Mormon Doubt: A Personal Observation

The recent article by Laurie Goodstein on nytimes.com has had a cathartic effect on Mormons.  The last time I checked, there had been over 1,000 comments, the majority by Mormons and ex-Mormons.  And Mormon blog sites like timesandseasons.org and bycommonconsent.com have had lengthy discussions on the article.

According to Goodstein:

Around the world and in the United States, where the faith was founded, the Mormon Church is grappling with a wave of doubt and disillusionment among members who encountered information on the Internet that sabotaged what they were taught about their faith, according to interviews with dozens of Mormons and those who study the church.

The article revolves around the personal struggles of Hans Mattsson, a former European high official in the LDS Church.  Trevor Luke provides a nice summary of the Mattsson struggle:

Hans Mattsson, after his stint in church leadership (as a Seventy and Area Authority), began investigating in earnest the questions members had addressed to him in his role as a leader.  His curiosity was piqued when, according to his report, a visiting apostle claimed to have a manuscript containing all the answers to difficult questions, which subsequently failed to appear.  Mattsson alleges that his inquiry into the manuscript’s fate was met with a curt rebuke.

In 2010, seventies Marlin K. Jensen and Erich W. Kopischke and Church historian Richard Turley traveled to Sweden to meet with Hans Mattsson and a small number of other struggling Mormons (25 is the reported number).  Elder Jensen framed these Mormons’ conundrum as a stark choice between hearkening to God or Satan.  However theologically sound this approach, it seems to have backfired, because some of the Swedes retorted that their bad feelings about certain items of Church history might suggest that the Church itself was on the wrong side of the issue.  In other words, the strategy of creating a stark dilemma for the Swedes framed the relationship between the speakers and the audience as oppositional from the outset.  The meeting ended on this note, when Elder Kopischke reportedly presented the Swedes with the choice of reconciling with the Church or leaving it.  A handful, rough 20 percent of the attendees, decided to leave that very day.

Much of Mattsson’s doubt centers around the Church’s lack of candor concerning its history.

In response to the article, S&TDave wrote:

Why is someone’s ignorance so often blamed on the Church?  I understand the LDS curriculum should be upgraded, but that’s not the only problem here.  If someone is surprised by this or that event in LDS history, the reasonable response is:  “So, you haven’t read much LDS history before, have you?  Sorry you’ve previously shown so little in such an important topic.  Here are a couple of titles you ought to go look up and read to get started so at some point you can catch up with the rest of us.”

This comment glosses over the responsibility that the Church and its leaders have to tell the truth about our history.  And by telling the truth, I also mean not leaving important items out.

While many blame the “correlation program” for the pathetic state of “official” Mormon history in Church manuals and periodicals, and in the education system, the problem predates correlation.  I was taught much of the dysinformation in the 1950s and 60s.

To make matters worse, Church leaders warned against attending study groups and symposia, and also cautioned against “anti-Mormon” information found on the Internet,  and took action against the membership of several Mormon individuals who they felt were pushing to hard.

Armand Mauss in a comment on bcc.com, wrote the following:

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

So yes S&TDave, the individual does have a responsibility.  But the Church has a bigger responsibility.  We shouldn’t be running away from our history.  Luckily, in the last few years, many accomplished historians have put pressure on Church authorities to quit sanitizing our history.

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9 Responses to Mormon Doubt: A Personal Observation

  1. Jim Barrus says:

    The Church deals with Spiritual teachings. I doubt they will introduce a history class. If a member reads something that seems against the teachings of the Church or that they hadn’t heard of they should go to the Bishop or leader to dicuss it with him Also pray for guidance. Just taking for granted what they read is true isn’t good. Missionaries advise investigators to read the Book of Mormon and ask God if it is true. the same should be done here.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    I’m not sure which church you attend, but the LDS Church teaches history through its education programs, manuals, and periodicals. In fact, some members have noted that the Church doesn’t have a theology, it has history.
    As noted in the NYTimes article, many Bishops, etc., are poorly equipped to deal with controversial issues. And ironically, many non-churches sources of info are more accurate than Church sources.
    I think you need to pull your head out of the sand.

  3. Allen says:

    Many people who oppose the church take the position that living prophets of God must be correct in all things they do. If men, these critics say, who claim to be prophets of God make just one mistake, they can’t be prophets of God, and the LDS church is a false church. Many LDS, including some General Authorities, try to counteract those claims by taking the position that LDS leaders make no mistakes, and General Authorities, I believe, sanitize the history of the church to show that LDS leaders have not made mistakes. In my blog on speculations in the LDS church, I take the position that LDS leaders are human and thus do make mistakes, and even though they make mistakes, they are still are prophets of God.

    I believe part of this problem is how we teach the great apostasy after the time of Christ. LDS teach that the apostasy occurred because the leaders of the Christian church became wicked, and God withdrew his Priesthood from the church. Instead, we should teach that the leaders of early Christianity became *so* wicked that God withdrew his priesthood from the earth. That is, the problem is not that the early Christian leaders became wicked, but that they became so wicked that they lost the priesthood. Today, we have LDS leaders who have made mistakes, and within that context they have become “wicked” in some things. The question we have to answer is have those leaders become so “wicked” that they have lost their priesthood, or have those leaders become “wicked” but not to the extent that they have lost their priesthood?

    Many LDS, and probably some General Authorities, object to my saying that LDS leaders have become “wicked”. In a more gentle way, I say that some LDS leaders have made mistakes. I referred to them as being “wicked” so I could look at LDS leaders today in the same way that I look at early Christian leaders. The problem, as I see it, is one of degree. LDS leaders have made mistakes. Have these men lost their priesthood due to their making mistakes? We each have to answer that question for ourselves. I’ve answered that question for myself, and I still accept these men as living prophets, even though they (or their predecessors) have made mistakes because they are human and aren’t infallible.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Allen, I don’t believe that the Great Apostasy occurred because of wickedness necessarily. It believe it occurred because Chrisitianity got wrapped up into politics. For example, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. With Christianity being a state religion, the political leaders became too involved in the running of the church. And church officials became too involved in political issues. This caused the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to devolve and do some crazy things during Middle Ages.

      I wonder if something similar isn’t happening today with the LDS Church? Is the Church getting too wrapped up in political and commercial activities to the detriment of spiritual issues? I think the Catholic Church, with the election of Frances as Pope, is stepping back and looking at its priorities. Maybe the LDS Church needs something similar. I think for this to happen there must be pressure from the members. And maybe that is starting to happen.

      • Allen says:

        You’re right, Roger. By the time of the Reformation, the Catholic popes had as much influence as Kings.

        I can only think of two times that LDS General Authorities held high Federal offices. Elder Benson was Secretary of Agriculture. Before him, Elder Smoot was in the Senate. Both Benson and Smoot were members of the Twelve. I just thought of a third. When the Saints first went to Utah, President Brigham Young was governor. There might be others, but those are the ones that come to mind. Many LDS, such as Harry Reed, are influential in politics, but they aren’t General Authorities. The church has always encouraged to be active in politics.

        When the Saints first settled in the Salt Lake valley, they were isolated and had to be self-reliant. Thus, they set up their own commercial ventures. I don’t know the historical reasons why the church got so involved in commercial ventures instead of relying on members to start the businesses. ZCMI is an example of the church starting a business. Fortunately, the church is getting away from such ventures, but it has been a long and slow task. Welfare farms are another example, although they were formed to provide for relief in times of emergency. When I first moved to Massachusetts, our Stake President was asked how he would provide for relief to the members of his stake in times of emergency. His answer was to purchase an apple orchard. For most of the 17 years I lived in that state, the church-owned apple farm provided many opportunities for members to serve on the farm. I remember during the three years I ran marathons, running 13 miles to the farm, meeting my family there who drove there, and then helping clear a field of stones. I don’t know if the church still owns that apple orchard.

  4. Allen says:

    Both Jim and Roger have good points. The church today does focus on spiritual things, but leaders need to realize that the church has a history that should not be ignored. Blemishes in history does not automatically make the church invalid.

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    When I said getting “wrapped up in political and commercial activites,” I wasn’t talking about GAs having political position; I was thinking more about issues like the ERA (amendment), GLBT legislation, Utah liquor laws, SLC mall, and a host of other issues. I think these are distractions which keep the Church from its more spiritual endeavors.

    • Allen says:

      Thanks, Roger, for clarifying your thoughts. There are a lot of opinions about how much involvement churches should have in legal matters and commercial matters. With the exception of the mall, I think the church has been fair in its political involvement. The church has been careful to stay out of politics unless particular laws or legislative bills have a moral impact on citizens. I remember in 1964 (I think that was the year) when Reed Benson spoke in Sacrament Meeting in the Washington DC ward as a representative of the John Birch Society. Also, during that time-frame, men who were high stake and ward officials in that area were listed on political handouts as recommending such and such persons for political office. That doesn’t happen any more.

      I was in Massachusetts during the campaign to get ERA passed, and I don’t know much about the involvement of the LDS church with that. As I understand the situation, the General Authorities felt that sufficient constitutional protections to women already existed and that the ERA was unnecessary and could have undesirable side effects on family units. Also, the wording of the ERA was so general that it could be interpreted in various ways by judges.

      The church financing of the new mall in Salt Lake City is one thing I don’t understand. The main argument I’ve heard in favor of the mall is the revitalization of the downtown area. I understand how the mall could have a positive impact on that, but I don’t understand the justification for the church providing financial backing of the mall. Through Temple Square and the area just east of the temple, the church has had a good impact on the revitalization of the downtown area, and those things have a direct impact on the spiritual aspect of the church. The mall, however, is a commercial venture and not a spiritual one. But, what is done is done. I just hope that tithing funds were not involved with the financing of the mall.

      The church, I believe, has made good progress towards increasing the charitable aspect of membership and missionary work. When I was a missionary in 1956-1957, we had no involvement with charitable work in communities. I’m glad to see the missionaries and members now step in during times of emergency and donate much labor towards cleanup, etc. The church sends service missionaries all over the world, and many LDS professionals give of their time and talents by going to other places to serve.

      As I mentioned in my previous comment, the church is in a transition from being heavily part of the commercial and educational part of the community to primarily being part of the spiritual functions of our community. This transition has been going on for over 150 years, and it has been a time of great change in the church. As the people and commercial entities take over, the LDS church withdraws. This transition is still going on, and changes in how the church interfaces with the public will continue to come.

  6. Susan says:

    Allen says, “With the exception of the mall, I think the church has been fair in its political involvement.” I wholeheartedly disagree. As a semi-active Mormon right here in Utah, the Church’s stance on the LGBT issue and Proposition 8 was an example of a non-profit organization becoming involved in issues that should have been left alone. How many of our LGBT brothers and sisters (who are LDS) were hurt by the church’s “stance”? And although any ecclesiastical organization has a right to set parameters as to what it considers “moral” issues, it politically impacts a lot of members. I, for one, do not want my tithes involved in political activism. Better spent on service, feeding the poor, and other humanitarian needs. I do not need the church using my tithes to tell my neighbor whether she/he needs to be gay or straight. And a whole other topic: Mitt Romney. To this day, we still have discussion in church about the “what ifs” if only Mitt were elected. When was the last time you heard in a Sacrament meeting prayer (opening or closing) of someone praying for our CURRENT government officials? Doesn’t happen. We walk around wallowing in the agony of defeat.

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