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.