Dehlin asks, “Where do we go?”

By: Mormon Heretic
July 23, 2012

The Church’s correlated manuals are narrowly focused on topics the Church wants to reinforce with members.  When members want to learn more about Church history, there really aren’t any resources availabe to Church members, and in the past, it seems the Church has tried to discourage participation in events like Sunstone Symposia, or reading Dialogue magazine.  John Dehlin took a short break in Part 5 of the Richard Bushman Interview to ask some rhetorical questions that I think are worth asking.

John Dehlin

JD, “In my opinion, Dr. Bushman walks a very fine and difficult line.  On the one hand, he is viewed almost universally as a faithful devoted member of the LDS Church, not only in good standing, but as we mentioned before, currently serving as a patriarch for the Church. His books have been widely sold in Church bookstores and many feel that he has at least tacit approval from leaders of the LDS Church to do what he is doing.  We should not underestimate the heavy burden that he must feel in this position. Notwithstanding, Dr. Bushman is not only a scholar, but remains a clear champion of more open, honest, and accurate history within the LDS Church.

He is not merely defending Joseph and the Church.  He is also calling for change, improvements if you will on all of our parts.  This position between the extremes can be a very lonely road to walk.  On the one hand, he risks being criticized by conservatives as eroding faith by airing too much “dirty laundry” as they say.  On the other hand he exposes himself to ridicule, derision and even blind dismissal by disaffected Mormons for acting out the role of apologist.  Again, this can be a very lonely road to walk, one that requires deep faith, heavy preparation, strong integrity, and conviction.  In my estimation, Dr. Bushman deserves great praise and admiration for trying to walk this middle path.  While dissenting scholars like Brodie, Quinn, Palmer, Compton, and Vogel clearly deserve our deep respect, so does Dr. Bushman.  Regardless of what type of Mormon or ex-Mormon you are, for those of us who are interested in mainstream members of the LDS Church, finally coming to grips with the factual, toughest aspects of Joseph Smith and LDS Church History, including peep stones, masonry, polyandry, kingdom of God, the Nauvoo Expositor, the Kinderhook plates, and all of the other tough topics, I cannot think of another Mormon historian who has done more to drive awareness to these issues deeper into mainstream Mormonism than has Dr. Bushman. In that respect, he deserves credit and praise from all sides of the faith spectrum. And yet, he continues to believe; perhaps the most amazing, inspiring, and for some maddening aspect of all.

Still, as I’ve re-listened to these interviews, I remain almost stunned at the non-traditional language Dr. Bushman is willing to use in his discussions of LDS faith, even as a patriarch for the Church.  He describes his testimony as being centered on goodness, rather than the traditional language of truthfulness with a capital T, though I’m sure that he also holds the gospel to be true.  Still this is reassuring language from the many saints who struggle with the words “know” and “true” relative to testimonies.  It is like a breath of fresh air.  Instead of avoiding the issue, Dr. Bushman openly acknowledges the paradox of honest, yet faithful saint and scholar who experiences the conflict between a belief in the exclusive truthfulness of the LDS Church and the awareness that there is much good in the world outside of Mormonism and that there must be more to God’s plan than what we currently know.  This again is very refreshing, He boldly calls for more openness and honesty within our Church at all levels and acknowledges that perhaps our hesitancy to be candid with the historical evidence has caused many to feel unnecessary pain and feelings of having been deceived.  He does not blame the victim.

In addition, Dr. Bushman is willing to step out from the safety and control of the written word and directly confront charged question after charged question in my own narrative with both poise and acceptance, never shying away from the harder aspects of the history, always validating the historical evidence, and never resulting to ad hominem attacks as so many Mormon apologists have done in the past and continue to do. He is respectful enough to show deference to and even praise for someone like Dan Vogel, in spite of the fact that Mr. Vogel is not by any means a traditional believer in the Church.  Perhaps most importantly of all, Dr. Bushman extends words of support and encouragement to those who are struggling and questioning their faith.  He does not demean them, but instead shows compassion and understanding for their plight and openly encourages them to continue the struggle, to not give up the quest.  He even reduces the dilemma to something very simple. He calls the belief in prophets a choice, something that our heavy emphasis in the Spirit and feelings often does not allow.

In conclusion, if every faithful member of the Church from apostle to prophet to general authority to stake president to bishop to ward member to neighbor and to family member were to follow Dr. Bushman’s example of how to deal with Mormon history and those who have been negatively affected by it, I firmly believe that there would be significantly less pain, anguish, suffering, divorce, isolation, disaffection, antagonism, loneliness, depression, and maybe even suicide within Mormonism.  If I have any criticism of the interview at all, it is in a slight contradiction that I and a few others have noted in Dr. Bushman’s narrative.  One the one hand he begins by speaking so highly of his early Harvard days, where he and other members of the Church were able to spend hours upon hours of time studying, exploring, and discussing all aspects of Mormonism without any real fear of judgment or castigation.  While I acknowledge that the Mormon Historical Association allows for dissenting views, I remain uncertain as to what forums Mormons today have for similar types of discussions, certainly not Sunday School. Study groups and symposia have been formally discouraged by Church leadership, and while Sunstone has made great strides under the leadership of Dan Wotherspoon and others to emphasize what is positive and faithful within Mormonism, the stigma remains.  I will ask our listeners and Dr. Bushman an open, somewhat rhetorical question.

  1. Where, other than on the internet and in Sunstone and in Dialogue can faithful LDS members go to openly discuss the issues and controversies of both LDS Church History and other social aspects of the Church without fear of judgment, disloyalty, or punishment?
  2. Where are the open forums for thought and faith within Mormonism accessible to all?

Sunstone has definitely been through its ups and downs, but until I learn of a better place, I will continue to give Sunstone, Dialogue, and even the Bloggernacle my time and support.  For those who are not comfortable with Sunstone and Dialogue and other places, but are aware of the dilemma of disaffected LDS saints due to history and other cultural history, I’ll ask this one last time.

4.  Where can disaffected Mormons go for open, friendly informed, non-judgmental Church-sanctioned support?

5.  If it is not the Church’s role to directly and officially reach out to those struggling with their faith, what is their role exactly?

6.  And if it is not Sunstone or Dialogue, who is it and where do we go?

How do you answer John’s questions?  I note that the Sunstone Symposium is this week at the University of Utah, and Bushman will be there Saturday evening.

Would you attend Sunstone?

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50 Responses to Dehlin asks, “Where do we go?”

  1. Stephen Marsh on July 23, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    The problem with Church history is that there is a lot of it. And it takes time.

    We have a shortage of time, so people end up cherry picking, proof texting, editing, and focusing on what is important to them.

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  2. mh on July 23, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    That may or may not be true Steve, but where do we go?

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  3. Kevin Christensen on July 23, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    When I wanted to learn more than was contained in correlated materials, personally starting in 1974, all I had to do was look at uncorrelated materials. Before the internet, there were bookstores and libraries. There were used bookstores, and bound periodicals. There was Sunstone, Dialogue and BYU Studies and Mormon Miscellaneous. There were members of the church who had other books. There were informal study groups. I soon found that there was a lot more even in correlated materials materials and LDS publications than I could expect to be fed in meetings. And I also soon found out that just because something is uncorrelated, and the author claims to have special insider knowledge, that doesn’t mean it is automatically reliable, comprehensive, or even worth reading. Just because something is published in the Improvement Era didn’t mean it was nothing but pablum. Just because someone has a church office doesn’t mean that they actually know much. The likelyhood is not that “The Church” is keeping things from me, but that most of the workaday members I interact with don’t know much and therefore, in terms of available spiritual gifting, aren’t the ones I should expect to bestow hidden treasures of academic knowledge, though many have other talents and gifts and wisdom that I do not discount just because it isn’t dignified by footnotes and cynicism. Once I became personally involved in the treasure hunt, I started to find sources everywhere. There were people around were were accumulating knowledge and were eager to share both their questions and answers.

    Now, there exponentially more publications, publishers, conferences, historical associations, symposia, seminars, special interest groups, journals, search engines, wikis, bogs, discussion boards, etc.

    It seems to me that there are more resources, more easily available than ever before. My InfoBase CDs are decades old now. But even with the multitude of informational outlets available now, it’s always been a matter of seeking to find, knocking to open, rather than sitting around and waiting to be spoonfed.

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  4. Jon on July 23, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    It seems books and magazines are the best place to go unless you find the rare Mormon that is willing to talk about the issues openly, but even then, there doesn’t seem to be the time to sit down and talk about these things. If you live in Utah or happen to be there during the symposiums then lucky you!

    BTW, I have put the free book “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy” in e-book format. Let me know if you are interested. Lot’s of different views on all these subjects, history is so messy it seems, it would be nice if it were more like a hard science, I guess then it wouldn’t make history very much fun.

    I think part of the problems with reasoning skills is that many of us weren’t taught logical thought processes in our educative years. This is illustrated in the essay (available for free online) “The Lost Tools of Learning.” So we can’t blame people too much for their lack of logical thought processes, it is a learned skill that should be taught in our younger years but many of us have to play catch up.

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  5. mapman on July 23, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    The Church has put a lot of effort into making its history more available to members. Check out to see the huge amounts of stuff they have put online over the past months (and continue to regularly update). I think that one of the problems is that people (including the people who create the curriculum) just don’t understand how much effort it takes to do history. The Church is addressing this problem in the Rescue program (see here:

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  6. Bob on July 23, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    4: Jon,
    I think the closest thing we have to teaching ‘Logic’ as a hard science, most kids get in their algebra class. (X+2=4 stuff).

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  7. Mike S on July 23, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Short comment. Typing this on an airport shuttle. .

    The problem isn’t lack of sources, it’s a lack of forums. There is simply not an “approved” forum to discuss noncorrelated topics. And the church has discouraged it so much, even faithful website shun the conversation

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  8. annegb on July 23, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    I don’t attend because I don’t have the time, energy, or money. But it’s on my bucket list.

    What John says about Brother Bushman, I feel about Robert Millett. I am coming to the belief that there are people like us in every ward.

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  9. prometheus on July 23, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    The lack of forums is exactly it. My ward contains perhaps one or two people who show even the slightest interest in history, and I am inferring that from comments rather than an open conversation. The only access I have to any kind of conversation beyond the correlated materials is online.

    There is tons of stuff to read, yes, but most of it was not easily available before the advent of the Internet. Yes, libraries and bookstores are great, if you live in Utah. Leave the US altogether, however, and there is nothing at all, which of course feeds the disinterest of the members.

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  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 23, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    And I also soon found out that just because something is uncorrelated, and the author claims to have special insider knowledge, that doesn’t mean it is automatically reliable, comprehensive, or even worth reading. Just

    That is a huge point. Combined with people who just do not have the time, interest and energy, it creates a dynamic that is self sustaining.

    And why I have suggested various alternative Sunday School lessons — a series of posts that have been failures in terms of generating interest. Which is probably 90% my personal fault and not the topic, but does color my thoughts.

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  11. Jon on July 23, 2012 at 12:35 PM


    why I have suggested various alternative Sunday School lessons

    Yeah, I was pretty displeased that we didn’t dive into the Isaiah chapters more in the BoM. I think the manual basically said, this stuff is hard to understand, don’t trouble your pretty little heads. When I read them they don’t seem at all that difficult to understand, granted, I could probably understand them much better if I had the historical context. Sometimes I wonder if my time would be better finding an empty room with a good book that helps me understand the BoM better. Granted sometimes I do get things out of the class. Of course, I would need to make sure that the book wasn’t worthless, like you pointed out.

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  12. Jared on July 23, 2012 at 7:16 PM

    Where do we go? To gather with others who want more than Sunday School offers, there are many places to go. The internet has been a blessing for example. I’m surprised JD asked the question. This is the best of times for those who want to gather.

    In addition to gathering, I suggest that we seriously practice the faith we’re both drawn to and perplexed by.

    I continue to be surprised at the vast knowledge of church details evidenced by those who frequent the bloggernacle and the glaring lack of knowledge of the doctrines that Mormonism brings to the discussion-hence the infrequent use of scripture and teachings by the prophets.

    If we would seek the Lord more diligently we would be led by the hand and much of the unquenchable hungry many are experiencing would be satisfied. Many are starving spirituality and are unable to find sustenance in the quest their pursuing for answers to question that are unfullfilling.

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  13. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 23, 2012 at 7:36 PM is a good example of a deeper text, yet how often does anyone have an interest in reading that sort of work?

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  14. Mormon Heretic on July 23, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Here’s the problem that I think John is getting at.

    Many of us remember the purge of 1993 and the counsel against “Symposia” which seemed to be targeting Sunstone in particular. A few weeks ago, I talked to someone who used to work for CES and he told me he didn’t like Dialogue in particular. The church has warned against study groups in the past.

    There are some (such as J Max recently) that felt like we shouldn’t support Sunstone. So, if these group meetings are “off limits”, where is a church member to go that wants to learn more nuts and bolts about the Mountain Meadows Massacre? The church has no place to learn this stuff, and warns us to avoid Sunstone/Dialogue/study groups that actually do talk about this stuff. I think it’s great that people like Kevin go and study non-correlated materials, but many of us don’t know who the good and bad sources are. Couldn’t the Church facilitate something to help those of us who want to know more than the basics of these things, rather than expressly forbid us meeting together?

    That’s what John’s getting at. Why can’t the Church put together something (or at least not discourage the places like Sunstone/
    Dialogue that do talk about sticky Church history? are we simply supposed to ferret these out ourselves without any help or guidance from others?

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  15. DavidH on July 23, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    Mormon History Association meetings are a great place to go.

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  16. wreddyornot on July 23, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    Went to Sunstone in my youth. Moved away, didn’t afford the trip and cost, and since I’ve returned closer other priorities have precluded it.

    You’ve got to know when to eat the fruit. Sometimes you have to do it alone until the progeny follow. The progeny is growing up and so are the trees with fruit.

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  17. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 23, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    The entire study group thing was poisoned a long time ago by a women who started a group of them which evolved into a cult of personality, prayer circles and her announcing she was going to be translated.

    Well, she did disappear.

    Them in the 70s there was the whole children of ephriam movement. They even petitioned for their own stake. They were convinced of their own intelligence. I admit to taunting them, obliquely since it was easy to demonstrate that I was much smarter than they were.

    But that does color the entire picture. Though the brethren are trying to encourage people — adults — to attend institute classes and study the gospel in that setting. Not really taking off yet.

    But I see teachers who are trying.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 23, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    And there is the yearly women’s conference at BYU — my wife spoke at it.

    Or education week, which is very receptive to audiences.

    Or the law and the management society firesides. We had Shipps speak locally.

    Just saying.

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  19. Mormon Heretic on July 23, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    I really like what John Dehlin is doing. I think he is filling a need with his interviews that popularize the information. However, John has plenty of detractors that call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing and question his motivations. If the Church would put together something similar to what John is doing, it would be above reproach.

    I am grateful for MHA, Sunstone, Dialogue, FAIR, and all of these things. (By the way, FAIR is next week at South Towne Expo on Sandy, Utah.) It is really nice to be able to discuss these issues. I remember at MHA last year hearing an analysis on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Sorensen genetics had a hypothesis relating Anthrax to a story from MMM. There was a story of “poisoned springs” that the Indians complained about coming from the Fancher party and killing people and cattle. Nobody believes there was ever any poisoned springs.

    However, there was a theory about some naturally occuring Anthrax that many pioneers have decribed as symptoms similar to poisoning. Sorensen genetics received permission to exhume the body of a teen boy that died around the time of MMM to see if there was any trace of Anthrax. Unfortunately, the ground was moist. If the boy died of anthrax, the moisture would have destroyed the evidence.

    Still, it was a pretty interesting theory, and cool to see some scientists weighing in on the controversy. Now some may not find this sort of stuff interesting, and it certainly isn’t Sunday School fare, but I think it was a fascinating presentation, and filled a need for me. I just wish there were other outlets that I could spend time with learning this kind of stuff.

    My wife is a big fan of BYU Education Week. I went with her, and it seemed more like fluff to me, but maybe I went to the wrong sessions.

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  20. Jettboy on July 23, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    I am still not sure what you want from these kinds of groups. Wanting to study is no reason at all, but to what purpose? You have to answer why in order to answer where and what, or even who.

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  21. Jettboy on July 23, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    Ever learning and never coming to the truth is as pertinent now than it was in the days of Paul. Perhaps even more so today.

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  22. Mormon Heretic on July 23, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    Jettboy, the Glory of God is intelligence. Isn’t that reason enough?

    I think that we can learn from the mistakes of the past, and become more godly when we do that. I find these presentations as manna to my soul. They are more spiritually uplifting to me than the standard Sunday School material. I thought that Hugo Olaiz’s presentation comparing theosis to exaltation as spiritually enlightening, and yes that occurred at Sunstone.

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  23. Bonnie on July 23, 2012 at 10:54 PM

    My life is finally slowing down, everyone is getting better, and I’m able to spend a bit of time again. I really appreciated this post.

    1. I LOVE Bushman. He is, as JD aptly describes, a wonderfully unique man whose prodigious gifts are so useful to the kingdom. Why? IMHO, because he has his priorities straight. He does not engage in divisiveness, and for an educator or a thought leader, this is the epitome of maturity. It is easy to, in any position of cultural authority, lose sight of bigger things. I’ve watched good mothers “get big” on people as overwhelmingly as I’ve watched CEO’s “get big” to make their point. A truly humble leader, a point made eloquently by Bill George in True North, is a leader who can be accepted by a wide audience. If we would have thought leaders, they must be humble and expansive, and Bushman fits the bill. He doesn’t have to speak about everything he knows, nor is he afraid to speak of everything he knows because he’s centered. There is nothing to excuse in this gospel, and he knows it.

    2. It’s absolutely crucial that people find information when they’re ready for it. It’s absolutely crucial that they search and pay the price. We are not all at the same place. I cannot have every discussion in my SS class that I might have over a scripture. I’m ok with that, even as a searcher myself, because I’m not willing to set that anvil on someone else’s head. The Sabbath study we engage in in our fellowship with one another is not the time to tickle our brains with scintillating ideas. It’s the time to increase faith. Period. Life, and history, is a parable. It yields to the honest seeker. There’s nothing wrong with study groups and people are making a big deal out of nothing in getting their backs up about the brethren discouraging study groups. It’s like me telling my kids something and the one who doesn’t need to hear gets offended. What I tell them is what I would say to the thin-skinned and overly worried of the Church: if it doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you. We ought to be smart enough to realize that the Lord will honor our efforts to follow D&C88 when the standard is humbly following the counsel of our priesthood leaders.

    3. Attitude matters. I will say this until I die and then I’ll come back and say it again. It’s more important for our heart to be fully turned to Christ than to have every piece of information about a historical experience. We build buildings in stages, with foundation and structure coming before the electrical on the third floor. Attitude determines the difference between a faithful pursuit of truth and a damning, faithless, prideful elevation of inconsequential details. When the details come before the truth, it is hard on people. People are oddball. Elijah is my favorite figure in all of the world’s history but I’m not sure I’d like him if I met him. How terrible if he didn’t live up to my expectation of him. Bah. He did God’s work. People need that structure to adequately process humanity’s bumbling.

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  24. Hedgehog on July 24, 2012 at 1:36 AM

    Prometheus: “There is tons of stuff to read, yes, but most of it was not easily available before the advent of the Internet. Yes, libraries and bookstores are great, if you live in Utah. Leave the US altogether, however, and there is nothing at all, which of course feeds the disinterest of the members.”
    That’s it exactly. As someone outside the US I tire of reading comments online that assume everyone had the same access to information pre-internet times. We didn’t.
    Bonnie I agree with your point on attitude, but not sure that your ‘inconsequential details’ might not seem rather less inconsequential to others.
    “We are not all at the same place. I cannot have every discussion in my SS class that I might have over a scripture. I’m ok with that, even as a searcher myself, because I’m not willing to set that anvil on someone else’s head.”
    No, but sometimes the with-holding of information can be as much an anvil as the giving of it, when it is out in the big world to be tripped over at any time, members might be better prepared to meet it in some instances. As with the whole not wishing to ‘put a stumbling block in front of a neighbour’ attitude (as applied to dress/beards/white shirts etc.) it seems to me that its more and more of making a choice about who you are going to allow to stumble, because whatever you do, somebody will. I’m not at all sure that we are always choosing the right group.
    “People are oddball. Elijah is my favorite figure in all of the world’s history but I’m not sure I’d like him if I met him. How terrible if he didn’t live up to my expectation of him. Bah. He did God’s work.”
    Absolutely, isn’t that what a ‘prophet being without honour in his own country’ means, they just know him too well. That probably applies to all of them.

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  25. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    Hedgehog, you make good points. Mine is that if we combine the personal responsibility to search with the maturity of gospel growth (the things that are crucial to me now are wildly different from the things that were crucial to me as an adolescent and much of that is maturity) we will be less likely to stumble. Everyone will.

    I hear people saying that information is being withheld, but I don’t see that. I see that we have limited time and we don’t spend it on things that, when one has matured significantly, fall into less consequential areas. I don’t discuss everything about my life with my children, but I do hit the high points, the ones that they will need. We live in an information age and we tend to have an attitude that we have a right to a lot of things that previous ages felt no entitlement to. I think that’s a two-edged sword, sending us to the Lord on more issues and forcing more resolutions but creating the opportunity for more angst. Sounds kind of like a wheat and tares opportunity, which is the work of our age.

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  26. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 8:23 AM


    It’s absolutely crucial that people find information when they’re ready for it. It’s absolutely crucial that they search and pay the price.

    Agreed, but it should be out in the open more, so it is not hidden. That it is not black and white. Saying that Emma was a crazy woman for saying that Joseph didn’t practice polygamy, what if she was the one that was right?

    The Sabbath study we engage in in our fellowship with one another is not the time to tickle our brains with scintillating ideas. It’s the time to increase faith.

    I actually agree with you here to a certain extent. I think our Sabbath should be for increasing love and the search for truth. Since it is an organization that worships Christ I agree that it should focus on Christ or faith in Christ. I don’t know if the goal should be faith in the arm of flesh, like faith in leadership and the church itself.

    Life, and history, is a parable. It yields to the honest seeker.

    And the honest seeker, by necessity, look at both arguments or both sides of a story. Sunday School presents one side and doesn’t give resources for the other.

    There’s nothing wrong with study groups and people are making a big deal out of nothing in getting their backs up about the brethren discouraging study groups.

    Actually it isn’t nothing, this is our lives and how we will choose to live our lives based on the information we receive. If you know not of more information that can be damning to the other point of view then you could end up living your life that as fully as one could have, or at least not as nuanced as one would live it, as Brother Bushman seems to live his.

    if it doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you.

    But the affairs of the church does matter to all that claim to believe the veracity of its claims.

    We ought to be smart enough to realize that the Lord will honor our efforts to follow D&C88 when the standard is humbly following the counsel of our priesthood leaders.

    I’m reading “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy” right now and the Cochranites taught the doctrines of polygamy. They lead many people to do things that are abominable. We see how easily people follow leaders without thinking and on “faith.” It is imperative that one be skeptical of ones leaders and seek for truth. This concept is taught in the scriptures and talks about people being lead away be false doctrines by leaders of the church. This is probably the most important reason to understand and read history, that is, that we understand the ways of men and can properly interact with them in healthy ways. History rhymes and we need to understand where we stand and how we will interact with it.

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  27. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    However, John has plenty of detractors that call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing and question his motivations.

    From listening to his podcasts his bias seems to be to the unbelieving and he seems to think that others should agree with him. But this bias seems to be out in the open. So if he is a wolf he is a wolf out in the open, not in sheep’s clothing. Or he could simply not be a wolf and can be right.

    I enjoy his podcasts too. I with more faithful members would go on his show and share their experiences.

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  28. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    Jon, I largely agree. I don’t think the truths of the history of the restoration are hidden by the leadership, but by overzealous members. The Church is going to great lengths to put primary sources in the hands of the members. I was on a stake public affairs committee when a number of books, including Bushman’s bio, were provided gratis to secular libraries. I contacted librarians and set up the donations. The Church is open to the honest searcher, as much as any historical phenom is. If I want to study civil war history, I have to go search for it. It’s not the responsibility of the government to feed it to me. I don’t think it’s Sunday School’s responsibility to provide me anything but a faith and fellowship opportunity. I try to enlarge that as a GD teacher, but that’s my personal flavor.

    Regarding study groups, my comment was directed to people seeking offense. I know of several study groups. Nobody is falling off the earth about them. Study is good. I still affirm that the interpretations people make of what the brethren say is where things get nutso.

    You are right that we should study and not follow blindly. The Church teaches that. Bushman has made the point that the Church can’t always direct that (the pursuit of even its own history). I think he makes that point well. I don’t think anything I said is anti-personal-study.

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  29. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 9:36 AM


    We must also recognize that the openness of the church is a new thing. We must also recognize that the leadership hasn’t necessarily known of these issues in the past fully themselves (at least I question if they did).

    I don’t even think most members know that there is another side to the story of the polygamy affair. Or at least it seems to be downplayed.

    Also, like MH mentioned (I believe), study groups have been discouraged in the past, if they are tolerated now then that is a new thing. People used to be exed from the church just for putting forth doctrine that they believed to be true, which is tolerated more now than it was in the past. I think the church is probably becoming more tolerant to these things because of the internet and, perhaps, the leadership is gaining more a nuanced belief also? I have no idea.

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  30. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    True, Jon. It’s very true the openness is a new thing. It has been a hard road to escape the persecution complex for the church as a people and an institution. To be fair, the church has been perceived as persecutable by many cultures, so the church/member attitude is not a head-scratcher. Shifting the attitudes of whole cultures takes time.

    Lots of potential difficulties are downplayed. It’s not a bad practice when used judiciously. I don’t toss stumbling blocks in front of anyone if I can help it.

    Excommunication is a local thing (usually) and not widely employed. I don’t know that I would agree that it was used as a tool for mass intimidation on doctrinal issues. The standard has always been, “if you are leading people _out_ then you have no business being _in_.” That just seems like a no-brainer. If you’re trying to talk people out of being in the chamber of commerce, you probably will be invited to leave yourself.

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  31. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    When I was referring to excommunication I was referring to people like John Dewey, and the people that were exed that were survivalists and stuff, and other “intellectuals” that were exed for some of their non-orthodox beliefs back in the 80s or 90s, I believe one of those was on Mormon Stories, the guy was kind of neo liberal in his views and ended up having to leave BYU, that also came from the top. Sometimes this stuff comes from the top, even in modern day. Many times it is for censure it seems rather than full excommunication, at least now days.

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  32. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Six people in 1993 – 20 years ago. Excommunication isn’t a much-used tool anymore.

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  33. Mormon Heretic on July 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    I wish Kevin Christensen was around to comment on this particular issue, but let me comment on the “Joseph Fought Polygamy” idea. (Jon, I’d be happy to do a review if you want to send me an email.) I think this is a perfect example of (as Kevin mentioned) understanding good sources from bad sources. While Joseph did make statements condemning polygamy (even in the D&C), I think the evidence is overwhelming that he did participate.

    It is an old RLDS tradition that Joseph Fought polygamy and dates literally to the founding of their church in 1860. However, even the current president Veazey has acknowledged that past RLDS beliefs were wrong.

    Another example is how we have viewed the origin of celestial or plural marriage in the early church. There is no doubt the early Reorganization endeavored to distance Joseph Smith Jr. from the doctrine and practice of plural marriage. Such separation was viewed as critical to church identity and survival.

    However, during the past fifty years or so, RLDS/Community of Christ historians cautioned us not to be so certain in our conclusions. Unfortunately, many ignored their findings. Even worse, some attacked their integrity and harassed them and their families.

    The vast majority of church historians have persuasively concluded that Joseph Smith Jr. was involved prominently in the doctrine and practice of celestial or plural marriage. There is also some evidence that shortly before his death, Joseph approached William Marks, Nauvoo Stake president, and said that he (Joseph) had “been deceived” in the matter of plural marriage and that every effort must be made to rid the church of the doctrine. Unfortunately, he was killed before anything could be done.

    So, where does this leave us? The Reorganized Church has always said that plural marriage in the early church was wrong, regardless of its origins. We need to let it go at that. Reigniting old debates over this issue will be unproductive and only serve to distract us from more important endeavors.

    So Jon, I hope you’ve read some stuff by Compton, Bushman, or Van Wagoner to balance out the stuff that is in “Joseph Fought Polygamy.”

    So this goes back to Kevin’s point again. Many of us are untrained to know what a good source vs a bad source is. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Church helped us so we don’t fall for ideas like “Joseph Fought Polygamy”?

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  34. Mormon Heretic on July 24, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    Bonnie, to be fair, Grant Palmer just resigned his membership this year upon learning he would be excommunicated. Simon Southerton is no longer a member because of his work on DNA and the Book of Mormon. Margaret Toscano, her sister Janice Merrill Allred, and Thomas Murphy have all lost their membership after the 1993 purging. So, it still appears to be a useful tool if you get out of line of the Brethren on certain topics.

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  35. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    I agree that excommunications still occur, but in otherwise faithful saints, a difference of opinion isn’t grounds for removal from the flock. Attitude matters. I don’t think it’s about disagreeing with the Brethren; I think it’s about the general tenor of that disagreement.

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  36. Cowboy on July 24, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    There is a recurring debate articulated in some of the comments here that goes on and on, but never get’s the treatment it deserves.

    1) Does the Church lie about it’s history? 2) Does the Church hide it’s history?

    I would say that the Church does not represent it’s history with integrity, but that it doesn’t exactly “lie” about it. At least not in a technical application of what it means to “lie”. A great deal of what the Church teaches about it’s history is “true” in the sense that most of it can be sourced to claims made by Joseph Smith. However, they have carefully selected from the overwhelming record and narrative, those things which have greatest emotional appeal, to be the centerpiece for the Church’s marketing efforts. For example, let’s forget the squabbles about the many different accounts of the First Vision, and ask a more basic question. Why is it that one account is considered “official”, to the supremacy of all other accounts? Particularly when it is one of the later accounts of the nine some odd reports. I would think that any telling of the event from Joseph Smith himself, ought to be of equal weight.

    How does the Church “hide” it’s history? Well, after the Quinn episode in the late 80′s and early 90′s, access to the archives was restricted. This was out of fear of more expose’s being written, so I don’t know how this can be considered anything but “hiding” the truth. Still, in more recent times yes, the Church has become more open. I would argue however that this a quality control response to the fact that they had to be more open, as the internet created communities where people could gather and challenge the Church’s openness. Still, they continue to hide the truth in how they market the Church. They may no longer be restricting access as rigidly as they were fifteen years ago, but now they hide it by overwhelming the narrative with maudlin crap. They don’t keep an investigator for example, from a detailed independent study of Church history, but they still sell the religion in the same way, more or less, as they always have. They don’t provide any disclosures. They haven’t gone to any effort to provide more clarity on how The Book of Mormon was translated for example? Polygamy is no longer practiced, but it was never sold as a temporal institution, but it was intended to be relevant as an Eternal order of marriage necessary for Salvation. Still, even for the sake of “doctrine” we don’t teach polygamy as a concept. Nobody is handed a biography and said,”hey, in order to join your going to be interviewed and aksed whether you accept Joseph Smith as a Prophet. Here’s a book that will help you to get to know the man you will be venerating for next several years”. Instead we are provided with a simple narrative about a young, imperfect-but-damn-near-perfect, young farm boy with the purest of religious sensibilities, who was overwhelmed by questions and matters of divinity in corrupt enviroment of an apostate Christendom. Not that better information isn’t “out there”, just that it isn’t provided directly in the marketing materials used to enlist. Nor is a prospective member provided with any kind of direction from the Church on how to proceed to take a thoughtful approach to joining.

    On my Mission we used a system called “Proselyting for the Elect”. It was our goal to have a baptismal commitment by the second discussion. The first invitation was given after a group prayer (each person was invited to pray vocally in turn, starting with each missionary, followed by each potential investigator at the meeting), in the first discussion.

    So, perhaps the availability of history isn’t exactly the issue. Maybe even the right forums isn’t the issue (what’s WheatandTares, if not a forum), but for me full disclosure is. Yes, there is too much history for full disclosure in the sense of just sharing “everything”. But, as any attorney knows, it’s not about sharing “everything”, just sharing every relevant thing that a person ought to know before being asked to make a commitment as demanding as Mormonism.

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  37. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 1:13 PM


    Yes, I’ll send you a copy. There are more articles after this book that they say will one day be turned into a book, I can turn it into an e-book if you want to read more about what their opinion is. I know the authors started out being RLDS, not sure if they are still with them or with a splinter group off the main RLDS church.

    Yes, as I’m reading it it is definitely biased to the idea that Joseph didn’t participate in polygamy and the BY was a liar (which he was, at least from what I understand even from LDS perspective, don’t ask me to find the source because I don’t remember any more). But that doesn’t discount their viewpoints.

    I will be reading the other books eventually too. Like von Mises says, you need to read all sides to form an opinion, which I agree with, but not many have read “Joseph Fought Polygamy” without forming their opinions, granted many of them have gone straight to the sources, but also, Bushman did read Brody (sp) (and quoted her) so, to be fair I would think he would need to read these guys also. But not many of us do. We must also recognize the bias of members that write.

    I am also going to try a recommendation by Susan Wise Bauer, read the first time straight through, then the second time mark any parts you don’t quite get still or have questions about, then go through a third time and try and understand the parts you didn’t understand or need more research. A lot more work, but, it is difficult to form a true opinion about a subject unless you really try and approach it with an open and critical mind. I suppose that is why I’ve moved my spiritual status in relation to God and the church to “agnostic.” It will be a long journey to move it back to a more definitive opinion.

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  38. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 1:16 PM


    That’s right, kowtow or your out buddy! :)


    I agree. I think the church will change over time though. Mainly because people do have access to more information and so they will need to be more accurate. I do think that people honestly didn’t know before.

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  39. Cowboy on July 24, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    Hi Bonnie:

    I’m going to pick on you for a minute.

    “It’s absolutely crucial that people find information when they’re ready for it. It’s absolutely crucial that they search and pay the price.”

    When are they “ready for it”. If a person isn’t ready for information about the Church, then they aren’t ready for baptism. This statement sounds a little parochial and paternalistic. What price must be paid? I shouldn’t tell someone about Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking if they haven’t done….what? Who are we paying prices too? It sounds frankly like a nice way of saying, “it’s okay to conceal certain facts from serf’s, so long as I have their best interest in mind”. Almost sounds compelling until we realize that you assess their best interest on the basis of your debatable religious world-view. I much prefer the “I am not ashamed of the gospel…” aproach when it comes to religious rhetoric.

    “The Sabbath study we engage in in our fellowship with one another is not the time to tickle our brains with scintillating ideas. It’s the time to increase faith.”

    Simple question, why? How is faith increased then? How do the scintillating ideas impede the growth of faith? It seems like we are placing more value in the practice of faith than the basis of that faith? If the Church is true, a proper and detailed understanding of things would seem to yield a better faith than one that is sheltered from some details.

    “Attitude determines the difference between a faithful pursuit of truth and a damning, faithless, prideful elevation of inconsequential details”

    This is too generic. What is a “faithful pursuit of truth”?? What details are inconsequential? This is becoming the common generic rebuttal to arguments about the Church. Without being specific, we just broadly label them as inconsequential. Still, the key word here in both cases is “faith”. I am constantly accused of being “faithless”, and I sometimes feel like a deer in headlights when that accusation is leveled against me. In other words, I don’t even know how to respond. Not because I’m confused, but because to me the situation is so obvious. Of course I’m faithless!! Why would it be of virtue to be otherwise. So far as I understand the term, what I am essentially being accused of is not giving Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt. All one needs to do is to read the “official” first vision and visitation from Moroni, to conclude that, true or not, this story does not deserve the benefit of the doubt!!

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  40. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    Cowboy, you ain’t got nothin’ to throw at me I’ve not fielded before!! :)

    It’s not at all parochial or paternalistic to say that people need to receive things when they’re ready for it. But *I’m* not going to determine when they’re ready for it and neither is any authority figure; they are. I made that clear in my earlier comments. Search-demanding, parable-type teaching automatically sets that situation up. We have to be careful about building too many structures around the basics. People need to return to original sources themselves and receive personal revelation. Legal administrators are a matter of order only.

    And faith is increased when WE make the effort, little by little, to try the seed.

    In the end, I think everything but Jesus Christ is inconsequential. I think that’s where we’re headed eternally. Jesus Christ was humble and submissive. If he would be baptized when he didn’t need to, what sorts of things can we painlessly do that we don’t need to? He submitted to John the Baptist *because he was the legal administrator.* I can do that. Our disputes about this way or that way need to be settled, and that seems to be the first thing Christ clears up when he returns, but it’s oh so much easier if we are loving about it, if we’re Christlike.

    I’m not accusing anyone of being faithless.

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  41. Jon on July 24, 2012 at 3:13 PM


    Although I agree with many of your sentiments, I also disagree with some. When is a person ready for it the details? When you start bringing up the details and they get defensive. It’s not worth it if they leave reason and logic behind because they desire belief more than truth. Kind of like when I try and teach people about natural law, most get defensive, so I should stop, of course, most they time I keep pushing; and it accomplishes nothing.

    As for the youngsters. They would be ready, probably around the “rhetoric” stage when they can reason and come to conclusions on their own, which would be around 13 or 14 I believe. Now, they don’t need all the details but they are old enough to investigate them if that is their desire. Why not younger? Well, I’m assuming that the parent has some belief and so they will want their child to believe, it is the parent’s choice, the consequences of liberty is letting parents do things that might not necessarily be what other people believe is best for the child.

    Similar to teaching kids about the “fathers” of the US Constitution. You teach them the positive stories, when they get older you can teach some of their failings also, but that isn’t your main focus when they are younger because their brains aren’t developed for that type of thought yet.

    I agree with your sentiment that if a person truly believes that Monson is a Prophet, seer and revelator then it is incumbent on that person to read the history of the church and sort out the “scandalous” materials. Most don’t want to do that though. So their faith is juvenile in its development.


    I disagree with you idea that it is only Christ that matters when it comes to the church, if that is true then there is no need for the church. If there is a need for the church then it is incumbent to learn and understand that church’s history. Maybe not every detail, but the main controversies (both sides) and history.

    I think the same applies to God and Christ, the faith is juvenile is one is not willing to approach Them with an open and critical mind.

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  42. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 8:37 PM


    There will be a day when there will be no need for a church, when we are one in Christ. There have been many periods of time when there was not Church. I love history, and I love Church history, but since the Church is a transitory phenomenon developed to help us engage with Christ, I’m not hung up on its imperfections. Anything that gets between me and Christ, even the Church, isn’t worth getting too worked up about, because I want that relationship to be in great shape.

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  43. Chino Blanco on July 24, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    “Where do we go?” Heh. How quaint. But I guess it’s more fun than pondering “Where have they gone?”

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  44. Cowboy on July 25, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Hi Bonnie:

    I was not trying to imply that I was presenting you with idea’s you had never encountered. Rather, I don’t see how my questions were accounted for your comments. Additionally I don’t see that my questions were really responded to overall in latest comment, so I won’t belabor the points, except one.

    “It’s not at all parochial or paternalistic to say that people need to receive things when they’re ready for it. But *I’m* not going to determine when they’re ready for it and neither is any authority figure; they are.”

    This isn’t true so long as we agree to be active participants in Church programs. You are careful to say that you don’t take it upon yourself to determine when a person is ready, however by implication if you withhold relevant information from them during a gospel discussion that you are participating in, you are deciding at least when they are not ready. For the purposes of my comments “you” is not necessarilly Bonnie, but any person. If we go to Church and teach from the manuals and try to advance “faith” from a selective perspective, knowing that you are aware of information that might harm their faith, you are taking a paternalistic role over them. You are taking ownership for what you percieve to be their well being, and protecting them from decision making that you feel they are not spiritually mature enough to handle. If you recognized them as intelligent and mature adults, who were entitled to a full-disclosure of the relevant history that informs their views, you would not be so cautious to withhold information. Indeed, you would rather be concerned that they had access to the information they needed to make an informed decision.

    It’s hard to have a live and let live attitude towards this, while fully embracing a missionary Church. It seems a bit contradictory to me.

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  45. Porter on July 25, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    After struggling for years to find a place to discuss these issues and have dreamed of an “alternative sunday school” approach. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that the Church has NO INTEREST in supporting intellectuals and liberal Mormons. They don’t want to give us a place to grow, they just want us to shut up and get correlated. We are a relatively small group relative to the overall membership and we’re always causing problems, raising difficult issues, etc. They don’t want to cater to our needs, they just want us to shut up or go away.

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  46. Kevin Christensen on July 25, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    In “It Takes All Kinds,” Nibley commented that “The very helpless of the public which makes it necessary to consult the experts also makes it impossible for them to judge how expert they are.” (Nibley, Of All Things, 2nd ed., 228)

    One thing that’s helped my frustration level is to redefine the “Church” as the people. The institutional church is a subset of that group, not the true definition. Institutions behave in their own ways and attract certain personalities.

    Given this definition, I find all sorts of help in the church whenever I ask questions in the forums most likely to answer them. The only alternative to having to grope for light and try steer towards enlightenment, rather than shattering disillusion would involve being born omniscient. That being unrealistic and unworkable, we have to do it the hard way.

    It’s not just a matter of what we notice when we start looking, but also how we value the new understanding. Say, hearing about polygamy, a person may value it as a shattering revelation, and blame the experience on those who kept me in the dark. When I come across something new, my initial response is a bit more restrained. Like, oh.. thats interesting. I did not know that. The differences in individual interpretation of the same learning events make pedagogy very difficult to manage.

    It also helps me to understand personality type (I’m a fan of the Myers-Briggs Types, wherein Isabell Briggs Myers herself found a way of viewing people as having “Gifts Differing.” Knowledge and understanding may be spiritual gifts, and I don’t expect everyone has them in the same measure.

    I’m also a fan of the Perry Scheme for Cogntive and Ethical Growth. Of the first three of nine positions, Perry says that “ALL OF THE POSITIONS ABOVE FEEL ABANDONMENT IN UNSTRUCTURED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS. WHEN CHANGES IN THINKING START TO HAPPEN, IT CAN BE A DANGEROUS TIME. (The forbidden fruit has been partaken and one is out of the Garden of Eden.)”

    From Positions 6 on, as an interesting contrast, he says ”

    Different people, different personality types, different cultural backgrounds, different stages of development. So many variables make it hard on conservative thinkers who want everything to be manageable with a one size fits all solution.

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  47. Jettboy on July 28, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    What is interesting is that most “hard” questions I found in LDS materials. Polygamy I learned about by reading B.H. Roberts History of the Church. Seer stones and money digging, although in response to others, I read about by reading Hugh Nibley. The variations of the First Vision I learned from reading Milton V. Bachmann. More nuanced and perhaps troubling aspects I learned about reading New Mormon History *after* learning from more “official” sources some basics. That the LDS Church doesn’t teach these things (anyone pay attention to General Conference talks over he years?) on a consistent basis is, to me, not their job. If it was so important to know for our salvation, then it would be in the Scriptures (those who have eyes to see and ears to hear).

    The point is that I tend to agree with Kevin C. How can a Mormon not learn about these things until late teen years or even more confusing adulthood? Critics of the LDS Church are very vocal and often, ironically, get their information from official or Mormon friendly sources. Those who are shocked to learn more controversial aspects of history and doctrine must come from families that don’t read a lot. Today I think every Mormon should own a copy of Rough Stone Rolling by Bushman. You find what you expect to find I guess.

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  48. Bonnie on July 28, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    Kevin, I read an article in the New Era in the 70s by Nibley called The Death of the Amateur or something like that. He was discussing how destructive it was to completely surrender to a society and an economy of specialization. I loved it! And I got a degree in history and english, so you’d think I would have read a lot of church history Jettboy, but I didn’t read Rough Stone Rolling until my 40s. I know, head bowed in shame.

    My point is that there IS a lot to study. I’m pretty well-read, but I was ignorant of a lot of the less-correlated aspects of church history. By the time I read it, it was not an issue at all, but sometimes I wonder what my experience might have been had I read about Joseph having 33 wives when I was in my 20s and having major issues with just the correlated story of polygamy. I try to inoculate my children and those I teach now, but nobody did that for me, and I’m sorry for it. I was busy learning about a thousand things, including direct study of the scriptures, but this just didn’t happen to be one of them. Ask me something about Isaiah. Until a few years ago, you couldn’t ask me about seer stones.

    My point is that Kevin is right – so many people, gifts, lives of focus, how could there be a one-size-fits-all solution? This life is meant to be messy, uncomfortable, struggling, and searching. We gain in the process. I don’t always think it’s a tragedy when people are tripped up by ideas they hadn’t previously considered. Their journey of overcoming is suited to their life plan.

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  49. Cowboy on July 30, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    I’m not sure why a one size fit’s solution is all that problematic? Why is it that a person can live their entire lives in the Church not knowing about this “uncorrelated” stuff, and then suddenly change their mind about their “testimony”? I would argue that it’s because in spite of all we teach about the “spirit” and revelation, these people really haven’t recieved any heavenly assurances. So, when they learn more stuff, it just becomes a harder pill to swallow. In other words, they find this information useful to help them reach a decision point. That’s where the one size fits all solution comes into play. It’s called full disclosure. Anything a person needs to know, or would want to know before making religious commitments, ought to be shared. In a business situation, if I were to spin an investment the way the Church spins history, I’d be considered a fraud. For some reason religion isn’t expected to hold to this standard????

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  50. Sherry on July 30, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    FWIW, John Dehlin’s podcasts have kept me sane the last few years. I’m lifetime LDS, 4th generation member – the church is all I’ve known. Factor in a nasty lengthy temple divorce and remarriage to a NOMO, with the accompanying loss of trust in p-hood leaders and I’m in the midst of an epic faith transition. I’m a historian and a writer, have read church history since I was a teen. As an LDS woman, I am more incensed with how woman are treated in the church. The Internet offers people like me (I am treated as an outcast in my ward) information and like-minded souls. “Rough Stone Rolling” and “In Sacred Loneliness” are must-reads. I suppose the key is to find a way to integrate all the plus-ses of the church with the minus-es. I’m still struggling with that, a deeply distressing experience. Have always been temple worthy but even the temple, with its absence of women role models, brings me to tears and sadness. I want to find what John Dehlin calls the “Middle Way” but feel no one in my ward is accepting of anything close to that. Very lonely indeed. I never thought i would be in this situation. I’ve served in the LDS church in every leadership calling so I’m not without church experience. My divorce was necessary but shook me to the core as to what I do and don’t believe any more. I devour the internet blogs and podcasts – I have no where else to turn.

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