Monday, October 20, 2008

Not all blind faith is good.

It took me a while, but eventually I decided I would write openly about some issues regarding the church. I was actually shaking the moment my article regarding polygamy and the church was published because I knew family and friends would be notified of it and would read it.

Sure enough, a day later a friend of mine emailed and asked if I was "okay."

I assured her I was.

She expressed her discomfort with my use of unauthorized sources.

I assured her it was okay. The main text I used was written by an active LDS scholar, and as far as I could remember, the work had been ok'd by the Church – which I did on purpose to quell this specific kind of reaction. But oh well. Everything else I used was scripture. I felt comfortable in my sources and chose them with great deliberation, and I told her that.

She bore her testimony to me and hoped I would be able to come to terms with things.

Listen, there's a problem when people don't want to hear "the whole story" regarding anything. When I was investigating the church some ten years ago, my family threw all sorts of anti-Mormon media at me. Some years before, my mom found much thrill in "winning an argument" with the missionaries. My stepbrother dated a member, and my family was very concerned but found much entertainment in some of the stories he brought home. I won't lie. I laughed, too. I still do. You've gotta have a bit of humor.

Anyway, I visited various websites for both sides of the spectrum.

I've seen The Godmakers. Horrible movie, almost entertainingly so. Anyone with half a brain could see that (one gem in this movie is that "Mormon" means "Satan" in Chinese. Geeeeez)

My mom felt certain I'd move to Utah, be one of fifty wives, and raise chickens (which I find hilarious now that I know Eric wants to raise chickens someday. But he's weird – and cute).

I know what anti-Mormon media looks and sounds like. Richard Lyman Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling is not anti-Mormon media.

It is, however, fabulous reading. You should all read it.

What it came down to, by my impression, is that if I would've quoted John Bytheway or anyone like him, my friend would have been fine.

But anything that doesn't shed good light on the church needs to be stifled.

Listen, faith is good. I would venture to say some blind faith is good. Sometimes I just want my kids to trust me, and I'm sure God feels the same way about many things.

But what is faith if you don't know the whole story? What is faith if we feel compelled to withhold information because someone might find offense to it? Naïve faith. That’s what it is.

For argument's sake, let’s assume you join the church wrapping yourself in the blanket statement "...plural marriage has not been approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any member adopting this practice is subject to losing his or her membership in the Church."

...but you don't know that we still believe in it. That it's a Celestial doctrine. That it is so central to our beliefs that it has been said that if we do not accept it as God's truth, we will not be permitted into God's presence.

What if you don’t agree with that? What if you don't like it?

Should we be told “chill out, you’ll be fine,” or "Too bad. You don't have to like it, you just have to accept it"? (I want to punch people who say that) Are those tired, assumed rationalizations of why polygamy happened sufficient? Does it definitively say anywhere that there were too few women for the men and we needed to raise up a righteous, LDS generation? That it was also to take care of the older women? (I always wondered about that last one: can't we take care of each other without marriage?)

We don’t really know why. Let’s just say it. We don’t. Honesty leaves a stronger impression than tired, weak rationalizations.

So what if a member or investigator has serious problems with something like polygamy? What if she prays and still has issues? Can you really tell her to have faith and just get over it?

Can you really?

But I digress. My friend felt my article didn’t shed good light on the Church and stood as evidence to a shaky testimony. She closed with an email expressing her love and concern. I'll admit to finding some amusement as I warned her of an impending article which refuted arguments for Proposition 8.

The thing is, I never said the Church was wrong, and I did that on purpose. I know what can happen when you dare something even close to that.

But what I did say was enough for her. After reading my Proposition 8 article, she told me she no longer wished to read them. Another friend whom I’d known almost as long told me she had to shake off some bad feelings after reading my articles.

Is this really where we’re at?

I can see how questioning can possibly lead to “apostasy,” but can we truly live in such a way as to be afraid to question? To wonder? Should we rationalize in order to satiate that unsettled feeling or thought we’re having? Should we settle with believing what our leaders say? Our bishops, home teachers? Dare I say even the Prophet?

Listen! These are MEN. Not every word that comes from the mouth of the Prophet is prophecy, not every word from his mouth is the word of God. Though I’ve never read it myself, I’ve been told Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s book Mormon Doctrine is not authorized material. Many people find great solace in that because, apparently, Brother McConkie takes quite a bit of license in his words.

But many still cite it as if is infallible, undeniable truth.

Hell, even then-Elder (and later Prophet) Spencer W. Kimball offers this in his preface to The Miracle of Forgiveness: “I accept full responsibility for the contents of this book. Specifically, the Church and its leaders are totally absolved from the responsibility from any error which it may be found to contain.”

I'm told this book was later accepted as scripturally sound and is now considered doctrine, but the fact remains that in the beginning, then-Elder Kimball felt the need to qualify his work.

The moment someone says something that might not reflect well on the Church, though, we balk. I can understand why: we have skeletons in our closet, but we also have a history of persecution and we’d just rather leave it alone. Isn’t there enough negative attention given to the Church for its own members to add to?

But sometimes you have to.

Nothing I’ve said regarding polygamy was a lie. We do believe that it is practiced in the afterlife, and if a member or investigator doesn’t know or is otherwise kept from knowing that, then there is a problem.

If the Church is true, if any doctrine is true, than we shouldn’t be afraid to explore it. We shouldn’t be discouraged from talking about it. We shouldn’t keep others in the dark for fear that they may decide to leave because of it. That’s not our problem.

And yeah, I would rather die than have to see my husband take on another wife, and that feeling should be okay. I imagine many women would feel the same way – that many back in Joseph Smith’s days did feel that way.

While I’m okay with not knowing some things, there are things I take personally, and this (for various personal reasons) is one of them. I want to understand this, and I don't. I would hope this would be something the Lord would feel those who are troubled should understand.

I want to be taken seriously. I think anyone, especially women in the instance of polygamy, should be taken seriously when she presents this as a concern.

And rather than joke about delegating chores out to “the other wives,” we should consider this with an honest heart, because sometimes our faith is only as strong as our knowledge.

(if anyone is interested in the above referenced article: Mormons and Polygamy: Practice versus Belief. Thanks.)


Amanda said...

"If the Church is true, if any doctrine is true, than we shouldn’t be afraid to explore."

What a powerful statement! So simple, and so true. Thanks.

Natalie said...

"...because sometimes our faith is only as strong as our knowledge."

Beautiful! That might go into my seminary lesson tomorrow. :)

Lisa said...


You mean you're a *gasp again* SEMINARY teacher?

If only some on the facebook boards knew...hahahaha

That said, thank you :) Flattered!

The Faithful Dissident said...

I feel the same way as you do and have written a lot about this on my blog. I've also read "Rough Stone Rolling" and loved it. I have to admit, it shook my world. It was hard to read parts of it, especially the parts about polygamy. So much for the myths of the women outnumbering all the men, or just being the Church's way of taking care of all the spinsters. I was shocked to read that Joseph had taken children (approx 15 years old) to wife, as well as women in their 50's who were already married to other upstanding men in the Church.

A fellow blogger was telling me how even in UT, hardly anyone has read RSR. I can't believe that Mormons -- especially those who have access to all this wealth of knowledge -- aren't interested. I think part of it is fear of reading non-official Church material that may not be so flattering (yet true), and fear that once they know, they won't be able to handle it. And actually, I think that's a valid excuse. Sometimes I wonder whether I can handle it myself. And yet I can't stand the feeling of burying my head in the sand. Why should the enemies of the Church know more about it than me?

Heather said...

Alright, I've not read RSR, and because of what has been said of it on here, I won't be. There are enough things thrown at me in life that would shake my faith, I certainly don't need to expose myself to anything that will shake my foundation of faith. It's not about blind faith or burying our heads in the sand, it's about accepting that some things in this life have not answer, patience is the answer combined with faith.
Lisa, you mentioned backlash of the anti-prop 8 crowd not gonna happen. At the Oakland temple a huge crowd was protesting as patrons entered the gate. It got so bad it backed up the main exit to go to the temple. People were jumping in front of cars, using horrible language, calling them horrible names and bringing many to tears. They lined the streets leading to the temple and only left after dark. It's already happening. If the Prophet says to devote our time, and means to support prop 8 do you really think that means,"but it's ok if you vote no." No you won't be struck down or excommunicated but should you vote yes, absolutely! Not because the Prophet said so but because it is the right thing to do. If the counsel is to support it then why not start researching why your vote goes against the churches stand. The Church may not be popular with the "politcal views of the world" or for that matter, many of it's members, however, it is always right. I don't say this to be condescending or rude. I don't say this cause contention either. I did not take critical thinking in High School or College. And honestly, I think I'm glad. (Please don't take offense Lisa.) Just my "instincts" kicking in. Now, I'm off to bed.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"The Church may not be popular with the "politcal views of the world" or for that matter, many of it's members, however, it is always right."

Ah, but Heather. The Church is not ALWAYS right. The General Authorities opposed the Civil Right's bill in 1964 (which by the way had absolutely no bearing on the priesthood ban), including Apostle Delbert L. Stapley, who called it "vicious legislation." George Romney (father of Mitt) was an avid supporter of black civil rights and he had to endure a lot of pressure and guilt trips from GA's for doing so. I could post the link of the famous letter that Romney received (and ignored), but to be honest, if reading RSR is too much to handle, then the letter would definitely be. It shook me to the core. But in Stapley's defence, before he died, he admitted that he was wrong. And after the fact, several other GA's said that they spoke with "limited understanding" on the issue of race.

The Church is not infallible. Neither is the prophet. Is that not true? Do we not always hear that the prophet is only a man and can make mistakes? That he's not like the pope? Ah, but most Mormons will tell you that he CAN'T make mistakes when he is acting as prophet, that he will never lead the Church astray or if he does, he'll be killed. If that is so, then that means he is infallible in exactly the same way as the pope. The pope can make mistakes in anything except when speaking in matters of doctrine and morals to the Catholic Church, in which case he is considered infallible.

So which one is it? Is the prophet infallible to Mormons like the pope is to Catholics? Or not? I say no, but almost every Mormon I know will have to answer yes, even though they don't like the word "infallible," when in essence that is exactly what they believe.

Lisa said...

I don't believe it's the right thing to do, though. Everything in me says its wrong. Do I have slivers of doubt? Eh, not so much anymore now that I've decided.

I feel so much more *peace* now that I've made my decision. They say the peace you feel is confirmation - well, I've lived the last little while in a bit of internal turmoil, but no more. I have a confidence and a surety in my own personal decision.

Does that mean those who are voting yes are wrong? No! I wouldn't dare suggest it is. But for me, and for many others, the only answer is no.

The Church is not always right. The Gospel is, but not the Church.

And I would never ever condone those who resort to such barbaric methods of protest. But lets not make ourselves the only martyrs, Heather. I seem to remember a certain Matthew Shepard who died at the hands of some really awful people. Now I am NOT equating our Church with those unbelievably horrible people who killed Matthew Shepard. Not at all. But to suggest that we're all saints in thought and deed just because we're being persecuted is to flatter ourselves. People are persecuted for their varying and opposing beliefs and political stances on a daily basis.

I mean, I'm afraid to put a No on 8 sign in my yard. Even if I wasn't afraid, I don't think I would out of sheer respect for my Church. It is the most I can do. But I can only imagine the reactions I'd receive if I did put a sign up.

We're not the only ones, but that in no way makes it right or justified.

Heather said...

I understand. I confess I don't clain to understand how you can feel peace voting no, but I'm not judging you, everyone comes to their own decisions their own ways. I know that their are vandals/theives on both sides, my point was only that you can't say it won't happen either way. As far as the Prophet being "infallable" I don't mean he can't make mistakes. In his personal life maybe he does, I don't know. What I do know is that as far as church affairs and gospel doctrine we WILL NOT be led astray. The Lord won't kill him, he would be removed from his place. My faith would not be shaken from reading a book like RSR, it would be a waste of my time. I would suggest that there are so many things we can do to build and use our faith to positive means, why challenge it, we're going to need it?

I think also Lisa that you are incredibly bright, thoughtful, and articulate. I'm sure that coming to this decision was not easy for you, for me their was no decision to make. I do however respect others to vote how they think they should. I'm not a great orator, critical thinker, writer, or anything of the kind, I will leave the critical thinking to you Lisa. You're much better at it than I am. And I wasn't saying that sarcastically. These are just my thoughts, I hope I did not offend.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"My faith would not be shaken from reading a book like RSR, it would be a waste of my time."

Heather, if you are not afraid of your faith being shaken by the difficult aspects of Joseph Smith's life, then I strongly disagree that reading RSR would be a waste of your time. Besides showing him in a non-superhero light (which makes me admire him all the more), the book actually strengthened my faith in the man in many ways. What he accomplished in his life was nothing short of enormous, miraculous, and enigmatic -- and most Mormons don't even know the half of it because they only have official Church publications to go by. Particularly insightful were the details of the translation of the Book of Mormon and the Plan of Salvation. I'm SO glad that I read the book, not so much for the troubling aspects of his personality, but for the insight I got into his persona and the revelations he received. I have big issues with how he practised polygamy, but his personality and teachings, along with his faults, make him still my all-time favourite Mormon.