Does Studying Church History Lead to Apostasy? (Part 1 of 2)

By: Jake
February 2, 2012

This week has seen a plethora of articles regarding church history enter the media. The focus on Mormon history and its impact on faith and membership is supported by the prelimary publication of John Dehlin’s results from his survey on why people leave the church.

The survey states that the top reasons why people leave the church are:

  1. “I lost faith in Joseph Smith”
  2. “I studied church history and lost my belief”
  3. “I ceased to believe in church’s doctrine/theology”

The bottom three reasons being:

  1. “I wanted to engage in behaviors viewed as sinful by the church (e.g. alcohol, extra-marital sex)”
  2. “I was offended by someone in the church”
  3. “Lack of meaningful friendships within the church”

The actual results of the survey are hardly groundbreaking. It is not rocket science to work out that those who inhabit the nether regions of the bloggernacle often have issues with Joseph Smith, church doctrine and policies and faith and trust in their leaders. Whereas the Pew research threw up some surprising results (who would have thought 80% of mormons found polygamy morally wrong?), this study concludes what many of us already worked out intuitively.

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However, this research does raise something distinctive and worth considering in the light of the recent Salt Lake Tribune article on mormon history: why are church doctrine and historical issues a primary factor in disaffection with the church?  Both the article and the report suggest that there is something about learning church history and church doctrine that magically and irrevocably erodes faith.  This is unique to Mormon exit stories, as other research (top reasons why people leave a christian church) from shows a very different set of reasons for leaving:

  1. The church was not helping me to develop spiritually. (28%)
  2. I did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work (20%)
  3. Church members were judgmental of others (18%)
  4. The pastor was not a good preacher (16%)
  5. Too many changes (16%)
  6. Members seemed hypocritical (15%)
  7. Church didn’t seem to be a place where God was at work (14%)
  8. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement (14%)
  9. Pastor was judgmental of others (14%)
  10. Pastor seemed hypocritical (13%)

We do not see hordes of Catholics losing faith over some of the dark secrets of Catholicism’s past, which frankly has a longer and far more disturbing past than we do. So why is doctrine and history such a big issue for the disaffected Mormon?

As the writer of the recent article in the Washington Post says: “I spiritually imploded after learning these things and other facts outside official church curriculum.” The importance of history is also brought up recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune that discussed the church’s changing attitude towards its history due to the fact that Google is having a detrimental effect on members’ faith. As they quote Marlin Jensen: “Never before have we had this information age, with social networking and bloggers publishing unvetted points of view.” This polyphony of view points means that “the church is concerned about misinformation and distorted information, but we are doing better and trying harder to get our story told in an accurate way.”

There is certainly a lot of hyperbole regarding the levels of disaffection with Jenson saying that: “Maybe since Kirtland, we’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having now,” this rhetoric of an apocalytic level of ship jumping can be seen in quotes from John Dehlin, and even Teryl Givens who use medical metaphors of an epidemic to describe the current scenario. To me it is an exaggeration. I do not know that many people who have left the church regarding church history or doctrine, and I associate with many who are familiar with the historical issues.  Certainly, the popularity of sites like Mormon Stories gives the impression that those who struggle with historical issues is on the rise. Perhaps, this is simply because when a forum is created, people naturally fill it. People who previously would have remained silent, thanks to the wonder of the internet, now find kindred spirits across the globe and unite.

Why is it that history and doctrine is so important to the loss of faith?

Historical facts do not have any intrinsic power; they are only significant inasmuch as we endow them with power. Facts are like words and only carry the meaning we give them and that they derive from other facts or context; yet understanding facts is a very subjective business. The fact that a 12/14/16  year old said a prayer in a grove of trees about 180 years ago is only significant when it is part of a bigger narrative of Joseph Smith being God’s chosen prophet. For those invested in the significance of the event, it adopts new levels of meaning and weightiness.  For others, that event may not be as important or significant. It clearly did not have the same level of significance to Joseph Smith at the time it happened, as he hardly spoke of it and only wrote it down in obscure passages in his journal initially. We have taken the facts and given them a life above and beyond that which they had in the context of their own time.

In Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea the writer Antoine becomes sceptical about the history he is writing of Rollebon he realises that:

“I am beginning to believe that nothing can ever be proved. These are reasonable hypotheses which take the facts into account: but I am only too well aware that they come from me, that they are simply a way of unifying my own knowledge. Not a single glimmer comes from Rollebon himself, the facts adapt themselves at a pinch to the order I wish to give them, but it remains outside of them.”

Sartre realised that in writing history he was imposing a meaning upon them that the historical figure himself did not give them. The meaning we give to Joseph Smith’s life is not that which he had himself. As James Anthony Froud described history, the past is

‘like a child’s box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose.’

The words and stories we tell gain layers of meaning and significance over time as people interpret their significance based on their own perspectives. We in turn become emotionally attached to the stories, endowing them with epistemological significance to transform them into a certain truth about the past. Every one who writes history is guilty of selective bias to conform to their view of what is significant and what is not. Every history has this flaw, so why is it that we are outraged by selectivity in the church?

In part 2 (next week), I’ll tackle another issue raised by the survey.

Thoughts

  • Why do you think that history and doctrine is so important to members?
  • Is church history dangerous to faith?
  • How do you reconcile the orthodox interpretation of history with other versions?
  • Why do you think people leave the church?
  • Is the church dishonest in how it presents its history?
  • Is greater access to alternate views causing a rise in apostasy?

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104 Responses to Does Studying Church History Lead to Apostasy? (Part 1 of 2)

  1. mark gibson on February 2, 2012 at 4:46 AM

    I think the “engage in behaviors” reason would be at the top of the list if people were honest.The sinful behaviors of LDS are mostly found in other faiths. But imagine an individual who has left the Church, and presumedly joined another, testifying to their new congregation that they:
    Didn’t like spending time with family
    Didn’t like serving a calling
    etc. etc. etc.
    Probably wouldn’t make a good impression. But proclaiming a disbelief in Joseph Smith gains an instant acceptance. So he becomes the scapegoat.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 11

  2. Aaron R. on February 2, 2012 at 4:51 AM

    The survey is very problematic in lots of ways and although it obviously provides data on something I am not sure what that is just yet.

    Our history is tightly bound up with our doctrine. In fact, I think Matt Bowman makes a persuasive case that our History is our doctrine.

    People leave the Church for exactly the reasons you cited above in the Christian survey. However those who are most vocal about their departure are also those who feel betrayed by the Church and are therefore the people who are part of this survey.

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  3. hawkgrrrl on February 2, 2012 at 5:12 AM

    I think what’s difficult is that anyone who creates a survey does so with their own views in mind. They lead the witness. And it’s a tempting narrative that is certainly out there.

    “why is it that we are outraged by selectivity in the church?” Same reason we are outraged by selectivity outside the church (e.g. anti-Mormon writing that lacks accuracy). Because we know better, so we question the motives of those who are saying things we know to be inaccurate. We are more lenient if we believe it’s done in ignorance, innocently enough, but if we believe that they are knowingly misrepresenting the truth, we feel outraged.

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  4. Aaron R. on February 2, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    Hawk, agreed. Plus in this instance the survey questions tap into a very accessible exit narrative and a particular rhetoric.

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  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 2, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    Reminds me of the couple who got to Navoou, saw Joseph Smith doing work with his hands, got back on the ferry and left because a prophet should not work with his hands.

    I think it is a confluence of three things.

    First, people reshaping narratives.

    Second, the wrong narratives. Too often we want perfection on our own terms. In the New Testament, Christ noted that people rejected him saying that he was a friend to sinners and a winebibber …

    Third, failures of narratives.

    But it is interesting to see how one group sees themselves.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 7

  6. Jake on February 2, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    Mark, The engage in behaviours rhetoric doesn’t fully add up to me. I can think of many who lead morally upright lives before they left the church, I think many after they start to read difficult church history and their faith in leaders crumbles they start to engage in behaviours we deem morally wrong. I think in some cases Joseph is made a scrape-goat for other reasons, just not always because they want to drink coffee, not serve in the church and participate in extra-marital sex.

    Aaron R, I agree doctrine and history have been tightly bound in recent years, but I don’t think it has always been like this. Nor, do I think it is a good thing to have doctrine so tied up with history. History is unstable and changes over time, it is easy to undermine any historical narrative. In linking the two it is only going to result in problems. I do wonder why it is that we seem to need to anchor our doctrine to history.

    I do agree with you Hawk, that this survey does reflect John’s own bias though. The questions were all very doctrine heavy and I think distorts the results. I know a few who participated and both of them said that them leaving had nothing to do with doctrine and was simply because they didn’t enjoy church and they felt uncomfortable being involved with what they saw as a sexist and homophobic institution. Both listed lack of faith in Joseph Smith in the survey, but this is a misrepresentation as they told me that lack of faith came because of other issues they had first. Its difficult to demarcate the causal process in these things. This survey leads into a narrative that places doctrine and history as a key part of it.

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  7. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 6:56 AM

    well, I was not so impressed with the data from John’s survey because it doesn’t, at least as it has been revealed, give us any new information. And, I have a tons of questions I would have asked to probe what is behind some of the answers.

    From what I have seen from folks leaving the Church, especially younger folks, there is an element of outside influence that I would have liked seen explored.

    And I would have liked to see some questioning of their post-mormon behavior.

    Great post, Jake!!!!

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  8. Ben S on February 2, 2012 at 7:03 AM

    Very nice post and comments all around. The question of narrative is an interesting one. Seth Payne’s study of exit narratives suggests that, like testimonies, exit narratives tend to change and adopt doctrinally-based reasons over time, but the primary seed is a sense of not-belonging. At least, as I recall.

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  9. hawkgrrrl on February 2, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    Ben S – “the primary seed is a sense of not-belonging.” This is why I help mod at StayLDS, to make it clear that there is belonging for people of divergent views and questions within the church. Just because the most orthodox so often take the mike, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us aren’t there, too.

    If you asked the same people who took John’s survey the questions from the other survey, you’d find that they had the same reasons as those people did. We hear what we ask.

    This post reminded me of another one that was put out in response to the survey: http://ifeellikeschrodingerscat.blogspot.com/2012/01/leaving-lds-cult-of-false-expectations.html

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  10. Jake on February 2, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    Stephen M, You raise an interesting point about narratives.

    How do we know we have the wrong narrative? Often the only time that we know that it is wrong is when it fails, but the failure of a narrative doesn’t mean its wrong. Perhaps this is why many people leave the church over it. When the orthodox narrative fails to deliver what they want it to be, people assume that it necessarily means that it must be wrong. A failed narrative is only a sufficient reason for it being wrong it is not a necessary condition for it to be wrong.

    You point about perfection is interesting. Perfection is usually made in our own image and I think for many we want a simple, comprehensible, ideal, perfect narrative of the past. Its far better then the chaos and confusion that the past really is.

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  11. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    No, I don’t agree that studying history leads one to apostasy. All you need to do is take a basic phil. of history university course and you’re fine. I love how people have had zero interest in history and then all of a sudden…they read 10 minutes on the internet and now they are experts and have everything figured out.

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  12. Howard on February 2, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    In general I think the main problem is the church’s blatant dishonesty. They ignore or hid history while implying or teaching something completely different. Why don’t they teach the truth or the known history? For instance who cares if the BoM is historically accurate or not? Does any thinking person believe the biblical flood is historically accurate? Does historical accuracy have anything to do with the usefulness of these books to humankind? The church has set it’s self up for it’s own undoing and the availability of information today is speeding that outcome while the brethren sit cluelessly basking in the celebrity of TBMs at General Conference.

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  13. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I don’t think the question “Does Studying Church History Lead to Apostasy?” can be answered with defining the terms. Such as “faith”. What is it? If it is just hoping in/about things unknown, then coming to know about things, should end a need for faith. But in Mormonism, faith is see as more than this. It is seen as somthing that can override knowing by adding “the Spirit”. Once you start to say somethings are “true” because the “Spirit” told you, then things like science, history or even common sence, will be pushed aside.
    Coming to accept something is true, (by science, history, or commom sence), and are no longer true by faith or testimony, is one way to an Apostasy (or leaving a faith behind).

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  14. Aaron Lowry on February 2, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    +1 to what Howard said. Even if the things the church has not been honest about were inconsequential (which they often are not), it demonstrates that those forming the narrative are willing to fudge it. This calls into question EVERYTHING else that they say, because it shows that getting you to do and think what they want is more important than the truth. Furthermore, they continue spewing out the “honesty at all costs” manta in Sunday school lessons and in talks from GAs, while clearly not following that mantra as far as the church is concerned. The actions of the church leaders show over and over again that they can not be trusted, and objectively looking at history, as messy as it often is, gave me my first clear window into their pious fraud.

    Studying history was also the impetus that got me to sincerely ask keep questions about God and my belief. It really got me thinking for the first time, and put me into a state or mind where I just wanted the truth, whatever it was. I started to want to know ‘whether or not the church was true’ instead of ‘that is was true.’ Once I attempted to mitigate the confirmation bias that I knew was present in my mind, the train quickly fell off the tracks. As I have said before, the church makes sense if you just don’t think about it. Studying history for me started the runaway train of dissonance that could not be stopped until my belief was gone.

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  15. dpc on February 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Kudos to John Dehlin for designing an unscientific survey that ends up with the very results he was seeking. What a surprise!

    In my experience, almost every one of the people that I know left the church had one of the following happen to them:

    1. Divorce/Poor marital relationship
    2. Close homosexual relative (generally limited to a parent, son, daughter, brother, sister or spouse)

    I’m not convinced that the two things cause disaffection, but it seems to be an understory to the many narratives I have read. The survey asks what the impact of disaffiliation is, but it doesn’t ask what the quality of the relationship was prior to the break.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 11

  16. Brian on February 2, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    Does the study of church lead to apostasy? The study of the Book of Abraham’s origins lead directly to me leaving the church. I mentally danced around other historical issues. So, chalk up 10 people that left the church in my small family because of church history when you include children and grand children who don’t attend and won’t be attending.

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  17. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    I’d like to know which organization folks think is better at presenting its full unblemished history?

    The United States?
    The Catholic Church?
    Germany?
    KKK?

    I can’t think of one. It seems to me that some folks evaluate history in the wrong light. They use their modern day lens rather than put it into the proper perspective based on the time in which it happened. It’s a hard thing to do, but you need to have the background to do that. I do not think that the “history destroyed my testimony” crowd always does the proper due diligence on whatever bothers them.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 9

  18. james on February 2, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    For what it is worth, if history is only as powerful as what we empower it with, then the church does in fact empower the history they omit and the history they re-write – they empower it by giving it a status of “taboo” in their omission of properly teaching it .

    Just my two cents – but history is powerful, especially historical facts.

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  19. Howard on February 2, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    Jeff,
    Do any of those organization claim to be headed by Jesus Christ or continuing revelation?

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  20. Aaron Lowry on February 2, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    #17 – While some people probably do not do their due diligence as you say, there are others who absolutely do. Personally, I have put more study and thought into the questions of God and the church than I have put into my graduate degree. It almost makes me feel ill to think about the opportunity cost of spending so much time on it., given everything else that I could have been reading and learning about instead.

    I also don’t for a second buy the argument that it is somehow more palatable for the church to lie about its history because the Catholics and everybody else does it too. Since when was that ever a valid excuse for anything? If dishonesty is really always wrong as the church claims it is, and if they really are led directly by God, I expect to be able to hold them to a higher standard, and that God would set them straight when they went off the rails. The problem is that he doesn’t. Year after year, they continue to publish and speak about the same BS that they have for 180 years.

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  21. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    @15: dcp,
    To state wild and unsupported numbers__I would say as many people who are now in the Church equals about the number who have left.
    Those who are now leaving__are not even married.
    Those who are now leaving, don’t even know Gay people.
    Again, the above numbers are just for show.

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  22. ummm on February 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    you say that givens and jensen are wrong in their description of whats going on. then you say that you are right, because it doesnt jive with what you see in your personal life. so your anecdotal evidence is better than theirs?

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  23. ummm on February 2, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    for me its pretty simple. the church isnt honest about their history, their finances, their membership numbers, etc.

    if i had loved my time in the church, i could deal with that. but i didnt enjoy it. life is short. im not going to go to meetings that are pointless, and give up 10% of my money to a group that can even be fundamentally honest.

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  24. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    @20-have fun in University, the freedom loving places that they are…

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  25. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    Howard,

    “Do any of those organization claim to be headed by Jesus Christ or continuing revelation?”

    Firstly, why does that matter?

    Secondly, yes, the ones I mention all do. or at least by God.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 6

  26. Kevin Barney on February 2, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    In my experience, actually *studying* church history doesn’t in general lead to a loss of faith (although that possibility of course always exists). I suspect that when people talk about losing faith from studying church history, what they really mean is that they never studied church history at all and stubbed their toe over something problematic from the church’s past, and as a consequence felt deceived by the institution. When that happens, the remedy is to roll up one’s sleeves and actually study. If one has never cracked an issue of the Journal of Mormon History, for instance, then I think one has a misplaced conception of what the word “study” is supposed to mean.

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  27. james on February 2, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    @kevin barney – there is certainly much of that happening and the harsh reality of a church you trusted to be honest was not does a lot of damage. But in the end I think for most of us that have left with church history being at least somewhat influential in our disaffection, it is far more due to the history itself than the stubbed toe of finding it.

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  28. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Aaron,

    “I also don’t for a second buy the argument that it is somehow more palatable for the church to lie about its history because the Catholics and everybody else does it too. ”

    I asked the question of who does it better not to make anything palatable. You’ve made a big deal out of an issue of institutional lying and I want someone to tell me who is better?

    the menber of those groups seem to have a much higher tolerance for the untruthfulness of those organizations, some of which claimed to be lead by God, or at least inspired by God. And the history of those organizations are full of genocide, torture, imprisonment and other much more hideous acts than stories about striplings of cream and polygamy.

    How many folks have left the United States over the lack of truth about its history?

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 4

  29. Will on February 2, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Sin leads to apostacy.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 2

  30. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    #26: Kevin,
    Are you happy with the Church History taught in Primary? I would say it’s mostly incorrect.
    Are you saying people like B.H. Roberts, Quinn, Bodie, Palmer, etc., did not do their homework?

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  31. Will on February 2, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Apostasy….

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  32. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    #28: Jeff,
    “How many folks have left the United States over the lack of truth about its history”?

    Millions.

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  33. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    @30-don’t expect to get indepth history from the primary, sunday school, semianry mostly because 99% of the people in those callings aren’t historians, get history from the historians. I think too people like Bushman, Bennett, Quinn, Allen have forgotten more history then most if not all of us will know

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  34. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    Bob,

    “How many folks have left the United States over the lack of truth about its history”?

    Millions.”

    Total BS

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  35. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    #34, Jeff,
    “Total BS”.
    Let’s start with the Mormons (1846), the South (1860), All those people in the Middle East who speak perfect American English. Those who left for Canada in the V-Nam war. Etc.
    Millions.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 5

  36. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    bob,

    “Let’s start with the Mormons (1846), the South (1860), All those people in the Middle East who speak perfect American English. Those who left for Canada in the V-Nam war. Etc. ‘Millions.’

    Still totally BS. Mormons didn’t leave because of finding out about US hsitory, neither did the south, neither did anyone going to Canada during the Vietnam war. I doubt those in the Middle East did either.

    Sorry, epic fail.

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  37. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    #33: whizzbang,
    Primary could teach “A Hat”just as easily as “Gold Plates” as to where the BoM come from.
    I would hope “Historians” write the manuels for teaching history in Primary, Sunday School,and Semianry.

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  38. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    #36: Jeff, Then why did they leave other that learning that American History was not true in saying: “Freedom for all”.

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  39. Jake on February 2, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    The rhetoric of lying and dishonesty about history confuses the issue. Do we really think that the leadership in the church sit there thinking ‘how can we lie and distort the past to make us look better?’ I doubt it. Regardless of their intention the rhetoric of dishonesty distracts and is simply sensational language as ALL history is dishonest in some form, it all leaves out some facts, highlights others.

    The church has every right to tell their story about the past. I actually think the story of Joseph Smith is a really good story, its about a boy who seeks after truth, rejects institutional authority, studies it for himself, then seeks his own confirmation independent of everybody else. That I think is a good narrative. Do I think that is what really happened? Not for one minute its an idealised fabricated story, however despite not being what really happened (can any of us know what really happened?) it is still a useful myth.

    The real issue I think is the insistence that the myth is not simply a nice story or one way of understanding his life but that it is the literal truth. That is where the danger I think comes, is when we start attaching absolute values of truth to historical events. The issue is not honesty per se but the importance and significance they attach to one interpretation of it.

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  40. Gary Bergera on February 2, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    I’ve personally come to see “faith” and “skepticism” as, for want of a better term, “gifts.” Both contribute in significant ways to a fuller, richer life. Both seem to be “freely given.” And both seem to be “given” to people in varying degrees, including not at all.

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  41. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    @37-Would you say that the function of primary, sunday et al is to be a history school? what about science, anthropology, languages, astronomy etc. Not everyone likes history or judges others they never met by inherently faulty documents. I get real history by real historians and I know the limitations of the historical profession

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  42. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    Bob,
    “#36: Jeff, Then why did they leave other that learning that American History was not true in saying: “Freedom for all”.”

    Why not just say you don’t have an answer to the question I posed instead of obfuscating?

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  43. aerin on February 2, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    It’s one thing to not mention that Joseph Smith joined the Methodist church or that he got in trouble for “treasure seeking” to new converts. It’s quite another to leave out all this information in seminary, Gospel Doctrine and Institute. There was a post about this some weeks ago.

    To not talk about all the history implies that there is something to be ashamed of.

    Then, what people experience when they start talking about this “unfamiliar” history is that they are often blamed and criticized. Why didn’t you know that (as a sixth generation mormon?). Rarely it’s a quiet acknowledgement that some of the more unpalatable facts are true.

    I think it’s a great strategy to make people feel excluded from their loved ones, friends and communities simply for seeking the truth.

    By the way, over the years I’ve heard from or spoken with many former mormons. Nothing remotely scientific, but it seems to me there are as many reasons that people leave as stay. Studying history is a broad umbrella. I’ve also met
    many people for whom the sexism, homophobia and culture were a problem.

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  44. Cowboy on February 2, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I think Ummm (#23) articulates it pretty succinctly.

    For many people who leave, belonging to the Church was essentially an investment. It’s not that they enjoyed it, but that they were willing to do it in order to recieve the payoff in the end.

    The question posed by this post about Church history is a lot like digging into the prospectus of an investment after you have made the purchase. Naturally the financial advisor who sold you on the purchase, wanted you to buy. Some of these people present the product too generically by minimizing the risk, or just completely fail to account for it. Others present it in greater detail, but whatever methods they use to analyze the risk, they have determined that they want you to buy this product and so it is presented favorably. Some know a great deal about the product and underlying company(s). Others know a great deal about personal financial management in general, as well as consideration for other options. Some are naive and dangerous. And worst of all, some (very few) are just devious.

    Salesman intentions notwithstanding, a conscientious buyer tends to be more critical than a conscientious seller. Once the buyer starts reading into the prospectus they are going to find out how much disparity exists between how they feel the product was represented, vs how it really appears to be. That brings up two issues that often get conflated. Most people I would think experience both, but both critics and Church defenders prefer to think that the problems are one or the other.

    1) Emotion (the preferred response of contemporary Church defenders) – This seems to be where the Church is headed in their quality control strategy. The ratio between how a product was represented and fact essentially becomes a trust index for how they buyer values their relationship with the financial advisor(s). For some people, this raises enough suspicion that they are willing to kabosh the whole thing then and there. This is true of whether the prospectus reveals any thing that increases how the buyer percieves the financial risk inherent in the product. Just the fact that they were “lied to”, which is often just a poor way articulating that they did not recieve what they felt was adequate disclosure, is enough. The response from the seller is usually a defensive, “why did you wait till now to read the prospectus?”. Never mind the rushed sales process and fine print, they place the blame on buyer for failing to do their own due dilligence. The criticism seems valid because prudence dictates that they buyer should have been looking out for themselves, but it carefully detours the argument from the sellers responsibility for objective full-disclosure.

    Additionally, one might ask, what prompted the buyer to all of the sudden buy the policy. Perhaps somewhere after the purchase they got a little more serious about their financial plan. Perhaps they were approached by another salesman for a competitor product, who necessarilly felt the need to point out ommissions in the former salesmans strategy. The incumbent salesman then spins this competition as nothing more than mudslinging, and now we have apologetics and “antis”.

    2) Objective analysis (The position preferred by those defending their decision to leave): This argument is much simpler. Regardless of the seller relationship, the question is to just re-evaluate the investment. This process does not necessarilly imply that the buyer will ultimately terminate the arrangement, though that option is possible. It may be that the risk has increased or changed, but not to a level that justifies terminating the ivestment. In other words, “I know the Church is true” becomes “I believe Church membership has at least “enough” value, where value can be determined by any number of things from spiritual/personal to social/communal. Conversely, however the buyer can determine that had certain details been made clear during the presentation, they would have never purchased the product. Not on account of how the product was sold, but rather based on how a buyer values the products projected ROI.

    I think most people who leave experience both a little of 1 and 2, as well as a good many who stay, of course. But, ultimately, I would argue that just like a investment policy, despite all of the various analytical methods that can be applied, but rigorous and sloppy, ultimately a buyer is left with some amount of uncertainty (risk) that they have decide whether they can manage. If there truly was a way to reasonably minimize the risk to a “risk free” investment, then such a thing could be demonstrated to a level that almost all of us would agree on. Subjective opinion, I know, but there you have it.

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  45. jks on February 2, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    Very interesting topic. Thanks for the post. I look forward to part 2.
    What I find the most interesting and useful, as I want to help perhaps “innoculate” my older children, is the idea of narratives. I don’t want my children to have their whole world crash down if they read historical things about the church or about Joseph Smith that don’t fit into their “narrative.” I believe I will enjoy discussing this idea with my oldest child who is 14.

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  46. Paolo on February 2, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    Howard,
    Well said, Agreed. One problem is it seems that there isn’t much inclustion in the church unless you can say “I know that XXXX is true”. I am of the opinion that a “testimony” is just as valid if someone says “I believe..”

    As has been noted, the church uses its history as the foundation for its truth claims. So when the narrative doesn’t match (or told in a much different way) the actual history, it begins to make one wonder what “Truth” really is. My disaffection is not based on “offenses”, or a desire to sin, but in the lack of a perceived truthfulness of the history that has been presented to me for over 50 years, as well as a few other things not germane to this particular topic of history.

    That said, although I don’t know what to do with the Book of Mormon, as I’m very skeptical as to its historicity, but I read it every day and enjoy the many profound teachings that have enriched my life.

    I am hoping to end my journey somewhere like a Bushman or Givens, where I can accept the church more on my terms, in spite of the presented history, as a comfortable place that has much goodness to offer me.

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  47. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 2, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    Kevin, you are so very right.

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  48. Ray on February 2, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    Yes, and no.

    Now I need to read the post and comments.

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  49. Aaron Lowry on February 2, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    #29 – Wow Will, you solved the whole puzzle in a mere four words. Genius.

    Well, I’m off to get my daily fix of hookers and blow. Thanks so much for clearing that up for me, I finally understand!

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  50. Howard on February 2, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    Do we really think that the leadership in the church sit there thinking ‘how can we lie and distort the past to make us look better? No I think that thinking was done long ago and it is just perpetuated by those in currently charge.

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  51. Brian on February 2, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    “In my experience, actually *studying* church history doesn’t in general lead to a loss of faith (although that possibility of course always exists). I suspect that when people talk about losing faith from studying church history, what they really mean is that they never studied church history at all and stubbed their toe over something problematic from the church’s past, and as a consequence felt deceived by the institution. When that happens, the remedy is to roll up one’s sleeves and actually study. If one has never cracked an issue of the Journal of Mormon History, for instance, then I think one has a misplaced conception of what the word “study” is supposed to mean.”

    Tad condescending, Kevin. Sounds like “actual” study is like “actual” prayer. There are almost 7 billion(with a “B”) people, less those who are not of age, that would disagree that “actual” study and prayer leads to a testimony of the LDS church.

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  52. Remlap on February 2, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    “I suspect that when people talk about losing faith from studying church history, what they really mean is that they never studied church history at all and stubbed their toe over something problematic from the church’s past, and as a consequence felt deceived by the institution…”

    Finding out that Joseph Smith married other men’s wives and fourteen year old girls is not stubbing your toes. Neither is finding out that the book of Abraham was not translated from the papyri as the church still maintains. It is more like being hit in the head with a baseball bat

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  53. Andrew S on February 2, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    I don’t want to shamelessly self-promote an article I recently wrote here (and in fact, because I’m commenting from my phone, I’m in no shape to put links in comments any way.)

    But Kevin (or others who say the issue is more about having never studied history and then stubbing a toe on it), if history is not the responsibility of the church, yet all information that’s generally available for a given historical event isn’t necessarily presented in a faith-friendly manner, and most people don’t get the training to prepare themselves for learning about history, then HOW are people supposed to learn? Where is the average person to find support?

    Keep in mind the average person probably does not have any training in historical methods and is not familiar at all with the philosophy of history. They may not find places like the Bloggernacle in time before finding out that people at their ward say be ill-equipped to address their issues.

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  54. Mike S on February 2, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    My 2 cents:

    The Church conflates the opinions of leaders as if they were speaking directly from God’s mouth. This even concerns the most trivial things, such as the number of earrings that are “appropriate”, the status of tattoos, whether 5-year-old girls should wear sun dresses, etc. To be a “TBM” is to accept all of these things as if they were absolutely true and necessary. The implication is that every word that comes from a Church leader is as if it’s from the mouth of God, whether or not that leader actually stated “Thus saith the Lord…”.

    Added to this is the absolutely emphatic statements prior leaders have made. Blacks will NEVER have the priesthood. There are inhabitants of the sun. We will NEVER send man to the moon – write that in your books. Evolution is a tool of Satan. Monogamy is of the devil and has led to the downfall of nations. Etc. Just like current members and earrings, etc., these were accepted by prior members of the Church as absolute.

    In looking at the increasingly available information, people are seeing that our leaders have been wrong, many times. They are men. And this leads to a certain tension for many people. Possible results:

    1) Rejection of Church. People feel lied to. People feel manipulated. This is what many of the articles allude to. Might inoculation against the unsavory parts of our history guard against this. Who knows? I would guess not. I suspect the current efforts of the Church will fail.

    2) Rejection of infallible leader philosophy. This is the acceptance of church leaders as men, just like us. It accepts the fact that some/much/most of the time, church leaders are giving their opinion and very little is “Thus saith the Lord…” level. But if someone accepts this in past leaders, they are inclined to accept this in current leaders as well. Hence the rise of “cafeteria Mormons” or StayLDS or any other similar situation. People accept the LDS Church for what good they get out of it, but reject portions as just someone’s opinions.

    3) Suspension of disbelief. Some people try a fine balance between accepting that prior Church leaders were fallible, yet current Church leaders as not and we really should follow every statement on things as trivial as earrings, etc. These people live by faith alone with the thought that things will all work out just fine.

    Really, these are just aspects of personalities. The ideal for the mainstream church would be for everyone to fall in category 3. For many people, this works. But for many others, they need more. Their minds need things to make sense. They can’t suspend disbelief. And there are two choices – reject it all, or drift into the cafeteria Mormon camp. But the Church doesn’t like those two.

    It is a difficult place to be. I’m glad I’m not in Church leadership.

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  55. dpc on February 2, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    @Mike S

    I agree with you that the Church doesn’t like category 1, but I disagree as far as category 2 is concerned. I think many church leaders would love to have those people attending church and participating in whatever capacity they feel comfortable

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  56. Jared on February 2, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    Jake: Is church history dangerous to faith?

    From my perspective church history isn’t dangerous to faith. True faith does not rely on church history.

    The faith of those who have been converted by the power of the Holy Ghost is rock solid because of the mighty change they’ve experienced.

    Their prayers are answered frequently so their confidence in God grows strong. If they continue faithful they know they will enter into the rest of the Lord.

    Years ago, while at the temple, Marion G Romney told me that he was at a point in his life where he could reach out and take hold of the power of God when he exercised faith. The opposition created by Church history can’t affect that kind of faith.

    Converted church members don’t care a great deal about issues in church history. They can be troubled and wonder, but their foundation of faith does not include church history.

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  57. Jessica on February 2, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    I think that it is the all or nothing rhetoric that kills
    It for so many. And it really don’t have to be that way.

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  58. Ray on February 2, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    This is over-simplistic, I know, but here goes anyway – and I’m NOT excepting myself from it:

    I think people don’t believe what they see; rather, they see what they believe.

    I think that’s true of pretty much everyone – that there really aren’t any truly, totally objective people on this planet. However, people are blind to their own blind spots.

    I think that means when somethings shakes one’s belief to the point where it changes one’s view, “reality” changes – and people react differently.

    1) They simply switch black-and-white, all-or-nothing realities. Nothing really changes about the way they look at things; they just “switch allegiances”, so to speak. They are just as sure of themselves as they ever were, but they are sure of something else – often a repusiation of their past beliefs.

    2) They ignore the newness out of fear (about any number of things) and continue their previous life but with a totally different view. They tend to become miserable and/or cynical – feeling “different” and “trapped”.

    3) They lose their black-and-white view and adopt a negatively relativisitc stance. If they can’t feel like they “know”, they believe nobody else can know either.

    4) They lose their black-and-white view and adopt a positively relativistic stance. They lose their certainty and search for what they personally believe, but they don’t transpose that position on anyone else. They accept that everyone sees things differently – and that seeing things diferently is OK. They look for deeper meaning for themselves, but they don’t try to shatter the deeper meaning others hold.

    There are more options, but those are the main ones I’ve seen in my life.

    So, does studying church history lead to apostasy? I’m back to my shorter answer:

    Yes, for some people, if you define “study” and “apsostasy” in specific ways. No, for some people, if you define “study” and “apostasy” in specific ways. I personally believe in open, full study of history – but that might be because I have the personality that took me into teaching history in the first place and the personality that leaves open lots of possibilities and actually likes ambiguity and paradox.

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  59. Clark on February 2, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    Mike S, no offense but that’s just silly. No one should think leaders are infallible. And I’ve heard more than enough talks by GAs making that point to feel confident it is a TBM position. However neither does that mean we can just discount what they say the way the stereotype of cafeteria Mormons presents. It’s definitely a position stronger than “just someone’s opinion” but not the same as God telling it to you.

    I think a lot of people fall away because they buy into a fundamentalist approach to the gospel (which I don’t think most Mormons hold in the least) Then when the reality that such a position doesn’t work sets in rather than rethinking that aspect of how they thought they instead start blaming the Church for being manipulative.

    As for the survey I think there are two problems. First, how was the selection done. If it’s not truly random then honestly it’s pretty meaningless. Second, there’s inherent problems with self-description accounts. I may feel like something is the reason I do something while the reasons I actually do it are different. For instance I’d lay really good odds that the #1 reason people leave the church has less to do with doctrine or sin and more to do with socialization and friends. But honestly, who’s going to say that? Rather that’s a deeper underlying cause that some might give but many might not even see as the catalyst to other problems.

    Finally none of this has anything to do with studying doctrine or history. The vast majority of people have no trouble. Rough Stone Rolling rolled off the bookshelves when it came out and wasn’t followed by massive hue and cry by the membership. Instead it was well regarded by everyone including the leadership.

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  60. simplysarah on February 2, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    For me, history was not the reason for my deconversion – it was just the icing on the cake.

    I stopped going to church because the fruits of gospel living (in my life and in the lives of those I observed) led me to doubt. For months though, I remained “confused but believing” — until I finally let myself REconsider church history. In the course of thirty minutes of research my deconversion was complete, because I realized that I no longer believed in the divinity of events I already knew about.

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  61. aerin on February 2, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    To start a threadjack, there is no valid reason for apostacy, leaving the church. So no matter what anyone says, history, socialization, culture, the problem is with the apostate, not the LDS church.

    Until there can be a respect for someone who chooses to leave because of the treatment of women (for example), progress won’t be made. Until the leadership and members stop making ad hominem attacks on former members (like suggesting people leave only because of a poor marital relationship, or because they have homosexual relatives). It has worked (sort of) for a long time. But eventually, people realize that there are all sorts of mormons at many different levels of faith and with many different understandings and perspectives on the gospel.

    Each person should have the right to join or leave without personal consequences. Each person should have the right to join or leave without their character or personal values coming into question.

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  62. Jeff Spector on February 2, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    Here ‘s a few observations that I think are issues for the Church:

    It is true that some aspect of the history are downplayed. Yes, you can find polygamy in the literature and the lessons, but you wouldn’t find anything about Joseph Smith’s practice. There were little to no mention in the Teachings of Brigham Young, but just about everyone in the universe knows BY had 29 wives and 64 children.

    Most of the lesson manuals are way, way, way out of date and need to be updated and conformed to modern times.

    There is a tendency among local leadership to choose the most conservative, Orthodox members to be in leadership and they do not relate well to anyone who might have questions or struggle.

    There is a tendency to look down on folks who might not fit the mainstream model, even if very few of us actually fit the model we judge others against!

    BUT, I do not see the rigidity in the overall Church that some seem to complain about.
    I KNOW that Church Leaders are not infallible.
    I KNOW that all of us are human and make mistakes and offend others from time to time.
    I KNOW that some folks are sometimes overly sensitive and get offended a little too easily.
    I KNOW that we all look at things slightly differently and what may bother some person may not bother another.
    I KNOW that I, like Davis Bitton, do not have a testimony of Church History, but of Jesus Christ.

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  63. dpc on February 2, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    @aerin

    For ‘apostates’ to be uber critical of the Church and its motivess, teachings, history, culture, etc. and then cry foul when they themselves are questioned about their motives is more than a little hypocritical.

    Go onto exmormon.org or postmormon.org and read the exit narratives and then tell me how many involve failed relationships, failed marriages and close homosexual relatives and then come back and tell me that it’s an ad hominem attack. I didn’t say that exmormon suck at life and therefore they leave. I said exmormons have events in their life (apart from studying church history) that lead to disaffection. I think relationships play a huge role in our understanding of the world and our place in it. It stands to reason that when those relationships change, it also changes our understanding of the world and our place in it. How is that an ad hominem attack?

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  64. [...] There is a wide variety of angles to approach this news story. At the boring surface level, we could talk about disaffection in the church. (But wouldn’t we talk about that without being prompted by Reuters articles?) Perhaps we could talk about the fact that Elder Jensen was candid about the church leaders’ knowledge of the situation. (But Elder Jensen has said candid things in private before…in fact, a previous Jensen controversy is why we are all here at W&T.) Maybe we could talk about the fact that these news articles coincide with Open Stories Foundation’s preliminary release of survey results on why Mormons leave the church? (Ah, our very own Jake has already covered this point.) [...]

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  65. NoCoolName_Tom on February 2, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    I’m going to pull a Newt Gingrich and say what I think even if it sounds horrible and wrong. I think that people like dpc have a point in discussing things like relationships and their interplay with faith changes.

    On my mission we were encouraged to talk to people we knew had recently gone through family trauma or change: a death in the family, a divorce, just moved, lost their job, etc. These people were more “receptive” and the MP told us without any irony that if we focused on these groups our numbers would go up. And later on he said that they *did* go up.

    So, based on this anecdotal evidence, I think it is entirely appropriate to say that people are open to changing their opinion on matters of faith in the face of major life changes. And if someone is going to claim that the majority of people leave the Church because of a foundation of relationship issues, I’m going to simply assume that they also feel the same way about people who join the Church. Unless we’re going to start arguing that study and careful thought actually *do* have a place in these decisions that overwhelms the paltry influence of family issues, or that being in a position of being “compelled to be humble” only moves people one way into the Church and not out of it, as well.

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  66. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    First off I don’t know we would expect to find discussions or mention of Brigham Young’s marriages in a book about his teachings…even if he did teach it it has no relevance to saints living today.
    Second, if “the Church” is so secretive, has lied about, covered up or whatever buzzword people looking beyond the mark use, how did the “real” history of the Church end up on anti-mormon websites? I mean if it all got out to them then sloppy not secretive is what I’d say

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  67. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    #66: whizzbang,
    The Church has been and is secretive. It has lied, and and has admitted it’s has lied.
    What JS or BY did or said in the past is “relevance to saints living today”.
    I don’t understand what you mean that the Church has been ‘sloppy’. Sloppy with what__ their secrets?

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  68. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    @67-CFR on that the “Church” has lied. Eber Howe, Fawn Brodie, Grant Palmer, Richard Abanes and a host of others have found enough book material. If the Church was secretive or covered up stuff we wouldn’t know about it because it would be covered up. I actually use the Church Archives and they treat me well, never had any problems. I don’t understand why what JS or BY had said in the past is always relevant to today. We don’t practice polygamy so we can disregard theirs and others teachings on that. If all these critics know the real history then they obviously got it somehow and so the Church has been sloppy in not having it covered up or lying about it

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  69. Childe Jake on February 2, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Some very interesting food for thought in this post Jake. My responses:

    “Why do you think that history and doctrine is so important to members?”

    First and foremost, the LDS Church’s claim of direct and exclusive priesthood authority from God rests on historical claims. No literal restoration of priesthood authority as claimed in vivid detail by Joseph Smith and others? No legitimate claim to direct and exclusive priesthood authority.

    “Is church history dangerous to faith?”

    It seems to be for some. For me, it wasn’t merely the history. It was how that history was blatantly swept under the rug by my mission president and other members. It was also the lack of preparation I was given with regard to the Church’s history, so that when I served a mission I routinely crossed paths with non-Mormons who knew the Church’s history better than me. I became very disenchanted with the party line to avoid debate and just testify, testify, testify. I wanted to have good answers to fair questions about the Church’s historical claims. But I never found satisfying answers.

    “How do you reconcile the orthodox interpretation of history with other versions?”

    I don’t. I wasn’t able to. I don’t think they can be reconciled in any reasoned, intellectually fair way.

    “Why do you think people leave the church?”

    I did stop practicing in large part because of a careful study of the church’s history. But in retrospect, I became more open to doubting the Church’s historical claims because I doubted the Book of Mormon first (specifically the Trinitarian-esque way it renders the Godhead). After I started actively doubting the Book of Mormon, historical study compounded my concerns. Then the Adam-God Doctrine blew things wide open and I started doubting everything. I had to leave because I reached a point where I couldn’t participate wholeheartedly.

    “Is the church dishonest in how it presents its history?”

    I would use the word disingenuous instead of dishonest. Most official church publications I’ve read tend to whitewash the history. Plus, when you deeply want something to be real, your mind can go to great lengths to find alternate explanations, including shoddy ones, or even engage in outright denial. And that type of intellectual looseness is certainly not unique to Mormonism, or even religion.

    “Is greater access to alternate views causing a rise in apostasy?”

    I’m not qualified to answer that question, because I don’t have any reliable data. But as you can learn even in Sunday School, where the history tends to be glossed over, apostasy is nothing new.

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  70. Mike S on February 2, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    #68 wizzbang: I don’t understand why what JS or BY had said in the past is always relevant to today

    Huh? Isn’t that the foundation of the whole Church?

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  71. whizzbang on February 2, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    @70-not everything they said is relevant to today. Joseph Smith instructing the British saints in 1840 the best way to get to Nauvoo, is cool, but not relevant to us today.

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  72. Jaramiah on February 2, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    I can say that ONE of the times I was ready to quit going to church was when I was in a homosexual relationship. I didn’t want to be bothered by callings, going to the Sunday block etc. I wanted to spend time with my BF and travel on the weekends. And I wanted to drink, because he drank (and it tasted awful). There is a personal example of ‘bottom reason #1″ (No pun intended)

    Later, as a practicing member with a secret past, I wanted to quit going to church again. This involved feeling like I had been placed in a position of liability on an out of town Stake youth activity where youth got in trouble after their responsibility had been transferred to another member of the Stake. There was some tarnishing of my standing, at least by my recounting of the events. There is an example of ‘bottom reason #2″.

    And the most recent challenge to my activity relates to an unwanted calling that further lost its meaning with the collective events of family calamity, job stress, and isolation related to parenting issues with which the majority of my ward don’t seem to relate. “Bottom reason #3″ is related.

    I guess, however, you can say that it is significant that I HAVE NOT left the church, so I’m in a different demographic than those who took the survey.

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  73. NewlyHousewife on February 2, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    if history is not the responsibility of the church, yet all information that’s generally available for a given historical event isn’t necessarily presented in a faith-friendly manner, and most people don’t get the training to prepare themselves for learning about history, then HOW are people supposed to learn? Where is the average person to find support?

    A “Beginners Guide to Mormon History: 10 Books You Should Read First” would make a great post, and maybe if we’re lotto-lucky they’ll put it in next months Ensign.

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  74. Andrew S on February 2, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    NewlyHousewife:

    I think the interesting thing is that you could probably find such posts throughout the Bloggernacle…but as you say as well, it would be unlikely to find that in the Ensign.

    So the question is: is the Bloggernacle widely known among the membership, and does it have institutional credibility? If people are confronting certain issues, do they know where to turn to?

    For me, I found the Bloggernacle mostly after my disaffection. It was too late, really.

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  75. Jake on February 2, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    @71 I think that information is in fact very useful. I am British and only the other day I said a prayer to try and find out how to get to Nauvoo. My prayer has been answered.

    @65 “On my mission we were encouraged to talk to people we knew had recently gone through family trauma or change: a death in the family, a divorce, just moved, lost their job, etc. ”

    This has always concerned me, as it just seems like a sinister targeting of the vulnerable in trying to get them when they are weak and susceptible.

    However, it does make me think that perhaps you are right that part of it is how we view the world, and how willing we are to accept other world views. A major change throws our world upside down, so as we reconstruct it we are able to change it. Humans are wonderful at self-deception and seeing only that which confirms our own world view and ignore the rest. So perhaps when we are in a state in which we are more open to our own weakness, or flawed world view, or when our life is not stable, it means when we read a difficult piece of history we are liable to a gestalt shift from one stance to another as we are more fluid in our thinking. Thinking about it. Personally, my own crisis of faith came in the wake after a traumatic break up.

    I also wonder if there is a link between how long people have been members of the church and how much the study of history is destructive to their faith. If you have been a member for 30 years and you find out that what you’ve been told is a misrepresentation, that is going to hurt a lot more then someone who joined 2 years before it. On the other hand, being in the church 30 years, means that it is likely that they would be less willing to switch, as we become more entrenched in our beliefs the older we get.

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  76. Jake on February 2, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    Andrew,

    I think that is a really interesting point. Where can you turn for accurate history? What is the forum in which one can critically engage? I don’t think that there is one. The Bloggernacle in some ways is there, but I don’t think thats really the answer. As it is usually just people debating rather then a discussion and systematic look at the sources. When I compare history in the bloggernacle to my graduate school classes, they are worlds apart. For study to be meaningful it needs to involve dialogue and discussion. Mormon Stories and the bloggernacle do have some discussion, but its just not the same as sitting round a table face to face talking about it for an hour or two.

    I think the solution is not that we need to teach church history. I love history and I’m doing a PhD in it but it really is a bit superfluous to life. I think the fact is that members need to be taught to think critically and encouraged to have freedom of thought. If members were taught to use their God given brains to think, and to use the socratic method of critical thinking, then it would solve a lot of problems.

    Although, one could argue that if you taught members to think for themselves and be critical, then it would increase the level of disaffection to astronomical heights.

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  77. Bob on February 2, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    @ Jake,
    #75 Assumes change will come from the body of the Church and not the 5% of it’s heavy thinkers and writers. Church History is now in the hands of BYU and Think Tanks. Someone like Bushman does more to set the direction of Church History thinking than any GA or member.(IMO).

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  78. Andrew S on February 2, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    re 76,

    Jake,

    That really just bumps my question up a level…but it doesn’t actually answer it.

    So, you say, the solution is not that we need to teach church history. Instead, we need to teach members to think critically. So, my question becomes: who will prepare members to think critically? Who will provide guidance for critical thinking in a mature, faithful way?

    Because, as even you admit, “one could argue that if you taught members to think for themselves and be critical, then it would increase the level of disaffection.” Clearly, there are different ways to go about it.

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  79. Mike S on February 2, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    #55 dpc:

    I agree with you that the Church doesn’t like category 1, but I disagree as far as category 2 is concerned. I think many church leaders would love to have those people attending church and participating in whatever capacity they feel comfortable

    Perhaps they would like them in the pews, but in reality there is little “role” for them in the actual workings of the Church. Imagine a bishop who taught that the pseudo-doctrine related to earrings was merely Pres Hinckley’s opinion. Imagine a General Authority who differed with the “united front”. Imagine a stake president suggesting that the Church stand on homosexuality was wrong. It’s not going to happen.

    If you disagree, look at those who publicly disagreed with the Church’s stand on blacks and the priesthood in the 1970′s – they were ostracized. And it was only a few short years later that McConkie said “I was wrong”. There are many examples.

    So, I think the only place for “fully-engaged, hierarchy-eligible, etc” members is type 3 (as above). Cafeteria Mormons need not apply.

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  80. hawkgrrrl on February 3, 2012 at 4:34 AM

    Mike S – I imagined it, and it was sweet!

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  81. Paul on February 3, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    #26: Kevin: ” I suspect that when people talk about losing faith from studying church history, what they really mean is that they never studied church history at all and stubbed their toe over something problematic from the church’s past, and as a consequence felt deceived by the institution.”

    #12 Howard: “In general I think the main problem is the church’s blatant dishonesty. They ignore or hid history while implying or teaching something completely different.”

    This dichotomy seems to be the crux of the “history” concern — either one was naive and then learned disturbing truth, or one was lied to and learned the real truth.

    My own experience is closer to Kevin’s description: really looking for answers led me to answers. But I know others who have aligned themselves with Howard’s view, too.

    That said, the number of people I know who have left because of history is relatively small. Most have left because of apathy or disaffection, or because they were simply not “in” the church enough to begin with.

    It is not surprising, however, that a John Dehlin poll would yield the results his did, knowing his audience. That the results are explainable does not mean they are not important.

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  82. Ray on February 3, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    “Imagine a bishop who taught that the pseudo-doctrine related to earrings was merely Pres Hinckley’s opinion. Imagine a General Authority who differed with the “united front”. Imagine a stake president suggesting that the Church stand on homosexuality was wrong. It’s not going to happen.”

    Individual experiences and the resulting perspectives are interesting. I’ve heard each of those things listed above as “not going to happen” actually happen – more than once, in more than one location, at more than one level. Therefore, my experience says it not only is “going to happen” but it “already is happening”.

    I will modify my previous comment just a bit:

    People don’t believe what they see; they see what they believe – often based on what they’ve experienced in the past. Everything we believe is filtered through a lens, and that lens is shaped by inate personality AND experience. Thus, we see through a glass, darkly – and that variable darkness is at the heart of how different people react to the same fundamental experience.

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  83. Jeff Spector on February 3, 2012 at 8:24 AM

    Where I see a big difference here is where the extremes are stated as reality.

    The Church is not as rigid as some claim and it is certainly not as open as others say.

    Members do not get discipled for “thinking” anything that might be contrary to the so-called party line.

    The biggest lesson I learned after joining the Church is it is not as homogeneous in their view of doctrine, practice and culture. And that is a good thing. It’s not as wild,wild west as say, Judaism. but not everyone thinks alike.

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  84. Bob on February 3, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    #83: Jeff,
    “Members do not get discipled for “thinking” anything that might be contrary to the so-called party line”.
    No___, but they will be disciplined for saying, doing, or writing that which is contrary to the thinking of Church leaders.

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  85. Alastor M. on February 3, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    In the Church there a is a significant truth value position — the Doctrine of the Apostasy and Restoration. These Doctrines are core to the founding of the Church and explain the need for Joseph Smith and why the Church speaks of the Restoration of the Priesthood.

    To be overly pendantic, restoration is defined as, “The return of something to a former owner, place, or condition.” (as per Google).

    The imliciations of studying Church Doctrine is that you end up studying history. The two are intertwined, and I am not sure that you can tease out the history from the doctrine. The problem with the history and the doctrine, is that it become painfully obvious that Church doctrine has evolved, been changed or abandoned over the course of the 180 or so years.

    This begs the serious question as to why was Joseph Smith needed and why was the Church needed and what exactly was restored. If, in the course of the Church’s history, doctrine and ordinances have been changed (i.e. Adam-God as taught by Brigham Young, Blacks and the Priesthood, Polygamy, the nature of God, deification of Man, etc, Temple Endowment covenent and wording changes, and the Temple Initatories), then the legitimate and honest question of what does the term restoration mean in the context of Mormonism?

    For me, the reason studying Church history was detrimential to my faith was because I saw that the narrative upon which I based my faith histrocially inaccurate, and that there appeared to be a prima-facia apostasy in beliefs and ordinances. When you here the faithful histories in Church and learn lessons form them it causes one to pause and wonder how the Holy Spirit can testify to a lie. Or if Church leaders can be trusted to tell the truth, how do you know what is being taught it true in the first place. Or if our character matters so much — to the point that we can be excluded from participation or kicked out of Church entirely — how could prophets like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young engage in activities that would result in their excommunication if they were but lay members?

    From there, I went through three years of re-evaluation, study, prayer and trying to salvage my faith before calling it quits. It was earth shattering when I finally dared asked the question, “what if its not true?”

    Sin and pride had nothing to do my disaffection, unless you call pride using my own God-given faculty to think and act upon the best information that I could find. To be frank, there are those who apostize and then there are those who go jack-Mormon. To conflate the two is disingenious and isn’t helpful to the dialog. In the case of those who apostize, it is patently unfair to accuse them of malicious sin or wanting to be lazy or even being prideful (how is apostizing prideful? is it prideful to reach an independent conclusion?).

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  86. hawkgrrrl on February 3, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Maybe it is boredom that leads to disaffection, as with marriage. You’re tired of the same old, same old. You start looking around. You become critical. You discover unsavory things you didn’t realize before. Next thing you know, Newt Gingrich.

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  87. Cowboy on February 3, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    Re: Alastor #85:

    Alastor makes excellent points, you cannot effectively teach the Mormon gospel without appealing to some historical claims. The Book of Mormon for example, is a double-whammy. Regardless of how you slice it, you have to insist that in the more contemporary claim that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel, who claimed to be one of the characters of The Book of Mormon, was taken to Cummorah, and unearthed and translated the plates. So there is a point of history that can be contended with. Next, for most sane people, you then have to deal directly with the claims made in and about The Book of Mormon, asserting to be a real history. That’s just dealing with the Book of Mormon. Then you have the First Vision, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the even more suspicious restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. You have the testimony of the various witnesses to the plates, etc. Each of these events are strangely unverifiable, and interwined with a host of reasonably verifiable history that is less flattering to restoration claims that is generally left out of the corporate discourse. So, how would one teach Mormonism without history?

    About pride – Religion has unfortunately been generally allowed to persist uncontested in the assertion, that religious faith, proselytizing, and preaching, is somehow “humble”. Now, I’m certainly not going to argue that certain expressions of faith can’t be humble, but I think too many get way with claiming humility by association rather than practice. I find it hard to see how religious assertions and positions of certainty, coupled with harsh criticism of non-conforming but not self-evidently wrong manners of conduct, can be devoid of pride. Quite to the contrary, I think it takes a great deal of pride and arrogance to insist that people are bad or sinful, on account of failing to conform idiosyncratic religious norms. The easy target would some of what Mormons call “modesty”. A woman or young lady who wears tank tops for example, is often considered “immodest”. In some way or another, the insinuation is that she has less respect for the sacredness of her body, or sexuality, than a good modest LDS woman. In worse case scenario’s she is considered a slut, though you would generally not hear this term. Often the term used is “worthy”, or particularly for LDS Young Women, “Temple Worthy”. She is somehow impure and unable to marry a good man, in the LDS Temple.

    We could explore other examples. Mark Gibson (Comment #01) provides us with a great example of the extreme end of how “righteous humility” percieves competing ideology. Choosing simply to disregard the explanation of defected Mormons, he assumes the right to declare their “true” motivation, that underlying their “pretentious” arguments of history/doctrine is a desire to be wicked. The point is, I would contend that this is not humility at all. It is in fact pride on divinely engineered steroids.

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  88. Cowboy on February 3, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    RE: Kevin (#26):

    “If one has never cracked an issue of the Journal of Mormon History, for instance, then I think one has a misplaced conception of what the word “study” is supposed to mean.”

    I think it is important to understand context here. If I was going to publish a piece on Mormon history, or in any way present myself as a scholar or authority on Mormon history, then Kevin is completely right. If the intent is to decide whether one believes in the restoration and divine claims of Mormonism, then I completely disagree with necessity of Kevins argument. First, the simplist contradiction to this statement is that of The Book of Mormon. The patented model for proving Mormonism, as per the Missionary program, is to read The Book of Mormon and pray about it. In fact, when I was on my mission we were actually given an approved reading list of literally five books plus the Standard Works, that we were allowed to read. The Journal of Mormon History wasn’t on that list. In fact, on my mission, the Journal of Discourses was specifically prohibited, as were McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, and the Encycolpedia of Mormonism.

    Secondly, I get something of an odd implication from Kevin’s argument. Is he likewise critical of those who join the Church without studying the Journal of Mormon history, or just those who leave without having done “real” studying? Afterall, if Mormon history matters, how can a person have enough information to join without having done at least the same level of studying that ought to be required to leave?

    I agree with the idea that the decisions should be carefully pondered, and researched. I just find it contradictory that Kevin feels a person is unjustified in their research (excluding scholarly researchers) when his critique is one- sided. The average “researching” critic isn’t trying to compete with Bushman. They are just trying to decide whether the investment is sound enough. I encounter this with business Statistical Process Control, all the time. In business statistics companies use science in a very non-academic way to makes decisions. We collect low-cost data, understanding that our application of science would never pass muster in a scientific journal, but then again…we don’t need it to. The level of rigor needed to get that kind of data is often cost or time prohibitive. So we work with inferior data and bigger assumptions, to reduce the uncertainty of certain decisions. This isn’t an excuse for sloppy or lazy work, as even in business that results in failures. It just means that we need not apply all the standards of academic science, to routine decision making. Frankly, religion is just decision making. Besides, and let’s be frank. There is no doubt that the Journal of Mormon History is going to provide us a better view of Mormon History…but is it really going to get us any closer to verifying the First Vision???? I am perfectly confident that if a person had a certain faith/”testimony” of the first vision, they probably wouldn’t “stubb their toe” on treasure seeking or polygamy!

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  89. Jake D. on February 3, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    History is problematic because of the disparity between things like Joseph Smith’s behavior and his actual behavior erodes confidence in his claims. From there it’s easy to investigate the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the translation of the Book of Abraham to determine the truth claims of the LDS church.

    Personally, I had no problems with this like polygamy, first vision problems, peep stones, and treasure seeking. For me it came down to is the BOM a actual history of a real people or not. The smallest of critical investigation for me revealed dozens of contradictory evidence that unfortunately the poor apologetics written to defend the church did little to help.

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  90. Mithryn on February 3, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    Howdy all. I’m one of the members who took the survey.

    I’d like to take a second and explain some of what I’ve seen/understood to help clean up some misconceptions.

    1. We all just want to sin.

    Currently I still live all the commandments that the church required. I really don’t have any desire to “sin”. Many of the people I socialize with who have left the church also don’t “sin”.

    At the same time, I do see many members who drink alcohol at parties and then repent later, or had sex outside of marriage who continue in the faith.

    So I’m not sure why anyone would need to leave the church and endure the traumatic experience and immense social pressure just to have a glass of wine with dinner or something. The logic just doesn’t follow.

    But I understand that this concept that people leave over trivial things comes from the lessons on Thomas B. Marsh (Milk Strippings). However, if you actually read his history, it becomes clear that the milk strippings issue had been resolved. He WAS excommunicated however along with Orson Hyde (who, incidentally didn’t do any milk strippings at all). Both were excommunicated after they signed an affidavit explaining that they saw the mormon’s returning with stolen goods after burning down the store in Gallatin.

    That’s not trivial, nor minor. The painting of Thomas Marsh as leaving over something trivial, when really he was excommunicated over reporting the initial strike that lead to the 1838 mormon war… well it’s just a bit midleading.

    It’s that sort of history that we leave over.

    2. But it’s not just history.

    I think many of you hit the nail on the head that the survey did kind of lead. It’s there to make a point, and that point is that history matters far more than “Wanting to sin” or “offense”.

    What causes an issue is that the leadership crafts the manuals intentionally to hide the history. (i.e. Thomas Marsh above).

    And one story isn’t enough to make anyone leave, but when you see story after story reshaped/ reformed/ tooled to mislead it breaks down trust.

    And I think that’s the real reason people leave. The lose trust. Trust in Joseph Smith. Trust in the current leadership. Trust in local leadership.

    Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it is not.

    Oh, and as to the author saying it isn’t a crisis, according to BYU professor Frederick Gedicks, 300,000+ leave every year. Odds are, more people are closeted doubters than you realize.

    http://svu.edu/speeches/forums/2011/frederick-gedicks

    Hope that helps. Feel free to ask me any questions.

    Mithryn (exmormon.reddit.com moderator)

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  91. NewlyHousewife on February 3, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    To answer Andrew S’s question (that seemed to have gotten lost in the discussion), last night I had a great awakening moment (or in other words I was bored out of my mind and started wondering random things):

    Parents teach their kids the real history during family home evening.

    And the church publishes a real history book to help parents teach their kids.

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  92. Jessica on February 3, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    Parents have to teach it, we do. But we also teach them that not everyone will agree or see it that way. I think that in my mind that was the only way to be fair to my kids. To teach them truth just as we do everything. But once my 9 year old said something totally harmless “did you know that some people think we actually baptize dead bodies in the temple” and the member of the bishopric who has lived outside utah had no idea how to handle it or even say that yes some people do, but we don’t actually do that. That would have been helpful to all the kids who have never heard it.

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  93. Ray on February 3, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    I agree that the primary responsibility to teach rests in the home.

    I had a very open discussion last might with my oldest daughter about my and her perspectives about polygamy and the Word of Wisdom. She came to me to ask specifically because she knows I’m fine with different views and won’t chastise or demean her in any way, even if she ends up seeing things differently than I do.

    It was a good, long conversation.

    Having said all that, there are MANY members who are converts and/or who don’t have parents who can or will teach them in that way. “The Church” bears a lot of responsibility for them, so teachers should be open to multiple views, as well, imo.

    Easier said than done.

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  94. Brian on February 3, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Mithryn–thanks for the Gedicks link.

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  95. Jake on February 3, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    In response to Andrew’s question. I think that the onus to think critically rests primarily with the parents. However, I think the church should also teach it. When I have been a sunday school teacher, I make sure that my class knows that there are many ways in which to interpret the text, and that as long as they are logically consistent its as valid as any other interpretation.

    Honestly, if people took the Joseph Smith narrative and applied it there own life, I think that alone teaches critical thought. That is the greatest thing I have learnt from Joseph, is that we should question the status quo.

    In conjunction I think A lot of it comes down to toleration, moderation and humility though. If teachers and members were more tolerant about difference then church would be a better experience. We often are not open to multiple views, because we are proud and think our view is right, and therefore all other views must be wrong. A little bit of humility about the fact our position is only one of many is needed. If the church was more humble about its perspective on history it would do so much to help it. Rather then insist their perspective is right, and then stubbornly refuse to consider other perspectives.

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  96. Bob on February 3, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    #95: Jake.
    “…insist their perspective is right”. It’s not about just ‘perspective’. It’s about withhold history that the Church KNOWS is truer.
    The Church, I am sure, knew for a hundred years, JS had many mariages, but told no one. The Church knew polygamy policy had not stopped in 1890, but told no one.

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  97. Wyoming on February 4, 2012 at 10:10 PM

    I don’t have a testimony of the history of the church – I wasn’t there. I knew the people that were the product of the restoration (children of pioneers), those who knew Joseph Smith and what they sacrificed for their belief.

    I only know what I have experienced. I choose to interpret those experiences as evidence of the reality of a God, the Atonement of Christ, inspiration of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and the power of vision and dreams.

    David Britton’s I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKUUzvAbm5M

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  98. [...] similar news. This led many people to discuss whether the CoJCoL-dS ought to knock it off with the (counter-productive) [...]

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  99. Joe S on February 5, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    Ironically, I think people leave the LDS Church for the 10 Reasons specified in the Ministry Best Practices article. But we erroneously associate the causal relationship to a “Loss of Faith Because of History”.

    I believe that the average LDS Member (remember, I said average and not “all”) is bored out of their mind. An average LDS Service is horrible. Look around an average chapel. Half of the members are browsing their smart-phones. And the other half are fighting children (who are also bored out of their minds)… or they are sleeping. LDS Church services are not fun!!!

    Then you add in all the “baggage”… huge time commitments, ten percent of your income, required willingness to accept all of the known historical baggage, etc., and you have a recipe for disaster. People learn about the truth. And they decide that they no longer need to use the “I am bored out of my mind but I attend because it is True…” excuse. So they simply leave.

    Me personally… I knew about a lot of the “problems”. But I didn’t realize the depth. In short, I didn’t realize how bad the “cover-up” was until I really dug into the historical issues. But once I did, I got to the point where I could no longer drink the Kool-Aid. Seriously, why bother with the institution if it is likely a fraud? After all, the institution has way too much baggage that violates my moral compass (ERA, racial prejudice, prop-8, polygamy, lack of financial disclosure, etc.).

    I still attend, but only to support a TBDW. If I could convince her to leave (she doesn’t want to read the history because “It scares her… to think it could be true…”), we would.

    And every Sunday I cringe as people perpetuate myths as facts… and I cringe every time someone passes on some tidbit of Pharisaical judgment (she has too many earrings, so she must be bad). In addition, the songs and talks bore me to tears. Personally, I can think of five other Christian denominations that I would rather attend (if I where to attend any).

    In short, the LDS Church LIES shattered my foundational beliefs so severely that I don’t even know if I believe in God.
    __________________________

    DCB, et el: Seriously? You are really that naive? Or are you a sociopath?

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  100. [...] loss of active membership in the Mormon Church have been picked up by the media and are creating a maelstrom among Mormons and their critics. I hope Elder Jensen will not be chastised by the brethren for [...]

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  101. dpc on February 6, 2012 at 8:25 AM

    @Joe S

    Glad to hear that your newly enlightened position on history doesn’t stop you from harshly judging your erstwhile fellow believers as Pharisaical dupes.

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  102. Joe S on February 6, 2012 at 10:06 PM

    @dpc

    So you are saying sociopath. Okay.

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  103. Joe S on February 6, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Oh… and dpc. Yes. I try my hardest to be nice. And I bite my tongue often.

    But my moral compass prevents me from standing by idly (for too long) if someone demonstrates a repeated pattern of rude, disrespectful behavior. I have to call them on it.

    “Harsh judgement”? Probably not. Rather, it is just a statement of the obvious.

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  104. [...] from the Open Stories Foundation survey (PDF alert) on why Mormons disaffect from the church. Jake at Wheat & Tares had a discussion addressing it (and will also have the second part of that post tomorrow, so be on the lookout for that.) [...]

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