My History

A long time ago, I wrote that one of the grand narratives of Mormonism is discovery, and that knowledge often requires modifications in world-view. I’m not sure that I like the term world-view anymore, but it can be a useful short-hand. I wrote that a world-view could be imagined as a structure that incorporates points or anchors in a three dimensional space. When new points are realized a modification of the structure is sometimes required. At times this modification is simple and expansive, at others it may be violent and painful.

I have experienced both, yet I remain. This is another grand narrative in Mormonism; to stay while others walk away.

I bleed Mormonism. I count Mormon ancestors back to the beginning and my family is quite active in the Church. My immediate family are practicing and believing members. But my Mormonism arises from something more.

My family also lives a particularly emphatic faith. I grew up with the stories of God’s power made manifest in their lives and those of their parents. The stories of prophecy, miraculous healings, blessings. And I found my own stories. There are a few points in my structure which represent the application of faith. Real points. The voice of God. Power. Revelation. But these are only part.

I grew up with the standard church education, though I started going to Gospel Doctrine at age 16 because I felt like I was being patronized. I had a penchant for speculative doctrine, but my concepts of church history were generally limited to the fruits of correlation. My world view was a simple structure, naïve in many ways, but also serene, useful and empowering.

As happens, discovery continued to reveal pieces challenging to my world view. Points accumulated outside my structure and I remember feeling off balance. Sam talks of salutary virtigo, but this just seemed like the run-of-the-mill kind. I once said it was a crisis, though in retrospect it doesn’t seem much of one. I said it felt like the structure of my worldview was destroyed, not lovingly, but violently and perhaps by my own hand. I see this statement now as rather silly, but it represents the turmoil of the moment. I think that I didn’t know what to do, which for me is terror. I was fortunate. I had people close to me who hadn’t experience my particular struggle, but those far worse–the death of a child, cancer–and remained. Just being able to say that I hurt to someone who loved me and would still love me was healing. It was such a short time.

I reevaluate the points in my view, and I began furiously to see more. I felt like I stood and spread my folded wings. The new construction was different. It seemed more accommodating to future change and dynamic; but it was beautiful, more than the first. I have heard leaders in the Church say that the problem isn’t studying church history. The problem is studying it too little. I believe it.

This is the study of history; it makes us more charitable and forgiving. We become more tolerant and kind. We become stronger and indefatigable. We see the lives of those who went before us as we become part of their story and they part of ours. We find our heroes who suffered greater strains on world view than our own…prophets even, male and female. And some perish, as many have since the beginning, yet I remain.

I believe in the restoration. I believe in the sacraments. I believe in the living Church, of which I am part.


  1. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. This is one of the best testimonies I have ever experienced.

  2. J, this is really quite beautiful. Though our respective experiences are unique, I think, much of this resonated with me. Thank you.

  3. it's a series of tubes says:

    Man, I wish I could better express how much I like this. Especially right now.

  4. Melissa Inouye says:

    Jonathan, this is wonderful. I love it. Thank you!

  5. Namaste, Jonathan. Gratitude.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Great stuff, J. I agree that studying too little is a huge problem. So many people think the remedy is to stop studying cold turkey, but you can’t unring the bell or unswallow the pill; the remedy is to keep going, as counterintuitive as that may seem. I gained an interest in Church history, scripture, doctrine and practice on my mission, and I began studying while yet a missionary from such sources as were available to me, and I’ve maintained that interest and continued that study ever since.

  7. You’ve added another beautiful anchor point in my multidimensional manifold. Thank you.

  8. That sweet spot? You hit a bull’s-eye. Thanks, Jonathan.

  9. “you can’t unring the bell or unswallow the pill”

    Or go back and take the blue pill!

  10. Molly Bennion says:

    Wonderful. Much needed after the Times piece.

  11. jjohnson says:

    Really lovely articulation. I really like it. Thanks, J.

  12. Well said J. Thanks.

  13. !!!

  14. Fantastic read.

  15. A wonderful testimony that rings true for many of us, I think.

  16. Thank you, Jonathan. This recalls things I’ve heard others say, like Don Bradley, who left as he became disillusioned by history, only to realize later that history was richer than he had given it credit for. There is much to inspire faith, much to love, and many reasons for hope.

  17. Emphatic faith? That’s in interesting term, but one that would describe my childhood home as well. The gifts of the spirit took an important place in our training and family identity. I wonder how much such an approach to religion increases the chances of successfully transmitting the religion to the next generation. I’m sure it has a significant effect.

  18. Late to this, but that made it all the more sweet. Thanks, J.

  19. JennyP1969 says:

    This is so beautiful……the words are beautifully crafted together. I love the strength in them. Would you feel comfortable explaining in another post how you can study troubling facts and unhappy doctrines, or learn of discrepancies and remain? I would very much appreciate HOW you got through your “crisis” but now feel it was small. Was it certain types of reasoning? Certain ways to pray? Was it fasting? Temple attendance? What do you mean by a living church? How did you process what you discovered so you could remain? Do you know what happens to those who have no one “who loves me to say I hurt and would still love me”? I would appreciate as much specific information as you feel comfortable to share.

  20. “I have heard leaders in the Church say that the problem isn’t studying church history. The problem is studying it too little. I believe it.

    This is the study of history; it makes us more charitable and forgiving. We become more tolerant and kind. We become stronger and indefatigable. We see the lives of those who went before us as we become part of their story and they part of ours.” succinctly put, and what a marvellous perspective sufficient study gives us.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for the kind words, all.

    Jenny those are good and fair questions. As you note, it is not easy to respond via comment…in fact I don’t know how many posts it would take. I tend to think that most everything I write at BCC reflects my way of seeing things. I generally think that fundamentalism is harmful, and I think that we are all in the same boat, JS, our current stake presidents and RS presidents, and you and I. If you are interested in a few specifics check out my posts here on antinomianism, and perhaps my “letter to a friend.”

    I think that anything living must change. Where there is no change, there is only death.

  22. Jake Cox says:

    Nicely put. Here’s a question, perhaps for another post, on the topic of “don’t study too little Church history.” Do you recommend studying more history because (a) you have actually found satisfying answers to difficult questions (e.g., polyandry), or (b) because you have found inspiring narratives to offset the disturbing narratives? (These are not necessarily exclusive, of course.)

  23. Wise words, J. I like your description of faith as a “three dimensional structure.” I have friends who tend to view the world in binary terms, right/wrong-true/false, and for some of them, church history has proved to be a stumbling block. At the risk of being simplistic, I think of the old math fable, Flatland, where the folks in the two dimensional world can’t begin to imagine the richness and reality of three dimensional space, and are frightened by the implications. More study, indeed. With your encouragement, I have discovered a passion for church history, and find my self amazed at the much more complex, rich reality of the gospel, and take solace in the struggles of both the great and the humble, who are all striving for the same goal. The Atonement is not for perfect people, it is to make imperfect people understand that they indeed, can set out on the road to perfection with realistic hope in the destination.

  24. BHodges says:

    Thanks, J. Resonates.

  25. J. Stapley says:

    Jake, for me, I don’t think that there is a grand key that unlocks the knot, nor do I think it is a matter of balancing things. Instead I think that it is gaining a an increased degree of empathy for the people involved; approaching their situations from their perspective and sharing for brief moments their worlds. As I have done this, then things just seem to make more sense. I might still think that a particular thing is tragic, or messed up, or whatever, but I appreciate why or how or who. Take BY’s Adam-God teachings, e.g.; the fundamentalist approach is that hose teachings are either true it false and that BY was either a true it false prophet. That is silly. I may not agree with those teachings, but I can appreciate them, the impulses that gave rise to them, and the cosmology that relates to them.

    And right on, Kevin.

  26. I think the 2D/3D analogy is perfect… in-depth study brings a perspective unobtainable by those unwilling to pay the price. Studying church history makes me less judgemental more forgiving, understanding and tolerant both of myself and others past and present. In short it helps me to learn from the example of others striving along the path to “come unto Christ”

  27. Thanks, J. This is moving and meaningful to me.

  28. Mark Rice says:

    So what I derive from this post and discussion is that empathy, humility and tolerance (attitudes which may be developed by a compassionate study of history) mitigates many of the problems. Leaders held to our (often erroneous) expectations of behavioral and doctrinal perfection? Not so much…

    Thanks for the edifying post.

  29. Hi J,
    First, let me apologize. This comment has nothing to do with this particular blog post. I searched for some other more appropriate way of contacting you or a more appropriate blog post to post this comment to, but I was not successful – all of the relevant blogs having their comment period expired. Sorry :/
    While on my mission in Long Beach, CA I took a photograph of a “blurry photocopy” of Heber Q Hales’ purported vision ( as a reminder for me to look it up upon returning home. Tonight, more than a year after coming home, I was going through some pictures and saw my reminder, so look it up I did. I found your analysis and I appreciated someone else doing a bit of research on the document’s authenticity so that I don’t have to. Regarding its authenticity, your last comment on the thread was related to the CHL perhaps having documents that may support it? Your links no longer work and I don’t have a CHL website account to view the materials anyway. Did you ever discover anything more or anything relevant?
    In your blog post, you intimated that there were several claims in the vision which are inconsistent with current doctrines or teachings. When I read the report, I saw no such inconsistencies (and in fact found it remarkably consistent with other reports of experiences that I am familiar with), so I’m curious what you found that I did not.
    I also wanted to reply to some of the other comments on the thread, but I suppose the resurrection doesn’t apply to 2 year old internet discussions. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to participate when it was happening – I was actually on my mission at the time.
    If you’d be willing to respond, I’d love to discuss the topic further. I assume you have access to my e-mail address from me posting this comment?
    Again, sorry to post so off topic here.

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