In recently months it has become apparent that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been shifting their ministry toward those that have doubts about the truthfulness of the church. Why are we seeing so many talks about how to handle doubt and concerns as it relates to difficult questions about church history? It is in response to a clear problem that the church is facing, more and more members are leaving the church over a variety of issues. From my personal experience, it is not only the increase in the number of people that are leaving but the type of people. There are many that held high positions in the church that are leaving. Also, boosting and adding credibility to this trend, is the courage to speak out has increased from those types of individuals.
From recent talks and devotionals it appears the Church is content with doubling down on using fear tactics and rebuking reason in these efforts. This way of combating the loss of members is understandable, albeit damaging to many. In Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life he says:
It isn’t precisely that people will fight for what they believe. They will fight, instead, to maintain the match between what they believe, and what they expect, and what they desire. They will fight to maintain the match between what they expect and how everyone is acting. It is precisely the maintenance of that match that enables everyone to live together peacefully, predictably and productively. It reduces uncertainty and [chaos]…Jordan Peterson 12 Rules for Life
The Church will always view those that shake the boat or agitate the establishment as bad actors that need to be confronted. They must combat the chaos of shifting authority and material dissent in the name of order. Those that leave the Church are not behaving how everyone in the group expects them to behave. This is a mismatch of expectations and causes tremendous uncertainty. In an organization that claims to be the only true path to eternal life for you and your family, this attempt at ameliorating the chaos is one of life and death (emotional, spiritual, familial, social, and even physical death). In the minds of many, this is the most important decision in their entire life.
One of the most effective ways of keeping people constantly aware of what is expected and what is not within the Mormon church can be accurately summarized by referencing the image on the left. Without realizing it, Mormon culture, influenced by Mormon leaders, has clear demarcation lines on topics you can ask questions about and questions you cannot. In many cases, these topics are considered “classic” anti-mormon topics. The main difference between the time I grew up and now is the advent of google, podcasts, scholarships, and blogs. With these new modes of communication has come the ability to verify source material. This has proven to be a menace to the LDS church.
Growing up, in the rare instance that you overheard someone critical of the Church, or were confronted with “anti-mormon” material, there were ready-made answers to overcome such obstacles. However, before you even could arrive to the supposed answers, there was a very carefully constructed narrative around anti-mormon material. This narrative included looking upon anti-Mormon material as poisonous. And beyond that, even the people that consumed it were also infected with this poison, not to be trusted.
Portraying those that leave the Church as “servants of Satan” or are “bitter, with the presence of darkness” is not new and has been ascribed to scripture and prophets alike. See this page for many fantastic examples. My concern is that in 2019 the Church is doubling down on this tactic. As early as last September (2018) there was an article on lds.org in which the author relayed the following: “I stumbled upon some anti-Mormon articles. These articles presented misconstrued information about Church history and Joseph Smith that left my testimony shaken.”1 Undoubtedly you are left with the idea that anti-Mormon material presents misconstrued information, and as such, should not be trusted. Not only is the material suspect, but the person that questions the church’s teachings is suspect as well. Elder Montoya from the Quorum of the Seventy said, “So-called friends can introduce doubt by asking hurtful questions.”2 How are you supposed to interpret this other than: Anyone who asks you questions that are critical of the Church are not your friend. These messages further ostracize people that may be experiencing the “dark night of the soul” from reaching out to friends and family. These beliefs remove a possible connection that is so desperately needed for those struggling with their faith.
In order to further illustrate, in a more holistic manner, here are a direct quotes from talks from Church leaders (in our modern day) in their effort to establish and re-establish authority and maintain order:
- Let us not doubt that this work is true. Whenever we are tried with doubts, let us ponder our spiritual experiences. Doing so will help us to erase the doubts.2
- Sadly, Steven had chosen to be a perpetual doubter. For him, doubting pleased him more than knowing…3
- Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.4
- Questions and doubt are not the same thing.5
- Whenever I am tempted to doubt the Church or any of its leaders, past or present, I need only to reevaluate my own spiritual state. I ask myself the question, “Am I true?”6
- The power of doubt to destroy faith, hope, and even family is diminished the minute one sincerely says, “I will do the things the Lord has commanded, whether my questions are resolved quickly or ever, because I have covenanted to do so.”7
There is a fundamental problem with this logic of doubt your doubts. If you place the highest value at learning the truth of a subject you are essentially open to the possibility of a belief you once held could be false. How do you truly question without having the truth, or the most reasonable explanation, as the guiding direction of your questioning? The idea that a genuine seeker of truth would rather doubt than know something is laughable at best. Worse than attempting to conflate questions with doubts (because remember there are really only approved conclusions that you are “allowed” to come to) is conflating the truth of something with how committed you are to the institution. This rhetoric is damaging to both the seeker and those that interact with seekers. Why can’t truth be truth?
Anti – Reason
- Some things that are true are not very useful.8
- There is no such thing as an accurate, objective history of the Church without consideration of the spiritual powers that attend this work.8
- Never has there been more information, misinformation, and disinformation; …This is a day of deception.9
- The divine method of learning incorporates the elements of the other methodologies (scientific, analytic, academic) but ultimately trumps everything else by tapping into the powers of heaven.9
- I realized that I didn’t have to know “the meaning of all things”—and I wouldn’t receive all the answers in this life.1
- Anti-Mormon arguments are like conspiracy theories. Skeptics get to present the facts (and half-truths and outright lies) in whatever manner they please.10
- President Oaks acknowledged that some Latter-Saint couples face conflicts over important values and priorities. Matters of Church history and doctrinal issues have led some spouses to inactivity. Some spouses wonder how to best go about researching and responding to such issues. “I suggest that research is not the answer,” he said. “But the best answer to any question that threatens faith is to work to increase faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,”16
Reason was always my friend when I was a true believer. The Church just made sense. I could rely on both spirituality and reason to fully believe and be committed. However, when you begin to research the other side of the coin, you are confronted with reasonable arguments against many of the Mormon church’s truth claims. Dogma like those above point to the classic religious trump card, if reason does not fit with the teachings, choose the Church, if you don’t find out in this life you will after you die. It is dangerous to give up critical thinking in favor of dogma, it can lead to disaster. The disaster of giving up critical thinking in favor of dogma and the authority of “the brethren” is central to the church’s teachings. This idea is captured by M Russell Ballards quote, “Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church. … We will not and … cannot lead [you] astray.
Feelings Are a Reliable Source of Truth
- In stark contrast to the gloom and sickening stupor of thought that pervades the swamp of doubt is the spirit of light, intelligence, peace, and truth that attends the … glorious doctrines of the Restoration. Just read them and ask yourself and ask God if they are the words of lies, deceit, delusion, or truth.9
- Stop spend[ing] a lifetime desperately tracking down the answer to every claim leveled against the Church. Ultimately there has to be affirmative proof, and with the things of God, affirmative proof finally and surely comes by revelation through the spirit and power of the Holy Ghost.”9
- He asked, “How do you feel when you read it?” “Good,” I admitted. “What else do you need to know?” he asked.6 Conversation from son Henry J Eyring, President of BYUI to father Henry B Eyring member of First Presidency of the Church on the problems with the origin of the Book of Abraham
The Mormon church lives and dies on the back of spiritual experience. The method of receiving an answer from heaven is unreliable as all other religions use the same method but come to different conclusions. The Church suffers from black and white thinking. “Ask yourself and ask God if they are the words of lies, deceit, delusion, or truth.” This complex question fallacy presupposes that the Mormon restoration message is either delusion or lies. Spirituality is more complicated than that.
In reference to the last bullet point, I can not emphasize enough how much this makes me physically sick. Does this mean that anything that makes us feel good is true? If reading Lord of the Rings makes me feel good, is it a true book? Meaning it actually occurred, historical and all? How can truth stand next to such nonsense? In my opinion, the most damning part of this is teaching is coming from a president of a university and the first presidency of the church itself. These methods of epistemology come from the highest leadership in the Church, which should cause concern.
Forgive Imperfections of Men
- “I can live with some human imperfections, even among prophets of God—that is to be expected in mortal beings. I can live with some alleged scientific findings contrary to the Book of Mormon; time will correct those. And I can live with some seeming historical anomalies; they are minor in the total landscape of truth. But I cannot live without the doctrinal truths and ordinances restored by Joseph Smith, I cannot live without the priesthood of God to bless my family, and I cannot live without knowing my wife and children are sealed to me for eternity. That is the choice we face—a few unanswered questions on one hand versus a host of doctrinal certainties and the power of God on the other.”11
- Elder Bruce C. Hafen met his wife, Marie, in a 1960s BYU class called “Your Religious Problems,” where students grappled with criticisms of the history and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its founder, Joseph Smith. Decades later Elder Hafen — today an emeritus general authority Seventy of the church — couldn’t understand how one of his European friends, a stake president with responsibility for several LDS congregations, could say those same, old issues were a surprise to him and felt betrayed because he didn’t know about them.12
- Press forward by giving the Lord and his church the benefit of our doubts and uncertainties.12
- I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.4
Outright Slander and Fearmongering
- “What I have been able to understand is why people stay,” she said. She boiled it down to character. Those who stayed active in the Church exhibited patience, faith and trust in Jesus Christ, hope, knowledge and wisdom, obedience, diligence and persistence, humility, repentance and forgiveness, charity and virtue.12
- You will miss spiritually important events if you choose persistent doubt, fueled by answers from faithless and unfaithful sources.3
- I have a word to say concerning these people. If they do not walk up to every covenant they make at these altars in this temple this day, they will be in my power! (Satan, as taught in LDS temple ceremony)
- I am so furious with people who leave this church. I don’t know whether furious is a good apostolic word or not. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pulled experience is that? As if, as if none of this ever mattered; as if nothing in our contemporary life mattered; as if this is all just supposed to be [near yelling] just exactly the way I want it? And answered every one of my questions – and pursue this and occupy that – and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-day Saint. Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.13
- The faithless often promote themselves as the wise who can rescue the rest of us from our naiveté. One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the ‘Korihors’ ‘Nehors’ and ‘Sherems’ of the book of Mormon. We should disconnect immediately and completely from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith and instead reconnect promptly with the holy spirit.14
Am I to believe that those that leave the Church lack patience, hope, knowledge and wisdom, obedience, humility, charity and virtue? Are those with sincere questions that are critical of the Church acting as if “none of this mattered?” Should we disconnect from people that have lost their faith and attempt to share their journey with others? All of these messages add to the unhealthy mischaracterization of those questioning the Church. How can you have a respectful, authentic conversation with someone that you feel lacks wisdom or has deep character flaws?
It has been said that a sign of a cult is that they do not let you leave with your dignity intact. Although the Mormon church has made progress in some areas, they continue to choose unhealthy methods of dealing with those that leave the tribe. Until they can create a safe environment where sincere questions can be honored and discussed, countless members will continue to suffer in isolation, familial relationships with become broken, and improper judgement will be passed onto those that lose their faith by the faithful. All this continues in 2019. Maintaining the order and authority of the church has become more important than the respect of the sovereignty of the individual.
- Keenan, Sarah. “When Anti-Mormon Material Shook My Faith.” Lds.org, 2018,www.lds.org/ensign/2018/09/when-anti-mormon-material-shook-my-faith?lang=eng
- Montoya, Hugo. “Overcoming the Danger of Doubt.” Lds.org, 2017, www.lds.org/liahona/2017/09/young-adults/overcoming-the-danger-of-doubt?lang=eng
- Renlund, Dale G. “‘Doubt Not, but Be Believing.’” LDS.org, 2019, http://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-devotionals/2019/01/11renlund?lang=eng.
- Uchtdorf, Dieter F. “Come, Join with Us.” Lds.org, 2013, www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng
- Nash, Marcus B. “Guided Safely Home.” BYU Speeches, 2016, speeches.byu.edu/talks/marcus-b-nash_guided-safely-home/
- Eyring, Henry J. “Gaining and Strengthening a Testimony.” BYU-Idaho, 2018, www.byui.edu/devotionals/president-henry-j-eyring-fall-2018
- Adam Kotter – https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/03/when-doubts-and-questions-arise?lang=eng
- Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Address to the Fifth Annual CES Religious Educators’ Symposium, 1981
- Corbridge, Lawrence. “Stand Forever Lawrence E. Corbridge.” BYU Speeches, 2019, speeches.byu.edu/talks/lawrence-corbridge_stand-for-ever/.
- Phelps, Dustin. “5 Reasons Anti-Mormon Arguments Are Totally Unconvincing.” Happiness Seekers, 2 June 2017, happiness-seekers.com/2016/01/19/5-reasons-anti-mormon-arguments-are-totally-unconvincing/.
- Callister, Tad R. “What Is the Blueprint of Christ’s Church?” Doctrine and Covenants 8, 2014, www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/ces-devotionals/2014/01/what-is-the-blueprint-of-christs-church?lang=eng.
- Jeffrey R. Holland. Fireside at Tempe Arizona Stake Center, 2707 South College Avenue, April 26, 2016. (audio [31:37])
- How Those Who Leave Are Viewed –https://faenrandir.github.io/a_careful_examination/how-those-who-leave-are-viewed/
- President Oaks to Young Married Couples – https://www.lds.org/church/news/president-oaks-counsels-young-couples-defending-the-gospel-on-the-frontline-?lang=eng
- Ballard, M. Russell. “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” LDS.org, Oct. 2014, www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/stay-in-the-boat-and-hold-on?lang=eng.