Disclaimer: This post is my first post that outlines many Mormon History issues. If that offends you or you simply don’t want to hear about these issues, please skip this post. For those also knowledgeable about these things, please correct me if I am ever wrong.
There is some amount of shame in finding out about your own church’s history from an outsider. I remember people in high school telling me crazy stuff about my church and just telling them, “Look, I’ve been a member my entire life. If that was true, I would have heard it by now.” It turns out some of the stuff my not Mormon friends were telling me was true and crazy, some of it was just crazy.
So, here’s my take on it. The LDS church demands absolute honesty from its members, and it promotes honesty very much. I think growing up as a Mormon made me a more honest person (not that I have any way of testing that theory, but I certainly was taught to be an honest person at church). I remember hearing a talk in one of my student wards about not lying in the small things, and realizing that I hadn’t been accurately declaring my tips I earned as a waitress since I had just been rounding the number (and magically always rounding down). The talk changed my stance and from that day forward I declared my tips with complete honesty. In my book, being Mormon made me a more honest person. So…I can’t lie that I was disappointed and shocked when I realized there was so much of Mormon history that I didn’t know about after 24 years in the church, 24 years that included seminary and religion classes at BYU. Some things I did hear…my seminary teacher my Freshman year of High School talked about Joseph Smith’s polygamy (I already knew about that since it was talked about in my home). At BYU I heard a few other details of Mormon history that I hadn’t heard before. These details were mentioned briefly and then not talked about again, but at least I heard about a few of these things prior to my husband leaving the church.
Ultimately, there were just a lot of things I felt like I should have been told. So, instead of skirting around it more, here’s a brief list of a few of those things, in no particular order.
I wish someone had told me…
- Joseph Smith married some women who were already married to other men.
- Much of the temple ceremony is nearly identical to the ceremony used by Masons. Joseph Smith and many of the first church leaders were also Masons.
- J.S. was very secretive about polygamy, to the point he had a role in burning down a printing press that was going to out him as a polygamist (it would be a tough position if God was commanding you to do something that people largely despised…but it also looks an
- awful lot like someone trying to hide their mistakes).
- People, including (maybe especially) the prophets and apostles continued drinking alcohol long after the Word of Wisdom and continued marrying multiple wives after the Manifesto was given. The story of Joseph Smith keeping his teeth clenched closed so he wouldn’t ingest the alcohol the mob was trying to poor down his throat probably needs to go (him clenching his teeth so he wouldn’t ingest what he suspected was poison does make more sense, but doesn’t promote the WoW as much), since Joseph Smith (and basically everyone back then) drank alcohol his whole life.
- Joseph Smith translated the majority of the BoM with a stone in a hat.
- The Mountain Meadows Massacre happened. That Danites existed and did some bad things. That Mormons persecution was a two-way street–Mormons did horrible things too.
- There is lots of evidence that contradicts the historicity of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon. There is also some evidence to suggest certain things about the Book of Abraham or the Book of Mormon could be historically accurate. I think members should be given some understanding of both sides–or at least not be criticized for trying to find out what the historical problems are.
- Prophets said and taught some things that are no longer said and taught. Things like Brigham Young teaching that murders’ blood must be shed to atone for their sins, or that Adam was God the Father.
- Prophets sometimes contradict each other. Some early prophets taught polygamy as necessary for exaltation, some modern prophets say this is not true, etc.
Those are some of the things I wish I had been taught. Not all of those things are faith shaking for me. Probably the hardest things for me to find out about were the evidences against the BoM and the Book of Abraham, the myriad evidences that call Joseph and Brigham’s character into question, and just how similar the temple ceremony was to the Masonic ceremony. A lot of the other stuff I mentioned wasn’t particularly faith shaking for me, but I still wish I had known the whole, absolutely honest truth.
There are some other things I never would have expected to have been told growing up, that also shook my faith. For example, I never would have expected the church to play devil’s advocate and talk about how revelation–prophetic and personal–could just be something akin to “horoscope syndrome” (I made that phrase up), where revelation is general enough that it could apply to anyone, any time–and therefore will always be true. Nor would I have expected the church to tell me stories about how religions and cultures from all over the world have similar spiritual experiences to the experiences had by members of my church. There are lots of things that I have thought about since beginning to question my faith, that have further shaken my faith, that I really wouldn’t expect the church to have told me.
So, what would happen to the church if it actually taught these 9 things? It’s a tricky situation for sure. But I have to believe that honesty is the better policy here. I can imagine a tradition of faith being built around most of these things. The idea that prophets don’t have all the answers, that they can even be wrong, may actually be a healthier way to believe. I like the idea of listening to the prophet but ultimately relying on the spirit to tell me what is true and what is false (and to tell me if something a prophet is saying is false). Sure the idea that a prophet will never lead you astray is nice, but putting that much trust in any human can be dangerous. I guess I see people taking the prophets words literally–even when that prophet is racist, sexist, etc.–as more problematic than having a congregation that ignores some of the prophets counsel which they felt was wrong. I think lots of these issues could be talked about without too many problems. Maybe that’s overly optimistic. For me, the things that have shaken my own faith–especially the historical issues with the BoM and the BoA–are the most problematic. If the Book of Mormon is actually just a book, and not a historically accurate book, Mormonism does seem to be left as a bit of a deflated balloon–not necessarily bad, but also not overly special. There are some people who feel strongly that the evidences that support the BoM and BoA are profound enough that that they are sufficient. I guess I would say the church should at least talk a little bit about some of the problems in the BoM and give the best answers to those problems that are currently available and then emphasize the evidences for the BoM. This issue is particularly tricky, but overall I think the church is doing itself a disservice to avoid talking about the historical issues of these two books, since members are then blindsided when confronted with contradicting information. From a practical position, I think a method of inoculation by exposure to these historical problems and then giving what possible answers there are, is a better method than ignoring the problem altogether.
At the very least, telling members about these things, would allow members to build their faith around things that are, in fact, true.
I’ll follow this up with a summary of my beliefs, given this information I just talked about.