Earlier this week a friend sent me a link to a New York Times article called, “Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt.” The article is based on an interview with a gentleman named Hans Mattsson who, as an “Area Authority” for the Church in Europe, faced a crisis of faith.
|Hans Mattsson and his wife courtesy of the New York Times|
At first I was shocked to discover that his crisis began when he discovered that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy. My first thought was, how on earth can you be an Area Authority and not know that basic fact? Really? That is what caused him to become confused? As I thought about what we actually learn in Church, I guess not understanding doctrine, principles, the scriptures, or our history, could happen more than one might think.
Richard Bushman is quoted in the article explaining how that was possible:
“You would be amazed at the number of Mormons who don’t think Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. It just wasn’t talked about. It was never mentioned in church periodicals. That was policy.”
In the last 10 or 15 years, he said, “the church has come to realize that transparency and candor and historical accuracy are really the only way to go.” The church has released seven volumes of the papers of Joseph Smith and published an essay on one of the most shameful events in church history, the Mountain Meadows massacre, in which church leaders plotted the slaughter of people in a wagon train in 1857.
But the church has not actively disseminated most of these documents, so when members come across them on Web sites or in books, Mr. Bushman said, “it’s just excruciating.”
“Sometimes people are furious because they feel they haven’t been told the truth growing up,” he said. “They feel like they were tricked or betrayed.”
In an apologetic fashion a great follow up article was written by John W. Welch, trying to show how the Church has not covered any of this information up and how it is readily available if you desired to know. This knowledge however must be actively sought out.
Herein lies a problem, I believe our talks in Sacrament meeting and classes at Church have become more “personal experience” based and less scriptural. They focus more on “feelings”, but when the “feelings” are not based on the message of the scriptures they are not “feelings” that last. I have been to Church more times than I care to admit when the scriptures are not even referenced. I have thought about this for a very long time.
I understand the job of the Church is to teach the first four principles of the gospel, which are: faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. I understand it is the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, who then teaches you everything else you need to know to get back into the presence of the Father. I believe it is through the scriptures that you hear the voice of the Lord and the Spirit then adds his witness. This fulfills the law of witnesses beautifully.
Let’s face it…It annoys me to be taught about your Aunt Jenny who baked the bread for her sick neighbors, who miraculously were healed from the “gluten free” nourishment, who then in turn decided to join the church because they just felt of Aunt Jenny’s love for them. Forget the scriptures! They felt the spirit!
I believe it is this type of careless teaching that we are receiving within the walls of our own Church that creates the “Area Authority” who doesn’t even know that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.
When will we realize that we need to open up the “source”, which are the scriptures, and have better dialog regarding them? Only when we search the scriptures, analyze them, then internally apply them, will we gain that solid faith that can conquer all doubt. And as far as doubt goes, why can’t we have conversations about that too?
I loved how Brother Mattson closed his interview.
“My hope is that the Church will grow larger in its acceptance that you are allowed to have doubts, because I think a doubter is a seeker. I mean, you can go to Joseph Smith, why did he pray? He was asking what to do. So he was a doubter, wasn’t he? I think that’s great. You find answers.”