Mormons, “Can We Handle the Truth?”

Jack Nicholson, in the movie A Few Good Men, utters the famous line:  “You can’t handle the truth!”  Is that also true of contemporary Mormons?  We can’t handle “truth” about our history?

Julie Smith in her review of the book Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (T&S, 12 Sep 2012) makes the following claim:

I have serious reservations about recommending it to the average church member, if you need your prophet to be larger than life, or even just better than the average bear, this book is not for you.  I think there is a substantial risk that people raised on hagiographic, presentist images of prophets would have the testimonies rocked, if not shattered by this book.

I’m not very confortable hiding Mormon history.  Why can’t we accept that our leaders are human beings?

A recent letter from the European area presidency has requested that LDS Church leaders in northern Europe “work patently and lovingly” with members who struggle with their faith because of information about the LDS Church that they find on the Internet (see Sunstone Sep 2012, p. 60).  A document accompanying the letter asserts that “the church does not hide historical facts” and that “Joseph Smith and the prophets who succeeded him were not wicked or deceiving men.”

Earlier, a bigger packet sent to leaders in Sweden suggested that there are three separate tiers concerning members’ understanding of Church history:

  • the church-lesson level,
  • the anti-Mormon level, and
  • the academic-scientific level.

According to the document, most members live on the church-lesson level, and that level “is enough for one’s salvation.” 

The problems with this concept are numerous.  First, it is not clear to me that even the church-lesson level of history is necessary for anyone’s salvation.  Second, the church-lesson level of history is frequently so sanitized that it can border on historic fiction.  Thus, when investigators and members find out the “truth,” it can be testimony shaking.  Third, not all Internet revelations are anti-Mormon, and they can be more accurate than church-lesson level history.  Perhaps there should be a fourth tier:  “corrections and/or applifications to church-lesson level.”

With the development of the Internet, the LDS Church can no longer control its history.  And not all of its history will be faith promoting.  We need to be totally honest with investigators and members.

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