So, why doesn’t the Mormon Church come clean on ….By: Stephen Marsh
Every-so-often I hear a call for the Church to “come clean” on a point.
Usually that means that the writer wants the Church to agree with them on something, and reject the other approaches.
E.g., come clean on Joseph Smith and Marriage:
- Come on, can’t you admit that he really did not practice polygamy and fought it instead?
- Or, can’t you just admit Joseph Smith was pro-gay marriage and the Church is in sin for rejecting the gay man who should be prophet, given when he should have been an apostle?
- And, of course, can’t you just admit that the stories told by John C. Bennett after he was excommunicated were true (even if nothing else Bennett said was)? (the last link goes to a neutral discussion that mentions Bennett in passing, too many other discussions start from Bennett and go from there).
Or on the Book of Mormon and Geography:
- Can’t you just admit that the Malay Hypothesis is correct?
- Can’t you just admit that the Great Lakes Hypothesis is correct?
- Can’t you just admit that a South American Setting Hypothesis is correct?
- Can’t you just admit it is non-historical, like the Book of Jonah?
- Can’t you just admit that the Central America Setting Hypothesis is correct?
- Can’t you just admit that the Florida Setting Hypothesis is correct?
- Can’t you just admit that ….
The problem, when you get down to it, is that in any small group, it is easy to find a group of like minded people who are more than willing to agree that (a) the Church is wrong in the way it portrays part of its past and (b) that there is a higher and better truth that should just be admitted. The rub comes in deciding which “truth” should be admitted.
Why is that? First, the universe of “facts” that were contemporaneously recorded by permanent media is rather small. Everyone is familiar with stories people wrote in their journals (years after the fact) about experiences that they had that were not consistent with the time line (e.g. Elder A was still on his way to Nauvoo when incident B occurred, which he writes as having seen). Today you are probably familiar with the study that determined why so many people remember drinking Coke in bottles at homecoming.
Second, there is a universe of advocates for various perspectives and positions. Most of what people recorded, preserved and cherished in their records are things that fit their narratives. Often the story is reworked time and time again as the less plausible portions of it are discarded and the narrative adjusted for the audience. I see that all the time at work (I’m a litigator) as the other side in a case adjusts its approach and narrative, and as witnesses go from extremely detailed to “I don’t know” when the details turn out not to be physically possible.
Third, often the universe is much smaller than you would expect, the sample size and contents far different. Take Albert Walles, the prison guard. You may not know that one of his biggest complaints against the LDS Church prior to the story I’ve linked to was that they would not allow him to participate in scouting or the young men’s program.
He is currently in Ecuador with an evangelical church opening up a ministry aimed at young men — exactly the sort of thing you might think, from other reports, he would have been welcomed back to the LDS Church to do. The larger any group gets, the more likely you are to have outliers.
Fourth, often the world is also more complex. Every time you say “just do this” (e.g. “just respect the clergy penitent privilege”) you have a situation where the contrary imperative seems more compelling (e.g. “just report all accusations, whether or not you think they are true”), or where there are consequences that you would not expect (“well, if your clergy do not assert the privilege, then they aren’t clergy and you don’t count as a church”). There are often more complicated implications to things than we expect.
Fifth, “coming clean” often sends a message. How much of a discussion, how many weeks, for example, would you like dedicated to discussing Brigham Young and polygamy at Church? Every person who has a position about things left out about Brigham Young in the “Teachings” book based on his sermons should consider just what is the message you want to send and, in a complex life, just how many nuances you want to capture (and which ones).
Do you want the Church to come clean on Brigham Young and pork? He felt every family should be raising a pig off their table scraps, but had periods of time he would not eat donuts fried in pig fat or eat pork. He could not make up his mind about pigs. He was behind the mass re-baptisms and re-commitment to the gospel that was a part of the movement, but it also included a strong message on the need to take regular baths (something they had gotten out of the habit of crossing the plains). He preached a number of sermons on the equality of women and how they were just as fit as men to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, legislators and shop keepers (he did, however, feel men were more fit for digging ditches and hard physical labor relying on upper body strength).
I could probably go on another fifty sentences of very short excerpts of nuances involving Brigham Young. Each could probably be covered in a couple of weeks. Just two or three years of Sunday lessons on miscellaneous nuance. Even BYU fans would probably find that too much.
So, yes the Church thinks it is focused on the essential truth of its mission, its history and its narrative. Which leaves the other questions behind. Though yes, it also is making progress in addressing a more complex and nuanced world as scholars would rather than as a narrative of faith. For an excellent example of what the Church is really doing, read http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/thoughts-on-the-introduction-to-the-new-jsp-volume-journals-vol-2-1841-43/.
But that is why, and how, and … well you know the drill.
What do you think the Church should come clean on (and, by implication, which narratives do you feel it should be rejecting that others are insisting on)?