Dear Orthodox Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
You hold many beliefs that I don’t and there seems to be an uncomfortable tension between us. You feel I am teaching incorrect things that I am not holding to the truths you know. I ache to belong. To fit in. To be counted equal among you and yet you seem uncomfortable letting me into the inner circle of your faith. I am not trusted to hold certain callings. You are nervous when I raise my hand to speak in our Gospel Doctrine class. You whisper behind my back and then report your concerns to our leaders. Knowing all this I simply want to speak to you from my heart. I want to help you better understand me and hope you can understand my Mormonism. Understand that it is just as deserving of a seat at table as yours. I will herein list various tensions between you and me. Some where I feel My beliefs have perhaps more validity then yours and others where my beliefs have less but that none the less room and space exists for our beliefs to co-exist in this beautiful Faith of ours which welcomes and honors diversity and questions.
#1 You believe that Evolution is contrary to the gospel.
I first want to say I get why you believe that. Not only has Religion and more specifically Christianity long held the view that evolution was contrary to the gospel but even more specifically Leaders within Mormonism have imposed such a view. Namely Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. They informed you that Evolution was a heresy and they said it so dogmatically that you felt bound to see it as the Church’s position and one you must hold. But it is not so. In the 2016 October New Era, the Church once again has reiterated that it has no official position on evolution when it clearly states
The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution.
Now please hear me with your heart. I am not arguing that your view is false or that I am absolutely right. Rather I am arguing that both our views can be held and shared as opinions without either one of us getting upset at the other or feeling false Doctrine is being taught. Since neither position is held officially by the Church, we are both welcome to hold our view and to inspect and study the data and see where it takes us.
#2 You are really uncomfortable with me stating that Prophets can be wrong and can teach false Doctrine.
When I raise my hand in class to remind people that prophets are fallible, I can sense your discomfort as you edge closer to the front of your chair. I can feel your readiness to jump in and to correct me and to ensure people in the class know that you feel I have left the safety of the truth. You seem really uncomfortable with acknowledging these men make mistakes and even more so when the suggested mistakes seem to be serious. You are quick to tell the class that Prophets can not lead the Church astray. But what does such a thing mean especially in light of Bruce R. McConkie’s statement when discussing the false teachings of Brigham Young when he said.
Nonetheless, as Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine…. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord.
Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel….
I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality…. I repeat: Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation… What he did is not a pattern for any of us. If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his doctrines, we are making an election that will damn us.
As you can see, False Doctrine and serious False Doctrine that runs the risk of damning us is taught by our prophets. In other words it is fair and appropriate to remind members that Prophets are fallible and to help them not make the mistake of setting a bar so high for these men, that they will eventually be disappointed and run the risk of their faith being deeply betrayed. President Uchtdorf has reiterated this when he taught
And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
We don’t hold Prophets to be perfect and we don’t need them to be inerrant.
#3 You hold the scriptures to be a literal account of God’s dealings with his Children and get nervous when I suggest that I personally believe many of the Stories to be figurative or allegorical.
You believe there was a global Flood and that all languages disseminated from a great tower built to reach heaven. You believe Jonah was really swallowed by a whale and in the belly of that creature for three days. You believe Adam and Eve truly did live in a Garden where there was real trees with real fruit that caused a real fall. I respect that and I honor that view. I simply don’t hold it. and neither do some of our leaders including Boyd K Packer, Bruce R. McConkie, and Spencer W Kimball, and Brigham Young. For Example see HERE and HERE. The secret is to see what the Church officially proclaims and to be careful to allow diversive views when they fall outside that. For example the Church speaking of scriptural interpretation has stated officially in its newsroom that
There is a broad range of approaches within the vast mosaic of biblical interpretation. For example, biblical inerrancy maintains that the Bible is without error and contradiction; biblical infallibility holds that the Bible is free from errors regarding faith and practice but not necessarily science or history; biblical literalism requires a literal interpretation of events and teachings in the Bible and generally discounts allegory and metaphor; and the “Bible as literature” educational approach extols the literary qualities of the Bible but disregards its miraculous elements. The Church does not strictly subscribe to any of these interpretive approaches.
The Church tends to steer clear of any rigidity on this matter outside some core held doctrines that the reality of Christ and his atonement. They seem to grasp that much of this is still up in the air and they would prefer not to draw lines in the sand. That said I am aware that leaders from time to time have given their opinion on the literalness of scriptural stories. It is just that no member need feel bound to such an opinion if the Church generally doesn’t claim such ground officially. In other words you should be no more uncomfortable when I share my opinion that I personally see Noah’s Flood as an allegorical story, then I should be uncomfortable that you share that in your personal opinion The Tower of Babel is a literal account. There is room at the table for both perspectives.
#4 You are very uneasy with my neutrality on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. That I hold doubts that the Book of Mormon is a historical account of the literal experiences of real Lamanites and real Nephites.
Again please hear me. I am not claiming I am certain of its non-historicity. Rather I am asking for Space for me to doubt its historicity and still be a fully faithful Mormon. Regardless I still hold the Book of Mormon as scripture and as a sacred text that invites me to interact with the divine. On this topic Elder Holland said
If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That’s what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody’s liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction.
You see that. Elder Holland says he is aware of active faithful Mormons who are reluctant to throw in with a historical narrative of the Book of Mormon and he is not inviting them to leave. He even goes so far as to applaud those who don’t find it’s narrative historical but still find deep meaning in it and still use it as scripture. Can you grant the same room that he does?
One LDS Scholar puts it this way. Keep in mind this is a faithful active Latter-day Saint who himself believes the Book of Mormon narrative to be historical.
When people talk about “inspired fiction,” it’s worth thinking harder about what they might mean. Perhaps that the Book of Mormon is a product of human genius, like other literary or religious works. Or it may be the product of general revelation, in which God or some higher power makes himself known to humans, who then communicate that encounter with the Divine though various scriptures such as Buddhist sutras or the Daodejing or the Bhagavad Gita or the Qur’an. Or there may be special revelation in which God inspired Joseph to create the Book of Mormon in such a way that it exemplifies specific truths of unique importance. In any case, however, we might ask, “Can faith in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction be a saving faith?” My answer is, “Absolutely!” I believe that if someone, at the judgment bar, were to say to God, “I couldn’t make sense of the Book of Mormon as an ancient American codex, given the available evidence, but I loved that book, I heard your voice in it, and I tried to live by its precepts as best I could,” then God will respond, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Can you grant me the same space?
#5 – You are extremely uneasy when I offer dissent on the Church’s stances on Social issues.
Whether it is my being an LGBT ally or my desire for more Gender equality within Mormonism or my hope that someday the Church will apologize for its racism and the withholding of full fellowship from our Black Latter-day Saints prior to 1978. The question is can I hold a personal opinion that I disagree with the Church on any issue? Is that permit-able? Well let me allow LDS leaders to state it clearly. For example Elder Christofferson when asked “What does the LDS Church think of members who back same-sex marriage?” said
“There hasn’t been any litmus test or standard imposed that you couldn’t support that if you want to support it,” Christofferson said, “if that’s your belief and you think it’s right.” Any Latter-day Saint can have a belief “on either side of this issue,” he said. “That’s not uncommon.”
Joseph Fielding Smith taught
“Standard Works Judge Teachings of all men. It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.”
Joseph F. Smith stated
We talk of obedience, but do we require any man or woman to ignorantly obey the counsels that are given? Do the first Presidency require it? No, never.
It might be helpful for you to read the Church’s Gospel Topics Essay “Race and the Priesthood” Where the Church recognizing that its leaders in the past defended its Race policies and doctrines insinuates that it now acknowledges much of that was simply racist bigotry and has been disavowed. The Church even goes so far as to say
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a pre-mortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.
In spite of those views on interracial marriage and skin color as a curse being taught officially in decades past by prophets as “Doctrine”
I realize that such dissent should also include charity and space for people to disagree with me but can you grant me space like these leaders above, who I quoted, to hold a perspective that the Church differs on?
I know full well the Mormonism you grew up with. I understand that said Mormonism offered definitive answers to almost any question. I know there were General Authorities that wrote books that sat on almost every members bookshelf claiming to have the final say on almost any topic within Mormonism. I know it is uncomfortable to relinquish any portion of that certainty, to in essence acknowledge past leaders may have over reached. Or to even allows others to hold views so contrary to yours. I know it is uncomfortable and your sense of security feels at risk. I am sorry it is so. But I want to stay and if you can not allow me a safe space for me and my family to be both authentic and different then you, then we have little choice but to leave. Can you learn to be more comfortable with your discomfort ? Can you grant such space even though it runs counter to your very being?
I know in your heart you simply wish for me to mend my ways and to come back to the belief you and many others hold. I can’t. My perspective has come after years of study, prayerful pondering, wrestling with scripture and data, and a lifelong journey of seeking the divine. These perspectives are not a drifting away from God for me, but rather an effort to commune closer to him. Besides that this only scratches the surface of the differences between us. In fact how I define the the words like scripture, prophet, priesthood, church, apostasy, authority, tithing, sustain, translation, doctrine, and many many others will be fundamentally and distinctly different from you. How I view the Book of Abraham and other scriptural narratives, How I interpret the temple worthiness questions, How I understand Jesus and his atonement, what the “great apostasy” entailed and what it means to be a true and living Church are likely all very different than you grasp these.
In terms of whether our beliefs should look the same Hugh B Brown stated
We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts
In the end the Church is called to draw all of God’s children to Christ. In the spirit of that Mission, I accept and honor your differences. I am willing to respect and hear and think about the views and beliefs you hold even though they differ and at times practically offend my view of God and his plan. Can you do the same? Can you make space for me? My very soul depends on it!