There is, however, one section of the essay that I want to focus on. I wish to include it here, but hope that those of you reading this will take the time to read the rest of the essay in order to get a more accurate feel for it.
Understanding the brethren's dilemma
"Many disaffected folk expect LDS General Authorities to constantly apologize for all the past errors of the church, and to actively promote awareness of the most controversial aspects of LDS Church history. These are unfair and unrealistic expectations. Let's take a moment to consider the situation of LDS General Authorities:
- Most of them were raised as devout, multi-generational members of the LDS Church. Doubting and skepticism in general, and with the church in particular, were simply not major components of their formative years.
- As young men, many of them married soon after their mission, had many children, graduated from college, pursued successful professional careers, and actively served in high church leadership positions. Over time, their overall social status, reputation, and sense of being are directly tied to the church's exclusive truthfulness. They are viewed by all their LDS peers as pillars of the church's "one trueness."
- This heavy load of responsibilities leaves little, if any time for deep study of controversial LDS Church history. In addition, their positions of responsibility would rarely encourage or allow them to study the types of publications that would candidly discuss such matters (Sunstone, Dialogue, Quinn, etc.). In the end, I am quite convinced that a majority of them are simply not aware of peep stones, polyandry, Adam/God theory, blood atonement, the Danites, etc. Of course they have heard these terms throughout their lives, but they would have no real impetus, and most importantly, no time to study them deeply. They are super-busy men, and in their minds, the church is true -- so why dig much deeper? They are also taught strict obedience to church authority (past and present), and consequently would tolerate little, if any, criticism of early church leaders, even from themselves.
- In spite of all this, it's fair to say that the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve once made a sincere attempt at openness and full disclosure of LDS Church history. For those of you who aren't aware, there was a ten-year period of LDS Church history (1972 to 1982), under the leadership of Church Historian Leonard Arrington, where the brethren made an honest attempt at significant candor regarding church history and archives -- only to produce the likes of Michael Quinn as a result (of whom I am a big fan, by the way). In the end, I am convinced that the brethren tried the experiment of historical openness in good faith, and genuinely determined that a full, thorough, comprehensive awareness of factual LDS Church history by its members, more often than not, leads to decreased activity and commitment. As many members today continue to be exposed on the internet to this can of worms opened up in the 1970s, this conclusion seems to be validated. Doesn't that make perfect sense? If the factual, hard-hitting history was good for faith, the brethren would be promoting it like crazy. But because it actually proves to erode faith more often than not, it is not emphasized, and is obfuscated wherever possible. So, in my view, the brethren are acting rationally.
- If you step back and think about it, this makes perfect sense. If Gordon B. Hinckley were to start saying publicly today, "Joseph and Brigham were wrong on a, b and c, but all of you need to believe and obey x, y and z," it is not difficult to predict the ultimate consequences of such statements. Members will simply say, "Well, if Joseph or Brigham were wrong back then about a, b and c, what makes you so sure that you are right about x, y and z?" For the average member, such overt statements would very quickly weaken the prophetic mantle, and reduce commitment to LDS Church leadership. It makes no sense to expect LDS Church leaders to erode their own basis of power and influence. Humans simply do not function this way.
- Assuming that the brethren are sincere believers in both the truthfulness of the church, and in its goodness -- it is only reasonable, then, to expect them to govern the church in a way that maximizes commitment and happiness for the greatest number of its members. Consequently, the brethren clearly have had to ask themselves this question: recognizing that the vast majority of members know nothing of the tougher elements of church history, and only a relatively small group of LDS intellectuals do, which is preferable: 1) To lose some of the intellectuals on the margins by not directly confronting the historical issues (at the most 2% of total members -- and would they really be satisfied with apologies anyway?), or 2) To risk losing and weakening the core base of church membership (60%?) by making them all aware of, and then overtly apologizing for the tougher aspects of our history and doctrine?
Thus, their dilemma."
Although I personally don't think that General Authorities need to "actively promote awareness of the most controversial aspects of LDS Church history," I have often said that I believe that an acknowledgement -- and in some cases an apology -- for certain errors in the Church's past would help members like me be able to "move on." Many of us have great trouble reconciling fact and faith. Some choose to leave the Church, while others continue to trudge along the Mormon path without the spark they once had.
The author estimates "intellectuals" to make up approximately 2% of the Church's population, whereas the core base of the Church makes up around 60%. He seems to be arguing that the Brethren actually wanted to be more open (citing a period of "openness from 1972-1982 -- which was before my time), but found it to be faith-eroding for the Church's core base.
I can appreciate what he's arguing. Let's assume the Church is true -- which the Brethren are obviously convinced of. (I don't doubt that they believe it's true because how many people would want to make some of the sacrifices they do -- often for the rest of their lives -- for something that doesn't compensate them financially?) Even if there are some big, fat skeletons in our Church closet, why should we let them ruin the party for all the millions of people who are perfectly content in Mormonism, some of whom are totally oblivious to the fact that there are any closets -- let alone skeletons in them? So, as long as these closets are kept shut with double-padded locks, most people will live good Mormon lives from birth to death without being disturbed by these skeletons. That's good, right?
But what about that 2% (and likely growing in this internet age)? That snoopy minority of Church population that not only knows that the closets exist, but want to hear what the skeletons have to say, AND want the Brethren to give a satisfactory answer as to why the skeletons exist and why they had been locked up all these years.
Are we expecting too much from the Brethren? Are they really in a dilemma? Is it really all about sheer numbers (sacrificing 2% in order to save the rest)? Is it possible that those skeletons really are irrelevant to the here and now and will only impede our progress? Or are they going to have to be reckoned with eventually?