those sorts of insinuations are not welcome here, and future comments along such lines will be removed. It’s very easy to get carried away in the rhetoric surrounding the Church and its history. It’s far more difficult to be dispassionate and objective about such matters, which is what I believe would serve us all a little better.

  133. Right, Steve – especially “difficult to be dispassionate and objective about such matters” if you are, say, a historian who was excommunicated by the Brethren for writing honest history. Lots of anger around this issue, and even more (in my case) with those who now try to downplay or explain away the blatant suppression that’s been coming down from the highest levels for the last 50 years (or more). This discussion is cathartic. Please don’t silence anybody, even the Wizard of Oz, because that’s just more of the same.

  134. Calvin Arnason says:

    Steve, I know personally how extremely difficult it is to be dispassionate about these issues and to remain mindful of the sensibilities of others with differing opinions. This is a natural result of the profound influence of the church tradition and doctrine on its faithful members on the one side, and the official church claims of historical support that have turned out, in part, to be very suspect. Even with the best intentions, this is going to be a very difficult conversation.

    Regarding the discussion on “apology”. I truly don’t know what the right thing to do there is. But I feel strongly that the official statement (“regret”) of the church a few years ago that the participation of faithful LDS leaders and falsification of Indian participation in the Mountain Meadows Massacre was NOT an apology … was a mistake. How can a church Apostle NOT feel that an apology is in order on that account – to the murdered, to the Indians, and to the generations of “misinformed” members?

    Calvin Arnason

  135. John, when you start saying, “I think it is possible to infer that in these discussions, the ecclesiastical leaders likely recommended doubling down on faith-promoting behaviors as an answer to these difficult issues . . .” your story becomes rather tenuous. You basically take the very stereotype that is under debate, assert that it probably held true in this case, and then use the case as evidence for the stereotype. If that is not circular reasoning, I don’t know what is.

    As I have remarked before, there have been a lot of messages from church leadership, at the general and local levels, that relate to this theme of whether it is appropriate to consult outside sources. There are significant examples that, taken in isolation, seem to support your and others’ accusation that the church discourages people from learning the truth about church history. Most of the time these messages are much narrower than the broad inference you want to draw, but there is a complex cluster of messages that it is hard to clearly delimit. There are also lots of examples of leaders presenting a very different message, encouraging wide learning, individual initiative, and gathering up truth wherever it is to be found, like honey bees (recall the famous BY comment on this). So, the overall effect is to give an ambiguous impression, at least to many members who are just picking up a general vibe from it all and not examining the messages carefully.

    Some seem to be arguing that the church should apologize for the confusion that has resulted from this complex set of messages. Should the U.S. government apologize for the fact that most voters have only a sketchy and limited sense of our laws and policies? Politicians should be prepared to acknowledge it and frame their messages in light of that awareness, but to try to apologize for it would be silly, as though there is anything they could do to change it. They are responsible in the sense that they need to respond to the situation and factor it into the way they work.

    Should God apologize to us when we sin? After all, it was his idea that we come to Earth into a state of ignorance. But it’s not as though it would help things for him to always prevent us from sinning, and we chose to follow his plan, knowing that it was necessary for our growth.

    Like political leaders with a semi-informed citizenry, our church leaders should “respond” to the abilities and spiritual development of the membership, by framing their messages in light of a realistic assessment of it, and helping us to improve. I think for the most part they do a pretty good job of this.

    Should the church have some sort of clear-cut and comprehensive doctrine on what kinds of outside sources members should consult, to eliminate this ambiguity? I don’t think so. I don’t see how it could possibly formulate such a doctrine, beyond telling members to judge by the Spirit. D&C 91 gives us advice on the Apocrypha that seems perfectly apropos for our question:

    1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;
    2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.
    3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated [i.e. it is not needful for Joseph as prophet to provide an official interpretation or selection of the Apocrypha for the use of members].
    4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;
    5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
    6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.

    To my mind, this scripture pretty well settles the questions we are debating here. There is much truth out there, beyond the correlated materials. The church routinely acknowledges this and encourages members to seek truth wherever it lies, and to expand their minds in all manner of ways, including extensive gospel study outside of church meetings. Not everything out there is good, so the church also cautions us. Missionaries may have a list of approved reading, but to give something like that to the general membership would be silly. As far as a general principle of when to be cautious and when to eat it up, we ultimately have to fall back on the personal guidance of the Spirit. That’s mortal life.

  136. Calvin, I fully agree with your comment. It’s not easy, especially when there are people who believe that the Church is incapable of error, and when there are people who believe the Church is incapable of anything except error.

    Ben, it’s wonderful that you feel that it is the members’ fault if they feel aggrieved. That should help everyone feel better.

  137. Well, Ben, I was just being polite when I said “I think it is possible to infer that in these discussions, the ecclesiastical leaders likely recommended doubling down on faith-promoting behaviors as an answer to these difficult issues.”

    Truth be told, we know that is what Mattsson’s ecclesiastical superiors told him because he said as much.

    As to the rest, I join Steve in conceding the ground here: “it’s wonderful that you feel that it is the members’ fault if they feel aggrieved. That should help everyone feel better.”

  138. Well, Steve and John, if really the point of this conversation is to find someone to blame, because no conversation on a Mormon blog can be satisfying unless it leaves us with a sufficiently robust sense of righteous indignation, then you may as well pick the members as anyone else. We should just assign a different party to each day of the week: on Monday, we blame Correlation, on Tuesday we blame BYU, on Wednesday we blame Bruce R. McConkie, on Thursday we blame Dan Peterson, on Friday we blame the whole church membership collectively . . . that sounds pretty good to me. What day is it-Friday? On behalf of T&S, I claim Saturday as our very own day to be the universal blame-ee.

  139. Because that’s what we’re doing, eh Bennie?

  140. Calvin Arnason says:

    My interest is less in assigning blame as in ending church practices that are duplicitous. As a start I would like to see a purge of historical falsifications from the CES, Priesthood, Sunday School, and Relief Society lesson manuals. In egregious cases I would want to see a clarification (a correction and or apology) of past failings – for example Marion Anderson in 1954 having to take the freight elevator at the Hotel Utah because she didn’t qualify as a “passenger”. Or that whole “mark of Cain” and “darkies” business. An acknowledgment at least and apology, or at least an apologetic attitude would be appropriate here. Even the Southern Baptists have been able to apologize for their failings in this area. The apostles should be required to read Spencer Kimball’s book on repentance for some self-help.

  141. Calvin–it’s generally not appropriate to call people to repentance in blog comments. Especially apostles. Please find a more respectful way to phrase your opinions.

  142. Calvin Arnason says:

    I am trying. I will try harder. Let me know if I get close to that line again.

  143. Calvin wins nicest response to Admins. ever.

  144. Hedgehog says:

    As a fellow Brit, I 100% endorse Ronan’s comments. My parents joined a very young church in their teens, in one of the stronger parts of the British Isles so far as as church membership goes. Access to church history books pre-internet days was very limited. And I have to say they certainly weren’t (and aren’t to this day) available in any public library I’ve ever been in (and I spend a lot of time in libraries). Mormonism is very much a minority religion and, very few US published books are on general sale in Britain (US authors generally find a British publisher for sales in this country), or on our library shelves. Given that the books, published in English (albeit in the US) were not and are not readily available here, I kind of wonder what universe those commenters who believe Bro Mattson would have found anything in his Swedish libraries are inhabiting.
    Most of our seminary and institute classes were and are taught by untrained members fulfilling a calling, and relying on official church materials supplied by CES.
    Books available to most members about Mormonism were of the virulent anti-Mormon variety in the local Christian bookshop. Otherwise, the LDS bookshop near the temple, stocking predominantly Deseret Book publications, and later FARMS as well. If you travelled to the temple by coach, you most likely wouldn’t get to visit the shop. If you did get there, you’d need a good income to buy anything. I gather books in the US are more expensive than they are here, and we had to pay in pounds for imported books, nearly the figure of the dollar price, making them yet more expensive. This is what they sell today (http://ldsbookuk.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=342&zenid=5d88f7c1c00fc94bf681411df06be61e). I didn’t spot anything from the any of the bloggernacle recommended reading lists (other than the JSPP volumes).
    The availability of any church history outside of that published by the church was therefore, for most members here, non-existent. Doing any digging beyond that would have required a) to realise there were things you hadn’t been told that you would consider important, b) time to identify what you should be reading and how to get hold of it – time you wouldn’t have because you were working and/or raising small children and serving in several callings in your ward or branch (because church kept, and still does keep you very busy in this country), c) the resources to pay for those materials.
    I note Bro Mattson found time because he was laid up with health problems for several months.
    The growth of the internet, and Amazon has helped provide access to this material (but it is still necessary to know what to look for, and to have the time to do it and the funds to pay for it). But there are very many members here who take the official church version as ‘The History’. The response of many to the information coming out now is either that it is all anti-Mormon lies, or ‘why has the church been lying’ to them. Last year the BBC TV program (BCC covered it I think), in the context of the Mitt Romney candidacy didn’t portray a good image, and the church did itself no favours. I don’t think the programme lied, but I know members who were upset by the ‘lies’ in the programme.

    I was very lucky. As a student pre-1993, attending university opposite the Hyde Park chapel in London with a handful of other lds students, I guess I had access to the one Institute library in the country, and because for us it was practically on campus the Institute director held weekly lunchtime discussion groups for us. It was then I became acquainted with some of the more troubling aspects of church history, and was even handed Mormon Enigma to read (I now wonder if the Institute director was following the rules with his book budget). My younger siblings had a very different Institute experience.

    For some time I have been reading BYU studies online, and additionally BYU MA theses on history topics also available online. I agree they are a great resource.

    I’d also add that back when correlation began we lived a much more paternalistic world. Leastways, I believe that was the case in Britain. Todays world is very different. Today, we want to be given all the information and make up our own minds, not be told what’s good for us to hear. That seems to extend to everything, be it greater involvement in deciding the wheres and whats of our medical treatments, choosing schools for our children, extensive labelling on foods, and so on. We’ve learned by sad experience to distrust the paternalistic attitudes of the past I guess. That we take a similar view to religion is no surprise to me.

  145. Two of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes are as follows (I’m paraphrasing a bit, so forgive me):

    1. Democracy is the worst form of government on the face of the earth, except for all the rest.
    2. Americans always do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.

    If you substitute “The LDS Church” and “religion” for “Democracy” and “government” in the first quote, and “Mormons” for “Americans” in the second one, you pretty much capture both my periodic frustration with, and my abiding affection for, the Church and its members. These sentiments are felt most acutely during episodes such as these. And, in all likelihood, my local leaders and fellow saints, on some level, feel the same way about me. (Please do not construe my modification of quote #1 as disparaging other religions. It is definitely not meant that way. I have great respect for all faiths and believe that our members and our Church can learn much from them.)

  146. Ben, you are living up to your family name.

  147. JennyP1969 says:

    Ardis, you just can’t see, can you? I dished out no scorn — you did! I called you out on it. You can own it, or throw your scorn back at me, but make no mistake, it’s your scorn and your judgment. And it’s uncharitable. Read your words and then John F.’s. Whose will help those who suffer? Whose will comfort? That’s what is important — helping those who suffer find relief, help, support, love, strength and kindness.

    ****************

    Look at how we are? It’s awful. Someone is struggling and we, God’s covenanted, divide rather than unite to help them. When love is needed more than ever before in a general authority’s life, some cast stones, others defend what caused the problem, others show little mercy — let alone tender ones. King Benjamin taught that we cannot say he has brought this on himself, therefore I will stay my hand. We cannot stay our hands and hearts from reaching out to help those who suffer crises of faith! We ought to be saying with full purpose of heart….what more can I do to help?

  148. Hedgehog,
    I wonder if we know each other . . . ?

    I would love to see some work done on the influence of the book stores in Chorley and Godstone on British Mormonism. As you say, an older generation did have one non-correlated source for Mormon info — whatever was on sale there. There are lots of books on the American Founding Fathers and the US Constitution, not so much on Nauvoo polygamy.

  149. JennyP, it seems that no matter how serious or how absurd my comments, you are willing to read into them only one thing. When you’re willing to practice a little of the charity you preach, we can try again. Sorry you’re having such a bad day.

  150. Meldrum the Less says:

    You know what is so obnoxiously insincere about this entire discussion? Bro. Mattsson is described as the highest ranking leader in the LDS church to go public with his doubts and the notorious NY Times publishes one article about it. The bloggernacle goes gaga, 150 comments on this site alone.

    But in nearly every ward and branch more than half of the membership (upwards of 80% in my ward) is “less active. Legion are their reasons, yet I suspect faith crisis is more common than laziness, desire to sin or sinning, or any of the other standard excuses trotted out in Sunday school class. We have been hemorrhaging membership for quite a spell, my entire church-working life time in fact.

    Where is the compassion and hand wringing over the 10 million members who are no longer with us? Who don’t have high enough callings or don’t attact the attention of New York journalists? Ardis and Jenny can pull each other’s hair out by the roots for all I care, except statistiacaly both would have several dozen less actives in their ward and perhaps even a few on their own visiting teaching lists. What about them?

  151. Hedgehog says:

    Ronan, alas no, I don’t recall our having met. However, it is more than likely you do know 1 or 2 of my youngest brothers (I’m the eldest of 7 siblings); I believe you were once in the same ward, though I think my sister would have been there before your time. It is possible, I suppose, that we might have been briefly introduced when attending a baby blessing there with my family…

    And I agree, a study on the influence of the UK lds book stores would be very interesting. My early memories of the Godstone store are of books written by GAs, or about them (though really, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the publisher, so there might have been other things outside of deseret book). My main memory of the books was the eye-watering prices. I think internet competition might be helping now. I wonder if they’ve kept records of their stock over the years.

  152. melodynew says:

    Thank you for your time and energy composing this response, John. And thanks to Lew Scannon for your perspective – the one I found most compelling among the comments. (most all of which I read. I deserve a medal or something for that).

    ” . . .perhaps unintentionally, Elder Mattsson has done the Church a great service. He probably doesn’t feel like he has, but I can see only good coming from this.” Amen.

  153. Mark Pickering says:

    Excellent post! While I’m not a very good missionary, I do like to tell non-members, investigators, and members fascinating stories from Church history that some would call faith-discouraging instead of faith-inspiring. One investigator friend asked why I was telling her about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I told her that she was going to hear about it eventually, and she might as well hear about it first from a source sympathetic to the Church so she didn’t feel betrayed later. She later got baptized and married in the temple. As far as I know, she is still active!

  154. Calvin Arnason says:

    Long post warning:

    Let’s look at some historical precedents regarding defense of the veracity of church claims. Note that my commentary does not address the value of a church to its members and society in general – that is a completely separate chapter.

    Until at least 1800 in much of Europe, reading of books on the Vatican Index of prohibited books was a “mortal sin” and could be forgiven only by the Pope (or Jesuits who successfully fought for this power). There were a whole collection of mortal sins that could only be forgiven by the Pope (including burying someone who committed suicide in the church cemetery). The books of Galileo were censored on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (at least in part) until 1835. And in 1992 the Vatican, in a very circumspect statement, suggested publicly that in this matter there were many points of view that had to be considered. !! No apology. No direct acknowledgment of error. In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for advocating that the earth orbited around the sun and that there were many planets.

    The reason the Catholic Church tried to defend an earth-centric cosmology was that there are some indications in the bible that the sun goes around the earth and that the earth is stationary. The contention was not regarding science, it was over the issue of literal truthfulness of the bible, both Old and New Testaments.

    The church had enormous secular power including the availability of information. It used to be forbidden by canonical law for someone who was not a Priest to read or possess a bible. And the threat of excommunication was essentially banishment and often forfeiture of property (sometimes death) – a very severe punishment in Catholic regions. Catholics in general are still today not encouraged to read the bible – to my knowledge. That was one of the major benefits of the Luther reformation.

    The power of the church to restrict dissemination of information and free exchange of ideas enabled the church to hold off the consequences of this truth failure for over 200 years. Then came Voltaire and the French Revolution, and the enormous church properties in France were confiscated, mandatory tithing was abolished, and the church hierarchy and structure, with arguably greater power than the royal court, was destroyed. A generation of village priests were set adrift. Destroyed. Napoleon reintroduced the church to France, but as a shadow of its previous splendor and power.

    Now to my primary point. How did the Catholic Church deal with this? They had a marvelous idea in 1870: Papal Infallibility. Many Protestants considered that to be the height of arrogance and blasphemy. I have a very different take on it. Previous to the “ex cathedra” doctrine, the Pontiff could claim divine inspiration for everything he said. However, with this doctrine, only statements that were published “ex cathedra” were accompanied by the confirming angelic choirs. With one swoop the Papal statements previous to that were devalued. See the beauty of that? Then going forward, the Vatican has been very careful in how “ex cathedra” was applied to Papal statements (the few existent deal mainly with Mary – a great story in itself!).

    What lessons are there for LDS from this one of many examples of doctrinal retrenchment in the face of scientific reality? Well, the Catholic Church is still around! Their solution didn’t involve divestment of false doctrine, but then it didn’t involve divestment of their power either – except in the case of France and Northern Europe. But the times are different today. Information cannot be restricted as it once was. Now one has to spend enormous sums in advertising/marketing to hold back the dam water. I believe that the longer LDS leadership keeps examples of “sun orbits around earth” dogma and history in its portfolio, the more it will cost to fix. The Boyd Packer strategy was to “don’t look there”. That hasn’t been completely effective.

    I believe the church would find itself on a better foundation, if they could decide what is definitely “ex cathedra”. They wouldn’t even HAVE to acknowledge what wasn’t. They could ride it out on the emphasis with the solid foundation. Would the current Apostles be able to make that determination (what is solid? what is mushy?) and execute on it?

    BTW – I was instructed in California (Bay Area) in the 1950s that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy except for a very few (2?) sealings that did not involve conjugal consummation of the marriage.

    Calvin Arnason

  155. Meldrum the Less says:

    This spoken over the pulpit in my ward not 2 hours ago.

    DC 42:22 “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thine heart and shall cleave unto her and none else.” The speaker then pointed out how Joseph Smith gave us that verse and what a wonderful example he was in living it.

    This speaker indicated previous in the introductory portion of his talk that he was a second generation LDS, raised in the church, served a mission, graduated from BYU, and married in the temple recently. He is pursuing advanced training in a health care related field. Not a dunce by any measure.

    Unbelievable.

  156. Ben H., as the comments are winding down, before this discussion tapers off completely, I want to just make sure I understand your primary objection to the original post and some of the comments.

    Your position is that the Church has not discouraged members from looking to outside sources for information on Church history and doctrine/teachings?

    And so the fact that the Church’s official, correlated curriculum does not include information about a number of difficult, puzzling, complicated, or messy issues in the history of our Church and the development of our doctrines/teachings does not mean that the Church’s presentation of its history has been problematic in any way?

    And therefore, the Church shares no responsibility for someone like Hans Mattsson living his entire life as a faithful, active, devoted Latter-day Saint and yet reach his senior years not knowing about any of these issues, thinking, instead, that the Church’s history was as straightforward, inspiring, and completely faith-promoting as the correlated materials exclusively imply so that he feels a sense of betrayal when he does discover these issues when he finally turns to outside sources for answers that he, strictly following protocol, first sought from his ecclesiastical superiors?

  157. Peter LLC says:

    …the only interesting thing about Hans Mattsson’s story for me — how could someone rise to that position without having had the curiosity or exercised the duty of going beyond Sunday School lessons to learn something about his Church?

    When it comes to the flow of information between institutions and individuals, I can’t help but think of the following exchange from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur Dent discovers his house is going to be razed to make way for a bypass:

    Mr. Prosser said: ‘You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time you know.’
    ‘Appropriate time?’ hooted Arthur. ‘Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him if he’d come to clean the windows and he said no he’d come to demolish the house. He didn’t tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me.’
    ‘But Mr Dent, the plans have been available at the local planning office for the last nine months.’
    ‘Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody anything.’
    ‘But the plans were on display…’
    ‘On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.’
    ‘That’s the display department’
    ‘With a torch’
    ‘Ah, well the lights had probably gone.’
    ‘So had the stairs.’
    ‘But look, you found the notice didn’t you?’
    ‘Yes,’ said Arthur, ‘yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.’

  158. JennyP1969 says:

    Well Ardis, I give up. You win. I’m not having a bad day, and I am not un- charitable. But I’ve had a lot of experience with a common LDS defense mechanism: throw sarcasm and blame back at someone rather than say you’re sorry, or nicely explain you didn’t mean your points how they sounded and would like to clarify. Heaven forbid you re-read your words and admit you could see how the tone and words might be hurtful. If they hurt me, I’m the one to blame. I chose to be hurt. If I feel they were unfair to Elder Mattson, I’m putting words or meanings in there that weren’t there. This form of defense speaks to many things, so respectfully, I’m done engaging on this or anything else with you, and leave the last word to you……..

  159. JennyP1969 says:

    Peter LLC: may I say that is an excellent comment.

  160. JennyP1969 says:

    I just want to say to many commenters here, my faith crisis came from pro-LDS websites only. I found articles on FARMS and FAIR addressing historical and doctrinal issues I had never heard of before. For example, I had no idea the Book of Abraham was questioned by anyone, especially within the church. I read how we don’t know if Joseph exactly translated the papyri, or the papyri left after the fire, or if “translate” means what most people think it means. Perhaps Joseph used the seerstone in the hat, as he had for the BofM. Huh? He used what? I had no clue about any of this. I kept reading and learning much more. It’s like the lines from Lion King where “you learn the things you never knew you never knew.” In my parenthood, my wifehood, my volunteering-hood, PTA, kids in a zillion activities, VT, callings, temple work, housework, and yard work — whew! — studying beyond my scriptures and lessons wasn’t even on my radar. It never occurred to me to study historicity or the definition of translate. I didn’t know there were issues to study.

    The more I read on those two sites, the more shell-shocked and bewildered I became. Polygamy destroyed me completely. All my joy for striving for exaltation dissolved into grains of innumerable sand. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or do more than barely function. My spouse cut off hearing or listening before I got past the first bit of information. The Bishop said I was reading anti stuff and did not want to go to FARMS or FAIR — not if they would do to him what they’d done to me. The Stake President was very, very kind and loving. By the time I saw him, though, I had resolved not to tell specifics. He told me to try to let it all go by placing these things on my life’s alter to God and let Him deal with them. This is hard for the very reason we believe plural marriage comes from God, as do the scriptures, however “translate” is defined.

    So I go forth……I try not to dwell on any troubling facts. I try to look forward…..go forward…..with my focus on the Jesus of 3rd Nephi and the Gospels. I savor the BofM and BofA as much as I can without those apologetics articles crowding in. I try to live for today because living for eternity is ruined by plural marriage.

    Learning these untaught things has taken away my joy and peace in Mormonism. It has been truly a living hell. And it’s lonely beyond words. You don’t want to hurt anyone else with any of this stuff.

    So I plead with every member to try to have compassion for those who are trembling with fear and crisis — especially one such as Elder Mattson. He has opened up and exposed his struggle. He’s put himself out there…….I admire that courage because he knew he would be blamed and castigated by many. But he still went forward to try to help bring about the acknowledgment of the sincere struggle this is, the lack of help that helps, and to try to help a turning point in response take place. I pray for him, even as I pray for myself and all others in these shoes. I hope you’ll join me in such prayers. And please know how grateful I am if you do. Thank you.

  161. Meldrum the Less says:

    Jenny P

    I think I understand what you have beautifully written and agree with you. I pray for you. I don’t know how much this means coming from me and my unique opinions. Perhaps me siding with Ardis would better bolster you point in this court of public opinion.

    Members of my family and numerous friends have gone through something like what you describe and are not doing nearly as well as you. I can’t get past the fact that some unacceptably high percent (maybe 70%?) have given up on the good ship Mormonism and left. Probably because not enough people like you were around during crucial times. As far as Ardis goes (which is a long ways) , she has taught me quite a bit and I have a sort of an affection for her. But sometimes I think she needs to have her hair pulled, maybe not all the way out. She can be a real pill, but her viewpoint is a crucial part of the BCC family and the entire church at this time and therefore must be heard. And challenged. Perhaps by expressing it we all will grow.

    J. Golden Kimball said he loved all the Brethren but he found it a hell of a lot easier to love some of them than others. I know upon which side of that equation I generally find myself and many think I need to have my hair pulled out too, But my Lord is going to beat everyone else to it, maybe with help from my kids.

    Forgiveness. That is the ultimate lesson of a faith crisis. Once you get past the seeking truth stage (ave 5 years), the anger/betrayal stage (ave 10 yrs), the crusade stage (ave 10 yrs+) and whatever other twists your journey may take (ave 20 yrs). What an enormous opportunity for forgiveness we the Mormon people have been blessed with by the folly of those who have gone before.

    (These averages are pure guesses and may not reflect your own personal experience)

  162. Carl Youngblood says:

    PeterLLC, excellent quote! Thanks.

  163. It seems weird to me that neither the OP nor any of the comments has linked to an actual interview with Hans Mattson. Has anyone on this list has actually listened to the man speak for himself?

    http://mormonstories.org/hans-mattsson/

  164. Hedgehog says:

    @Dan Weston
    I had listened to the full interview prior to making my comments.

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