Many Mormons have doubts, and the LDS Church has not always dealt with those doubts kindly. There are positive signs that this may be changing.

Many Mormons have doubts, and the LDS Church has not always dealt with those doubts kindly. There are positive signs that this may be changing. (Shutterstock)

I was in graduate school studying American religious history when I got a call one evening from a young returned missionary in my ward. Jay (not his real name) was one of the brightest and best of the Ivy League students in our congregation. After some initial pleasantries, he got down to the reason he had called. He had a history question.

“Is it really true that Joseph Smith got married to women who were already married to other men?” Jay asked me. He seemed simultaneously desperate to know the answer to this question and embarrassed to be asking it. He knew about polygamy, but he had never heard about polyandry in the early days of Mormonism in Nauvoo, and he was horrified to learn of its existence.* How, he wondered, could Joseph Smith have married women and even possibly had children by them when they were already married to other men?

I swallowed. “Yes, that happened,” I began. I explained to Jay some of the history — that polyandry was rare but definitely practiced for a brief period by Smith and a few other LDS leaders, sometimes at the wives’ own request. We discussed the complicated nature of polygamy in the nineteenth-century church and the complex person of Joseph Smith. We talked for a while, I remember. It was a helpful conversation for me as well as for him.

In following up with Jay a couple of weeks later, I learned that he had also decided to speak to a member of the stake presidency about this issue, to see if there might be some official Church teaching on the subject. There wasn’t, but apparently they had a terrific conversation. Jay laid out several concerns and questions, and he and this church leader worked together to discuss them.

I don’t know that they came to any brilliant answers, but Jay was satisfied that his questions had been important to the church leader, and that his worthiness was never in question just for voicing his doubts. Far from it, in fact. The stake presidency member made the comment that he wished his adult daughter would find a wonderful, thoughtful young man like the one sitting across from him.

As an update, Jay is now that church leader’s son-in-law. And he is still very active in the church — a mature and contributing Mormon on an adventurous journey of faith. But I think things could have gone very differently. I see that time of questioning as a watershed in Jay’s life. How the church responded to that questioning made an enormous difference in the trajectory of his faith, life, and family.

I think about this quite a bit when I receive emails and notes from Mormons, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, who are struggling with doubts about belief or history. I think they reach out to me because they know I am a person of faith who is not going to be threatened by their doubts. I feel saddened by the stories they often tell me about experiences that are very unlike Jay’s — church leaders who shut down their questions, or who take away their callings or temple recommends just for asking those questions, or who don’t allow doubting fathers to baptize their children. Just today on Facebook I learned that a Mormon man and his wife were turned away from the temple because their stake president, unbeknownst to them, had canceled their recommends. Such behavior is driven by fear.

We could do this so much better. The past few days I’ve been reading Boyd Petersen’s new collection of autobiographical essays, Dead Wood and Rushing Water. One of my favorite pieces in that collection is about how Mormonism deals, often badly, with doubt. Mormons, Peterson writes, have been taught that doubt is an enemy to be avoided rather than a journey to be embraced.

What might we change in the culture of Mormonism if we want to encourage bright young people to remain active members of the Church? First, we would decriminalize doubt. As one student put it, “I would let people know that it is okay to question your faith, because that is the only way to really strengthen it.” That seems like such a simple idea, but it is really quite insightful. Doubt is not a moral weakness; it does not inexorably lead to agnosticism or atheism. It does not inevitably destroy faith. Rather it is a real, possible, and likely stage of faith development.

Petersen points to James Fowler, who indicates in The Stages of Faith that seasons of doubt are not optional if we want to progress in faith; they are catalysts to growth and new understanding.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Fowler is wrong, and some of our more anxiety-ridden general authorities are correct that doubt only leads to people leaving the Church. If leaving is people’s most honest response to doubt then I say it is the Church’s fault and not the defectors’ own. Let me say that again. It is the Church’s fault, because of the zero-sum game it has too often made of religious truth. We set up a house of cards in which we tell our young people that either ALL of it is true or NONE of it is true, and then we are astonished when they depart because they have found an ounce of adulteration in the total purity they have been indoctrinated to expect.

To avoid this result we hide historical and theological realities, a strategy which backfires more often than not. As Petersen says,

Second, we should not be afraid of the truth. Often we Mormons seem scared that if the truth somehow got out there—the truth about our history, our evolving theology, our fallible leaders—people would leave the Church in droves. But what tends to happen is just the opposite. We hide the truth, and then, when they discover it on their own, people feel like they have been lied to, betrayed.

Mormons need to begin addressing controversial issues in a supportive environment, at church, rather than leaving members to learn unflattering truths entirely on their own. Such was the case with Hans Mattson, the European “area authority” (Mormon lingo for a regional church leader) whose high-profile defection earlier this summer made international news. His very public leave-taking has shined a spotlight on the inadequate ways the Church has often handled doubters; when Mattson took Swedish members’ questions up the chain of command to his own ecclesiastical superiors, he was told to stifle such issues and not share them with other church members, even his own immediate family.

I think the institutional church has begun to take small steps toward improving how it addresses people’s legitimate and necessary doubts. Rather than shooting the messenger, as has been common in the past, or blaming the doubter, some people in leadership are taking a hard look at things that we should be doing better:

  • The Church has made efforts to make its history more transparent to members, opening its archives more than ever before. Just this week, it was announced that the Joseph Smith Papers series – a monumental effort to present facsimiles and transcriptions of everything Joseph Smith wrote or dictated – will include a volume of the controversial Council of Fifty minutes from 1844. Whether church members will actually read these volumes is anyone’s guess, but making the documents available not only in print but also online to the general public is a wonderful step forward.
  • Local bishops have been holding firesides about doubt; the New York Times reports that authors Terryl and Fiona Givens are doing such events in Europe and the US. I would like to see more of these, the kind of unscripted “put your question in a hat” evening that other religions do so much better than Mormons do. Authentic, extemporaneous, and grassroots.
  • This year’s FAIR conference, which I was sorry to miss, featured a presentation on the book Shaken Faith Syndrome (great title) and a panel on the loss and rekindling of faith. FAIR’s stock in trade is apologetics, an approach that will not appeal to everyone, but it’s an acknowledgement of the depth of the problem.
  • Last year’s book Daughters in My Kingdom — which, some blog readers will recall, I did not embrace wholeheartedly – at least openly acknowledged the reality of polygamy in Mormon history. It’s a small step, but it’s a step.

These are just a few ways that Mormons are opening up about doubt. I hope there will be many more, especially in small, grassroots conversations like Jay’s. Doubt is nothing to fear. It is the beginning of wisdom.

 

 

 

* I should clarify: apparently what I am referring to here as polyandry is technically considered “extra-pair matings or couplings.” For a biologist’s take on Mormon polyandry, see this entertaining post at By Common Consent.

93 Comments

  1. Love this article, and how you tactfully covered the subject of doubt in an ultra-conservative church, but if you want to keep the best and the brightest, more needs to be considered! The ultimate question for me is “am I a better person by practicing this religion?” And after 26 years of doubt and reconciliation, I have to say, no. The fathers-that-be need to take a serious look at the survey that MormonStories.org did and move beyond doubt into numbers…

    • Jana, you prove time and again that discretion is not a lost virtue.

      In “Shaken Faith Syndrome,” Ash describes three levels of Mormon history. The first is level A, the history taught in Sunday School. Level B, is the anti-Mormon version, and level C is a better history that explains the questions created by B. Traveling from A through B to C creates a better historical knowledge but does it create greater faith? Certainly some will be lost. Which path brings more to eternal life? Perhaps by teaching more complex history, we could skip B and go directly to C.

      The story of your student is touching and, if I understand literature on the impact of education on maintaining faith when confronted with doubt, fairly typical. Members with more education weather the storm better.

      I recently conducted a small and simple piece of research only suitable for a blog post that attempted to answer if young adults are leaving the Church in droves. I compared the ratio of seminary enrollment to institute enrollment overtime. The ratio has been getting smaller suggesting that young adults are leaving the Church in a smaller percentage than in the past, at least educated young adults.

      Part of the solution may be to improve the education of our people. Knowledge is one of the few things we do take with u.

    • I loved this article, too, and I’m so glad these things are being openly discussed. For me, however, the answer to Karen’s question: “Am I a better person by practicing this religion?” is categorically, YES.

      That’s what allows me to hear these stories about early church history without panicking. In 38 years of practicing Mormonism, I am unquestionably a better, happier, brighter person when I am living the gospel fully as it is taught today.

      And, having attended Harvard myself, I don’t believe the “best and the brightest” in our church are those who consider themselves intellectuals. The ones I admire most are those who simply prove the truth of the gospel by living it completely every day. They seem to be the most at-peace people I see anywhere, in or out of the church. And they don’t seem to need to convince anyone of anything – the ones I’m talking about just let their lives speak for themselves.

      • “Best and brightest” was probably not the best statement to use, and for that I apologize. In using a common phrase, I set up a duality that I did not intent. With that being said, it would be interesting to see Brooks’ methodology and learn whether this is a simple mathematical ratio or if real subjects were tracked on an individual basis. Plus the variable of actual college attendees vs. community members who are “welcome to sit in” would be interesting to note.

        As a prominent member of my own community–academic and otherwise–I am often approached by active, inactive and anti-Mormon people. I’ve heard much the same types of statements that have been discussed in this very comment section. I’ve been a Gospel Doctrine Teacher thrice, the longest being a 6 year term. I’ve heard a lot of doubt, sorrow, and questioning. I know how to answer the questions in the “correct” way, but when it’s all said and done, I don’t want to be an apologist!!

        I, too, appreciate people that live simple faith, but my definition of simple faith and Carolyn’s definition of simple faith are two different things. Didn’t go to Harvard, but do have a Ph.D. I wish you all well in your own choices, but I have taken a different road because I wanted more of a scenic route.

  2. Thanks for the post! You have great insights and I have enjoyed your works and podcasts. I am going to have to disagree with you on the appropriateness of the “Shaken Faith Syndrome” title, however. I think it does a disservice to those struggling because by using a quasi-medical term, because it can give the impression that the reason people doubt is because they have something (medically/spiritually) wrong with them. If only they were “normal” or “healthy,” those doctrinal, historical, or political issues wouldn’t be an issue or cause harm. In other words, that title seems to imply that the problem is with the patient, not with the disease, stressor, environment, etc. When an institution isn’t totally honest or up front about things, shaken faith is the completely rational response and it is the institution’s claims that might be pathological.

    • Jana Riess

      I hadn’t thought about it that way. You’ve pointed out to me that the term “Shaken Faith Syndrome” reflects the notion that there is one right, normative way to be — and that the shaking itself is dangerous, even life-threatening. That’s a helpful observation. (I was mostly thinking as an editor/publisher, as someone who has sat in long titling meetings where we try to come up with something that will be memorable and original!)

  3. Wonderful! Thank you, Jana!

    I long for the day when I can go to Mormon Sunday School and talk about our actual Church history, rather than a white-washed caricature thereof…

    • Jana Riess

      This kind of Sunday School experience does happen in some wards — it just depends on the teacher, and how open the bishop is. Just keep asking the important questions, out loud . . . . It’s surprising how many other people in the room want to have an honest conversation about exactly those same things.

  4. Jane, thank you so much for this article. I would dearly love to know more in-depth of what your answer was to the young returned missionary. This is a topic I’ve only recently learned of, and it’s been nagging me. I’ve tried to go to lds.org for the answer, but can’t really find anything. Why would Joseph need to practice polyandry??? I don’t want to go to anti sources, though it seems that’s the only place that would have more information. Thank you!!!

    • Jana Riess

      Kay, here is a link to a helpful Dialogue article about polyandry in Nauvoo:

      https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V18N03_69.pdf

      And there is also some interesting new info about it in John Turner’s excellent biography of Brigham Young: http://www.amazon.com/Brigham-Young-John-G-Turner/dp/0674049675/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378762364&sr=8-1&keywords=brigham+young+pioneer+prophet

    • I too would like to hear more of Jana’s experience with the young missionary. Lacking that explanation, FAIR at http://www.fairlds.org/ describes the issue of polyandry. It is one of the issues on the Typical Guide page. They also allow you to submit questions (Ask an Apologist) and they provide comprehensive answers.

    • We live in the age of the internet. There’s no shame looking stuff up and the church will just have to deal with us all having information at our fingertips. You’ll find there are EXTREMELY few actual anti-mormon sites (regardless of how the church makes it seem that they’re all over and all out to get you). Most sites you find with a Google search are just informative sites.

      • I don’t think the church is turning over a new leaf I’m sure there will be stuff in the JS papers that will never see the light of the day. I think the church is pulling a PR stunt by making an appearance of turning a new leaf by releasing some information that is already out there and putting its spin on it.

  5. Thank you for your comments! Just before you posted this, I posted on my blog (http://www.stylingstiles.blogspot.com/2013/09/losing-my-religion.html) and FB about how my husband and I have left the Mormon church. There were a lot of reasons why we made the decision to leave the church, but you hit on quite a few of them. I can’t help but think how my life would have been different if my family and church leaders would have been a little more supportive of me, even with my doubts, instead of constantly brushing them aside. Maybe they didn’t know any better than I did, and did not know how to respond. But the message was always clear: Doubt not. Have more faith. But sometimes it is difficult to have more of something that seems to be slipping away.

    I really love this poem by Robert T. Weston:

    Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
    Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
    A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error,
    for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
    Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.
    Let no man fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it;
    for doubt is a testing of belief.
    The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing;
    For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.
    He that would silence doubt is filled with fear;
    the house of his spirit is built on shifting sands.
    But he that fears no doubt, and knows its use, is founded on a rock.
    He shall walk in the light of growing knowledge;
    the work of his hands shall endure.
    Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:
    It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the handmaiden of truth.

  6. Jana Riess

    Sarah, I just read your beautiful blog post. I am so very sorry that you were not loved through your most important questions, and I am sure that the LDS Church will be lesser for your absence. I am glad to hear that you are finding a loving community in the UU tradition; there is so much kindness and truth there. May God’s greatest blessings be with your family as you make this transition.

    • Compare Ms. Riess’s response to this woman to this mission president’s (alleged) response to someone’s announcement of non-belief–specifically, the very last email wherein he references Alma 30:59-60 (apostates will be trodden to death and then go to hell).

      http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1016813

  7. Thank you for this article. I would love to have a place where I feel comfortable expressing my concerns with my religion. Unfortunately, I feel it has become a deep secret, and it can feel very isolating at times. I am grateful to have found an article like this that help me feel less alone.

  8. “Doubt is a noble thing. …[D]o not think that when I speak as one who knows with certainty that I do not also doubt; do not think, either, that when I doubt I am not also sensing right beside me, close enough to touch them, definite, indisputable things.”
    — Czeslaw Miłosz

  9. The church has been undergoing a massive shift in attitudes toward doubt over the last few years, and most of it is in a positive direction. It’s very refreshing.

    Beyond “doubt:”

    I may be a bit ahead of the curve with this next comment here, but the church is going to also make a shift beyond the very concept of doubt itself. People tend not to stay in The Doubt Zone forever. It’s not that everything gets resolved, it’s just that it’s emotionally impossible to live always at the edge of indecision and uncertainty. People eventually have to make some kind of peace with life and God and the whole big picture. Some people make peace on the inside, and stay active in the church. Some people make peace outside the boundaries of the church. It would be a bit unfair and inaccurate to perpetually label church-leavers as “doubters.” Chances are that they are no longer in the actively-doubting phase. They probably are even in a faith-building phase, even though they are building their faith in areas other than the uniquely Mormon areas of, say, the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham. And there is probably still a lot of faith in these people in things that Mormons appreciate, even though they are not uniquely Mormon: honesty, integrity, service, love, family, and so on.

    In other words, it’s great to say that doubt is an essential part of discovering truth, and that we shouldn’t criminalize it, as Jana is doing in her article, but it’s not so great if we attach the expectation that all righteous/worthy/good people will inevitably find their faith in the church strengthened as a result of the doubting process. Some people come (often reluctantly) to different conclusions. It is possible to “do everything right” according to the Mormon process of searching for truth, and to find an alternate set of answers outside of Mormonism.

    Once we can all agree that questioning and doubting are not sins, the next, and perhaps harder step is to fully love, embrace, and accept those who have come to different conclusions — not in spite of their past (or current) doubts — but simply because of who they are… and to befriend them with no ulterior motive of reconverting them… befriend them simply because people need friends.

    • Very well said.

      Two of my brothers have distanced themselves from the Church. They are intelligent, good men, and while I do not understand their choices, I am confident that they are following their convictions.

      I have found that in my zeal to “defend the faith” with them, I very often deny Christ: I am accusatory, combative, and angry, when I should be accepting, tolerant and loving. I fear I have lost a lot of opportunities to strengthen my family (which is the whole reason we’re here), in the name of making a doctrinal point.

  10. I appreciate that comment, Paul. I don’t feel like I have doubts. I simply have concerns. I know what I believe and how it fits into the LDS religion. My concerns with the church don’t make me doubt my beliefs. I still have a firm testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I feel like I am an outsider in my ward. I have different opinions, and the things I value the most don’t seem to matter to those around me.

    • Just to clarify most Mormon Facebook groups are not for perfect Mormons. There’s groups for doubters, feminists, LGBT, those seeking to improve the church from within, you name it.

      • There are no perfect Mormons and there never have been. Any Mormons who feel that they are perfect are blaspheming. There are some who may be trying to pretend that they are perfect, and they may be fooling themselves. Do not confuse perfection with testimony. You can have a testimony and be trying to do your best without being perfect and without pretending to be perfect. Anyone pretending to be perfect – is hiding something. It is OK to hide “something” from those around you, just don’t try hiding from the Lord.

        • Reminds me of what president Hinckley said in an interview in Newsweek it’s ok to have disagreements as long as you keep them between your two ears. No vocal dissent aloud in other words under this system it’s hard to know if a devout member is sincere or just parroting their leaders.

          • Some of us are trying to bring more issues out into the open so they can be discussed openly instead of being taboo, and so members and the church can be more honest with themselves and each other. We’re in the 21st century for crying out loud! Even so, the system is incredibly resistant to change.

          • Jana Riess

            Simply silencing doubts and not raising them as topics of discussion seems to me to damage our promise to be honest in our dealings with our fellow human beings, which all Mormons aspire to do. Honesty is not just about being truthful in what we say. It’s about being truthful in what we choose to say out loud.

          • Good point about honesty, Jana. But I’m still not sure the church or church officials have always been honest – take the purchase and suppression of Mark Hoffman’s documents for example. Suppressing information (even though they were forgeries, they were believed to be authentic) isn’t honest and neither is denying the purchase of said documents. Also, how are we to consider the half-truths?

          • Jana Riess

            No, the Church has not always been honest, which was part of my point in noting that the way the Church handles polygamy and the controversies of the past. Suppressing information or telling only some of the facts will always be more harmful than helpful.

          • The part that raises a red flag when it comes to the churches honesty is when the proported BOA parchment that was ” written by the hand of Abraham” was found in the 60 s and translated and found to be a commen funeral scroll about a man name hor. Why didn’t the church inform its members that the translated is wrong sure the church would lose members but at least it would have more dignity the community of Christ church lost a lot of members but they retain their dignity with honesty and transparency.

          • Still president Hinckley saying that implys that it is “apostasy” to publicly vocalize dissent which is not authentic behavior if you choose silence out of fear. I disagree with you.

        • I don’t confuse perfection with testimony. You may be reading too far into my word choice. What I meant was that there are groups to support those that do not feel or act like perfect examples of mainstream Mormonism and want to associate with others who are similar to them. I’m in feminist and LGBT groups and most of the people in those groups have strong testimonies.

    • Outsider in the ward was a perfect line of how I feel. My husband recently left the church over all this crap and I was afraid of asking anyone around me about it. Lo and behold our former home teacher had read Denver Snuffers book “Passing the Heavenly Gift”. His stk pres understood him so well that he excommunicated him for it. It lays out all the “anti” material that was true and explains it.

      I wholeheartedly disagree w the idea that Joseph Smith was a polygamist or in polyandry. He had NO polygamous offspring. DNA verified. Brigham Young brought the congregation of Cochranites from Saco, Maine to Nauvoo. The minister was married to half of the women. They tries to pin this on Joseph Smith after he died by sealing powerful SLC polygamous women to him to maintain their positions. Joseph Smith denied it vociferously and gave his life as a result. Brigham young was a scroundrel. JS gave blacks the priesthood and BYoung took it away. Because it is the true church is the only way we prob survived this debauchery and highly sexualized society.

      I think the Lion House should be torn down and statues of women such as the ones in Nauvoo be out in its place to pay tribute to all the abused women esp the teenagers who were forced into polygamy and being married/raped by old dudes under the guise of religious authority. Creepy at its core.

  11. It may only be a problem with expression, but some of the above seems to imply that doubt is a necessary catalyst to building faith. That seems a doubtful claim, and perhaps no better than the black-and-white view it seeks to replace. There do appear to be people of mature faith who haven’t had much dealing with doubt.

    The question what the Church’s attitude should be to doubt seems tricky to me. First, it’s a given that it should be treated with love and compassion, and in other constructive ways. But I think the Church has strong reasons not to treat it as in itself a good thing, but rather to treat it as something to overcome as much as possible. It’s natural. possibly unavoidable for many, but I don’t see the Church wanting to treat it as a virtue. On a practical level that would probably cause more trouble than it would solve.

    Those concerned about how doubt is treated may have an easier time enlisting the support of more conservative members if there isn’t an insistence or seeming implication that doubt is a good and necessary thing for mature faith.

    • I think it depends on your definition of doubt. It seems to me that doubt is a necessary companion to faith, that without it, faith is flaccid, untested, underdeveloped. I don’t know that Moses would have heard “this is my work and my glory” if he hadn’t first concluded that “man is nothing…” Joseph Smith’s doubt in Liberty Jail led to some very powerful teachings. That willingness to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure,” coupled with humility enough to receive the Spirit when it comes, is what marks us as disciples of Christ.

      Doubt frequently gets mistaken for skepticism, which is a completely different thing. Skepticism is ossified, cynical, resistant. Doubt is open to receiving greater understanding. As others have said, there have been repeated and prolonged attempts to excise doubt from the Church, a sort of genetic modification of the spirit. (I can’t even watch that remake of “The First Vision”, the one that completely passes over Joseph’s account of being gripped by a killing blackness, reducing the story to something like drinking oversweetened Kool-Aid, syrupy and easy and punctuated with a visit from what appears to be two-thirds of the Bee Gees.)

      I believe with all my heart in obedience, and orthodoxy, and the importance of following Priesthood leaders. I also believe in the saving power of asking hard questions, and admitting doubt, and pleading with the Lord to “help thou my unbelief.” Doubt can be a powerful tool in bringing us to Christ.

      • Cort, doubt can indeed be a catalyst for growth, but I don’t think it’s ever been shown that it’s the only catalyst or a necessary one. Adversity that challenges faith isn’t the same as or necessarily responded to with doubt, but it can still be a catalyst for growth in faith. I know people of strong faith who tell me they haven’t ever been inclined to doubt. It’s not that they don’t have challenges to their faith, they just don’t respond the same way others might. That might fit the view that belief is a spiritual gift given in different ways to different people.

        • You make some great points.

          One of the dangers, I guess, is that we tend to assume that our experience is universal, that everyone has had the same challenges. By extension, we tend to be intolerant of those who make choices different than ours, which is often a stumbling block in discussions between those who’ve drawn away from the Church, and those who have remained close.

      • In response to corts comments about skepticism,I believe skeptism is a virtue you must always be skeptic of evreything until tangible evidence comes up. Skepticism is a way of weeding out falsehoods from truth. You must be open minded but not so open minded you accept things on pure feeling or hearsay.

  12. Kevin Barney

    The (very good) man who is now my Stake President went through his own season of doubt not that long ago while he was trying to help his son through some questions. He came through it ok, and I believe (and have told him) that he is all the stronger a church leader now because of the empathy he will be able to have for members who experience doubts of their own.

  13. I believe the Lord has revealed more about Joseph’s marriages, and it shows that he did not practice polyandry.

    Under the Lord’s laws, a woman can marry a man for eternity, and a different man for time. This is for economic reasons. The women Joseph married who were already married to other men were married to him for eternity. They remained with their temporal husband because Joseph would soon be gone.

    If one wishes to read exactly what the Lord has said on this, follow this link:

    http://www.2bc.info/pdf/2BC231.pdf

  14. Excellent article and your suggestions are “spot-on.” For useful and current information on specific questions regarding polygamy see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-tgk6zCHAU from the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture site, AND Brian Hales’ Website on Polygamy and Joseph Smith at www.josephsmithspolygamy.com .

  15. Dan Ellsworth

    Loved this article as well. What Br. Mattson did in the NYT article was publicly grieve, and for the most part, I have been very happy to see people’s responses. I have seen a lot of affirmation of his grief, and very little dismissiveness or judgment.

    I think we’re making progress, slowly but surely.

  16. Those are some iteresting anecdotes. Here are some things that were said to me when I have expressed doubt:

    “shhh!”

    “The Spirit leaves the room when you open your mouth”

    “There are some things that just aren’t debatable”

    “We are a church of believers not skeptics”

    “If you stay on this path you’ll lose your family”

    “once someone starts disbelieving, the change inevitably leads to sin”

    “were either moving towards god or moving towards satan”

    “your doubt will cause future generations to doubt”

    “oh ye of little faith”

    “the success you have been experiencing recently in your business can lead to further blessings but if you fail to recognize the lords hand in this it will become a curse”

    “your children will suffer. This is not the time for you to be experimenting with a new philosophy of life”

    One of the things the church leaders and members have become very good at is leveraging the love you have for your family and friends, social acceptance, and even your livelihood to force conformance. Want to baptize your child or attend your child’s temple wedding? Well not if you express your doubts! The other thing they can be good at is flattery, as in the story where the doubter eventually becomes his son in law. I prefer a logical argument over coercion.

  17. I would like to point out with respect and in my opinion. “Shaken- faith syndrome” would not exist if the the church was proven true by tangible evidence. With the evidence that we have now. Saying the church is true is like saying 2+2= 5. I know that’s a simplified way of saying it but it gets my point across. There isn’t an amount of faith that can make 2+2=5.

  18. I have really enjoyed this discussion thread regarding “doubt”. A little history, I am 57 year old who has been member of church my entire life. Was inactive for periods, but for most part a TBM. Served in many leadership positions, including EQP, Young Men’s President, 2 Bishoprics etc. For the last three years I have really been having doubts and doing lots of research. Told Bishop had many issues with the church and did not want a calling or to be a home teacher etc. Tonight the entire Bishopric came over to “check up on me and my wife”. Wife is a TBM. Told them again, still in the same place and have many doubts and concerns about history of church and many other of the common issues people struggle with. Bishop appreciated my openness, but could only say again that to him, just look at the B of M. How could a young uneducated man write that book on his own. I told him I had a response to that, but would not do any good to get into it with him and he really had nothing to say. Doubt is not a sin! Doubt is not a bad thing? If the church cannot stand up to some research and study then it obviously has problems. My only problem is my wife who as I stated is a “very” TBM. Don’t want to hurt her, but can’t live a lie. I am rambling, but I guess I just wanted to say thank you to all of you in this thread for confirming that it is okay to doubt. Unfortunately, as has been discussed there can be some serious consequences if those doubts are expressed. However, to this point, my Bishop simply says he appreciates my openness and that there are no bad or negative feelings etc. Not quite sure what will happen when it comes to temple interview time again in a few months. :) I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it. However, right now, if I were to answer many of the temple recommend questions honestly, I would not be issued a temple recommend. Tough, because I have many grandchildren and many baptisms, ordinations etc coming up. Last but not least, I completely agree with Anoumynous (sp) that there would be no Shaken Faith Syndrome if the church had any tangible evidence proving the church is what it professes to be. Sorry this is so long.

  19. I appreciate the response that good leader had to the questioning young man. It takes a strong and compassionate individual to be able to hold someone’s religious concerns sincerely without jumping to judgement or dismissal. This is the safety net your love and candor so graciously provides for others Jana. Heaven bless you for that.

    It has been my observation that while most members of the church extend kindness, respect and patience for differences in opinion expressed by people not of our faith, the response can be much different to those already in our faith. Perhaps it is because they are “expected to know better,” fall into line with conviction of testimony, their questions having a more personal threat to our understanding.

    I propose that some of the people who need our most patient and charitable hand are those individuals who are in our pews, even our own selves, with questions or doubt. Hopefully we can take their questions, and our own, safely and with genuine care-as that good Stake President did. That we might not misinterpret their doubts as attacks on our faith, threatening us and them, but rather an individuals process. Someone who needs genuine acknowledgement, worth our time and sincere efforts to understand. It has been my personal experience that it can be mutually beneficial to open our hearts to those questioning souls. That we can open ourselves to deeper understanding and witness the beautiful way faith and love can replace doubt and fear.

    There is but One with perfect faith in all things and perfect expression of it.

    …I am also familiar with our delicate church history and hesitate to give reason or conclusion for God and/or man at such an overwhelmingly revelatory and trying time- especially when agency and growth are so essential to progression. I am not naive to believe in the infallibility of prophets, but also not willing to cast the first stone.

    While I do not understand the contradictions and reasonings, I would never want to trespass on the lives of individuals who sacrificed so much. And because I so often need others to believe in the intent of my heart and forgive the inadequacy of my actions, I extend mercy to all who are genuinely seeking to follow the divine and especially those who’s fruits have eternally blessed my soul.

    My greatest hope is that in all my learning, judgement and encounters, I err on the side of compassion…where Christ and His Atonement await ANY willing soul.

    • Jana Riess

      Great points, Sara. Psychologists note that sometimes, people’s kindness and compassion are spent mostly on those they don’t know very well rather than on hurting individuals within their own families. Families are messy, and wards are families. I think you’re right that LDS church members are often more receptive and understanding of doubters outside the fold.

      I like your idea of deciding in advance to err on the side of compassion.

  20. Jana,

    I like Boyd’s comment, “First, we would decriminalize doubt.” For the sin of doubt, I was kept from officiating in my children’s ordinances and blessings while church leaders involved in actual open nefarious activities enjoyed full participation. Boyd’s comment would have allowed even a family like the Kimballs who were settling in with their doubts and were participating meaningfully and positively within the walls of their LDS community.

    In contrast, your note about “Shaken Faith Syndrome,” was actually disheartening. The panel was inspired by Mike Ash’s book with the same title which serves to marginalize, minimize, and misrepresent legitimate historical, theological, and cultural concerns brought forward by Mormon scholars.

    As always, sending good vibes Jana.

    Tom Kimball

    • Jana Riess

      Thanks, Tom. I should have made clear that I have not read that book; I was initially drawn to its title, and that’s what I was commenting on in the post. But as a previous commenter pointed out, the title “Shaken Faith Syndrome” suggests that such shaking is dangerous and wrong, and that’s not something I agree with, as I think the rest of the post makes clear.

      So consider my initial comment retracted! Doubt is an important and constructive tool on the spiritual journey. It spurs us forward in asking deeper questions and helps us maintain humility when we imagine we already have all the answers we need. As St. Augustine put it, “If you think you understand, it isn’t God.”

      And good vibes right back to you. As I wrote this post I was thinking of your family with love and regret as I remembered some of the struggles you all have been through, and the fact that the Church did not respond to those struggles in a kind or wise way. Peace be with you.

      • Judging from the comments, it appears there will remain a gulf between liberals and conservatives on this issue. Liberals will continue to characterize doubt as a good thing, and conservatives will continue to find that contrary to scripture and experience. The gap between liberal and conservative may be deeper than that between believer and nonbeliever.

  21. Well said. Much of what we learn depends on local members and much of what local members are comfortable with is cultural. Change takes time, but we are changing both culturally and in better understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ, I feel.

  22. I was born and raised 4th generation mormon. My great grandfather was one of those who moved west with Bringham Young. At the age of 14, I became what is known as a jack mormon. So I wasn’t taught alot about mormonism, but enough to get along. At the age of 24 I was on the streets of Los Angeles, ready to commit suicide, after all, I reasoned, God is love and won’t send me to hell. I wasn’t brave enough to commit suicide, so I kept wandering. Having to eat in a mission, I found that it was required I first listened to a sermon with 300 other people. The chaplain stated that I had to confess I was a sinner to God, and ask for forgiveness based on what Jesus did on the cross, and that God would then give me the assurance of eternal life. While I was listening, the Holy Spirit impressed on me that if I didn’t receive what the chaplain was talking about and walked out the door and something happened and I died, that I would go to hell. He impressed this on me in the most loving way. It was indescrible. He spoke the truth to me in love. So I received what the chaplain was talking about. We prayed together and I know to this day that I belong to Christ and that will never change. Based solely on what he did at the cross, not based on my performance.

    It wasn’t until 2 months later that I learned something else very significant to me. Though born again, I still considered myself a mormon. I went to hear a pastor talk about mormonism. I couldn’t tell you any of what he said except one verse. Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” That verse shot out of the pulpit like a missile and hit me right in the head, demolishing all of the mormon doctrine I had ever heard. I slumped back in my chair and the thought came to me, “They lied to me!”

    God was never a man like me. God was never a sinner like I was. I was never going to become a God. The Bible and gospel had never been lost from the earth. I had been raised in one of the most successful scams of all time. But this scam doesn’t just take a person’s money. This scam takes a person’s soul by causing a person to follow a different gospel than the one Paul the Apostle taught. Paul said anyone who preached this different gospel would be eternally condemned.

    So what Joseph Smith and the early fathers of the mormon beliefs did was far more grave than the plurality of wives and marrying women already married (those things had to have been heart wrenching for the people involved, except for those benefitting in some way by having more than one wife. The Scriptures do teach that stolen bread is sweet.” What they did that was more grave than this is to mislead millions to their own destruction for their own benefit.

    Jesus, the only Son of God, paid the penalty for your sin. All of it. If grace, unearned favor, has any works on your part required, it is no longer grace. Jesus paid it all. Just ask him to save you, and he will do it. Period. You will belong to him.

    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      Dave, you might ponder a bit further the fact that theosis–the doctrine that salvation cosnists of our becoming like Christ–was taught by the early Christians (e.g. Irenaeus: “God became man so that man can become god”) and has been preserved as a teaching of the Eastern Orthodox churches. A knowledgable Catholic will acknowledge it is still official doctrine in his church as well. The Protestant rejection of that doctrine is a rejection of a Christian doctrine taught for two millennia. It is not a doctrine unique to Mormonism at all.

      I find it interesting that you describe your religious conversion in terms of the Holy Spirit revealing things to you. I suppose you know that there are some Protestant pastors who insist that there is no revelation of that kind from God. Aside from Mormonism, there are not many churches that specifically endorse the concept of personal revelation.

      • They use diffrent terms in other churches being born again is the same as having an epiphany in moronis promise most religions claim some ” feeling” that there way is the true way. The lds church is not unique just the terms they use

      • Catholicism doesn’t have a problem with “personal” revelation per se. However such revelations require discernment following St. Paul’s wisdom. So revelation is never strictly personal/private…it’s communal. That is there is a long tradition of spiritual direction going back to the desert fathers who were sought for their advice on spiritual matters. This tradition continued for centuries and continues to develop today with formal training for spiritual directors.

        I’m personally troubled by Joseph Smith’s “personal revelation”. The notion of gold tablets which no one has ever seen since that time strikes me as odd and very suspicious. In the Catholic tradition evidence is always present. Whether it’s St. Francis’ stigmata, the cloak with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe or other such phenomenon.

        If this experience took place in the early to mid 19th century – well we have all kinds of documents from that period and centuries earlier as well. If Smith was unable or unwilling to present these gold tablets – why would someone believe him?

        I’m also curious about the claim that there were 8 witnesses….well 8 witnesses to what?

        Also wonder about the so-called parallel Smith drew between the tribes of ancient Israel and his claim that Christ appeared to Native Americans at some point. Odd that most anthropological and now genetic evidence posits Native Americans were Asiatic in origin. A “claim” which can’t be substantiated by evidence therefore becomes very, very suspect.

  23. The serious error in this article is that you are treating doubt and questioning as synonyms. They are not. Questions are a precursor for faith. Doubt is not. The New Testament says nothing positive about doubt. In it, doubt is not encouraged but reviled, “Wherefore did thou doubt…” Questions are replete and encouraged. “Ask…seek… knock…” A person can be intensely questioning without doubting.

    Scientists make a career asking penetrating questions without doubting the undergirding principles of science and scientific investigation. They do not doubt the surrounding universe, they aggressively concoct questions and investigate it.

    We should thoroughly question God, we should not doubt Him.

    • Paul, we should be careful how we choose to interpret words from a translated book; there is rarely a 1:1 correspondence between words in different languages. Furthermore, we should be careful not to confuse modern definitions with those from bygone eras. For instance, “virtue” had a very different meaning 100 years ago than it does today (especially within the church). We need to allow some flexibility in what was written in the scriptures or else we run the risk of painting ourselves into a corner with an insistence of literary literalness.

      As for science, scientists should be skeptical or doubting of that which cannot be backed up with evidence (including simple models). Even with evidence, no fair scientist would accept any explanation or theory as FINAL (I.e., they doubt the “fundementals” enough to leave open the possibility that they are wrong. Many scientific questions stem from a disbelief or doubt in the current explanation/paradigm and seek a better explanation. Science is all about bucking conventional wisdom, educators (no offense) are about establishing conventional wisdom.

      • It is a feeble attempt to try and say the Bible does not mean what it repeatedly and forcefully says. The message is of the New Testament is that you are saved by FAITH in Christ. There are more than one hundred statements that clearly state this, including virtually every author. Doubt is certainly not faith, but more closely an antonym. There is not one instance in the New Testament in which doubt is lauded or encouraged, nor does it teach that doubt is a necessary or preferable precursor for faith. Inquiry, examination, questioning, seeking, but not doubt.

        You said scientists should doubt what is not backed up by evidence, but should they doubt that which is backed up by evidence? Should you doubt that the sun exists and produces energy? Should you doubt that gravity exists? Newton recognized that attractive force between earth and objects on the surface. Would it make sense to doubt if this force was exists, or to accept the evidence and then begin to question how this force acts and if there is a mathematical law to describe the attractive behavior? Should scientist doubt the existence of the sun, or instead question how it produces energy, how long it has done so and how long it will continue, how it began, what it is made of, etc. Doubting everything is not productive scientific inquiry. Doubting God is not productive spiritual inquiry.

        • It is also feeble to assume that the the KJV bible is the only meaningful translation. Are we taught that the bible is the word of God as far as it is TRANSLATED correctly. Are the Greek or Aramaic words for Faith and Doubt antonyms? Also, doubting Christ/God and doubting the church are not the same thing. The church has never taught that it is infallible, but the members often treat it that way. My point is that if you take every statement literally, you are going to have to deal statements that become sticky doctrine such as (a) Gen 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” [The Lord had to repent?] or (b) God hardening pharaoh’s heart (see Exodus), or (c) a lot of what Paul said.
          As for the science part, I want to clarify some things, especially because I wrote the last response in haste. Scientists who are honest with themselves will choose the explanation that has evidence that best fits the facts, but they will always allow themselves to be proven wrong. While most scientists will not doubt the current understanding of how the sun works, they would be open to the idea that they could be wrong once they gain additional information. Newtonian physics was “the thing” to describe everything until Einstein’s theory of relativity and threw Newtonian physics out the window. When we discover the “theory of everything” or understand dark matter/dark energy, it will completely change the way we understand how everything works, including the sun. Don’t confuse a mathematical equation of a thing with the thing itself. The equation is a model, and as George Box points out, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” There is very wide gap between doubting SOME scientific things and doubting EVERYTHING, so I’m not going to bite on that one. Scientists are free to doubt and question what they want. That is what is expected and what is rewarded. The Church, on the other hand, is not really open to either questions or doubt.

          • You have missed the point. The point is that doubt and questioning are NOT the same. You can thoroughly question without doubting. In fact, we are commanded to question. We should ask questions to and about the Lord, the scriptures, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Church, Pres. Monson, the plan of salvation, and everything. Formulating and seeking answers to questions is the primary stimulus for learning in all fields including spiritual. This process does not require doubt, and is superior without it. If we cannot start with belief, we should start with a “desire to believe.”

            Finally, the reference to translation issues is a canard. There is no translation of the New Testament that exists in which faith and belief are not bedrock, foundational principles, and disbelief and doubt are not condemned. To believers in the Book of Mormon, there are no translational issues with the words and and it is even more condemning of disbelief and doubt.

          • I’ll grant you that doubt and questioning do not have to be the same thing. After all, my faith (or doubt) in various scientific theories informs my scientific beliefs, decisions, and experiments. However, saying that they are NOT the same thing is more than I am willing accept for now without further consideration.
            Even if we say that questioning and doubt are never the same, neither are welcomed publicly in the church. While we are admonished to study things out and question things, we are not welcome to do so in church. I have yet to be in a class where any serious questions were encouraged or asked.
            Science, on the other hand, should not assume an outcome (although predictions are welcome) and is only welcome when it is open to the public for review, debate, or discussion. I understand that there is some inherent difficulty in publicly demonstrating a spiritual experience, but the real problem is that no aspect of the religious experience is allowed to be subjected to peril (I.e. nothing can be falsified because there is always some excuse to explain why the religious experience, miracle, etc. failed). For example, when a blessing does not heal, it is “God’s will.” Or when someone does not receive a confirmation that he Book of Mormon is true or that gays should not be allowed to marry, the explanation is often that the knowledge seeker was unrighteous or insincere.
            Furthermore, the questioning process in the church typically presupposes that the leadership or scriptures are correct on an issue and that your questioning will result in a confirmation of that “truth.” This process “works” for many, but it fails many too. There are a lot of us for whom the process has not worked in spite of the fact that we have followed, studied, and served faithfully for decades. Every one of us is of the cafeteria variety (in spite of church leaders’ insistence) because there are some things we don’t feel good about or conveniently ignore or hide away. If you don’t believe this to be the case, I would invite you to revisit many previous church teachings that we “don’t emphasize anymore.”
            Finally, as far as the “perfection” of the translation of the Book of Mormon goes, Brigham Young taught that of he had translated it, it would have been a very different book. The early apostles debated the process by which it was brought forth (see B H Roberts, among others). The consensus has not been, or is not now, that it is directly written by the hand of God without possible interpretation issues.

  24. Joseph smith was a scoundrel and a phony. It is wise to doubt anything the lds church teaches. It will lead straight to hell. How long will you try to earn your way to heaven under a false theology ( or an evolving theology as the article author states)? Compare everything to the true scriptures, the Bible. It will expose the book of mormon for what it really is: an uninspired collection of made up stories by a con man. The lds “prophets” of today are perpetuating this false religion and dragging millions of souls to eternal damnation with them

    • The bible is not any better. A book where god condones slavery and stoning persons who pick up sticks on The sabbath is a moral problematic book. Read the whole bible from cover to cover and it will convert many atheist.

  25. I don’t get it. If he was willing to accept that the church used to allow men to marry more than one women, why did he see it as such a problem that women were allowed to marry more than one man? What’s the difference?

    • Our cousins the primates monkeys gorillas also has a system that favors males having multiple partners over females having multiple mates. Sexism is genetics,

        • I’m not a biologist, but the consensus seems to be on primates is that the male is the dominant. I agree its not black and white but early Mormon leaders( and modern ones too) seem to not get over the sexism our ancestors had human and primate we overcame slavery we can overcome sexism. Any how’s I still stand by our primates cousins behavior as part of an explanation why males get multiple wives in Mormonism and females don’t( except in cases where Joseph smith decides to send men on missions so he could marry their wives) .

  26. In the end all that matters is not if I’m wrong or your wrong. The truth is what matters our feelings are too biased. We need outside evidence, and I don’t see that so I assume this church is another man made concept until something else comes up. The book of Abraham and the archeology, anthology not following the BOM narrative is very damning against the churches claim and I bet the twelve know this to some degree. The church IMO is non salvageable based on the fraud it is based upon its is best to move on with your lives if the the churches lack if forthright bothers you, and not try and reform the church. Just save yourselves your integrity and let the ship sink. Anyways that us my uncompromising opinion.

  27. Great article, and some valuable comments too. Here are some more factors to consider:

    A ward (or quorum or class) is very much like a one-room schoolhouse where people are at all different levels of spiritual maturity. Faith is very personal, and what looks like an interesting faith-building inquiry to one person may be a faith-eroding “doubt” (or an irrelevant gospel hobby) to another. The more secure a person’s faith, the greater the tolerance for human faults in other members and historical persons. A good teacher tries to find a common denominator and asks open-ended questions that allow everyone to contemplate and learn, regardless of level. (The scriptures are rife with multiple levels of meaning, and it’s usually wrong to think one particular level is the one-and-only “true” meaning.)

    I too believe the church needs to be more open to letting people express their concerns and doubts, but I’m not sure Sunday School or Quorum Meeting is the right forum. Teachers need to keep control of the subject matter. There are often individuals (whether True Believers or Doubting Thomases) who are so proud of their knowledge that they will try to take control of the class and spoil the experience for everyone.

    I think an informal and private setting is better for discussing deep concerns. I understand the Jews have a long tradition among friends of debating scripture as a learning (faith building) activity — something that may appear very threatening to some church members today.

    • Jana Riess

      I’m so sorry I haven’t been engaging in this conversation more closely this week, because of course I’m delighted that the post resonated with people and I’m always happy to see these issues discussed openly. My silence is not any kind of commentary; I’ve just been insanely busy revising The Twible for publication. My thanks to everyone who has posted so far, or retweeted, or shared on Facebook.

      Change happens with us and from us, so it’s important that we not only speak our concerns but that we hear those concerns from each other without shutting one another down. I feel like that has mostly happened in this discussion thread, so thank you.

  28. Thanks Jana. Brilliant and open insight as always. I appreciate your comments on getting rid of this “all or nothing” paradigm we have been raised with. Two points:
    Why would any expect God to have a perfect, problem free, everything answered-with-no-doubt, everything air tight, error-free organization? Everything I’ve been told and believe is that God and our life here is ALL about agency. For God to dictate perfection (which He could) with his church and people who have been called to His service (whether LDS or not) is contrary to what we believe about God. If He did that He would cease to be God.
    Second, We often get hung up on our paradigms without knowing the big picture. Some of the things and teachings that occured in LDS history seem “weird” or “whacked”. If that is the standard then all of Christendom is weird and whacked. Immaculate conception? Really? Bringing people back from the dead? – it doesn’t get any weirder than that! Resurrection? – Come on! Really? Beleiving in Jesus Christ requires an enormous exercise of faith and a suspension of what “seems” possible.
    Finally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a force for good in the world – It’s teaches people about God and His love and salvation for everyone. It teaches redemption and forgiveness in the atonement of Jesus Christ. People abiding by its form of Christianity and belief are generally caring and good and decent. It’s a very big tent and getting bigger and – yes, evolving. Do we have a monopoly on Christ?- of course not – no more than we have a monopoly on truth. We have our own slant – just like everyone else has their own spin and I love it. We have a history and it’s recent and documented and fascinating. I would love to see any “church” hold up to the scrutiny that ours does.

  29. I agree that asking questions is the pathway to learning, but that step has to begin with prayer, then followed up with intensive objective study and then more prayer.
    Paul says the cornerstone of the Church is Jesus himself and his way of communicating with us is through personal revelation (as Jesus taught Peter).
    Objective study is where most of us get hung up. It is not objective if we overwhelmingly use only one source or another. Just the current event of the civil war in Syria can give us a good example. We all know that chemical weapons are horrible, but so are bullets, missiles and bombs. Where do you draw the line? And if you do draw a line, how many different views can be brought up to confuse the issue? Is Obama’s view, the people’s view, the liberal view, the conservative view or the Russian view the one to lift your banner about?
    I’m not suggesting that this specific problem can be solved with personal revelation, I just use this as an example of “research” all the angles of your question before you pray about it. Einstein said that “A problem [question] well defined [researched] is a problem basically solved.
    Why would Joseph Smith marry another man’s wife? is a question you can spend some quality research and some quality prayer with. “Because Joseph Smith married other men’s wives, that fact makes him a fallen prophet and I’m out of here” is to shortchange ourselves of some valuable objective information about Joseph Smith, the restoration and personal revelation.
    Almost all religious literature all the way back to Adam tells us some negative things about most of our most famous prophets (Abraham was a polygamist and lied to the Pharoah; Jacob [Israel] was a polygamist and lied to get his brother’s birthright; Judah slept with his daughter-in-law; Moses was a murderer; David was a polygamist and a murderer; Paul was a murderer; Peter denied Jesus; etc.) Do we do away with all Judeo-Christian belief because of the fallen nature of man or do we praise God for all the good that gets through to us in spite of the fallen nature of man?
    Notice that nothing I have said dictates a specific answer. The freedom to choose is the basic tenet of the Gospel. All I’m suggesting is that we do a lot of sincere research and are able to see the bigger picture before we use our freedom to choose in each specific area.

  30. Until Mormonism faces real criticism re: the nature of Joseph Smith’s so-called revelation it remains nothing more than American Protestant morality looking for a belief system. As has happened throughout the entire Christian tradition what is false eventually dies a slow death.

    • Unfortunitly we don’t have enough space to go through bullet points about how Mormonism is a fraud. But Wikipedia is a great place to start mormonthink too. The church should just save some dignity and refer to these sites rather then dressing up their own biased version of these controversies(boA multiple visions JS possible borderline personality disorder the racism in the Book of Mormon)

  31. I was a fully faithful member for 30 years until learning about some of the difficult issues. When further hesitant research confirmed my doubts and fears, I experienced what felt akin to grief. Thankfully my LDS husband and I processed this together, which saved our both our sanity and our marriage.
    It is devastating, when church leaders tell you to not discuss anything with members – and your own family and friends disbelieve you, speak against you and sometimes shun or reject you.
    But worse than anything, for me – was the realisation that the church that purported to teach and espouse truth, the light of the gospel, had in fact deceived me! Lying by omission – and allowing precious family relationships to disintegrate by continuing to perpetrate the lies, even from the pulpit of the Tabernacle. I believed Jesus was the head of the church and that the prophet was the literal mouthpiece for our beloved Saviour, but how could he be? We were taught (so well) who owned the title the Father of Lies.
    I prayed, studied and researched like never before and learned that *Mormonism once taught that God the Father has a tabernacle of spirit (5th Lecture of Faith). * The original Book of Mormon taught that Jesus was God incarnate on earth, until this was altered. * Polygamy is an abomination to God (Book of Jacob) unless it’s for man to raise up seed – but where are the children from Joseph Smith’s multiple wives? Nor were they all virgins, which was requisite to not committing adultery, along with his wife’s permission.

    But more beautifully, I came to see that the saving power of the gospel which leads to exaltation, and so clearly taught by the Saviour in 3rd Nephi 11:31-40, agreed with Biblical doctrine, (“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
    1 John 5:13, KJV)

    What could be clearer – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” (John chapter 1). Mormonism has “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man…” (Romans 1:23.

    Reading the bible with new eyes and understanding has changed my life. I am grateful for all the wonderful people I met on my Mormon journey but am eternally grateful to truly encounter my Lord and Saviour whose GIFT of grace, has brought me the sweet assurance of His love and forgiveness and has forever freed me from the guilt of my imperfections and from the yoke that He bore for us all and carried to the cross, declaring it is finished!

    • This is going to sound offensive but this is the best way to say it. Reading the bible as something with a Devine origin instead of mythology is like watching James Bond as a real documently that’s why the term suspension of disbelief applys to Hollywood movies. Religous faith in a way is similar to watching a micheal bay action movie you have to suspend logic to believe it. Except in action movies you suspend logic to enjoy it. In religous faith you suspend logic to justify magical thinking. My 2 cents I know I’m blunt but I’m really not delibritly trying to offend people.

  32. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I hope we can lay aside our pride and recognize that a bishop or stake president in the LDS church is not called to serve just my own needs, and that they will not be judged solely on how well they are able to answer my own questions or help me resolve my doubts to my own satisfaction. They all are amateurs, and most of them have no more knowledge about intricate questions of LDS history than the average member does.

    I do hope, as someone who invested a year in an original research project with primary sources in the LDS Church Archives, that the Church would train those who are called to leadership to recognize that, so long as a member is faithfully practicing her faith, and is not preaching her doubts for the purpose of undermining the faith and faithfulness of others, there is no need to exercise sanctions against that member, such as denying the opportunity of full participation.

    I also hope that Church leadership training will include recommendations on how members with questions can be referred to knowledgable and faithful sources that can provide intelligent and accurate answers. The sources would include individual members who are actively involved in academic pursuits and have a developed ability to deal with questions and help others find answers, who do not fear inquiry because they have achieved a unity of their spiritual and intellectual understandings. Other sources would be books and research articles dealing with specific parts of LDS history and doctrines, many of which are avilable online at no cost from the Maxwell Institute at BYU, and other extensive and detailed research such as what is offered by FAIRMORMON.org. In my experience, the LDS authors of such books and articles are often willing to go out of their way to answer sincere questions.

    I have attended a number of FAIR conferences over the last decade, and they are all about getting one’s doubts out in the open and pursuing answers to questions. The title “Shaken Faith Syndrome” does not offend me; I think that many people who have troubling doubts will identify that phrase as describing their own feelings. Is that condition of unresolved doubt desirable? No, I don’t think so. It is not a goal to reach a condition of troubliing, unresolved doubts about a belief system in which one has had positive experiences. The person experiencing that condition surely wants to resolve it, in a way that feels honest to themselves and to God, whichever way it comes out. So describing that such a state of uncertainty is undesirable and hopefully temporary is appropriate.

    The actual program of speakers at a FAIRMORMON conference has been very open to and respectful of personal questions about the history of the LDS Church and the meaning of its doctrines. The one just concluded a few weeks ago included four speakers and panelists who had followed their personal doubts away from commitment to the LDS Church, and back in again. They provided insight into the questions which bothered them, and to a certain extent they still felt were unresolved. It was bracingly honest. Most of all, the message of the conference was that doubts should not be suppressed or silenced, and should be honestly addressed and answered both by the person experiencing them, and the other members and leaders who are concerned for their happiness.

    My own experience with FAIRMORMON.org has been that the organization and its members are motivated by both a love for the Restored Gospel and for the members of the LDS Church, and want to ensure that no one leaves the Church behind because of an inaccurate understanding of what it teaches. FAIRMORMON.org is an expression of faith, that the LDS Church can cope with the truth of history and theology because it has truth at its core.

    I hope that any leader, teacher or member in the LDS Church will take the time to do their best to answer the searching questions of a member, in the same way they would with a person who was investigating the LDS Church for the first time. The Lord’s declaration that every soul is precious to Him, and that we will rejoice in heaven with each one we bring to Him, applies to those who have been baptized as a Mormon just as much as to those who have not.

  33. Thanks for a good article. I am confused though why you chose to misrepresent Elder Mattson’s journey as a “defection” and “public leave-taking.” From the admittedly small amount that I have read, Elder Mattson still professes to be a believer in the Mormon church and is still an Emeritus General Authority. Your inaccurate and negative characterization of his questions, concerns, and journey of doubt and faith seems more in line with the behavior your article criticizes than with the message you espouse of allowing people to question in order to grow.

  34. As a non-Mormon living in Utah I have watched people be ostracized for not even having doubt but not being able to live up to ideals. I have had friends that have been unable to go on missions from having fallen short of the Mormon ideal and parents have literally kicked them out of the house. From an outsiders perspective it seems that there are two things at play here, the Mormon culture and the Mormon faith and those are not necessarily the same thing.

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