It seems like every few weeks we hear about someone being called to a disciplinary court for apostasy for daring to speak out about their unbelief. Usually, the justification is that publicly questioning the church’s teachings causes others to lose faith and to doubt, thus we are leading people out of the church. Frequently, they claim we are trying to convince others to leave. I think in some cases, this is probably true. However, my guess is the majority of cases are not an attempt to convince others to leave. At least, I think this is the case in the beginning.
Looking for answers
Publicly stating our doubts is done in an attempt to get answers. There really aren’t a lot of church sources to provide answers to the questions we have. We’ve looked. If they are there and we can’t find them, then the church hasn’t done a good job at making them available. Seriously, if there were good answers provided, they would spread like wildfire through the questioning community. If you don’t believe me, just look at the essays the church recently published. When each one was released, links were posted in the various forums where we congregate. In fact, some people have scripts running that monitor the Gospel Topics section of the church’s website for changes and new content. We were the ones who let other members know about the essays. We were the ones who let our leaders know about the essays. It wasn’t Salt Lake that informed the local leaders — that came later. Many discussions ensued. People discussed both the merits and the failings of each essay.
These essays were written because people publicly spoke out about their questions, doubts and concerns. People left the church because the church had no answers, so the church finally produced the essays. The people I have spoken with have honestly been searching for answers. They stopped caring as much where those answers would lead, they only wanted to know the truth as far as it can be known. If that led them back to belief, great! Things would be so much easier if we could go back to the way things were before we started doubting. If that lead them away from belief, fine, as long as the answers were credible and sufficient. It is a longing for truth, not just for a comforting answer.
Attempt to inform
Have you ever been in a scenario where you learn something that affects the reasons why you do things? Perhaps at work, you have a routine task and you learn that it isn’t having the desired outcome. If your coworkers are given the same task, do you just let them keep doing it or do you let them know that it isn’t working? Shouldn’t you raise your voice and say, “hey, this isn’t doing what we thought it was doing”? Why should it be any different for something that impacts every facet of our lives? If decisions are made on bad assumptions, and we know those assumptions are bad, shouldn’t we speak up and let others know so they can make informed decisions?
When I first learned of the myriad issues in church history, I couldn’t figure out why I had never heard about any of them. How could I have studied the gospel so much, served a mission, graduated from seminary and institute, and taught many classes and never hear about these issues? It didn’t seem right that I should be ignorant of so many things, or that those things should be withheld from me in my attempts to learn more. I would rather know the truth, than be blissfully ignorant. I felt I owed the same consideration to others. Provide them with the information and let them decide for themselves how they want to handle it. It isn’t for me to decide what parts of history are important to them. In spite of its sense of authority and responsibility, the church does not have that right, either.
People suffer when they are isolated, but thrive when they can interact with others. That interaction may only be with a small number of people, or it may need to be large numbers of people, but that need for interaction is an integral part of our basic needs. Leaders in the church often instruct us to not discuss our doubts with others. Some people are even told they shouldn’t discuss their doubts with their own spouse. This is harmful to the human psyche, and incredibly harmful to the marital relationship. So, some people speak out to battle the damage they feel being done to them. Others speak out in order to let others who are doubting know that there is someone who understands and they can talk to. I can not state this more clearly. Requiring someone to remain silent about their doubts and concerns is harmful and abusive! This is why people are willing to speak up in the face of excommunication or shunning.
What is the real problem?
These questions, doubts and concerns aren’t the real problem. People speaking publicly about them is not the real problem, either. The real problem is the answers to the questions, doubts, and concerns, or in many cases the lack of an answer.
Let’s be honest. For the majority of the time, the church has remained silent regarding the many questions people have about church history. Historians and writers have been bringing up the issues for decades. Some were excommunicated for presenting them in a negative light. Some were excommunicated for presenting them in an academic manner. Some wrote about them from a faithful perspective and escaped punishment. However, until the church released their essays, they simply remained silent. In a few rare cases, they briefly mentioned an issue or two in passing, but with no meaningful discussion. Remaining silent has kept the church free from criticism for saying the wrong thing and causing large numbers of people to stop believing. However, it has not kept them free from the criticism for remaining silent, and thus being accused (rightly in my opinion) of hiding things. This is what the church would term a sin of omission. According to their own manual, this is considered lying. “We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”
When the church does decide to speak about one of the issues, the answer can also be a problem. In many cases, the essays validated many of the claims of “anti-mormons”. For years, they have been saying Joseph Smith married young girls and already married women. The church’s essay confirms these facts. This naturally makes someone curious to know what other things have been denied by the church that are really true. Additionally, the essays are couched in language that sounds like a political speech, or the speech of someone apologizing for being caught doing something wrong. Had I not already researched many of the topics, I might not have seen through the spin. Being informed of the issues beforehand, though, I could identify many cases where the essays left out details that did not support the church’s position. So, in my case, the answers the church provided did more harm than good. I held out hope that the church would address the issues in an upfront and honest manner. Unfortunately, I felt like they were trying to continue to deceive me. Many times I wanted to scream out, “Just be honest with me!”
Questions are not the problem. Doubts are not the problem. Speaking publicly about questions and doubts is not the problem. The real problem is that the honest and complete answers do not support the church’s claims. The real problem is that the church does not want to relinquish and diminish their power and authority over the membership. They are afraid that people will see through the lies and obfuscation and leave in droves. Some would remain, but a large portion would not wish to continue dedicating so much of their time and money to an organization that has lied to and defrauded them. Some would see those lies and fraud as justifiable since they believe it is God’s only true and living church and helped people to believe. Personally, I have no use for a god who would endorse or justify such dishonest and abusive behavior.