The Hard History–is faith enough to get us through?

My daughter was exposed to a lot of anti-Mormon material in her childhood. In fact, somebody read her the entire temple ceremony from an anti-perspective before she even hit her teens. She stayed LDS, because she was living with me, but told her seminary teacher that she didn’t think she could bear her testimony because didn’t have one. The many things she had heard were deeply disturbing. He asked that she bear her testimony anyway. She did, and found herself overwhelmed with a sense of love and comfort.
That was the beginning of an ever-deepening testimony.

I have been reading Richard Bushman’s _An Author’s Diary_. In it, he counsels someone who is struggling with the more difficult issues in Joseph Smith’s life to ponder well and ask “Is there anything admirable, heroic or miraculous [in Joseph’s life]?” He continues: “While you [ponder], you must be living right. You can’t be breaking the commandments yourself and expect to get a clear view of Joseph’s life. Guilt clouds the mind.”

I like the idea of being informed and faithful, but I would certainly choose “faithful” over “informed.” I wonder if as we present sanitized views of Joseph, Emma, and much of the early church history, we might be setting some of our youth up for disappointment. Surely many will discover the stains on our history. How do we fortify them so that they are able to face hard issues and not be undone by them? Many on the blogs have talked about innoculating our youth with small doses of the hard history. I think the most important part of such innoculation would be to teach faithful searching. Should such a thing even be included in our manuals? Taught in seminary? We have lessons on “steadying the ark”, and the D&C manual does indeed repeat the idea that the Lord will not allow his leaders to lead us astray. Should there also be something on how we approach the discovery of uncomfortable information? Do any of you have specific methods for dealing with the hard stuff? Have you ever taught a lesson on it?


  1. Bro. Jones says:

    I’m interested in people’s perspective on this. My various Internet personas have unloaded volumes of non-sanitized information and commentary on non-members asking about the Church on various Internet forums, but in real life I’ve only ever talked about this sort of thing with two or three very close friends. I have no idea how to approach this with a son a or daughter, although in discussing similar topics with my (non-member) sister, I’ve found that she’s grown to be respectful and curious while maintaining a healthy skepticism.

  2. Nietzsche says:

    Faith means not wanting to know what is true

  3. Nietzsche–you picked up the wrong dictionary. That definition is from the huge dictionary in Hell.

  4. “Should there also be something on how we approach the discovery of uncomfortable information?”
    Well, the correlation and curriculum arms of the Church don’t often discuss the thornier issues openly, so they may not see it as their responsibility. This is one of the roots of my deep friendships: people with whom I can really discuss the things that offend my reason and 21st-century zeitgeist.

    “Do any of you have specific methods for dealing with the hard stuff?”
    I have to say, I struggle with the little things more often than the big ones. It’s odd to take the peep stone in stride and have serious issues with the home teaching program, for instance, at the same time. It’s all Lewis’ The Great Divorce, though: whatever I’m willing to see for my own life is what I’ll end up with, to a large degree.

    “Have you ever taught a lesson on it?”
    No, but I wish that someone in our stake would be willing to put on a fireside dealing with this issue tastefully (and asked to do so!).

    Kevin Christensen wrote of apologetics, “Our institutional teaching materials should be valued, not solely according to whether they fit a committee’s current notion of preaching the orthodox religion, but also for how they provide the light and knowledge that our students need to make their way through the world. Charles had correctly claimed that the Latter-day Saint commentaries on the Old Testament had relied on an overlay of modern revelation rather than on reading the text as it is. In the first number of the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Louis Midgley complained about the tendency of many Latter-day Saint scholars to rely on authoritative statements about scripture in ways that “divert attention away from the message and meaning in the text under consideration, and back towards what we already know. Such efforts do not enhance our understanding; they tend to make the very teachings they celebrate seem merely sentimental and insubstantial. Such endeavors also tend to close the door on the untapped possibilities within the scriptures” (“The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament”, FARMS Review: Volume 16, Issue 2). This seems to me intimately related to our collective shying-away from public discussion of things we don’t understand or don’t know how to deal with.

    @Nietzsche: Faith means accepting that truth has an ineffable, unquantifiable component. Truth, in the historical sense, doesn’t exist anyway (I’ll probably take some flak for that one) except as a construct.

  5. Thanks, Neal! I love the Christensen thought. And I won’t argue about the impossibility of finding objective truth in a historical sense. Everyone will tell their own story differently, though many have lived through the same things. Objective history will recount a series of events which actually happened, but the interpretation of those events will range vastly from person to person.

  6. Margaret, have you listened to the Mormon Stories podcast/Sunstone Symposium entitled “Inoculating the Saints” with Kevin Barney, Michael Ash, and Blake Ostler?

    That was probably one of the best discussions of this I’ve ever heard and I give HUGE props to those three gentleman. It’s given me much to ponder on as I ask myself the same questions you are now asking here, and also coming from a faithful perspective.

    PS: I’d love for you to share more insight from Bushman’s diary. It is a fascinating read.

  7. Clean Cut–first of all, it appears I misspelled INOCULATE. Dang. An English teacher should not misspell–at least not on a public blog. I’ll paste here what I will be sending one of my missionaries shortly, which quotes from Richard’s diary. The diary itself is available from Kofford Books. And I haven’t yet listened to the podcast on Mormon Stories. I hope it’s one John saved in all the recent reorganization.

    What I wrote to my missionary: I mentioned the book I’d be reading on the plane, by Richard Bushman, who wrote a brilliant biography about Joseph Smith. The biography, which I read long ago, is from a believer’s perspective, but shows a very realistic Joseph Smith. Flaws and warts are not ignored. “Passion and belief,” says Bushman of his choice to write a balanced biography while acknowledging his status as a believing Mormon upfront, “are not requirements for historical inquiry, but neither are they crippling handicaps…Contrary to the idea that belief closes the mind, our passions open our eyes and ears. Stifling my belief in Joseph Smith would extinguish one of my greatest assets. Passion, of course, can blind as well as enliven us. My belief could produce a Joseph Smith that only Mormons would recognize… By the same token, if one writes exclusively for a non-Mormon audience, Joseph Smith can be made into a rogue without fear of contradiction…At times, I thought there was no middle ground for my version of the Mormon Prophet. I came to envy historians who write about slavery or patriarchy; no one doubts their basic beliefs. But on second thought, I realized that my book was better for being written for a divided audience. It does offer an empathetic and, so I hope, a candid view of an extraordinary life.”
    Bushman talks about the need to love the subject, as a Shakespearean scholar loves Shakespeare and gets far more from King Lear than someone who dismisses Shakespeare as outdated or boring, and simply not worth one’s time. Bruce, of course, has made a career of studying Shakespeare—and I have a deep regard for the plays. Because we respect the author and know the plays well, we get a lot out of a good production. In another parallel, I get so much from the temple, not just because I’m always looking for new insights (those tend to come “without compulsory means”) but because I love what happens there. Speaking very carefully, I have envisioned an angelic dance which uses all of the most sacred signs of the endowment. The dancers tend to be women in my imagination, all wearing full-skirted, silky gowns that flow easily with the slightest breeze. Sometimes, I want them to have wings. Reach for a blessing. Receive a blessing. Give a blessing while Heaven blesses you. Bring down blessings from Heaven, for you are empowered. I can go no further than that, but it’s a glorious dance in my mind. If I didn’t love the temple, if mockery were in my heart, I would never get the peace and joy I get when I attend. Or the new insights. I would always be looking for things which would support any cognitive dissonance I was bringing with me. The experience would be sullied before it even began.

  8. With my children, I’ve explained to them that history is often messy. I like Davis Bitton’s 2004 talk on this:

    I also help my children learn how to understand the Spirit, by sharing with them differing spiritual experiences. With my then 12 year old, one day we watched the Testaments film, and discussed how it made us feel inside. The next day, we watched the anti-LDS Joseph/Jesus Christ film that was mailed everywhere. I asked my son to compare the feelings he got on both, and how the Spirit seemed to work in both issues. He noticed big time that the former seemed much more right and correct.

    I don’t have a problem with telling my kids about MMM or Fanny Alger, etc. I explain to them that things happen, and it isn’t an issue of having perfect prophets, but rather prophets called of God. I also tell them when I think the prophets may have been incorrect, such as on the black/priesthood issue. However, I explain this with respect towards the prophets. I explain that all of us have prejudices that blind us towards the true revelations of God, as Richard Bushman suggested in his book.

    I also explain that faith is an evolving process for us. We are not born with perfect knowledge, nor perfect faith. Why should we expect it from any of the prophets?

  9. Open up a can of The Barney and inoculate. I cannot stress this enough.

    Having been exposed to _anit_ p.o.v. very early in my conversion, I had to wade through a ton of muck, and my testimony and commitment were in serious jeopardy for a while. It’s because of the examples of thoughtful, historically brave faith that I was able to plow through the hard stuff and find my faith not just intact, but stronger. Had I not known or had access to the testimonies, history and writing of people who had worked through the hard stuff and lived to tell about it, I would have been lost.

    I don’t intend to put my children (or those I have stewardship over) in that position. I will not shrink from things that are unsavory to our 21st century eyes- I will share, appropriately and from a position of faith, what I know, and I will follow that up with my own testimony.

    If we don’t do this, the only sources of historical information out there will be from people seeking to destroy our faith, rather than those who have found their home in it.

  10. Margaret,

    I’m a seminary teacher and this year, studying the New Testament, we saw all the problems of the early Church: racism, ethnocentrism, doctrinal confusion, conflicts among Church leadership, unsettling views on the status of women, and so forth. I made it clear from the outset that no questions were off limits, and in likening the early Church to the restored Church, we covered some of the tough issues of Church history, as much as I felt the Spirit would allow.
    My seminary kids have some understanding of the tough issues, and they know that I know of those things and still have a very deep testimony of the Gospel.

  11. By the way, #3 is hilarious.

  12. I’ve spotlighted and recommend both books “On the road with Joseph Smith: An author’s diary” and “Rough Stone Rolling” on my own blog several times. The latter served as a personal “inoculation” of sorts, and my faith is all the stronger for it.

    The “Inoculating the Saints” podcast is still available through the Mormon Stories podcast channel on iTunes. I think I linked to it from I lean towards introducing some of the “harder” to swallow aspects of Church history from a faithful perspective FIRST, before the critics introduce it to our youth (including missionaries).

    Ironically, just this morning I wrote to my brother-in-law on his mission about encountering the hard aspects of church history. I felt prompted to write because I recently came across a youtube video posted by an inactive Mormon who tape-recorded the conversation between him and the two young Elders who had come to visit with him to see why he was not active. In short, it involved Joseph’s Smith’s involvement with polygamy. The guy was very respectful to the Elders, and only shared the facts, but it was embarrassing because these Elders knew very little to nothing about it. Of course, the guy probably wanted to make the Church look bad because he feels that the Church was trying to cover up or hide the truth. But there’s always another way to look at this.

    In reality, I think the Church leaves it up to the individual members to learn about it when they’re ready to learn about it, and collectively we need to be sensitive to those who may not be ready to hear about it. I don’t believe the Church has intentionally tried to “cover it up”, although it has sometimes been less than candid (ie: not much is mentioned, if anything, of Joseph Smith’s involvement with plural marriage in the Jospeh Smith priesthood manual and life chronology.)

    Books like Bushman’s can only help us collectively get stronger as we assimilate these issues just like we do anything else and as a result we become more open and candid. I think the Church as a whole IS becoming increasingly more candid about uncomfortable aspects of Church history (ie: publishing the Mountain Meadows Massacre in the Ensign), but you could also have found articles in the Ensign about Joseph Smith’s other wives years ago. Maybe we just need to pay closer attention.

    It’s possible those missionaries themselves are to blame for not paying attention when their Sunday School teacher mentioned it in class years ago. Then again, we’re not obligated to talk about tough aspects of Church history in Sunday School because the time is so short and the purpose is to build faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel. This leaves little time to discuss the weighter matters of Church history, and for some that means a very superficial knowledge of Church history, especially for members of the Church who don’t do much reading on their own.

    Thus, there is still a historical illiteracy among members of the Church who have never learned for themselves some of these facts that seem “shocking” at first, whether it be the extent of Joseph’s involvement in polygamy or even some very racist statements of Brigham Young about African-Americans. The more faithful assimilation of the facts, the less disturbing it becomes over time.

    Obviously polygamy can still be puzzling, but after all is said and done, my testimony isn’t grounded in polygamy or in Joseph Smith as a man. It’s grounded in the Savior of the World and the power of the Book of Mormon to bring me to Christ. The fruits of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith and the Restoration are the real test. He was still a man, and he made mistakes, but he was also a prophet. God has always called fallible men and worked through them anyway, despite their imperfections.

    Anyway, I feel the more we know the stronger we will be, especially when facing critics. Sometimes the truth can hurt in the beginning, just like an inoculation shot. But in the end we’re healthier and our faith is stronger for having passed through the struggles and sometimes, for some, even a crisis of faith.

    I just feel that it would be better to get things out there in the open coming from a faithful perspective, rather than having people encounter some of these things for the first time from our critics. I felt bad for those missionaries who ended up looking as if they had pie in their faces. I wish I could have talked with them before that man who no longer had faith.

  13. William Schryver says:

    I have made a point to dig as deeply as possible into the sources. One thing I have had driven home again and again is that, even when it comes to the most “disturbing” elements of church history (MMM, the re-ordering of marriage covenants in Nauvoo, the origins of the BoA, etc.) things are not always what they appear to be.

    Mormon history is quite unusual in comparison to other historical subjects in that there is an extraordinary amount of contemporary testimony that is starkly polarized. For example, you have someone like William Clayton who seems to recognize no immorality in the actions of Joseph Smith, while William Law sees nothing but a series of debauched dealings between Joseph and several women.

    This creates a scenario wherein almost any story can be told while yet utilizing supposedly reliable, contemporary sources. And yet the “truth” cannot be seen simultaneously from both perspectives. Either one party is blinding himself to the facts, or the other is seeing things that were not really there.

    As a result of this convoluted body of evidence, we are placed in a position of having to make choices as to which witnesses we find credible, and to somehow piece together a story that seems to answer to the “facts” as best they can be determined. This is where Bushman’s advice concerning the prerequisites of the powers of discernment becomes so essential to us in our quest to see “things as they really were.”

    In the final analysis, I cannot help but notice that those who were in closest association with Joseph Smith simply did not see in him the picture painted by historians like Newell and Avery, or even Compton. Sure, the raw testimony of various contemporary witnesses can be arranged to paint a picture of a severely flawed man, but that is not the man that was seen by those who were actually standing next to him. I can only conclude that there is quite often a considerable disconnect between the raw historical data and the actual facts “on the ground” where Joseph Smith walked.

    This then is the perspective I would attempt to impress upon people setting out to “learn the facts” about Mormon history.

  14. “Do any of you have specific methods for dealing with the hard stuff?”

    Head-on and directly – with the statement right from the start that I’ve heard it all, reconciled it all and still have a strong testimony. Half the time, as Tracy M. said, it’s just knowing other semi-intelligent people have dealt with the issues that is the most important foundation.

    Have you ever taught a lesson on it?

    All the time, in practically every discussion or talk or lesson I have given in the last eight years, at least. It doesn’t have to be blatant, confrontational or salacious. I just have made a habit of talking about multiple interpretations, and that people see things differently all the time, and that “I wonder sometimes about/if . . .” – anything to put across the message that there isn’t just one right way to see things. I quote or summarize or plagiarize Elder Wirthlin’s talk, “Concern for the One” in some way in almost talk I give. I pound the point that I see lots of things differently than many members – and that that’s OK, and even needed. When we read the scriptures as a family, I often will say, “Most people assume this means (fill in the blank), but when you read the words closely, there are more ways to interpret what it might mean.”

    Yeah, this is a critical topic. I don’t see it as much as inoculation as teaching critical thinking skills as a tool for faithful inquiry. I don’t want just to teach my kids (and students, congregations, listeners, etc.) facts; I want to teach them to think – and to accept that others think and see differently than they do. I want them to internalize 1 Corinthians 13 – the whole amazing chapter, not just the soundbite quotes. I want them to really “get” what Elder Wirthlin taught. That, to me, is the key – not some generic inoculation that is composed merely of the injection of multitudinous, countering facts.

  15. GREAT comment, William Schryver. And ditto that for Ray. Excellent.

  16. I’m the Young Women’s president in my ward and several times when teaching about prophets or the priesthood, I’ve said to the girls, “Now, is the Bishop/prophet/Joseph Smith/whoever perfect? No. The Lord doesn’t have any perfect people to call. That’s only happened once-with the Savior. The Lord works with imperfect people to accomplish great things. If we were perfect, there would be no need for us to even be on the earth.” I hope from that it will help them when encountering things that they might find disconcerting. I also hope it will help them realize that they need not be perfect to be blessed as well as be a blessing to others.

  17. Perhaps this is simplistic but I feel if we love those under our stewardship and really keep the focus on Christ we have this wonderful secure foundation from which we (and they) can question and explore.

    I’m reminded of a companion who didn’t know a thing about polygamy. The topic came up and she just quieted down until we got back into the car…then the questions came. We threw out the missionary guide for a long while and studied the Doctrine and Covenants. It was eye opening to me to reread the discussions and realize how very little information we tech some investigators. I also appretiated how she handled her many discoveries. It was a long process for her.

  18. >I quote or summarize or plagiarize Elder Wirthlin’s talk, “Concern for the One” in some way in almost talk I give.

    Don’t let Kevin Barney hear you say that. He’s in a mood.

  19. Kristine says:

    “that is not the man that was seen by those who were actually standing next to him”

    Well, not *all* of them, at least. There were many who agreed with William Law, and who would have thought Newell and Avery and “even” Compton (astonishing how much bias one word can convey) were overly generous.

  20. Scott, I wrote that line with a huge grin on my face, wondering if anyone would notice the irony given the other active thread.

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve just been visiting with my folks down in SLC. They have a swimming pool in their new digs, and my dad and I were in the pool till after midnight Saturday talking. Actually, he did most of the talking while I did most of the listening. He told me true things about his mission, about how he was before he went, how he felt while serving, who he was when he returned, and some experiences from jobs he held. Some of these things I’d heard him tell before, and some was new to me. I suppose you’d say these were unsanitized versions. :) There is nothing new about this. There has never been a subject that he hasn’t approached to me with this same candor – at least for the last 25 years.

    I’m so grateful to have had a father that always valued truth, taught me that the truth will out and so we might as well embrace it, while at the same time he also taught me the gospel. It isn’t a brag, I’m deeply humble and grateful for this. Because of this it has been easier for me to see that the truth in all it’s shades and colors is so much richer and more beautiful than delicate and, if true, still incomplete histories and doctrines. As we learn more and more, while keeping our covenants and striving for the companionship of the Spirit, reality takes on a depth and dimension that echoes and calls to our soul in ways that make for us tepid the thinner, fraught with fear versions of history and doctrine that threaten believers with kitsch and worse, smallness of soul.

    Faith is only a step for us. I know that knowledge is possible through direct experience of the powers of heaven, manifestations of the Spirit, having doctrine distill upon our souls and having visitations from beyond the veil. But we’ve got to take the plunge. Before we can know we have to admit that we don’t know. And then even after we know admit that we don’t know fully, that our understanding is never complete in this life. And press forward fearlessly into knowledge, holding to the Rod of Iron which is the word of God to the souls of those who love and serve Him. ~

  22. Ray, I thought you might have!

  23. I have to say that the priesthood restriction doesn’t bother me anymore, except where past teachings are still taught or available on Deseret Book bookshelves (see the thread on MHA with Darius Part 2). However, I had a big “What the–?” moment when I read Stegner’s _A Gathering of Saints_, which is a beautiful and sympathetic account of the early church. I had never heard William Law’s story. Stegner reports it empathetically, and I was simply stunned. I don’t know what to do with Section 132 of the D&C. The idea that women are a reward for being “faithful in a few things” goes counter to my deepest understanding of the gospel and my sense of my relationship with Christ. I have put that section on the “You don’t need to worry about this right now” shelf. My own solution to most of the hard issues is to cling to the gospel core. Nonetheless, as a parent and a teacher, I love some of these suggestions. Thank you!

  24. Thomas Parkin (#21): As we learn more and more, while keeping our covenants and striving for the companionship of the Spirit, reality takes on a depth and dimension that echoes and calls to our soul in ways that make for us tepid the thinner, fraught with fear versions of history and doctrine that threaten believers with kitsch and worse, smallness of soul.


  25. Clean Cut and Margaret:

    Since you mentioned the podcasts, Clean Cut, I should point out that, as I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t think that “Inoculation” is the right word.

    For the comparison to work, it implies that Truth is a disease. Also, Neal has made an excellent point above when he wrote that “Truth, in the historical sense, doesn’t exist anyway (I’ll probably take some flak for that one) except as a construct.” I might not go so far as that but I think it captures the notion that whatever we construct of history is contingent on what exists of the historical record — and is subject to multiple layers of inference and guessing before it can be presented as a coherent narrative.

    Even with some of the most well-documented episodes of history, there are myriad interpretations. However, I do believe that there is historical Truth. Still, we need to be wary of what inferences are actually warranted by what exists of the historical record when we are encountered with the types of “hard history” Margaret is discussing here. To be sure, from an academic perspective, it is hard to argue that the existence of the Angel Moroni is an inference that is warranted by the historical record. This is where faith indeed plays a role — with faith, this seems the most plausible explanation and Vogel’s tin-factory and the Spaulding Theory etc. sound implausible. But the eye of faith isn’t quantifiable and will never satisfy a critic or someone who does not choose to submit one’s understanding to God so that it can be informed by faith as a Gift of the Spirit.

    Margaret, a note on your original post — the first two sentences of your last paragraphy seem contradictory. The first implies that you prefer being faithful over informed, as if you would be okay with shying away from what some consider the “hard history”, as you put it. The second sentence makes it sound like you wish everyone to be informed about this “hard history”, particularly since you go on to endorse the concept of “inoculation”.

  26. Margaret, I think most Mormons don’t ” work through” Hard History, or Uncomnfortable Informantion. They work around it.
    You hear “not needed for my Salvation”, ” I will find out in the next world”, “not everything has been revealed”, even “who cares?”
    #4: “Truth, in the historical sense, doesn’t exist anyway (I’ll probably take some flak..” I disagree (flak), something are just true in history. And yes, somethings are not.

  27. Margaret, if that’s the case then it’s unclear whether or not you disapprove of the “sanitized” version of history.

  28. John f (#25)–nope, there’s no contradition. I think it better to be informed than to be ignorant, but if I had to choose between being faithful and being informed, there’s no contest. I will always filter new knowledge through faith, and will never push my faith through a colandar which parses history into a shredded mass of confusion.

  29. Strange — my comment # 27 was written after and in response to Margaret’s # 28.

  30. From the old post that I linked in # 25, I would highlight the following as still representing my view:

    The Church should not be inoculating the members against Truth with a weaker version of the Truth. Rather, if the Church is seeking to inoculate members to keep them from falling away, then the Church can and should use the Truth itself as the vaccine. This Truth should include both religious truth and historical truth together. It can be used to combat cynical, negative, or intentionally disparaging conclusions about the Church based on isolated historical or doctrinal issues. The idea is that religious truth as a whole, as restored and revealed throughout the existence of the Church (and as will yet be revealed), should place difficult historical issues into a broader context and remind members of the bigger picture, despite oddities in the Church’s history or development.

    Truth — even as expressed in what is left of our own historical record — is the vaccine, not the disease.

  31. We invited J. Stapley to come talk both to our Bishop’s council in our stake, and to our ward a couple of months later. He did a great job of framing our difficult historical issues in the light of faith. I wish I could do it half as well.
    Part of his presentation in both cases is that the bad stuff is out there, and the internet has only made it more easily accessible, so we need to be more proactive in telling our own narrative, and work from the faith perspective.

    I’ve tried to deal with this in a couple of talks and lessons I have given, but I am sensitive to those who perhaps are still not aware of some of the issues. Stapley’s solution is that we need to write our own personal narrative, and not let others write it for us. Part of that implies being taught constructively and accurately from a faith based perspective.

    The hard part for me, and my kids, is that a couple of them are at odds with some things they have encountered either through personal experience or through looking at our history. It would be fine if they would open up and talk about their reservations, but they are so committed to not hurting my feelings, they won’t really discuss how they feel. In actuality, that hurts more than expressing their doubts or questions. For some reason, my other grown children have done okay with these things. A conversation implies that two people are both expressing thoughts, and exchanging words and ideas, and respecting each others perspective. It can’t be one sided, or nothing of value will change.

  32. John f, I see your technical point about vaccine and disease. But even still, I don’t think anybody here views truth as the disease. I think we ARE talking about using truth as the vaccine. We’re talking about making known different aspects of truth in order to have a stronger foundation of all truth. You have yet to propose a better word, but semantics don’t matter much to me anyway. The meaning behind all of this is to help prevent some from discarding much truth simply because they’re initially shocked by some of it.

  33. Greg Smith says:

    I don’t think that “Inoculation” is the right word.

    For the comparison to work, it implies that Truth is a disease.

    One is not inoculated against truth. One is inoculated against the anti-Mormon spin on events. The inoculent is the truth–or as close to the truth as historical tools and biases let us get, to the degree the listener has the tools and ability to make use of them.

  34. When I started to hear about the more unsavory aspects of church history, I was in college. I stuck it on the shelf for a while, and my resolution came while I was studying the Old Testament. I love how the prophets are presented with their flaws. It humanizes them, and I came to realize that if Old Testament prophets could be flawed and still be prophets, that modern prophets could be, too.

    I appreciated that I had an institute teacher who was very knowledgeable about the scriptures and about history. He made it clear that no question was off-limits. I had several lengthy discussions with him. Also, when I was a YW, I had a leader who was like that. I never took her up on it because I hadn’t developed those questions yet, but I know others who did.

  35. I agree with those who remind us that history often involves interpretation, and that can make it all very messy.

    I really like what someone said above about a foundation on Christ, and I would add on the fundamental elements of the Restoration. At some point, I do believe we are all, as Pres. Benson once said, “backed against the wall of faith.”

    That said, even as my children are young, they already know about polygamy, the priesthood ban…I have started to help them know that there are parts of our history that may not always make sense to our 21st century minds. I will continue to touch on them as they grow, so they aren’t surprised. But in the end, such topics are given very little time in relation to the basic Truths of the gospel, which, imo bring the Spirit unlike any other thing. My goal is to give them as many experiences of their own with the Spirit so they have a significant spiritual bank account as it were.

    I think it’s good not to be completely surprised by some of the more puzzling elements of our history. But I also think we ought not gear our teaching so much on *fear* that people might be shaken by such things, or teach as though people should be afraid of such things. All messiness aside (life in general is just plain messy, so messy parts of history should be no surprise, imo), we are blessed with an abundance of pure and beautiful truths, and imo the more we help people feel the power of those truths, the more they can shine out when hard questions or struggles or issues or challenges or people come into their/our lives — hard stuff in the end is hard stuff, and the answers still have to ultimately come from God and the Spirit.

    One last thought — I think we ought to be careful about defining ignorance as a lack of knowledge of certain (very limited, relatively) tidbits of info. I see it more as a lack of knowledge and understanding of heavenly truth. Of course. I’m not advocating ignoring hard questions altogether, but I am not convinced that ‘inoculation’ or preparing people against the storms (be they hard history or hard life or all of the above) is really about being able to cover all the bases logically/intellectually/etc. We simply can’t, and we ought not pretend we can.

    I think we do people a disservice when we try to pour so many “facts” into their heads that they focus more on info than on inspiration. NO ONE can fully answers all the questions — no one except God.

    That’s the other goal of my teaching as a mom — to help my children learn that God is there and the Spirit can help them no matter what the trial, question, or pain. And that sometimes the answer isn’t going to ‘make sense’ but we can at least know God is there. And often, that has to be enough. We mortals are SO limited, and sometimes I think we forget that. I want to help remind my children (and myself) that we really understand so little. That in and of itself helps me when I struggle — to remember that “I know God loveth His children” sometimes is about all I can say I know…that there is much I do not understand. And that has to be ok, else I could go crazy!

  36. I also have been sitting here thinking what missionaries really should be expected to say when someone asks them hard questions about history. In the end, they are called to call people to repentance and to invite them to make commitments, not to try to answer every question.

    I have been blogging for years, and still have yet to really see any answers that are agreed-upon anyway. Again, not to say that missionaries should be unaware of hard issues, but I don’t think they should be expected to be able to provide answers and replace anxiety. That’s ultimately God’s job, and the missionaries’ job to encourage people to turn to Him to know what to do with what they are learning.

    I think of a line from Incredibles: “Yes, it happened, but THIS… [the wonderful gospel and all that entails] is what’s happening now!” :)

  37. Nietzsche says:

    @ Neil (#4) – I think you are referring to Colbert’s construct of truth — truthiness.

    @ Margaret – I wonder how you came across the dictionary in hell? Maybe for peddling faith-promoting nonsense DVD’s?

  38. I bet the real Nietzsche wouldn’t get banned as fast as you, dummy.

  39. Juliann says:

    One of my favorite solutions to the ongoing battle for belief is Teryl Givens’ analysis of choice as faith:

    “I believe that we are—as reflective, thinking, pondering seekers—much like the proverbial ass of Buridan. If you remember, the beast starved to death because he was faced with two equally desirable and equally accessible
    piles of hay. Having no determinative reason to choose one over the other, he perished in indecision. In the case of us mortals, men and women are confronted with a world in which there are appealing arguments for God as a childish projection, for modern prophets as scheming or deluded
    imposters, and for modern scriptures as so much fabulous fiction. But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious divinity presides over the cosmos, that God calls and anoints prophets, and that His word and will are made manifest through a sacred canon that is never definitively closed. There is, as with the ass of Buridan, nothing to compel an individual’s preference for one over the other. But in the case of us mortals, there is something to tip the scale. There is something to predispose us to a life
    of faith or a life of unbelief. There is a heart that in these conditions of equilibrium and balance—and only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other” (2 Nephi 2:16)—is truly
    free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness.”

  40. Margaret–

    The solution in the long run can be different for different people, but in the short run the solution is really simple, if the person in question will read and pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon they can receive a witness from the Holy Ghost. This is the way Heavenly Father has set it up.

    If they don’t acquire a witness that way then they will need to have a loved ones faith and prayers stand in for them. The Lord will do everything in His power to bring them to the truth.

    But not everyone will respond to the Lord’s guidance, and that’s OK because each of us has agency, and that is the important thing.

  41. Latter-day Guy says:

    Again, not to say that missionaries should be unaware of hard issues, but I don’t think they should be expected to be able to provide answers and replace anxiety. That’s ultimately God’s job, and the missionaries’ job to encourage people to turn to Him to know what to do with what they are learning.

    I largely agree with this. Unfortunately, as things stand now, missionaries (at least those I come into contact with––and I work at the MTC, so that’s something of a representative sample, I think) are mostly unaware of many of these historical issues. Thus when they get confronted by informed antis on their missions, they are liable to dismiss their arguments absolutely… which is fine until they find that those arguments are actually based on historical truth (often twisted).

    As far as being able to “replace anxiety,” I agree that God must be the ultimate source. However, missionaries have to be able to be convincing enough that someone is willing to spend the time in prayer getting their own answers. If the “hard issues” become a problem for an investigator (and often they won’t), the missionaries should be able to articulate how they themselves have dealt with this troubling information, such that the investigator can at least withhold judgment for a time to create a space for their own revelation. If the missionaries are completely blindsided, an investigator might lose their willingness to even “test the seed,” and a priceless opportunity may be lost.

  42. So what is to be made of the earlier post on Mormons and Masons? Hard History, inoculation, Something I have always known, Not needed for my Salvation, my teenagers must read this now, anti-Mormon, not true, ‘move on folks, nothing to see here’, should be known be all, etc.?

  43. I am in line with much of what comments 13 and 14 have to say. The key is (and I think Margaret was looking for this in her original thoughts) to teach methods, ways of thinking and learning, in a faithful and responsible way.

    One way to approach this issue of inoculation was explained a while ago by Hugh Nibley. He essentially clothed with words the things I had been feeling inside for a long time before I discovered his quote:

    “I refuse to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years ago. For heaven’s sake, I hope we are moving forward here. After all, the implication that one mistake and it is all over with—how flattering to think in forty years I have not made one slip and I am still in business! I would say about four fifths of everything I put down has changed, of course. That is the whole idea; This is an ongoing process, and I have some interesting examples of that.”

    And then Nibley added these two important points:

    “The two rules to follow here are 1) to ask the right questions, and 2) to keep looking.”

    (See Hugh W. Nibley, “The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham,” Sunstone 4 (December 1979): 49-51.)

    Ask the right questions and keep looking.

    So for me it is vital to help our students, friends, spouses, children, and ourselves learn ask the right questions and be open to the answers we may receive. It can become too simple in the culture of the church to rest on the “I know the Church is true” statement without feeling much desire to dig. Other people can’t help but dig. Some dig only for dirt and some only for light.

    Sometimes I am discouraged by the thought that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make her drink. I feel that it really is on each individual to seek these things diligently, so to speak. But at the same time perhaps something I say or write can provide a spark for someone, the same way things I read provided sparks for me. Made me want to learn and look and change (and stay the same!) I’m trying to find the bridge between community and personal responsibility.

  44. I failed to add, in terms of “asking the right questions” it would do well for us to teach people about the limitations of historical inquiry, as well as the benefits history has for our faith. The right questions are often underscored by the right expectations, or the right understanding of process, or the right motive for asking.

    The trouble can occur when some members of the church are simply completely uncomfortable or unwilling to talk about anything in Sunday School that you can’t read directly out of a church manual. I have some difficult experiences to share in that regard, but I think it may be too far afield just yet. But we should keep in mind the reactions some Saints will have on any notions of inoculation, or anything that does not come from a correlated source only.

  45. Additionally, I think the focus on teaching approach and method answers the objection raised by m&m in #35, that we shouldn;t spend so much time trying to answer every single question for everyone, etc.

    I think by teaching correct principles of how to learn and understand history or philosophy or theology in the context of faith, people then learn to “govern themselves,” so to speak. This is like the “teach a woman to fish” principle.

  46. struggling says:

    Here are a few thoughts from one whose faith has taken some severe blows, and is still on life support.

    It is not good enough to tell me not to expect prophets to be perfect or infallible. I understand that. I am not worried about normal human faults and weaknesses. However, “well, nobody is perfect” is just a not a very good explanation of polygamy, the priesthood ban or other issues that trouble so many. Neither is it particularly helpful to tell me that lots of really intelligent people have wrestled with these issues and have emerged with their faith in tact. I know that, and I have much respect for those people, but there are also a great many intelligent people who have concluded that my religion is complete nonsense. If we put it to a vote or to an appeal to authority, my faith will lose in a landslide. Nor is it helpful to tell me that historical truth cannot always be determined with certainty. I understand that, but there are a lot of potential stumbling blocks that are not the subject of much debate.

    Remember–you are asking me to believe that God, not an imperfect human, dictated that his people practice polygamy and told them that their eternal salvation hinged on their acceptance of this principle. We sometimes forget just how difficult this is for objective people to accept. The issue is not whether it is immoral to take multiple, and sometimes very young wives. The issue is whether such a strange institution is a divine institution.

    You are also asking me to believe that God’s representatives on earth, charged with teaching the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, could teach and practice racist nonsense for more than a century, and that God could only get the message to them that they were incorrect many years after most of the rest of the nation had condemned racism for what it is. That is not a trivial matter, and reconciling that fact requires much more than a simple acceptance that all men have human flaws. If they can be so wrong about something so fundamental, then what is the point of having apostles and prophets in the first place and why would I trust them on same sex marriage or any other difficult issue?

    I will stop there, but the questions go on. Inoculation (or whatever you want to call it) is probably an essential starting point. However, I don’t want to be patted on the head and reassured. If you are going to reach people like me, then you have to come with answers which at least demonstrate that you have taken the questions seriously. That is extremely difficult to do in any classroom because there are very few people capable of dealing with those issues, and the risk is high that you will raise far more questions than answers.

    Maybe it would be good enough if we let go of our obsession of testifying that we “know” certain things to be true and focused more on faith as an expression of commitment to a way of life. That might take the pressure off people like me who believe that if we can’t resolve these issues satisfactorily, there is no place for us in the church.

  47. Wonderful comments! Thanks! Struggling (#46), thank you for your honesty. I think we deal with hard issues far better one-on-one than in a classroom. Your candid response is thought-provoking, enlightening, and rather heart-wrenching. Thank you so much for being willing to articulate your thoughts. They are important and add significantly to the conversation.

  48. Lulubelle says:


    Thank you so much for the thoughtful post. I could’ve written myself, though not so eloquently. I have been so completely and thoroughly frustrated when I have voiced my doubts to any hard core believer. Without exception, I inevitably get told that I am on the road to apostacy. That beware of my intellect because it’ll get me out of the church, if I just pray harder I’ll get the answer that it’s true, and what anti Mormon is feeding me this stuff? What I find over and over again is that very few Mormons are willing to even look at these topics, much less discuss them in a rational manner. Many of my closest strong member friends don’t even know about most of this stuff. I asked one what she thought about Joseph Smith practicing polygamy and she laughed and said, “Everyone knows Joseph didn’t practice polygamy– Brigham did.” I almost choked. No, the church doesn’t teach hard aspects of the church. In a 200+ page manual on Joseph Smith that we’re studying for the next 2 years – TWO YEARS – there is ONE sentence in there about polygamy– ONE. That is shameful. What happened for me is that I read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven and then started fact checking. And that’s where my entire wobbling faith was shaken to its very core. If I had maybe learned about a few of these things in church (mind you, I had been to the temple, was born and raised in the church, and went to BYU and am quite intelligent), I may not have been so completely and utterly shocked. Instead, it led me to wonder what else the church was hiding– and if it really was the true church, why hide history? The truth can and should be able to withstand scrutiny. So what else is there that they didn’t want me to know and why?

    As it stands, I simply don’t know how to accept Joseph’s polygamy, the kinderhook plates, MMM, polyandry, seer stones and more. I know men aren’t perfect but I expect great things of a prophet chosen by God. So much is expected of me (of my time, my money, my energy, my resources) from this church – and I’m not a prophet. How could God expect less of Joseph? If I were sleeping with other men, lying to my husband about these relationships, and more, would God really be giving me tremendously profound revelations in the midst of it? I can’t imagine he would.

    I have so many other hangups and questions and despite so much prayer, I’ve never received that awesome confirmation that this church is the one and only true one.

    I do know that God loves me, that Jesus was the son of God, that he died for my sins, that through his atonement, my flawed sould will be forgiven and hopefully will make it to heaven. The rest? I simply don’t know but I wish the church would speak LOUDLY on some of these very important issues. Hiding it is bad news.

  49. Lulubelle: Don;t feel too bad, I’ve been told I was on the road to apostasy a few times myself. So we’re not alone! ;) Yours and struggling’s comments remind me of Richard Bushman’s Introduction he delivered at a conference last summer. You might be interested in checking it out here:

  50. Parenthetically, I think Krakauer’s “Under the Banner” is a rather problematic approach to the LDS faith in general for a lot of reasons. Some of the same things you might find troubling about certain church-written works are (in my opinion) more evident in Krakauer’s work. If the Church can be accused of whitewashing things, Krakauer can most certainly be accused of doing the opposite, and I think rightfully and pursuasively so. It’s simply not a reliable work on LDS history specifically. I found Craig Foster’s review helpful in that regard, aside from my own conclusions.

    There are troubling enough aspects about Church history without having to pay attention to poor or slanted arguments from certain writers.

    I’m very glad you have a firm testimony of Christ.

  51. Lu, sorry to be a comment-hog but I thought of one more piece of advice. You said:

    “I have so many other hangups and questions and despite so much prayer, I’ve never received that awesome confirmation that this church is the one and only true one.”

    Maybe one way to go about things is to start smaller. Perhaps it would do well to read Alma 32, and plant the seed of faith regarding whether or not God wants you to remain in the LDS Church and stick with it despite the things that trouble you. Then you can at least have peace that for the time being you’re in the right place for you, rather than tackling the larger issue of the Church being the “only true and living church,” (which, by the way, does not preclude important truths from being discoverable elsewhere). Let me know what you think.

  52. #48 & 49: Who is most likely to find the struggling to find it, or one who thinks they have it , but don’t?

  53. Lulubelle says:

    BHodges: Wow, that is actually a very good suggestion, one I haven’t thought of, and one I can comfortably do. I will start small and I will go to the Lord with that question. And then I’ll go from there. Thank you (sincerely).

  54. No sweat, Lu. Go with God. (But read Alma 32 first!) ;)

    Bob: A very apt question.

  55. Thomas Parkin says:

    #52. It’s always a struggle, isn’t it? I think if it is coming easily to someone … they should ask if it is really coming at all. It is always a struggle because, if for no other reason, we stand in our own way. ~

  56. struggling says:

    Thank you Margaret. I feel better already. Perplexed, frustrated and even a bit angry, but still better!

  57. Struggling–be blessed.

  58. The Right Trousers says:

    I think we put far too much emphasis on Knowing The Truth in the first place.

    Alma 32 tells a story about you. (Yes, you!) In it, you work your guts out getting a little plant to grow with only a little bit of evidence that it’ll work out. You have 1) someone else’s witness that it’ll be great when it bears fruit; and 2) you’ve seen it sprout.

    We often appeal to this chapter as a guide to gaining sure knowledge of the “truthfulness of the Gospel”. What it’s really about is living and working on partial knowledge of the Word’s *goodness*. This state of mind and spirit is what Alma defines as “faith”.

    I don’t know why we approach the Gospel as an axiomatic system with spiritual predicates dispensed like little candies as rewards for obedience. (Just do X, Y and Z, and you’ll know Prophet(Joseph)!) It never worked like that for me, even when I thought it did.

  59. Dennis Mc Kay says:

    Part of my “inoculation” program is to point out that we are to live by faith to some extent and that having these unanswered questions gives us the opportunity to use that faith. It is in a way an Abrahamic Test for us and frankly I’d rather take this kind of test (PH ban, Plural marriage, MMM, KSS, KHP, etc) than have to put my son on an altar. I take comfort in knowing/believing that God will not do or require us to do that which is evil.

    The two things one must not do are (a) to believe on the strength of Scripture or on any other evidence that God is in any way evil (In Him is no darkness at all) (b) to wipe off the slate any passage which seems to show that He is.  Behind the shocking passage be sure there lurks some great truth which you don’t understand.  If one ever does come to understand it, one sees that it is good and just and gracious in ways we never dreamed of.  Till then it must just be left on one side . . . Would not a revelation which contained nothing that you and I did not understand, be for that very reason rather suspect?  To a child it would seem a contradiction to say both that his parents made him and God made him, yet we see how both can be true. – Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by W.H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt Brace

    I feel that by doing this I am in effect giving my kids “permission” to doubt or be disturbed by some of our history without giving up on the church. They can look on their concerns as laudable in that they are persevering and exercising faith notwithstanding the challenges. I always make sure to show case the strengths of the church including and in particular the Book of Mormon.


  60. Dennis Mc Kay says:

    I also believe that it is preferable for my kids to hear any “challenging” news from me and not the antis. That way I can put my spin on the matter and thus help prepare them for the challenge when it comes. I first heard about MMM in seminary about two months after joining the church in my 19 th year. It never posed a problem to me, IMO, because I first heard about in church and there had it explained to me.
    A quote I have shared with my kids:

    “The human brain is, in large part, a machine for winning arguments, a
    machine for convincing others that its owner is in the right – and
    thus a machine for convincing its owner of the same thing. The brain
    is like a good lawyer: given any set of interests to defend, it sets
    about convincing the world of their moral and logical worth,
    regardless of whether they in fact have any of either. Like a lawyer,
    the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is
    sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue.” – Robert Wright

  61. Mark D. says:

    The trouble can occur when some members of the church are simply completely uncomfortable or unwilling to talk about anything in Sunday School that you can’t read directly out of a church manual.

    They call it “Gospel Doctrine” class for a reason. If something can’t be established as a contemporary church doctrine or alternatively have a slam dunk case from the scriptures, I never bother to bring it up. More trouble than its worth.

  62. #59 & 60 Dennis–

    Great comment!

  63. @59 Dennis—

    I accept that there is no evil in what God is or does. However, it seems that our logic and reasoning can break down too easily in trying to analyze even moderately complex ethical questions. There is no evil in God, but do we really understand good and evil, or are we just projecting our 21st-century sensibilities onto God and hoping He acts accordingly? We seem to ascribe that behavior often to the 19th-century saints (when they justify polygamy and other “difficult” issues for us), and it goes both ways.

  64. Bro. Jones says:

    #50 Trouble is, although we like to demonize Krakauer (and I too am not the greatest fan of his book), that’s a cop-out for dealing with his evidence. “In Sacred Loneliness” is a fantastic, meticulously researched book about the wives of Joseph Smith, and I have yet to hear someone dismiss it as twisted history or the opposite of whitewashing. If we can’t simply criticize the authors of such a work as a means of dealing with the evidence, then what do we do?

    For my own part, I became (and remain) Mormon because of a fairly miraculous, almost mystical experience. Absent that experience, there’s no way I would be able to ask the questions that Struggling and Lulubelle have and still remain a member of the church.

  65. I never had a problem with the hard history, because I joined as an adult, after having been disillusioned about religion for all my adult life. So I knew all the arguments against, and the arguments for felt more persuasive to me. I never expected church leaders to be perfect, or to have all the answers, or to be a substitute for my own deep efforts to hash it all out and make my own decisions. Yes, sometimes church leaders can be wrong, even badly wrong for many years, as we see in the case of the Priesthood Ban. In any case, our responsibility to do what’s right is our own, only, and can’t be ceded to anyone else.

    That Joseph Smith was who he was just shows me the sort of person God may choose to speak to and through. Seeing him as a real person, instead of a fairy tale, only confirms to me that even I, with my particular flaws and virtues, might be of some use to God as well. It gives me courage to try and see if I can.

    For children, I feel the right approach is to tell them the whole truth from the very start, and answer whatever questions it brings up. Children aren’t less intelligent than adults, they just know less. In many ways they’re smarter. We don’t need to water anything down for them. We do need to show them that it’s okay not to know everything or understand everything. That faith brings enormous blessings. That God’s ways are sometimes mysterious to us. That it’s always okay to think what we think about things. We always have permission to form in our own mind our own opinions. That’s what I’m doing my best to teach my son.

  66. A couple of things bother me on this post:
    1) I feel the “Spirit” (defined in many ways), can work by putting doubts into ones mind as well as faith.
    2) I don’t understand this statement about 21st Century thinking that’s come up two or tree times. What’s it mean? I have studied the 19th C. I think I know fairly well that thinking. I spent most of my 64 years in the 20th C., and feel most of my think is still there. What has come in the last 9 years that is so different?

  67. Emily U says:

    I grew up on the sanitized version of church history and had to deal with the difficult parts of it on my own as an adult. It was especially difficult because my parents have never been interested in acknowledging that parts of our history just do not make sense. So knowing that other people in the church really struggle with things has been a comfort for me.

    My biggest regret about not being “innoculated” is that I think I talked someone out of joining the church because I hadn’t fully processed things I was learning about polygamy. My husband’s college room mate was taking the discussions at the same time I was reading Avery & Tippet’s book “Mormon Enigma:Emma Hale Smith” I had joined the missionaries in a discussion in which our friend asked about polygamy. I monologed about how Emma never approved of it and other points of controversy. The poor missionaries just moved on and didn’t know what say. The guy didn’t join the church, and I feel guilty about that. If only I’d dealt with the polygamy issue sooner, I could have addressed our friend’s questions in a more thoughtful way.

    On the other hand, it seems a bit dishonest to sell people the sanitized version and then leave them to deal with the full story after they’ve been baptized or grown up to be adults. I suppose there’s a balance to be struck, although it’s not an easy one.

  68. @66: I just say 21st-century to be absolutely contemporary. Substitute “late 20th-century” if you prefer.

  69. Over the course of years of my membership in the Church (since 14 when I was baptized but only member of my family to join) I have realized that in my “early” years the Church and all connected to the Church was viewed through very rose colored glasses. I thought that all families were loving caring and no-one ever ever argued with their spouse. I remember being “witness” to the first counselor and his wife having a heated argument in their kitchen during a YM/YW activity and wondering “how could that be?” Since those early years I too have encountered much of the non-Church materials, let alone events I never heard about in Sunday School or Seminary, e.g., MMM, racism, Church purchases of fake historical materials and have come to realize my testimony must be in and of the Gospel because the Church, no matter how “pure” it might be on paper, involves the human factor. And if one thinks the Church’s history will be as lilly white as the exteriors of some of our temples, they will come away disappointed and jaded. And at times I have found myself in that audience.
    Yet, as I grow older (now in my 50’s) I find most of the issues we view as being the Hard to be more the basis for us to exercise a greater degree of faith, not to ignore those issues but to be knowledgeable about them for if anything that angers me, it is those members who simply respond with “didn’t know, don’t want to know and don’t need to know”. How often I heard that when I served in southern Germany from Catholics, i.e., grandfather was baptized and died Catholic, father was baptized and died Catholic and I was baptized Catholic so I too will die Catholic….

    Such an approach is to me a refusal to exercise intelligence even though we claim the “Glory of God is Intelligence”.
    I had another reminder of such a viewpoint this last Sunday when an eagle scout project was announced for this coming Saturday, June 6th. I made a comment about “D Day” and in response another elder (not missionary, but EQ member) who wears his Republican membership as a badge not only on his heart but his arms and forehead, said “D-Day, oh, yeah, when Obama was elected president”. I reminded him that D-Day was June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy, and so on. His response was simply “before my time, don’t need to know about it”.
    That kind of attitude especially when it comes to the Hard topics involving the Church is one which gives me reason to quake in my boots…..

  70. Here’s why Inoculation is the wrong word (in addition to John F’s well-articulated reasons): the problem is not the danger that “truth” or “facts” or “the whole story” pose (setting aside the epistemological presumptions inherent to framing things that way); it’s the sense of having something (or many things) kept from you by the Gatekeepers. It’s not that people can’t live with a founding Prophet who did x, y, and z (though there are obviously those who can’t). It’s that people can’t live with the sense that they were taught systematically and thoroughly from childhood in a manner that completely ignored these questions. The common refrain, in my experience, is not “I can’t believe that God’s prophet did that”; it is “what else is being kept from me and why should I trust anything the Church tells me about history?”

    Dealing directly with difficult questions is not inoculation. It’s repentance, a demonstrated commitment to do a better job at telling the truth, not deliberately hiding parts of it, and earning the trust of a generation of LDS raised in the information age.

  71. Ron Madson says:

    Ditto to #64 (Bro. Jones). I identify to a degree with Lulbelle and Struggling and it is patronizing nonsense for us to suggest those with honest questions and angst are defective or that the evidence of a lot of ugly history does not exist because we can find some flaw(s) in those that bring it to our attention. I bristle at the Thomas Marsh “story” every time I hear it—it is a myth that allows us to avoid the real reasons he was cut off from the church. The traditions of my father(s) that was repeated in my home from childhood was “in this faith you are only required to believe the truth.” Now, what is truth remains open for discovery through different means. I believe I have the ability to compartmentalize that which I hold as truth and that which I consider something I do not have to accept and yet remain in the covenant. Do I believe in the fruits of the restored gospel? Yes. The BOM, DC , further light and knowledge given through Holy Ghost, and good works of our community of faith. Do I appreciate Joseph Smith’s remarkable gifts? Yes, but do I worship him in any form? Nope. I have always been bothered by John Taylor’s comparison of Joseph as being the greatest–“save” Christ of course. Jesus identified John the Baptist as the greatest prophet and yet John declared: “I must decrease that he might increase.” IMO that should apply to Joseph Smith and everyone else that takes his place at the head of this church. The DC states in Section 107 that all in our church are subject to disciplinary council–even prophets and that if Joseph did not remain faithful that another would be planted in his stead.
    Did Joseph fabricate polygamy or apply it in ways that was not God’s will? I do not know but evidence does not look good to say the least, but if he did then he will have to account for that himself and I am not required in a temple recommend to take a position on that issue. Did the leaders wrongfully exclude the priesthood from blacks? The evidence is fairly clear. Do I reject the militant war like approach taken by leaders in our faith from the Missouri land wars (where they ignored DC 98 given five years earlier) to the de facto endorsement of a war of aggression into Iraq. Absolutely. Would I sustain in a vote spending billions for a mall (with million dollar condos to be built so many can look down on us struggling in the mists of darkness) while only 1 to 2% of our tithing is used annually for charities/humanitarian relief? No, but I have no say. I have other reservations and suspicions and I refuse to easily dismiss evidence and “whitewash” history because in the end there is a blowback for us and our children if we do. And if we are under condemnation and the heavens are sealed today, then why do I have faith in the restored gospel? Because like Bro. Jones I am staying with this covenant community because of spiritual experiences that transcend the evidence—and because the fruits of practicing this faith are an anchor to me and my family in increasing our faith in Christ. Having exposure to the “hard history” is not easy but necessary. Out of it comes hopefully a more Christ centered faith. The process of covering it up creates a more prophet/human centered faith as we try to justify and “protect” their image and more forcefully pledge allegiance to mere mortals…and in the end it begins to crumble taking with it our faith in that which is worthy of worship and loyalty…

  72. #71 Ron,

    Nicely said.

  73. struggling says:

    I don’t understand this idea that encounters with damning evidence should be viewed as an Abrahamic test of faith. I don’t believe that God considers it a virtue to hold to a belief in the face of what one considers to be powerful evidence to the contrary. All kinds of nonsensical beliefs can be justifed with that kind of reasoning.

    I understand why somebody might say that they believe in spite of evidence that others consider damning, because their belief is based on personal spiritual experiences that convince them. However, to suggest that others should regard that kind of evidence as a test of their faith will not persuade anybody. In fact, it will probably make them wonder whether you are so immersed in your religion that you no longer can think rationally and objectively about it. People who lack faith are trying to decide whether they should believe at all, and they will think you are being completely irrational if you tell them that the issues that persuade them not to believe are just tests of their faith. If you start with the conclusion that the church is true, then you can manufacture all kinds of reasons to explain away the contrary evidence. It doesn’t matter, because you begin with a foregone conclusion. However, if one starts with the question whether the church is really true or not, you will never convince them by telling them that the contrary evidence is just a test of faith, or that it is not important to their salvation and so they don’t need to know or other similar kinds of statements that I often hear. You have to explain why that evidence does not imply what they think it implies. Alternatively, you have to honestly say that a spiritual experience trumps reason. In that case, the discussion stops because there is nothing left to talk about.

    Based on what I can see, either God talks to you or he doesn’t. He also seems quite arbitrary in deciding who he speaks to. Of course, we still need to explain how one can know whether it is the voice of God one is hearing or whether those thoughts and impressions have a different origin.

  74. Lulubelle says:

    Ron Madson and Struggling: Thank you so much for your amazingly brilliant posts. I don’t feel like such an alien anymore. I mean, I still do, but I know I’m not alone and I so totally appreciate it. I also appreciate everyone on this board for not flaming me, as has happened so many times on similar boards when I’ve posted near identical comments. That means everything to me right now. And like you, Ron, I am not ready to leave the church. I believe in the Book of Mormon. I believe in the restored gospel. I believe that Joseph might have fallen out of favor with God much like David in the Bible. It’s why I’m not so sure I believe in the temple– actually, I’m quite sure I don’t believe in the temple at all. I wish I did. I wish my faith was strong and I could just believe and follow everything without question. But try as I have my entire life, I’ve come to the sad realization that I can’t and I don’t. That said, I’m staying in the church. I believe it teaches some great things. I won’t lie to my kids and profess to agree with everything. I won’t follow everything. I don’t pay much of a tithe at all anymore. I feel like I’ve donated enough to the church to last 10 lifetimes. I do donate to the church’s humanitarian aid fund. I can’t imagine that Jesus, who owned hardly anything at all and who lived among the poorest and most humble, would agree with our lavish temples and land holdings in the most wealthiest neighborhoods in the world. I am tired of being told that I should pay this obscenely wealthy church before I buy shoes for my kids (not that my family is financially struggling because we are not). I am disgusted when I hear stories of members in extreme poverty giving 10% when they can hardly feed their families so the church can put rare marble in these grandiose temples. I cannot allow a church to tell me what kind of underwear to wear and when and how to wear my panties and bras. That said, I am proud of the morals and work ethic this church teaches. There is much love and many reasons to stay. Plus, it would break my family’s heart if I left and I will not allow any religion to destroy my family. It’s a struggle but I have learned to make peace with my decision to be a Cafeteria Mormon. I don’t pretend to be otherwise and that, for now, is the best I can do. I no longer am angry with myself that my faith is weak or that I am a questioner and that I do not stop thinking or questioning once the prophet has spoken. God loves me for who I am. I try to be a good and moral person, to pray to Him, to love my Savior, and to do right by others. And that, for now, has to be good enough.

  75. s. rich, I think I speak for the majority that politics has no place on this strand.

    [editor’s note: s. rich’s off-topic comments have been removed.]

  76. Bro. Jones says:

    #73 If I came off as questioning your faith or your struggles with it, I’m sorry–that absolutely wasn’t my intent. I have nothing but respect and admiration for my brothers and sisters who question and seek out greater understanding and peace.

    I was just making the point that I, personally, haven’t found a solution to the issues raised in this thread. When my anger and hurt rise after considering troublesome historical or political issues, I don’t have a well-developed way of exercising my faith to deal with it. I have asked a couple of times in prayer, point blank: “God, do you really want me to still be Mormon?” My continued membership speaks to the answer, but my frustrations themselves remain unsolved.

  77. struggling says:

    Brad: I agree with you, but your comment raises an important issue. I can live with a Prophet who did x, y and z and I am not angry with the Church for keeping information from me, although I know people who do feel that way. The issues for me are a God who is reported to have done x, y and z, who apparently behaves in ways that just seem bizarre and, well, ungodlike, and a church that requires me to believe that this is how God operates.

  78. #64, Bro. Jones: I’m not sure I understand your response. Hopefully I can clarify. I wouldn’t seek to “demonize” Krakauer and I don’t believe my reply was a “cop-out” that didn’t seek to deal with evidence. Since this particular discussions isn’t about that particular concern I added the link to Foster’s review as an aside, not an attempt at a full discussion on the book. Further, aspects of that review (most notably in the second half) deal directly and specifically with his evidence and methodology.

  79. struggling, fwiw, I have very little understanding of the system that drives “how God operates”. Our scriptures aren’t consistent with regard to that issue, and I just can’t fathom a lot of things with my limited intelligence and insight. I just don’t see the big picture all that well, and we have almost NO clear revelation concerning the afterlife and how being like God actually “operates”.

    I just know I have found great peace and insight and inspiration in the Restored Gospel that is found in the LDS Church – and I really don’t like the theological implications of pretty much everything else I’ve studied (except Buddhism, which I really like). It’s the open canon, the evolving understanding, the willingness to jettison earlier beliefs (to let the pruning continue, so to speak), the grandeur of the cosmology that spark my mind – but it is my experiences with the Spirit in ways that just can’t be explained in any other way that really ground and bind me.

    I also feel for and admire deeply those who have not had those type of experiences but still endure to the end, and I have absolutely no idea why all don’t have them. I know with certainty that it is not directed caused by increased righteousness or effort or strict obedience, since I know people who are more of those things than I am who have not had those experiences. I am left baffled and amazed, and wishing desperately that I understood better – but I don’t.

    All I can say is that I know for myself what I know for myself – and strive to let others know for themselves whatever they know for themselves without belittling it in any way. God’s way is higher than mine, but I can’t say mine is higher than anyone else’s. It just is mine – and I have come to find great peace in that.

    Hang in there, please – and try to find peace in your own way, whatever that is.

  80. Bro. Jones says:

    #78 Your reply in particular was not a cop-out, and the FARMS response to Krakauer’s book does indeed take issue with some of his evidence and claims. But the trouble is, the entire response is very similar to the FARMS response Fawn Brodie’s book: one may disagree with particular interpretations or evidence, fine, but the fact remains that some of the evidence is irrefutable, and merely dismissing the rest of the book does not address the significance of that evidence–especially for those struggling with the spiritual implications of that evidence.

    Granted, scholarly responses can’t be all things to all people–they can’t both be academic inquiries and soothing, faith-promoting tracts. But take, for example, Joseph Smith’s marriage to Helen Mar Kimball: it may be incorrect to say that Joseph married multiple 14-year-old girls, and it may also be incorrect to infer that such an age difference was unheard of in that time and place. Krakauer does indeed overstep his bounds with claims like that, and the FARMS response correctly calls him on it.

    But it does nothing to confront the significance of polygamy (and in particular, Joseph’s marriage to Helen) for someone struggling with faith. Nor does it provide any such information for someone who’s not struggling–instead, it just infers that since a lot of Krakauer’s points are suspect, all of them must be.

    Again, I’m not saying there’s a perfect response to this, just saying that dismissing Krakauer (or others) doesn’t actually solve the problem of problematic issues and faith.

  81. Bro. Jones says:

    Whoops, messed up italics. Was supposed to say:

    Nor does it provide any such information for someone who’s not struggling–instead, it just infers that since a lot of Krakauer’s points are suspect, all of them must be.

    Again, I’m not saying there’s a perfect response to this, just saying that dismissing Krakauer (or others) doesn’t actually solve the problem of problematic issues and faith.

  82. #71 Ron, I want to be clear. You said it is “patronizing nonsense for us to suggest[…]that the evidence of a lot of ugly history does not exist because we can find some flaw(s) in those that bring it to our attention.”

    I don’t believe my response regarding Krakauer skirted the existence of “ugly history” by “finding flaws in those that” tell it. This lends back into my original thoughts on developing in our youth and church members a desire and the ability to be more specific regarding historical inquiry. There are some significant problems with Krakauer’s book, but it seems to me that some people tend to accept things he wrote on faith. I don’t want to turn this discussion into a full analysis of Krakauer, but I would say there are better and more accurate books and articles that are critical of the Church than what Krakauer provided. Perhaps this is similar to members who would buy a book at Deseret Book and simply accept it on face value that there are no big mistakes or cover-ups or omissions. You and I might find such an approach faulty. By the same reasoning, it would be faulty to accept other works one wouldn’t find at Deseret Book on face value, either.

  83. Ron: Where can we find information that states only 1 to 2% of tithing is used annually for charities/humanitarian relief? If it is too off topic feel free to contact me via the link on my blog.

  84. Bro. Jones: Speaking specifically about the methodological and historical issues Foster discusses, it seems we will have to agree to disagree on how that particular review plays out.

  85. Bo. Jones: “But it does nothing to confront the significance of polygamy (and in particular, Joseph’s marriage to Helen) for someone struggling with faith.”

    I would still suggest finding a better source for the reasons you give: there are problems with the book. Again, no need to rely on Krakauer to research plural marriage. Seems to me a rather inferior source compared to what else is available (and especially compared to rigorous personal research). I would apply similar standards to Church material. More needs to be done than simply citing one source or the other.

  86. In reply to #83:

    The amount of actual CASH spent on charitable things is given on the Church’s website. For 1985-2008, it equaled $282.3 million. Divide this by 22 years, and it comes out to around $12.8 million annually in CASH spent. (The amount of aid is often given as more than that, but that includes the “value” of labor donated by members).

    The amount of tithing isn’t readily obtained. An article back in 1991 suggested at least $4.7 Billion annually, around 15 years ago. I don’t have a number, but it is certainly in the billions range.

    Divide $12.8 million by $3 billion (being extremely conservative), and the amount spent by the Church on charities / humanitarian relief is actually less that 0.5%.

    This is an especially small amount given the >$1 billion the Church is spending on the mall downtown, or the marble the import for temples from other continents, or etc…

  87. The problem isn’t Joseph Smith.

    The problem is that the US is full of uptight, sexually repressed, judgmental, close minded Puritan throwbacks.

  88. Matt W. says:

    Mike S.- Actually, that’s cash donations, as opposed to materials given, and neither has any thing to do with labor or the value of labor. Materials Assistance is where the church sends food, towels, bandages or other materials that are not cash.

    Further, that number is not related to tithing or fast offerings, but only the humanitarian aid funds of the church, which are separate, to the point of having a separate line item on the tithing slip, just like the perpetual education fund.

    If Mike’s Comment get’s deleted for being a thread jack, delete mine too please.

  89. #86 Mike S.

    I am reading the cash figure differently. I see the cash figure on the fact sheet as cash donations given by the church to various charitable needs, not the actual cash spent on charitable things. So in other words the church wrote checks worth $182 million between 1985-2008 going directly to other charitable agencies/causes. If the church goes out and buys 300,000 emergency kits for example, the money spent on that would not show up as a ‘cash donation’ on that fact sheet, because cash was not donated, but rather emergency kits.

    Am I interpreting this correctly?

  90. Sorry. Looks like I just repeated Matt W.

  91. #86 – That’s an incredibly slanted way to frame the giving the Church does, as it totally ignores in real numbers all of the non-cash contributions provided – which are quite massive when put into a dollar amount. When you add the worth of food distributed through the Bishop’s Storehouse and total fast offering contributions into the mix (which must be done to give a more accurate view of “charitable giving” – especially when being compared to other religious organizations), the stats change radically.

    Also, to compare charitable contributions to tithing is a false dichotomy. It appears to claim that the Church actually uses tithing as a primary funder of charitable assistance, when it does not. Tithing is used for other purposes, and the only reason for comparing the two is to complain about how much the Church spends on non-charitable things – like building temples. It pits charitable donations against temples – and that is a landmine issue for those who don’t think temples are all that important. When the mall is included (or any other commercial endeavor), the implication is that tithing money is the source of that development – another false claim.

    Summary: The Church never has claimed to give huge amounts of cash for charitable donations; it has, in fact, stated explicitly that it prefers to give tangible resources in lieu of cash. To focus strictly on its cash donations – and to pit temple building against cash welfare assistance – and to mix indiscriminately religious, charitable and commercial endeavors as if they were the same thing funded through the same pot, therefore, is an inherent set up for failure – a stacked deck from the very beginning.

    This needs a separate thread, not an incredibly simplistic and faulty generalization.

  92. What #90 said. Sorry for the repetition.

  93. Mike S. (#86), looking at what the church publishes it would appear that the $282 million you quote is what has been received, not spent. And it appears that would include donations to the humanitarian aid fund and possibly even the fast offering funds forwarded from wards, since they focus so much on church welfare. So if any of that comes from tithing funds, it would be a significantly smaller amount than the 0.5% you calculate.

    In the UK, where ,a href=”> church financial statements are mandated by law, the Church in 2007 had £32.4 million in “voluntary income” (i.e. tithing) from the UK members, and listed expenditures of £20.5 million for “provision of worship facilities”, £4.1 million for “religious education”, £1.5 million for missionary work, £3.1 million for “genealogy work”, and £1.5 million for “community services”.

    It’s interesting to note that of the £1.5 million for “community services”, £1.3 million came from “restricted funds” (listed as public affairs, youth conferences, humanitarian aid fund, temples construction fund, fast offering fund, Book of Mormon fund, and missionary support fund) and £222,000 came from unrestricted funds (i.e. tithing). And it just so happens that the £222,000 is the amount spent on the support costs (staff costs, travel, general administration, material and supplies, depreciation) for these “community services”.

    So if you’re a member of the LDS Church in the UK, 0% of your tithing donation goes directly to charities/humanitarian need, which supports Ray’s point that the church gives tangible resources instead of cash. Except that these statements in the UK are to account for all cash spent, whether donated directly to another charity or agency, or spent on the purchase of resources.

    I also agree with Ray that this tangent needs a full post and comments.

  94. Screwed up the link. Should be church financial statements

  95. When the mall is included (or any other commercial endeavor), the implication is that tithing money is the source of that development – another false claim. – Ray, #91

    Without a public release of financial statements, Ray, you really can’t label this claim as false. I agree with you, that it is not very likely that the church is using current tithing funds on this project, but there is no way of being certain. And even if they are solely using income generated from investments, the original capital had to come from somewhere. It started out as tithing funds at some point in time.

  96. Bro. Jones says:

    #85 I agree completely. I think all I’m trying to say is that if a member were to approach me with a troubled mind, having just read Krakauer, I’m not sure that the FARMS response alone would be the most complete and appropriate thing to provide. To a jaded academic like me who treats all things with cold, hard logic, I love nothing more than well-researched footnotes. :)

    There are definitely better sources, including those critical of the Church, but when high-profile things come down the pike like “Under the Banner of Heaven,” people aren’t always reaching for the better sources.

  97. Cool, B. Jones. I think that lends something into my earlier statements about helping people understand sources, methods, bias, research, etc. as a part of preparing them to face intellectual criticism.

  98. I don’t think it would be at all accurate to say that Krakauer was using his book to paint a broad brush picture of Mormonism as a whole. It was largely a portrait of extreme fundamentalism. Extreme fundamentalism is disturbing, and it exists within the church as well as without. It gets disturbing when we have to face facts about our own personal extremism.

  99. 95: Kari, the church has said ad nauseum through the process of building the mall that no tithing funds are involved, that all funds derive from the commercial/investment arm of the church.

    And we can’t really even assume that tithing was the germ of the commercial/investment arm way back at some point. Much of the church’s investments are based on real estate, and vast amounts of real estate, including much of the ground upon which the mall is being built, were acquired by the church in 1847 with the first layout of the city.

    Just sayin’.

  100. Well, I think we’ve pretty much had our conversation. I won’t close it up, but I think it has ended–with a bit of a whimper. The original post was not about the mall or fundamentalism but about faith and hard history. I think much of my own answer comes from a scripture familiar to us all: James 1:5. But wrestling angels is also involved. We have and have had many angels in the Church–all well-intentioned but sometimes confused in their messages. I keep clinging to that shining core which illuminates the way for me–not just in how I view my own past and the past of my religion, but the pasts of the many flawed but good men and women who lived the history. I wrestle with them (in their angelic state) quite politely.

  101. I like the comparison of wrestling angels, Margaret.

  102. And while we’re on the angelic theme, I liked your description of the angelic dancers and the temple (in #7), Margaret.

  103. Here is one rule I have:


  104. Don’t confuse the LDS doctrines of Salvation vs. exaltation.

    Actually, Mormons believe all mankind is SAVED by the GRACE of God, even Hitler. Evangelicals believe a person must perform the WORK of physically “accepting Jesus” vocally to be saved.

    Therefore, mormons believe in being saved by grace and Evangelicals believe in salvation by works (act of being born again).

  105. This guy Ethan is a spammer. He left identical word-for-word comments on about three other blogs.

  106. Tracy Hall Jr says:

    I’m late to this thread but hope I can still share my personal approach to inoculating myself against faith-destroying judgments on the fragmentary shadows of truth that we call “history.”

    I have struggled all my life with a tendency to judge others and have come to believe that the only way I will ever overcome this fault is to take Jesus literally at his word:

    “. . . Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (3 Nephi 14:1-2, Matthew 7:1-2)

    I desperately need the Lord to judge me by the most liberal possible standard! Accordingly I want to learn to be reserved, patient, charitable, — or better yet silent — when presented with the temptation to judge others.

    When I am tempted to apply “contemporary standards” to say that the prophets before President Kimball were “wrong” about the priesthood ban, I am telling the Lord to judge ME by the short and crooked measuring stick of contemporary society.

    It is much safer for me to say “Lord, I know I don’t know the tiniest fraction of what you know about Brother Joseph or Brother Brigham, so I choose to ignore what has been presented to me as ugly and choose to try to love them as I believe you love them. And by the way, please, please, please judge me the same way!”

    Someday the Lord will reveal to us not just all the acts of Joseph and Brigham, but also all their thoughts and feelings. And everyone shall also know all of mine. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

    I trust that I in that day I shall be overwhelmed to learn how the Lord turned our mortal mistakes to his divine purposes. Every time I begin again at “I Nephi . . . “ I marvel how the Lord held Nephi’s moving late-life holographic memoir in reserve for us, knowing that the weaknesses of Joseph and Martin would cause the translation of Mormon’s abridgment of Nephi’s earlier and more detailed record to be lost.

    Had Joseph and Martin not lost the Book of Lehi, we might have known a bit more about the workaday worlds of Lehi and Nephi. But we might never have had such precious treasures as 1 Nephi 1, 1 Nephi 11-14, 2 Nephi 4, and 2 Nephi 33!

    This gives me hope that the Lord has also prepared a way to salvage a little good from my own blunders!


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