I gave a short talk recently, and it was suggested that I post it up here for others to read. I borrowed some of the information in the talk from a past president’s message I gave in the FAIR Journal. But, I still hope you find it valuable. Here it is:
Many of you know that my hobby is working with an LDS all volunteer group on the Internet. We maintain several Websites including www.FAIRlds.org, www.FAIRMormon.org, and www.Blacklds.org. This has been fulfilling for me as I have been able to interact with LDS scholars from BYU and other institutions as well as other students of history and the scriptures.
At www.FAIRLDS.org we work with individuals who have questions about church history or doctrine. I often hear heartbreaking stories from people have suffered much pain and anguish and who have eventually left the church because of a perceived problem with Church History, the prophet Joseph Smith, or some element of doctrine. Here in our own stake I know of several examples, so this hits close to home. In discussing the reasons for leaving, I am often reminded of what popular nineteenth-century American humorist who went by the stage name of Artemus Ward once said.
“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we do know that just ain’t so.”
Some of us have a set of preconceived notions of how things are, how they should be, or how a church leader should act. Sometimes we have learned things from a trusted member of the church that we later find out to be not true. We mistakenly expect Sunday School to be a history class which deals with all of the problems and issues of the day, when it is really a time which uses the stories from our history to teach gospel principals. Much like in the Book of Mormon, it isn’t the history that is important, it is the gospel principals that we learn from it.
Additionally, I find that people frequently engage in something called “presentism.” That is the idea that ideas, beliefs and social structure today must be exactly like it was 150 years ago. Many members try to apply today’s values to a time when they simply don’t apply. In 1830, it was unfortunately debated in the US whether or not African American’s were really people who were capable of learning or if they even had souls. Families were sometimes started by people in their young teens. Most family cooking was done over an open fire, and the number one cause of death for women was skirts catching on fire. Number two was childbirth. Men generally farmed for a living and were lucky if they owned many books, if any or lived to a ripe old age. It is in this environment that the Church was organized. It wasn’t like the society of today.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
We seem to have a host of critics. Some appear intent on trying to destroy us. They mock that which is sacred. They discredit that which we call divine. Some critics have said that we have been caught with errors in our history, others have worked with great diligence seeking flaws in our early Church leaders. Those who criticize us have lost sight of the glory and wonder of this work. They are so busy finding fault with us that they do not see the greatness of the Lord’s work. They have lost sight of the spiritual spark that was developed in Palmyra, New York, which is now lighting fires of faith across the earth in many lands and in many languages.
President Hinckley went on to say,
From a vast amount of information our critics appear to select and write about those items which demean and belittle some men and women of the past who worked so hard in laying the foundation of this great cause. Readers of such writings seem to delight in picking up these unfavorable items. In so doing they are savoring some small morsel, rather than eating a beautiful and satisfying meal of many courses.
President Hinckley continues,
My plea is that as we continue our search for truth, particularly we of the Church, that we look for strength and goodness rather than weakness and failings in those who did so great a work in their time. We recognize that our forefathers were human. They doubtless made mistakes. Some of them acknowledged making mistakes. But the mistakes were minor when compared with the marvelous work which they accomplished.
There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.
The church has gotten a lot of new exposure in the press and on the Internet. Many members and non-members have been shocked by some of the information that they stumble across. Elders Cook and Ballard said in a recent interview discussing Suzanne Sateline’s article in the Wall Street Journal that the Church doesn’t avoid probing questions or scrutiny. The Church welcomes honest inquiry, he said. Opposing viewpoints should be discussed in a spirit of honesty and without rancor. They said the Church would not leave others to define its beliefs and its people. In some instances, anti-Mormon comments had been allowed to pass without much challenge. Elder Cook then said, “I don’t think we have to accept it when some people deliberately mischaracterize the Church.” For those who claim our history is a problem for the church, I have to ask what they are reading for history.
Does the history they read include the lives, histories, and testimonies of the witnesses who said over and over again that they had seen the plates and they had seen an angel?
Does it include the story of Martin Harris complaining how heavy the plates were as he held them on his lap for an hour and a half?
Does it include Martin Harris saying, “Well as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates”?
Does it include Oliver Cowdery speaking of the Book of Mormon translation from his deathbed and saying, “I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind–it was real”?
Does it include the story of Katharine, Joseph Smith’s sister hiding the plates in her bed?
Does it include the quote from John Whitmer as he says, “I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides”?
Does the history include the many reports from others who also saw angels? Or the 121 independent eyewitness accounts of the mantel of Joseph Smith being passed on to Brigham Young on August 8, 1844, such as the one from nine-year-old William Van Orden who suddenly turned to his mother and said, “The Prophet [is] not dead, for I [see] him on the stand”?
As for the Book of Mormon, D&C, Book of Abraham, and Book of Moses, we have critics who find alleged problems and anachronisms which makes people question their authenticity. But, those individuals and Websites critical of the scriptures do not include the studies by Mesoamerican researchers, Hebraists and Egyptologists who publish about the things contained within the pages of these scripture that a farmer from 1830 could not have known.
I hope and pray that we aren’t trapped by the negative arguments of some or the negative experiences in our own life. Sometimes we have personal issues, a crisis, a wayward child or a personal weakness that leads us to seek out reasons for the church not to be true. I have talked with my daughters about a concept I call “The Church is true unless you meet a cute boy principle.” But, knowing that the early members of the church had weaknesses and made mistakes makes it easier for me to come to church in spite of my weaknesses. We all struggle to live up to what we perceive God’s expectations might be. Then when we don’t measure up and don’t feel worthy, it could make us want to stay home and not attend. But church is there for all of us, even with our personal weaknesses.
As one man said, church is there to make bad men good and good men better.
The Lord said to Peter:“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31–32.)It common to go through times in our life when we might have doubts or concern even if we have had spiritual manifestations in our life. God asked the brother of Jared, who had already heard His voice and seen His finger, “Believest thou the words which I shall speak?” (Ether 3:11) Even the Brother of Jared was allowed room to doubt.
In John 6:68, after the Lord preached some “hard things” the people turned away from him. He asked the twelve, “will ye also go away?” Peter answered “to whom, Lord, shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”And one of my favorite passages is in Mark 9:24 when the father of the lunatic child says “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that we have prophets today. I am thankful for the atonement of Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that we can all accept our own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others and I hope we can always maintain our faith.I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.